LOBATE SCARP: "I wanted to make a record that inspires creativity, self-confidence, and encourages people to keep living their truth"
Californian proggers LOBATE SCARP caught my attention a few years ago thanks to a friendly reco. Having been following them since then, their last year's announcement of a new record being in progress left me with high anticipation. Now, their opus "You Have it All" saw the light of day on May 6th, 2022, offering a mesmerizing musical journey in the veins of classic prog acts.
Welcome to follow me to Los Angeles, where we meet with Adam Sears for a chat about the band's history, the album's topics, and its beautiful artwork. Read more here:
Hey Adam, thanks for making time to answer my questions. How are you today?
I’m fantastic. Thanks for having me today.
Could you please introduce yourself and LOBATE SCARP to our readers?
I am Adam Sears - vocalist, keyboardist and creator of LOBATE SCARP, a progressive opera-rock band from Los Angeles, California. In the studio we’ve been working with a bunch of guest artists, but the current official band is myself, Andy Catt (bass), Peter Matuchniak (guitar), Evan Michael Hart (drums), and Christina Burbano-Jeffrey (violin).
You just released your wonderful, second album “You Have It All”. How do you feel about it, and how was the reception so far?
Thank you! I am extremely proud of it. Our goal was to make an album with an exciting listening experience from beginning to end, and also something that would be better and more ambitious than our debut. I definitely think we succeeded and have also stepped it up a few levels!
It’s been unreal to have some of my musical heroes on board as guests, like Ryo Okumoto, Billy Sherwood, Jon Davison, Jimmy Keegan and Eric Moore, and to have one of the best mixers of prog-rock - Rich Mouser - involved again, who co-produced and played many instruments!
Not only does it blow my mind that the album happened the way it did, but I’m flabbergasted at how great the reception has been so far! We gained a lot more fans, and have also pleased many fans of our first album.
That's awesome, and well-deserved :-) Let’s take a look at the beautiful cover artwork: What can you tell us about its origins, and how does it reflect the album thematically?
David A. Hardy did our cover. He's known as the oldest established space artist in the world - His first piece of art was published 70 years ago!
The artwork of "You Have It All" is actually a revision of a cover David illustrated for "The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction" in 2013. It was for a story called “Shore at the Edge of the World”. I came across it while scanning his work for inspiration, and it just spoke to me. He was very happy to make a few changes, mainly to make the woman appear younger.
The vibrancy and openness of the cover expresses limitless possibilities, and to place a person in there as well, it becomes more of a personal, internal idea. Also the woman on the cover with the nautilus symbol reaching up into the sky full of stars can be an expression of Mother Nature and the natural order of the universe. I don’t know if any of this was David’s original intention, but it seemed to fit with the main themes of the album.
Could you dive a bit into the album’s topics / concept with us, please?
Although it’s not a real concept album, I wanted to make a record that inspires creativity, self-confidence, and encourages people to keep living their truth. The truth, as in whatever makes YOU happy, not anyone else. Some of the lyrics were written before quarantine, but much of the album also during this challenging time, and so themes like isolation, self-doubt and feeling stuck ended up being a big part of this album, which in turn made all the positivity and encouragement topics much more impactful.
If there is an odd man out, it would be “Our Test Tube Universe”, which has more of a sci-fi flavor than the spiritual themes, but it ties into the questions of why we are here or how we came to exist.
What I enjoy a lot about your sound is the appearance of real strings, mandolin, diverse rhythm instruments amongst others, and not only their “digital pendant”, which is also obvious in the variety of great guest musicians you took on board. Could you tell us a bit about your writing and recording process, please?
Usually I’ll write the melodies of the vocals and instruments, some rhythmic riffs, the basic beat / groove, and a first draft of the lyrics. I'll record some demo in which I play keys, bass, or program virtual instruments. Then I bring it to the band to rehearse it, and embellish any parts of the song that need it.
The recording process was quite different on a few of the songs. We definitely wanted a solid foundation for all the tracks, so I made tempo maps from the demos, and for four days over at The Mouse House (Rich Mouser’s studio), we tracked drums with Jimmy Keegan on “Our Test Tube Universe” and “Life-Line”, and Eric Moore on the two epics “You Have It All” and “Flowing Through the Change”. Since “Conduit” is a jam piece, I wanted it to feel like you’re listening to a live show, so we setup a live session in the studio.
Steve had the idea to record most of the synths at this vintage keyboard studio called Red Rover Recording. They had about 50 synths from the 70’s and 80’s, and we spent 4 days there getting amazing sounds. Then we recorded guitar, bass, and vocals at Steve’s studio (I Create Sound) over a period of several months. After we had all the main parts, we went back to Rich and filled out the rest of the tracks with the string quartet and additional instruments. Even though I wrote the gist of the songs, the tracks you hear on the album are a highly collaborative effort.
“You Have It All” was also made possible thanks to successful crowdfunding. What kind of experience was this for you (also regarding being an independent artist)?
I’m so grateful that we have companies like Indiegogo and Kickstarter to help us independent artists to create the stuff we want to create. But at the same time, it was quite a struggle for me to complete this album, mainly due to the high quality production I intended to make. In 2016, I had enough money to do one track, so we did “Beautiful Light” and launched a Kickstarter campaign, asking for nearly the whole budget of the album. We got about half that in pledges, but because Kickstarter is an all-or-nothing platform and we didn’t hit our goal, those pledges didn’t become actual donations.
In 2019, I tried Kickstarter again asking for less this time, and we still didn’t make the goal. But I felt I needed to release something, and because I received some generous independent donations, and had a little of my own money saved up, I was able to make the Spirals and Portals EP. I ended up being glad I did, because that EP carried the momentum to get people interested in the full album.
After two failed Kickstarter attempts, I decided to instead go with Indiegogo, where you can do flexible funding, which means every contribution becomes an immediate donation, so it’s basically a pre-order campaign. During the pandemic I didn’t go anywhere and saved up a lot, so I was able to ask for the very minimum it would take to mix and master the album, and any extra contributions would help to off-set my own spending. The project became even bigger than I expected and I went way over the original budget. I feel like the James Cameron of prog - Haha.
So in one hand, it would have been nice to have a label just pay for the album, so I didn’t have to struggle so much to get it done, but if I went that route, there’s no telling if it would have been the same project I wanted to make. Having no pressure by a label’s deadline, we were able to really take our time and make something we were happy with. Also if I went with a label, it’s always possible that I wouldn’t see any monetary return on the album, although at this point I spent so much, it will still probably take a while before I come out on top. It’s definitely a “one hand / on-the-other-hand situation”.
Let’s take a look at the core of LOBATE SCARP with a little time-trip, please: When and how did you guys get together?
How many pages do you have left in this interview? haha.
We got the endless expanse of the internet... So keep them coming ;-)
The band basically formed through happenstance: Way back in 2003, I had some LOBATE SCARP songs written, and thought it would be fun to make a demo. Soon after I moved from Chicago to Los Angeles, I met this guy Andy - not my bass player, a different Andy - who was huge into prog, played keyboards, and had his own home studio, so he suggested that we go over to his place and make a demo. He had friends in mind that he thought would be perfect for this project - Hoyt Binder on guitar and a bassist named Skip - and I brought in my friend Dustin Prince to track the drum parts. Hoyt and Dustin also became part of the official line-up when we played our debut live show on my 30th birthday - May 9th, 2006.
I met Steve, Andy (Catt), and Dustin through our mutual friends Ben Eisen and Shannon Hurley. Andy has been our bass player ever since I saw him at a show he was playing with Shannon, and Steven would eventually become the producer of the first three official LOBATE SCARP releases - "Time and Space" (2012), "Spirals and Portals" (2019), and now "You Have It All".
We’ve been through many line-ups over the years, especially with several string players, as they often get paid gigs, which almost always pay more than I can. Peter Matuchniak joined as our new guitarist a few years ago, when we were just looking for someone to play a fun local show called "Burbstock". He really dug the material and has defined much of the guitar sound on the new album.
Awesome :-) How did you come up with your band’s name, and is there a deeper meaning behind “Lobate Scarp” for you?
Back in 2001, while I was performing and touring with an a cappella group, Blind Man’s Bluff, I had written some songs that would eventually become LOBATE SCARP music. We took an excursion to the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum in D.C. At the "Apollo to the Moon"-exhibit, there was a display which read that some astronaut said he saw lobate scarps on the moon, and it just hit me! Perfect name for my band! I didn’t know what it was, but later looked it up and saw that "lobate" meant lobe-shaped or irregular, and "scarps" were ridges or slopes, which reminded me of sound waves going up and down.
Since it was a space term, and the music would be little spacey at times, it just all made sense!
Let’s talk about LOBATE SCARP live: What was your most memorable show so far?
Well RoSFest in April is the most memorable, because it just happened, so I remember it quite well, haha. But seriously, it will be very memorable always for a number of reasons: It was our first time out of California. We had a brand new line-up with Christina and Evan, who just joined the band a month before the show, and Steve, Rich, and I were all finishing up the album in the last minutes to have it ready in time before I headed to Florida. Everything was happening at once, and it was pretty exhausting, but exhilarating as well! And to be the first official prog-band of the festival was just awesome, the audience wanted prog, and we gave it to them. We may not have played the most perfect show, but the audience really appreciated it, and we even got a standing ovation.
Also memorable was playing a sold out show with IZZ when they were in town, which ended up being our last show before all hell broke loose in 2020.
California is well known for being the home of many great rock and metal bands. How would you describe your local music scene? And did you notice changes over the past years?
Well, I can’t say much about other cities in California, but I can talk about Los Angeles. Even before the pandemic, lots of great live music clubs were shutting down because of high rent, being bought by condos, or other reasons. Many famous local venues that remain are pay-to-play, so promoters try to book on a band by band basis, whereas the bands may not know each other, with the fanbase not overlapping, so they can bring in the most heads. While you think this might be good to gain more fans, the audiences usually only come for the band they are seeing, or the bands might be so different from each other, there may not even be an overlap in appreciation.
When I book us a venue, I try to also get another band or two and promote it as a night. This builds a better music community. Best thing to do for that is to rent a venue, studio space, or theater and promote it as an entire show that people can come to and enjoy a few bands in one night. There are actually a lot of progressive rock bands in L.A, but the city is so spread out, and every other genre exists in the town too, so it’s just hard to create a scene. For this reason I started the Los Angeles Prog-Rockers group on Facebook, with the hope of bringing L.A. prog players and fans together.
I see. What can you tell us about your future plans?
Next up is probably an EP of sorts. I want to try to release something sooner than later, so I think an EP would be a wise choice. Also, the current line-up has the best vibe we’ve had in a while or perhaps ever, so I want to see what kind of magic happens when we create together.
I also have an idea for a sci-fi rock opera that would feature several guest vocalists playing different characters of the story. I have an outline for the story and some real basic ideas for songs, but it’s still at least a few years away from conception.
As far as live gigs, we would love to do some more festivals or do a tour in Europe - especially because a good percentage of our album sales are coming from Germany, England, France, and the Netherlands to name a few.
You'd be more than welcome here :-) Do you have any further thoughts you’d like to share?
I just want to express my gratitude to all our supporters, friends, families, presenters of radio shows, bloggers, and reviewers, who gave a little-known band called LOBATE SCARP a chance to be seen and heard over the years. I am also extremely grateful to all the artists who became part in making "You Have It All", whether it was in front of the mic, or behind the scenes. You may have not known it at the time, but you have helped create something magical and I’ll never forget it.
Also, one more thing: It’s come to my attention that people might need a little help pronouncing our name. It’s 3 syllables: LO-bait Scarp.
Awesome :-) Thanks again for your time, and these amazing insights into your work. All the best for you and your musical plans \m/