Multiinstrumentalist Robert Berry has rewoken his old band 3, the Emerson Lake & Palmer-follow-up who released the album The Power of Three in 1988, and along with Keith Emersons last contributions as a songwriter we now have the so called 3.2, currently releasing the great The Rules Have Changed. Stargazed Magazine sent Berry a couple of questions about this new album, collaborations with a keyboard legend and the difficulty of sticking out in the current music world.
Robert Berry in his studio (picture Dave Lepori)
The press release calls your new album The Rules Have Changed a “reboot” of the 3-album To the Power of Three (1988). What makes it a reboot and not a sequel, or at least spinoff?
Good to meet you hear and thank you for your interest in 3.2. This is a very interesting question and the first time I’ve been asked that. To tell you the truth, I have waited 30 years for a follow up 3 album. The band went our separate ways in 1989. I released my album Pilgrimage to a Point in 1992 that had my ideas for a second GTR album and a second 3 album on it. We had learned so much from our recording process and our tour that I believe we really knew what we should be doing next. But it didn’t happen. 27 years later Keith heard our newly released 3 Live in Boston. He was so thrilled with how we sounded and how we played that it made it possible to start working on the second follow up album. Yes, 27 years later. I guess it’s right in saying a reboot as it was dormant for all those years to everybody but me. But a sequel – well this album is the album that is what 3 should have done for a follow up. It was well planned, it was based on our growth over the years, and it was based on a long working relationship and friendship. It was a continuation of what, who and why we were a band. A sequel to me is a remake of the same concept with some plot changes. This was a continuation of the band excited by our knowledge and growth.
You play every single note on The Rules Have Changed. Is it because you are so good with every instrument or just because it’s more comfortable not having to compromise with other band members?
Another interesting question. First of all I don’t like to highlight the fact that I play so many instruments. It is important to me that the album stands on its writing, its performance, and as a complete body of work. That said, it does not take somebody to be “so good” on their instrument to make great music. In fact, a lot of recordings are done by musicians that have their own style but aren’t considered virtuosos. As far as not compromising with other band members, that is a tricky thing to do for sure. But what band members bring to the table is their own, unique piece of the pie. No matter what differences they have, or what likes they have in common, it gets all stirred up and becomes what it becomes. I love that process but this was a different situation. Keith and I had started to work on the album and after 3 months he died. At first there was no way for me to even consider doing it without him. My 27 year old dream had been shattered. After about 6 months I had the idea to have Keith’s son Aaron possibly do it with me. That would be a fitting and honest tribute. Aaron wanted to do it but after he heard a song he gave a little laugh and said that he didn’t play like his dad and that was definitely his dad’s style. And yes, I made the mistake of sending him a really hard song that Keith and I had worked on. But that is what got me excited to start working on the album again. Even though Aaron wasn’t going to do it I had revisited the material and I realized what a great start we had. I had to sit down and really think this through. Who knew the sound, the style? Who had written and recorded with the band enough to know how it had developed? Who had felt that there was always a reason to revisit this style, this sound, this format? Well there was only two people. Myself and Carl Palmer. I had spoken to Carl and he was totally dedicated to his ELP Legacy as he should be. He is the last surviving member. Even Cozy Powell is gone. Seems very strange doesn’t it. 1 guy left from one of the worlds greatest bands. I’m getting side tracked here – – so out of respect for our vision and our already partially recorded music I decided that I would give it a go on my own. I like to say I’m capable. I’m no Keith Emerson but who is. I struggled and I worked for a year to make this the greatest effort that I could ever do and hopefully represent Keith with an album he would have been proud of. So much of him is in this album. I must tell you though that I didn’t finish it thinking I would have it released. I finished it to complete the dream. When it was done I struggled again with the thought of it going out to the public. It took a few very key people hearing it and commenting on what they thought to give me the confidence that I had done the right thing and it should be released.
Being the sole remaining member of original 3, did you ever consider just calling the band “1”?
Again an interesting question. You are on it! You may not know that Carl Palmer was the drummer in 3 and he is alive and well and as I said above he is totally dedicated to his ELP Legacy band. They are terrific. I’ve seen them twice and the band is not only great but Carl is playing better than ever. If you want to see one of the worlds great drum solos treat yourself to one of their shows. In the beginning of us planning to do the 3.2 album Keith had wanted to call the album 1. He’d say “not one, but 1”. That didn’t seem right to me but I didn’t want to start discussing a title before the album was near completion so I just let it go. As I was trying to decide if I was going to start working on the album again one of my influences was that number 1. It was kind of eerie in a way that he had wanted to call it that. And then I decided, 1 was the way it would get done.
You have released a whole bunch of solo albums throughout the years. Why is particularly the 3-album getting a follow-up, and how come this is not just another solo album?
I always said that I had one more really great Progressive Rock album in me. I didn’t do it just to do it. I waited until I could do what I would consider my Sgt. Pepper’s, a reference to the Beatles ground breaking effort. I wanted to do it with Keith Emerson and that dream was coming true. It was cut short but the dream was still possible. I always look for what I can accomplish tomorrow. Always looking forward. It took awhile to get over the loss but at the turning point I was determined to make this the best album I was capable of. Not a solo album, but one that every minute of every working hour on it I would say to myself “what would Keith do here?” That guided me to complete this as the partnership I feel it is.
Most albums that flirt with AOR-sounds today uses a lot of modern tools, such as autotuning and digital compressors. As a producer, is it hard to get such a organic and pleasant sound these days as you have gotten on The Rules Have Changed?
I have spent so many years learning my trade. I do it 5 days a week in the studio and I tour with the Greg Kihn Band and continue to play live as much as I can. I have a state of the art recording studio that has a real Yamaha grand piano, a real Hammond B3, a real top of the line DW drum kit. Marshall, Vox, Fender, Ampeg Amps, more than 100 guitars of every kind, all the great synths going back to the MOOG, Kurzweil, Korgs. And I have an old analogue board with vintage mics. I want the real sound of instruments and the scapes and crunches that go with them. Everyday in the studio I am playing those drums, guitars and keyboards on clients songs. I learn something everyday and I share what I have previously learned everyday. I believe that is why this 3.2 album feels and sounds the way it does. Performance and tone are very important to me.
Although you have played and produced everything, former 3-member Keith Emerson is named songwriter. Did you two sit down and write the whole thing together, or is it more like you have used his piano tracks as a base to go on and create the actual songs yourself?
It really started much differently. After I had negotiated with the record company we started working on material together. It was different than in 1987 because phone technology has come so far. Geez, was there even cell phones then? We had a cassette tape of some music we didn’t use back in 1987, Keith had sent me some very good digital files with cool keyboard parts on them and we spoke on the phone with each of us having a digital piano in front of us and playing ideas back and forth. I would put those ideas down on my ProTools at the studio for us to clean up later. Keith’s digital files didn’t have any really good complete songs but they had lots of incredible Emerson parts on them. Stuff we spoke about using for intros, link sections, etc. Back during the first writing is was me who did the melodies and the lyrics and this time wasn’t any different. Keith was our arranger. Great chord structure and hot playing were his trademark. That’s the same way we were working now it’s just that we could do it in our own home locations. After he was gone it was up to me to finish the verses, the choruses and tie it all together. I did write a few songs later that he was not involved in as we only had 5 ready.
You are releasing your album through Frontiers, a label that provides many, many albums in melodic rock-projects. Although The Rules Have Changed is far more progressive, aren’t you afraid that it will get lost in the ocean of melodic rock-projects?
It has been a concern but it seems that the album has an organic reach that is really amazing. My biggest fear is maybe what will happen with your readers. The fan base of some magazines and webzines is mainly hard rock. There are lots of fans for that and rightly so. What happens when they all of a sudden come across a more musically involved album is pretty much give it a slap in the face and either ignore it or give it some bad comments. I totally understand that but it is important that journalists as yourself know who will be looking at it, actually understand this music, and try to guide people to why it’s important to the world of music. I can tell you know progressive rock and I’m sure you understand my point here. How to guide the readers that only like hard rock is another problem that I can only hope is handled by people that care. I do think that 3.2 has taken on its own life and will stay on listeners minds for longer than the average Frontiers release. It seems that every week there is something great coming along. During the pre-repease period it was number 1 on Amazon for 3 weeks. Week one of release Amazon sold out by 12:00 that afternoon in every market. The next week the album entered the Billboard charts. I have been consistently doing interviews for the last 3 months and there is a new batch ramping up right now.
Will you make more 3.2-albums, or are you going to go further on and make a 3.3-album in the future?
The name of the band is based on two things. First off, it is the band 3 now done by 2 people. The second meaning and the one that meant more to me is like in software language, the band 3 version 2. Funny enough when there are record shops carrying it they don’t know what to file a band with a number for a name under. That happened on the first one too. Some record shops and collectors file it under ELP. That’s a nice place of honor. I am so totally dedicated to this album and the last possible partnership with Keith Emerson that I can’t really imagine doing another one. This is the last chance I will ever get to have those great phone calls, those mostly funny jokes, the great playing over the phone that inspired me to go further than I ever had before, and a dream of doing a follow up album with my most famous friend. No, I can’t imagine doing another one that could ever be this good and this important. One important thing that has happened is that there is interest in a world tour early next year. I am looking forward to trying to make that happen. The plan is to go from South America all the way to Russia. Holland must be in there somewhere right? LOL
The Rules Have Changed was released on the 10th of august and is currently available through Frontiers Records.
Berry with Keith Emerson