Michael Abdow – Emerging from the EtherTuesday, 10th October 2023
Guitarist Michael Abdow has been a part of the music scene in a variety of capacities for a few decades. As of late, you may have heard his work on record with outfits like Pyramid, Fates Warning, or Ray Alder’s solo efforts. He’s also delivered some fantastic instrumental records, of which he returns with his latest album Séance in Black. Combining influences across the progressive rock, metal, and fusion genres, he’s able to inject his songwriting with all the colors of emotion one would hope for to appeal to a broader audience beyond the typical guitar-driven instrumental enthusiasts. We felt the need to learn more about the latest record, his work with Fates Warning and Ray Alder, current concerns in the world, how he has handled failures in life, as well as what’s on the horizon for the future through the eyes of Michael.
Dead Rhetoric: Séance in Black is the latest Michael Abdow instrumental album. How did this set of material develop, and where do you see this set of songs sitting stylistically compared to your previous offerings?
Michael Abdow: The new album came about over the course of three years. I started writing new music as soon as I released my last record Heart Signal. It took so long because I paused the album twice to do Pyramid’s Rage and then Ray Alder’s II. In retrospect, all that time and reflection gave the new solo music a chance to mature and live with me. That’s always a good thing. As a result, I was able to connect with it on a deeper level resulting in a final product that is in every way my most self-identifying and sincere work to date. Everything artistically just fell accurately into place and feels so right. I feel like this is the first time I have a cohesive album of music that caught one of the dragons I didn’t realize I was chasing.
Dead Rhetoric: Were there specific songs this time around that took on greater transformations or evolutions from the initial idea spark to the final piece that we hear? And do you find that its challenging to construct interesting instrumental songs in a shorter, concise format versus some of the longer pieces such as “From the Silence” or “Séance in Black (Part 1)”?
Abdow: Yes, I think the title track Séance In Black evolved the most. I initially wrote Part I but then fleshed out the framework for Parts II and III. I sketched out just beats and progressions that matched what I was feeling. I then went in and fleshed out the textures, riffs, and sounds with that feeling as the guide. This was all over the course of months as I would revisit and rediscover how the song hit me. This is actually the approach I took with most of the songs on the record.
I don’t find the length or brevity of a song as a determining factor in its challenge to write. Some songs have a lot to say before they are finished, and some are very concise. They are like children emerging from the ether which I am tasked to interpret and translate. It’s very easy to know when a song is done or if it wants to keep going. I listen back and simply feel complete or incomplete.
Dead Rhetoric: How did the cover art develop for this album – is it a collaborative process between yourself and the artist to get to the final product? And what are your thoughts on the importance of captivating cover art to set the scene for what listeners can expect when they hear the music?
Abdow: The cover of Séance In Black is deeply personal. It is me. I actually posed for a photo to model the stance then sketched out by hand the concept for the artist Kiren Bagchee (KirenInDigital) to do his thing, which I love. The figure is shielding itself from the left, while the hair is diametrically being blown in that very direction toward the plight, only to form an Enzo circle of creation which encircles the figure to symbolize self-immersion and discovery. This is my experience and my séance in black. It’s artistically special in its multidimensional symbolism and apparent motion in a very simple design. Kiren really embraced and crystallized my concept.
Additionally, I don’t want people to see the cover and think of me. I want them to find themselves in that motion and find art and healing in their lives.
I don’t really see cover art as important to the presentation because I think the music defines the cover art. That being said, I love meaningful cover art in my music and so pursue symbolic imagery usually from life experience.
Dead Rhetoric: The final studio album for Fates Warning Long Day Good Night came out in the fall of 2020. Did you get the sense that this was going to be the finale in terms of studio records for the band – how do you feel about your time playing with the band, and would you be up for more live performances should they occur down the line?
Abdow: I didn’t really know it was Jim’s intention to not pursue making more Fates Warning records until after I’d interviewed with Jeff Wagner for his Fates Warning biography. I got the sense then and semi-confirmed it with Jim afterwards.
Playing with the band has been one of the highlights of my life for exactly 10 years now (almost to the day!). I love the music and the guys. Despite being a ‘touring member’, I never saw it as ‘a gig’. It’s the band I always wanted to be in, and I was and still am completely dedicated to it. I’ll always be available and wanting to tour with Fates Warning. I am also in a parallel world moving forward to continue my career as a writing, recording and performing musician, keeping my options and horizons open. I’m a lifer.
Dead Rhetoric: You’ve also worked on the last two Ray Alder solo records – What the Water Wants from 2019, and II released this past summer. How does your songwriting and playing differ from what you achieve as a solo artist, and do you feel you understand better what Ray is looking for in terms of expressing himself because of your time/involvement over the years with Fates Warning?
Abdow: It is a privilege to write with a vocalist that I am such a huge fan of. Ray’s voice is iconic and genre defining. He’s also a good friend. My approach to writing with him is to simply support his vision for his solo music. I’ve been playing with him for enough time to have a sense of where I like to hear his voice and what he responds to musically. I combine that with listening carefully to his ideas in order to write songs that I am feeling but also fit the vibe he’s looking for. We hit it more often than not and those are the songs that make the records.
My solo music naturally will be different because it is only my input and has no parameters. It’s complete freedom. However, neither approach is preferred over the other. I get to have a sound with Ray that I never would create on my own and vice versa. I love collaborating as an artist.
Dead Rhetoric: When you have the free time to enjoy music purely for pleasure, who are some of the artists and specific styles that you seem to gravitate towards? Do you purposely try to stay away from progressive rock/metal because of your work, or does that also fuel your creativity?
Abdow: I don’t shy away from anything I enjoy but I do try not to over-listen to a particular band or artist. Some are so great and distinct that I don’t want to unintentionally over-internalize their sound. My listening taste is all over the map. I love the sound of albums from the 70s, 90s and 2000s specifically. Pat Metheny, Buckethead, Alice In Chains, Liquid Tension Experiment come to mind (that’s just a fraction of the stuff I’m way into). Some of the less expected artists I love are Michael Jackson, early 90s dance music and Falling In Reverse. I do still really love instrumental guitar music. It’s not for any reason other than my love for the sound of guitar.
Dead Rhetoric: How has a failure, or apparent failure, set you up for later success? Or do you have a favorite failure of yours, and how did you end up pushing through as a greater learning experience in the end?
Abdow: In my experience, success and failure are illusions because you only ever succeed if you keep going and you only ever fail if you quit. If you “succeed” then you have reached an artificial benchmark that only lives in memory. In the past I have been guilty of judging myself against these benchmarks and many times, in my perception, coming up short, only to ask the question: “why am I really doing this music thing?” The answer always was a deep personal and metaphysical reason. So that is what I put forth; it is the music I make and the way I play. It’s a success just to exist in that way and it would be a failure to turn my back on it.
Dead Rhetoric: What concerns you most about the world that we are living in currently, coming out of a prolonged, multi-year viral pandemic? Where do you think the average person needs to spend more of their time and energy on to make things a better place for all?
Abdow: That’s a great topic to get into and a question that everyone should ponder. To quote John Lennon “All You Need Is Love”. I truly believe that everyone needs to find love in their life for themselves and for the world.
It is really that simple. It concerns me that love would appear to be lacking at the moment. Now, people might read that and make assumptions about my stance on a specific current event, etc. But I can guarantee that current events are not so easily assessed. Still, it is love that will unite and it is love that will set us free.
Dead Rhetoric: How do you see the state of the music industry in 2023 – especially for an artist like yourself? Do you think it’s easier or harder to navigate all the tools, technology, and resources that are available, given the many artists signed or unsigned vying for consumer attention?
Abdow: Honest answer is I think it’s very hard in that it takes a very special skill set that goes way beyond music to navigate the evolving world of the industry while maintaining artistic sincerity. I’ll always put the latter first and learn as much as I can about the former. In the end, I’m making extremely fulfilling music while shooting from the hip as a businessman. What I am leaving behind in my music doesn’t care if I was a famous artist or an unknown recluse. It will stand on its own; and touching even one person deeply is fulfilling its purpose.
Dead Rhetoric: What’s on the agenda for anything related to Michael Abdow for records, shows, tours, guest appearances, other band activities over the next twelve months?
Abdow: My solo trio is active in the Northeastern United States. We’ve played a handful of shows in the area and are pushing to tour but aren’t quite there yet. I’m also writing new music with one of my favorite drummers who will go unnamed until our band materializes. He’s been on some of my favorite records, and we’re set on making our efforts more than just a studio project. There’s also always another solo album coming. That’s how I explore the world.