By David Perri
The perennial sad-sack tale in rock is that the bands who truly deserve mass recognition and respect rarely achieve such lofty status. Among the list of groups that are surely due for some measure of top-shelf success are Fates Warning, Dream Theater and Chroma Key. Though the three aforementioned are markedly different from each other, the musicians that comprise them are professional and, most importantly, profound in their own idiosyncratic ways. Thus, it is with the delight of prog fans the world over that Jim Matheos (Fates Warning), Mike Portnoy (Dream Theater) and Kevin Moore (Chroma Key) have come together to create a new band, OSI. OSI defies expectations wherever possible: the technical prowess of Fates Warning and Dream Theater is not found on record, while the detached morose nature of Moore's mindset takes centre-stage amongst the antithetical influence of Matheos' guitars. Basically, OSI has crafted an album that re-defines progressive music, all the while engaging in an off-kilter dialogue between band and fan that revels in nothing but the intensity of music. DigitalMetal spoke to a cheerful and outwardly confident Kevin Moore about OSI's debut, Office Of Strategic Influence, and the future of his Chroma Key wanderings.
How did your involvement in OSI come about? I know you've grown out of prog-metal, and that led to your departure from Dream Theater in 1994.
After I left Dream Theater I still did a couple of project with Fates Warning. So, I stayed in touch with Jim (Matheos) more or less. Jim always gives me advice. He gives me business advice, like how to do stuff like music publishing. Whenever I have a question about stuff like that I always get in touch with him. One of these times he started telling me about this new project he was working on, and he asked if I'd be interested in working on it. I said sure. He didn't tell me he was already planning on doing it with Mike (Portnoy, Dream Theater). Jim said something like, "I have a drummer in mind, I don't know if you're going to be interested." (laughs) That's how it started, and then he sent me stuff down to Costa Rica. I played with it a little bit, and then sent it back to him and that was "OSI". That was the first song we really worked on.
Was it difficult working with Mike again, because so many years had elapsed?
Yeah, it was impossible (laughs). I think it was difficult for Mike. He's been saying that he had a hard time taking direction on the drums, because I don't think that's what goes on in Dream Theater anymore. I think everyone just plays their own parts. So he said he had some difficulty taking direction from me. I sort of sensed that when we were in the studio, but Mike and I were only together for about a week working on his drum parts. It wasn't that dramatic or anything. It was really a lot of fun to work the way we did, because he comes up with parts that I would never be able to even think of. Having his permission to work with it after he recorded it, y'know chopping it up digitally and reversing stuff, that was also a lot of fun.
Is touring a possibility for OSI?
Yeah. I don't know how likely it is, but it's a possibility. I just got into to town here in New York about two hours ago. We haven't sat down with the label yet, but I think that's one of the things they want to talk about. I'd be surprised if there's a tour. But, ask Jim Matheos. (laughs)
What about Chroma Key -- will we ever see a third record?
I'm looking for a label to do it. I'm hoping to work with InsideOut. That would be the easiest. I'd like to do another Chroma Key record. I started the third one before the OSI project happened, I was already working on it. I haven't touched it in about six months, though. But it's in progress and I definitely want to do it.
The last news I heard about the new Chroma Key was that it was very ambient and didn't make use of verse-chorus-verse song structures.
The new Chroma Key?
I think I read that at chromakey.com or something like that.
The two songs that I can think of that I've already recorded are actually verse-chorus-verse (laughs). But Chroma Key's never been really standard as far as that goes. The big difference with the new one is that there are more real instruments. There's more real playing, and we've got indigenous instruments and things like that. I've hooked up with a bunch of friends that made hand-drums and didgeridoos. And I did a lot of recording with that. This new Chroma Key is going to be more organic, and less digital.
Was it difficult merging your vision for OSI with Jim and Mike's?
No one had a vision for OSI. Everyone was very open, and no knew what it would end up sounding like. The song "OSI" set the tone for the record. After we worked on that, everyone knew from then on what the project would be like. Mike said that he was really open to this project, because it was something he had never done before. As for Jim, some of the OSI material was supposed to be for Fates. So it became kind of painful when I wanted to chop up his longer pieces into little, more manageable bits.
Are you happy with the way OSI turned out?
This was the most fun I've had with any record, and I'm really happy with it. When I've done Chroma Key albums, I've lived with the songs for a year or a year and a half before getting them out there. Within that process, it's mostly just been me and the songs, so I tend to get very critical. OSI was more spontaneous and it was cool having other people's opinions. There was a lot of just playing with this project, and that was a lot of fun.
How did Steve Wilson (Porcupine Tree) come to be involved with the track "shutDOWN"?
It was Jim's idea. He's a big Porcupine Tree fan. He didn't know who was going to sing on the album. I really wanted to do vocals, so I selfishly pushed to do vocals (laughs). But Jim really wanted to Steve to be involved, so he did the singing on that track.
Some of these songs, especially "When You're Ready" and "Standby (looks like rain)" sound like Chroma Key. Were you using material you had written for Chroma Key to write these tracks?
Actually, they were Jim's ideas. At the beginning of "When You're Ready" that's not even a real guitar. I couldn't even tell when he played it for me, but Jim programmed it all on the computer and then sequenced it note-by-note. That was very time-consuming work, but it sounds so authentic. So, I didn't mess with that track as much as I did with the others.
Will there be another OSI album?
People are already asking us to do another on. I'm already writing, so I don't think it will be that far in the future.
Did you guys feel any pressure at all while recording the album? The label expects this to be one of their biggest sellers of all time. Did that mentality affect you during the creative process?
I think the only pressure I felt was around the expectations that the other guys had. I was filled with a lot of doubt whenever I'd start writing a song. When the song was finished, I felt better. But then I realised I'd had to go through that process all over again. So there was a lot of... dread.
The lyrics on the album are very political. On your previous works, your lyrics have always been intensely personal. How did it feel writing a different type of lyric for OSI?
Well, in this case the political is the personal (laughs). I was always politically naive. After September 11, I kind of sat back and thought "What the fuck is going on?" So I started to study about what led to that event. And the first thing you realise is that not everyone thinks the way you do. My brother is a fireman in New York City. He was there at the towers on September 11. So his first inclination after the event was "let's kick some ass!" My initial reaction was a non-violent one. I realised that even within my family there was completely different ways of perceiving the same issue. I've dealt with this disjuncture by volunteering at a short-wave radio station in Costa Rica. I'm still learning about the issues, and I get to engage myself in a type of political process via this radio station.
So you're still based in Costa Rica, then? Does the culture influence your sound or give you unique ideas?
Yeah, I'm still in Costa Rica but just in a different city. Costa Rica doesn't necessarily give me new ideas, because the people in Costa Rica are from so many different backgrounds: Argentinean, Cuban, South American. No one is really from Costa Rica itself. When you go to Nicaragua or Panama -- the bordering cities -- that's a totally different place. It's a totally different culture with different music. Costa Rica isn't really like that, and the big complaint is that it has no culture because it models itself after the US. The big influence on my music is from the ex-patriots from other countries who are living in Costa Rica. These are the people who build instruments that I've experimented with.
It's been more than two years since your last Chroma Key album, You Go Now. Do you have a different perspective on the record now that so much time has passed since its release?
No, I don't really listen to it. My focus is just working on new material. I think I've grown a lot as a musician since then. I've learned more about the computer as an instrument. I've also learned more about musicians who are doing that style of music. I think some of You Go Now just sounds very naive.
In terms of the lyrics though, are you still in that same headspace? I'm referring specifically to tracks like "Another Permanent Address" or "Subway".
Well, that's definitely an end-of-relationship album (laughs). I had just come out of a relationship, and I think that's what contributed to the mood of the record. But that type of mood you also heard on the first Chroma Key album, so I think it just comes naturally with me. In terms of the lyrics, things have gotten better (laughs).
You Go Now is quite possibly one of my favourite all-time albums. I still listen to it regularly.
Well, that's nice to hear. I'm glad that at least one person liked it.