Pentwater - "The Long Journey of Ab-Dul"

Interview by Dark Starr

Pentwater may be the midwest's best kept secret. A legend in prog rock circles, many outside that group of fans have probably never heard of them. Given their talent that's a crying shame. After about thirty years since their first release (thought Boston was bad) they have reunited and put together their second real disc (there was one compilation of unreleased material in the interim). I got to ask questions of all the members of the group and their musical integrity along with their sense of humor and even a bit of quirky science fiction/fantasy influence all show through. These are among the things that make Pentwater great, so it's good that they surfaced.

WORMWOOD CHRONICLES: Your new album Ab-Dul has been released. What can you tell us about the process of putting this together?

TOM ORSI: It was like lava, jello, granite and helium poured into a recording studio with all the mics on.

MIKE KONOPKA: First we had to sift through our enormous archive of recordings todecide what could be used, what needed further production, and what needed to be re-recorded from scratch. Some songs were realized from the sheet music Ken dug out of his file cabinets.

RON FOX: Well it only took 15 years. It started with "Cry of Eugene" at Mike Konopka's Seagrape Studios. It's definately a labor of love, painstakingly putting the pieces together from old recordings we had lying around.

KEN KAPPEL: It's taken a long time. ...and it was incredibly fun to do. Too bad we have real jobs.

WC: Many of the tracks here are older compositions - and some are actually new mixes of older recordings. How did you decide which method to use in approaching the various tracks?

RON LeSAAR: The decisions were made for us in a way. When all you have is a cassette from a song rehearsal, you have no choice but to rebuild it. But sometimes just having that cassette as a guide was priceless! Mike spent hours cleaning up individual tracks on some of the multi-track tapes we had. Then we had the freedom to reassemble and remix the song in a new way, and at a more leisurely pace than when you're paying for studio time. Some songs were sweetened with additional vocals or instruments, but we always added only what we would have added originally, if we had had the time.

PHIL GOLDMAN: I was grateful to have an opportunity to collaborate on my tune "You Knew". It felt perfect getting everyone in the same room again working on a new project. I'm glad it was included.

RF: We used what we could and created what was needed.

WC: Where did the title come from?

PG: We had a friend named Ab Dul. He was a good friend and kept us very happy.

TO: It was the name of an object from the future that inspired us as we held it.

RL: Every band has inside information and jokes that only the band get. This is one of them. What does Ab-Dul mean to you? That's the real question!

MK: I think the title came from Turkey. Either that, or it was stuck in between my couch cushions!

RF: An old friend that we all enjoyed good times with, Pass the Ab - Dul, please.

KK: Making money playing prog rock was a pipe dream.

WC: You have the entire classic lineup on the disc, don't you? What has everyone been doing in the interim?

PG: I have been making a living as a portrait and event photographer, I've been raising a family, and have been studying mandolin with the Chicago jazz great Don Stiernberg.

RL: I've been working with computers for almost 30 years. I've been married for 4 years. I love to travel and try to stay exposed to new sounds and art in all media.

MK: I've been an audio engineer for over 20 years doing studio and location recording and also designing recording studios too. Just got married about two years ago, too!

KK: I worked in a bakery, became an engineer, got married, raised 2 daughters, got divorced, etc... In other words, "life."

WC: Do you have a favorite on the CD?

PG: My Favorite is "Autumn." I had already left the band by the time that tune was written and recorded. I love the melody and the fact that Mike worked a poem that his mother wrote as a teenager as the lyric. What a great way to pay a tribute!

RL: Wow, that's hard. I'm very partial to "Turn the Key,” and "Somehow Feelin' Fine,” but I think "Sealed in Today" keeps rising to the top, even though it's an older Pentwater piece. The band dynamics are just killer and the bass gets a prominent mix here and is very melodic, as well.

MK: II think “Entropal Pause” is a fav of mine just cause I'm glad it's finally seeing the light of day. Tom insisted that we use the middle vocal bit so we did.

RF: "You Knew"

KK: I hate to admit it, but the cover of The Nice.

WC: What brought about the cover of The Nice?

PG: I know how much I respected Keith Emerson. This was a tune that we could do with our lineup that expressed our respect without covering an ELP tune.

RL: I'd never heard the track before Mike played it for me. I hadn't gone that deep into all of the Nice albums in my collection (About 2,600 LP's. Yes, real vinyl! I was kind of surprised to hear that psychedelic side coming out because I'm really into heavy psychedelia.

TO: We've always wanted to be a cover band, but we're complete dyslexics.

MK: When I met Keith Emerson, I asked him about the rumors that Jimi Hendrix was supposed to be in ELP. He said it was true and that they had jammed together, etc. Emerson used to burn flags on stage ala Jimi during Keith's time with the Nice. I thought this was kinda of a cool story and era to look into for Pentwater's first cover song. Plus I knew we could do a better job with a already great song.

WC: What is next on the agenda for Pentwater?

RL: I think we're all planning the next CD in our heads already! I hope we can get all the new material recorded and out much faster that the last album cycle.

MK: Yeah, we will be 80 if we wait that long again!

RF: Keep creating music

KK: More pipe dreams, I hope.

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

PG: I think if file sharing were around in our early career we would have embraced it. It's a boon to independent, small bands that have no marketing or distribution channels.

TO: Well, when the first vinyl record came out I can remember how many people gleefully told me how they'd made several cassettes of the record for their friends. That means we were paid 7 times less than we should have been. I currently favor the iTunes model, but there is a better way. It involves more than music, it includes all intellectual property, including everyone's personal information. Basically, in order for any musician's to retain any economic control of their livelihood the moment after they create it, Google will have to be destroyed.

Right now Google gives us free search in return for tracing our every move on the net and selling that info to advertisers. Not a fair exchange to me. What about everyone being able to get a piece of that income? It would come to about $100/year income to the average surfer if it was split 75/25 with a site that brokers to the advertisers. 3 sites have sprouted up in the last year just to that end. They give you a google-cookie blocker and sell your info for you. I think it's the evolution of free-enterprise of the net. I hope it is. Musician's protected mp4s could be distributed the same way. Bye bye record overlords.

RL: Sharing a song or two from an album with a few friends won't kill the artist, but ripping an entire album and trading it or sharing it just comes down to ripping off the artists. Just because the technology allows you to do it, doesn't make it right. I find it sad that most younger people today can't see this and think it's justified because it's easy or because they have some concept that the record companies or the big bands can "afford" it, so it's OK. A lot of people in the entire chain get ripped off in the process. I support the iTunes model, but I hope they get more competition - I hate monopolies.

TO: My point of view is that a song can change your whole day, sometimes influence your life - it takes you somewhere - it makes your body move, your mind think - and it costs one fifth of a quarter-pounder with cheese. How much of a better deal does everyone really need?

MK: I think ipods were invented by accountants!

RF: Without the internet we would probably not be releasing Ab-Dul. Our music would not have survived without it. Not enough local fans to keep us inspired.

WC: How do you feel about fans taping and trading live shows?

PG: OK with me

RL: I have no objection as long as the tapes are traded among fans. It crosses the line for me when the tapes are sold (in quantity for monetary gain) or aired. It's just stealing, no matter how easy the technology makes it. I'm sure the trading can be a good method to get your music to a wider audience, so maybe they'll be more interested in your next official release.

MK: If anyone out there reading this has live audio or video of Pentwater shows please let us know! We would love to check
'em out.

RF: OK with me, just get the music out there!

WC: What music have you been listening to lately?

PG: I'm a big fan of Chris Thile. I've seen him several times over the past few years. From solo projects to Nickel Creek shows, I'm always blown away by his musicianship.

MK: I just recorded a band live from Austrailia called The Cat Empire and they reminded me of Pentwater a lot. Their style of music was different but their energy levels reminded me of our 70's craziness.

RF: Country!

WC: How about concerts? Seen any good shows lately?

KK: I saw Musical Box. It was a flash back.

WC: Is there anything you'd like to add?

TO: Keep your mind open and your eyes closed.

PG: It's always been about the music, I'm glad there are people who want to hear what we've done!

RL: Ab-Dul's been fun to put together and get released. I think we're all looking forward to our next adventures and maybe playing live again!

MK: Visit kids!