On The Inside

By Carl Begai

TIM & JAMES STUDIO #3 best

In 2000, Niagara native Tim Donahue made a small international splash with Into The Light, a solo record showcasing his skills as a fretless guitarist featuring current Foreigner vocalist Kelly Hansen. A year later he began working on a significantly heavier batch of songs that were unashamedly metal-influenced and came with a wish list of potential singers. During a meeting in Toronto over burgers and beer, I had the honour of hearing what would eventually become the Madmen & Sinners album. Asked who I felt would be the best voice for the material, I suggested Dream Theater vocalist James LaBrie, unaware his name was at the top of Donahue’s list. Contact was made, plans were hatched, and in 2004 the duo released the Madmen & Sinners debut, an album unique to their respective careers. It was new territory for both Donahue and LaBrie, and ground they (sadly) haven’t returned to since.

“I don’t play the six-string fretless at all anymore unless I’m asked, like for the tracks on Nozomi Itani’s album (Station To Station from 2012). That was the first time I picked up the fretless in many years. Other than that I play the fretless harp guitar. I hate to say it, but the harp guitar has so much going on that when I pick up the six-string I yawn (laughs). I don’t mean that as anything against traditional guitars but the harp guitar kicks my ass and takes me to places I’ve never been.”

Although it’s been over 10 years since the release of Madmen & Sinners, the record still holds a special place in Donahue’s heart.

“I love the heaviness of the tunes. There are a lot of heavy bands out there and I’m certainly not the heaviest guitarist, but the songs and the actual writing, I think that’s why the music hits you in the heart even though some of the songs are really heavy.” Continue Reading

By Carl Begai

Every time Kamelot and Arch Enemy vocalist Alissa White-Gluz are mentioned in the same sentence, the buzz that follows is usually enough to break the internet. With that in mind, consider this a bit of shameless promotion featuring an excerpt from a new Kamelot interview with guitarist Thomas Youngblood, due to be published on BraveWords just prior to the release of their new Haven album in early May.

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At this point in Kamelot’s career guest vocalists are an (admittedly) expected part of any production at their hands, whether it’s an album, festival show or full blown tour (headline or support). Their new album, Haven, satisfies those expectations with the return of vocalist Alissa White-Gluz (Arch Enemy), new voice on the block Charlotte Wessels (Delain), and multi-instrumentalist Troy Donockley, all of whom appear at select points during the latest Kam-epic’s run. They are a welcome element in the band’s musical tapestry that would be sorely missed by many if they weren’t involved.

“I never want to feel like we have to have female vocals on an album and who knows, maybe on the next record we won’t,” says Youngblood. “People forget that on The Fourth Legacy (1999) we had two songs with female vocals, so it wasn’t like we jumped on some bandwagon. We did that 15 years ago. The difference now is that we’re lucky enough to have some super-talented friends that also work perfectly within the Kamelot structure. Somebody like Alissa for example, who isn’t really known for melodic metal or power metal or whatever you want to call it, the way she works with us is so natural and organic it’s just amazing.” Continue Reading

By Carl Begai

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Bif Naked and I crossed paths for the first time 20 years ago. Ground zero was the long-since-gone Nightmares rock club in downtown Toronto; I was on M.E.A.T Magazine business prior to her show that night, and she left a lasting impression. Barely two years into my career as a journalist, she was one of the first “rock stars” I ever met and thus set the bar for the future quite high. It was also the first time I’d met a girl with real tattoos; a lot of ‘em, decorating her arms and other areas of exposed skin. And no silly tramp stamp, no ridiculous upper-boob blotch of ink that’s supposed to be Japanese kanji for “Love” or “Truth” or “Vegans Rule!”. In stark contrast to the intimidating biker-goth image she wore – however unintentional – Bif was warm, friendly, and possessed a wicked sense of humour, making the 15 minute encounter a cherished memory. Although she doesn’t remember our meeting of the minds Bif most certainly recalls the show, one of a multitude of stories from the adventure that is her life.

“I got robbed at that show,” Bif laughs. “All my luggage and make-up got stolen by a drag queen; he took off running down the street and we couldn’t catch him. The cops gave me a ride from the gig in the back of their police car to where me and the band were staying, and they put the siren on for me. There were four or five undercover cops at the show that night and I got a police uniform shirt with the patches and all that. I wore it on stage for years and years after that. Yep, me and the Toronto police have a long history (laughs).”

Our previous interview took place in 2009 while Bif was out promoting The Promise. Four years earlier she was on top of the world with the success of her Superbeautifulmonster album; in 2008 she was diagnosed with breast cancer, making The Promise a comeback album in the truest sense. She actually recorded it while undergoing treatment, which was and remains a mindblowing fact. Bif was surprisingly upbeat in the aftermath while discussing some of the more stomach-churning aspects of her fight to survive, making her positive attitude in present day 2015 less of a shock in spite of several tragic events that have plagued her over the past few years. Divorce, medical issues, the loss of loved ones… Bif has taken all the punches fate has dealt her and continues to move forward undaunted. Continue Reading

By Carl Begai

It was recently announced that after almost five years Kiske / Somerville – the project featuring vocalists Michael Kiske (Unisonic, ex-Helloween) and Amanda Somerville (Trillium, HDK, Avantasia) – have reunited for a new album entitled City Of Heroes. Due out in April, preparations are currently underway to present a bigger and better than the self-titled debut from 2010, which went over a storm amongst the project’s ready-made fanbase.

On February 4th the full band – Kiske, Somerville, Mat Sinner (bass / Primal Fear, Sinner), Magnus Karlsson (guitars / Primal Fear, Starbreaker) and Veronika Lukešová (drums / Rock Meets Classic) – descended upon Nuremberg, Germany and met up with director Martin Müller to shoot video clips for the songs ‘City Of Heroes’ and ‘Walk On Water’. A behind-the-scenes photo gallery from the 12+ hour shoot can be viewed below.

No vocalists, musicians, instruments, video directors, assistants or photo-journalists were harmed during filming. Catering was awesome.

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Continue Reading

By Carl Begai

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Dutch vocalist Anneke van Giersbergen is one of those artists that lives by the mantra “Sleep Is The Enemy.” When she’s not writing and recording new solo material, you can be assured Anneke is somewhere out in the world performing or working on a new project, which speaks volumes of her passion for her art. Case in point; this interview took place in the small Dutch town of Reuver a couple hours before she played an intimate one-off acoustic show at The Rock Station. Anneke didn’t have to do what was effectively an out-of-the-way the show for the exposure, and she certainly didn’t have to deliver anything special in terms of a set, but in the end the fans were treated to a show featuring both original songs and some (very) unexpected covers. Definitely something special for those lucky enough to be in attendance. For Anneke, another day at the office of her choosing.

“Somebody posted a message on my Facebook page recently saying ‘I’m going to see four projects from Anneke in six weeks..,’ Anneke begins, the two of us sitting in a small pizza parlour down the street from The Rock Station. “I only realized then how much I’m doing, because I’m doing a lot of it all at the same time. Sometimes I say ‘Oh, I can do this, I can work on that, I can join this band…’ and then everything comes together in the same two months. I have The Gathering show, The Sirens, this show tonight, so the amount of songs I have to learn is amazing.”

The Gathering show, which took place on November 9th in Nijmegen, was an epic event featuring present and past members uniting on stage for the band’s 25th anniversary. For the diehard fans Anneke’s performance was the high point of a reportedly brilliant show, and she admits it was a very special experience being with her former bandmates again, right from the first rehearsal. Continue Reading

By Carl Begai

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During his latest interview for BraveWords (found here), Canadian vocalist / guitarist / producer and master puppeteer Devin Townsend discussed his new Z² album. It’s another Devin Townsend Project epic, this one divided into two very different parts. Sky Blue (Part 1) is a somewhat melancholy offshoot of the DTP Epicloud record from 2012, while Dark Matters (Part 2) is the highly anticipated and over-the-top continuation of his Ziltoid The Omniscient record from 2007. As a whole, Townsend sees Z2 as a marker for another transition of his creative process, the previous one having been Ziltoid’s debut.

In the interest of not breaking the internet, this portion of the interview featuring Townsend’s take on his current focus was cut from the BraveWords story….

“I was recently in LA for a week. I was down there for an experiment on behalf of myself, the record label and a bunch of people. There’s a producer in LA who has sold 20 million records in the past 10 years and he offered to write a song with me. I went down there and recorded this song, and dude, I fucking hated the experience. I don’t have to put the song out, but this has been learning experience after learning experience. ‘What’s your motivation? What do you need?’ When we first started talking (back in 1995) I did this completely on my own. I was oblivious to the fact people were listening. Now there’s crowd sourcing and all this stuff; every step of the way carries ramifications for whatever decisions I make that are the majority of the job.”

“It’s not that it’s difficult,” Townsend continues. “It’s just that the process of trying to figure out where I am in the world is being helped in large part by me becoming addicted to making records, or whatever the hell happened in the last seven years. You get to a point where your quality of life is shot because you’re doing this inhuman amount of work. In a lot of ways I’m really glad that it happened and that I’ve made too much music for too long because it’s put me in a position where I have to analyze it. I’m not a total idiot, and as I get older the things that keep rearing their head in terms of problems in my life, I have to take notice of them or they just continue. One of them for me is this fascination with productivity that I’ve had for so long. It’s resulted in a type of exhaustion that’s avoidable.” Continue Reading

By Carl Begai

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Swedish vocalist Elize Ryd rose to fame as the female singer for Amaranthe, fronting the band alongside Jake E. (clean vocals) and Henrik Englund (cookie monster growls). As the band has grown so have the number of requests for Elize to lend her talents to productions by other artists. She’s no stranger to being a session player – it’s how she ended up with the Amaranthe gig – having guested for Falconer, Dragonland, Renegade Five, Timo Tolkki’s Avalon, with her stint as a guest vocalist on tour with Kamelot through 2011 and 2012 and her appearance on their Silverthorn record (2012) being particularly noteworthy. Amaranthe remains Elize’s top priority and she’s currently focusing all her attention on supporting their new album, Massive Addictive, but it’s a fair bet there will be more guest spots on down the line.

“I’m openly willing to do it because I love to sing,” Elize says of taking on productions outside Amaranthe. “I get a lot of requests to do guest appearances because many other artists who need a singer seem to think my voice would fit their songs. As long as I think the music is good and I feel that I can connect to what they’re doing, it’s very hard for me to say no (laughs). Sometimes I do it as a job, sometimes I do it to help a friend. I’ve had to say no to quite a few projects because the new Amaranthe album is coming out and I don’t want to take any of the attention away from it.”

At press time Kamelot was in pre-production for their next studio album. There’s no word yet as to whether Elize will be asked to contribute as she did on Silverthorn, but there are plenty of fans expecting her to make a reappearance. Continue Reading

By Carl Begai

When asked about her short tenure with Japanese melodic death/trance metal outifit Blood Stain Child – two years and one album in total – Greek vocalist Sophia looks back on it as a bittersweet experience. The split was anything but amicable, with Sophia harbouring a certain amount of resentment with regards to how and why things fell apart. Rather than letting the bad taste left in her mouth poison her love for making music, Sophia did what any genuine artist does: she buckled down to create something bigger and better than her previous outing. Season Of Ghosts is her new lease on life, a labour of love that pushed Sophia’s creativity to an entirely new level for the debut album planned for later this year, The Human Paradox.

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“It’s a pretty crazy mixture of everything and anything I represent and believe in,” says Sophia without missing a beat. “And my co-producer Zombie Sam was a great helping hand during the whole process because he has the classical knowledge to interpret my ideas exactly. I have classical knowledge of my own but I’m not very good with software yet and that’s what it came down to. I can program the basics, but going from what I know about programming to what I wanted to do for Season Of Ghosts, there was a huge gap. I gave Sam my piano scripts, music scores and an overwhelming bulk of notes, and I told him to use this piano sound, that instrument or the other to make it sound Frankenstein because that represents me (laughs). He tried it once, twice, and I was getting frustrated by about the 10th time, but once he got it right we worked from that point forward like a clock.”

Sophia is known first and foremost as a singer, but it’s important to establish the fact that she built the musical foundation for Season Of Ghosts herself. She didn’t hire a group of songwriters to create material according to a wishlist; the tracks started out as personal compositions that grew into full-blown songs over time.

“For this album I started with piano and guitar, and I just let myself go so that I was free to imagine what a certain song should sound like. I’d say 90% of the songs on the album started with the piano or guitar melody, and only 10% – really just one song – started with the vocal melody. I built the foundation and then I imagined the vocal parts.” Continue Reading

By Carl Begai

Having worked with Midnattsol vocalist Carmen Elise Espenæs over the past 10 years helping to shape her song lyrics, I’m well aware of her being very nature oriented. No, she’s not a hemp-smoking tree-hugger hippie; Carmen is from Norway, which boasts beautiful and often surreal landscapes, offering her a wealth of inspiration for her music. That said, it came as no surprise to learn the cover art for the self-titled debut from her new band, Savn, was a real down-to-earth photograph rather than a cut-and-tweak image crafted entirely using a computer.

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How the band went about creating the cover shot, however, was an adventure in itself that took months to complete.

“I was thinking about the idea of the deprivation of music since Savn started because of this theme,” Carmen begins, referring to guitarist/founder and former The Sins Of My Beloved member Stig Johansen’s inspiration for starting the band. “I was trying to figure out how we could portray the idea of the deprivation of music in a picture, and because I love nature I had this idea of a musical instrument grown over with plants and roots and things in the woods, as if it hadn’t been played in a long time. Piano is a big part of our music and it’s a beautiful instrument, so that’s what I chose.”

“We found a 200 year old piano for sale, but the deal was we could have it for free if we picked it up ourselves. It was SO heavy and we had to get a lot of people in order to carry it from where we got it to our house.”

The band could have easily dressed up the piano for the shoot, but Carmen was aiming for authenticity as well as image. Even it if meant risking being locked up for seemingly erratic behaviour. Continue Reading

By Carl Begai

Italian vocalist Fabio Lione first made his mark on the international metal scene in 1997 fronting Rhapsody – now known as Rhapody Of Fire for legal reasons – and holds that post to this day. Over the years, however, he has gained a reputation for being a reliable go-to replacement when circumstances make it impossible for a band to operate with their own singer. The most recent example of this was on Gamma Ray’s European tour, which featured Rhapsody Of Fire as support. Vocalist Kai Hansen was battling a serious case of bronchitis that threatened to derail the tour completely, but rather than pack it in they tapped several friends to fill in for Hansen at certain points of the nightly set. Lione pulled double duty for a good portion of the tour, performing a handful of songs for Gamma Ray on top of a full Rhapsody Of Fire set, hammering home performances that showcased just how formidable a vocalist he really is. It’s one thing to cover Helloween’s ‘Future World’ – a Gamma Ray staple that has been done to death – and quite another to nail ‘Empire Of The Undead’, a brand new song that Hansen himself has probably sung live less than 30 times.

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Rhapsody Of Fire has been Lione’s top priority since the beginning, but in 2011 he was asked to front Kamelot on tour in place of Roy Khan who had bowed out (and eventually quit) for personal reasons. The Kamelot fanbase was quite naturally resistant to the idea of Lione behind the microphone, but by the end of the tour many fans agreed he had something significant to offer. In the end it was Seventh Wonder vocalist Tommy Karevik that got the job, but Lione’s ties to Kamelot are still intact.

“I love the guys in Kamelot,” says Lione. “I love the band, I love the crew, we had a beautiful tour. I think we did something like 49 shows together in North America, South America and Europe. The response in every place we played was great, so I know that it wasn’t easy for Thomas (Youngblood/guitars) to make the decision to choose someone else. Of course he preferred to get somebody that doesn’t already have a big band because it’s easier to manage the schedule without having to worry about what else is going on. In the end, I appreciate that we’re still really good friends. Thomas sends me emails every so often, he’s interested in doing a side-project with me, and I’m sure he’s happy with his decision to bring Tommy into the band.” Continue Reading