Exposé Online banner

When their first album appeared in 2011, Herd of Instinct jumped to a position of prominence among American progressive rock bands. In conjunction with their appearance at the 2016 Voyager Festival in Austin, Texas, I was able to ask Mark Cook a few questions about the band and its music.

by Jon Davis, Published 2016-09-03

photography by Angel Stephens

Mark Cook of Herd of InstinctWhat are your earliest musical memories? How did your conception of music develop in your life?

My earliest memories of music are my parents playing Elvis and seeing Kiss on TV. The first musician to make an impact on me was Gary Numan. The Pleasure Principle was the first album I bought when I was about 8 or 9. As I got older, I started listening to a wide variety of music, which lead me to progressive rock and fusion — Mahavishnu Orchestra, King Crimson, Peter Gabriel, Rush, and Miles Davis. I like music that takes me on a journey. Now my listening tastes are completely schizophrenic. I'll put on spacey dub music, or a pop band like The Blue Nile, because they are completely different from what I do as a musician. I also love music that really pushes the envelope. The recent Scott Walker releases The Drift, Bisch Bosch, and Soused are amazing works of art. These albums are challenging, and definitely not for everybody.

What kind of formal schooling do you have in music?

I studied music theory in college, but ended up getting an art degree. I enjoyed the freedom of visual arts over the defined approach to music that the music department followed at the university I attended. The art department was about creating something unique and new. When I studied music in school the focus was about the way the masters composed.

How did you get into tapping instruments? Did you play guitar or bass first?

I played guitar in a band that could never find a bass player. I was listening to the 80s King Crimson albums and became obsessed with Tony Levin's Chapman Stick playing. It seemed like a logical direction to pursue. Tapping instruments are still relatively new, so it was an opportunity to explore a new approach. I played the Stick for a few years. I love the Stick's unique sound, but the most important change in my playing came when the Warr guitar became available. It's the ideal instrument for me, because it combines both tapping and the tone of a guitar and bass.

Herd of Instinct cover artTell me about how Herd of Instinct came into existence.

Jason Spradlin, the original drummer in HOI, and I had a trio for a few years with a vocalist. When that dissolved, he and I wanted to continue working. We already knew a guitarist we wanted to work with named Mike Davison. While this new trio started writing, I was also collaborating with another Warr guitarist / bassist named Dave Streett. As the writing for both projects progressed, it became apparent the music and direction was so similar that we decided to combine the music and release it as Herd of Instinct. Dave flew to Texas to help us work on mixes for the first album. Markus Reuter was also in Texas at that time working with Pat Mastelotto. He came for a few days to record and help us with the mix. After we finished the recording, we shopped it around to a few labels. We got two offers, but both deals would have given the labels the publishing rights. That's when Gayle Ellett stepped in with the opportunity for HOI to be on Firepool Records. He and Chuck Oken, Jr. were planning on releasing music outside of Djam Karet. They are very supportive of other artists.

Most HOI tracks are credited as group compositions. How does HOI music come together?

HOI music is created by two different approaches. The first method is the group will get together with chord or riff ideas and work as a unit. The second approach is I'll create the structure and the harmonic content for the piece. The other musicians will then interpret and flesh out the composition. "Time and Again" and "Gridlock" on the new CD were written with Rick, Ross, and I in the same room trying to figure out different ways of combining the Warr guitar and Stick. "Manifestation Pt.2" and "Baba Yaga" are pieces I put together. The other musicians then interpret the parts or add new elements. We usually have guest musicians to add depth to the sound. I love density and texture. We add horns or violin to help make our sound more layered. This part of the process is usually done after the music is arranged and recorded. One of the most important guest collaborators for HOI is a fantastic flute / sax player named Bob Fisher. He's featured on all of our albums and on my side project Spoke of Shadows. I think of HOI as more of a collective rather than a defined group of players.

How much improvisation is there in HOI music?

Generally the music is composed. The solos, intros, and outros do usually have improvisational elements. We'll start a song with two or three minutes of ambience that is different every time we play it. I tend to improvise about half of my solos when we play live to keep the music fresh.

Mark Cook of Herd of InstinctHow did you hook up with Gayle Ellett and Colin Edwin?

During the writing stage for the first album, Dave Streett and I were looking for players to enhance the music. He reached out to Gayle to contribute to the CD. When I started working on the second album, I immediately asked Gayle to participate. He has ended up being extremely important to the overall sound of the band. He also helps me finalize the mixes. On the second album, we thought it would be interesting to bring in a second bassist for a few songs. Colin was our first choice because his playing in Porcupine Tree is so outstanding. He is always melodic and supportive to the needs of the music. We sent him a few tracks and thankfully he agreed to participate.

What kinds of live performances has HOI done? How much do you adapt your music to go from studio to stage?

When we formed, we initially played a lot of local gigs to help prepare us for recording. After the second album, we only played a few shows. The original trio added Mike McGary on keyboards for live performances. Gayle lives in California, so we can't afford to have him fly in for a random gig. The last performance of the original HOI lineup was ProgDay 2013 in North Carolina. It took about a year to put the new band together and record Manifestation. The new quartet is definitely a stronger live unit. We're looking forward to playing VoyagerFest in Austin!

How does a non-mainstream band like HOI operate in today’s world? Day jobs? Grants? Patrons? Crowd-funding?

Everybody in the band has day jobs — except Gayle. He's a full time musician. Luckily with today's technology, we do much of our recording outside of a studio. Everybody in the band has a home studio, so we're able to do a lot of work with file sharing. Our albums are sold through CDBaby and also a few distributors purchase copies to sale online or in music stores.

What’s in the future for HOI?

We're currently focusing on playing shows. I do have a few pieces for the next album recorded. There will be some change in sound because I feel a need to experiment with the vocabulary of the band a bit to keep it interesting. I still don't think the band has made a solid statement yet!


Filed under: Interviews

Related artist(s): Herd of Instinct, Pat Mastelotto, Markus Reuter, Gayle Ellett, Colin Edwin

Latest news

2017-07-27
Yestival Dates Beef up the Beat – Word reaches us that Dylan Howe (son of guitarist Steve Howe) will be joining Yes on their "Yestival" tour, drumming alongside longtime band member Alan White. » Read more

2017-05-19
First ProgStock Festival Set for October – October 2017 will see the inaugural edition of a festival called ProgStock in Rahway, New Jersey at the Union County Performing Arts Center. With a definite slant towards neo-progressive music, the event is sure to please many fans with the inclusion of such artists as Echolyn, Glass Hammer, and Aisles. The festival will take place October 13-15. » Read more

2017-05-05
Clive Brooks RIP – Word reaches us today of another sad passing in the music world. Drummer Clive Brooks, best known as a member of such Canterbury bands as Egg, Uriel / Arzachel, and Groundhogs, has died at the age of 67. Details are sketchy at this point. The news was reported on Nick Mason's Facebook page — Brooks was Mason's drum tech. » Read more

2017-05-02
Col. Bruce Hampton RIP – The phrase "He died doing what he loved" is almost a cliche, but in the case of Col. Bruce Hampton, it couldn't be more true. Hampton, who was born Gustav Berglund III, collapsed on stage at his own 70th birthday celebration and later passed away. The event took place at the Fox Theater in Atlanta. » Read more

2017-04-16
ProgDay 2017 Announces First Bands – Flor de Loto, Sonar, and Infinien are the first three performers to be announced for the 2017 edition of the long-running ProgDay Festival. The 23rd ProgDay takes place Saturday and Sunday, September 2nd and 3rd, at Storybook Farm in Chapel Hill, North Carolina. » Read more


Previously in Exposé...

Fonya - Earth Shaper – Earth Shaper is a travel into a fantasy land. A rather colorful travel where most of the times the instruments are equal in conveying the soundscapes to these imaginary places. It could be described...  (1996) » Read more

Devil Doll - Dies Irae – Proceed with extreme caution. If you love symphonic progressive rock with a nasty, sinister edge, Devil Doll may be the band you've been waiting for. Fronted by the inimitable Mr. Doctor on...  (1996) » Read more

John Wetton & Richard Palmer-James - Monkey Business 1972-1997 – When was the first time you heard “Exiles” or “The Great Deceiver” and were taken aback about the lyrics? It’s a pretty strange role to find yourself by trying to fill...  (2000) » Read more

Crimson Jazz Trio - King Crimson Songbook Volume One – Veteran session drummer Ian Wallace leads a capable international trio with this first volume of King Crimson classics done up for modern piano-based ensemble. The key to the dizzying success of the...  (2007) » Read more

Premiata Forneria Marconi - 10 Anni Live 1971-1981 – The saga of PFM is one of the most interesting and revealing of all of the "progressive" symphonic rock greats. With PFM you see the birth of the Italian classical rock scene, you see a band...  (1997) » Read more