Interview with Steve Unruh in the occasion of the release of the album "Lost and Found" by The Samurai Of Prog
About one year ago, we concluded an exchange of emails in which you told me about something you were working on, the “Lost and Found” that is now reality; could you tell us how you went on creating it? How did you manage to revitalise the old tracks?
We used the old recordings for learning and reference. We studied them. But when it came time to make our arrangements and recordings, we started from scratch. Stefan and Tom laid the groundwork, upon which everything else was built. New click tracks, new everything. I considered making a medley of the original recordings, to show what the recordings sounded like and to give the flavor of the original performances. It would have been revealing and fascinating. But upon hearing how the new recordings flow together, a medley of existing recordings wouldn't have made sense in the flow of this album.
Similar operations are usually made by labels thinking they are dealing with some "cult record". But in your case, this is not business: it's love for some music that didn't manage to earn the consideration it deserved when it was first released. Why did you choose to do it?
It was Marco's idea. To be honest, originally I had reservations. I wanted to focus on "new" music. But then I heard these compositions, and I realized how great they could be, and how much we could make them "our own". Along the way, we've had so much fun with the original band members, exchanging phone calls and emails, learning about life in the original bands, seeing the interesting paths the original members have taken over the past 40 years... this project took on a life of its own, and I'm so glad I got overruled by Marco and Kimmo, because as events have unfolded over the past couple of years, this project has become one of my favorite works - both in the music we made, and the stories we exchanged during its making.
The guestlist in this record is richer than it was in your previous work. What can you tell me about them?
Yeah, that guest list is pretty impressive, isn't it! The roster is comprised of friends we've made over the years, plus new friends we made because they were associated with the bands Pavlov's Dog, Lift, Odyssey, Cathedral, and Quill. I think each new TSoP release ups the ante, in some way, and we're gaining in momentum and reputation. It's a big honor to get our first choice for guest musicians so much of the time. Some of these guys are quite busy, you may know, so it's an honor that they joined us - and turned in such hard-working stellar performances. Nobody "phoned it in", for sure!
I find “The Demise” particularly striking. Can you explain us what that suite means?
That should be the subject of an entire interview with Ken Deloria and Keith Christian! I'll leave it at that. That rabbit hole is too deep to jump into here.
This is a very rich double CD, but I imagine you've had to make a selection. Did you exclude tracks that weren't possible to retrieve?
We selected our favorite pieces - the ones we thought had a combination of the strongest composition and tended most toward "Samurai-zation". We aren't interested in being a cover band anymore. I'd say that personally, I've learned some lessons since our first two albums in that regard. We chose pieces that allowed us to express our collective personality the most. So there were a few perfectly good tunes we declined, simply because we couldn't find "ourselves" in them.
You worked once more with the (very recognisable) Ed Unitsky; can you tell us about your artistic relationship with him?
Ed is a real artist, has a strong artistic vision, and a hard work ethic. We love having him as our artist, and we all feel his work on The Imperial Hotel and Lost and Found entertains the eye and elevates the listener's experience. Actually, it seems like the music even sounds better when you're looking at Ed's artwork! Ed works like an opinionated member of the band - just as we're the specialists in the audio department, he's the specialist in the visual department. If he gets a strong idea in his mind, he'll fight for it... and we usually realize, later, that Ed was right!
The artwork draws directly from musical and lyrical themes. We explain to Ed what we're trying to convey musically, and we send him song lyrics. Ed and his wonderful longtime consultant Olga study that carefully, and Ed creates the artwork bearing the themes and lyrics in mind.
Are there any news concerning possible live shows?
As much fun as that would be, there are no plans at this time. There are too many people living in too many distant parts of the world. Also, the music is incredibly hard, and it would take loads of practice with everybody in the same room to get it right. We're all perfectionists, and we won't do it unless we can do it properly. But we definitely won't say "never"! It could happen one day.
What's next? An album of new TSOP music or something like a “Lost and Found” Two?
An album of new TSoP music is next. Guest composers (some returning from The Imperial Hotel) have begun work already, and for a couple of tunes that are the farthest along, Marco and Kimmo have already started recording parts.
One last question... a thought for Stefan Renström.
As you may know, Stefan tragically died shortly after completing work on Lost and Found. That was hard. Stefan loved living, and he was loved by his family, and he was admired by us. We fully expected to keep working with Stefan, because "the stubborn Swede", as he called himself, was a super-talent. His work shines on Lost and Found. Although it's sad and frustrating that we lost our musical brother way too soon, at least he got to wave goodbye with a massive and amazing set of arrangements and performances.