Fireworks Magazine

Fireworks Magazine Online 76 - Interview with Delain

DELAIN: An interview With Charlotte Wessels

Interview by Dave Scott

It doesn't seem that long ago that Delain appeared on the scene with their bombastic style of Symphonic Metal. What started out originally as a project has grown into an act that is increasingly popular in the genre and beyond. Since 2006, through determination, hard work and an ever-growing collection of infectious and catchy songs, Delain have released four albums and two EP's alongside an immense amount of touring. Fireworks sat down with vocalist Charlotte Wessels to discuss the 10th anniversary, a new addition to the band and their fifth brand new album 'Moonbathers'.


Delain

2016 is a landmark year for Delain as it signifies the tenth anniversary of the band, which is quite an achievement. What emotions or thoughts do you have about this and did you consider that you would reach such a point – accepting the latter part is more pertinent to 'April Rain' and going forward?


When we worked on the first release we were generally very excited about the things that we were doing. I think that as soon as the album was released, we were actually a lot more ambitious than we expected to become when we first started out. I think that from the moment that we got the live band together and decided to actually try this thing on stage, I always had the feeling of being in it for the long run. The fact that we have made it to where we are at this moment – and that we are doing so well at this point – is a fantastic thing and I do feel like our efforts are being rewarded right now. Sometimes I look back and think if we didn't have certain bumps in the road, sometimes through external factors, we could have been here a bit earlier. There have been moments when I have been frustrated about that but when I look back now I mainly think that I am kind of proud of us that we didn't get too discouraged and that we just continued pulling on. It was very hard but now we are in an emotion that we want to be in.

How have your thoughts changed from those early days to now? How have you yourself changed as a person and an artist in that time?

When I started working on the tracks for Delain I must have been seventeen because I remember I couldn't sign my own contract with Roadrunner because I wasn't of legal age at the time, so my parents had to sign that. So I was seventeen or there abouts when I meet Martijn Westerholt and of course that is a very different age to be than nearly thirty. I think that we as a band matured a lot but I myself matured a lot as well because I was a typical, somewhat difficult teen and I would dare to say I am "kind of" alright now ha-ha.

At the end of last year, you announced that Delain had become a six-piece with the permanent addition of Merel Bechtold on guitar. What factors came into this move and how has it changed, if anything, the dynamic of the band?

The thing that really has changed is our live performances it was such a blessing to have her with us. We knew her for a while and we have been considering for a while that maybe we wanted a second guitarist because there are a lot of songs that don't work as well with one guitarist when we play them live, which kind of limits our live repertoire. We have been considering it for a while and had some contact with her, back then we didn't feel like we were all ready to make that decision. Then there was one tour where Timo Somers couldn't play so she filled in and we noticed that she was a good fit. There were some festivals and we thought well maybe let's just try it for the fun of it, let's see how it will go with two guitarists on stage. It was just a very good experience, her attitude on stage is fantastic... her interaction with the rest of the band and the audience... it was just a lot of fun. So yeah it definitely makes a big difference and I am very happy to have her with us.

Moving into the present, you have a new album due out shortly. Two of the tracks from it first appeared on the 'Lunar Prelude' EP earlier this year, given the title was it always the intention from the start that those two would be part of 'Moonbathers'?

Yes. What we did is we basically started working on the album very early because we had the "luxury" problem of having back-to-back tours. Traditionally, we would take the time off between tours and then do the writing, recording and production process more or less in one go. We didn't have the time for that and like I mentioned, it was really a champagne problem but we had to fix it some way. So what we did was basically chop up the entire production into three chunks and we started with recording and writing the first set of songs really early on. Then later we got a request from a lot of people asking if we could do another EP. I am not necessarily a fan of doing EPs a lot of the time, but since we already had those songs for the album – which we knew was going to be called 'Moonbathers' – and since there was this request along with the fact it is nice that we don't have to sit on those songs for two years, we thought that in this case it might be a good idea to actually do an EP. So those were the songs that we were already working on for the album and that we then put on the EP when that arose.

Lyrically, 'Suckerpunch' is an interesting song. What does it focus on and where did you get the inspiration for it?

As you say, it is an interesting song. I have heard people say "lyrically" because I have got some comments regarding this song that people expected something deeper from me but for me I like writing an upbeat song every now and then. It seems whenever I write a song that is more upbeat than really sad, people would rather have me write sad songs. It's not a bad thing because writing sad songs is kind of my therapeutic state. The song was written in the shape of someone basically quite violently breaking up from a toxic relationship. Of course, that could be seen as the classic break up song but when I wrote it I wrote it more in the sense of being a metaphor for like breaking with whatever demons you have inside of you or outside. Whether that is a toxic relationship with someone or whether it is a toxic relationship with certain behaviours inside yourself. That is what it is about and I like how it is kind of upbeat.

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Can you give us an idea of some of the other songs on the album and their lyrical meanings and inspirations?

'Chrysalis – The Last Breath' and 'Danse Macabre' were both inspired by a film script. This is the first time that the inspiration for any of our songs came from a film script. It came from a screenwriter friend in LA and he had this script and he let us read it and asked if we could do anything with it. It is a horror script and it is quite a cool story and there were certain struggles of the protagonists that I could really relate to. It was an interesting challenge to actually work with the script and write the songs that we have for it.

With the songs being based on the scripts, will they have any connection with the film beyond this album?

If the film happens, then I do think we will most likely have the song in it. So that was a very interesting process for us. 'Chrysalis...' is at the same time also the very first song where I broke my own rule... I always have this rule as a lyricist that if I write a lyric and it starts in a bad place that there should be some sort of light at the end of the tunnel. This is the first where I didn't do that because it just didn't fit. After the song was finished, and I was already settled on the fact that it would be like that and a very sad song, I kept on writing little poems to offer a resolution to the track. In the end, when the album nearly finished, we wrote one vocal hook and then wrote the very last track – which was supposed to be a bonus track –based on that and then I think almost the last day of the mix I recorded one of the poems and sang it and put it on top of that track. Now, at least, there is still a part to the song that offers a resolution and a more positive side to what happened. That is also why the titles are linked together – 'Chrysalis...' and 'The Monarch' – it is all about transformation. It doesn't matter how long it takes you to get to that point as long as you do. I was very happy that it did happen in the end. 'The Glory And The Scum' is one of my favourites, the lyrics inspired by a book I read called 'The Better Angels Of Our Nature' by Steven Pinker and it is a book about the history of violence in human kind. I know that doesn't sound especially uplifting in any way but the conclusion of the book says that despite everything, today we are living in the most peaceful time that we have ever known as human kind and that is a trend that is still developing in a positive way. That is something I really needed to read at that moment because I was kind of affected by all the things that I and everyone sees around them at the moment. Sometimes it is hard to realise that everything is not lost yet. I still don't know where we are heading for, and it still might be horrible, but at that point and moment it was a book I really needed to read. There was a quote by a 17th century philosopher that was a big monologue which ended with the quote "we really are the glory and the scum of the universe" and that kind of summed it up for me. So the song for me is really about our great potential for the very best and the very worst and how we use it.

You have covered the Queen song 'Scandal', how did you come to cover that song and for it to be included?

I must be totally honest; it was not my choice. Westerholt came with it and he was saying he loved the track, he really wanted to cover it and what did we think. My first response was "oh my God you can't do that... don't burn your fingers on that... they are giants"... I guess it was partly due to the fact that it is not one of their most well-known songs, I had heard it before but it is no one of the songs I sing in the shower. That was also the good part because that made me want to dare to do it. It helped that we got explicit permission from Brian May himself to cover the song along with some very nice compliments. That was really lovely and nice. We tried to strike a balance between making it our own and respecting the original at the same time.

You often have guests appear on your albums, has anyone lent a helping hand on 'Moonbathers'?

Yes, we had a guest appearance by Alissa White-Gluz again. We asked her to participate on the track 'Hands Of Gold' which is the new album's opening song. It is a very upbeat track but this has somewhat darker lyrics inspired by my favourite literature. The part that White-Gluz grunts is part of a poem by Oscar Wilde. Her interpretation of it is really cool, she always does a great job by really giving full effort. Recently I have tried to learn some grunts and screams myself. Actually on 'Glory...' and 'Pendulum' I attempted them for the very first time but it still, even with learning some of the basics of it, it is still a mystery to me how she does what she does.

Once again, you are extensively touring Europe at the end of the year with eight dates across the UK in November. Are you excited to be returning to our shores?

I am very excited about it. On the last European tour, the UK dates were the biggest, the earliest sold out and we had great audience response. I do genuinely think that the UK is one of the best territories for us to tour and people are so nice to us over there. We are really looking forward to going back.

You are touring with Evergrey and Kobra And The Lotus, how did it come about that these two acts are joining you on tour?

Whenever we are looking for bands to join us on tour, especially on our headline tours, we basically look at bands that get us excited ourselves. I think especially Evergrey has some fans in the band so we are pretty excited about that. As for Kobra, I am very curious to see what they will be like when we tour with them and I am very excited to have them join us on the tour and I cannot wait to be honest.

With your 10th Anniversary now here, have you made any special plans to celebrate?

We are doing a special 10th Anniversary gig-party-birthday bash-show on the 10th December and we're going to invite a lot of people we have worked with to join us on stage. We are also going to record it and then release it. We are doing all this through PledgeMusic, which is a cool music platform. It started a while ago and we hit 100% within no time. It is still open which is a good thing too because we realised that we are going to need quite a bit more to make everything happen so we are happy it is still running and that people are still checking it out. Something nice to mention is that everything we make above our 100% goal, a part of that goes to The Sophie Lancaster Foundation so if people need any encouragement to go to the pledge campaign, even though we have hit our target, you are not only helping us but also helping them. As well as that, I can also tell you that we are going to mark the 10th Anniversary of 'Lucidity' by releasing a re-mastered special edition with lots of bonus material. As for the future, we are already excited about what we are going to do for our next album. We have already sat together to decide how we want to do the writing and recording process next time around. Basically I want the flow that we are in right now to continue because I really think that things are looking up, it feels like we are being rewarded for our hard work with how things are going and I want and hope that will continue.

Fireworks Magazine Online 76 - Interview with Breaking Benjamin

Breaking Benjamin

Interview by Mike Newdeck

With seven million albums sold world-wide, Breaking Benjamin can be considered something of a Modern Rock phenomena. Comeback album 'Dark Before Dawn' was a phenomena all on its own, selling 135,000 pure album units and 141,000 equivalent album units in its first week and debuting at No.1 on the Billboard 200, making it the group's most successful sales effort. This, incredibly, put it above more celebrated artists such as Madonna and Kelly Clarkson.
Fireworks caught up with lead singer and band leader Benjamin Burnley to find out the secret of the band's renewed success.


Breaking-Benjamin

Why was there a four year hiatus with the band?


In 2007 I started having health issues and then they started to worsen. So in 2010 I decided to take a break from it all and tried to seek an answer for what was causing my health problems. This took years and while searching for these answers former musicians in the band made decisions involving the band catalogue, including songs that I wrote in their entirety, without my consent. A legal dispute occurred prolonging the hiatus even further.

Tell me how you selected the new line-up.

After the legal dispute, I wanted to play with a group of people that weren't just great musicians but great friends as well. Aaron Bruch and I were friends for a long time and we got together and it was great to work with him. Jasen Rauch played with Red and we had collaborated together before in the past and it just made sense. Shaun played with a band called Picture Me Broken and Keith was with Adelitas Way and it all just seemed to fit well. Playing with your friends just makes a band that much better.

The album 'Dark Before Dawn' pretty much carries on from where Breaking Benjamin left off on 'Dear Agony' . Were you tempted to change the sound?

I am always trying to incorporate new things into the sound of Breaking Benjamin without breaking the mould of what Breaking Benjamin is and what we stand for. 'Ashes of Eden' is among many examples of this because it is the first time the band has ever recorded or released a song where the guitar is completely digital.

How does this album differ from old BB?

As the primary songwriter that I have been for the band, this album doesn't differ too much from the others. I have done the bulk of the work as I did the the writing process myself , but only because when 'Dark Before Dawn' was conceived, the new members were not in place yet. However, there are notable contributions made on the album by each current band member. 'Dark Before Dawn' is also the first Breaking Benjamin album that I am not singing the background vocals and harmonies on, which were done by Aaron Bruch and Keith Wallen.

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How did the songs come together for this album? Were they written over a long period of time or written specifically for the album over a short period?

As a songwriter, I am always writing bits and pieces of things all the time. When I feel that there is enough of this material compiled I will then focus my efforts into composing the various bits and pieces into full song compositions.

Were you surprised at how well the album has done considering the time since the last one?

I think the response for the album was overwhelming. Breaking Benjamin and its fans showed the world that Rock was not dead when 'Dark Before Dawn' was released. It is the band's first No.1 album on Billboard and that says a lot. We were honoured by this and excited at the same time. It goes to show you how ready the world is for more Rock music. Breaking Benjamin fans are so loyal and it's humbling everyday to see how much they support us. When we did our first shows after years of being in hiatus, the response was overwhelming. Overseas in Europe, where we have never been, the response to Breaking Benjamin was incredible. Every show we make it a point to say thank you to all of them for what they do for us.

What's your feeling on using technology to enhance live performances? For instance you use electronic drums, synth orchestral interludes etc but how far would you take it? What's acceptable?

We use technology in what we feel is the right way, for instance allowing us to not play to a single track that is generated from a computer. We love the aspect of being live. This allows us to keep the band's performances 100% played by the band. We do this as you have mentioned by utilising guitar synthesizers and drum triggers which all occur in real time and are all done by us in the moment.

When you look back on your career, its ups and downs, would you change anything that you did either in your personal life or musically?

Everything happens for a reason and all of the decisions that I have made have brought me to the point I am now with the band and the album. If one thing was different in those decisions, things would be completely different, so I would say that I would not change anything.

What is your aim for the band?

To continue to make music, to continue to be there for our incredible fans, and to go to more places we have never been to.

How was the band received at Download?

Download Festival was incredible. While this was our first time to Europe, it will not be the last for sure. The response we received in the UK and the rest of Europe was so fantastic. We can't wait to come back and do more shows for Europe.

Fireworks Magazine Online 76 - Interview with Illust8tors

Illustr8ors

Steven Reid talks with singer Scott Sharp

They say fortune favours the brave and surely there's nothing more bold for a young band who've begun to make a strong, respected name for themselves, than to decide to start again. illustr8ors – note the lower case i – have done just that. From the outside ditching the name BlackWolf and all the momentum across rock radio, the internet and print media it built up, may feel like a backward move. However as Fireworks discovers, singer Scott Sharp believes the sudden change perfectly illustr8es his band's updated sound and outlook.


Illustr8tors

"The short answer is that we have grown and evolved into something different," Scott says passionately when asked about the name-change. "What we want to say as a band now, and what we want to achieve with our music has just changed. It made sense for us to treat this growth as a whole new project and fresh start because that's what it is, a new beginning. The name illustr8ors doesn't drag so many pre-conceived connotations with it, so it allows us to be whatever we want to be. We feel we're now doing something that is more individual and we're stoked to see where it takes us."

But even with such strong belief in illustr8ors and what that name is set to stand for, surely backing away from the Classic Rock foothold BlackWolf undoubtedly gained caused the band some concerns? "I wouldn't call them concerns, but we were aware of the likely reaction," the frontman confirms. "But that was the whole point for us. If we were going to do this, we were going to do it properly. We have said all we wanted to say as BlackWolf and have now put that to rest. We're starting over and that's what's so exciting for us. We have no intentions to link the past with what we're doing now. BlackWolf had a lot to do with tipping hats to heroes. As we grew as a band we just grew tired of that and felt it was time to take a long hard look at what we wanted to achieve together. Did we want to continue forward as another band mirroring the past, or become something that was current, relevant to what's happening now in music and essentially something more individual to us? When put like that the choice was easy. So we set out to find our own voice. We took what we feel are the intentions of Rock n' Roll and let everything else we love in music spill through them. We arrived here and we couldn't be happier. The best thing about it all for us is that we're only just getting started!"

Brave though changing one may be, a name is, however, just a name and, as Scott enthusiastically explains, there's much more to this band's evolution. "The music we're making now isn't Classic Rock. It's more than that. It's Rock n' Roll as we hear it today. Sure, it still has the elements we love in Blues and Soul as well as a big appreciation for 'the riff'; but there's elements of the 90s Seattle sound in there now, there's a sort of hip-hop way of looking at rhythms, a big love of danceabilty and a sort of Pop sensibility about the melodies. So we chose a name that's more open-ended. Just as our music is saying something more now, we wanted a name that does that as well. To us illustr8ors achieves this." But, with BlackWolf making strong inroads on the scene, what was the catalyst? "It was something we had been thinking about for a long time but that only really started to make sense when we began writing again. There was a lot to figure out behind the scenes which is perhaps why it seemed so sudden from the outside, but these sort of things always do I guess."

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Considering that the band's debut album, 'Photopia', won't ever see the light of day outside the PledgeMusic campaign that funded it, it could be suggested that the early efforts of the band have been misplaced... "No, not at all!" Scott exclaims. "For us that Pledge album was about finding ourselves as a band, figuring out what we were really all about and what we wanted to do next. It's done that for us and then some; it relit the fire in our stomachs! I think during that process we all fell in love with music again. It was an incredible experience and one we won't ever forget. That album, as it exists, won't be released publicly. We've taken focus tracks from it that create a sort of journey through what we've achieved and experienced, and we will be releasing that as a four track EP. We'll then pick the best moments of the Pledge album, along with the tracks released on our self-titled EP and some new songs, and this will all go into making our public debut album as illustr8ors. So absolutely nothing has been wasted. We've devoured the whole process and hopefully we can give you all the best of it. The songs on this EP sort of create a snapshot journey of what we've been through. They showcase some of the more focal elements of what illustr8ors is about. Lyrically the songs also connect very strongly with each other and what we've experienced. They're about change, growth, what it means to sacrifice yourself for something you love and believe in, and they're about hope. Hope for the future."

And as all this evolution has come to pass, 'little angel', Toby Jepson, has, as Scott explains, proved to be a key figure in illustr8ors evolution. "Toby's been really important for us. He was exactly what we wanted and needed from a producer. He gets under your skin and forces you to dig deep and figure out exactly what you want to say, not just as musicians but as people as well. It's quite an uncomfortable experience at first because you can feel quite overexposed, but he knows that's where the best music is made, in that vulnerable spot where creation meets truth I guess. When it all just started to click things just blew up, it was amazing. He has a brilliant way of looking at things, really positive. He helps you see the moments you're missing and more often than not those moments become the most important parts of a song. Speaking of which, the biggest thing he taught us was to write songs, not just music. To say exactly what you mean and make sure it connects with your listener in some way that is important and personal...the guy's been like our Yoda."

Keen to let people hear why illustr8ors are just so excited by their altered outlook, the band hit the road in September and October with Toseland. "It will be great to have the chance to connect with the Toseland audience," the singer says, impatient to get started. "We feel the fit is a perfect start for what we're aiming to do. The set-list will be a collection of songs from the EP and the Pledge album, as well as a bunch of new material we haven't recorded or played live yet." Although the band have actually made their live debut already. "It was great! Ramblin' Man Fair was a very cool festival and a fantastic platform to kick things off again. It had been a little while since we had been on stage, so we were a little edgy at first but soon as we saw how much the crowd were feeling what we were doing, we settled into it. We just want to get back up there again now!"

Click HERE to read the Illustr8tors 'Photopia' album review on Rocktopia.

Fireworks Magazine Online 76 - Interview with Hands Like Houses

Hands Like Houses

An interview by Mike Newdeck

After honing their craft on their earlier releases, Australian band Hands Like Houses decided to up the ante on their third release 'Dissonants'. A tour-de-force of Modern Rock, cutting guitar and melodic vocals – something seldom heard in this genre – it bucked the trend somewhat by adding a far more commercial edge and broadening the bands appeal.
Fireworks caught up with vocalist Trenton Woodley as the band embarked on their recent UK tour to chat about the band's new album and increased popularity.


HandsLikeHouses

You've had a long association with James Paul Wisner as a producer. How did you end up using his talents and why do you continue to do so?


We actually first heard of him via his early work with Underoath, Paramore and so on but when working with Cameron Mizell on 'Ground Dweller', he spoke really highly of James and his work, having interned/assistant engineered with him in the past. We got lucky when another booking fell through for the time we had planned to record 'Unimagine' so we locked it in and the rest was history. He's an incredibly focused and gifted producer and manages to get the best out of us, which is a challenge sometimes, by always being honest and candid but only ever in the spirit of being constructive. While we like to keep evolving with each record, which does mean always considering our options, we'd definitely hope to include him on future records in some capacity!

How does he help shape the sound of the band?

We've always wanted to have a sound that's both massive and intimate, and his production method is incredibly clear and dynamic, which gives us the ability to create the emotional impact of jumping between those extremes. He's brilliant at creating a place for everything to belong in the mix, where nothing gets in the way of the other parts.

How has this album progressed compared to your last one, 'Unimagine'?

We wanted to give it more bite; we felt that our 'heavier' songs were connecting better with live audiences and it was one of the most appreciated elements of our first record, so we wanted to see how we could better balance the song-writing focus we built from 'Unimagine' while still including the aggression and urgency we wanted.

Why did you call the album 'Dissonants'?

The album is about the complex and multiple experiences that make up who we are, so the play on the word 'dissonance' was a way to personify those dissonant traits and experiences and say 'I Am Dissonant', which is also a lyric from 'I Am' .

How would you accurately describe your music?

Not sure about 'accurately' but we want to create loud and impact filled music that makes you feel something. To us, that's Rock, pure and simple but people like to make up their sub-genres and references which we can't really control.

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How do you feel about being labelled Post Hardcore? Is that a fair assessment?

Honestly we don't really like the label at all. I think we had it on our Myspace and maybe referenced it in our first 'official' bio but even then I think that was referencing our energy rather than our actual 'genre'. As a genre label, I've found it to have become almost completely meaningless because of the dozens of distinct bands that have somehow been grouped together by it.

You've ditched the growling vocal delivery on 'Dissonants'. Why is that?

I'm not a fan of the term 'growling' because that's a totally different vocal style to me. But we have adopted moments of 'screaming' on 'Dissonants' as a challenge to people's perception of what Hands Like Houses is. For a long time we were 'the Post Hardcore band that doesn't scream' to a lot of people, so by changing that perception it was unsettling enough for old fans to give it a proper listen with an open mind.

How has it worked out for you being an Australian band? Do you think that it's necessary to make a break from the country in order to get success?

I don't think so, no, we have some incredible bands making a name for themselves overseas after more or less conquering Australia first. We had an unusual progression of opportunities and challenges that meant that it was better for us to develop overseas, the US in particular, to better tackle Australia but that's probably an essay-length answer of questionable interest.

How are things developing for you in the U.S?

Really well. 'Dissonants' and our radio team have opened up a whole slew of new doors for us. We certainly don't want to sell out or leave behind where we've been but there's a whole new world where we're a small fish in a big pond again, which is exciting.

Tell me how you came to cover 'Torn'?

We were invited to be a part of the 'Punk Goes 90s' compilation and so we considered a handful of songs but with Natalie Imbruglia being Australian it just felt right, although we found out later she wasn't the original performer or writer of the track – that credit belongs to Ednaswap, an LA grunge band from the 90s.

Do you think that there's pressure on bands like HLH to be commercial in order to survive?

It's not so much commercial as being sustainable. We could certainly survive in a number of different ways but to be a touring act where music is our full time career, being able to turn that music and brand into a sustainable business means you have to be accessible – you need people to enjoy your music. So the creative challenge is in writing good songs that people connect with while still maintaining what makes your art and style distinctive and original.

How was the band received on the recent UK tour?

It was phenomenal, especially the sold-out London show at Islington Academy. The biggest encouragement of this year is the energy and excitement people have for 'Dissonants'. Every band has to deal with fans screaming 'play all old songs' but honestly, so far those people have been practically drowned out by people singing along to the new songs. Obviously that'll change with time and as the new record has time to settle in, but it's such a positive encouragement that we're already talking about which songs we can bring in next tour that we haven't played yet!

What's the plan for the rest of 2016 for the band? When can we expect to see you back in the UK/Europe?

We have a few months off to catch our breath and maybe write a few future song ideas down before things get crazy again, but come September we'll be back on the road in the UK and then the US. That's all I can say for now... stay tuned!

'Dissonants' is out now on Rise records

Click HERE to read the album review on Rocktopia.

Fireworks Magazine Online 76 - Interview with Van Zant

VAN ZANT

Interview by Elin Sigfridsson

Johnny and Donnie are the younger brothers of Ronnie Van Zant, Lynyrd Skynyrd's original vocalist who was tragically killed in a plane crash in 1977. Johnny is better known as the current singer of Lynyrd Skynyrd after the band reunited in 1987, and Donnie for 38 Special which he formed with guitarist Don Barnes back in 1974.
Johnny had released several Southern Rock albums in the 80s with the Johnny Van Zant Band before changing genres for the totally AOR sounding self-titled Van Zant album in 1985. The brothers then joined forces in 1998 with Van Zant reverting back to their Southern Rock roots and releasing a further four studio albums.


VanZant

With a new live album being released Fireworks thought it was about time to dig a little deeper in the history of these two brothers, although the first question had to be why a live show from Georgia, back in 2006, is being released now?

Johnny: We went back and revisited the live album about a year and a half ago. To our surprise it sounded incredibly good, so we shipped everything up to Nashville to producer/engineer Ben Fowler. Over the past year went to Nashville and mixed the CD. We decided to put out the end product as we did very little shows with Van Zant and thought the fans would enjoy it.

That Johnny and Donnie have their roots in Southern Rock is a well known fact, and is clearly demonstrated by the songs on the album which are an interesting mix of not only Van Zant songs but also some cool choices from Lynyrd Skynyrd and 38 Special. Although for fans of Johnny's more AOR output, the lack of songs from that '85 self- titled album is rather disappointing.

Johnny: We were actually promoting our 'Get Right With The Man' Country album, so the choice was easy. We played mostly songs from that particular CD. When it came to our individual bands, we decided we would throw in some of those songs as well.
Donnie: We thought it would be great for the fans to get a little bit of our history with our bands. I thought it would be cool for Johnny to sing Don Barne's 'Wild-Eyed Southern Boys' from 38 Special, which turned out great. I got a chance to sing a few of my older brother Ronnie's songs with Johnny, which made it especially cool.

Being busy with Lynyrd Skynryd and 38 Special, Van Zant never did much touring, which was clearly a vast disappointment for their fans. With so many albums behind them there must have been requests for tours in the past.

Donnie: We actually have toured together as Van Zant doing the Rock version. The Country tour was the longest tour we ever did together but it was always hard to tour as Van Zant because 38 Special and Skynyrd do between 90 to100 shows a year, which didn't give us much time for Van Zant.

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The 1985 self-titled album is decidedly more AOR than the Southern Rock leanings the band are better known for. The interesting thing about this album is that it is completely uncharacteristic for Van Zant and does raise some questions – was Johnny pushed by the record company to record songs in this style or was it simply what he wanted to do?

Johnny: It was definitely the type of music I was into at the time. As for the musical direction on this album, I was in control with my decisions for the album. With that said, I still took all of their advice and direction into account.

That 1985 album is a big favourite of many of us here at Fireworks and we wondered if Johnny would ever consider pursuing that musical direction. Johnny's 'Brickyard Road' in 1990 did follow in the same AOR footsteps but with some Southern tinges, but what are the possibilities for the future?

Johnny: I never say never. Those records helped shape who I am today as an artist and a person. I hold them dear to my heart but I also have to take current music into account.

So perhaps there is some hope left for us. Although with that sound already going on from their self-titled album, why didn't they release 'Brickyard Road' under the Van Zant name?

Johnny: The chairman of Atlantic Records signed me to a record deal. We thought it would be better if we do it under just my name. I've been with Skynyrd for almost 30 years, I've always been proud of my brothers' Southern Rock music. As an individual artist I wanted to shape my sound different from my brothers. My intention was to make my music more commercial to appeal to those who love Southern Rock, and maybe even Metal.

For over three decades Johnny and Donnie have kept themselves busy with Lynyrd Skynyrd and 38 Special, and Johnny is still as active as ever in writing new material for Skynyrd. But what are the chances of a new Van Zant studio album considering the fact that there has been nine years since 'My Kind Of Country' was released?

Johnny: We've been writing non-stop and we probably have over 100 songs. We would like to create a Gospel album, and a Blues record.
Donnie: We have enough material to do two Van Zant albums. We'll see what happens. I would love to do another project with Johnny and don't ever count me out!

And we are very pleased to hear that Donnie! And speaking of Donnie, 38 Special has been active since 1977 and released 12 studio albums and toured relentlessly all over the world to reach their fans. But in 2013 Donnie decided to quit the band.

Donnie: I didn't quit the band, I was forced to leave due to inner-ear nerve damage in both ears which took away 75% of my top and 75% of my mid range. I was told by doctors if I continue staying on the road I could go completely deaf. But I still write every day, especially with my brother Johnny.

When it comes to writing music, Johnny and Donnie seem to have an endless imagination.Working and writing for Skynyrd and 38 Special, and with Van Zant to unite both brothers in the middle, perhaps comparing them is not so different after all?

Johnny: There isn't much of a difference. We always try to write about honesty, family values, and touch on our religion.
Donnie: It wasn't a big jump for either of us. The songs I did with Van Zant I would have brought to the table for 38 Special.

When I thought of a last question for Johnny and Donnie I started to wonder about their feelings about it all. When they look back on their careers, from the very beginning up to this very moment - how does it make them feel?

Johnny: It still feels like a dream. I often find myself questioning if it ever even happened. I'm honoured to say the least, especially the fact that the fans have stuck by me this entire time, and enjoyed all of my hard work.
Donnie: I feel very blessed to have forty years in the music business. When you think about it, only five percent of musicians get a chance and only five percent make a living doing it; I've done both. Thanks to all of the fans for making my dream come true.

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