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7 Miles To Pittsburgh

De debuutplaat van de nieuwe Nederlandse band 7 Miles To Pittsburgh was zeker één van de betere platen die ik de laatste maanden heb mogen beluisteren, vooral dankzij het bijzonder energieke en fris klinkende materiaal. Nu zijn Martin Helmantel (ex-Elegy) en Andrew Elt (ex-Sleeze Beez) natuurlijk erg ervaren muzikanten, maar toch was het door hun opgeleverde album een erg positieve verrassing voor mij. Met laatstgenoemde had ik een gesprek over het ontstaan van de band, hun debuutplaat en de plannen voor de nabije toekomst.

Door: Sjak | Archiveer onder heavy / power metal

Hi Andrew, it’s been quite a while since we heard from you. What have you been up to in the years after the successes that you had with Sleeze Beez?
The first thing that I did after Sleeze Beez was founding a cover band called The Heavy 70s, which was also with Martin Helmantel by the way, and from that a new band was started called The Moon, together with Don van Spall who was also in Sleeze Beez and these bands were more of a way to see how we could move on after Sleeze Beez. We managed to keep this going for about five or six years, from 1995 to 2000, and we also recorded an independent release with The Moon. It didn’t lead to big successes and from 2000 onwards I’ve been more active as a tour manager and less as a musician.

Besides The Moon and The Heavy 70s you were also involved in the Led Zeppelin tribute band Physical Graffiti. What is the actual status of this one?
I’m still doing all kind of things in the music business and with Physical Graffiti we’re up to our seventh year now. The whole tribute scene is quite active and we were among the first in that scene, which gave us the opportunity to really catch on to the hype. Physical Graffiti is a really good band and it allows you to fill the gaps and still do something with music when you’re not active with own material or other projects. You can still do live shows and keep your voice in a good shape.

Did you think that you would ever start up a new band again with own material?
No, not really. I’m not the type of song writer which can create three new song a day on an acoustic guitar, I’m more somebody who picks the moments when the right atmosphere is there. Then I’m very capable of writing beautiful things, even when it is in a last-minute situation. I always had to feel this kind of “pressure’ to be able to write great songs. Since I no longer felt this pressure, I didn’t write a lot of material anymore. That changed a bit with 7 Miles To Pittsburgh, although at first it wasn’t the intention to make a record. We just started writing new material together over the course of a couple of years and it was kind of surprising for me that this would lead to me joining a new band again.

In 2014 then the seed for 7 Miles To Pittsburgh was planted by Martin (Helmantel) and Joris (Lindner). When and how did you get involved?
Of course I knew Martin already for a very long time and when he called me for this project of course I was very willing to give it a listen. The original ideas that they had were rough sketches without vocals, which sounded quite okay, but I didn’t really know what to do with it. So at first I told them that this wasn’t really something for me, but Martin was quite persistent and therefore I decided to give it a shot under the condition that I could do things my way. I grabbed their ideas, started working on it and much to my surprise and also theirs I came back with songs that were almost finished. They were quite amazed by this and then the three of us saw that it could really work. From that moment on 7 Miles To Pittsburgh was a serious affair.

What was the game plan that you had when the band was a fact and you had finished the song writing?
From all the songs that we had, high quality demos were recorded which sounded really professional already. We let some people listen to the material because at a given time you also want to hear other opinions and everybody fell of his chair because they were so positively surprised by the quality level of the songs. That triggered us to start re-recording the material and somewhere in 2016 we got the idea that we could really make a record out of this and actually release it.

You consciously decided to make it an independent release as I assume that for this kind of quality material it’s not too hard to find a record label?
We have had some flirts with different record companies and everybody really loved the material but they couldn’t really place it as in their opinion it was too heavy and too varied to be able to properly market it. Therefore we decided to do things ourselves and bring it to market as an independent release. Soon thereafter we got a proper distribution deal with Suburban, which was of course a big help for us.

Although the band consists of the three of you, there’s an important role for Wil Maas (Hammond organ) as well. Why isn’t he a full-time member of the band then and how will you fill his part in a live setting?
For a long time Wil has been the keyboard player of Ilse de Lange and since I had done some tours with Ilse as a guitar tech, I knew Wil was a terrific Hammond organ player. So when we needed somebody to do the Hammond organ parts for our album I asked Wil if he was interested in doing this. Luckily for us he was very willing to do this, but because Wil is very busy with all his other musical project he couldn’t be a full-time member of our band. Furthermore it’s very hard to get such an experienced musician in a band that at that time didn’t have any gigs planned yet. Although he’s not a full-time member we have solved this issue by adding a keyboard player and a drummer to the band for our live-shows.

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How did you come up with the not quite common name of 7 Miles To Pittsburgh?
I’m already in the music business since I was sixteen years old and it’s always been very hard to come up with a proper name for a band. And nowadays it’s often the case that when you come up with a great band name, you find out that’s it already taken and that you can’t use it. So this proved to be one of the hardest tasks that we had to accomplish, finding a great name for the band that wasn’t taken already. At a certain time we started to look at our own lyrics to see whether then contains a suitable name. Then we stumbled onto the opening line of our second song ‘Pittsburgh’, which contained the phrase 7 Miles To Pittsburgh and we immediately agreed that this would be a great name for the band. Luckily there was no band around with this name, so therefore it became our band’s name.

One of the strengths of the album in my opinion is that the records really sounds coherent, but there’s still a lot of variety in the song material. Is this something that spontaneously happens during the song writing process or were you deliberately looking for this variety in the material?
That’s hard to say as the ideas for the different songs originated independently from one another. I think that this diversity is mainly due to Joris and Martin and their ideas that they originally had. We had no fixed formula, but just went in the studio to try and write the best music we possibly could. The different songs fit together quite well however and that accounts for the coherent overall album sound.

What are typical ingredients that you are looking for in a great 7 Miles To Pittsburgh song before you decide to record it?
Personally I try to listen very objectively to a certain song and if you’re able to listen to your own music as if you are an outsider, you can really judge on the basis of the quality of the song and not whether you wrote pieces of it yourself and such. In this way you can quite easily determine which song works for the band and which one doesn’t.

I like the whole album a lot, but if you had to pick one tune that would represent 7 Miles To Pittsburgh best, which one would that be and why?
That’s a tough question, but the song ‘Lost And Found’ knows a very calm built-up while the chorus is quite unexpectedly really hard-hitting and for me that’s a good blueprint of what 7 Miles To Pittsburgh stands for.

Did you write and/or record more material than what’s featured on this debut album? If so, which songs and what is going to happen with them?
Martin and Joris had about twenty ideas originally and I’ve made the choice which idea would work and which not. But the ideas that weren’t used this time are still there and, although we didn’t do anything with them so far, if I listen to these ideas now they have lots of potential. So for a possible next album we have quite some material that can be used already.

Who’s responsible for the lyrical part and what are some of the subjects that you like to write about?
The song titles were already there and they came from Martin, but I was responsible for all the lyrics on the album. Because of the fact that the song titles were already there, it was relatively easy for me to determine the subjects that I would write about. Inspiration comes from a lot of different angles, like things that happen in the world, politics, a movie that I’ve seen, an interview that I read in a magazine, really all sorts of sources. So is ‘Jambalaya’ based on the storm in New Orleans of a few years back for instance.

You created a video-clip for the song ‘Jambalaya’. Why this one and will you be recording more video’s in the near future to promote the album?
I’ve made a couple short clips to introduce the band to the listeners, like for ‘Jambalaya’, ‘Same Size Soul’ and ’21 Grams’. Nothing professional, but good enough to give the listener a good image of what we are all about as a band. Maybe I will make a clip for a complete song later on, that would be a good idea.

You’re promoting the album right now by doing interviews, but what’s going to happen next? What are your plans for the next coming period, especially concerning touring and such
We are really looking for a support slot position with a bigger band, as we only have forty minutes of material. So it would be ideal for us to be able to play the whole album as the support act for another band. That’s what we’re trying to achieve between now and the end of the year, but there are no concrete dates yet (after the interview a few shows as support of Tyketto have been booked – Sjak).

The album’s out since June 2nd, so how are the first reactions both from the press as well as the music fans?
I haven’t heard any bad reaction of haven’t read any bad review yet, so that’s something that I’m really proud of. It’s very hard nowadays to stand out from the crowd, so I guess we must have done something right with our debut album.

Both you and Martin have had their share of success with Sleeze Beez and Elegy respectively, but what do you want to accomplish with this new band? What are some of the dreams that you still want to realize with the band?
Of course we’re a few years older now and we have had our moments in the past, so were just trying to make the best music we can and we will just wait and see what that’ll bring us. We don’t have any sky-high expectations anymore, we don’t feel any pressure and that makes things much easier for us. We just want to bring a fresh sound to the scene and I hope that we’ve already accomplished that to a certain extent with this debut album. Now it’s all about the fun of making music for me.

Okay Andrew, I would like to thank you for your willingness to answer my questions. Is there anything that we didn’t cover that you want to express to our readers?
I’m very happy that everybody seems to like this new band and our debut album and hopefully we can bring this material to the live stage very soon!

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