Is it considered, shall we say, “journalistic” to interview one’s boss? Well, no matter. I’m doing it anyway.
In the world of niche music, few things are better than meeting a kindred spirit. And while I would like to say I was the one who discovered and sought out Thomas Hatton, the truth is it happened the other way around.
A couple of years ago, shortly before the release of my book, I was working to get this web page off the ground. I had written a few articles, and they had been decently, albeit modestly, received. From out of nowhere, I received an email, asking me if I would be interested in writing for Proglodytes, an online blog specializing in progressive rock and other under-the-radar music. Thomas flattered me by reading and enjoying my work, and I saw the opportunity to take my writing to a new stage. A working relationship was born, which turned into a friendship in no time flat.
I suppose what surprised me most about Thomas was how young he was (he’s 32 now). But it didn’t take long to realize this was a very good thing. I wasn’t dealing with an editor stuck in prog rock’s past, which usually involved appreciating music released between 1969 and ’74. Thomas was certainly aware of bands like Yes, Genesis, and King Crimson, but his focus was on modern progressive rock bands like Schooltree, District 97, and Thank You Scientist. Thomas opened up a whole new musical world for me, and I jumped in with both feet.
Given his age, Thomas’s grasp and enjoyment of so many musical genres is more than a little impressive. He appreciates the heaviest metal just as much as the singer/songwriters in Fleetwood Mac. Genres are not necessarily a thing for him, though he did start Proglodytes (along with his brother Arthur) to bring some of the more obscure musical acts out there to light.
It is also far from surprising to learn Thomas works in social services as a day job, where he has done a great deal of work on behalf of immigrants, refugees, and migrant farmworkers. His current duties have him working for Habitat for Humanity. His work reflects in his personality, which is warm, open, and giving. Seeing someone else succeed is just as satisfying as his own personal successes. That open heart is also on display when it comes to the love he shows for his children.
Like just about every other prog rock fan, Thomas is also a musician. He plays drums, guitar and keyboards in several bands, including tribute acts to both Pink Floyd and Fleetwood Mac. A true eclectic. A Wisconsin native, Thomas now makes his home in Kentucky, which no doubt contributes to that eclecticism, since he also plays in assorted folk groups and singer/songwriter duos and trios.
Thomas introduced me to the world of podcasts, which he does regularly for Proglodytes. We had a ball discussing our favorite concept albums with Bent Knee drummer Gavin Wallace-Ailsworth. Before I knew it, Thomas assigned me to cover Progtoberfest III in Chicago, which opened up a virtual musical artery. My editor-in-chief is incredibly easy to work for, so I made a concentrated effort to see at least a little of 38 of the 39 bands playing the three-day festival.
We worked together for more than a year before Thomas and I found ourselves in the same room at the same time for Progtoberfest IV. It was a real blast hanging out with my musical brother from another mother as we traded notes and thought processes on the many bands we were seeing over that weekend. We met up for a second time the following summer in Newport, Kentucky for a Bent Knee/Thank You Scientist gig.
Proglodytes continues to chug along, though Thomas has been forced to take on a little more control in recent months. The efforts can be strenuous, but he shows no signs of stopping any time soon. The pull of the music is simply too powerful. It has been enough to get him to multiple progressive rock festivals and cruises. No doubt many of us can relate to that. It will be quite interesting indeed to see where the future takes him. And it is an honor and privilege to call Thomas my friend.
From his home in Lexington, Kentucky, Thomas Hatton took a little time to answer Seven Questions from CirdecSongs.
CirdecSongs: It seems like nobody just wakes up liking progressive rock. What was your entry point into this style of music?
Thomas Hatton: To be honest, it’s always been around me. My aunt was a hippie, and my mom’s family grew up in Southern California, so she was always aware of the new, cool music that was coming out in the late 60’s. My dad was (and is) a singer and guitarist, and so he’s always respected the musicianship of the progressive bands of the 70’s. So, even from a young age, I remember hearing Yes, ELP, and Jethro Tull in the house.
But, there’s a point in your development where you become an active music listener –where you start to consider yourself a fan of different bands. For me, that happened with The Beatles in third grade. My first three albums were: Rubber Soul, Revolver, and Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band. They quickly became my favorite band, and their music was a gateway into classic rock and progressive rock. My mom and dad were supportive of our growing love of music, so they bought us some of the albums that they had loved, when they were younger among them Fragile by Yes, Jethro Tull’s Benefit, and many others. All of this coincided with the rise of Napster and the beginnings of digital distribution, so that’s how we discovered that there were also modern progressive rock bands playing like Spock’s Beard and Dream Theater (sorry guys! I bought your albums too, I promise). As magic as it was to discover the progressive rock of the 70’s, I can distinctly remember the chills I had when I first heard “Metropolis Pt. 1: The Miracle and the Sleeper” from Dream Theater’s Images and Words album. My teenage identity was in part defined by my love of progressive rock and metal, and I became a voracious consumer of progressive music.
Who are your favorite artists and albums?
As I’ve always been surrounded by music, this is very hard for me to answer. But, I rate my top 10 albums by metrics like ‘Am I sick of these albums after decades of listening to them?’ and maybe more importantly, ‘What was this album’s emotional impact on me at the time, and how does that compare to other albums I’ve enjoyed”? As I look back and reassess, or as I listen to new music, the list changes, but I’d say these would be the top 10 most important albums in my musical life — the tentpole albums.
- The Beatles, Revolver
- Yes, Fragile
- Genesis, The Lamb Lies Down On Broadway
- Porcupine Tree, In Absentia
- Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young, Deja Vu
- Dream Theater,Metropolis Pt.2: Scenes from a Memory
- Phish, Story of a Ghost
- Spock’s Beard, V
- Devin Townsend, Terria
- Kevin Gilbert, The Shaming of the True
What motivated you to put a web site together?
A few things. My brother had a music review website about 10 years ago called Linescratchers. I would occasionally guest on his blog and podcast. I really enjoyed doing that, so I continued to write about music and art for different websites and magazines, including Treblezine and Rational Faiths. I love so much music and art that I could probably really enthusiastically write about a variety of genres. But I’ve always felt like progressive rock was an underdog genre, and decided at one point I wanted to start a music blog to support musicians and promote progressive music. I know it’ll never be EVERYONE’s thing, but I hoped to create a platform to share some of my favorite bands and artists in that nebulously labeled “progressive” genre.
Also, 2015 was a very, very tough year for me, and creating the site gave me a productive outlet to channel a lot of anxiety into something positive. Granted, having a website carries with it a set of frustrations, but it feels nice to be actively involved in something like promoting progressive artists.
You’ve rubbed elbows (virtual and otherwise) with a lot of musicians, thanks to the site. What have you enjoyed the most about these encounters?
I really genuinely love meeting new people and learning about their lives, and it’s been cool meeting folks who share a common interest with me, especially when it’s a genre of music that has carried with it a load of baggage and maybe a negative connotation from the general public. I really like meeting musicians and talking to musicians that I feel like deserve a lot more notoriety, and finding ways that I can use the platform of my website and podcast to help them. I also really enjoy good conversation, and so I really like going to festivals and meeting new artists and fans.
Progressive musicians, even the ones at the very top, are still not nearly as wealthy or famous as today’s superstars, and my experience with most of them is that they have been down to earth, generous, kind folks who still really appreciate the support of their fans. I also am grateful that running this website has allowed me to better understand how hard it is to be a successful musician in 2019. They exist in a really strange moment in music history, where artists seem to get thrown around by big companies like Spotify and Apple Music.
It’s become almost impossible to have a decent life on concerts and album sales alone- they’ve had to learn to become incredibly good at everything that musicians with record deals in the past may have taken for granted. They’re often their own PR/marketing teams, distributors, concert promoters, engineers, etc. So, despite the fact that we are truly in a golden age of amazing music, we’re perhaps in a massive slump for artist support. Many people would be surprised at how little their favorite musicians make.
That’s why I’ve tried hard to find ways to support some of the best bands around, whether it’s opening up my home to them during a lengthy tour, or buying them dinner when they pass through, or buying albums from Bandcamp or directly from them to ensure the most money makes its way back to the artists. I’m grateful that artists have helped me know the best ways to support them.
What has been the toughest part of running the site?
I think it’s been fighting to keep it as a passion project. I’ve never wanted it to feel like a job, and I try hard to keep my motivations pure. When I start to feel like it’s more of an obligation than anything else, it makes it harder for me to be passionate about it. Also, we’ve had different sizes of writing staff over time — at one point, as many as 13 authors. It was nice to have a variety of contributors, and my friendships with them have endured, but it’s been tough to manage the entire operation myself. When I’m writing e-mail reminders and sort of begging people to meet deadlines, it ends up feeling like a job, which I don’t love. So, the administrative side, basically. If this was my primary source of income, or if it was even a source of much income in the first place, I’d probably feel differently about it.
Who remains on the “Dream List” for interviews/podcasts?
You know, when I first started the site, I had lofty goals for interviewing the most important names in progressive rock. As time went on, my desire to do this has lessened. In many cases, I’ve tried to get interviews with people and they haven’t responded, and in other cases, I’ve nabbed interviews with folks and they’ve just sort of gone through the motions without a ton of interest, which is fine and actually expected. I know I’m interviewer number 29,041 in many cases, so I can understand why it might feel tiresome. As I think about my favorite interviews, they’ve often been with bands or individuals that are less famous. This isn’t a knock on the more popular folks, but I think everyone gets more out of it when the artists are lesser known.
Having said all of that, I would love to talk with Peter Gabriel, Phil Collins, Kate Bush, and members of Gentle Giant, though I think a 15-minute phoner (the most likely interview scenario) wouldn’t be my ideal format.
Where do you hope to take the site in the future?
I achieved a lot of the goals I wanted to early on. I was able to write reviews for major prog festivals and events, talk to some of my heroes, and have my blog read in over 130 countries. I’ve established good working relationships with publicists and artists and bloggers, and I’ve made a lot of friends on the way, from all over the place. I’d love to find ways to make the operations of the site more sustainable — some really interested bloggers who can help produce more consistent content, a good financial model that would help me reduce operation costs, etc. Yeah, not very sexy, but it’d be cool to break even, or maybe even profit financially from the site.
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My book, I Can’t Be the Only One Hearing This: A Lifetime of Music Through Eclectic Ears, is available from Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and other fine book dealers.
Would you like to have your album reviewed? Contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org