Og ikke en gitar i sikte. Mørkt og merkelig.
Vel, det skal erkjennes at jeg blingset litt og trodde det var våre norske karer som lå i spilleren først, men med det samme åpningslåten kom på plass, var det ingen tvil, her var det et annet band med samme navn. Amerikanerne presenterer ganske så bra hardrock, hvor melodier og hooks kommer tett. Siden jeg fant bandets musikk å være ganske så bra, trakk jeg de like godt inn for en prat. Både Dennis (gitar/vokal) og Frank på bass tok seg tid til å besvare mine spørsmål.
Hello, and welcome to Norway, welcome to Heavymetal.no :) Hows life?
Frank Forray (bass): "Skaal Norway and the land of the great Ole Gunnar Solskjaer! Life has been great! We are celebrating our new album and tour, things are going great!"
Los Angeles, I don't know 'bout you guys, but Ninth Circle isn't the typical LA-band? How come you chose aor/melodic hard rock?
Frank: "The first bands I really liked were European heavy metal bands, Iron Maiden, Scorpions,Yngwie, Judas Priest, UFO and early Def Leppard. Later, the LA bands which were influenences to me were bands like Dokken, Van Halen and Stryper. We are definitely not a typical LA band; we hated things that were about being popular, being cliche and predictable. We carried the metal flag high into battle during the 90’s when everyone, especialy in LA, were on the grunge bandwagon. We never waivered or followed trends."
Dennis: "For as long as I can remember, I was always drawn towards the power of hard rock and especially the melodies which came with it. Learning guitar during the 80’s, there was always a good amount of talent coming out of the Metal scene whether it be from Europe or America. I learned the standards just like anyone else but I can still remember the first song I wrote and the feeling of satisfaction when it came to life! It wasn’t really a conscious decison to play this certain type of music, Frank and I just really wanted to play live what we heard in our heads. Some can get caught up in the trends but for us, creating Melodic Hard Rock has always been our passion so we have stuck with it."
The obvious question, which I guess you have answered a million times; twenty years together, only three albums since 2000...?
Frank: "Great question, Dennis and I have been at this since our mid teens. Things really took off for us in the 90’s. And alot of it has to do with us being a three-piece metal band. There are a lot of flakey people in LA who want to be in a band so they can be seen. We wanted to be in a band to play the music we love. We went through a lot of singers, and a few drummers, who in the end did not share our same vision. Once we shedded the dead weight, things started to take off for us. I think our first album came out in 1998, then it took some time to find the drummer and singer. We settled on Dennis and fired our original drummer. From then on we were back on pace. Even with the new album out, we are looking forward to the next album. I already 30 songs written. So new Ninth Circle music will be on the horizon for our fans in the near future."
Dennis: "In short we lost a singer during the recording of our first cd, and then put it on the shelf for several months to try out new singers. It just didn’t feel right and the last thing we wanted was for a hired gun to be used for the vocals. I ended up taking singing more seriously and once ready, I went back and recorded the lead vocals and the rest is history.
For The Power of One, we worked with a drummer who had not been in the studio before so the learning curve took some time, a long time. Once the project was finally completed he was no longer interested in playing live. In the short term, these were all set backs. However, it made us appreciate the line-up we have now with Dave Davis on drums. This is the first CD in which the line-up which started it was the one that finished it and we are more than happy to share Legions of the Brave with everyone!"
Thanks! It's a great meodic record :).
I do hear a lot of Aor within the songs, but I do feel the hard rock has a stronger presence. Agree? or does it even matter?
Frank: "It’s all about melody and the music. When I write music I always keep a few things in mind; first I write for Dennis. I think about what he would enjoy playing. Secondly, I make sure the songs have a strong melody. A few bands I always go back to for inspiration are, Riot, Scorpions, Primal Fear, Helloween, Megadeth, Testament and Maiden. I look for strong musical hooks, transitions and guitar solo sections, and of course, a memorable chorus you can sign along to like at a football match or German beirhause. Also, being of Hungarian descent I’m very intrigued and influenced by schlager music that many people can sing along to."
Dennis: "Yes, I feel that the hard rock has a stronger presence in our music. Being a three piece, we really like to make sure the songs groove in such a way that they work both on record and of course live. That being said, we often hear that our sound is more in your face live. We’re perfectly fine with that otherwise everyone could just sit at home and listen to our cd’s and not come to the shows. There are always ideas that come up during the recording process and often it’s those ideas which highlight the music and give it that extra Aor influence."
I liked the production, it suited your songs great. These days bands usually butter up everything, making the production carry a lot of the album. You guys have chosen a lighter approach...thoughts? And what bands did you use as guidance? Any albums used as references in the studio?
Frank: "For starters we really wanted to write and produce a more progressive and heavier album than the previous two we had released. We had written all the songs with today’s Melodic and Power metal bands in mind such as Hammerfall and Stratovarius. Obviously we do sound different as our influences are different, our environments are different and the way we approach our instruments are different. Our producer, Jeff Prentice, who we have known for just about 20 years, is very influencial factor in the band. He once sang for us back in ’98 when we were opening for Enuff Znuff. He knows us very well musically, as musicans and as friends. As with the previous album, Jeff really pushes us in the studio to reach for a better production and song arrangement each time.
With this album he knew we were pushing for a more progressive sound, but being a three-piece we wanted to stay away from sounding like Rush. Jeff knows our taste for European power metal bands and one night he was listening to Nightwish and it struck him to write some keyboard accompaniments for our songs. When he invited Dennis and I into to the studio to listen to what he had done we were blown away. It pushed Ninth Circle exactly to where Dennis and I had envisioned the band sonically. As far as albums and their productions, I remember telling Jeff to listen to Primal Fear’s 16.6, Accepts Blood of the Nations and Stratovarius’ Polaris."
Ninth Circle, we do have a band here in Norway with the same name :). But our NC is extreme. They are using Dante as the foundation for the lyrics, are you guys using him as well? If not, what topics are used as basic for the lyrical aspect?
Frank: "Dante’s Devine Comedy is the inspiration for the band’s name. Also it inspired the title track of our first album, Ninth Circle. But that’s where it ends. We never wanted to paint oursleves into a corner by being one dimensional. After nine circle’s of hell you are going to run out of mateiral to write about! As the main lyricist I look to alot of diferent things that are going on in our global environment that tell stories everday; psychology, war, history, personal experiences and events that really interest me. For example, Legions of the Brave is inspired by Dennis’ uncle who was a fighter pilot in WWII. Grinding The Bastards down is a bit of an homage to my favorite Motörhead song (Just ‘Cause You Got The Power’) (Man, one of y all time MH-tracks!!! Yj) and In Evil We Trust is about those who give into their darkside without thinking of the consequences. Ronnie James Dio and Rob Halford have always been a tremendous influence in being a lyricist. In life there are so many subjects to write about; it is an endless canvous."
20 years, thats a long time, but at the same time it doesn't feel like 1994 was that long ago :) Did you start up at an early age? Or were there other bands before Ninth Circle?
Frank: "Yes, definitely started at an early age. Dennis and I started playing together music when we were in high school. By 1994 we started what would become Ninth Circle. I have never played in another band other than Ninth Circle. This is my one and only musical love. I have been asked to play for other bands and have jammed with other musicians, but I am only satisfied musically by playing music in Ninth Circle and with Dennis. If Dennis died tomorrow I would probably call it quits. I’m sort of the Alex Van Halen to Dennis’ Eddie Van Halen. However, I did play in a Thin Lizzy tribute band in the late ‘90’s with our producer Jeff Prentice and Dennis DeYoung’s current guitar player August Zadra, but nothing original."
Dennis: "There were other bands but they were just variances of what is now Ninth Circle. We started off playing cover songs like everyone else but again, the satisfication of writing and playing original material was where it was at for us."
What are your fave bands? And are the bands you like now the same as when the band started out? Is the inspiration basically the same through these two decades?
Frank: "As I mentioned before I am still in love musicaly with Iron Maiden, Judas Priest, Scorpions, Van Halen, Yngwie, Dokken, Dio, UFO, Megadeth, Motörhead and Riot. As for newer bands, it’s all about the European power metal bands for me; Primal Fear, Helloween, Stratovarius, Gamma Ray, HammerFall and ressurrected Accept. I really like what those bands are doing now and they inspire me greatly."
Dennis: "The greats continue to inspire me to this day... Iron Maiden, Scorpions, Van Halen, UFO etc. Like anything else, the bands that followed really kicked things up a notch with speed, melody, and dynamics. Upon hearing Yngwie Malmsteen, Riot, and Helloween, I couldn’t imagine Metal getting better until I heard Stratovarius, Dream Theater, Gamma Ray and Hammerfall. There is so much music to be heard out there but a steady dose of the above keeps me going and inspired."
How did you hook up with Pure Rock/Pure Steel? I know, they are signing a lot of bands, of various quality, but they are at the same time very important in spreading bands in your genera, and they have a great network.
Frank: "Interestingly enough we know a few bands here in LA who are signed to Pure Rock/Pure Steel. We like the guys in those bands and they had nothing but good things to say about that label. So Dennis and I decided to reach out to them to see if they were interested in a partnership and here we are... in Pure Rock we trust! A few other bands from LA have signed with Pure Rock /Pure Steel so there’s a Pure Rock/Pure Steel family growing in LA!"
Is it different to promote melodic rock now versus back when the other two albums came out? Is it easier to promote Ninth Circle in 2014?
Frank: "I think it is becoming easier now. With the first album it was pretty much a promotion in North America. With our second album (The Power of One) the internet had exploded and the majority of our sales and interest were in Europe and Asia. Given the current attitude in North America toward heavy metal, we are really making larger push toward the European and Asian markets to leave our mark. And with our new label we are reach fans we could not otherwise reach with our previous label."
And why was there never released any material until 2000?
Frank: "There were a bunch of demos and EPs with singers we never wanted to come out. We actually started recording the first album in the winter of ’98. We fired the singer before the album was complete and convinced Dennis to sing, then the album came out in 2000. That was a rough period for the band. We took a year off. We had never done before up to that point. It was a very dark period for Ninth Circle. Dennis learned how to sing during that time and that really moved us forward quickly.
We did take one other six month break after the record came out and we decided to fire our original drummer. That was a very depressing time. Dennis was becoming disalusional with the tensions in the band and he was not having fun anymore. I was trying to keep things moving forward and our orginal dummer was chasing trends like Sublime and Dave Mathews. In the end we wanted to stay true to what we always wanted to do... play heavy metal!"
Dennis: "As Frank mentioned, we could have had a bigger catalog but we had a plan for each recording. Although we suffered setbacks, delays and personnel issues, we have three full length cd’s which we stand by. Legions of the Brave is a far cry from Ninth Circle but we wouldn’t want it any other way. Again, we appreciate where we are at now and look forward to making more music!"
Any knowledge of Norway, bands, other stuff?
Frank: "Oh yeah! Nowary is on our list of places to visit and play! Of course there is Nowegian metal Dimmu Borgir, Mayhem, Emperor and Immortal. And then there is football! Who doesn’t love Ole Gunner Solskjaer who played for my beloved Manchserter United and manages Cardiff City!"
Me? :) Don't fancy the black stuff either...he-he.
I really appreciate you taking the time to answer my questions! Any final words?
Frank: "I had a blast! I do realy hope we make it to Norway to peform! I have read, seen and heard a lot fantastic things about your beautiful country! Skaal from Ninth Circle!"
Dennis: "I had a blast as well ! After spending a week in Sweden on holiday in 2013, I knew I wanted to return to Scandanavia ! Perhaps it will be Norway next time and perhaps it will be with Ninth Circle! Thank you."