An Interview with Stuart Bell & Cyrus of Xitizen Cain fame:
VM (instead of prologue): It's great to have an opportunity to talk to you again, Stuart. After all, more than four years have passed by since we wrote each other for the first time. Thank you very much for your willingness to give an interview for ProgressoR after releasing the "Raising the Stones" album's follow-up, "Playing Dead". (At long last! Congratulations!)
VM: My first question is very traditional, though, nevertheless, I find it important. So, above all,
I'd like you to tell me of your first acquaintances with music.
SB: I was given an old piano when I was 12. From there I moved on to various portable keyboards, my favourite being one which had drum pads incorporated. That inspired me to buy a drum machine which had built in pads and foot pedals, etc, and eventually to buy my first drum kit at the age of 14. I concentrated on drumming for a while and at about 16 joined my first band. One of the first songs I had to learn on drums, which was also my introduction to the music of Genesis, was Firth of Fifth. A challenge, to say the least! Over the next few months that band was reduced to 4 members, 2 of which went on to become part of Citizen Cain Mk-II, and we opted for a style more accessible to the local audience. Over the next year or so we played covers (mainly blues) at local pubs, etc, until guitarist Frank Kennedy got a phone call from an old friend, namely Cyrus...
VM: It's probably Cyrus Scott who could tell me of the early creation of Citizen Cain, the band's first line-up, and what he did after its break up. For me however, the most obscure period in the history of Citizen Cain is not only the 1980s (especially, the second half and the end of the decade), but also the years that preceded the reincarnation of the band. Please tell me how and when you met each other and what were the events as a result of which the band was reformed?
Cyrus: The first Citizen Cain became established after two years of writing and rehearsing 2 hours of music. After auditioning many guitarists and vocalists we acquired Tim Taylor, but sadly no vocalist. We were forced by circumstances to adapt. I took over vocals and spent 3 months learning to play bass at the same time. The hardest task I've undertook! We gigged for 4 years then split for 5 - 6 years before the second line-up was formed. During that gap all I did was read and read...
SB: Meanwhile I was in the band mentioned earlier playing blues with Frank Kennedy and Dave Elam from the "Serpents In Camouflage" line-up. Frank was an old friend of Cyrus' and they had played in bands together before Cyrus departed for London to form the first Citizen Cain. Cyrus got back in touch with Frank and shortly after that we started rehearsing. After a couple of weeks I brought in my aforementioned Yamaha portable keyboard which had a limited on-board sequencer and let Cyrus hear some of my song ideas. On the strength of these short pieces he suggested that I move onto keyboards and we acquired a new drummer. A lot of the material on "Serpents..." came from the ideas sequenced on my old Yamaha.
VM: Please explain to me why the band has virtually two names, one of which, Citizen Cain, is usually placed on the cover of the CD booklet, while another, Xitizen Cain, on the booklet's back sleeve? In one of the Xitizen Cain's related reviews (and these are not only the reviews of the band's albums), I wrote that the band used to be Citizen Cain, but sometimes change "C" to "X" to avoid any confusions with the well-known self-titled movie directed by Orson Welles in 1941. Am I correct in arriving at such a conclusion? In any case, I know that originally, the name of the band implied Biblical Cain, who, de facto, was the first citizen of Earth.
Cyrus: No, actually not. That may seem the most obvious reason; however, since "Somewhere But Yesterday" I have wanted to drop 'Citizen' from the name. There was some opposition to the change from the record company so we settled for 'Xitizen', the 'X' is the Hellenic letter 'XI', the change is purely visual. I like change, everything must change in order to grow...
SB: I'm not sure if it is fact or myth but I'm sure Adam was the first citizen, Cain being his murderous son. Unless, of course, you are suggesting that Eden was not on this earthly plane. Then I'd say you've been listening too much to Cyrus' lyrics!
VM: Citizens in Eden?? Unlike their son Cain, Adam and Eve were certainly of an unearthly origin, to say the least. Nevertheless, many thanks for your amusing comment. Now, please tell me about the process of creating the "Serpents In Camouflage" album. Also, why you had to replace the parts of a drummer, who was in the band at that time, with those of a drum-machine after the album was already recorded. You are not only an excellent keyboard player, but also a good drummer. What prevented you to re-play the parts of that drummer yourself?
SB: "Serpents:" was rehearsed as a band with Chris Colvin playing drums. Chris was brought in after I moved onto keyboards in order to write the material. We recorded the demo with Chris but shortly after that he left the band. SI Music wanted to release "Serpents..." but required a better quality recording and a couple of extra songs so we re-recorded it without the live drums unfortunately. As for me being a good drummer, at that time I wasn't so good and the technology did not exist back then to allow me to play drum sections in live, then add to it, dub in and out etc. I still do not play drums well enough to play the new songs consistently right through, I also don't have the time required to rehearse them to a level where it would sound tight enough, after all it would take me twice as long, rehearsing drums and keyboards. I am aided by technology in both "Raising the Stones" and "Playing Dead".
VM: Can you explain why Nightlights, which is one of the two bonus tracks presented on the "Serpents In Camouflage" album, was named in the CD booklet as "the very first demo of Citizen Cain"? And what about the band's demos and completed songs that were recorded in the 1980s, especially since most of them were included in the "Ghost Dance" CD? (IMHO, "Ghost Dance" can't be regarded differently than as the debut Citizen Cain album.) If my understanding of these details is incorrect for some reason, I am sorry for this in advance.
SB: Quite honestly we never really thought abut it that way, but I guess, technically, Ghost Dance is the "the very first demo of Citizen Cain". I just always viewed Cyrus and myself as the new Citizen Cain. On top of that is the fact that "The Gathering" demo was recorded before the old Ghost Dance tapes were found, re-mastered and released, so the title "first ever demo" kind of stuck with it from then on. Nightlights is definitely not my favourite track, it's one of the first things I wrote, basic 3 chord shit, and should never have been released.
VM: In my honest opinion, "Somewhere But Yesterday" is the greatest clone album ever released in the history of Rock music. After I've heard it, I even invented a motto for it: "Either you are by all means on par with your idols or never try to be like them at all". Tell me how you arrived at the idea to create the album that became kind of a challenge for all the pseudo followers of their idols (among which Genesis are especially rich in wannabes).
Cyrus: I have always liked Genesis but I preferred to play music more in the vain of Gentle Giant, PFM and the like. We did indeed come very, very close to that sound, the Genesis vibe. I am going to be very candid here, "Serpents..." and "Somewhere:" were the result of poor musicianship, more so on "Serpents.." where the line-up was so bad that to create music beyond a 4/4 was a real miracle! Believe me, the musicianship on "Somewhere..." was somewhat better, but still it took the break-up of that line-up for Stewart and myself to write unhindered. Now we have Phil Allen, the new guitarist on "Playing Dead", a very good musician indeed. The new album "And the Skies Darkened" should give us a clearer view of where we are trying to go. I have always felt that my voice is the problem, in trying to be different, it is a challenge. Maybe a challenge we would do well to ignore.
SB: I agree, even my own playing on "Serpents..." left a lot to be desired, I still cringe at certain parts! By the time "Somewhere.." was complete I felt far more competent and we also were accompanied by some very good musicians who worked very hard to get it together, especially the title track on "Somewhere...", all 25 mins of it. But as Cyrus pointed out we were limited to a certain sound, a lot of which was my own fault. During the writing of "Somewhere:" I was getting heavily into Genesis and you can probably tell that certain parts were heavily inspired by Genesis's music (though at that time I had only "Foxtrot" and "Selling England" in my collection). Critics were saying "Trespass" and "The Lamb Lies Down On Broadway"; in all honesty I only bought these particular two albums recently during the recording of "Playing Dead". It was never our idea to create a clone album and although we may have been on a par with Genesis back then we have definitely moved on to where they might have progressed had Phil Collins never took over vocals and musical direction. Follow me, no thanks Phil, there must be some kind of misunderstanding, I prefer the old pop-free Genesis, there's definitely something in the air tonight though, it's the smell of shit pop music!
VM: You know that (very underrated) "Raising the Stones" is my favourite album by Xitizen Cain. IMHO, it surpasses any of the band's previous albums and, in addition, sounds richer than any of them. However, there are only two members in the line-up of this album: Xyrus and you. I still wonder how two men were able to compose, arrange, perform, record, and, finally, produce such a unique masterpiece as "Raising the Stones", which, moreover, has more of a 'group' feel to it than any of the other albums by the band. Please tell me of the creation of this album.
Cyrus: "Raising..." was a challenge. We had completed the album, then at the recording stage we decided to strip the songs right down to almost nothing. We were left with about 10 mins of the original material and began to rewrite. I cannot even begin to tell you how we arrived at the completion of "Raising..." or the quality of sound. Stewart is the best keyboard player I have worked with: he surpasses them all. I think he should have the honour of relaying to you his ideas concerning its depth...
SB: Quite simply, it just happened to turn out that way. Personally, I am not a great fan of the album, there was way tool little guitar which meant substituting a lot of the pieces written for guitar with keyboard sounds. As one critic put it: "Stewart gives us more sounds than you could shake a stick at". Most of the album was composed in my bedroom and Cyrus' living room, where we would meet to rehearse and arrange the ideas. Alistair, the guitarist from "Somewhere...", came back from Australia and agreed to do the guitar on the album but was given his visa much quicker than expected and left soon after. It was at this point that the material was stripped back to reduce the need for guitar and as a result was mostly rewritten, with probably just as many guitar parts as before in the end! The group feel probably comes from over compensating due to the lack of guitar, replacing these parts with keyboards which have a different quality of sound making the whole thing sound 'bigger' if you like. "Playing Dead" is how "Raising..." should have sounded, with myself having more experience on the drums and the talented Phil Allen saving the day. Most of the guitar parts were written on keyboard so were not very "finger-friendly" for Phil but he persevered and pulled it off. I challenge any guitarist to learn some of these parts, they will wish they had 6 fingers!
VM: I've heard that during the recording process of "Playing Dead" you had practically the same 'line-up' problems that you had before working on "Raising the Stones". As for me, I would've hardly been upset if "Playing Dead" would have performed, etc., by the classic two-man line-up of the band as well. Instead of the 'promised' two years, you spent five years on the creation of this album. Why? Please tell me of how it turned out to be that you had to work on "Playing Dead" so long and how you worked on it in general. In any case, I believe that regarding the final ProGduction, you are satisfied, at least (are you?).
SB: Playing Dead is the only album I have been 100% satisfied with, well, 99%, as we could have done with a drummer to match the quality of the other musicians on the album. If we had continued as a two-man line-up the music would have suffered again from the lack of guitar, which a lot of people have commented on. As for the length of time taken to record, it mainly lies with the constant evolution of the songs, none of which are exactly the same as they started out, they were developed over the 4 years before recording started. Also I have had to start earning a living elsewhere, unlike the previous albums which were 'government funded', if you get my meaning. I decided that, being in my late 20's then, I should probably get a real job! There was also a large gap in recording when the studio was near destroyed by a flood and endless other delays in the production and release of this album that are too numerous to mention.
Cyrus: Before we found Phil, Stewart and myself had the material completed, we wrote for guitar and prayed we would find a guitarist this time, we did. It took all those years to acquire Phil. Also we never leave any piece of music untouched, we work with parts right up to the recording stage, only then is a song completed. We simply don't care so much about getting albums out or being in the fighting line to be first, that is a real rat race. What we do we do with ease, no hurry.
VM: Can you explain the details of the band's departure from Cyclops Records? Didn't you try to do a deal with some of the other Prog labels? And 'Pig In A Poke'? Is this a new trademark of the band's own production? In other words, are you releasing "Playing Dead" on your own?
SB: We felt it was time to start making some money back from our hard work instead of making a poxy few pence per CD from some record company. Cyclops was quite happy with this so we continued with our plan to release the album through Pig In A Poke, then at the last minute Cyclops changed his mind and decided he wanted the album after all. Luckily we weren't actually contracted for another album with Cyclops but this did cause some considerable delay with the release (and inspired an extra piece of artwork from Cyrus!). We did find out the real reason behind Cyclops change of heart a few months later, but the less said the better. The last record company that screwed us weren't happy with us telling anybody about there shady dealings, in fact I got a nice e-mail from them recently with a lovely attachment, yet another delay.... I'm saying no more!! As for other Prog labels they are all pretty much the same, so we decided to collaborate with our friend and studio engineer Neil McNaught who owns Pig In A Poke Records. I handle all the administration etc. and it's more of a partnership than a label / band relationship (i.e. we don't get screwed, we get our equal share!)
VM: Finally, what will be next on the band's agenda after the "Playing Dead" CD is released?
And what are the plans of the band for the future?
Cyrus: We will continue to survive as we always have, bit by bit. We have no management so it is a burden supporting ourselves. We will soon be rehearsing a new work, "And The Skies Darkened", that will not be long in coming. After that it's only intent, and a wish.
SB: Three songs are already well underway for the new album. Of course, they will evolve and develop into something totally different probably before completed, but the ground work is there and Phil will be adding his writing talents to this album also, which will take us in yet another direction, I'm sure. Some people have commented on the fact that we are moving away from the 'Genesis' sound. I think it will always be at the root of our music, it's the classical feel more than anything else (and Cyrus Gabriel's voice of course) and we are only developing it, not trying to get away from it. We don't want to stagnate: we play music in order to explore new ground, and not to cover the same turf as a thousand other bands. (Though I have recently been introduced to a few of these 'clone' bands thanks to our mutual friend Evgeniy, and have to say some of them are very good.). We, on the other hand, will continue on our path which I'm sure will keep most listener's happy....
VM: Thank you very much Stuart and Cyrus for doing this interview. I wish that Xitizen Cain to continue gladdening us fans with new albums for years to come.
SB: Thank you Vitaly and sorry for the delay in getting this back to you.
Cyrus: Thank you very much in all you have said and asked. My kind regards to all Prog-heads: hope you like "Playing Dead"!
VM: (instead of epilogue): If some of you dear readers don't see a difference between a clone and an imitation, can you please read the "Clones, Clowns, Strange Etudes" review? By the way, Xitizen Cain is among the heroes of this review. You can enter to read it > here. As a last resort, remember the British ship Dolly and the music of any of the Marillion wannabes and that of Marillion themselves. Finally, I'd like to add here that I regard Xitizen Cain as one of the best contemporary bands of Symphonic Progressive. To make sure that my words are true, it is enough to have a look into a few of the "Top" sections that are located on the title page of ProgressoR.