A biography of the band Half Past Four, and how the band found itself in the world of progressive rock.
Half Past Four was formed in 1999 by guitarists Dmitry Lesov and Constantin Necrasov. While employing a traditional rock music sound, the pair were dedicated to the creation of original material. “When we started,” says Constantin, “the point was always ‘be yourself, play you own music.’ We eventually started to include cover songs later to dilute the huge chunk of original material that we had.”
In those early years, the band often found themselves playing extended sets – 3-hour shows – where covers helped fill in the time. Constantin recalls, “We learned them just for the purpose of each show and then we’d forget them.”
In 2002, keyboardist Igor Kurtzman joined the band. “We decided to do a cover of Pink Floyd’s ‘Money’,” recalls Dmitry. “And someone had told us that Iggy could play the sax solo on the keyboard. So he came in and was perfect.”
“It was a musical manifestation,” echoes Constantin.
“I was in the eleventh grade at the time,” points out Igor, who was 16-years-old when he joined the band.
“Yes, we had to smuggle him into the clubs to play,” says Constantin with a smile.
2003 was a turning point for Half Past Four. No longer content with the standard, repetitive time signatures of rock music and seeking a new challenge, the band leapt into the 5/8 and 7/8 world of progressive rock. “What drew us to prog-rock is the technique,” explains Constantin. “The skill level required to compose and play this kind of music.”
After two years in the progressive rock genre, the band mates discovered a snag. “We realized we couldn’t pull it off as singers,” explains Dmitry. “We really wanted to concentrate on our instruments.” So their search for a lead vocalist began.
That was when chanteuse Kyree Vibrant happened across a classified ad that the band had posted on the web.
“I was drawn to it because most of the bands I’d performed with had a progressive rock tilt,” remembers Kyree. “I had veered into jazz for a long time… but my first love was prog. So when I saw this band was looking for a singer, I jumped at the chance.”
Since most of Half Past Four’s music to that point had been written with Russian lyrics, Kyree’s rendition of Heart’s ‘Magic Man’ is what sealed the deal. “We had an immediate connection with her,” says Constantin. “Immediate chemistry.”
Interestingly, the band’s first foray into album recording was not in the genre of progressive rock. Rather, it was their score for the zombie-horror movie The Mad (2007). While momentarily leaving the complexity of prog-rock behind, this soundtrack still reveals the virtuosity of Half Past Four as they deliver a cross-genre collection of country, blues, new wave, soft pop, heavy metal and lounge music.
“That’s the thing about progressive rock,” explains Igor, “and especially our music. We mix so many different genres together.”
Half Past Four’s premiere prog-rock album came with the release of Rabbit in the Vestibule (2008), a mélange of 13 tracks that the band had fine-tuned over the previous 3 years.
“The songs on Vestibule were written by different people at different times,” says Dmitry. “We decided to combine them as if the listener is opening doors into stories. The stories themselves are not so much connected but the concept of the album ties the proverbial room together.”
With their first album released, the band began to concentrate more upon touring. Highlights include the JetLag Festival in 2009, Victoria Day and Canada Day shows in Ottawa in 2010, NYC’s Webster Hall and ProgDay 2010 in North Carolina.
“ProgDay was the best show we’ve ever done,” recalls Dmitry. “It was as targeted an audience as you could get. A flawless festival experience. The wow moment was as we were playing, people got up and started singing with us. People we’d never seen before were singing our lyrics.”
Constantin adds some context, “And this was 10’clock in the morning. We opened the festival.”
“Prog fans are not like rock fans,” qualifies Dmitry. “They don’t get shit-faced at 3am and wake up at noon.”
“The audience was curious to see who the festival was going to open with,” says Constantin. “And they were singing along, which was surprised. And then we got a standing ovation.”
But the course that Half Past Four has taken hasn’t exactly been easy. In a cosmic joke similar to a subplot in This Is Spinal Tap, the band couldn’t seem to hold on to their drummers for very long.
“You really have to love prog-rock to be a prog-rock drummer,” comments Constantin.
After working their way through 10 drummers, the band finally found their missing piece in Marcello Ciurleo.
The connection was made via Maurizio Guarino, keyboardist for the acclaimed Italian prog-rock band Goblin. (Guarino had moved to Canada in the 90s to study computer programming.)
“We had met Maurizio through the progressive rock scene in Toronto,” explains Igor. “There were a few shows that had been put on by various people. He attended them and we got to know him a little bit.”
“I had taken a hiatus for 13 years; I didn’t play,” says Marcello. “I was sitting having an espresso one day and I had decided it was time to get back in, to get playing again. Thirty seconds later, I get a call from Maurizio urging me to try out for Half Past Four.”
“It had taken previous drummers a long time to learn our most basic songs, sometimes up to a year,” says Kyree. “It didn’t take Marcello long at all. That’s how we knew he was perfect for us.”
Marcello recalls, “I had about two weeks to learn their stuff. We went into the studio, recorded Good Things and we haven’t looked back since.”
Good Things (2013), the band’s second album, is in many ways a far superior collection than its predecessor, combining a more diverse array of flavours that reveal a greater confidence with the music and subject matter.
“It was more concisely written,” explains Dmitry. “We wrote more of the pieces together; most of them share – compositionally and melodically – some more mature skills we had at that time. The album was about creating – creating a loaf of bread, becoming a parent, writing music, making art. That was the direction of it.”
And now we mark the release of Half Past Four’s third studio album, Land of the Blind (2016), which builds upon the musical maturity and growth of their previous releases. However, the band has recognized that what makes an album is not what it once was before the digital revolution.
“So this latest release is five songs,” explains Dmitry.
Constantin elaborates, “We decided that rather than do what were once full albums, we’re going to do shorter versions.”
“It allows us to give more attention to each song,” adds Igor.
What does the future hold for Half Past Four?
“We always had this carrot in front of us,” Dmitry says, “which was U.S. success. Looking back, this has really served us in terms of establishing ourselves more in Toronto. Ever since we realized that the U.S. is a much farther target and started focusing on playing in Toronto, it’s actually gotten better for us here.”
“Scenes are starting to open up,” agrees Kyree. “There’s a big progressive rock scene that is growing in Toronto. Well-attended venues with people who are there to listen to the music.”
“And they return,” continues Dmitry. “We see them at the next show and the next show…”