The U.K.’s progressive rock/metal musician Pete Morten may not be a household name but that may be about to change this year when he releases his much anticipated first full-length album under his My Soliloquy project. I first heard of Pete when he joined the long-running U.K. progressive metal stalwarts Threshold a few years ago. I had no idea until recently that he’s been in a number of bands including Metalloid, Nightmare World and My Soliloquy. Not too long ago I got a chance to hear the My Soliloquy EP “Esoterica” that Pete did in 2007 and was pleasantly surprised that it sounded nothing like the very straightforward sound of Threshold. Instead I got to hear four excellent progressive rock songs with a ton of layers and textures and yes, some metal guitar to spice things up.
Pete is just one of those multi-talented guys who can sing, play a whole range of instruments (guitar, bass, keys) and compose very intricate progressive music in a style that owes as much to Dream Theater-style bombastic progressive metal as to classic theatrical British progressive rock. What I love about his music is how fresh and original it sounds – unlike a lot of bands who seem to want to copy their influences rather than create their own sound. Perhaps it’s the influence of metal that brings a fresh perspective to the music. I also really love Pete’s vocals which have a very theatrical expressive quality to them. You can really hear this well on the first song off of Esoterica, “Inner Circles”, with its very striking melody that you may not care for much at first (I didn’t) but after few listens you won’t be able to get it out of your head!
I recently had the chance to catch up with Pete and speak with him about his music history and influences as well as his current projects and how he came to join Threshold, first as a touring band member and now as a full-fledged member of the band. After the interview please check out Pete’s official site for My Soliloquy where you can pre-order his upcoming album and even have your name put in the liner notes! Links are also below for all of Pete’s other bands including both My Soliloquy and Threshold.
Hi Pete, it’s a pleasure to meet you and to be able to hear your unique and very creative music. We’re all really looking forward to the impending release of the first full-length My Soliloquy album, The Interpreter later this year. Before we get into your current projects, can you please tell us a bit about yourself and your background?
OK, first a little bit about me as you’ve kindly asked. I’m 36 years old and I was born in Birmingham City, UK but was adopted at the age of 5. I’ve always sung from as far back as I can remember and asked for my first guitar for Christmas when I was 8 years old. However I didn’t actually start playing the thing until I was 19. For 11 years it just sat in the corner of my bedroom collecting dust until I was 19 when I discovered metal music and that was it, I was hooked. I’ve had no formal training for the guitar but studied singing for 2 years with the very talented vocal coach Anne Leatherland.
Who have been some of your main influences, musical or otherwise?
My singular and main musical influence growing up for singing and appreciation for good song writing generally was the Norwegian pop/rock band A-ha, who I still love and respect greatly to this day. They’ve had a 25 year career and written lots of wonderful music, far beyond ‘Take On Me’ which is all people seem to remember. I guess today my main singing influences are still Morten Harket (A-ha), James Labrie (Dream Theater) , Sebastian Bach (Ex-Skid Row) and Bruce Dickinson, but I also love the vocal quality of Opera too. But there are lots of other singers I admire greatly. With regards to the guitar, well the only guys that have made a real impact on me are John Petrucci (Dream Theater) and Steve Vai. That’s pretty much it! My influences and tastes haven’t really changed all that much in the last 10 years.
Are there any current progressive metal bands that you’re a big fan of?
Dream Theater have always inspired and impressed me greatly – true legends in their own time. I love a lot of what Pain of Salvation are doing too. And of course A-ha is always there!
We’re huge fans of Threshold at ProgMetalZone. How did you connect up with the band? Were you a fan before you joined? Also, will you be recording on the upcoming Threshold album, March of Progress?
Great to know you love Threshold, yep I agree, great band. They are a bunch of awesome musicians and human beings. Well I actually became part of the Threshold family in a very natural way. The process was simple. I was recording My Soliloquy’s last E.P. Esoterica at Karl Groom’s studio, Thin Ice Studios in Surrey, England in 2007 and we got to chatting about band members in our respective bands. Karl made mention that Nick Midson had decided to take a sabbatical from the band for a while and I just said, rather casually, thinking it wouldn’t be taken seriously, “well if you need anyone to help out with guitars I’d love to do it”. That was it – a few months later I was heading off to Slovenia with the guys for what would be the start of an awesome collection of experiences. I’m rather glad I wasn’t my usual shy, cautious self that day I can tell you ha ha… I strongly feel that that fateful day was very much written into my ‘life plan’. I always say I am a fan of the band, which I sincerely mean and yes I knew of them before I joined and actually bought ‘Subsurface’ from a record shop in 2004. I loved ‘Pressure’ as soon as I heard it and it’s still one of my personal faves to play live.
Finally, yes I am playing on the forthcoming Threshold album ‘March Of Progress’ and have written two songs called ‘Divinity’ and ‘Coda’. The latter has a tribute to the late Mac (former Threshold lead singer Andrew McDermott) who sadly passed away last year. I wanted to write some words for him, as I was truly saddened to hear of his loss. What a waste of talent! One regret is that I never got to meet him.
England has a long and important tradition of progressive music, going back to the late 1960’s, but not so much in progressive metal. Other than a few bands like Threshold and Anathema, it doesn’t seem like progressive metal has really taken off there until some great new bands have cropped up in the last few years. Would you agree and, if so, why do you think that’s the case?
Well, I’m unique in the sense that I have actually stopped listening to music – ha ha. I know that sounds like the strangest thing to hear from a musician, but it’s true in the sense that for a good few years now, I’ve just stopped cultivating my music taste/collection any further beyond what I already know. I used to be obsessed with buying music and discovering new bands but that interest has well and truly gone. I attribute that to the fact that my life is so full of my own music now that it has had to take centre place. I am in four bands (Threshold, My Soliloquy, Nightmare World, Metalloid) so there simply isn’t enough time to be spending more energy into getting passionate about other people’s music when my own requires so much attention. I know my girlfriend thinks it’s very odd indeed – ha ha. In my downtime, I much prefer to listen to a radio station that just airs comedies and plays than put a CD on.
So the best I can offer, in way of an answer to your question is, I guess England has always been a tough country to crack in the sense that it’s very much dictated by trends. So after the boom of prog in the 60’s and 70’s, prog became kind of dirty word in music and thus it seemed that musicians weren’t interested in playing that style of music anymore – well not for a long time anyway. Dream Theater have done wonders for the genre and kind of made it acceptable again. In many ways they have dominated it. Unfortunately most new prog bands have all tried to sound like DT which is quite frankly very unimaginative and tedious and in my view is in direct contrast to what the genre used to celebrate. Threshold are a rare example of an original, contemporary prog metal/rock band, offering something new.
Speaking of newer U.K. bands, I’ve really been impressed by some of the newer, very ambitious bands like Aeon Zen, Haken, Xerath and of course, My Soliloquy. How do you view the current scene for the music in England?
Well I’ve noticed an increase in bands playing this style of music at a more grass roots level. There does seem to be a real resurgence of interest in prog metal. In my various bands I’ve played many shows with lots of young bands having a go at it which is great for the future of the genre.
I’ve been listening to your 2007 EP Esoterica a lot over the past few weeks and it’s a lot different than the more straightforward prog metal sound of Threshold. I can hear a lot of prog rock influences as well as metal. Would you agree?
I would agree, my sound is quite unique, which is something that has happened more by natural occurrence than by me trying to escape the typical approach that I’ve already spoke of, the kind adopted by many other bands. Obviously I am not denying that the bands I have grown up with loving have not informed my musical opinion and preference because they have for sure. So yes, there is a frame of reference that can be found should you be interested enough in looking for it. But I’ve definitely got my own sound. I’m keenly aware of that and celebrate it fully. I’ve never been anyone who purposely tries to sound like someone else. There’s really no point in that!
Did you really play all the instruments except drums on Esoterica? Are you really that multi-talented?
Ha ha ha, err, yes I really am that clever ha ha. Joking aside though, how that came about was that at the time I had no band so yes I had to write and play everything myself excluding the drums. By this time I had been lucky enough to find Damon Roots to help me out with the drums. You see, I’d started gearing up My Soliloquy as a working band in 2002. We had actually released two E.P.’s before Esoterica, ‘The Creative Principle’ (2003) and ‘Lateral Thinking’ (2005). When it came to me wanting to record a new release the guys that were previously in the band had no real interest in putting the work in to achieve that end. So, after much consternation, I arranged a band meeting with the guys and said, “I’m heading off by myself to write and record a new E.P”. A year later Esoterica was released. After having the uphill struggle with members over the years I rather relished the opportunity to just get out on my own and do it my own way.
Being the fiercely independent type that I am, that suited me just fine. In fact I liked that way of working so much that I’ve recorded the whole of the forthcoming album in exactly the same way with Damon Roots again playing the drums.
One of the things that really struck me on Esoterica was how great and well-constructed the compositions are. It’s one of those rare albums that has so many intricate and well thought out parts that it took me a lot of listens to really know it well. Not that it’s not approachable or overly complex, far from it. Unlike a lot of more in-your-face metal, progressive or otherwise, your compositional style seems to be to have a ton of melodic and textural ideas that you somehow weave together into a cohesive whole. Can you talk a bit about your compositional process?
Thank you for your kind words. Hmm, let’s see, well, the seed of a song will often come about by a lyrical theme I have or by me jamming riffs or indeed a combination of the two. I often do scales and general finger exercises on the fret board when I’m practicing guitar and that usually ends in me getting bored and jamming riffs instead ha ha. So out of that process I will usually produce something that really interests me and gets me excited. I always instantly record it on my Dictaphone for later use. Sometimes riffs sit around for years, untapped, while others get immediate attention and are turned into whole sections of a song. I’m very interested in having dynamics in song writing. So, yes I’m keen on thinking outside the box and making a song’s structure a little mercurial. Inner Circles is a very good example. The song discusses reincarnation and all that the belief system endorses. It talks about our human relationship with the metaphysical dimension of ourselves. Thus, in the mid-section, where it breaks down and has that dance beat looping in the background – I wanted to convey a sense of urgency and panic, of realizing the chaos that life inevitably inflicts on all of us. It’s not what you expect at all from a “rock band” but then living life is full of curve balls, is it not? The synthetic nature of the dance beat loop is a direct metaphor for inhabiting this flesh and blood body. Many eastern beliefs hold to the fact that life is only “Maya”…an illusion.
I know you’ve complained about the guitar sound on Esoterica but I love all of the different textures you get. From metal to a more Steve Hackett-like expressive sound. How important is your sound to your music?
In terms of guitar tone, I really don’t have a sound yet that I would consider to be my own signature sound. It’s strange to say this, but as a guitar player who loves to play, I’m the least geeky player out there. What I mean by this is that I have no real interest in pedals, amps, guitar pickup etc., etc. I just want a sound that I like and to just play. But of course I acknowledge that in order to get that sound you need to experiment, even if it’s just a little. For years my rig has been a Marshall VS 100 stack, with a Boss GT6 effect processor. It’s been a faithful and reliable rig but I’m well aware that I need to improve and update my sound, both live and in the studio. In fact, on the last few Threshold tours, I’ve been using both an Engle Fireball 60w head and a Marshall JMP1 rack. I really like the Fireball head and Karl Groom has been a great help in this department too as he has a fantastic sound! But yes, as you’ve rightly said, I really don’t like the guitar sound on Esoterica, it’s just so lifeless! For my forthcoming album I’m paying a lot more attention to my tone. However in terms of my actual playing style, well I refer once more to my earlier influences, and how I’ve developed over the years as both a song writer and a musician in general.
Your vocals seem to come out of the Genesis-era Peter Gabriel/Fish school of theatrical and very expressive singing. Do you see it that way and is theatricality an important part of your music?
A sense of theatre and drama is an integral part of any art, especially music! So yes, I agree that telling a story is always important and as a song writer you have to use every device available to you to tell that story. With regards to my voice, I get so many references made to possible singers I either sound like or who have maybe influenced me, and every time, it’s wrong ha ha. Particularly with My Soliloquy and Nightmare World. When those earlier E.P.s were released reviewers kept saying that I sounded like Lance King ha ha… hmm not sure about that really! With Metalloid I get told I sound like Bruce Dickinson a lot, which I don’t mind at all, as he is at least in my list of influences. No, my only singing influences are as I’ve already stated above are Morten Harket, James Labrie with a healthy dollop of Sebastian Bach (particularly on earlier records) and Bruce Dickinson.
I’m really looking forward to your full-length album, The Interpreter, coming out later this year on Sensory Records. What can we expect from it? Will there be any other musician besides just you and a drummer? Any touring coming up?
Nope, just me and the drummer, and yes, I will plan to tour once it’s released. In terms of the actual music, expect a lot more of what people have already heard on our three previous releases. But – with a more mature approach to everything. The four songs of Esoterica will be on there but totally rerecorded from the ground up with a whole lot of new material. I’m incredibly excited about this album. Regarding Sensory – well I will have to have further negotiations with Ken Golden at the label once the record is complete. For a long time he’s expressed great interest in releasing this album and he recently sent me a contract to review. As it stands now we’ll have to see once the recording is mixed and mastered. As Ken has been a long time believer in the project I’m hoping he will have room to release it through Sensory. If not, I’ll have to seek further interest elsewhere. Ken has waited almost three years to get this album but due to my personal life being so troubled over the last five years events have just kept getting in the way. When we last spoke about a month ago he asked me to come back to him when it’s finally done and we’ll see where I am with everything. Totally understandable.
Do you think being signed to a label, especially one that primarily specializes in progressive much, will help the band gain exposure?
If we release it through Sensory it will help a lot in getting us exposure. Fingers crossed that Ken is in a position to release the album once it’s done.
I know that being a musician is tough these days unless you’re a huge established act. Do you foresee that getting better, especially as download sites are (hopefully) being shut down?
Are illegal download sites being shut down now? God, I hope so! Well of course, if the general public stops stealing our music then yes, we will start to see improvements and hopefully will be able to scrape some kind of meager living off our efforts. The conventional view seems to be that albums cost too much to buy which is ludicrous when you think that an album generally costs £8000.00 to make, which the band then has to pay back to the label. So after everyone’s taken their cut the band still only sees a very small percentage of that £10-12 that it’s sold for in the shops.
As you know, we’re huge fans of Spotify here at ProgMetalZone. Do you see any potential in music going to a subscription based service? My hope is that as many more people start using subscription services then artists will start to get compensated better.
Well anything that puts an end to people thinking it’s acceptable to steal artists music is alright by me. You will notice I use the word ‘steal’ a lot. Some people I’ve spoken with on this subject don’t like to be called thieves but that’s exactly what they are! It’s exactly the same as walking into a shop and stealing a CD off the shelf and walking out with it! End of story! So yes, I’m a big fan of any site that works on behalf and in favour of the bands they sell the music for!
Pete, it’s been a real pleasure getting to know you. Is there anything else you’d like to add?
The pleasure’s been all mine! Ya know, when I was a kid, I used to while away hours imagining that I was being interviewed by someone about my music. And here I am doing just that! I thank you for taking an interest in my humble efforts, and look forward to chatting with you soon. Cheers!