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Articles Home » Interviews » Aviary - 2003 Interview with Brad Love and Toby Bowen
Aviary - 2003 Interview with Brad Love and Toby Bowen

INTERVIEW: Aviary (Jul 2003)
Everything you wanted to know about pomp greats Aviary!
A bumper interview with Aviary's Brad Love and Toby Bowen. There's a heap of reading in this article. Have fun..

WRITTEN BY: Gdazegod (George) and OneAfterTwo (Geir)

If you've been with us here at GLORY DAZE for a few years and before that HEART of the ROCK, you'll have read about the latest album called 'Ambition' released by the much loved pomp/prog rock band Aviary. Originating out of the Washington State area many years ago, the band always retained an air of mystique about them, even years after their dissolution. Though their commercial track record was nothing to shout home about, what was worth shouting from the tree-tops was the sheer quality of their material, and they've got barrel loads of it stashed away! In conjunction with another GLORY DAZE feature that we're doing on Texan band Hobbit, Aviary are the sort of band who truly exemplify the inspiration behind this e-magazine: i.e 'supporting music from 'way back when' and being able to write about it in a historical manner'. For whatever reason (I can only suggest bountiful admiration years after the event, or the poor state of modern music right now), Aviary is still a hot topic. Interest in the band is perhaps even higher now, thanks to the wonderful communication tool that is the Internet, and also perhaps.. the timeless quality of their music.

Jumping onto the Internet bandwagon has been Aviary founder Brad Love, himself an active solo musician, and with the means and 'wherewithal' to resurrect Aviary's music. Thanks to the persistent hounding by Aviary's No#1 fan Stephen B Allen, known to many in the melodic rock community, Brad and Songhausmusic made the effort to bring the debut Aviary album out of the dim dark days of vinyl to fully remastered digital. That album, which resurfaced in 2001, paved the way for more tracks to be resurrected from the Aviary vault - the first selection of these manifesting on the 2003 release 'Ambition'. Let's dig a little deeper into the history books, and fire up the cerebral synapses if we can. Joining us for this excursion into the past is Brad Love, with assistance from his guitar-playing partner in crime Toby Bowen. So let's take a ride back in time with Aviary.

Firstly, to reiterate their classic line-up:
Brad Love - vocals, piano
Toby Bowen - guitars
Paul Madden - keyboards
Ken Steimonts - bass
Richard Bryans - drums.

Brad and keyboardist Paul Madden put the earliest version of the band together during 1974, in a town called Wenatchee, which according to the Atlas, is about halfway between Seattle on the coast, and Spokane in the east. Brad picks up the story from here: 'We both went to junior college there. We had played together in several cover bands since junior high, and decided to do something different.' That 'something different' was a band called Gak. It was the band which would lead directly to the first traces of Aviary. 'We recorded many songs and played one live concert in Wenatchee' recalls Brad. 'Tony Dart was on drums, and we had two girl backup singers, Connie Corrick and Marilee Sexton. All the music was original, it was very progressive and no song was under 10 minutes long that I can recall.'

Though Wenatchee was some way out of Seattle, the whole Pacific Northwest was a breeding ground for many aspiring acts. Of course the biggest name of the era was a certain Jimi Hendrix, who later found fame and fortune (including misfortune as the history books would show) over in England. Other significant players were the Wilson sisters and Heart, and Larry Coryell and The Viceroys. Not so well known are a couple of outfits that would have an impact on the members of Aviary. They were Bighorn and Sorcerers Apprentice. The latter outfit would go on to become another much loved favourite band with our readers - Russia. That band have been topical of late too, with lead singer Griff Stevens revving up for another bash at music 20 years on. In fact, Griff has been a busy chap of late. 'Yes well I've been talking with Griff lately' mentions Brad. 'He emailed me and it was interesting to hear from him. He is talking about recording another Russia album as you know. That would be great and like many others I hope to see their first album out on CD too!'

So, was there a connection between these three bands way back when? What about collaborative efforts? We'll let Brad explain his understanding of it first. 'We had the biggest connection to Bighorn. Both guitarist Toby Bowen and bassist Kenny Steimonts played in that band, which was how they knew each other. I met Kenny first, after he left Bighorn, he was playing in a band down in Oregon. Our guitar player at the time, Doug Schieder (another friend from the Omak area), told us he was going to California for some reason, I have no idea why. He later returned with Kenny, it seems he stopped in to a club in Oregon, saw Kenny playing and played our demo for him and Kenny traveled up to meet us. What an amazing bass player he was and musician. I couldn't believe he just showed up like that. Later, when Warner Bros Records came to Seattle to hear us play, Doug failed to show up for the showcase so we were in the market for a new guitar player. Kenny suggested Toby Bowen from Bighorn. Kenny set up a meeting with him and Toby decided to give it a try.'

'As for Russia, or Sorcerers Apprentice as they were known at the time in Seattle, they were a band we became aware of on the club scene. I am not sure how we got to know each other. We often ran in to each other and we all wound up in LA together. I worked with Russia on one song of theirs, I can't remember the name of it, Griff mentioned the name a while back but I remember putting a keyboard part on it and they really seemed to like it, at least I thought it was pretty cool.'

Now Toby throws even more light bulbs into the darkness of time gone by, the events becoming more illuminated by the word! 'I was a member of Bighorn, primarily a club band trying to play originals. We were big in Seattle. We supported Chuck Berry, BTO, and a few others. Ironically, Heart supported us a couple of times, before their record hit. Ken Steimonts was one of Bighorn's bass players who later invited me to join Aviary. We did some demos that weren't a lot to scream about. The only copy I have of that period are the songs I wrote. We did release a single that went to #3 in Yakima, WA. Rick Randle (best known from the band Striker) wrote the 'A' side, I wrote the 'B' side. I'm still building my song catalog. I left Bighorn before the LP was recorded. Bighorn fell apart, as we all do when our record doesn't sell. Lucky me, I missed that breakup.'

'Connections to Russia? I'm not sure I'd call it 'connections' as such, we were more like friends' says Toby. 'We were all in Seattle based bands, knew each other, and played many of the same places. As far as recordings were concerned, at that time, to be able to record was a dream to me, and they (Russia) probably felt the same. None of us had money for recording; a stop at 'Jack In The Box' was the highlight of my week! The places we played were bars, roller rinks, anywhere that wanted us and it was usually cold! I don't remember if we ever played together back then. Maybe Griff remembers. As far as co-writes go, none that I remember. I know Brad did some keyboard for them many moons later, but I've never heard the track. That was after Aviary and Russia were both signed and re-located to the LA area. More on that will have to come from Brad. After Aviary's return from England, I wrote some songs with Griff.'

One of the earliest tracks that Aviary came up with appears on 'Ambition'. It was recorded in 1975 and is called 'Eva's Birthday'. For some reason, this track has captured a bit of attention, probably because of its whimsical and wacky 'off-beat' humor. Apparently, Aviary have more moments of fun and frivolity, but in the meantime, Brad shares his knowledge on the background behind this one track. 'I wrote that song at a time when it seemed like I could write a song about anything. I had a purple teacup so I wrote a song starting with that and it developed into 'Eva's Birthday'. I was writing songs about flowers, old ladies, snow, fish, turkeys, drowning, and many different things that we recorded. I was discovering the world of classical music and had fallen in love with harmony and was mixing it with the rock background that I already had.'

A track like 'Eva's Birthday' proves that Aviary weren't afraid to experiment, and also showcases their great sense of humor. We ask the guys whether we can expect any further gems in this tradition on future Aviary releases, like the short and entertainingly corny 'Turkey Coup Warfare'. 'If we get the opportunity we will' says Brad. ''Turkey Coup..' is one to consider as is 'In the Field of Daisies' and the very progressive 'Sgt Friday'. These are all humorous, both lyrically and musically. At least they make me smile.'

'You should hear the other songs' adds Toby. 'I don't think the masters still exist, but I could be wrong. The period between that tape and 'Eva's Birthday' was full of experimentation. Some songs exceed 20 minutes, with multi sub-sections. Real fun to play! There are some great songs from this period, but the quality of the recordings leaves a lot to be desired. There are bits and pieces that shine through, I don't know how they would touch other people, but they touch me. As far as carrying humor through, every piece was pretty much a work unto itself and says what it says. Humor is relative, isn't it? Back to the question. I think it would cost more money than Brad and I have to clean up some of those recordings.'

Back to the material on 'Ambition'. Most of the songs come from a very productive phase of the bands career, and apart from 1975's 'Eva's Birthday', we're talking about three particular sessions: a 1977 session which yielded 'Desert Songs/Pharoahs March', 'I Should Have Known' and 'Fine Lines', a 1978 session which yielded 'You', 'Working Girl' and 'Yes And No'. The last batch of songs came from a May 1979 session at Studio City, LA: 'Hello', 'The Sun The Sand', 'Apathy', and the title track 'Ambition'. The 1977 and 1978 sessions included the production assistance of Greg Prestopino (at Elektra's Annex Studios). However, this is only the tip of the iceberg. 'You would be surprised to see how much music we do have' says Brad. 'One thing Aviary did was constantly work out new songs and record them. The songs on 'Ambition' were recorded when we had access to some really good studios, most of the songs we did before that were recorded at home on a 4 track, Teac 3340.'

I think it's agreed that most of the songs on 'Ambition' have a rawer flavour to them compared with the debut Epic release. Certainly Brad thinks so. 'The Epic release was by far the most time we had ever put into one recording. The second Epic album that we recorded in London was about as much work. All of 'Ambition' was recorded in LA, with the exception of Eva's Birthday', and it was recorded by Aviary for Aviary, just as we wanted it to sound. We could have put more work into it but we liked most of our first takes usually and felt we captured the energy the first time around. So yes, this CD sounds more raw in that we didn't spend endless hours trying to get it perfect.'

Upon reflection, the songs do alternate well. From the short, sweet and snappy, to the near prog-epic of 'Desert Songs/Pharaohs March'. I asked Brad whether this a reflection of the contrasting writing styles between himself and the other guys? 'No not really. It was Aviary doing what we wanted to do. Of course we were constantly told from 'other people' that we should concentrate on one thing, i.e. a hit record, but I guess that didn't work out.'

It was pointed out that Aviary had the uncanny ability to move between American and British styles. The latter including particular references to Queen and The Beatles as Brad confirms. 'Everyone in the band were fans of all things British. Especially Kenny who was the intellectual of the band. He loved The Kinks, The Beatles (John Lennon), Procol Harum and British bands of that era. Toby's guitar heroes were all British. I loved The Beatles of course but also bands like Grand Funk, Deep Purple and Uriah Heep, much heavier bands. It was natural for us to move between these styles and to try and mix them.'

Following on from that, we've read many times that the band have been unanimously (and unceremoniously) compared to Queen, though I reckon Aviary's musical repertoire runs much deeper than that. I suspect I'll get no disagreement from Brad on that one. 'Queen was right down my alley musically but not anywhere near as influential as The Beatles were. I guess the comparison has to do with the classical side and the high vocals mostly. If I had not studied piano, more especially the Chopin Etudes, none of this music would have happened' he says. In the main though, the Aviary instrumentation usually revolved around Brad on the piano and clavinet, while Paul Madden played all the other keyboards.

During that golden seventies era, radio was a big 'shaker and mover' among many acts of the day, and the influence of radio more than anything, helped define the sound of many bands. Despite what many would say about the current state of radio, it did, and still does play a part, even according to Brad. 'It's hard for me to imagine that radio has given up any of its power, I feel if anything it is more powerful than ever. With programming falling into fewer hands the desire to conform is as great now as it ever has been.'

In their earlier dealings with major labels, Aviary were involved with Elektra. During 1978, they opted out, and hooked up with a chap called Brian Lane, who at the time was the Manager of UK prog rock legends Yes. From this relationship came the ticket to sign on with Epic Records, resulting in 1979's self titled debut. Epic Records had many bands on their roster at the time. Kansas, Molly Hatchet, REO Speedwagon were all on their books with product on the market too. Despite that, Aviary were presented to the market/public with much gusto from the label says Brad. 'I think Epic got us out with a bang really, but there was such a change going on in the music scene at the time. New Wave/Punk was taking over the radio at the close of the seventies and we were nothing like that. The Cars, The Knack, suits, ties and short hair were the 'new' thing. From that point, Epic (and our management) gave up very quickly then, as soon as they saw there was no instant take-off, the promotion was more or less over.'

As Brad mentioned, there were many other flavours of music going on at the time (punk, ska, skinny tie, NWOBHM.. for instance). By comparison, Aviary's sound was hardly contemporary then, suggesting that the band were operating inside a vaccum, oblivious to everything going on around them. Not so says Brad. 'Oh yeah, it was all around, we weren't that oblivious. After the album was released and nothing happened you can imagine the pressure to adapt or die that we soon felt. Management made it clear, if nothing else, that we had to be more commercial. It was such a shame that we were lead in that direction.'

To compound the issue of conformity, Aviary were being told to be commercial on one hand, yet were being misrepresented to the paying public on the other. Take for instance, the bands Aviary played support for. 'Yes we opened for Eddie Money, The Knack, The Hollies and The Stranglers (??). How are those for wrong match ups? And to think we had the chance to tour with Queen and our manager thought we should go with The Stranglers!' I think if there was any 'strangling' going on it would have to be Aviary's (mis) Management!

After touring, Aviary headed to England to record the second album for Epic. With no promotional support and the musical climate ever-changing, they were dropped from the label. That second album was never released. Brad moved on, recording a solo album for MCA in 1982 called 'Colours'. There is even a suggestion that this album is another contender for reissue. Brad shares his thoughts on that album, and events going on at the time. 'It is music based on the piano and voice. These are songs that I could do by myself without a band. Paul Madden was there with me working out the synth stuff. It was meant to be romantic, beautiful, and mysterious and I think it is. I was signed to MCA by the managers of Air Supply, so of course I was hoping for a lot. Something happened between them and the label. The album was printed but not really released, or maybe it was but in such a limited way - it was hard to tell. I think it got airplay in Australia though!'

After 1982, Brad was involved with a number of interesting musical adventures as he recalls. 'After the 82 album I joined a band. There was a group I was introduced to called OXO, a pop group who had just released an album on Warners I believe and whose main writer had just quit. So I joined and we survived doing cover tunes and a few originals in clubs. We did one demo at the Record Plant and suddenly we had several labels involved in a bidding war for us. After the showcases we were all pretty excited. We had no manager and eventually I think that did us in. We could not organize a deal and follow up on anything. It sure was close though.'

'After that, Toby and I, along with my brother Doug (on bass) and a guy called Keith Miles on drums, formed a band called Artica, around 1986. We recorded probably 25 to 30 songs. We had some record company interest but not enough. I would like to put together a 'Best Of Artica' on CD some time; we had some very good stuff. During the 90's I guess you could say I was a little depressed. In 1993 I moved to Houston TX. Anyway, I didn't try to put anything together till 1995-96 here in Texas, that was when I started thinking about doing the music that eventually became 'Through another Door', my next solo album.'

How important was Troy Warren Jnr. for the recording of 'Through Another Door' and will you be working with him again for further solo projects? 'No, I won't be working with Troy again, but it was fun while it lasted. The CD was recorded digitally using Pro Tools, I certainly learned a lot about that.'

'Through Another Door' was fairly long in the making, and now that the record has been out for a year, Brad is able to reflect on the album retrospectively. 'That was a group of songs that I really wanted to get recorded. I worked very hard on them all, checking and re-checking ever single part. Now, I like how it turned out and I am proud of it, it is as good as I could have hoped for as a solo act, but I wonder how much would change if I'd worked with a band on those songs?'

Throughout the course of Aviary's history, plus Brad's solo career, there are distinctive classical phrasings, like an undercurrent through the music. It's there, but not overwhelmingly so. The ability of Brad to thread this aspect into the music takes its origin from his love of classical music. 'The funny thing about classical music, is that while I enjoy a good classical performance the real joy for me is sitting at the piano and slowly learning to play a piece of music. It is there that I feel most at home, going through a Beethoven sonata or a Chopin or Rachmoninoff Prelude/Etude and listening to the incredible harmonies in slow motion. Of course it is wonderful played at a faster tempo but so much flashes by so quickly at that speed you miss most of the harmonic complexities. When you get inside music of that quality, there is a rich and mysterious world to pull from. That's what really influences me.'

Ken Steimonts the original Aviary bass player has since passed away. We think it is appropriate to mention his name, and his contribution to the band over those years in this interview. He is greatly missed by everyone involved with Aviary. Both Brad and Toby remember him, as both a musician and a person. 'Kenny was the intellectual of the band, he gave us a place to stand so we always knew where we going with the music' remembers Brad. Toby remembers him fondly as well. 'If a band was a body of people, Ken was the heart. We all played off of Brad; I played off his right hand, Ken played off his left hand, and added it to Richard's right foot. Brad would bring in a piece, Ken and Richard would work it out, and twenty minutes later, the whole picture would take shape. They clicked like no one I've ever seen. Ken liked The Kinks, Beatles and I'm not sure who else, but I remember him being thrilled at recording in the Kinks studio (Konk) when we were over in England. Ken had a gift for lyric. His 'Russian Spy At Night' line in 'Working Girl' is a classic in my book! Ken's energy in rehearsal was misleading in as much as he'd be sitting there, looking like 'OK, what's next', then all his attention would focus on Richard and magic would happen. As a player, Ken brought out the best in everyone - he was a great support mechanism as well as a leader in his own way. Personally, he was my friend.'

To conclude this interview, the release of 'Ambition' closes a chapter on a part of Aviary's history, yet more doors remain open, and more chapters yet unwritten. With further material stashed away, is there room and potential for a third album we wonder? 'Yes there certainly is more material, at least two or three more collections of songs' says Brad. 'It is wonderful to have gotten this first collection out, because the majority of what we did never saw the light of day. Some of the most interesting and progressive music is still there along with many songs I would consider some of the best we ever did.'

Geir and George would like to thank Brad Love and Toby Bowen for their valuable contribution to this lengthy article. The two of us would also like to thank Teri McGuire over at Elan Management for making this all happen. Awesome Teri! We hope Aviary fans enjoy reading it, as much as we did putting it together! 'Thank you George and Geir, for this opportunity to speak about Aviary. Yours truly, Brad Love.'


Related Articles
Aviary - 1979 Aviary
Aviary - 2003 Interview with Brad Love and Toby Bowen
Aviary - 2003 Ambition
Aviary - 2003 Ambition (review 2)

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#1 | vinyldinosaurus on March 12 2008 19:10:32
I think I found the Brad Love solo album that is mentioned here. It's on the MCA label and was released in 1982 but, it is self titled - not titled 'Colours.' It also features Paul Madden in the player credits. Found it in the used record shop for a buck.
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