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EXOVEX


EXOVEX “The Unknown Creative Variable” 

By Dark Starr

Exovex” is less a band name than it is a project name. Essentially Exovex is one man: Dale Simmons. For the debut Exovex album he assembled a number of notable musicians. The cast includes Josh Freese, a drummer known for work with NIN, Guns N Roses, A Perfect Circle, The Replacements and DEVO. Keith Carlock (who has worked with Sting, Jonn Meyer and Steely Dan) also provides drums. Two members of Porcupine Tree (Gavin Harrison on drums and Richard Barbieri on keyboards and synthesizers) are also on the new album. I got a chance to pose some questions (including how Simmons managed to get these luminaries involved) to Dale Simmons recently. 



WORMWOOD CHRONICLES: Can you catch the readers up on the history of your involvement in music – both individually and as a band?

DALE SIMMONS: I’m not really sure how much of this you want to hear, but…as a singer, songwriter, guitarist and front man for several bands since the early nineties, I covered a wide spectrum of musical genres ranging from progressive art rock to jazz and funk. 

In 1999 I moved to Europe and would spend the next seven years, refining my songwriting and music production skills in my home studio. I built a modest studio in my apartment at Chateau d’Uriage in France and began experimenting with sound design. Although only one CD release (No Real Direction) resulted from the effort, the experience would have a lasting impact on my songwriting and artistic vision.

After repatriating to the United States, I built a new studio and began working on a new series of songs—some of which would eventually become Radio Silence. I then recruited Porcupine Tree members Gavin Harrison and Richard Barbieri as well as world class drummers Josh Freese and Keith Carlock to play on the new project.

The new project, "Radio Silence" started with Gavin Harrison.  I’d written a song and wanted the same drum sound for it that I heard on Porcupine Tree’s Deadwing…as the drums on that record are stunning.  After a little investigation, I learned that Gavin recorded his own tracks for that album in his personal studio in London.  So, I wrote him a letter explaining myself with a link for him to download a demo of the song to review and asked him if he would work with me.  He agreed and then delivered a stellar performance in a relatively short period of time.  He is a consummate professional and a real pleasure to work with.  He tracked “Daylight” in his studio on the same kit that he used on "Deadwing" and "Fear of a Blank Planet".  

After that, I did my homework on drummers that I thought would stylistically fit well with each track and then contacted each of them the same way I did with Gavin.  The more aggressive rock tracks went to Josh Freese, who excels in that area, and the more ballad-like melodic tracks (“Stolen Wings” and “Metamorph”) really suited Keith Carlock. In reality any of them could have obviously knocked-out the whole album flawlessly, but I was having a really great time collaborating with them all.  They are all true professionals in every way.

Regarding Richard Barbieri…I think Richard is amazing.  His solo work is really incredible.  Textures were really important to me on this project…it is an overarching goal that I reach for on every track.  Richard is a textural genius which is why I reached out to him.  Our collaboration on “Stolen Wings” was probably the most satisfying engagement on the project.  There was a lot of back and forth between us on how and why the melodic elements should be developed.  My connection with him was developed the same as the other guys…a letter, a link to the demo and several conversations.  I think that pretty much brings us up to today…

 
WC: If you weren't involved in music what do you think you'd be doing?

DS: Painting.  For me it’s almost exactly the same creative process.
 
WC: How did the name of the group originate?

DS:The idea of “the known creative variable” is central to Exovex.  In mathematics, a function can be defined as “f(x)”... pronounced “f of x”.  So, when you put a number through that function, the same things happens to it because the function is what it is….like a logarithm.  If the functional is undefined “x”, then the expression would be written as “x(x)” (pronounced “x of x”….or phonetically “Exovex”) and although you know something is going to happen, you have no idea what that something will be.  It represents the “unknown creative variable”.
 
WC: Who would you see as your musical influences? 

DS: In high school I pretty much grew up on AC/DC, REM, Husker Du, The Replacements, Pink Floyd, Neil Young, The Meat Puppets…in college things just continued to develop from there.

Today I would say that my influences fall into two categories….hard and soft influences.  Hard influences affect my stylistic approach….the way my music sounds.  For example, Pink Floyd, and more specially David Gilmour, is a hard influence for me.  His influence on my guitar playing is obvious.  I write music that I want to hear…and I love Gilmour’s style.  That’s what I want to hear, so that’s what I play.  Soft influences are more like imaginary mentors that offer guidance.  I put myself in their shoes and ask “what would they do”?  I love Peter Gabriel’s work and think the production quality of his albums is stunning.  So I constantly reach for higher levels of recording quality using his work as a standard, but my music doesn’t sound like Peter Gabriel’s music, so I consider him a soft influence.  I regard Steven Wilson as a soft influence as well.

 
WC: What's ahead for you?

I’ve been laser focused on getting the album released, but now that this is done I’ll explore a live option for sure.  This being more of a solo project, that’s a bit of a challenge.  I see a full-blown live incarnation of Exovex requiring five musicians, including me.  I’m not really one for half-measures, so I would have a problem doing anything less than the full representation of the music.  I do have plans for an open audition to see if I can fill those slots and put a tour together, however, a lot of ground needs to be covered before that happens.   

I’m also working on a new album called “Venus Anomaly.”  The song writing is about half way complete, but I have a long way to go.  At this point, I alone am the songwriter, lyrist, singer, guitar player, bass player, keyboardist, recording engineer, guitar tech, studio manager, musician coordinator, bank and record company for the Exovex project.  That’s a lot of hats to wear and the way I work is pretty psychotic.  I never know who is going to wake up in the morning....the bass player, guitar player or singer
 
WC: I know artists hate to have their music pigeonholed or labeled, but how would you describe your music?

DS: For lack of a better description I would say that’s it’s heavy progressive rock….although I hate the term ”prog rock.”  It’s a bit misleading for so many bands.
 
WC: Are there musicians with whom you would like to play with in the future?

DS: I see myself playing with Josh Freese and Keith Carlock again, although I keep a look out for new artist to team up with. 
 
WC: Do you think that illegal downloading of music is a help or hindrance to the careers of musicians?  

DS: It’s both a help and a hindrance for artists.  I also think there are degrees of how much of a help or hindrance illegal downloading is to them depending on where they are in their career.  On one hand, for a new, unknown, unsigned artist downloading helps get the music heard and helps get their name out there.  On the other hand, it hurts them because that’s the most critical time that an artist needs cash flow to keep the project moving forward.   

For well known artist, it just hurts…there is little or no help.

WC: In a related question, how do you feel about fans recording shows and trading them?

DS: I have no problem with this.  If fans want to record shows more power to them.  
 
WC: What was the last CD you bought and/or what have you been listening to lately?

DS: Steven Wilson “Hand. Cannot. Erase”.
 
WC: Have you read any good books lately?

DS: The book I’m reading now is called “Zen Lessons: the Art of Leadership…” It is fascinating.
 
WC: What about the last concert you attended for your enjoyment?

DS: I recently saw Steven Wilson at Amager Bio in Copenhagen in April with Marco Minnemann, Nick Beggs, Guthrie Govan, Adam Holzman.  Really great show.
 
WC: Do you have a musical “guilty pleasure?”

DS: Yes…anything I’ve recorded.  I do feel a bit of guilt…knowing that I should be listening to something else…something that going to push my horizons.  Listening to your own music is a bit like masturbation.  It’s pointless, but it still feels good.
 
WC: What has been your biggest Spinal Tap moment?

DS: My vocals chords have been sounding a little fat lately…
 
WC: If you could sit down to dinner with any three people, living or dead, for food and conversation, with whom would you be dining?

DS: My Grandmother, my Grandfather and Elvis Presley.  They would freak out over meeting Elvis.
 
WC: What would be on the menu?

DS: My grandmother’s salmon patties.  Elvis would freak out over her salmon patties.
 
WC: Are there any closing thoughts you would like to get out there?

DS: I just wanted to take a second to thank your readers for supporting the album!  Their support is the best way to ensure that the next one is a reality.