There’s so much to say about Hansen’s Pop ‘n’ Rock Music ‘22, the new double concept album from Boston’s Gymnasium. Gymnasium is the solo project of sought-after session guitar player Charles Hansen who’s played with bands such as The Handymen, Justine and The Unclean, Andrea Gillis Band, Ross Phazer, Tom Baker and The Snakes, and more. It’s 2022 and that means that there are in fact 22 new tracks on this mega album and apparently 22 of the best musicians Boston has to offer playing on the album with Hansen. Simply incredible.
To listen to Hansen’s Pop ‘n’ Rock Music ‘22 is an epic quest. It is a concept album on par with The Who’s Quadrophenia. The opening track, “It’s Just Beginning” is a space-age hard rock anthem complete with square synth harmonies and the first of many righteous guitar solos. It brings to mind the rock sensibilities and sense of humor of Norweigan rockers, Death by Unga Bunga
“Tavern at the End of the World,” asks what may be a major theme on the album: /is there a way to get back, to get back, to get back/ to an easy time?/ “Another Time” explores the theme from a groovy ‘70s angle evoking Todd Rundgren’s Something/Anything, Spirit’s Twelve Dreams of Dr. Sardonicus, or even Little Feat.
Hansen consistently borrows from the best artists throughout nearly every decade of American pop and rock music. “Atlantic Sky” shows off a guitar solo right out of Elliot Randall’s playbook on “Reelin’ in the Years.” The penultimate track on disc one, “Split Enz” even ventures into ‘80 new wave/prog rock territory. It’s Now That’s What I Call Music if every track was written and recorded by Charles Hansen.
Hansen’s guitar tones are on point for every track regardless of genre or influence, heavy or quiet, overdriven or clean–that tone is killer. On tracks like “Coast to Coast Companion” for example, you get a great combination of crunchy chords, delicately clean picked notes, and smooth soaring leads. “Before Your Rocket Leaves the Ground” even brings a real muddy buzzy tone that just fits right in among the driving bass, crashing cymbals, and guitarmonies during its crescendo.
Gymnasium’s Hansen’s Pop ‘n’ Rock Music ‘22 time travels through nearly a century of guitar-driven pop, rock, psychedelia, and so much more. It’s a truly impressive undertaking. If you’ve enjoyed music at all, at some point in the last several decades, you will find something to love on this behemoth of an album.
‘22 seems to be a thematically important year and number for this album, yet so many of the tracks harken back through the ages of pop/rock music. What were some of your philosophical and musical inspirations for writing across genres and decades?
I don’t mean to sound flippant, but the truth is I wasn’t really thinking much about anything when I was writing. This was just a stockpile of tunes that I had from over a period of a few years that I decided I needed to get recorded for posterity. It was only after I had finished a bunch of tracks that I thought, “Hey, this stuff seems to have some thematic linkage.” It was an accident, really.
The concept of “another time” comes up often in this album. If you could travel to another time period in music history where and when would you go? Who would you try to meet and jam with?
I would go to Swinging London, directly to the Marquee club to to see The Who. I would love to have met Jimi Hendrix. Jamming with Mick Fleetwood and John Mcvie would have been awesome.
There are so many tracks on this double album. Do you have a favorite?
Sometimes I like Atlantic Sky, sometimes Another Time, but then again I also really like Rocket. I guess it would be between those three. Until tomorrow, when I think of another song. Like you said, there are a lot of songs on the record.
Are there really 22 different musicians playing on Hansen’s Pop ‘n’ Rock Music ‘22? What was the recording process like for such an ambitious project? What parts did you just have to play yourself?
I think there are actually 21 musicians. I probably should’ve come up with some fictitious musician to reach the magic number of 22. Oh well. The process for recording basically boiled down to me tracking all the guitars, keyboards, and most of the vocal harmonies at my desk in my house, all to a click track. Some of the drum tracks are sampled drums that were programmed, although most were real drums recorded towards the end of the tracking process at Peter Moore’s Palace of Purpose
I played all of the guitars, except where indicated in the liner notes, played bass on one track, did a ton of vocal harmonies, and played 95% of the keyboards with a little cleanup help from Peter Moore.
Tone. It’s all about the tone. And you really deliver on this album. What’s your go-to gear right now?
To be completely honest, there’s only one track on the album that’s from a real amp. Everything else is plug-ins. Although Duke Levine, Kevin Barry, and Dave Fredette may have used real amps. I’m not sure. My live setup right now is a late 70s Marshall 50 watt 2×12 combo, an aftermarket Telecaster, and a ‘71 Les Paul Custom.
Do you plan on touring this album? What would that band look like?
Touring would be difficult. One off gigs are likely. I’m still working through how the band would be configured. Sorry to be vague about it. It’s a work in progress, let’s just say. But there will be live shows before long.
Featured image by Ilya Mirman.