The Interviews

By Carl Begai

Halestorm 3

This interview with Halestorm vocalist/guitarist Lzzy Hale started with an apology.

The band’s rise to fame with their first album in 2009 was punctuated by their association with the tween-angst Twilight movie franchise through their song “Familiar Taste Of Poison” (or so I thought), a connection that acted as an automatic shut-off valve, thus preventing any decay caused by prolonged exposure to formula kiddie rock. Any time or interest spent on Halestorm, which had been sporadic at best, was over and done. A couple years later during a YouTube cruise, however, I stumbled across live footage of the band performing “Slave To The Grind” (12-29-11 Ram’s Head Live). Staring at the sidebar thumbnail, I highly doubted it was the Skid Row song of the same name because no band could possibly hope to match the intensity of the original. They were dreaming or smoking high-quality something if they did.

One click later my jaw was somewhere around my ankles, leading to the purchase of the ReAnimate covers EP. The release of the “Slave…”-inspired “Love Bites (So Do I)” in 2012 as the first single (!!) from Halestorm’s second album, The Strange Case Of…, sealed the deal. Having broken the cardinal rule of Never Judge A Book By Its Cover, I had become a crow-eating fanboy.

“What’s funny about that Twilight thing is that we’ve never officially been associated with it,” says Lzzy. “The video that blew up on YouTube was made by a fan; she was obsessed with Twilight and also cane to a lot of our shows. It’s funny how so many people, especially in the press, would ask us about how it felt to be linked to this smash hit movie (laughs). It means a lot to hear you like us now, especially coming from the perspective of someone who was skeptical at first about us. We hadn’t really proven ourselves when the first album came out, so to hear that we made such a big impact is awesome.” Continue Reading

By Carl Begai

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This year Kamelot celebrates 20 years as a card-carrying signed band, but it was just over 15 years past that they released a career game-changer, The Fourth Legacy. Their first two albums – Eternity and Dominion respectively – served to put Kamelot in the public eye, the third record (Siege Perilous) generated a buzz after they snapped up Conception vocalist Roy Khan to replace Mark Vanderbilt, but it was The Fourth Legacy that enthralled theit existing fans and roped in curious bystanders from far and wide. That momentum hasn’t stopped in spite of the occasional potholes in the road forward. Khan’s departure in 2011 could have destroyed the band – the fact he bolted a week before a major North American tour, forcing its cancellation, certainly didn’t help – but they regrouped and released Silverthorn a year later to rave reviews. With new singer Tommy Karevik on board, the album and tour that followed made it clear Kamelot had regained their stride, and the new Haven album is a clear cut example of a band unafraid of trying new things and potentially freaking out their fanbase while remaining loyal to the sound that made them.

“A lot of people that have been following us since The Fourth Legacy days have said this is the album they’ve been waiting for,” says guitarist Thomas Youngblood of Haven, easily the most diverse record in their catalogue. “Haven is more in line with what fans are used to with The Black Halo and even Karma, but it was really important for us to add new elements and bring the band a little bit more into today instead of giving them the symphonic thing from 10 years ago. That was a big part of it. We definitely didn’t want the album to be overly symphonic and I think we achieved all the goals we had going in.”

Truth be told Haven isn’t an easy listen at first even for the diehard fan, but once inside it’s very hard to leave. There are the signature attacks and flourishes one has come to expect of any Kamelot opus, but you get the feeling there was a meeting on the final day of mixing where the band members arm-wrestled their way bloody and broken to a final tracklist. Nothing about Haven is as one expects; some of the heaviest material (‘Liar Liar’ and ‘Revolution’) is shoved to the back half of the album, the signature ballad rewrites what we know about Kamelot’s penchant for pulling heartstrings, and much of the once-trademark symphonic attitude has been stripped back to make way for the band. Continue Reading

By Carl Begai

KYLE GASS

During this interview, guitarist / vocalist / recorder god Kyle Gass – best known for the moment as actor/musician Jack Black’s other half in Tenacious D – remarks that the only reason the Kyle Gass Band bears his name is because he’s “famous.” He’s neither arrogant nor self-deprecating about the claim; Kyle is merely making the point that it makes sense because he had an established career before the band came together. Even a third of the way through their show Kyle’s point is made, as he spends as much time making room for guitarist / vocalist Mike Bray as he does front and center. In fact, all five gents in the Kyle Gass Band sing, play, dance (seriously) and get their own moments in the spotlight.

“I daresay I wouldn’t be here without Tenacious D,” Kyle begins. “It’s an established brand, for lack of a better term, and people give KGB a look-see as a result. John (Konesky / guitars) and I worked for many years when we were in Train Wreck. We put this band together and Mike came into our lives about five years ago. He’s a really talented singer and multi-instrumentalist so we just said ‘You’re in the band.’ Jason (Keene / bass, harmonica) is an old fried from way back who plays mostly jazz. And we’ve had the exploding drummer problem which so many bands do (laughs). Spinal Tap nailed it, they do explode. A year ago Tim (Spier) came along and he’s a super drummer, a perfect personality for this band, and he really completed things for us. We’ve got some really good chemistry now. We’re having a lot of fun out here. All I know is that I’m not as good as the rest of the guys in this band (laughs).” Continue Reading

By Carl Begai

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Based in Toronto and known the world over, rockers Harem Scarem released a re-recorded version of their breakthrough Mood Swings in 2013, ending a six year hiatus that was meant to a permanent full stop. They followed it up a year later with their thirteenth official studio album, suggesting Harem Scarem may in fact be back in the game for another long stretch. Vocalist Harry Hess and guitarist Pete Lesperance – the latter being Canada’s rock answer to Steve Vai – had shut the band down with every intention of exploring other musical avenues, but it was only a matter of time until they were faced with a good enough reason to take Harem Scarem out for one more go-round. The end result in their latest record, aptly titled Thirteen.

Diehard Harem Scarem will fans will recognize the title of this piece, but it has to be said that the band’s six years off the grid didn’t seem all that long.

“We were really done with Harem Scarem at that time and didn’t see a future for it,” Lesperance reveals. “I think we were just spent musically. Speaking for myself, when it comes to playing guitar in the rock world I felt that I’d said everything I had to say with those first 150 songs or whatever it is (laughs). Me and Harry work together on all kinds of stuff, so maybe that’s why the break didn’t seem that long; we never stopped working together, we just stopped working on Harem Scarem. When the Mood Swings II thing happened it kind of changed everything and opened our eyes a bit, so we decided to try it again.”

It’s hard for someone on the outside to understand how a creative team like Lesperance and Hess can continue working together and not produce music that sounds like Harem Scarem. Going from one style of music to another in their case almost seems as if it happens at the flip of a switch.

“Our band is a weird animal. It’s my and Harry’s project more than anything these days. Obviously we have people that are heavily involved like Darren (Smith) and Creighton (Doane), but it was never really hard to shut down because, like I said, I just felt that we were done. It seemed like the right thing to do. The wrong thing to do would have been to just keep taking label’s money and keep going.” Continue Reading

By Carl Begai

Nightwish 3

For long-time Nightwish fans, namely those of us that were around five or six years before the 2004 commercial splattershot explosion of ‘Nemo’, the ‘Élan’ single from the band’s new album, Endless Forms Most Beautiful, was something of a letdown. Not everyone felt that way, but for many the song came off as painfully soft-handed after months upon months of new vocalist Floor Jansen being touted as the perfect in-your-face successor for both former Nightwish singers, Anette Olzon and Tarja Turunen. Countless hours of bootleg YouTube footage and the Showtime, Storytime DVD fuelled this widespread opinion, pushing expectations that Jansen’s studio debut with Nightwish would be something bold and brash. First impressions don’t paint the entire picture in this case, however, and once inside Endless Forms Most Beautiful fans will discover – for better or worse – things most certainly aren’t what they seemed when ‘Élan’ crooned its way out of the latest Nightwish branded box of tricks.

“I haven’t really listened to the album in a couple of months now,” keyboardist/mastermind Tuomas Holopainen admits, “but one of the most common comments I get from people is that the new album has this old school Nightwish vibe, like going back 10 years in time. I’ve heard it called more band oriented, more organic, more like Once and even Oceanborn, and I have to agree.”

Comparisons to Nightwish a decade past are warranted with new material like ‘Shudder Before The Beautiful’, ‘My Walden’, ‘Endless Forms Most Beautiful’, ‘Yours Is An Empty Hope’ or, yes, ‘Élan’, but primary songwriter and musical director Holopainen deftly avoids a complete rehash of the band’s well worn trademarks. This is perhaps best exemplified by their decision to bring the new record to a close with an obnoxious epic track, ‘The Greatest Show On Earth’. Originally 35 – 40 minutes long, the band decided to cut it down to a more respectable 24 minutes (!) that, much like Dream Theater’s now legendary song ‘A Change Of Seasons’, doesn’t feel nearly as long as it looks on paper. It’s a rare feat that very few bands can pull off. Continue Reading

By Carl Begai

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The Drover family name is well known in metal circles, associated first and foremost with Megadeth. Brothers Glen (guitars) and Shawn (drums) rose to international fame as part of Dave Mustaine’s strike force for four and 10 years respectively, but some Canadian metalheads were locked into the siblings back in the early ’90s when they launched their powerprog outfit Eidolon. Now, a third Drover has entered the fray, namely Shawn’s 23 year-old son Ryan. Working under The Calming moniker, Ryan has released his first full throttle song entitled ‘Return To Life’. One listen and it’s quite clear the proverbial apple doesn’t fall far from the trees in the Drover backyard.

“I worked really hard on it so it’s great to hear you say that. And yes, this is my first shot at recording my own music. I got my hands on a copy of Pro-Tools about six months ago and Glen was nice enough to show me a couple of beginner tips and tricks. I have loads of material that I’ve been working on and I’m really excited to share it with everyone.”

At this point of his budding career, Ryan is a solo artist lucky enough to have friends willing to help him move forward with the assorted musical madness rattling around in his brain.

“There is not an actual group,” he says. “That being said, I asked a couple of my good friends to help me out vocally and lyrically since I’m unfortunately not a vocalist myself. The screaming vocals and lyrics were done by my friend Jacob Kresak, whom I met in the local metal scene, and the clean vocals and lyrics were done by my other friend, Mike Motter, who has been one of my favorite singers/songwriters for a while now. I’m very happy with how the song turned out on their end and could not be happier that those dudes were nice enough to lend me their talents. As for the instruments, I played and recorded everything myself.” Continue Reading

By Carl Begai

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Moonspell have made a career out of pissing off every member of their fanbase at one time or another. Frontman Fernando Ribeiro wouldn’t have it any other way.

Originally heralded as fresh new black metal upstarts in 1995 with the release of their full length debut Wolfheart, the Portuguese outfit hit their stride a year later with the decidedly different (at the time) Irreligious album. Riding the wave started by Tiamat in 1994 with their Wildhoney record, Moonspell were embraced alongside Theatre Of Tragedy in a rise to fame as pioneers of the gothic metal scene in Europe, and later the world. A spastic run of countless copycat bands was launched that record labels were only too eager to snap up in a trend-heated feeding frenzy. Moonspell threw everyone a curve with the release of the commercially bent Sin/Pecado record in 1998, however, much to the chagrin of many an Irreligious-loving fan. It was the start of a tradition that has held true for 10 albums – dating back to Wolfheart – with Moonspell’s new outing Extinct coming off as a worthy successor to the Irreligious gothic metal throne.

It’s fair to say that nobody saw this coming.

“We share that feeling of not knowing what’s going to happen next with this band,” laughs Ribeiro. “I think that’s a good thing, and I think it’s become more of a valued thing to have in mind when you look at gothic metal. Gothic metal has been funneled into a formula with the female soprano vocals, the guy with the growls, and some guitars behind them. We’re not being openly critical about it but we always think there’s more to the gothic style of music. We just do whatever we think fits the style every time we make a new record. One of our intended goals has been never to compromise on our style or everything we stand for as songwriters.” Continue Reading

By Carl Begai

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Vocalist Mona Miluski never had any intention of fronting German stoner rock band High Fighter. She’s not complaining about doing just that, but two years ago she was poised to conquer the world with metal bashers A Million Miles and the press folks locked into the band’s debut album, What’s Left behind, were set to give them the push they needed. Nothing ever goes as planned, of course, and thanks to issues and assorted bullshit on both professional and personal levels A Million Miles tragically crashed and burned far too early into their flight. Miluski freely admits she was devastated by the turn of events, but 2015 finds her back in business on a new and improved and – as recent experience has taught her – a rock solid foundation.

“I can say that 2013 sucked for everyone involved in A Million Miles,” Miluski begins. “Ten days after the release of our debut album we went on the road, and ten days later the band parted ways. Like you said, it was a tragedy for me because the band was my life, it was the ground I stood on, I breathed for the band. I totally lost my ground when we split up. There are several personal reasons why we broke up and it was a tragedy for all of us. The album got really great press so it was a shame things fell apart, but shit happens.”

“We parted ways in April 2013 and I talked to Shi (ex-A Million Miles guitarist Christian Pappas) again at the end of 2013 because we’ve always been best friends and we can’t stop making music together. It took me almost a year to get back on my feet and for us to put things back together and start searching for other musicians.” 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

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Toronto-based rocker Danko Jones is as multi-faceted a personality as they come, to the point that people unfamiliar with his work might consider him schizophrenic. His soft-spoken, articulate and almost geek-like demeanor during interviews is a stark contrast to the obnoxious mouthpiece dedicated to ripping up the stage night after night with guitar in hand. And if he’s not attending to the next episode of his long-running official podcast, Danko is known for penning articles on everything from the pros and cons of social media, to music he bought on a Christmas shopping binge, to ripping Gene Simmons to shreds for his now infamous “rock is dead” comment. In the end Danko Jones gives Slipknot / Stone Sour frontman Corey Taylor a serious run for his money when it comes to keeping people guessing with regards to the next trick up his sleeve.

The band that bears Danko’s name echoes his diversity. Sure, every album since the Born A Lion debut in 2002 is based on the three piece of vocals/guitars/bass/drums rock formula, but each one has presented a slightly different side of the band’s persona. New record Fire Music keeps this tradition alive, and the initial buzz suggests it could well be one of the trio’s finest moments. It’s certainly the heaviest kick to the teeth in their catalogue.

“I think a lot of that has to do with the last record,” Danko begins, referring to Rock And Roll is Black And Blue. “I don’t really want to get in the dynamic that we had in the band at the time, but Atom (Willard/drums) lived in LA. We had to have these massive week long writing sessions, seven or eight hours a day, because he was in Toronto for a limited amount of time. We thought it was time well spent then and I thought it yielded some really good songs, but overall I think it was a little disjointed. There was another dynamic going on in the studio between some people that didn’t really make for a very comfortable easygoing session. There was a real sense of freedom in doing Fire Music.” Continue Reading