Canadian metal outfit The Agonist are back with their sixth studio album, Orphans, set for release on September 20 via Rodeostar Records. Already being described as “more extreme, more melodic, and more exciting,” the long overdue follow-up to 2016’s Five has endured drama, frustrations, and even sabotage to stand tall as the most triumphant moment in the band’s career.
Rock Confidential spoke with frontwoman Vicky Psarakis about the challenges surrounding Orphans, her songwriting style, making connections with music, and her thoughts on “female-fronted” metal bands.
Vicky, thanks for checking in! How are things going?
Things have been really busy, but good busy. I’m currently in Montreal, because the album is coming out in three weeks and we have a bunch of shows planned. We’ve been busy rehearsing and filming more music videos and stuff.
What’s the next video?
It’s coming very soon so I guess I can give it away. It’s for “As One We Survive.”
We’re less than three weeks away from Orphans being released. Do you get anxious the closer it gets to the street date?
Yes and no. I never really get anxious about something that’s happening in the future. I’m more of a day-to-day anxious person. So if I know we have a new single dropping let’s say tomorrow, which we don’t, but I would be anxious about it, like the day before. Not a month in advance. I do know that there’s more stuff leading up to the release so I’m more like, “Oh I can’t wait for that song to drop or that little teaser to be out.” I’m sure a day before the album drops that I’ll be anxious about it.
You’ve probably lived with these songs for so long that part of that excitement has passed.
Yeah, it’s kind of funny because the album took even longer than normal to come out. So all these songs – from the demo stages to the release – I would say a year and a half. I’m still very proud of the songs of course, and the album, but they’re almost old news to me and I think the only thing that prevents it from not being exciting is that we haven’t played the songs live. So there’s that aspect of it that comes in and makes it kind of refreshing. But yeah, the musician in me is like “Okay, can we write new music now?”
How long has Orphans been completely finished?
Completely finished? About a year. A little over a year, actually.
That’s a long time.
It’s a super long time. We had a really hard time releasing it. If things would have went our way, this album would have been out in 2018.
What are some of the hurdles you had to jump to get the record out?
So, basically, the main thing is that we didn’t have a label at the time. And that is for reasons aside from the music. A lot of things happen that I personally don’t deal with at all. I don’t even wanna deal with it. I’m just here to write music and sing. Some people out there didn’t want us to release this album and we just kept really, really pushing and pushing and we almost considered just releasing it on our own – which isn’t a smart business decision. But we were, I think after six months, we were frustrated and sitting on this album that’s so good and we couldn’t do anything about it. And then finally, Napalm reached out to us and proposed to release it under a sub-label of theirs called Rodeostar. And as far as we’re concerned, we’re using all the same resources from Napalm – the same team of people, same social media outlets. So we were like “Okay, let’s do it.”
Who didn’t want you to release the album?
I think it’s okay if I were to speak openly about it. I’m not one to cause drama but I think for anyone that’s out there and watching and kind of seeing what’s going on, I think it’s fairly obvious that the person that’s been trying to hold us back is Alissa (White-Gluz, former vocalist). In the beginning, she was doing it a lot through interviews and just talking very badly about the band members. That is super awkward for me, because this is a person I’ve never met in my life, so it’s weird for me to be talking about it. There’s no knowing how far and to what extent her reach could be to hold this band back. I definitely know some stuff that she’s done and other things are just speculation. So, I don’t wanna throw that out there, but I will say that she has been trying to kill this band ever since she was fired.
As much as that sucks, this record is so strong. It’s good revenge – if you want it to be. A couple of favorites early on are “Mr. Cold” and “Dust To Dust.”
That is by far the greatest thing I could ever hear. Like I said, to me it’s always been about the music. It’ll always be about the music. I think the frustration that we had was further fueled by the fact that we were sitting on this album that we felt very strongly about. Good things come to those who wait. Feedback like that is what we needed to hear.
How have your contributions to songwriting changed?
My first album, Eye Of Providence, was a bit more shared. I would say I had 70% involvement in the lyrics and the vocals, which is still a big chunk. I was new to the band and the guys, even though they hadn’t done it before, they were willing to try and help with the vocals. Because A) they wanted me to feel more comfortable and B) they weren’t 100% sure of what I could bring to the table. I had done one or two songs as an unofficial audition and they liked it. As soon as I joined the band, Eye Of Providence was set to be recorded, I think two or three months after that, so I went from doing nothing to writing a full album in two months. But since that album, for Five and for Orphan, the way we work now has kind of been upgraded. Danny (Marino, guitars), who is the main songwriter, has a home set up now. So he’ll sit down with the riffs that he has and program the drums and everything, and make a solid track by himself. Then he’ll send that out and everyone will kinda tweak their part on it. The majority of the time I’ll write the lyrics and all the vocal lines and harmonies and send it back. When they hear the song with vocals, sometimes we’ll make some structural changes or small little things to complement the vocals. Then we’re done and we just wait to hit the studio and copy the demo.
I’ve read that you write lyrics based on real life events and experiences. Is there anything you can elaborate on for the new material?
Yeah, I do that. Sometimes I write based off of stories. Fiction too, as well. It’s all about what the song calls for. I’ll get the track, listen to it and try to get into the mood and see what stories fit. Since you mentioned “Mr. Cold,” that one is based off of the ghost sightings of the Mothman that were happening in the ’60s. As soon I heard that song it had a very eerie, ghost-y vibe to it, and it’s just really big. “Blood Of My Guide” is based off of a war story. I didn’t wanna write specifically about World War II or anything like that. I was inspired about a specific battle that happened in Greece, but I just made it a little more general. It’s about the repercussions of war and why people go to war and fight but I also wanted to throw in the metaphorical sense of that as well. You’re fighting to stay alive, but you’re also fighting for your blood, your family, for the things you believe in.
In general, it seems like people have lost the connection we used to have with music. What do you think about that and what are some early records or songs you can remember listening to as you were growing up that really meant something to you.
That is an interesting question. I think what contributes to that is the accessibility of music that we have today, which is extremely positive. I have a Spotify account, and as soon as a new album drops, I’m like, “Okay, I’ve got to hear this album.” Back in the day, you had to go to your local record store and hope that they brought it in. If not, you had to order it and wait for shipping and all that. I grew up in the really small town in Greece. When I was getting into metal they didn’t have anything like that at the record store, so I would have to wait to go to Athens and go to the big metal record store there and then spend all of my allowance money buying albums. But it was that. I think the fact that you got the physical album – you’re sitting down with it, you’re opening the booklet, you’re looking at the lyrics. You’re really, really focused and paying attention. Whereas now, the accessibility is great but sometimes you’re just overwhelmed. There’s so many things that are happening at once that it’s hard to force yourself to be focused on that one album when it comes out.
The experience has changed. Just like you remember having to go to the big record store to get the albums you wanted, you’ll always remember that and you probably remember some of the records you bought when you went on those trips.
Oh yeah. Even in music there’s the click-bait thing happening. A band will release a single and they have to have something there to bring people in, to make sure that they’re gonna want to listen to the album. There has to be a gimmick or something, something extreme, or weird or whatever. Back then, let’s say Opeth dropped a new album. I like Opeth and I’m gonna buy the album. I’m gonna put it in my CD player, listen to it very carefully without doing anything else at the same time, and you would notice a bunch of things that the band didn’t have to accentuate back then just to pull you in.
I do remember albums that I bought back then that really pulled me in. And mentioning Opeth, Still Life was one of them. As soon as I heard that album, I was like, “Woah!” It was extreme, it was progressive. I was listening to bands at the time that had growls on them. Like earlier In Flames or At The Gates. But when I heard Opeth it was weird in that they brought the really proggy and heavy element to it too, so that shook me. I’m also a huge fan of The Gathering when they did their first stuff. I remember hearing one album, and then I went back to the record store the next day and I bought every album I could find. And then, of course, there’s classics like Iron Maiden or Judas Priest, which is probably the first stuff I heard in metal that I was really, really into. It’s so melodic and so powerful.
Not too long ago the words “female-fronted metal band” were so over-used. It finally seems like the “female-fronted” part of that has been pushed aside and the focus is on the band and the music.
Well, it’s obviously a bit ridiculous to use it as a genre description because you’re not describing the genre. You’re just describing the appearance of the band. But I’d be a bit hypocritical to say it doesn’t have any positives with it, because let’s be honest – if you start a female-fronted band you do get a bit more attention right off the bat. It’s just the eye candy aspect of it, even if you’re not trying. People wanna look at women more than they wanna look at men. That’s just the world we live in.
I haven’t noticed. (laughs)
(laughs) I think it’s great if there’s actually talent and good music behind it. I think the term was created because in the 1990’s and especially early 2000’s, there weren’t too many bands doing it. Even if the band sounded very different among themselves, they wanted to emphasize the fact that there were females in metal bands – so let’s just create a thing called female-fronted metal. But I think there’s more and more of that now. Will we ever reach a point where there’s just as many females in bands as males, probably not. I don’t think it’ll ever be 50/50, because it is a genre that’s mostly dominated by male fans. But I think the more and more it happens, the more people don’t care too much. It becomes, “Oh okay, it’s a girl in a band” versus, “Oh my God, it’s a girl in a band!” Which is cool, because yes, at the end of the day, it should be about the music. It’s okay to use the click-bait factor to your advantage if you’re actually good at what you do and your music is good and you have something to say. Otherwise, it’s just a gimmick for nothing. Gimmicks can be cool if they make sense. Slipknot has a gimmick, Ghost has a gimmick. A lot of bands have gimmicks but you need good music to back it up.
At the same time there’s also no mention anymore of “the hottest chicks” in rock and metal from the fans or the media. And if you do comment on a band member’s appearance, especially if they’re female, it’s “insensitive” and “sexist.”
I think that’s bullshit in my honest opinion, because you’re putting yourself out there, whether you’re a female or a male. You’re putting yourself out there and if you just happen to be attractive, of course you’re gonna get comments like that. And men get them too. And I think it’s even worse as a woman if you’re dressed provocatively and you get those comments and then you’re upset by it. It doesn’t make any sense. You should anticipate it. I’m not saying you shouldn’t do it. I’m saying you should anticipate that you are gonna get those comments and embrace it. It’s funny sometimes that I’ll see backlash for men that do this. I remember I really liked this band called Nothing More. The singer goes on stage without a shirt and he’s super ripped and people were saying bad things about it. And then I’ll see the response to the comments like, “Oh you shut up. If this was a woman, you guys would have zero issues with it.” So to me, it’s a free world. Anyone can do whatever they want. You wanna go on stage naked or you wanna go fully covered – it doesn’t matter, but you should anticipate the comments and you should embrace them. Don’t feel offended.
We’re in a strange place where everybody is offended by something and if they’re not, they’re looking for something to be offended about.
Yeah, that’s really sad but it’s true. I actually watched the new Dave Chappelle special the other night. He tackled a lot of that. Here is my viewpoint: Sure, words can hurt, but is it really that bad? Does it really hurt that much? I remember as a kid, being in school, and being bullied over stupid things that didn’t even matter. Because I was Greek. Because my mom sent me to do the school photo in this nice flowery dress that was all fancy. Because I brought a lot of money to buy a lot of books because I was a bookworm. Kids would make fun of me. That happens to all kids and it happens for stupid reasons. It has to happen. How are you gonna grow up in this world and have a tough shell and be able to go through actual real problems in the future if you don’t deal with a little bit of bullying as a kid? I don’t think we should all jump the gun and be offended and try to silence people.
Orphans is available September 20 via Rodeostar Records.
Orphans track listing:
01. In Vertigo
02. As One We Survive
03. The Gift Of Silence
04. Blood As My Guide
05. Mr. Cold
06. Dust To Dust
07. A Devil Made Me Do It
08. The Killing I
10. Burn It All Down
Exclusive Interview: Reb Beach From Winger, Whitesnake, Black Swan
Reb Beach talks about formation of Black Swan and how the band approached songwriting for the ‘Shake The World’ album.
Vocalist Robin McAuley (McAuley Schenker Group), guitarist Reb Beach (Winger, Whitesnake), bassist Jeff Pilson (Foreigner, The End Machine, ex-Dokken), and drummer Matt Starr (Ace Frehley, Mr. Big) have joined forces in Black Swan, a new project signed to Frontiers Music Srl. The band’s debut album, Shake The World, will be released on February 14.
Rock Confidential spent a few minutes with Reb Beach to talk about formation of the group and how they approached songwriting for what would become Shake The World. We also touched on Reb’s other gigs in Winger and Whitesnake, looked back at his time in Dokken, and learned his new solo album will finally see the light of day this year.
How are things going? You seem to be staying pretty busy.
Yeah. Usually with Winger and Whitesnake, Winger will go when Whitesnake isn’t. Whitesnake usually goes year on, year off. David’s been going every year now. Winger’s been booking gigs in between. I’m learning a bunch of new Winger songs right now and a couple of new Whitesnake songs and man, rock n’ roll is so similar. I’ll start playing a Winger lick in the middle of a Whitesnake song. That’s never happened before and I’m getting them mixed up now. (laughs) I’m 56 years old. Every rock song is either in the key of E or A and all the riffs are starting to meld together in my brain. I can focus on one thing, but if you ask me to multi-task I’m gonna have a couple of flubs here and there.
Winger is playing that 80’s cruise coming up, Monsters Of Rock. I’m actually flying to Kip’s place in Nashville on Sunday to write the new Winger record. We already have three songs. We did a week a couple of months ago and we’ll do another week on Sunday to get that together. That’s always exciting. Winger stuff is pretty complicated and he raises the bar pretty high. It’s definitely hard work.
On the other hand, Black Swan is more straight up rock.
That’s because I wrote it! (laughs) That’s the kind of stuff I write. I’m an 80s guy that happens to be a good guitar riff writer. That’s my forte. When we started the Black Swan thing, I came in with about 50 ideas, verses and choruses. We went from there. Jeff’s a great arranger as well as a producer. He would take my ideas and say, “Go to F#, do the solo and an outro and we’re done.” It went really well. Really fast. It was great to write with Jeff again. The last time I did that was Erase The Slate with Dokken.
When I first saw that you guys were working together again, I knew it would be a quality project. Erase The Slate is a great album.
These songs kinda sound like that to me. It sounds like Erase The Slate a little bit. The rhythm guitars ended up being a little low in the mix for me, so it doesn’t quite rock as hard as I wanted it to. Other than that it kinda has an Erase The Slate quality to it.
Black Swan started out as an idea between the record label and Jeff, right?
Yeah. Jeff’s done a bunch of stuff. He has a really good relationship with them. He’s friends with the label president (Serafino Perugino). He’s a great producer and he’s done a few things for Serafino. When Serafino suggested Jeff do another project, Jeff was on the road with me – Whitesnake was opening for Foreigner. I guess he thought of me for that reason and I jumped at the chance to write with Jeff again.
So you two were the first guys involved in the project?
Yeah. That’s usually how it goes, for me anyway. Kip with Winger and Whitesnake when I wrote with David. Just two guys. When you get a bunch of guys in there – like a whole band – there’s too many chiefs and not enough Indians. It’s much better to have two guys playing off each other that are from different schools.
Plus, you and Jeff had already worked together.
Anybody would want to work with Jeff Pilson. He’s got this thing. It’s very genuine. He acts like what you just did is the greatest thing ever played by man on the guitar. He gets so excited about everything and he makes you feel like you’re the greatest musician in the world. He’s just an amazing arranger, like Kip Winger. I’ll write myself into a corner. What can you do with this? What can you possibly do? Where do you go from here? He and Kip Winger know exactly what to do and it ends up getting done. Playing solos for Jeff is great. I’d play one and he’d say, “That’s amazing! Listen to that. You’re done! That’s incredible. You did it first take!” We’d do a couple of more takes and he always ended up liking the first take better. Most of the solos on the album are first takes.
Do you remember the first song you wrote together for this album?
That’s a great questions. I honestly don’t remember. The last one was “Shake The World.” That one wasn’t an old idea. We used up all of my ideas for the record. I have a million ideas but not all of them are 80s rock. I needed to start writing from scratch. “Shake The World” is the first one I wrote from scratch and is actually one of the best ones.
It must be because that’s the name of the album!
Yeah, well I told them not to call it Big Disaster. (laughs) Bad idea. Don’t use that for the title track.
How long did it take to finish the record?
We wrote it in two weeks and then Robin did the lyrics. It went pretty darn quick after that. About as quick as a record can go. We had all the elements and weren’t starting from scratch. If you work with guys that know what they’re doing it goes very quickly.
When did Robin become involved?
I think he was involved right from the get-go because he’s good friends with Jeff. They’re very, very close. Their families hang out together and stuff. It was the obvious choice and I wouldn’t have wanted anyone else.
The vocals are so powerful.
The vocals are insane. His vocals are the best part about it for me.
You and Jeff keep extremely busy schedules. Do you anticipate live dates for Black Swan?
I’m booked all year and I’m sure Jeff is, too. You get little breaks here and there. It’s in the contract to do live shows but that’s dependent on how the record does. If it does well then we’ll need to do another record. Frontiers is going to want some shows, like the Frontiers Fest. I would hope we wouldn’t do one show like that because then I’d have to learn all those songs just for one show. (laughs) That’d suck. It’d better be a damn good show. I’d love to play live with Jeff again and be on stage with Robin and that amazing voice. All four of us sing so I think we’d end up sounding pretty good. We’ll see how the record does. If it takes off then I’m sure we’ll do some shows.
When you’re writing new material, do you always write the same way and the people you’re working with influences the outcome or do you specifically write differently for each project?
I have that thing that I do. I write a riff. With Winger, we start with me. I’ll write a guitar riff. Kip will turn on the drum machine and play the bass. Then I’ll start playing and he’ll say, “That – what’s that?” I may not remember but he’s been recording the whole time so we’ll rewind and I learn it. With David it’s a completely different thing. He’ll have all the ideas. He comes in, plays you the three chords he likes and you try to jazz it up like a guitar player would play it, rather than a guy on an acoustic.
What do you remember about writing and working with Dokken?
What do I remember about Dokken? Drinking. Heavily. Before the show, which I never would do these days. That was the funnest gig I ever had. It was just a big guitar solo. Don would sing one chorus and leave the stage for the solo and I would just solo for as long as I wanted. There’s only one other musician that plays an instrument that has to be in tune. It was just a lot of fun in Dokken. That was a great point in my career. That’s when I was playing at my strongest. And I looked good, too. (laughs) It was nice being thin. As far as writing, it was a lot like how Winger does it. We’d just come up with parts and Jeff would always know what key to go to. You need a guy like that and I am not that guy. I am not that guy! (laughs) I hear one riff and I don’t hear the whole song. Kip Winger and Jeff Pilson hear the whole song. They think ahead musically to project what it could sound like and be the best it could be. I’m terrible at that. I’m just your beer drinking, guitar playing guy who can come up with riffs on the spot.
Well that seems to be working out! You’ve had quite the run so far.
I have. I’ve been really lucky to still be working at my age in a big band like Whitesnake. I was thinking earlier, what other gigs are there for a guy like me with a big 80s stamp on my head? Probably the best gig there is is Whitesnake. Or Winger, but Whitesnake is a guitar player’s dream. It’s all about the solos and all about the guitar. Each guy gets his own solo and everybody leaves the stage. It’s kinda like a guitar hero gig. I don’t consider myself a guitar hero, although I have seen that said about me which is nice. I just do this one thing. I’m not a guitar virtuoso. I was watching George Lynch the other day, trying to come up with ideas for clinics. I watched one of his clinics. He has a rhythm track that’s just drums and bass playing the same note, jamming out in E. He’ll just jam in E for 15 minutes. He’ll totally make mistakes. He doesn’t give a shit. Most of what he plays is totally awesome. Scales I’ve never heard before. It sounds cool as hell and he can play with fire. The key to being a great guitar player is being able to convey emotion. I soloed the tracks for John Sykes on the ’87 Whitesnake record when I was in the studio. They had that album in Pro Tools so I soloed his tracks and they were on fire. I got goosebumps. You could picture a young kid hungry to make it. Soaring, screaming notes. That’s the way it should be. That’s rock n’ roll. That’s the kind of guitar player I aspire to be. Or used to – I don’t anymore. (laughs) I don’t practice anymore. Those days are over. It is what it is at this point. (laughs)
Any plans for another solo album?
Yeah, it’s an instrumental record. I don’t expect it to go huge because they typically don’t sell anything. It’s hard to get a record deal with an instrumental record. Even instrumental labels don’t want them to be instrumental anymore. I’ve had this forever and have been saying I’m going to release it forever. I’ve got to get it out this year. It’s done and ready to go. I’m doing the artwork now. I think it’s going to be called A View Of The Storm. It’s cool. It’s kinda like Jeff Beck-y but more rock. It’s not your typical solo record with a customary funk track or whatever. It sounds like a keyboard player playing a Fender Rhodes with a guitar player, drummer and a wicked bass player. It’s real live sounding. Remember earlier I said “That’s because I wrote it” because it was basic? That’s what it is. Basic, straight-ahead rock. A little fusion-y here and there. I don’t write stuff that’s “out there.” I don’t like anything that disturbs me in any way. I don’t want any diminished chords. At all. (laughs)
Reb, I appreciate your time. Anything you’d like to say to wrap up?
Just be sure to check out Black Swan and watch for my solo album, probably coming out this fall. I’m looking forward to seeing everyone out on the road!
Exclusive Interview: Michael Sweet From Stryper
Rock Confidential caught up with Michael Sweet to discuss his career as a solo artist, the ongoing challenges of being perceived as “that Christian guy,” and his real passion – writing songs.
Michael Sweet established his place in music history in 1983 as the architect of heavy metal band Stryper. With their unique sound and positive message, Stryper reached audiences worldwide with hits like “Free,” “Calling On You,” and “Honestly” and landmark albums like Soldiers Under Command, To Hell With The Devil, and In God We Trust.
In 1994 Sweet released his first solo album, the self-titled Michael Sweet. Now, 25 years later, Michael Sweet has crafted the defining album in his career as a solo artist – the aptly titled Ten. Featuring an all-star guest lineup including Jeff Loomis of Arch Enemy, Todd La Torre of Queensrÿche, Tracii Guns of LA Guns, and Joel Hoekstra of Whitesnake, Sweet’s tenth solo album is without a doubt a metal fan’s dream come true. Promising “old-school, straight-ahead metal ideas in the vein of Judas Priest, Dio and Iron Maiden,” he delivers beyond expectations.
Rock Confidential caught up with Michael Sweet to discuss Ten and his career as a solo artist, the ongoing challenges of being perceived as “that Christian guy,” and his real passion – writing songs.
I just caught Stryper in Nashville last weekend. If anybody ever doubts your sincerity, they just need to pay attention during “Surrender.” You can’t deliver a song like that and not mean it.
If people just stop for a moment and think about it, it’s so true. Why would we choose to do this if it wasn’t legitimate, if it wasn’t sincere? Because it’s not an easy road when you stand for Christ and you proclaim Christianity. Instantly it’s an uphill battle whatever you’re trying to do. I don’t care if you’re a musician or a politician or an actor, whatever you’re doing. If we wanted to be big rock stars and make lots of money we would have sang about Budweiser and Marlboros, right? All the cliché BS that every other band sings about. We chose to take a different path and take a stand for Christ, and here we are.
During our interview last year you told me that you were working with Joel Hoekstra on a new group project. Is that still happening or did that turn into the material on Ten?
Well, for now it turned into the two songs on Ten, just to give everyone a taste of things to come. But we’re still talking and planning a full-length from the two of us. The problem with that is, without naming names, when you have a label that doesn’t wanna give you the right amount of money that it’s going to take to do it, and do it right and to pay everybody – especially the two guys that are making it happen properly – then it’s just not gonna happen, at least with the label. And that’s been the problem. It’s gotta be done right. And if Joel and I need to do it on our own and raise the money on our own, so be it, but it’s gonna happen. I think when it happens, it’s gonna be a buzzworthy album that achieves a lot of feedback and success and does very well because it’s gonna be a really great album. I don’t doubt that for one second, but it’s gotta be with the right people that really believe in it. That’s the thing I’m seeing a lot lately, and I get it because labels can’t afford what they could afford in the past. But when you offer a band 20 grand or 25 grand to go make an album and they spend two or three months of their lives doing it, basically what winds up happening is the band ends up paying for some of it and so it becomes a pay-to-play situation. That’s just a joke. That’s not gonna work. I’m very blessed I’m able to get budgets where I can afford to, and Stryper as well, to do what we need to do the way we wanna do it without compromising. And everyone was able to make a little money in the process, and pay the bills, and it works out.
From a fan point-of-view, I can’t imagine a more perfect Michael Sweet solo record than Ten. It’s so cohesive and it sounds like you’re at home with the direction of these songs.
I tell you man, I really was and I really am and I’m very pleased with how it turned out. I don’t know that I would change anything. I might change a few parts here and there, or a few things I sang, but I’m really, really happy with how it turned out. I hope everyone else is and I’m ready to do a new one. If I had a label ready to go and they said to me today, “Hey, let’s do an album,” I’d start writing right now. I’d crank out 12 songs in the next two weeks and go into the studio and do another one because that’s just where I’m at these days. I’ve got this well that’s overflowing with ideas and I’m amped up and raring to go.
It seems you’re always writing and staying busy.
Yeah, absolutely. I’m a writer and a producer first. What I mean by that is, I’ve always got a song in my head. Aside from touring and recording, when I’m walking the dog or at the market or whatever I’m doing, I’ve always got a song in my head. I’m quite frankly surprised that I don’t write more with other people. I don’t have a lot of people contacting me to write. I think it comes down to the whole Christian thing. That door is closed many times because people just assume, “Oh, he’s that Christian guy. All he’s gonna write about is God.” You get them all. You get all those excuses. The reality is I’m probably writing more than anyone these days in terms of the hard rock and metal genre. I’m always writing and I’ve got a song in my head 24/7, man. I go to Nashville and co-write with people sometimes – some of the big writers who I respect so much and they respect me. I’m able to go write with guys like Blair Daly and Luke Laird and it just blows my mind that those doors are open. But, I do want to write with more artists because that’s where my heart lies.
For the most part, your solo albums all sound a little different. Are there any styles of music you’d like to explore more?
Well, there are other things I’d like to try. I grew up on all different styles of music, different genres, from Elvis to Creedence to Pavarotti to Conway Twitty to Black Sabbath. Everything in between. Although I’m a metalhead at heart I’m a balladeer. I love ballads. I love jazz. I love pop. I just like a good song and I’ve always wanted to experiment and try to do different things and I’ve done that with solo albums over the years. I’ve gotten symphonic on some, I’ve gotten “pop-ier” on some. I’ve gotten acoustic on some and I’ll do that more in the future for sure.
You’ve been fortunate to work with so many amazing musicians on your solo albums. Who would you like to work with?
Oh gosh, there’s so many. So many guys that I respect. I’ve talked a lot lately about Eddie Van Halen. Our prayers and thoughts go out to him because we’ve heard that he may not be well at the moment. I don’t know if that’s true or not, it hasn’t been confirmed, but we’re praying for him. He’s one of the guys that changed my life, musically speaking. It’s always been a dream of mine to work with him in some capacity. I don’t know if that will ever happen or not. Obviously, there’s so many other guys. I’m a big fan of Glenn Hughes, Joe Bonamassa, Paul Rodgers, Brian May. The list just goes on and on. Rob Halford. I’m a huge fan of Rob’s. There’s so many guys I’d love to work with. And maybe in the future those doors will open. Maybe not. We’ll see if this side of Heaven that will become a reality.
What do you think about guys like Rob and Blackie Lawless that are now very vocal about their faith?
I think it’s great. Anyone that speaks out for and up for their faith in God is a brave soul and far braver and far more metal than people that don’t. I hear all the time, “Stryper isn’t metal because they sing about God.” And I say, on the contrary, we’re more metal than all the other metal bands because we do sing about God. I said it from stage the other night. We had and have the balls to do it. You don’t get any more metal than that. That’s not why we did it, but my point is we’re not afraid to do it. We’ve taken heat and gotten beat up and slammed for 36 years because of it. It’s really easy to go on stage and sing about what everyone else in the crowd believes in. They’re all moshing and jumping up and down because they all agree with every word you’re singing. There’s nothing brave about that at all. I’m not trying to sound like a jerk, but it’s true. If you want brave, you go on a stage where everyone in the crowd is booing and chanting “F- Stryper” and you gotta still go on stage and play. Try that for for once. See how that goes over. We’ve been there and done that over and over and over and over again. The guys that speak out and stand up like Blackie Lawless, I applaud them. I think he’s incredibly brave. The guys I meet in metal bands that say they’re Christians – I think that’s great – but they’re still up there singing about the devil. I just think, “What a wasted opportunity. You could have stood for Christ and brought so many people into the kingdom, and you’re a believer, but you’re up there singing about the devil with pentagrams everywhere.” Wow. It’s sad.
Music fans are very opinionated. Stryper has always had to deal with that from an audience perspective. At the same time, extremely religious fans are – ironically – far more judgmental than anyone on the planet.
Always. And always will be. Yeah, that’s never gonna change. Christians are some of the most judgmental folks on the planet. I haven’t really ever figured out why, but they are. I guess because they feel they know more and they know what’s right versus what’s wrong. Because of that they can voice that opinion and judge people that are doing things that they feel are wrong. I don’t know, I don’t get it. It’s really weird when as Christians we’re called to be humble and not be prideful and unconditionally love everyone, no matter who they are. Granted, you don’t have to accept their lifestyle and you don’t have to accept what they’re doing, but you’re still supposed to love them. I find it so odd when I see, day in and day out, Christians judging other people. The thing that’s going to happen, if you believe in what the Bible says, is that those people are going to be judged by God someday. The Christians that judge are gonna be judged by God and they’re gonna have to answer for everything they did or everything they didn’t do.
Love should be the foundation of everything – no matter what you believe.
Absolutely, and that’s across the board. It’s so hard for people to understand that for some reason. Take politics, for example. I’ve been on this earth for 56 years. I’ve never seen so much hate in politics and there seems to be more now than ever before. Separation. Negativity. If you say you’re with one party, you’re destroyed by the other. Instead of just letting people live and be associated with whatever party they wanna be associated with, that’s their choice. Instead there’s this hatred that runs so deep that they’re attacked viciously – verbally or physically – and it’s mind-boggling to me. I don’t understand it. The only thing that’s gonna turn things around is love. Love will conquer all and love will do away with all. Love will put and end to it, but we have less and less love in our world today.
Will you be touring to support Ten?
Oh yeah. We’ve been talking about that and working on that for next year. We’re talking about a couple of ground runs, trying to put that together. There’s still going to be Stryper fly dates next year, but I’m gonna put together a band and go out and do some solo full-band shows in support of this album and the last album, One Sided War. All the solo albums. Even the Sweet & Lynch albums. If I can’t get George (Lynch) to go tour and do Sweet & Lynch shows, then I’m gonna go out and play some of those songs live myself. I’m so pleased with Ten and how it sounds and how people are reacting to it. I can’t wait to get out there and tour and play these songs live.
Will you cover every solo album in your setlist, even back to your first record?
I plan to play some songs from the first album, from Real. It might be one or two songs from those albums, but the thing I gotta try to do is fit all of the songs in from 10 albums. That’s where it gets tricky. Like I said, I wanna play some Sweet & Lynch songs, too. It’s gonna be very difficult putting together a setlist. I will at least get a song from each album in the setlist and then I’ll probably have to throw one or two Stryper songs in there as well. We’re gonna hit every album for sure.
Who would be in your band?
I don’t know exactly at the moment, but I can assure everyone it’ll be a great band. It could be Joel, it could be Ethan Brosh (guitarist), it could be Mike Kerr (guitarist, Firstbourne). I’m not really sure. But I’m thinking I’ll try to put together local guys so it’s easy and convenient and less stressful once we go out and tour. Whoever the band’s gonna be, it’s gonna be a smoking band with really great players that are out there nailing it every night.
Let’s go back 25 years to 1994 – your first official solo album. Did you see that record as a redemption for the “rebellious-ness” of Stryper’s Against The Law period?
I did to a degree, yeah. I felt that record, at that point in my life, was redemption for just me as a person. I took a little time off after leaving Stryper. I felt like that Against The Law period, although it was a good album – it has it’s high points, and certainly made its mark – but for the most part, it had more low points for me. The way we were all living, the way we were all acting, just the attitude in our spirits and what was within our hearts was not right. I wanted to break free from that and get my life in order because I was right there with everybody. Living the same way and doing bad things and it wasn’t a good time in our lives. I wanted to put God first, my family and get everything in order. I wound up leaving the band and I took a few years off and then went after music again. I released that album and it was redemption. It was a time in my life where I could say, “Hey, I feel like I’m back on track. Things are in order in my life, my priorities are in place.” God really blessed that because that album did very, very well. Against The Law had sold 150,000 copies at the time. That solo came out a few years later and it did a couple hundred thousand copies and we had five #1 songs. It was released in the Christian market only and it did really, really well. I went out and toured and it was a really good point in my life. I look back on that and I’m very happy with how that turned out. The rest is history. I’ve released 10 solo albums and every one is different. The two most similar would probably be One Sided War and Ten and it just brings everything into place full circle.
Let’s wrap up with something a little different. I’m going to ask you as many questions as I can in 60 seconds. What’s your go-to drink at Starbucks?
Right now, Pumpkin Spice Latte with one pump.
Favorite fast food?
Oh gosh, oh man. I’m not a fast food guy, but if I have to pick a favorite fast food I’m gonna go with In-N-Out Burger.
How do you like your steak cooked?
People are gonna get really mad at me over this one. I am a medium well guy. I don’t like the bloody juices all on my plate, man. It’s disgusting.
I grew up on Frosted Flakes, but then I matured and became an adult and moved on to Lucky Charms.
Who was your teenage celebrity crush?
Oh gosh, man. These are getting tougher. I’m gonna go with – who was Wonder Woman?
Lynda Carter. See, we all learned something new.
There you go. Now you know that I like Lucky Charms and Wonder Woman.
Michael Sweet’s new solo album, Ten, is out now via Rat Pak Records.
Exclusive Interview: Kobra Paige From Kobra And The Lotus
Kobra Paige talks about the progression of the band, the challenges of using social media, and the importance of her music making an impact on the lives of Kobra And The Lotus fans.
Calgary-based rockers Kobra And The Lotus have returned with their new studio album Evolution, out now via Napalm Records. No longer bound by old formulas and expectations from the past, Evolution is the band’s most cohesive and confident material to date.
“The new body of work sets the tone for the music going forward. Sonically, it’s still heavy,” comments vocalist Kobra Paige. “It highlights the showmanship and maintains the edge. At the same time, it’s approachable. It pays tribute to our influences, but it takes the next step. So, it’s a reintroduction to us and a rebirth. A firm goal was to build a strong identity and update everything. We just want to be Kobra and the Lotus – that’s what we’re doing.”
Rock Confidential sat down with Kobra Paige shortly after their set at Manchester Music Hall in Lexington, Kentucky. The passionate frontwoman talks about the progression of the band, the challenges of using social media, and the importance of her music making an impact on the lives of Kobra And The Lotus fans.
The new record was just released. How did you go into release week mentally?
I feel like I was excited about this record the most just because of the amount of experiences and everything it’s taken to get to this point. I’m really proud of what we did. I let go of the whole expectations thing a long time ago. I’m just hoping the record is going to do okay for us and that people will like it as much as we do. I wasn’t nervous because I can’t control with the world thinks.
How long has the record been finished?
The record was wrapped in the end of January, so it wasn’t that long ago.
You’ve had a pretty busy release schedule – three records in three years.
It takes a lot of work behind the scenes to prepare a launch and all the assets that go with it. We did a re-brand this time as well with a new logo. It was a lot of effort, so we needed all the time we had.
Why was now the right time to re-brand?
Well, first of all, we’re not just a heavy metal band. We’re a hard rock band. Those roots have always been there since the start. The logo and symbol we had weren’t universally friendly to hard rock and metal fans. The logo was a fairly typical metal shape and the the symbol itself had a snake and that’s not something that everybody wants to wear. I’m Kobra and I really don’t enjoy anymore, as I’ve gotten older, being referred to as the snake. It’s just my name. There were two main reasons for updating the logo and I think that we achieved that. It’s definitely a universally friendly symbol and logo.
You’ve lived with the finished songs a while now. Knowing that people are going to hear them for the first time has to be exciting.
It’s very exciting to finally have it out there for people to listen to and see which ones click for people the most. We couldn’t wait for this.
How does the band write new material?
We mostly write together in the studio. Ever since Prevail I and II, about 80% of those records were done organically together in the studio. It’s been my preference and the guys are up for it. So we did that this time around, other than the Japanese track which had a demo of some music that was used. Everything was organically created in the studio, so that was a wonderful experience. And it’s challenging and I love that challenge. You capture moments that you wouldn’t capture if you’re flying things back and forth because you’re in the studio for hours every day with each other.
You instantly see what somebody thinks instead of waiting on a reaction.
Absolutely, yeah. You hear it and you capture it. Anything can be a spark for an idea.
Can you elaborate on the lyrics for this record?
Of course everyone needs to interpret it their own way, and they will. But Evolution is about self-development. It’s about my personal journey inside my mind and just growing – trying to grow. It’s about how tough it is to have the mental capacity that we really do have and the emotions that come with it. And I just know by proximity that people relate to that. The way we think and the things you experience are never singular experiences. It never just happens to us. We’re very relational.
I feel like social media has drastically changed how we deal with emotions and interacting in real life.
I think it’s a pit of humanity. Of course it could be utilized for good things and some people do use their platform for beautiful things. I don’t think humans, in general, are responsible enough mentally to have this kind of inundation. It’s an inundation of delusion all the time and I think it’s very unhealthy what has transpired with our self-confidence and self-esteem as social media has really blossomed. I am a huge non-fan and I really have struggled with that aspect of it being such a massive part of promoting your music and bands these days. I don’t actually know how to get around getting our stuff out to people anymore because there’s algorithms. It’s super twisted up right now. I think it’s making a crisis for some genres of music. I find that we’re in a state of crisis because of the way things are going right now. We can’t even get our shows out to fans that are on our Facebook page without boosting a post. No one has endless bank accounts to pump into ads. You don’t wanna even do that, but the fans don’t see what we post on our page. It won’t show up in their feed. It’s a really difficult time. I don’t have any tips or tools for anyone because I have figured it out.
The majority of people are getting their news from social media and they don’t even read past the headlines most of the time.
Yeah, that’s what I really can’t stand about Instagram. Like it says, it’s a place for instant gratification. And absolutely the most comments come in if I post a selfie. That really bothers me. People don’t read what is written there half the time. And I’ve noticed that people on Facebook are a really different demographic than the people on Instagram. It’s usually people on Facebook that are reading what you’re posting about. It’s going to be less traffic, but they’re really interested. Whereas on Instagram, it comes with two different parts. The first part cares about why they follow you in the first place – the music. That’s mainly why I have social media. That’s how it started. Universal Music asked me on our second record to get an Instagram because I didn’t have one. Social media is part of promoting everything. I’m not selling my body or using my face in every single post with Beauty Shot with airbrushed, flawless skin. It’s not working out. It’s not working out for the Instagram crowd, which is where a lot of kids are living these days. Kids don’t need to see that shit because the truth is, “Everyone shits” and they are forgetting that. It really scares me for them.
It’s crazy that there really is an alternate fake reality world out there.
I think comparison is totally getting out of hand because of social media being such a big part of these kids lives. It’s no longer a goal to think, “If that person can do it I can, too.” Now it’s “I’ll never be like that person.” It’s really sad. Little do they know that no one looks that way when they roll out of bed. Face-tuning and body-tuning apps really freak me out. I could go on about this. I’m so passionate about it. I really think it’s a serious problem. There’s actually Snapchat dysmorphia. It’s been added as a psychological disorder. Girls are trying to get surgery to look like the filter of their selfie. A lot of times you can’t even do what a filter can do because girls want their eyes to be bigger and stuff, but that’s physically not a possible surgery. It’s just fucked up.
What do you think about the term “female-fronted rock band”?
You know what, I have no charge good or bad towards it. Usually whenever it’s come up from people they’re saying it because they really genuinely feel passionate about female voices that are fronting a band. And they love the sound of a female voice. I’ve never actually had anyone that uses that genre use it in a derogatory way when they’ve told me like, “I love this, I love female-fronted rock.” And so I don’t really tear it apart in any way. If it’s good for them, that’s fine. It is female-fronted and I don’t know how to change the stigma. There are men and women on the planet and it’s never gonna be the same. We don’t even think the same.
Fans and journalists are hesitant to comment on the appearance of a band member, especially if they’re female. You’re easily labeled a sexist or whatever. What do you think?
I think that right now, the topic is a little over-sensitive. I think we’re having to think a little too cautiously about commenting on attraction. I’ve seen women acting like pigs on this tour with the guys and nobody says anything about that. I think there’s a fine line where it becomes too ultra-extreme. Women deal with things that men don’t. I know, coming up in this industry. I’ve been deemed as “the groupie” about five times on this tour already. And then after we play – it’s been owners of the venue – they don’t mean it in an offensive way, but I even got wristbanded by a woman somewhere. Afterwards she’s like, “I’m so sorry, I can’t believe it.” Whatever, she didn’t mean it, but it’s just funny. I kind of chuckle at it. That still happens if they assume I’m with someone in the band. I don’t know. What can you do?
What about things like the Hottest Chicks In Hard Rock?
It doesn’t offend me, but I will say I didn’t really care for the whole calendar thing. I was in one of the Revolver calendars in 2011 or something, like a long time ago. I honestly feel super proud that this band has gotten the recognition for its music first before anything because that was what was important to me. I can’t say what’s important, though, for another woman. If it is part of their body and their sexuality, and that’s what they decided to put forward – which we know there’s bands like that – it’s not for me to judge why they did that. I can’t. All I know is for myself, I would rather be recognized for the music first.
The band is 10 years old now, right?
It’s very confusing because I wrote the first demos with guys starting 13 years ago and then the band went through some name changes and toured quite a bit before the album came out. We played small gigs all across Canada in any hole that would take us. In 2010 Out Of The Pit came out, but the band really happened about 11 years ago. I feel like we’re over a decade. I feel that because I’ve been working very hard since then and driving a band van since I was 19. So for me, it definitely feels like 11 years.
Prevail I and II were super were strong albums, but I felt like they were leading up to something bigger. I was anticipating the next record and Evolution has exceeded those expectations. I think it’s a defining record for the band and for you.
That’s why the album is called Evolution. It’s not just about the journey, but the musical journey that the band has taken to get to where it was and we all feel like it’s a pinnacle and very important for this band. It finally integrates all of our elements in a very strong unified front and also presents to people that we’re not really dictated by one thing. It’s really hard to put our band in a music box and say what it sounds like exactly.
You just mentioned on stage about how important it is for people to find songs they relate to. There’s something for everyone on Evolution.
That’s what it’s all about and why I want to do it. It connects to people, so whatever is gonna connect the dots for them and make an impact in their life and in some way give them some sense of good feeling. What I wanted from this record was for people to have a really good empowered feeling from the music.
How have you changed over the last 11 years?
Oh, man. I’ve changed a lot. I’ve learned a ton. I love a lot of different music and that probably is what has made me develop as a vocalist as well. Learning new tricks, trying on new things, and trying to hone my identity further as whatever Kobra sings like. And I think there are some isms that I have. I think every singer should have those and find them and just become more solid on vocals. I would also hope after this album that people get a good sense of what I can do and what I’m capable of.
What would you like to say to wrap things up?
I’d just like to say thank you to everyone that has supported this band along its journey. To new people coming in to the new music, I’m so glad you’re here and that you found us. We’d really like to keep going and continue rocking out with people around the world and hearing how songs connect to them. We really appreciate when people purchase the albums or use legitimate streaming platforms because these things do really impact bands these days. If you torrent instead of stream it means we can’t use our streaming numbers to apply for tour support. We really need people to use legitimate platforms and we’re grateful to everyone that does make the effort in doing that.
Exclusive Interview: Geoff Tate
Rock Confidential caught up with Geoff Tate to discuss the Sweet Oblivion project, the upcoming ‘Empire’ box set, and exciting plans for touring in 2020.
Geoff Tate was part of one of the best metal records of 2019. It wasn’t a solo album or an Operation: Mindcrime record – the record is titled Sweet Oblivion by the band of the same name and was founded by Italian guitarist Simone Mularoni.
Currently, Tate continues to tour North America on the last leg of his 2019 tour before picking things up again in early 2020. “I’m booked through fall of 2020, so next year will be as busy as this year, the year before and the year before that,” says Tate enthusiastically. Look for live coverage soon.
Rock Confidential caught up with Geoff Tate to discuss the Sweet Oblivion project, the upcoming Empire box set, and exciting plans for touring in 2020.
How did you get involved with Sweet Oblivion?
I was approached by one of the executives at my label, Frontiers Records, if I was interested in recording some vocals as a guest on an album. I didn’t know what to say. He asked me to just listen to the music and let him know what I thought. I loved what I heard. The music had such a classic Queensryche sound to it. I was in.
I assume all the music was written when you came on board. Did you write the lyrics for the album?
Yeah, the music was written when it was sent to me. I worked and reworked the lyrics and melodies. I can’t tell you how much fun it was to make the Sweet Oblivion record. It turned out fantastic, I think.
How was it for you to work long-distance on this album? Was it awkward at all?
Ruben, I’ve never worked on a record in this manner. It was so liberating to work like this, unlike being in a studio where you get distracted by talking about whatever insignificant things are going on around us. We waste time and it costs a lot more money than we’d like to spend. I’d do an album like this again, in a heartbeat. I have yet to meet Simone Mularoni, who as you know is the guitarist in Sweet Oblivion. We’ve exchanged emails, music files and texts but we’ve never met.
Have you considered adding something from Sweet Oblivion into the set?
Not yet, maybe down the road if we were to do a second record. I have a set in place for this tour and once we finish the dates this fall we’ll resume touring in early 2020. We won’t be able to do anything then, because we’ll be doing the entire Rage For Order album then closing out the night with a complete performance of Empire, which will be celebrating its 30th anniversary in 2020.
Geoff, how is the anniversary box set of Empire coming along? I recall you mentioning something was in the works.
Yeah, that will be released in the first quarter of 2020. It’s done. Its got a lot of bonus content, live tracks and liners. You’re gonna love it. I look forward to performing Empire next year because there’s songs on there that I’ve never performed live. Some of them I have never performed since we recorded them. It’s going to be special. I mean we’re opening with the Rage For Order album. It’s going to be fun.
You’ve been touring with the current incarnation of Operation: Mindcrime for a bit, having seen you twice with the current line-up. Has the idea of doing some live recording of this band crossed your mind?
Live albums don’t interest me one bit. They don’t capture the real energy of the live performance. I agree this band is great, but I’d much prefer people come see us live than to listen to a live record that isn’t going to have the energy and do the concert justice. I’ve been there, done that. I’m about living in the now.
We recently observed 9/11. Do you remember where you were when that tragedy took place?
Yeah, I was at home in Seattle. I didn’t know that it had happened until quite a few hours after it had transpired. People I knew were riveted to the coverage of local and national news stations and I began to get calls from friends. I didn’t have a TV, so they mentioned that I might want to get to a TV so I could see what’s going on. I was shocked. I’m still surprised that they haven’t gotten to the bottom of it all these years later.
Queensryche was always pro-military. The record American Soldier was a concept album that featured individual stories from different soldiers. What inspired that album?
My dad was career military. He was in the Marines, Air Force and the Navy. He fought in Korea and he fought in Vietnam. As a kid I was always interested in my father’s experience as a soldier. Hew never spoke about it. He didn’t talk about the wars and he never talked about his involvement at all. It was a “hush, hush” thing in the family. Then in 2008 or 2009, I was visiting my dad. We were sitting outside on his back porch, having an iced tea, and all of a sudden he starts telling me all about it. This was out of the blue! (laughs) So I grabbed my phone and hit record and recorded an entire conversation with all of his stories. I was listening back to the conversation with my wife two weeks later and she was the one that mentioned that we could make an album around those stories. The more I thought about it, the more I wanted to do it. So I began to speak with different soldiers from different eras and from different conflicts. I think in all I wound up speaking with over 300 soldiers. They ranged from World War II to the Iraq war. That was such a fascinating journey. That album was dedicated to our soldiers, their experiences and how those military experiences tend to hang on to them well after they have returned.
Having completed the Operation: Mindcrime trilogy (2015’s The Key, 2016’s Resurrection, and 2017’s The New Reality), would you do more concept albums in the future? Do you have any ideas marinating in your head for another concept album?
I don’t know at the moment. I have song ideas, but if something takes shape, perhaps. It’s too early to say at the moment. Nothing’s been predetermined.
Last thing and we’ll go back to Sweet Oblivion, specifically the video for “True Colors.” Man, things didn’t go too well for the guy in the video…
(laughs) Well, it’s all open to interpretation.
What’s your interpretation, or are you going to say?
I’m not going to say. I’m leaving it open for people to interpret it how they want to. I think that’s one of the great things about art. It can be interpreted in various different ways, depending on their own personal experiences. Music to me is sacred and should be respected.
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