Roger Powell Interview on Fossil Poets
I was recently introduced to the music of Roger Powell. Much to my surprise, Roger has been on the music scene since the late 60s where he began his career as a recording engineer in Atlanta Georgia. If you didn’t know the name Roger Powell till now, chances are you heard his handy work and sonic chops in many well-known artists recordings. He engineered a solo Introspective that became a top 10 Billboard hit before moving to Boston to work for a Synthesizer company called ARP Instruments, Inc where he helped to develop synthesizers later popularized by Herbie Hancock, Stevie Wonder, Jan Hammer, Joe Zawinul (Weather Report) and Pete Townshend (The Who).
Roger’s first record deal came in 1973 for a title called Cosmic Furnace. In 1974 he joined a progressive rock band Utopia recording nearly a dozen LP’s and touring with them until 1985. In 1979 Roger released his second solo album titled Air Pocket which won Keyboard Magazine reader poll for album of the year. He has toured with the likes of David Bowie, Adrian Belew (from King Crimson), and was awarded an RIAA GOLD certified LP for his work on Meatloaf’s Bat Out Of Hell.
In the late 70s and early 80’s Roger took up computer programming to create music software to control synthesizers. One such noted software product was Texture – one of first MIDI sequencers for the IBM/PC family of computers. Stevie Wonder, and Bob James both used it. In fact, Roger toured with Bob James assisting him with the software to manipulate the synthesizers on stage.
In 1987 Roger went to work for Waveframe Corp in BO, Colorado as an engineer. The system he helped develop, similar to Synclavier, provided more capabilities than found on the equipment of its time. He wrote code for the company for four years and then moved to San Francisco to work for Silicon Graphics as software engineer. During a six year period, Roger wrote two audio recording and editing programs for software giant Macromedia. He also worked on the company’s Key Grip A/V editing software for six months, until Apple got interested in the product and purchased its rights and hired all of the engineers with him where he became an Apple employee. The software was renamed Final Cut Pro and became the most popular high end A/V and film editing program. To this day, Roger remains at Apple Computer as a senior engineer and tech lead.
Listening Impression of Fossil Poets
With such a diverse background in the music industry, and technology, I was curious to hear Roger Powell’s more artistic side through his music. With that, I picked up a copy of Fossil Poets – his latest work, and put it through its paces on my reference system. Upon first listening, I couldn’t help but draw a similarity to his music as what a cross between Jan Hammer and Joe Satriani would sound like.
Fossil Poets is a sort of retro futuristic recording (think Surfing with the Alien) with progressive rock driven keyboard and plenty of bass to appease the bassaholic like me. Tracks #2 and 3, “Fallout Shelter” and “Delayed Reaction” respectively, really belt out the deep low-end bass typical of keyboard recordings. I especially was fond of the lack of hyper compression typically found in recordings of this genre. Instead this CD sounded very good, unstrained and transferred quite well into Pro Logic IIx Music Mode for an enveloping experience. This CD has quickly found a permanent home in my Yamaha MCX-2000 music server that I often reference to show off the bass capabilities of my system or to let folks here a cool sounding recording that is easy on the ears and soul.
I decided to phone Roger for a little interview – Audioholics style, to get his take on this recording and his philosophy in general on making music.
Who are your musical influences?
I got my roots in classical and jazz piano and was heavily influenced in my musical training by such legends as Miles Davis and Mike Stern. Progressive rock in general is a music I derive much of my style and influence from.
Please tell us about the evolution of Fossil Poets.
Fossil Poets all evolved based on original fragments of whole pieces of music. Gary Tanin helped me create full arrangements for the music. The guitars of Greg Koch really help add to the depth of the music. My goal with Fossil Poets was to make it sound like a performed piece of music without being mixed forward.
I included such instruments as the Flugelhorn in the song “Miles per Gallon”, accordions, whistles, and Native American flutes all of which are not typically found in music of this genre but helped give it its layered and distinctive sound characteristic I was looking for.
The Drum and rhythms were done with hardware beat boxes and software BFD (recordings of real drum sounds). The drum sounds and patterns contain many overlaying elements to give them the impact that you experienced on your sound system.
You have noticed the sound quality of this CD is quite good. Gary worked hard with me to ensure we didn’t employ excessive compression in efforts to keep the dynamics intact for the recording to sound real. We even asked the record company (Inner Knot/DGM) to press 500 Collectible Limited Edition clear blue vinyl LP copies for audiophiles who prefer to spin records.
What are your future musical plans?
We are considering offering a 5.1 surround version of Fossil Poets next. I believe a multi channel version of this recording would truly bring a unique and decidedly more intimate perspective to experiencing this recording.
Many thanks to Roger Powell for taking the time out of his schedule to dialogue with us about his new CD and background in the music industry. If you don’t have this CD in your collection, we recommend considering it, especially if you want to give your subwoofer(s) a good workout.
For ordering information, visit: Official Roger Powell Website