The Story Ends When You Say It Does: An Interview with Rich Hall of Follow No One

Follow No One is a hard rock duo consisting of Rich Hall and Pedro Murino Almeida of the United States and Portugal respectively. Their latest album, Fate, is genre-bending exercise in musical storytelling. A blend of spoken-word dialog and guitar-driven hard-rock tunes, Fate begins with a 9-1-1 call and goes on to depict the harrowing events that nearly took Rich’s life.  

Would you mind beginning with a synopsis of the album and the difficult circumstances that inspired them? 

Fate tells the true story of the events surrounding me – Rich Hall, a husband, a father, Army war veteran and later a corporate executive, a man who had everything taken from him in what seemed like the flash of an eye (and it was really that fast).  I came home from work one day to an empty house, my family gone and a mountain of bills that no man could hardly pay alone, and in the end I lost it all and then went down a self-destructive path that took my life for a few moments (as I was told later on).  You get to find out what I did to fight my way back.

I can only imagine how painful it was to relive the events you depict in Fate. What inspired you to share them with the world in album format, and how did you handle writing about such private matters?

Rich Hall

Great Question.  As you may recall from the album, after my “accident,” my memories were basically scrambled and my physical health was really bad.  The fact that I was able to somehow come out of this with any kind of life, let alone work my way back to something meaningful is nothing short of a miracle.  I know there are people out there who have gone, are going through, or will go through some type of test in their lives. I hope in some way this inspires some people to not give up.

As far as opening up, you know that is still an ongoing thought process. I can’t really measure the album’s success based upon sales, charting and the normal thing that go into a successful release. I could write about anything — you are right — so why this?  The answer goes back to the above. Yes, it is hard telling the world about your shortcomings and failures.  But at the end of the day it’s my belief that people will only remember you by those negative things if that’s how you end it. What this album says is, the story ends when you say it does.  So make it count!  Reliving and even re-remembering in some cases was very painful at times, but if I help one person avoid some of the pain I endured or help someone rise up out of their mess, then it will have all been worth it.

On your website, you describe the album as “Cinematic Rock.” What makes it cinematic?

That is a reference to the album more so than our musical generally. What makes this somewhat cinematic is the presentation of the album. As you noted, the album starts out with the re-enactment of a 911 call. There are other scenes that employ this message to aid in the storytelling process beyond what music can do. So, we tend to think of that as the cinematic aspect of the album.

Ah… So what was behind the decision to include dialog in the album? Was that always part of the plan, or did it evolve as you were writing material for Fate?

The method we ended up using was basically flying by the seat of our pants, but it was planned as much as possible. You know how you can visualize a general concept but don’t know exactly how to get there. Well, that was a learning process, but we knew what our goal was, so that helped keep it in context.

I’m also curious about the music. What makes hard, guitar-driven rock particularly suited for telling this story?

We’re sure there are other genres that would have pulled it off, but it wouldn’t have been genuine. Rock is who I am and it is who Pedro is. Since the story does revolve around me and to Pedro to a lesser extent, it could have went different directions, I suppose, we are certainly capable, but I always dreamed of being someone like Ronnie James Dio, not Justin Beiber.

Probably a good choice, all things considered! In terms of recording, half of your band lives in the United States and the other half lives in Portugal. How did you meet? What do you like about working with each other?

The way Pedro and I met was quite random. He found me on the internet somehow and just emailed me. I am still not quite sure, but he emailed me and asked if I’d be willing to work on a single, which turned out to be “Guardian Angel,” and after some good reaction from people, we kept going and we’re glad we did.  Pedro and I have that unique understanding with each other that we can anticipate as to what the other person is thinking. So much, that this carries through during the songwriting process and into recording.  Pedro and I don’t really tell each other how to do our parts, but we understand each other’s expectations and it’s rare we have too much discussion about what we are working on.

Kind of like me and Brian Lambert, in a way! What kinds of challenges does living on separate continents pose? How do you overcome them?

The biggest challenge is communication, but in some ways I don’t think being closer would solve that.   Being as busy as we both our with our lives outside of Follow No One, catching each other at the same time to work on something poses a problem sometimes, but we always manage to work through that.  With that, the way we have things setup, Pedro and I can work together no differently than we would if we were in the same studio complex, but not running into each other would get kind of weird, lol.

I can imagine! Your band’s name is interesting. How does it tie in with the themes of Fate? And what does it say about the band’s attitudes toward life more broadly? What does it mean to follow no one?   

The name came from a single photograph I saw one day when I was in Kansas City of a man in the wilderness walking alone. I really related to that at the time based on my situation and still do in large part.  In certain aspects of our lives we are all walking by ourselves because at the end of the day when you go to bed at night the only person with you is you.  And it also speaks to the value of individualism.  I don’t think enough value is placed upon the individual these days and the uniqueness of each and every one of us. If we ever lose that completely as a society, we’ll basically be living a George Orwell novel, which is not something I’m down with.   

I love the album cover for Fate. Who did the art, and how does it reflect the content of the album?

I met a designer from Greece online and saw some of his work and pitched the concept to him and I basically served as his eyes and he provided the talent. We wanted something a little dramatic with some intrigue to catch the tone of the album and the “Hand of God” with Pedro and I on puppet strings seems like a one possible interpretation. The concept of Fate is something that has been debated for centuries. What you see on the cover is one of those primary schools of thought.

Now that you’ve released Fate, do you have any other projects in the works?

We’ll see where the album takes us. We will be developing a lot of future content to go along with the video and have already begun rehearsal on some live material.  Someone suggested that we play this album live in its entirety like Queensryche did with Operation Mindcrime. You know, that would be something we would definitely consider as well as something with our friends at Hard Rock. Because our fans are spread out all over the world and so is the Hard Rock brand, it would seem like a great fit.  If that happens in any way because of this article, Marc, just plan on going on tour with us as our manager. 😉

Sounds like a plan!

An Odd Coincidence

A few days ago, I went to the library. My purpose in going to the library was not to see if my book was on the shelf, but since I was there, I decided that it wouldn’t hurt to see if my book was on the shelf. As it turned out, my book was not on the shelf, but another book caught my eye, a book whose author’s name was sufficiently close to my own that it was on the very same shelf that my book would have been on had it been on the shelf: John Scalzi’s The Android’s Dream.

As an on-again-off-again Philip K. Dick fan, I couldn’t help noticing the sheep on the cover and making the implicit connection between Scalzi’s novel and Dick’s Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? So I had to pick it up. And I did. Then I went back and forth for a bit about whether to bring it home. I can be very lazy when I want to be, and home is about a half-mile from the library, which meant that I would have to carry the book a whole half-mile home, and then I’d have to read it, which means I’d have to squeeze it in between marathon sessions of grading Freshman Composition papers and occasional attempts at procrastination like writing this blog post. In the end, though, I decided to go for it. I checked the book out of the library, walked it home, and, in a further attempt to avoid grading papers, went straight to Facebook to see what my friends were up to.

And here’s where the coincidence comes in: My friend Carla had posted a link to an article on writing that one of her students had forwarded to her. And the author of the link was none other than John Scalzi, the author of the book that had just caught my eye less than half-an-hour earlier.

So what can we learn from all of this (aside from the fact that my laziness and vanity know no bounds)? What does it all mean? What is the universe trying to tell me? Is a coincidence just a coincidence as Lily Tomlin’s character insists in I Heart Huckabees? Or is something bigger afoot? Perhaps the answer lies between the covers of Scalzi’s book. I will soon find out. As Dale Cooper once said in Twin Peaks, “Fellas, coincidence and fate figure largely in our lives.”