A lot of prayer and seeking went into the foundation of the band. At first, we joined with a view towards recording one album. I would write and direct the project. It would be one of Christian Progressive rock. Those who came along for the ride were kind enough to lend their talents and follow my vision. Many of the musical themes and ideas had been in my heart for some time - years. I wanted to record an album that would glorify God.
Phase 1 -involved settling the line up of the band for this album.
The line up settled with myself as the guitarist, keyboardist, and occasional vocalist. Doug Meadows still astonishes me as a drummer. Man, he's good! I've been thrilled to play with a drummer as skilled as him. Eric Naylor would lend his considerably appealing vocals. The final member to settle in, Stephen Stortz would share his considerable natural talent and bass guitar handling skill.
Phase 2 - involved learning and recording our first album - An Other Life. It should be said that we were all experienced musicians, but none of us ever took on a project as involved as writing and recording a progressive rock album. It's been said that "vintage" sounding prog isn't truly progressive at all, but regressive. Well, true in a sense. But for us as musicians, the process of writing, recording, and playing the album "An Other Life" live was an experience which helped us to "progress" as musicians. I should also mention Danny Lee, who had done sound and engineering work before. He worked with us throughout the project as an engineer and co-producer. Danny and his wife Trish also opened their home to us to do some of the recording of vocals. Danny's sense of humor enhanced those sessions.
Money was not readily available for An Other Life. But time was. We put a long time into recording the album, working initially with an 8 track analog recorder. As we continued to move forward, a friend of Doug's, Don Oliver invited us to complete the album at his digital studio, which we did.
From the beginning, Akacia was a project, but also a band. But the ratio earlier was something like 80% project, 20% band. By the end of the project, Akacia was a band, 100%. We wanted to continue to work together, and play live. Looking back, it was such an encouragement the way the guys each took up more ownership of the band. Doug assisted in production of the CD, Steve funded the initial release of 1000 CDs (the ones with the blue cover), and Eric's home became a 2nd meeting place for informal acoustic rehearsals, listening sessions, and meetings.
Our first album - An Other Life
The album opens with heavy riffs and frequent time changes as the title track "An Other Life" unfolds. It's the song about a guy who's had it with life as he knows it. He sets out to flee. He hopes to make an other life for himself, and he does. Thru numerous musical passages and moods, his story develops until he comes to a realization. He can't escape from one thing. It's the one thing that really led him to desire an other life in the first place: he cries "Me! It's a problem I can't flee!" This track runs around 17 minutes long. Doug goes thru more driving time changes on this song than . . . than . . . well let's just say there's a lot of time changes! Steve grooves along steadily, and I had lots of fun playing a variety of different styles of guitar solos in different places - all in one song! Good fun to play, "An Other Life" is.
"Mary" follows up. A shorter track, but 6 minutes, it's a blend of prog and blues rock. It starts out in almost "Hendrix" fashion with a blues rock groove, and the lyrics (influenced by an old spiritual which I think was written around 1900) enter, pleading - "Oh Mary, Oh Mary, Oh Mary don't you weep - Martha, Oh Martha, Martha don't you moan". The chorus is a tapestry of parallel chords and modal interchange backing the assurance "the horse and the rider are sinking like a stone". The instrumental interlude moves thru some striking passages before returning to bring the song home.
"Hold Me" - The intro is progressive - at first a conscious effort to do something dissonant, sort of Crimson-like, then we got moody - kind of Pink Floydish maybe? The rest of this song is just high energy bombastic rock song.
At the time of working on the project, "Journal" was the thing for me. More than one review referred to it as a thru-composed, but I think they may have missed many of the "variations on themes" interwoven throughout the composition. True, lyrically, there's little recapping, but that's what you'd expect reading someone's journal. I expressed my heart and faith in this piece and it captures the core of what I hoped for musically and lyrically for the album.
Around the time of the completion of the CD, we played our first full length concert (free) at a coffeehouse held in Easton, Ma, at New Hope Christian Chapel. David Stratton, a close friend, and a keyboardist guested on part of "Journal". My friend Kenny was there and said he thought we sounded good until David started playing with us. He said when Dave got up there he felt he "should've bought a ticket". Shortly after, David was in Akacia. In the meantime, album two was already in the works.
Steve and I were driving to Foxboro Stadium. To perform. I wish! . . . Ok. We were driving to Foxboro Stadium to pick up tickets to an upcoming Yes concert. He hit me with the basic story idea for The Brass Serpent, and this became the foundation for the album. We began working on the music and road tested the four songs that wound up on The Brass Serpent album before heading into the studio.
We rehearsed and played some local shows here and there. An Other Life began receiving very encouraging reviews. (We believed in the work, but many of our favorite albums were panned by critics when they were fist released, so we didn't know what to expect.) Encouraged by the positive feedback our first CD was getting, we sent a copy of An Other Life to Musea Records and they chose to release the album in 2003. The Musea release has been remastered and has better cover art thanks to the generous work of Randy George and Jonathan Allen Cummings. Around this time, I think, the CPR discussion group was started. John Collinge of Progressive Magazine put us in touch with the New England Art Rock Society (NewEARS) and we played our first concert for them. At this concert we debuted The Brass Serpent, which was still a work in progress.
Then NewEARS was kind enough to have us back to open up for Neal Morse when he performed in Lowell Ma. shortly after the release of his Testimony CD. Randy George was playing bass with Neal, so we got to meet in person which was great! I wish we could've spent more time together. Also, I greatly admire Neal Morse as a writer and musician and have often regretted that at the time we met, I couldn't think of much to say. Nonetheless, it was a memorable evening.
For our second album, we recorded at Mark Rabuck's studio, and we were able to record a more professional sounding CD.
The first song is "Postmodernity." It's really about wrestling with the idea of relative versus absolute truth. "If 'nothing is certain', then how can you be certain that 'nothing is certain' after all?" The song moves thru several passages: edgy guitar, swirling mellotron, as the song moves thru three movements. A different version of this song appears on the CPR compilation CD. (By the way, at Mark's we also recorded a Moody Blues cover "The Tide Rushes In" which may be released on another compilation album - a Moody Blues tribute album on Mellow Records - in the near future.)
"The Brass Serpent" is an epic piece set in Old Testament times, about a man named Z. I don't want to tell the whole story, that's available on the CD. But to provide some idea - Z has crossed thru the Red Sea. Z has eaten the food God provided for his people in the desert. Z's wrestling with whether God's really good to them or not. He thinks it might've been better to stay in Egypt. Z's bitten by a snake and is facing death as a result, but God has provided the cure if Z will only look upon the brass serpent. There's a lot to this epic. At roughly 35 minutes long it is the heart of the album. Musically, it's got a little of everything that Akacia's about.
"Olivet" is a mystical piece of music based on the Olivet discourse. As with the original text, we present the lyrics in a manner that's open to the interpretation of the reader/listener rather than offering our own interpretation of the text.
"The Grace of God" is more of a straight ballad, though it evokes proggy atmospheres and has a lot of modal interchange. It is, as the title suggests, about the Grace of God.
Dave had several life changes to undergo and so he left Akacia. We remain good friends, and he may pop up behind keys from time to time at a gig. We played as a quartet for a few shows, until Dave was replaced by Trish Lee. Trish is a polar opposite kind of keyboardist from Dave. Whereas Dave is classically trained and moved from that technical, orchestrated background towards the music of Akacia, Trish is more of an atmospheric, free, improvisational kind of musician also moving towards the music of Akacia. Trish has been a friend of the band from the beginning, and is married to Danny, who helped with An Other Life. Trish and Danny have created "Paradigm Studios" where Akacia now rehearses, and I have acquired new digital recording equipment of my own for us to continue recording together. We have already completed our 3rd album "This Fading Time" and we are in the process of determining where to go from here. Through it all, we fellowship, grow stronger as friends, and continue to pray and encourage one another in our faith. We hope you enjoy our music. Drop us an email and let us know what you think if you'd like.