SCREAM ARENA – Plugging Away the Real Thing
The UK hard rock and metal scene has had its share of highs and lows. The Donington Festival became a staple of the 1980’s, setting the tone for future European metal festivals that still live on today. The bands like Black Sabbath, Judas Priest, Iron Maiden, Thunder, and so forth. And staples of music journalism, from Sounds to Kerrang to Metal Forces and the current Classic Rock/ Metal Hammer regime.
Add Scream Arena to the list of newer bands that live for an older time, keeping their sound lean and mean and firmly at the heart of hard rock and heavy metal. Their self-titled debut album has the energy and songwriting to deliver megawatts of entertainment. So I needed to know more behind the band, and vocalist Andy Paul quickly answered my questions with honesty, charm, and a keen sense of humor. Do not keep this band under the radar, seek out and enjoy.
What were your earliest memories surrounding music in your childhood? At what point did you decide to move from being a pure fan to performing in the hard rock/ metal genre- and who were some of your early heroes?
"An interesting question and one whose answer would have to be more nuanced than I would have first thought. I recall my mother singing along to Yves Montand, Charles Trenet and Piaf on her record player. My mother was from Paris and the songs were memories of home. Of course the French tradition of "chanson" is all about story telling which is something I connected with instantly and I still listen to those great French singers today especially when I go back to Paris. In rock terms I was really lucky in having a family member who spent a lot of time in the US and would return with albums by the likes of Cheap Trick, Molly Hatchet, Van Halen, Starz and so on, which became part of my formative years but Queen were the first band that I found for myself. Hearing them on the radio or seeing them on television for the first time stopped me in my tracks.
Granted, Queen albums are issued more or less at birth here in the UK and the band remains a central thread in the fabric of UK musical life but there is something about them that one never really tires of. Yes, they had bumps in the road musically speaking but their sense of musical adventure remains inspirational and, cliché or not, "Bohemian Rhapsody" is sheer bloody poetry.
From Queen, I rather set out on my own exploration and found the likes of Mötley Crüe, Dokken, The Rolling Stones, The Kinks, Bon Jovi, Journey, Accept, WASP, Toy Matinee, Iron Maiden, West of Sunset, Scorpions, Talisman, Europe, Rainbow, TNT, Ratt, Dio, Shark Island, and so on, bands and artists that resonated with me, and still do and that helped forge me, that gave me the tools to do what I do with Scream Arena today and I know from general chin wagging in rehearsals and so on that the other guys in the band would have similar tales to tell."
Tell us about the formation of Scream Arena – and how long it took to secure the members that currently make up the quintet as it stands today?
"Aha! The process by which we arrived where we are today was a long one, to the point I reckon Tolstoy would have been suggesting it was far too epic for its’ own good!!! We formed originally around 2006 as a trio, myself, Nick Daniel (the original bass player) and Christian White a guitarist who had studied, if memory serves, at G. I. T. in Los Angeles. We wanted to put something together that reflected what had formed us but we decided to write as many songs as possible first. I think it was Roger Taylor from Queen who had observed that bands get together and then take on the world with the first 5 or 6 songs they write and are invariably disappointed when the world takes no notice. So, we spent a year or so writing songs and so by the time we added two more members and went out for our first show in 2007 we had a bit of a catalogue under our belt which allowed us to make changes if a certain song did not work live.
Over the course of the years, people came and went, priorities change I suppose and there was the usual "musical differences" moments, some of which still leave me scratching my head in wonderment to this day (laughs), especially the one where a certain drummer left by text 36 hours before a show.
However, as it stands today, the band really came together in May 2013, Lincoln, Alex and Phil were in place and we were polishing songs and working but we had a real set of issues with the drummer of the time who was more interested in playing the rock and roll lifestyle than playing and working. By sheer dumb luck we found Mick and he came down to a rehearsal and just clicked both as a drummer and a personality and he stopped us from becoming another Spinal Tap story as regards to drummers (laughs). It simply works and that is precious."
Your self-titled album is a great fusion of what I always loved about the 80’s hard rock and metal scene – emphasizing strong riffs and hooks as well as spot on melodies over frivolous technicality. Can you go into a little bit of the songwriting and recording process behind the record, and what you think producer Paul Sabu brought to the table to make the final product that much stronger?
"Apart from the cover of "Heartbreak Hotel" which was Paul’s idea, all the songs on the album are originals, written by myself and Nick Daniel who left for the domestic life in 2012 and more power to him. Nick and I simply wrote songs, tried ideas out, some of which will never see the light of day, some of which might but by the time we came into contact with Paul we had probably 40 or more songs written. Nick would come up with the musical structure and then he and I would agree on arrangements and then I would retreat to my attic and work out a lyrical idea and melody and then we would record a demo, just with guitars and a drum machine to have as the foundation. The only exception to that was "Another Night in London Town" which came from a figure he, Nick, was noodling on a 12 string guitar and I jumped on and within 5 minutes we had the basic idea down, and the chorus!! In fact "Another Night.." was a homage to The Kinks and The Who, a song that reflected London, where I lived for a good number of years and one that was written as we had already started the album recording but Paul heard it and insisted we put it on the album
We allowed Paul to select the songs for the album because it seemed the most objective way to do it and for the most part it works. Paul really brought discipline and vision and drive to the table, he broke a couple of us in the process but such is life. His concern was for the songs and for them to be placed in a powerful sonic framework or landscape and we would have been dumb as bricks if we had not taken on board the lessons afforded by his knowledge and wealth of experience. Of course (Paul) adding background vocals was a real plus too."
Andy’s vocal style has a different kind of confident swagger, reminding me a lot of Richard Black from the underrated Shark Island and Andy Taylor of Duran Duran during his solo album days. Where do you see your strengths as a vocalist, and what is your outlook on how to approach the studio sessions versus live performances with Scream Arena?
"First of all mentioning me in the same breath as Richard Black is a real honour, I am a huge fan of Shark Island and "Paris Calling" is simply one of my favorite songs in rock and roll, there is an intelligence and wit about that band and Richard Black in particular. I did not quite get the Andy Taylor connection until I went back and listened and yup there it was! Again an honour. Truth is though my natural voice is more in the Robert Plant/Sean Harris (Diamond Head) scheme of things but Paul really wanted a soulful kind of rasp, he thought it would really fit the songs and so in a sense I kicked everything I know into touch, not without a grumble or two I will be honest, and started again. That was hard and at times beyond frustrating but I stuck my nose to the grindstone, trusting Paul’s judgment and carried on.
A few have made the observation that that I am "whispering" on the album. I am not. The voice is simply part of the whole sonic landscape and I suspect next time around there will be a few changes in that department and I will use more of my range. Other have observed I am singing pretty low, as if that is a negative and a cause for concern, and I suggest those people try singing some of those vocal lines and see what happens!!
As a vocalist I let others decide on my strengths, I am not interested in doing anything other than presenting the song, though if pushed I would say the ability to conjure up a melody out of some pretty raw material, the ability to write a coherent lyric and tell a story in that lyric while maintain melodic integrity and above all, delivering live."
How do you view the current UK hard rock and metal scene today – as it seems to have gone through a number of shifts in terms of popularity as well as struggles depending upon the decade?
"Hmmmm, now that is a loaded question. It is still in a state of flux. There are a lot of tribute bands out there and in fact we have done shows with a couple, a Def Leppard tribute band and one of the several Iron Maiden tribute bands knocking around. The latter was an interesting experience cos they thought they were Iron Maiden and they had the egos to match. I rather thought it was taking method acting to a very strange place lol.
The tribute side of things shows there is still an appetite for live destruction as it were and indeed the success of Steel Panther in the UK emphasizes the point. Steel Panther play major venues over here and attract big crowds, it is a shame though that some of those who tap into what Panther are doing would probably ignore a band with a similar musical approach but with perhaps a different lyrical approach.
I suppose in relatively difficult economic times people want a sure thing on a Saturday night for their £10 ticket price, so better a Maiden tribute than a band playing original material seems to be the general consensus.
There are a lot of good bands coming through in the UK, bands like Spit Like This, Summers, Vega, Newman, The Treatment and frankly ourselves. We are all swimming against the tide to a degree and doing what we can, keeping calm and cranking it up."
What frustrates you most about the music business- and what areas do you think need to be worked on to improve things for all levels from the fans to bands on through to the record labels?
"One or two things spring to mind, and one thing follows on from my previous answer, where venues and promoters do not promote a show and expect the band to do it all- and whine when the venue is not full. Of course the band has to do its share we understand that but we have played shows where the promoter has not done anything other than a poster at the door of the venue and we get the flak if the club is not full. They seem to regard bands as a necessary evil at best or at worst something they trod in on the pavement outside.
As for labels I don’t think they have still got their collective heads around the cyber age but they seem to think that a band should still sign over their souls even if the band is coming to them with a finished album. We had some frankly laughable offers before we signed with Mighty Music. One springs to mind where with no shame whatsoever the label offered us a deal, no advance but wanted 100% of publishing because of the "risk we are taking". We showed them the door so to speak much to their evident astonishment. They thought we were utterly unreasonable.
I still find it surprising that a label will unleash the cheque to the tune of a one million pounds or more on a video and promotion by some here today and gone by the evening pop starlet yet are reluctant to invest a lot less in rock bands, bands that can over the long term be a decent source of income for a label. Perhaps it is a case of accountants in charge not looking beyond the end of the month and everyone else fearing for their expense accounts and sharp suits from Milan?
Fans are the lifeblood of a band of course, but there is a whole section of music fans that genuinely believe that they are entitled to music for free. Sorry, unless we give permission for sound reasons, taking what we have created without paying for it is stealing. There is no entitlement. By that logic their bosses will be allowed to ask them to work a day without pay, imagine the whining that would erupt at such a prospect and rightly so!"
I feel like the magazine market for hard rock/ metal is much stronger in your country than in the United States – publications like Metal Hammer and Classic Rock gaining major distribution in book stores in North America and abroad. Do you thing people in general take journalists as seriously today as they did in the pre-internet age?
"Printed journalism seems to still be of some importance in the UK, for some reason it matters and Classic Rock and it’s off shoot magazines do, in general, a pretty good job. I just wish that Classic Rock would look beyond a certain template when pushing new bands. Basically they feature new bands that retread Zeppelin or Bad Company and anyone outside that parameter can go hang. Seems a little shortsighted to me."
When you have the free time, what sort of hobbies / interests do you partake in outside of music?
"Writing, sports like rugby, cricket and football (our version sans body armour), and reading and travel. I simply like to travel especially to somewhere with a wealth of history such as Egypt."
Name your five favorite albums of all time- and the best concert memory that you’ve had both within Scream Arena as well as a band that you saw on purely a fan basis?
"Putting me on the spot here. My five favourite albums? Hmmm as of this moment, in my current mood, let’s go with Shark Island "Law of the Order", Talisman "Genesis", Queen "A Night at the Opera", Dokken "Beast from the East" and Badlands "Dusk".
My best concert memory with Scream Arena thus far was the first time this line up played together, it was in a small, rather cool club in Wakefield and it was simply magical. My favourite concert as a fan is a hard one but I will go with funk rock legends Mother’s Finest at the Marquee in London in the 1990’s. Joyce Kennedy is one of the greatest singers to draw breath."
Has the band started on the songwriting process for the follow up effort? Are you the type of band who will write more songs than needed and whittle things down to make a stronger record – or do you only come up with enough material as necessary record to record?
"We have new songs, in fact we have been including two non-album songs in the live set that we wrote with this line up and they go down as well if not better than some of the album songs, which is a good sign. We have other songs in the pipeline, in fact I am working on the lyrics for a new one at the moment. Also I have probably 5 or 6 songs from the vault that will be put forward for a second album. We will write more than we need and then whittle it down to what the album requires."
It seems like a lot of the older bands are getting ready to slow down their touring endeavors or retire altogether. Does it worry you that there aren’t many younger bands developing a type of long term strategy to keep rock music thriving in the coming decades- as it seems like tours are scaling back to clubs and small theatre venues rather than the arena rock aspect of the 70’s, 80’s and early 90’s?
"Er, why is the emphasis placed on the bands to develop a long term strategy? Shouldn’t the industry step up and get involved. It is ludicrous to expect the bands to cover every single angle, they need support. I just get the feeling everyone is standing on the sidelines with arms folded and pursed lips and whining about what the bands do or don’t do while offering no support or investment. The thrust of your question is valid, cos how much longer can Whitesnake as an instance continue? Without support or investment there is no future for rock music in arenas. It will become like jazz, a niche art form which people outside its audience barely glance at. Yet, there does seem to be a desire for rock music in the mainstream, a desire that the industry somehow manages to miss on a regular basis and the use of rock iconography over and over again rather confirms that assertion."
Where do you stand on all of this social media/ instant technology available at everyone’s fingertips? Does it concern you that people would rather stare into a computer or their cell phones rather than develop better eye to eye, face to face human interaction?
"I do not even possess a mobile phone. That rather answers the question, if only in an oblique way (laughs). I use what I have to but sources like Twitter, well the clue for me is in the first four letters. I would rather talk to someone."
Where would you like to see Scream Arena a year down the road and five years down the road? Any particular bucket list goals that you would like to check off?
"A year or 5 years? Hopefully the band will have a few more albums under the collective belt and will be able to put a little bread on the table with our music and be in a position to put on the best show we can for an audience. Just making sure we give them a good time.
Just to say thanks for this opportunity to share a few thoughts and for your great review of our album…the one writer thus far who has got close to the essence!!"