REDEMPTION – I/II – Doesn’t want to Die
Eternal Terror reporter Matt Coe got hold of Nick van Dyk, the fine guitarist of the respected progressive metal band Redemption, to talk about metal, vocalists and obviously the new album.
After releasing two albums the old fashion way (financing out of pocket then licensing the albums through Lasers Edge/Sensory), guitarist Nick van Dyk was able to hook up a great deal with Inside Out Music. Their latest album "The Origins Of Ruin" represents a progressive power metal explosion, enveloping energy from the get go and soaring over the top is the one of a kind vocalist Ray Alder, he of Fates Warning fame. Gaining the opportunity to talk to Nick following a short European festival jaunt, this conversation flowed easily as he was willing to bounce back and forth on a host of topics.
You‘ve had the great opportunity to work with some incredible metal vocalists through Redemption- most notably Rick Mythiasin (Steel Prophet) and Corey Brown (Magnitude 9) prior to Ray Alder of Fates Warning. What do you think each singer has brought to the table to make Redemption stand out in the progressive metal scene?
Wow that’s an interesting question. I view it as a big evolution and they all played important parts. Rick was sought out to help establish what was originally meant to be just a demo or listened to for enjoyment, along with Jason Rullo, Ray Alder and Mark Zonder something that we could generate a buzz going to possibly get a label interested in us. I think Rick’s performance on this is one of the best in his career as he was fundamentally a power metal vocalist and I knew through the process of recording with him if we were to progress things along I wanted someone who felt more comfortable and thought the way I did about music rather than the material that was more in the Steel Prophet vein as I think more progressively.
So when it came time to perform live we reached out to Corey Brown – a tremendous guy and very, very talented. I love his performances on the Magnitude 9 stuff. He performed very well with us and we probably would have continued with him in the band but as I was writing material for the second record Ray expressed an interest in singing with us. That’s unbelievable and too good of an opportunity for me to pass up. Also he is local to my area and Corey is in Colorado and it was simply a lot easier. The big issue was I didn’t want to make a commitment to Ray unless he was fully able to commit to this band as well as Fates Warning as I’m a huge fan of that band and I would never want to jeopardize what they have. I believe we did what we needed to do, we now have one of the best and most recognized vocalists within the progressive metal genre.
I’ve heard in previous interviews that you are much more satisfied with "The Origins Of Ruin" especially on a songwriting and production basis. What do you think this album contains that your previous two efforts may have lacked?
I was happy with "Fullness…" as we made a huge leap in songwriting from the first album to that one and we made a little bit of a progression from that to "The Origins Of Ruin" but I think we’ve made a big leap in production from each album to album. We have a record – I don’t think that anyone is ever fully satisfied… Geddy Lee said ‘Artists are never really finished with records, they are just taken from them’. Which is absolutely true as there is stuff that I would always like to change and make a little bit better, try to learn and build upon for the next time.
The biggest thing was the production – just to contrast this with the last album, we did it with whatever microphones were lying around and I engineered the album along with our drummer and we didn’t really know what we were doing. You contrast that with flying Tommy Newton over from Germany and taking in 15,000 Euros worth of microphones and spent four hours on the drums to just get the right sounds for the album. The difference is the drums really breathe and the drums are the key to everything because if you have to over compress them you end up making the whole sound of the album a little bit squashed. A lot of what we base our sound on is contradictions, really heavy music with strong melodies. If you have music that can breathe more you can play up the dynamics and it accentuates what we do and it sounds a lot better.
How does it feel to have such a well schooled guitarist by your side in Agent Steel’s Bernie Versailles- and do you feel he has pushed you in Redemption to become more of a versatile player?
It’s a tremendous relief. I always tell people if we were Megadeth he would be the Marty Friedman and I would be the Dave Mustaine (laughs). I’m ok at my instrument considering it’s not what I do full time – Bernie is really gifted. I can play a restrained lead that’s more based around melody but I don’t have the capabilities to do the crazy stuff and Bernie can let loose when he wants to. He also has very good taste – if you listen to the solo in "Sapphire" he shreds but there’s also a few parts where he’s sustaining notes that bring out the emotion of the passage. Since I’m not doing this for my livelihood I have to enjoy the people I’m doing this with around me and the experience as well and he’s great."
When it comes to the records, how do you decide who gets to play what lead breaks and such?
Solos are his – I will divvy it up in some songs I divide it up when I think I want to try to get across something. We try to keep everything equally balanced."
You grew up in the Bay Area during the discovery of the NWOBHM and its influence on the early thrash movement from Exodus and Slayer on through to Megadeth and Metallica among others. Tell us about your early memories and exposure to the movement – what were some of the early albums and shows that made a lifelong impact upon your metal views?
Absolutely. God what a great question. The shows… discovering the Iron Maiden, Judas Priest, Ozzy, Black Sabbath and all of their back catalogs occupied my listening for two or three years. Right around that time Metallica broke, I remember … talk about a show, I saw Metallica and Raven together in a small club play for about 50 people in San Francisco before "Ride The Lightning" got released – pretty damn cool. I think their terrible now – I usually make it a rule not to comment on other bands but their older stuff compared to their newer material, they seem completely irrelevant now. I used to love going to see Megadeth because they were this jazz influenced band with a lot of twists and turns, just really cool riffing that overcame the fact that Dave at that time couldn’t sing his way out of a wet paper bag. It was a great time, we all felt like we were a part of this little scene and we knew something that other people didn’t, which makes the underground fun. It was also interesting to see these bands break open.
In today’s progressive metal scene, there seems to be a lack of new leaders and more of a copycat syndrome going on with the newer acts. Why do you think more groups aren’t striving to be original if not in their songwriting but possibly in their approach to the genre?
Yeah, it’s tough – I think somebody once said there are only so many notes on a fretboard. A genre like progressive metal has so many distinct elements to it that are so endemic to that style of music… all you can really do is push the envelope there. You have guitar players that can go faster and faster and go through more complicated arrangements and that’s why it’s almost reached a point where things become a parody of themselves. I don’t practice 14 hours a day so you aren’t going to hear me sound like Shawn Lane. We are more song oriented as a result.
The other way to look at is what the nature of progressive music means. Sometimes a band will change just for change’s sake. If you look at the first connotation of progressive metal I can’t think of a band any more talented than Symphony X. Amazing – but you would be hard pressed to say they are doing anything different than what Dream Theater and Yngwie Malmsteen have done – they are doing it with Michael Romeo being a pretty great composer and he writes really cool stuff. But you can trace all the roots back to Kansas, Rush, Metallica and the same places my roots come from or John Petrucci’s roots come from. Think about progressive music as changing you can look at Devin Townsend or Pain Of Salvation – they change every time out, they rarely make two albums that sound the same and they may lose a lot of people along the way but there are people who listen to the new album and want the band to do "One Hour By The Concrete Lake" again. That has its own challenges – I don’t necessarily think change for change’s sake is necessary – as long as you can offer something that is reasonably fresh and emotional honest with a good message I think people will get enjoyment out of it. Hopefully things will stay different and not be like hair metal where everything becomes the same- as the genre will die otherwise.
You’ll be performing again on the main stage at the next Progpower USA. What can the sold out crowd expect from this performance- which I understand will be filmed for a live DVD?
We had fun playing ProgPower a few years ago – but I think people will be blown away by the intensity of our performance this time out and just how much tighter we are. We will have another 25 nights in front of thousands of other Dream Theater fans when we tour with them this summer by the time we play Atlanta. We will have a good hour at ProgPower, so we can do some of our longer songs instead of having a 35 minute opening act set, where it‘s tough to do longer arrangements.. We will acknowledge our first album but the one thing I will say is we will not do any Fates Warning covers, we were asked by the composers not to do this. We’ve come so far since the first album – when we played that Netherlands festival in Amsterdam we did Faith No More’s "The Real Thing" which went over really well."
…the origins of ruin…
What do you believe were the easiest and most difficult songs to write/record on "The Origins Of Ruin"?
One of them did give us trouble recording, there‘s always a song that just doesn‘t want to get recorded. Probably "Memory" was the toughest – compositionally it came together in several different parts. The chorus melody which I think is the strongest part that occurs vocally on the album came to me when I was out golfing one day, I literally called my cell phone and sang the melody into the cell phone to save it. The most challenging part is the verses as I wrote them first and then the melodies. The music fits organically but the time signature floats all over the place. It’s really tough to pull off live but we are doing it and doing it pretty well.
The last album was a little more challenging because we recorded all the parts and then I flew over to Germany to meet with Tommy, and he asked me if I was interested in re-recording some of the guitars. I was fired up to be in Germany, working with a great producer and I was hell bent on making a great record. So I said sure, I‘ll just re-record all the guitars at night! (laughs). So I would record to guitars with Bernie after Tommy was done in the day, from 10pm at night until 5 in the morning. I had to re-learn all the songs as I hadn‘t played them in close to a year. So trying to play "Sapphire" on like one day’s notice was a really pain in the ass.
Do you think the quieter parts of the album can be more challenging as well, trying to be so exact and precise?
Yes, when everything is boisterous and there’s a lot going on you can count on the sheer energy to carry you through – but when it’s really sparse… that’s one of the challenges with a song like the title track Ray wanted something to add another dynamic and laid back on the album, we made it short but it works out very well.
Travis Smith developed the cover which appears more realistic than the typical computer generated/ animation laden progressive art. Did you consult with him about your vision for the cover and how do you feel about his work for Redemption?
I’ll answer the second part first – he’s a tremendous guy and I love working with him. Since the day I saw one of the Devin Townsend album covers "Terria" I called him and asked him to do our art work, he’s been a really good friend and helps us a great deal with our covers.
I had come across the phrase "The Origins Of Ruin" in a book I had read and I thought this was a good way to encapsulate these feelings of the inability to communicate effectively, being extreme in your views about doubt, fear, self-loathing so I knew I wanted that to be the title. I had a vision in my head regarding the 1970’s movie "The Verdict" with Paul Newman about a lawyer who’s exhausted and delusional about his life and I had this vision of this guy at his desk just spent and I talked about this with Travis and it came out just perfect. We have a duality with the back cover his look is more delivered- he walks through the crack in the door of a drab little room. Eventually I got on to the web and looking up the poster art for the movie and it looks absolutely nothing like this.
I’ve also heard that one of your favorite progressive rock songs through the years would be Kansas’ "Carry On Wayward Son" – do you think the current crop of bands will ever be able to release a radio-friendly progressive song to possibly expand the following of this genre?
I think the problem is not with the bands, it’s with the people that listen to radio frankly. People that are diehard fans are downloading and making their own CD’s – casual fans who by definition don’t really have the attention span who want to listen to a 7 minute song and would rather listen to something they can just dance to, I don’t think have the mood for that sort of thing. "Carry On Wayward Son" is so good because the whole song is written in 4/4, it’s pretty straightforward even though the arrangement sounds complicated. It’s economical and the complexity serves the song rather than the other way around. I listen to old Yes and they have undeniably talented playing, but it’s 20 minute long self indulgent meandering and I can listen to it 3 times before I literally can’t take it anymore.
I’m wishing Trevor Rabin would come out and they would do "90125" album material for an hour (laughs). That’s the record I love even though my drummer would kill me for saying this. I’d never say never, three years ago you could have made the argument that the guitar solo would never be back, and bands like Trivium appeal to somebody and they’ve got guitar solos. I think music in general can go back and forth – 30 years ago you had hard rock that moved into progressive rock got boring, then it went into punk, then it went into NWOBHM, brought back the melodies, then it went into hair metal, thrash metal, and so forth, who knows what’s going to be next."
Do you find with your European following that type of trend moving doesn’t necessarily occur quite as much?
Yes, I think Europeans are a lot less programmed than their American counterparts. Our whole worship… I’m trying not to mention Pain Of Salvation because I disagree with Daniel on a lot of things but the one thing I will agree with him on is about the fascination of the Paris Hilton’s of the world in America, which is embarrassing on a cultural level and disgusting on a human level. I think that extends to a lot of pop culture, particularly in this country. I can understand the fascination with hot women but there’s very little substance there and there’s a whole movement around them, clubbing and really simplistic dumbed down danceable songs.
Does it frustrate you that you are unable to make a living from your music and that you have to hold down a full time career as an executive in the entertainment business to support your endeavors?
Nah – I think my situation is the total opposite of selling out. I’m very fortunate to be in the position of having a good job that supports my music hobby – the fact that I’m able to do something, record an album and tour with Ray Alder is unbelievably fulfilling fantastic. I’m pleased with my career, I just came back from a one week stay in Europe where I didn’t worry about anything but music and it would be nice to live that lifestyle.
How would you describe yourself as a person and do you believe there are aspects of your personality that you would like to work on and/or improve upon in the future?
It should be evident from my lyrics that I don’t have everything all figured out. The lyrics are exaggerated to be an emotionally compelling portrait, which is a tiny fraction of who I am. I’m not a wreck who lurches from one relationship to another. I’m complex and I have a duality thing going where I am a senior executive by day, collect wine and cook fancy food, play golf and on the other opposite side I’m playing in a heavy metal band.
What are some misconceptions about metal and progressive music in general that you think need to be set straight and worked on?
I think there may be a misconception about the progressive genre that it’s just this aimlessly complicated artsy fartsy stuff. You’ll notice our records, especially the last two, just grab you immediately as opposed to having 90 seconds of rain falling and building with a narrator, which is almost cliché. People tend to pigeonhole, maybe overly so, as a progressive metal band that plays more melodic or are we a power metal band that plays prog music? I look at us or a band like Evergrey as bands that can straddle genres. I think there are elements of everything, generally speaking our listeners and the listeners of other bands are educated and know what they are listening to, but there is also an element of anal retentiveness and a comfort of categorizing.
If you had the opportunity to sit down at a metal with three people alive or dead, who would you want to have at the table and what would the topics of conversation entail?
Wow. One would be a political theologian I wrote my college thesis about, his name is Reinhold Nieber. A lost man of the 20th century and Time magazine had a cover article about him. He’s a very interesting political philosopher who’s core argument was most people either think mankind is fundamentally good or fundamentally evil, reality is there is good and bad in everybody and you just have to manage the balance there. He would be an interesting guy to talk about my thesis with – I’ll leave other religion and political figures out of it. Having said that it might be interesting for Ayn Rand to be there. I agree with her on a lot of stuff and vehemently disagree with her on other things – the two of them would have fun disagreeing as long as they didn’t throw food at each other (laughs). And then… I suppose I would take a musician. If I thought he could have a coherent conversation I would take Jimi Hendrix, he inspired me to play the guitar. He would be bored.. So I’ll take the wine critic Robert Parker, there you go he can choose the wine.
What have your favorite Redemption live moments consisted of? What do you think the band brings in a live setting that other acts seem to lack?
For better or worse our band stands on our ability to emotionally connect with the audience. Our music has an emotional urgency to it and the structure of the songwriting reflects that. It’s not for everybody but there’s a resonance that happens as a result of connecting with your audience that a lot of people get. When you are for instance at an Iron Maiden show and you hear them do "Hallowed Be Thy Name", which in my opinion may be the greatest heavy metal song ever written I get excited, pump my fists in the air and sing along just like everybody else – I’m not relating though to this guy languishing in an 18th century prison awaiting to be hung.
If we play "Sapphire" live, people get it. I don’t have that many great live moments – if you ask me that question 3 months from now I will tell you walking out in front of 8,000 people at the Universal Ampitheater is going to be a pretty memorable moment. When we were in Amsterdam most recently "Sapphire" was our encore and I think a lot of people had given up on hearing it, it’s 15 minutes long and they aren’t going to play it. I did this acoustic thing which built into "Sapphire" and people really cheered.
What worries you about the world we live in currently and what areas do you think the general public needs to focus on over the next few years to make this work a better place to live?
That’s another very good question. The thing that worries me the most and I hate talking about politics but it’s a leading question. We survived the Cold War during some pretty difficult times and ultimately no one wanted to die. The other side accepted perhaps more than we did this fact – we cherish what we have here and we love our fellow man and be a better place. You knew the Russians in the depths of the Cold War didn’t want to die. Now you have an ideological foe that hates our way of life in the simplistic way our president categorizes this. I think he’s the worst president we’ve ever had. They hate us because of our support of Israel and exporting our culture and they think we steal all their oil and we’ve got troops on holy land that are infidels. Now it’s irrational, but it’s something we have to contend with because god forbid if these people develop weapons of mass destruction because they will use them, these people glorify death and would like to kill as many people as possible, even if they die while doing it. That’s a deranged point of view, making it unreasonable to have a logical discussion with them. The only solution to these free markets is to save the poor from their lot in life. Economic hope and freedom is the solution – it’s not normal to want to fly a plane into a building. If you have a strong family and want to see them grow up, become educated and succeed in life you aren’t going to want to fly a plane into a building. We need to provide some means of economic hope for the people in Iraq and other third world countries. The government isn’t going to do this – what’s happening in Europe and China is what needs to happen.
Recently you’ve announced a summer tour in support of Dream Theater, arguably the biggest drawing progressive metal act in the current scene. Tell us about this huge opportunity and what it took to gain such a valued support slot for Redemption?
I think you are absolutely right – there is no bigger promotional opportunity than playing in front of this band, we are incredibly thankful for the chance to go out and do this. I think it was a number of things – the way it came about is I have my day job and I didn’t think I was going to be able to take the time off. Dream Theater had announced their LA show and I asked Ray if we could do a special guest show in that city. Ray said I should email Mike Portnoy and I did, telling him who we are and he answered back in 5 minutes saying he knew who we were, loved our last album and asked Inside Out if we could tour with them but they thought my job would get in the way.
Which was unbelievably flattering – we had competed before in a songwriting competition when Corey Brown was in the band which was just for fun and we did well enough, and they had some inkling of who we were. Then as it happened "Octivarium" was released the same month as "The Fullness Of Time" was and we beat it out in Rock Hard in France for album of the month which I drew a little pride from. It’s great that they knew who we are – the best possible opportunity for our style."
What types of short term and long term goals do you set for Redemption?
I think we’ve been overtaken by events. Anything I dreamed would not have been as big as being direct support for Dream Theater and playing to 5-10 thousand people a night. Realistically given the realities of the genre and my day job we are never going to be much bigger than a Symphony X level band. I would be thrilled to put out a DVD, another couple of albums with Inside Out to get to that level, we aren’t losing money and we are considered favorably in the progressive metal genre.