MUSIC WRITER IN JAPAN
10th March 2021
Joseph Michael and Jake Dreyer
Q: Hi guys, how’s everything going?
MJ: Oh man...everything’s great besides the whole virus thing.
JD: Yeah it’s been quite a year and 2021 hasn’t been really great either although we did get the album out so if we do die tomorrow that’s another part of our legacy living on.
Q: The last time we talked which was rather astonishingly just two years ago you were just about to release the Vintage EP…
JD: Yeah that’s right.
Q: Alex had just joined the band then...
JD: Oh wow...that seems like an eternity ago.
Q: It must be a bit frustrating not to get out there and play the last album with the new line-up.
JM: We’ve never been able to tour!
JM: Adam died so we couldn’t tour the first record and then with Prelude To Sorrow, no one would let us tour with them except Sonata Arctica and then the world skipped a year.
JD: Yeah it’s a shame around this time too because with Curse Of Autumn, we had a tour set for February and March with Evergrey - it was actually supposed to be now - and Evergrey have a record that is doing quite well too so it would have been the perfect time for both bands to be out there, promoting the records properly, the way it’s meant to be done but now it’s been put off to Oct/Nov but who the fuck knows if that’s going to happen. It’s another curse.
JM: At some point on Amazon, their record was No.2 and ours was No. 4. Can you imagine if we were out on the road and able to push that? If we were touring in Germany where we are already getting those numbers, they would have had the No. 1 record easily.
JD: Yeah it’s a shame but what can we do? We’ve been trying to do more videos, a video for every song just to keep the name out there but there’s something to be said about the whole live show and we’re not going to stream; we’re not one of those bands that do the live streaming stuff.
Q: Personally, I think that’s the right decision. I’ve been invited to watch a lot of streaming shows and I’ve watch a half a dozen and it doesn’t work for me.
JD: I’m a huge Kiss fan and I paid for the Kiss one - the New Year’s Eve thing - and I was watching it with Gene and Paul up there thinking ‘Why the fuck are we here?’ Paul’s screaming out ‘hello all you people!’ and of course there’s nobody there. So yeah, that’s not our thing at all and I think tons of bands have found out that it’s not a great investment either.
Q: Well the good thing is that when you do finally get to Japan, you’ll be able to do two completely different sets; the new album and the last one.
JD: We’ll probably do three as we may well have another album out at that point.
JM: Let’s do four!
Curse Of Autumn
Q: Well that’s fine by me! Let’s get to the album, Curse Of Autumn. How have the reviews been so far?
JM: I’ve read some really interesting takes on the record.
JD: I’m just reading yours now...the great gig in the sky for Adam - yes, and you got the full version of the Boston song too, that’s great.
Q: As I wrote in the review, my initial thought on receiving copy my initial thought was could you come up with the same level of material without having the same subject matter that you had on Prelude to Sorrow but yes, you did.
JD: Thanks man.
JM: Yeah there is still some sentimental stuff like the song about my father but this was overall a more angry and vengeful record.
Q: I’m glad the veil has lifted if that would be the correct way of putting it. I’m really interested in how you managed to get what we call light and shade on the record where a song seems to pen up and then close down again. That’s missing a lot in production these days; you guys create atmospheres in songs.
JD: That’s one of our biggest goals to do that and again, we are way more influenced by bands from the 70s than we are modern Metal bands. When you listen to the records that wee around that time and the production and writing, it put you on a journey, a whole palate of different colours and shades. It was not monochromatic which I think with a lot of Heavy Metal production, it almost sounds like the same song for 45 minutes, it doesn’t really tell a different story whereas Queen - which is the band we always wanted to be - you put on that and it's a rollercoaster ride.
Q: So what is your song writing process?
JM: It’s pure composition, very organic. We write everything kind of holistically so there is no piecing things together. Jake might have an idea for a riff that makes sense as a verse and then I might hear something and then we’ll just sit there and figure it out. ‘What’s the chord modulation?’ ‘How is that going to go?’ ‘This would be cool as a secondary verse or a pre-chorus’ and then we come up with something that works under that. Then, by the time we get that far in the composition, we know each other so well that we know exactly where it’s going. It’s really very simple.
JD: Yeah we don’t have any of those things like ‘I’m going to steal a riff from this song that I wrote five years ago and put it in here’. Every song is it’s own thing and all the parts need to be cohesive. A lot of the time we get asked how it all works together with a song like ...And It All Blew Away. It wasn’t random; all those parts were written for that song and theme and the more I thought about that, that’s why it works. It doesn’t sound like we are trying to make something fit or make something work in it. That way of writing doesn’t make any sense to me.
Q: Well that’s good old fashioned songwriting.
JD: Yeah! Pretty much.
Q: You mentioned Queen and Brighton Rock and Bohemian Rhapsody of course, that’s how they did it.
JD: Yeah and that’s how Joseph and I write. Joseph has said that it’s a lot like Lennon and McCartney used to do it in that we are in the same room together going off the energy. If something is really exciting, it’s going to keep that spark going and if something’s not right, it’s not worth exploring. You can tell that right there. It’s way more organic and we’ve never file-shared saying ‘use this’. The only time we do anything like that is when I put a riff on a voice memo with my cat screaming in the background and send it to Joseph and he’ll say he likes it and let’s get together.
JM: I’ll use the singer analogy as well. Some singers write and sing melodies and some just have ideas and throw stuff out there; we don’t do that at all. It doesn’t matter what instrument it is, there are certain writers that have their preset licks and riffs and that’s what ends up in the songs and then there are the ones that actually compose music and that’s the ones that we are. We think about it in our heads and have no idea what the final tonality will be. Music first, from your head, to the paper or sometimes if I’m just trying to capture something or Jake has an idea but we don’t know what it is yet, I’ll just get it into pro-tools right there in the moment so we don’t lose it and go back to it later.
JD: If you were to hear our demos...
JD: ...our demos are a language that only Joseph and I can understand. They are not even demos; they are basically just notes.
JM: It’s like all the old scores, you can’t read the ledger lines. What you hear now in the final polished classical pieces that are played in orchestras and on CDs, that’s probably not exactly what was in their heads because who the fuck can even read that chicken-scratch? Then there are all the interpretations of the stuff that is not a finite definition, the Italian terms and everything.
Classical Music Interlude
Q: Absolutely right and as an aside, I had a discussion with Classical Music magazine over here recently and it’s links and influences to Rock and I raised the question that we know what Rock musicians write about but do we really know what Classical composers wrote about?
JD: They had their own versions of death and sadness. Mozart, when he was a little kid and his father put him on tour, almost died. In Beethoven, you can hear a lot of pain in that writing, it is some of the darkest stuff out there in my opinion and that’s why I love a lot of Beethoven. I love the romantic era as well, Chopin but there is a lot of pain in that. He experienced a lot of pain because he died of syphilis.
JM: It was probably madness. Some of those chords are ‘What the fuck?’
JD: Yeah sometimes it’s really beautiful and sometimes ‘wow!’ Chopin would also title his as well like The Raindrop Prelude so he would emote something.
JM: Beethoven would also do that.
JD: Yeah the Moonlight Sonata.
Q: I learned a lot through that discussion. Bach used to write a piece for his local church every Sunday, perform it once and then burn it so it could never be performed again. It’s impossible to know how many wonderful pieces were lost this way and we will never get to hear.
JD: That’s the first I’ve heard about that and that’s pretty incredible.
JM: Well that was common back then because if it was still written down, someone could steal it. There was no publishing back then that you could go to and say ‘Print a thousand copies and give me 20%’. People would just steal it and copy it for themselves and play it in their living room or whatever.
Interlude over, new members
Q: We should get back to Witherfall...we will have another conversation about Classical in the future but for now, you also have new members in the band.
JD: Yes we’ve had Anthony Crawford who has been a part of our madness since Nocturnes And Requiems but on this one we got Marco Minnemann who is incredible! His name speaks for itself as does his playing on the record. The story - which isn’t a funny story because it caused us a lot of headaches - is that we were supposed to use Gergo Borlai from Prelude To Sorrow because he is amazing too but Covid happened. He got trapped in Spain but when that happened, the first guy we thought of was Marco and Joseph cold emailed him. He was on tour in Germany with The Aristocrats...
JM: Actually he was in Spain and Italy but he got out just in time and moved to Germany so we almost didn’t have him.
JD: Yeah and that would have been a real shame because Marco is just phenomenal in the studio and we had a great time hanging out. He would be right there with us talking about the classical stuff and I remember when we were doing the instrumental piece and I was telling him’ Some of this stuff is influenced off Chopin and Beethoven and Liszt’ and he was saying ‘Those are my favourite composers. I know what you were thinking’. I think we consumed three bottles of wine in fifteen minutes after recording one night (laughs).
Q: I’ve got to hang out with you guys one day.
JM: That was a fun evening. Marco’s got some great stories.
JD: Oh Marco’s got some of the best Rock ‘n’ Roll stories you’ve ever heard but yeah, just on a personal level it was amazing. My favourite moment when we were recording is when we were working on the instrumental section in ...And They All Blew Away. Multiple time changes, tempo changes and Joseph and I were saying ‘Ok, let’s see how long this is going to take’ and Marco, first take, nails it.
JM: It was insane.
JD: Yeah and then he said ‘No no no. I can give you seven other versions of that.’
JM: I think his heart beats in 11/8...I actually told him ‘no’ and looked at Brad the engineer and said ‘Do we have that? Was the punch good?’ and he said yeah so I said fuck it. We don’t need anything else for that and that is a huge piece of music, a quarter of the length of the record and the hardest section was the easiest for him.
JD: Yeah being a composer and working with people like Anthony and Marco is one of the best parts because you can tell them what you have in your head, what your vision is and they can take it, digest it and give you their version of exactly what you want. I’ve worked with other people where the highs are high but the lows are tedious; you have to drink three bottles of wine to get through it.
Q: Well don’t sell yourselves short here guys, you are no slouches when it comes to playing either.
JD: Well we had Schaffer (Jon Schaffer, Producer) who made us feel like that at times. (laughs) He was there to coach us and made us execute our parts as best as we could. He knew what our potential was. He’d keep at us until he got what he knew we could do.
Q: I’m intrigued that you do covers that are far from the obvious. On A Prelude To Sorrow you did Tom Petty and Helloween song for the bonus tracks on the Japanese release. On Curse Of Autumn you do two versions of a Boston song, one for a bonus track.
JM: I knew Tom Sholz growing up. He used to get his lawnmower at my grandfather’s shop. Tom and Joe Bonamassa’s Dad had a guitar shop and I’d go in there and they’d give me deals on guitars as I was the local guitar player kid and they were all really nice to me; I got to see Tom Scholz’s laboratory which was pretty cool. Anyway, we had been trying to cover that song and we were thinking that we might do a version the way Killswitch Engage do Dio’ Holy Diver by making it heavier, a Metal song but the way it’s written it’s so happy and it wasn’t working because it’s got Prog elements and shred stuff and enough vocal harmonies to have fun with but the mood didn’t sit right with us. So we abandoned it and picked up a couple of different songs and worked on them but they were not really resonating because we do these as a kind of break from writing. Take the Tom Petty song. Jake and I were working on Shadows at my place and we had always just jammed on stuff while we were together and Jake started playing the regular version of I Won’t Back Down and I just started singing it and thought ‘What if we slowed it down a bit’? We did the same with the Boston song (Long Time).and made it a little sadder but we didn’t really change of the notes at all. Jake said ‘What can we do with the chords to make it darker?’ and of course the obvious thing is the relative minor. So he starts playing it and it’s the right direction, he makes it move and it just made total sense and then he wrote that really cool 9th chord arpeggio sequence and that was it - we were going to do it that way and thinking about the vocals, it makes so much sense because it’s a really sad lyric. I have a weird story because I went back to upstate New York and I saw Tom Scholz just randomly in a gas station. ‘Oh my god! Tom! What’s going on?’ He asked about my grandfather and I asked ‘When are you guys playing?’ because I was going to be in town for a couple of months and he said ‘You don’t know?’. Then he told me that Brad had killed himself and I felt like an idiot because I didn’t know but if you look at the lyrics, the way we approached it was from the frame of reference of Brad.about to take his own life and that really informed the emotional content of it. I think that’s where we were coming from it.
JD: Yeah and another thing, as Joseph said we almost ended up abandoning it and the way we ended up doing it was right under our noses as it was the same way of doing it as the Tom Petty song.
JM: The weird thing about the Tom Petty one as well is that it is harmonically ambiguous so all Jake did was leave out the 3rds.
Q: We have to wrap this up but a quick word about Artwork guy - outstanding. I love the consistency.
JD: That’s something we really hold, our vision. It’s almost like a Witherfall series, four different paintings.
Q: Yes and you have logo that you can read as well!
JD: Yeah! Who would have thought that you would need to read your product? That was no.1 on our list to Anthony Clarkson who designed it; you need to be able to read the word.
Q: Excellent. Jake and Joseph, always a pleasure to talk and we’ll talk again soon, hopefully in Japan.
JD: Thanks man and thanks for the great review.
JM: Cheers man. Until the next time...