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Het schrijven van een opvolger voor het goed ontvangen ’Nocturnes And Requiems’ was geen gemakkelijke taak voor hoofdcomponisten Jake Dreyer (ook gitarist in Iced Earth) en Joseph Michael (nu ook zanger Sanctuary). Zij hadden immers nog voor de release van het debuut hun vriend en drummer Adam Paul Sagan zien overlijden aan kanker en zaten nog volop in het rouwproces. Het is dan ook niet verwonderlijk dat ‘A Prelude To Sorrow’ helemaal opgedragen is aan hun vriend en tekstueel is het een weergave van hoe ze omgingen met dit grote verlies. We praatten met beide heren over dit gegeven en nog veel meer.

Door: Vera | Archiveer onder heavy / power metal

Well guys, nice to talk to you again and congratulations with the new album. For us it comes pretty fast after the debut album ‘Nocturnes And Requiems’, but I heard you have been working a lot longer on ‘A Prelude To Sorrow’ than on your debut. Can you tell anything about that?
Jake: ‘Yes, the first album was ready for a long time, but we had some problems with the engineer, that’s why it was seriously delayed. This one we started writing pretty much right after the debut album was done, I guess it was around 2015 and it went on in 2016.’

Joseph: ‘It is not like we are going to sit down and write an album at a certain moment. We always kind of hang out with each other and record riffs, solos, melody lines, ideas and so on.’

So, actually the writing sessions go on constantly?
Jake: ‘They surely do.’
Joseph: ‘They do, absolutely.’

It seems that some of the songs on this album were already written when he was still alive, but already sick. Of course that has its reflection on the lyrics and the dark texture and mood of the album…
Jake: ‘Actually I showed him the chorus for ‘Communion Of The Wicked’ when he was still with us, but the record was completed after he died. I don’t remember exactly which songs were done before or after he passed away. I was on tour with Iced Earth in Europe when I heard the sad news.’

Were you satisfied with the reactions on ‘Nocturnes And Requiems’? Did the response come up to your expectations?
Jake: ‘Yes, I was actually pretty surprised. It is a record that a lot of people really have to dive into, so I was actually surprised that so much people had the patience to sit down and get into it. It is not a record you play while wiping the house (laughs) and same goes for ‘A Prelude To Sorrow’. It is more complex and dense music, you have to focus on it, like watching a movie or something like that. Yes, I was really happy and flattered with the reactions.’

This time we have two lengthy songs: ‘We Are Nothing’ and ‘Vintage’, each of them is eleven minutes long. Can you tell something more about specifically these tracks?
Jake: ‘You can see them as the bookends of the record. I think though, that was something that – like everything we do – happened naturally. We had no big plan, but from the very outset we knew that ‘Vintage’ would be the last track on the album, like a huge climax. This is probably the best song that Witherfall ever wrote. At least it is my personal favourite.’

Joseph: ‘I would say that those two songs are the essence of the record. ‘We Are Nothing’ is just an angry ran on how… - I hate the word ‘fragile’ – but we are all nothing, worrying about stupid details and getting into arguments about dumb shit. It is not going to matter anymore in fifty or sixty years and ‘Vintage’ is the continuation of that feel. I think it is safe to say that the record is a respected goodbye to our friend Adam and ‘Vintage’ is the summit of it. It is all about Adam and how we try to come to terms with losing him.’

It is an amazing song and I have the feeling that it includes different emotions you go through when mourning, like anger, a part of it is resignation…
Jake: ‘For sure, it was not an easy record to write. Personally I was not sure that we would record the record we were writing, because it was maybe too personal, but the feelings we went through are so universal that people may find solace in listening to our music and the lyrics. Still we felt it was the right thing to do after all these emotions.’

Joseph: ‘Maybe it makes people cry and that would be a compliment.’

Of course it took a while before you could play live gigs, due to these circumstances, but I found out that your first gigs were done during the 70,000 Tons of Metal cruise. Can you tell something about this experience?
Joseph: ‘I don’t think Jake remembers anything from it (laughs).’

Jake: I do remember that the shows went over very well, in despite of the fact it were our debut gigs. We wanted to make these shows special and we did, for sure! The first night we thought we were going to see a helicopter to pick us up for smuggling in our deceased drummer. It was Adam’s dream to play there, it was one of his biggest dreams, something he really wanted to do and so he was there with us. It was good though. That cruise is just insane. You cannot escape. It took us a lot of time to recover. It is like being on a European festival, but backstage. Adam’s brother cornered us in front of some wine bar and I did not know what was going to happen. They pulled out that little pile and I thought they were going to offer me drugs.’

Joseph: ‘I thought we were going to be dragged out by the coast guard, because they said: ‘It is Adam, he is with us’ and it took me a second to realize that there were ashes in that box. They saved some of it at the funeral, so he could be with us on the boat during our first show. Since I thought he was a tree by now – you know, they put that little urn into the ground and let nature do the rest, but no, it was Adam’s ash. I went to my room and I looked up every law about the disposal of a body.’

Jake: ‘Adam’s brother spread the ashes on stage during our gig. We just let him be there, trying not to step on him while we were on stage. It was pretty wild. The shows went on till three o’clock in the morning and bringing Adam with us gave it a dark mood.’

It seems that the recording of this sophomore album was also a heavy load, because it took so long. Recording, mixing and mastering took one hundred days. How come?
Jake: ‘We had many setbacks on the recordings and we are also perfectionists as far as it comes to creating an environment and a mood. There has to be a kind of mood for every song and when that does not work I can get very frustrated. It is not easy and not cheap. These were stressful times but we were going to be sure that we were going to be happy with the end product. That takes time and the execution that we want is time consuming. We had five sound tracking engineers with us, all rotating on a different shift while Joseph and I usually were waking up around 4pm, working from 5pm. Till midnight when we took a break and started to drink wine. We worked till the early morning when most people have to get up to go to work, between 5 and 7am. We were working about eighteen hours a day, it was just becoming ridiculous sometimes. It was a lot of work to be done.’

Joseph: ‘We had our photographer Don Adams with us to film everything, this madness. He caught at least two or three people with an emotional breakdown. There are already a couple of videos on line of it. The first video ‘Ode To Despair’ has snippets of it. We will make a movie of it, which will at least piss off one current member (laughs).’

Of course you worked with two session drummers now for the new record… how did you select them and are there plans for a permanent recruitment?
Jake: ‘At the moment they remain session musicians. We had Steve Bolognese, our live drummer, to do the live shows we had booked and you can hear him on the record. In addition we had an amazing drummer called Gergo Borlai who used to work with Al Di Meola, because, like I said, Joseph and I had a distinct vision on the music and how it should sound.’

Joseph: ‘Just a bit of percussion in addition to the drums was done by other people. There is a lot into this record, but as far as things go, it is not like Steely Dan who uses a different guy on every song. Anthony Crawford did all the bass parts, of course he did on the first record as well. We also have a session guitarist, mainly for live gigs, called Fili Bibiano.’

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Can you tell something about the making of the video clip for ‘Ode To Despair’?
Jake: ‘Yes, Joseph knows more about it, it is done by Don Adams.’
Joseph: ‘Exactly, everything was shot in the studio or on our way to the studio, at home preparing to go to the studio. That’s a great job from Don.’

Jake: ‘I think we have a concept for every song. We are planning to release more video clips in the near future. They are not all full music videos, we have some lyric videos as well. People seem to like the visual thing, rather than just stream.’

What are the plans for touring?
Jake: ‘We are doing a Japan tour at the end of November, we go out supporting Kamelot. Then we have some plans to come to Europe, but I cannot say when or where. We do not have details, but we will be touring for sure.’

Another nice thing is the artwork, which is related to the artwork from the debut album…
Jake: ‘It is done by the same guy, Necrolord or Kristian Wåhlin.’

Joseph: ‘I told him I wanted the river Styx Of course we always give him the lyrics and some of the demos, so he can have an impression of the mood of the record. The vibe of it.’

Jake: ‘For me it is important that those colours look like the sound of the record. Dark blue, but Kristian is a genius when it comes to the album art.’

Does he still do a lot of cover art, because in the nineties and around 2000 I saw his name of many albums, but now it does not happen that often anymore, so it seems…
Jake: ‘I think he is a little bit more selective in his work. I think he does a couple of artworks per year. He has to be selective, because his detailed art takes so long. It takes a couple of months, minimum. I hope that we can work with him for everything that we do. He really is a part of our vision for the band, what you expect when having a Witherfall record.’

Jake, you also play in Iced Earth. Will it be busy for you in the upcoming time or are they planning a pause?
Jake: ‘No, Iced Earth just finished the tour cycle for ‘Incorruptible’, the last record we did. We will be off for a while, so it is definitely the moment to promote Witherfall now. We will be back of course, but right now Jon is doing his other band Demons & Wizards. So I have time for Witherfall.’

And Joseph, what about you, because I found out that you are singing in Sanctuary now?
Joseph: ‘Yes. We are working on a new record. We do not have any set time for release or anything like that. Lenny and I and Dave are just getting together every few weeks, working on ideas. I get along with those guys very well and obviously I like the music. It is going to be a lot of fun.’

Jake, how did you get into metal and what were your first experiences of playing in a band?
Jake: ‘The first songs that I heard that really wanted to make me play guitar myself, were from AC/DC. It was the coolest thing I heard in my life. I first got to play in a band when I was eleven I think, playing AC/DC covers, fucking terrible, but well… That was the first time ever playing in a band on stage. Just like with everything, your influences widen, so I went from AC/DC to Guns ‘N Roses and Metallica. So many bands followed, until I found Yngwie Malmsteen and he seemed like God to me. From then on I tried to play as much as possible to get better and better. That’s how I got into metal.’

Joseph; ‘I think I had kind of a zigzag. I think when I was twelve, I had a copy of ‘Appetite For Destruction’ (Guns N Roses) on cassette and on the other side was Michael Jackson’s ‘Thriller’. My first tattoo I got when I was sixteen. I did it myself with Indian ink and that were Rhandy Rhoads initials. That was my first guitar influence really. Then once I started finding out about King Diamond ‘The Eye’, Yngwie Malmsteen’s ‘Trilogy’, Dream Theatre ‘Awake’, Savatage ‘Dead Winter Dead’… I started getting into much more darker music with a lot more harmonies. Less rock-‘n-roll and more different tonal palettes. Those are my first favourites in metal.’

You play technical and progressive tinged heavy metal, but is some of you into other sub genres of metal?
Jake: ‘I do not like the word ‘genre’. As much as we like to complain about Spotify, it is one of the coolest and most useful things that has been invented as far as music concerns. I mean, you can just hit random on your playlist and you can listen to whatever style in ten minutes. I don’t like this whole genre breakdown and people classifying music based on random and arbitrary things like… it upsets me. But I like some records of early Death, like ‘Symbolic’ and early Dissection, and that is pretty dark. But mostly I listen to progressive metal. I am not so much into power metal, although I like Helloween. Even Type O’Negative I like, which is dark and doom-like.’

Joseph: ‘Yes, I just think about the band Moonspell. I was into their stuff in the nineties. Very cool band. Well, there is no reason for all these boxes that we put things in, why can’t we just like music? It is something good. I think the categorizing comes from people who ‘study’ heavy metal. It is a trend. I don’t care about that.’

Jake: ‘I think that a lot of traditionalists like to separate out everything, but if you look at the younger generation, like I said with Spotify, everything now is open. If you are in high school right now, you are listening to hip hop and heavy metal and no one cares. Maybe twenty years ago, you could have made fun of your friends if they did that. You had to have the right look if you listened to a certain style, but that is retarded.’

Are there bands you recently enjoyed seeing live, maybe discoveries on the 70,000 Tons of Metal cruise?
Jake: ‘I like Sanctuary, it would be nice to tour with them. As far as 70K, Meshuggah was very cool. I really did not see many bands on that cruise, because obviously I was there to promote Witherfall and after a while you get an overdose, you try to escape. There was a black metal band that was on stage at four o’clock in the morning, that was pretty evil. I cannot remember the name. But actually when I am here in LA and not on tour, I go to a lot of shows. Actually Mr. Big was the last one I saw which was very cool. They are great.’

Joseph: ‘I saw them with their original drummer few years back and their vocal harmonies were flawless. I saw Moonspell recently. Really cool. This question is always so hard, because I do not like very much. We did not see that much on 70k, because we had a film crew and we had to deal with that, T shirts got lost in the post and I was looking for a shirt on the boat for two days. We were hanging out with Meshuggah, that was cool. They were a highlight. The last mind-blowing concert I saw was Steve Vai. I am not a huge fan of his records, but I am a fan of his playing. That is something to see on stage. Obviously I have seen King Diamond the last three times he has come through.’

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