Ahem. Post-progressive rock?
“I’m afraid so,” says atFulcrum keyboardist/composer Rick Mealey. “On the one hand, the audience for what’s come to be called progressive rock is really not all that large, at least not here in the States. They love it in Europe—they especially love it in Eastern Europe!—and they love it in Japan. But around here, prog fans are rabid, but small in number; you’d never see a modern prog act filling the Staples Center (unless I had anything to say about it).
“On the other hand, I’m a voracious listener, and I don’t just listen to progressive music; I don’t share the sentiments of the prog elitists—there are a few of those—who absolutely won’t listen to pop music or classic rock on principle. I enjoy a good pop song as much as the next sweet young thing does—as long as it’s good. I feel like I’m one of the few Americans left still listening to cool jazz—that market went to Europe too, by and large.
“On the other other hand, prog is the well from which I pull water when I run dry—it was my first musical love. You know what they say, you never forget your first one. From prog I became more appreciative of the symphonic composers of the 20th century, of jazz, of world music. Prog was the anteroom that invited me to walk through those doors, and I did.
“The worlds that music opened to me still haven’t been fully explored, even at this late date, so for the last thirty or so years of learning to compose, to arrange, to perform, to produce and engineer, I’ve been exploring.
“I still feel it’s important to be able to communicate what I’ve discovered back to people without condescending to their sensibilities, but still gives them that hook to identify with. A lot of the music I love isn’t all that easy to listen to because of the rhythms and the notes that sound together—wild, discordant stuff, stuff that symphonic composers were experimenting with in the early and mid-20th century, so I like to juxtapose that with more familiar chord movement. Julie Andrews sang about a spoonful of sugar—maybe that sounds a little like I’m pandering, except that I happen to like sugar too. So it’s not quite pop, and not quite progressive, but there are elements of each, and I like to think it still rocks, so calling my music post-progressive seems to fit.”
atFulcrum’s newest album, Describing An Arc I: Over The Curve, is sixty-plus minutes of a wild musical ride from Swinging London Beat to Hollywood rock anthem, from the outer reaches of space to the peace within the heart.
“DAA is a reflection on relationships,” Rick continues, “specifically a few that I’ve enjoyed and endured. The first of the two albums is—”
Wait, wait, two albums?
“Yeah, the first is about the blossoming of a relationship and the fruition of love, as seen through the eyes of a hopeless romantic prone to falling in love with love at the same time as he’s falling in love with a particular woman. I know it isn’t de rigueur to write love songs in the prog domain, but that’s just what came out; it’s what needed to come out at that time. The second one—let’s just say that’s not going to be quite as happy as this one is. That should be out sometime in the winter (2013–4). Appropriately enough.”
Why the gap between albums?
“First, I wanted to denote a passage of time—the reasons why will be evident when you hear the second album. Second, I pulled up stakes and moved to California.”
Rick largely performed the album’s music and vocals himself in the friendly confines of his old studio, The Sanctum Sanctorum II in Trumbull CT, with assistance from several of his closest musical cohorts: guitarists Pete Crane and Lee Roberson, Chris Millikan on tenor sax, and vocalists Scott Brownlow, Elaine DiMasi, and Shelley Welch (Crane also contributed backing vocals). “I can’t say enough good things about what they did on the album. Their input truly brought the music to places I wouldn’t have been able to get to on my own.”
The new Sanctum Sanctorum III in Orange County is the venue for last-minute production on the sequel to Arc I. “I’ve upgraded my kit somewhat, and I’m able to get at techniques now that I didn’t have for the first Arc album. I think a lot of people are going to be as impressed with the sound of the second album as they were with the first, if not moreso.”
Who’s the audience for a two-CD progressive rock album in 2013?
“I don’t know.. I tend to like to imagine a listener much like I was back when I was in my twenties, with a decent sound system, speakers, the whole shot. He, or she—let’s say he, otherwise we’ll get hung up on pronouns—puts the CDs in and listens to them both in sequence, like I would have done. Bong hits strictly optional. Of course, nowadays it’s more likely to be an iPod and earbuds, but I imagine he’s letting me take him into my world and showing him things that maybe he recognizes.
“In imagining that bucolic little scene, I guess I acknowledge that I’m making music for people who pay attention to music the way I do. Which is a sideways manner of saying that I’m making the music for myself.. it’s the kind of music I’d like to hear more of on the radio, if only the major media conglomerates weren’t whittling all our attention spans down by increments. It was wildly popular once, and it could be again.”
Well, yes, forty years ago, it was wildly popular. Doesn’t that make atFulcrum a bit of a musical anachronism?
“I’d agree if I didn’t think there was more to say and more musical exploration to be done. I heard a story once, forgot who told it, about a conversation between Aaron Copland and Leonard Bernstein about why Copland adopted the 12-tone row in the latter stages of his composing career. He said, ‘Lenny, I ran out of chords.‘
“I haven’t run out of chords yet. But the trick as far as I can see is not just to use those chords gratuitously, but as the composition requires; to use them and in using them making the listener feel something, like maybe he hears the music and wants to go scale Everest afterward, or even if she just says to herself, ‘I’ve been there too.'”
Rick Mealey has loitered behind furniture on Connecticut stages since the late 1980s, in the vicinity of such bands as ZX3, Conspiracy, Seven Story Mountain, The Sons, Slowpoke, Steve Montano Band, The Green Stamps, Shellye Valauskas EXP, and The Wagon Wheel Band. Along the way, he’s acquired a reputation as a keyboardist with whom even keyboard-phobic vocalists and guitarists actually enjoy working for his depth of both musical acumen and sensitivity to his surroundings.
Some of the progressive rock that Rick helped create with his mid-90s band Radiant City eventually saw release in 2009 on the album Luminous City, issued under the musical pseudonym atFulcrum (Rick performed most of the instruments and vocals). He has been known to fret that insofar as attention to detail, the process of creating Luminous City “made Peter Gabriel and Tom Scholz look slapdash and unconcerned.”
Having proven to his own satisfaction that he, like Gabriel and Scholz, could create an album in three years, he then spent three weeks improvising and refining the 2009 album Movement Along A Path, an album of quiet piano instrumentals for meditative purposes.
However, reverting to form, Rick spent the next three years-plus refining the latest atFulcrum album, Describing An Arc I: Over The Curve, which he eventually released in June 2013 just before he repatriated to Southern California.
The months leading up to Rick’s departure from Connecticut saw him making music-sounding noises with The Navels, Old Man Noises, The Groove CT, Downstairs Sally, and Evoque. A regular contributor to the annual Thanksgiving Day Vomitorium show in New Haven, he’s also gotten his studio tan at numerous facilities in Connecticut, New York, New Jersey, North Carolina, Tennessee, Ohio, and California.
In his spare time, Rick is a photographer, a Certified Reiki Master/Teacher, and a moderator-at-large at The Womb Forums (where some of his work is available on CAPE Radio). He enjoys travel, hiking, camping, and speaking of himself in the third person.