By Carl Begai
Guitarist / vocalist / self-styled hand model Jason Bieler was a founding member and the main songwriter for Saigon Kick, launched in 1988. The band’s on again / off again career had more twists, turns, ups and down than a drug-addled rollercoaster designer’s masterpiece, but longstanding fans agree to a man (and woman) that Saigon Kick’s first two albums – the self-titled debut (1991) and The Lizard (1992) – are untouchable works of distortion heavy art (your arguments are invalid). While the band has since been laid to rest Bieler continues to make music, and in fact he never stopped even when they were in a holding pattern for years at a time. Most of it has been released independently over Bandcamp under the Owl Stretching moniker, but Bieler decided towards the end of 2019 to work on a second full blown solo album rather just single releases. The end result is Songs For The Apocalypse featuring a literal truckload of guest musicians playing to and for Bieler’s unique vision. And even though it will satisfy many a Saigon Kick fan’s want for something heavy from the man – this is the loudest he’s been in ages – one should leave all preconceived notions at the door before going in.
Prior to the making of Songs For The Apocalypse, Bieler began moving away from the Owl Stretching name in favour of his own. Devised as a one-man project with the goal of bringing a song to life within 24 hours of coming up with an idea, Owl Stretching was an ongoing experiment used to refine his craft. Sadly, not as many people were aware of it as there should have been, but the new album may change that by putting the Jason Bieler name in lights.
“That could happen,” agrees Bieler. “Having the label I’m with now (Frontiers) and talking to different people that I work with, they all told me ‘Dude, you don’t realize you’re already obscure, so by naming it Owl Stretching you aren’t helping the cause in any way, shape or form. You’re making looking for a needle in a haystack the logical choice compared to what you’re doing.’ And they were right, of course. I decided to just change it to my name to make it a little bit easier for those people that were looking.”
Continue reading JASON BIELER – A Playground For The Demented
By Carl Begai
With the global pandemic’s continued stranglehold on everyday life, the goal here – unlike the tabloids that masquerade as metal websites – is to push conversation far away from everything virus-related in the interest of (blackened) soul-healing music. There are some instances, however, where it’s necessary to address COVID-19 and its effect on an artist’s career. Or in Devin Townsend’s case his current activities. Forced to scrap his Empath tour plans for 2020, Canada’s own Strapping Young Lad has released Order Of Magnitude – Empath Live Volume 1 to commemorate his December 2019 show in London, England, but this is only a dusting of what he’s been up to. Since March, Townsend launched a semi-ongoing podcast, streamed a series of off-the-cuff songs Quarantine Project songs to keep folks entertained, launched an effort to raise money for his out-of-work crew through merchandise sales, has performed a series of Quarantine Concerts to raise money for hospitals in Canada, the US and the UK, and put together a “virtual band” livestream show to make up for this year’s appearance at the Bloodstock Open Air getting blown out. No, boredom is certainly not an issue for Townsend in these trying times.
Devin: “I think I’m okay. It’s obviously very stressful in a lot of ways. Whether or not one subscribes to it, it’s the underlying anxiety that comes from this toxic and divisive period in time. It’s impossible to ignore. I think that undercurrent has made the fact that I’m finally at home and I’m finally in my studio a bittersweet thing because there’s not a lot of inspiration. It’s like, what are you going to write about? Are you going to compound the existing anxiety by writing about how you’re anxious? That doesn’t make any sense. It’s forced me to be outside my comfort zone, and that has propelled me down a lot of different avenues that I never anticipated being a part of. It’s been very fruitful, to be honest, and I should feel much worse than I do. All signs point to constant darkness and anxiety, but I’m trying to be as pro-active with that as possible so I don’t let that happen.”
Continue reading BraveWords Interview: DEVIN TOWNSEND – “Let Me Tell You Why”
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
If you’ve ever seen Anneke van Giersbergen perform live, you know that her set is loaded with positive energy regardless of whether she’s performing something heavy, pop-oriented, or melancholic / atmospheric / goth flavoured from her days with The Gathering. Drive ranks as Anneke’s strongest solo outing to date (including her Agua de Annique records), bar none. Sure, that’s the rock n’ roll metalhead talking, but there’s no denying Drive feels like a no-nonsense live set laid down in the comfort of home.
Guitar, bass, drums, occasional keys, and Anneke’s bloody awesome voice are the magic behind Drive. A completely rock-driven package (with the exception of ballad ‘My Mother Said’), tracks ‘We Live On’, ‘Treat Me Like A Lady’ and ‘She’ are neatly arranged to ease the lister in before hammering things home with soaring trademark Anneke choruses. Title track ‘Drive’ is crafted for exactly that purpose – top down, pedal to the floor – and ‘You Will Never Change’ is a step up from ‘Drive’ in tempo and intensity; also the heaviest track on the record… although ‘The Best Is Yet To Come’ surprises with a ballsy footstomp groove. Anneke still has one of the strongest and most identifiable voices around. Continue reading ANNEKE VAN GIERSBERGEN – New Album Review: “Feels Like A No-Nonsense Live Set Laid Down In The Comfort Of Home”
So, me and my extended BW&BK family have issued our individual Best Of 2012 lists because that’s the sort of thing you do in this biz as the new year kicks off. I’ve decided to post my long-winded overview of the last 12 months here, with a link provided leading to my Top 10 Albums list along with other honourable (and dishonourable) mentions…
It was a rollercoaster of a year, as they all are in the music biz.
From being blindsided by Halestorm’s new album The Strange Case Of… and becoming a fan against my will, to dealing with a fuckwit promo rep at Roadrunner Records who decided to change my questions in an email interview because she felt they were “too harsh” for her artist (um, shouldn’t that be for the artist to decide?), to bucket list interviews with Brighton Rock’s Gerry McGhee and the lovely Lita Ford, to witnessing some amazing shows on both sides of the pond, 2012 has been quite the adventure.
See the list here for the Hot and Not albums of my year, then pick apart my sanity at your leisure.
Gotta say that I was surprised at not being disappointed by any of the shows I was able to attend this year. The third annual European run of Rock Meets Classic featuring Ian Gillan (Deep Purple), Steve Lukather (Toto), Chris Thompson (Manfred Mann’s Earth Band), three-fifths of Primal Fear’s roster and Trillium vocalist Amanda Somerville was positively brilliant, with PF singer Ralf Scheepers going above and beyond lending his voice to the Toto hit ‘Rosanna’ (!). Watching Devin Townsend successfully manipulate a Motörhead crowd into doing his bidding was a gut-buster, seeing former Helloween members Michael Kiske and Kai Hansen on stage together with Unisonic belting out classics ‘I Want Out’ and ‘Future World’ was ’87 surreal, and the Leaves’ Eyes / Firewind tour that looked so weird on paper turned out to be one of the best gigs of the past 12 months.
Nightwish gets a scrapbook all its own due to a brilliant show in Nuremberg – featuring more pyro than the sun – and a day and night hanging with some of the finest people in the metal business. Continue reading BW&BK 2012: The Scribes Speak Day 3 – Carl Begai
By Carl Begai
“In his music he has the perfect symbiotic relationship between heavy and melody and true emotions and feelings. It’s just so pure and so heavy. When I was singing for the Epicloud album I told him I could hear West Side Story in the music. It’s so fairytale-like but so damn heavy.”
The above comment from vocalist Anneke van Giersbergen with regards to the Devin Townsend Project’s new album, Epicloud – offered during a May 2012 interview with yours truly – could have turned out to be a glaring case of too-close-to-the-music enthusiasm. Understandable given the high of her first successful foray into Hevy Devy’s world with the Addicted record in 2009, but from a discerning open-minded Townsend fan’s perspective her words sum up the album perfectly. It plays with his trademark heavy on a canvas of melody, seemingly executed with a musical stage play in mind, and Townsend clearly unafraid of mixing his not entirely hidden pop tendencies with the crushing metal he’s known for. In fact, he doesn’t give a good goddamn what people think in the grand scheme of things if they choose to dismiss Epicloud as worthless. Townsend made the record for himself and anyone else who gets off on being entertained.
“I think for me, because I spent so many years writing records that threw curveballs at people out of a fear of success or failure, I never really allowed myself to make a record that was just straight up,” says Townsend. “I let myself go on autopilot for this one and I was actually surprised by what came out naturally. When I finished it I sat back and listened to it the same way I did with Alien (Strapping Young Lad), and I was thinking ‘What the hell did you make here?’ (laughs). I just allowed myself to write a bunch of stuff that seemed to be appropriate, and when all was said and done my first reaction was that Epicloud was too vulnerable, too exposed. They were going to kick me out of the Chess Club for not being progressive. I thought I was going to get lambasted for doing something like this.” Continue reading BW&BK Interview: DEVIN TOWNSEND – Exposed To The Maximum
By Carl Begai
Anneke van Giersbergen is the personification of positive energy.
People that remember her as the vocalist for The Gathering wouldn’t think so given the melancholic nature of the band’s music, but her latest solo album Everything Is Changing is a rock oriented journey fused with generous doses of pop music, light-hearted and almost playful in its execution. It was therefore appropriate that this interview took place on a warm and sunny day outside the venue where she was performing that night, ultimately delivering a show reflecting her upbeat state of mind. It was one of several gigs lined up for the remainder of 2012, and while Anneke refers to her schedule as being “murderous” on occasion, she wouldn’t have it any other way.
“It looks very busy, and we are very busy, but when I was with The Gathering we toured way more than I do now. Usually I don’t tour more than two weeks at a time. It’s a balancing act. Every Sunday that we’re home, we (Anneke and husband / drummer Rob Snijders) look at this kind of mathematical schedule and try to figure out how the hell we’re going to fit everything we have to do into one week (laughs).”
Although she left The Gathering in 2007 there are plenty of people that only clued into Anneke’s work as a solo artist with the release of Everything Is Changing. She has in fact been quite active since her departure, releasing a total of four albums under the Agua de Annique banner before deciding she wasn’t doing herself any favours using a band name. It turns out that while the group dynamic was a comfort zone for Anneke, it was also something of a crutch and often confusing for the fans.
“That’s exactly why I dropped the band name. Nobody got it. And the thing is, it was only a name because for some reason when I left The Gathering, the first thing I did was come up with a band name even though I was going solo. I think it was just because I was used to being in a band. I hand-picked the people who work with me and it’s my band, but I’m a solo artist, so it’s a curious thing. Maybe it was a case of being a little bit shy at the beginning, because to go out under your own name is tough. I also thought that the name Anneke van Giersbergen would be a tough name for people abroad…” Continue reading ANNEKE VAN GIERSBERGEN – Making Changes: Epicloud And Proud
By Carl Begai
There was a time when Amanda Somerville’s name was merely another footnote in the metal biz. Her career as a solo artist had legs as of 2000, but in the world of greasy long-haired distortion and debauchery Somerville was a behind-the-scenes helper, credit given where it was due on a guest artist roster or in a thank you list. In 2003 she took the daring plunge into a realm that was still something of a mystery to her, creating the Aina – Days Of Rising Doom metal opera with her Gate Studios colleagues, finally putting a voice and face to her name. Since then, Somerville has become a popular member of the metal world, garnering a fanbase that follows and her work even if it may not always float their respective hull-of-steel boats. Now, after years of offering her voice and knowledge to acts like Epica, Avantasia, HDK and Kiske/Somerville, “the blonde chick” has stepped into a spotlight of her own making.
And it’s very, very metal.
“I’ve been throwing around the idea of doing this over the last few years,” she reveals. “It really kind of tipped the scales doing HDK. There’s a saying in German, ‘I licked blood,’ which is disgusting but appropriate I guess, since there’s a song about vampires on the album (laughs). I’ve always done my own thing. People know me mainly from collaborations I’ve done with and for other bands, but I started out as a solo artist and I stayed one throughout. Having done all of this stuff in the metal scene for more than a decade now, it’s only natural that it rubbed off on me. I like it, and the songs that I’ve written in the last several years have been very dark and gotten heavier. Basically, I was just going to make my next solo album more metal, but then I decided I’d prefer to keep the waters a little cleaner in terms of doing a metal project. It’s a little weird if I say I’m going to do a metal album and then throw in a jazz ballad (laughs). I don’t want to compromise, and I’ve got so much material now that I might as well do a total metal album and keep my solo stuff completely separate. That way I can do what I want and not have to apologize to anybody.”
Sounds suspiciously like a typical day at the office for former Strapping Young Lad mad scientist Devin Townsend, another prolific singer / songwriter / musician prone to switching musical gears and doing so effortlessly. Somerville is in good company.
“Yeah, like that. It’s me, Devin and Garth Brooks doing his Chris Gaines thing (laughs). It’s us funky musicians and our split personalities.” Continue reading TRILLIUM – …By Any Other Name
By Carl Begai
Devin Townsend has been on and off the road for the past year pushing his “this was me, this is where I’m going” tetralogy, kicked off by the Ki album and yanked into motion with Addicted in 2009. At press time he was gearing up for the release of Deconstruction and Ghost, totalling four very different records that scared the hell out of a large part of his fanbase.
“It’s funny,” laughs Townsend. “I think of the whole process of these four records – and granted, I’m completely self-centered when it comes to why I write because I’m not catering to what people want (laughs) – a lot of it came down to confronting a fear I had of myself and my own process. I remember years ago, I was always second guessing what I did under the assumption of ‘How are people going to perceive this?’ These four records, the whole thing was saying ‘Fuck it.’ If I’m accountable to myself in terms of trying to be the best person I can be, if I let it flow naturally, there’s no more that needs to be said. What I can say about these four records is that there’s nothing on them conceptually or lyrically that I can’t stand behind.”
Which brings Townsend to the point he’s been trying to make since the release of Ki; there won’t be another Strapping Young Lad album. Talk of Deconstruction being the heaviest, craziest music he’d ever written – a claim made by Townsend and several people around him – had fans thinking it would be SYL music under a different name. Turns out it’s anything but that. Continue reading BW&BK Interview: DEVIN TOWNSEND – Leaving The Lad Behind