Band Blog

Derek Barber interviewed by Jerry Lucky

In August of 2011 I had the privilege of being interviewed by Jerry Lucky. The interview is available in full at Jerry’s website ( but for convenience has been duplicated in full below:

Living in Canada where we have lots of wide-open spaces the idea of living next door to a Progressive Rock band is a bit exciting. So imagine my surprise to find out that not 30 minutes away from me the band Greylevel toil away. I had to find out more so here is my interview with Derek Barber.

Jerry Lucky: It’s a pleasure to interview a Canadian progressive Rock band…there are so few…tell us how Greylevel came into being.

Derek Barber: First of all I want to thank you for this opportunity. Greylevel started as a personal project, essentially an outlet for my musical explorations. I had for years taken classical piano lessons and my teacher was a trained composer who also worked in film scoring. As he assembled his own personal studio over the years that I studied with him, I also ended up learning about recording and began to set up my own studio. Initial attempts at song writing were actually instrumental pieces in a classical style and then as I grew more confident I began to work on more song-oriented material. It was some of those early songs that ended up on the Opus One album.Looking back at it now, I’m amazed how it all came together as just a couple years ago we would have never imagined that we’d be making music that would end up on ProgRock Records. I must say I’m very thankful for Shawn Gordon, the president of ProgRock Records, who believed in us and has been a tremendous encouragement to us as we have continued along on this musical journey.

JL: You originally were a trio, but added some new members…how did that come about?
DB: The majority of Opus One was completed while I was still treating Greylevel as a personal project and it wasn’t until after a large part of the material was written before Esther and Richard got involved. That’s not to say that both Esther and Richard didn’t have a large impact upon the final result, which they did, but rather that the album was primarily seen as a fun hobby project. I was happy to have completed the album but didn’t really see it going much beyond family and friends. At the time using sampled drums wasn’t ideal but were thought they were “good enough”. Suffice to say, as I look back I wish we had Tyler and Davis playing on Opus One especially as it has gone out internationally through ProgRock Records. After Opus One was released to a much larger than anticipated audience we realized that we needed to think bigger for the next album and so we got in touch with Tyler and Davis Friesen and they joined the group. I must say that it has been a real joy to have them as part of the group and their impact upon the sound of the band has been tremendous. Plus they’re both great guys and it’s a real pleasure to make music with them.

JL: You mentioned a “larger audience than anticipated”, what kind of response have you been getting to your music? Has there been much interest here in Canada?
DB: So far the response has been quite positive. One of the more daunting aspects of putting your music out there is that you have people listening to it from all sorts of backgrounds and with different musical tastes, and so you need to be prepared that not everyone will like it. Ultimately we do it for the love of the music; however I have to say overall we have received tremendous encouragement from the prog community specifically. As far as Canada is concerned, most of the interest has come from Quebec with very little in my home province of British Columbia. We do hope that in the coming years we can, in some small way, help increase the profile of progressive music in Canada. At least we can try.

JL: I’m guessing you aren’t making a living playing prog in Canada…what are the day jobs that put food on the table?
DB: Yes, as the band is really more of a hobby rather than a living, we all do work day jobs. For myself I work as a software developer and have been doing that for the past 12 years. One of the nice things about that job is that I am able to work from home, which gives me flexibility in finding time for writing and recording. Esther is a homemaker and is quite busy taking care of two young boys. Richard works in the health services industry as a medical equipment technician. Tyler is a student of history, having recently graduated as a history major, but is currently being a stay at home dad. Finally, Davis does quite a few things, most recently he has been spending some time in England with his wife, travelling and teaching bass guitar.

JL: Is there a desire to make the band a full time thing?
DB: I would certainly say that there is a desire that we all could do the band thing full time. If the opportunity ever presented itself I think it would be hard to resist. That said I feel privileged just to be able to make music and have people listen to it and enjoy it. So, regardless of whether we can ever make a living from it, I hope to be doing it for as long as I can.

JL: Were you listening to prog in your youth? What was the first prog band you recall catching your attention?
DB: I did start listening to prog in my early teens. If I recall the gateway into the world of prog was through some Pink Floyd records that my uncle let me borrow. I still remember putting those albums on my parent’s record player, lying down on the floor, closing my eyes and just taking in all these new sounds. From there I discovered Genesis, Yes, Supertramp, and Jethro Tull, among many others. As a Canadian I also think Rush has had a huge impact on me. The first Rush album that I bought was “A Farewell to Kings” and from there I was completely hooked.

JL: In that sense was there a sort of “a-ha” moment where you said that’s the kind of music I’m interested in making?
DB: Yes, I think one of the things that completely captivated me was the freedom that I heard within the prog bands. They could just let their creativity guide the songs to wherever they wanted. They weren’t limited by a formula or a time limit. From the time I started creating my own music, I knew that I also wanted that freedom to simply explore music and incorporate various styles from rock to classical to jazz. Also, I grew up reading epic fantasy novels and so I think there is a link there between my love for worlds created with the written word and epic musical adventures created through sound waves.

JL: The obvious influences musically for Greylevel are kind of hard to pick up, but are there bands whose music still runs through your veins?
DB: I think as much as there is a desire to create something original, you can’t help but be influenced by others. I’d say there are quite a wide variety of influences that have contributed to our musical vision and in fact so many come to mind that I’ll just list a couple key ones. I’d say that some key influences include Pink Floyd, early Genesis, Peter Gabriel, Porcupine Tree/Steven Wilson, Talk Talk/Mark Hollis, Devin Townsend, Anathema, Glenn Gould and Keith Jarrett. Whether or not all those influences can be heard in the music is clearly up for discussion. However I know in a very deep way those influences do come through and have contributed to the sound of Greylevel. I also should mention that Richard has been greatly influenced by both Anthony Phillips and Steve Hackett in his guitar work. In some of the 12-string acoustic work on Hypostatic Union, I think those influences do come through.

JL: Many of your songs are on the longish side, is there a typical style for composing that you use? Music first? Lyrics first? Examples?
DB: Generally the music does come first, however I also may have some concepts or lyrical ideas that will help shape the music. I think my classical training comes through in that I tend to think in terms of “movements”. When I start writing a song I try to place it in the bigger picture of where the album is going and so I do really view the entire album as a single work. Even the song order is very important and has been carefully thought out. That said it’s rarely a straightforward process for me. I do a lot of experimentation with the various parts and look for potential connections. For example near the end of the song Hypostatic Union, there is a reprise from the end of Already, Not Yet. That really came about through experimentation, knowing that I wanted to connect those pieces together into a larger movement but wanting it to flow naturally. I find that many times I need to try lots of different ideas until I get the one that just works. Thankfully this process itself is something that I really enjoy and so not only am I happy with the end result but the journey itself is rewarding.

JL: What about the really long ones…do you tend to hear them in that fashion or are they sort of pieced together in stages? Examples?
DB: I would say generally that I start with some basic ideas and then build upon them. Many times, while there might be a larger concept that is guiding the process, the actual ideas themselves are built piece-by-piece, idea-by-idea. Many times I will have some basic ideas that I will record demos of on my computer and then distribute to the guys in the band. Then Richard, for example, might write a bridge or instrumental section that helps glue together parts of the song. Even though I do the bulk of the song writing it really does end up being a team effort as everyone contributes and shapes the end result. As all of us also come from different backgrounds I think it also brings a diversity to the music. Richard will write a part that I would never even think of and Tyler will incorporate some rhythms that I just wouldn’t have even considered otherwise.

JL: Let’s talk about doing live performances. Has there been much opportunity for that?
DB: Unfortunately there haven’t been any real opportunities to play live as a band yet. Part of the reason is that we all have such different schedules and all of us keep quite busy. That’s not to say that we will never play live but at least for now, it hasn’t been a priority for us.

JL: Do you see a future playing live more often? I ask because we’re in an era with the internet and all where some musicians are quite happy just creating their music in the studio with no real thought to going live with it.
DB: We definitely are more of a “studio band” at this point and it is where we are most comfortable. However, all of us do enjoy playing live and we all have quite a bit of experience doing so in various bands over the years. I have thought about what it might take to play the songs live and I think we can pull it off. It would require a fair bit of work but I know we would also really enjoy it. My hope is that as we continue to make music we will start to have more opportunities to play live. Our current thinking is that after we finish the next album we will start to be more intentional about live performances. Of course we haven’t really begun to work on the next album yet and so these plans could certainly change.

JL: With the new album out…what’s next on the Greylevel agenda?
DB: Right now we’re taking a little break after all the push leading up to the completion and release of Hypostatic Union. However, in the fall I’m planning to go back into writing mode and start to work on some new music for the next album. At the moment I’m trying to decide whether we do a concept album and if so what sort of story we want to tell. I would like to have some lyrical ideas at least in place to help guide the song writing.

JL: Last question then…if you were stuck on a dessert island and had only 5 discs with you…which five would they be? And why those ones in particular.
DB: Now that is a tough one but I’ll give it a shot. I would pick Keith Jarrett “Vienna Concert”, Genesis “The Lamb”, Mark Hollis “Mark Hollis”, Arvo Part “Te Deum”, and Beach Boys “Pet Sounds”. Now most of those albums aren’t considered prog and so I guess I need to explain myself. I think I would pick those albums for their overall impact on my life and also their timelessness. Those are albums that I listen to again and again and never grow tired of. In addition I think each of them is all quite different and so they would be perfect for different moods and different times of day.

JL: Well, Derek thanks for taking the time to chat…all the best.
DB: Thank you Jerry, it’s been a real pleasure to chat with you. All the best!

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