Being discovered by
someone famous never hurts.
But ultimately it's what you do with
that good fortune that determines your
success.So it was for the band Ajalon, for
while they may have been discovered by none other than Rick Wakeman, they've been diligent and worked hard to forge their own success, on their own terms I might add.
Jerry Lucky: The thing that most people think of when they hear the name Ajalon is that the band was “discovered” by Rick Wakeman. What’s the real story?
Randy George: Well I sent a copy of our cassette to Rick and his assistant prodded him to have a listen insisting that I would drive her nuts if he didn’t… That is the story Rick tells. You can see it here when he introduced the band in concert back in 1997. http://www.youtube.com/user/ajalondude1#p/u/9/35vXtACESKk
JL: Having Wakeman’s name associated couldn’t have been a bad thing?
Randy: It was a wonderful thing. It exposed us to a wider audience. We played in concert with him opening for us… Then his playing on the second CD was also a great thrill.
JL: Are you still in touch with Rick?
Randy:We exchange emails every so often. If we end up in the same part of the world we try and do coffee.
JL: Let’s go back then…and talk about how you got involved in music and how Ajalon came to be.
Randy: Wil and I met while playing in a different band. Soon
after that had run its course he and I began working on his songs which led to the first album. Dan Lile joined us after moving to
JL: Was there a moment when the “little light-bulb” went on and you said, Progressive Rock that’s the kind of music I want to play?
Wil Henderson:The three of us sat down pretty much right away upon forming the band, and made the decision to create whatever music that chose to come out of us. Looking back after nearly seventeen years together, I can say without qualification that we have been faithful to the premise upon which we founded Ajalon. It didn’t make us rich, but we’ve been faithful to the Message and, as a bonus, we haven’t had to play what some stuffed suit told us to play, either. Sounds like a good deal to me.
Randy: I think we felt free to just create whatever music was in us. The fact that is sounds like much of the music I grew up on is purely coincidental… (sticks tongue in cheek)
JL: What was your first prog moment?
Wil: I was drummer (my first instrument) and lead vocalist in a prog garage band called A440 after I got out of the Army and before I went to sea. We never played outside the garage, but we had a lot of fun learning the stuff we played- Genesis, Yes, Rush, King Crimson, Peter Gabriel. We even hacked out some of our own ideas. I have very fond memories of that time.
Randy: I started listening to Prog music when I was 9 years old. Roundabout was on the radio and I had just gotten a copy of the Moody Blues “A Question of Balance”. I also had some Beatles albums. Next came Yes with Fragile and ELP with Brain Salad Surgery. As a young impressionable kid I immediately gained a passion for this style of music. Then came many other great albums, like Zeppelin IV and Houses of the Holy. Throughout most of the 70’s my Prog repertoire grew. These are bands that I learned the songs to as a young Bass Player in 1974.
Dan Lile: I was introduced to prog rock way back in the ancient
of days when I was playing in my first prog band Sphinx. The keyboard player was a 14 year old kid who now plays for
JL: So let’s get back to Ajalon. The new CD is called
Randy: Well I think the album sets up a picture of how man’s self serving nature has led to his depravity… but that it’s never too late to turn it around and find your peace.
JL: When it comes to the music the band creates, is there an Ajalon style?
Wil: I try to write lyrics that tell stories and evoke vivid mental imagery. My musical writing has a rather loose, jangly ethereal style to it (such as Commonwealth on our first album). In context with Dan’s incredibly powerful and complex drumming and Randy’s layered guitars and keyboards, it ends up being well-anchored without overpowering the message.
Randy: I think the “Ajalon style” is a combination of everyone’s sound. I think the most recognizable sound would be songs which I started on the keyboards, add Wil’s voice and Dan’s drumming. The other side of our sound starts with ideas written on the acoustic guitar usually by Wil. Then add all the other ingredients. I think that Wil’s voice is what really defines the sound though.
Dan: I think there is a certain sound to Ajalon; however with the current and future efforts of Ajalon, the sound is changing as the band goes through life experiences. I have introduced my writing ideas into Ajalon where as before in the first and second CD I just came in and pretty much played the ideas that were already written. In other words I think that Ajalon will always have a "certain sound" but I think that sound has been moving in a different direction since I have been able to co-write with the rest of the members of Ajalon.
JL: If anyone visits your website you quickly see the band’s Christian leanings. How does that influence your lyrical craft?
Wil:My faith in Jesus Christ has everything to do with my word craft. While the lyrics I have written for This Good Place do not specifically mention Christ, the non-negotiable tenets of my faith - redemption, grace, hope, peace, and life that come from an enduring relationship with God through Jesus Christ - are still very much evident. I have simply left it to the listener to draw the conclusions.
Randy:Initially I felt that as a Christian I wasn’t bound by any format or preconceived idea as to what our music should sound like. So there was a bit of innocence in our approach. It was that honest outpouring of sound that simply reflected the music we most enjoyed. Wil is such a great lyricist he had ways of expressing biblical precepts in lyrical ways where every word just really held a lot of weight.
JL: You guys are also heavily involved in the wider Christian prog community…how did that come together? Compilation CDs, Websites etc.
Randy: Well I think that like anything where there is a need there will be someone to fill it. I think our connection to Rick Wakeman initially was the spring board for a lot of it. Soon after, we discovered online communities where Christians gathered to express their fandom of all things Prog. I suppose the Christian subculture that produces a Christian counterpart to everything secular was partly to blame as well since there wasn’t really any Christian version of a Prog band. Rick Wakeman in his solo work and Kerry Livgren were the only ones even associated with such a thing.
So in 2003 when a group of us online came up with the idea to create a compilation CD of all the Christian Prog bands that were available to us, CPR was born. Vol. 1 was a 2 disc set and since then we have put out 2 more. Each highlights bands in that genre. It just gives a face and a name to it. Kerry Livgren pointed out that nobody had ever done anything like that up that point. I really never thought about that until he mentioned it.
JL: What’s been the feedback to this particular aspect of your faith work?
Wil: The response is pretty much what I expected from the outset: we are not ‘accessible’ enough to be marketable from a CCM standpoint, and many prog listeners shut us down right away because of the message of our songs. I don’t mind this however because the music will get to whoever it wants to get to.
Randy:Well I can tell you without hesitation that we have received letters from people who have been touched by the songs. Some in precarious situations that credit our music with being the vehicle in which God literally saved them from the brink of suicide. But I doubt we will ever truly see all the full effect it has had.
JL: Do you find the prog community accepting of your message?
Wil: I think it’s about 60-40 against.
Randy: Well as you can imagine, the Christian fans really loved it, but the secular fans have a lot of mixed feelings about it. Everything from full blown hatred of anything remotely religious to the ones who don’t mind it although admittedly not Christian (or religious at all) themselves. One thing about prog fans is they can separate the music from the lyrics so a lot of them like the music and don’t like the lyrics.
JL: Just before we close let’s talk about the live situation. Is Ajalon a band looking to play live often? And are you finding the opportunities to get on stage?
Randy: Ajalon is playing at RosFest
in May this year. We plan to do a show here is
Wil: Playing live - even in local venues - has proven to be fraught with difficulties on a number of levels. Being a prog
JL: Lastly then…if you were stuck on a dessert island tell me what five CD’s you’d like to have with you and why those particular ones?
1: Kenso- Zaiya Live (Some of the most kick-butt fusion/acid jazz I have ever heard in my everlovin’ LIFE)
2: Creedence Clearwater Revival- Chronicle (I love me some of that Swamp Rock)
3: Al Stewart- Time Passages Live (All my favorite Al Stewart songs, PLUS a totally filthy sax solo during the Pink Panther theme)
4: Brent Bourgeois- Come Join the Living World (Beautiful vocals, and the musical composition is just brilliant)
5: Enya- Shepherd Moon (What can I say? I’m a sucker for pretty Irish women with deeply-haunting vocal arrangements
Well I can only list some CD’s that I never get tired of…In no particular order:
Genesis – A Trick of the Tail
It Bites – Once Around the World
Transatlantic - SMPTe
Steve Hackett – Spectral Mornings
Yes – Talk