He may not know it yet, but An Endless Sporadic whiz kid Zach Kamins is fast becoming a prog prodigy. The genre needs new blood to keep it, well, progressing, and to take it forward; Yes aren’t going to cut it for much longer, and Rush’s now barren tour schedule says it all. Hell, even Dream Theater don’t have time on their side any more.
So where does prog’s newest torchbearer blaze his trail? Inside a home studio in California, it seems. Multi-instrumentalist, composer and leader Kamins wrote the tracks for An Endless Sporadic’s latest album Magic Machine in his house before recording across the world with a host of guest musicians, from Jordan Rudess to The Flower Kings’ Roine Stolt and Jonas Reingold, to bring the rainbow of musical colours inside his brain to life.
It’s a pretty all-star cast for a musician who hasn’t even turned 30 yet, and only recently graduated from Boston’s Berklee College of Music. And the album is a sparkling, whirlwind affair, with instrumental prog and fusion married with cinematic orchestration and avant-garde freak-outs. It is, quite simply, breathtaking at times.
It’s the second full-length from An Endless Sporadic, with the project unleashing their debut self-titled affair in 2009. Magic Machine, however, is more mature, with landscapes vaster and its sound more radiant. It feels traditional yet wholly contemporary, and should place the group firmly in the big league.
“I would say it’s way more detailed and produced than the last album,” Kamins says down the phone from California. “There was a longer period of writing before actually finding all the right sounds, and there was organising all the players and incorporating live strings, woodwinds and brass. I still very much like the last one, but I definitely have grown a lot since then.”
The album’s recording was a truly global affair, with the studious Kamins racking up the air miles to oversee his guests tracking the tunes. Former Animals As Leaders tub-thumper Navene K laid down drums in Oakland, while Reingold recorded bass in Vienna. The other players, including Sleepytime Gorilla Museum’s Michael Mellender, cut to tape in California.
“I think going through that process, having breaks from studios and taking it to different environments, kind of refreshes the situation. You start coming up with newer ideas,” Kamins says.
There are at least 30 instruments used throughout the album’s 10 tracks, with strings giving Magic Machine an engrossingly triumphant, cinematic sheen. And there are, um, lasagne trays too. What prog record isn’t complete without some kitchenware?
“Michael Mellender collects all kinds of metals and scraps to play, and I asked him to bring some of that stuff to my session. One of his friends worked at Pizza Hut and they had these trays they used in the buffet for lasagne, so we just thought it would be fun to use them.”
The jewel in the crown when it comes to Magic Machine’s guests is arguably Dream Theater keyboard player Jordan Rudess, who lent his golden touch to the songs Sky Run and Through The Fog.
“I met Zach when he was a student at Berklee, because I was introduced to him through a person we were both working with,” Rudess says. “We stayed in touch, and I’d seen him at some music conventions. He was asking me to play on his music for a while, and I thought, ‘You know what, he’s especially talented, and he’s very nice, so I want to support him,’ and that’s how this came about.”
Rudess might be one of the biggest and busiest names in the scene, but he isn’t afraid of helping out rising musicians like Kamins, particularly when the future of prog is at stake.
“I love seeing a young person who continues to carry the torch for prog rock,” he says. “There are not that many people who have that kind of talent out there, so if I can lend a hand in any way, I’m always game for that.
“The thing with prog is that there’s one part of it that tips the hat to the 70s, and then there’s the other part of being progressive, which means pushing it forward,” he says.
“Every person who plays in the arena of prog has a different take on that. Somebody like Zach is obviously able to create those colours that can hit those magic triggers in our brains – the Genesis trigger, the Crimson trigger – but he carries it to a different place. And he’s done some really cool stuff on the piano and keyboard – I might be out of a job next time!”
Kamins, who met the keyboard maestro five years ago, adds, “Having Jordan on the album was a dream come true. I’ll never forget this one time when he came to LA to do a clinic, and I asked if I could take him out to lunch. I was driving in my car, and we were going to a deli and he was jamming on his iPad. It was really crazy for me, because I’m so used to listening to Dream Theater in my car, and then all of a sudden the wizard is in my car playing. To finally be on the same recording as him is so, so cool.”
An Endless Sporadic, now essentially a glorified solo project, have been in existence for over a decade, despite releasing only two albums and one EP. It all sparked into life in 2004 when Kamins moved to Houston before spawning music with drummer Andy Gentile.
It wasn’t through non-stop touring or a label deal that the group first enjoyed big attention, though. Instead, it was computer games that brought Kamins’ work to a global audience, with tracks featuring on popular Tony Hawk and Guitar Hero titles.
A speculative email to The Flower Kings’ Roine Stolt led to the guitarist producing An Endless Sporadic’s debut album, with Kamins and Gentile jetting off to Sweden to lay down the tracks.
Releasing a full-length record was a long time coming for Kamins, who has spent the majority of his life with music on the mind. It was almost destiny. “I’ve been playing since I was about three years old. I’ve always liked playing things by ear on the piano since I was little. I really enjoy music – it’s really as simple as that. There’s no other motive.”
Kamins cites the likes of Dream Theater, Porcupine Tree and Sleepytime Gorilla Museum as influences, but he extracts inspiration from a plethora of acts to concoct his own, new sound. He makes music he would like to listen to that’s never been heard before.
“I am influenced by a lot of prog bands,” he says. “A lot of the technical unison guitar and bass riffs and mellotron and organs scream prog, but there’s definitely other things in there that came from a completely different place, from being influenced by very different music.”
Kamins majored in film scoring at Berklee, and you can tell. Magic Machine is a kaleidoscopic journey through grand orchestration and epic, uplifting storytelling. The opening attack of The Departure wouldn’t feel out of place on a Hans Zimmer soundtrack, while Agile Descent simmers with Storm Corrosion-esque majesty.
Another influence in Kamins’ musical melting pot is the Beach Boys – a little ironic, considering the instrumental An Endless Sporadic are devoid of the veteran group’s trademark vocal luminosity. That could be all about to change, though.
“I’ve always wanted to find the right time to add vocals,” Kamins reveals. “First off, though, I’m not really a vocalist. I can sing back-up harmonies, but I haven’t really taken the plunge to try to sing myself.
“If there is going to be singing, it’s got to be someone who I know will stick around for a while. Once you put a voice on to a recording, it is a very distinctive thing that people get used to, and that’s way harder to replace than a guitar or a keyboard. I guess I’m just waiting to meet a singer that would fit this kind of music. I’m definitely very open to it – I would love to write big harmonies.”
Don’t expect the next album to land any time soon, though. It’s unclear what exactly the future holds for An Endless Sporadic. Somewhat criminally, there’s no live band to take the project on the road, and with Magic Machine out of the way, it seems that TV and film scores will now take priority. Either way, it’s clear Kamins has a massive future ahead – even if An Endless Sporadic are going to take things slowly.
“There’s absolutely nothing in the pipeline – it’s kind of a blank page,” Kamins frankly admits. “I’m just going to put this record out and use it as a way to navigate to the next idea and the next plan. There isn’t a band in place to play live shows right now.
“I’m just going to see what the future brings. I’m always going to be working on music, and looking for ways to present that music. But right now, the plan kind of stops at the album being released, and the music being out in the world. And that’s that.”
Magic Machine is available now. For more information, see An Endless Sporadic’s website.