Exovex has just released it's debut album "Radio Silence". Although industry experts tend to label it progressive rock, you will find a well thought out collection of songs with a central theme that I consider powerful "Art Rock". Mastermind Dale Simmons brought in an impressive array of musicians to help create the musical landscape such as: Josh Freese (NIN, A Perfect Circle, Devo) and Keith Carlock (Sting, John Meyer, Steely Dan) on drums. The album also showcases two members from the band Porcupine Tree - Gavin Harrison on drums and Richard Barbieri on keyboards and synthesizers. Dale let the guest musicians have full creative freedom, and their brush strokes enhanced the final product for framing. I recently corresponded with Dale.
R.V.B. - Who were your early influences as a young child and did you come from a musical family?
D.S. - In high school I grew up on bands like AC/DC, REM, Husker Du, The Replacements, Pink Floyd, Neil Young, The Meat Puppets…in college things just continued to develop from there.
My sister and I are both musicians…she mostly plays the piano, but also some cello and guitar. She’s a “murder ballad” enthusiast …yeah…that makes me smile.
R.V.B. - Which instrument did you start off with and did you have formal training? Did you also take voice training?
D.S. - The first instrument I picked up was the acoustic guitar…my grandfather’s acoustic guitar….an old Gibson Dreadnaught. I was very young…too young to hold it under my arm, so I had to play it in my lap. I’ve had a bit a love affair with the acoustic guitar my whole life. I never really had formal training on the guitar other than a lesson or two here and there. Some years later, I did learned to read music when I learned to play the trumpet.
R.V.B. - What kind of songs were you tackling as you were starting early bands in your career?
D.S. - Believe it or not I was playing progressive rock before I knew what progressive rock was. The first time I really ever heard the term was when someone at a gig used it to describe my band at the time….this was the late 80’s early 90’s in Columbia, SC. The band was called Pyschotoy. We were playing some odd metered guitar oriented rock and a few covers by Pink Floyd and Big Star so listeners stuck us with that description. We were not playing your typical college rock.
R.V.B. - How did your first gig go and when did you start writing your own material?
D.S. - I’ve been writing songs since before I ever played in front of an audience. The first real gig I ever played featured only original song….again withthe band Pyschotoy. I guess it was a year or more before we started doing cover songs. In fact, we’d released a single called “Fish Bottle Eye” before we ever played live.A local college radio station played it in heavy rotation for weeks prior to the show. They actually used the song in an ad that they aired to promote the show. By the time we took the stage there was this huge buzz about this new band in town. It was fun and the huge turnout was completely unexpected. There must have been 300-400 people there that night. Not bad for a completely unknown band’s first show….especially one that played all original songs.
R.V.B. - I understand you had some record company interest with the Band Furious Styles... At this time did you decide on the prog genre as the way to proceed from then on?
D.S. - Not really…I never didn’t decide to go in a particular direction. There was never a conscious decision. I just write the kind of music I want to hear. For the Exovex project, I want to hear rock. The “prog” part of that just helps people understand what they are getting into before they actually listen to the music. It doesn’t have much to do with what I do. I write a lot of music that does not fit neatly into the “prog” category….most of my music in fact. That being said I not sure Radio Silence is really “prog rock”. Yes the songs are longer and have some off meters, but does that make it prog? I’m not so sure anymore.
R.V.B. - What made you pick up and move overseas to Chateau D'Uriage? Was the setting there very inspirational and conducive to writing music? Why did you name the CD that you made there "No Real Direction"?
D.S. - I was running away from myself…looking for something…I wanted to disappear. Moving to France was an escape that turned out to be a catharsis for me….for several reasons. I’d pretty much stopped playing music after the Furious Styles melt-down. That experience was a huge disappointment artistically. I wasn’t hitting on all cylinders emotionally because of that and it caused big problems in my personal life with my girlfriend at the time. That relationship ended badly and it crushed me. After that…it was very easy to leave.
I experienced a musical rebirth in France. I started writing songs and recording again. I built a studio in the chateau and focused on music, making an album, eating food and drinking wine. Life came back to me. The events of my life up to that point would become massively important in my songwriting. That’s why many of the songs on No Real Direction and Radio Silence revolve around concepts like distance and detachment…wanting to escape…searching for something…it all stems from those experiences.
As far as the CD’s title goes…it’s a lyric from Nautical Twilight, one of the songs on the album. I named the album No Real Direction because that’s where I’d been….spinning out of control with no guidance.
R.V.B. - Why you came back to the states? When you did come back did you take a break or go right back into writing and creating music?
D.S. - I staying in Netherland and France for almost 7 years. It was time to come back. When I got back I built another home studio and continued writing.
D.S. - The idea of “the known creative variable” is central to Exovex. In mathematics, a function can be defined as “f(x)”... pronounced “f of x”. So, when you put a number through that function, the same things happens to it because the function is what it is….like a logarithm. If the functional is undefined “x”, then the expression would be written as “x(x)” (pronounced “x of x”….or phonetically “Exovex”) and although you know something is going to happen, you have no idea what that something will be. It represents the “unknown creative variable”.
The theme for Radio Silence was well established before the songs. In fact, I use the central theme of a project to drive lyrical content and the music. This is how I write related songs for an album.
R.V.B. - Do you consider the six songs on the record, songs - or a piece of art?or both?
I see the songs on this album as pieces of art not unlike paintings hanging on a wall. I added color here and there…worked on structures and the underpaintings. Added highlights, erased parts I don’t like…created derivative structures. I paint as well and it’s exactly the same process as painting.
I have written (and will write) songs that I see more as “songs”, but Radio Silence was not that kind of project for me.
R.V.B. - You brought in some great talent for the Radio Silence project such as: Josh Freese, Keith Carlock, Richard Barbieri and Gavin Harrison, how did the creativity of writing the pieces work? Did you have an original riff and let them build of it. How did that work?
D.S. - I had completely developed songs with programmed drum reference tracks. I asked them to do whatever they wanted to do within the structures that I’d already created. I gave them total freedom to do whatever they wanted to do on the track. Once I had their performances, I did go back and re-track some of my performances to more closely align with what they were playing. This was critical for certain tracks like the bass guitar, since the bass really needs to gel with the kick drum.
R.V.B. - Do you plan to put together a touring band to support the record?
D.S. - I do plan to put a live band together. I’m not sure when I’ll be able to do that. I see a full-blown live incarnation of Exovex requiring 5 musicians, including me. I’m not really one for half-measures, so I would have a problem doing anything less than the full representation of the music. I do have plans for an open audition to see if I can fill those slots and put a tour together, however, a lot of ground needs to be covered before that happens. So if you are a great drummer, keyboard player, guitars, multi-instrumentalist…send me an email!
R.V.B. - How is the live music scene where you live in South Carolina?
There’s A LOT of music in South Carolina…just not really where I live. The biggest music scene would probably be in Charleston, SC…about 3 hours away from me.
R.V.B. - What are your plans for the future? Any other things in the works?
D.S. - I’ve been laser focused on getting the album released, but now that this is done I’ll explore a live option for sure. I am also working on a new album called Venus Anomaly. The song writing is about half way complete, but I have a long way to go. At this point, I alone am the songwriter, lyrists, singer, guitar player, bass player, keyboardist, recording engineer, guitar tech, studio manager, musician coordinator, bank and record company for the Exovex project. That’s a lot of hats to wear and the way I work is pretty psychotic. I never know who is going to wake up in the morning....the bass player, guitar player or singer etc. A successful launch of the Radio Silence is the best way for Venus Anomaly to see the light of day this year. Assuming that happens, it’s not out of the question.
Interview conducted by Robert von Bernewitz
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For more information on Exovex visit the website http://www.dalesimmons.com/
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