As a founding member and the pulse of Blue Öyster Cult, Albert Bouchard left an indelible mark on rock music. Now, Bouchard returns with an epic conclusion to the Imaginos trilogy, the recently released Imaginos III – Mutant Reformation. The new album threads the fevered dreams of Sandy Pearlman into a sonic tapestry, with the grandeur only Bouchard could summon.
Bouchard, having honed his craft in the crucible of rock and roll for more than five decades, now invites us to journey deeper into the metaphysical labyrinth that began with the first Imaginos album. In our recent sit-down, he shed light on this new chapter of the trilogy and the creative process behind it.
The album hits the ground running with its first single, a transformative rendition of Blue Öyster Cult’s “E.T.I.” As Bouchard explains, “It is on the album because it refers to the Invisible Ones, Les Invisibles, the Blue Öyster Cult aliens returning to earth.” Featuring the distinctive vocals of his brother Joe, Isabella Kosal’s haunting harmonies, and R.J. Ronquillo’s electrifying lead guitar, this reimagining of a classic tune was a clear sign that Bouchard was firing on all cylinders.
“Transmaniacon,” the electrifying second single, followed suit, harnessing the power of the current lineup of the Dictators, including guests “Ross the Boss” Friedman and Andy Shernoff. With the full album now released, fans can immerse themselves in Bouchard’s vision brought to life, bolstered by collaborations with the likes of Joe Cerisano, Kenny Aaronson, Kasim Sulton, and Blue Öyster Cult members both past and present.
The thread that weaves this fabric of sound together is a question, Bouchard’s guiding mantra, “How would Sandy Pearlman want this to sound?” As he reveals, “I always started with the thought. I would think back to all the discussions we had about what was a good sound for the songs in this story. Some would be soft and delicate. Others would be as loud and heavy as possible.”
The story he sets out to tell in this final chapter of the trilogy, as Bouchard explains, is an exploration of a post-apocalyptic landscape where “the earth and humanity has been destroyed by World War III and what is left are the mutants, still functioning robots, and aliens.” To tell this tale, he had to amalgamate fresh creativity with reinterpreted classics like “E.T.I.,” “Godzilla,” and “Sole Survivor.”
For Bouchard, the reinterpretation of these beloved classics was not just a nod to the past, but an opportunity to surprise listeners. He states, “I always feel that if you cover a song you should put as much of yourself into it as you can. People don’t want it to sound like the original. As long as it’s recognizable and feels somewhat familiar, they still want to be surprised.”
This sentiment rang true when working with his brother Joe on the lead vocals for “E.T.I.” According to Albert, “I play with Joe in an acoustic trio called the Bouchard Bros., and we have played the song many times, almost every show. It’s a big crowd pleaser and Joe always does a great job on the lead vocal. I knew he could do it better than me.”
At its core, the Imaginos series tackles “classic themes, power, glory, violence, maturity, magic, mortality, wonder, the cosmos, and love.” But in Bouchard’s opinion, there’s something special about the open-ended nature of the tale. “The nature of Sandy’s writing leaves a lot of space for people to form their own conclusions. That opened the door for me to insert my vision of the story where the character, Imaginos, searches and ultimately finds, redemption,” he explains.
Finally wrapping up the Imaginos saga feels like a triumph for Bouchard, a musical odyssey he and the late Sandy Pearlman began decades ago. He confides, “When Sandy and I started this journey together we both thought it would be our masterwork. For a while, it looked like it would be impossible… It took many years and the encouragement of many hard-core Blue Öyster Cult fans for me to go back to the story once again and finally get it right.”
Bouchard spoke with candor and a dash of humor about the decision to feature the current lineup of the Dictators on the second single “Transmaniacon.” He shared, “That was a decision Deko Entertainment, the record company, made because the Dictators are also on their label so they could get a 2 for 1 deal. It makes sense to me. I want them to make money too.”
This pragmatism doesn’t detract from the raw energy and innovative spirit Bouchard pours into his music, as evidenced by the reimagination of the classic BÖC number. Albert’s recollection of revisiting the original recording elicited a chuckle: “I was surprised when I went back and listened to the original. It sounded so tame that I finally understood what Lester Bangs used to say about it. No self-respecting biker would ever sing along with it. LOL.”
Bouchard also delved into the joy of reuniting with former BÖC bandmates Eric Bloom, Joe Bouchard, and current member Richie Castellano for this project. “It was absolutely great. Joe has not been too eager to play with them live when the offer has been extended but making records with them is something he has said he wants to do for years. I’m sure it will continue,” he disclosed with hopeful anticipation.
Remaking BÖC classics while preserving their essence was a significant challenge Bouchard faced during the production of “Imaginos III.” His determination to hit the mark this time was clear when he said, “The biggest challenge for me was to make these BÖC songs sound different but still as great as the original versions. I felt that I missed the mark on the last record with some of the BÖC songs so I was determined to succeed on this one. It is the last of the trilogy so it had to go out with a bang.”
In the midst of discussing the album’s ambitious title and its connection to the album’s themes, Bouchard opened up about his evolution as a songwriter since the first Imaginos album. “My first songs were so bad lyrically that when I met other people who could write well I would rather use their words,” he confessed. He continued, “After I left BÖC I went back to college and I worked very hard on my writing, not just lyrics but writing in general, like I’m doing right now. I have a Masters degree in English (my absolute worst subject in high school). Now I’m comfortable writing words and I feel I have found my own voice.”
One intriguing addition to Imaginos III is the track “Arianna of Earth.” Albert gave an intriguing glimpse into the thought process behind it: “That was a loose end that I wanted to address. In the first part of the story the girl that love made blind gets sent to Aldebaran by the astronomers after she takes the world without end drug. I wanted her to come back to earth and possibly bring back some Aldebaran aliens with her to help with the Mutant Reformation. A side story in the future could be what happens when those aliens meet the other aliens already on earth, the Blue Öyster Cult. Or are they the same? Only time will tell.”
Reflecting on the formative years of Blue Öyster Cult, Albert shared, “Back in high school my brother and I tried very hard to sound just like other artists, whether it was the local band that played in the bar behind my grandma’s house or the session guys who played on the big hit records. By the time we formed Blue Öyster Cult, I had played in every kind of band and every style of music, classical, jazz, blues, country, and rock ‘n’ roll. I knew we had to stand out and convinced the other guys that if something we played sounded like another artist, we had to leave it out. We also went out of our way to make our songs hard to play, hard to copy, and hard to cover.” Albert’s words underscore the commitment to originality that became a hallmark of the band.
When we asked about the inspiration behind “(Don’t Fear) The Reaper,” one of the band’s most enduring hits, Albert answered simply but powerfully. “Don [Roeser] had a health scare and he wrote it to calm himself down. It worked and resonated with millions of people.” As Bouchard tells it, the song was borne out of a very personal and real experience, striking a chord with people across the globe.
Inevitably, we broached the subject of the infamous cowbell from “(Don’t Fear) The Reaper”. Despite its fame – or notoriety – Albert remains light-hearted about it. “The cowbell was not important at all in that song, in my honest opinion. On the other hand, I love a good cowbell part, think ‘Grazing In The Grass,’ ‘Me And My Monkey’ or ‘Mississippi Queen’.” The humble cowbell, it seems, has become an unlikely icon in the BÖC story.
Bouchard fondly reminisced about his time with the original Blue Öyster Cult lineup. “When we got to the ending of Don’t Fear The Reaper (take 3), I thought I was actually hearing it on the radio. We played the World Series of Rock in Cleveland (140,000 people) and the audience looked like ants.” From humble beginnings to massive stadium gigs, Bouchard’s journey with the band is a testament to their enduring appeal.
The continuing influence and longevity of Blue Öyster Cult is a point of wonderment for Albert. When asked about it, he simply replied, “It boggles my mind.” His favorite album to work on was “On Your Feet or On Your Knees,” for the unexpected turnaround it presented. “I thought it was sounding like crap and then it turned out wonderful. Ya’ never know…” he recalls, exemplifying the unpredictability that can exist in the creative process.
The conversation inevitably steered towards the creation of “Cities on Flame with Rock and Roll”. Albert explains, “It started life as another song called ‘Siren Sing Along’ that I sang and was popular in the clubs we played at the time. When we got the Columbia deal, Sandy wanted it to be simpler, more repetitious, and have a heavier subject matter. I had an idea for a different riff and I brought that idea to Don who proceeded to write that marvelous riff that gives the song its distinctive flavor.” The story takes a comical turn as Bouchard recounts, “When Don was recording his guitar solo (the studio was next to a church on 47th street) in the middle of the recording the pastor called up and said he was working on his sermon and could we please stop.”
Albert’s favorite memory from his time with Blue Öyster Cult is not from the halcyon days of yore, but rather a recent experience. “My favorite moment with BÖC had to be the first night of a three-day gig in Times Square last September in 2022. There was so much love backstage, onstage, and in the audience, it was simply overwhelming.”
With the last chord of “Imaginos III – Mutant Reformation” ringing in listeners’ ears, Bouchard has sealed his place in rock history once more. His enduring creativity and storytelling prowess shine through this grand finale, solidifying his status as a visionary of rock. As the saga of Imaginos concludes, Bouchard’s unique blend of storytelling and rock music will continue to echo through the cosmos, inviting future generations to lose themselves in its tales.
For more from Albert Bouchard, visit: albertbouchard.net.