John Boegehold defied the gloom of the last two years by escaping into the new worlds he created on the new Pattern-Seeking Animals album. The songwriter and band founder talked to Prog in 2022 about cranking up the energy, escaping the side-project label, and steering away from the darkness on Only Passing Through.
"My cocky assertion after the first album was, ‘We’re going to put out one album per year,’” says John Boegehold, the creative engine behind Pattern-Seeking Animals, the band he formed with Ted Leonard, Dave Meros and Jimmy Keegan in 2018. While a combination of the pandemic and vinyl delays put a crimp in the one-album-a-year plan, Pattern-Seeking Animals still delivered their third record, Only Passing Through, less than two years after Prehensile Tales.
With album three, Boegehold was determined not to get stuck writing about the pandemic. “Everyone’s going to be so sick of this by the time it’s over,” he says. “‘Here’s what I wrote about the pandemic while quarantined in my house.’ No one wants to hear that right now. [In the 1920s], when the Spanish flu was done, we got the ‘Roaring 20s’. Everyone just wanted to party, go out and dance and hear happy music. I could have sat down and gotten very morbid about everything, but I just didn’t want to do it.”
This mindset demanded that Boegehold resist some of his natural inclinations. “I tend to gravitate towards slightly darker, mid-tempo things. I have to fight against that sometimes,” he says. “For this album, I thought the one thing I want to do is make everything a little more up-tempo, more energy to it, more vibrant. It’s almost as though there’s a big red knob on the mixing board that says ‘Energy’ and I crank it up 20 per cent.”
Boegehold creates detailed demos before handing the songs to his bandmates – singer and guitarist Leonard, bassist Meros, and drummer Keegan – but the final product carries the imprint of all their personalities.
“Even though I may write some of the bass parts, for example, I’ll say: ‘Hey Dave, for these 16 bars, come up with something cool.’ The same thing with Ted, I write the melodies and the lyrics, but he always comes up with different harmonies and cool parts. With Jimmy, I come up with programmed parts for the basic vibe and then when we get to the studio, I let him do his thing. I always figure, why am I going to tell these guys what to do? If I could play drums like that, I’d be playing drums, but he’ll come up with much better parts than I ever could, so what’s the point?”
Leonard and Meros recorded their parts at their home studios, while Boegehold and Keegan met up to record the drums at Rich Mouser’s LA studio, the Mouse House. “Rich has such a great set of ears and is a great engineer. The drum sounds are the best I’ve ever heard, it’s fantastic,” says Boegehold. In addition to engineering, Mouser mixes the music, an act that involves balancing the classic influences that inspired Boegehold’s love for prog against his contemporary sensibilities. “When we’re mixing, Rich or Jimmy will say: ‘I really want to make this sound like Phil Collins’ drum kit in Abacab.’ I say: ‘No old references, only references from this century,’ which is half-kidding but I’m trying to avoid sounding too derivative.”
Pattern-Seeking Animals will play at this May’s Cruise To The Edge, but Boegehold prefers to leave live performance to the other members: “I’ve never been a fan of playing live and even if I was, I’m not good enough to play with those guys.” Instead, his focus is on crafting the best record possible. “I’ve always been more of a creature of the studio; I just want to make a record that sounds really good. If you’re writing specifically for something you’ll play live, you might be short-changing the album. The vast majority of people hearing this music are not going to be hearing it live, they’re going to be hearing the album.”
Much Ado and bonus track I’m Not Alright were written by Ted Leonard, yet Leonard and Boegehold find their inspiration in very different ways. Where the former draws on his own experiences, Boegehold favours science fiction concepts and themes. “I talk to Ted about this all the time,” says Boegehold. “Ted says: ‘I can’t write right now because I’m happy with my life.’ He writes his best stuff when he’s going through a divorce or someone dying; that’s when he gets inspiration. I just always think my life is really boring, why would I want to write about it? I tend to look at things more as writing a short story where I come up with a situation and make up characters and write those into the lyrics.”
I Can’t Stay Here Anymore explores his sci-fi leanings. “I got this vision of a guy who grows up in a town that turns repressive, kind of a dystopian planet that’s getting worse and worse and the guy has just got to get out,” he says, and the concept is accompanied by a catchy melody. “That’s one of the ones where I was thinking: ‘Okay, got to keep the energy up on this album and not get too dragged down.’ It would be very easy for me to fall into a vibe like Brave by Marillion or Pink Floyd’s Meddle, where it’s slogging along but with a really cool darkness. I was trying to make it real sing-songy, like a real hook even though it’s in 11.”
The title track is a tune Boegehold wrote for Prehensile Tales before deciding it didn’t fit there, so he reworked it for the new album. “The imagery is of some guy who leaves a group of people he’d grown up with, like, ‘I’m only passing through,’” he explains. “You can take that as being ‘I’m only passing through town’, and, if you want to speak metaphysically, we’re only passing through this life or this astral plane. In Time Has A Way there’s a middle section that’s like an old 60s gunslinger ballad: the guy who goes through the old western towns looking for the woman he loved, that type of thing. I was going to try to fit Only Passing Through into that, because that’s something you’d hear in a western: ‘Only passing through, ma’am.’ I just like the different ways you can take that title.”
Despite his love for creating characters and worlds, Boegehold isn’t tempted by the lure of a full-blown concept album. “Once in a while I think, ‘I’m going to do a concept album’, then I have to slap myself out of that because what happens with concept albums is I would get two songs in and think: ‘Well, I’ve said everything I need to say, what am I going to do? I’m just going to pad everything so it fills up an album?’ I can’t do it.”
While Leonard, Meros and Keegan are all current or former members of Spock’s Beard, perhaps Only Passing Through will be the album that takes Pattern-Seeking Animals out of the shadow of Spock’s. “I still get the thing, ‘Oh, you’re the Spock’s Beard spin-off or side project’. I was never in Spock’s Beard,” says Boegehold. “I wrote with them, I worked with them on the side because I was always doing my own thing. I understand why people associate it with Ted and Dave and Jimmy in the band, but at this point we’re coming out with our third album since the last time they put one out, so I feel we’re established.”
The quartet have more than earned their place in prog’s pantheon, even if Boegehold isn’t quite sure where that might be. “I don’t even know where you’d put us, I guess ‘American symphonic art-prog-pop’?” he says. “I’m just trying to make music people like.”