Guy Le Blanc: The man behind Nathan Mahl
Why you decided to do "Subversia" as an solo project and not as an "Nathan Mahl" release?
I started recording Subversia two months after Clever use was released. At that time, I had already written a couple of songs for Heretik, but I'd also written a bunch of songs for a solo thing. I felt that the songs were different enough from the Mahl stuff, but I also wanted to stretch a bit beyond what I felt the band was willing to do musically.
Please describe the basic idea of "Subversia"?
Subversia is my attempt to tie in, conceptually, my idea of who Nathan Mahl is. An anonymous character in Subversia describes his life and travels, and the opposition he meets with the leaders of his world and the inhabitants of this world who believe in and support their system. Our character is banished from his homeland and he sets out with his family to find a "promised land", where they are free to think and do what they want.
Can you give me some liner notes to the songs of "Subversia"?
The First Lie: composed right after Clever use of Shadows. Originally intended as opening track of next Nathan Mahl disc. Conceptually, it is a first person dialogue between our hero and his conscience. He begins to question the reality of his society's motives.
Joyride: This piece is representative of the appearance of fun, as it is on Manipulata (one of the continents of Sentia)(see Map). I wrote this piece in 1995.
A Question of Authority: Our hero sadly recognizes that he is perhaps not totally in control of his destiny, and that the answer lies in a closer observation of the laws of Sentia. Musically, this piece was inspired by Zappa, whom I miss very much.
The Cold Truth: When all the artificial layers of entertainment are stripped off, all that remains is the Black and White reality of deception and manipulation. Our hero sees his world as it really is finally, and sets out to confront the ruler of Manipulata, Lord Graaft.
The Trial: Lord Graaft welcomes our hero by stripping him of his rights and banishing him (and his family).
Subversia: This is our hero's journey. Exiled from his world, he sets out to find a new home, which is not on the map. The first 6 minutes of this piece were written as a Mahl song, but it soon became evident to me that it was developing into a much longer thing.
Home: Journey's end ! A new home has been found. Our hero calls it Subversia, a sarcastic nod to the world he left behind. I wrote this piece in 1994, and it was supposed to be on "Radio Rehab".
Can you tell me someting about the other artists involved in your record?
José Bergeron wanted to play on "the First Lie". This was actually a song intended for the next Mahl, and he had already learned it. Paul Desgagné is a great sax player and I wanted to feature him again, but in a more comfortable fusion setting. Mark Spénard was the original Mahl guitarist, way back in 1981-84. We'd been trying to do some stuff together again for about ten years. Scott McGill is, simply put, a genius ! He flew up from New Jersey one weekend last summer, and did all his tracks in one day. We will definitely work together again ! I love the stuff he does, and where he goes with his music.
What about the influence of other artists to you?
I guess I was influenced mostly when I was starting to compose and working on my own musical identity. Back then (early seventies), I listened to all kinds of stuff, from early prog bands to pop bands and artists. I also always loved classical composers, and especially Prokofiev. I think people would be surprised to know how a pop artist can influence a prog composer sometimes.
What are the differences in working with Nathan Mahl and working as an solo artist?
The band is a discipline that offers less artistic freedom, but that's a good thing sometimes. In Mahl, I always write with specific musicians in mind. When I go solo, I can really cut loose and let all hell break loose.
What about the Nathan Mahl releases "Identity" and "Radio Rehab"?
Both these recordings had several of the same songs, but as the sessions progressed the name changed, some of the lineup changed, the whole project had to be scrapped, and in listening to the masters, I decided that there was nothing really holding it together.
What about your life experiences as an musician?
I've been playing since I was four, and performing since I was five. I've played in allkinds of bands, Rock&Roll, Pop, Country, etc. I wouldn't know how to begin to answer this question. Mostly I've tried to keep it fun.
What is the best thing in musical business? And - on the other side - what is the worst thing?
Best thing: Reaching people who like the music we do. That's really what it's all about. Worst thing: Everything in between us and music fans.
What about your success/feedback in different countries?
The feedback from the US, Europe and Japan has been very heartwarming. The more we push this thing forward, the better the feedback we get. Now we have to plan some touring in Europe and again in the States.
What kind of compromises would you make to push your career?
One of the main reasons why Nathan Mahl has changed lineup so much is exactly because I will not compromise one single thing. Some people would call that stubborn, I call it practical.
Where did you get your inspiration?
For Subversia, I sat at my desk and looked out my little window at the clouds. The only other inspiration I ever get is from everyday life. If I'm driving a car, or on a bus, the ideas come faster, I guess because of all the sensory input of living in a city like this.
How would you describe your relation to new media as internet, virtual reality, mp3...
I usually trail behind with technology. I still use Hohner, Hammond and Moog products ! The internet has been really good for me; It has given me the opportunity to seek out and find an audience and a whole network of dedicated vendors who really like this music.
What is the reason that progressive rock in the seventies went so well and now we have only a small scene without attention of most of the media?
I don't think prog did that well in the seventies. There were 3 or 4 prog fans in my highschool, it never played on the radio, unless you mean Roundabout or Lucky Man. I think touring used to be cheaper to do, and that made it possible to reach more people worldwide, that's all. The media never acknowledged prog in the seventies, eighties or nineties. That's just not their agenda.
Progfans are ignorant and narrow-minded. They live in the past and don't care about the meaning of the word progress.
Is this a question? I don't agree. I played at NEARfest last summer and went to Progday in the fall, and met some of the nicest people Id ever hope to meet. Actually, if you really want to know, Subversia is a prog festival.
So you could have the possibility to make this record again. Would you change anything?
Subversia? The only thing I would change would be to add a few tracks, more instruments on a couple of tunes. I really am quite satisfied with the whole thing, and I'd rather work on the next cd; there's so much music to do !
Was it your intention to handle all the production, distribution and management things self or is it because you couldn't get an record deal?
I spent a couple of years in the early 80's trying to go to bed with the majors. I realized that these record company people have no idea what the hell they're talking about. This is just a job to them. Units must be moved ! After a couple of years of inactivity, I decided to give the music another try, but this time nobody was gonna tell me how it "should be done". I couldn't get a record deal now, I'm way too stubborn :-)
What about the fact that a lot of people mean a good prog song must be an long track?
I like long songs ! Only not if they follow a formula. Songs are like stories; It would get pretty boring if every chapter started with the same sentence. Short stories are cool too ! I think the challenge is equal.
Is it more difficult to write an 15 minute epic than an three minute radio hit?
Well, some artists seem to spend a lot of time, effort and money on doing exclusively three minute radio friendly hits, or die trying. All the music I compose takes about the same time, proportionately speaking. The Bourbon slows me down a little, but it ads a kick to it ! I try not to think when I write music. I open my ears, close my eyes, and let my fingers do the talking. If a song doesn't move me in some way, I delete it.
What about "Heretic", the new Nathan Mahl record?
Heretik is going to be the best stuff Nathan Mahl has ever done. Everything people have come to expect from the band, the stuff they like, is there with a vengeance ! I've just scrapped two songs from it because they lacked ooompf, and will replace them with some jaw-dropping fancy shit. The rest of the double cd is composed and will begin recording in a couple of weeks. I'm very excited about this work, because I know people are gonna love it. The boys in the band are chewing their fingernails (nervous), because they know that when I get in a mood like this, they're gonna sweat and their fingers, hands and heads are going to ache !!!