Interview with KEN BALAGNA (THE LIGHT)

August 2000

light– Why did it take so long for you to start a band – as you conceived it as early as 1979?

Well, you must be confusing the length of time it took to release our first CD with the actual starting of the band. The band was formed in 1980. Originally, it had four members… Jeff Patterson (guitars), Eric Hoemann (drums), Chris Elvis (keyboards) and myself (bass). We all sang and we all had very high hopes of making it in the music business. Our first album release – vinyl – was in the early 80s. There are still a few copies of this extremely rare item available. Little did we know however what an enormous amount of effort it would take from that point to “make it” in the music business. Hence, the huge delay in our first CD release. Since then, there have been several member changes as there are with most groups.

– Is it hard to have an art rock band in the USA? Is there a strong following for this kind of music?

Basically, it is IMPOSSIBLE to have an “art rock” band in the USA and expect to become successful in the music business. But don’t get me started on the unfortunate and pitiful state of musical consciousness that dominates the US music scene and has dominated for over a decade. I would say over 95% of our CD sales has been in Europe and Japan. There, people appreciate and enjoy the art of “listening” to music. Being taken on musical adventures. In the US, mainstream music for the most part is image dominated. Musical, ethical and moral content have been replaced by image and sensationalism. Sad…. but true. Who ever makes the little girls scream the loudest, gets the attention.

– As I understand THE LIGHT isn’t just a name – it’s kind of a conception. But what’s the point of this conception?

Well… as the saying goes… if I have to explain it to you, you couldn’t understand… (laughs) But, basically, there’s much more to life and reality than meets the eye. Much more to God and religion than most can even begin to comprehend. We live in a world of illusions that contain the simple truths of life. To see in a dark room, you must have light. We just try to shed a little of this light and hope people will be challenged into taking a second look at their reality. Or what they believe to be reality. Plus, this is an exciting time to be on earth and we are just spreading the good news!

– How could you manage to create such a unique music – noticing that it’s quite easy to track down the certain band influence on every track?

It may not be as easy as you think. But, once again I can use light as an analogy. We see white light as unique. Yet within it are all the colors of the rainbow. Like that, THE LIGHT has been compared to many other bands, yet retains it’s own unique sound. In fact, it amazes me HOW MANY bands we’ve been compared to. People hear different things. One reviewer said we sound like BOSTON. Which we do not at all. But, that’s what THEY heard. Most group’s first CD is heavy with their influences. Even THE BEATLES’ early records had strong influences from their own idols. It’s not until the second and third releases that the true nature of a group starts to shine. I might say, that our second CD will be quite different in sound and production than our debut release. But it also promises to be equally well written and produced.

– There’s obvious YES influence in “Under The Midnight Sun”. Is it right to conclude that Steve Howe as a guitar player and Jon Anderson as both singer and lyricist were the blueprint for creating your style?

Well, it’s fair to say that YES has greatly influenced myself and the guitarist. But then again so have ALL the great progressive bands as well as the classical masters. And let’s not forget THE BEATLES! What can I say… we love to be very musical. We love great vocal arrangements. We love melody and orchestration. There are few groups who put that all together in one nice package. Consequently, you will hear similarities I think. But as I said, our next CD will begin to truly separate us as a completely unique band.

– What can you say on ASIA and especially GTR – their sound is quite recognizable for instance in “Rise To Freedom”?

Hmmm… Now that’s interesting. Cause neither of those bands have had much influence on me if at all. And I wrote the song. But, both the groups you mentioned contain Steve Howe. I think you might be focusing in on the guitar work in our songs. Michael WAS greatly influenced by Steve Howe. But I always thought “Rise To Freedom” was more of a cross between ELP and KANSAS. But see, there you go. Everyone sees different colors of the rainbow within the light.

lig– Progressive influences are understood but how can you got this folk vibe in “Rise To Freedom”?

I’m sorry, but I’m not quite sure what you mean by folk vibe. Perhaps you refer to the vocal breakdown in the middle of the song? I think being progressive is just always changing, and never being totally predictable. Throwing together several different feels or styles into the same song.

– Whose idea it was to use those Floydian sound effects throughout the whole album? And what about that GENESIS-like musical box on “Journey Home”?

Once again, this is interesting because I was never influenced by either of these groups very much. I’m not sure what “sound effects” you are referring to. And I didn’t know GENESIS also had a musical box somewhere in their music. In fact, I don’t think we do either. But if you mean the wonderful calliope phrase that permeates the introduction to “Journey Home”… that would be our keyboardist creation. I had the idea of a comparing life to a theme park/circus and John (keyboardist) had this perfect little calliope phrase that laid down the foundation to build this whole concept on. John was instrumental in producing the great sounds on the CD. And yes… I am a BIG fan of “The Wizard Of Oz”… (laughs)

– “Dance Of The Unicorn”, the only fairy tale-tinged track on the CD seems to be based on the UK’s “In The Dead Of Night”. Is it so?

Not at all. In fact I’m not very familiar with UK and don’t recall which song you refer to. NONE of our songs were based on someone else’s song or material. I’m sure a lot of that goes on, but not with us. We don’t sit down and say “let write a song like UK’s “Dead Of Night”. Sure we have our influences, but we don’t need to copy anyone to come up with original material. We currently have at least four CDs worth of music waiting for a solid recording contract.

– In the song “Said The Spider” is the line: “Why not wait for them to come to you?” Is this your vision of success to come?

No, I was just referring to the fact that in life… often if we don’t force things… things will come to us. Maybe not as we planned… or as soon as we wanted. But to let go and let things come to us is a truth of life. This idea of success and being forceful in order to get ahead is just no good anymore. It works, but at the expense of other people’s pain and suffering. Which of course is pain and suffering you have also created for yourself.

– Your new album is to be called “The Willing Suspension Of Disbelief”. What do you mean by the title?

Hmmmm…. many things. It’s basically an old theatrical term referring to letting yourself be entertained by that which you know to be untrue or fictionally created. When we watch “Star Wars”, we know it’s not real but we suspend our disbelief in order to be entertained. But, sometimes, we temporarily (and willingly) have to let go of that which we believe to be true in life in order to find a higher truth. It’s simple… but not easy.

– On the forthcoming album we are supposed to hear a female singer. What is the reason for changing a vocalist? David Downum doesn’t seem to have bad voice…

No, David has a good voice. No dispute there. But John and I have always felt a female voice would interject more compassion and emotions. Be more expressive. And perhaps make our music more accessible to a larger listening audience as well. Plus, David’s vocal range is often strains it’s limits with the melodies and arrangements. The music is just written for a higher voice. We think a female singer will add a whole new dimension both musically and theatrically. Hename is Lana Brio and she’s fantastic. Trust me!

– Who do you see as your rivals in contemporary progressive rock?

A rival is a competitor. We compete with no one. We wish everyone well and hope they win their race. But I’ve heard most of the “new” progressive bands out there and I believe THE LIGHT is clearly in a class of it’s own. Of course I’m biased… (laughs) But I believe that THE LIGHT has something to offer that no other band has to offer and I’ve always felt this way. It’s beyond music and transcends meaning. It’s well written and produced orchestral rock colored with dynamic vocal arrangements. And woven into the fabric of every song… is a message. If there is any rivalry, it’s with the none progressive bands. Commercial music is our biggest competitor because it’s what the big labels insist on pushing with their huge budgets, preventing the spread of great progressive/art rock.

– Well, what is “The Vision” story?

And “The Vision”… is a story inspired by the CD cover. Or was it the other way around? (laughs) Take care and BE the Light!

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