The Aaron Clift Experiment
The Aaron Clift Experiment is a progressive rock outfit out of the Texas musical hotbed - Austin. With an extremely wide array of influences such as: Pink Floyd, Beethoven, John Coltrane, Genesis, and more, their music appeals to a broad, sophisticated audience. Aaron and the boys have just released their sophomore album "Outer Light, Inner Darkness", and this experiment will surely be approved by a government agency. With well thought-out and executed songs, this album will de"light" prog fans all over the world whether it's light out or dark. I recently caught up with keyboardist Aaron.
R.V.B. - What kind of music were you exposed to around the house at an early age. Did you come from a musical family?
Aaron - When I was a kid, my parents used to play their LP’s for me, so I was exposed to artists like The Beatles, Black Sabbath, Jethro Tull, and Led Zeppelin at a young age. My dad’s side of the family is pretty musical: my dad played piano, french horn, and sang in choirs when he was in high school, and my aunt got a master’s degree in music at the University of Texas at Austin.
R.V.B. - What instrument did you tackle first? Did you take formal lessons? Did you play other instruments?
Aaron - I took up the viola when I was 12 and played for years in my school orchestras. Later, I studied voice, guitar, and piano.
R.V.B. - What are some of your early influences? What cover songs did you play initially?
Aaron - I got into progressive rock when I was a freshman in high school, but before that, I was listening to a lot of grunge and classic rock. Soundgarden’s “Superunknown” was the first album I bought and was the one that got me interested in pursuing a career in music.
I’ve always been mostly interested in writing original music, so I didn’t really play any covers of rock songs until 2013 with The Aaron Clift Experiment when we started occasionally playing Led Zeppelin’s song, “No Quarter,” at some of our shows.
My first performance as a musician was probably my middle school’s orchestra performance when I was 12. I was actually a wreck after that show because I heard the older student orchestras perform after mine, and I was jealous that they were a lot better than my orchestra. That was the first moment in my life where I knew that I had a long way to go to become better as a musician. Thankfully, I matured a lot after that performance and learned to be a little more humble!
R.V.B. - Progressive music... It obviously takes a little more doing than playing three chord blues. When you came out with "Lonely Hills" in 2012, did you use songs that you had and put on the title later. What was the process in writing, and how long did it take to complete? Where did you get the title from?
Aaron - I don’t use any one method to write songs, but I always look for a way to figure out what I want to write about. It can be overwhelming to start writing a new piece of music because I have so many options, so I’ve found that by narrowing those options and getting focused, I can more easily write.
Sometimes I’ll come up with a title and then use that title as a springboard for developing musical and lyrical ideas. Other times, I might start with a riff, chord progression, or other musical idea and go from there. And then there are other times when I have a set of lyrics and want to build music around them.
The song, “Lonely Hills,” was written during a difficult period of my life. I was going through some serious depression at the time and had just gone through a difficult breakup. At that moment in time, I felt lonely and like I was struggling to climb up a hill, so I came up with the idea of being stuck wandering around in “Lonely Hills.”
Aaron - Joe Resnick (drums) was the first person I met who joined the band. I met him through a mutual producer friend who highly recommended that I get in touch with Joe. One of the things I love about Joe is his huge wealth of experience playing just about every style of music you can imagine and his outstanding sense of timing and groove.
Eric Gutierrez (guitar) joined the band in 2013 after our second guitarist, Danny Brymer, moved out of Austin. Before Danny moved, he told me that I should let his friend and fellow college buddy, Eric, join the band. As it turned out, Danny’s recommendation couldn’t have been better: Eric is not only an excellent guitarist, but he’s one of the best songwriters I know. Many of my favorite musical ideas on The Aaron Clift Experiment’s new album, “Outer Light, Inner Darkness,” came about thanks to Eric.
Devin North (bass) joined the band in late 2014 after our previous bassist, Joe Green, left the band. Devin got in touch with me after he saw a bassist-wanted flyer I had put up in the University of Texas music building (where he’s currently pursuing a music degree). I was initially a little bit skeptical about having someone so young join the band, but Devin blew me away in a big way with his formidable musical chops and maturity. Besides being a great songwriter and player, Devin is kind of the “missing link” player in The Aaron Clift Experiment, which is to say that he really helps all of us figure out how to combine a lot of the diverse and desperate ideas that all of us have into a cohesive whole.
Aaron - Several of the songs on the album started as my initial musical idea (“Your Arms Hold Them to the Dark,” “Aoide, Goddess of Song,” “Moonscape,” and “Bathed in Moonlight”), while others started as Eric’s initial idea (“Kissed by the Sun” and “Locked”). Eric and I would send each other the basic structure of a song and ask the other to flesh out the musical ideas, and then afterwards, we would work out the arrangements in rehearsals with the rest of the band.
Two of the songs (“Fragments of Sleep” and “The Last Oasis”) were completely collaborative and were written with Devin’s ideas. “The Last Oasis” in particular was a big challenge, as Eric and I kept coming up with idea after idea for the song and Devin would ask us to start thinking about how to put everything together. We went through about 10 drafts of that song and enough scrapped material to fill an entire album of music!
R.V.B. - "Outer Light, Inner Darkness" There is a lot of things that can happen in between... What is the idea behind this title?
Aaron - “Outer Light, Inner Darkness” is a concept album about opposites: light vs. darkness, good vs. evil, etc. The title refers to man’s dual nature – that we all have a light and dark side and can make either a part of who we are. The journey through the album is from conflict to reconciliation of these two opposing forces.
9. What are your future plans. Will there be a CD release party?
Aaron - We have a lot of plans with the new album. We just filmed a music video for the album’s lead single, “Kissed by the Sun.” The video will be premiering at the end of August to coincide with our album release show on August 27 at Threadgill’s in Austin. We’re pulling out all the stops for our album release show: we’re playing the entire “Outer Light, Inner Darkness” album, including playing several songs with a string quartet, and we’ll be filming and recording the show for a live EP that we hope to release later this year.
Next year, we would like to start playing progressive rock festivals, especially in Europe.
10. Where do you see the band in 5 to 10 years?
One of my favorite bands is Marillion. I love them for their amazing music and because they are to me one of the best examples of how to create a long-lasting music career. After more than 30 years in the music industry, Marillion continues to generate great music and live shows, and all of the guys in the band seem like cool, down-to-earth people.
I want The Aaron Clift Experiment to have the same kind of artistic and financial success of Marillion. I see us building a fanatical worldwide fan base and really reaching out to those fans on both an artistic and personal level.
Interview conducted by Robert von Bernewitz
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For more information on The Aaron Clift Experiment visit their website http://aaronclift.com/
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