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Fireworks Magazine Online 83: Interview with Stormzone

STORMZONE

Interview by Bruce Mee

Northern Ireland's premier Heavy Metal band Stormzone have just released their seventh studio album, the wonderful 'Lucifer's Factory', featuring a collection of songs based on Irish myths and legends. Fireworks caught up with mainman John 'Harv' Harbinson to get the details...


Stormzone-Interview-image

My only previous exposure to Stormzone was your debut album, and when you played at our Firefest Festival back in 2007. I remember enjoying the Melodic Hard Rock you played back then, so it was a bit eye-opening hearing the more Melodic Metal of 'Lucifer's Factory'. I guess you've been recording in this style for quite a few albums, so how do you see the band's musical evolution from the debut to today?


Firefest was a wonderful experience for Stormzone, Bruce. I remember meeting you during the course of that excellent weekend! We were quite nervous before our appearance as the band with that Firefest line-up had only been together for a matter of months. The first Stormzone album, 'Caught in the Act', had been released earlier that year through Escape Music and it was an album featuring mainly Hard Rock songs which is why our Firefest show had that Melodic Rock feel to it. That was because initially 'CITA' was really only meant to be a John 'Harv' Harbinson solo album! Stormzone wasn't actually in existence when I was recording it, the musicians on the album are all great session musicians — although guitarist Keith Harris eventually became the Stormzone guitarist — and I financed the album myself, due in part to having been in a Whitesnake tribute band at that time and Davy Warren had asked us if we would support Danger Danger.

I didn't want to play covers while supporting such a prolific act and I asked the Whitesnake tribute guys to learn a set of original material that I had written while in an earlier band called Emerald. The Danger Danger show was a massive hit and Kieran Dargan actually encouraged us to go back on for an encore ̶ unheard of for a support band. That's when I decided to record the songs we had played that night; it really wasn't intended for release as I didn't have a record company involved. But then when the album was finished it found its way into the hands of Khalil Turk and he right away said he wanted to release it! It was actually Khalil who came up with the band's name as it was better being released that way rather than as a solo album. So Stormzone was created and 'Caught In The Act' was released in January 2007. Kieran then asked me if I'd be interested in re-creating the Danger Danger support at Firefest later that year and that's when the panic set in haha, as I had to turn Stormzone into an actual band! I had been keeping myself in shape by rehearsing with an Iron Maiden tribute band at that time, and I had become extremely fond of the musicians in that band.

So I asked them if they could put the Iron Maiden tribute on the back-burner for a while so that we could concentrate of some shows, including Firefest. That's when Stormzone as a band was actually born. We played some local shows as warm up for Firefest and then performed at the festival itself. Circumstances during the Firefest weekend dictated that there was a guarantee of some exceptionally interesting shows in the near future, so the Iron Maiden tribute was laid to rest permanently and Stormzone became everyone's main focus. The Firefest line-up also then dictated the way future recordings would take shape as the line-up, featuring now guys who were a little heavier in their personal tastes for music, was actually going to be jointly contributing to song-writing and I no longer had to rely on a back-catalogue of older and already written material for future albums. But we had been spotted by Spanish promoter Robert Mills at Firefest. He was bringing George Lynch to Europe for a series of solo shows and realised at that moment, having watched us perform, that George didn't have to solely perform guitar instrumentals to backing tracks ̶ here was a band who could provide him with the backing to be able to play a full show of Dokken and Lynch Mob songs!

Yes indeed, I never realized you were George Lynch's backing band for that Spanish tour. How was that experience, and how was George to work with?

We actually started the tour off in London. George arrived at the Camden Underworld while we were sound checking. He hadn't been in contact with the band or had even heard of us, but when he walked in through the door, there we were performing 'Breaking The Chains' and that must have been an eye-opener for him! It was a really unique tour as we had to go on as Stormzone to play the support show and then come off stage, get quickly changed and venture out a whole new entity as (as George referred to us as) his 'European Lynch Mob'. What an honour! It did lift Stormzone to a whole new level of confidence and that boded well for big shows we had ahead, meaning we wouldn't feel just as nervous as we did walking onto the Firefest stage. Here we were with an absolute legend standing amidst our ranks playing Dokken and Lynch Mob classics; it was both unreal and surreal. The funny thing was George had no idea that we had been rehearsing the show for a month or so before embarking on the tour, so he was still under the impression that he still had to perform an instrumental set with backing tracks and under the impression that we would just be backing him for a song or two. I think he was asleep during our London support so he still didn't see we meant business, and he played for 45 minutes or so to a CD before we joined him for what he thought were the last couple of songs ̶ an hour later we were still playing all the hits!

George really enjoyed himself, we were flying to Barcelona next day and the great man said he wanted to talk to us when we got there. At the hotel when we arrived George organised a meeting and basically said that he was going to ditch the whole guitar clinic to backing tracks angle of his tour and he wanted to then work out a touring set that would be consistent during the shows ahead. That was absolutely awesome because it took away any uncertainty and it made the tour far more appealing and exciting. We continued to support ourselves each night and then returned to the stage each evening much more confident of being able to deliver the goods. I kind of felt sorry for the guys though because there were a couple of instrumentals in the set and while I could stand side-stage and take a breather the rest of the band had to knuckle down to George's insistence on playing the instrumentals four times longer than the originals, so it was one hell of a work out for the boys. And yes, it was truly awesome each night when George continued to introduce us onstage as his European Lynch Mob!

I hear so much Classic Metal references in the new album, from the Maiden flavoured opener 'Dark Hedges', through the Judas Priest infused 'Last Night In Hell' and the bombastic Manowar feel of 'In For The Kill'. You played in an Iron Maiden tribute band in the early days, so is this just your influences shining through?

Well I hope that when people listen to us they'll know that they're listening to Stormzone. We do definitely sound at times like the bands you mention through influence, but we're honestly not deliberately trying to be another Iron Maiden or Judas Priest. Our aim is to keep the music alive that great bands such as Judas Priest and Iron Maiden made so popular all over the world. They will hopefully be around for a long time more, but when they decide to call it quits then it shouldn't mean that a great style of Metal should be confined to the history books. I don't think we actually originally set out to sound like our influences, but I guess if we do then it would be a natural thing. I'm personally a big fan of Helloween, Iron Maiden, Judas Priest, Hammerfall, Edguy and UDO etc, and it just so happens that the other guys in Stormzone love the same bands and obviously there will be hints of those influential bands running through our sound.

Our last album 'Seven Sins', as well as those released before it, with the exception of 'Caught In The Act', was compared at times to those famous bands you mention, so with 'Lucifer's Factory' we were aware of those reviews and agreed that we had to be careful not to be classed as, for example, Iron Maiden clones. When the album was finished we all agreed that this is probably our strongest release to date, and reviewers have thankfully been agreeing with us, but the real difference this time is that reviewers are now focusing on a Stormzone sound and mentioning less and less the bands who influenced our earlier releases!! We honestly write freely now without even thinking about those great bands. We still seem to end up with hints of them in our sound. I don't really mind though, they are great bands to be compared to and it would be awesome to get to the levels they've reached!

How does the song-writing process work in Stormzone?

Well to tell you the truth, the main thing is we really never stop writing, it's never a case of having time away from writing songs and then saying right, it's time to create what's necessary for a new album. So the songs on 'Lucifer's Factory' would have been the continuation of writing after we recorded 'Seven Sins' and really there is never any real plan to change direction or become more progressive. So technically from the moment 'Lucifer's Factory' was recorded we began working on what will be the next Stormzone album! The songs on 'Lucifer's Factory' just managed to capture a song-writing period that happened to produce a consistency that maybe sounded like we had deliberately tried to have an album with a slightly different direction than those before it, but that honestly wasn't the case. The song writing process is always the same; it starts with an individual member of the band having an initial musical idea and that idea is brought to the rest of us in bassist Graham's studio. The guys then sit down and work on the music, developing a riff further into a structure that becomes intro, verse, chorus.

Then the following night they'll go to guitarist Steve's Firemachine Studio ̶ where all our albums are finally recorded and produced ̶ and they'll record what has been worked on at the previous night's writing session with the end product being a finished track without vocals. Steve will email me the song that night and next day in my own studio I'll write and record the vocals, add backing vocals and email the song to the guys afterwards, usually same day. That part of our writing and recording process usually takes around 3 days to complete. The next thing is obviously to live with the song for a while and suggest changes, maybe to verse lengths, maybe a bridge needs added or something. That all gets noted, generally these days via Facebook messenger, and the following night the whole process starts all over again. It might be that we have shows that we have to rehearse for and writing will stop for a week or two as we concentrate on a set for concerts, but no matter how long the gap is between writing sessions the next song starts off being created in exactly the same way as the previous one and a consistency is hopefully maintained.

There may have been a slightly longer gap than usual between the writing of 'Seven Sins' and 'Lucifer's Factory' as we had the personnel change with David Bates leaving the drum stool and Jonathan Millar's arrival, and that may have contributed to a slightly different overall feel to many of the songs on 'Lucifer's Factory', but our objective is always to try to maintain a unique Stormzone sound even if there are a few twists and turns in direction. It would probably be too predictable for us to just create a 'Lucifer's Factory Part II' right away, it will happen at some point but whether or not the next album is going to be a continuation of us studying our Northern Ireland mythology and folklore, which all the songs on the new album are based on, we'll just have to wait and see!

Fireworks - The Ultimate Magazine for Melodic Rock Music

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As you say, the new album is based on Irish Myths and legends. Whose idea was that and how difficult was it to come up with 13 such stories – and which are your favourites?

The guys are generally happy to leave me to it when it comes to what is going to be the main inspiration for a new collection of songs for an album. I was also going to be responsible for designing and painting the album cover so it actually came about that I had to concentrate on a combination of thinking about themes for the songs that would make their way onto the 'Lucifer's Factory' CD and then also contemplating how the cover artwork would develop. It actually transpired that one would help the other and I was able to dip into work that I had done a few years ago as inspiration for both. I have always been interested in the myths and legends of Northern Ireland, not really the established ones but the hidden folklore which is really only talked about in regions and not tremendously famous. A Spanish author was writing a book on the subject as part of a 'guide for Spanish tourists' who she wanted to ensure would go off the beaten tracks in an effort to find hidden gems.

So her research and the things that she discovered really intrigued me and it astonished me that we here in Northern Ireland have so many superb tales to tell of things that, to many, would seem very surprising and enlightening. You will find these tales on the new Stormzone album, amongst them being the legend of 'Albhartach', a vampire who lived in the North West of Northern Ireland and terrorised villages during his lifetime. This was well before Dracula became the famous face of vampirism and Bram Stoker, author of Dracula, has gone on record as having been originally influenced by the story of Albhartach. 'Hallows Eve' is the origin of Halloween, right here in Northern Ireland where in medieval times people would scatter ashes on the slate floor of their living room in front of the fire place. While the families were sleeping Jack O'Lantern would visit, and in the morning if the footprints he left in the ashes pointed towards the door then all was going to be well for this family, but if they pointed towards the fire, they were going to experience death in a short time! That's the origin of Halloween right there, not some 'trick or treat' party that was hijacked by the USA! Other tales on the album include 'Cushy Glen', the tale of the highwayman who ambushed men on their way home from the pub and attacking the drunk men he would cut their throats, rob them and bury them in an opened grave in the local graveyard.

Next day when the funeral of the grave owner was taking place he would be amongst the mourners watching as the coffin was laid down on top of the soil covered body of his previous night's victim! So I was able to gain lots of inspiration for the songs on the new album and that was helped by the fact that I had, by then, great experience of the tales because I had read them and done the artwork which accompanied each story in the Spanish book! It was natural then that the album cover would develop from the same source, and although the album is called 'Lucifer's Factory' the painting is inspired by a 'gateway to Hell' described in the song 'The Heaven You Despise' in which Lucifer is exiled from Heaven and seeks sanctuary on earth by creating an entrance to his new domain, and it really exists as a place called Dundermot Mound just outside the city of Ballymena in Northern Ireland. Considering Northern Ireland is a small country with just a total population of 1.6 million and we are surrounded by such an intense wealth of myth, mystery and legend it really is a place to be fully inspired and influenced. Plus we have Guinness and Bushmills Whisky, and we know they're legendary and really exist!!

Is there a book or website you could recommend to fans who wanted to read up more on the backgrounds of these wonderful tales?

A good friend of mine, Rock journalist Jonathan Traynor, recommended Jonathan Bardon's 'History of Ulster' and this proved to be an invaluable source when it came to writing the lyrics for the songs on 'Lucifer's Factory'. I didn't want to veer away from absolute facts or have an expert chastising me for inaccuracy, and when I'm talking about experts I really mean the people close to the myths and legendary characters that I chose to write about. This was also important when it came to that other contribution I made to the album, which was the painting of the cover!

The Jonathan Bardon book would be highly influential with my choice of themes for the songs that would make their way onto the 'Lucifer's Factory' album and also in contemplating how the cover artwork would develop, and it actually transpired that one would help out the other and I was able to dip into work that I had done a few years ago as inspiration for the songs as well as the artwork.

This is your third album for Metal Nation, so things must be working well as a partnership?

Absolutely, and our relationship with Jess goes way before we ever thought we'd be signing to him and Metal Nation Records. The highly respected and regarded ex-Tygers Of Pan Tang singer came to see us play in Newcastle, England, when we supported Tesla there in the O2 Academy way back in 2008. He had been head of Neat Records, the label that encouraged Sweet Savage to reunite and our previous drummer Davy Bates, who was in Sweet Savage back then, remained friends with Jess when that partnership split after two albums. Jess stayed after the Tesla show, we had a drink together and he expressed an interest in helping the band out. Shortly afterwards we had recorded our second album, 'Death Dealer', and quickly realised that the more straight Metal approach to this album would not have suited it's release on Escape Music, the company who released our first more melodic debut album.

SPV had expressed an interest in signing us after one of their representatives had seen us at Sweden Rock, but we had contractual obligations to Escape Music and couldn't sign to SPV right away. We were out of our depth and desperate to sign to the German label and Jess took the bull by the horns and negotiated a settlement between the labels which allowed us to be free to leave Escape Music and release Death Dealer through SPV. We just could not have done that on our own, and we were grateful to Jess for sorting everything out for us. At that moment we quickly decided that we needed a manager who could deal with these kinds of situations, and Jess seemed the obvious choice. We signed a management contract with him and we went on to do some great shows as a result, including Wacken, and Jess also negotiated the release of our third album, 'Zero To Rage' through SPV. Our management contracts ran in tandem with our SPV contracts and both 3 year terms came to an end at the beginning of 2013. We knew we were going to have 'Three Kings' recorded and ready for release that year but with SPV going through another insolvency situation it wasn't clear as to whether they would be ideal to keep waiting for in order to release 'Three Kings'.

We met up with Jess at the Metal Assault festival in Germany that February. He spent the weekend with us and we realised that we didn't need to wait on anyone at all. Jess was head of Metal Nation Records, he had contacts all over the world and he knew everything there was to know about Heavy Metal, so we decided that there was only one label going to release Three Kings and that was Metal Nation. Here we are another five years later and he's lived up to all his promises and our new album 'Lucifer's Factory' is now also available on Metal Nation!
We have definitely benefitted from being signed to Metal Nation Records because Jess Cox never puts the band under pressure to meet deadlines. The great thing is we have always had albums written and recorded well ahead of schedule and that is definitely as a result of our great fortune in having the ability to record in our guitarist Steve's FireMachine studio during the time-frames which suit each member of the band and of course with Steve also being our producer and guitarist we therefore have that as a massive advantage. The only pressure we really feel is the pressure we put on ourselves to continually create great music, but that is a very satisfying self-inflicted pressure and it is never affected by time.

The band has done many live shows and festivals promoting previous releases, so are there any plans settled yet to get out and play 'Lucifer's Factory' to the fans?

We definitely have aspirations to do an extensive UK tour in support of 'Lucifer's Factory' as well as venturing over to Europe to play shows there organised by our manager, Eddy 'Rocks' Freiberger. It's really as difficult as the amount of finance that can be put into doing a tour in more ways than one. It's an unfortunate fact these days that a lot of the bigger bands ask support bands for money if they want to tour with them. Recently a well known act contacted us to ask if we would be interested in doing a series of 18 shows around Europe, but pointed out that if we were to come on board there would be a 500 Euro fee, each night!! So we would have had to have covered our own travelling expenses and accommodation for almost three weeks as well as paying a staggering 9000 Euros!

That, of course, is not just a difficulty faced by us, there are thousands of bands out there and very few opportunities. Also most festivals and tours are in the hands of promoters and agencies. A single agency can provide many bands for one festival and if you're not part of that agency you stand very little chance of getting an invite to play. We have been fortunate enough, without having to resort to paying, to have played some fantastic festivals and toured with a lot of great bands who haven't demanded anything from us. This year has been no exception and to tell you the truth, with writing and recording 'Lucifer's Factory' we were expecting to be doing very little live work in 2018. But already this year we have played quite a few shows here in Ireland including the support shows with Inglorious, Warrior Soul, Anvil, Diamond Head and Y&T. The rest of the year is becoming even more productive as we are going to be touring Spain in September, organised by Kivents there, and although it's some way off we have been confirmed for the Icerock Festival in Switzerland in January. The increase in live action coincides with our involvement with Eddy 'Rocks' Freiberger, he is responsible for everything we are now doing with regards to tours and festivals and I know we will be doing much more on the road in 2018 for sure.

Fireworks Magazine Online 83: Interview with Foreigner

FOREIGNER

Interview by James Gaden

With over seventy five million records sold, sixteen top thirty hits and ten multi-platinum albums under their belts, there can't be much left for Foreigner to accomplish. Their live shows are always superb and they consistently play to enthusiastic audiences all over the world. Their latest endeavour saw them jet off to play two sold out concerts in Lucerne, Switzerland, this time alongside a sixty piece orchestra and choir. The performances were recorded for DVD and CD release, so Fireworks chatted with vocalist Kelly Hansen to hear more about the ambitious project.


Foreigner-Interview-image

Since Foreigner recruited Kelly Hansen to be their new frontman, they have put out a string of live releases, a studio album, 'Can't Slow Down', and an acoustic record. However, while some legendary Rock bands like Deep Purple, KISS and Metallica have previously dabbled with playing alongside an orchestra, Hansen explains that was never Foreigner's intention.

"Actually, KKL Luzern approached us about working with us on this project. We had never thought about it at all, they brought us the idea and we basically collaborated on it from there," the vocalist explains.

While Foreigner are seasoned live performers, working with a sixty piece orchestra and a choir was obviously something new to them and Hansen pulls back the curtain on just how many potential pitfalls the project created.

"There were several challenges," he says. "Firstly there were over a hundred people on the stage... okay, the choir were in the balcony, but I'm counting them, there were a lot of people! Then, when we got there, it was decided to film and record the show too. So not only were we working with all those extra people, but there's all the minutiae of those particular elements... mic-ing up an orchestra and a Rock band simultaneously on the same stage creates a huge amount of issues with sound bleed, trying to get a clean signal... for example we had to put Chris Frazier in what was basically a clear perspex box, so his drums were isolated. It was a massive challenge and on top of that there was less room on stage which changes your performance."

If that wasn't demanding enough, there was also the small matter of the songs having new arrangements in order to successfully mesh the Classic Rock of Foreigner with an orchestral backing and choir into one seamless sound. In order to achieve this, the band's leader and chief songwriter Mick Jones worked the Grammy nominated team of Dave Eggar and Chuck Palmer. Eggar, a Juilliard protégé and cellist/pianist/composer, and Chuck Palmer, producer/writer/percussionist, had already worked with an array of artists such as Paul Simon, James Taylor, Patti Smith and Coldplay. The Foreigner shows were the result of almost a year's worth of work alongside Jones.

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"When it came to the arrangements, that took months. It was done long before we even got together with the orchestra," Kelly confirms. "Mick spent a long time working with Chuck Palmer and Dave Eggar to put those arrangements together. That meant the band had to really be on point. The whole time on stage we were thinking about the arrangements, because the orchestra are playing to sheet music. Normally when the band play live, if we want to extend a section or something happens, we can change or jam around it. But with the orchestra, you have to stick to what was written and play it perfect every time because they're reading music to play along with you."

Anybody who has ever been to a concert which features an orchestra will know how loud they are naturally, which raises the question of how it was for Hansen to be on stage with not only the orchestra, but a choir and a Rock band too. Fortunately technology helped out there.

"We have custom made and custom moulded in-ear monitor systems which not only generate sound, but because of the way they are moulded, they also work like an ear plug," the singer explains, "so the only thing that comes into my ears are what my monitor man sends me, per my specifications. They give me just the right amount of drums, guitar, orchestra and choir that I want and need to make it sound the way I want to sing over. That part worked great, luckily that was one of the few things that wasn't an issue!"

While the concert features all the usual Foreigner classics such as 'Hot Blooded', 'Double Vision', 'Waiting For A Girl Like You' and 'I Want To Know What Love Is', some lesser aired tracks also get a welcome outing, such as 'When It Comes To Love' and 'Fool For You Anyway'. Even rarer is an outing for a track Mick Jones co-wrote for the 'Still Crazy' film soundtrack, called 'The Flame Still Burns', which Foreigner recorded a version of for their 'Acoustique' album.

"We wanted to have a varied dynamic, so adding in 'Fool For Your Anyway' really lends itself to having a horns section because it's got a real Soul kind of a vibe," Hansen states. "With 'The Flame Still Burns', that's such an epic piece, it just made sense that it would work really well with an orchestra. Mix those in with the usual up-tempo stuff and the big Rock ballads and we felt that it gave a suitably varied show."

'When It Comes To Love' benefits greatly from the choir intro and fits beautifully alongside the more legendary material, which begs the question if anything else from the 'Can't Slow Down' album, to date the only studio album of new material with Hansen on vocals, was considered.

"Honestly, we really just looked at songs rather than what albums they came from," he replies candidly. "There are, naturally, limitations when putting together a Foreigner set. We always start with a big pile of songs and then just have to whittle it down until we think we've got a well balanced set. I'm very happy with the song choices, I thought putting 'The Flame Still Burns' in was great, it's nice to get to do something we don't normally do, but working this way with the orchestra, even the songs we always play felt new and unusual – like when we play that big B-section in 'Juke Box Hero' and there's a choir there that we don't normally have, that new sound makes it quite a trip."

Hansen also shrugs off the suggestion he might be frustrated that as a writer he's only had the opportunity to contribute new material on one album, when 'Can't Slow Down' was released back in 2010.

"Personally I thought it was really important we made 'Can't Slow Down', that was the one thing we hadn't done since we got together, put out new material. I didn't feel it was necessary to put a lot of new stuff in the set just to put my stamp on something. We have played material from that record live and I enjoyed it but when you have as many well known songs as we have, if it meant taking out a really well known song the audience loves for the sake of playing something new, I don't think that's as important, personally."

As it has been several years since 'Can't Slow Down' it's only natural to ask about the possibility of new material from Foreigner.

"We are touring a lot so there's always a chunk of unfinished material lying around," Kelly responds. "It really comes down to a matter of time. When we're busy touring there really aren't enough hours left in the day to be writing. There's always stuff in the pipeline and more stuff to come out though, that's for sure."

With Hansen referring earlier to playing 'Juke Box Hero', it brought to mind the well known notion that things get easier the more you do them – so I ask if that is the case for that incredible long, sustained note he hits every time they play that song live. He chuckles.

"That's really an exercise in technique, and it's getting harder and harder for me to do! It's basically 24 seconds of me holding a note and it's not a trick, it's me having to measure the amount of air I put out to hold a Rock note. About two thirds of the way in my body starts telling me to stop doing it," he laughs. "But I have to ignore it, so it's an exercise in self control and technique. But it's getting really hard to do now so I don't know how long I'll keep it in the show!

I ask how it made it's way into the show in the first place and Hansen laughs again.

"I don't really know, I think I just did it one night out of nowhere and that was it - I made a rod for my own back!"

A real highlight of Foreigner's set is the brilliant acoustic re-working of 'Say You Will', which has a spine tingling vocal arrangement. I ask if the singer has a particular highlight, but his response is typical of the enthusiasm he clearly has for fronting Foreigner.

"Every day is different. Sometimes the venue can be the highlight, sometimes it's the audience reaction, sometimes it's how well the band are playing, how well we can hear each other... and I'm really grateful that unlike a lot of bands who play a show and have to wait until the last couple of songs to play their best known material, with this band we have basically a whole set full of great songs. It's apples and oranges and some days I like an apple and others I prefer the orange. Luckily, I have a gorgeous basket of fruit to choose from!"

FOREIGNER with the 21st Century Symphony Orchestra & Chorus is out now on earMusic

Fireworks Magazine Online 83: Interview with Shinedown

SHINEDOWN

Interview by Mike Newdeck

Shinedown's last album, 'Threat To Survival', proved something of a disappointment; experimental, raw and a departure from the usual Shinedown sound. Latest album 'Attention! Attention!' goes some way to returning the band to a sound that is perhaps more familiar. Fireworks caught up with guitarist Zach Myers to talk about the new release.


Shinedown-Interview-image

The new album, 'Attention Attention', is a concept album. Where did the idea come from?

"The concept involves all four of us at times and at others just one," Myers explains. "It's odd really, but it tells a story of what the band has been through over the last two or three years. It all takes place in a room and in your mind. It's about a person who starts out in the darkest place that you can imagine ... they're in a hole and have to figure how to get out of it." Something that seems to follow with 'Devil' and 'Black Soul' at the front end of the album and 'Special' and 'Brilliant' bringing up the rear; negativity to positivity. "Each song has individual meaning," he continues, "but you have to listen to the album as a whole to get the bigger picture, where the bad place becomes replaced with euphoria in a song like 'Brilliant'; the person realises that there's a better day tomorrow. This isn't a classic concept album like 'Dark Side Of the Moon', it's more the transformation of people or persons."

Writing a concept album surely has to be different from writing a normal album with individual songs and the mind-set has to be different?

"We didn't consciously write a concept album, but the songs seemed to tell a story. If you change the running order then the story gets lost and that story was obvious when we had all the songs there at the end of the recording process; a kind of dark, negative vibe to a more positive one, with the story being told in the songs. We became aware that a story would be evident to anyone outside of the band and they could interpret it how they wanted to, relating it to their own lives. I wouldn't want someone to tell me that a song that had meant something to me all my life regarding love, life, misery or whatever, was really about an ice cream truck. I like to think that on this album the story is hidden in plain sight. As for the mind-set, I think we did approach this record differently. Our benchmark album was 'The Sound Of Madness' and I think we consciously wanted to go back to that way of thinking."

Myers, like many Shinedown fans, appears to have reservations about 'Threat To Survival'.

"Look, I love that record," he shoots from the hip, "But I'm not sure that it was really a completed thought. We liked the songs enough to put them on a record but we didn't really finish them as perhaps we should have, although sonically I like it."

It's clear that 'Attention! Attention!' looks to the past glories of 'Amaryllis' and 'The Sound Of Madness' for its sound and melodic nature.

"Well we like to move forward so that no record sounds the same," Myers states. "We even get some people ask us to go back and do stuff like on 'Leave A Whisper' and that wasn't even close to our most successful album. It's got nostalgia value. I think that if you listen to this new album there are songs on there that do have similarities to those on the debut ... 'Monsters' and 'Creatures' are the two. They have a darker guitar vibe. Sonically though, it's more like 'The Sound Of Madness' and certainly on a lyric level it's way better than 'Threat...'."

Myers doesn't totally agree with my summary that 'Threat...' was a little too experimental

"That's a tough line for me," he explains. "I don't really want to say that. We were colouring outside the lines a little for sure, but we knew what we were doing and I think we just wanted to be a little weird. Natural weird is good but making an album just to be weird isn't. 'Threat...' was super organic and natural."

There's no doubt that album was rawer and organic and 'Attention! Attention!' is far more polished, more in line with the band's most successful era.

"I don't think I've heard anything around at the moment that sounds quite like it," Myers adds. "The aggressive tones are there but it's not harsh, it's kind of like the latest Gojira record tone-wise. 'Threat...' was more White Stripes basics."

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'Devil' suggests a continuation of 'Threat...'. Not a good thing in my book and perhaps a leftover?

"It's not leftover from the last album," he insists. "We don't write on the road, we write for the album. It may sound similar, maybe because of the background vocals and also because Erik produced the album and also 'Cut The Cord' on 'Threat...'. I don't like 'Threat...' perhaps as much as I did a year ago but I'm still proud of it and it lead us to some of the great songs on this one."

Shinedown's writing process is a familiar one and co-writes are the norm. It's the same with 'Attention! Attention!'

"There's a couple of songs written with Dave Basset, our fifth Beatle," he laughs, "and then a couple that we wrote with Scott Stevens. They're long time collaborators. 'Devil' was Erik and Brent, so it's a mixed bag really. By the way, while we were on tour Erik would have his studio out with him working on a new song every day and at the end of the 'Threat...' tour he had about twenty songs completed, so we could just get right into it. It was Erik that kind of spearheaded it. We were able to steer the writing into a particular direction so it didn't really matter who wrote with who. On the other hand, you can't tailor make a song given the subject matter, it won't work."

The album has been produced totally in house. No return for Rob Cavallo.

"Well Erik showed his hand with 'Cut The Cord'," Myers explains. "It was a huge single for us and he just has a vision for the band. He would rather go crazy making the album than go crazy watching someone else try to make it. Being a band member gives him more passion to make it work. No one else could've made this album. The label trusted us and as a result they're over the moon with it. I mean we've never turned in a turd, they've all done really well. Our attitude has always been to write thirty number one songs, and not just three or four and the rest just fill up the album."

Myers thinks that the four songs and done thing hasn't helped album sales whatsoever.

"Well yeah, I mean the internet can be a blessing or a curse," the guitarist surmises. "24/7 access to seventy five percent bullshit isn't great. It's the same with music, when you have to sift through all the sewage to find something good, you know that quality has diminished and people pick that one track that they like and that's contributed to a loss in album sales."

Myers influence has obviously grown within the band.

"Well I now get to design all the stage show for this tour," he confesses proudly. "I mean we've now been a band almost twice as long as the band that made the first two records and of course I toured with the band in the debut era so I've been here a long time. We split everything equally in the band, everything is up for debate. Brent is obviously the leader but if we have ideas and he gets outvoted three to one then he takes it, he's not a dictator. We're all allowed influence and we're all treated the same. Ego takes a back seat."

'Attention! Attention!' has some standout songs and some unusually titled ones, 'Brilliant' and 'Human Radio' being two.

"'Brilliant' is about the eventual turn around in the album story," Myers explains, "it's about the shitty past turning into something good where that person suddenly realises that they can control their own destiny and crawl back into the light; a kind of getting away from drug addiction, alcoholism, depression or whatever. It's not all about Brent, it applies to all four of us. Erik's been through depression, this album reflects that ... 'Get Up' involves him. I was naïve about depression a while ago and I couldn't understand it. When you get the deaths of Chester Bennington and Chris Cornell then you start realising that this is real and uncontrollable and hides in plain sight. 'Human Radio' was the first song that we wrote for the new album and it nearly didn't make it on. It was rewritten so many times and yet I always loved the first demo of it. I love the rhythm and the heavy guitar. I think the Queen similarities stem from the chanting which is perhaps more like My Chemical Romance 'Black Parade' era, plus there's a Pink Floyd 'The Wall' feel to it. The song is about someone who refuses to go along with trends. The video, part of a series of one for each album song, reflects that."

Shinedown has recently been on tour with Iron Maiden. It seemed an odd combination

"Well we got on great with them," the guitarist enthuses. "I did have concerns, because as Henry Rollins once said of support bands, 'You're in front of twenty thousand fans and all you are is something in between them and their favourite band' and that's true, they don't care about you. We turned them around by the end of the tour. Their fans are diehards, some go to every show and they're tough to break and we met one fan who said that we were good and yet he never looked interested when we played because he said that we weren't Iron Maiden. On the last date of the tour Brent asked for fists in the air and he hadn't done it on one night whatsoever, but he ended up doing it. It was a breakthrough moment. We won them over. We grabbed the tour right away, but we realised the magnitude shortly afterwards. We had to rehearse and practice."

Fireworks Magazine Online 83: Interview with Dare

DARE

Interview by Ant Heeks

After rising to fame as the keyboard player with Thin Lizzy, vocalist Darren Wharton hooked up with hotshot guitarist Vinny Burns to form a new band called Dare, and in 1988 they released their debut album 'Out Of The Silence' which would rightly become an AOR classic. To celebrate the 30th anniversary, the album has been completely re-recorded and given a whole new lease of life, so Fireworks phoned Darren to find out more about the reasons behind this...


Dare-Interview-image

Why did you decide to re-record the album?

Well we've been playing these songs for thirty years now and since we split up following 'Out Of The Silence' and 'Blood From Stone', it took us a few years to get back on our feet to come back with 'Calm Before The Storm'; so there was that transition period. Then, especially when we came out with 'Belief' and 'Beneath The Shining Water', from those days on we've been sort of attracting a new crowd, new fans and we've been playing to bigger and wider audiences. We love playing live but we just felt we were doing an injustice; we were going out and playing and promoting an album that was almost ancient, if you like. We love the album, but we have no rights to the album, we don't have any say about it. Universal Music haven't been particularly friendly about it − they seem to give everybody else the rights to it except me. So the only option I had was to re-record it as something for our new fans. We thought about it a lot because we've been building a new fan-base since 2001 and it's pretty much doubled in that time. We just felt like it was injustice to promote that old album, which we do every night onstage and we thought we would have our own version of it. I like to think I sing a lot better now as well, because that was the very first album I ever sang on. I know most people say they love it and are very complimentary about it, but I listen to the way my vocals are on that album and I think they should have been a lot better. If I was a better vocalist back then maybe I wouldn't have thought about re-recording it. Vinny and I spoke about it and both agreed that we knew we could improve on the album both as a singer and a player. So that was it really, I wanted to get a better vocal on there, we wanted to own our own product and we wanted to give our new fan-base a brand new version of something which we go out and promote every time we play live.

Obviously the album is rightly regarded as an AOR classic, so was there any trepidation that some of the old-school fans would feel it was something that shouldn't be messed with?

Yeah, and you know a lot of people have said that already and we're already prepared for the "we prefer the original" brigade. We're sort of expecting that to a certain extent, so it's really nice and refreshing to hear you say that you really like the new version, and I thank you from the bottom of my heart and breathe a huge sigh of relief! But the bottom line is, it's just nice to own your own music. It doesn't give you any incentive to go out and play songs from an album that your old record company, that owns it, doesn't seem to care about. They don't care about us anymore and they're just selling old copies of 'Out Of The Silence' on the back of the success of the new stuff like 'Sacred Ground'. Our newer albums are selling the back catalogue, and we just thought it was unfair.

What is the process of re-recording old songs actually like in comparison to recording brand new songs? Is it easier because you're more familiar with the songs, or does that make it more difficult because you have something to compare it to?

Well Vinny and I had quite extensive talks about this, because personally I wanted to change a few things on there. Some of the keyboard parts I would have lost, but Vinny can be very persuasive and he talked me out of it. He wanted to keep it exactly like the original album was, and his argument was − which I thought was very true − what if, for instance, Toto did a re-recording of 'Rosanna' and didn't put in that lovely keyboard solo that David Paich did? It might sound dated by today's standards but as the song was of that era it was fresh and unique and beautiful. If you love the song so much and there was a little part of it that you used to love and it wasn't there any more, you could be disappointed because it doesn't sound like the original song any more. I ended up agreeing with Vinny and that's why we tried to emulate the original album as much as we could, but using more modern sounds, a better vocal performance and more powerful guitars. So we tried to do the 'Out Of The Silence' album and just bring it more into 2018, but it still sounds like 'Out Of The Silence'. In that respect we had to work carefully and listen very hard to all the parts, because there are a lot of parts on the album that you wouldn't realise and you really have to analyse it. It was quite time consuming but it was a labour of love, it was something we really enjoyed doing. We made a few tempo changes, a few key changes so I could stretch my voice. I think it's worked well, it's just a new fresh version of an album that everybody loves.

That's the key. I've always loved the songs on the album, but I thought the production dated it too much. Now it sounds like you've recorded it during the same session as 'Sacred Ground', with the vocals and guitars much more up-front.

I know, and if you listen to the two versions side by side you realise just how much reverb there is on the vocals and how far back they are in the mix. I don't blame Mike Shipley for that, I just put it down to the fact that I wasn't a very good vocalist and Mike had to hide it! But you know, at the end of the day it was really nice to get the vocals clearer and less saturated with reverb, and get the guitars punchier, because we all thought the guitars were a bit low on the original as well. There's a lot of clean stuff going on but the actual power chords were very tucked back. That wasn't necessarily how we thought the album should sound, so it's been a journey that we hope we've done justice to.

Fireworks - The Ultimate Magazine for Melodic Rock Music

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The one track that features the largest change is 'King Of Spades'. Where did the idea come from to incorporate the excerpt of 'Black Rose' into it?

Basically that version came before 'Out Of The Silence', because when I wrote 'King Of Spades' back when we were first gigging around and trying to get our first deal with A&M, we always did that version live. It was written in memory of Phil (Lynott) as you know, so we put the ending of 'Black Rose' in there as a dedication to Phil and we always said one day we would try and put it on a track we were going to record. With doing this thirty year anniversary it was the ideal opportunity.

Professor Brian Cox was a member of the band, do you still keep in touch, and did you consider inviting him to be a guest on the re-recording?

It's not like we go out for a pint every week but we do keep in touch, and Vinny keeps in touch with him. I get the odd text, and when he gives us a plug on the telly I send him a message to thank him, but that's it really. Truth be known, he didn't really play on the original album; we only brought him in for the live situation because A&M told me they wanted me out the front. They said "you can't play the keyboards if you're going to front the band, so you need to get a keyboard player in." So that's why we got Brian in, and it was just the fact that he lived next door, so it was quite handy.

Obviously you came to prominence as a member of Thin Lizzy. Phil dissolved the band in 1983 but it was another five years before 'Out Of The Silence' was released. Why did it take you so long to re-emerge?

Well my life with Thin Lizzy had ended and I was basically out of work. I stayed in London for a year. I was living with Raphael Ravenscroft, the guy who played the saxophone on 'Baker Street', because I thought London was the place to be. But as a matter of fact it wasn't so I ended up going back home and it was the best thing I ever did. I looked for local musicians and the first person I found was Vinny, and that was it. I'd been on tour with Lizzy for four years so I didn't know anyone, but Vinny knew everybody, so with his help I was able to recruit a bassist and drummer.

Did you always know what direction you wanted to take Dare in?

No, I can't say I did actually. We just had our favourite bands like Journey, Toto, Foreigner and FM, and all those types of bands. People always ask me where the Celtic influence comes in, but obviously it came from Thin Lizzy. I don't think you can get a more Celtic Rock band than Thin Lizzy really, so it was good grounding. There were a lot of melodic bands around at that time, so we had good teachers.

Are you planning any special shows where you will play 'Out Of The Silence' in its entirety?

I think we've only ever played the whole album once on the very first tour, and I wouldn't want to do that because we've got so many fans that are passionate about some of the other songs on the other albums, so I wouldn't want to just go out there and do that whole album. I'm not ruling it out, but we already play five songs from the album and some of the other songs aren't particularly great to play live anyway. Tracks like 'Under The Sun' and 'Don't Let Go' are big production numbers really; they're not difficult to play but they don't have the energy that some of the other songs do. We tend to do the ones that feel natural and that's usually down to a gut feeling when you start playing through them in a live situation. More often you come up with your best set that way, some songs just work better than others live.

There was a time not long ago when Dare shows were very scarce, but recently you have been performing live a lot more. What has changed?

Well as I said before, funnily enough our popularity seems to be getting bigger. 'Sacred Ground' was one of the biggest selling albums we've had for a long, long time. I think the new line-up with Vinny and Nigel (Clutterbuck, bassist) back and Kevin (Whitehead) on drums, it's a great formula. We're like a band of brothers, we love working together and when you have a group of people that enjoy working together good things come out of it. We've got a much bigger audience than when we came out with 'Belief' in 2001, and we've been building and building and it only seems fair that we should give our new audience something new. It's not an easy world out there for bands like us who are big on melodies and use a lot of keyboards, it's a difficult terrain. But we're even playing Rock festivals in Germany, and Germany has been notorious for Industrial and Death Metal for the last ten years, but slowly since 'Sacred Ground' went to Number One in the Amazon Rock charts, it shows people are still looking for nice songs with no screaming and shouting.

Things are going great for the band at the moment, so what is next for Dare?

Well we've got a brand new studio album next year with eleven or twelve new songs. That's it now, there will be no more re-recordings of the old catalogue, and that goes for 'Blood From Stone'. As I said, there was a specific reason for doing this one ... we're just working on new material now. The only other thing is that next year will be the 40th anniversary of 'Live And Dangerous', so I have been asked to do some Thin Lizzy shows next year. I'm hoping that won't take up too much time because I'm really looking forward to putting out a new Dare album.

Fireworks Magazine Online 83: Interview with Spock's Beard

Noisy Neighbours: SPOCK'S BEARD

Gary Marshall talks to Dave Meros

Spock's Beard is arguably one of the bands that resurrected the Progressive Rock genre when they appeared in the mid 90s. After six successful studio albums they underwent a seemingly seismic change when main songwriter Neal Morse left. However, they reinvented themselves to great effect with drummer Nick D'Virgilio taking over as the singer and everyone contributing to the writing. When Nick departed they brought in Ted Leonard and carried on with alacrity. The merry-go-round continued with drummer Jimmy Keegan moving on and Nick returning to the drum stool. Fireworks caught up with bassist Dave Meros to get the low down on their thirteenth and latest opus 'Noise Floor'.


Spocks-Beard-Interview-image

As a long term fan I've heard the band's sound change and move in a different direction whilst always retaining that certain something that says 'this is still Spock's Beard'. Do you feel this is the case and what have been the catalysts for this change?

I agree, no matter what we do it always sounds like Spock's Beard. Part of it is that by now we know how far we can push the limits as far as the various styles and basic band sound people expect to hear from us; and part of it is that we also go for what we like and I believe that's going to deliver consistency from album to album. That having been said, we don't want or to try and box ourselves in too much. I don't think it's ever really a conscious decision to go in different directions, it just happens organically.

My promo doesn't tell me the writing credits for the new album but the PR info suggests the tracks were written by individuals. Can you give me an idea of who wrote what?

Most everyone had their input and again we had material from our usual collaborators, John Boegehold and Stan Ausmus. John was actually responsible for four of the twelve tracks, 'What Becomes Of Me', 'Days We'll Remember', 'Bulletproof' and the instrumental 'Armageddon Nervous', and co-wrote the opening number with Ryo (Okumoto). Alan (Morse) and Ted (Leonard) did a couple of songs together, 'Have We All Gone Crazy Yet?' and 'Somebody's Home' and Ted did 'Vault' on his own. Alan and Stan did 'So This Is Life' and 'One So Wise' is a Stan solo effort. I nearly forgot the other instrumental, 'Box Of Spiders' which came from Ryo and he and Ted did 'Beginnings'.

I can't help noticing that Dave Meros writing credits are conspicuous by their absence, which surprises me when I look back at your superb contributions on the 'Octane', 'Spock's Beard' and 'X' albums. Is there a particular reason behind this?

Well, a few reasons really, but mostly I started to really dislike my own writing, and that pretty much destroyed the mojo. I also realised that now there are plenty of writers in our little circle I wasn't necessarily needed in the songwriting mode like I had been; in fact I don't think my style of writing is necessarily compatible with some of the other guys, so that also took away some of the motivation.

When someone presents a song to the rest of the band is it recorded in the form presented or is there room for others to suggest alterations or be given free rein to do their own thing when it comes to recording their parts?

It varies from song to song. Sometimes the song is 100% finished and the songwriter prefers that we all play the parts as they are on the demo. If those parts are all good we'll do as they ask without complaint. Other times one or more of us will get the instruction "this is just a guide track, please do your own thing, go crazy". Even when we are playing the part that was recorded on the demo we still have some latitude as far as injecting our own personality, adding or changing little bits here and there.

Were you ever all in the same studio at the same time or do you all record at home?

There were different combinations of people in the studio at various times, but we were never all present in the studio at the same time. I was actually never in the studio, not for tracking, mixing, or anything else for that matter. I live about 400 miles away so it's kind of a big deal to get me down there and it's really not necessary, so I was just here alone in my little cave basking in the glow of my computer screen for every aspect of it (laughs). If I had a couple different ideas for any particular bit I would send them to the songwriter to get his preference, and if I had any questions those would usually be answered by picking up the phone or sending an email. But by this stage in the band's history, after playing and recording together for so long the guys kind of know how I'm going to address a bass part and I know what they probably want to hear, so for the most part I'm left to make a lot of those little decisions on my own.

Fireworks - The Ultimate Magazine for Melodic Rock Music

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There are pros and cons to that method, but overall it works for me, and I think I get better results this way. I do miss the immediate feedback when tracking, like "which sound do you like better, this one (plunk plunk) or this one (plunk plunk)"? Or "how about if I do something like this here?" But years ago before I got my own little studio rig up and running I was always frustrated because I had to record bass in the studio when we were doing basic tracks, this is the time where the drum tracks are focused on the most, and bass was always treated as something that should be finished quickly so that we could move on to the next song. I would want to work on getting a different tone or maybe develop an idea, but after five or ten minutes everybody would be looking at their watch and saying "yeah man, that sounds awesome, let's move on to the next track". Here at home I can try four different basses and five different amp models and fool around for an hour getting a tone that is just used in the bridge section of a song, or waste an hour trying to create the best bass line ever written only to decide that the original way it was played is probably the best way to go. Or listening back to a track the next day and getting new ideas about a sound or a part, and being able to spend the time to go back and realise those ideas. So it takes me way longer to record my parts, but in the end I'm a lot happier with the results.

Also I have immediate access to every piece of gear that I own and it's all within a few feet of where I'm sitting when I record. That's a big advantage. If I think "hey, I think this song needs that Fender P-Bass with flatwounds" or "this section might sound great with a fretless bass", they're all right there.

What's the idea behind the two discs?

About a year ago, after listening to maybe fifteen or twenty demos of song ideas, we chose twelve songs to record in the studio. It's difficult to predict how everything is going to eventually fit together, so after all the recording and mixing was finished we started trying to assemble a cohesive album. It felt like there were eight songs that made a really strong, consistent album when presented together, and four that were a little outside of the stylistic range. We really loved those four songs though and didn't want to abandon them, and they were already recorded and mixed, so we put them on a bonus disc.

We've made the mistake in the past of just putting everything on one disc. The example I always use is our self-titled ninth album. If we would have done what we did on this album, with a main disc and a bonus disc, I am sure that would have been a much stronger album in the critic's eyes. So we learned from our mistakes and I think the last two or three albums have been much stronger because of it.

I understand that with Nick D'Virgilio's busy schedule it's likely to impact the band's ability to tour, is that the case? Have you got any ideas on how to get around this?

Yes, we have a drummer lined up to do any future touring. He's awesome, and you probably know of him, but we've agreed to not introduce him until we announce our tour, so my lips are sealed for now (laughs). We're in the beginning stages of planning a Europe/UK tour in either late November or early December, so stay tuned for info on that. We're also playing the 'Cruise To The Edge' in February.

On a slightly different note, you've performed on cruises and at Moresfest where you've teamed up with Neal Morse again. How has that been for you all?

It's always awesome, we love it. It's like a family reunion when that happens, especially at the 'Snow' show at Morsefest where the entire Spock's "family" was there, all seven past and present members of the band. On a personal level, Neal is more than a friend and colleague to me, and more than an amazing musician that I look up to. I always worked as a musician and got some very decent gigs along the way, but Neal is the guy that created the music that allowed me to develop my own persona and carve out a bit of a niche for myself, so for that I am very grateful. I guess I'm getting a little off track here, but what I'm trying to say is that I'm always happy to see him. He has a real vitality on stage that is very contagious, not just to the audience but also to the band.

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