AN INTERVIEW WITH JANNE STARK OF OVERDRIVE

Swedish metallers Overdrive are one of their countries longest running traditional metal bands.  In their third decade the band have produced arguably their best album to date in ‘Angelmaker’.  We caught up with guitarist Janne Stark to discuss the albums creation and more.

Janne congratulations on the cracking new Overdrive album ‘Angelmaker’, it’s like the sonic equivalent of a knuckle duster clad fist to the face!
I take that as a compliment ;-). Thanks!

For a band with a pedigree dating back over 20 years you guys certainly don’t sound tired or jaded by traditional metal.  Is the passion still as strong as ever?
-Thanks again! Yes, I think the addition of Per kind of revitalized the band when we re-united. But also, I’d say, I still have the same huge passion for traditional metal and playing guitar as I had when I was 18. It still hasn’t faded, it’s actually stronger than ever! We also still share that passion within the band.

After the return ‘Let The Metal Do The Talking’ and now with ‘Angelmaker’ you are pumping out some of the most energised metal around.  What is the secret to the bands enthusiasm and high performance levels?
It’s quite simple – We love to play! We split in 1985 and it’s just like we picked up where we left off with the same energy we had back in the 80s. Come to think of it, I think we’ve actually got more of it now. I think we just haven’t realized we’ve become older (so, please don’t tell us!). I also think one thing is we try to keep fit. We fortunately haven’t become couch potatoes, so we do have the energy to give it all we’ve got on stage, plus we’ve always had a great time while we’re there.

I believe the band took a different approach to creating the album this time around, can you tell us more about the process you took and what do you feel where the advantages of this approach?
The last album was kind of a “comeback” where we sort of played it safe by recording some stuff we wrote back in the 80s, but never released. Half the material was new and half “old”. I think the fact that people couldn’t separate the old from the new kinda gave us the confidence we needed to make an all-new and fresh album. We also wrote a lot more songs than we needed, over 25 in total. We then sat down and picked out 18 of these to record. Once they were recorded and mixed we used a listening panel of various people (fans, DJs, musicians etc) to help us select which 12 songs to use.

Is this an approach you will use again?
Yes, definitely. It was a great help to get an outside view. You get a sort of tunnel vision when you’re so involved. It’s very helpful to let people who have never heard the songs before, come in with fresh ears and help you get a “first impression” of the material and look at it from a different angle.

The production of the album is very good, clear, powerful and punchy, something some of the big boys like Maiden could learn from. Do you need a big budget to sound like this or is the key in experience?
Thanks! Big budget?! Hahahahahaha. This album was actually recorded with our smallest budget ever! Since too many people download albums, sales go down and the labels don’t dare give you any advances anymore, so you need to keep a very very tight budget. Fortunately most of us have our own studios where we can record, which saves a lot of money. Instead we used the money to have Pelle Saether mix the album in his Underground Studios, which is a great studio. If you put some time and effort into getting a great and consistent basic sound and get someone who really knows sound to mix it, you can do wonders with a small budget.

Was there anything the band did differently this time around in terms of production/mix etc?
Yes, this time I kinda took control of the production, meaning I was in charge of making sure everything got recorded and finished in time, compiled and checked all recordings, quality checked, handled the budget, booked the studio, sat in while mixing etc. The last album was mixed by Johan Blomström (who recorded the drums on this one), while Pelle Saether mixed this one. Johan is great, but Pelle has a different approach, which worked great for this album.

There is a nice mix of styles that fall under the ‘trad metal’ banner, like Priest and Accept you aren’t afraid to move in different areas yet still manage to retain a signature sound.  Is this simply a case of different writers in the band getting their ideas heard or is it more planned than that?
Different people contributing to the writing definitely plays a big part in it. Kenth is more influenced by old Maiden, which you can hear on “Under The Influence”, I’m into the old seventies stuff as well as vintage Priest which you may hear on “It’s a Thriller”. We all have our different approaches, which definitely adds different musical textures to the broth.

There is a perhaps surprising cover of Abba vocalist Frida’s ‘I Know There’s Something Going On’, but as it was penned by Russ Ballard well known for writing some of the biggest rock hits its maybe not such a surprise.  When did you decide to cover the track and was your arrangement quite easy to conceive?
It just came up at a band meeting. Why don’t we record a cover? We’ve never done that before. We didn’t wanna do any metal cover, but something we could metalize. We gave it a week to come up with songs that may work in a metal version and when Kenta suggested “I Know…” we all were like – Yeah! That would work. I pretty much came up with the arrangement on the spot. Figured it would be a bit heavier if I detuned it, too, so I did. I even received a thanks mail from Russ Ballard who said he loved our metallic version and offered to buy me a curry whenever I came to the UK. I take that as a good sign!

‘See The Light’ you wrote for the Scorpions but the band didn’t use it.  How did you end up in a position where you were writing songs for the German rockers and do you know why they rejected it as hearing a lot of their recent output they should have used it! 
Mikael Nord Andersson is an old and close friend of mine. Two years ago we recorded an album together with the band BALLS and we’ve been writing a lot of stuff together. When he got the job to produce the new Scorpions he called me and asked if I would be into writing and co-writing some stuff with him. No guarantees or anything. So I wrote around 20 songs/riffs, which I sent him. One was “See The Light”. Apparently they did like it, but thought it sounded a bit too much Iron Maiden (?). Anyway, I figured it was too good to waste so we decided to use it. Noone’s said it sounds like Maiden so far 😉

Yourself and Kjell Jacobsson form the dual guitar attack of Overdrive.  How do you go about making the double guitars work in the band and what happens when it comes to solo duties?
In the old days we rehearsed 2-3 times a week and then we spent a lot of time working out the stuff together. Today we work a lot separately and bring it to the table more or less as finished songs with all guitar parts more or less arranged and ready. We always write the songs for two guitars anyway, with the other player in mind. We also now take the solo in the song we write ourselves and you mostly compose the solo part to fit your own style. I took most of the solos on Per’s and Kenth’s songs this time around. We have no real pride when it comes to soloing. Also for the harmonies on the album it’s usually the composer that records both harmonies. Then we, of course, play one each live.

Can you tell us what gear you used on the album and what dictated what guitar/amp were used on different tracks?
I actually recorded all the rhythm guitars on the album. I used my Hughes & Kettner Trilogy head and a Hughes & Kettner 4×12 with V30s with a THD Hotplate between the head and the cab. It enables you to turn up the amp and get the tubes glowing without the level being unbearable. I actually used this on all songs. In some songs I also used my Orange Tiny Terror head through the same Hotplate and cab, just to get an extra touch to the sound. I recorded one guitar left and one right. I never used the same guitar on both sides though. I don’t remember exactly now where I used which one, but in almost all songs I used my Gibson Les Paul with True Temperament fretting in one channel and my Gibson Explorer 76 Re-issue in the other. I also used my Epiphone Strat with True Temperament on some solos.

The guitars sound very pure and unaffected, with only a wah or the odd delay heard, was it a case of “less is more” for ‘Angelmaker’?
Yes, I guess you could say that. I do like effects sometimes, but on these songs they didn’t really call for it. What I did to get some extra spice on the solos was I used my Xotic Effects BB-Preamp as an extra push. I however have the distortion set to zero, it just gives the perfect sustain push anyway. I also used my Dunlop Cry Baby wah wah in some songs. In “The Wavebreaker” I actually also used my Sonic Groove Vibe, which is a great Univibe replica built by an American guy called The Toad. He builds some killer pedals! In the mix we just added some room delay, but not too much.

Do you have any particular favourites on the album and if so why?
That actually changes over time, but I’m still very fond of “Cold Blood Chaser” and “See The Light”.

I believe the band have already done a gig with Pretty Maids but are there more shows being lined up?
In a couple of weeks we will have a release party in Karlshamn and we have a few more lined up, but it’s actually not that many. It seems we missed the festival season as the album was released too late for this. Just call us we’re available *wink* *wink*

For readers of rock magazines your name will be quite familiar for not only fans of Overdrive but also for being a rock journalist.  Can you tell us who have been the most interesting artists you have interviewed over time (and why) and also who was the biggest nightmare?
Oh, there’s a lot of interesting ones I’ve talked to. One who’s always fun talking to is Ted Nugent. He’s quite an entertainer. Leslie West (Mountain) is a really nice guy. On the other hand Michael Schenker can be great one time and very very difficult the next time.

The recent passings of Gary Moore, Phil Kennemore and Ronnie James Dio have hit the rock community hard.  How have these recent deaths affected you as a music fan?
Of course! I was the most shocked by Gary’s passing as it came as a complete shock! I’ve interviewed Gary, and he was a very nice person. Dio as well, such an awesome personality! Things like this makes you realize you need to get out there and seize the day while you can!

You are never one to sit still, what else do you have lined up in 2011?
Haha, a lot of stuff indeed! I’m currently involved in a new power-trio that I’m really into. We’re called Zoom Club and the band also features Peter Hermansson (220 Volt/Talisman/Norum) on drums and vocals plus bass player Totte Wallgren (Kee Marcello/Fergie Fredricksen). We play riff oriented 70s-influenced hard rock. We’re also working on a new Constancia album, planned to be ready later this year. We’ve started talking about a new Locomotive Breath album, but just talking so far. I’m also working on my third encyclopedia of Swedish Hard Rock & Heavy Metal, set to be ready later this year. We also have a vinyl Overdrive release that will hit the streets in March. It will contain the 6 unreleased tracks from this recording, plus 3 tracks from the album. The title will be “The Angelmaker’s Daughter”. It will be a limited coloured release in 300 copies. I have done and will do some guest spots on albums by, for instance, Thalamus plus some others. Besides this I’m writing for FUZZ magazine, metalcentral.net and metalcovenant.com. However, being a musician and writer unfortunately doesn’t pay my bills, so I’m also working full-time as a project manager/technical writer.  No rest for the wicked!

Any final messages?
We’d of course like to get out and play EVERYWHERE, so keep pestering your local promoter or festival to book Overdrive and we’ll be there! Also, I’d like to send a BIG thanks to all of you who actually purchase our CD or download and not only download it from a torrent. Support metal and help keep it alive!

Janne, many thanks. 
Thank YOU!

www.overdrive.se

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AN INTERVIEW WITH Y&T / DAVE MENIKETTI & PHIL KENNEMORE (ARCHIVE)

Friday 7th January 2011  saw great sorrow at the loss of another metal musician.  Y&T bassist Phil Kennemore was one of the most respected in hard rock.  Rock solid, in the pocket yet melodic at the same time.  Virtuosity One extends its deepest sympathies to the Kennemore and Y&T camp. 

 Here in tribute is our interview originally posted on 3rd May 2010.

About The Interview
Y&T are an American hard rock/heavy metal band formed in 1974. They hail from the East Bay of the San Francisco Bay Area. The band released two studio albums on London Records as Yesterday & Today in the 1970s, before shortening their name to Y&T and releasing several albums on A&M Records beginning in 1981, as well as albums on Geffen Records, Avex Records amongst others. The band has sold over 4 million albums worldwide to date and are just about to release ‘Facemelter’ their first album in 13 years on Frontiers Records on May 21st 2010.

Perhaps the most obvious question is why a new album now? The band have been back together for some time now touring quite frequently so what’s led to the decision to go into the studio now?
Phil: For the first three or four years after we got back together we and our fans were quite content playing/hearing songs from our large catalogue of songs. For the last 5 years or so we’ve been getting question “When are you gonna make a new album. For Y & T to write and record a new record is one hell of a lot of work–and the way the record business has changed so much it took awhile to convince ourselves it would be worth it.

Why did you decide to fire up the band again? Refound joy in playing? For old time’s sake? Because you felt you had unfinished business?
Phil: At first it was a call from our old manager, with some interesting offers from various promoters–we decided we would do those few shows and see how it felt before making any real commitment to say Y & T are back. Well, it felt great–all this excitement was reborn with us so we continued on from there. Also, the fans were ready to come back to hard rock shows after years of listening to the dark, depressing, homeless lumberjacks that they called grunge.

Over what sort of time frame was the music written and recorded?
Phil: I believe we started writing in August for a few weeks, when we had a short break from touring. The rest of it was from January thru mid April. This is probably about the norm for most bands, but for us this is like making a record at light speed.

Did you have a clear vision of where you wanted to go with this album?
Phil: When we set out to make this record we didn’t have a clue as to what kind of songs or what kind of sounds we would be creating. Early on before we even wrote one song- we titled the record ‘Facemelter’ and had the dragon concept. The reason I thought this was important was it gave us all a kind of target to work to. It made the idea that ‘yeah, we really are gonna make this fuck’n record’ more of a reality. After we got a few solid ideas down there was no turning back–we forced open that creative vault that had been closed for so many years-it was very exciting and fulfilling to be creating again.

Do you have any favourite songs/performances on the album and if so which and why?
Dave: I think it’s too early for me to know completely since I just finished tracking on this record not more than 3 weeks ago, but I look forward to playing many of these songs live during the coming months and I expect that some will just become favourites all on their own.

I presume the majority was recorded in your home studio. What luxury does this give you that you didn’t have in the olden days recording on location?
Dave: The main thing for me, besides the money savings, is that the band and I are in a comfortable environment, since we use the studio for rehearsals. Also, it allows me to give inspired performances because I don’t have the extra pressures of someone looking over my shoulder waiting for me to hopefully do something brilliant. I can go into the studio at my own pace and, by myself, get into a creative mood. This allows me to get it right, how I see is a good performance. One that is passionate and heartfelt. Much harder to do that while the clock is ticking and 3 other people are waiting for you.

Is this luxury a positive in every regard or can it sometimes be too much free time for such things?
Dave: The fact that we had a hard deadline to meet from the record company gave me just the right amount of urgency to get things done in a timely manner. Y&T has always worked much more efficiently when we have a deadline. Otherwise it would take much longer for us to turn out new product.

How do you rate the new album compared to the Y&T back catalogue?
Dave: I believe we have achieved the hard task of making this new CD a classic that will stand the test of time with other classic CDs like Black Tiger, Earthshaker and Meanstreak.

Do you think you’ve improved as a guitar player and singer?
Dave: Absolutely — especially as a singer. My voice is leaps and bounds above where I started, and my guitar playing has improved in the way a good wine improves with age. I may not play as fast all the time as I did when I was young, but I have learned how to be tasteful and all the other benefits that come with experience.

Do you practice a lot to keep up your chops?
Dave: I don’t practice in a sense like a schooled practice. Instead I am always playing guitar while sitting on the couch watching movies, TV etc. This is good for me because I’m always trying to play to the music that is in the soundtracks, etc. It keeps my chops up, in a weird sort of way.

How challenging from a personal perspective was the new material? Are we talking a lot of first takes? A more structured approach? How do you like to work in this regards?
Dave: We “truly” took the approach of recording as if we were playing a show. Everyone fully expected to keep their parts and only fix mistakes – which is exactly what happened for the bass and John’s performances. I was unable to do that because we didn’t have enough separate rooms to have amps isolated from each other, so I used a Pod XT Pro to track with and played my parts again once the basic tracks were finished. On previous records, though we thought we were going to do that, we never actually did. We would just end up doing what we always did – only keep the drums and overdub everything else. I hate that way of doing things and much more prefer to make music together for the right vibe to come across in the final product. It’s funny because I’ve heard so many other bands over the years say that they took a live approach to recording, but I knew better that it wasn’t true. It sounds good to say it, but it tends to show in the final product when you really do this. The solos and vocals are the only things that were completely dome later. Some of the solos ideas I did live, made the record in a small way, because I used a few of them as a template for a place to start. It is so easy to overdub and double parts, getting tricky and produced in the studio because with digital recording there is so much you can do to mess with stuff. We purposely stayed away from that. There are many songs on this CD that I didn’t even overdub a rhythm guitar under my solo because I wanted it to sound like we do it live.

The tones on the album are superb – what gear did you use, it sounds pretty stripped back?
Dave: I used my new Diezel amp and my Mesa Tremoverb Rectifier. John used my Rectifier and his Marshall amps. We played through a combination of my Mesa 4×12 with vintage 30w Celestions and 2 different 4x12s with Tone Tubby speakers, one with Alnico magnets fro the cleaner stuff. Phil played direct into an Avalon Bass Direct, and Mike used his old red Yamaha 24” kit with Ludwig snares. I used a combination of about 6 different guitars. My old Kramer Baretta, 68 Les Paul, Yamaha SG2000, custom Bisceglia guitar, and my 2 Fender Strats, both a blue custom Strat and my “Blackie”.

The production on Facemelter is rather rudimentary. Not a lot of sheen but a very direct, dry mix. Was it a conscious decision to achieve that sound, or was this result simply what the budget allowed for?
Phil: That’s interesting that you say ”what the budget allowed for” – you know it cost absolutely nothing to crank up your reverbs, digital delays, compressors etc. So, no, it wasn’t a budget thing. For almost every album we ever made we would listen to the rough mixes and think” holy shit, this sounds great-just think how much better it’s gonna sound when it gets mixed.” Well, guess what, more often than not the power of the band was lost in an over processed mix, sure something’s got that nice sheen to them a nice rounded polished sound–so we are very aware of all these techniques–and we do use them–but we start backing off when they start taking over the power of the band.

There is a nice live feel in the new material – was that a vibe you were going for?
Phil: Yes and no–we always start out saying were gonna go for a live feel–but on some records it just got away from us. On this record we were able to retain that feel but we were prepared to do what ever it took to make sure the songs came off right. This is the first record I remember, except for the first two Yesterday and Today records , that I didn’t totally over dub all my bass parts–the only over dubs I did were major mistakes. I did next to zero bass polishing–there are a few clicks and pops and some runs I could have played better but my focus was on the over all song and feel and that’s far more important than any perfectly played part.

The recording industry has changed a lot since the last Y&T album. How did you end up on Frontiers?
Phil: Since the mid 90s we’ve had our own record company, Meanstreak Music, on which we released four original releases and the re-masters of most of our catalogue. So, we are pretty much use to the ‘new’ business model, although it does keep growing and becoming a pretty solid alternative to the old “major” players. In America we will release “FACEMELTER” on our own label. When we were looking for someone to take care of Europe there were three companies we were interested in –after talking with friends from different bands and figuring out what was the best fit for us and who we thought had the best marketing plan–we went with Frontiers–the last thing you want to do is bust your ass making a record and no one ever hears about it.

How does being on a independent label compare to the A&M and Geffen days?
Phil: It’s a huge difference actually. When we were with A&M and Geffen they pretty much set up everything from acquiring producers to photo shoots, interviews, video shoots, artwork–it goes on and on. These days every detail is taken care of internally–it’s a double edged sword–it’s great to be able to control your own business but it’s also one hell of a lot of work, especially for our manager–she easily does the work of any 10 people at A & M or Geffen.

The last product from the band was superb “One Hot Night” DVD, it showed the band firing on all cylinders and really kicking a lot of ass. Did the positive reaction to that DVD give you the emphasis to come up with new material?
Phil: It was certainly a stepping stone-the enthusiasm proved to us that there was still a strong fan base around the world that wanted to hear more from us.

Will the upcoming tour feature lots of new material, or will it be a greatest hits set with one or two tracks off Facemelter?
Phil: It’s too early to tell-but I would think we would play a minimum of 3 from Facemelter—

Sancho who did the review wants to know will the upcoming tour have a Belgian gig, and will Monster Joe be the opening act? I doubt you remember but they opened for Y&T in 2006 😉
Phil: Hello Sancho–don’t know exactly when or where but I say —YES–we should be in Belgium this year—and I’m sorry but I don’t remember Monster Joe.

Has your audience evolved? Would you say it’s still mostly the old fans showing up (accompanied by their kids) or is there a rejuvenation going on?
Phil: Yeah, it has evolved–it’s still mostly the older crowd but we are seeing quite a few younger fans lately–it’s really easy to spot some 18 or 20 something hot chick at our shows—I Want More!!!

Is there a difference between US and Europe fanbases?
Phil: Years ago I would have said absolutely yes–I felt that the Americans were more sheep-like and had to be herded by radio, MTV and other mainstream media, and the Europeans sought out what they liked and were less influenced by what is “Hot” this week. But now, because there is no mainstream media for hard rock I view them more the same–it’s just the love of the music and the vibe–nothing to do with be trendy or hip.

Do you still enjoy playing the older songs, or have those become too much like “work”?
Phil: As long as the fans are liking it —I’ll like playing it.

Any particular song you always look forward to playing?
Phil: Forever

Any final messages for the readers?
Phil: For our new fans welcome aboard-for old fans–thank you for sticking with us all these years–Hope we see you soon on the “Facemelter 2010” tour.
OFFICIAL WEBSITES
http://www.yandtrocks.com/

CHRIS IMPELLITTERI INTERVIEW (ARCHIVE)

Interview conducted 22nd April 2009

Back after a five year absence, Impellitteri have delivered a blistering slice of metal in “Wicked Maiden”.  We caught up with band leader and world renowned guitar virtuoso Chris Impellitteri to discuss the albums making, the return of Rob Rock and much more.

Chris, many thanks for agreeing to this interview and may I congratulate you and the rest of the band on ‘Wicked Maiden’, it’s a great return to form.
Thank you Andy! I truly appreciate your opinion. We worked extremely hard to make “Wicked Maiden”…. So, having people enjoy the music is very rewarding!!

It’s been 5 years since the previous album, what have you been doing during this time and when did the initial writing for ‘Wicked Maiden’ commence?
It actually took about 2 years to write the music for “Wicked Maiden” first. I wrote many songs and recorded many different ideas in order to create something musically inspiring. Then, after the music, I brought in the band for live rehearsals, and it was those performances that really helped us create that live feel on the album and bring it all together. It’s all about confidence…Once the band felt confident with their performances we then went into the recording studio… and 2 years later, we had the record. Yes, it took some time to make “Wicked Maiden”, but without it, it wouldn’t be the album it is…”.

Rob Rock has come back on board, what led to getting Rob back in the band from a personal perspective?
The fans wanted it, simple as that! I also missed having Rob as the singer, but ultimately, the fans demanded it. We seem to work very well together, and after the “Pedal…. album, I realized I should contact Rock and invite him back to the band. Luckily he said yes!

When did Rob rejoin as there were numerous teaser hints on the Impellitteri website for a few months prior to the official announcement, why were fans kept in the dark for so long?
Rob was on board pretty much from the beginning. But, we did not want to release that to the press until we knew we could make a strong record. That’s the only reason we kept it a secret.

Musically the new album is arguably the heaviest of the band’s career. Previous albums have all had their moments (Crunch and System X in particular) yet nothing quite like this, what led to the more vicious slant?
In honestly it’s a return to our very first album ( The Black Impellitteri EP) …But, with a big production. We were always an aggressive metal band, but I often experimented with melodic structures and different styles of music depending on the target audience. “Wicked Maiden” is an original Impellitteri record, I’d say. It’s pure and honest. We are not copying anyone, and we are not chasing any trends. We are simply playing music we love. So, I guess we are a much heavier band than some people think?

Sonically speaking the album is massive, obviously great care and attention has been taken towards this side, but what were you looking for sonically from this album that was different to previous albums?
I wanted the guitar and drums to really stand out on this record. I worked really hard to create a unique guitar tone, and let the engineer, Greg Reely work on creating an amazing drum sound. I think “Wicked Maiden” definitely sounds original. I can tell you, the record cost a fortune to make, so there should be no one out there comparing this with low budget records others may have made…This album cost more money than some homes are valued at!”

You have said on your official website that this was a more collective team effort, in what sense and what benefits do you feel this has brought to ‘Wicked Maiden’?
The band worked as a team when recording the record, definitely. Each member created equally…, and, I think we had valuable input from each musician equally… Two heads are better than one, basically explains the answer to that question.

There is also a live performance video for ‘Last Of A Dying Breed’, what led to this track being chosen and where was the video shot?
That’s right…We shot the video in Los Angeles, California at SIR Studio with John Logsdon who’s directed Def Leppard amongst others…. We thought this song had a strong riff, good production, etc… and many people had expressed their liking for the tune….We also shot a music video for the song “Wicked Maiden”, but we’ve not yet release it!!

Who played keyboards on the album as I can’t seem to find that information anywhere?
I played the keyboards on the record.

The band profile seems to have exploded for this album – reviews, interviews and also much to my delight some European festival appearances lined up. I am guessing you must be pretty pleased with what Metal Heaven are doing so far?
Yes, I like this label. They seem to have passion. I’m the one responsible for getting the band on the festival – Sweden Rocks, but the label is doing a great job of getting the media involved with us.

I cannot remember any European dates since I became a fan in the early 1990’s, is this something you have been trying to do before and if so what ultimately stopped it?
I had been invited to play Wacken years ago, but I’d declined. Impellitteri were very popular in Japan, and the US., so we played mainly in those territories for years…. But, now it is time to hit Europe.

What can fans expect from the live shows?
Well, we will play all of the classic songs as well as many of the songs from “Wicked Maiden”…Ultimately, we are a fun, metal band!! So our live performances should excite you, and hopefully inspire the audience as well. I promise you, it will be something very special!

Guitar wise, you have got a new endorsement with Dean Guitars. How did that come about as I had you down as a die hard Strat user? What will the forthcoming signature model guitar feature?
OK. The owner of Dean Guitars asked me if I would like to have a Chris Impellitteri signature model. And, after playing some of their guitars I agreed. My model will be a modified Stratocaster. It will be based on an early 1970’s Stratocaster, but with a flatter fingerboard for low action (fast playability) and a humbucking pickup in the bridge, with a single coil in the neck. It will be the ultimate shred guitar, actually!! The paint job will be White, with a really cool thick, black Spider Web.

Was there anything different you did recording you guitar this time as it sounds more potent than ever?
Yes actually! I used 3 amplifiers when recording this time. A Diezel VH4, Engl Powerball, and a Marshall JMP-1. The speaker cabinets were Engl, stocked with 30 watt Celestion speakers.

Finally, what can we expect from here on in from Impellitteri?
More “Wicked Maiden” records!!

Chris, many thanks for your time and we wish you all the success ‘Wicked Maiden’ deserves. Any parting messages for our readers?
Thank you for supporting us, I truly appreciate it. I hope you get a chance to listen to the new record “Wicked Maiden” and hope everyone can check out our new myspace page and fanclub website.

JOHN MACALUSO INTERVIEW (ARCHIVE)

Interview  conducted 22nd June 2007

John Macaluso is a name that will be familiar to fans of Ark or Yngwie Malmsteen fans.  He is one of the most in demand drummers currently on the scene with a catalogue of over 200 albums spread across numerous different genres.  Yet its only now that John has stepped up and put together his own band called John Macaluso and Union Radio who have recently seen their debut album, the stunning “The Radio Waves Goodbye” released on Lion Music.  We caught up with John during a busy touring schedule with Chris Caffery to discuss the new album in-depth.

Hi John, Many thanks for partaking in this interview with Virtuosity One.
Thank you. I read your review and it seems like you really understood the album. Thanks for listening and thanks for the support.

May I begin by congratulating you on your new solo album “The Radio Waves Goodbye” its a superb body of work with one of the most original sounds I have heard in the ‘progressive’ genre for some time. When did the initial seed for a solo album come to you and did you have any idea then how it would be accomplished and how the end product would sound?
I came up with the idea for a solo record when my band (MY BABY) ARK finally split up for good. Things got too crazy and we couldn’t continue, so I finally packed it up. I loved writing for ARK, lyrically and musically and needed this musical outlet. I needed to create, not just get another gig and go back on tour playing for another act. I will always play for people but I need to have my creations on record too. So I got the record deal and said ok now how to go about making my own record. I knew instantly who I wanted to be on the album and started calling up my old friends to see if they were all into it. The vibe was real positive and I had to now start writing. This is the first time I did a solo record so I knew it had to be something special and not a crazy fast double bass record with speed guitars and fusion arrangements. I wanted to steer clear of that, so I had the vision of making something I personally have never heard before.  The vibe I wanted to achieve was Pink Floyd moods and atmospheres with the drumming way more intense and faster. I was shooting for this on the third ARK album but we were butting heads and the style was not working the way I envisioned.

 So that was the sound plan, now I needed to get it done. I first assisted to help of my great friend from Corsica, Dimuti. Dimuti was the main collaborator for the music with me and co wrote a lot of the record with me. He had the perfect sound and feel to get what I was looking for. I first recorded drums only with song arrangements and song titles in mind. I went into the studio and just played the arrangements first. Next I sat with the tracks and decided who would play and sing on which song but now the real challenge was to make these drum parts SONGS.

I next started my, what I call National Geographic Adventure. I had to get the people I really wanted to record no matter what, so I would do anything to achieve this. I travelled all over the world to record the musicians on the record. To Italy to record Marco Sfogli, France to do keys, Pennsylvania to record piano with Vitalij Kuprij, Germany, California to do guitars with Alex Masi and many more places. I had to do it this way because I had to write the material and collaborate with these guys, not just send tracks around to places and hope that they were going to record something I loved. Sometimes I would send the tapes around though, for example I sang “Soul In Your Mind” on a cd and then sent it up to Canada with the lyrics to James LaBrie and he recorded that incredible performance and sent it back to me and I freaked. So that’s the way I did the album and that’s why it took a year and a half.

The result to me is magic and I love it. I think the reason it doesn’t really sound like another record or other band is because I really don’t know notes and traditional scales you use for writing. I would sing my ideas to the musicians I was collaborating with and they would decipher what I was trying to get at. In this way it couldn’t sound like anyone else. My theory, surround yourself with amazingly talented people and you can get anything done.

Obviously you have worked with many of rock and metal’s best over your career and you have called in a number of these musicians for various tracks. How did you go about selecting who played on what track?
I called my friends. Most of the players on my record are good friends and people I have toured around the world with or made records with in the past. I trusted these guys and knew they would all kick ass for me. I had something special here, the thing was I knew the way an audience has heard these guys but I heard them all sing or play something that might not have been heard before. I might of heard them do something on the tour bus or back stage just screwing around or for example Marco Sfogli I had play bazuki on the song ‘T-34’. I pulled people out of their element a little and it made some original stuff. Another example is having the great blues tone singer Mike Dimeo sing on a Radiohead-ish metal drum and bass track called ‘Mother Illusion’. Doing this with these talents get unique magic.

Dream Theater’s James LaBrie sings vocals on the opening cut “Soul In Your Mind”, a great track but with a very original composite of parts. When did it become clear this track should open the album?
This track I knew had to open the album from when I first finished the drum track. To me it was the perfect mix of groove with a unique style, chops without wanking and arrangement. After the drums Dimuti helped set the tone by laying down a very dark distorted key line. We then used the witchlike vocal sample line to give that occult vibe in 7/8 with almost a Ministry or Bahaus mood. James laid down the great vocal track and Vitalij Kuprij did the amazing keyboard solo in the middle of the tune. The two other players on the track are, my buddy from Russia, Alex Rastopchin on guitar, who is very tasty and contributed a lot of the Gilmour (Dave Gilmour of Pink Floyd – ed) style stuff I needed for my record. On bass is Za Gray, who I met when playing for Delmar Brown (Sting). He has such a fat sound and lays it down like nobody else. Check out the bass playing on the second song Mother Illusion, it’s perfect.

The next 2 tracks take on almost ambient dance music meets rock vibe; when creating the drum rhythms that many tracks are built around are you thinking in terms of genre or is just letting that beat in your head flow?
Yea “Mother Illusion” has that rock drum and bass dance feel. The next track is my favourite “Prayer Pill”. This track I had Phil Collins and Peter Gabriele in mind. I wanted to do a real mid tempo repetitive groove on the intro such like Phil Collins’s “I Don’t Care Anymore”. I had an idea lyrically to do this track about a guy that was plagued by his religion and his work, he was a slave to both. The song is about a decision. He sees an ad in the back of a magaine that advertises a pill in which by taking one, your prayers will be done for you and all guilt will be taken away and salvation will run through you for about a week and this can lift the weight off your shoulders to do the fun things and so called bad things in life that he has been missing. The whole moral pf the story in the end he must answer for this easy way out and the lyrics say, “In the end I’ll burn or fly like a dove”. I used my three nieces on this track, Donna, Laura and Kristen, to sing the creepy nursery rhyme song at the end, that goes, Prayer in a pill if you will, dose all your sin to the wind, now you feel peaceful and still, you might just fall down. Decisions!!! This also one of favorite sounding tracks sonically, the over all mix and the drum sound I really love.

How crucial was the drum track/rhythm in dictating where the music should go?
The drum tracks were extremely important in the creation and over all feel of these songs. The drums on this record set the tone. Drums are deciding factor if your track is metal, jazz etc. The cool thing about working with everybody on this record was they all pretty much said the drum tracks were musical and helped with there ideas and playing. I didn’t want to just make a crazy drum record only. I wanted to play my real style like you heard on the ARK albums and here. A mixture of heavy groove playing with musical textures on the cymbals and tasty double bass playing, then I mix it with madness to concoct my style. I am most proud of my drumming on this record and after 200 records behind me, The Radio Waves Goodbye is also the best drum sound I ever got.

What is a typical way John Macaluso would work on these songs?
I worked on the songs with the drum track first. Next I put down the keys for texture and vibe and notes. Sometimes guitar would come second but mostly keys because I wanted to stay away from guitar riffs. Next I would do bass guitar then guitar and keyboard solos. After all this I would walk around or drive around and get inspiration for lyrics. I wrote the lyrics pretty quickly, they came easily because the song moods were great and the arrangements were good. After all this I recorded the singers. Then last over dubs and mix. I know it was kind of a strange way to make an album but it worked and I will do the next one the same way.

I absolutely loved “Dissolved” and the way it seemed to take ‘Animals’ era Pink Floyd and make that into this new sound which is both modern and retro at the same time.  How did this song come together?
Thanks man and have to say I love when someone who interviews, actually listens to a record and also gets the vibe. “Dissolved” is one of my favourites and the mood and idea is inspired from Floyd, Animals. I love this record Animals and my whole album was inspired by this record. I again did the Floydish tune with the more intense drumming, “Dissolved” is the perfect example. On this track I used Adrian Holtz on vocals who totally captured the feel I was going for. The song is about abuse, chemical and substance. It’s a story of someone who is on a major downhill ride and has been in there apartment with no contact and hears the neighbour and friends trying to contact him and he just wants them to go away. The verses are about the demon in the substance and how it is talking to him and explaining the destruction it does. Then the chorus comes and it’s a vision of hope and he get a handle on it and quits the demons. “Dissolved”, is the guy telling the bad side, he is done with it and he is free now. He’s gone like creatures fly away. Free like a bird. I am very proud of this tune and it came out better than I ever expected.

Obv the aforementioned James LaBrie’s name is going to initially stand out in the vocalists list, but I was really impressed by the vocals of Mike DeMeo, Adrian Holtz and Don Chaffin.  I must admit I had not heard of these 3 guys before so can you tell a little more about them?
Mike DiMeo I met when I was playing drums for Riot. Mike is a great friend and an amazing singer. Mike now oddly enough sings for Masterplan, the band Jorn Lande from ARK sang for. It’s great to have Mike on my record. Adrian Holtz is a singer born in Switzerland he lives in New York city now and is an amazing talent. Adrian is the singer we were going to work with on the third ARK album. Adrian is very versatile and ads a bit of pop to my anti-pop sound. Don Chaffin is a friend of mine that owns the studio where I have recorded most of my drum tracks in the last three years. Don is a chameleon and can sing anything. He did all the back up vocals on the tune with James LaBrie “Soul In Your Mind”.

I think one of the most refreshing things about the album is that although there are plenty of guitars on the album, they are used more for texture as opposed to riffing or soloing you into submission.  Is this how you wanted the guitars to feature on “The Radio Waves Goodbye”?
That is exactly what I wanted. I am guitar’ed out, I have played with so many guitar players in my career its crazy. The big problem writing with guitar players is, they always write riffs and also don’t usually feel comfortable dropping out and playing the 13th note………SILENCE. I didn’t want that, I wanted textures and real tasteful guitar playing, David Gilmour like or Jeff Beck-ish. I got the perfect guys Marco Sfogli, who I met on the James LaBrie tour, Alex Rastopchin, Larry Meyer and Dimuti. They really understood what I wanted here and colored the songs perfectly.

Where does the album’s title come from and did you choose not to release the album under just the “John Macaluso” banner?
The title UNION RADIO is a band name, I am going to take this thing on the road, so I wanted to push it as a band and not just a drummers solo record because the music doesn’t sound like a drummers solo record. I got the name from a book I found in a market in Southern France, when I was working on the third ARK album. I was looking for some cool titles and terms and found a book, the only one in English. The book was on the Spanish Civil War and in it was a phrase UNION RADIO. It meant the rebel radio station which was for the underground. I thought this was really cool because beside the whole rebel rock and roll thing, it was modern sounding at the same time.

Tell us about the background to T-34.
“T-34” was written with Prokoviov in mind, sorry for my spelling. He is my favorite composer. I went in the studio with the title in mind which is the T-34 Russian tank in Word War 2. I knew it was going to be a rock classical piece with Vitalij Kuprij and I and I wanted it to sound very dark and very Russian. When recording the drums I had the title and mood in mind and you can hear the rolling tank vibe on the heavy tom and piano quarter note stomp. I brought the drum track up to Pennsylvania, where Vitalij lives. We drank vodka listened to the track and started to put the ideas together. I charted the whole arrangement out rhythmically, note for note. Vitalij read the rhythm and brilliantly wrote the track. I would just say bro. Here I want it to sound very dismal and hopeless. He is so great, in one night it was done. We went into the studio in the morning and he layed it down. It’s something to see, I have him on film recording it, he is the best and to watch him record is incredible. Next Marco Sfogli put down the guitars. I wanted something away from Malmsteen on this; I knew any scales and sweeps would put this track right into that category. So I had Marco play acoustic guitar, bazuki and electric guitar in a minimalist way, he is so tasty, it worked. Then Vitalij played bass synth instead of bass guitar, I thought this would make it a little more hi tech. Lastly my friend Dave Eggar, who is a brilliant musician and plays cello for Evanescence. Dave came into the studio when we were mixing and layed down multiple cello parts. It was another sight to see. And there you have it “T-34”.

You show of your drum skills with “Pretzel” which also has some nice humour to it.  How does a drummer feel when he sees people going to the bar during his solo spot?
“Pretzel” came when I was touring with Powermad in 1989 and we had high exposure on tour with big acts and just had a scene and soundtrack in David Lynch’s Wild At Heart. Remember going crazy one night on stage and thinking wow that must of fuckin’ killed em. I went out into the audience and I was talking to someone in the audience and they said, “So, what did you think of the band?” I thought wow I was in the band. I realized then I had to be relentless as a drummer on stage and make people never forget what they saw. “Pretzel” is a Zappa like joke dialog and he inspired a lot of my record. Yea it feels weird when they walk away during solos but I just don’t let them anymore. It’s all entertainment up there and no matter how good you play; nobody wants to see a boring show. I play every note on stage and in studio like I was the drummer for The Wallace Hartly Band, that was the legendary band on the Titanic. Play every note like it’s you last, to the end.

How would John Macaluso sum up “The Radio Waves Goodbye” now a few months on from completion?
I sum the record up in this way. After over 200 studio albums recorded, the best one I ever did, is my own. I am finally satisfied. It’s a relaxed feeling because it’s what I always dreamed about and now it’s mine. I am very proud of everyone involved in the making of the album too. My saying is, “You know who your friends are when it’s time to move to a new apartment and need help doing it, and when you are making a solo record and need them to play on it.” Everyone came through and I have to thank them all.

Can we expect a follow up at some juncture down the road?
A follow UNION RADIO, OH YEA. The same line up and the same way of recording. I have new song ideas and lyrics already. I am psyched.

What else is keeping you busy this year?
New projects this year is to first do a drum clinic tour in the summer and fall in the U.S. and Europe. Then I want to take out the full band on tour, Dimuti, Vitalij Kuprij, Adrian Holtz, Marco Sfogli, Za Gray and me. I am also releasing my drum book “Repercussions”, which I have been writing for years.

Anything else you would like to add?
I just want to thank people out there and yourself for listening! Thank you. Johnny Mac.

BORISLAV MITIC (ARCHIVE INTERVIEW)

Borislav Mitic is a guitarist who first rose to prominence at the turn of the 21st century with a self titled instrumental offering through Shrapnel Records, the album won worldwide acclaim and also bore the distinction of being the first guitar hero to emerge on a national platform from Serbia.  Now after almost a decade’s absence and being a fully fledged Canadian citizen, Borislav has just released his third solo album “The Absolute” on Lion Music.  Mike Blackburn caught up with Borislav to get this superb in-depth interview on all facets of his work and life.  Enjoy!

 Early Days

Do you come from a musical family?
No, I am the first and only musician/artist in my family.

What music was heard in the home?
In my childhood days mainly the radio and whatever was played on it, like some pop stuff. Later on when I started to play guitar, albums that I would buy were heard at home.

What was your earliest instrument and did you take any lessons?
The guitar was my first and only instrument. I learned a few basic chords and melodies from some friends in the very beginning. After that, I was self-taught trying to learn by ear the solos and songs of my musical heroes from their albums. There was nobody in Serbia from whom I could have learned this kind of stuff that I play today because nobody before me played it over there. It would have been cool if I could have went and learned at a place like Berkley or MIT schools where they have great teachers for kids who have the cash to pay for it – but my parents didn’t have the money for that kind of stuff.

When you got your first guitar at 11, what inspired the acquisition and what type was it?
I spent a part of my childhood in London, England and those few years were quite significant on my development from a cultural influence point of view. That’s where I first encountered the guitar by chance and was quite fascinated with it and wondered if I could ever learn to play such an instrument. After coming back to Serbia I discovered Rock music which was mainly sung in the English  language and that to me somehow made a  connection  to my London days  so I got into rock guitar  very deeply and quickly… The very first guitar I got was some cheap acoustic that I asked my grandfather to get me for Christmas. A couple of years later I worked during the summer vacation   picking   fruit at some plantation around Belgrade (capitol of Serbia) to get money to buy a second hand east European Telecaster knock  off type of guitar… That was my first electric guitar that I learned to play on.

What was the name of your first band and what was your first live performance?
I played in quite a few local demo bands as a kid in Belgrade, Serbia. Because of this I was able to gain some experience performing frequently in smaller clubs and venues in front of crowds of 100 – 300 people. My first real band where I was the leader/composer was called “Fantasy”. We had a debut in front of 15 000 people at a stadium in a Serbian town called Zajecar in 1989. It was some sort of festival type of thing where we were invited as special guests. I received huge ovations for the performance and was really blown away by the positive feedback I received from the audience. I was already playing instrumental neoclassical material at that time which would later end up on my first solo album – Fantasy. I was the first guy from that whole Balkan region to do that style of music. Later we played in some legendary Belgrade venues like “Hala Pionir” in front of 10 000 people  and that was amazing since it was the same venue that I watched Iron Maiden or Dire Straits play when they came to town a few years earlier! We also did quite a few of small town gigs around Serbia as well as a bunch of national TV and radio appearances! 

Who were your earliest musical inspirations?
One thing I would like to emphasize is that although I belong to the generation that grew up with the appearance of players like  Steve Vai, Joe Satriani and Yngwie Malmsteen on the scene, I approached the guitar and music as if I was coming from the era of the 60s. That means that I checked and learned the styles of many important players of the 60s, 70s and 80s before entering the neoclassical shred zone! This is something that many people don’t know about me and I want to point out that I am playing what I am playing today because I choose to, and not because it’s the only style I know how to play.

What prompted your interest in solo instrumental guitar performance?
As for instrumental guitar, it did not start with Yngwie and Satriani for me either. First there were guys like Hank Marvin from the Shadows, Santana or  Mike Oldfield who had amazing instrumental albums. People like Michael Schenker with his instrumental works like Captain Nemo, Into the Arena, Ulcer, or Ritchie Blackmore’s Rainbow era instrumentals were very influential on me too. Jimi Hendrix was also great at this genre with his instrumental songs like Peace in Mississippi, Captain Coconut, Trashman, Pali Gap. Gary Moore had cool instrumentals too…etc. . Some acoustic instrumental stuff of Al DiMeola and John Mclaughlin was also quite amazing. Those people were my first inspirations and favorite instrumental guitar performers before getting into modern neoclassical shredding. In fact, when you look at the whole long gone era of 70’s and bands like Deep Purple, a large part of their live albums and shows were about instrumental jamming, extended solos and shredding. The same goes for Cream, Jimi Hendrix, Mahogany Rush, and Dire Straits,… they were all known for ability to play well.

But hearing Yngwie Malmsteen’s and  Joe Satriani’s early instrumental albums did make a special  impact on me as a teenager.  That really made me want to pursue the instrumental guitar direction all the way. Later on I found out that Yngwie was discovered and brought to US by Shrapnel Records guitar guru Mike Varney who was looking for these types of virtuoso players. By that time, I had started making my own compositions and I was already heavily into classical music too. I got a lot of my phrasing ideas from that side since Vivaldi, Beethoven, Mozart, Bach, Paganini, Chopin wrote largely instrumental virtuoso music.

Was it difficult to produce this type of work (Fantasy) in your homeland at that time or easy because use of your works (TV radio etc) had become widespread?
It was a struggle in every way. I made my first demos back in 1988/1989 while I was still a teenager but already considered locally as “the guitar kid” since there was nobody on the scene that was playing stuff that I was doing. My technique was more advanced in comparison to much older guitar veterans from my country. So this demo I made with some Paganini covers got heard and circulated a lot creating a huge buzz – and that opened some doors for me. When the time came to record the Fantasy project, it was quite tough to pull off since nobody before me even used that type of aggressive Metal guitar tone by 1992. So there was no one to ask for help in that department and I had to figure out my own way to achieve that. I had to sell one of my Strat guitars to pay the studio costs for recording the album. You know, it was a time of civil war and UN sanctions against Serbia and very few of the people from my generation could really get financing from some label in order to make a statement in music or arts at the time – everybody was broke. So against all the odds, I decided to do it on my own no matter the cost, and create something of value to be remembered for the generations to come. And it ended up being pretty much the first modern instrumental Metal guitar album of that sort to come from the whole Europe/Balkans region after the start of the era of Yngwie and Satriani. Many kids in Serbia still discover it even today.

How did you first connect with Varney/Shrapnel and where did you first establish yourself in North America in 1998?
For a number of years before hooking up with Mike, I was listening to the whole catalogue of Shrapnel artists like Vinnie Moore, Paul Gilbert, Jason Becker, Greg Howe,… so I knew that he was the main person in the US who discovers top guitar talent in this style of music. At one point, when I had just enough of local scene hardship, because Rock music seized to exist in Serbia, I decided to try and contact Shrapnel Records. I just wrote a letter and threw my recordings in the package and decided to send it and see what would become of it. It was a very long shot because I knew that they receive hundreds of tapes and CDs each month from guitarists all over the world….but I didn’t have much to loose. I was very, very surprised when Mike Varney called me back a few months later and offered me a record deal to make an album for Shrapnel and to come to US with the words “where have you been all these years”! It was quite unreal! At first I was supposed to go to California and record there along with working with the singer John West on his solo album. But it didn’t happen because some visa paper work that was filed too late. So I had to wait a bit more before I crossed the ocean…

 The Shrapnel Days through the new millennium

Why and when did you decide to move to and live in Montreal, Canada?
I decided to do so because my girlfriend, who was living with me in Serbia for a few years, was French from Paris, France. So I figured that Montreal, Canada was a good place to move to since it is a bilingual “French & English” town that is in very close proximity to US. That was the main reason I chose Canada in 1998 for a base to work from and it was possible for me to do it since I had a contract with a US label .

Your biography states that you were offered a spot in UFO. Any regrets about not taking that UFO gig that you were offered around that time?
Hmm, good question! It was certainly a very flattering offer since I was a fan of Michael Schenker who used to play in UFO. The phone rang one day when I was still settling in Montreal and the voice on the other side was – Phil Mogg from UFO himself! He had heard that I was this guitar wizard from Mike Varney and was interested if I had any songs ready for him because he wanted to make a new album. Unfortunately, he wanted to start to work on this right away and I was overwhelmed at the time having to deliver an instrumental album to Shrapnel and I had scheduled the studio recording already. So he moved on without me and I passed that opportunity. I always loved his singing and old UFO albums and perhaps a collaboration with him could have created something interesting… but I hear that Vinnie Moore is doing a great guitar job with Mogg and UFO these days so in the end it was all for the best.

What do you have to say about the weak promotion support  from Shrapnel (many other artists had similar problems) and that such a fantastic album was not better promoted/distributed?
Thanks for saying that my self titled Shrapnel album was fantastic! As far as media promotion I wasn’t at all happy with it but I wouldn’t say that I had a worse treatment than many other Shrapnel artists at the time. It’s just that the more known Shrapnel guitarists like Paul Gilbert or Tony MacAlpine made their breakthrough back in the 80’s when there was more interest for the virtuoso shred guitar and more money for advertising in Guitar magazines etc. I was a bit unfortunate to come out in 1999, a time when new players were not getting any more of previous era’s promotion benefits. I wish it would have been different but it was a matter of label budget. Nevertheless, I still think that it was really cool that some producer like Mike Varney who discovered and signed the most talented Metal virtuoso players on the planet like Yngwie Malmsteen, Paul Gilbert, Marty Friedman, Vinnie Moore, Jason Becker, Greg Howe wanted to work with me at that time. I was very honoured to be counted in that group of artists by signing for his Shrapnel Records! No Serbian person has before or since achieved such a feat. I believe that before me Yngwie Malmsteen was Mike Varney’s only discovery of European origin. All the other guitarists on Shrapnel were mostly Americans.

Regarding the Shrapnel/Roadrunner distribution strategy in Canada – it was a matter of label business organization and something I didn’t have a say in. The huge problem Shrapnel and similar independent labels encountered in 2000s was the rise of Internet illegal download which was eating up a lot of the CD sales. That money could have perhaps been re-invested in more aggressive traditional promo activities that Gilbert Becker or Macalpine had in the 80s. So, I guess it was not really a favorable situation for instrumental guitar music in the world when my first album came out.

What became of the material you wrote/recorded for the second Shrapnel album (early 2000’s?)
At the time, I was making a lot of new demos for a follow up album but all that early 2000’s material never got published or finished. What happened was that Shrapnel’s distribution outlets and sales were starting to drop overseas largely as a result of  the unfavorable development on the mainstream rock music scene controlled by corporate labels pushing for popularity of “bad playing” bands, a.k.a. – “grunge”. This was the height of the era of “anti good playing propaganda” when some bad bands that nobody even remembers today were still praised in the media. The guitar virtuosos were being almost lynched in the Guitar magazines! It was a bizarre time! This fact heavily contributed to the low level of popularity of the virtuoso style at the moment my Shrapnel album was published. Kids were reading and believing magazines where certain journalists were brainwashing them telling them retarded stories that good playing sucked. So what could I have done to challenge that situation? Not much really except soldiering on. To make things even worse, the Internet illegal download was now taking a really strong hold over shred metal kids globally.  So new guitar fans preferred to download MP3’s for free and file – share them with their friends instead of buying the original CDs. This added insult to injury… The only good thing at that time was that some new extreme Metal bands like Children Of Bodom, Black Label Society, Nevermore or Arch Enemy were just emerging and metal shred soloing was slowly  starting to come back because those bands were influenced by Shrapnel artists like Racer X and Cacophony… So there was still some glimmer of hope on the horizon. In regard to that whole situation on the music scene, I accepted label suggestions to try out a different approach with a more vocal oriented new material.

What became of the vocal material you then wrote for Chris Logan (ex Michael Schenker Group) and Eric Forrest (ex Voivod)?
Chris Logan was recommended to me by Mike Varney. He was a talented upcoming singer from Las Vegas and I started talking to him about this vocal project of mine. Soon enough I was writing stuff and sending him tapes to work out vocal parts etc. The material was more Hard Rock oriented than Metal. As I was completing the material and thinking about studio preparations and working on financing options, Chris got contacted by Michael Schenker who was also looking for a singer for his new album too. So I agreed to wait a bit since I understood that Chris couldn’t pass up an opportunity like that. After finishing the Schenker album he was supposed to do the vocals for my album. Then Schenker decided he wanted to go touring and threw the whole MSG back catalogue at Logan to learn – and that was that! It was too much for Chris to deal with and our collaboration was off.

I wasn’t sure which alley to turn next but decided to try out another singer called Eric Forrest who was living in Montreal then. He was just out of the local Metal band called “Voivod” where he sang and played bass and was replaced by Jason Newsted (Metallica). He was looking for things to do so I did a few songs with him and tried to adopt my writing style to his more aggressive way of singing… We recorded a few tracks but then in the midst of it all he suddenly got married and went off to live in France to pursue his own solo career there. After that I decided to get back to instrumental music.

What year(s) did you set up your studio?
I started to set up my modest project studio facility back in 2003 – 2004 I believe. The industry had changed quite a bit by then in contrast to early 2000s. The Internet menace destroyed and dropped pretty much everybody’s CD sales income by 80% so going for huge budgets and paying 1000$ per day for big studios was not an option anymore for smaller artists like myself…A studio recording budget that was considered “standard”  in the 90’s would now put a small artist under water for good financially speaking. So to be able to make records on some reasonable terms, I really had to get my own recording facility together. Many famous guitarists like Steve Vai, Yngwie Malmsteen, Greg Howe,… did the same thing – on their own terms of course. Today even the biggest names in guitar industry like Zakk Wylde, Joe Satriani and Eric Johnson have their own studios to be able to cut expenses and make a better profit from CD sales.

Do you have any additional current endorsements than those listed in your bio?
I used MSD Silver Machine wah on the album a lot. I am right now talking about an endorsement with Godin Guitars which is a Canadian company that makes great hi tech acoustic guitars. So hopefully I’ll be using their nylon string and 12 string acoustic guitars in the future. I also am negotiating with some amplification companies but when we reach a final deal I will announce it. The other ones are still ESP Guitars, Maxon, Guyatone, Hao and Emma effects.

Maybe two years ago or so, I was reading either on your Myspace or your old website that you were working again on another instrumental album. Is it true and also true that you again scrapped all of that material and started fresh for “The Absolute”?
Since 2001 I have made something like 3 instrumental albums worth of material in various musical styles. I never stopped writing… Some of the material was recorded and some remained just in the form of demos. Yes, I shelved everything I did before 2008 to take this new direction on “The Absolute”. I was experimenting a lot and getting a bit obsessive with the quest for some ultimate guitar tones between  2006 – 2008… I call that my “Eric Johnson period”. After investing way too much time on that, I realized that my heart was pulling me again toward a Metal style and I just stopped working on that other stuff. I sat down and wrote a whole new album very quickly that was gravitating to a more earthly Metal style that I got this sudden renewed passion for. I can write very fast when motivated,… for example I wrote the whole Shrapnel self-titled album in just 10 days a few weeks after moving to Montreal back in the day. “The Absolute” took a bit longer than that – like two months to write and few more to record and produce.

Why did you choose to play everything yourself on the new album?
If you want something done – do it yourself! Just kidding… (laughs). That wasn’t the plan initially. I usually compose all the bass and drums parts on all my albums anyway but this time I also recorded them as a reference. They were supposed to be re – recorded later on by musicians that work with me. But as time went on, I got used to the “temporary “  parts. They sounded good enough to me and I didn’t feel like changing them anymore. I was a bit hesitant about leaving the electronic drums on the album but then I thought – “If somebody like Joe Satriani could live with electronic drum on his Surfing With The Alien album – so can I.” .  Perhaps it was also a bit of the old Mike Oldfield syndrome kicking in? I am a huge fan of his, and he used to play and record everything by himself on his old albums… 

When/how did the Lion Music deal transpire, before/during/after the writing process?
I sent the album to Lion for consideration after it was recorded, mixed, mastered and ready for pressing. Some other labels had also expressed interest to publish my new album including Shrapnel Records. But I decided to go with Lion Music since they were European based and I was intending to dedicate a bit more attention to that part of the world in 2010.

How did you write for this CD, and is that different from previous works?
I did have a different approach this time in the way that I started with the riffs and rhythm parts first and then added melodies later on. Usually it’s the other way around. I wanted to have some really heavy contemporary riffs this time that would be combined with a lot of over the top Metal lead playing. This album is not that neoclassical oriented compared to my previous works… One really important thing for me was to get away as far as possible from any Yngwie comparisons. So, there’s really close to zero Yngwie influence on “The Absolute”! I do like Yngwie but as soon as someone plays instrumental metal music today with some neoclassical influence he gets labeled as an “Yngwie clone” and I didn’t want that… so I had to be very careful with what I played. Btw, very few people even know that Yngwie picked up what is believed to be his “signature style phrasing” mainly from Uli Jon Roth’s and Al Dimeola’s 70’s works and expanded on them! Everybody has a past and an apprentice period and so did he…

But all I really wanted to do on “The Absolute” was to make a pure Metal guitar album that would be appealing to me personally and  that would be fun for the listeners and fans of virtuoso Metal guitar.

How hard is it to play instrumental songs live?
Much harder then vocal oriented material because you have to be on top of your game all the time and every little mistake becomes very obvious. I realized that I had too many difficult instrumental songs in the past that required almost standing still on stage and staring at the neck in the pursuit of perfect interpretation.  It’s almost like being a tight rope walker and if you lose balance for a second – down you go! I got a bit tired of that and I wanted some new songs that would be loaded with heavy riffs and with more of that old Metal energy back in there …meaning – more fun for me on stage. Bands like Iron Maiden, Judas Priest, Metallica were a big part of my repertoire while I was growing up so I wanted those influences to be audible now. Playing wise, I wanted to sound more like a modern “hyper charged” version of players that came before me. I consciously made an effort to develop my own phrasing and playing style on this album rather than imitate any other player “per se”. I also wanted to show a more aggressive and loose side of my playing on this album – something that I felt I “owed” to my fans since I was always holding back a bit on my previous albums…

Elaborate more on the overall album concept theme and vibe.
From a musical point of view the concept theme of the album is – Heavy Metal. The album presents my take on this essential music genre. I wanted to explore different avenues of Metal music and transmute them to instrumental format. This album should not be looked at as just another shred fest but more like almost a vocal album that perhaps some bands like Arch Enemy or Metallica could have made if they collaborated with Joe Satriani for example. I don’t think anybody made an instrumental album with that type of idea yet… As for the production style, the targets for me were records of  Judas Priest – “Demolition” , Metallica  – “And Justice For All”… and also Iron Maiden, “ A Matter of Life and Death”. I like that dry type of production for Metal and  I thought that if I could get my production quality level at least in that ballpark it would be good enough for me – since I have much less money then those bigger artists. I am quite proud with the end result and in my opinion “The Absolute” is my best sounding album as of yet.

You also made the album cover artwork yourself?
Yes, this is also the first time I did that. The artwork is kind of simple but has a meaning to it that might not meet the eye at the first glance. There is a symbol on the cover that is molded with the crossed guitars. It is the “Aum” which is also known as “The Absolute” and is very present in Hindu philosophy and religion which many consider to be the oldest one on earth. The shape of “Aum” somewhat resembles number three – and since this is my third album I found it kind of adequate! I do not follow Hindu religion but there are some interesting parallels I found with music and meaning of this symbol. The “Aum” is considered the “initial divine vibration” of creation. This “divine vibration” of Aum is also known as Trimurti that consists of three forces which are one at the same time – “(A) creator – (U) maintainer – (M) destroyer”.  It also stands for 3 cycles of human condition… birth, life, death. …past,  present, future.  Since music is essentially “sound vibration”, and all vibration creates energy, I have always found it fascinating how energy of music can change the emotional state of the listener thus affecting their “personal energy”. And if we look at the structure of basic elements of music harmony, which are chords – they are made of three notes played together creating one sound, corresponding again to this mystical rule of “three”. So this “divine vibration” seems to be of great significance in the architecture of the universe we live in…and reflects itself in music which is a part of it. If all this makes sense even a little bit perhaps it is not by pure accident that we find many good musicians to be interested in mysticism and metaphysics? (Laughs).

Regarding the song titles… Since this is an instrumental album, there are no lyrics involved. So if there’s anything to be said in plain words it has to be done through the song titles. Since it is a concept album from a music point of view, I wanted the album’s song titles to be somewhat conceptual and corresponding to the artwork idea so I weaved some spiritual and philosophical ideas into them too. Like the eternal questions of essential truth and search of reason of our existence… you know, the stuff many people usually don’t want to think about! (laughs). 

Track by Track

Could you  elaborate further on what is posted on the Lion website track by track description already in terms of gear used, or if you have some special comments to add?
Gear I used for the majority of tracks were an ESP Eclipse set neck type of guitar with active electronics for rhythm guitar parts and a couple of ESP V type guitars with passive electronics for the lead stuff. I went with some distortion pedals by EMMA and Maxon through my amp’s clean channel with some Guyatone pedals for processing – and that is the guitar tone you hear on 90% of the album.  

–       The Absolute… This is clearly a neoclassical track. I knew that I would not make a lot of neoclassical tunes on this album so I decided to make just one ultimate neoclassical song as a bit of a “world in itself” compared to other songs on the album. It is like an essential display of what I did before but in an improved version just for my old fans that always ask me for more of that. However I also wanted to have some typical metal riffs in there and I wanted to avoid any phrasing in there that somebody else did before me. I played pretty much my own style here.

–       Secret Of Life… After the neoclassical opening tune, I wanted a song which would sound even heavier and introduce the listener to what’s coming next. I am making a reference here to some thrash metal influences. The guy who started the whole metal riff thing was Tony Iommi so I wanted a bit of his influence in there and then took it to modern thrash riffs of Hetfield age. The melody line is in NWOBHM tradition and the solo section is loosely based on pentatonic style of people like Michael Schenker, Zakk Wylde.

–       Hidden… I wanted a simple and brutal sounding Metal riff perhaps a bit Megadeth like. For the melody part, I went for some phrasing influenced by middle-eastern and Balkan music with some mystical sounding harmonies in the background. The solo is very legato oriented and bit of a tribute to masters of that style of playing like Joe Satriani or Steve Vai. I also took the solo through different harmony modes there like Lydian and Mixolydian.

–       Within All Existence… This one is a very straight forward rocker tune. It opens up with Brian May style harmonized guitars. I wanted very basic power riffs almost Steve Stevens type with Michael Schenker type wah lead melody on top. There’s also a bit of Iron Maiden influence in there. The solos are a total shred fest…

–       Promises… I wanted to use really heavy sounding downtuned riffs that would be in the ballpark of Pantera or Zakk Wylde. The harmony progression for arpeggio section here is almost a common cliché but I did it in a somewhat extreme metal styling with the double kicks and “start – stop” riffs. I wanted to demonstrate sequencing use of arpeggios so the theme sounds a bit like an “etude”.  There are two solos… first one is strictly pentatonic shred blues style while the second one is a total explosion. I just wanted to do a type of solo that I usually hesitate to do – a ton of fast shred licks all over the place. I also used a touch of  Maxon Phaser effect on the second solo to get a bit of the early Van Halen vibe.

–       The Prize Of Eternity… is sort of a nod to great 80’s LA scene guitar heroes that started it all. So the riff hints to Randy Rhoads a bit while the solo is in a classic rock style with some Van Halen, George Lynch inspired moments done from my own perspective. The melody theme is simple but with some cool tapped arpeggio parts later on. I always make sure on my albums to play something different on each song so I tried to make this tune stand out too…

–       For The Chosen,… Is based on a middle eastern beat that even Ritchie Blackmore incorporated in some Rainbow songs back in the day. I wanted the guitar riffs to be very heavy almost like something of Metallica type and the melody to be totally middle eastern sounding thing. There’s two solos. The first one is full of my trademark licks which I call “Randy Rhoads on steroids”. The second solo contains some licks that are made famous by Yngwie Malmsteen. I wanted to make an intentional hint to that YJM style there just for 15 seconds on the whole album.

–       Fighter Of Glory… Has a sort of Spanish flamenco type of progression to it which I wanted to do for a while but in a NWOBHM style. The tone is very raw and buzzy on this one, almost in a Glenn Tipton way which is what I was going for. I got it from a solid state amp being boosted by Maxon OD 9 Pro overdrive pedal that I helped  in designing.

–       Walking the path… is another neoclassical tune on the album apart from the title song. I focused more on a legato approach in the lead parts instead of the typical staccato style. I found legato a bit smoother sounding and more appropriate here so I also adjusted the tone with a bit more midrange to help the phrasing.

–       To One Truth… the idea was to have a catchy intro riff. For the melody I wanted some contrast in sound so I added a bit of acoustic rhythm guitar chords. The ending solo is one of my favorites on the album and is very “bluesy” in nature.       

 The Future

What will you be doing to promote this CD and are there any other new projects in plan?
he most important thing for me now is to take this album live on the road. It is imperative for me to do a lot of this in 2010 and it will be quite a challenge. The problem with instrumental shred guitar today is the insufficient label support which makes it difficult to tour. A strong club circuit has not been made for this style of music like for blues, jazz or metal so it’s quite hard to tour these days being “in between styles”. Even bigger artists like Paul Gilbert and Vinnie Moore just started doing solo tours in Europe last year for the first time! Still, I hope  that there are a lot of MSG, Joe Satriani, Children Of Bodom, Iron Maiden, Judas Priest, Al Dimeola  fans out there that want to hear the this type of playing… That’s why music on this album is intentionally made in such a way that it can very easily appeal to a wider audience apart from just shred guitarists. I am also intending to finish up some other even more ambitious projects in 2010 including a vocal oriented Metal album as well.

What do you see as the future of music production, media and CD distribution?
The Internet has obviously changed a lot of things within the music industry which is at this point dying because of uncontrolled internet illegal download. No serious government intervention has dealt with this specific problem that haunts music industry in spite of the digital technology advances in the last 10 years. I think this has to do with planed society changes for the future and Internet is a big part of that “digital future”.  I believe that in the end the record companies might become state owned and funded from state budget and musicians will have to become employees with a monthly salary. Then the big corporate institution would have to pay to state owned music labels for using music on internet…and there will be no more CDs or physical media. This will of course reduce significantly the amount of people who will be able to work in music. Some will perhaps still play in small clubs as cover bands like they did in the 50s. It’s a bit of a dark prediction but that’s just my opinion on how things will develop if the current trend doesn’t change.

And what about the future options for instrumental guitar performers?
It is getting more and more difficult every day. I think it depends on the corporate controlled media and their agenda. This is not a very commercial style of music and if sidelined further it will die off slowly. Even the great classical composers like Bach, Mozart or Chopin could do their thing only because they were supported and sponsored by the elite and nobility of the era. Today it seems that electric virtuoso guitar is obsolete as far as corporate labels are concerned… But which great rock musician’s music of yesterday is rock music of today mainly founded on? If we had to choose just one, I think it would have to be Jimi Hendrix’! Even the amps, pedals and guitars are still more or less based on the same technology that what was used in 60s by Hendrix. He was a guitar virtuoso of his time and he was a star because of his playing/shredding abilities! So the corporate “anti playing” concept of today doesn’t make sense and whoever tells us that virtuoso playing is bad and purposeless is either on crazy pills or is not really into rock guitar music! The fuzz tone of Hendrix’ guitar is still the type of tone you hear in metal guitar music with Vai, Satriani, or somebody like myself… proving that instrumental shred style is deeply rooted in history and essence of rock music! Even 70’s jazz rock bands like Mahavishnu Orchestra or Return To Forever were doing the instrumental format and they were so popular that they played arenas!!! So, how is it possible that Hendrix is a #1 Rock icon off all times and Dimeola and Mclaughlin sold millions of records and played large arenas and yet today some “people” want to make us believe that guitar shred is just not interesting for wide audiences anymore? Doesn’t make any sense to me…

What will the next technological breakthrough for the electric guitar be in your opinion and do you tinker with your gear much?
I experiment with my tone and gear but I don’t do the tech stuff and mods personally. As for the tech direction of the future it’s hard to say really…Technological development and scientific progress always brought some new aspects to musical instruments and I expect that to continue. Many vintage tone purists stick to the past but tend to forget that the term Stratocaster was made up from the words “Strato/sphere” and “broad/cast” (Strato – cast) in commemoration of beginning of new space age and radio/tv age. Even fewer people know today that it was the designs of a scientist of Serbian origin named Nikola Tesla that defined the technology of the 20th century by discovering radio, adjusting alternating current electricity system, remote control, electromotor, and many other things that made it possible for something like an electric guitars and amplifiers to exist today! Even the great guitar virtuoso Allan Holdsworth dedicated one of his albums called “Wardenclyffe Tower” to Tesla! So who knows what science might come up with tomorrow that will upgrade the way we produce sound!?

What breakthrough would you like to see?
Modeling technology seemed to have been very popular in the 2000s so perhaps some companies will take this direction further until they succeed in making some sort of “tone emulator machine”. Then a player will be able to sample any tone from the past (or present) they want at home in 100% detail and then download it into a “preset digital card gadget” and bring it to the studio or concert venue where the “preset digital card “will be read by some new type of amp computer/machine and – there you go, we’ll be able to dial in any tone we want, any place we want without having to lug any additional gear around. The purists will probably not like it but progress marches on…

General

What are your general interests outside of music/guitar?
I like to read books and study many different things like religion, philosophy, politics, history … I also find some martial arts  very interesting so it’s something I follow too.

What other types of music do you enjoy?
I have thousands of old vinyl LPs and also a huge CD collection. I listen to many different styles of music really… Blues players like Eric Clapton, SRV, Robben Ford or some older jazz guys like Pat Martino or Larry Carlton. Lots of modern fusion guitarists like Pat Metheny, Hiram Bullock, Frank Gambale, Brett Garsed, Allan Holdsworth … I also listen to certain ethnic music too, like Middle Eastern or Indian,…some progressive stuff like Mike Oldfield, YES, Shakti. I always enjoy classic rock like Thin Lizzy, Gary Moore  as well as modern extreme metal like Arch Enemy, Children Of Bodom, Protest The Hero,…

What are your 5 desert island CD’s?
Oh, that’s not fair – it has to be at least 10! Let’s see what comes of the top of my head…  

1)    Mike Oldfield – Tubular Bells II
2)    Joe Satriani – Engines Of Creation
3)    Eric Johnson – Venus Isle
4)    Allan Holdsworth – Secrets
5)    Dire Straits – Communiqué
6)    Alcatrazz – Disturbing The Peace
7)    Iron Maiden – Powerslave
8)    Uli Jon Roth – Beyond The Astral Skies
9)    Michael Schenker Group – Built To Destroy
10)  Jimi Hendrix – Band Of Gypsys

Are you aware of some current, interesting anonymous new players we see on the internet?
I am aware of some new players and I think the level of musicianship today is probably higher than 10 years ago because there’s more info floating around Internet to learn from. But for me, the main thing is still to go through a record label that has a good reputation and a solid artist roster – that’s what counts. It is very good thing that Internet can help unknown players to get some attention but it’s a double edged sword. The problem that I see with Internet and things like YouTube today is that millions of people can post their clips and flood the “net” with their footage but who’s looking for it? That’s why we need the labels as a quality filter to bring new players to the fore.

How frequently do you return to Serbia these days and how has the artistic and musical scene evolved in the time since you left?
 The local rock music scene in Serbia is almost non existent from what I hear. Foreign Rock bands are touring there all the time now but there’s no new people on the domestic scene that can make a breakthrough – all is reserved for the bigger established pop bands that were there 20 years ago. I went to Serbia in 2004 and made a few very successful concerts but I was largely ignored by the local mainstream media. Only the people who have close ties to the circles of political power can do something big in music bizz over there now… the other vast majority of “unconnected” Serbian musicians have no chance of a future on the music scene as is and will have to wait for some better times.

Explain the great success of Serbs in the arts/sports (tennis, basketball etc) given the hardships lived through physically, spiritually and emotionally?
I guess they worked hard! It’s great that they have success in the sport arenas and I salute them. It’s a very honest thing in sports to compete against your opponents and let the best person win. Truth be told, many sports were sometimes backed by the state so athletes could get some financial support if they were good. With Rock music it was completely the opposite – no help at all, nobody cared if we lived or died. For example a few successful swimmers from Serbia won some international competitions recently and got some silver and gold medals. In return they were given apartments from the state to use as long as they live! That was a really cool move from the government,… I wish a similar policy was applied to Serbian rock musicians who achieved some artistic success abroad! (Laughs) 

Have you taught guitar over the years?
I started giving private guitar lessons since my 20s. I did some master class teaching and for a while even gave private guitar lessons in Canada. I don’t do that anymore but master classes are something I still enjoy doing… passing on the knowledge and experience to younger players.

I hear that you also connected with legendary guitar player Frank Marino who lives in Montreal?
I have been aware of Frank’s playing since I was a teenager because I was also a lot into Blues then. I remember being very impressed by his Mahogany Rush live rendition of “I’m a King Bee Baby” because I never heard anybody play blues like that before him. He always remained one of my favorite players in that style of music. When I moved to Montreal, I realized that Frank lived in this town so we met after one of his concerts on my initiative and have been in touch since. Seeing him play live was one of the coolest experiences since he connects to a time way back when rock music was “young” and is a true Canadian “guitar legend”…   Frank is also a very busy family man these days and I just hope he will get back on the stage soon with some great new solo album that his fans will welcome.

What advice do you have for young players?
I would say – try as much as possible to build your own style and identity within the type of music you play. Learn from your heroes and build upon their work but don’t imitate them. Never forget that it’s a very tough world out there and dreams don’t always come true for everybody.

Thank you so much for this insight Borislav, the CD is magnificent!!!

VIRTUOSITY ONE WOULD LIKE TO THANK BORISLAV MITIC AND MIKE BLACKBURN FOR THIS EXCELLENT INTERVIEW.

WEB LINKS
www.borislavmitic.com
www.myspace.com/borislavmitic

ANTHRIEL INTERVIEW

Interview conducted 16th November 2010
Interview with Timo Niemistö, Simo Silvan and Antti Hakulinen

Many thanks for agreeing to this interview. When did the band form and have you been through many changes to arrive at the present day incarnation?
Timo: We have played together with Jari (drummer) and Antti (keyboards) since we were kids. Along many projects and cover bands, we have made music of our own from the start. We have gone through many line up changes through the years, we just couldn’t find the right guy for the bass and vocals. Gladly we found Klasu for bass in 2006 from open stage jam session at a local music bar. He was jamming some Jaco Pastorius staff with a band and I knew immediately he was the guy we were looking for. Couple of years ago Antti and Simo (vocals) shared the same day job and Antti played some old demos to Simo who liked our music and joined the band at late 2008.

What was the common goal with the band members for the band and have these always been the same?
Timo: We have always wanted to keep the ball in our own hands as much as possible, which is why we recorded our debut ourselves in our rehearsal garage/studio. We don’t use external lyricist, songwriters, producer etc. What comes to the Anthriel I have always been a workaholic and I personally like to dive into the discomfort zone to do things or solve problems, I believe it bears fruit at some point. There is plenty of time to rest in a coffin 😉

Your debut album “The Pathway” has recently seen release on Lion Music. When did work commence on the album?
Timo: After drum recording session at late 2007, we noticed we could manage the rest of the recordings and mixing with our equipment so we did some cover gigs to cover the expenses of a new computer, recording software, pre-amps and such stuff. The studying to use of the new equipment was more time-consuming than the recording itself so our progression was slow and frustrating. The vocalist change in 2008 did hasten up things a bit as most of the lyrics had to be re-written. We got vocal tracks done in spring 2009 and after a mixing and mastering “The Pathway” waited for release for some time, about the year.

How did you hook up with Lion?
Timo: We had a lot of interested offers along the way. We wanted to have label that was specialized on our type of music, had the experience and had strong distribution. We knew about Lion for long time and we also know personally some artists signed to them so we heard positive feedback. We knew the fact that Lion Music had announced to not sign any new bands at the time but they contacted us and made an offer we couldn’t refuse.

The album got a very positive review here at V1, for a debut this a very clear picture of what the band is all about. What was the hardest and easiest aspect of making the album?
Timo: Yeah, thanks for good review. The easiest part was the actual playing, of course we had to practice a lot individually and as a band. The hardest part for me was the learning to use a new equipment, recording software and recording techniques during the recording. Crashing computers didn’t help at all. I curse all computers, they have to be one of Satan’s creations. However, the making of record from scratch can be really frustrating but very rewarding at the end.

I believe the album is concept based. Can you give us an overview of the story line?
Timo: The Pathway is the story of a man who finds himself grown against his former principles and philosophy of life. He decides to leave his past behind and begin a journey to find his own personal promised land and balance. As the path gets rough good and evil starts to battle in his mind where the reality and fantasy gets mixed. He puts the blame to the Gods for playing with his life and turns his adversities to the divine entertainment with consequences that ultimately lead to the discovery of perfect harmony from within his own soul.

The concept is based on a series of events in our lives, individually and as a band. Told as a timeless adult fairytale. You could say it is a kind of biography of the rough road the band has gone through. Naturally “The Pathway” was the perfect title for the album. There is a pretty clear highlights in music and lyrics, for example some years ago I found myself stuck in to lousy day job that totally killed the energy and inspiration 24/7. Still every morning I just automatically dragged myself there to pay the rent and food, knowing that me and my musical ambition were wondering their separate ways. That is simply the story behind “Devil’s Lullaby”. After a five frustrated years I was experiencing the most beautiful sunrise and ”awakened” by that I gathered my courage and quit my job to try my wings as a musician. That is the story behind “Light Divine”. We don’t want to chew it up too much on behalf of a listener or tell what kind of emotion an audience should get out of each song. I prefer to let the audience be an artist who paints the fantasy world around our music and dives into it.

What did you decide to make a concept album?
Timo: I don’t want to accentuate too much “The Pathway” as a concept album, because we are not trying to reinvent the wheel. But I have always been a fan of concept albums as they force the listener to see a series of songs as a whole. Concept also gives the listener the joy of discovery from the relations between of a songs, melodies and lyrics.

What has worked in the bands favour is that these tracks also stand on their own, i.e. they don’t need to be heard as part of the album to be understood. How vital was this aspect of songcraft for the band?
Timo: First of all I try to make strong solid songs. Secondary I think the album should include as many versatile songs as possible because I feel it very exhausting to listen to, for example,  power metal songs for sixty minutes. Like I said, we have made music together for pretty long time now so we got material from which we can choose, of course we want to use also new material as possible to capture the freshest sound of the band. After all every song has its own feeling so we don’t want to combine lyrics and music by force to fit it in a concept. For example we have recorded a couple of most beautiful love ballads but we think our traveler from “The Pathway” concept isn’t right there yet on our second album;) Mp3 shopping has gone and gets more common nowadays but there is always a risk that someone preconceives an opinion on a sound from a randomly picked mp3 example of some web shop. For example the instrumental song “Glance of Dawn” is a short classical orchestra piece so we can only hope that if someone downloads it randomly, he likes short classical pieces 😉

Timo, your guitar work is stunning. Who were your influences growing up and today in 2010? What gear did you use on the album?
Timo: Thanks, I must say that I am not so interested of shredding. I try to develop myself as a composer and a guitar for me is just a tool among the other instruments to express my emotions into the music. I have had my moments and it is overwhelming if someone feels my playing interesting. My very first instrument as a child was the keyboards, inspired by Uriah Heep and Deep Purple along my father’s music hobby.  I also played drums in a couple of bands, later on I earned my living as a cover band bassist. So I am not in any way directed solely guitar as a musician, I have had an opportunity to study other instruments among the guitar and that has helped me a lot as a composer to built rhythmic patterns, odd time signatures and such.

Back to your other questions, as a guitarist I have been most influenced by Tony MacAlpine, David Gilmour, Eric Johnson and Michael Romeo to name a few.
The recording gear that was used on “The Pathway” was: guitars-Customized Ibanez Prestige 1527, Ibanez J-Custom, ESP M-II Custom,Customized LTD Viper, Landola Classical guitar, Takamine acoustics and Fender Lab steel. Amp system was: Mesa Boogie Triaxis->DBX 166 compressor/gate->DBX 231 EQ->Mesa Boogie 2.90 power amp-> Marshall cabinet.

How did you go about mic’ing your amps? Any specific mic locations you found worked well?
Timo: I used Shure SM57 and Sennheiser MD421U together close at a same speaker in 45 degree angles. On acoustics I used Rode NT1A mixed with piezo-microphone signal.

Is there anything you’d do different on the second album guitar wise?
Timo: Of course, making an album and especially listening to it afterwards is very educational.  I learned a lot and I can’t wait to begin the recordings of our next album.

Simo, your vocals are up there with the metal elite. Who are your influences and what were you looking to express on the album?
Simo: Well thank you for giving me such overwhelmingly kind words about my singing! If I were to name some singers who have influenced me the most I’d say first and foremost Mr. James Labrie of Dream Theater. He is just so incredibly talented singer with a huge package of nuances that when I first heard James sing I was totally blown away by his voice. Then to name a few singers more there’s always these guys whose voices have influenced me as a singer: Geoff Tate, Ronnie James Dio, Marco Hietala, David Coverdale and Roy Khan. Well as you’ve heard by now, our music on The Pathway album is very versatile. That also means that there were a huge amount our various feeling that I was to bring out with my singing. So I hope that these various feelings and moods can be sensed from my singing during the whole album.

How do go about bringing a lyric to life?
Simo: Bringing a lyric to life in the sense how I do it is simple. First I must make up my mind about the topic of the song. Then the words just come to my head as I listen to the instrumental tracks I supposed to sing on. Of course much of our lyrics bind together so we often share ideas, Timo and I, where we wish to go with the story and how it relates to the things that have already happened and so on..

Do the band have any particular favourite moments on the album, or perhaps a song that you feel is definitive Anthriel?
Antti: Haven of grace is good example of definitive Anthriel and it’s my personal favorite.
It has softer and heavier parts while maintaining melodic and partly epic feeling in the piece throughout the song. Almost every part has a piano in the song so that I love very much; also I think the name of the song is brilliant.

When will work commence on album #2 and do you have any ideas in mind for the direction?
Timo: We have demoed plenty of songs for the next album and I believe we start record new material in the beginning of a next year. Again, there is going to be a lot of different kind of songs; fast, slow, short and long. And again our traveler from “The Pathway” acts a main role.

Any plans to play live outside of your native Finland in support of the album?
Timo: Finland only for now. Bringing Anthriel to the live stage wasn’t easy, we rehearsed a lot because we wanted to minimize any need of backing tracks. Of course it wasn’t our plan to play everything exactly as in record so we added some extra live parts. When it comes to touring, we’ll go anywhere we’re booked and wanted. We’re working for possibilities regarding different festival appearances in 2011.

Any final messages for our readers?
Thanks for your interest and time.  Prog on and stay tuned for Anthriel!!!

Official Websites
www.anthriel.com
www.myspace.com/anthrielmusic

BILL BERENDS OF MASTERMIND INTERVIEW (ARCHIVE)

Interview conducted 13th March 2010

About The Interview
Mastermind were one of the original pioneers of the prog rock renaissance than happened in the 1990’s.  From New York the band were formed by guitarist/vocalist Bill Berends and his brother drummer Rich Berends.  Ten years have passed since the bands last album but February 2010 saw the release of their new opus ‘Insomnia’ released on Lion Music.  We caught up with Bill to discuss the new album, new vocalist Tracy McShane, what makes the band tick and a whole lot more.

Bill Berends, thanks for talking to Virtuosity One.
It’s my pleasure, thanks for your interest in the band and our music.

Please give us an insight into your musical background and how Mastermind got formed and has evolved since those early days.
My background in music goes back to the early days of the 60’s. My first real musical awareness was The Beatles of course, like so many others at that time, then all the things that sprung up around that scene like the Stones, the Animals, etc. I started playing a little guitar, pretending I was George Harrison… he seemed like the most thoughtful Beatle and the lead guitar really appealed to me, but I wasn’t too serious about it at the time being so young. Then the later 60’s came along and I was hooked. Bands like Cream, Hendrix, Spirit, Ten Years After, this stuff blew my mind, the musicianship, the experimentation.. not to mention being a soundtrack to the social revolutions taking place. It really was all new back then and a very exciting time to be alive. I was interested in music other than rock too… I loved church music. I grew up going to a big church that had a huge pipe organ and it always blew my mind. The church service bored me to tears, but the music made a deep impression. Combined with that we have another brother who is a trained classical pianist, so hearing him practice Bach, Chopin, and other classical music around the house all day also had a strong influence. But The Beatles brought rock ‘n’ roll into my world.

The next thing that really got me was The Cream… at the time this was the heaviest thing around and it knocked my socks off with extended guitar solos and jamming which I loved! Gibson guitars through Marshall stacks…

they were the pioneers and that is still THE rock guitar sound as far as I am concerned. From Cream I got deeply into the blues because I really wanted to learn where this music came from, so my love of the blues and extended jams came from there. The next major influence was Emerson, Lake & Palmer because they took the grandeur of the church organ thing I loved so much and ROCKED it!! Not to mention introducing this thing called a Moog synthesizer. That stuff totally blew my mind. There was, and still is, nothing else like ELP in their prime. My next major influence was The Mahavishnu Orchestra… they took what Cream was doing, added jazz, and took it to new levels of instrumental technique which was incredible. Of these three bands I mention, no one has come close to duplicating the originality or power of what they did. My desire with Mastermind initially, and the reason we started doing it, was to try and recreate some of this stuff as best we could at a time when no one else was doing it.

Then there are the years that followed where lots of things influenced me.

So many things I can’t go into them all. People are always asking me what new stuff I like and the answer is “not much”. This isn’t because I am stuck in the past, I am always searching for new & interesting music, but not much comes close to the guys who thought the stuff up in the first place. And, to a large degree, entertainment has surpassed artistic intent and people lost touch with real music. This is sort of why Mastermind is always trying different things. We didn’t start doing this to be “product”, we started doing it as a musical adventure. When we began recording in the mid-80’s there was no one around doing that stuff anymore. Thankfully some younger people have begun to rediscover the origins and there are some slightly more interesting things around now to listen to, but… far too much of it is over-stylized and stuck in a niche while very few artists are actually trying to create something new. One band in the last decade that I thought was interesting was “A Perfect Circle” and listening to them definitely had some influence on the Insomnia recordings.

‘Insomnia’ sees the first full length Mastermind release in a decade. I presume you haven’t been sleeping during this time so just what the hell have the band been up to since 2000’s ‘Angels of the Apocalypse’?
No, I lost a lot of sleep after 2001, it was a difficult time to be an American. Actually, we were very active as a live band during that time, but nobody seemed to care much except the few people who came out to the shows. We got zero support from Inside Out on any level – they didn’t understand the band at all – so we just went at it on our own. Several bass players came and went which was frustrating and impeded our progress, but we kept at it. We were recording as well and released an EP on our own in 2005 to sell at shows, but without a label behind it we didn’t get much attention. Then there were changes in personal lives… my brother moved some distance away from me which made constant collaboration difficult, still does. After the last bass player left the band I had had enough and we just started playing bluesy rock stuff in bars locally. It kept us playing, we had fun and made a few dollars. Despite not being in the public eye as much, we were still making music all along.

Tracy McShane makes her vocal debut on a full length album with ‘Insomnia’, it must be nice to finally be able to unveil her on a wider scale to the world market?
Absolutely. The thing is, I had faith in this record despite the fact we that had difficulty finding a home for it. So in that regard, I felt backed up and unable to move forward until we got it released properly. We did have lots of offers for the album, but nothing I considered any better than releasing it ourselves which I knew I didn’t want to do, so I held out until the right situation came along. I really didn’t expect it to take so long! But I am pleased with Lion Music, they gave us a fair deal and seem to be working at promoting the album. So to answer the question, yes it is nice to finally see the album released properly.

Mastermind began using female vocals on ‘Angels of the Apocalypse’, what led to this quite original fronting for a progressive band?
I thought it was a pretty original idea at the time, but since then it seems dozens of other acts have gone the same route. I suppose the real essence of it was twofold… the first being, after quite a bit of touring in the 90’s I just got tired of being the only vocalist. It wore me out. I never set out in life to be a singer and took some flack for it… tho’ some people still prefer my vocal to the female thing. Personally, I just wanted to concentrate on playing guitar which is my true love, musically speaking. So we made an instrumental album – Excelsior! – our first with Jens, and because we had another player to work with, we leaned more towards an interactive fusion sound which I love. But then we got a lot of flack from the labels for doing that.. “you can’t sell an instrumental album” and so on, so I thought if we need a vocalist I want a good one and Lisa (Bouchelle) was the best one I knew personally. The idea of a female voice appealed to me because it was unique and, I love female vocal in a classical setting. Lisa was into it so we gave it shot.. only to hear back from the labels that “female vocals don’t sell” which I don’t agree with, but we were being marketed as a metal band so I suppose there is some truth to that since metal is so macho. Anyway, after a while it became clear Lisa was more interested in pursuing her solo career so we needed another female voice to be able to carry on playing the “Angels” material. When I met Tracy she seemed like the perfect solution, so here we are.

Mastermind are well known for taking a different slant on each album, where does ‘Insomnia’ fall into the bands progression/catalogue to you?
Actually, our first four albums were all very much in a similar vein, but since we were with Cyclops, a lesser known label, most people aren’t aware of them. For much of the world “Excelsior!” was our first album when in truth it was our 5th album and 11 years into being a band. What happened is after 10 or so years of doing the same basic thing I just really wanted to try some other stuff… more fusion, more guitar oriented, more straightforward rock. So you might say what we are well known for is just not being that well known. How does Insomnia fit into the progression? I think it is a step towards just getting back to the essence of getting the point across without too much embellishment and acknowledging modern elements such as tuned down guitars and seeing how they can fit in to our musical visions.

Over what time frame where the songs written and have they changed somewhat since their original conception?
All of the Insomnia material was written shortly after Tracy joined the band in 2001 with the exception of Night Flier which was recorded in a separate session with Jens. Once I had a fair idea of what we were shooting for, the material didn’t change that much throughout the recording process.   The album was basically finished in 2004, it just took 6 years to get it released. Ideally this album should’ve been released in 2004 but it didn’t work out that way. There was another behind-the-scenes element too… we had an A&R guy at a major label very interested in the band and we went back and forth with them and a big management company for almost a year, so that delayed things as well. I suppose that may have had some bearing on the shape of a few songs. I edited some things down to shorter times and cut back some of the solos at their suggestion, but ultimately that deal fell apart and we were still nowhere, but I liked the modern edge the changes brought about and kept them. Inside Out suggested calling it something other than Mastermind, which I considered, but they weren’t into the female vocal thing anyway so I thought, this is the same people as Mastermind, calling it something different would be silly. It would be like The Beatles changing their name because Sgt. Pepper didn’t sound like Love Me Do… so we soldiered on as Mastermind. In retrospect they may have been correct, who knows. I am better at making music than marketing which is why I prefer being involved with a decent label.

‘Insomnia’ is home to 10 songs, all of which are quite unique in character yet form a cohesive bond within their album framework. How much agonising was done over things like what tracks to include, the running order etc and can you ever be truly happy with these things?
Thanks! I think it is pretty cohesive as a whole and in fact, I think it works best listening as a whole. That was my intention, to create an hour or so of music that was a pleasing listen, period. We didn’t need to show we could play blistering solos or write complex compositions, been there, done that. We have six other albums of that kind of thing, so I wanted to do something a little different. I knew which songs would open and close the album, sorting out the running order felt natural to me after a few shuffles of the cards, so it was decided pretty early on, most of it. I did one tweak after we signed the deal with Lion Music since it had been some time since I was living with this recording. Ultimately I think that made it a stronger album and better listen, but once it goes out to press there’s no sense worrying about it anymore, it’s time to start thinking about the next thing.

How do you/Mastermind go about writing a song and when do you know a song is right?
I am the only writer in the band so I just write and write and when I feel I have a selection of tunes that feels cohesive, I present them to the others and get their feedback. If anyone hates anything in particular I may revisit it, defend it, or just throw it out. In the case of Insomnia there was one track I threw out myself just because I thought it was a little too bouncy in the overall scheme of things. How do I know it’s right? I never know… I just do what I like and hope for the best.

Any favourite tracks/performances on the album and if so why?
“Last Cigarette” is my personal favorite. I like the slow, ponderous groove and I like how it makes me feel. I think the vocal harmonies work nicely and I really like the solo section with the counter-voicing Jens does with the guitar. I also like how it ends the album in an ambient space. The rain, the barking dogs, that was recorded in my own backyard so it is very personal for me and evokes that time period, yet puts it to rest at the same time. It’s also really sombre in one way, yet I think it ends leaving you with a feeling of hope and not hopelessness. I like that sort of thing. If something is just dead sombre it can be too depressing, so even my darkest material tends to leave you feeling hopeful I’d like to think.

Where were the tracks recorded/mixed/produced as there is a wonderfully organic sound to this album?
Thank you! The whole album, just like all Mastermind albums, was recorded and mixed in my home studio. The main difference between Insomnia and the others is, this is the first Mastermind album that was recorded all with computers and not tape. All the other albums were recorded on analog tape. Night Flier was maybe the last thing we ever did on tape, so it took a little work to get that to fit in, but I think it works. That slowed the recording process down a little too, the learning curve of digital recording and how to make it sound not-digital. I’m very pleased to hear you enjoyed the production!

You are listed as producer along with your brother what do you see this role as being and how do you approach it?
Since I am the composer as well, my role as producer is to try and get everything to sound like what I am hearing in my head, to bring the compositions to reality. My brother’s role is more or less as a sounding board if I get too carried away or miss the mark with something. He won’t hesitate to tell me if he thinks something sucks!

I am guessing there is a natural non verbal communication when you and Rich play? Is it noticeable when you play with other drummers/musicians?
With Rich and myself that is definitely the case. We grew up together listening to the same music and developing the same sensibilities, we know when something is going to happen or where things are going instinctively, although we may not always agree on everything. With other musicians it just depends on the person. Working with Jens is very easy, I just tell him what I am envisioning and he usually comes up with something right off that is really close what I am hearing. Once in a while he may miss the mark, but we discuss it a bit then it’s right back on track. If he has an idea or suggestion I am happy to listen to them since I respect his opinion. I have played with a lot of musicians however, that I don’t get that vibe with at all… bass players *cough cough* in particular. A lot of players are just in their own little world and don’t LISTEN to what the other players are doing. In fact I would say that is true with a majority of so called musicians I have known. They just do the thing that they do as if they were in a vacuum or something, it’s very frustrating. Most rock musicians, especially younger ones, tend to learn and create music by brute force memorization, so real time interaction and improvisation is something they don’t get at all. It’s a shame really, that this has become a lost art. Add to that click tracks controlling light shows and non-existent keyboard players and what you end up with is stiff, mechanical, and boring.   No organic feel at all.

Jens Johansson lends his golden fingers to the Mastermind sound once again, how did you initially hook up with Jens?
I met Jens almost 25 years ago in a music store in New Jersey. I wrote a little story about it on our website linked to the Excelsior! page. I had no idea who Yngwie was at the time, or Jens, I just heard him play in the store and thought ‘that was incredible, I gotta know this guy!’ I introduced myself, we got to be friends, and after I heard his Heavy Machinery and Fission albums I knew I wanted to work with him. In my mind’s ear I hear Jens as a modernized sort of Jan Hammer, the original keyboard foil to the guitarist.. to which Jens will say “fuck Jan Hammer!” of course lol… but we both have musical roots that go way back and I think we have certain shared sensibilities, so it works out well I think.

Do you give him guidance on what you are looking for or does he have free reign?
Both. I’ll suggest to him the feeling I hope to evoke and let him go at it.  If it isn’t what I’m hearing I’ll make some suggestions which he has no problem with. There were a few instances where I really wanted to pull him out of his comfort zone and challenge him to do something totally different, like play slow, use a different sound other than the famous Korg sound, stuff like that. He is very willing to try different stuff and when he sees what I’m getting at, usually he’ll jump right in and comes up with something wonderful. On a few occasions he’ll do something I am totally not expecting and we’ll keep it, so it’s give and take.

Those keyboard sounds he gets are so unique, and his playing with his personalised phrasing and tones are wonderful, you must be pleased to have him onboard?
Absolutely. Jens is a brilliant player with a unique outlook on almost everything, and he’s pretty funny too! I wish we were in a situation where he could be available to us all the time because I have other ideas in mind for him, but Stratovarius keeps him pretty busy these days. I guess we’ll see what happens down the road, but we have discussed doing more music together in the future.

What else is in store for 2010?
We hope to be able to get out and do some live shows to support the album.  If you aren’t appearing, you’re disappearing, as the old blues guys say. I have recorded a “Bill Berends” solo album of instrumental guitar music which I finished up just recently. That’s really where my head was going musically when we got an offer from Lion Music which sort of snapped me back into Mastermind mode. Getting back in touch with just the guitar and amp, no frills or effects. No firm release plans for that yet, but it is coming. And, Rich and I have recorded some basic tracks of new music that is potentially the basis for another Mastermind album. To a large degree what we do next depends on how well this album sells and what kind of interest it may generate. I have lots of unheard, unreleased music written, hours of it in fact, it just depends on how I can get it out there.

Any final messages for our readers?
Buy our stuff! Seriously, if you have read this far I thank you for your interest in Mastermind and our music. Thanks to everyone who has supported us over the years and to the people just discovering Mastermind as well. I hope you will take some time to get familiar with our new album because I know for some people it may take a little while to sink in. Mastermind may not be love at first sight for everyone, as one fan put it, but once you acquire a taste for it I think you will like it…. kind of like beer. And we all like beer, don’t we?!

Bill, many thanks for your time.
My pleasure, thank you!

OFFICIAL WEBSITES
http://www.mastermindband.com
http://www.myspace.com/mastermindband
http://www.facebook.com/mastermindband

TOMI JULKUNEN OF THE MILESTONES INTERVIEW (ARCHIVE)

About The Interview
Helsinki-based band The Milestones specialise in classic hard rock with a southern tinge that put many American bands to shame.  We caught up with guitarist Tomi Julkunen of the band to discuss the bands history and their fantastic new album ‘Devil In Me’.

First of all welcome to Virtuosity One Tomi.
Cheers Andy, glad to be doing this interview. And big thanks for a great review on your site!

The Milestones are a rootsy good time rock band that hail from Finland yet sound as if you should be from the USA. What is a Scandinavian band doing producing rock that shames many an American band?
Wow, that’s a big statement Andy! Probably because American bands have forgotten how to make this type of music… (laughs). Nah, just kidding. Seriously, we’ve all listened to this kind of music since our teens. So, playing classic rock is pretty natural for us.

When we formed The Milestones there wasn’t that many new classic rock bands around at the time. Grunge and boy bands were a big thing and we just wanted to have a band that could bring back that rock and roll sound we all had been missing.

Can you give our readers who may not have heard of you a brief run down of the bands history as it seems you have been at it for quite some time.
The band was formed back in 1994 so we’ve been doing this for a while now. We had two goals in the beginning; to play our first show at the best rock venue in Helsinki and get a record deal within few months. Well, we played at that venue four months after forming the band and got the record deal after that show. The first album Vol 1 was released in 1996.

For the second album Souvenirs (released in 1999) we went to New York just to see if it’s any different making an album abroad. We ended up re-recording half of the songs when we came back to Finland. I’d say we got bit lost with all the experimenting. There were violins and drum loops and all kinds of stuff which totally represented something we are not. I love the album but I’d say it’s not The Milestones sound we’re known for. Oddly enough our biggest radio song is from Souvenirs and some people think it’s better than Vol 1 and Devil In Me. Go figure (laughs).

In 2001 I left the band for few years. Other guys kept on going with other guitarists but didn’t release any new material. I rejoined in 2006 and we started planning the third album pretty much straight away.

Your new album ‘Devil In Me’ has been out for a month or so now… yet its been 10 years since your last album ‘Souvenirs’. What led to the big gap between releases and are we going to have to wait until 2020 for the follow up?
Devil In Me was actually released in Finland in April 2009 but was released in rest of the Europe earlier this year. It’s kind of surprising that the album still seems valid to people considering that albums life span is really short these days. Maybe it has something to do with the fact that we’re not trendy music and our music is timeless.

The gap is my fault to be honest. As I said I quit the band in 2001 and moved to Ireland for few years. There was no arguing or bad blood between us, I just wanted to do something else for a while. We all kind of knew that getting the original line-up together was inevitable after I moved back to Finland.

Writing and recording Devil In Me took about two years all in all so if you take away those five years I spend abroad it took only five years to get this album released (laughs). It’s not that long comparing to Axl Rose!

I’m happy to say that the follow up is in pre-production already. We’re entering the studio this summer and new single should be out by September. Most of the songs have already been written. We just need to fine tune them a bit, work on lyrics and melodies and we’re good to go. I’m sure we have a new album out in early 2011. I’ve been listening to rehearsal tapes and have to say, it will be ass kicking full on rock and roll album.

‘Devil In Me’ is my first taste of the bands brand of rock n roll and very impressed I was too. Can you talk us through the making of the album – where the songs were born, recorded etc.
When we started writing new music we had no idea who would release it. Fortunately we knew these guys who had a small label and they were interested in putting out the album. They also have their own studio so we recorder the whole thing in their studio in Helsinki. They also produced. It was actually the first rock album they produced so I’d say they did an excellent job.

It took about two weeks worth of recording to put all the music on tape. We didn’t book studio time for two weeks, we just went in on couple of weekends. So there was no real pressure time wise.

We had all the material pretty well rehearsed beforehand so it didn’t take long in the studio. We always do that before recording, lock up ourselves in the rehearsal room and put together new stuff and rehearse it. We don’t make demos anymore, just rehearsal tapes to hear what should be changed and what needs more work.

How do The Milestones like to write and do you have any specific routines have proven beneficial?
The song writing almost always starts with a guitar riff or bass line. It’s very rare that we build a song around a melody or a specific drum pattern. We all have ideas and we all come up with our own parts so it’s not like there’s only one or two guys who contribute to song writing. Sometimes it might take a while longer to arrange a song as there’s five guys with ideas but on the other hand is a blessing. It makes songs sound like The Milestones and doesn’t put too much pressure on one or two guys.

Are these tracks taken from over the last 10 years or are they recent compositions?
Most of the tracks were written within a year or so before recording. There’s few old songs like Street Soul and Green Valley. Green Valley was an acoustic B-side on our single Deep In Despair from Souvenirs album. We just arranged the older song to make them sound more like the recently written songs. There might be some old riffs but mostly its new stuff.

The album has a great live vibe with a superb production. What were you looking for sonically with the album?
Thanks, that live sound and rawness was just what we were looking for. We wanted it to sound like good old fashioned rock records. Not too many effects and layers of guitars. We wanted it to have dynamics which seem to be lacking from most records these days. It’s not perfectly played but who cares as long as it sounds good and has a great feel to it, a bit like a live album.

The guitar tones received special praise from us, what gear do you guys use to get those awesome tones on the record?
As you can hear our sound is pretty organic, nothing too flashy. We use lots of vintage gear to get that cool sound. We use same gear for live and studio work. I mainly use Gibson guitars and Marshall amps for live shows. My main guitar is Gibson Les Paul Deluxe which is not that common guitar these days. I also have this new Gibson LP Standard which is really good to play and sounds great. I’m not big into using effects, some distortion pedals for solos and that’s about it.

Marko has some really cool guitars. He has Gibson Firebird which I also used in the studio, Fender Telecasters and Guild Nightingale. Marko also has cool amps such as Ampeg V-2 head and old Fender Bassman. His Ampeg is probably the best sounding amp I’ve ever heard.

I suspect the band are built for the road (you sound like it) so have you managed to do much touring outside your homeland?
Unfortunately we haven’t played much outside Finland. We played few shows in New York and in Iceland of all the places. We will play our first gigs in Germany this coming October. I’m sure it will be loads of fun. We’re really looking forward to it.

Influence wise where are the band coming from and what do you feel are the unique qualities the band have absorbed from those influences into your own sound?
We’re influenced by 70’s and 80’s American and English bands such as Bad Company, Lynyrd Skynyrd, Rolling Stones, Black Crowes and Thin Lizzy to name a few. Of course we listen to newer bands too but I don’t think we’ve been influenced by them much.

I think we have the same cool two guitar interaction as the bands we listen to. We don’t double each other’s parts and I think that’s one thing we have absorbed.

The Southern Rock scene seems to be making something of a comeback of late with a younger fanbase getting into the genre, along with high profile releases from Lynyrd Skynyrd and Molly Hatchet. Have The Milestones seen evidence of this resurgence in your own fanbase?
Actually, yes we have and it’s great. It seems that youngsters are checking out their parents record collections and having a blast doing it. They’re discovering all the great band who have influenced all these new bands. When we were supporting old legends like Whitesnake and Deep Purple I was totally surprised about the number of young people in the audience. Front row was just people from 15 to 25 years old. It really was something that I didn’t expect. We went down like a storm and got a great response. Those same people come to our shows as well so it’s heart warming to see that. There’s no age racism in classic rock genre at all. It doesn’t matter if the band is old it still gets audience from babies to grannies. It’s all about the music not the image.

What plans are there to promote the new album? It seems like none name bands don’t get much of a look in from live promoters and venues so how are The Milestones coping with this side of being a band?
I agree, it’s really hard to book shows these days. Sometimes it can be really frustrating as we would love to do proper tours. We’ve been lucky enough to get good support slots and I’d say that’s the best way to get good gigs and bigger audiences.

We’re not concentrating on promoting Devil In Me that much as we’re already looking forward to promoting the next album. Hopefully it gets good amount of radio play. It always help to get promoters interested.

What else is in store for 2010 and beyond?
As I told earlier we’re doing pre-production for next record as we speak. Main plan is to get the album done. We will play few shows but mostly concentrate on recording. After the album is in the shops we will definitely play as many shows as possible.

OFFICIAL WEBSITES
http://www.themilestonesmusic.com
http://www.myspace.com/themilestonesmusic

HELGE ENGELKE OF FAIR WARNING INTERVIEW (ARCHIVE)

Interview conducted 10th September 2009

Fair Warning are for many considered one of the true greats of hard rock, possessing an instantly recognisable sound the band have delivered the goods consistently across their career.  New album “Aura” is arguably their best yet having all the bands trademarks, superb vocals, great melodies superb musicianship all topped off with the glorious virtuoso guitar work of Helge Engelke.  We caught up with Helge to discuss the new album’s creation and his approach to guitar and much more.  If you haven’t already check out our review of “Aura” here.  Enjoy the interview.

Many thanks for agreeing to this interview. The new Fair Warning album “Aura” has been out for almost a couple of months now, how has the reaction been from fans?
The reaction of fans has been very good so far. We receive a lot of mails from fans telling us how much they like “Aura”. A new album always gets compared with the ones you did before. The funny thing this time is that everybody compares it with a different one. Some say it is like/better Rainmaker, some compare it with ”Go”, others find similarities with “Four” or our first one. Well, thinking twice there is a little weak spot in this way of finding out how fans like “Aura”. Those who don`t like it would not write e-mails, would they? Maybe I should have said: “ We receive a lot of positive mails, none complaining yet”.

I think new album is great, having all the hallmarks of the classic FW sound, yet doing it with a power and enthusiasm that most bands find hard to sustain when they have an extended back catalogue. How do you guys manage to keep fired up for more?
That is down to the chemistry in the band. We all have slightly different tastes, even with our back catalogue we hardly agree on what we like best. Tommy for example really likes the first one. That is not my favourite one, I would pick some songs from each of our records. Then there is this “go new ways” vs. “stick to your guns” discussion, I always liked to experiment with sounds and arrangements, like bringing in new sounds ,what we did since “Rainmaker”, Then sometimes the other guys come and say” What’s this noise”. So it’s a constant, positive, fight and sometimes rather troublesome. B U T in the end, and after all we always managed to find a mixture of all that and I think that is what makes a big part of Fair Warnings identity. There’s one thing we all easily agree on and that is “When we do a record together it should be a good one”. So everybody is fighting for what he thinks best for the record. And nobody is really giving in.

What really struck me is how strong all the band members still are at their respective instruments. Your guitar playing improves year on year, Ule is just a monster on this album and Tommy’s voice has if its possible got more powerful. How do you maintain improving on what many people might already see as perfection?
The nice and annoying thing about Fair Warning is, when looking back we most of the times say, we’ll do better next time.

The album I believed was recorded at a 400 year old manor house, what role did the location play in the sound of the album?
After having recorded our first album, we decided not to waste money in expensive studios anymore, being constantly under time pressure.  Rather bring the equipment in work at your own pace. It worked very well since “Rainmaker”, so we try to be affordable houses with a nice vibe and atmosphere to mainly record, vocals, drums and bass.

Where your guitars recorded there as I was under the impression you recorded all your guitars at home?
Guitar-recordings and the mixing was done in my little studio.

How do Fair Warning generally go about writing a song?
It’s Ule and me writing songs and we both work alone. We make our own home demos singing on them and then play it to each other and to Tommy and CC.  When it comes to arranging we start to work together, even though Ule’s and my demos are quite clear.

What can trigger the creative spark for a song idea?
With me it could be anything, a riff or a line coming while playing the guitar, some words which make a nice line, a vibe, an abstract idea. I always disliked labelling a song a “rocker” or a “ballad”, because sometimes means that we all say ”Ah, not another ballad”. For quite some time I was wishing I could write a song which could be both. That way “As snow white found out” came about. Took some time.

At what point in the process will Tommy come up with vocal melodies and will that dictate where the song ultimately goes?
Both Ule and myself record our demos with our, well, singing. So the melodies are already there.

The opening brace of “Fighting For Your Love” and “Here Comes The Heartache” sure make a statement of intent, how much work do the band put into making sure the running order is right for each album? What do you look for in a running order and who gets the final say on it?
The running order of “Aura” Tommy did and there were no objections.

Your guitar work is a true joy for me, being a big Uli Jon Roth fan I instantly feel at home in your guitar work, yet you are perhaps more straight-ahead rock than Uli. What lead to you developing your style and what do you see your style as?
My limits. When you start playing the guitar most of us have certain heroes. So had I. Unfortunately I never could decide what to be like when I’m grown up. So it’s a mixture of all my influences.  On the other hand, whenever I wanted to sound like somebody else, copying a solo or a riff, it never sounded quite right, it always somehow sounded like me. Took me years to accept that as a blessing rather than a curse. Still I enjoy to hide some “quotes” every now and then in my playing on every record I ever did and see if people find out.

Like Uli you use a custom made guitar with extra frets, I know you own one of Uli old six string Sky guitars so how did you about designing an instrumented suited for you?
I loved Uli’s idea of having the range of a violin on guitar. My guitars I designed together wit a guitar luthier, Thomas Stratmann (it’s his real name, nothing to do with strat), from my hometown Hannover and he built these guitars for me.

The tones on “Aura” sound like you used a whole bunch of gear, can you give us a brief rundown on what you used?
Its all in this video at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iRDOYQ3Mfks

What will you use live?
Hopefully my rack which consists mainly of a Hafler/Bogner triple giant and a Mesa boogie strategy 500, plus some effects and two Ac30 with a Roland 301 for the crunchy sounds. Recently I sometimes replaced the Ac30’s with Fender supersonic amps. For guitars just my main guitar.

If you could only have 1 guitar and 1 amp what would you choose?
My guitar and a Fender Supersonic, but I would not be a completely happy man with just that.

I believe the band have just completed a Japanese tour and have a bunch of European dates coming up, how is the tour going in comparison to others and what you like and dislike about being on the road?
No,we haven’t played any electric shows yet. I just came back from the rehearsal room when I found your mail. Touring will start in October. Playing is always fun, but I really dislike when I cannot use my equipment and have to sound like crap.

What’s next for Fair Warning?
Touring.

Helge, many thanks for your time.
Thank you Andy.

OFFICIAL WEBSITES
http://www.fair-warning-de
http://www.myspace.com/therealfairwarning

KATSU OHTA OF ARK STORM INTERVIEW (ARCHIVE)

Interview conducted June 2005

About The Interview.
Katsu Ohta is one of the star players of the blossoming Japanese neo-classical metal scene.  Katsu is the guitarist and leader of Ark Storm who are becoming quite a sensation on the Japanese metal scene, to date only one of their 3 albums have been released outside their native Japan, but we manageed to track down Katsu and find out his thoughts on the band, their excellent latest album ‘The Everlasting Wheel’ and find out what else if going to happen in 2005.

The interview was the first interview done by Katsu in English and to the best of my knowledge perhaps the only one.  It’s been a steady favourite over the years in terms of hits at the old site so its fitting its kept on here on the new home.

Many thanks to Nikki Matsumoto for translating Katsu’s answers and assistance with arranging the interview.

Katsu, many thanks for agreeing to this interview. First, I would like to congratulate you on “The Everlasting Wheel”; it’s a superb slice of neo-classical metal. When did you start writing for the album?
Thanks to you too. I started writing material for the album back in January of 2004. I came up with about 15 songs in the next 4 months.

What does your writing process normally involve?
It depends really. But I normally come up with a melody for a singer or start chunking a guitar riff and take it from there. One of these 2 patterns normally. And when I hand out a song to the rest of the band, it is usually near completion as far as arrangements and melody go.

How long did it take to record?
It took about 20 days for the recording, not counting the hours of pre-production rehearsals for the recording.

What did set out to achieve with this album?
I wanted to have a meaning and as the album title suggests, the meaning Of eternity was what I had in mind. I wasn’t really concerned about anything else.

I hear a slightly more streamlined and commercial album compared to “Beginning Of The New Legend“, was this an aim of the album?
No, it was not something we intended to do. But we built the whole production with mainly melodies in mind. The melody line was the key for the song writing. So I am not surprised that people feel the sense of commercialism to some degree. We just did what we wanted to do as Ark Storm on our own way. And the result just happened this way naturally. It may fit into the current trend or whatever but it wasn’t aimed anyway intentionally.

How has the reaction been to the album in Japan?
We have been getting quite pleasant reaction from the fans, it’s been really good. The fan basis is growing and getting bigger and bigger day by day  as it seems. But the Japanese HM magazines don’t give us good evaluation, even though the fans are supporting us and spreading bigger.

What are your thoughts now on “Beginning Of The New Legend” and “No Boundaries”?
I feel like there had been so much left undone. I am not satisfied completely with any of those pieces. But that is how I should feel probably. I never ever get totally content with my work. If I ever did, it would be pretty much the end of my aspiration. I always find something new when I’mwriting or playing.

“Beginning Of The New Legend” was released in Europe, are there any plans to release “The Everlasting Wheel” outside Japan?
It’s all up to the record company. But I have not heard anything on that matter.

How did you hook up with the other members of Ark Storm?
I selected them on my own, one by one. I wanted real professionals, you know. Before the release of the first album, it was hard to find right musicians. I wanted the best of the Japanese when the time for the second album was approaching. So I got them now.

What made you want to play guitar?
One of my uncles gave me a real old trashy classical guitar and that was the start.

I see you use Scalloped Stratocasters, what made you start using a scalloped neck and why?
I started it because I liked Ritchie Blackmore and Uli Jon Roth when he was with the Scorpions. Now I still use scalloped neck all the time because It gives me the vibrato I want.

There’s a couple of Marshall Amps on your website, what models do you use and are there any modifications done to them?
It’s a 1978 Marshall 100w. The guitar technician of my own modifies it mainly on the tones.

What effect / overdrive pedals do you use?
It depends, case by case. But most of the times, I use a DOD or a Tube Screamer by Ibanez. Those two are my main effects.

Does the band have any plans to record a live album / DVD?
There is no plan for it as far as I’m concerned. But I do want to release DVDs.

What else does the band have planned for 2005?
We are going to start another Japanese tour in October.

Anything else you would like to tell the readers of virtuosity one?
I want you to experience Ark Storm, please get your copy anyway you can. And if that will take us there to tour in Europe, the rest will follow. I really really hope to see you at Ark Storm concert.

Katsu, many thanks for your time.
My pleasure. Thanks you all.

Official Ark Storm website – http://home.att.ne.jp/kiwi/arkstorm/