Where does the name 3RDegree come from? What is the meaning?
Robert James Pashman: We were about to play our first show in November of 1991 and my girlfriend and I sort of came upon it while on line at Hoboken NJ’s Maxwell’s. At the time we were a trio and we wanted something that denoted “intensity“ so went with Third Degree. We then made sure to write it as 3RDegree because it looked different and because I find in English that when you say Third Degree you usually don’t pronounce both D’s back to back.
Pat Kliesch: Rob’s ex-girlfriend came up with the name when we existed as a three piece.
What were the reasons for a 12-year hiatus after your debut album? Respectively, why did you start again and what is different with the band and your music now?
RJP: Let me first clear up that the 1996 album Human Interest Story was our second album. We put out our first album-a cassette only at the time-in 1993. It was called The World In Which We Live and it was when we were a „power trio“. George hadn’t joined us yet and I was lead vocalist. It was frustrating for us after we finished the 1996 CD (before the days of the internet) to find our audience. This was before the prog festivals and we weren’t very business savvy. This led to infighting and I dissolved the band after our CBGB’s show in New York City in January of 1997. We met later that year to record the Marillion track “At That Time Of The Night (the short straw)“ just for a possible tribute CD that never happened. The original three of us kept in touch but lost touch with George. Shortly after Pat moved to California in 2005 he came back around Christmas time and we met as the original three and thought maybe we should record the songs we had unfinished when we broke up. We found George 7 months later and were doing drum tracks for 18 songs 3 months after that. We then got side tracked with our Reunion Concerts shortly after that. What is different with the band now is that there is less pressure to “make it“. We’re realistic about our abilities. The internet is a savior for a band that doesn’t play live unless it’s a special event like a prog festival. It’s so much easier to find the people who are most likely to “understand“ our music. This is the whole theme of “narrow-caster“ really. We go to see them at vending tables at prog festivals, we try to get as many reviews and interviews in magazines and websites and we reach out to whoever we can find on the internet.
PK: In January 1997, Rob Pashman wrote a breakup letter to the rest of the band after our last gig at CBGBs in New York. We just weren’t gaining the support that we had hoped for. Playing in front of the same ten fans year after year took an emotional toll on us.
Over the subsequent years, Rob and I had always looked back fondly at the 20 or so unrecorded songs that we had written at the time of our breakup. We felt that since the songs were so good, it would be an injustice to just let them exist in basement rehearsal versions on cassette. So we reunited with drummer Rob Durham one evening over Belgian beers in NYC around Christmas 2005 and we committed to recording the songs for real. But to do so meant that we had to locate our singer, George Dobbs, whom we all had lost touch with. It was no easy task to find him, but once we did, he agreed to record with us.
As for what is different with the band and our music now, I live in Los Angeles and we record bi-coastally. I have a ProTools setup at my house and I upload all of my tracks to our server. I’ve been influenced by a lot of alternative and college rock over the last decade and it shows up in my writing sometimes although I always find it very easy to slip into the “prog” headspace when I write.
George Dobbs: For my part, I had just lost 3 years of recordings in a computer crash, and the other band I was working with came to an impasse when my collaborator got put on a short leash by his wife, and so I thought: “what the heck, this must be fate.”
Perhaps what is different is that Narrow-caster represents a more complete synergy of all 3 songwriters, through and through. Sort of the way Close to the Edge was the true synergy of the version of Yes that formed just before Fragile. The songs on Human Interest Story, with the exception of maybe 2 songs, were already completely written and for the most part completely recorded before I joined. N-C grew over time and even as we recorded it, many songs saw major revisions in melody/lyric/arrangement throughout the entire process of recording.
Give us your definition of “Prog-Rock”?
RJP: To me Prog Rock was an artistic rock music without boundaries. All band members grew up loving different bands in the genre but then took in other influences afterward. Truly “progressive“ rock would of course be making music that is beyond what has been done which would then mean it shouldn’t sound at all like music made in the 70’s but I think most bands that play within the Prog genre these days-including us-can’t help but be influences by the bands that did what they did during that fruitful time.
GD: On the one hand, “prog” is a catch-all for music that attempts to diversify the full spectrum of the musical palette, --variations of tempo, meter, harmony, melody, timbre. “Prog” is an ethos that lets the musical artist’s imagination run wild, and helps them define their individual sound more uniquely.
PK: Prog-Rock should always be about pushing the envelope forward with soundscapes and writing styles. I grew up listening to Yes, Genesis and Rush as my three favorite bands, and my first batch of songs when I was a teenager showed that I wore my influences on my sleeve. But as I matured as a songwriter, I started developing my own sound (as did Rob) and when we collaborated on songs together, it became a very unique 3RDegree sound. To this day, we are still pushing that ideal forward – don’t get mired in the same sound over and over. Push the sonic envelope with each subsequent album. I always want each new 3RDegree album to be met with a “Wow, I didn’t expect that from those guys”.
On “Narrow Caster” tracks like “Apophenia” clearly show harmonic structures and vocal textures a more mainstream band like Toto is famous for. On other titles like “Young Once” one can hear traces of the crossover rock of the Red Hot Chili Peppers. Also some hints harking back to the Beatles/ELO can be found in your music. How does this all come about? You guys wanna be the crossover version of modern-day prog-rock?
RJP: Well Prog Archives.com has deemed us “cross-over prog“ which I suppose is apt. We do straddle the line between the prog everyone knows and an accessibility for those who don’t like or don’t know what prog is. I’d say we always make sure there’s a melodic hook-something singable that can stick in your head when the song is done. At the same time we throw in many prog elements like odd time signatures, some busy instrumentation, keyboards, independent vocal lines, etc. I guess that’s our niche and we wouldn’t have it any other way. We really don’t set out to do this, it’s just who we are. You mention The Beatles and ELO-even they no doubt had proggy things happening in their songs but always with a deep melodicism. I’d say Asia and 80’s Yes did this with some success as well.
GD: Our crossover “status” is simply a reflection of our tastes. Certain elements of the pop structure appeal to us—for example, a strong refrain/chorus. It’s a question of craft.
On a related note, the songwriters of 3RDegree have been discussing the probability that our future writing may be a little more reckless in method, even at the risk of being called self-indulgent.
Our efforts to-date probably define us as the “post-modern version of crossover prog-rock” (and not the crossover version of modern-prog). This is not simply wordplay, it’s my observation.
PK: Although I love the lengthy song structures of bands like Yes and Genesis, I always had a hard time composing long form music. Chalk it up to my ADD! Seriously though, I’ve always felt most comfortable writing in the verse-chorus-verse-chorus-bridge song structure. I’m also a huge fan of vocal harmony bands. I try to incorporate harmonies throughout the songs I write. I think “Scenery” is a perfect example of that. Additionally, I love the wall-of-sound style, although I try to use it sparingly. Having a wall-of-sound constantly there would assault the listener’s ears. Negative versus positive aural space works very well. In “The Last Gasp”, the song starts with little arrangement. Just voice and keyboard. But by the end of the song, a full orchestral arrangement accompanies the band.
As for being the crossover version of modern-day prog-rock, my writing mentality is backwards from writing pure progressive rock. I think I try to write pop songs and I just can’t do it. They always turn into pseudo-prog by the time the band and I are finished with them.
What are your “heroes” you look up to? Which influences do you follow?
RJP: I’m not sure if you mean musically or otherwise. Musical heroes would have to be all the members of Rush. It’s just amazing how they continue to make such great music that is relevant. It’s amazing at their ages that they are still revered so much. They really have my respect.
PK: Well, I’ll give you my top five favorite albums of the year:
Fleet Foxes – Fleet Foxes
Radiohead – In Rainbows
Mew – And the Glass Handed Kites
Plush – Fed
Grizzly Bear – Yellow House
I know the last three are cheats, because they came out anywhere from 2002 to 2005, but I just discovered them this year. I pull influences from all of those albums when I sit down and start writing new material.
On your album “Narrow-Caster” you feature 10 tightly constructed concise tracks all running between 3 and 5 minutes, which goes against what prog-rock usually is all about - long epic tracks. Is this a very deliberate proceeding and approach? What exactly is your musical approach anyway?
RJP: Basically I’d just point to what I said before. I don’t think it’s deliberate. If we wrote something very long we’d have no problem releasing it. I’d like to do that now that it seems like we’ve been embraced by the “prog community“-especially in Germany! The one song on Narrow-Caster that has many different parts and a slower tempo contributes to it being almost 6 minutes. But as for the multi-part, thematic material of most prog, we would love to do that with the next CD but we wouldn’t want to force it. We did do a six-part 20 minute long song in the mid 90’s, but we ended up cutting 3 parts out of it which made it onto Human Interest Story.
GD: Two words: Gentle Giant. A band like Gentle Giant, whom we all admire, was able to stuff more content in 4 and a half minutes than most bands could dream of fitting in a 20 minute song. “Economy of structure” has been important and will probably still be very very important in our future efforts.
PK: Like I said before, I find it the easiest to write songs that run in the 3 to 5 minute range. My musical approach almost always starts with trying to construct a song around the melody. I’m a sucker for a good melody, but especially the ones that aren’t hackneyed and contrived. The melodies that I love are the ones that makes me think “Hmmm, I didn’t expect that.”
Is there a lyrical theme running through the tracks on “Narrow Caster”?
RJP: There are a few lyrical themes that have to do with “getting back on the horse“ as we say in the USA. When we needed new lyrics for some songs it was ironic that I was writing a song that already was called “Young Once“ but as an older man! “Scenery“ is thematically related to “Young Once“ I’d say. Outside that, I don’t think there’s a lot of connection between the rest of the songs.
GD: If there’s any thread, all the songs do seem to be tomes/struggles of conscience/reason. But that’s really vague, and you could probably say that about almost anything!
PK: No. There isn’t a particular theme, considering that these songs span the course of 12 years. If anything is thematic, it would be in the fact that the lyrics are reflections of where we are living today in the 21st post-modern society and how we are all trying to cope with that.
Can we expect you touring in Germany? If, will you come solo or with a band?
RJP: I actually toured Germany back in October of 1995 as keyboardist for Power-the band whose lead vocalist was Alan Tecchio (although he didn’t tour with us) and I’d love to come back with my own band. That would be a thrill. I suppose if the situation was right, we’d come over. It would have to be something big since it’s so expensive just to get over there these days. A funny thing happens with the prog festivals in the USA-the arrangers almost seem to go out of their way to have an international flavor and have many, many bands fly out to play. I’m not sure who pays for the flight but we hope Europe tries to do the same thing as their American counterparts…and then of course pick us!
GD: If we do a tour of anyplace, it would most likely be Germany, as it seems we’ve had the most impact in that region so far.
I’d come to Germany solo, but I’d need a place to stay—oh, and a mini-van.
PK: Hmm, considering that we all have day jobs, it would be quite hard to pull that off, but if the album has a solid following in Germany, we all might take a week or two off and fly out there to cram in as many shows as possible.
What can we expect from 3RDegree in the future? What are your next projects (album, DVD, etc.)?
RJP: We are really looking forward to writing fresh material-nothing that dates from the 90’s. I’d love to get a CD out by 2010 that pushes our sound forward.
GD: More music. 3rdegree action figures (and a lunchbox). A concept about all of humanity willingly committing suicide to similtaneously have their consciousness transferred to a cybernetic storage facility, in order weather some inter-galactic disaster (like shares of Wal-Mart tanking on the NASDAQ).
PK: We are in the beginning stages of writing our next album as we speak. We also have an additional 10 songs or so that we recorded at the time of Narrow-Caster, so some of them might be included on our next album.
RJP: I would disagree with Pat about any of those songs being on the next CD. Our Reunion Concerts DVD and double CD has many of those songs on it. I think now that we’re free to do more “prog” material we will leave our more straight rock songs as unique to the live DVD/CD.
Your Top 5 albums of all time would be:
I’m going to cheat here-I think if you add all of these together you get all our favorites-as I agree with my band-mates choices as well:
1. Rush Moving Pictures
2. King Crimson Discipline
3. Yes Close To The Edge
4. Genesis Wind & Wuthering
5. Gentle Giant The Power & The Glory
1. Joni Mitchell The Hissing Of Summer Lawns
2. XTC Skylarking
3. Emiliana Torrini Love In The Time Of Science
4. Kevin Gilbert Thud
5. Tears For Fears Songs From The Big Chair
Gaucho - Steely Dan
Debut - Björk
Innervisions - Stevie Wonder
English Settlement – XTC
1. OK Computer - Radiohead
2. Abbey Road - Beatles
3. The Wall – Pink Floyd
4. Rings Around The World – Super Furry Animals
5. Heaven Or Las Vegas – Cocteau Twins
RJP: I’m not a big book reader. That’s for Pat. I do like to keep up with current world events (including Germany) by reading The Economist every Friday when it arrives at my house. I think it’s pretty fair and always interesting.
GD: Herman Hesse’s Steppenwolf . ..and I’m not just saying that because this is a “german interview” and I thought that that might impress you! The book resonated with me profoundly when I read 15 years ago.
PK: Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance – Robert M. Pirsig
Franny and Zoey - JD Salinger