VALHALLA – The Deathless Experience
How the metal scene survives: younger musicians get inspired by their favorite artists and pursue the development of their own sound and songwriting exploits. Many of these acts ascend the promotional ladder through a combination of hard work and hustle, pushing their music to any source they can find and playing out wherever and whenever possible. Out of thousands of hopefuls, a few gain record deals and then begins an even more arduous journey to see if you can make a living at your craft.
One of the more recent self-released EP’s that blew me away came from Indiana’s Valhalla. This five-piece combine the skill set of neo-classical/ power metal virtuosos with an AOR and progressive attitude- keeping the songwriting the major focus. So an interview was a no-brainer, and I quickly fired off some questions to vocalist Logan Odinson Detwiler and guitarist Justin Zych. Be prepared to hear more from Valhalla down the line: their sound is emotional, invigorating, and one that could appeal to a multitude within the metal and hard rock communities.
Tell us about your personal background growing up: what was your family life like, early memories surrounding music and when you felt the inclination to pick up a musical instrument or perform?
Logan: I was raised by my Grandmother from one month of age. It was rough coming up without parents, but we made it work. From a very early age she instilled in me a love of music & musical theater. When I was in elementary school, I performed in some small school things and a state wide choir called "Circle the State with Song", but in middle/ high school is where I really got into singing and theater. My first role was Old Man Carnes in "Oklahoma!" and from there, continued on in many more productions till I left school. During my high school tenure, I also studied opera under Joe Kahri. Unfortunately, due to a strained relationship brought on by multiple external factors, I left the opera stage and took my place on the power metal one. Zephaniah was my spring board, and I ran with it.
Justin: Born and raised in Fort Wayne, IN. Parents were divorced. My mom was a conservative Christian lady and my dad was a musician. Family life was simple. I was a shy fat kid with not a lot of friends, so I read a lot, played videogames and watched movies. I was made to go to church every Sunday and lived under a pretty strict upbringing. It loosened up a lot as I got older which was nice. Family was really supportive of anything I did in the arts.
Early memories of music would have to be watching my dad practice guitar while watching movies with me. He bought me my first CD which happened to be Bob Marley "Burnin!" (Kind of did a 360 with the music I listen to now) I mostly listened to what was on the radio rock station at the time. One day, I brought home an extra-shitty report card (They were mostly shitty) and my father grounded me from videogames for a year. Well on that same weekend, I was so bored that I asked to play my dad’s guitar. Didn’t put it down for 2 hours. And the rest is history!
Was Zephaniah the first original metal band for Justin and Logan- and can you tell us about those formative days in 2005? Did you start with original material in mind or did you have some cover material you also jammed on? If so, what were some of the songs you played?
Justin: It was my first original metal band. I was 14 when I started jamming with others in basements. What was the original Zephaniah was a band of a bunch of us high school buddies. We played for about a year with our original singer James Bishop before Logan became involved. The music before Logan was a lot more classic rock oriented with hints of metal. Songs like "Deep Breath" and "Fight for Love" came from those days. I have a very old demo with those songs on it in their primitive form, and I was the only guitarist at the time. We had an instrumental cover of Kirby’s Dreamland, which I hope to resurrect someday, a song called "Smiles and Pain", a kind of Rock-n-roll song that reminded me of some Zeppelin. The second song, which I can’t remember the name, was a thrashy punk rock song, and it had some weird stuff going on in it. The last track was our first epic we ever wrote. An 8-minute Iron Maiden-esque song called "Angels of War." The song structure basically was like "Rime of the Ancient Mariner." "Powerslave" was a huge influence on me. We had to get a second guitarist because of all the layers of guitar I had recorded on the demo. We got a kid named Alex Volz that was pretty good. We recorded a demo with him, 4 or 5 months later. Very primitive forms of "Flame of the Dragon", "Blackbeard’s Revenge" were on that demo. A song called "Reign of Metal" which I took from a buddy and reworked it was the start of the weird progressive nature of the songs we were beginning to write. Also, this was the beginning of our guitar theatrics (Behind-the-back guitars). After that we fired the singer (wasn’t that good, and he was heavy into World of Warcraft), That is when Logan joined up. Logan was always shy the first couple shows, no matter what band I’ve seen him in, but he worked well with our style. Eventually after finally gaining some local recognition, Ian joined in on bass because our original one was moving to Rhode Island. We played heavy for a little bit until our drummer and guitarist quit because our metal wasn’t "heavy enough." At that time hardcore bands were getting popular in the area. We stuck with it, threw Ian on drums and hired Tyler Sumwalt on bass and Tyson Miller on guitars. And that was the lineup on our first full-length.
We started with original material but we did some covers. We had a lot of them actually, I remember covering a Kansas tune, a couple Manowar tunes, "The Trooper" by Maiden and "We Rock" by Dio. We cover a couple of songs in Valhalla currently, one being Manowar’s "Hail and Kill", "What’s This?" from the Nightmare Before Christmas, and "Theme from Palladio" by Carl Jenkins, which today’s society refers to the diamond commercial music.
Logan: Zeph was my first band ever. It was pretty much all original. Most of it was written by the original vocalist and I picked up from there.
I understand that Logan as a vocalist has some operatic training in his background: was this through a choir or school training? Did any of the other members go through formalized schooling or lessons- or were you all pretty much self-taught?
Logan: Like I said, I studied opera in high school. It was offered once a week during my choir period in school. It was an awesome tool that I use constantly. Opera and choir sent me is ISSMA (A state wide competition) where I got gold medals consistently. It was tough, but definitely worth it.
Justin: I took lessons as soon as I started playing from my father. Eventually I started taking jazz lessons from a local jazz guitarist for a couple years in high school. At that time I was involved in jazz band, playing guitar, with my high school. I started studying classical guitar with Laura Lydy over at IPFW. I was involved with jazz band, jazz combo, classical guitar ensemble and classical guitar. I just recently received my bachelors in music and business minor. Paul also went to IPFW and received the same classical training but for piano. He may have more, most likely, he is a shredder champion. Jeremy and Patrick are both self-taught but have both taken lessons for a short period of time.
How do you feel about your 2008 "Stories from the Book of Metal" release- which received much critical acclaim through the press and radio for its speedy power metal stance and shredding abilities? Did you mind the comparisons to Cellador and Dragonforce?
Justin: I still enjoy listening to that CD every now and then. That little shiver goes up my back when I listen to it. I wish we could have spent more time on vocals. We were running out of money and a lot of the vocal backgrounds we had in mind just didn’t make it. I love Cellador and Dragonforce so I definitely liked the comparisons.
Logan: Personally, I despise it. Just because of my vocals. 5 days before I recorded, my voice blew out. I couldn’t even talk. So 5 days of no talking and nothing but tea with honey and lemon later, we have the result we have. If I had the opportunity, I would go back and re-record my vocals just for my own satisfaction. Everything else on the album is amazing and I am really happy with it. I can’t thank our fans enough for making it what it was and getting it. Maybe one day I can re-track it and give it to people that want it. The comparisons were awesome. I loved it. It’s how I knew I was doing my job right. Haha.
Why exactly did Logan and Justin leave Zephaniah- and at what point did you decide to join forces in this new metal band Valhalla? How did the current lineup come together- and did you have a distinct game plan as to how the sound would be?
Logan: I was asked to leave by everyone (excluding Justin, who just had to relay the news) because they wanted someone with a "higher range". I filled in until my replacement was found. Less than a year later, Zephaniah was no more. Valhalla began with Paul and Patrick getting together to jam. They brought in our original bass player, then Justin. Justin contacted me and we got together and Valhalla was born. After a few months we lost our first bass player and brought in Jeremy, who is an awesome addition as well as a high school friend of Justin and mine. At first we didn’t have a really clear direction of where we wanted our sound to go, but now we are firmly headed in the Prog Power genre.
Justin: Logan actually got fired due to conflicts with certain members of the band and I was out-voted. Logan had his quirks back then and it helps that he is a lot more mature now than he was then. But even then we could have worked around them. I left a year later due to the lack of professionalism happening within the band at the time, as well as being stuck with the bills. Nowadays, we all still hangout every now and then. None of us plays the blame game or judge what happened, we are all happy with the musical directions we are taking.
Valhalla actually got started by Paul and Patrick. Paul called me one day and said "Hey, come jam!" I was in Argonaut at the time and I wanted to recruit Paul into it, so of course I joined to win him. I did win him over and did join that on top of Valhalla. As days went past, Argonaut couldn’t play as much due to schedules and logistics but is currently on hold until I get less busy. When I joined, they were looking for a singer, so I recommended Logan, and he was pretty much hired in. The original bassist was fired because of his unprofessional attitude towards the band. That’s when they hired in Jeremy. He was the bass player in my cover band "Cougar Hunter!"
We really had no game plan. It was basically, let’s take our musical backgrounds, throw it in a bowl and see what happens and that is who we will market too. But now have a better business plan thrown together to help us as a band progress within the musical market.
How long of a process did it take in terms of the songwriting and production for the debut "Deathless" EP? Which songs are you most proud of? Did you encounter any particular difficulties with the tracking or performance aspect?
Logan: It didn’t take long to get initial lyrics down. Some of them were written years ago and I had never had a place for them until Valhalla. I think we started recording about 6 months into it. I really like my vocals on "Rain" and I love my 10 part harmony on the word DEATH in "Deathless". The only issue I really have is my high note in "Self-Imposed Hell". I feel like I don’t hit it as well as I could during our live set.
Justin: I joined in after two songs were mostly written. So it took us about 6 months to jump into recording. I like all the songs really. "Deathless" and "Self-Imposed Hell" are my two favorites to play live off the album. During recording, I re-recorded the bass parts because our former bass player wasn’t capable of playing cleanly. That was about the only difficulty I had in the process. Our producer, Austin Putt, learned to deal with the weird stuff I do while I record. Like doubling or tripling guitars or screaming loud obscenities when I mess up!
How would you describe the live performances of Valhalla to date? What do you try to get across in comparison to the studio output? What have been some of the best show memories so far?
Justin: Well we have a pretty unique light show with our performance, and we are all pretty active on stage. There is no just standing there, if you are in a band with me. That is my biggest pet-peeve about a lot of bands is the stage show. Studio recording is an art in itself, being able to layer guitars and edit in keyboard layers gives the song a unique quality. When doing them live we have to sacrifice parts that we layer but our stage show makes up for it. Oh and Paul has a fucking keytar!!!! The Columbia Street BOTB we did was pretty amazing. Also our gig in Kansas City was pretty amazing to play and hear the crowd reaction.
Logan: They have done nothing but improve with every show. When we started, they were ok, but the more we go, the better we are. We’ve come a long way. I really dig our light set up. I try to convey the emotion that most of my songs contain. My lyrics are pretty personal. I like analogies though, so that may not be totally clear unless you know me in depth. My songs definitely do have a fair amount of intensity to them though. Some of my best memories are from our local battle of the bands. I got to do so much fun stuff, especially with my outfits. For our last round, I got all of my band mates in kilts. I, personally, felt like it was an achievement. Haha.
Do you place an equal amount of importance on the lyrics as you do the musical output? It definitely seems like another important aspect is to maintain a balance between the technical prowess and shredding capabilities while also constructing solid, distinctive songs- do you agree with this assessment?
Logan: I do. If I hear a song and don’t understand the lyrics, I don’t really get into it. I definitely agree with you. It’s like a puzzle. If you don’t have all the pieces, it isn’t a complete piece.
Justin: Logan writes what he feels when he hears the song. The lyrical quality is more poetic in Valhalla. And yes we have learned to balance the technical prowess and maintain the energy of the song. Well to my ears we have.
What would you consider your five favorite metal albums of all time, as well as best concert or band you’ve witnessed in a live setting? Who do you think is an underrated or unheralded act (metal or not) that needs to be investigated by the readers of this interview?
Justin: 1. Manowar "Kings of Metal" 2. Iron Maiden "Powerslave" 3. Cacophony "Speed Metal Symphony" 4. Symphony X "The Odyssey" 5. Megadeth "Peace Sells". Well I listen to a lot of metal and new bands all the time, but the most recent one I saw that people should check out is Razormaze!
Logan: Gods of War- Manowar
Kings of Metal- Manowar
The Black Halo- Kamelot
Live in Canada 2005: The Dark Secret- Rhapsody of Fire
It’s kinda lame, but I’m not a huge metal fan. I’ve seen a few concerts that are way outside that genre though. M.S.I. (Mindless Self Indulgence) was AMAZING live. Sonata Arctica was another band that was fantastic live. I would KILL to see Manowar live. I hear too much music to really give an effective answer. Haha
What are some of your favorite hobbies and interests when you get the free time outside of your regular day jobs and music? Also, do you feel like you are able to spend enough time on your music given the fact that you have to have day jobs to support yourselves?
Logan: Outside of playing music, I am a professional body piercer. I’m also an avid collector of movie prop replicas and the founder of the Northeast Indiana Ghostbusters. I have a proton pack and everything. Haha. On top of everything else, and before all other things, I am a father. My son was born on Jan 26th and I couldn’t be more proud. I am also in a cover band just for the fun of it (the extra cash doesn’t hurt. Haha.) Sometimes it can be tough to balance everything, but I do my best and it seems to work pretty well.
Justin: I read, listen to vinyl, video-games, movies and I like to go running. I work at a record store, teach lessons and play in a well-attended (and hopefully loved) cover band for money. I spend a great deal of time with music, so yes I do.
Where do you see the state of the traditional/ power/ progressive metal music scene in 2013? What do you think are some of the key steps that everyone needs to participate in to keep the move alive and health in all parts of the world?
Justin: I see it growing. All music can grow if we all promote it. First of all everyone should start attending local shows and national shows with big underground support. And also help promote the shows you are going to. Word-of-mouth is and will always be the best promotion, and with social media you can get that across easily.
Logan: I can definitely see it on the rise. I remember back in the Zeph days when no one knew about power metal around my area, and now it’s being brought out more. I think word of mouth is an exceptionally powerful way to bring a new audience to the genre. Maybe some shows where Power/Prog is the main focus? MORE U.S. METAL FESTS!
How would you describe the metal scene in your part of Indiana? Is there healthy support for local bands just as much as the national and international bands that tour through your area? Who are some of the other acts that people need to check out?
Logan: The metal scene here is, what I would call, oversaturated. Too many bands with too similar of a sound. There is a ton of support though. Especially for bands that don’t have the same sound. There are a ton of bands here. Beneath It All, Cougar Hunter, & Exterminate All Rational Thought are all fantastic bands.
Justin: Our local scene goes through a cycle of being awesome then dwindles to nothing. Right now we have seen a lot of faces and regulars at our shows, so for us, it is doing great. Exterminate All Rational thought, Beneath It All are a couple bands people should go check out!
What’s the best piece of advice you’ve ever received about life (or the music business) to date?
Justin: "Do as I say, not as I do!"
Logan: No matter what, don’t give up. It takes work to get what you want. If you aren’t willing to work for it, you don’t really want it.
Describe what the next 12-18 months looks like for Valhalla in terms of live performances and future recording output? Do any of the members have any other outside projects they are working on?
Logan: Hopefully some big things! Definitely more live shows and new material. I’m pretty sure we’re gonna hit the studio again and put out a full length, so be ready for that! Other than Justin’s 9 other bands and our cover projects, we’re true to Valhalla!
Justin: We are doing a lot of shows outside of Indiana and are planning on touring in the summer. We also plan on doing a bunch of small weekend tours. Our music has been signed on to a live-action Hellsing movie, so hopefully it will appear in that. Also we are currently writing for our full-length and looking for funding and distribution for it. So far it will be a progressive shred masterpiece.
I am involved in a lot of acts, I work as freelance musician and help other bands as a guitarist. The other bands I am currently involved with and are playing in 2013 are Vindicator (Cleveland thrash metal), Cougar Hunter (80s glam rock cover band) and Viking (Thrash metal from the 80s, Metal Blade Records). You should check out all these bands!