By Carl Begai
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 BIF NAKED – Super Beautiful Monster Stories
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.
Continue reading KISKE / SOMERVILLE – A Day In The Park(s), A Night At The Opera
By Carl Begai
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 ANNEKE VAN GIERSBERGEN – Sleep Is The Enemy
By Carl Begai
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 DEVIN TOWNSEND – “It Sounded Like My Balls Were Stuck In A Taffy Puller…”
By Carl Begai
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 AMARANTHE Vocalist ELIZE RYD – Between The Lines
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.
“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 SEASON OF GHOSTS – Blood Stains And Zombie Brains
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.
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 CARMEN ELISE ESPENÆS – “There I Was On These Warm Summer Days Watering A Piano…”
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.
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 RHAPSODY OF FIRE Vocalist Fabio Lione – “I Love The Guys In KAMELOT; We Had A Beautiful Tour”
By Carl Begai
In July 2012, Japan’s Blood Stain Child and their Greek vocalist Sophia parted ways, citing musical and personal differences after only two years and one album together. Since then, neither Sophia nor her former bandmates have said very much about the split in the press, but during my interview for her new Season Of Ghosts project Sophia decided to reveal her reasons for jumping ship.
“I’m not gonna lie: it was a bittersweet journey – probably with emphasis on the ‘bitter’ – wild and fascinating in the beginning. Everything was new to me, so I invested all the connections I’d built throughout the years in the management business, so Blood Stain Child got to tour the US and Europe for the first time, they got an actual marketable internet presence, and Epsilon sold well internationally. Didn’t you think it was pretty weird for a band that had played on kind of the same level for 12 years to suddenly pop up everywhere?”
“The downside was that I was expected to give endlessly while having no say in anything. I was expected to stay in Japan permanently, even if the band rarely rehearsed. This cost a fortune of course, but what disappointed me immensely, was the leader’s reaction after the huge 2011 earthquake/tsunami. Refusing to provide refuge in Osaka for a couple days because ‘Everybody’s busy and you’ll be in the way’ he heartlessly ordered me to stay in Tokyo, thus endangering my safety. As Tokyo was too chaotic after the meltdowns, I decided to leave for Greece earlier than my planned holidays, citing a state of emergency. For the first time as a member, I showed I had a strong character that couldn’t be manipulated so this was not received well at all. I was a new member, a foreigner, a woman and dared to show my personal opinion in the workplace. Uh-oh…” Continue reading SEASON OF GHOSTS Vocalist Slams Former BLOOD STAIN CHILD Bandmates – “I Was Treated Like A Sick, Stray Animal”
By Carl Begai
In 2013 the annual Rock Meets Classic tour – featuring rock artists from the ’70s and ’80s performing their hits backed by a full band and orchestra – made its way through parts of Europe for the fourth time, once again to rave reviews. As every year changes were made to the roster of artists on board, welcoming Paul Rodgers (Bad Company), Eric Bazilian (The Hooters), Steve Augeri (ex-Journey) and Bonnie Tyler to the stage, with Chris Thompson (Manfred Mann’s Earth Band) being the only holdover from 2012. Changes were made within the usually static ranks of The Mat Sinner Band as well, with backing vocalist Kolinda Brozovic and Primal Fear / DuskMachine drummer Randy Black welcomed to the fold. Black’s presence marked the fourth of five Primal Fear members in the Rock Meets Classic family, and he was only too happy to put his well-seasoned metal impulses on the backburner in favour of performing with some of rock’s finest.
“Not to sound sappy – and I’m going to sound like a wimp (laughs) – but there haven’t been many times in my career when I’ve had tears in my eyes on stage,” Black admits. “A song like ‘Feel Like Makin’ Love’ by Paul Rodgers, I grew up with it and cut my teeth on the cover scene in Canada with them. What people might not realize is that I’m above the stage at Rock Meets Classic, I’m looking down over the orchestra and the band, and I have an in-ear mix of everything. I’m getting goosebumps thinking about it now (laughs). I had this amazing sound in my ears, I was looking down and listening to everything, and I thought ‘I can’t believe I’m drumming for this.'”
“It’s a whole different thing. It’s not metal, but it’s what I grew up listening to; pop rock. There were so many ‘wow’ moments on the 2013 tour, like hearing Bonnie Tyler nailing those notes on ‘Total Eclipse Of The Heart’. Everybody knows the song, everybody knows what Bonnie Tyler sounds like, and she was amazing. I wish my mom could have been there for that.”
Although he was new to the crew, Black was given the spotlight along with the orchestra for a crowd-pleasing rendition of the Pirates Of The Caribbean film’s theme music, ‘He’s A Pirate’. Black played up the part accordingly, making the short interlude one of the many high points of the show.
“That actually wasn’t planned,” Black reveals. “The orchestra rehearsed it without me, and a few shows in they thought drums might add more to the piece, so they put a pirate’s hat on me and away we went. I actually just found out they put it in again for this year.” Continue reading PRIMAL FEAR Drummer Randy Black On ROCK MEETS CLASSIC – “A Pirate’s Life For Me”