sábado, 17 de janeiro de 2015

Interview: Zak Stevens (Circle II Circle, Savatage) - "The Best Times Are Yet to Come"

2015 comes with many expectations for Zak Stevens and all fans of his work, because in addition to a new album and other news in Circle II Circle, there is an expectation about "Savatage Reunion", heralded as one of the great attractions for the Wacken this year, renewing hopes for more band concerts, and maybe a permanent return.

We talked with Zak, who is mixing the new Circle II Circle album, with the hand of James Murphy, he said, an ideal name for the sound he want to the band,  about these expectations, career, music scene, the relationship with Brazil and more, and according to Zak, his expectations remain high, and the best time of his career is yet to come!

RtM: The Day I contacted you for this interview, you were in studio mixing the new Circle II Circle album. Could you tell us a bit about it? Which songs you believe that will be highlights on the album? There is already a release date?

Zak Stevens: We are actually still mixing the new CIIC album.  We are almost finished.  I can't talk about the actual song titles or the album title right now because we haven't submitted the album to our label quite yet.  As you'll see this is a very different and exciting album for CIIC.  It represents a musical transformation for us in many ways.  The musical style of this album is something we always had in us but we have waited until now to really show it.  There were slight hints of what is to come on the new album on our last most recent album "Seasons Will Fall", but nothing like the unexpected surprises you're going to hear.  You'll see what I mean when the new album is released next spring.  It should be released somewhere around March or April of 2015. 

RtM: What about the sound of this new album? Many fans point to the first two albums as the best of the band. What can we expect from this new album?

Z: The new album is a lot different than the first two as I was mentioning, but there are a few elements that resemble the earlier albums and keep it "grounded" to the traditional CIIC sound people have come to expect.  The new album is very modern in terms of the progressive metal sound that we have been migrating to the last few years while writing the album.  Both, the songs and the mix, are very modern compared to the past.  

I really wanted to evolve greatly from the past sound in a way because we want more in every aspect of our careers from this new album.  If we continued to go down the path of what we always done, we would only get what we've always gotten.  Not to say the past albums haven't been good for us, but it was the right time to launch forward and create a great new addition to our artistry and a solid new future for the band on this new record.

RtM: Is there a special guest on the album? And some another surprise or special edition for the fans?

Z: Yes there are guests on the album but they are performers you may have never heard of until now.  We decided to have some guests on backing vocals and also we also have some other surprises that propel will be amused with.  Again it's a bit too early to talk about that right now in detail, but everyone will find out soon enough.

RtM: Savatage had albums in a "Rock Opera" style (Streets), ans with them, you made several albums in the conceptual format. What about Circle II Circle, do you think to do something more in the same style, or maybe a Rock Opera, for example?

Z: To this point we have not done a "rock opera" record.  Probably because coming from Savatage, that has been something that I have been rather close to in terms of the "Dead Winter Dead" and "Wake of Magellan" albums from a "concept album" perspective.  CIIC has actually released two concept albums of our own in "Burden of Truth" and "Consequence of Power" but next year's release is also not a "concept" album per se.  Actually a lot of the themes on the new album reflect a similar subject matter, which has been the case with several CIIC CDs that are not "concept" albums.

RtM: Was very cool the promotion that you have done for the 60,000  views for "Diamond Blade" video, by the way, I see that you are always interacting with fans in networks, in the concerts, etc.... It reminded me that not all are like that, and many people see everything like a business oportunity, for an example a controversy  of Meet and Greets paid, and some artists charge high values for the fans to they have a contact, take pictures, get autographs. What do you think about that?

Z: Yes we enjoy all of the daily interation with our CIIC supporters and I personaly answer a lot of fan e-mails every day.  It takes a lot of time but it's defnitely well worth it.  But I think it is absolutely ridiculous that bands charge money from fans just to interact with them.  That's something that we see more and more of in today's music business.  I think the reason we see are seing this trend is because when bands start making money, the greed factor quickly starts to take over and bands start charging money for everything they can collect a dollar for.

We don't do that in CIIC.  We don't even charge for meet-n-greets or for fan club memberships.  We make anough money making albums and doing tours and selling our merchandise that we don't have to go there.  I especially see this a lot from bands that use to have success in the past, and they are still out their playing but they are probably angry that they are not making the amount of money they used to, so they start charging fans for everything they can charge them for. That's not a good precedent to set with fans and supporters in my opinion.

RtM:  It was announced this year that Savatage will make a special show at Wacken 2015! What was your reaction when realized that this reunion will happen? How were the negotiations? I believe that you are very happy with it, because i remember you  always demonstrated  the will that the band return to activities. Can you tell us a bit more about it, how will be this concert, set list, guests? Every Savatage fan in this world is dreaming with this concert now!!

Z: Well I understand the great buzz and excitement around the"reunuion" show and I absolutely expect to be there perfoming, of course.  When I first heard about it I was surprised it took this long for there to be a decision to have this concert.  Unfortunately We won't have any information about what is going to happen with the "reunion" until January.  So there are no further details on anything until then.  But all the guys in T.S.O. / Savatage are talking right now and we're just trying to make the Savatage "reunion" part of the T.S.O. show the best it can possibly be for all of the faithful Savatage fans that has have supported the band throughout all the years.

RtM: And Jon, surely he should have talked to you when the negotiations began to emerge? Did you feel that he is excited? Chris Caffery recently also commented that there is a possibility of something more than the Wacken concert? More shows? New album? Did you talk about something?

Z: Yes Jon and all the guys have spoken with me about the concert at Wacken.  Everything is still under negotiations at this time.  I am aware of Chris Caffery's comments on the "reunion" and Chris and I have always agreed on out feelings about Savatage and possible further activity.  So that doesn't surprise me in the least that he said that.  But then again Chris and I have been in agreement on that exact thing for years so we'll just have to see how Jon and Paul O'Neill feel about possibly continuing Savatage in the future.  After all they are the ones who make all of the decisions about the "reunion" and Savatage/T.S.O. business.

RtM: Jon said several times that Savatage ended up because not having a return in financial terms, and was one of the reasons that the band was stopping. Do you believe that a return of the band can now bring a different scenario? Also because I think that the work of Savatage, the legacy that the band is currently more recognized, and there are many new fans too.

Z: Of course I agree that the profile of Savatage has greatly increased because of the public knowledge that T.S.O. is actually basically a "re-configured" Savatage.  When I was in Savatage, it was a very lucrative enterprise for the most part and everyone in the band was paid well.  So of course the band could be an even more successful entity now that T.S.O. has raised its awareness and profile to a much a much higher level in the past few years.   During this period T.S.O. itself has raised the profile of my band CIIC to unheard of levels.  So from a business standpoint why wouldn't it do the same thing thing for the band it was formed from (Savatage)? 

RtM: Looking back, some years ago, would you tell us a little about your entry in Savatage, as was the beginning, your expectations, which hoped to accomplish with the band?

Z: Well you are talking about looking back about 20 years on this.  When I came into Savatage, I was a new inexperienced singer in the music business for the most part.  I learned much of what I know in the business from being in that band and also from watching the business transformation of the band into becoming T.S.O.  Of course I continued honing my writing and production skills in CIIC, but I owe it to all the players in Savatage for bringing me into the business and giving me a career that has spanned over 20 years.  My expectations were very high then and they continue to be high now.  It came down to my own personal drive and determination to make my career last this long and I believe the best times are yet to come from my career.

RtM: And when you left the band, including not participating in the latest album, "Poets and Madmens"? Today, you look back, feel regret not having participated in that album? What are the main reasons for your departure?

Z: No I don't feel any regrets whatsoever.  As you know these kinds of things happen every day in the music business.  I wouldn't trade the time I took out of Savatage to spend time with my family and at the time my newborn daughter (and later both of my daughters).  It was definitely a needed departure at the time.  Also at that same time we all knew that "Poets" was the final album for Savatage before the launch of T.S.O.  So in retrospect it was all done on good terms and the parting was very amicable.  All the guys in Savatage knew my situation at the time that I had to take that leave of absence.  That's why I have such a good relationship with all the Savatage and T.S.O. members and management to this very day.

RtM: Maybe it's a difficult question to answer, but what Savatage album and what the Circle II Circle as you point as your favorite?

Z: If I had to make a choice I would say that "Edge of Thorns" and "Handful of Rain" are my favorite Savatage albums and "Burden of Truth" and 'Seasons Will Fall" are my favorite CIIC albums to date.

RtM: And in your opinion, in which album is your best vocal performance?

Z:  Probably "Wake of Magellan" is my overall best vocal performance for a Savatage album and "Seasons Will Fall" is the best performance on a CIIC album. 

RtM: You have a great relationship with Brazil and Brazilian fans, coming here several times, including also participating in the album and gigs with Metal Opera Souslpell. I wish you  talk about this special relationship with Brazil and also your participation in Soulspell, singing along with Jon.

Z: Well I definitely have a special love affair with our followers, fans, and supporters in Brazil.  I speak to our Brazilain fans on our social media every day and they will tell you the same. I also have Brazilians on the CIIC team which includes guitarist Bill Hudson and our artist and web designer Joao Duarte of JDuarte Design, Inc.  I love Brazil and the people there bring so much goodwill to what we do.  

It's very obvious to anyone who views our social media pages that we really enjoy this aspect.  SSMO is only one of a few Brazilian bands and artists that I have collaborated with in the past.  And at this time it also looks like our first tour in support of the new CIIC album next will be in Brazil.  Things have been beautiful with CIIC's relationship with Brazil and I see this only improving in the future as we move forward into the years ahead.

RtM: And your idols, influences and references as a singer? What would you cite as the main?

Z: My main influences growing up were The Eagles, Ronnie James Dio (RIP), Geoff Tate, David Coverdale, Rob Halford.  Today I also follow Godsmack, A7X, Chris Daughtry, and Disturbed.

RtM: Who encouraged you to enter in the music the beginning, to be a professional musician? Have you ever wanted to be a singer from the beginning?

Z: The first person to inspire me into music was when I was 8 years old was the big brother of my best  friend in fifth grade in elementary school who told me one day that he was going to make me a singer and a drummer.  I was a bit surprised by this but it sounded like a lot of fun.  So I started out playing the drums when I was 9 and I have been a professional drummer for about 35 years.  I made the transition to fronting bands as a vocalist when I was 22 and I became an Atlantic Records recording artist with Savatage when I was 26.  I had always wanted to be a front man vocalist but I waited to make the jump from percussion after I finished college.

 RtM: And the tour of the new album by Circle II Circle? There are contacts for coming to Brazil?

Z: Yes, our first tour for the new CIIC album should be in Brazil so we are very much looking forward to that as we always do.  We always have an awesome time in Brazil!!  

RtM: Zak, thanks for your time dedicated to answering this interview, it was an honor, I am a fan of your work! Is the space for your message to the Brazilian fans!

Z: Of course I want to say thank you to all of our supporters in Brazil for all the fantastic energy and support you have given us in the past seven years we have been touring there.  It get bigger and bigger every time we tour there and we have gained so many friends and great relationships in Brazil.  WE LOVE YOU ALL!!  See you soon!!!  Thank you for everything Brazil!!  

Interview by: Carlos Garcia, with the colaboration of Renato Samsom and Fernanda Luísa

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