What does it take to make it big? In the music business it’s the million-dollar question. There are countless bands through the years that put out records hoping, if not for stardom, for at least the chance to make a decent living playing music. From time to time as I peruse my record collection I come across a record that begs the question – why didn’t this band make it bigger?
I was barely a teenager in 1979, but I already listened to a wide variety of music. I had my own discoveries and of course I liked some of what was popular on the radio, but I was also open to the music my father would bring home and he brought home a lot of records. I’m not sure how he discovered music back then but I remember he came home with a copy of a self-titled debut album from a band called Aviary. I was a big fan of Queen at the time and to my ears Aviary were a close cousin – albeit much heavier on the synths, more progressive if you will. The word “pomp” gets used a lot when describing Aviary.
I listened to Aviary a lot – along with some of the New Wave/Punk bands that would be the demise of acts like Aviary, but I hadn’t actually heard the record for decades until I put it on recently. As soon as “Soaring” began I realized that for me this record stands the test of time, it is a perfect collection of piano-based art-rock. After a bit of searching on the good old internet I found that Aviary had released a second album “Ambition” in 2003, although in this case all the material was recorded in the late 70s. I tracked it down and was pleasantly surprised, it is also a strong collection of progressive rock – with a just a little less “pomp” than their debut. I was curious to catch up and find out what happened.
Singer, songwriter and keyboardist Brad Love was gracious enough to fill us in on the details.
It has been 35 years since the debut Aviary record was released, does it surprise you that the band continues to spark interest?
Yes it does. I am surprised people find this album with so much music out there. It is easier to access music with the internet today but it also means there are a ton of choices too. So yeah, I am happy to know that it has held up over the years.
When Aviary was released in 1979 – it seems to me that music was at a crossroads at the time with punk-new wave, disco and radio-friendly 70s pop all fighting for radio play – do you think it is easier for bands to be heard these days then back in the late 70s where radio might have been the only medium?
I think the competition for people’s ears is still just as fierce, just different now. It is more spread out, radio is still important but so is the internet and YouTube videos, movies and TV. They are all avenues that are used today. So yes, maybe it is easier to be heard today but you still have to have something that catches peoples ear. There is a ton of music at your finger tips but there is a ton of garbage too.
Aviary gets compared to Queen a lot, perhaps because of the vocals and prominence of piano, but there is much more going on – what were the band’s influences?
I think it is the harmony/chord structures that were used. The difference between guitar based writing and keyboard writing is quite different. Mercury was a singer and a piano player, his songs were based around classical harmonies because that is what comes naturally to a piano player. Adding the jazz element to piano is extra spice but is still very different than guitar style writing. For me I write on the piano and use classical influences. I am still in love with the piano, there is so much to discover.
What were the lyrical influences?
Mostly the Beatles I would have to say. They were the biggest influence on us lyrically and in song writing. I know that is a fairly standard response but the Beatles were an over whelming influence across the board, kind of like what Beethoven was to the classical world.
Aviary’s debut album received critical acclaim, what was the record company support like? Was there a tour, single released etc.?
Well as you mentioned before, music was at a crossroads. The public was moving away from progressive music. The record company support was strong at first but rapidly faded when no hit appeared. Punk/New Wave was all the rage at this time. I remember opening for the Knack in LA and seeing the screaming audience they had, that was definitely not a good place for us to be. Kind of like our tour with the Stranglers, what a disaster that was. Aviary was a ‘sit and listen’ kind of band, head banging was not what we were about.
How did the end come for Aviary?
The Stranglers tour was a big part of it. but I think it was that our 2nd album didn’t fit the current music scene well enough. Management was not pushing for us anymore either, he had decided to go with the new wave sound too.
Why wasn’t “Ambition” released until 2003? Were the band members involved in the release?
Ambition was a ‘demo’ recording the Aviary made after the first album was recorded. It was done in about 3 days, mixing and all. We were at the top or our game you might say. There were 15 songs or more and I had the master 2 trk so we put together a ‘new’ album with it.
You put out three solo records over the years, including a solo piano album in 2008 – what else have you been up to? What about the other members?
Doing some writing but mostly working on live performance. I am practicing with a 3 keyboard set up, piano, organ and synth. Seeing if I can play all the keyboard parts and sing at the same time. It’s the kind of stuff I really enjoy doing, thinning out the keyboard parts to just what is needed and pushing the lead vocal. The new songs we are doing I plan to sing with more of a full voice then the earlier stuff. By ‘we’ I mean Toby on guitar, my brother Doug on bass and myself. The drummer is yet to be decided.
Aviary has played a couple of shows in the past few years and the Facebook page hints at new recording (there were even rumours of a new record in 2008?) – how did the band come back together and why didn’t it happen in 2003 with the release of “Ambition”?
One of the main reasons we did not get back together at that time was because I was living in Texas. I was there for 18 years. 3 years ago I moved back to CA and we started working together again.
Are there any newer bands recording today that catch your ear?
I hear interesting stuff all the time but I rarely know who it is. I like a lot of things, sometimes I wish I was a bit more picky. But has anything really changed my world? Not really, don’t even know if that is possible now. All I know is that we are surrounded with music, it is everywhere all the time.
What’s in store for the next couple of years?
Seeing what we can do with this new material. There is a new album in the works now plus another in the wings you might say. Don’t have any idea what people will think of it but I am having a good time with it.
Thank you so much Stephen for asking about the band, we are still alive and kicking so watch for the new stuff and let me know what you think.