The talented Progressive Metal mastermind Wheel of Time’s new single, “Grand Cosmos,” is his brand-new offering. The 2022 Dream Theater album “A View from the Top of the World” had a significant influence on Wheel of Time, who expertly combined this musical outlet with an alternative creative pathway — literary and content icons. This song’s cosmic focus on astronomy and the nature of human life is evidence that Sir Isaac Newton, Stephen Hawking, and Brian May were all major inspirations. Check out the exclusive interview below:
1. Can you tell us a bit about where you come from and how it all got started?
Wheel of Time: Hi ILLUSTRATE MAGAZINE, nice to meet you! Thanks for the interview. My name is Jimmie Hong, I am a guitarist from Beijing, China. In 2022 I initialized the concept of the prog band and open music project ‘Wheel of Time’ and started to invite various musicians from all over the world to participate. So far, we got one single album called “Grand Cosmos” released on March 18th. And there will be more songs coming soon! Last year I enrolled in Kiko Loureiro’s Mentorship Programme. I sent him a couple of demos and received his feedback and suggestions not only for the songs but also for where the direction should be. So gradually an idea has formed in my mind. Then I contacted a few musicians and eventually work closely with Tom MacLean (To-Mera, ex-Haken) who acts as producer and mixing & mastering engineer since last November.
2. Did you have any formal training or are you self-taught?
Wheel of Time: I had a couple of years of formal training on violin when I was a child and took piano lessons years after. For guitars, I’m basically self-taught. To me, the most influential guitar teaching material is John Petrucci’s Rock Guitar Discipline, which is still my top pick.
3. Who were your first and strongest musical influences and why the name ‘Wheel of Time’?
Wheel of Time: My early musical influence came from classical music, Vivaldi, Bach, Mozart etc. But for rock and metal music, it is definitely Metallica! Speaking of the strongest musical influences, I would say Metallica+Dream Theater+Joe Satriani. Satch is always my guitar hero of all time!
4. What do you feel are the key elements in your music that should resonate with listeners, and how would you personally describe your sound?
Wheel of Time: Well, usually I tend to write recognizable melodies and guitar riffs, mixing with some distinct ideas (such as song structure or lyric concepts, etc.,) and bring them to the listeners. Regarding my sound, first of all, I would like to thank my producer Tom MacLean, owner of Twelve-Tone Studio, who helped me a lot with the guitar tones. My suggestion on the tone to him was very simple – “Hi Tom, please help to create a gentle but brutal distortion sound”, based on the result of Grand Cosmos, I am very happy with it.
5. For most artists, originality is first preceded by a phase of learning and, often, emulating others. What was this like for you? How would you describe your own development as an artist and music maker, and the transition towards your own style, which is known as METAL?
Wheel of Time: Yes I think it is something that most people would experience, or say, part of the learning curve. Everyone has their favorite bands and guitar virtuosos, for example, Deep Purple, Brian May, Steve Vai. You name it. And people will play those famous songs repeatedly. I think it’s the very first step. By keeping playing and eventually absorbing all the elements, you will “forget” what you learn in the end, and then maybe you can create something new, just like Bruce Lee said: “Using no way as way, having no limitation as limitation.”
6. Do you feel that your music is giving you back just as much fulfillment as the amount of work you are putting into it or are you expecting something more, or different in the future?
Wheel of Time: Apologize that I don’t think I have a fixed answer to this question yet. I still believe there are a lot of songs I need to keep on working. And I know everything is not perfect, such as my songwriting and guitar playing skills, I mean, look at the Queen, Pink Floyd, Dream Theater, Sons of Apollo… Hopefully, I can write more and better songs, again, maybe it is just a part of the so-called learning curve of our life.
7. Could you describe your creative processes? How do usually start, and go about shaping ideas into a completed song? Do you usually start with a tune, a beat, or a narrative in your head? And do you collaborate with others in this process?
Wheel of Time: Usually, it comes with a simple idea, for most of the time it’s a guitar riff or a piece of melody. And then I’ll play this riff or melody several times and listen to it carefully to consider if it is something I can develop as an opening or interlude, or something else. During this process, I’ll use Logic Pro as a composing tool because it has amazing AI drummer and synth plugins, which allow me to make and record ideas quickly, and then everything will expand gradually to verse, pre-chorus, and chorus.
8. What has been the most difficult thing you’ve had to endure in your life or music career so far?
Wheel of Time:To be honest, it is complex and probably there is no sole answer. At this moment I can say the most difficult thing for me is to keep on making music when I have a day job. As I am not a full-time musician, there will be daily workloads that I need to concentrate on, and then when I have some spare time over the weekend to start songwriting, I must “switch” my mind and status back to the musician mode, which could be challenging. Sometimes you have an idea on Monday but just can’t find enough time to develop it, but on Saturday morning when you sit down with the guitar and probably found the idea was gone (lol).
9. With social media having a heavy impact on our lives and the music business in general, how do you handle criticism, haters, and/or naysayers in general? Is it something you pay attention to, or simply ignore?
Wheel of Time: I think everyone has the right and freedom to express their opinion. There is relativity, which means people usually judge things from one single point of view but hardly think from a different perspective. Hence the best way is to try to look at people’s ideas or criticisms neutrally with self-reflecting, then you’ll filter unnecessary disturbance on your mind and absorb useful advice.
10. Creative work in a studio or home environment, or interaction with a live audience? Which of these two options excites you most, and why?
Wheel of Time: I would say both! Home recording is a massive phenomenon now. You’ll have a place at home to make music with modern tools, it’s cool. Studio is more professional and even cooler. But the end goal of making music, is the live gig, which means performing for the fans. It must be great to perform in front of people from different countries, and it’s part of my goal for Wheel of Time ;).
11. Do you think is it important for fans of your music to understand the real story and message driving each of your songs, or do you think everyone should be free to interpret your songs in their own personal way?
Wheel of Time: Yes, it is! My lyrics usually contain some crazy ideas about philosophy, human life, thoughts on living and death etc. So sometimes it could be strange and obscure. And I’m willing to share the stories via social media by request or via live streaming periodically. Other the other hand, I also agree people shall interpret the songs based on their own understanding. But ideally, we should have something in common. This “something in common”, I believe it is so-called resonating.
12. Additional questions added by Jimmie J, What type of gear and which guitar did you use during the making of Grand Cosmos?
Wheel of Time: I played an Ibanez JPM P2 and G&L S-500 for rhythm guitars (both clean and crunch sounds), there is a toggle switch on S-500 to allow the bridge pickup coupled with the middle pickup, hence it can sound pretty tight and very different from traditional single coil pickups. The lead guitar sound came from Ibanez RG3120. It’s an old Prestige model with DiMarzio pickups. I recorded all my guitar tracks via Audient iD44 (MK1) and Logic Pro X. Other stuff includes Dunlop Gator Grip 1.5mm pick and Ernie Ball guitar cable. Thank you for the interview!