Phoenix Down


Jerry Lucky: Phoenix Down has been around for some time, but most people won’t be aware of you so why don’t you give us your “elevator” history in 10-minutes or less?


Phil Berger: Phoenix Down is a progressive rock enigma...combining powerful imagery through a musical and lyrical synergy. This band had released 2 studio albums and a live album before their hiatus in 2006 until the early summer of 2012. Now 2013 finds the band the busiest they have been reissuing The Cycle Of Strife at followed shortly by a physical re- release of their debut disc. A cover CD of Progressive Rock Classics will follow shortly after. Then the band will be entering the studio to record their third studio CD entitled "The Dawn Of Oblivion"


JL: You mentioned to me that two primary influences on the band’s sound were Rush and Yes…and the more I listened the more I heard that. Perhaps you can expand on why those two bands…and perhaps what others may have influenced the sound of the band.


PB:  With RUSH to me it was the fact that here were 3 guys not only creating this amazing music but kind of had the attitude of it's us against the world not only in their music but the fact that they were going to sound that huge and complex just the 3 of them. I loved Alex's use of Suspensions and open voiced chords to create a huge soundscape  especially on the Hemispheres album and Permanent Waves but really on all their music that just grabbed me...and what bass player and drummer didn't want to be Geddy And Neil?!?! With YES it was kind of the same thing even though they were 5 guys they created a symphonic sound that as a musician I admired. I catch myself every once in a while totally falling into a Steve Howe mode especially live. Just great musicians…I'd say maybe early Dream Theater as I loved that band (still do just can't sit and listen to them as much as I had at once in my life) some of Queen's music definitely resonates with us very strongly Marillion is definitely up there as well, especially Fish era.


JL: When you first started out was there any idea that it was to play progressive rock music?


PB: When we first got together we weren't sure what it was going to be. We knew Mark (Phoenix Down Bass/Keys/Vocals) and I both had a mutual VERY apparent love for RUSH, The Police and YES, but we had no idea what it was going to be. As we started writing and it started taking on a Progressive rock style, it was just a natural progression for where we both were coming from. When Chris (Phoenix Down Drummer) entered the fold it just reinforced all that. He had been playing for a few years in more mainstream rock bands but his heart had always lied in the progressive rock area we found we were strongly marching into progressive rock territory. 


JL: Was there ever a moment for you, when you heard a prog band and said…that’s what I want to do?


PB:  The Trees by RUSH, as a young man (14 and 15 years old) I worked at a fast food chain, the man who was one of the managers Jon Burcaw, was a guitar player and knew I played guitar so he would bring in all sorts of music I wasn't extremely familiar with like Frank Marino and Mahogany Rush, Triumph, and one night as I was doing dishes I head the classical guitar intro to The Trees and I freaked I had never heard anything like that. Never imagined that all the different elements of music that I loved could find a home in one song like this did...well he saw how much this affected me and gave me the copy of Chronicles he was playing and that was it...I needed to learn everything I could about this amazing band and think from that moment on my fate was sealed.


JL: In the grand scheme of things tell us how Phoenix Down approaches writing a song? What makes it your song?


PB: Well the first CD was very meticulously written I think as I told you when we met I would learn the bass player’s bass lines to write a solo against and we rehearsed those songs and performed them for a long time before we recorded them. In between the first Phoenix Down CD and the second I did an instrumental album with Jeff Miller (Christian artist Simon Apple) and a few other musicians where in 7 days we wrote and recorded a full album of Progressive Rock/Fusion Instrumentals and it totally opened my eyes to the enjoyment and freedom that I felt working in this manner. So from that point on Phoenix Down started taking on some more improve (especially live) and even our studio work took on a more enjoyable feel. So the new CD while very much in the same Progressive Rock territory as our first two CD's there is a "looser" feel and some of the songs on this CD are a little heavier...although some are a little more mellow as one of the songs was described as Vangelis meets Pink Floyd and I'll take that compliment I'm huge fans of both. 


What makes it our song I think we are still discovering that. I think on the first CD we were young both in age and experience as songwriters so we looked to our heroes for arrangement ideas and I think it's pretty evident where our influences were coming from. We wanted to have a more modern edge than our biggest influences of RUSH and YES but we also knew that using them as templates we could create music that reflected on them but with some difference. Now as "slightly" older men we have a more definitive idea of what Phoenix Down is and what we want to do with the music that we create. I can't wait to release the song that looks like it will be the first single as it shows a slightly different side of us...Kind of an Anthemic side with a huge chorus and a bridge/solo that to me is one of the best things we've written as a band. We went into the recording of this CD with close to 2 hours of new material. Some of it might not be very "Phoenix Down" but then no one defines Phoenix Down but us!! Right?!?! I'll have more info on the new CD soon!! Hope that didn't get to far away from the original question. 


JL: You have a classic epic tune entitled “The Cycle of Strife”…tell us what that song is all about and how it came to be a part of your musical history.


PB: The Cycle Of Strife is a song that dates back to 1996 when I was a junior in college. I had a few ideas and had no idea how I was going to turn it into a song. As we started working on this song it went through numerous iterations in what the storyline was and what the arrangement would one point it was almost 40 minutes long (the song Nightfall was actually part of The Cycle Of Strife at one point) This song like our name was born from a love of the game Final Fantasy VII. There was even a character named Cloud Strife (It's only a coincidence that the song is named strife and the character was named Strife) But generally the story is loosely based on the game with a little more Heinlein or Phillip K. Dick style (both of which I am huge fans of) Socio-Political Science Fiction. Talking about the idea of Cloning and how Psychologically detrimental it could be to the person who was cloned (although if you look at it from a Psychological standpoint you can read numerous layers into the idea of the story...I won't go into all of them as I love to let the listener be able to use their imagination to work through some of the differing ideas.) 


JL: Now if I remember from our conversation, that song isn’t finished…you plan to add more parts to it?


PB: Very much so...the idea was always to have 3 parts to The Cycle Of Strife originally the idea was to write it from 3 differing viewpoints;  the view point of the protagonist (the first track) the view from the antagonist and the view from an innocent bystander. As we got older that idea changed a little and morphed into how we are approaching it now. There was a second part written entitled Absence Of Tides another 18 minute epic style song which was set in the same world with the same characters as The Cycle Of Strife and still using that differing viewpoints idea but what we did was find a way to intersect them so that at a certain point of the song re-imagine a certain part of the song. So from The Cycle Of Strife to Absence Of Tides we intersected several sections and found ways to have that help us tell the story. It's more difficult to explain on paper than if I was sitting in the room with someone and explaining it. But as a listener if you listen to the demo version that is out there andThe Cycle Of Strife back to back you can hear exactly what I'm talking about. On the newest CD I've written a 3rd part and actually already have an Idea for a fourth at some point in the future. It gets more difficult as the story starts interweaving more and more. I can't imagine how Claudio Sanchez of Coheed and Cambria keeps that MASSIVE world clear in his head. 

JL: What’s the reaction to the first album been?


PB: It's been great!! We have been picked up by numerous internet radio stations who have been actively promoting it. Oddly enough just like when it was first released the shorter more "mainstream" songs are getting the least interest and The Cycle Of Strife is getting played on a somewhat regular basis. Sometimes the full 18 minute plus version sometimes just The Separate Paths section but it seems like the "Proggier" the better for the moment. 


JL: Looking back on the first email you sent me, you guys are already working on a new disc, is that right?


JL:  Yes we have a new CD we are working on tentatively titled The Dawn of Oblivion. This is the title of the 4th part of The Cycle Of Strife and while the new cd is somewhat of a concept album only two of the songs directly are part of The Cycle Of Strife. We are also going to be recording a handful of covers for a CD entitled Our D.N.A. with covers ranging from Queen's The Show Must Go On, RUSH's The Trees, YES' Heart Of The Sunrise, Gentle Giant's All Through The Night and lots more. There might be a few Prog Guests on here but I'll have to keep some of that under the vest for right now! 


JL: What about touring and playing live? What’s the band been up to in that regard?


PB: Well since we got back together in May of 2012 we performed 1 show at the Famous or maybe infamous Baked Potato in Los Angeles. As we've been working on writing and working on the new CD. We are hoping in Early April to go out and play a handful of shows and hopefully recording them. Then after we finish the CD hopefully in May or June to be out for as long as we could!!


JL: Lastly then, the desert island disc question…if you could have only 5 discs with you, what five would they be and why those particular ones?


PB:  WOW!! Tough question...

  1. RUSH: Hemispheres: I have spent more time both as a listener and musician listening to this album and The Trees was really my entry into Progressive Rock as I remember hearing it while I was working my part-time job through High School when the manager started playing it after hours and was just blown away...To me this album has everything the complex beauty of the title track itself, and it's very much where some of the influence for The Cycle Of Strife came from to the amazing musical interplay RUSH has become most famous for on La Villa Strangiato...(It was a toss-up between this and Permanent Waves though) 
  2. YES: Close To The Edge: This was even more difficult than deciding on one RUSH album but I think Close To The Edge definitely gets the edge if for no other reason than Siberian Khatru was the first YES song I learned any part of. To be honest though it makes it on here for And You And I this song might be the culmination of everything I love about YES. The Preacher The Teacher section just is absolute genius on my part. The last time I saw YES live with Rick Wakeman (Dream Theater opened for them that night) Rick Wakeman and Steve Howe both were absolutely on fire and playing like their 1972 era selves and this song in particular was absolutely mind blowing!!! 
  3. Frank Zappa: Apostrophe: I have grown to absolutely LOVE Frank Zappa unfortunately the 13 year old me wasn't as open minded I had the chance to see him on his last tour at a local College in Allentown, PA and I turned it down telling my friend I just don't get him and totally turned it down...I kick myself OFTEN for that. But Apostrophe more so than Joe's Garage or any of Frank's Music has really found a spot with me. The perfect blend of Zappa-isms just a brilliant musician. Actually went to his unmarked grave for his birthday this year and felt so moved by being there and "communing" with the man himself!!
  4. Queen: Greatest Hits I, II, III: I'm cheating a little bit here but I picked up a 3 cd set version with all 3 discs in it earlier this year. This is one of those bands I honestly didn't understand the genius of till maybe 7 years ago. I have always listened to them but in learning The Show Must Go On for a show back in 2006 and picking up this and of course the remainder of the catalog I totally have a new appreciation for the genius of this band and they are definitely a band that proves the idea that collectively they become a million times stronger than they are as individuals, they are all great as individuals but if you've heard Brian Mays solo stuff or even the stuff with Paul Rodgers it just doesn't have the same punch that those great Queen Records do...just my opinion of course. 
  5. The Beatles: Abbey Road: Is this the first Progressive Rock album?!? I don't know but the second side with Golden Slumbers/Mean Mr. Mustard et al is possibly again in my opinion the defining moment of a BRILLIANT career. I remember hearing this for the first time and being blown away it was different and "Orchestral" in its own way. My very first guitar teacher was teaching me Paperback Writer when I was first starting and I didn't understand the genius of this band at that point but am a total fanatic for them now!!


Thank you Jerry for all your interest and support will be looking forward to sending our new material we have when we have it