'The Dreams Of Man' is the third studio album after the resurrection of the band. Do you see a progress when you compare the three?
It certainly feels like it. As I listen back to the three post-resurrection albums what I really notice is a growing confidence. With 'Beat The Drum' (the first come-back album) we really had no plan in mind other than getting some songs out of our system. It was really about some 'unfinished business' we felt we had. We weren't even sure if we'd be able to release it or not as we'd been out of the music business for so long. Once we crossed that bridge and realised that not only were there people out there who remembered us, but who were anxious for new music, then we got energised by that enthusiasm.
By the time we got to 'The Cross And The Crucible” we really had got back into our stride as a band. We'd been playing live quite a bit and that really tightened us up. We also got a good sense of what it was we were best at. The line-up had settled down and Colin (the new drummer) really felt like he was part of it now. So it was a much more focused and comfortable writing situation. The thing pretty much wrote itself, and it felt like the Pallas we'd always heard in our heads was finally coming out of the speakers. 'The Cross' felt like the Pallas album we'd all always wanted to make.
Because of that, even when we were touring 'The Cross' we were talking about what shape the next one should take. It was clear we needed to move on a bit; we couldn't just repeat the same sort of thing. What was clear to us was that we needed to get a bit more energy into the next one. Probably that we needed to turn the guitars and drums up a bit. We've always been quite a heavy band live and we felt we should try and reflect that more. Aside from that we didn't want to paint ourselves into a corner too much. 'The Cross' was very gothic, with the Gregorian choirs etc. It had a definite feel. We wanted to do something that could stand up to that kind of power, but have a character of it's own. It took a while, but I think we managed it.
How would you describe Pallas' sound?
Epic, dramatic, atmospheric, dynamic and just a little melancholic. But most of all we're PASSIONATE!! We've always liked doing 'wide-screen' music, if your average band is 4x3 television in mono, then we're like Panavision in a large auditorium with surround sound, haha. But we like to rock out a bit too. We're not one of those bands who say “look how clever we are”.. it's more about something we can share with an audience. In that respect we're probably as much influenced by the likes of Purple and Zep as we are by Floyd and Yes. There's definitely a very Scottish thing going on there too - always a hint of sadness in the grandeur. That's a big element of Scottish folk music and most of the successful Scots bands have it too: Simple Minds, Alex Harvey, Travis, Del Amitri. All very different kinds of music, but to me there's a recognisably Scottish thread to them all.
Are there differences in the way Pallas made the albums in the 80's and now? Is there a standard way?
We're developing a kind of a system, but that's pretty much determined by the practicalities. I live 600 km away in London while the rest live around Aberdeen in Northern Scotland. The other four build up an 'ideas bank' of riffs and musical threads through jamming which we all then stand back try and make songs out of. I also offer up raw musical ideas which get added to the mix. After we've settled on what we think are the strongest ideas, we then try to develop them into finished tracks. That can take quite a while as we experiment with different instrumentation and feels. That's when the technology starts to play a big part. MIDI and the internet are wonderful things. We can exchange arrangements from computer to computer and sketch out an agreed version of a track BEFORE we come to record it properly. That way no studio time is wasted. We already have a very strong idea of what we need to do when we go in.
In the old days it was very much us all standing together in our rehearsal studio and banging it out hour after hour. If you wanted to make a change then we'd all have to learn the new arrangement and then play it to see if it worked. Very time consuming and tiring. It'd all change again when in the studio when you realised you could do more complex things with it. I remember wasting days of very expensive studio time just trying to get one keyboard to 'talk' to a sequencer. Or Ronnie working into the early hours of the morning just to tweak a sample because the equipment was a nightmare to programme. It's all so much easier now. Pretty much anything you can imagine you can now do with relatively little fuss. But we're always looking for that little bit extra. That's why we've started to bring in the odd guest musician (Like Paul on fiddle and Pandy on operatic vocals). It allows us to add a bit of extra colour to the palette.
The songs are all well arranged, can you tell how long it took to write and develop them?
It didn't take the whole four years! As you may have guessed Pallas is not a full-time occupation for anyone in the band. We have to fit it around the rest of our lives. Having said that, it did take far longer than any of us had expected. One of the problems was that the jamming stage for the 'ideas bank' went on far longer than planned. It wasn't that we didn't have any good ideas, quite the opposite. The other four were having such a good time playing together that they just couldn't stop! I ended up with about 10 CD-R's of rough ideas. I had to shout 'Stop!' because it was just getting too much to digest. Getting everyone to focus on actually finishing tracks took a bit of time. There were then some practical problems. The post-production of 'The Blinding Darkness' concert DVD took much more time and effort than we'd expected. Work effectively stopped on the new album while we sorted that out. To make matters more difficult still, Ronnie had decided he wanted to travel round the world for a year, so we had to record the keyboard parts first and do the rest while he was away. He'd check in via e-mail from Beijing or Phuket from time to time and get mp3's of the work in progress to keep him up to date. Then just as we'd broken the back of it the government called a General Election. I work for the BBC as a journalist, so I couldn't leave London for 3 months to finish the vocals until well after the campaign was over.
How do you see the position of Pallas in the progscene of today, with all kinds of combinations and styles that new bands are inventing?
I don't really tend to think much about the prog-scene to be honest. I'm aware there's still a surprising amount going on, but I don't follow it in great detail. I think we're still very much one of the pre-eminent bands in that scene, but primarily we aim to challenge ourselves rather than worry about any competition as such. I do try and get out to see other bands from time to time and there are some I've really enjoyed. Others don't really grab me. To be honest at home I tend to listen to things like Rush and Muse rather than any of the crop of new prog-bands.
Any bands of today that you think are special? Prog or non-prog.
Muse.. I was absolutely blown away by 'Absolution' when I first heard it. You can hear their influences quite clearly but they've really worked them in an inspired way. It's still on heavy rotation on my Ipod! Prog-wise I was quite taken by Spock's Beard when I first heard them. They had a freshness and sense of humour that made them stand out. I'm not quite so sure about their newer stuff. I've only heard it live, but it seemed less distinctive than some of their previous output.
Pallas will be touring with label mates Proto-Kaw on a double headlining bill in January. What do you expect of those dates?
To get a buzz playing as much of the new album as we can fit into the set!! I've not met the Proto-Kaw guys yet, so I've no idea what it's going to be like. Hopefully we'll share a similar passion for the music and as long as they've got a sense of humour all should be fine, haha.
That tour is modest; only five dates are planned so far. Any plans for more? Maybe later in the year or festivals maybe?
I agree it's a little on the short side. There were some availability and routing problems involved which meant there were places we had to miss out. We certainly intend to do a lot more later in the year. We're planning some short bursts of dates in the UK in the spring and perhaps something a little more substantial elsewhere in the autumn.
There was quite some time between 'The Dreams Of Men' and the previous album 'The Cross And The Crucible', do you think it will take another four years for the next Pallas album?
I hope not! We haven't talked about the next project yet, I think we need to get out and gig this one first. But I imagine we'll start getting our heads round it by this time next year. All being well we'll get it down to two years this time! There's certainly plenty of raw material left over from this one.
Anything else you like to tell our readers?
If you haven't checked out our stuff already, then I advise you to do so. It may not be quite what you expect. If you have already got the album and liked it, thanks very much, it's what makes it all worthwhile. And If you've downloaded it illegally then I'll be coming round your house with some large friends and a baseball bat!
So far Alan Reed of Pallas. I'm looking forward to that tour in January and I hope to visit one their gigs. If I do then you will read all about it in Lords Of Metal of course![/b]