REDEMPTION – II/II – Pushing Mortality
While other acts push technicality to the hilt in the progressive metal genre, rarely do you hear a band that places as much of an emphasis on both progressive and metal much like Redemption. Over the course of their previous four albums they’ve developed into quite a buzz worthy act, attracting lucrative touring exposure through Dream Theater as well as select dates on Prog Power festivals in the United States and the Netherlands.
Calling from California, guitarist/ songwriter Nick Van Dyk has managed to survive quite the life and death juggling act when receiving the word a few years ago about being diagnosed with blood cancer. The man certainly has a story and I believe the latest Redemption album "This Mortal Coil" contains more of what progressive metal fans want out of their bands- the ability to connect amidst all the trials and tribulations that life presents to us.
What’s the status of multiple myeloma blood cancer you were diagnosed with in November 2008? How difficult was it to go through all of the aggressive treatment while you were completing work on your previous album "Snowfall On Judgment Day"?
"First of all thank you for asking- I’ve been in complete remission almost two years to the day. I’m on three kinds of gnarly medicine for about one more year to keep me in remission and if I continue to make the progress I’m making- and odds are I will- then I will be stopping the meds and considered cured which is good. It’s certainly a lot better than when I was originally diagnosed with this three years ago. In terms of difficulty, yes it was a real pain in the ass in terms of the last record mostly because I was trying to mix the thing when I’m cooped up in a condo two thousand miles away from home without anything properly to listen to it on and not able to be in the studio with the two folks we had working on the record- ultimately Tommy Hansen finished the work but I couldn’t be there."
You discovered that you had this cancer through a random check up, correct?
"Yes, I went to get my cholesterol checked because I’m on a very simple medicine for high cholesterol and you have to have regular blood tests to check your levels and when I had that checked the doctor said my cholesterol was fine but you have this really weird thing- so they had a hematologist check it out and I find out I have blood cancer. Pretty rude awakening!"
Much of what you went through is discussed on the lyrical front of "This Mortal Coil". Did you keep a running journal of your thoughts and pick from them- and did you help vocalist Ray Alder in terms of channeling the emotional roller coaster you went through for this album?
"Another interesting question- no, not really. I didn’t want the record to be a concept record- it was interesting actually. A buddy of mine sent me some reading material- including a couple of UK heavy metal magazines. Number one it dawned on me that I didn’t know any of the bands! (laughs) Two bands out of the 150 mentioned in either magazines. And that included Prodigy, who aren’t exactly metal in any traditional sense of the word. So there was an article about one guy who had gone through cancer and they made their next album about his cancer diagnosis, and I knew I didn’t want to make this album all about that. I think it would have been self-indulgent, I’m impacted by diagnosis but I think the record and its lyrics focus more on mortality, the universal theme that all of us have to confront at one point or another. It was less about specific experiences that I had, although there are references in the song "Dreams From The Pit" is about a dream with the chemotherapy I was on which produces very vivid dreams, horrible in terms of calling into question my self-worth and I had the exact same dreams about three months apart when I was on these two different courses of the same medicine so I know it was the medicine doing it but still it was a pretty awful experience. Other than that they weren’t very specific instances, instead looking at general reflections on mortality.
First of all I think it was a test of the applicability of the lyrics- if it was just truly about me Ray probably wouldn’t have been able to channel this as well as he did. We’ve been friends for a long time, obviously he had his own thoughts about me being diagnosed and I think the fact we’ve been working together closely musically for 6 or 7 years helps. This is built into our DNA already, his ability to connect emotionally with what I have to say lyrically."
At this point are you better equipped to write material for Redemption using the talents of your fellow musicians at hand- five albums into the band’s discography?
"I think so- and I think it helps that the lineup has been relatively stable. I think about Ray- I know where he likes to sing, what types of melody lines suit his voice. I go out of my way to provide ways for the bass to shine because I know how talented of a bass player Sean is. Chris and I have had a great working relationship since 2003, and I give him ample room to stretch his drum chops. I push him in the studio. So we all work together very well."
On the special edition of this release you have a series of covers that you jokingly dub ‘A Collection Of Songs Originally Recorded By Other Artists That One Would Not Expect Would Be Performed By A Progressive Metal Band- Part The First’. How did you decide to have Redemption record songs by Starship, Toto, UFO, and Elton John among others for this? Did you collectively make choices as a group or is this to expand people’s horizons when it comes to talented musicians in non-progressive genres?
"Another good question. We’ve done a cover with every album we’ve ever done- except in the case of the last album we tried a couple that didn’t clear the hurdle. We covered more than one song on "The Origin Of Ruin" and they both made this special edition. We’ve liked doing that- I didn’t want to cover just heavy metal songs because who can do an Iron Maiden song better than Iron Maiden? I’m not going to take "Hallowed Be Thy Name" and try to improve upon it. That’s silly- it’s an awesome heavy metal song and there’s no point to try it unless you are going to do a death metal version of it and I wonder why you would even want to do that. It’s always been more intriguing to take something that’s a well written song that could be treated in any sort of way. One of the songs we did which we haven’t released yet is by The Police "Synchronicity 2" and that’s just a great song that you can do in more of a heavy rock treatment. For this record, every song had a reason of its own- I wanted to do that Elton John song for years, Dream Theater did it about 16 years ago so I wanted to wait to not be accused of ripping their idea of. Ray wanted to do that Journey song, we all love Toto, they are sort of like grown up Dream Theater. I think Steve Lukather is one of the best guitar players in the world. Ray had the idea to do the song "Jane" by Jefferson Starship, which I jokingly throw in the opening like to Aldo Nova’s "Fantasy" in there because it’s the exact same song, so it’s an informal mash up. It’s an opportunity for us to not take things too seriously, metal bands can be way to serious and we have to have fun."
Do you believe progressive followers have stronger opinions about their favorite bands and some of the shifts that they may make musically than other genres?
"The ones online certainly do. Which is where most of the exposure is. I think people if they are dedicated followers have an emotional connection to that band’s music. They usually have pretty strong feelings. You are damned if you do and damned if you don’t- you’ll have fans that don’t want you to change, you’ll have fans that get tired of you and stagnating if you don’t change. We try to make music that is true to ourselves, you need to be authentic. Hopefully we appeal to more people than we lose as we refine our song craft, not necessarily making conscious changes for the sake of changing but growing as musicians and having that manifest itself in our music."
It’s an exciting time for progressive metal once again- as there are a number of big fall 2011 releases on the schedule with yourselves, Arch/ Matheos, Dream Theater, and Pain Of Salvation among others. Which releases are you most excited to delve into- and do you believe the variety can only keep the movement more innovative for future generations of musicians and followers?
"Answering the second part first- yes. I think there is so much music being made now- on the one hand it’s great because it allows bands to get heard, recording costs less than it used to- but it’s also led to a real commoditization of music and cheapening of the product. Gone are the days when you would hear about an album coming out two months in advance and you would wait and wait to get it as soon as you possibly could. You would spend real time with that record- never before the day of the release- and know every note, lyric and song. It’s sad today because I can’t tell you the names of songs anymore over some of the bands I like. To have something like Arch/ Matheos, which is something people have been waiting for over 10 years for, it’s pretty special. Every Dream Theater record is a special event, and this one given everything going on with Mike and Mike. Variety is essential- especially within the progressive genre- or the genre stagnates."
You’ve had the opportunity to tour with some of the biggest bands in your genre. What do you believe you’ve learned most from them in a live situation that you’ve been able to apply to Redemption?
"Good question- and sort of hard to say. What we learned last year… was a good experience to go through. The Dream Theater fans are the most demanding fans to go through. I’m sure most of their fans would rather see a 3 hour evening with Dream Theater show than the band with two opening bands. The first 10 rows of every show are people who paid a lot of money for the V.I.P. fan package with a meet and greet for Dream Theater, so they would start our set with their arms folded. We had to go out and give 110% and that’s what it is. You see the band really committed to their music and also having fun, that’s something special."
What future goals do you wish to pursue in Redemption and beyond? Are there any particular areas of the world you would love to tour?
"I think we are still searching for the perfect album. We get closer each time- but I get so close to the stuff in the writing and the production that it’s difficult to divorce myself from it. Geddy Lee of Rush said you never finish an album- it’s just taken from you. All I hear is stuff I would want to change about the new record- so eventually I will get to the point that I record something that I don’t think needs any changing at all. That sort of keeps me motivated on the recording side. Touring- we haven’t really done much outside the states, so I can’t wait to play next month (October) in Europe. I would love to go to Asia- you hear about how insane the fans are in Japan, that would be a lot of fun."
What did Neil Kernon bring to the table as far as the production on this record that maybe hasn’t been brought to the band before?
"We have a very heavy guitar tone, Tommy loves tone but he’s driven by 70’s hard rock sounds. Neil knew from the get go that I wanted the type of sound he could get with Nevermore. A heavy, brutal, aggressive tone that goes with our aggressive riffing. One of the unique things about Redemption is the combination of this aggressive riffing with really strong melodies- in order to make this contrast stark and as interesting as it can be, we have to really push the envelope on both sides. Neil has extensive experience not just working with progressive metal but with all types of music- fusion, and great pop sensibilities working with Hall and Oates."
What are your feelings on the use of computers and technology that are used to often speed up the recording process with particular samples, Auto-tuning, and essentially cheating the listener when certain musicians aren’t playing their own parts?
"I think technology is an excellent tool but a terrible master. You are able to use it to be more creative, to save time in the studio without cheating- then it’s a great tool. But it’s so pervasive, and people are lazy about it. I can listen to a pop song- with someone who can sing- and you can hear the Auto-tuning and people don’t even care anymore. Any technology when used to excess can indeed become problematic. Particularly when you’ve got people manufacturing music that can’t be replicated live, it sucks for lack of a better word (laughs)."