As a genre, progressive rock fills a large bucket. Of course bands like Genesis, Rush, King Crimson, Yes, Tangerine Dream, Pink Floyd to name a few may be obvious. But Rolling Stone has also listed Tool, Opeth and The Mars Volta among the bands that have released one of the 50 greatest prog rock albums of all time (Rolling Stone).
So what is prog rock? Well as defined by Progarchives.com, “progressive rock (often shortened to prog or prog rock) is a form of rock music that evolved in the late 1960s and early 1970s as part of a mostly British attempt to elevate rock music to new levels of artistic credibility.”
You’ll certainly find a new level of artistic credibility with Austin, Texas prog sextet Proud Peasant.
Proud Peasant play music that they describe as: “cinematic and pastoral instrumental rock, progressive rock, video game scores, with classical music influences”. That’s a handful no doubt but the virtuosity and musicianship represented here is mind-blowing.
I must admit, I was initially drawn to the band through the serious metal chops on their covers of Eloy’s Daybreak and Manfred Mann’s Saturn, Lord Of The Ring/Mercury, Winged Messenger from the Cosmic Sound single on Fruits De Mer Records. But upon listening to their debut album Flight a number of times, there’s so much more going on.
To date, Proud Peasant has released one full-length – Flight, in 2014 and a couple of singles. They’ve recently have been hard at work on Communion, the followup to Flight with a release date sometime in 2017.
We connected with guitarist and founder Xander Rapstine.
Josh Denslow — drums, backing vocals
David Houghton — guitars, vocals
Millicent Hughes — keyboards, violin, vocals
Mark Poitras — keyboards, vibraphone
Xander Rapstine — bandleader, guitars, vocals
Kyle Robarge — bass, backing vocals
How did you become Proud Peasant and what’s the story behind the name?
This is Xander. Proud Peasant was originally a project I started after I left Austin, Texas pop/rock band The Evildoers. I wanted to try my hand at progressive music, and so, PP was born in 2011. It was always intended to be an actual band, but the first album was assembled in a somewhat piecemeal fashion. Some of the members ended up moving to different parts of the country, so we had to adjust the lineup accordingly, and now we’re a six-piece, which gives us flexibility in terms of arranging.
The name comes from a painting by Jean-François Millet entitled The Angelus, which depicts two peasants praying in a field. My brother Emil actually plays in a band in Dallas with the same name. Unbeknownst to me when I stumbled upon it, this painting is where he got the name. I was struck by the painting and the connection, and I decided that if I were to make progressive music, it would be peasant music (in a pastoral vein), but with arty elements. Thinking on the alliteration of names such as Gentle Giant, I came up with the similarly alliterative Proud Peasant.
Tell us about your hometown scene…
Austin is well-known for being a music town, but the scene has been dominated by indie rock/punk, roots/blues/country/americana, and singer-songwriter music. Psychedelic music has always been big here, but progressive music has hidden in the shadows. Bands such as The Invincible Czars, Thirteen of Everything, and The Golden Arm Trio have been carrying the torch for several years, but it’s only been in the last 3 years or so that we’ve really developed what you would call a progressive music scene. The crowds are small but enthusiastic, but it seems that more and more fans of this style pop up every day. It’s definitely difficult to stand out in a city with so many musicians, but this also has its advantages.
Describe your sound as a cocktail – what’s it called and what’s in it?
Our sound as a cocktail would be a Silver Screen Jumpcut — equal parts prog, movie soundtracks, and video game scores. Sometimes we make the drink a bit strong, but which part gets the heavy pour changes from section to section.
Tell us about your live show…
To start, logistics prevent us from playing live as often as we’d like. That being said, we like to include a lot of orchestral instruments in our recordings, so this presents a bit of a challenge in the live realm. I’m a big fan of Mike Oldfield, and I was always impressed with the way he translated the orchestral nature of his early albums to a smaller group of musicians. This has been our approach in the live realm. We try to bring a punk energy to the way we play the songs live, and my guiding light for every show is: play like your life depends on it.
How does the songwriting process work?
I write the majority of the material and start with spare arrangements. Once the rest of the band gets involved, these arrangements evolve and become tailored to the strengths of the individuals. Occasionally, they end up sounding quite different from what I envisioned, but usually they are pretty close to my vision — just better. 🙂
How do you decide when to add lyrics/vocals to a track?
Up until now, we have been a primarily instrumental band, only occasionally adding non-lyrical or choral vocals to the mix. The next album, however, will be about 50-50 in terms of actual lyrical vocals. David, Millicent, and I will share lead/harmony vocals, and Josh and Kyle will provide backing vocals. The theme/mood of the song really is the determining factor on whether or not we will include vocals.
If you could pick any time to travel back to for music, where would you go and what year would it be….
For me personally, 1973 produced some of the most creative works from several of my favorite bands (Pink Floyd, Mike Oldfield, Faust, Gentle Giant), so travelling back to the UK at that point would be a dream . . .
What tunes are currently on heavy rotation for you…
The band listens to a wide variety of music, and a lot of it isn’t what you would consider progressive. For me personally, I’ve been listening to the following lately:
Magma — Mekanïk Destruktïw Kommandöh
King Crimson — Live in Toronto
Lyrian — The Jester’s Quest in the City of Glass
Kebnekaise — Kebnekaise II
If you could tour with any band right now who would that be and why?
Stop Motion Orchestra. Their music is similar enough to form a cohesive show, but varied enough to make it fun, and I think both bands handle performances with a similar approach. And they’re really nice people to boot.
If you could only bring ONE record in the tour van/bus/plane what would it be?
For me, it would probably be Red by King Crimson. I can listen to it a million times and still get new things out of it!
When you’re not playing and have some time off, where could we find you…
Hanging out with my wife, stepson, cat, and our 2 Welsh Corgis. 🙂
What’s up for the rest of 2016?
We have started recording our second album, Communion, which we hope to release at the beginning of 2017. We’re also hoping to play some more live shows in Austin later this year. We would love to play some more festivals, but time will tell if that’s a reality.