GPS
Window To The Soul
28/08/2006
John Payne has been known for the last fifteen years as one of the main creative and driving forces behind melodic rock band Asia. In 1992, at a time when the melodic rock superstars threatened to dry up, their sole surviving original member Geoff Downes formed a partnership with Payne. Payne’s strong vocals, powerful bass playing and most of all his instinct for extraordinary songwriting and production secured the existence of the band for their next five albums (“Silent Nation” was the last to be released in 2004). When Downes recently decided to reunite with the original Asia line-up, Payne moved on and soon founded a new group under the moniker of GPS along with remaining Asia sidemen Guthrie Govan and Jay Schellen together with Spock’s Beard keyboardist Ryo Okumoto.

So as an exciting new chapter begins for Payne, one has to ask if it may have made more sense to perform under a name that fans would associate more readily with Asia rather than the acronym of GPS? Having been such a big part of Asia over the last decade, Payne surely would have had reason to do so? “We deliberately chose to go about this quite differently” he replies. “We wanted a clearly different sound, with more earthy keyboards and more of a focus on the guitars. My singing has become more accentuated, ‘harder’ so to speak. ‘Window To The Soul’ should in no way be seen as a second rate Asia. Obviously I have fifteen years with this band in my blood. Certainly, one thing or another is bound to shine through”.

Payne delivers the basic concept behind his new band with the following description, GPS offers demanding and highly melodic, lavish rock music which one can imagine would be well suited to the big stadiums and which may cause some degree of pleasure for every Asia fan. At the same time, “Window To The Soul” offers a lot of strong musical dynamics with some surprising elements not heard before in Asia. For instance, “Written On The Wind” starts off as a romantic folk song and develops into a rich ballad with piano and organ only to end in an upbeat blues rock sound. Ryo Okumoto plays a big part in the GPS sound. The Spock’s Beard keyboard player came recommended via record label InsideOut Music. “This guy is incredible” raves Payne. “His keyboard style is so wonderfully organic. And what he gets out of his Moog completely floors you. Ryo and Guthrie get along very well together and Jay is playing at the top of his game”. Payne goes on to say, “It’s so good that everyone in GPS can be himself in a very relaxed manner”.

The chemistry in this quartet is spot on, which can clearly be heard in the songs. Okumoto plays his wonderful trademark Hammond sounds, but also offers up a lot of other colours to the mix including Mellotron choirs, energetic synth runs and string arrangements (“New Jerusalem”) or majestic piano arrangements (“Heaven Can Wait”, “Written On The Wind”). Guitarist Guthrie Govan plays an admirable counterpart as he convinces the listener with his complex fretwork, complimenting the songs with his awesome solos. He even incorporates a steel guitar duet on one track. John Payne contributes his stunning vocal delivery with great harmonies and additionally shows off bass playing skills that have been previously unheard, at times conjuring up the image of Yes’ Chris Squire. And finally drummer Jay Schellen leaves an impressionable mark despite his unpretentious playing style.

All this makes you wish to see GPS perform live on stage, but is this even possible? Especially given Ryo Okumoto’s main occupation is still with Spock’s Beard. “Not a problem”, Payne reassures. “We’re currently planning a tour with Ryo that you should mark down as a red-letter day”. Good news then as the band’s first shows have just been confirmed for the UK together with Y&T.