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Interview by James Bickers

They seem to be destined to live up to their name. Over the course of five albums, Enchant have cast a captivating spell over their audience; using old tools to make something entirely new, taking the sounds and the methods and the trappings of the progressive rock/metal genre and twisting them into their own unique creation. An Enchant tune is always, and always has been, identifiable on first note: the production, the compositions, that certain ethereal dreaminess of sound, and an almost unheard level of intelligence. These are some of the things which make this band so very special, and so singular.

The Enchant story begins in 1988, when guitarist Doug Ott crossed paths with drummer Paul Craddick and keyboardist Mike "Benignus" Geimer. At the time, the band was called Mae Dae - "a Rush-meets-Genesis type thing," Doug recalls. The name quickly changed (although the song "Mae Dae" remains one of the band's signature pieces), and the first Enchant album - A Blueprint of the World - was loosed on a world which was just beginning to rediscover progressive rock.

The early and mid-90's were a time of great shifts in this style of music; a long-simmering progressive underground was beginning to interconnect, far-flung fans realizing that they were not, in fact, the only ones who loved this stuff. Record labels devoted to releasing progressive rock (as well as "progressive metal," a relatively new entry in the genre dictionary) were actually able to be profitable. Not Sony or Virgin profitable, of course, but successful enough to insure that the music would continue.

Into this climate came Enchant, whose fresh-sounding debut stood clearly apart from the suddenly burgeoning field of Dream Theater clones.

"It was a tough experience - there were so many changes going on at the time," says Doug. "But it was the fruits of five of writing and playing together. I'm very proud of the album. It's a time that was different, and a memory that I'll always look back on with fondness."

In the years since, the Enchant sound has become even more focused. 1997's Wounded saw the band move from traditional progressive territory into something of their own creation. There was suddenly less emphasis on "prog-sounding" riffery and much more emphasis on using the band's simple elements in the service of the song. "Fade 2 Grey" is on this album, and is one of the definitive Enchant songs - reminiscent in some ways of the beautiful Rush song "Losing It," it's nothing short of a masterpiece. Also of particular interest are "Distractions," a wonderfully involved piece, and "Pure" and "Look Away," two songs which showcase the band's strength in slower, ballad-ish territory.

"I think there's some real strong stuff on this album," says Doug. "It's not my favorite recordout of everything we've done, but I think there's some really great material. Mike wasn't around when we wrote most of the music for this album - he had actually left the band at that time, but then came back during the recording. Consequently there's not as much of an influence from him on this record as I would have liked."

"I think that's one of the biggest differences between Blueprint and Wounded - the latter was written mostly on guitar, but almost all of the songs on Blueprint were written on keyboard. That's one reason why it has a very, very different sound to it."

"To my ears (and memory), the band in the Wounded period appears as a band-in-transition," says Paul. "Certainly, typical 'progressive' elements were present, alongside some newer approaches. This makes sense, as well, when you consider that Ted and Ed were being integrated into our framework, as writers and contributors."

Later that year, ('97) the band got a prize spot as the opening act for Dream Theater. To make the most of the opportunity, InsideOut label boss Thomas Waber approached Enchant about the prospect of putting together an EP of material that didn't make it onto the two previous albums - an EP that could be sold on the road.

Well, said EP eventually mushroomed into a full album, and thanks to the clamor from fans, Time Lost was released in late 1997.

"I like the album because it's four new songs and three old songs," Doug says. "The three old songs we had started to do with Ted but they never made it to Blueprint - they were written in that five years before. And I really liked the four songs we had written ... it was right before the Wounded tour, and Benignus had come back and we started playing together as a band again, and those were the songs we wrote at that time. It was kind of reunion, and we were all very happy and excited about our future prospects."

1998 saw the release of Break, a truly wonderful disc that was well received by public and press alike. Crushingly serious and yet still marked with the buoyant Enchant sound, it remains a masterpiece of modern progressive rock. "I love this record," says Ott of Break. "It was done under a lot of stress and a lot of pain, but for me it was very therapeutic. I felt so good mixing this record with Tom Size and listening back to the final results."

Now, we have this newest gift from the Enchant boys, Juggling 9 or Dropping 10. An eclectic title, but one which conveys a great deal of emotion.

"How do I put this the easiest way ... it's a metaphor; making a choice between handling you already have (Juggling 9) or taxing yourself further by adding something else and losing control of everything (Dropping 10). It is a line from Juggling Knives, which deals with the dangers of stretching yourself too thin," Ott says, in explanation of the album's title.

And if anybody should know what it means to juggle countless demands (the rigors of keeping a group of people working together; the creative strain that is the exclusive burden of all artists; the withering heart of public scrutiny and fan expectations; the need to create music which pleases yourself and still has a shot at public acceptance; and, certainly not least, the need to pay the bills and support a family), it is Enchant.

"Everything we do, we really put everything we have into it, so we can always think we're doing the best we possibly can," says Ott. "Whether it's stylistically, musically or lyrically, we try to incorporate whatever influences we can, to bring things out in a unique way. With this album especially, we just tried to blend new styles into what we already know. On this album, we branched out a bit in that sense - trying different feels and flavors."

Juggling 9 or Dropping 10 is a further refinement of the band's wonderful sound. Each player is at the top of their game - vocalist Ted Leonard has never sounded better (which is saying quite a lot), and the band is at their tightest and most confident. And as songwriters, Enchant continues to grow and mature : "Colors Fade," "Paint the Picture," "What to Say" and "Know That," to name just a few, are absolutely brilliant.

If Juggling 9 or Dropping 10, this wonderful and important album you're now holding in your hands, is your first exposure to Enchant, then I truly envy you. You're about to discover one of the great rock bands working today. You're going to find out (or be reminded, perhaps) that music is about more than royalty statements and international sales and corporate profit and teenage girls lip-syncing in front of capacity crowds. It is about determination, expression, vision, spirit, honesty, beauty, and hope. Always hope.

James Bickers is the editor and publisher of Sea of Tranquility, a quarterly magazine devoted to heavy metal, progressive metal, and progressive rock.