Exploring the prog community with Orsome Welles
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Exploring the prog community with Orsome Welles

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That stuff’s still out there and it still kicks arse, but modern prog tends to lean more on the metallic and atmospheric elements and less on the flutes and fringes. Australia has a very strong prog scene and Progfest is the perfect opportunity for the progressive rock community to come together in appreciation of music that steps a little outside of the norm.

This year’s event features Caligula’s Horse, Circles, Chaos Divine, We Lost The Sea, Alithia, Orsome Welles, Transience, Dyssidia, Figures, Bear The Mammoth, Qlaye Face and Enlight.

“When you’re touring you get to see how different the individual music scenes are in different cities,” Orsome Welles vocalist Michael Stowers says. “You see that every town has a different version of prog. Australia hasn’t limited itself to any one particular type of band. They’re all very experimental and are willing to put heavy metal and post-rock elements in as well.

“In Adelaide, they blend a lot of hardcore into their sound, for instance. And the more these bands travel around the more they’re influenced by the spirit of the other bands pushing the boundaries. It’s a scene that encourages you to be as creative as you want to and need to be, and the quality of the different bands pushes the quality up all the time.”

There’s long been a perception of prog as a ‘for musicians’ genre. Is that perhaps what keeps the prog community so bonded? A sort of ‘we’ve all been through the same Rush and Dream Theater phases growing up’ connection that overrides any propensity towards tall poppy syndrome? “That’s right,” Stowers says. “I think there’s that virtuosic type of thing going on, and as a singer you see someone else doing something and rather than being intimidated you’re inspired.

“There’s not really many bands doing the exact same thing so there’s no one really competing for the same space. The prog banner has become this all-inclusive thing, and bands are welcoming other bands who might have slight elements of prog but are primarily metal, or primarily post-rock. They’re all buying into the same idea in their own way and everyone wants to build as one.”

Metallica’s influence on prog is pretty clear in the power and precision of the rhythm guitars and the appreciation for melody. It’s an inspiration that Stowers regularly returns to when he’s in need of guidance. “They were one of the first heavy bands that I was influenced by,” he says. “I started singing and playing music in the National Boys’ Choir as a really young guy – and I’m actually going back to sing Vivaldi’s Gloria at the Melbourne Concert Hall in the same month I’m singing with Orsome Welles at Progfest – but listening to Metallica there’s always the debate about, ‘Are they as good as they used to be?’ There’s always a time warp when I listen to a Metallica song and I can still feel that initial excitement from the fact that it was heavy music and it was accessible. Being a singer I’m always drawn to that first, and I always loved how James Hetfield made the melodies very accessible to everyone. That’s something I try to keep with Orsome Welles. I probably sing a little differently to other people in the prog genre, not in such a higher range, and I was always influenced by that. I think if someone can sing along to your song, that’s a good thing. I want people to be involved.”

By Peter Hodgson