In a world where music is often described as the very essence of human emotions, Frank Us stands as a true testament to the power of sound and artistry. His latest musical endeavor, “Legacy Pilots”, is a heartfelt tribute to the golden era of progressive rock, a genre that has touched the souls of countless enthusiasts. Inspired by the passing of iconic artists like Chris Squire, Keith Emerson, Greg Lake, John Wetton, Alan Holdsworth, and David Bowie in recent years, Frank Us decided to bring his long-held dream to life. With the support of remarkable musicians and friends, “Legacy Pilots” has become a project that not only elevates the music but also supports underprivileged children. This venture is a testament to passion, camaraderie, and artistic expression, resulting in a musical masterpiece for listeners to savor upon its release. We had the privilege of interviewing Frank Us for extramusic.it.
Can you tell us about the inception of Legacy Pilots and what inspired you to embark on this project?
Although I have been making music my entire life, when I was young, no one seemed to care. The golden era of progressive rock in the early and mid-70s was over. My love for this music persisted, but no one wanted to listen anymore.
That changed decades later; suddenly, this genre experienced a resurgence.
When, from around 2015, the heroes of my youth (it started for me with Chris Squire, then Bowie, Emerson, Greg Lake, John Wetton, and others) passed away much too early, I was deeply affected and wanted to pay tribute to my admiration for these extraordinary artists with an album that is deeply connected to this type of music. Hence, our very first track was called “The Emerson Empire”. It was intended as a one-time thing, but it has since turned into four studio albums simply because it’s so much fun to work with these people.
You’ve managed to gather an impressive ensemble of artists for this project. How do you coordinate the collaboration with such busy and renowned musicians?
Firstly, we have been friends for many years. I’m a specialist in studio software among other things, so contacts have developed over the years, and I assist in this area when there are questions or issues. And now to your question – It’s indeed not easy to bring everyone together, but as the production of such a project isn’t completed in just a few months, activities are spread over at least a year. Eventually, everyone finds time.
“Helix” is your last studio album, released in april, and you’ve just released a compilation in august, “Songbook”. How has “Helix” been received by the public and critics, and has the response met your initial expectations for the project?
“Helix” has been received even better as any of the previous albums, particularly the reviews, which were uniformly good or very good. I am not aware of a single negative review. So, in that sense, my expectations have been significantly surpassed, and it’s noticeable that the core of those who appreciate our music has grown.
Each artist you’ve worked with on “Helix” brings a unique style to the table. How did you ensure that each individual’s creativity was given space within the framework of the album?
Well, I prepare all the pieces, but for instance, drums and bass are always just demo tracks. I leave it to each artist whether they want to adhere more or less to that. And I’m hardly going to tell guitarists like Steve Morse, Steven Rothery, or John Mitchell how to play their solos. They’re all exceptional musicians who get the freedom they want. This applies to everyone. And it doesn’t end with the recordings. With Todd Suchermann, for example, I go through every second of the mix, discussing together how the drums fit within the mix. With John and Jake, I co-write some tracks, so their input is guaranteed.
Given the evolving landscape of music genres and the unique position of progressive rock, how do you perceive the future of prog rock, and what role do you see Legacy Pilots playing in it?
Prog-rock will endure, but to what extent is hard to say. The fanbase is not exactly the youngest; it’s aging like all of us.
So, we have to hope that young people will grow up wanting more than just 3 minutes of mainstream music.
Another problem is availability. A project like this involves significantly more effort and sometimes costs, compared to other genres where music is 90% computer-generated. Immediately after release, the album is available on some Russian servers. Even if people have a Spotify account, the earnings are so minimal that tens of thousands of streams are needed just to earn €50. People are buying CDs less and less, partly because digitalisation makes listening to music more convenient. This leads to a loss of income sources. Ultimately, it comes down to whether one can or wants to afford such a project.
I want to and will continue to afford it. When I see that there are people out there who appreciate our music so much that they’re already looking forward to the next album, that’s the greatest reward a musician could wish for.