Getting charmed by Enchant
By Naughty Mickie
I first found out about CalProg 2004 when I received an e-mail from Jim Harrel, the producer of the Neal Morse concert earlier this year. He was pitching a cool festival featuring performances by the Mike Keneally Band, Izz, Erik Norlander, Neal Morse and Enchant, plus vendors, opportunities to meet the artists and more.
I was familiar with most of the bill - all tremendously talented musicians - but not entirely with the progressive rock genre and even less so with Enchant. I decided that this would be a good place to get my ears wet and made an appointment for an interview.
Enchant consists of vocalist Theodore Leonard, guitarist Douglas Ott. bassist Edward Platt, drummer Sean Flanegan and keyboardist William Jenkins. And like many prog rockers, this merely refers to the players' main instruments, although each is well-versed in a variety of others.
The group is signed to Inside Out in Germany and are still
touring in support of their most recent (2003) release, "Tug of
War." They have a strong following in Europe and smatterings of fans
in the States, but I'm getting ahead of the story.
"The band was formed before I came along," Leonard begins. "The keyboardist and the drummer were the only original members to start the band. Then they recruited a guitar player, Doug Ott, who became the driving writing source of the band. When Enchant was first signed to a major label, the fivesome that was back then, I was in that fivesome. Before they were signed, it was a different group of guys and the bass player-slash-singer left and they put an ad out and I responded to the ad. And after that, it's history, I guess."
Leonard remarks that he was impressed that the band was influenced by
Queensryche, Rush and Merillion... especially Merillion.
"When I heard their demo I was blown away. I couldn't believe that there were people who lived near me who could play like that. So I was pretty eager and the audition went well and I became the singer," Leonard says.
Leonard was born in Arcadia, California and grew up in the East Bay area.
"My whole family is very musical, everybody sings. When we do 'Happy Birthday' it has to be in four-part harmony," recalls Leonard. "It's almost funny. So I was always in church choir. I was always interested in music and I started broadening my palate when I was in junior high. I became a huge Kansas fan and I didn't have a whole lot of money available to me as a kid so I wasn't into a lot of different bands, I just got really into Kansas and bought everything that they ever did. For me it was a major investment. I like some other pop that I heard on the radio, but I didn't fork out the dough for them.
"I was really afraid to buy a Rush album when I was young because I saw how many albums they had and I'd always liked everything I heard on the radio and I was afraid if I bought it, I'd have to buy everything and then I'd have no money. All my paper route funds would be laid to waste," Leonard continues.
"I started playing guitar at 15 and I really picked it up just to write with, but then I became like every other guitarist and just started noodling and couldn't stop. Now I probably spend more time at home playing guitar than I do singing. That's how it is, it's more like an obsession," laughs Leonard.
Leonard attended a business college and received a degree in accounting.
"I did that for a few years, worked in a cubicle and that was fine for a few years. Now I work for myself, I own a window cleaning business," Leonard says.
"Did having a degree help your business?" I ask.
"No, not really no," Leonard chuckles. "It helped me gain confidence in the business world to know if I ever broke a leg or whatever, I wouldn't feel uncomfortable in a business setting. But I definitely prefer working for myself for one, working outside and meeting new people every day. My personality, I don't really dig being confined in tiny little space crunching numbers all day."
Leonard and his family, wife Sandra and children Elyse, 4, and Kyle, 2, recently moved to Sacramento.
"I live in a ridiculously large house now," Leonard tells me.
I prod him for his hobbies.
"I play a lot of tennis," Leonard replies.
"But what about family activities?" I ponder.
"Since we moved here, we've spent every recreational moment so far in the pool," Leonard says. "But we like to go to parks together. They're not really old enough to be in organized sports yet, but Elyse is interested in everything, so I think she's going to drain our bank account with every extra-curricular activity she likes."
Leonard adds that he won't force his kids into any activities, but "I would hope that at a relatively young age they devote enough interest into something so they can excel at it. Because I know for me, I was so across the board and I always felt like I had the potential to be a really good athlete had I ever been able to hone my skills or focus on one sport for any length of time or for that matter music. I would have loved to have been involved in lessons when I was younger, but I know a lot of guys who went that route and became really sick of music, they have a hard view of it; don't really appreciate it. There's something to be said for being well-rounded that's for sure."
I return to his first interest, asking if Sandra plays tennis too-- she doesn't.
"When we first got married, I used to try to teach her tennis and one of us lost patience, I don't remember who that was," Leonard laughs. "I started taking lessons last year and started taking it probably more seriously than my skills deserve, but I haven't played in any formal competitions since high school."
I bring the conversation back around to Enchant and their approach to writing material.
"It's been different from album to album," Leonard states. "Currently, the last three albums, Dough has written 90 percent of the music if not more and then sent me demos with the music and said just write some words to this. So I've written about half the lyrics, he's written the other half. I've contributed some music and lyrics on the last two albums."
The other members contribute as well.
"There's definitely been room for them to add their two cents." Leonard explains, "If you listen to the demos, they're very sterile outlines. Some of the demos are very close, but a lot of the time it's insert keyboard part here and Bill has a little flexibility to do what he wants to do. As far as bass goes, Ed's hands can do things that Doug's hands couldn't dream of doing, so Ed definitely puts his two cents in. The drum parts, I think the kick and the snare patterns stay the same and all the subtle nuances are Sean's. But the basic chord progressions and song structures have been pretty much Doug."
So where does Enchant's music fit into today's scene?
"It doesn't," Leonard says with a chuckle. "But what I think of today's music scene is I kinda dig what's going on in the rock genre these days. I'm not a screamer, I can't sound angry even if I try. I can sound sad, but anger just doesn't fly with my voice, which is funny because I can definitely be angry, but I just can't sound like I'm angry. That's kind of what the current scene is in rock as far as singers go. You've got to have gravel in your voice, sort of do the 'Cookie Monster vocal'. But musically I dig what's going on, all the heavier rock that's come back with the chunky guitar rhythms. And also there's been a lot of complexity that has been missing in the rock genre for a while.
"Grunge was like getting back to open chords and just jamming out a three chord progression, while nowadays there's a lot of really tight rhythms going on and there's a lot of emphasis on having really good drummers." Leonard goes on, "In modern rock, drums is the only instrument where proficiency is still celebrated. In the progressive scene, which is where our music fits in, loosely, every instrument is celebrated still. The listeners strap on the headphones and listen in excruciating detail. They listen to everything. There's a huge upside for an artist who's not getting rewarded on any level other than artistic value.
"The huge upside is you know what you're putting out there. Every little tidbit of what you put out there gets scrutinized, it is either appreciated or not," continues Leonard. "But there's no just slopping together a bunch of lyrics just because you've got to make it sound cool, it's actually about putting forth meaning, whether it be with your instrument or your voice. Because that's what people will scrutinize to the extent that the will find whether there's meaning there or not. Which is great, that's why I love doing this style of music, the fans are so into it."
My appetite whetted, I seek the reason why Leonard plays prog rock.
"When I was 20 years old I was trying to make it big like the rest of the idiots and some of them did and most of them didn't," Leonard responds. "But by the time I was 23, I was like the kind of music that's popular right now - I don't want to tell you how long ago that was - it was like the early '90s. The type of music that is popular, I don't want to play, I'm just not even interested. So what am I going to do? I'm going to go my own path and I'm going to sell 15,000 albums instead 500,000. That's fine, those albums that are sold are actually listened to and appreciated, rather than just picked up because they liked the fact that I used the f-word."
We discuss record sales and I comment how sad it must be for a musician to find their album in the record store's bargain bin. Leonard admits that he once found his band's CD in a used bin- "What?!" he said and could only manage a weak grin. Well, at least someone had listened to it.
With an over burgeoning scene of pop, hard rock and rap, why is progressive rock important?
"I think it's important because it gives thinkers that still like to have something other than jazz to listen to," Leonard laughs. "The thinkers out there are the ones who like this style of music and it's because it challenges them. And also because it challenges other musicians.
"What I've seen is that a lot of the younger kids are really into Dream Theater and bands like this because you can see where technical proficiency is swinging back around and becoming more important again. I think that is in a large part due to progressive elements in music.
"A lot of the heavier heavy metal has a lot of progressive elements with the time signature changes and the really tight rhythms and the syncopation," Leonard goes on. "All of those things have been classically progressive elements. And that's what challenges musicians, even if they choose to take those influences and make simpler music and stick to simpler song structures, what they've learned through that complexity adds to it; makes their simple music have a little more dimension to it.
"I think it's important for the music scene in general for those reasons. It challenges people, whether they be musicians or listeners," Leonard sums up. "If you listen to the bands that are on these labels and you listen to an old Iron Maiden album, stylistically it's almost identical. The only thing different is the newer guitar tones sound different."
As a Web-zine, I feel it's important to learn Leonard's view of the Net.
"I think the Internet is pretty much what's kept progressive music at the forefront of certain people's minds," Leonard say. "It's access to everything, anything and everything. The downside is that bands like ours are actually hurt when people don't buy the CD and just download it. But the upside is that they have exposure to it and people are chatting and saying 'Hey, check out this band, check out that.' It's leveled the playing field for small-time bands, it's free advertising through word-of-mouth. So it's huge for the small-time bands. I don't think it's changed the sales necessarily for major labels, but for smaller labels, I think it's helped."
Enchant has just finished a live DVD, it's still untitled, but in the final phases of editing. They are hoping to release it in August or September. This is extra exciting for them, as after seven previous efforts, this will be their first live album.
"It was about time for us to do a live thing." Leonard recalls, "It was recorded in Oakland at a very small venue. Fans flew in, some of them flew in from Germany, some people were there from Brazil and there was a group of people there from the East Coast. It was pretty trippy. It was amazing how far people traveled. What was more amazing was people were driving halfway across the country from the Mid-West."
Enchant is also planning a short fall tour in Europe.
"The scenes there are so concentrated. When you say you've sold 15,000 in Europe, it's almost more like saying the Pacific Northwest," Leonard laughs. "Geographically it's not much bigger. It seems like most of the sales are in Germany and surrounding countries, so when we tour over there it's in a pretty small area and we can hit a lot of fans without having to drive 20 hours between gigs."
I have to ask this globetrotter what differences there are between European and American audiences and fans.
"In general when you walk the streets in Europe and you go in the record stores, it's not too dissimilar. When you hear cars driving by, they're all into club music, house and stuff. I don't even know if that's what's cool to call it any more," Leonard chuckles. "The bulk of them are into that, but there does seem to be a larger contingent that is still into intelligent music, whether it be progressive metal or even jazz. There just seems to be a higher percentage that are into it.
"But the sheer numbers, you're going to sell more albums in the United States, but it's going to be such a large geographic area, it's not as easy to tour here. If you tour here, you're happy to play in front of a hundred people, whereas if you go over there, if 300 people aren't there, you're sad. Even for a band like us to go alone, we would be able to draw 300 presumably in a little club and that would be fine. But here it's such a broad area that people would have to drive a long way to go to each show. I think I over-explained it," Leonard trails off.
Actually, I think he explained everything quite well, so I change pace and ask him about being a part of CalProg 2004.
"I'm really excited about playing the show. I like the fact that he's having the bands do one cover tune. Not only is it a cool collection of bands and very varied, we're representing the more, I hate to say heavy, but a lot of the other bands are more keyboard-dominated, obviously Mike Keneally is a brilliant guitar player, but we're kind of more straight-ahead rock as far as progressive goes. And more melodic, less weird, I guess," Leonard laughs. "I don't mean to say that. I'm really looking forward to being able to see these other bands and that each of the bands is preparing to play a cover tune from the classic prog era, like '70s or early '80s."
Enchant was so divided about what song to play, they decided to perform a five song medley. Each member has selected a section of a song and it has been pieced together to make it work.
"It will be interesting because we will be able to say that this is representing each one of us as an individual. That's what a band is, a collection of different perspectives," Leonard says.
But he refuses to divulge the selections.
"A lot of the fans that might be going just because they love prog are going to be loving that, the fact that they're going to hear songs that are familiar to them even from bands that aren't," Leonard concludes.
You can still catch CalProg if you're quick-- it's 11 a.m.-11 p.m. on Saturday, July 3, at the Center Stage Theater at Whittier Community Center in Whittier. I suggest that you purchase your tickets on the Web site, www.calprogday.com, as there probably won't be any at the door.
If you can't see Enchant in person, pay them a visit at www.theoasis.cc
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