Interview with Robin Armstrong, ‘The Man Left In Space’
Martin Kielty from PROG Magazine, asked Robin a few questions about the latest Cosmograf album, The Man Left in Space released in February 2013.
<MK>On the surface the concept behind the album sounds dark and even negative. Is that the case, or is it more reflective than that?
Yes, it could be construed as negative and I think this is probably common with the theme of the previous album When Age Has Done its Duty. I think that we tend to glorify and look on the bright side of things in many aspects of life and I think that perhaps I’m guilty of maybe stripping some of that ‘rose tint’ away and reflecting on the reality within the themes of my music. The Man Left In Space is really about the perils of success, the pain and sacrifice we put ourselves and others through to achieve it and at what price? The backdrop of the space mission really provides a convenient backdrop and story to explore that premise.
<MK>Was there any specific experience or moment that inspired you to explore the theme?
The notion of the conflict between success and unhappiness was maybe something I became increasingly aware of when through my previous life working as a small consultant for large companies. I made a big life change a few years ago and rejected this frustrating corporate world but I found it exceptionally difficult to reject some of those ideals and work ethics that were drilled into me over all those years of employment. Some are healthy of course but others much less so. It didn’t really cement itself as an idea worthy of musical exploration until I’d finished and released the last album and it was a good while into the writing process before it became clear how to convey the theme in the best way.
<MK>Do you feel you’re ultimately issuing a warning to the human race, or is it more of an observation? What’s your own view of where we are now?
No, it’s very much an observation. A lot of these things I will write about from a position of being as guilty as the next man, rather than pretending to be holier than thou in a position of objectivity. Despite the apparent warning of the theme, I stll crave recognition and success and the rewards that go with it, so you could say I’ve learned nothing!, but I think we do need to think about these issues and realise success is maybe not the panacea that we have traditionally held it to be ,and also probably recognise the measures we use to judge success are long overdue an overhaul. I think the album also brings into question whether we should continue to explore as humans. This is sort of tackled head on in Track 5 – ‘This Naked Endeavour’. I’m a huge advocate of space exploration and I think ultimately it will come back to haunt the human race that we didn’t continue to explore with the urgency set out by NASA’s Gemini and Apollo programmes in the 60s. Unless we can successfully transcend this planet I’m not sure how we can survive in the long term as a species, but equally I’m not entirely sure whether that’s a problem either. It sounds like I’m some sort of eco warrior with that statement but as a realist I think we might want to consider the possibility that the earth is a finite resource and will eventually be unable to sustain us.
<MK>When did you start work seriously, and at what point did you become convinced you were on the right track with the album?
I started this album fairly soon after the When Age Has Done its Duty was releaed, but the serious work really started when I got the call from Rob Aubrey to say that Nick D’Virgilio was coming over to the UK in Jan 2012 and could I get some tracks ready for him. It was an opportunity not to be missed, I had 3 very rough tracks mapped out but had to work very hard to get enough material to the stage where Nick could work on it. Even then though, the concept wasn’t very well developed and I didn’t really have the whole concept clear in my mind until the summer of 2012. By then a lot of music has already been written so I had to revisit the structure and lyrics of most of the songs to make them consistent and coherent as one piece of music.
<MK>It’s an impressive list of guests. How did you find working with them all on this record –– and how did you choose who to ask?
It was a joy to work with all of them. The opportunity of working with someone of Nick’s capability and reputation is a once in a lifetime thing. It really came about from Rob Aubrey’s generosity and trust in me that I could give him some material worth his time. Rob also linked me up with Dave Meros who again is just one of the most professional and nicest guys in the business. I wanted someone with a very large bass presence and character to bring alive the last track and unusually Dave attacked it with a fretless bass which is traditionally associated with a more sedate reflective sound. It’s also been great to work with Matt Stevens and Greg and Andy from Big Big Train who I’ve become great friends with. I chose Matt specifically for ‘The Vaccum That I Fly Through’ because I knew this was going to an instrumental. I knew that Matt would avoid the temptation to turn it into a solo fest and he replaced the melody that the vocal would normally take with his guitar. I don’t think many guitarists have that ability to think about the tune rather than coming up with a traditional solo based on some well known scale patterns. Greg Spawton equally took up that mantel on the bass, again playing well outside the traditional box. We also have my colleagues from the previous album; Simon Rogers who helped me write ‘The Good Earth Behind Me’ , Luke Machin, Dave Ware, Lee Abraham and Steve Dunn of course who I knew could provide the thundering accompanient to the Drop C riff in Aspire Achieve.
<MK>If you had to ask the listener to take one thing away from the album, what would it be?
I think just the hope that they indulge the Art of Listening and listen to the album from start to finish in it’s entirety. It’s inevitable that people will play one or two favourite tracks of a number of albums these days but you are missing 3/4 of the experience of enjoying the concept and how the music flows into each track. Dedicating an hour of your time to listen to music is pretty hard these days but it should be done.
<MK>What’s in store for you in the coming months?
The main objective is promoting the record. This is album is an independent release so it’s much more in my hands to make a success of it. We’ve been exceptionally busy dealing with all the interest from the press, distributors and the public and there will doubtless be plenty more of that in the short term. I’m hoping to start recording again soon but I’m not sure at this stage whether the initial plan of re-recording the first Cosmograf album – Freed from the Anguish will be on the cards. All I can say is watch this space. Similary I’ve been asked a lot about playing live. There are no plans for this year, where the focus is very much on raising the profile of the project, so that organising any future gigs in years to come be worthwhile.
In Our Shop
Cosmograf Music Reviews
Cosmograf - When Age Has Done Its Duty, "There’s no doubting the individuality or creativity of what he achieves. You hear motifs that bring to mind so many of the pioneering giants. But he also has a firm grasp on how to combine finesse and power in a modern idiom. With It Bites drummer Bob Dalton involved, this is an album to savour."Classic Rock Magazine http://www.classicrockmagazine.com/
Cosmograf - When Age Has Done Its Duty, "When the party music stops, we start to age” is part of the prophetic lyrical introduction to the sprawling 13-minute title track following a recitation of Matthew Arnold’s poem ‘Growing Old’…and is another achingly wonderful masterpiece that really does underline how very special Robin Armstrong’s third Cosmograf album is. I cannot stress how badly you need this if your musical interests encompass the greats and upcoming members of the “Britprog” community. It’s absolutely fabulous…!!"Paul Jerome Smith http://www.Rocktopia.co.uk
"Finalement 'When Age Has Done Its Duty' est un bien bel album de rock progressif que l’on pourrait taxer de "à l’ancienne" si le talent de Robin Amstrong n'était pas là pour lui permettre de se démarquer."Pete T http://www.musicwaves.fr
Cosmograf - End of Ecclesia, "I had a great time listening to the songs Rob Armstrong wrote and performed. It reminded me a lot of the album Focal Point made by his fellow-countryman Paul Cusick, another multi-instrumentalist who released an album on his own .... try this fine piece of art. Robin Armstrong deserves to be heard by many people."Henri Strik http://www.backgroundmagazine.nl
Cosmograf - End of Ecclesia, "Fans of epic songs can immerse themselves in the 10 minuter Who Will You Serve, replete with church choir, and alternating monster guitars and widdly keyboards."Silhobbit http://www.silhobbit.com
Air Drum Auntie Glen Big Big Train Black Sabbath Bob Dalton Buzz Aldrin DIY EP Epiphone Dot Evolution Railroad F2 Records Graeme Twig Bell Green Day Hammond B3 Italian V8 Joe Cocker Jon Lord Ken Oakley Kyle Fenton La Iglesia Lee Abraham LIVE Master Picks Matt Stevens Mr Blackmore Renaissance Neil Armstrong Next Step OK PC Phil Collins Pro Tools Radio Caroline Rob Aubrey Robin Armstrong Royal Naval Commando Sea Part Simon Rogers Steve Dunn Steve Hackett Steve Thorne Thankfully Rob Think Yes UK WAHDID YES
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