Wednesday, February 17, 2016

From Sabbath to Headspace: Inside Adam Wakeman's Musical Journey

Adam Wakeman (photo courtesy of Inside Out Music) 

Currently serving as the offstage tour keyboardist/rhythm guitarist for Black Sabbath (a position he has held since 2004), British musician Adam Wakeman has performed and/or recording with an eclectic array of artists including The Strawbs, Atomic Kitten, Annie Lennox, Robbie Williams, Travis and Victoria Beckham. Additionally, he has recorded a number of albums with his legendary father (and former Yes member), Rick, an old friend of the Sabs who guested on the band's 1973 album, Sabbath Bloody Sabbath.

Away from Sabbath and his 13-years-and-counting spot in Ozzy Osbourne's solo band, Adam is an active member of Snakecharmer (featuring original Whitesnake/former Black Sabbath bassist Neil Murray and – until just recently – original Whitesnake guitarist Micky Moody) and the brilliant Prog Metal band Headspace.

In addition to Wakeman, Headspace is comprised of singer Damien Wilson (Threshold/Maiden UniteD), guitarist Pete Rinaldi (Hot Leg/Dido), bassist Lee Pomeroy (Take That/Steve Hackett/Rick Wakeman/It Bites) and new drummer Adam Falkner (Babyshambles/Dido), who recently replaced original timekeeper, Richard Brook.

On February 26, Headspace will celebrate the conclusion of a three-year journey to complete a new album with the release of All That You Fear Is Gone. The follow-up to their 2012 debut, I Am Anonymous, All That You Fear Is Gone is a true Prog masterpiece that exceeds the high expectations set by the band members' impressive résumés. Nowhere on the album is this more obvious than on the 13-minute “The Science Within Us,” an epic experience that any fan of the genre should check out as soon as possible.

This summer, fans in the UK can experience the band live at the Ramblin' Man Fair on July 24th and Fairport's Cropredy Convention 2016 on August 12th. 

The ever-busy Adam was kind enough to give me a few minutes of his time during a recent day off on Black Sabbath's “The End” tour.

This new Headspace album has been a work in progress for quite a while. Considering that all of you maintain pretty hefty schedules in this business, what were the logistics like in getting this whole thing together?

It's a nightmare to actually get us all in the same room together. In fact, the only time we've actually been all in the same room is when we shot the video and when we did our press photos. Everybody’s so busy; in this day and age, you have to be able to survive solely on making music. You have to be quite diverse in what you do and the work you take. We're all professional musicians; that's the way we earn money and put food on the table. We have to kind of prioritize other things over Headspace. However, we're all very dedicated to the band; it's just about making the time happen. A lot of the time, it will be just Pete and myself or maybe Damien and myself, working on stuff. The other guys start doing their bits in their studios, and we kind of get together in groups of two or three. It's the kind of way we seem to have developed the working relationship. It seems to work; it would be a very different album if we were all in the same room for two months, recording. That's not to say that won't happen; maybe that's how we'll do the next album. There's no set-in-stone patterns on how we're going to work; it just seems that these two albums have kind of worked well this way.

What kind of a time frame did you guys ultimately work within for this album?

We didn't really want to set any kind of deadline, really. One of the benefits that we have with our schedules is that we can work on some stuff... Damien can be working on the lyrics and melody of the tracks, and I might be away for six weeks with Ozzy, and Pete might be away for a month with Dido or whatever, and then we come back and change the things that we're not happy with. It works to our advantage that we can kind of have the time to reflect on what we've made, and make the changes. That way, it means when we come to actually finish the record, you're not going to be two years down the line saying, 'Oh, God. I wish I'd changed that,' because we've already gone through that process and changed the bits that we're not happy with. There might be a couple of slight little things you do differently, but generally we're going to be 99 percent happy with absolutely everything on there. We don't have the record company breathing down our neck; they know that what we're going to deliver is what we’re going to be happy with, so that's more important to us.

You have Adam Falkner on this album, and he's certainly no slouch. What has he brought to the proceedings in keeping the momentum going with Headspace?

Richard has been one of my oldest friends for a long time; there's certainly no spilled blood over him leaving. He had a young family and other commitments. He's music director on a few tours over in Europe where it takes up a lot of his time. He works on these Rewind festivals, so there's maybe 15-16 artists. It's essentially like having 15 or 16 different gigs going at the same time, so he's incredibly busy with that. He just couldn't put the time in; he felt really frustrated because he felt he was holding the band back and it was taking longer and longer. He eventually said, 'I'm going to have to take a step out. I don't have the time.' I had worked with Adam Falkner before, and Pete had worked with him for quite a few years of touring in America with a band, One eskimO. They knew each other really well, and he just seemed like the perfect choice, really. He's a nice lad and he's good looking, so hopefully we might get more girls at gigs! (laughs)

What is your favorite moment from the record?

I think 'The Science Within Us,' because there's so much going on in there. There are so many parts; it's going to be fun to play live because you have to concentrate with so much stuff going on. For me, that song is one of the highlights. I like the fact that there are a couple of small sort of interludes on the album that we really didn't have on the last one. This kind of took a slightly different approach, where there were supposed to be short interludes, sort of palette cleaners from the craziness. Damien started singing some melodies over them and turn them into short song passages. That, for me, is cool. I've worked with Damien nearly 20 years; I think 'Borders And Days' and 'All That You Fear Is Gone' have some absolutely classic vocal takes. If they still get the hair on the back on your neck up after you've been recording it for three years, I think that's a good sign.

Headspace (photo courtesy of Inside Out Music)

Where is Snakecharmer in all of this? You have a pretty busy schedule as it is.

Funnily enough, we were having a conversation yesterday about this very thing with all the guys. They did a gig a couple of days ago with a different keyboard player, and they had a guy called Simon McBride on guitar. To replace somebody like Micky is quite difficult because he's obviously got the heritage of everything with Whitesnake. At the same time, Snakecharmer isn't just a Whitesnake tribute band. It's a band, and the album did well. We would still pay homage to the Whitesnake tracks, but the band itself has kind of moved on quite a lot from there. We've got a new album half-written, which obviously took a little bit of a pause while we decided what we were going to do guitar-wise. Simon McBride did the gig the other day and did a great job. He's going to join the band; that's good for us because it means we've got a focus and somebody who wants to be in the band, which is good.

As it happens, my favorite Whitesnake stuff is the music featuring Micky and Neil together. In terms of the connections musicians have with one another, how would you best describe the relationship between them? Obviously, those are two players who have worked together for a long time.

They're both fantastic players, and they've been great to work with. I'll be working with Neil much more in the future, too. There's something quite special when you're playing stuff with people who have that kind of history. The first videocassette I ever bought was Fourplay, which featured four of the videos from Whitesnake. I watched that thing 'til it wore out, so that was part of my growing up. To know those guys were there and involved in the writing and the playing of it means a lot to me. It's just like the Sabbath stuff; you get a bit choked up sometimes because it's part of your history. It's nice when you work with people and they're not assholes, you know? (laugh) It would destroy me if Neil and Micky were just a complete nightmare. It would be horrible; it would ruin the memories. Fortunately, they're lovely guys; it was just time for Micky to go and concentrate on his stuff. That's what he wants to do; he might be a bit fed up with playing the songs, I would think.

You've been with Ozzy for a long time now. How would you compare working with him in his solo capacity to what you're doing now with him in Sabbath? Are there differences in how he approaches things and his way of working musically in those situations?

Well, it's very different for me. It's now, I think, 13 years that I've been in Ozzy's band. It's great; you're very involved, and he's a lovely guy. He won't tell you too much what to do, but he'll tell you if he wants something changed. That's the way that I would describe it; he lets you have your freedom. He knows what you can play; if there's something that bugs him, then he'll tell you. But he's not going to come and dictate to you what to play, which I really like because there's more of a trust in the band. Sabbath is very different, really, because I'm offstage; that's the first major difference. It's like doing a show but not doing a show; it's a very weird experience, but fantastic. I'm playing a lot more rhythm guitar through the show, which is great. I'm looking up and seeing Tony and thinking, 'I used to do play 'Paranoid' in a school band when I was 15, and now I'm here chugging along with Tony and Geezer.' That never fails to touch me; that's quite an emotional thing.

This is being billed as Sabbath's final tour. Of course, there has been a lot of reflection among fans as to what Sabbath means and where Sabbath will be in the history of music. Because you have been so intimate with the Sabbath material, what do you think makes their music so timeless and important to the history of Heavy Metal?

They're one of the few bands that can truly say they started the movement. There are a lot of bands that sort of caught on very quickly and continued it and changed things, but Black Sabbath really were there at the start. For me, I think the main reason is because it came from somewhere so genuine; they weren't trying to get on a reality TV show and be famous and not really know why. They were the guys from Birmingham; they had no money, and their way of expressing themselves was by developing their music. That was it; it was 100 percent about the music back then. They scraped about from one day to the next. You can't recreate that; it comes from somewhere so genuine. I think that is what is embedded in the music.

What has been the greatest lesson you've learned from working with Ozzy or Sabbath that you carry with you now to other projects?

That's a good question! I think you sort of learn something every tour or every gig with different artists you work with. For me, I think it's the honesty and integrity with Ozzy and Sabbath. Whatever people think of them or whatever people read or watch on the TV, they are absolutely honest people. They won't lie and say something is happening when it's not. If they are going to do something, they're going to do it unless unforeseen circumstances come along. Obviously, Ozzy can't sing with sinusitis, so things have to get postponed. I know that there's an honesty to it, which makes you feel very humbled by it all. I've worked with Pop artists where they'll know the shows aren't happening and they won't even tell you. They might have been canceled months before, but they keep you hanging on because they don't have the same value on loyalty as Ozzy and Sabbath and these sort of older legendary acts seem to have. They definitely seem to value people more, and I'd like to think I do the same. I treat people with the same kind of respect, and that's definitely something I learned from this.

From some of the other gigs, I would say the best thing my dad ever taught me was when I was about 10 years old and I asked him to show me the start of 'Catherine of Aragon' from [his 1973 album] The Six Wives of Henry VIII. He said, 'No. Go to your cassette and go learn it!' At the time, I thought, 'What a bastard!' But that's ultimately what I did; I just played the cassette over and over again until I had learned to play it. That, to me, was the best thing I ever learned from him, which was forcing me to develop my ear so that I can pick things up very quickly. That has been probably the best thing that I've ever inadvertently learned.

The other night, I went to a club in Los Angeles with a producer friend of mine, Fraser T Smith. He said to me, 'I've got some good news and some weird news.' I said, 'What's the good news?' He said, 'The good news is I don't think we've got to pay for dinner.' I said, 'Well, that's very good news. What's the weird news?' He said, 'In about two minutes, you're going to be playing with Paloma Faith on the piano.' Paloma Faith came over and said, 'Do you know this song? Do you know this song?' I was like, 'No.' She was kind of singing melodies to me in my ear while I was finishing my dinner, and we were looking on the iPhone for some quick chord charts to some songs. Then I got up and played a couple of tunes with her! That's a classic example of the lesson I learned from my dad; developing your ear means that you can be put in those situations. It's a little bit of a memory jerker, but it's quite good to do those things.

Obviously, your dad had some experience with the Sabs in the '70s, and I know they got on really well. When you first got involved with touring with Sabbath, did your father give you any words of advice or maybe some funny anecdotes from his time with them?

Ozzy's got some great stories of him and my dad from back in the day when they were recording at Morgan Studios in London, where Yes were in one room and Sabbath were in a different room. My dad would tend to meet up at the bar with Ozzy, and I think that's how that came along. They were at the bar and [Ozzy] said, 'Why don't you come in and play some keys?' Which is brilliant; I love the fact that those things happen. They used to happen a lot more than they do now, I think. My dad's always said great things about Ozzy and Sharon and Geez and Tony. I've always held them quite high in my mind as artists and people. I always go to my dad for advice on things musical, just because he's so knowledgeable and he's been around such a long time. He's a good gauge on stuff. When I told him, he said, 'Oh, they're great guys; you'll have a ball.' He was absolutely right; it's been great.

*Portions of this interview were edited for length and clarity. 


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