What could be termed as one of modern music’s greatest pieces – ‘The Psychic Planetarium’ by the Pitts- Minneman Project featuring Tom ‘Fountainhead’ Geldschläger and Jerry Twyford – has been making waves and impressing every listener that comes by. For a whole lot of people, it was perhaps a little hard to imagine what this album would sound like, considering it features arguably some of the best musicians alive today. Amazingly, they need not have imagined too hard, because the record is full of countless surprises and surpasses even the loftiest expectations! This record right here is everything.
Roshan Machayya of Metal Wani recently reviewed this fantastic record, but the soulful experience would not be complete without a chat with the amazing musicians behind it (well, half of them). So he had a chat with keyboard and piano extraordinaire Jimmy Pitts and guitar virtuoso Tom ‘Fountainhead’ Geldschläger. Jimmy and Tom discussed in great detail the record, the musicians involved, personal relations to the music, the realities of the music industry, and much more!
Greetings from Metal Wani, Jimmy and Tom! Thanks for taking the time off your tight schedule for this interview. How are you fine gentlemen doing today?
Duo: Doing great, Roshan. It is always a pleasure to talk to you. We are doing very well.
Firstly, congratulations on the successful crowdfunding campaign for The Pitts-Minnemann Project! How has the response from the fans been so far?
Jimmy: Quite honestly, the response has been overwhelming. From the Indiegogo far exceeding our expectations to the excellent reviews, and almost daily messages from people saying how the album has moved them emotionally, I am simply bowled over by it all. When we were putting this material together, I really didn’t know if anyone would relate to it at all. It is very difficult to label, so I figured we would be fighting tooth and nail to reach even our original goal for our crowdfunding campaign, or receive any reviews, features, interviews; shows what I know, though! The opposite has happened, and I am honoured by the endearment our fans and colleagues have bestowed upon our labour of love. I am happy that it is moving people emotionally, and not just bludgeoning them with technicality or excess, so to speak.
Tom: Fantastic! The campaign closed at almost 150% of the original goal, all of the reviews so far have been extremely positive and, most importantly, the feedback we´ve been getting from the fans has been absolutely amazing. And all of that without any help or attention from the bigger media-channels, I might add. We set out to do an instrumental “super-group” album that sounds nothing like the rest of the genre, and which favours emotional impact and musicality over cold technicality and ego, while at the same time keeping up the level of intensity and craziness that we´re known for. And to see people respond to the album in a way that highlights that fact is very rewarding, to say the least.
The Pitts-Minnemann Project is a treasure trove of some fantastic music. How did all of this start in the first place?
Jimmy: It all began with Normalizer 2, and Marco extending the possibility for anyone to record their own version, then send it to him to approve for release. As I have said before, being extremely busy, I didn’t want to put in all of that work and leave it to chance in terms of whether it got released or not, so I took the opportunity to write to Marco to try to get “pre-approved” basically. When I told him who I was, who I had played with, and my intentions, he wrote back and said yes to me doing a version of Normalizer, but asked if I would like to do something similar that was exclusive to me. I jumped on the chance, worked out a deal with him, and the rest is history. The lucky stroke was that this was prior to The Aristocrats, Steven Wilson, and Joe Satriani gigs, because now with Marco’s intense schedule, it is much more difficult to find him available. The tracks he sent me were brilliant, and have the balance of overt technicality, groove, and joy for playing that Marco has in spades.
What really amazes me is that despite all the musicians on this project having their own signature sounds. A stylistic individuality. How did you did you manage to make what is on the album without falling short of the signature sounds that you are all known for?
Jimmy: I think that stems from the fact we have all worked together before so often. We each have very strong stylistic tendencies that recur in whatever we do, but our idiosyncrasies have naturally evolved somewhat together, and simultaneously, when speaking of Tom, Jerry, and myself, due to multiple albums in the past we’ve collaborated on, or were guests on together. We each have explored so many types of music, yet all hopefully have constructed musical voices that are recognizable individually. I have played music with Jerry for 25 years, with Tom for over 10, second album working with Marco’s drums, so it felt extremely natural and we knew a bit what to expect. At the same time, we all had a similar concept of not being tied to genres or what we did in the past necessarily, but just trying to respond honestly to the beautiful drum-work Marco provided. Which in the end seems to have brought out the best in one another’s individuality, while staying cohesive as a unit by some miracle.
Tom: By not thinking about any of that too much and focusing on getting the job done!
Tom, could you tell us about the song writing, structuring and production?
Tom: It was a very spontaneous and democratic process. Marco did his drums first, improvising drum solos on his own. Then, whoever felt inspired to put music to a certain part of his improvisations got to work on it, afterwards sending the result to the other guys, who would add their parts later. Honestly, I can´t remember any instance where we went back and changed the original idea for any part, everybody just tried to make the best out of that initial flash of inspiration. It sort of came together like a big puzzle – especially with the title-track (which is almost half an hour long) we may have had the opening and an ending parts first, then a few parts in between developed and so on. At the end, the hardest part was to fill in the gaps and develop transitions between the different parts and moods. But even that was a very spontaneous process, always based on improvisation. For the shorter pieces, it was usually Jerry who gave the drum solos a basic structure with his grooves, then Jimmy came up with the musical direction, harmonies and “vibe”. My job was usually to build on the existing instruments, tie everything together and come up with riffs and melodic content that would make the pieces more “song-like” and less abstract, not to mention transcribing the crazy keyboard runs and doubling them on the fretless guitar, which has become kind of a trademark thing for Jimmy and me. At the last minute, Jimmy brought in a song that he had written called “A Faint Beautiful Glow” and two improvisational pieces on solo piano, which I think gave the album as a whole some much-needed room to breathe. Finally, while mixing the album, I tried to make it sound alive & raw, rather than overly polished and “produced” (for lack of better words). Even though all of the instruments were recorded in different locations and at different times, I wanted to highlight the improvisational and spontaneous aspect of it and wanted the listener to imagine 4 people playing in a room together – four guys just having a ball and taking risks, you know?
Tom, your guitar playing is really fascinating. Wherever you have been involved in, one can certainly distinguish you style of playing. Despite this identity, how do you manage to sound so different each time? Like your sounds from Fear is the Enemy, your session works, The Fractured Dimension, Obscura and now The Pitts-Minnemann.
Tom: Well, first of all: thank you very much! I like to think that you can hear the personal evolution and the different sides and moods of the person behind the playing, in the playing. I always wanted to be the kind of musician where you could hear one note and could instantly tell “Oh, that´s Fountainhead!” just like I could with my heroes. But now that that´s (hopefully) the case, I´m always looking to better myself, put myself in different situations, step out of my comfort zone… Anything that challenges and inspires me to come up with something that´s interesting and hasn´t been done before. That´s the goal. And ultimately, the person that made “Fear Is the Enemy” is a different one than the person who played guitar on “Akroasis” or “The Psychic Planetarium”, so I really DO hope that the evolution of ‘Tom’ the human being” is audible in the playing and writing of Fountainhead. Honestly, often I throw away perfectly usable stuff because it makes me go “ah, that´s nice, but I already did that…”, and playing it safe isn´t what Fountainhead is about – neither is the case for PMP.
Tell us a little about the guest appearances on the album?
Jimmy: Originally, our rule was that there could be no guests on the album, and that held fast until the final tracks that were written, Imaginary Numbers, and A Faint Beautiful Glow. With the former, it came about mostly because the fast bebop bassline Jerry was doing on Imaginary was screaming for true jazz musicians, not us metal fakers 😉 Joshua Thomson was on the first Pitts Minnemann album, 2 L 8 2 B Normal, and he and Jim Shannon were both on the first The Fractured Dimension album, so they were obvious choices. Joshua recorded about 32 takes with all kinds of wild stuff, but we narrowed it all down and found the take we used to evoke the spirit intended. Jim came to my house and knocked out his in an hour, then I decided to double his whole solo on a Moog after the fact. A Faint Beautiful Glow was the only track, aside from the piano improvisations, not written to preconceived drums. It was right at the end and Marco was on tour and wouldn’t be home until at least May, so I was forced to look to other percussion avenues. So I made the rule of no traditional kit on that song, and hired two of my local buddies who are great percussionists to lay down some industrial/film percussion, hand percussion, rattles, etc, then mixed in some samples of Marco so at least he would have something on there. At one point, Jason Sadites (amazing guitarist and friend of ours), sent me some loops of Marco that were killer, but they just didn’t quite fit, so we left the song as it was with Minnemann as samples only, along with the bed of groove Pete Generous and Eric Rosseau laid down. The song was screaming for violin, and Joe Deninzon was on Pitts Minnemann Project’s debut, so again, natural choice. He did such a wonderful job that his solo closes out the whole cd! Back to Imaginary Numbers, the very last thing recorded were these brilliant Messiaen-inspired chordal layers by Matthias Preisinger, which became one of the absolute highlights of the album, and was all Tom’s idea to embolden the final fretless motif of the song. We loved it so much it became an intro and outro for the track as well.
Tom: Originally we didn´t want to include any guests, since the first PMP had so much of that. But as the new album came to its final stage, the pieces which came latest felt like they needed a bit of “special-sauce” to differentiate them from the rest and to keep the music fresh over the duration of 50 minutes. So Jimmy contacted Jim Shannon and Joshua Thomson, who added trumpet and sax to “Imaginary Numbers”. Like the 4 of us, they just improvised several takes and we used what we thought fit best with what we were going for. Same goes for Joe Deninzon, who added some astonishing violin to “A faint Beautiful Glow”. Since Jimmy brought that song in at the very end of the production, we couldn´t get Marco to play on it, who was out on tour with Joe Satriani and Steven Wilson. Instead, Jimmy brought in a few local percussion players that he knew. Matthias´ guest contribution came about differently. I had already recorded all guitars for “Imaginary Numbers” and, as had already been the case on other songs before, I was worried that if I use everything I had recorded it might end up sounding to much “guitar-centric” because I tend to add TONS of stuff when left to my own devices and that was the one time were Jimmy agreed. So I proposed to him that we bring in Matthias to write a string-arrangement for the final chorus of the piece. Matthias and I have such a great chemistry and working-relationship, which we used and refined to great effect on many releases by now (both Fountainhead EPs, Obscura´s “Akroasis” and so many other projects where either he or I was involved and brought the other one in) and by now it´s a very straight-forward process. So I told him about the idea and what we had in mind. The rest was completely up to him and then he just came over to my home-studio for one afternoon, laid down the tracks and, as expected, it was perfect. So perfect in fact, that I ended up using the lead guitar and the strings together in the mix even though the idea had been for the strings to replace the lead guitar. Also, we decided to use it as an intro for the piece as well, which worked beautifully, I think.
Could you tell us about the song titles, Jimmy?
Jimmy: Well, some of the songs had no title until right towards the end, and others we knew when writing them what the basic image was, and therefore had at least a working title. Here is a breakdown of it all though: Conquistador was named immediately, and is so titled due to the extreme influence of Chick Corea’s My Spanish Heart album on the track. Imaginary Numbers was named pretty early on, but was one of the final songs we wrote. Mathematicians use the term Imaginary Numbers for impossible problems or mathematical concepts, and to me that is akin to the creation of art and music. It is trying to grasp the unknowable, to interpret something that is beyond interpretation, and therefore, why there are viable works of art or music in so many genres, styles, movements. So, Imaginary Numbers is our foray into trying to solve the riddle of what makes music, “music”. The Guide was improvised for my Aunt shortly after her funeral was over. Peacekeeper is so-named due to my proclivity as an ambassador between bandmates during the occasional dispute (mental image of Tom and Jerry’s violent cartoon namesakes here). Of Colors, Spontaneous was another improvisation, and gets its name from the Scriabin influence in the harmony, and the idea of what it would be like to have synaesthesia while experiencing lush harmonies. The Psychic Planetarium was originally Art Official Intel Agents, but we cannot compete with Prince, so in the end this became the title. To me, the “Psychic” in the title means the lesser known definition being, “of the mind and spirit”. The subtitles to it, including the first movement which kept the original “Art Official” title, were originally intended to be queued to where you could skip to each section, and clearly delineated between moods. However, at the end of the mastering session, I decided not to do this and that it was better heard always as a whole. A Faint Beautiful Glow is a tribute to The Big Bang, and a play on Carl Sagan’s Pale Blue Dot. And then, there was light…
The album art is stunning. Can you tell us about the album art, Jimmy?
Jimmy: Mirko Stanchev of Illogical Conversions did the artwork and the more I see it the more in love with it I am. I had sent Mirko tons of samples of what I was hoping for, very disparate samples mind you, varying from Marion Kalmar’s beautiful abstract works from the first album, surrealism, some of the New Age-y type of “Psychic” art (even though the title as mentioned doesn’t represent that definition), all kinds of prismatic images, and Mandelbrot fractal kind of stuff, etc. My main desire was for it to be very colourful though. When I received the final art, I told Mirko it was excellent, yet it seemed quite different from what I had asked for. Now I see this as laughable, because when you look at the list of the widely varied samples listed above, you can honestly see elements of all of those stylistic expressions in his art for the album. Mirko got it to an extent I didn’t realize until looking for a long time, and he said, more than any samples I had sent, he was guided by the music. I originally had worry that the female face inside the cover was too similar to the mechanical face on Galaxy Mechanics from The Fractured Dimension, which we released less than a year ago. But now I see that it is apropos, because the face on The Psychic Planetarium reflects the more beautiful and organic construction of PMP, while the one for TFD had the mechanical technicality that fit that album. I think it is cool that if you have both albums and lay the faces side by side, they are looking towards each other, connected. Very different projects, but both are connected through shared personnel and vision of exploration. Mirko saw that before I ever did, which reflects his brilliance in my eyes. My only regret now is that we didn’t make that piece of art the cover and draw attention to the semi-symbiotic nature of the two projects.
The Guide is a beautiful dedication to your late aunt, Jimmy. Could you and Tom tell us a bit about the influence and the inspiration of family and intimate relationships in music?
Jimmy: I love music, couldn’t live without it, but family? Family is everything to me. My grandparents, parents, siblings, and especially my wife and daughters, are reflected in every note I play. They have always shaped me, as have my close friends, through good times and bad, into who I am today. As a composer of music which is meant to be an unabashedly honest look into my mind and spirit, my listeners are hearing with each phrase about those important to me. My aunt was a force to be reckoned with, the keystone of our extended family, and a woman of wisdom, understanding, knowledge, and overt strength. I couldn’t sum all of that up in a thousand piano performances, but she deserved at least that humble attempt at doing so.
Tom: They have a very big influence, no doubt about it! Earlier you asked me how I manage to sound different from album to album and I think a lot of that has to do with the relationships I have with other people. They enable me to grow and change…and also often they have me end up in difficult circumstances and emotional states which tend to be very audible in the music and playing. For me, music has always been a vehicle to express my inner world rather than me going through the motions of pre-learned exercises and finger-movements. So the relationships to my kids, family and friends make sure that stays the case and that it keeps evolving as the relationships evolve. Not to mention my encounters and dynamics with the female population of the planet, which are just as responsible for some of the musical vibes… wink emoticon Now, that being said, there´s less emotionally charged content from me on this album than on other projects I´ve done, simply because the process was not one of lengthy writing and refining, but one of spontaneous and fun creative outbursts which were triggered by the musical chemistry with the other players. I´d say Jimmy is the one getting his emotions out on the Pitts/Minnemann Project first and foremost which is also why he´s responsible for all of the song titles.
How would you want to label the music from The Pitts-Minnemann Project?
Jimmy: My great friend and mentor, Mikhal Caldwell, used to say something akin to this: “The D that Beethoven played is the same one that Coltrane, or The Beatles, or Bob Marley, or Metallica has played. So, until the aliens come, there is nothing but Earth Music.” Now, tunings have changed a bit over the centuries, but the sentiment is valid, and near and dear to my heart, and, while there are bands or “artists” that I despise the music of, nobody can argue the point that it is all Earth music. So PMP with the mixture of metal, prog rock, jazz, reggae, Classical, etc, is predominantly Earth Music (although I think Tom might be part alien with those fretless melodies!), but if you had to specify I guess Prog or Fusion works better than about anything else.
Tom: Just good music, I´d say. I don´t care for labels, genres or stereotypes – it is what is is and I like what it is, that´s all I need to know.
Tom, on your Facebook page, you recently made a mention about showing an interest into following the Patreon campaign that the band Ne Obliviscaris is now working with because of the realities of the industry. From your perspective, could you tell us more?
Tom: I think you´re referring to me expressing interest in following their example, not their campaign. Yes, I´ve been closely following what they´ve been doing on Patreon and have been in contact with Brandon, their bass-player, for a while now. The industry is at an all-time low, there´s just no way around that. I don´t know anybody who´s able to make a decent living off music right now, even the ones who´re not struggling as hard are only better off because they´re not relying on their own music being a big source of income. And more and more, the scene is filled by hobby-musicians instead of professionals, which definitely influences the quantity and quality of the music that´s being released, and not in a positive way. That, in return, accelerates the de-valuation of music that we´ve been experiencing in recent years, resulting in basically non-existent album-sales and so on. But despite this vicious circle, people still LOVE music and they´re willing to support their favourite artists and I think NeO´s turn to patreon reflects that reality in a clever and positive way. I know that there are some nay-sayers out there, but it already looks like they´re gonna reach their goal and earn the Australian minimum wage through patreon, which for anybody who knows what it´s like to be a working and touring musician, is HUGE! It may not be easily visible to an outsider but projects like Fountainhead or Pitts/Minnemann make ZERO money, at best you can hope to not lose too much of it. For example, “Fear Is The Enemy”, despite having been an extremely important and career-advancing record for me, hasn´t remotely broken even in the 3 years since its release and until now I didn´t even bother to print a physical version because the cost would be bigger than the actual revenue. So for a working musician like myself, the time and energy I spent with non-commercial projects like these comes at a high price and the intervals at which I´m able to do them and the toll it takes on my finances, sanity and health gets bigger every time. A Patreon campaign of my own could go a long way towards enabling me to focus more on those because if I manage to pay my bills even for one month without having to teach several days a week and work commercial jobs at the same time, that would be a HUGE step forward for me! There´s also some very exciting upcoming projects that I know my fans would be very ecstatic about which I have no idea how to find time for otherwise, because a month I would spend writing and recording for a new band or project would be a month where I´d automatically have to worry about losing my apartment or not to be able to feed my kids. The upcoming new Fountainhead EP took 3 years to finish and release because of my financial day-to-day reality, even though the songs had all been written by the time “Fear Is the Enemy” came out. Without a drastic change and new possibilities to make money, these intervals will hardly get shorter. Same for Pitts/Minnemann Project.
Do you have any message for the fans?
Jimmy: A resounding and enormous thank you to you all! This type of music lives and dies by the support it finds between the cracks of an industry which has long since abandoned good taste. You are all extremely appreciated, and to speak truthfully, in the age of crowdfunding, you are all our co-creators. So if you like what we do and took part in making it happen by purchasing the album, or perks, or encouraging us, pat yourselves on the back too. This is your music as much as it is the band’s.
Tom: Thanks so much for all the support you´ve been giving us. I hope you´ll enjoy the new album as much as we enjoyed making it. If you do, please continue to spread the word! Thanks again and love & light to all of you – Cheers!
Thanks again for talking to us, Jimmy and Tom! We wish you the best of luck with all your future projects.
Duo: Always a pleasure to speak with you, Roshan, keep up the great work at Metal Wani!