Words : Alex Lynham
Picture : Courtesy of Trojan Horse
“It's more a state of mind than a type of music” - Trojan Horse and the Prog Nouveau Revolution.
Progressive rock. Prog rock. Prog. That do anything for you? Probably not. At this very second, I suspect most readers will be picturing Rick Wakeman in a cape and hat, attempting to play twelve keyboards-at-once whilst ice skaters farcically patter around him.
None of that shit for Trojan Horse though, even if frontman Nick Duke does confess a fondness for “Wakeman playing twenty-minute keyboard solos in a cape.” Starting off from more of a different background, Nick reflects, “[a]t that time [we started the band] I knew a little about prog, it was a dirty word that would get chucked about like it was the most horrific type of indulgent shit you could get in the world. Punks I knew would spit out the word like they’d tasted shit, which to me just made me want to check it out even more!”
This is pretty much the defining characteristic of a band that playfully mix together more styles and genres than you can shake a stick at; on their self-titled debut there are funk fusion wig-outs, laid back shoegaze nods, punk attacks, post-rock sprawls, and of course prog, prog, prog. This isn't really surprising, for if you ask them about their influences, the list is colossal, and each member (all contribute to the songwriting process) has a pretty different idea of what great music is, as Nick explains:
“Well, [my favourite bands] are Queens of the Stone Age, Kyuss, Foo Fighters (the early stuff), Steely Dan, Tears For Fears, Converge, Cave In, King Crimson, The Beatles Yes…the list is endless. I’ve recently been getting into computer game music, as a lot of what I’ve subconsciously taken in as a kid was the stuff playing while I was on my SNES or PlayStation. The Secret of Mana soundtrack has been played too many times over the last couple of months. I know Lozz is into a lot of folky stuff at the minute, Jethro Tull, Nick Drake, Tim and Jeff Buckley, Elliott Smith. Guy is into his post rock stuff, he’s been banging on about the last Mogwai album a lot which I’ve still yet to hear. And we’re all massively digging Field Music at the moment, I should point out that I wasn’t into the last album at first but Guy made me persevere with it and now I can’t stop listening to it, so again I must admit I was wrong. Eden’s music taste is questionable at best…but he’s learning quickly, hes been blasting out Tom Petty of late which is better than HIM I must say!”
I'd be a dirty fucking liar if I said that I could hear every single one of those in the 'Horse's sound, but at the same time, I'd have been pretty surprised by a list anything other than that extensive, and that's appropriate; a big reason why Trojan Horse are a prog band is simply them trying to shoehorn in all of their ideas. Sometimes this comes in such a rush that you can go from riffing rock one second to dream-pop, to pirate sea-shanties all in the space of the same couple of minutes. It's simply mind-boggling to behold live, and on the record, high production values and deft musicianship throughout ensure that the experimentalism never drags. For all of the ways in which their sound is calculated, however, the vibe still reigns king, as their description of the songwriting process reveals; “we write and if it feels “right”, sounds interesting and has a good hook we keep it. From small riffs doth mighty songs grow…to paraphrase someone.”
“Just because Bon Jovi isn’t Number One in the charts doesn't mean everyone has given up on guitar music, [it's] probably more to do with the fact the big bands playing guitar music are bland as fuck and people have gone elsewhere, and these are the sales that will be unrecorded by the mainstream,” says Nick, as we move on to discussing that controversial Guardian article of a couple of months back. Trojan Horse have a keys player as well, so is it this that makes them more equipped to deal with the future of music? Nick didn't seem to think so, “I think the definition of 'guitar music' has changed. You’ve got people like Omar Rodriguez Lopez, one of the most renowned guitarists in the world saying stuff like he hates the sound of a guitar so he does anything to make it not sound like one, and he’d only took it up because it’s the only thing his fellow band members could relate to with relative ease. I think that’s brilliant, because it’s a big 'FUCK YOU!' to the idea that because you’re amazing at something and because people have this preconception of their own about what you’re doing, that you have to fall in line with everyone.
So, it's in the title of this interview, but what is 'Prog Nouveau' anyway? I'm going to turn this over to the beardyman himself:
“Prog Nouveau is an umbrella term for what we see going on in the left field of the Manchester music scene right now. There are so many musicians bringing stuff out that is experimental, and challenging the status quo that is the bog standard crap in Manchester at the moment. It holds the reigns because of this nostalgic rose-tinted view of Manchester from 1977-’98 “the glory days” and there are plenty of bands flogging that dead horse, so it's become a mush now. Prog Nouveau is all those people who are willing to stick their necks out and push themselves and the music they are making to mean something more than just a 2-3 minute single that is about going out on the pull. Great bands and producers creating great music that isn’t restricted to a specific genre; the key is being forward thinking [enough] just to do it for themselves. You’ve got bands like From The Kites of San Quentin, Cyril Snear, Plank, Patterns, Nasdaq, GNOD. People like Mind On Fire, This City is Ours, Wotgodforgot, Bad Uncle all providing a live platform for it, and a lot of the Manchester based journalists are covering it all, so gradually people are starting to realize that its not all happening in the capital, in fact it's right here every night of the week. [This scene] just needed a name to put to it, because humans need to label everything and put it in a box so they can know what and where something is. I think our album launch proved that its definitely there, there’s an audience for it, and the talent is bubbling under the surface waiting to burst out further afield. It's been going on for a good few years now, but we’ve just been cheeky enough to nail our name for it, to it.”
Epic. Well I know I'll be trawling through my mp3 library changing 'genre' tags for the next couple of days after that one... in any case, we've got to be different places, so it's about time to wrap up. Final question: what does Nick love about music?
“This is going to sound extremely corny and pretentious but, I love the fact that without any words, you can express a whole range of feelings that run the whole spectrum of what it is to be alive. That at the end of the day music is a combination of vibrations in the air that we breathe and it can evoke such powerful feelings in everyone. One piece of music can mean so many things to different people. I don’t see how you couldn’t have music in your life, its just an essential part of it.”
Hell fucking yes. Who said prog was all technical and no emotion? Then again, this isn't prog; this is Prog Nouveau. In the words of a great man, “climb upon the wave, to somewhere you ain't never been...”
www.myspace.com/trojanhorseband / this interview MARCH 2011 / (c) manchestermusic.co.uk