ProgArchives Interview
Torodd Flugelstag interviews Bill Noland; April 2010

PA: First of all, please tell us how Eccentric Orbit was formed. Which bands were you influenced by and why did you choose that name?

BN: Eccentric Orbit was a project I started working on in about 1997, mostly as a compositional exercise that gave me the opportunity to play bass in a context with no guitarist. I was influenced strongly by bands like Anglagard, Nuova Era, Anekdoten, and others who were rediscovering the classic ‘70s Progressive Rock sound in the early to mid 1990s, as well as classic Progressive Rock bands like ELP and King Crimson.

In 2000, I met Mark Cella at NEARFest. He was there with his business, M&M Music, which was based in Massachusetts. By that time I had almost enough material for an album written, but no musicians to play the music. As it turned out, Mark was a drummer, and he knew a keyboard player, so that chance meeting really started the first incarnation of the band.

When we started working on the music, it quickly became apparent we wouldn’t be able to play the music live as a three piece, so I suggested adding my wife, Madeleine, to the band. She is a classically trained saxophonist, and my idea was that she could use a MIDI-Wind Controller to trigger synth sounds, as well as play supporting keyboard parts. That was an attractive idea to the rest of the group, and so she was added as the fourth member, and this experiment with the Wind Controller has worked out wonderfully.

The original name of the band was Satellite, which fit with the space/science fiction oriented titles I had come up with for the songs. Of course, in 2003, the year before our album came out, the Polish band Collage changed their name to Satellite and we needed a new name. We thought of lots of things but my suggestion of “Eccentric Orbit” just seemed to fit the music.

The band’s original keyboard player unfortunately left while we were recording basic drum tracks, so Madeleine and I contacted Derek Roebuck, who we both knew when we worked at Berklee College of Music and he was a student. Fortunately, Derek was interested and recorded all his keyboard parts for the album before he too departed for personal reasons.

PA: Let's go straight to your only album to this date; please give me your (long or brief) thoughts and lowdowns on Attack of the Martians from 2004.

BN: Given the circumstances of changing membership and a very tight budget to produce and press the CD, we were pretty pleased with it. The songs were meant to be fun and engaging. We tried to establish some good rock grooves despite the multiple time signatures and mood shifts. Another of my writing goals was to make instrumental music that was as compelling as vocal music. It’s obviously up to the listener whether this succeeded or not, but the album definitely reflects the elements that I value and that get me excited about Progressive Rock; and very much does not include the elements I’m less fond of.

PA: How was the sales and the reactions from the prog scene on your album?

BN: We definitely achieved our goals for the CD. We have sold out our first pressing of 1,000 copies, and only about 50 of those went out as promotional discs. I think we will do a repressing of 500 when the second album comes out, just to keep it available; but I don’t imagine we will sell another 500.

Reactions to the CD were quite positive. We received good reviews in websites and magazines and quite a bit of airplay on internet radio stations, which still nets us a few sales each year. I think things would have been different had Derek not left just as the album was finished. We would have been able to play some gigs and I think that would have increased our profile in the Progressive Rock community. As it is, I think we’ve been largely forgotten except by those who really enjoyed the album, but that is understandable, as we’ve been quiet since the album was released.

PA: Eccentric Orbit has been compared to Emerson, Lake & Palmer. But how would you describe your music and sound?

BN: ELP were a huge influence on my writing, as were King Crimson, so comparisons like that are totally valid. That said, I don’t think we really sound like either group except in a broad sense. I think we are a little more rhythmically direct and keep things a little tighter in terms of composition than these other bands.

It may not be as obvious, but I was heavily influenced by the band Rage Against the Machine at the time I was writing the earliest tracks, like “Star Power” and “The Enemy of My Enemy.” I liked the directness and power of their basic sound and tried to capture some of that spirit in a Progressive Rock context. My use of distortion on the bass comes from this influence.

PA: You are currently working on a second album and I gather this is not smooth sailing. Please give us the story so far of this recording and the p roblems you have encountered.

BN: It took years after Derek left the band to find a replacement keyboard player. We did perform one gig in Lowell, MA with a keyboard player who worked with us for a brief while, but his other obligations made it impossible for him to stay in the band. Finally, having exhausted all reasonable avenues trying to find a keyboard player, I talked with my good friend Tom Benson, who plays violin, guitar, and other instruments about joining the group. He and I had worked together on the Gentle Giant tribute projects back in the 1990s, so I was familiar with his playing and the types of music he enjoyed.

The issue was, he wasn’t a keyboard player, so we had to re-orchestrate the music to fit electric violin (which he runs through a multitude of effects) or synth guitar/mandolin to see if it would still sound good. The experiment was a huge success, and we have largely redefined the sound of the band without losing the key elements, but it took a while to fit all the pieces together.

Once we sorted out the new line-up, we started working on new material, much of which Tom and I are composing jointly. This met with excellent results as well, but was very time consuming, as were the rehearsals while we worked out ideas as a unit (something we did not do on the debut album). A little over a year ago, my father became ill and passed away, and Tom’s wife’s father passed away shortly after that.

Then, just as we were getting back on track in mid to late 2009, disaster struck. Our drummer, Mark, contracted a fast-moving and devastating cancer, which took his life in March 2010. Obviously, this pretty much shut us down for some time. We are just now getting back to the process of completing the album. We have a guest drummer finishing the parts Mark had not completed and hope to have the album out late this year or early next year. We also hope to find a drummer to be able to play some gigs when the album is released.

So, it has been a rocky road indeed. This band has always faced obstacles, but Mark used to say, “it’s a project that just won’t give up.” It will be hard to move forward without Mark, who was critical to the band from both a musical and a business sense, as well as being our great friend. But I know he would have wanted us to continue if we have the energy to do so, and I think we do. So we’re going to give it our best shot.

PA: Your first album was released by the band. Is this the plans for the next album too? 

BN: Yes, that is our plan. I’m not sure having a label would make sense for our band. I might contact a label or talk to some of my friends whose bands are on specialty labels in the Progressive Rock market to see what kind of deal we might get, but it’s unlikely it would make economic sense given the numbers of we're likely to sell.

PA: Is any of the members in your band involved in other bands?

BN: Neither Madeleine nor I are involved in other musical projects. Tom plays in various theater groups and has played with both rock and folk bands in the past, but is not presently involved with other bands.

PA: Anything you want to add to this interview?

BN: Thank you for contacting us. It’s nice to know there is still interest in the band, and we appreciate the support of websites like Progressive Archives and the fans who enjoy our music.

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