Robert Berry is an American rock musician and multi-instrumentalist most famous for bands such as Hush, Sammy Hagar, The Greg Kihn Band, and 3 with Keith Emerson and Carl Palmer of Emerson, Lake, and Palmer. In August, Robert Berry released the album The Rules Have Changed which also involved Keith Emerson. The album came to a halt when Emerson took his own life in early 2016. After taking some time off t grieve, Berry came back with his band 3, but rebooted it as 3.2 and released The Rules Have Changed which has the last work of Emerson before his passing. We had a chat with Berry about the album and life in general. Check out our interview:
Concert Confessions: You just released your new album The Rules Have Changed. How do you feel about completing the album and releasing it despite the passing of Keith Emerson?
Robert Berry: Hey Misael. Great to meet you and thank you for the questions. It was a dream come true for me. I hoped for 27 years that the opportunity to work with Keith again on a follow up to our first 3 album would come along. The time we spent speaking about our past, what we had learned over the past 27 years, and how to bring the sound we had developed back in ’87 into 2016 and beyond was an incredible experience for me. I knew that I had one more prog album in me. I also felt that Keith had not done much since the first 3 album except maybe the ELP Black Moon album that really showed what he was capable of and how he could still create at a high level. We were heading down that path and getting great results. Then he was gone. To say it shook my whole world would be an understatement. I had lost my most famous friend, the musical partner that I had a top 10 record with (and by the way Keith’s last charting record) and just a really sweet guy and person that I cherished and highly respected. I couldn’t go on at that point. I put it aside. A few weeks after his death I noticed that the fans that were posting on Facebook and some private emails I was getting, that people were feeling like they lost a friend. Not just the world’s greatest keyboard player and member of their favorite band ELP. They felt they knew him, they loved him, and they missed him. Even though many didn’t really know him personally. That touched me and I felt I needed to write a song that bonded together all of us. Friends and fans. The common thread of sadness I wanted to turn into the common bond of love for the man. So I wrote the song Our Bond and put it out on YouTube with many photos of Keith in a specially made video. The response was truly wonderful. People felt my love for Keith and they expressed that the song felt like it included their sentiments too. That was exactly what I wanted to accomplish. After about six months I had an idea to have Keith’s song Aaron possibly finish the album with me. He was excited but once he heard the song I sent him he said it was too hard for him. His comment that he didn’t play like his dad was not taken lightly. Of course, none of us play like his dad. He was the best. But, what that did for me is get the flame rekindled and I began to work on it again. It took me a year of struggling with the feelings, the writing, the performing of such difficult music to get it done. At the point I felt I was done I really didn’t know what I had. I was so close to it that I couldn’t tell if it was good or bad.
CC: What was the easiest part about making the album? What about the hardest?
RB: The easiest part was while Keith was still alive. We were having such a good time speaking on the phone and writing parts that way. Keith would play something like only he can come up with and I would try to mimic it on my end in the studio. I’d record those parts onto my protools system but only after some serious discussions and direction from Keith.
RB: The most difficult part was getting those damn keyboard fingerings right so I could actually play some of the keyboard parts after he was gone. To create the part seems to pour out of me. I felt Keith with me as I was working in some way. I would always say to myself “what would Keith do here”? But then once I felt I had it right and maybe even played a rough idea I would have to go back and dedicate some hours to really playing it right and adding the more complex voicings.
CC: If Keith Emerson were to listen to the album, what do you think he would think of the final product?
RB: That is an interesting question. Many people that I have been interviewed by have said things like “Keith would be proud of this album”. Or “this effort”. I always feel a little uncomfortable with that and I’m not sure why. I mean, it’s a compliment but on the other hand it is so important to me that I honor my time with Keith and I honor his genius with my best effort. I am so pleased with the response, but I don’t take it for granted that I have done exactly the album it would have been if Keith would have finished it with me. I know that it would have developed in some way that would have been unique to our time in the studio whatever that may have been. But my hope is that I have honored him by doing my best work and completing his final work.
CC: Are there currently any plans for a tour in support for the album?
RB: Yes there is. The plan for that is coming together now. I want to play 300 to 500 seat venues. No bigger. I want to play my history in prog rock starting with GTR, playing songs from Pilgrimage, music from my time with Ambrosia, and the new 3.2 album. I also have a long history arranging some well known tribute albums for the Magna Carta label. I want to do a few of those songs like Roundabout and Minstrel in the Gallery. Steve Howe actually played on Roundabout with me and sent me a letter on how much he liked my version.I want to call the tour “30 years of prog”. I also want to meet everybody, I want to tell some stories, and I want to shake their hand and thank them for supporting me all these years. We hope to be out by March or April 2019.
CC: What’s your personal favorite song on The Rules Have Changed and why?
RB: That is a difficult question. There are things that I like on all of them. Standout parts for me are the intro of One by One. Dual pianos. It’s really a grand introduction to the whole album. I still enjoy the morphing of past Emerson songs in the arrangement of Our Bond. That was a puzzle that just seemed to fall in place. I could go on and on. I like to say that I spent a year in the dark fulfilling the dream and it was difficult, fun, emotional, and most of all, rewarding. If you haven”t read the 20 page booklet you can read about the journey and how it took shape. Hard to pick my favorite song though.
CC: What is one of your most memorable moments with Keith Emerson?
RB: There will never be anything that can replace actually playing on stage with him. Mainly I played bass and sang in the band but I did have a keyboard setup and pride myself as being (probably) the only guy that ever played keyboards on stage with Keith Emerson, He didn’t like that much LOL But a few of our songs needed that extra boost from the keyboards. Trust me, there are not many situations where Keith couldn’t cover what it would take two keyboard players to play. He was a monster player for sure.
CC: What was your inspiration (or inspirations) for writing The Rules Have Changed?
RB: The song The Rules Have Changed was one of the very last songs written for the album. A good friend that was also a very good keyboard player and song writer died in the same way that Keith had only a few months after Keith. It was very hard for me to take. This guy, Trent Gardner, was the creator of the prog/metal band Magellan. He was solid as a rock, albums full of ideas, and to me, he always seemed to be moving forward with great momentum. After he was gone it just struck me that it seemed that so many things in the world are very different from what they were not that long ago. Some better, some worse, but most – different. The Rules Have Changed was written about my utter disbelief that I didn’t see any of this coming. No signs, no hints, no chance to change things. The rules had definitely changed around me.
CC: If any, how is The Rules Have Changed different from the previous album, To the Power of Three?
RB: First off that is a great question. It was a deliberate effort to put forth what we had learned from the first album, our tour, and the 27 years that had passed. On the first album I wrote half of the songs and Keith arranged them. The other half was written by Keith and the band took them and made them into lyrical pieces and powerful arrangements. It started with songs that might not have been completely right for 3 but were reworked to fit. The 3.2 album began with what I call the meat of the music. The musical bits like intros, links to verses, choruses. Maybe a cool riff hear and there and an instrumental section. Then the “song” part, the lyric and melody sections were written within this cool surrounding music. I felt that gave us more continuity, more ‘sticking’ to the original plan we had made, and more chances to hone in what I call our AOR meets prog style. It was a very open and creative way to follow through. The tricky part was getting the sections to meet up and flow from part to part.
CC: When you’re not working with music, what do you enjoy doing in your spare time?
RB: I like to say I was sentenced to a life of music. My mom sang in my dad’s band so I was in a band and on stage before I came out. Music and everything related to music has been my whole life. I built a guitar in 8th grade, I built speaker cabinets and a bass drum in high school, I started working in a professional recording studio when I was 18. Then I went on to major in music at San Jose State University. Music, music, music. I produce for local and national clients at my studio Soundtek Studios 5 days a week and I love every minute of it. My wife Rebecca makes sure I go to Cabo once or twice a year and get away from it all. I do enjoy collecting guitars but I guess you can’t really say that’s not music. But I do love cars. I have a very fast Tesla Roadster that gets me around fairly quick and I do enjoy that. I’d have a bunch of cars if I won the lottery.
CC: Who are some of your favorite bands/artists to listen to?
RB: I have an interesting exposure to many kinds of music. Of course my roots are in the more English rock and prog rock. Zepplin, Yes, ELP. But everyday at my studio a singer/songwriter anywhere from 16 years old to 60 years old comes in and I do their music track for them. I have a package deal where they work one on one with me and whatever they don’t play, I play. I also work on their arrangements, their lyrics, and the song structure in general. I always ask “who are you going to knock off the charts? Let’s listen to that”. Then I ask them to play me one song that influences their style. I get 20 year old guys playing me Deep Purple, 40 year old pop singers playing me Pink, Fall out Boy, Michael Jackson, Van Halen, Back Street Boys lol. You name it, everyday I hear something new and also learn something new from these unknown artists. It is truly a great life experience to work with people on their most important creations. Then of course after an 8 or 9 hour day – no radio in the car, no headphones blasting away in my head. I love the work I get to do and of course I love the fact that I still have plenty of musical ideas and get to use them everyday. From co-writing and producing last years Greg Kihn album Rekihndled, to doing the prerecorded Van Halen keyboard tracks for Sammy Hagar’s live show for his band The Circle, my days are filled with music.
I appreciate your questions and hope that you have listened closely to The Rules Have Changed and enjoyed what you heard. It was definitely a labor of love and one of the most incredible experiences in my life. I’m still not really sure how it all came together the way it did. Somebody was definitely watching and guiding me.
I mainly go to rock and metal concerts.