The Maestro’s Tale

 

“Prog Rock is the science fiction of music.” – William Shatner


 

Seattle quartet What Strange Beasts charge headlong into the maximal on their debut LP The Maestro’s Tale. Most artists might shy away from the idea of releasing an hour-long, single-track opus as their introduction to the world at large, yet What Strange Beasts have managed to weave an entire, unique melodic world out of their shared vision. A hero’s journey wrought in synths, solos, and stacked vocal harmonies, The Maestro’s Tale serves both as a declaration of intent, and a portent of a majestic career to come.

On Halloween, the venerable Benaroya Hall in Seattle shows Alfred Hitchcock’s Psycho accompanied by the Seattle Symphony. One fateful evening Aaron Kremer (Bass, Vocals) and Jonathan Maxwell (Drums, Vocals) attended with a mutual friend. Post-performance conversation turned to music, and soon enough they were jamming their way through the inevitable big dark of Pacific Northwest winters together. With the addition of Benjamin Ruby (Keys, Vocals) Cat, (Guitar) the lineup was complete mere months later.

They began cementing their internal synergy playing together in the second-floor loft of the 1908 barn-turned house that Maxwell was living in at the time. One night, Eddie showed them the beginnings of a song that would become “Up In the Air”. The work on the song started an idea for a concept album, and soon after the group had a vision for a complete cohesive LP drawing from their improvisational session.

“We would break off, add little bits and pieces on our own time,” explains Ruby. “It was like a bus that we were building, piece by piece, while it was already driving down the road.” “Often a song would be born from a single idea, a piano phrase, a bass line or guitar riff, with everyone contributing to each other's ideas, fleshing them out into full compositions,” elaborates Kremer. “The writing process is unlike anything I've experienced before, and quite wonderful.”

Although the record is designed to be enjoyed front to back as a continuous landscape, the band came to that decision organically. “The songs formed naturally while we jammed” says Ruby, “but they seemed to slot together with a stunning kind of serendipity.” Once they had their epic composition complete, they decamped to Stone Gossard's Studio Litho and the rarified ears of producer Don Gunn (Peter Frampton, King Crimson). Joining the band for the sessions were cellist Alisa Milner, and horn players David and Thomas Marriott.

While The Maestro’s Tale paints a majestic portrait, at its core the record is a testament to the universality of life experience. As Maxwell puts it, “That’s the incredible thing about music. A hundred folks might each take something different away from these same songs, but those insights are what connects us. This record is a bit of an adventure, and no matter who listens, I think there are things in there that are going to speak to their journey."

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What Strange beasts