It is with great honor and wonderful joy that I present to you a post from Paul Villarreal, whom I know as Progressive Paul, but whom you may know as lead vocalist for Progressive Metal band Sun Caged. We shared the mic for Strong PROGress, our college radio program, on WSUM – Madison Student Radio on the campus of University of Wisconsin – Madison. Truly an excellent experience and a dream come true for me as I LOVE to share my musical finds with other people, as you will read below. Enjoy!
Hello Fellow prog/music lovers. I was just blathering on my fb page about a little band called Echolyn! As I explained a bit about why they made such an impact on me, it kind of turned into a reminiscing of my first true “prog” experience. It also became too long for anyone with a Twitter/Facebook-lengthed attention span to actually read. So I thought, what better topic could there be for my first official post here on the Strong PROGress blog. (the post is still there on my FB page, but I’ve edited and expanded it here to make more sense as a stand alone blurb.)
…you enter this conversation as we are speaking of one of my great loves in the prog world, a far under-credited band called Echolyn! I announced that I was in the mood to watch some “Stars & Gardens” (their live dvd) on this dreary, but not unpleasant Sunday morning:
It occurs to me that they’re like a ‘first love’. One of my first TRUE prog experiences. Before them I’d heard some prog, but not really knowing what it was. Kansas (thought it was just really good Classic Rock), Dream Theater, Fates Warning, Queensryche (thought they were just metal, but better than others…) Rush (a band I remember really digging when I heard them on the radio as a child)
My friend Doug was really the first who explained the common thread to me–and that I’d been listening to “prog” all along. I decided I needed to delve into this “prog” consciously.
Then along came my friend Ryan Good (who has sadly forsaken FB, lol). Ryan and I had several times bumped into each other at concerts all over our area: Dream Theater in Milwaukee, (Awake & Change of Season tours I think), Fates Warning in Rockford or Chicago (I can’t remember, Ryan were you at the one with ‘Rebels Without Applause’ as support in Rockford?) King’s X, Milwaukee, whatever good shows stopped in Madison… At some point we recognized each other and knew we were both UW Madison students. There was a little ‘crew’ forming of Madison Area prog/metal fans. My good friends Doug & Carlo, Matty Mo (radio host from the Madison Public radio), My brother Marc (occasionally when he wasn’t too busy being sensible and responsible ;), Ryan and myself and a few others. Anyway, we kept seeing each other at these events and realized we had very similar musical tastes. So, eventually Ryan invited me to hang out with him and co-host his “prog” show on College radio.
I think it was the day of his show…we met at a nearby cafe & had a coffee in the sun basked terrace before show-time. There he showed me Spock’s Beard for the first time. (The Kindness of Strangers) Imagine your first hearing of real prog being in headphones, in the glorious Sun on a springtime college campus enjoying a coffee with your new (and then unbeknownst to you, life-long) friends…and having the sounds hitting your ears being the absolute musical perfection of “The Good Don’t Last” The perfect “prog” intro followed up by the revelation that was, “What!? You can use acoustic guitars in this music?” …then enters the unrivaled vocal harmony blend of Neal Morse and Nick D’Virgilio…then the classic “prog interlude,” only the display chops is tempered by supreme musicality and tastefulness! Climactic chorus…then challenging, engaging art-rock outro…. did I mention the sunshine + college campus atmosphere? … yeah, it would change you too. I remember my initial reaction (once I was able to speak) Was thinking Spock’s Beard sounded like what STYX (then & now one of my favorites!) could’ve ended up doing if they’d made a very different decision in about 1982–and decided to go *more* artsy and challenging instead of chasing the mainstream and popular taste of the minute.
Of course after that I was more than excited to join up with Ryan and do the show! Later that day (or the next, I can’t really remember…) we arrive to do the show. After getting the feel of the place and playing a few songs, I hear Ryan say, “have you heard THIS?” I looked up and he was holding Echolyn – “As the World” …me: “no.” Almost speechless with excitement (perhaps a guttural “duuuude…..” or something of the like was uttered) he pops it in and spins the opening track. I listen AGOG! At the end he says, “take this home and listen to the whole thing. THIS IS A LIFE-CHANGING CD!!!” I’ve told that part of the story many times….because he was so right! I did take that cd home with me. Listened to it from start to end that night. Time stopped. I remember hanging on every note and every line! I remember at the end being almost near tears. Starting the cd over again and having the same thing happen. I’d intended to sleep to it but the awesomeness kept me awake! I took it to work with me the next day–listened to it several hours straight.
I’m not even going to go into detail describing the music. First off, that could be a whole different post, secondly, why should I ruin the experience for you with my opinions…discover it for yourself! Instead, I’ll finish by recounting the image that is forever seared into, intertwined with my memories of those days. Not long after, my darling and I planned a trip to visit my relatives in San Diego. We were young college kiddos (i.e. broke) so we took the Greyhound Bus–from Madison to San Diego. The horrible parts of the “Greyhound” experience, I’ll also leave out. But the most memorable thing–and here I’ll date myself a little–not only had I made a cassette tape (Side A: Spock’s Beard – The Kindness of Strangers; Side B: Echolyn – As the World) but I was also proud of my walkman for having the “auto-reverse” feature. (yes, I had a discman, but at the time I didn’t have the capacity to copy onto cd) In my typical fashion, I packed WAY, WAY too many tapes and cds, but the irony, of course, was that that cassette never left the walkman! Going that route by land you pass through quite a lot of flat barren plains, didn’t matter I could just close my eyes and listen. Then at one point, as if it was the payoff for taking this terrible travel option, we passed through the Rockies. Looking out on those views completely matched my feelings of the music: Earthy, Organic and yet undeniably EPIC (before those were even buzz words 😉
So I’ve rambled on, but getting back to the bit about ‘first love’ … Those two albums combined to create the quintessential ‘a-HA!” moment…”so THIS is ‘prog’!” …and it’s been very difficult for any later prog experience to compete with that first taste!
And yet, there’s more to the story. For if I hadn’t visited San Diego, and felt so happy there (partly because of the music!) then I might never have moved there. If I’d never moved there, I’d never have made music with my brothers of Wooden Badger. If I’d never have done that, I’d never have had anything to send to Sun Caged as an audition sample, and if I hadn’t done that, I wouldn’t be here in Europe with my lovely family, and musical experiences with Sun Caged. ….BUT!, coming full circle, if I’d never met Ryan, I’d never have heard a little band called “Lemur Voice” (which Ryan showed me either that same day or the following week) and therefore never have heard of a guitar player named Marcel Coenen who would later form a band called Sun Caged…who would later find themselves looking for a singer!
In the words of ‘The Stranger’ from The Big Lebowski: “That’s how this whole derned comedy keeps perpetuatin’ itself”
So readers, if you’ve stuck with me this far, thanks! I hope to speak with you again soon, and perhaps (…just *perhaps*) not at such great length!
Check Paul out on Twitter at @WoodenBadger77 and I am still at @StrongPROGress