When Terry Brown (producer of RUSH, Max Webster, Ian Thomas) let three young musicians loose in his studio during off hours, it was the starting point of one of music history’s most unique and interesting adventures.  Follow along as Roland Canada’s Jason Dionne digs up the past, lets you in on some real music history,  and answers the question “Who is Klaatu?”

PART 1: Back to the Past

facesCalling themselves Klaatu — after the peace emissary in the 1951 movie “The Day the Earth Stood Still” — they wrote, recorded, and inventively engineered an album that was so creative it was compared to bands such as Pink Floyd, ELO, and The Beatles.

So who is Klaatu?

“Klaatu is Klaatu.”

That’s what they told the journalists, but the less publicity they wanted, the more they got when the rumour that they were The Beatles reunited under a new name swept the globe.

Over the past couple of years, Klaatu has completed the momentous task of remastering their first three albums: 3:47 EST, Hope, and Sir Army Suit. All remastered by audio restoration guru Peter J. Moore, with Terry Brown and members of the band in attendance, this is a real treat and a must have for any Klaatu music fan. As a fan myself, I was excited to hear this news and it prompted the idea for this article. With these remasters now available to the public, I recently purchased and received my copies of all three Klaatu albums. Included in the newly remastered deluxe edition of the Sir Army Suit album is a bonus DVD containing animated music videos for A Routine Day, Everybody Took A Holiday, Tokeymor Field and Perpetual Motion Machine, plus an hour long interview with the three band members Terry Draper, Dee Long, and John Woloschuk.

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The year is 1976. In August, Capital Records released an album simply titled 3:47 EST, the debut album of a new group calling themselves Klaatu.

The music is REALLY good, very well produced with a progressive rock sound, and edged with a psychedelic flare reminiscent of the Beatles who, by this point, are no longer together; the public announcement of their breakup still fresh in the minds of fans who continue to reel in its wake. Everyone in earshot of Klaatu’s debut album, not surprisingly, have their interest piqued more than a bit and many wonder who the musicians are. Yet after looking everywhere on the album cover for clues to their identity, none can be found. Are they The Beatles? Some are curious enough to contact Capital Records requesting information, only to be told that they are a “mystery group” and that “Klaatu want to be known for their music and not for whom they are”.

Mystery. Intrigue.

articleAs fate would have it, the public would not allow the secret identities of the members of Klaatu to remain unknown; and the simple reasons Klaatu had for keeping their identities private would soon be misconstrued by many all over the world. In February of 1977, a newspaper article written by Steve Smith was published in The Providence Sunday Journal and, according to Klaatu’s 7th edition of their fan club letter The Morning Sun, “sparked off one of the most widespread avalanches of world-wide press coverage ever afforded an unknown musical group and which later became the most bizarre and hotly debated music-business controversy of the 1970s. Like a pebble innocently tossed into a still pond, the news article first appeared in the Providence Sunday Journal on the 13th of February but within days of that initial publication the repercussions were to be felt across North America and indeed as far away as Australia where the crest of the rumour reached its highest point.”

In his article, Steve Smith pondered over the many intriguing mysteries he found in Klaatu’s music, lyrics, album artwork, and their anonymity. “The album’s musical and lyrical clues” he concluded, “left four possibilities as to whom this mystery band could be:

1. The Beatles.
2. A couple of the Beatles with other people.
3. A Beatle-backed band.
4. A completely unknown but ingenious and talented band.

klaatuarticle2According to The Morning Sun, “the final irony of this newspaper article and the subsequent chain of events arises from the knowledge that, from the very beginning, Klaatu had been a band which consciously sought to avoid all publicity and did so at any cost, hence their self-imposed anonymity for so many years. But, as a direct result of the ‘Could Klaatu be the Beatles?’ article and the deluge of press that followed, the band was to become the unwitting subject of a tidal wave of ‘hype’, the likes of which would have far exceeded the wildest dreams of even the most ambitious of press agents.”

In the midst of all this hype, Klaatu’s Terry Draper received a test-pressing of the Carpenters’ version of Calling Occupants of Interplanetary Craft with a note saying, “To Klaatu. We’ve been observing your group! Karen and Richard Carpenter”. By late 1977, the Carpenters’ version of this Klaatu song was getting regular airplay on radio stations worldwide. The word was definitely out…

Communication in the 1970s was archaic and much slower in comparison to our present technologies. A newspaper article could take months to reach its intended audience. A rumour could be spread via radio, television, print, or word-of-mouth and so the wave or repercussions it caused could continue for months or years. Such were the times surrounding Klaatu’s first albums.

When the hype began, Klaatu weren’t overly fazed by it and just continued to work on their 2nd album Hope. Being private people they just allowed others to think whatever they wanted. According to John Woloschuk of Klaatu, “we insisted that our music could and should speak for itself because apart from the music there wasn’t much else to talk about. Perhaps it spoke a little too loudly after all.”

Being a fan of Klaatu from the beginning, I recall hearing about the hype and being slightly amused by the mystery surrounding the musicians but, knowing their album was recorded in Canada by Terry Brown, I was inclined to think it was all just a rumour. The group I hung with were all about listening to and enjoying music. Hype is usually overrated and distracting. To us, the music was first; the hype was a secondary discussion. The music of Klaatu was worth listening to and it was real, as immediate as putting the vinyl on the turntable and pressing play…

Music. Sublime.

Klaatu and Roland

I had the distinct pleasure to dialogue with Klaatu’s Terry Draper and Dee Long, who each informed me they have been long-time users of Roland gear. Being on staff at Roland Canada for 16 years my interest was piqued and, of course, I felt this was very cool information to pass along.

jv-880Terry Draper has used the Roland JV-880 Multi-Timbral Synth Module extensively over the years to access Piano and Picked Bass sounds via MIDI and has expanded the internal patches with the Roland SR-JV80-08 Keyboards of the 60s & 70s expansion card to access Hammond B3 and Mellotron sounds. Terry also uses the Roland MT-32 Multi-Timbre Sound Module for its French Horns, mixing them together with samples from his Mac. Previous to this Terry had used the Roland U-110 Synth Module.

Dee Long says one of his “main go to devices” is his Roland GR-55 Guitar Synth which he uses “in the studio and on stage all the time”. Accessing the sounds from the GR-55 with his Roland GK-3 13-pin pickup, Dee says, “I mounted the pickup on my Strat myself.” Recently, Dee used it to do the guitar parts for a cover of Crosstown Traffic for a charity album being recorded in L.A. and says, “Atomic Tracktor uses the wave file player built in to play our backing tracks at 24 bit resolution, and I use it to do special sounds like flute, blues harp, strings and some kick ass solo sounds for my solo tunes and even Led Zeppelin. When I kick that thing in everyone notices!”

707Back in 1984 Roland introduced the GR-707 Guitar Synthesizer w/G-707 Guitar Controller and Dee says, “At ESP studios near Toronto which I co-owned for several years I bought the Roland Guitar Synth with Controller. I had it hooked up to a Fairlight Series IIX with the optional MIDI input, and used it on a lot of music I produced or played on, bands like Rational Youth and Images In Vogue. What a combination that was! Some of the songs I recorded then would have guitar from the Roland, and the synth as well doubled by the Fairlight with strings or voices. Amazing. Wish I still had that setup today.”

analog-chorus-echoDee has used a lot of different effects over the years and favours analog delays, especially the vintage Roland DC-30 Analog Chorus Echo which he used for years and told me it “made it on to many demos and recordings, some for Klaatu. Something about analog delay that sounds so cool!”

Since each member of Klaatu are songwriters and multi-instrumentalists, Dee also owns a Roland PD-8 OCTAPAD which he uses in some very creative ways both live and in the studio. The PD-8 OCTAPAD was introduced in 1985 and Dee says it “still works great!”

Learn more about Klaatu.

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Jason Dionne has worked at Roland Canada since 1997 and is currently their Customer Service Sales Coordinator, working out of their Head Office in Richmond, B.C. Jason is also a musician who currently plays in The Undoing and Augusta bands.

PART 2 with Jason’s review of Klaatu’s first three albums: 3:47 EST, Hope, and Sir Army Suit.