- Published: Monday, 27 June 2016 19:05
- Written by Giovanni "Gio" Pilato
The Jelly Jam - (From L to R) Ty Tabor (Vocals, Guitar), Rod Morgenstein (Drums), John Myung (Bass)
There are things in the world of music that happen really fast, some other that take all the time they need to be put in place. The latter certainly applies to The Jelly Jam, a formidable supergroup of avant-garde rock made by King's X guitarist Ty Tabor, Dream Theater's bass player John Myung and Winger/The Dixie Dregs drummer Rod Morgenstein.
It took 4 albums, including the freshly released Profit and 15 years of history as The Jelly Jam (although just as a side project while performing with their respective bands) to make finally possible to get the band touring for the first time ever. Their brand new album, Profit, is a marvellous and excellently played concept album about an imaginary Prophet, embarking an heroic attempt to save the world and to open the eyes of Those Who Will Not See.
To talk about the band's new album, their forthcoming US Tour and their history as The Jelly Jam, Bluebird Reviews meets Rod Morgenstein, whose career as a drummer includes several Grammy nominations with The Dixie Dregs and multiple chart topping singles with the rock band Winger.
BBR - Hi Rod, welcome to Bluebird Reviews, many congratuations to you and the band for your new, splendid album. Profit is a record full of spirituality and symbolism. Who, within the band, came up with the idea of writing a concept album like this?
RM - We have to thank Ty Tabor for coming up with this concept. In fact, when the creative process began, about three years ago, John, TY and I got together and we each had a handful of ideas. It wasn't a huge amount but, just by jamming a little bit together, the ideas just started flowing. After a week or 10 days of hanging out together, we ended up nearly having an album worth of music, in terms of drums sections being cut, the bass tracks done and a fair amount of the guitar parts done too. When we parted company, Ty had, at that stage all his melodies completed but being also the lyricist and the vocalist of the band, he still had no idea on what the album, conceptually, was going to be all about. A little while after that recording session, which was the fourth for the band altogether in almost 15 years, in conversation Ty told John and I that the whole idea about the album was coming together in his head and that it would be a concept album. The whole idea about the album, lyrically, was all about Ty and his creative juice. Once we went back home, after that session, he had the opportunity to gather together the material we recorded, and by adding all the ideas he had in mind, we ended up with what I consider a truly excellent album.
BBR - It has been 5 years since your last record as a collective, Shall We Descend. How much do you feel the band's sound has moved on and developed since that album?
RM - When we started recording Shall We Descend, we realised that our style was developing nicely and we were creating an interesting sound, recognisable to everybody as The Jelly Jam. Like many musicians, when I finish to record an album, I barely listen to it again, because of all the time that myself and the band spent creating the music, recording it etc. You may listen to it a bunch of times, once it is completed, to ensure that you are completely satisfied about it. But then something kicks in and you almost get tired to listen to it over and over again so you move on to other things. The fact that this is the first time we are going on tour, as a band, meant that we all needed to go back to our previous records and listen to them again, in order to gather a setlist for the shows. I found myself listening to material that I had not listened to for almost ten years! When that happened, I was so pleasantly surprised to hear how strong the music was at the time and still is now and how cohesive we have been as a band since Day 1. That said, this new record has, to me, such a maturity of sound. I guess it is because, although the three of us have not played a gig together yet, in those four different periods of time when we met in the studio, we have done a fair amount of playing together and getting to know each other better as musicians. I feel that there is a comfort level that kicks in, when you start doing record after record and that is why we are getting more locked in, by playing with John and Ty. Also, due to the fact that this is a concept album and every song is related to the next one, there is, within the band, the strong feeling that we have further evolved, on Profit, in terms of sound and cohesiveness. Given how much our sound has moved on through this new album, it's going to be even more interesting to see what happens when we convene together next time in a studio to start a new record. I am sure it's going to be, again, something completely different but still with a distinctive Jelly Jam sound.
BBR - Do you feel that The Jelly Jam project allows you, as a musician, to unleash your drumming skills in a way that suits you more than any other music project you have been involved into, throughout your glorious career?
RM - Let's see.. I have truly loved every band that I have played in and I say that because to me, the greatest challenge, as a musician, is to try to be true to the style of music that you are playing every time. What I mean by that is, when I play in Winger, I don't want to have people walking away saying stuff like "What the hell is a jazz-fusion drummer playing in a hard-rock band?". When people would come to see the Dixie Dregs, in the same way, I wouldn't want people walking away and saying: "What the heck is a meat and potato rock drummer doing in an instrumental/fusion/rock/jazz band?". My goal has always been, regardless of which band I am playing with, to have people walking away from a gig, saying "God, I really, really dig that drummer, he really played true to the band's style and he also added elements to the band's sound that I have never heard that way before". Say, for example, the style of Winger's music today. It is quite different from what we were doing back in the 80's. I have always tried, and hopefully achieved with Winger, not just to hit the drums hard, in true rock style, but also to add my experience as a fusion drummer too, by inserting in the sound, here and there, curves and twists that no one can hear from a normal rock drummer. Take for example, one of our biggest hits as Winger back in the late 80's called Seventeen, which was one of the most played videos on MTV. There is a little section, right in the end of the guitar solo where when we recorded that song, the producer asked me to add something that no one has ever heard before in a rock song. I used a technique called Beat Displacement, which makes the music sound like it has been turned upside down and at the time, this was something totally innovative to hear in the sound of a rock band. Truth be told, I was specifically brought into Winger to bring these kind of foreign musical elements to the sound of the band. Nowadays, with Winger, we apply much more to our sound those element of musical escapism. But coming back to your original question, it's not that I feel that The Jelly Jam gives me more freedom to express myself as a musician more than any other band I have been involved in. It's just a matter of a different challenge, for me, because I love playing with The Jelly Jam as much as I love playing with any band I am or I have been involved into. In terms of freedom, there is certainly lot of open space in The Jelly Jam music, as far as what I am able to do, as a drummer. We are not AC/DC, where you hear exactly the same drum beat style almost every time, say, in an album like Back In Black. Which I totally understand, because it is exactly what is needed for that kind of music. But in The Jelly Jam, it is a much busier style of playing and the drums have a lot of freedom to change things up without impacting the song negatively. I wouldn't say that is like being in a jam band, with The Jelly Jam. It's kind of 50/50 between improvisation and mixing things up a little and the way we had originally planned to build a song. With John and TY, due to the fact that they are such superb musicians, nothing that I can do can really thrill them anyway! (chuckle).
BBR - I believe that a song like Perfect Lines defines you perfectly, as a band, with all those twist and turns, typical of The Jelly Jam musical philosophy. Is this song solely related to The Prophet's state of mind and his personal journey on this record or is it more an autobiographical song for any of the band members?
RM - That's an interesting question. I don't really know, to be honest. The only one that could answer this question would be just Ty. I am just assuming that everything, lyrically, was just part of the story and the concept of the record, without having anything to do with anybody in the band. That was a very interesting song in the way it came together. I forgot how far into that song we were, when we recorded it but a certain point, the guys asked me: "Hey Rod, could you just sit at the piano and write something that sounds classical, 'cause that might feel really great with the song?". So I just sat down and start noodling and eventually I came up with the piano part that you can hear in the song. Ty wrote a really beautiful vocal melody on top of it, really wonderful. I think it is the most Prog-Rock orientated song on our new album. I read a review the other day from someone who is totally into Prog-Rock kind of stuff. He kept going on saying things like "That was great, I want to hear more Prog stuff like that by The Jelly Jam". We just want all to know that The Jelly Jam is its own thing. It's not Dream Theater, it's not King's X, not any of the bands that I or the boys play in. Whatever you want to call it, this is The Jelly Jam sound. Over the course of the four albums, the sound of our band has grown constantly and it has moved into different directions. Yes, our style includes surely some progressive elements but we don't think of ourselves as a Prog band. We are more than that. I remember the days with the Dixie Dregs. We, in the band, knew that the majority of our fans were musicians of some sort. With The Jelly Jam, you don't have to be necessarily a musician to love our music. We don't do those 10 minutes-plus long epic tracks. Instead, our songs last for a standard duration of 3-4 minutes, with proper verses and choruses. That allows virtually anybody, musician or non-musician, to listen to our songs and be totally absorbed by them.
BBR - Profit is, to me, the record where all of you guys have really stretched your tremendous skills as musicians with outstanding results. Do you feel like the band, through this record, has finally found the "Treasure chest that will save them from the rest" (excerpt from the song Heaven)?
RM - I do, I truly do. We have done enough recordings and, little by little, I think we now feel comfortable hanging together as friends and musicians, like we know each other better every time we get together. I do believe that this can be heard on our new album as well. I am absolutely positive that our connection as artists and friends will grow even more the moment we will get together on a stage and play our songs to our audiences. During the rehearsal period for the live tour, we felt immediately that we were bringing our songs together very quickly and very nicely. The fire and the excitement is there, we are feeling that this tour will bring things within the band to another level. I guess that, by touring for the very first time, we can stop calling The Jelly Jam our side project, as we have done for the last 15 years and calling ourselves, finally, a band. We are going to hit the road in the middle of July for three or four weeks in The United States and we sincerely hope that we can bring our show soon to audiences around the rest of the world too.
BBR - Rod, the original form of what it is now The Jelly Jam was Platypus, where the band was originally a quartet. How difficult has it been to channel the sound of the band from being a quartet to a trio?
RM - It has been very easy. When we started that project, about 17 years ago or so, John called myself, Ty and Derek Sherinian (keyboards), asking whether we wanted to be involved with him in a project all together and we said "Sure, let's do it". The four of us convened at my house in Long Island and each of us came in with some ideas. We did not have yet a clear direction or a concept on what the project would have been all about, therefore each of us came in with one or two songs or simply sketches. We gradually built on the project and if you listen to the first Platypus album, it is really a fun record but it is all over the map, in terms of sounds, starting with high energy to then moving to the next track, which was a very Proggy one, an instrumental kind of song that perhaps would have sat much better in a Dream Theater album. In essence, the Platypus record was fun, yes, but it was a collection of songs that were not related to each other, neither in terms of lyrical content nor musical togetherness. When Derek departed the band, the three of us decided to continue on and since we had done two records together as Platypus, we evolved very naturally and fairly quickly, I have got to say, in this beautiful creature that it is now The Jelly Jam. Something that, to me, it is an incorporation of heavy and vocal-oriented cool rock songs that also add that special musician element to them. It did not take a lot of work or extra effort for the evolution from Platypus to The Jelly Jam to happen. I just remember when John and Ty came to my house to start putting together material for the first The Jelly Jam record. Things came together so quickly and the way we were building song by song was so organic, just by noodling together as an ensemble. By the end of that day we created two of my favourite Jelly Jam tracks of all time, which are I Am The King and I Can't Help You. In our live shows, we are playing both those songs and we are planning to do at least a couple of songs from each of our past records. We are extremely excited about doing these live shows and we are working very hard on making The Jelly Jam touring on a regular basis. I believe it's a doable thing, even considering how busy we individually are with the other bands we are in. And hey, we certainly have plenty of material that we can pick and choose to be played lat our shows, being this our fourth album!
(Photo by Internet Archive)
BBR - Fallen is for me one of the most intense moments of the album. Almost a metaphore of what is happening with the band. The right album falling at the right time, falling with the right concept and the right songs. How special was recording that song, Rod?
RM - Fallen is my favourite song on the record, at the moment. It is perhaps, the most basic and simple drumming that I have ever played on a record. As a drummer, my favourite stuff to be played doesn't need necessarily to be something where I need to show off. Every time I listen to that song, the lyrics get me choked up and Ty's guitar solo it's breathtaking. It's truly magnificent.
BBR - Profit is a record that put The Jelly Jam definitely on the shortlist as one of the best progressive rockbands worldwide. Do you feel like this record is your personal masterpiece to date? Because that is what I think.
RM - Well, I am genuinely excited about this new record. I had no idea it was going to turn out as wonderful as it is. Personally, in all 60 albums I have done in my career with several bands, it gets incredibly hard to say: "Hey, that record is my best record of all time" on any of those albums. But one thing I would say for sure, is that Profit is way up there at the top of the list as one of my most proud achievements as a musician. The cohesiveness on this album is awesome, the storyline is so beautiful, the message is so great. Everything about it is so perfect. I am looking at the cover of the album right now as an LP and I am so damn proud of it, I think the artwork should be hanging in a museum, it's real artistry! Profit is a humongous achievement, I believe, not just for me, but also for Ty and John.
Giovanni "Gio" Pilato
Profit is out now and The Jelly Jam Tour Dates can be found on the band's Official Website