Scott D. Brown: I’ll let them introduce themselves.
Andy Simpson: Hi, I’m Andy Simpson.
Gerry Madden: Gerry Madden
SB: How did you guys end up meeting?
GM: I was in a band, basically that was coming apart. As it happens I was looking around elsewhere to see what else was available out there.
SB: What was the name of the band?
GM: Valkyrie. Andy had a radio advertisement on the Bear (106.9 – the Ottawa rock station) that sounded interesting. It sounded like a different sort of a challenge. I called him and he explained what he wanted to do. I went over to see him in Carleton Place and we hit it off.
SB: So this was in 2002?
AS: This was 1996. This is a little over 8 years ago. I was working on a musical at the time, that I had been writing since grade six. I was still in high school at this point when I placed the ad. I was trying to finish up this musical based on the novel Robinson Crusoe and I was getting desperate at the time to find a co-writer to help me with this stuff. So I just, as Jerry said, placed the ad on the Bear and a couple of weeks later, I was doing homework at the time, when the phone rang and I got the call and it was this guy [pointing beside him at Gerry].
SB: The ad was more for Robinson Crusoe rather than The Fork [Gasm’s debut album of 2003]?
AS: Yes, The Fork hadn’t even entered my mind yet. We really intend to finish up the Crusoe piece within the next year and a half.
SB: And that will be under the Gasm name?
SB: And that will be similar to this one [The Fork] a Rock Opera?
GM: Yes, I can imagine all the future projects we’ll be working on will pretty much be Rock Operas.
AS: Yes, we’re big into concepts and big shows. I mean Jerry coming from a background that likes the big ‘70s shows such as Kiss.
SB: Like Arena Rock?
AS: My favourite band is Queen. So you have the two bands and we like to make the two worlds collide.
GM: Andy is, as well, very big into musicals. He is very big on the concept albums of previous artists. The Who’s Tommy for example; …Jesus Christ Superstar by Andrew Lloyd Webber etc.
AS: Yes. I’m big on Styx right now.
GM: He has his phases.
AS: I do. Styx is my artist of the month let’s say.
SB: But that’s way back in ’96 [when the two met]?
SB: You [looking at Andy] were thinking that you were going to be working on something towards Robinson Crusoe.
SB: And then you guys decided what?
GM: Well we had, he had the lyrics. He started plotting out the story for Robinson Crusoe. We lived a considerable distance apart. I lived in St. Pascal, which is just past Rockland. So, the first year or year and a half was more or less just seeing if we would gel and if I could add something. He had the words basically done and I was going to just add the music. Well that’s pretty much how it works and I think there was some difficulty not only in the distance but just starting a project like this.
GM: So I was well aware of this and then some other things happened so I decided to move back into the city and get busier in the music area. Since I was in closer to Andy we started to work a lot more closely together. At that point it was the spring of ‘98. He came up with this idea for The Fork, which was, based actually on an old Valkyrie song. It just kind of blasted in from there. I guess we wrote it for a good couple of years or so. [Then they went into the studio as money permitted over the next while and recorded it. It was released it in 2003].
SB: Now, there’s a female singer on the album. Her name is Christine Sacks, right?
SB: Now, is that a mutual friend or did you hire her?
AS: Christine and I go way back. Just about as far as Gerry and I. Our parents knew each other from various work places and stuff I believe. Christine and I ended up working together at Lanark Children’s Haven which is a Summer Camp for children who have disabilities and behavioural issues and this is why the CD is promoting the camp and supporting it. Actually, Christine wasn’t our first choice for the female role. We had another person who I also worked with at LCH. Her name was Jeni-Lynn Closs. We pursued her and pursued her for virtually the entire recording process but again schedules never clicked with us so we got Christine at the last minute. She had ½ a week to learn these songs.
SB: So you heard her sing before?
AS: Yes and that’s why we knew she would do a good job.
SB: Now Scott Cameron does most of the guitar solos, right?
SB: I remember him way back going back to the early 90’s with Sinister Sam am I correct?
AS: Yes that’s correct.
SB: And then they ended up changing their name to Shunt if I remember correctly right?
SB: So how did you end up convincing him?
AS: Scott and I, as you mentioned Sinister Sam, I found out about them about ’92-‘93 and Gerry heard of them throughout the Ottawa area because they were getting big, so big that a record company down in the States were thinking of signing them but then the deal fell through. Scott owns a local music store and I met him down in Carleton Place.
AS: SRC Music, those are his initials. So when I saw Shunt finally at Zaphod’s with Gerry a couple of years ago I was in awe of his guitar playing and I said if I ever get the chance to work with Shunt at the time I would love to do it and this was a dream come true to work with a member of Shunt.
SB: I haven’t heard of anybody from around here now I’m no expert on Ottawa music but I haven’t heard anyone play as good as him.
AS: He is a very exciting guitar player and we are very glad he was on the record.
AS: Yep, he did it as a favour to a fan of his.
SB: Now we end up taking some songs like “Over the Ocean” that is like a manipulation of My Bonnie and the “Ant’s Theme”, which is another manipulation of I, can’t remember, the counting song or something right?
AS: The ants come marching one by one…. it’s the same lyric.
SB: So how did that pop in your head?
AS: Well the story takes place in the Second World War and I was just thinking. I was reading up on my history on WW2 and the ant theme came into my head and on the album the ants are a representation of the Nazi’s or the SS just mindlessly going about their duties and not really having any minds of their own. So that’s what that song always said to me even before writing this stuff because when I was taught that song as a smaller child I remember having nightmares about these people just like zombies not having any brains in their heads. That’s what the song always said to me. So I just put the ants in place of the Nazis. “Over the Ocean” came about when I hear a treatment of “My Bonnie” done by the Beatles before they became famous. I came across a bootleg of them in their early days doing “My Bonnie” but strangely enough it found its way on the German Hit Parade which I found kind of funny. I said well I’d like to a Beatlesque version of that song and I put my own lyrics to it and it worked out great.
GM: Yeah some of the songs I think that are just public domain just seemed to have lent themselves well to the storyline and the record, which is one of the reasons why we used it.
SB: The last song on the album is an Irish traditional song, “Johnny We Hardly Knew Ye”. Tell me about that.
AS: It was back in 1998, spring of 98, St. Patrick’s Day when I was, when I got the idea because I heard when I heard the Clancy Brothers.
AS: The Clancy Brothers and Tommy Makem performing that very song because Irish music is very big in our family around St. Patrick’s Day. I was listening to the story of the song itself and said, “Well, here’s a good story to write a song around.” So, I just wrote the story around this one song.
SB: So, basically the song is about a guy who goes over to war and comes back and he’s missing an arm and a leg. Some of the extras on the CD like the whip, how did you end up creating that sound?
AS: That was sampling.
SB: That is like a manipulation?
SB: You recorded the whip and then sampled it?
SB: How about, it sounds like a bombing raid siren that you would get in London in WW2 you know that sound?
AS: Again that’s sampling.
GM: We just recorded it once and then looped it. In particular the buzzer is very nice.
SB: In the near future in the next year and a half you’re going to get Robinson Crusoe done and you’re also working on side projects. Are you working on any side projects?
AS: The project that Gerry and I are actually working on right now is a station, The Fork, has a musical for next year. This is a Rock Opera so the next generation or the next step for it will be to stage it. So what we want to do is, we want to get a theatre company interested enough to take this on and produce it. That’s what we’re working on and also next year is the 60th anniversary of the end of the Second World War. It is where this story takes place. So, we thought if we could get something staged by the end of next year for the anniversary. Wouldn’t that be cool? It would be great timing.
GM: We’ll have the story; we’re starting to work on the storyline for a stage production for now and hopefully we’ll be done for next year. We’re thinking of having the First Community Choir try out and maybe have a trial run. If it goes well with them, because they already seem to be interested in doing it, then if it’s a success we’ll approach other groups to start other productions of it.
AS: Right. So that’s our next step for this and as I said we’re going to be doing two CDs simultaneously starting in December. So recording sessions for the next two Gasm’s recording will start in December and Gerry has Scarecrows going on.
GM: Yep. My main project I guess you could say. So we’re pretty busy with that.
GM: This year we’re taking the time to promote this record a lot.
SB: Where is it available?
AS: Its available all over Carleton Place, SRC Music, Temptations, Radio Shack, The Music Store, which is 86 Judson Street in Carleton Place.
GM: Of course you can always get copies from Andy or myself, you have Andy’s email address (email@example.com), if anybody in town needs to get a hold of a copy you can contact Andy and Andy will contact me and I’ll get it to them.
AS: You can also get it through the website. We just put the website put up a few weeks ago. (www.gasmproductions.com). The singles are all on there and again my email address is there if you want to contact me for copies.
Gasp! GASM dated: July 2004
You know that little voice inside your head that lets you know when you’re in danger of going too far; the one that keeps you from eating that fourth piece of cake, for example. Well, the boys of GASM either don’t have those voices or else they couldn’t hear them as they rocked out in the studio creating their double-disc debut The Fork.
You have to admire the enthusiasm and energy required for this project. The dynamic duo, Andy Simpson and Gerry Madden, wrote almost all of the music. Gerry did most of the lead vocals*. Andy handled the drum programming and other percussive duties and he was also responsible for the production. This is where Andy really shines, because he managed to assemble quite a line-up of additional talent including the multi-talented Kirk Armstrong on bass, guitars and synth pads, and guitarist Scott Cameron whose solos add real fire to several songs.
With all of that creative spirit it was obviously tempting to incorporate all of the musical ideas that surfaced into the final product, but I think a little judicious pruning and editing might have been in order. Several of the songs have repeated phrases or patterns that after three or four repetitions become a little tiresome to the listener. There are also a few weak songs that do little to advance the overall concept of the CD which could have been cut to make the album stronger. That said, there are plenty of solid songs that show the potential of this dynamic duo.
And speaking of potential, Andy and Gerry have even bigger plans for this project including staging it as a musical. In the meantime, The Fork is available in Carleton Place at SRC Music, Temptations, Radio Shack and The Music Store (86 Judson Street) for $17, with some of the proceeds going to Lanark Children’s Haven.
- Rob Riendeau, theHumm*Andy did most of the lead vocals—correction.
CD REVIEW GASM: THE FORK
by Scott D. Brown
Gasm is a collaboration between two men. Andy Simpson and Gerry Madden. They met through an ad placed by Andy on the Bear radio station. They began work on a musical version of Daniel Defoe’s Robinson Crusoe. But, as with many groups who find their creativity leading them elsewhere, this project was abandoned for what was eventually to become The Fork.
The Fork is a rock opera concept album. The concept is a war story centered on a young man (Johnny) who becomes a soldier in the army of WWII. With a love story intertwined in the action, this 2 CD opus is an ambitious effort for the group.
Realizing that they would need help to complete this project (Gerry and Andy sing and Andy takes care of the drums, drum programming, kazoo, and most of the effects), they elicit the talent of Scott Cameron (of the band Sinister Sam/Shunt) to play guitar, Caleb Brassett to play the harmonica, Tom Joron and Christine Sacks to add their vocal talents, Kirk Armstrong to play bass, electric and acoustic guitar, and Joe Glutrz and the Amazingly Huge Little Big Band to take care of the rest.
There are many pitfalls that are unique to a concept album and The Fork, unfortunately, doesn’t avoid them all. The main problems concern the restrictions the artist will feel on his creativity. The theme (or concept) must be followed throughout the work. This leads to cramping when writing songs and repetition when composing the music. The cramping and repetition is extremely difficult to avoid. The Wall, one of the great albums in this category, doesn’t even accomplish it totally (see “Another Brick in the Wall” part one, two, and three). But the more the artist can transcend these restrictions, the greater the album will be.
Many of the tracks on this album fall into the repetitive category. The second disc, with “Outro,” “First Attack,” and “Second Attack,” are the most obvious. But it isn’t the repetition or the occasional lack of inspired lyric writing (although these contribute), it is the choice of a few songs which it the overriding downfall to this album.
The inspiration for the album was an old Irish anti-war song. The song, “Johnny, We Hardly Knew Ye,” is easily recognizable by most, but not necessarily by the title or lyrics. Somewhere in the past the song was converted into a children’s counting song. Everyone should, if they were taught grade school in Canada, recognize the song “The Ants Go Marching.” The original (which is the last song on the album) tells of a man named Johnny who loses his limbs in the war, and because of it, the town hardly recognizing him on his return from the battlefields (or even knowing him that was as he left as a very young man). The inclusion of this classic in the opus was perfectly sound as it finishes the album succinctly. But the inclusion of the children’s version (“The Ants Theme”) which finishes the first CD was too much. Although you can come to understand why it would be (remember the restrictions an artist is under when looking for inspiration) as it is a simple way of describing the army of Lither (The name Andy gives Hitler). But with it, and other songs learned in childhood included on the album (“Over the Ocean” a re-working of “My Bonnie,” and “Army Life” a re-working of “Gee, Mom I Wanna Go Home”) you see a lack of creativity in the selections.
Even if the inclusion of the above mentioned songs follow the theme and were put there not as filler, even if they were included because the humour they create in the listener somehow reveals the madness of war (we must laugh or lose our minds for the atrocities we witness), or even if they were added on a whim, when judging whether the songs make the album better, we always must return to the listener and his enjoyment. Although these songs, firstly, bring a smile to the listener’s face, they do not hold up over repeated listens. After playing the album a few times, these songs are passed over in order to get to the original creations on the album. There are only so many times you can hear a song that you learned in childhood by rote before it drives you crazy in the head.
The highlights to this album are threefold. First is the obvious hard work Gasm put into this creation. They used more than just the standard instruments (guitar, bass, and drums) to expand the sound and move the story forward. Sound effects such as a lashing whip, sirens, screaming crowds, a steam train, machine gun fire (through the use of a drum machine) and the spacey feel at the beginning of “Sixteen Memories” all add to the enjoyment. The use of harmonica and on one song, a kazoo, furthers this expansion.
The second is the voice of Christine Sacks. Her soprano or mezzo-soprano voice is a delight to listen to. The songs that she appears in (she plays the role of Enid, the love interest to Johnny) are best songs on the double CD.
The third highlight is the guitar playing of Scott Cameron. With years of experience (in the hard rock band Sinister Sam/Shunt) and talent just oozing out of his fingers, Scott is a pleasure to hear solo.
Overall, this album is quite enjoyable to listen to when you program your CD player to skip the childish songs. The concept of the album was grand and Gasm mostly succeeded in accomplishing its mandate (esp. with the intimate songs concerning Johnny and Enid).