As promised, we have part II of the Aaron Clift Experiment review with an interview with Aaron Clift himself! Aaron and I have been talking for a while now and I am very happy to bring you this interview with him. He’s a great song writer, musician and friend that is really showing the Prog world that this genre can still make HUGE waves!
So, without any further a do, please enjoy this one-on-one with Aaron Clift:
Progressivelyso: How was it growing up in a country and state where Prog Rock music wasn’t the standard? Because Texas is well known for country music etc.. What was your experience in to the genre?
Aaron: Austin is not known as a center for progressive rock, but it is one of the best places around to hear lots of bands with new music. So, for The Aaron Clift Experiment, we’ve had a lot of opportunities to get our music in front of crowds who are eager to hear original music (which is not something you see in a lot of cities). I’ve also found that Austin is actually quite receptive to adventurous, progressive music. ACE has done a lot of shows with other like-minded progressive bands, so there’s definitely a lot of potential for a larger scene to grow in Austin.
Progressivelyso: If All Goes Wrong is your senior record, truly loved the direction you took with it, it’s harder edged and every track has a distinct sound to it. What was the inspiration behind it?
Aaron: The music on “If All Goes Wrong” was originally born out of a challenge: in mid-2016, The Aaron Clift Experiment was invited to perform at the 2017 edition of RosFest (the largest progressive rock festival in North America). Although we had close to 90 minutes of original music from “Lonely Hills” and “Outer Light, Inner Darkness” (our first and second albums, respectively), we also knew that there would not be enough variety of styles and energy levels in our setlist if we only played songs from our first two albums. So, when we went about designing the setlist for RosFest, we knew that we needed to write new songs that would fill the gaps in our sound. The result was four new songs that wound up on “If All Goes Wrong”: “Wild Hunters,” “Last Crash,” “Castle in the Sky,” and “Dream Within a Dream.”
After RosFest was over, we realized that we were already halfway toward a new album, so we set about to write more songs to fit a 45-minute album. Devin North (ACE bassist and album co-writer) and I wanted to stretch out the band and move our sound toward more diversity and higher energy, so the songs that made it to the album are stylistically more varied and colorful than anything we’ve done before.
Progressivelyso: Do you find that Progressive Rock as a genre has shifted its weight from time to time giving more leeway to new artists such as yourself to emerge and express the new styles and sounds that the “Old Guard” only began to touch on?
Aaron: One of my favorite quotes from Devin is: “one of the fundamental struggles in being a progressive rock band is playing the established genre of progressive rock and actually making music that progresses forward.” It’s a tough balancing act for a new band because now that the progressive rock genre has been around for over 50 years, there are definitely stylistic elements that listeners have come to expect from the music. But, at the same time, you’ve got to find a way to present new ideas and keep the music fresh. For me, achieving this balance requires being open to new ideas while at the same time being true to myself and always giving my best effort.
Progressivelyso: The new album has lyrics that focus on what appears to be more personal touches in my opinion, do they have any bearing in that or is inspiration gathered from elsewhere?
Aaron: I’ve always written lyrics based on experiences that have had a major emotional impact on me. Sometimes those experiences can come from my own life, such as “Back to the Water” (based on when I was a kid living on a harbor in Long Island) and “Faith” (recounting the times that people tried to “save my soul” because I was one of the only Jewish people around), and some of those experiences can come from stories I’ve read or characters from fiction that I connected to (“Last Crash” is based around the self-destructive personalities of Cersei Lannister from “Game of Thrones” and Kylo Ren from the new “Star Wars” movies). On “If All Goes Wrong,” I didn’t set out to write an album around a particular concept, so I think that the subject matter of the lyrics is more varied than it had been in previous ACE albums.
Progressivelyso: This record really pulls back to a bare bones and raw sound with all the instruments which is rare in the Prog genre, less effects and more straightforward tones. Was that planned or just came across in the studio as that?
Aaron: One of the top priorities that we had when recording “If All Goes Wrong” was to capture more of a band vibe than we had with our previous two albums. Because the songs from the album came about from a need to expand our live set and diversify our sound, we ended up performing and road-testing most of the songs before we even recorded them. So, by the time we ended up in the studio, we were very well-rehearsed and got to focus most of our recording time on getting the best takes possible rather than spending more of our time on arrangement decisions. When we worked with producer/mixer, Randy Miller, he also made a deliberate effort to a “band performing live” energy on the album.
Progressivelyso: Your songs all have a soulful storytelling presence to them which creates a wonderful facet to this record as well as the predecessors. Is that from lessons growing up or did you find your style through trial and error?
Aaron: It’s funny – as I’ve gotten older and have become more confident in who I am, I’ve been more open to trying out new things. When I founded the band in 2011, I never would have imagined that I’d have it in me to record an album as varied as “If All Goes Wrong,” but now I can’t imagine not doing something like that again.
Progressivelyso: With a growing canon of music, do you find it’s now getting harder to choose set lists to accommodate and compliment the new album live and do you ever incorporate any cover tunes anymore?
Aaron: It’s actually quite the opposite: the longer that the band has played together and gotten to know our audience, the easier it’s become for us to design our setlists.
Progressivelyso: While writing the new album, what was one of the biggest challenges that was faced by yourself and the band?
Aaron: When our long-time guitarist, Eric Gutierrez, left the band in August 2017, we had already written most of the songs for “If All Goes Wrong” and were ready to head to the studio to start recording the album. We were presented with a major challenge: how do we record the guitar parts for the album? If we had begun searching for a new guitarist at that time, the time from finding the guitarist and getting the new guitarist up to speed and ready to record the music could have taken months and would have slowed down our momentum.
We ultimately took the “Steely Dan approach” and decided to work with different studio guitarists for the album recording. Thankfully, we knew so many talented guitarists in Austin, that we had to actually narrow down our list. Ultimately, we selected 7 guitarists and paired them with the songs that would shine best on based on their playing styles and skill sets. My biggest concern initially would be that it would be a logistical nightmare to coordinate so many players and create an album that still sounded cohesive. As it turned out, recording all of the guitarists was a breeze and turned out to be one of the most enjoyable parts of making the album.
Progressivelyso: One last question for fun, who would you love to be on tour with and why?
Aaron: Unfortunately, they aren’t touring anymore, but I would still go with Rush because I love their music and because they seem like really cool guys all around. I’m sure that touring with Rush would be both extremely educational and a lot of fun.
That’s awesome that he would go on tour with RUSH! One of the bands I grew up with here in Toronto and still hopeful that they aren’t done with touring or recording!
Many Thanks to Aaron for this wonderful insight to his; creative patterns, band stories and song ideologies! It’s always great to hear that bands like A.C.E. have not fallen by any means and are still going strong in the Prog scene and the world of music!
I am hopeful as well that one day they will be touring to where this city is on their itinerary!!! ~Enjoy