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Doug Ott Reflects on Two Big Enchant Album Anniversaries
"A Blueprint of the World" and "Tug of War" are enjoying milestone anniversaries in 2023.
Thank you for spending part of your day with Michael’s Record Collection. This week, I wanted to talk about a couple of albums celebrating milestone anniversaries. I had the opportunity to attend the patron dinner at the first ever CalProg festival several years ago, where I met the members of the band Enchant. Already one of my favorite modern prog rock bands, it was excellent to learn that the guys in the band were nice, funny, and outgoing. I first met Doug Ott there, although I’m sure that meant more to me than to him at the time.
I was able to catch up with Doug recently to discuss the pair of Enchant albums that are enjoying major anniversaries this year. It’s been 30 years since Enchant released its debut album and 20 since the release of Tug of War. Doug was generous with his time in telling me about those records.
Let’s get to that story.
Enchant was founded in San Francisco in the late 1980s, after previously being known as Mae Dae, and began playing a cross between edgy melodic rock and progressive music. Their mixture of melody, guitar, and keyboards, along with a willingness to stretch themselves musically, created an interesting sound that appeals to both prog and mainstream rock audiences.
The band changed names shortly after guitarist Doug Ott joined the band. In fact, Ott helped select the new name with the fortuitous bounce of a dictionary.
“I was looking through the dictionary trying to figure out different names and stuff,” Ott said. “I dropped it, and when I reached down to pick it up, it was open to the page that said ‘enchant.’ And I picked it up and read the definition: ‘to rouse through ecstatic admiration through song or incantation.’ And I thought, ‘That’s exactly what I want my music to do. And I thought, ‘This is the name.’ When I told the guys the Webster’s definition at the time, they were like, ‘Man, that’s great. Let’s go with that.’ So that’s how we became Enchant. I actually have the word and definition framed in my studio above the door and it reminds me every time I walk in what exactly the band means and what the inspiration was behind it.”
Enchant has released eight albums from 1993 to 2014 and is still considered active, despite not having released any new music in the last nine years. Two of the band’s records are celebrating milestone anniversaries in 2023, including the 1993 debut album, A Blueprint of the World. Despite it being 30 years old, several songs on that record remain concert staples whenever Enchant plays live. Tug of War, the band’s seventh album — and second-most recent — turns 20 this year in early August.
Although my two favorites from the band are probably Juggling 9 or Dropping 10 (2000) — the first Enchant album I owned — and Blink of an Eye (2002), both of the anniversary albums are among the band’s best as well.
Three of the band’s musicians played on both — guitarist/vocalist Ott, vocalist/guitarist Ted Leonard, and bassist Ed Platt. All three are still current members of Enchant, even if there is no timeline for the band’s next new record.
Joining Ott, Leonard, and Platt on the debut album were original keyboard player Mike “Benignus” Geimer and drummer Paul Craddick. Leonard had replaced original singer/bassist Brian Cline on lead vocals in the early 1990s before any of Enchant’s albums were released.
The band recorded A Blueprint of the World, but the members of Enchant were not pleased with the results from producer Paul A. Schmidt. Marillion guitarist Steve Rothery ended up producing five of the album’s 10 songs, remixing two others, playing ebow on “The Thirst,” and adding a guitar outro solo on “Nighttime Sky.”
How did an up-and-coming band from San Francisco get the accomplished Rothery to sit in the producer’s chair? It came from a chance meeting after a Marillion concert the band had attended in Los Angeles. Enchant had already opened for Marillion once, but followed the band to LA to see their show at the famous Whisky A Go Go.
“After the show, the Rainbow Bar next door, we decided to walk over there, and there was Marillion, sitting in a booth,” Ott said. “So we walked up to them and started talking to the guys. Most of the guys didn’t want to talk to us, but Steve was very gentleman-like and started talking to us about music and different things, and we handed him one of our demos, and there was a card in there with a number on it. And he contacted us, and said ‘Wow, I really like what you guys are doing. This is really cool.’ And Paul and him started kind of establishing a relationship.”
Rothery visited California on vacation shortly after that meeting, bringing along Marillion bassist Pete Trewavas and vocalist Hannah Stobart. While there, Rothery asked Craddick to play drums on the first album (Carnival of Souls) by his The Wishing Tree project, which didn’t end up getting released until 1996.
“So, (Rothery and Craddick) were in contact quite a bit. Paul and Hannah fell in love and got married, and they’ve been married ever since. And Steve and I hit it off really well,” Ott said. “And when we were making Blueprint, he called and said ‘How's it going?’ He was just super excited about the outcome of it. And you know, I basically told him I’m not happy with what’s happened. I’m not happy with the producer we were using. He wasn’t really capturing the band the way that I thought it should be captured. And he said that he had an extra couple of weeks at Parr Street Studios in Liverpool — which is owned by Genesis, or at least was at the time — after (Marillion) had recorded Brave. And he said ‘I’ve got three weeks.’ He was going to work a week with The Wishing Tree, and he said, ‘Why don’t you and Paul fly out? Bring the master tapes and we’ll see what we can do.’ So, we went out there, worked with Steve, went over as much as we could, we replaced some guitar parts, replaced some keyboard parts, replaced a few things here and there. And then remixed.”
A Blueprint of the World kicks off with one of the band’s best songs of all time — “The Thirst,” written by Ott. This six-minute opening track is a remarkable achievement for any band, let alone one recording its first album. Ott’s guitar tone sounds like someone threw the tones of Rothery, Ian Crichton of Saga, and Alex Lifeson of Rush into a blender and hit the puree button. Leonard’s vocals are vibrant, soaring through the latter stages of the song, and the rhythm section of Platt and Craddick drives the track forward with a good energy. It’s one of the five songs produced by Rothery, who played ebow in the intro. Lyrically, it’s about how desire can overpower one’s common sense and judgment.
“Catharsis,” another of the Rothery-produced songs, was written by Geimer, Cline, and Craddick. Most of the song was written in the early days of the band, before Enchant became Mae Dae and prior to Ott joining the band. Platt provides some outstanding delicate bass work on this song. Ott’s then-wife lent her voice to the “Stop” bit in the chorus and Leonard sings the hell out of it.
“Oasis” is another of the band’s longtime concert staples and is one of the album’s longer songs at slightly over eight minutes. It’s another one the band got exactly right on the first album. The verses are outstanding, with call-and-answer-style vocals in the verses and melifluous vocal harmonies in the chorus. Rothery remixed “Oasis” but did not produce it. Ott wrote the song himself, after opening it up for the band to write collectively but not getting any contributions.
“It was the first song I’d written for Enchant,” Ott said of “Oasis.” “The (vocal) trade-off part, to me, it just made sense. It was almost like somebody in their own head listening to their two voices, you know?”
The ballad “Acquaintance” follows and wasn’t intended to be an Enchant song. Craddick overheard Ott working on it and insisted he finish it. Leonard turns in one of his best and most emotional vocal performances on the album. It’s one of the most personal songs to Ott in the Enchant catalog.
“I did not like Ted’s vocal on the song originally,” Ott said. “And this is nothing against Ted, because he’s one of the best singers out there. And he’s my brother. I love him to death. But he just wasn’t feeling it. And I was in the studio going, ‘Ah, man, this isn’t working. This isn’t working.’ So, we decided to break for the weekend. Well, during the break, a girl he was very, very much in love with decided that she didn’t want to be with him and broke his heart. He came back on Monday and laid down that vocal, and he felt it. He felt the heartbreak in the song and that’s why it turned out the way that it did. I’m so glad we didn’t keep the original version, because it was kind of flat. And I’m sorry that Ted had to go through that. But at the same time, he suddenly realized what I was talking about in the song, and I mean, he was in tears in the studio singing the song, so it was pretty powerful.”
“Mae Dae” began what turned into a tradition of fun and interesting Enchant instrumentals. The name was Doug’s tribute to the band’s past era, before it became Enchant and went on to record albums. Ott started writing it with just guitar and Taurus pedals and Geimer arranged it. The song was written to be an opening number for live shows and fits that bill nicely, with its atmospheric intro, which gives way to Ott’s interesting guitar. Platt’s bass mirrors the guitar riff and Craddick’s drumming gives the song heft, while Geimer’s delicate keyboards provide texture and depth. All of the musicians have plenty of space to shine on the song.
“It was an ode to the old band,” Ott said. “And we did use it for a long time as our opener, because it’s very powerful. It’s fun. It has a lot of tension to it, which I love.”
“At Death’s Door” opens with a searing guitar riff and is another excellent track that is best when performed in concert, as it has become one of the band’s signature live songs. Cline (before he departed from the band) started with the original idea and Craddick helped write the music for it, with the latter also adding the lyrics. Wonderful harmony vocals sparkle on this song and Geimer’s keyboard gives the song a fantastic atmosphere. Craddick’s drumming stands out on this track and plays well against Platt’s bass work, while Ott turns in a brilliant solo. A line in this song gave the album its name.
Geimer, Cline, and Craddick wrote “East of Eden” prior to Ott joining the band and the guitarist added his bits to the song. It’s a frenetic number with an unusual tempo and shows off the band’s progressive leanings. Ott’s guitar tone reminds me of early Rothery in this one.
Craddick wrote “Nighttime Sky,” although Ott contributed lyrics to a section that didn’t previously have any vocals. It’s one of the more atmospheric tracks on the album and Rothery contributed a solo in the song’s outro. I especially love the chorus. There’s a gentle instrumental section in the middle and a blistering guitar solo from Ott. The outro following the solo is more gentle and then builds back up when Rothery’s solo kicks in and finally Ott trades some licks with his hero-turned-friend from Marillion.
“Enchanted” is a rare Enchant song that deals with a fictional story rather than real-life thoughts and issues. Geimer’s keyboard sounds give it a majestic feel, which is appropriate, since it’s about the love aspects of the King Arthur story, in which Arthur refuses the sorceress Lady Annowre’s attempts to seduce him and remains faithful to Guinevere.
Album closer “Open Eyes” was left off of the original version of A Blueprint of the World on now-defunct Dream Circle Records, but it was added back in for the reissues and remastered versions. The band wasn’t happy with it at the time and it was fraught with problems, such as Ott having an issue with his hand and Craddick flubbing some bass drum beats due to cramping — the drum parts were later fixed. I like Geimer’s keyboard sounds on it but it’s not one of the album’s strongest songs, which says more about the quality of the other tunes than the flaws of “Open Eyes.”
“Listening to the record for me is very, very difficult because I do hear all the flaws and hear things that are wrong with it,” Ott said of Blueprint. “But I do also hear maybe more of the raw brilliance of the ideas that were there. I was very proud of what we did. I just always wished that we could have rerecorded it and made it sound sonically the way we wanted it to do. So, that was my only real complaint.
“But Blueprint, writing-wise, I think was a very, very strong record and it made a big impact in the prog world for us, so I’ve never not liked it, or anything like that.”
Flashing forward 10 years, Enchant released its seventh album, Tug of War, on Inside Out Music on Aug. 5, 2003, meaning it’s only a few days away from its 20th anniversary. Enchant had undergone some personnel changes by this time. Geimer left after 1998’s Break album, although he contributed a solo to “Juggling Knives” on Juggling 9 or Dropping 10. Craddick departed after the Juggling 9 album, on which he and Ott contributed some of the keyboard work.
With Geimer, it was a matter of wanting to do other kinds of music (bluegrass), but Craddick simply wasn’t feeling the same about being in Enchant and playing the music as he had previously.
Drummer Sean Flanegan joined Enchant before the recording of Blink of an Eye, but before he was the band’s drummer, he was a fan. Before he needed a new drummer, Ott met him by chance one day when buying a guitar. While in the store, he heard the sound of someone playing Dream Theater’s “Erotomania” on keyboards. Flanegan was with that musician when Ott wandered over to see who was playing.
“I said, ‘Are you guys playing Dream Theater?’ And Sean turned around. He goes, ‘Whoa, cool Enchant shirt,’” Ott said. “And I was like, ‘How do you know Enchant?’ And he goes, ‘Those guys are awesome. They’re like one of my favorite bands.’ And I said, ‘Well, that’s my band.’ He goes, ‘Who are you, the manager?’
“I said, ‘No, I’m the guitar player.’ And he went, ‘You’re Douglas A. Ott?’ He used my full name! So, we became friends. I started inviting him to rehearsals and stuff and he was a really good drummer. He was in a band called Chaos Theory at the time. And I loved his drumming. And he was a great guy, and I got along with him really well. And so, when Paul left, I called Sean, and he was living in LA at the time. And I said, ‘Hey, how would you like to be the drummer for Enchant?’ And he goes, ‘Are you kidding me?’ I said, ‘No, Paul and I are parting ways and I need somebody else.’ He goes, ‘Let me call you back.’ He hung up, calls me back two hours later, and he goes, ‘I just quit my job, I just gave notice on my apartment, and I just broke up my girlfriend. I’ll see you in a week.’”
Phil Bennett from Starship played keyboard solos and some additional parts on a few songs on the Blink of an Eye album, but Bill Jenkins joined as Enchant’s permanent new keyboard player prior to recording Tug of War.
“Bill is such a great keyboard player. He’s so good, but he’d never really had the experience of being in the studio, recording, writing. It just wasn’t really his his thing at that time,” Ott said. “So, making Tug of War with him was a little challenging, just getting the sounds that we wanted and the feel with the parts. But you know, by the time we moved on from that album, Bill just started shining like nobody’s business and he’s such a monster player.”
Tom Size mixed Tug of War with Ott and the latter produced and recorded it at Ott’s studio in Concord, California — The Ottotorium — except for the drums, which were recorded at The Space Station in San Francisco.
The album opener, “Sinking Sand,” is one of Enchant’s best and heaviest songs. It’s an angry song, as Leonard wrote the lyrics after learning his brother had contracted HIV. According to the Tug of War special edition reissue liner notes, Leonard’s brother had always talked about the disease as if it was simply a matter of time before he contracted it and then he did. So, it’s understandable that before Leonard’s compassionate side prevailed, he had an angry, kneejerk reaction to the news.
“Sinking Sand” combines the band at its most delicate and at its most raucous, and the dynamic is striking. Leonard shows the range of his vocal talent and Ott’s solo at the end smokes. It is one of my all-time favorite Enchant songs and one of my favorite parts in it is Platt’s mini-bass solo, which he taps out near the end of the song.
“That was Ed’s contribution to that end section, was writing that part and putting it in there,” Ott said. “And I thought it was brilliant. I thought it was so cool.”
For title track “Tug of War,” Ott said he was going for a Soundgarden-meets-Filter kind of sound. I think it’s close to that, but I think there’s some late 1990s Rush influence in the song as well — say, Counterparts or Test for Echo era.
“I was just into a lot of heavier music at the time and I was trying to capture a little more deep Drop D kind of vibe with with ‘Tug of War,’” Ott said.
Lyrically, the song depicts Ott’s personal internal struggle at that time about what kind of person he was going to be — a responsible, family man with a regular job or a musician who was always traveling, recording, and writing songs. The album’s artwork by Thomas Ewerhard depicts the concept well.
“Hold the Wind” is an outstanding heavy melodic song about the futility of materialism that showcases Leonard’s ability to belt out a chorus in a high range. Platt absolutely crushes the bottom end in this song with monster bass playing.
Another one of Ott’s deeply personal songs is the aptly named ballad “Beautiful.” It was written in the aftermath of an argument Ott had with his wife that left him wondering how two people in love could allow forces to break or threaten that bond.
And how does something beautiful
Just fade into a memory
Stored there for a rainy day?
And how does something wonderful
Get tossed aside or thrown away
Like something that is broken or frayed?
What a mess we've made
Shards of hearts they splinter beneath our feet
Yet we refuse to retreat
“I saw our relationship crumbling,” Ott recalled. “And I truly believe that love and how you react to things is a choice. And I was saying that we have a choice here. We have something that’s really beautiful. Now we can let it falter. We can, you know, let it break on the ground if we want to, or we can try to do something about it.”
Leonard gives a powerful and emotional vocal performance, Jenkins’ keyboards and Flanegan’s tasteful drumming drive the song forward.
The heaviness of the album kicks back in for “Queen of the Informed.” Again, Leonard’s vocals shine. Tug of War is one of the better albums for showing off what he can do with his voice. Platt’s bass work stands out as he and Flanegan lay a rock-solid foundation for Jenkins’ keys and power chords from Ott.
“Living in a Movie” shows off the band’s sense of humor with its darkly comedic lyrics that were based in part on a series of mishaps that Platt was going through at the time — although the things in the song were not specific to what was happening to Ed.
“I’m gonna actually tell you something that I have never really told anybody, and Ed doesn’t even know this. But that song was inspired by Ed’s life,” Ott said. “He was just going through so much stuff at the time, and it seemed like every day he would tell me something worse was happening. And I just was laughing comically, going ‘This is like almost like a Sad Sack comic book from the 70s.’
“He called me one night and said, ‘My wheel came off of my car. He was on the Bay Bridge going to San Francisco, and it bounced over the edge of the bridge and hit a tugboat. And I started laughing hysterically. Then he calls me a week later and says ‘I’m standing on the side of the road. My car’s on fire.’ And I'm like, ‘Are you kidding me?’”
One of Ott’s best guitar solos on the album is a highlight of “Living in a Movie,” as well.
“Long Way Down” is one of my favorite songs on the album for its harmony vocals in the choruses, Flanegan’s drumming, the acoustic guitar work, and Jenkins’ subtle sounds on the organ. Leonard and Ott wrote the lyrics for Ott’s music.
Leonard wrote the lyrics and music for “See No Evil,” and starts the song by counting it in. He played all guitars on the song except the ending solo, which is Ott’s. Platt’s bass work shines through on this song, along with Leonard’s vocals.
The instrumental “Progtology” follows and is one of the band’s best in a series of great instrumental tracks. Jenkins came up with the name, as Ott looked for a title that included the word “prog” in it, the way the band had done with the song “Prognosis” on Blink of an Eye. Per the album’s liner notes, “progtology” is the physiology and pathology of progressive music. Ott wrote the song, starting with the the track’s prominent guitar riff.
“We were at dinner one night, all having some drinks, and I said, ‘Hey, we need to name this new instrumental, and it has to have ‘prog’ in it,’” Ott said. “And then Bill said, ‘What about Progtology?’ And we all started laughing.”
The instrumental may have been built on a crunchy guitar riff, but it also allows Jenkins’ keyboards to shine. Ott recorded some Mellotron flourishes that add something fun and whimsical to match the song’s title. Platt adds some cool bass pyrotechnics near the end of the song, but the entire band is given the opportunity to show what they can do.
The album closes (not counting a live bonus version of “Below Zero” recorded at NEARfest 2002, which is tacked onto the end for the special edition reissue) with another one of the great Ted vocal performances on “Comatose,” another deeply personal song that Ott wrote. Ott plays the delicate piano part for this darkly beautiful closer.
“I was feeling like I was being torn,” Ott said of the subject matter. “My wife wanted to settle down and have a family. And everything that she was saying that she wanted was something that I was not in a place to be at. I was wanting to be doing something else. And so, I found myself drinking pretty heavily and sort of numbing myself and avoiding the conversation. And that was my feeling of where I was. I was literally putting myself into a coma to escape these decisions that I had to make at some point.”
Ott said “Comatose” is a difficult song for him to play live due to his emotional connection to it.
“We didn’t play the song again for years and years and years and years, because I couldn’t get through it,” he said. “I literally break into tears. If you ever watched the DVD, during the guitar solo I’m actually literally crying. And my ex-wife is in the audience. We separated for a year and a half at that time. I literally cried during the guitar solo. I made them edit it in a way that it didn’t show me too much. Because I was very embarrassed that I couldn't keep my emotions in check while playing. And I told the guys after that, I said ‘We’re not playing the song ever again.’ But we did years later, once I got over it, because I love the song.”
As mentioned previously, the special edition reissue of Tug of War includes a live version of “Below Zero” — which originally appeared on the band’s Wounded album in 1996 — that was recorded live at NEARfest 2022.
Both of these milestone Enchant albums stand among the band’s best recorded works. If I were to rank all eight of the band’s albums, these two would both place among the top half of Enchant’s studio releases. Although Ott may be right in that Blueprint isn’t sonically what he was looking for, that debut album contains some of the band’s best and most beloved songs from a time when the musicians were young, hungry, and at their most energetic.
Meanwhile, Tug of War represents a mature Enchant that had worked on its songwriting and recording craft for a decade. The influences on the music are more varied and heavier, giving it a completely different vibe.
Fans of classic rock, melodic rock, and progressive rock should find something to like among the songs on these two records.
The most recent Enchant album was 2014’s The Great Divide. Enchant still plans to record another album at some as-yet unknown time in the future. To keep up with the band, follow Enchant on Facebook. And if you like melodic rock that’s on the adventurous side, add A Blueprint of the World and Tug of War to your collection. Once you’ve gotten to know them, just go ahead and buy the rest of the Enchant catalog.
A Blueprint of the World (1993) Tracklist:
At Death’s Door
East of Eden
Tug of War (2003) Tracklist:
Tug of War
Hold the Wind
Queen of the Informed
Living in a Movie
Long Way Down
See No Evil
Below Zero (live bonus track on the special edition reissue)
For my complete conversation with Doug from Enchant, check out the video below or listen to Episode 114 of the Michael’s Record Collection podcast. Among the topics we covered were Doug’s musical beginnings, the many bands he’s in now, what the other members of Enchant have been doing since the band’s last release in 2014, the endless search for guitar tone, the prospects of another new Enchant album, and more.
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