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Interview: James Byron Schoen of EDENSONG

Photo: Waxenvine

New York-based orchestral progressive rock band, Edensong, blend a myriad of influences including classic 70s progressive rock bands such as Jethro Tull, Genesis, and Yes, into a unique and timeless sound. Antihero Magazine recently spoke to guitarist and vocalist, James Byron Schoen about his early influences and the songwriting process on Edensong’s most recent full-length album, Years in the Garden of Years.

Edensong
Photo: Waxenvine

Scott Martin: Give me a little background on the history of Edensong?

James Byron Schoen: The band has a pretty long history. Three of us were high school friends, so really, we got started back in … Oh man, I guess it was the mid-90s playing together. Got our start as a Metallica cover band, more or less, in junior high school. Then got into Dream Theater and Rush and started writing our own progressive metal stuff, I guess you could call it. Then we released an album under the name Echos of Eden and then we all went our separate ways to college. I started Edensong in college technically, and then started working on the first proper Edensong album, The Fruit Fallen. Then it wasn’t until 2009, after The Fruit Fallen was released, that I joined back up with those guys. Now, the current lineup of Edensong is very, I would say, is closer to the original Echos of Eden line up from the mid-90s than the earlier lineup of Edensong. That’s a very roundabout answer, but I’d say we got our start back then.

Scott Martin: What is story behind the name “Edensong“?

James Byron Schoen: It’s basically just … Again, it goes back our high school days. The other guitar player in our band, in our high school band, wanted to use the name Ashes of Eden. He proposed that as a band name. We discovered there were already a couple bands called Ashes of Eden, so we switched it to Echos of Eden, which also retains a similar vibe. Then when we all went our separate ways and basically disbanded, I wanted to keep the Eden in the band name, because I continued to play a lot of that material on my own, so I wanted to nod to that earlier work, but without using the band name Echos of Eden. Edensong is what came out of that. It’s been with us a very long time.

Scott Martin: When you recorded as Edensong, did you include any other songs from the prior band you were in?

James Byron Schoen: Actually, our EP that we released in 2010, it’s called Echos of Edensong from the studio and stage, that record actually focuses around an early Echos of Eden song called “Beneath the Tide.” That EP includes “Beneath the Tide” both in the new studio recording from 2010 and then also a live recording from one of the festivals that we played that year. That’s the only song from that era that really got a new treatment with Edensong.

Scott Martin:  Where does your sound derive from?

James Byron Schoen: It’s all over the place, but I certainly have a fondness for classic 70s progressive rock, especially Jethro Tull, Yes, Rush, Genesis. I think a lot of it comes from that and then I think all of us grew up listening to metal. I feel like some of our heavier influences come from just being metal heads in high school, and then probably also from a useful fondness of classic video game music as well. We were all heavily influenced by stuff like The Final Fantasy series, which had great music and I think we were really shaped by that stuff as well. Those are three basic sets of influences. I’m sure there are plenty more. There are five guys in the band so we all draw from slightly different points of reference.

Scott Martin: With the current lineup of Edensong, have you all been together for a while?

James Byron Schoen: This lineup of Edensong has been pretty much solid since 2009, so that’s eight years. That’s a good run for a band.

Scott Martin: Can you tell me about the songwriting process?

James Byron Schoen: It’s changed a lot over the years. I’m going to speak mainly about the songwriting process for the new album, which has been very collaborative. The Fruit Fallen was very much … It was almost a solo record for me. I worked with a lot of other musicians, but it was me as the principal songwriter, basically the only songwriter, and then writing parts for the other musicians and just having them come in and play them, which was very different than writing for our new album, Years in the Garden of Years, which we approached very collaboratively. I think we all brought in musical ideas. A few of the songs on the record were based off sort of orchestral compositions that our drummer had been working on when he was living in Japan. That was the basis for a couple of the songs on the album. Others were based on a riff that one of us would bring in.

I tend to approach my writing conceptually, so I may bring in an idea for a song with a basic lyrical element and overall arch to the song, how I see it panning out, but then I’ll rely upon the other guys in the band to really assist with the actual musical material and fill in those gaps. It might be an outline that gets flushed out collaboratively, or there are other times when I will embellish someone else’s idea or vice versa. I would say no two songs on the album were developed in quite the same way and I think that variety is noticeable.

Scott Martin: Looking back on the first time you heard progressive music, who was the first band/artist that influenced your musical direction?

James Byron Schoen: There were a few that happened simultaneously. I’m going to say early Metallica and Jethro Tull. Let’s say those two, because I discovered both of those bands around the same time. I think Metallica definitely brought the heaviness, but also, I think a lot of those early songs were pretty expansive, like Master of Puppets and And Justice for All. Those records are definitely Prog records and it was cool to get to experience songs that were eight or ten minutes in length and see that you can really get beyond just a verse, chorus, verse. That was inspiring. Then when I found Thick as a Brick, I was around the same age, and it was an entire record that was one song. That was mind-blowing in a way.

EdensongScott Martin: Can you tell me about your new album, Years in the Garden of Years? Where was it produced and who produced and mixed it? What were some of the biggest challenges you encountered during the recording process?

James Byron Schoen: The challenges were many, mostly limited by all our schedules and the whole process took actually exactly five years from the time we started recording to the time we released the record or the time we did the final master of the record. That was largely because I was producing and engineering and mixing myself. I’m a bit obsessive when it comes to that stuff. I’m definitely a perfectionist, and in some ways, a bit of a control freak. I think everything took longer because of that. We’ve just really had a high standard that we were aiming for with this album and we wanted to create something memorable and sort of timeless, because that was in our initial concept of the record. It’s an album about time and we wanted to make music that can’t necessarily be linked to a particular time.

The whole thing took five years and everything was thoroughly worked upon. It was really a lot of planning that went in. I think we booked out almost a full month just for the drums. That was the beginning of the whole process – Tony’s drumming. Everything was built upon that. The song structures were pretty much all fully worked out, but we basically went one layer at a time and built the music up from the rhythm section onward. Then mixing, I would say the mixing process took about a year. Most of the time was spent tracking.

Scott Martin: What label did you put the album out on?

James Byron Schoen: This is on Laser’s Edge.

Scott Martin: You made a video for song “Cold City.” Can you tell me about the concept behind that video and the song?

James Byron Schoen: Yeah, so “Cold City” is one of the two songs on the record that is not related to the overarching suite about time. “Cold City” is a concept that goes back a few years before I even started working on Years in the Garden of Years. I would say it’s a bit more realistic, a little grittier than the rest of the record. It’s on the heavier end.

It’s very much a self-contained work. When we started working with Scott Irvine, who did our band photography for the album, I thought it would be really cool to pair up with him, because he’s got a lot of great cityscape photography that was inspiring. We paired up with him and we used his landscape work to fill out that “Cold City” lyric video, which I think works really well. It’s a nice pairing. Between his photography and then Nick Fiore was the director of the video, between his editing work, I think it came together really cool. We’re actually in the process of working with Nick on another video, which should be out soon.

Scott Martin: Do you have a certain subject that inspires your songs?

James Byron Schoen: It is all over the place, but I think on this record, it was every song was firmly rooted in a different concept of time, so a different way of thinking about time. A couple songs on the album deal with time in a sense of a lifetime. There’s some other songs that zoom out a little bit further and look at civilizations and the rise and fall of civilizations, some that zoom out even further and look at geological time. Part of the concept for this album was that each song tells a different story based on time. That was what inspired me for this record.

I also feel pretty drawn to dark subjects and unpleasant subjects. The Fruit Fallen had a lot of songs about death, various people who were close to me who had died or even musicians who had inspired me who had died tragically. It was sort of a coming of age album and confronting the unpleasant aspects of life, I suppose. That was a unifying character of that record, along with organized religion, which I addressed a lot on that album. I tend to think in pretty broad topics for a single record and then try to spin that out into various songs.

EdensongScott Martin: Can you tell me what are the plans for the rest of 2017? Do you have shows lined up, festivals?

James Byron Schoen: We’ve got a lot going on. It’s definitely a busy time for the band. The first thing coming up is RosFest, which I’m really excited for. This’ll be our biggest festival performance. That’s in Gettysburg, Pennsylvania on … I think it’s May 6th, but you might want to check the date on that [May 5-7]. Then we’re doing another festival up in Quebec, the Terra Incognita Festival, where we’ve played before and loved it. It was a great time. We’re going back up there at the end of May followed by a US/Canada tour with Imminent Sonic Destruction out of Detroit. That’ll keep us busy for the next few months. Beyond that, I’m trying to line up some more shows for the fall and hopefully get back and start writing some new music, because it’s been a while.

Scott Martin: So, no ProgPower?

James Byron Schoen: No ProgPower. I would love to do ProgPower, but so far, they haven’t asked. Yeah, that’d be fantastic. I feel like they book up years and years in advance, so we might be waiting a while. I think it’s our drummer, Tony, whose main dream is to play ProgPower. Of course, all of us would love the opportunity, but he has made it known that is a major goal for him, so I really hope we can make it happen. I wonder if we’re metal enough for that.

About Scott Martin

Photographer – California – Bay area

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