is a musical adventure comprising the vocal and song writing skills of
Mark Trueack, the production, song writing, keyboard & vocal skills of
Sean Timms, the guitar & vocal prowess of Matt Williams, the bass and
vocal talents of Shireen Khemlani, the combined drum/percussion
batteries of Monty Ruggiero and Tim Irrgang and the remarkable
multi-instrumentalism of Mike Stewart. Based in Adelaide, South
Australia they released their debut CD 'More Than a Dream' in 2005 to
critical acclaim. The independently released album is a unique mélange
of Progressive Rock, Classical & World Music, able to keep the listener
enthralled & challenged by the scope of the material, lyrically,
musically & emotionally.
With great commitment, the band returned to work. ‘The Garden’
was written, demoed, recorded, mixed and mastered in three years. “’The
Garden’ is a more coherent, mature album, more firmly placed in the
progressive rock genre. It is far more lyrically and musically intricate
than ‘More Than a Dream’,” says Sean Timms, who produced the album
together with Trueack, adding: “Whereas ‘More Than A Dream’ was recorded
over eight years in three different studios, ‘The Garden’ was finished
in one studio in three years. This means that there is a lot more
consistency between the tracks.”
The result is a concept album which takes its listeners
on a fascinating journey through space and time. From the opening track,
“One Day”, to the opulent, more than 22-minute title song, from
“Journey’s Friend”, the expansive beginning of the second CD, to the
final “321”, this double album keeps its listeners in permanent
suspense. “The songs do tie very nicely together and have a flow to
them,” Timms confirms, explaining its thematic background: “The overall
message that the album conveys is one of redemption. It is an album
about hope coming from despair. Whereas ‘More Than A Dream’ was
predominantly concerned with where the world was going and pointing the
proverbial finger at the ‘higher powers’ – the government, media and
authoritarian leadership –, ‘The Garden’ is much more concerned with
getting our own lives right before we criticise others. It’s much more
introspective and asks the question ‘What do I need to change in myself
in order to elicit a positive change in others?’” A truly sensitive
question which is reflected in every note of Unitopia’s wonderfully
‘The Garden’ was recently released through InsideOut
Music in Europe, and so we did an interview with Sean Timms, here
you can read what he had to say.
Congratulations on your new album ‘The Garden’ which was
recently released in Europe! Of course we’d like to ask you a couple of
questions about it.
First of all, I’m not familiar with your band so could
you tell me something about
How did this band come together? Could you start this interview off with
a short introduction of the members and the origin of the name of the
band for our readers?
Hi Eugene. Thanks for the interview! We are
constantly surprised by the fact that people really enjoy what we do! We
take great pleasure in creating our music and it’s fantastic when we
encounter people who enjoy listening to our music as much as we enjoy
First off… let me say up front that Unitopia is not
a metal band. We do have some heavier sections to our music, but we’re
not what I would call metal. There are classical, world (ethnic), jazz
and rock elements to our music as well. We would appeal to listeners
that like a lighter side of prog. Our songs are intricately arranged,
but we try to make them accessible to a wider audience by using strong
melodies and hooks. We’re from Australia, and we have six members. Mark
Trueack - Vocals, Sean Timms (myself) - Keyboards, Backing Vocals,
Mandolin, Acoustic & Lap Steel Guitars, Banjo, Matt Williams - Guitars,
Backing Vocals, Shireen Khemlani - Bass, Backing Vocals, Monty Ruggiero
- Drums, Tim Irrgang - Percussion.
Unitopia began in 1996 when a mutual friend who ran
a CD store introduced Mark and myself after realizing we had similar
musical tastes. We caught up over a meal and a few beers and discovered
many similarities, not only in music, but in our sense of humour, our
movie and TV tastes and our joy for life and concern for the
environment. As soon as I heard Mark sing, I knew that we had to start
working together. A date was made for Mark to come over to my studio and
immediately we began working on the track which was to become 'Take Good
Care'. This formulated into an energetic and exciting song writing
partnership that culminated in the completion of our debut album 'More
Than A Dream'. Mark and I would get together sporadically over the next
few years. This was due to high levels of commitment each of us had to
our own jobs and other areas. This is why ‘More Than a Dream’ took so
long to complete. (9 years!)
During this time Mark and I realised that this was
getting much bigger than the two of us, so we decided to expand the
project into a band. We gathered together the cream of Adelaide’s
musical talent into what we now know as Unitopia.
We have a great group of people in the band. We all get
along very well even though our personalities are so different. Shireen,
our bass player is very quiet and reserved, but she has a dry sense of
humour and some of the quips she can come out with are hilarious. She’s
also very self deprecating. She loves Latin music! Mark on the other
hand is larger than life in every way. He’s 6 foot 6 inches tall and
built like a truck! He has no problem talking to anyone having been in
sales for most of his life. Mark loves any music! Monty our drummer is a
bit of a dark horse and can get very moody and sullen, but we have ways
of snapping him out of it. Just give him a pair of drum sticks and he’s
as happy as Larry. Monty loves jazz-rock - Spirogyra, Steely Dan and Al
Jarreau. Matt, our guitarist is one of the most easy going people you
would care to meet and loves good ol’ straight ahead rock, as is Tim our
percussionist who enjoys pretty much anything if the concerts I’ve seen
him at are any indication! Me, I can get a bit intense sometimes, so
Mark will always have a joke or a gag ready to lighten me up! He’s
definitely the band clown! I love to listen to singer-song writers like
James Taylor and Al Stewart. What is common to all members though, is
their commitment to their craft. They are all excellent musicians. World
class, but without the ego. I think that that translates onto the album
very well. Each member has a chance to shine, but they don’t get in the
way if it’s not warranted.
The name Unitopia was about the fourth name we came up
with. The first couple of names were Magoo and Uni-T. This led to an
amalgamation of two words, Unity, meaning all together and Utopia, and
ideal place. Thus Unitopia means all together in an ideal place. Our
website describes it
more fully: UNITOPIA - (yu-nih-to-pi-E): meaning
living together as one in a place of ideal perfection especially in law,
government and social conditions.
How did you launch into writing material for
‘The Garden’ and how much time did you spend on the songs?
‘The Garden’ took about 3 years to complete from
start to finish. That might seem like a long time, but seeing as ‘More
Than a Dream’ took 9 years, we were really flying along! Mark and I both
have full time jobs, so we can’t put the amount of time into Unitopia
that we would like. We’re hoping that ‘The Garden’ is successful enough,
so that we can justify spending more and more time on our music.
I guess the biggest problem we face is lack of time
and money. Pretty much like everyone else I’m afraid. We would love to
do this full time, but because there is only a very small market in
Australia, it’s not financially viable. This means that both Mark and I
work full time to support our families. We’re fortunate that I own and
operate a recording studio otherwise we might not have ever recorded any
of our songs. This being the case, we wrote, demoed, recorded, mixed and
mastered the album entirely in our spare time. Imagine what we could do
if we were doing this all day! That is a dream of ours. To write, record
and tour Unitopia full time. After completing ‘More Than a Dream’, we
realised that this wasn’t the end, but just the beginning. We started
writing new material straight away!
Did ideas come easily so that you just had to
write them down or was it more of a careful composing thing?
Our ideas come very quickly. Mark is a real ideas
person. They just keep on flowing right out of him! I take those ideas
and make them a reality. That’s what I’m good at.
Lots of things inspire us to write our songs as
well. We really love what we do and can’t wait to get down to song
What were the goals you had in mind when you
started to write songs for ‘The Garden’, any elements you definitely
wanted to have on the album?
We really wanted The Garden to be a prog album, but
not in the traditional sense. We like to make our music complex and
challenging, but at the same time accessible. We love to write good
melodic songs and then place them in a progressive rock framework. Also,
we like to add elements of world/ethnic music as well as classical and
Was it a conscious decision to do it this way?
Probably more so for me than it was for Mark. Mark
doesn’t mind what style we write in as long as we’re writing together.
We’ve even written a lullaby for children!
In song writing, what is the utmost important
ingredient for a song according to you and is there any typical way that
a Unitopia song comes into being?
I’m a huge fan of singer-songwriters such as Neil
Young, James Taylor and Shawn Colvin, so for me, the most important
ingredient is the actual song. Then comes the arrangement. Firstly
though, you need to have a good melody, strong lyrics and an interesting
chord progression. Forget all of the solos, instrumental breaks etc…
What will grab people’s attention is a really good song. That’s what we
strive for as much as we can.
There is no typical way that a Unitopia song comes
together. We just get together and start writing.
Could you please describe the implications of the title
‘The Garden’ is the title of the 2nd track on CD1
and is our longest piece to date running at 22 and a half minutes. The
song began as an idea I had after seeing advertising for the Adelaide
Fringe Festival’s ‘Garden of Unearthly Delights’ and my fascination with
Hieronymus Bosch’s painting ‘The Garden of Earthly Delights’. Using both
for inspiration, I began to write lyrics that depicted a strange,
fanciful and wondrous place where one could go and totally forget their
inhibitions, indulge their every whim and fulfill their every desire.
Exploring this idea further, I wanted to convey the notion that
sometimes the things that feel pleasurable are not always good for you.
Thus a constant struggle is waged between the pleasures of life and
looking after one’s mind, body, soul and emotions. This struggle is what
Mark and I focused on during the writing of the rest of the piece. The
eventual outcome is that the catalyst of the story finally overcomes the
‘dragons’ that prevent him from claiming his future and enters a realm
of peace, grace and freedom. The story is allegorical and uses concrete
forms to convey the more abstract and spiritual notions of the song.
Who was responsible for writing the songs and
the lyrics on this album and where do you get your inspiration from?
Mark and I write most of the material. Our guitarist
Matt has collaborated with us on 2 songs, “Love Never Ends” written for
my wedding to my lovely wife Amanda, and “When I’m Down”. In the
mid 90’s while Mark was living in Sydney, he wrote a couple of tracks
with local producer Matt Coxhead. One of the tracks was “This Life”
which I always liked, but we rewrote the chorus, changed the key and
tempo and a few of the words to bring it into the Unitopia style. Matt’s
heard the different version and he’s very pleased!
Apart from those 3 songs, all the rest were written by Mark and I.
Mark and I have similar music tastes in a lot of areas.
We both like Genesis, Peter Gabriel, Pink Floyd, Yes, Moody Blues,
Marillion, Alan Parsons and a lot of the newer prog bands out there such
as The Flower Kings, Spock’s Beard, Porcupine Tree and Frost. Mark also
likes John Martyn, Kate Bush and the more electronic side of music such
as Jean Michel Jarre and Vangelis. I tend to prefer the singer -
songwriters such as James Taylor, Al Stewart and Paul Simon as well as
some of the big 80’s stadium acts such as Heart, Toto and Ambrosia. I
also love listening to Prefab Sprout, Alison Krauss, Shawn Colvin and
Nicolette Larson. We both have very varied tastes! As far as inspiration
from other artists, it can be anything. A chord progression, a sound, a
lyrical topic or even a general philosophy. We don’t think about it too
much, we just get into the studio and write.
Who was responsible for the lyrics on this album and
where do you get your inspiration from? What would you say are the main
themes in your lyrics ?
Mark and I write all of the lyrics for Unitopia. We
come at things from a different angle to each other. Mark will sing and
improvise lyrics that come straight from the heart whereas I will spend
a lot of time on the lyrics and craft them as well as I can. It’s very
important for me to be as poetic as possible. Inspiration for Mark,
comes from matters of the heart, whereas my inspiration comes from
reading, observing and life experience. The main themes of our lyrics do
vary, but in general we like to state a very positive attitude in them.
There is way too much negativity around us, so we like to keep things
positive, even when all looks bleak, there can still be a light at the
end of the tunnel. Some listeners may think that’s a bit un-cool or
simplistic. That’s OK, but it won’t change our approach to our lyric
writing. We want the listener to be uplifted by our music and writing
positive lyrics is one way to do that.
Is the music written independently of the
lyrics or do you try to reflect lyrical ideas through the music?
It’s whatever feels right at the time and it also
depends on who has come up with the idea in the first place. Mark might
have a line or two of lyrics or a concept going around in his head. He
will sing it to me and I will start putting music to it. At other times,
I might have a chord progression or a piece of music that I have written
and Mark will start improvising a lyric and melody over the top of it.
Sometimes we just ‘jam’ in the studio and see what we come up with. More
rarely, one or the other of us will write a pretty well complete song
that they will present to the other.
What comes first, lyrics or melodies? Is it like you sit
down and write a new song because you need more material now or do you
wait until you get an idea?
What comes first is the idea. Then all else follows,
but not in any particular order. We are never short of ideas, so we
write songs whenever we get together, or sometimes we write separately
and then bring the song to the table the next time we get together.
Do you have any favorites on ‘The Garden’, songs that you
think are somehow above the others?
I really like all of the tracks on ‘The Garden’ and have
different reasons for doing so. E.g. “One Day” I like because it’s so
simple and “The Garden” I like because it’s so complex! Work that out!
If I had to pick a favourite track it would change all the time. Mark’s
favourite track is “Give & Take”.
How much time did you spend in the studio on ‘The
As I own and operate a recording studio, all our
time is spent there. It took us 3 years to complete, but during that 3
years, we wrote all of the songs, demoed them, added all of the live
parts including vocals and then edited, mixed and mastered them. It
would probably be hundreds of hours if I were to add up all the time
that was spent on the album.
What do you think are the main differences between your
previous album and the new one ‘The Garden’?
Our first CD, ‘More Than a Dream’ took us 9 years to
finish because Mark and I could only get together very sporadically.
It’s more of a project album than a band effort. The CD is a bit less
cohesive than ‘The Garden’ due to the fact that we were still
experimenting with our sound, we didn’t have a set roster of musicians
(we just used anyone who was around at the time) and we weren’t setting
out to write a progressive rock album. I think we’ve matured lyrically,
thematically and musically quite a bit since we started working on ‘More
Than a Dream’. We have a lot more of an idea now as to what we want to
write and how we want to convey our music and message. Even though MTAD
was very well received, I feel that ‘The Garden’ is a much better effort
from us musically and lyrically.
That being said, there are still some very strong songs on MTAD that
we’re very proud of. Justify, Still Here, the title track and “Lives Go
‘Round” (which is the opening track on the latest CPR3 compilation
release) to name a few. I would describe the new album ‘The Garden’ as a
more coherent, mature album, more firmly placed in the progressive rock
genre. It is far more lyrically and musically intricate than ‘More Than
a Dream’. With our 1st CD, Mark and I were learning about one
another, what we liked, what we didn’t and what we wanted to get out of
the Unitopia partnership. For the most part, it was a labour of
love…something we did in our infrequent spare time. We weren’t
necessarily recording an album…just writing a collection of songs for
our own enjoyment. This collection became ‘More Than a Dream’ and it was
only after it was released and we saw all the positive responses we got
from all around the world that we thought “Maybe we’re on to something
here!” Don’t get me wrong…we were very passionate about the project, but
didn’t quite see how much a part of our lives it was going to become. As
we wrote and recorded the songs, we gathered people to play on the
tracks as they were available. Consequently on MTAD there are 2
drummers, 3 bass players, 2 guitarists, numerous session backing singers
as well as a host of others.
We wanted the new material to be a lot more cohesive
and we also wanted the players who played on the CD to be a part of the
live band as well, so Mark and I set about recruiting the best possible
players to be involved in the new project. This became Unitopia the
band. We now had a vehicle for playing the Unitopia music live as well
as in the studio. The players who play on the CD are the ones we tour
with! Also… ‘The Garden’ was written, recorded, mixed and mastered in 3
years. This means that there is a lot more consistency between the
tracks. Mark and I were also getting together a lot more frequently so
the pace of the whole process has been increased.
During the latter stages of MTAD and the beginning
of ‘The Garden’, I went through a marriage breakup. This gave me a lot
of free time to devote to Unitopia as well as a lot of emotional
material from which to draw when writing lyrics. Whereas MTAD was
recorded over 8 years in 3 different studios, ‘The Garden’ was finished
in one studio in 3 years.
These days, Mark and I have a very clear idea where
we want Unitopia to go and this attitude reflects in our songs and their
Have you received any feedback on the album yet?
Yes! So far the general concensus is that people
either love it or hate it! I don’t think that’s a bad thing. I would
rather have a strong reaction than no reaction at all! I’m just talking
about reviewers here. As for the fan’s reaction, it’s been very positive
and encouraging. Maybe we’ll keep on going!
Are third party opinions (press, fans, etc.) on
your music important to you? Or are your music and band the only things
Initially, Mark and I started writing together
purely for our own enjoyment, and that fact hasn’t changed. What has
changed is that now we have a lot of other people that really enjoy what
we do as well. We consider that we now have a certain responsibility to
them to continue to create high quality music that they will enjoy for a
long time. Not everyone is going to like our material. That’s OK…we’re
fine with that. What does annoy us a bit is destructive criticism.
Whenever I write a review, even if I don’t particularly like the style
of music, I will always look for positives and try to remain
constructive regarding the negatives. It’s very easy to take negative
critique personally. However, we do what we do and don’t make any
apologies for it. We have to stay true to who we are.
Overall, are you pleased with the outcome of
the songs or would you have liked to have changed anything in
I think as a musician there will always be elements
of the whole effort that you’re not completely happy with. That’s to be
expected. But that’s all part of learning, growing and getting better at
what you do. I’m sure there are elements of ‘Close To The Edge’ that Jon
Anderson might be less than thrilled about, but it’s still an amazing
Overall though, we’re very pleased with the outcome
and we are very proud of it.
What do you think is the difference between Unitopia and
other bands in the progressive / symforock scene?
There are a few differences that I feel Unitopia has
that are different from other prog/symphonic bands. Number one, we’re
from Australia. That gives us a unique perspective as we’re one of only
a handful of progressive rock bands from this country. Number two, we
like to incorporate ethnic/world, classical and jazz textures into our
music to create a unique blend of those styles that is uniquely Unitopia,
and thirdly, we appeal to a larger female audience than some bands due
to the fact that we write songs that are more sensitive in their
delivery and structure.
What is your opinion on the Australian scene these days,
is there anything missing in the progressive / symforock scene?
The Australian progressive rock scene is nearly
non-existent. We have a handful of bands that are creating good
progressive rock and that’s about it. Namely Cog, The Merlin Bird and
The Third Ending. There IS a market for progressive music here, but it’s
very difficult to get anything through the media as prog seems like it’s
a dirty word here. The culture is totally different in Australia to
Europe or North America unfortunately.
As far as what’s missing in the current prog scene,
I would say that some prog bands these days lack a little of the
pioneering spirit that made prog bands of yesteryear so good. Bands like
Yes and Genesis were trail-blazers. We’ve lost a bit of that and
sometimes ride on their coat tails a bit too much. I include Unitopia in
that as well. We will however still continue to create music that
although prog in nature, is something that’s hopefully a little
different to what’s already out there. Whether we’re successful at it or
not, time willl tell.
Who are your greatest influences - both in terms of
composition, as well as your guitar /bass / drum playing?
Mine personally are all the great keyboard players
throughout history. Most notably, Wakeman, Emerson, Banks, Moraz etc…
Compositionally, Gershwin, Stravinsky, Thomas Newman, James Taylor,
Jimmy Webb, Al Stewart, Thomas Dolby, Kate Bush, Lennon and McCartney
and Sting. Monty our drummer has always been a big Porcaro and Gadd fan.
Shireen our bass player is a huge latin fan. She
loves Pastorius and Laboriel. Tim our percussionist loves Porcaro and
Portnoy. Matt our guitarist is a big Satriani fan and Mark loves Peter
Gabriel and John Martyn.
Can you tell us a little about yourself and the kinds of
things that motivate you in your writing, your poetry, and your lyrics?
What are you personally into?
The things that motivate me primarily are my faith
in God, my love for music and my desire to make the world that we all
live in just a little bit better place, by doing what I can on a
personal level. I love keeping fit by teaching and learning karate. (I’m
a probationary 2nd dan black belt) I love my wife, Amanda and
my family. I love collecting comic books. I have a nearly complete
Marvel Comics collection and most DC comics from the 1970’s on. I
recently picked up a Superman #4 from 1940 while I was in New York. I
love reading…anything! Mark enjoys spending quality time with his wife
and two daughters. He’s been a keen surfer in his time and loves taking
long walks along the beach. (seems like an ad for a personal!!!) He
loves singing and will sing at the top of his lungs whether there’s an
audience or not! He loves movies and TV series especially Doctor Who and
He also wants to leave the world in a better place
than which he found it in.
What have been the highlights and low points throughout
I think that the release of ‘The Garden’ by
InsideOut is definitely one of the high points for us as a band. I can’t
think of any low points. I don’t tend to dwell on them, but instead turn
them into positives.
Which album has been your biggest musical influence, one
that made you think “this is what I want to do!”?
I remember as a teenager, my father bought me
‘Journey to the Centre of the Earth’ by Rick Wakeman. That album totally
blew my mind. You can really hear the orchestral influence that Rick
Wakeman has had on my writing in Unitopia’s music. I still tour with an
array of keyboards that would make Wakeman proud! I love the grandeur,
the showmanship and the amazing technique that he brings to his music.
That’s the album that got me into keyboards, orchestral arrangement and
the progressive concept album.
Other watersheds of enlightenment at that time were’
Close To The Edge’, ‘Tales From Topographic Oceans’ and ‘Relayer’ by
Yes, ‘Supper’s Ready’, the ‘Seconds Out’ live version by Genesis,
‘Please Don’t Touch’ by Steve Hackett and ‘Even In The Quietest Moments’
by Supertramp. You could also add ‘Trilogy’ by EL&P, ‘The Story of I’ by
Patrick Moraz, ‘Tales of Mystery and Imagination’ by Alan Parsons and of
course, ‘Six Wives’, ‘Arthur’ and ‘No Earthly Connection’ by Wakeman.
Are there any particular bands that’ve been a big
influence in your song writing?
In the prog genre there have been many. Yes,
Genesis, EL&P, Alan Parsons, Pink Floyd, Led Zeppelin, Wakeman, Moraz,
King Crimson, Steve Hackett, Jethro Tull, Kansas, Peter Gabriel and The
Moody Blues as well as many of today’s neo prog bands such as Marillion,
Spock’s Beard, Neal Morse, The Flower Kings, Frost, IQ, Dream Theater
and Porcupine Tree. In other genres, I really like Prefab Sprout, Toto,
The Doobie Brothers, Thomas Dolby, Shawn Colvin, Al Stewart, James
Taylor, Nicolette Larson, Kirsty MacColl and Neil Young.
What can we expect from Unitopia in the near future, any
We would love to tour in the near future!!! It all
depends on the sales of the album though. If you want to see us
live…please do your part and go out and buy the CD! Living in Australia
has some wonderful advantages. We have a low cost of living, it’s a
beautiful country and it’s very safe. A disadvantage though is it’s
remoteness to the rest of the world. It costs a lot to travel overseas
from here so we would need to be sure that a tour would be well received
and financially viable. Our dream is to tour Europe and North America
next year if possible.
Where do you see the band going within the next couple of
years, and where do you see the band’s musical direction going for the
I think that the next couple of years will be very
important for the band. Hopefully, ‘The Garden’ will sell well and we’ll
be able to tour overseas. It’s critical that we keep the momentum going
that we’ve strived so hard to achieve. As for the next album, it will
definitely have a concept to it. We already have a clear idea and have
written a few songs for it so far. I can’t say much more than that as we
want it to be a surprise and we’re not that far along yet.
Any last statement you'd like to share with us?
Yes…thank you for your interest in our music. It’s
greatly appreciated and we are honored and humbled regarding the
attention that our music is getting. It’s exceeded all expectations.
Please let us know if you like our music (or even if you don’t) we’re
very approachable! Better still…join our eWeb newsletter and we’ll keep
you up to date with all things Unitopian! We hope to be able to meet you
in person when (and if) we tour next year!
Thanks for your time!
Trueack - Vocals
Sean Timms - Keyboards
Backing Vocals, Mandolin, Acoustic & Lap Steel Guitars, Banjo
Matt Williams - Guitars, Backing Vocals
Shireen Khemlani - Bass, Backing Vocals
Monty Ruggiero - Drums
Tim Irrgang – Percussion
More Than a Dream (2005)
The Garden (2008)