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Quarkspace interview with Paul Williams

First a psychedelic collective in the 1980s, Quarkspace grew up to become one of America's best space rock outfits from the 1990s. The group's albums have all been released on drummer Paul Williams' Eternity's Jest label and can be split into two categories: the "real" albums and the Spacefolds series. The latter chronicles the group's evolution by quickly releasing improvisations played at rehearsals. Quarkspace spawned a number of spin-off projects, the main ones being National Steam, the Ashtabula County Spacerock Big Band, and Church of Hed.

Their music is mind expanding and it was a great pleasure talking with Paul Williams of the band.

Quarkspace has been around for quite a long time. When did you start playing together and how did you get to know each other? Were you from the very beggining interested in "space" rock?

Quarkspace started in the mid 80s at the University of Dayton. We were first known as "Quark!" - I lived in Columbus at the time and Darren was in my class in college. His brother went to UD and knew Jay Swanson, Chet Santia and our original bass player, Kevin Wherry.
Those guys with Darren had formed Quark. One day in class I was wearing a Yes t-shirt, Darren saw it and struck up a conversation. The fact I was a drummer came up, and he asked if I could play Yes - I told him I could. They were having problems with their current drummer, so they brought me down for an audition when he was away for a weekend. The first song we played together was Camel's Lady Fantasy. Jay and I especially hit it off, since I could drum along with all the Genesis keyboard parts he knew.

Dave Kezar's back porch sometime in 1985. — with Darren Gough, Chet Santia III, Paul Williams, Kevin Wherry and Jay Swanson.

We also spent some time doing improvisational space jams. That form of telepathic communication was always apparent. Our interests included space rock, but more from a general psychedelic angle. Hawkwind's Quark, Strangeness, and Charm was in the early repertoire, but that was more of a nod-and-wink to our name, which had more to do with sub-atomic physics than Hawkwind. Pink Floyd, the Grateful Dead, and Canterbury bands like Soft Machine were always more of an influence.
We played a lot of college parties during this era, and also had a weekly gig at Dayton's Canal Street Tavern. A typical set would include about half covers (Floyd, Neil Young, etc.) and half of our own material (songs and space jams).

What was the original concept behind Quarkspace? Did the concept change during the years of recording new albums?

Quarkspace itself came to the fore in the mid 90s. The members of Quark had always stayed in touch and jammed together throughout the period we weren't commercially active. Chet moved in Columbus in 1994 and we started writing material -- some of it electronica-based -- and quickly got Jay and Darren involved. We decided to release CDs, formed Eternity's Jest Records, and added "space" to our name to stave off any potential trademark lawsuits from the folks behind the Quark word processing software.

Our basic concept since then has remained unchanged. We enjoy spacey improvisation combined with songwriting and electronic loop construction. Our "normal" albums feature the 3 in almost equal proportions. The Spacefolds series chronicles the best improvised material than didn't quite make a normal album release. Over time the Spacefolds releases have gone from cassette to CD to digital only as we've experimented with formats over time. We sell a lot more music on iTunes and Amazon compared to CD these days.

What are some of the albums that influenced you?

Too many to list here! Floyd's Meddle and Wish You Were Here stand out for all of us probably. King Crimson (mostly from 1973 onwards). Early Grateful Dead like Anthem of the Sun and Aoxomoxoa.  Peter Gabriel with Genesis and his early solo releases. Yes from 1971 to 1977. Gong's Flying Teapot Trilogy. Soft Machine's first four albums. Any Neil Young album.
Modern influences include The Orb's 90s output. Stereolab's Mars Audiac Quintet and Emperor Tomato Ketchup. Massive Attack's Mezzanine.  (of course all of those albums are at least 15 years old now!)
Personally, I am big Peter Hammill fan, so any of us 70s albums as well as Van der Graaf Generator. Seeing the quality of VdGG's recent albums is definitely an inspiration for us moving forward. If three 60 year-olds can make some of the best music in their career after 2010, there is no reason for those not as old to slow down!

What do you think about the current "space rock scene", if I may call it a scene…

The U.S. space rock scene was better when the Strange Daze festivals were happening and Alien Planetscapes was still in the game. Losing Doug Walker was a tragedy, frankly. There are still good outfits doing good work, but more in their own cubby-holes these days.

We never set out to be a Space Rock band. That label was placed on us by the folks who first heard our releases and then we hooked up with the Strange Daze festivals so we became part of that scene. We are a psychedelic band at our core, but with a forward-looking aesthetic drawn from prog, electronic, ambient jazz, etc. We don't mind the label for the most part -- we do use outer space scenes in our artwork -- especially the Spacefolds releases -- but we think the alien thing is pretty clichéd.

Your music is mostly about improvisation especially on album Spacefolds 5, which is 70 minutes of trippy space rock. How does this sessions look like and where do you recorde albums?

Any time we get together to record at least 60 percent of the time is taken up with improvisations. We used to record in my studio in Ohio and now we record in my studio in Kentucky.  The rest of the time is spent chronicling older improvs to see what might be releasable and working on composed material.

All the albums are self-released, right?

Yes, we formed Eternity's Jest Records to release our music and have never tried to get signed to a record label, although we get asked from time to time. We wouldn't be opposed to licensing our music to a larger label for a box-set retrospective or something like that, but it is not like we are actively recruiting anyone.

How about the fan base? I'm most certain, you have dedicated fan base, where your fans can follow you, cos so called "space rock scene" does not have many bands…

Yes, we are consistently surprised about the dedication of our fanbase, which is spread out all over the world. I was looking at our Facebook page stats the other day, and the most popular region for us is London, England.

There is another very interesting project called CHURCH of HED, led by you. Would you like to tell us what is it about and what are the main differences from Quarkspace?

Church of Hed is what I work on when there is no Quarkspace on the docket. It tends to be slightly more electronic and less dependent on improvisation than Quarkspace because it is only me, although I do rope some special guests into making an appearance from time to time.
I've released two albums so far. The first self-titled is a psychedelic electronica release and the second one, Rivers of Asphalt, is a musical travelogue down today's Route 66. The "road" being a nice metaphor for a musical journey -- not unlike a lot of Space Rock. I am slowly working on a second Rivers of Asphalt album -- this time headed down the Lincoln Highway - America's first transcontinental road.

Drug consumption to travel with light speed?

Quarkspace enjoy strong beer and quality footwear! ;)

Quarkspace's Node in Peril album has wonderful comic made by Matt Howarth and it looks to me like a nice concept. Would you like to tell us more about this album?

Yes, Matt is a big fan of ours and he approached us with the concept of Node in Peril. We took some of our best improvisational work at the time, combined with a couple instrumental and electronic pieces, and fit those to his storyline and comic art.
It is a great package and everyone should buy many for all their friends!

What's currently in plan for the band?

We are focused on finishing All These Suns, our next real album - the first since Drop. It has been taking way too long to complete the three songs on the CD - lyric writing, vocal recording - the things we don't usually spend much time on compared to improv. Since we are on a slight creative impulse with writing even newer material, the stuff on All These Suns is starting to clog our output port, so to speak. So we really need to finish it, so we can start the next one. We want to release it later this year, but it may end up being 2014.
At the same time, we have begun to chronicle the improvs for Spacefolds 13 and will get that out to folks in the late Winter/Spring of 2014.

Did you ever consider releasing your music on vinyl?

Not really. We are attuned to the weaknesses of the CD format, but vinyl has its own set of sonic problems. We tend to always look forward from a technical standpoint, so an 8-track release is probably as likely as vinyl for us! ;)
What we do consider is a possible BluRay release, maybe as part of a retrospective, since BluRay offers a high-definition audio format that surpasses good ol' 16-bit CD.  I always weep when I have to dither our 24-bit mixes to 16-bit before releasing them, let alone MP3 quality!
Maybe Steven Wilson will want to do a surround sound version of The Hidden Moon. Ha!  (We played with Porcupine Tree in 1999 or 2000 in Cleveland. It was fun. I love his surround work on the King Crimson albums and am waiting impatiently for his surround mix of Hawkwind's Warrior on the Edge of Time to arrive at my house!)

Thanks for taking your time! Would you like to send your message into the space?

Thanks to you for this interview. We always appreciate the chance to get the word out to folks. Rest assured that Quarkspace continues to travel the aural regions in search for our best music between the ears.

Interview made by Klemen Breznikar/2013
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