Balance II: Progressive Pomp AOR Fusion!
Balance II founder Brian Moritz talks about the complexities behind the new Balance release and the recording industry in general.
Well, it is about time that the world got to know a little more about you, so here goes. So Brian, you are a native of the Chicago land area correct?
I was born in Ohio, shortly after my family moved to the Chicago burbs, and I've been here trapped on the West coast of Lake Michigan ever since.
What is your first musical memory?
My brother's band was practicing in the living room, and they were recording practice on a Wollensak ¼ reel to reel tape machine that my brother had just bought with a couple of cheesy mics, and I got the bright idea of playing bongos on the stairwell, out of sight (I was about 7 years old at the time). When they played back the song it was featuring me and my ballistic bongos louder than the entire band. They stopped the tape recorder and the guys were all trying to figure out what the heck that that racket was - when I saw my brother running towards me. I made it about to the top of the stairs before my brother got a hold of me and started beating lumps on me. Tough crowd
not much different than the biker bars Vince, Joel and I played together many years later.
You have a wide and varied style, which I'll get to shortly, but what music influenced you personally and musically as you grew up?
Pretty much in chronological order: my dad and brother are both players and we used to play a lot of blues around the house, later I got into Zeppelin, Sabbath, Deep Purple, Kansas, Yes, Dregs, Bruford & once I got into music college it opened me up to appreciate everything and anything from A to Z musically as long as it was played well. In college I played in the concert jazz band, sang in concert choirs doing classical works and show tunes, etc. Later I played in some country bands too where we used to have to talk with fake accents all night and pretend we were from down South so the bar owners would pay us more than local bands.
And what other influences helped carve out the sound of the Balance II album?
It's pretty hard to get past Toto, production-wise. Those guys set the bar so damn high, I'll have to get adjusted to going way under it. Other engineering influences include a slew of great engineers like Tom Jung, Eddie Kramer, Jerry Jordan and my partner Bryan Mitchell who's right up there with the best of them.
Let's walk backwards a little first....Balance I - can you tell us about that?
Balance I was a rushed affair due to the circumstances. We had a tiny budget, and made the most of it, but it was very ambitious considering the lack of funding. We tracked the bass, drums and most of the keyboards live in 6.5 hours so it was a pretty compromised recording. Then we re-did the guitars and most of the lead vocals. I sent out 850 copies all around the world, and never personally sold a single one. My sense of pride wouldn't let me; it was too flawed and it just about drove me nuts. Paul Dobroth our bassist at the time (co-writer of Reptilian Crawl off of BII), and a few of my other buddies convinced me that I had to finish it, and I m sure glad they did. It opened a heck of a lot of doors for me as an artist and laid the foundation for BII.
I won't go over what was already covered in the Balance Bio, but in the early days you were involved with both Jim Peterik and Trillion. Both names people will recognize - was it just bad luck, of divine intervention that your name hasn't been as well known until this new opportunity?
God opens and closes doors for us, it's up to us to walk through them and I had things going on my life a lot more important to deal with starting with my family. I had the opportunity to play with a fantastic band touring the U.S. when I was first married, but having a baby and having to move out of state weren't in the cards at the time, so I had to re-examine my life and made sure I put the right priorities in order & next thing I knew, 20 years passed by - plus I live in Chicago - There are ten billion weekend warriors willing to play for next-to-nothing and 5 million people that don t care much about music in general here.
There were only a handful of opportunities that were ever of any interest to me and I've never had very good luck when it comes to auditions. I've auditioned for some of the best bands out of Chicago like Trillion, Dave Mason, Kicks, Deluxury
but I think I always knew I was supposed to be a songwriter/producer/musician and not a side-guy, and everything has been pointing that way since day one. Once I accepted that fact, things started getting a whole lot better. I'm very shy and the very last guy you'll find chasing the spot light. The only reason I do what I do is I want to share my music with people and hopefully inspire players like so many great ones have done for me.
What have you been doing musically and professionally in the time frame between getting started and today?
Geez, your readers would pass out 1/100th of the way into this one
Since the day I started playing I've almost always been in original bands playing primarily my compositions - I started writing right from the beginning. For five years I did session work and producing artists and I burned out doing stuff I didn't like or care about. I remember doing some totally cliché stuff at the end of a really lame band session almost as a joke, and when the clients were high 5-ing each other in the control room I realized that I just didn't want to do it anymore. When I got home I had to take a shower and wash the creepy feeling off me & taking money for something I didn't believe in nor want my name affiliated with just isn't why I got into music. Then I spent 10 years playing in various jobbing and bar bands, with the same talented 20 buddies grouped in various incarnations; with names like Zippy and the Pinheads, Burning Mules, Big Deal, Dairyland Aces, etc... We'd make up a different band name every night. It was always funny when somebody who saw the band on two back-to-back nights would comment on how the one band sucked and the other one was great; I can't imagine being that drunk I guess
How did you hook up with - first of all - Vince Claps, vocalist for Balance II?
We had some friends in common that wanted to audition him for their band, and they asked me to sit in. I remember loving his attitude, it was positive and uplifting and - thankfully and miraculously dealing with this business that's never changed. Vince played in this one popular local band that used to light him on fire in an asbestos suit and then he d wear a giant Elvis head and had a trunk full of costumes he d switch into. He s a great sport and always a blast to hang out with& we've played hundreds and hundreds of gigs and concerts together. He's a great front man, the exact opposite of me. I'd be over in the corner hiding in fear from the number of people we were occasionally playing in front of, and he d be getting the crowd wound up screaming and cheering, and I'd go over to him and beg him to knock it off. I'd have been happier if I could face the other way while playing. Yes playing in the round was always my dream of what I wanted to do on stage.
And the rest of the line-up - how did that fall into place? You certainly have some names involved there!
The guys in the band are good friends of mine and thankfully once we got done recording, they still are! I'd gotten a chance to work with Dave on Steve Morse's essential CD Split Decision (www.magnacarta.net) which I helped engineer, and I knew exactly what Dave could bring to the party which is an amazing work ethic and professionalism, not to mention he s got a great sense of humor. Rod and I had done some session work together prior to Balance II and in addition to being the most dedicated musician I've known, he's one of the best people too, he's a real uplifting inspiration for me as a human being. Those two together have blown me away for years with their work with the Dixie Dregs. When they decided to get involved in this band, it was a very surreal thing for me to be sure, being a HUGE Dregs fan and those guys being two of the best musicians on the planet it was WAY beyond a dream come true, it's in fact partially what the song Miracles was about. The song Miracles was about my disbelief of reality surpassing my dreams, when I heard Stan Cotey's stellar guitar tapestry work, I erased all of mine but a couple of solos, it was unbelievable and definitely otherworldly and overwhelming when I combined his tracks with ours... Joel is a buddy from way back, as is Thom Griffin who is also one of the few guys that I'll give a hug when I see him. When you've got friends this good, I m telling you, you feel like one blessed musician.
This album is obviously a labor of love - you know I love it, but it is certainly a less commercial sound. You guys have obviously played and written from the heart. Do you agree?
That's a very fair assessment on the one hand, on the other hand there is material on the CD that would be perfectly at home on the radio if given half a chance... The fact that BII swings wildly from one extreme to the next I knew would cause some issues for people who want their music to fit into a neat record bin. The reason there is a nude women all over the artwork on the CD is that this CD is about art and my Dad is a great photographer. I wanted to name the disk ART but I figured it was pretty obvious once you put the disk in. Art isn't about commercial justification; it s about purity and freedom of vision! I'm glad we did what we did. I hope Balance II is the kind of CD that when you sit staring at your disk collection 20 years from now, will be one that you grab when you want to be challenged mentally and sonically.
How would you describe it? Folks have soundbytes to check out, but let's hear your thoughts on this.
Balance II hopefully is impossible to pigeonhole. It's an album versus a bunch of songs; there is a definite flow and mood to the disk and it's missing when you download bits and pieces. There isn't a guy in this band who doesn't have his chops together in a variety of styles. As a writer and producer, I didn't want to make yet another Journey or Toto sound-alike disk, I wanted to write and help create something that would excite me if I walked into a record store.
This is a diverse record - is there anything that you love musically that didn't fit into this release that we might hear next time?
Oh heck yeah
that will always be what Balance is about with regards to shifting stylistic turns. We didn't get a chance to touch on Classical, Reggae, Bluegrass & Country or Metal on this release and I love pretty much all styles as do the guys in the band. BIII will be a big change as was BI to BII. I have zero interest in getting stuck in a rut and repeating ourselves. I never want somebody to be able to guess what the next release is going to sound like.
Now might be a good time to plug where folks can buy the CD and by what methods - being that this is an indie release...
www.balanceweb.com front page you can go to the buy now tab, it's a secure transaction or you can dial our 800 number.
Why go the indie route? I ask, as you have done everything in house for this, from the recording, to the mastering to the artwork. Have you enjoyed the freedom of working for yourselves?
I had to give these guys some sonic real estate and I didn't want to have to compromise our material for the sake of somebody else's idea of what s sellable. We might go down with the ship, but at least when I stare at my face in the mirror I'll never feel bad about anything to do with this. There is a mixture of stadium rock, R&B, blues, acoustic rock, progressive rock, and the f-word (fusion) that sends the labels running away in fear.
But that is exactly what I keep searching for and rarely find. When I do it's always something like Pages, It Bites, or Kevin Gilbert that people in general don't know but have super loyal fans who consider it the best stuff ever done by mankind. If enough people are exposed to it I know in my heart we'll be successful with some who will truly dig it, and that will hopefully allow us to make another one. This band live would be crippling and hopefully we'll get a chance to bring it overseas for a short tour for the fine people that are welcoming us with open arms.
Being an American band, we realize the people with cultured tastes that would appreciate our work mostly live overseas where they're raised with a cultured pedigree of musical tastes from classical to pop, unlike the US where music has become just a pathetic sidebar for dancers and models. The US society has all but killed off raising kids with music in the schools with budget cutbacks, even when it's proven the benefits of what music does to boost your intellectual capacity as a student. I'm really glad I was born and raised when I was before the US schools basically abolished music and art programs it in favor of lowering standards in education. I've stood with tears pouring down my cheeks in appreciation at concerts where I'm so thankful I've been able to witness what I have. I'd hate to think that kids growing up won't know that joy of watching somebody that can truly play their instrument and touch hearts, verse thinking stuff that's burped out by machines is way cooler because that's what they're being force fed by our media.
Any interview would be remiss if we didn't talk technical - you are a huge audiophile aren't you! Let's talk of your love of gadgets and studios and the like. Where did you first take an interest in working with not only making the sound, but how the sound was made?
I used to take our family piano apart from the time I was about six years old and hold the sustain pedal down and pluck the strings with my fingers, or used playing cards or toy hammers or screamed into the soundboard to make soundtrack type of sounds. I've always had a fascination with reverb and echoes. I taught myself how to play and eventually had a dozen teachers on a few different instruments, mostly for hand position and technique, then I went to college to get the theory and ear-training together.
My first original band, Tyme, was recording at Hedden West studios when I was 19, and the co-owner of the studio took an interest in my band. He used to invite me to come to the studio while I was cutting college classes and just hang out, and we used to go into the studio's storage rooms and pull down reels of 2 tape, load them up, and analyze the most minuscule details. He took me under his wing and taught me stuff musicians just don't share with each other.
I'll be forever grateful to him for opening my eyes and ears so deeply to production and performance. Like any production chainsaw psycho, once I was exposed to what was behind Oz's curtain I couldn't get enough of it. I started taking classes in recording engineering, A/V production, modular synths, then later worked in pro-audio at retail stores. My dad and I ended up building a studio at my old house and I spent seven of the last 10 years locked up in it. Once I had access to a studio day or night that's when I reanalyzed what I was doing as a musician and where I was headed.
Do you have some favorite producers from over the years of musical indulgence?
Well I'd have to cite artists and then you d have to research their production/engineering teams for brevity; here are some guys that come to mind: Kerry Livgren (Kansas), Steve Morse (SMB, Dregs), Pat Leonard (Toy Matinee and solo), Jude Cole (solo), Richard Page (solo in particular and with Pages), the late Kevin Gilbert (solo and Giraffe), all resonate a chord within me. Something about each of their unique approaches helped me to define mine.
Balance II was recorded in your own studio - one you were putting together at the same time as the album itself. Surely not a wise decision to keep your sanity?
What sanity??? If I was sane, I'd be doing something that makes some financial sense! The stuff I'm involved in is like the movie The Money Pit sometimes thankfully my wife of 23 years is an Angel and makes a lot of sacrifices for me and the kids understand artistic vision and Dad being gone a lot.
How has the studio turned out Brian?
There aren't words to describe it. It's surreal and definitely lifted straight out of my partner Bryan's and my dreams. Between the two of us, we've built four recording studios independently, and each time we were frustrated with various aspects of them. This time we went all out and made it a place where we need to make no excuses. Acoustic drums and audiophile standards are our specialty. We also do 2 transferring to pro-tools, mastering, MTV-style video shoots, we have housing and a chef available, and a couple small airports nearby for people who want to fly in from out of state. The location is perfect for creating great music, no distractions, total serenity. It's like Field of Dreams; in fact I keep looking at the corn field in the back yard and want to build a baseball diamond for some reason but Bryan won't let me!
And news to hand - you plan to open a full production facility - tell us about that?
Bryan Mitchell and I opened a production studio. www.bnbproductions.com which is like a mini Ironworks studio (www.ironworksmusic.com) where we work only with clients we want to (bands can submit material by contacting us through www.bnbproductions.com). I couldn't be happier. The studio features amazing vintage and state-of-the-art gear, and an amazing ambiance for recording artful music (things like having three drum rooms from tiny to large enough to fit an orchestra).
You are mates with Joe Vana of Mecca. You have obviously seen him go through a number of the pitfalls prevalent in the record industry. How do you avoid those and have you been able to help him out in any way?
Joe is an amazingly talented and gifted human being with a heart the size of Texas. He's taught me so much about so many aspects of this crazy business both through his example, and through his nightmares. Joe conceived Mecca and brought it to reality, and a couple of cockroaches tried to steal it from him, which is why you've not heard from him as he's been in litigation unable or unwilling to discuss it for the last two years. I watched it rip him apart along with personal issues he faced, all coming from a guy who just wanted to have some fun with his friends (another guy with some amazing friends). Luckily I avoid most of the problems he's faced by having people involved with Balance II that I can trust down to their DNA sequence, and in this business trust is anyone's Achilles heals. Success can bring out the evil in people who want to control and seize it. I think the only way I've helped him is my consistency: my head is screwed on pretty tight. Joe and BNB are teaming up on the new Mecca release btw, I'm really jazzed about this too since the hang is so much fun. We co-wrote some stuff with Shannon Forrest, David Hungate and Gordon Mote down at Michael McDonald's studio, and I'm really looking forward to seeing and working with these guys. Go to allmusic.com to check out what they've done in their careers it's absolutely unbelievable. Gordon is blind and one of the most talented human beings I've ever met. I told him it wasn't fair what he could do (perfect pitch a whole lot more musically speaking), and he said It's not fair that you can drive. So one of these days, I'm gonna let him drive my car and he's gonna realize I m never gonna be able to do what he can do musically in return!
You and Joe are set to partner up for a song for my new compilation - time to tell folks about that!
One of the dreams I had after hearing Toy Matinee and the killer band Giraffe (Stan Cotey their guitarist is featured on BII on the song Miracles) was to someday work with Kevin Gilbert. We had friends in common, but I never got a chance to meet him before he died. I wanted to cover one of his songs, but not as he did it, more as if we were collaborating together. So I took his melody changed that a bit, re-harmonized the entire song, and added some twists and turns to the arrangement. In fact Joe didn't recognize the song when I played the arrangement for him yet he knows the song very well, and he started singing his own melody and words to it. Once I told him what song it was, he was bummed out because he wanted to write the lyrics and melody. Anyway, it's a fun song and hopefully it will get a few people checking out Kevin s amazing body of work. www.kevingilbert.com Just like Hendrix, Kevin's star burned super bright before it vanished and thankfully they both recorded a fantastic library of material in their far-too-short walk on the planet; it's almost like they both knew their fate and it was a race until the very end. Thom Griffin and Rick Vitek from Balance I are on it too!
I know you have rough plans for Balance III - are you confident it will all come to fruition?
Lots of things depend on Balance II sales covering expenses. If not, then Balance III will reflect what the labels would have an interest in promoting and supporting as there are a lot of expenses in the type of productions that we do. Losing our investor's money on BII isn't my idea of success. We haven't shipped product until recently, so I'm just gonna focus on promoting BII and the other 10 million things going on right now before worrying about what Balance will do next.
What else are you working on Brian? Now or coming up in the next 12 months?
Between Balance II, BNB Productions, writing Balance III, and helping Joe with Mecca, I couldn't fit anything else in if my life depended on it. I have great expectations for BII and for Mecca and am super excited about getting that in motion. Joe's new line-up couldn't be finer; he's got a lot of tricks up his sleeve and it's a lot fun to be involved in it. To anyone that dug the first Mecca CD - your eyes are gonna criss-cross and your head is going to spin around in circles with the new one! With Balance II we'll have to see if the grass-roots level of people telling people about our work will bring us enough success to continue with it. It was a very costly and time consuming effort on a lot of people's parts and without the fans support we can't afford to do it the same way again.
Anything that I have missed that you would like to add in Brian?
Thanks for supporting the whole melodic rock scene Andrew - you do us all a great service and I know a lot of players that think the world of you and what you're doing! I'm sure you could focus your talents elsewhere and make a heck of a lot more money with a lot less grief.
Quite possibly Brian! Cheers for taking the time to do this interview.
You bet Andrew, Peace and best wishes to you and your family!