07 Nov 2015

Circle II Circle Featured

Circle II Circle has reached the 7-album benchmark and the man in charge, Zak Stevens, is on the other side of the telephone wire to talk about “Reign Of Darkness”, as well as the much awaited Savatage reunion, Criss Oliva and his experience from Greece! He answers every question with great appetite like it’s the first time he hears this stuff. Interview: Yiannis Dolas, Dirty Work: Sakis Nikas

Rockpages.gr: Well, “Reign of Darkness” marks the seventh chapter in the Circle II Circle  discography. How do you feel about it now that it’s about to be released? Do you think that it captures the essence of the band?
Zak Stevens: Yeah I think so. You know we definitely did something different on this album, something that we had not shown before and something that we had been kinda developing musically the last year and a half, that we had not put out a record. But there were a few little signs on the last album “Seasons will Fall” about what we will might do, but very little. We just kinda kept this one going from the very beginning just trying to be as resourceful as possible with choosing the songs and working on them a lot longer, in the picking phase about picking which ones we’re gonna go on the album.CircleIICircle01 I think we took a lot more time with that, just try to make some music that was exciting and not very predictable, I mean a lot of places that is goes a lot of twists and turns but still keeping a lot of the things that make CIIC happen, you know, the melodic and simple melodies on the choruses even though the music might be complicated. I just try to keep it simple on my part, I think that’s pretty effective and just try to keep a nice melody over some crazy music and do something different. There’s a darker feel for this album but there’s some speed at times, tempo wise, that is nice that we can even take further the next time. Kinda of a no limit on the speed situations with our new drummer Marcello Moreira from Brazil. He can do anything, any tempo, he’s a great writer as well. We are excited to get him involved much more in the writing of the next album, he didn’t get a chance to do much of it this time, but we did increased the writers on the album to four. Me and Mitch(Stewart) and Christian(Wentz) wrote a lot and so did Marc Pattison, our friend who helps us in the studio now, he’s basically a partner of ours who writes and definitely plays some guitar in the studio, he does tour a little bit with us, but not a lot. And Billy Hudson doing what he does with his guitar riffs and adding some musical stuff here and there. So yeah, we have more people than ever writing the records.

Rockpages.gr: I think from my perspective, the new album combines traditional power- symphonic elements of Circle II Circle with more modern approach, like a crossroad if you like, of traditional and modern. Do you agree with that?

Zak Stevens: Yes that’s something we tried to accomplish. The word “modern” came up a lot in our early discussions of the making of the music. At least two or three guys brought up the fact that: “Hey we really need to try to be modern. If we don’t we’re gonna be very dated.” They thought that if we don’t do something different it was gonna fall flat. So we were all very aware, that we want to have a more modern approach. The only way for us to do that, like you said, was to bring out the older elements that make up the band, musically, and any influences that we have from the past. We can still use that, but we really need to be able to somehow metamorphosize that, into the modern approach. So yeah, that’s something that we worked on specifically and I think that’s part of what I said, about the unpredictability of the music, and the twists and turns, and the direction the songs go when you might not expect it, and I think that’s part of the modern element.

Rockpages.gr: Do you think that this can lead to gain new fans for the band?

Zak Stevens: We always try to do that. I think we have a greater chance that ever on this one to gain new fans, just because of the sound of the music and that people can get an idea of the past Circle II Circle. We definitely have elements of traditional Circle II Circle going on, on the album too. So maybe, if someone gives it a good listen from front to back, they’ll be able to pick up all those subtleties that define who we are throughout the years. We can definitely take this approach that we did on “Reign of Darkness” album and expand on it for the next one, which might be even more bombastic and crazy, but at least we found a direction that’s a lot of fun. All the guys have fun performing. So we’re pretty excited about this. Yeah, we were hoping we could gain some new fans from this album.

Rockpages.gr: Great. The album cover shows a sinister and dark image with a city in ruins. Is this reflective of the lyrical content of the album or do you think that this could be a real image of this age we’re living?

Zak Stevens: Well the imagery definitely came from our artist Joao Mr. Duarte from Brazil. That’s definitely his depiction of something he thought might happen. We would hope we would not have that picture, but I think that a lot of people have the idea that the world is going in a negative direction. We could wind up looking like that if we’re not careful. He did use my lyrics in order to come up with the imagery of the cover. We choose not to give specific directions to Joao when it comes to making the album covers. We let him pretty much run with it by himself. That is going to be attributed to his ideas and his creativity. We don’t try to be artists and so that’s why we have him. We just give him all the lyrics and the music and let him come up with something. So yeah, very dark but there is also like a ray of hope on the cover, too. I see a little baby holding the lantern and those birds; they are almost a glimmer of hope in the middle of a pile of rabble and horrible things, and piles of skeletons which is very dark and macabre. So it’s very interesting, it fits alone with the themes of the lyrical content and several of the songs lend itself to that picture. Some of the songs are pretty dark like that.

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Rockpages.gr: I think that “Untold Dreams” is the catchiest song on the album. Can you tell us a bit about that?

Zak Stevens: Well, this is a song that me and Christian wrote by ourselves. Christian is also the producer of the album. He had this one kinda left over from the past, and I told him to play it for me and I went like “wow”! And I was surprised he never did anything with it, most of the song was intact…pretty much what he had. So I said ok let me work with this some. I like those spaces in the verses. We even increased the space in the verses to leave a little more open line for my vocals. And the feeling to me, when I wrote the lyrics was just a guy, like an outlaw on the run, kinda of a fugitive, who just is real rough, he lives minute to minute. So I tried to go from the perspective of that kind of mentality and the story of how he got there. Some of the stories of how he became a fugitive, even though he might not truly be a fugitive, but that’s what the situation is. Sometimes you might find yourself a wanted man but you really didn’t do anything (laughs) By the time it gets to the chorus it’s about that life that’s turned cold by no choice of his own, it just turned in a direction in a horrible way.

Rockpages.gr: Could you draw a parallel to you, to your story? In any aspect with that outlaw story?

Zak Stevens: Ah possibly. It deals with some of the frustrations of the music business. That’s definitely in there. You work really hard, many times we put so much work as musicians and you just don’t quite get the result that you wanted. There is a little bit of that in there but I can’t complain too much these days. Things are going a lot better in every aspect now and that’s another reason we wanted to make a great album.

Rockpages.gr: Another song, the one I love the most from the album, is the last one “Solitary Rain” which reminds me a little bit of Savatage as well. Can you tell us a bit about that?

Zak Stevens: Yeah, I also agree that is has a little bit of Savatage kinda of a feel. It starts with the piano; it’s kinda like a piano ballet thing. This story is basically a modern day requiem, a song about death or a song for someone who is dying. It is a requiem of a guy who is battling addiction almost his entire life. Addictions to drugs, alcohol, and been trying to get away from the addiction but the addictions always try to relapse again. It’s sad. Many of us have known people in this situation and it’s very hard to watch that because you’re watching them fade away, basically watching someone a day closer to death. It’s almost like a rock opera of a guy losing that battle. That’s a pretty tough subject matter, but that’s what it’s about. That was the first time we ever had Latin words in a choir like that. Words that had to do with the direct meaning of the song like loneliness, isolation, sorrow. And at the end that’s where he dies, where he flies away. You know “fly away- take me to a higher place- as I leave this life- I will see you there in time”. And the last word of the entire album is “Goodbye”. I liked the idea of ending the album with that last goodbye (singing).

Rockpages.gr: On your upcoming plans, I see that you play in Brazil for a couple of shows with Blind Guardian, what’s next after that?

Zak Stevens: After that we have to come home and retool and get everything ready for next year. I will be going out with Transiberian Orchestra in the winter tour here in the US. So I have to start rehearsals on November 1st and I will be out with Transiberian Orchestra until right after Christmas.  Then after that everything starts back up with Circle II Circle, and we will be going probably back to Europe again, to support this new album. Hopefully getting over to Greece again, finally, cause it’s been years since we’ve been able to put on a show there. We’ll see if we can work out, we probably can. In the summer probably come to the States and do a run. There are several bands we can team up here to make a nice appearance. We’re just gonna try to kill as many places as we can as we always do. We are making a documentary film too, and we’re gonna continue to film all the tours and come out with that sometime next year.

Rockpages.gr: Talking about touring and playing in the States with Circle II Circle, how do you feel about the metalcore scene which is popular on the other side of the Atlantic? Where does Circle II Circle fit in all this?

Zak Stevens: Well with our band, people look at us like the elder statesman, been around for a while, found a way to make albums. We’re not that young, most of the bands that are new rising stars in America, they’re really young and kinda fit the bill of the American record label, what they think is a success. We’re like the old guard; we get respect, because we’ve been around so long and maybe because I come from Savatage. And of course you have to weigh in the Savatage and the Transiberian Orchestra when you look at Circle II Circle.

Rockpages.gr: Talking about Savatage, I guess, after the reunion show at Wacken, everyone is asking you about this. So how was it to join the stage again with Jon Oliva and the overall experience?

Zak Stevens: Oh, it was amazing for the guys to come back together again and rehearse for a month. Everybody fell in love again with each other; we found out that we were a lot better than we were back then. It gave us a lot of energy to think about what could be the possibilities to do something again with Savatage. We’ll be meeting about that in November. What do we wanna do? Is it a new album? What is it? We are trying to figure that out for everybody. Everybody did a great job at Wacken. We got to do something that had never been before. Both the stages going at the same time with Transiberian Orchestra on the one, and Savatage on the other. I’m looking forward to seeing a DVD of that. We’ll be pushing real hard to make for that live a Blu-Ray.   

Rockpages.gr: Do we have time for one more question?

Zak Stevens: Yeah we have 6 minutes buddy!

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Rockpages.gr: 2015 marks the 20th anniversary of “Dead Winter Dead”. Should we expect an anniversary concert or tour by Circle II Circle to commemorate the event like you did in the past with “Handful of Rain” and “Wake of Magellan”?

Zak Stevens: Yeah, we certainly have. Because it’s the only one that hasn’t been treated like, that in some way. That’s something I’m going talk to Jon, about doing it as Savatage. My band has done it, but I’m also interested in seeing how it would be with Savatage to go do it. It might be a nice way to bust out. With a tour featuring that album, and then come out with a record. I don’t know I’m just thinking out loud. But that’s a great question, because yes, either way, we have been talking about that for at least a few years.

Rockpages.gr: If I tell you that I have this friend who hasn’t heard of Circle II Circle ever and I want to introduce the band to him. Which records I should play for him to get an idea of what the band is about?

Zak Stevens: I would say go ahead and start with the first album that’s always the good one.  And then go show them Burden of Truth which is that concept album, about the Da Vinci code (laughs). Maybe a few things of Seasons will Fall, something like Epiphany, and then just go straight to Reign of Darkness, I think that might be a very good education for someone who never heard of us before.

Rockpages.gr: It’s been like 22 years without Criss (Oliva), you’ve worked with him on an album, Edge of Thorns, what do you remember? Is it safe to say that if he’d still be alive, Savatage would not have split?

Zak Stevens: Oh yeah, it’s probably safe to say that, but then that was kinda due to the transition of Savatage becoming Transiberian Orchestra and trying to invent another band. So it’s hard to say. I know everything about Criss. I lived with him for a year. So we were not only bandmates, we were roommates. He wanted it that way, he goes “Hey, you just now got into the band; we got some lost time to make up for I think you should live with me and my wife!” He had a lot of great times together, he was a great guy, he did everything he could to be a passionate leader of the band. He was a super teddy bear of a guy. That’s what made it so tragic when we lost him. I remember everything, I remember like it was yesterday, 22 years mean nothing.

Rockpages.gr: Thank for this interview, it was great talking to you. I hope we’ll see you in Greece. But you know the situation in Greece is a bit like the cover of Reign of Darkness with what’s going on with the economy now.

Zak Stevens: Yeah it’s just happening in places around the world. We’re following it closely, if we can possibly work it out, I definitely can see coming back to Greece sometime next year. I’ve got lots of friends in Greece so they keep me educated than just American news.  Even when I was in high school, one of the first places I ever went outside of my country was, in 1983, to Greece, to have a home stay with an exchange student and see all the amazing places there.  Cool alright, I guess I’ll catch up with you sometime in the future.

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