Few musicians have had as varied a career as Jonathan Mover. From playing with prog royalty to rock gods to the Queen of Soul herself, Jonathan has done it all. He has now put together a new band consisting of some of the biggest names in progressive music called Progject and is taking it on the road. Jonathan recently took some time to talk about it and his career.
Please press the PLAY icon below for the MisplacedStraws Conversation with Jonathan Mover –
On how Progject came together – Well, it came together really in two different ways, or with two different kinds of inputs, you might say. One is prog rock is my first and biggest love, it’s the reason why I played drums, definitely because of ELP being my first real big influence and favorite band when I was a kid, after hearing “Lucky Man” on the radio, and then discovering the record cover of Brain Salad Surgery and hearing “Karn Evil 9”, that was it. So I’ve always loved product because after ELP, of course, I got into Yes, and Genesis and Crimson and UK, Gentle Giant, it was really probably the biggest musical input I had in my formative years, so it was pretty important to me. I always wanted to play it because it’s the most fun, but by the time I ended up turning pro in my late teens, although I did play with a couple of prog-associated bands you might say, prog was really kind of over in the classic prog of the 70s. Genesis, of course, went on to do great things still and of course Yes, came back and reinvented themselves with Trevor Rabin and (Trevor) Horn. But GTR, to me, was kind of a pop-rock band that was sprinkled with a little bit of prog dust, if you know what I mean. I had a little dabble with Marillion which was the same thing, they really weren’t playing the type of prog that I grew up listening to. So it was always in my DNA, you might say, but I went on to have a wonderful career with a lot of great artists, some of which you just mentioned, but nothing to do with prog. No complaint is all good.
The year before Covid, I got a last-minute rescue call, which I get a lot on tours and records being a freelancer, and it was from the tribute band called The Musical Box. I didn’t know that much about them, but I heard that they were a tribute band to Genesis. I had literally just flowed back from Massachusetts that morning, it was a Tuesday, and I was on the East Coast visiting my mother, brutally cold there in February, and happy to be back in L.A., very happy to be home in the sun. I got a text message and then a phone call, and I was speaking to the bass player who kind of is the guy that leads the band, and he said, a French Canadian and with his great accident. “We’re very excited to play with you, we’ve all seen you play with other people, and this will be an honor”, and I said, “My pleasure, I love Genesis and grew up playing it. So here’s my email address, shoot me your setlist and your dates, and we’ll figure it out”. Then he, very matter of factly, said, “Tomorrow is the first day, and it’s in New Hampshire”. I just literally flew six hours back from this morning. So I hopped on a flight the next morning and just showed up and started playing with them, and it literally just catapulted me right back to being 15 years old in the basement of my parent’s house with headphones on and the phonograph behind me and playing to Seconds Out start to finish and Lamb and everything, it was just amazing. It was a wonderful feeling because I’ve always enjoyed everybody I played with, but it’s not that often that I played with somebody that I really had some type of a childhood attachment to. Aretha (Franklin) I certainly did. I grew up listening to her and never dreamed I would get that gig and for almost five years was playing with her, I had to pinch myself many times, and Alice (Cooper) also was a blast to play with because I was a big Cooper fan too and saw him quite a few times in the concert when I was a kid. But nothing rings true like prog does. Even though I wasn’t playing with Genesis, I was playing Genesis with the closest thing to Genesis in front of an audience every night of rabid Genesis fans that were eating it up, and it just made me realize that there is a market out there for a Genesis, audience, a Yes audience, a Rush audience, Crimson, all of these tribute bands are out there playing. So when I got back to LA after playing with the Musical Box for a little bit, and the gig was over, I was, to be honest, I was really bummed out. I hadn’t had that much fun in a long time, and it struck a chord, no pun intended, and so I literally said, “How can I do this for myself?” But I don’t wanna do a tribute band because that, first of all, is in a box, and it’s also that, The Musical Box, what they do is really great, just like Brit Floyd and some of the other bands that are out there that are doing wonderful tributes to the people, but they play their music and may emulate their show, and they play their music note for note, I didn’t wanna do that. I also wanted to pay tribute again to so many different artists that were influential to me, and inspirational to me, so I thought more of an homage band to the genre of prog, but the classic prog of the very late 60s and 70s. Maybe we’ll touch a little bit in the 80s, but still focusing on the four main bands of Genesis, Yes, Crimson, and ELP, and then branch out and do some Floyd, some Rush, some Gentle Giant, some Tull, Peter Gabriel, maybe some Todd Rundgren and stuff like that, The Tubes, people that are also a prog, but maybe not as well-known.
So that kind of is the long-winded answer to your first question, how I came up with them is really too good to be true. It literally happened just like this, it was a Friday afternoon, and I was back maybe a few days or a week, I had already gone on to the computer and mapped out in text and spreadsheets my whole concept of Progject. What instrumentation I would like, the type of people, what songs I would wanna play from, what bands, what direction to go in. A very good friend of mine, who’s a guitar player out here, named Eric Madsen, and he’s also much more a part of the LA scene than I am because I had just moved out here a few years ago. So even though I’ve done 50 records in LA, I don’t know the community, I would fly in and do a session and leave. So I said to Eric, “I’ve got this idea”, and we’re in Pasadena having dinner before going to see Brand X on a Friday evening, and this is important, so I’m telling him at dinner, “I’ve got this idea and do you know anybody?”. The first guy, he says, “I just did a gig a couple of weeks ago with this amazing keyboard player named Ryo Okumoto (Spock’s Beard)”. I didn’t know who he was, and he said, “He plays with Spock’s Beard”, who I knew a little bit about. And I said, “Okay, this sounds good”. So he is literally at the table, dinner table, he sends real a text, “Jonathan Mover has got this idea for a band and should I give him your number?” Ryo texts back immediately, “Give him my number, I’m very interested”. So all good, we finished dinner, and the reason we’re in Pasadena is to go next door to see Brand X, and as we get into line, who’s standing in front of us? Ryo. He turns around, we talked about 10 or 15 minutes. It was a done deal, we both wanted to do this. Continuing my talk with Eric, he said, “What about Mike Keneally on guitar?” Eric and I had just seen Mike with (Joe) Satriani, maybe six months or a year before here in LA, I went to see Joe, and so I said, “No, Mike’s busy with Joe and he’s doing much bigger things, I’m sure he wouldn’t be interested”. So we went down a list. A few days later, and I was on my way back to Boston, and while I was there, I was going to be interviewed by New Ears Prog Music podcast. I did the interview with him. We talked all about The Musical Box and GTR and Mike Oldfield and anybody that I’ve been with. When we were done and I said, “Now I’ve got this new idea I gotta tell you about”, and he loved the concept, and I said, “Do you happen to know a singer and a bass player that’s prog-associated and affiliated?” And he said, “Well, Matt Dorsey”, who I didn’t know, “is a bass player, multi-instrumentalist, he’s into prog, he’s playing with Phil Collins’ son Simon in a band. He lives in LA, here’s his number. But what about Michael Sadler?” I said, “He’s not gonna wanna do this. He’s got Saga, he’s a big rock star.” Anyway, I got back to LA, I called Matt and he was down almost immediately, actually immediately, and then Allen called me and said, “I spoke to Michael, he’s into it, give him a call”. So the four of us came together quite quickly, and then it was like, “Who are we gonna get on guitar?” So we started playing with a few guys here in LA, very good players, but nobody was really the right fit. This is right before Covid hit. So I called my friend Jason Bieler, who is a guitar player and writer, great guy, amazing guitar player. I called him up, because we played together for many years, and I said, “Look, I’m doing this thing, I don’t know if it’s in your wheelhouse, but I think you’re the guy to fit this thing”. And I told them all about it, and of course, he said, “I’ve heard of these guys. But I don’t know any of their music, but any chance to play with you. Let me listen to the stuff, send it to me”, which I did, and then he basically got back to me and he said, “I’d love to come in and do it. I don’t know if I’m the right guy for the permanent thing, but I’ll give it a shot”. He knocked it out of the park. He really practiced playing in every odd time signature, he didn’t even know existed, and he came out to LA and we just started moving forward knowing that it wasn’t going to be permanent with him, but it didn’t stop us. We did the videos, we did audio, rehearsed a bunch, we launched the website, and then he basically said, “I’m open to start touring, and just let’s see how it goes”. But the band really took off, I think much quicker than he or anybody expected, we thought maybe we’d get a couple of weeks of shows put together, and now we’ve got 22 dates and a month on a tour bus and everything. So he just said, “Look, I’m in there with you, but if you can find the right guy, you might as well try to do it now, because you guys gonna be very busy and I’m doing another record and I’ve got my stuff going on”. So I just for the hell of it I called up Keneally, I had the list with some other guys, we played some people, but I did finally connect with Mike, and I sent him the link to the website and some of the videos. He called me the next day and he said, “I wanna play with you guys, I wanna do this”. So it was literally kind of that simple or that easy I should say, it really came together magically. :50
On the enjoyment the band feels playing these songs – We all feel the same way, and we’re just having a blast. When we get together and rehearse, it’s just too much fun, and it’s really getting better and better every week. We’re nitpicking and morphing a few things and changing a couple of things here and there that are making it even more interesting without losing the respect and appreciation for the original. But man, when we get in front of an audience to get it, we’re dying to play, and I don’t think people are gonna know what they’re in for. The video clips that we’ve released are quite contained, there are 20 seconds, 40 seconds. There are a couple of little bits that show our elements in it, but it’s nothing compared to the show that we are ready to play. 13:33
On if they will play music from their respective careers – Not at the moment. There are a couple of reasons why. We want to pay homage to the people that influenced us and got us going, that we dream of being like. There’s a big difference between looking at Genesis or Yes or Crimson that way as opposed to looking at Asia or GTR or Saga. So we are really sticking to the more, I don’t wanna say the formula, but more of the groundwork that was set for us that we’re now enjoying, but it’s not to say that we might not dabble with something here or the air as we go down the road. It’s a little strange thinking about us playing a Saga tune when Saga is still playing, or us playing a Marillion tune that I co-wrote or something with them 30+ ago when they’re still a band playing, which is a little bit different even though Yes is still playing, it’s very different. So for now, we’re sticking to the giants and our favorites with some fun stuff, secrets, thrown in there, but you never know what’s going to happen. 14:44
On if the band has ever played in front of an audience – Even before we got Mike, when we were first playing with Jason, we were looking at dates a year and a half ago. We were starting to map out, we had some shows booked, which I think was in September, October of 2020, two years ago almost, that canceled and pushed back and put on hold to spring of .21, and then that got pushed back offered to fall of ’21, and we just said no, because, at that point, it was just two up in the air. We said, “We’ll just wait and see what happens”. So no, we have not played for anybody but ourselves, not even wives and girlfriends, so we’re ready to go. We’ve got 22 shows starting April first out here in Los Angeles at my facility, which is an event facility. I’ve got a bunch of sound stages and film stages in a big production company, so we’ve hosted a bunch of people before we’re gonna do an event in my place, and then we jump on the bus, we head to the Midwest. Then we pick it up on April 6, and we finished May 1st, which is the pre-cruise party for their Cruise to the Edge. Then we go out again, the beginning of August on the West Coast for a couple of weeks, we take a little break, and then we’re back out for a longer one, which is going to be five to six weeks, the end of August through the second week or so of October. We’re going to try to cover most of the states and a little bit of Canada at that time. We very happily got off here at a couple of options and opportunities to go overseas to the UK in Europe, but we chose not to take a chance on that this year just because it’s ever-changing, and the last thing we wanna do is either have something canceled and/or go somewhere and then be stuck. Whereas if we’re stuck in the States, and I don’t think we will be, we can always just drive home. But next year we will definitely go international and conquer the world, but we couldn’t even book Canada in April because at the time, a few months ago, the borders were closed, still just starting to open up now, but we’ll hit a bit of Canada, in the Fall tour that we do then. 16:36
On his time with Marillion and GTR – Well, I can easily answer how it came about, and then I’ll think a little bit about why it didn’t work out where I can be diplomatic. It’s really actually very funny how I came about. So I took a trip to London after high school, I checked out Berkley College of Music for a minute and even entertained the idea of coming out to LA to look into P.I.T., Percussion Institute. I just made a deal with my parents and I said, “If I’m going to do four years of school, I would rather take four years to try to play and make it professionally, and if I don’t make it, I’ll go to school at 22. But 18 to 22, I wanna get out there”. So I just jumped on a plane and went to London with a six-month open round trip ticket, mostly because English prog-rock was my favorite, and any musicians that I could see possibly planning with were more than likely going to be there, and then they were in the States. So I just went over and I started hanging it out, I ended up getting an audition for who is now Robert Fripp’s wife, Toya Wilcox. She had a punk band back then, but it was a really slick punk band because they had just played for a couple of years, but Simon Phillips, who was one of my favorite drummers, and he really kicked the shit out of them. So they were kind of a sloppy punk band until they hired him, and then, all of a sudden they grew up quick. So I got the Toya records he played on, and I loved the material, and when I got to London, I called and I got an audition with them. Very quick story is, I got a call from her manager the next day and said, I have good news and bad news. The good news is they love your playing. The bad news is Toya just got offered a movie with Sir Lawrence Olivier, so she’s taking a year off, so keep in touch and we’ll see you next year. Anyway, I hung around London for a bit, and then after a few months, I did some gigs, I met some people and I really liked it, and I had in mind that I was going to move there. So I went back home to the east coast, to Boston, and while I was there, I got the call from Marillion’s manager at the time, I don’t know if he still is, a guy named John Arnison, and here is the funny story. Well, the reason they called me was Nick Tauber, the engineer, and maybe, later on, producer of Marillion was the engineer of Toya. He happened to be talking to the Toya camp one day and said, “I’m producing a Marillion and they’re having drummer problems and can’t find anybody”. The bass player in Toya, Phil Spalding, who later became GTR’s bass player, was kind enough to say, “Oh, we played with this young American kid who is a prog nut and plays all the odd times, a Simon Phillips-type of player. Give him a call”. So here’s the funny story, when I was in London and there used to be these records to us called Our Price. I was walking into Our Price one day, and I said to the guy behind the counter, “I’m from America, and I’m here, a drummer, and I love prog rock, and here are my favorites. Is there anything you guys would have here that I might not know about, that you can turn me on to?” So he gave me Script For A Jester’s Tear, and two EPs, one of them had “Grendel” on it and maybe “Market Square Heroes” on the other. Of course, I didn’t have a phonograph with me and I was in London, so I just put them next to my suitcase, and a couple of months later when I went back home, I put them on the turntable and I dropped the needle on Script. I don’t remember the first song,, maybe “Script for a Jester’s Tear”, and I have to be honest with you, I hated it. The reason I hated it was the original drummer was really not a good drummer, it was hard for me to listen to it because of the uneasy rhythm and groove. I also have to admit, I didn’t take to Fish’s voice right away either. I found them to be basically kind of a Genesis wannabe. So I then put on the Grendel EP, and I remember dropping the needle in a couple of places, and I absolutely heard “Apocalypse in 9/8”, but it was in 8/8 and they just basically ripped off Genesis and not in a good way. So I said, “Oh, these guys are terrible”. I didn’t play them again. Anyway, like a month or two later, I get the phone call from John Arnison who is very nice, and he told me why they were calling and I said, “Oh, I’ve got the Marillion records, I love you guys. I’d love to audition. Absolutely”. I mean, hey, it’s a pro gig.
They were coming to New York to open up for Rush for like four or five days at Radio City, and they invited me to the gigs. I came down, and I went to most of the shows, and it was very interesting what happened. They were booed off the stage every night, the Rush audience just did not buy Fish. They didn’t like the greasepaint and they didn’t like his theatrics, but they had a drummer playing with them, and John Martyr, and he was a very good drummer. What was really interesting was I liked the music when I heard it played with a good drummer. That first record would be a whole different ball game if somebody like Martyr had played on it. So I was really glad I went and I met the band afterward, and we hung out at the hotel, and they said, “We’d love you to come over and audition”, and I said, “Great because I’m gonna move back there anyway”. So I flew back a couple of weeks later or a few weeks later, and they were auditioning, if I remember correctly, I’ve got diaries of everything, but I haven’t read them for a while, I believe they were auditioning on a Tuesday and a Wednesday. So I showed up on Tuesday to say “Hello” and tell everybody who was there, and they said, “Oh, you know, you’re going to play tomorrow at like 11 in the morning for an hour”. I said, “Okay”, and I stuck around and I listened to some of the people that were coming and going. Nobody was playing any song for more than 30 seconds to a minute, they couldn’t even play simple 7/8 or /9 or something. These drummers were just not ready to play with them, so I split. I came back the next day and I was the first or second guy to go in, and we played one or two songs complete, and then they threw something at me that they were now writing and I played it down. They said, “Thank you very much. We’ll let you know, come back later”. I walked out with my tail between my legs and I said, “I don’t understand, all these guys yesterday couldn’t play and they got an hour, and now I just play the stuff and they’re done with me”. Well, fortunately, I found out that they didn’t need to hear any more, when I came back later that day, they wonderfully told me that I had a gig and could I go with them to Germany the next day and do a live radio broadcast that turned into a record? So that was it, on a plane with them to Germany, and we played a record that came out that has the title of cucumber in it or something, I don’t remember it.
Then when we got back to London, all was wonderful. I was very excited. I called home and said, “Hey, I made it. We just played in Germany, and my road to rock star fame and fortune is paved”. One thing led to another, and Fish just chose not to get along with me for reasons that I don’t want to say. He knows why, the guy’s know why. Fish and I had a blowout one night because he just went a little bit too far, and Fish is a monster, what is he 6’6″ or something and weighs 280? I’m 150 when I’m wet and I was almost going after him, the guys had to break us up. So the next morning, Fish gave the band an ultimatum and said, “It’s either him or me”, and obviously, they chose him, he was the lead singer of the band. I just said to the guys, “This is going to come back and bite you one day. I totally get it, but you’re making a mistake because if you let them get away with this now, he’s gonna rule you guys forever”, and I split.
So it was a difficult thing to go through, but it was a great thing to go through in respect to learning lessons that young that didn’t deter me, they just made me even hungrier. In my own way, I have Fish to thank for part of my career, Phil Spalding for part of it, introducing me. Had I stayed with Marillion, I’m sure I would have had a nice little life in England and everything, but I wouldn’t have done a tenth of what I’ve done. I’ll finish the story by saying Ian Mosely was one of the drummers who was also considered when I was being considered when we were auditioning, and so maybe a month later or something, I found out, Ian had now gotten gig after I was gone. So I just said, “Oh, that’s a simple math equation. Ian is now with Marillion, Ian was with Steve Hackett, I’ll call Steve Hackett”. So I got Steve Hackett’s manager’s phone number. I’m not remembering his name, a very nice guy. I called him up and I said, “Hey, my name is Jonathan Mover, I’m a drummer from Boston. I’m here in London. I just finished a Marillion gig. I hear that Ian’s with Marillion, is Steve looking for a drummer?” He said to me, “Oh, you’re a day late, Steve was just auditioning for the last two or three weeks and he found somebody, but thank you very much”. I said, “Okay, I appreciate it, goodbye”, hung up the phone. So I called him back about two minutes later, and I said, “I’m sorry to bother you, but would you relay a message to Steve? Could you please tell him to give me an hour in a rehearsal room? If I get the gig, he can pay for the rehearsal room, and if I don’t get the gig, I’ll pay for it, and I hung up. He called me back about 10 minutes later and he said, “Steve Hackett says, you have big balls”. I met him at a rehearsal space the next day or a couple of days later, and we played for literally about two minutes, a couple of tunes on the Highly Strung record which was crazy odd time, 13/16 or something. Steve just said, “The gig is yours”. So I went to Steve Hackett, I got the gig, called home to mom and dad, “I did it again”. Steve invited me to his holiday party, and at his holiday party was Chester Thompson, of course, I was crazy about, then Tony Banks walks in, who I would want to talk to him about playing with Steve Gadd and everything, so he was entertaining me because I was a fan, and then Mike Rutherford walked in and I almost fainted because Smallcreeps Day, I think I owned five or six of those on vinyl, it’s one of the greatest prog masterpieces ever, with Simon (Phillips) on drums. So here I am, with Steve Hackett, surrounded by most of Genesis, Phil (Collins) didn’t show up, and I can’t believe what’s going on. Then two or three days later, we’re supposed to start rehearsals for the European tour, that’s what I was hired for. My phone rang and Hackett calls me up and he says, “I have good news and bad news”, just like Toya’s manager the year before. I said, “Okay, give me the bad news first”, and he said, “There’s no more band and there’s no more tour”. I said, “Okay, give me the good news”. “I just had lunch with Steve Howe and we’re gonna do a new guitar-based supergroup, and we want you to be the drummer. So, thank you, Fish.
I’ve seen Fish since, we’ve buried our hatchett and had a laugh a couple of times. I haven’t seen the guys from Marillion in a long time. I did go to see them when Ian was in the band to say “Hi”, but Fish I think was already gone, and the guy that replaced him was in, but then I saw Fish and we’ve spoken a couple of times, so all good, no animosity. No bad feelings. It’s all fine.19:19