Biography

WP Planet ARZ 920x250

1. INTRODUCTION

ARZ is the moniker for the two man progressive rock: guitarist/singer Steve Adams and drummer Merrill Hale. The two Portland, OR area musicians met and cemented their relationship while they were members of the local Yes tribute act, All Good People (AGP). ARZ had previously been Adams’s one man instrumental tour de force (playing all guitars, bass and programmed drums) and releasing four solo CD’s, two from 2005 Serai and The Magi, and The Last Kingdom and Solomon’s Key from 2007. These recordings present the guitarist’s wide ranging influences from classical to hard rock and metal, with an emphasis on unison riffing and balanced songwriting and arrangements.

Upon the demise of AGP, Adams established a kindred relationship with Hale based on the two’s passion for classic progressive rock and creating their own vocal based originals. Adams had been looking to revisit his ARZ project with the right chemistry to craft pieces focused on complex arrangements, but with a more direct approach. The result can be heard specifically on Solomon’s Key (ARZ’ 4th album) that features Hale’s hand and footwork on the title track and on “Burning Bush”. The percussionist fits the bill as Adam’s right hand man and prime collaborator coming from the Barriemore Barlow (Jethro Tull)/Danny Carey (Tool) school of the cerebral and progressive drumming style. The duo’s focus is on par with stripped down acts such as the Benevento Russo Duo who rely exclusively on electronics and musician interplay to get their point across to audience.

On their upcoming album Turn of the Tide, new pieces such as “Hope and Glory” revive the passion of vintage Emerson, Lake and Palmer, while other tracks such as “Light the Sky” and “Birth of a Hero” present Adam’s as a competent singer drawing from influences such as Rush and Jethro Tull.  Hale says that the new album showcases the duo’s dexterity and complementary composition styles.

“When we first started writing Turn of the Tide back in 2009, we wanted to write songs that we could perform live as a duo. We used MIDI extensively for this, including pre-programming MIDI sequences to be triggered in real time using an electronic drum pad. We finished our demo recordings in 2009. But some of the early feedback we got from our fans and critics was that the music could be better served with a real bass guitar. We decided at that point that instead of focusing on being able to play the songs live, we would focus on producing a high quality recording. The finished versions of our songs have fuller instrumentation than our original demos. Since Steve and my influences are so similar (ELP, Rush, and Yes) we tend to write in a very compatible style, and I think that our sound really gels in Turn of the Tide.”

For Steve Adams, Turn of the Tide represents the final manifestation of his creative dreams. “Since my childhood I was caught between pursuing writing (short stories, poetry) and music as a potential career. Music became more natural to me as time went on; however, all of what I had read engaged me in wanting to write music that reflected my literary experience. Sometimes the reverse would occur; on hearing Respighi’s “The Pines of Rome” for the first time (early childhood) I would act out the music with my brother – some outlandish scenario about Statues coming alive – silly stuff but obviously the passion was there. I always wanted to create music that adequately addressed my literary obsessions. I see them more as two branches from the same source.”

 

2 STEVE ADAMS – GUITARIST and SINGER

Steve picked up guitar at an early age learning by ear and imitating licks by his favorite guitar heroes. Disillusioned by rock band experiences, a strong interest in Classical technique and Jazz enticed him to begin the study of solo guitar. “I soon became seriously interested in music as a career having discovered the versatility of solo guitar technique, its intricate nature and subtleties of timbre.” After earning his Bachelor’s degree in Music Performance from Lewis & Clark College studying classical technique with Scott Kritzer and Jazz with Dan Balmer, Steve furthered his teaching and performing career. Steve played in concert, casual gigs, coffee shops, benefits, even at a nudist colony! As Steve continued the classical tradition frustration set in his musical life. “After all of the study and training I began to feel a growing need for something, something new, fresh, invigorating. “Then it hit me…I needed to go back to my roots…I needed to ROCK again! ARZ was born. ARZ is an amalgam of everything I experienced: Rock, Jazz, Classical, basically what I would call Progressive Rock…no boundaries, limitless. ”


3 MERRILL HALE

When watching ARZ play live, it is always surprising how full and lush the soundscape is. Part of that comes from the midi guitar which Steve Adams uses, enabling him to play bass, guitar and keyboards through splitting his strings and sending them to different virtual instruments. The second part of their full sound comes from the drummer Merrill Hale. He plays both a drum kit, as well as triggering keyboard and bass sounds through the use of a drum pad, a Roland SPD-20.

With the SPD-20, he triggers MIDI notes that get sent to his laptop, which then get sent through a MIDI mapper and end up triggering VST samples. The VSTs that Merrill uses includes Spectrasonics’ Atmosphere, Vir2 Instrument’s Elite Orchestral Percussion, and Cakewalk’s Rapture. The sequence of notes is programmed through the software package MyKits, made by L & L’s Software Delicatessen. This MIDI mapper for electronic percussionists allows Merrill to play melodies live during performances, without needing to use pre-recorded backing tracks.  Depending on the venue, Merrill will either play his acoustic drum set, or his electronic one. His electronic drum set is a Roland TD-12, and the drum sounds that he uses with it are from XLN Audio’s Addictive Drums.

His acoustic drum set is a Premier Signia, and his setup consists of:

8×8 – rack tom 10×8 – rack tom 14×12 – floor tom 16×13 – floor tom 22×16 – bass drum Pearl Steve Ferrone Signature snare drum – 14 x 6 ½ 14” Zildjian A Custom hi-hats 20” Zildjian A Custom ping ride cymbal 18” Zildjian A Custom crash 18” Sabian Evolution crash 16” Sabian Evolution crash 18” Zildjian A Custom china 8” Zildjian A Custom splash DW 9000 double pedal DW 5000 hi-hat stand.

Merrill, a native Portlander, has played drums for over 24 years, and has studied with Don Worth Jr. and Sr., Guy Maxwell, and Dave Averre. Since 1991, he has worked with many bands, including Voodoo Dolls, Nietzsche’s Dead, The Vultures, Gravity Frog, Spot 79, Stabitha, Steve Adams Trio, Atari Tuesday, Super American, King Trout, and All Good People. He first met his bandmate Steve in All Good People, a Yes tribute band. After discovering their mutual love of progressive rock, they have been musical partners since. Merrill has also toured with Scotland Barr and the Slow Drags. He plays various styles of music including funk, R&B, rock, metal, contemporary, and jazz. Merrill has been teaching drums for the past three years, and enjoys working both with total beginners to advanced students. He is an extremely patient drum teacher, and knows how to help students improve their techniques.

4 A BRIEF HISTORY

Steve Adams started a solo recording project in 2005 under the name ARZ. ARZ is a bastardized acronym he came up with in regards to his brother and himself. A (Adams), R (Robert, his brother), Z replaced S that represented Steve because they didn’t want to play in a band called ARS(e). Steve’s brother Bob didn’t play at all, but he was a huge fan of Steve and they had a very tight bond and shared the love of progressive rock music. Bob recently passed away early this year, and the song “To the Better Man” was written in his honor.

Steve created 3 CDs of instrumental music before Merrill Hale met him in late 2006, and was working on a 4th. They met through a Craigslist ad for a Yes tribute band, which they played in for a year together and was a tremendous amount of fun. When that band started to deteriorate Steve and Merrill started writing tunes together. Steve eventually asked Merrill to write a song for his 4th CD. Merrill wrote the song entirely in drums then gave it to Steve to finish. After putting guitar, keys and bass on top of it, it ended up being the title track on his CD titled Solomon’s Key. That was the beginning of their working relationship in ARZ.

Shortly after Solomon’s Key was recorded Merrill mentioned to Steve that there might be a way to play their music live without sequencers or backing tracks. Taking advantage of the capabilities of MIDI, Merrill constructed a drum kit that could perform ‘real time’ melodic sequences. Steve invested in a MIDI guitar which enables him to layer guitars, keys and bass simultaneously. After they worked out the finer details of trying to sound like a 4 or 5 person band being only 2 people, they couldn’t be happier. The quote “necessity is the mother of invention” comes to mind when you think of the current incarnation of ARZ because Steve and Merrill feel very comfortable writing, creating and playing together. They both played with many other musicians in the past, but they didn’t have the same dedication and drive Steve and Merrill had, nor could they find anyone else to perfectly fit into what they ultimately wanted to do. So they figured out how to play music as two people.

They are excited to work with Unicorn Digital on their latest album “Turn of the Tide”, which is the first offering from them as a duo. ARZ is often compared to the Canadian progressive rock band Rush on first listen. You can also hear some YES, ELP, Jethro Tull, Echolyn, and Dream Theater among others from the same genre. Another comparison that is made about ARZ from fans and listeners is that parts of their music could easily be heard in a movie, TV show or video game soundtrack. They are also influenced by Stravinsky, Copeland and Holst, which can be heard in their songs Twilight, Turn of the Tide, and Hope and Glory.

Ultimately Steve and Merrill are creating, recording, and performing in the genre they truly love and the music benefits from their enthusiasm and dedication.

“I think you gotta quite interesting blend of styles, Jethro Tull, Rush and others, but most of all, it actually sounds like you.” – Hasse Fröberg of the Flower Kings.

“What the two of you manage to do in a live context is quite impressive and the arrangements are ingenious.” – Edward Macan, author of Rocking the Classics: English Progressive Rock and the Counterculture and Endless Enigma: A Musical Biography of ELP.