Questions asked by Jon Wilde, added to Rock Realms 30th November 2010.
Vocalist Zak Stevens collaborated earlier this year on Stu Marshall's latest Empires Of Eden album, and his band Circle ll Circle has just released "Consequence of Power".
We caught up with the man to find out more...
Hi Zak, thanks for taking a moment to answer these questions. Hope you are well?
Zak: You are quite welcome, thanks for having me. I’m doing great thanks!
How has 2010 been for you so far? Good, average, totally sucky?
Zak: The year definitely started off a bit slow, but once we started working on the Consequence of Power album things picked up dramatically. We signed on again with AFM Records for another three options for albums, and then we finished the record August. By October, we had started our first 22-show European Tour 2010 in support of C.O.P., and we’ve been touring ever since, whether in Europe or the U.S., to finish out the year. So I guess what started slow finished in high gear in terms of how 2010 has gone so far.
Can you remember what led to you becoming a singer in the first place?
Zak: What really sealed the deal on me becoming a rock singer was when I saw Iron maiden on the Piece of Mind World Tour when I was in high school. After I saw what Bruce Dickinson brought to rock-n-roll, I said “That’s what I want to do” to my best friend and it hasn’t been the same ever since.
Do you come from a musical family?
Zak: My mother was a really good singer growing up, and she sang in beauty pageants that she won as a teenager as her talent, so I got some of my singing talent from my Mom. My Dad doesn’t really have any musical talent, but he’s a great dancer so maybe that helped my on-stage moves a little bit Ha Ha!
My aunt (Mom’s sister) is a very talented pianist and organist, and her son is producer Butch Walker (Avril Lavigne/Pink/Sevendust….). So we have a lot of musical talent floating around in the family genes I guess.
Who were your early influences, and who out there do you really rate these days?
Zak: My influences growing up in the 80’s and 90’s were Ronnie James Dio (R.I.P.), Bruce Dickinson, Geoff Tate, David Coverdale, Ian Gillian, Ray Gillian (R.I.P.), and Rob Halford just to name a few. I like the singer for the band Disturbed a lot. He’s got a great range. I also like the singer for Shinedown; he’s got a really interesting voice as well.
You‘ve worked with a number of different acts over the years. Do you purposefully get involved with new projects to keep your musical life fresh, or is it more about getting where the work is?
Zak: Doing side projects for me is definitely about expanding my vocal universe and using new recording situations to stretch my comfort zone when I can. I usually don’t have time for side projects when there is an active album cycle going on for CIIC, so 2009 was a good time to get a few projects under my belt and think outside the box vocally.
What was it like working on the excellent Empires of Eden album earlier in the year? Can you see yourself contributing again if Stu Marshall records album no.3?
Zak: Stuart Marshall has become a great friend of mine over the past few years. We actually met on-line on MySpace. I asked him a few questions about his albums for EOE. Stu asked me to write the lyrics and perform the vocals on “Prognatus Ut Obscurum”, and I was thrilled to do it. I recorded the vocals for the song in Tampa, FL at Red Room Recorders studios, and everything went great. It was a lot of fun, and I must say it did influence the vocal approach on the C.O.P album in some ways, so it was great working with a different style of music than CIIC plays for a change. I definitely see me being another EOE album and I definitely would enjoy appearing on the next one.
Do you have any more projects on the go at present, or any more on the horizon?
Zak: For now I’m just concentrating on CIIC, touring the world for the foreseeable future in support of the new C.O.P. album. We did a European Tour in October 2010, and we are in the middle of a US Tour right now for November through the end of 2010. CIIC is going to continue touring worldwide in 2011. It will start with a run of the Southern US in January, and we’ll be heading to South America in early February for a tour of Brazil. Then we are heading back to Europe for the spring/summer festivals to get in front of lots of fans in those countries where CIIC has been touring for the past seven years. So we have a really busy 2011 upcoming and we’re really excited about that.
Your main band CirclellCircle released new album “Consequence of Power” a month or two back. How has it been received so far?
Zak: We're getting really strong reviews from the fans and from the press. COP is making a lot of noise out there already. Now that we've been touring it, we're seeing it face to face with the fans. The dedication of our fans is incredible, and they are singing the lyrics right along with me even more than usual on songs from this new album.
How long did the album take to write and record, and was it hard work, pleasure, or a bit of both?
Zak: We recorded the album over a two month period during July - August 2010. It was one of the more relaxing recording projects we’ve been involved with in a few years worth of albums. I really just recorded vocals on the weekends and only on a few weekdays, and I wrote the song lyrics mainly during the weekdays. So that was a good vocal schedule for me. The music had been in place for about 6 months before we started the recording process, so that was relatively easy to sift through. Over July and August we were just tweaking previous material and that we had for months and custom fitting it to the concept story of the album. There’s a lot of hard work to making any studio album but this one was a lot of fun, and I really enjoy making concept records anyway.
How does it compare in terms of style and quality to the band’s older releases?
Zak: C.O.P. is different because we have reached a larger fan base due to a high demand in the U.S. market. Our fan base consists of old CIIC fans, new CIIC fans, old Savatage fans, our usual strong European fan base and a new blend of U.S. fans. Things are good for the band right now and we have extensive plans to tour the world for the next 5 years. C.O.P. is our second “concept” album along with “”Burden of Truth”. It’s a bit more aggressive in nature because of the subject matter explored in the concept.
The story is based around a personal story within a border war between Mexico and the US, involving all the elements you would expect; law enforcement, the FBI, cartel and gang warfare, unlimited cash resources on all sides, and the personal story of the main characters intertwining into this tumultuous story setting. The story drives the musical content so the overall sound of the album is greatly influenced by all of this.
What sort of processes do you typically go through to write songs?
Zak: The song writing process has pretty much been the same for the last 3 CD's. Mitch, our bassist, writes the music side of things and I write all the lyrics and melodies, and I help with the arrangement of the songs. So that’s been our basic song writing process for quite a few years now. Mitch sends me the musical ideas online in mp3 format, and I take it from there adding a basic “scat” vocal and various melody ideas. Then we judge from there, once the song is basically finished, whether it will be strong enough to use for a final album track or not.
What’s your favourite track on the LP, and is it the sound of the song or the memories behind it that make you love it?
Zak: I had a great time recording all the songs on the album, plus I’m very involved in all of the tracking for the entire album so I guess I’m spoiled in that regard. “Out of Nowhere” is one of my favourite tracks. But I also really like the songs “Take Back Yesterday”, “Mirage”, and “Anathema” a lot as well.
Do you enjoy the whole studio/creative experience, or do you prefer getting up on the live stage?
Zak: I love both areas of performing, even though they are completely different processes. The studio is a much more controlled environment, and I last a lot longer in the studio because of that. So the challenging thing I’ve been working on is having that same endurance in the live setting when breathing in everyone’s cigarette smoke, sweating profusely, and having to pace myself physically as well as my voice. And I’m getting better at the live scenario as my career goes forward, so that’s a good thing.
A big help for me was switching to an in-ear monitor system so that I can block out unwanted noise, hear myself very clearly night after night, and control that live environment much better. This also eliminates the need for loud floor wedge monitors which destroy your ears over the course of even a short tour. So in-ear monitors have improved my live vocal quality quite dramatically over the past year.
How was the European tour? I understand you were out with Primal Fear and then Vicious Rumors...
Zak: That’s correct. We completed a 22-show tour of Europe in October 2010. About half the shows were in support of Primal Fear and then the last half of the tour was a CIIC headline tour w/ Vicious Rumors as our special guest. The tour went great and we’re looking forward to touring in Europe even more extensively in Spring/Summer 2011.
And what about the U.S. dates? You’ve got a couple left?
Zak: We played 15 shows in November 2010 in the U.S. as part of the CIIC C.O.P. World Tour. We’re going out for another 10 shows in the U.S. in December 2010. CIIC will start 2011 with a tour of the Southern U.S. in January, then we’ll be heading to South America in early February for a tour of Brazil. After that we are heading back to Europe for the spring/summer festivals to get in front of lots of fans in those countries where CIIC has been touring for the past seven years. So we have a really busy 2011 upcoming and we’re really excited about that. We really hope to get to the U.K. soon to give you a taste of the new album songs live on stage and revisit the other albums live as well.
What is a CirclellCircle show like? Do you meticulously replicate the album sound, or do you turn into some sort of heavy metal beast?
Zak: Live we play a mix of songs from all five CIIC records. We also do a few Savatage songs from my era in that band (1993-1999). So the CIIC live show is a good place to see both of these musical worlds in that respect. We really replicate the album sounds in concert just because that’s the way the music sounds live. The sounds we use to record the albums are the actual sounds we use live, so there is a lot of similarity in both areas as far as overall sounds.
Is there a master plan to your career or do you take each day as it comes?
Zak: There’s a bit of both I think. I have an overall master plan to my career, but the best thing about the music business is that anything can happen at any moment. Every show is so important because you never know what impact you might have on any given night in front of any crowd. So we try to give our best performance every night because everyone in the audience deserves that, and that’s what I believe in.
Any question you love being asked that I’ve missed? If so, what’s the answer?
Zak: I think you really covered all the important points and I really appreciate that Ha Ha!
What are you up to once you’ve finished answering these questions?
Zak: Since I’ve been doing these interviews for 10 hours today, I think I’m going to drink a beer, relax, and watch some more American ‘football’ right now during the holidays before we go back out on tour in the US in a few days for December Ha Ha!
Anything else you would like to mention?
Zak: I just want to say a big “Thank You” to all of our friends in the U.K. for all the support through the years! We’ll hopefully see everyone soon for some nice shows in the U.K. in 2011. Follow us on You Tube, MySpace, and Facebook until then and you’ll see what’s going on week by week with CIIC! Can’t wait to see you all in 2011!
Thanks for your time...
Zak: Thanks for the interview Jon! Have a great Holiday Season!!
Thanks again to Zak for his time, and a big cheers for Axel at Rock N Growl for making the interview happen.