The Interviews

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

By Carl Begai

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Twenty years ago Blind Guardian released an album regarded by many as their breakthrough, some five records into their career. Imaginations From The Other Side is the album to which all the band’s works past, present and future are compared, so when vocalist Hansi Kürsch claimed during a recent interview that the band’s new opus, Beyond The Red Mirror, was directly connected to and thematically influenced by Imaginations, the majority of the Blind Guardian fanbase had a collective nerdgasm. Completely understandable given the height of the pedestal Imaginations has rested on for two decades.

“Imaginations From The Other Side shares the pole position with Nightfall In Middle Earth,” states Hansi, referring to the 1998 follow-up. “If we were to hold a vote Nightfall would be in the lead, but it seems that the core fans are more in favour of Imaginations. I’m fine with that; Imaginations is a great and intense album and I have nothing but the best memories about it.” Continue Reading

By Carl Begai

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It was a brain scratcher when word came down in September 2014 that Accept guitarist Herman Frank and drummer Stefan Schwarzmann had launched a new band dubbed Panzer, particularly since the audio teaser accompanying the announcement sounded suspiciously like Accept. This only a month after the release of Blind Rage, regarded as one of Accept’s strongest outings in their 14 album career. Odder still was Destruction frontman Schmier taking up vocal and bass duties to complete the three-piece Panzer outfit when he already has a very successful trio of his own. The recipe for a potentially questionable platter of “Why Bother?”, yet Panzer’s debut Send Them All To Hell has gone over a storm amongst the people that have dared to step into the line of fire.

“We’ve had great reactions so far,” Schmier confirms. “Some people thought the old men might be doing a blues album… (laughs).”

Thoughts that are quashed early into the record, although the lead single “Panzer” was met with a lukewarm response thanks to a plodding 4/4 groove that is too Accept-like and predictable.

“Yeah, the song ‘Panzer’ doesn’t represent the whole record,” agrees Schmier. “Nuclear Blast wanted it to be the first release and use it on samplers and all that, but I don’t think it was the best choice. That’s the easy listening track on the album. We made a video for the first song, ‘Death Knell’, and I think that one shows the real direction of the record. It’s nice to hear that people appreciate what we’re doing because there are too many bands these days doing this All-Star thing. It’s good that people recognize Panzer isn’t just another one of those projects. Things are worked really well between the three of us.” Continue Reading

By Carl Begai

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Season Of Ghosts vocalist Sophia Aslanidou has left her Blood Stain Child past behind, although it’s probably more accurate to say she’s buried it in the dust kicked up as she’s moved forward. Months before the December 2014 release date of the debut album, The Human Paradox, Sophia made certain to keep word-of-mouth-and-social-media promotion ramped up, and it paid off better than she or anyone else expected. Pre-orders and a significant buzz on metal websites added up, but having Season Of Ghosts booked to play the popular annual Metal Female Voices Festival in Belgium saw the band perform for close to 2,000 people for their morning set. This in spite of being at the bottom of the roster and not having an album out. It was an experience that cemented Sophia’s strength as a do-it-yourself artist, and her commitment to making Season Of Ghosts much more than just a studio project.

“One reporter at the festival put it best; she said you had to be living under a rock not to know that Season Of Ghosts was playing,” Sophia laughs. “It was surreal. We had to wake up at 7:00am and I’m not a morning person. I was tempted to have a couple beers before the show but it was too early in the morning even for me (laughs). I went out on stage and saw something like 1,000 people, and when we started playing people started coming into the venue from the market thing they had set up outside. We had a large audience watching us and cheering us on, and I was wondering what the fuck was wrong with those people (laughs). I mean that in the best way because I couldn’t be up that early for my favourite band, and we weren’t even the first band that day. The response was very heartwarming and very surprising. We brought as much merchandise as we could and it sold out very quickly, almost everything we had. I was very impressed.” Continue Reading

By Carl Begai

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To the metal world at large, vocalist/guitarist Bob Reid is best known as the current singer for Canadian thrash legends Razor. Those that didn’t blink might remember his SFH outfit after Razor folded following the release of Open Hostility in 1991. Since 2002, however, Reid has fronted and flogged his self-styled two fisted twisted rock n’ roll band Bobnoxious on an ever-appreciative fan following. Their latest album E.O.A. – named for the East Of Adelaide district in the band’s native London, Ontario – has been out for several months and by Reid’s account it has performed as expected: Bobnoxious plays weekends in and around Southern Ontario, the fans show up in droves for the party.

“Most of our fans are around our age, so they don’t take the time to write us or give feedback or do shit,” Reid laughs. “They show up at the gigs and tell us ‘Love the album, man!’ and that’s all I need. A flip of the horns and it’s all good. People are too busy working or partying to call and email me, which is good for me because I don’t have time to answer fan mail (laughs). I just like the fact people like the music. I’m not looking for any admiration. If people love the music, great, and if they hate it they can fuck off. I’m a music guy. I was brought up listening to Disney, listening to my Dad’s era of rock n’ roll, absorbing the ’80s speed metal scene, being a B-horror movie fan. I just like to absorb all that shit, put it into a processor and squish it out (laughs).”

“The funny thing is that when I started Bobnoxious, I wasn’t really sure if that first album was going to be the be next SFH album or not. I decided at the time to go with Bobnoxious because I was getting tired of seeing guys coming and going in other bands. The perception for some people was that if somebody in a band left, that band was over. I thought, fuck it, I’m going to call the band me (laughs) and if somebody comes and goes in the line-up, I don’t care.” Continue Reading

By Carl Begai

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It’s considered poor journalistic form for a writer to put himself / herself in what’s supposed to be an unbiased info piece, but the catalyst for this story was in fact my personal disdain for teenagers in the music business. A hypocritical attitude to some degree given that many of the bands and musicians I hail as personal heroes started in their teens, but in this day and age it doesn’t seem to matter if newcomers are talent free with regards to achieving success. More than ever, the worn out music industry cliché of record label suits snagging disposable prettygirls’n’boys and thrusting them into the public eye with an image and songs written by an overpriced producer seems to hold true. And it’s not an illlness restricted to the pop music world (Baby Metal, anyone?).

With that in mind, if I had stumbled upon 16 year-old Gabbie Rae Trial through normal online channels, I likely would have dismissed her as just another fresh-faced marketing mogul’s dream guaranteed to be history before the end of the year. As luck would have it, she was introduced to me through a Facebook post by Queensrÿche vocalist Todd La Torre, who is known for his talent and integrity. Having spoken with La Torre several times in the past, there was no way he would waste his time and breath on fluff. Asking him to elaborate, he made it clear that Gabbie Rae is the real deal as far as he’s concerned. Curiosity piqued by the song being hyped (‘Scream’), a trip through YouTube’s infinite wealth of music yielded a startling catalogue of Gabbie Rae material. It runs the gamut from singer/songwriter ballads, an anti-bullying song, pop covers, and some positively startling live acoustic renditions of metal classics from Dio, Iron Maiden and Queensrÿche.

Her killer cover of the Queensrÿche classic ‘Queen Of The Reich’ – which really shouldn’t work acoustically – was enough on its own to push for this interview.

“The first time I met Todd I told him that I’d covered a Queensrÿche song acoustically, I’m pretty sure he thought it was ‘Silent Lucidity’ or ‘I Don’t Believe In Love’ or something like that,” Gabbie Rae laughs. “But… nope (laughs). It’s kind of fun to mess with people.” Continue Reading

By Carl Begai

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Within 24 hours of the metal press being given advance access to the Devin Townsend Project’s new album, Z², reviews started popping up online. They invariably heralded the highly anticipated double album – split into Sky Blue and Dark Matters – as trademark Townsend musical genius existing on multiple levels of godlike awesomeness. With all due respect to my peers – many of whom are much better review writers than I am – you might want to go back and re-evaluate Townsend’s work and then your own. There’s simply no bloody way anyone gets the Z² album after only a few listens; it’s far too adventurous, emotional, chaotic and occasionally scatterbrained to be able to embrace it as a whole so easily. And indeed, some fans have voiced their disappointment since Z²’s official release. The simple fact is Sky Blue (Part 1) is not the thundering sequel to DTP’s Epicloud album from 2012 it was expected to be, although it does follow some similar lines. Likewise, Dark Matters (Part 2) is a different beast from the original Ziltoid The Omniscient that reared his bug-eyed head in 2007.

For one thing, Dark Matters seems almost kid-oriented as a target audience rather than being metaphorically driven as the Ziltoid The Omniscient album was.

“I think there’s a part of it that’s kid-oriented, but there’s another part to it,” says Townsend. “I’ve demanded a lot of my audience for years. I drew them in with heavy metal and gave them country, new age and ambient music. There’s a part of me that, when the support came, I decided that I did my artsy-fartsy movie (Sky Blue) so I needed to do my Michael Bay-type movie (Dark Matters) and then reconsider what I want to do musically. It’s not that the well is dry, it’s just that it’s been an intense amount of work for an intense amount of time. By finishing up with the Ziltoid thing, in one way it was a conclusion to what started seven years ago. Sure, it’s still metaphor because that’s how I write, but the surface of this is much different. It’s for people to enjoy. I think the Sky Blue element of it is where the emotional aspects of it went because I was frustrated by it, and because some heavy things happened during the making of the record. I listen back to Z² and I’m proud of it, but at the same time there’s a part of me saying ‘Okay, next!’ (laughs).” Continue Reading

By Carl Begai

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I first became aware of photographer Jeremy Saffer’s work through the promo campaign for Kamelot’s Silverthorn album in 2012. It was a single photo featuring vocalist Tommy Karevik flanked on either side by Kamelot’s live backing singers Alissa White-Gluz (Arch Enemy) and Elize Ryd (Amaranthe), which I found quite striking. An online search revealed Saffer to be someone who has established himself as a go-to photographer for people in the know, yet he remains below the radar to some degree. Saffer doesn’t have time to worry about whether people get or even know about his work, however, because he has several projects on the go at any given time. In fact, this interview was conducted as Saffer was gearing up for the release of his latest work(s) of art.

Taking on photography as a career is something that develops over time rather than waking up one day and saying “Eureka! I know what I’m gonna do with my life!” Saffer reveals that his love for music carved the path to becoming what amounts to a photographer to the gods…

“Like most metalheads I was a musician,” Saffer begins, “and on the side for fun I would take photos of bands; live shots only at the time. I had been shooting bands live for about three years when I started college at Berklee College Of Music… and I hated Berklee. It was an eye-opener for me that I didn’t want to play music for the rest of my life, which to me was shattering as it was my dream since I was little. So, in this struggle I was talking to a friend/mentor, as his advice is extremely important to me. I said ‘I’m at a loss, I don’t know what to do. I hate Berklee…’ He asked me what I liked to do, and without hesitation I said ‘Shoot bands, shoot shows.’ He looked at me as if I was the last one to get it. That look he gave me changed my entire mindset from ‘Okay, I photograph bands for fun, now I can do it for a career…’ So I went to a quick photo school and continued on my career, which has slowly gone from mostly live photos to mostly portraits.” Continue Reading

By Carl Begai

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Although she rose to fame in the ’90s as the female vocalist for pioneering doom goth act Theatre Of Tragedy, Liv Kristine is best known these days as the singer for Leaves’ Eyes. During their ongoing 10+ year run she’s also nurtured a solo career – launched in 1998 but pursued in earnest as of 2006 – that lives apart from her band’s symphonic metal realm. Up to this point Liv’s solo records have embraced rock and pop influences with hints of metal, causing a certain amount of confusion and/or disappointment amongst some of her fans. Her fifth album, Vervain, is going to polarize her followers yet again, as it finds Liv returning to the music that made her famous. Unashamed and excited, she makes no secret of the fact that Vervain was written in the spirit of Theatre Of Tragedy’s glory days. A surprise for some given Liv was fired from ToT in 2003, but anyone who has been attended her live solo shows in recent years knows she still has love for the Theatre Of Tragedy classics. Call Vervain her tribute to a unique and influential past.

“It was about a year ago that I decided this would be the right time to sit down and start composing again for another solo album,” Liv begins. “Thorsten (Bauer/guitars) asked me what I had in mind and I told him that I really wanted to go back to the roots and let all my influences from the early days of Theatre Of Tragedy into the music. It feels like a loss for me that the band no longer exists and nobody is playing those songs live. That’s what I had in mind with this album and I talked to Thorsten about it, and he just started composing the music. He did the whole album in half a year. Alex (Krull) produced the album, so it was all done here at home (Mastersound Studios). It just felt right to do it this way.”

The Theatre Of Tragedy vibe on Vervain may not be readily apparent, but as the album plays out there are passages that echo the darkness and melancholy of the band’s first three albums. The title track, for example, speaks loudly as a tip of the hat to Theater’s biggest hit “Der Tanz der Schatten” from Velvet Darkness They Fear. Continue Reading