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Interview With Don Howatt Of The Apostle Fractal: Progressive Rock Lives On


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Q: Pardon my ignorance, but what does the Apostle Fractal mean?

A: The short answer is The APOSTLE Fractal is just the name of our band. The long answer is a bit more complicated. “APOSTLE” was a name I had in mind for a band for a long time. As a young boy I would draw fantasy album covers in my notebooks during class instead of paying attention. When the band was founded in 1978, the original name of the band was just “APOSTLE.” The meaning of the name is the idea of authority, but it also has a broader definition, which is “messenger” or “one sent.” So, as messengers, we have something to say, although we’re still figuring out the entirety of the message. In the mid-2000’s we changed our name to The APOSTLE Fractal. As the internet began to explode in the early 2000’s, we realized that the world is getting smaller. At that time, we started to put our music out on MySpace. We discovered that there were scores of bands with the name “APOSTLE.” Although our band had probably been around the longest, we didn’t like the idea of the public being confused on who “APOSTLE” was. We decided to keep our name in essence, but just tweak it a bit, to ensure that it would be unique. After much brainstorming we arrived at “The APOSTLE Fractal.” A fractal is a mathematical concept that has been used in producing beautiful art. That is a great illustration of what we do, as music is really very mathematical. The fractal concept is also quite analogous to what we do with computers and virtual instruments in creating our sound.

Q: The Ichabod Suite stitches together elements of progressive rock and jazz. How did the sound of the album come about?

A: The Ichabod Suite started as a lyrical idea from Psalm 137. That Psalm has always intrigued me with its dark and gloomy concepts. Music is an emotional language, and sadness seems to always be a great starting point in writing a song. I started crafting some dreary sounding guitar chords that eventually became “Ichabod." I wanted Psalm 137 read in a musical way to give listeners a context for the song. I realized that this should be a sort of concept piece. At that point I knew I wanted something short to come before the reading, “Hue and Cry" was the vehicle. “Hue and Cry" was written quickly as it is very simple musically. So as the three songs were in place ("Hue and Cry," “If I Forget," “Ichabod"), I decided to have a short instrumental intro. Because “Hue" is somewhat alternative, and “Ichabod" is a prog-ish power ballad, something jazzy for the intro was the next step. I took the chord pattern for “Hue and Cry," changed the timing to 6/8, and built a jazz combo texture for it. “Mediums and Excursions/Too in a Chord" started out as fade for Ichabod, but somehow became a monster, I started playing around with loops and all of a sudden this really weird long song came out. “Too in a Chord" was basically an experiment that took on a life of it’s own.

Q: Who is in the group and how did you form?

A: The APOSTLE Fractal is Steve Montague and myself. We have, at various times, used guest vocalists and keyboardists. When we performed live in our heyday we recruited different drummers. I have always played drums in our recordings. The band was formed in the late '70s after Steve and I met through a mutual friend. Steve had a home studio in his apartment at the time and our mutual friend mentioned to him that she knew a young guy who had written a bunch of original songs. Eventually we met and set sessions in his apartment. As the project was nearing completion, Steve asked me if I would be interested in forming a band. I can’t remember if I gave him an answer, but here we are.

Q: Is there a concept behind The Ichabod Suite?

A: The concept behind The Ichabod Suite is “loss.” The name Ichabod means “No Glory” or “The Glory has Departed.” The historical backdrop is about the fall of Jerusalem in 586 BC, and the subsequent deportation of its inhabitants. The city of Jerusalem was central to the world view, culture, religion, and way of life to Jewish world. As they were held captive against their will they felt a part of themselves was missing. The Ichabod Suite is more than a story about longing for home, it’s about longing for a part of your soul that is missing.

Q: Progressive rock was once a staple on AOR stations in the early ‘70s. The media has long proclaimed the genre dead, yet bands such as Pink Floyd and Rush continued to pack stadiums. What is it about prog that appeals to you?

A: Freedom! I prefer to call it Thematic Orchestral Rock. It is freedom to make music in whatever mode or mood that I feel like. I don’t worry if it’s not cool to have a New Age texture here, or a jazz section there, or flutes, or horns. Freedom to not be locked into formulaic patterns. If I want a song to have a three-minute intro, I can do it. Everything is on the table. This genre is not for everybody because it takes patience, attention to detail, and a fertile imagination. I love working in this genre because it helps me to move forward as a musician and helps me grow. Music is a means of only self-expression, and is a way to share yourself with others. I really enjoy the challenge that this kind of music brings. It seems there are many accomplished musicians who play music that doesn’t seem challenging at all. Their talent is underutilized. I like to push myself to learn and play parts that are beyond my ability. In fact, there is a musical phrase in a piece I am currently writing that I cant even play! I am confident that I can learn it in time, with a bit of practice.

Q: Is there much of a progressive rock scene in Oregon?

A: As far as I know there isn’t much of a live prog scene in Oregon. I’m sure you could find some as there are a few bands from the area on sites like Facebook and ReverbNation. I am usually too busy in my own studio to venture out to check out the live scene. Portland is gaining a name as a jazz town. There are many places you can find good jazz here. As a sidelight I would mention that Pat Metheny discovered drummer Paul Wertico in a Portland jazz club called The Last Hurrah. After one of Pat’s shows in town, someone dragged him to the club saying “there is this drummer playing in this club that you just gotta check out.” It was Paul Wertico. Wertico played drums on the next several Pat Metheny Group albums.

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