This progressive Metal band from the UK left quite a good impression with their third album “Enigma”, following “The Face of the Unknown” 2010 release, which got them on a 12 European country tour with Devin Townsend Project. So what is so enigmatic about “Enigma” and the band itself? Mastermind Rich Hinks (guitar, bass, vocals) and singer Andi Kravljaca fill us in…
You received a high rating from STALKER.cd – hopefully we were not the only ones to like the album ;D – what was the response so far?
Rich: The response has been pretty amazing! Thanks for the great review you gave “Enigma”, we really appreciate when music lovers and reviewers enjoy what we´re doing. As well as yours, almost all the other reviews have universally positive too, and in greater quantities than we´ve had for previous albums, so it´s really great to see that everything is building!
Andi: It´s wonderful and really humbling to see that six months later, great reviews are still coming in, but what really does it for me is reading forum posts and tweets by fans – these people aren´t getting paid and their words mean more to me than any pro review ever could. Thank you all!
What are the differences to the 2 albums before (e.g. working + music style, response)?
Rich: Oh there are lots of differences. Things changed quite a bit even between the first and second albums. The first album included several songs that were partly written with members of a previous band of mine, whereas the second was almost all written by me, and that´s a theme that´s continued to “Enigma”, probably even more -so as this new album is about 99% my own personal compositions.
The major difference with album is that it´s geared to a band dynamic. The orchestrations, production style, and general compositions were all made with each band member in mind, including playing the songs live.
Stylistically and musically, I think “Enigma” is a huge step up for Aeon Zen. I feel that the songwriting is much more mature. It is all very well thought out, there isn´t a single note on the album that shouldn´t be there, and there also isn´t a single note that needed to be added either. Being a concept album, there was a lot of thought put into the flow of the album, and achieving a large stylistic range that is characteristic of Aeon Zen music while still being completely coherent and working as a part of the big picture of the album.
Andi: I think that the tour we did in 2011 really helped us coalesce as a band, and sort of pushed Aeon Zen from a sort of ´curious project´ status to being an actual band. You can hear an embryo to a discernible Aeon Zen sound forming in Enigma, and I think there´s lots more where that came from.
Is there a story behind the band name?
Rich: More of a thought process than a story, but I wanted a name that portrayed the style of the music well, gave us room to expand our sound without feeling confined, and sounded good! That sounds a bit obvious, but a name always has to draw in listeners!
How did you get all those guest musicians to work with you?
Rich: It was a combination of great musicians that I know well, musicians that I didn´t know beforehand that wrote to me about possible appearances, and musicians that I love that I wrote to asking if they´d want to be a part of the album. Fortunately, a number of these awesome guys wanted to be on “Enigma”, and I really think they add well to our existing band line-up.
Andi: When it´s Rich on the other side of the line, I always pick up the phone. In music, you can pay people, threaten or beg, but in the end it´s all about the quality of what a musician is about to put their name on. Rich writes great music – it´s as simple a decision as that.
A disadvantage of promo downloads, you don´t really know much about the lyrics – could you perhaps explain a bit the story behind Enigma? There seems to be a futuristic theme… as well as “good vs evil” when looking at the cover artwork…
Rich: Sure! The story isn´t too literal, and is open to a fair amount of interpretation instead of making listeners follow a certain path. Essentially, the story is based around the idea of morality, and how money and fame may, or may not as the case may be, change someone for better or worse. It follows the story of a rather unlikeable individual who comes across a large amount of money. He thinks that it will make him a better person, but in reality it makes very little difference. He then decides to donate his money to scientific experiment, thinking that this act of charity will redeem him, but this experiment ultimately ends up destroying the universe!
It´s a rather tongue-in-cheek concept, but it fits the music perfectly, and is loose enough that you can find other meanings to the story.
I used the expression “Rock musical” in the review – was that insulting for you, or could you imagine to add more “theatrical” elements to your live shows?
Rich: We´re pretty energetic onstage as it is! Haha We have a few live videos to watch at http://www.youtube.com/aeonzenmusic if anyone´s interested. In terms of theatrics, we like to have a lot of fun onstage and share that with the audience, so I think if we did move into a more theatrical or storytelling type of stage show, I wouldn´t want it to compromise our stage energy and connection with the crowd. But we´ll see what happens in the future!
Andi: That depends on what you mean by ´theatrical´. It´s a word that usually means ´pretentious´. I don´t see AZ becoming one of those bands that is so busy taking itself seriously that we stop having a laugh every time we´re in front of a crowd. Music is about having fun for us, and that´s our first priority – besides playing it right!
Are there plans for a tour / summer festivals?
Rich: We´re working on arranging some possible tours and one-off shows at the moment, so we´ll have to see what happens. It can be quite a long process to work out tours, especially for bands like ours that aren´t huge, so it´s sometimes difficult to say what will happen. But we are always working on it!
Andi: To all of our fans out there who ask us to come to your country or your town – please don´t be disheartened that we don´t. We haven´t forgotten you! In music, a band rarely has the means to decide to go somewhere, there are so many factors it makes your head spin. Believe us, if it were up to us we would play for every last Aeon Zen fan on the face of the planet! Just wanted to get that out there.
What are the difficulties to put such an album material live on stage (despite the issue of guest performers)?
Rich: I don´t think so. The rest of the guys in the band are such great musicians that I think we manage to pull it off well! It is of course slightly different vocally, as Andi and I share the vocals live (instead of the 5 vocalists that appear on the album) but it still works fantastically. You can actually download a live show where we played the album in its entirety at http://www.aeonzen.com/enigmalive and you can hear for yourself!
Andi: It´s a strange experience, for sure, especially for me since I live all the way in Sweden. Sometimes I literally fly over the day of the show, and we say hi to each other at the venue! Three hours later, we´re playing songs to a crowd and we have to play it like clockwork. In AZ, you can´t just ´wing it´, so the stability of the lineup over the last few years has really made it a lot easier to coalesce on stage.
You just released a video – what is the story behind that?
Rich: Yeah, we just released a video for the track ‘Downfall´, which has a very apocalyptic sound to it, thundering drums and demonic guitars, so the video follows that theme very much. It´s actually a lyric video, which I think works well with this concept, showing how the lyrics and the atmosphere of the track go together. So you have some pretty interesting electronic, doomsday-esque, epic scenescapes to match the musical qualities.
Could you introduce the band members a bit – who are you, how come you started to make music at all, how did you meet each other to form this band?
Rich: For as long as I can remember, music has really been the biggest thing in my life, and all I really felt passionate about pursuing really! We became a full band line-up in 2011 and, aside from myself, Matt Shepherd has been involved with Aeon Zen the longest. I was in a band with him prior to Aeon Zen and he´s just such a great guy and a fantastic guitar player that I knew he would fit perfectly with Aeon Zen.
Steve Burton is on drums, first playing with Aeon Zen in 2010, and he just really gets this type of music as well as executing it perfectly. I was looking for a drummer after our first drummer left in mid 2009, and I actually found Steve on some online music site (bandfind or bandsearch or something like that anyway) and sent him a message, and it just worked perfectly from them on.
Shaz plays keyboards in Aeon Zen on our 2011 European tour, Vadim from Dragonforce was helping us out by filling in on keyboards, and he introduced us to his keyboard-playing-friend Shaz at our show in London, and it turns out that Shaz was a great fit for the band. Aside from being ridiculously talented , I mean this guy can really hold his own with some of the best keys players in the world, he´s a great personality and such a positive guy, so he´s been a fantastic addition to Aeon Zen.
And I guess Andi can explain how he fits into the whole Aeon Zen story!
Andi: I think me meeting up with Rich was the last good thing to come out of MySpace… Rich sent me a message back in ´08 about doing a few songs on the first album, and the very first time I flew over there things just gelled. Rich and I see the business from similar viewpoints and share common interests, so one record led to two, led to three, led to a tour, until one day Rich just emailed me and said ´how about we make it official, with you as a full band member?´ Needless to say, I was very pleased. Or is that ´right chuffed´?
What have been your idols and influences when you started making music – you mentioned a few in the band info for AZ?
Rich: There´s been so many influences in Aeon Zen´s music, it´s really difficult trying to pinpoint a few to talk about! I think that´s one of the reasons why our music covers such a wide range of sounds. I initially got into guitar playing through the likes of Metallica and Megadeth, those thrash bands were my idols at the age of 14 or so. After I started being able to play that style of music, I became more and more interested in the technical and progressive side of things, discovering Dream Theater, Symphony X, and many other bands of that ilk. I think one of the things that sets Aeon Zen apart is that we always focus first and foremost on melody, which I think just comes from listening to a wide array of music and deciding what sounds most appealing!
How would you define your style, how did you end up making this kind of music?
Rich: I don´t really want to pigeonhole it, but I suppose it´s a type of progressive metal, but with more of an emphasis on melody and coherent song writing. While we do have “shred” moments, it is by no means the main focus of our music, I always think it is much more important to have gripping songs before trying to show off!
Andi: It´s a near-unspeakable cliché, but ´it´s hard to classify´. You hear a track like ´Divinity´, and then wind back to ´Goddess´ from the first album… It´s hard to find two Aeon Zen songs that sound like they´re by the same band, to be honest. It´s divisive among reviewers, but I hold it as one of the strengths of the band. I´d be very surprised if we ever settled into one style.
Rich: Definitely, and I think there´s also still a discernible quality that makes it Aeon Zen, no matter what. It is us performing it, after all!
It´s a long time since NWOBHM, Punk or Gothic Rock “invading” the music scenes world-wide – anything like it on the horizon?
Rich: Well there´s new music out there, and it´s in so many different styles these days that it´s really difficult to say what the next big thing will be. 30 or so years ago, metal was a much narrower genre band, but these days it´s really expanded to incalculable levels! With audiences having such a broad access to so much music, it´s pretty hard to say if or when there will be another big movement of the magnitude that there was in the past, as there will always be so many bands trying different things.
Andi: I agree with this assessment. Attention spans are getting shorter, and in the search for originality everyone´s doing something different from the next person, so you have subgenres within genres that didn´t even exist 10 years ago. There´s no way something is going to come from left field and take over like that again. Not without a marketing budget powerful enough to penetrate all the channels.
What is the latest trend in the UK now when it comes to Rock music, which bands are the most popular (on radio, live bands in clubs)?
Rich: Rock music is pretty much non-existent on commercial radio in the UK! I can´t remember the last time I heard proper rock music on the radio to be honest, but that may be because I don´t listen to the radio much, it´s a vicious cycle haha! I do think progressive music has grown in recent years, there´s a couple of (albeit smaller) festivals in the UK devoted to this style of music now, and even a magazine dedicated to it!
Are you all actually full-time musicians? If not, which day jobs do you have?
Rich: I work full-time recording, producing, mixing and mastering music (or I try to, at least!), either my own music, or for other bands and projects (check out http://www.zenchapelstudios.com/ if you´re interested!). I believe the other guys are mix of university studies and day jobs though.
Andi: I´m the monkey you call and yell at when your computer has forgotten how to connect to the Internet. Needless to say I hope the band makes it big, and soon.
What is the dream you are still chasing (are there any)?
Rich: I think the ultimate dream is to make a living off the band, which is harder to achieve than you´d think! Wish us luck! Haha
Rich: Thanks for reading, and thank you for the interview. We hope that your readers enjoy the album as much as you did in your review! You can pick it up from http://www.aeonzen.com/ as well as Amazon and the usual online stores. And a huge thanks to everyone that enjoys what we do and gives us the opportunity to do what we do.
Andi: To all of you who show up to our shows, who stand and shiver outside, who travel far to come to shows, who comment on our videos, who tweet, post or tell their friends, who buy an album or take time to write to us – everything we do is for you and believe me, we wish we could do so much more. Here´s hoping we get a chance to soon.