Interview with Sean Timms of Unitopia by Patrick in November 2008I must admit I am a fan of this band after listening to this album. It took me just a few moments before closing this Australian band into my heart. Imagine... would these great musicians also be fine people? Well, why not just check out myself. I sent some questions down under and this is what I got back. These guys not only are fine musicians but also fantastic people. Let love rule! First of all I would like to congratulate you guys with this fantastic new release. The latest release "The Garden" received overwhelming reviews and I have I to say that I gave this album a 10/10 rating. (which I never did before). The CD will have a worldwide release. What are the expectations? And how important is Inside Out for the band?
First of all, please let me say a huge THANKYOU for your wonderful review! Greatly appreciated!!! We’re thrilled that people (especially reviewers!) are enjoying our music!
As for expectations…we really don’t have that many. We just want people to listen to our music and hopefully be captured by it. We hope it elevates and energises people and that they feel better about themselves and the world around them after they’ve listened to it. We also hope to sell enough albums to repay InsideOut’s faith in us and to be able to continue producing our music.
InsideOut have been fantastic! We felt, with the limited success of “More Than A Dream”, our 1st CD, that we needed a larger company to give us a greater profile in the progressive music scene. This has definitely happened by being signed to InsideOut! There seems to be a real buzz about the band and our new album. How come Inside Out picked you up and offered you a three album release? How did the label get in touch with you?
We got in touch with them! They had heard our 1st CD and liked it, so when the opportunity came up for them to release our 2nd CD, they made us an offer we couldn’t refuse! Hehe…We sent it to 3 companies including InsideOut and all 3 were interested. We decided to go with InsideOut due to the great name they have in the marketplace. As a progressive music buyer, the InsideOut label for me guarantees a quality product. We are a largely unknown band and we felt we needed the strength of InsideOut’s reputation to secure a place in a very competitive market.Don't you think a three album deal puts a lot of extra pressure to the band. I guess Inside Out is expecting a lot.
They would be expecting a lot if we needed to produce 3 albums in a short amount of time, but it seems that they understand that the quality of production we employ does take a bit of time. It’s very exciting for us to know that InsideOut are confident enough in our music to offer us such a deal. We’ll do our best to not let them down!I understood that the band was formed by Mark and you, Sean and that the two of you met in a record store. Can you tell us something more about that?
That’s not entirely correct. We met through a mutual friend who used to run a record store. Mark and I would go in from time to time, independent of each other and ask for exactly the same style of music. After a while, Grant, the store manager thought that we would benefit from knowing one another. We got together over a few beers and a meal and the rest as they say is history.I read you guys have a similar musical taste, can you please tell us something more about your musical influences?
We both like Genesis, Peter Gabriel, Pink Floyd, Yes, Moody Blues, Marillion, Alan Parsons and a lot of the newer prog bands out there such as The Flower Kings, Spock’s Beard, Porcupine Tree and Frost. Mark also likes John Martyn, Kate Bush and the more electronic side of music such as Jean Michel Jarre and Vangelis. I tend to prefer the singer - songwriters such as James Taylor, Al Stewart and Paul Simon as well as some of the big 80’s stadium acts such as Heart, Toto and Ambrosia. I also love listening to Prefab Sprout, Alison Krauss, Shawn Colvin and Nicolette Larson. We both have very eclectic tastes! All the compositions are rather complex and multilayered. However, everything sounds very transparent. How did you manage to do this?
I try to arrange our music like a classical orchestrator would. There can be a lot of complexity in the composition, but it needs to have a strong base for everything else to hang on to. This could be the rhythm, melody, lyric, vocal performance or the chord progression. It varies from song to song…but there’s always something. I try to find that something and work everything else around that. Also, each of the band members has a great understanding of not only what to play but also what not to play. They are all seasoned musicians who really understand their craft. This makes my job very easy as an arranger and producer. The final song "321" is a tribute to the Beaconfield miners. Can you tell us something more about this song and its inspiration? The song is fantastic musical homage. Who came up with this idea and why?
‘321’ began as a song about feeling ‘trapped’ by a situation or circumstance and ‘Trapped’ was the working title for a while. After reading an account of the two trapped Beaconsfield miners, Mark changed the direction of the lyrics to reflect the thoughts and feelings of the men who were trapped underground for 321 hours or nearly two weeks. Mark then sought out Brant Webb, one of the two miners and talked to him about the song. While in Adelaide for the Clipsal 500 V8 motor sport carnival, Brant and Todd Russell sang backing vocals on the choruses. The recording was covered by 60 Minutes as part of the one year anniversary of their release. Following an invitation from the West Tamar Council, Unitopia travelled to Beaconsfield, Tasmania in May, 2007 to perform at the memorial concert on the 1st anniversary of their release. Brant and Todd again sang backup vocals live on stage. Unitopia also released ‘321’ as a single at that time with part proceeds going to the Webb/Russell foundation. The event was extensively covered by the national media due to the high profile of the miner’s rescue and the tour was made into a mini documentary by Spadge Productions titled ‘Inside Unitopia’ which is viewable on YouTube and Unitopia’s MySpace and Facebook pages.I am sure a lot of European music fans are anxiously waiting to see the band play live over here. Are there any plans to come to Europe and will the band also attend Belgium?
Whether we will tour Europe seems to be a common question that’s been asked by nearly every interviewer so far. The answer is yes, we would love to! As Australia is so far away from the rest of the world, it’s a rather huge (and costly) undertaking, so we would need to make sure it was financially viable. Having said that…wild horses couldn’t stop us from doing our very best to get over there sometime mid next year! Having never been to Belgium, your country is certainly high on our list of places to visit! I described the voice of Mark in my review as follows: it's a magic blend of: Brian Wilson: fragile and emotional; Peter Gabriel: powerful and moving; Fish: narrative and complex. Do you agree with this?
I’ve never heard Brian Wilson in Mark’s voice, but Gabriel and Fish are certainly there! I’ll have to have a listen and see if you’re right! People have also compared his voice to Sting and Chris Rea. Brian Wilson is one of my musical heroes. Both ‘Pet Sounds’ and ‘Smile’ are milestones in popular music. His songs are also very layered but transparent. Is he in any way a source of inspiration for the band?
He’s certainly an inspiration for me! I LOVE the Beach Boys “Pet Sounds” and “Smile” albums. Amazing stuff!!! The track ‘Don’t Give Up Love’ is my homage to the great Brian Wilson in the use of the multi layered harmonies. “God Only Knows” is one of my all-time favourite songs! Unitopia is the first Australian band connected with a major prog label. Is there a progressive music scene in Australia? Are there any other promising Australian progressive rock bands?
There’s a very healthy music scene in Australia… unfortunately none of it’s prog! We do have a few progressive bands that are very good though. The Third Ending from Tasmania and The Merlin Bird and Cog from Melbourne are all excellent bands!Sometimes a fantastic release can work inspiring for other bands from the same country. Look for example at Poland where lots of bands are making there way benefiting from the success from bands such as Riverside. What other Australian bands can we expect?
Hopefully that can be the case with Unitopia and Australian prog bands. We’re certainly happy for any Australian prog band to ride on our coat tails! See above for a few Australian bands that you might hear a bit more of in the near future!The production of this album was done by both Mark and you. How did that work out?
Mark and I are the main 2 song writers and we co-produce everything together. It’s a very close, brotherly relationship that has a great deal of mutual respect and admiration. We’re very complimentary in our respective strengths and weaknesses, so it works really well! That’s not to say that we don’t have the odd difference of opinion though. That’s what makes it exciting!!!!Is the sound of Unitopia a compromise between all the band members or do Mark and you take the final decisions?
The sound of the band is definitely a combination of all the band members even though it’s mainly Mark and myself calling the shots. We value the contributions made by the other members and that’s what makes our sound what it is. Mark and I give direction where needed, but it’s certainly not dictatorial in any way.Isn't it very hard to produce your own album? Very often we can hear that you are too close involved in the musical process and that you sometimes need a "third party" to take final decisions. What is your idea about that?
I’d tend to agree if it were just Mark, or myself, but we keep each other in check and we are constantly reviewing our own and each others work to make sure it’s the best it can be. This has also happened out of necessity, as there are no producers of our style of music here in Australia. We would certainly consider having a third party producer if the opportunity (and the right producer) presented itself. Will the next album again take so much time? Or are you guys already working on new material?
We are getting quicker! “More Than A Dream” took 9 years to complete and “The Garden” only took three years!! We are already working on new material. We have a concept and have already written a few songs. I can’t tell you much about it yet as we don’t want to spoil the surprise. I think it is very difficult and complex to play this album live. Do you agree? Will you bring some extra musicians on tour? How will the band overcome this problem?
We have our 1st rehearsal in a while this Monday, so I’ll tell you after that! Seriously though, all the band members are extremely competent musicians and can cover their respective parts easily. We might add a sax/flute player when we tour to cover all the wind parts. Also, I can trigger lots of samples, loops and orchestral parts from my keyboard setup. It’s all played live, (we don’t use sequencers or backing tracks) but we use every other trick in the book to ensure that what you hear in a live performance is very close to the album.If you would be organizing your own festival, can you please give us your all time favourite line up? Please make a best off line up starting from opening act to top of the bill. Please only choose 10 names.
A mixture of old and new would be great! Here we go…in no particular order…
1. Yes (classic line-up - Anderson, Wakeman, Howe, White and Squire)
2. Genesis (classic line-up - Gabriel, Hackett, Banks, Rutherford, Collins)
3. Al Stewart with Alan Parsons as musical director/arranger/producer
4. Pink Floyd
5. The Flower Kings
6. Spocks Beard with special guest Neal Morse
7. Marillion with special guest Fish
8. Prefab Sprout
10. King Crimson What was the first album you ever bought? Are there any current bands you like? Which is your all time best album?
The first album I owned was ‘Journey to the Centre of the Earth’ by Rick Wakeman. My dad bought it for me when I was 15. This album changed my life in that it showed me how an orchestra, a full band and a multi keyboard setup could be used in modern music and be tied together in a conceptual framework.
The current bands we like are Frost, The Flower Kings, Spock’s Beard, Porcupine Tree and Marillion.
My all-time best album is…drumroll please… “Close To The Edge” by Yes closely followed by “Time Passages” and “24 Parrots” by Al Stewart. There are many, many more and it is really hard to narrow it down to just one! Impossible in fact, so here’s a few more!
I’d also put “Tales From Topographic Oceans”, “Relayer”, “Seconds Out”, “Wind and Wuthering”, “Foxtrot”, “Lamb Lies Down on Broadway”, “Court of the Crimson King”, “Dark Side of the Moon”, “Revolver”, “Sgt. Peppers”, “Tales of Mystery and Imagination”, “Pyramid”, “Even in the Quietest Moments”, “Please Don’t Touch”, “Toto IV”, “6 Wives”, “Journey”, “Arthur”, “No Earthly Connection”, “White Rock”, “Story of I”, “Season’s End” and everything by James Taylor, Kate Bush, Prefab Sprout and Peter Gabriel! If you could make one wish, What would that be?
My wish would be….this is going to sound very corny and Miss Universish, but my wish would be that everyone in the whole world, would just get along with one another. It’s not that hard! I speak for Mark when I say this as well! Lennon put this concept more eloquently than I ever could. I recently visited Manhattan and went to Central Park to visit Strawberry Fields, the John Lennon memorial. It was a very powerful moment for me. The memorial has just one word…imagine… That one word would change the world if we could only embrace the concept behind it. Thanks a lot - and once again thanks for this stunning and moving album!
I am looking forward to seeing you here in Belgium.
Thank you Patrick for this opportunity to tell you a little bit about Unitopia. Your interest and support of our music is greatly appreciated! We are honoured and humbled.