In Words: Robert Berry
|- Robert Berry -
||- Claudia Ehrhardt -
Robert Berry - February, 23rd 2009 (by email)
Hard rock and AOR fans will know Robert Berry through several bands he played with as well as through his solo albums. Now he has another solo album out which is called The Dividing Line and just a few months ago there was another Alliance album, so more then one reason to talk to Robert!
Let's talk about Alliance first... Why did it take years to do the next Alliance record?
Well, first off Claudia it is good to speak with you again. It has been a long time since the second Alliance album. There were many things that interfered with the release of Road To Heaven. The first was that I lost my dad in 2001. It just took the wind out of my sails. I didn't feel like writing songs or even performing. The only thing I did for the next 3 years was produce artists in my studio Soundtek. I was really lost artistically. My hobby is collecting guitars. I just love it. At that time I felt like I should just sell them all as they had no real meaning in my life. Then Gary called me up to audition for the drumming position in Boston. I knew I wasn't a live drummer but the opportunity to actually get to play with the band and fly to Boston for a few days and spend time with Gary got me motivated again. Alliance had usually gotten together a few times each year, but it was very hard in the next few years to find time when Gary wasn't out with Boston touring and when David wasn't out with Sammy Hagar. And Fitz always seemed to be out with somebody new every year. From Van Halen to Bruce Springstein he was always on the go. And I had joined the band Ambrosia so my schedule was really packed between the studio and touring. Then finally late 2006 I just decided that I needed to make the effort to get the guys together and finish the record. And most of the songs came from that period between late 2006 and early in 2008.
It's called The Road To Heaven... What's the road to heaven for you? Your music? Your family?
Everybody has their own version of what heaven should be. For some it is a good meal, for some it is spiritual and for others they will never have an idea exactly what it is. But they know it's not the road they are on. For me the road to heaven is based on the way you live your life everyday. To treat people as you want to be treated and do your best at whatever you are meant to do.
To me it seems that The Road To Heaven has compared to Missing Piece more keyboards... Or the keyboard is more prominent... Did Fitz have more influence on the songs this time?
It was interesting to me that our first album just called Alliance was better received than Missing Piece. When we did Missing Piece I felt that I could never put out a better album than that. I am still really proud of that album and I believe it didn't get the exposure it deserved. But Missing Piece was more guitar oriented and the first album was more a blend of guitar and keyboards. So we made an attempt to keep closer to the model of the first album in the production. Plus Fitz is a great keyboard player and all we had to do it let him loose and let him play. You can hear he is inspired on each track.
A song which sticks out - not just because it's the only ballad - is Make A Stand... A very emotional song... And your vocals seem to be even more passionate... Does this one have a special meaning to you?
Yes, this song is very important to me. Even though it appears to be about a couples relationship it is written about my daughter. At the time she had just turned 16 and I felt that she was at a point in her life where she had to make a choice. She was either going to stand up and stay on a positive path or she was going to falter and head into some dangerous behaviors. I had spent so much time with her when she was little doing things like dance class, piano lesson and raising a horse. Now she was starting to test the waters of independence. I wanted to impress upon her that she has to Make A Stand in her life. Since you mention the vocal I did on this song I just want to tell you that I tried to sing it over 2 or 3 more times past the very first vocal I had done. The first vocal was recorded with just an acoustic guitar. I was in the moment with that vocal and I had just written the song about my concerns with my daughters future. I could never capture that feeling of desperation again. I tried and tried, but the first vocal was the one that got the right emotion across.
Have all songs been written for this release? Or have there been left-overs from Missing Piece? Or at least from that time around?
Nothing was left over from Missing Piece. They were all new songs. Although one of them, Much More Innocent was one of the first songs I wrote after my dad died. I didn't think I could finish that song in a fashion that would make the album, but I think it finally came out quite good. I Can Breathe is one of the first songs Gary and I wrote together for the album in mid 2007. The other song we wrote together was call Modern Man and it just didn't turn out right. I bring this up because I re-wrote the chorus and it now appears on The Dividing Line. It's now called A Life Worth Livin'.
It looks like you still have a lot of fans, and perhaps even more since The Road To Heaven is out.... So will the fans get another Alliance album?
We have already started on the 4th album. But it will be 2010 before it is out. I think the last Alliance album will be the one right before they close the lid on my coffin. Which hopefully is years away.
Any chance to see Alliance on tour? Or will it always be a studio thing?
I have been working very hard to make a European tour happen. But who knows. We want to do it, but everything has to be just right. It is very expensive to bring a band over from the US to tour Europe. If your readers have any pull in their country, please let the concert promoters know we want to play for them.
With The Dividing Line you have a new solo album out. It's been years since you released a solo album. Have you been too busy? Or do you just wanted to make sure that all songs are strong and make it a special album?
I have had quite a few other albums out that were almost like solo albums. The Magna Carta release December People was a solo album of mine with some guest singers. I did the soundtrack for the Wheel Of Time book series by Robert Jordan. And I've had various things out as a solo artist. But this is the first solo album in some time that is the real me. I was asked by Frontiers Records to do an album just the way I wanted. Like the songs I used to write for 3 and GTR or my solo album Pilgrimage To A Point. So that is what I did. I have a few songs that were from the past. A GTR song I wrote called Listen To The People. An Ambrosia song I wrote called I Gave You The Best Of Me. And a fantastic video piece called Wait that I did with some very talented film people here in California. But the rest of the songs are newly written just for this album.
Btw, are you satisfied with the feedback The Dividing Line got?
So far I am very excited by the response. I was worried that after the stunning reviews of Road To Heaven that the listeners would have had enough of my voice and song writing. But I am finding that my solo music is just different enough from the Alliance style that people are liking what they hear. It seems especially the reviewers and interviews have a favorite song off the album where as in Alliance they usually like the album as a whole.
As you have your own studio and play every instrument, there is no need to rush things, but isn't there the risk to try to make everything perfect? And overdo / re-record songs to try to make them better?
That would be the case for most people in that position. But I have developed perspective through the clients I work with at Soundtek. 5 days a week I am doing just that for singer / songwriters. I have a package deal at my studio where I produce an artists song for one thousand dollars. They come in at 10 in the morning and we work on every aspect of that song until about 8 that night. All kinds of artists and all kinds of music. I've been doing that for years. And by the end of the day we have the music recorded, arranged and produced ready for the vocal. So I do the multiple instrument thing for so many people that when it comes to my own music I just use the same perspective I've learned though that. Some things need perfection, others need rough edges. Some songs need to be packaged tightly, some need to be left more open. A song speaks to me as to what will support the lyrics and the vocalist. Then I just set out to do the best job I know how. Most of the time I'm not even really totally aware of how the production turns out the way it does. It is just a process that happens somewhere inside of me and is translated by my fingers into music.
Faith is a very emotional tune... And it seems there is a deeper meaning behind it... That some 'special event' inspired you to write it... Can you tell us a bit more about it?
It is actually based on two life changing events in my life. The first was the passing of my father which I already talked about a bit. And the second was the passing of my good friend and Robert Berry Band keyboard player Mike Wible. Mike was the guy that had to play all the hard stuff from my career. He knew the Emerson stuff really well, he could play the old Hush music and he was always ready and willing to do a totally professional job of whatever keyboard parts were needed. The kind of musician that just can't be replaced. What Faith was written about it how people are remembered. With my dad and with Mike the things they loved and believed in are what create the strongest memories. Their faith in what they loved to do and did well left a big impression with those of us left behind. So I wanted to try and put that into words and a song. I'm still not sure I've explained it quite right but I do believe that my intention comes through in the song. Sometimes things are better left unsaid or just not so obviously said.
You did a video for Wait. Why this song? And how did you choose the war images / politics related images?
I have a very good video team. Cameraman Mike Pierce and writer / director Nickolas Erdie are really good at what they do. Mike is also a fantastic black and white photographer which I think gives him a more artistic eye to his video work. Nickolas is just a deep thinker. I told him my concept for Wait. I wanted old footage mixed with newer footage to give the sense that we are still waiting for good to be done. It was his idea not to include anything really up to date because those pieces can be filled in by the viewer and they will conclude that we are still waiting. I wanted to do a video once in my life that I thought could make a difference. Something that made a point. We all want to help and be involved, but we just don't seem to ever get the job done quite right. But I am hopeful as you can see by songs like One Good Man.
Any other song you thought about doing a video for?
Videos are very expensive. And time consuming. I have done a few other videos for songs not on The Dividing Line. If you check YouTube you can see them. One is called To Little Time To Waste. Same video team and I think they did a great job of this one too.
It seems to me that you like to have lyrics where one can discover a deeper meaning when taking a closer look. How important is it for you to stay away from cliches and shallow lyrics?
I try to write lyrics that represent my take on life and being a positive person. In my solo work I start the song writing process with a theme that means something personal to me. I want to include the depth of the meaning in the lyric but I also don't want to sound preachy. So the trick for me is to keep a good hook chorus and some powerful music surrounding the message. Then I set out trying to work the lyric so I don't replay the same idea over and over again.
As far as I know you were mainly doing studio work the last couple of years. Do you miss going out on stage? To get the feedback right away?
I did have a year off, but last year I started playing on the west coast with Greg Kihn. You may know him from the 80's. Until I can get Alliance over to Europe I have to keep on the big stage. I just can't do those little local clubs anymore. You get spoiled after playing with some of the great talents I have worked with. And the kind of managers, road crews and venues that make up a real pro unit. But you know I love being able to play the songs I'm involved in to an audience that wants to hear them. I guess that is the instant feedback. But the way it makes me feel to entertain a crowd has more to do with presenting something good to them than me getting something in return. Although I get great pleasure in return.
Life goes in circles... As far as I know you played with Hush some shows as opening band for Ambrosia. Later you became part of Ambrosia. First, how this came? And was it somehow strange to be part of them after opening for them long ago?
It was a very interesting turn of events. I was actually talking to a band called Iron Butterfly. They wanted me to play with them and I was considering it. The music wasn't really suited for what I am known for, but I was ready to get back out on the road. Then my good friend Patrick Rossi called me and said that David Pack was leaving Ambrosia and he had talked to them about me. After a few months of busy schedules they called me and asked if I was still interested. I told them I was and they told me to be ready in two weeks. I asked about rehearsals and they said there would be none. OK. I was ready for that first show without even meeting them. Of course I had met them back when Hush opened 20 years earlier so who needed a rehearsal. LOL Playing with Ambrosia really got my creative spark going again although I couldn't get that band to share in that spark. I left because I couldn't get them to do a new album. I can't sacrifice my family time on tour unless the band is committed to making a positive career move. When I look back now I realize that because they didn't have a goal of making Ambrosia a success again I didn't really give it my all. It was a great band and probably still is. But to rest on your past and not try to be a creative, energized force with new music was something I could never settle for.
How did you get into doing sound tracks? And is it somehow more challenging then the 'usual' stuff?
When I came back from England in the late 80's I had found that an old friend of mine that I used to do radio jingles for was head of soundtracks at Miramax films. So I started working on music for the movie trailers that they play in between the feature movie. That was great money and good training because the turnaround time was usually very quick. But it was also very demanding and it didn't last like a record does. It comes and goes and that's it. An album is in somebody's collection for a life time. Like I talked about earlier I love producing albums for singer / songwriters so I have concentrated on that. It includes me helping with lyrics if needed, working on the arrangement, playing all the instruments, except the one the artist plays and producing a finished music track. It doesn't get better than that for me. My Miramax friend Randy is now at Paramount films and I probably should call him for some new movie work. But I just love this creative process with the song writers.
As a musician there are always ups and downs, and it doesn't get easier when you have a family. So I guess, to have your own studio helped to survive in this business, right?
Yes, you are right. But the hours I have spent working with clients and then concentrating on my own career are quite intense. I have found that the thing that really helped me was a good sense of how I wanted my life to turn out. It is easy to get into some really bad habits on the road. But if you look at your life as a big picture and think about down the road a bit it tends to ground you. So if I'm in the studio or touring it's the same ethic. I love my family, I love music and I am lucky that I have been able to live the life I chose the way I wanted to. But the studio has made it possible for me to keep writing and let my ideas flow because I can work there whenever I need to.
For a couple of years you worked with Jack Foster III. How did you get in touch?
Jack Foster came into Soundtek with Trent Gardener because he was aware of my career in progressive music and he wanted to do something a little different and quite demanding musically. He asked me if I wanted to be part of the team. I really like Jack's voice and his guitar playing. He is quite a musician. So we set about doing his albums. We spent every Wednesday for 5 years working on Jack's music. Unless I was out on tour or Jack had a gig we just kept creating.
And how much influence did you had at Jazzraptor's Secret? Some parts seem to have your signature....
I had a fair amount of influence on all Jack's albums, because I not only helped produce and engineer the albums, but I played most of the bass and drums on them. But on the last one I had a few songs that Jack and I did without Trent, so I guess I actually had a little more influence on that. Jack and I work quite well together. But then again Trent and I get along famously.
You have worked with so many musicians through the years, is there still someone you would like to work with? An unfulfilled dream related to your music?
I am a huge Jeff Beck fan and I would love to do a song with him. I have just done some recording with Robert Lamm of Chicago and I am hoping that turns out to be a long term thing.
What's on your schedule the next months?
Well, I always have a busy studio schedule. I stay booked with all kinds of different projects. I am working right now with Trent Gardener from the band Magellan. I have a new artist from Oregon in a few weeks that is doing a more blues / folk type album. It's kind of nice once in a while to do something more acoustic. I am currently producing a Christian Rock album for an artist named Elizabeth Campisi which I think will do very well. And an artist I produced last year just won the LA Music Awards top female singer / songwriter for 2008. That artist is Dazz and I have just finished her second album which should be out by the time this interview comes out. I did my package deal with her where I produce the songs from co-writing to playing the instruments. That's what I love to do and fortunately I get to do it most every day. If any of your readers are interested in my studio work with other artists they can check out the www.Soundtekstudios.com web site and click on the testimonial button. You'll hear the artist speak a bit about their experience and then a song off their album.
I really hope that Robert Berry gets the chance to play live in Europe, personally I would like to see him doing his solo stuff as much as seeing Alliance on stage. At the moment it seems that classic rock / hard rock is getting more popular again, so the chances get better - I guess. Anyway, even if he won't hit the European roads, we will hear from him again. A passionate musician can't stop doing what he loves - and so there will be more music from Robert Berry. Good to know, coz even if The Dividing Line is a quite new album, I think it will stand the test of time like the self-titled Alliance debut and Missing Piece. So keep your eyes and ears open for some more music coming from Robert Berry!