Something very special is about to happen in St. Louis. A rare event that those of us in the know normally have to travel for. I am, of course, speaking of a genuine prog show. In this specific case I am referring to the Edensong/Imminent Sonic Destruction show coming to the Fubar on Wednesday May 24th. We at Damnation were lucky enough to talk to James Byron Schoen of Edensong about their recent album Years in the Garden of Years as well as the upcoming tour.
D: Years in the Garden of Years clearly has heavy symphonic prog influences with moments that evoke Steve Hackett, Ian Anderson or Rick Wakeman but there are also strong thematic elements and sections of heavy metallic intensity. Can you specify some of your musical influences?
J: Yeah, I think you hit the nail on the head! It’s funny, but it seems that so much of the music that inspired this album was stuff that we were listening to early on in life. I think that all of us grew up listening to classic metal: Metallica, Megadeth etc. In fact, when I met Tony (drummer) in 7th grade his first question to me was “do you like Metallica” (I didn’t at the time, but I did soon thereafter). I started to discover classic prog like Yes, Jethro Tull etc. around the same time by sifting through my dad’s record collection. Believe it or not, I think the symphonic influences come in large part from the classic video games we grew up playing. They had such influential soundtracks (Nobuo Uematsu’s Final Fantasy soundtrack, for example). Most of us went on to study “classical” music formally, but I wouldn’t be surprised if our interest in orchestral music developed in part through our love for this video game music (mine certainly did!)
D: The bulk of the album is an 8-part suite that deals with the perception of time. Can you give us a little bit of detail regarding that theme?
J: Yes, all of the songs are about time, in a very broad sense. There’s no one overarching linear story to the concept. Instead, each song is its own musing on the topic. Some songs deal with time as it pertains to one’s own lifespan. Some songs zoom out a little further and look at human history, the rise and fall of civilzations, geological time, and the absence of time (in part embodied by the concept of the actual garden of years). It was important to me that the lyrics and music stay open-ended enough so that the listener can draw his/her own meaning from it.
D: Did the concept develop during the songwriting process or was the theme decided upon in advance?
J: The concept for the album developed very early on in the writing process and definitely informed most of the composition. The first complete song that I wrote for the record was “In the Longest of Days” and the concept to write a complete cycle about time really came out of that one song. One of the first things I did was to chart a basic outline of the full song cycle, what sorts of songs would go where, how they would interconnect, the dynamic peaks and valleys etc. and the next months (or years?) were all about filling in the details, which was an extremely collaborative process. I think every member of the band contributed ideas that would go on to be the seed of a song from Years in the Garden of Years.
D: Was it intended to have the most adorable prog album cover of all time? Could you go into some detail on the album art?
J: Hahahaha, you’re the first person to put it quite so bluntly, but that’s great! I think I actually discovered the brilliant work of Dan May on my Facebook feed one day. I was really drawn to his work, a blend between surrealism and children’s storybook illustration with a dark twist. I thought it would mix quite nicely with the tone of the music, which is certainly dark, but a bit whimsical as well. Luckily, he thought it would be a good collaboration as well!
D:The album has a great balance between technicality and emotion, how much weight do you put on technicality versus emotion in your songwriting?
J: I love this question because I think it addresses exactly what we’re striving to achieve with this music. I can certainly appreciate highly technical playing, but I get very bored and turned off when it doesn’t serve some greater aesthetic/compositional purpose. Endless shred solos do nothing for me musically. I think it was important to us to have a strong compositional purpose behind every note we play. There are a lot of notes, it’s true, but I like to think that they’re carefully placed and well thought out. I don’t think of myself as a particularly technically proficient player, certainly within the realm of progressive rock and metal, where there are so many true virtuosos. However, making this album has really caused us all to really challenge ourselves and stretch our abilities. It’s been a great learning experience, especially now that we have the chance to play it all live!
D: Have you had the opportunity to perform the suite in its entirety live?
J: Yes, the suite is a major component of our set these days! We can play the full suite for longer sets (ie) festival shows) when we have the time to get through it and the room onstage for the extra guitars it requires 🙂
D: What can we expect from your live performances on the upcoming tour?
J: A lot material from “Years in the Garden of Years”!! It’s rare that we’ll break out much, if any, of the older material these days. We’re just really enjoying playing this new album live, sometimes in it’s entirety! Unfortunately, the set in St. Louis is a bit shorter (club curfews and such), so we’ll be sticking to some hard rocking highlights. It should be a lot of fun!
D: If you could tour with any bands, active or not, who would they be?
J: Honestly, there are just so many. It would be nice to tour with a band like Dream Theater, who are playing really large shows and have a giant following. They were another one of our favorite bands growing up, and helped to shape our sound. I think that could be hugely helpful for getting our music out to a wider audience. Opeth would probably be a good pairing as well! Since Ian Anderson recently wrote about us on his website, I’ve dreamed of getting the opportunity to play with him someday. He’s probably my personal biggest musical influence, so that would be a huge honor!
D: Is there anything you’d like to add for anyone out there who is unfamiliar with the band and unsure about attending the upcoming tour?
J: Well, by this point in the interview, they’ve probably heard enough about the band to know whether or not we sound like something worth checking out further. We’ve got a bunch of videos and sound-clips on our website (edensongtheband.com). You can stream the full album for free! These are gonna be really fun shows and a rare opportunity to see this music played live. We don’t often get the opportunity to tour: it’s quite expensive, a ton of work, logistically difficult and hard to take the time away from family, work obligations etc. Tickets for these shows are very affordable and it’s a great opportunity to support the progressive rock scene and enable us (and other bands) to play more in the future!!