Chameleon’s Craig Gysler Speaks To SonicAbuse

Unearthed by ShroomAngel records and put on CD for the first time, ‘Rising’ is a compilation of the complete recorded work from Texan progressive rock act Chamelon, a band forged by a mutual love of Genesis, Yes and King Crimson and given of a love for lengthy, poetic workouts that demonstrated both lyrical and instrumental finesse. Sadly the band quietly disbanded in the early 80s, with the various members sensing the difficulties posed by a potential lifetime of service to the world of music and Chameleon disappeared into the unknown. However, in these days of the internet, passions can be rekindled and reputations rebuilt and not only have Chamelon recordings been unearthed, but the band have reunited, intent on making music together once more after nearly thirty years apart.

With progressive music once more a prominent genre thanks to the various works of artists such as Opeth, Porcupiine Tree, Spock’s Beard and Dream Theater, Chameleon’s return seems to be perfectly timed, not least because Chameleon, in favouring Genesis and Yes over Floyd, offer a markedly different take on progressive to much of what is out there today (Flower kings and Sound of Contact notwithstanding) and it seems the perfect opportunity for the band to introduce a whole new generation to their stunning works. We were, therefore, proud to contact the band’s drummer, Marty Naul, who kindly sent our questions to founding member Craig Gysler and you can read his responses below.

chameleon

The album, ‘rising’, compiles the recorded history of Chameleon – what was the reason behind unearthing these recordings now?

 Craig: Marty had originally posted an audio clip of Midnight Matinee on YouTube in 2013. Rich Patz of ShroomAngel Records saw it and became interested in the band and other material that we might have…

The album draws from a variety of sessions and sources, why did you decide to create a new running order rather than simply order the tracks chronologically?

Craig: This was all Rich’s doing… he organized everything based on the arrangements and song structure and I think it turned out quite well. The last song was  recorded early on at ACA studios. Bill Holford was our Producer and Engineer and he just so happened to be Rich’s uncle. We had yet to meet Rich, so I thought that was a nice touch.  

It is easy to take for granted how easy it is to source material from bands in these days of the internet, but how challenging was it to find material from the English progressive bands that inspired you when you initially formed?

Craig: We had a great radio station in Houston that played progressive music and also helped bring a  lot of progressive bands to town I personally was also influenced by classical music and was always in the library at school checking out albums to listen to

You supported bands like MC5 and Amboy Dukes – did you find it difficult to find other bands of a similar musical mind set to yourselves to play with?

 Craig: We were happy to play anywhere we could, so we didn’t mind the disparity of style between groups. Back then it seemed to be a given that the supporting act  or acts were polar opposites to the headliner. There were some great local prog acts that we worked with, however we were usually playing our own shows individually. Chameleon had a lot of special effects and costumes to deal with…   

It sounds like you were developing a significant following, what happened that caused the band to implode?

 Craig:I wouldn’t necessarily say implode… I think in the late 70’s prog music was being overshadowed by the influence of pop music and we became increasingly aware of the pressure to make music that was radio friendly . Venues were sparse, we had been together quite awhile and I think the challenge of moving forward was becoming increasingly difficult. Our guitarist, Spencer and his wife had a baby on the way and he had an opportunity to move out of state and start a new business. I think the clock was ticking for me as well

The mixing and mastering of the music is really impressive – how long did you spend in the studio working on your compositions to get the right sound and how difficult was it to cut such lengthy tracks bearing in mind you were working with tape rather modern, digital technology?

Craig: We played all of these songs live with all parts, save a harmony here or there. We rehearsed regularly to get the live blend accurate. Since we performed these songs live, it was really just a matter of getting all levels right and then just “rolling tape”…

What influences the band lyrically?

Craig: I think for me personally there are many influences in writing…as you can tell on the album there are songs with stories and characters and songs with messages and first person observations…interesting question!

All of the tracks were credited to specific musicians – when writing material do you tend to bring ideas to the band individually and then work on them together or is it the case that members produce pieces which are more or less finished and the band learns them?

Craig: Most tunes have a form and structure brought to the table that we build on. Sometimes minimally, other times morphing to some interesting variations. But without a doubt, the collective contributions make this music what it is…

Did ‘rising’ gather together absolutely everything or are there a few tracks still out there yet to be heard?

Craig: We might have a couple of rough videos looming about, but as far as I know, that’s all the tracks that we have…

When did Chameleon reform and what influenced the decision?

Craig: We are in the process now of working up the material and I personally have started writing some new tunes, but it’s still in the early stages…I think we all know that there’s more music within us…

Were the various members still involved in playing music in the intervening years? If so, what bands and projects were you working on?

Craig: We all have been involved in various projects through the years  so we still our active to some extent in music… I personally have been involved in other genres of music with studio work and teaching, so I stay pretty busy.

There seems to be a massively revived interest in progressive rock, do you follow any of the modern progressive bands and if so, are there are any you particularly dig?

Craig: Spock’s Beard comes to mind as well as Porcupine Tree…

Obviously technology has moved on since you first started playing – do you think digital recording technology necessarily allows bands to do more, musically, or does it simply make the process of creating lengthy songs rather lazy?

Craig: I think it’s a great opportunity to use technology as a creative tool…creating the music with less effort is always a plus. The length of the song has never been an issue with me… I can write a 3 minute song as easy as a 16 minute song. For me it’s the message and the feel of the song that matters

  How much interest has there been in the reformed Chameleon – did the development of the internet encourage people to seek you out?

Craig: Quite a bit…we have been selling CDs all around the world and it is definitely due to the internet and also Rich Patz of ShroomAngel Records for his early interest in us…

What ambitions does the band have? Do you have plans to write and record new material?

Craig: As I mentioned earlier, I am writing new material and working up some ideas as I believe Spencer is too. I think everyone is eager to move forward with this… there seems to be plenty of gas left in the tank…

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