It has been three long years that fans of Pennsylvania's Shadow Gallery have had to wait for a new album. For the band, there was much to live up to, as the last record, the concept album Tyranny, met with tremendous fan and critic approval alike.
After spending some time apart, the group recollected themselves and put together a very strong follow-up entitled Legacy, a back to basics song oriented approach that contains some of the best material the band has ever written. With tracks like "Cliffhanger 2" and the anthem-like title track, Shadow Gallery has cemented their reputation as one of the leaders in the progressive metal genre. Their combination of melody, soaring vocal harmonies, and complex musical interplay makes them one of the classiest bands around, and one of the most prolific on the Magna Carta label. I had a chance to spend some time on the phone with guitar/keyboard player Gary Wehrkamp and lead singer Mike Baker for a very informative (and at times hilarious) look at the new CD, Legacy.
Sea of Tranquility: How was it switching from a full-blown concept album like Tyranny to a more song-oriented project like Legacy?
Gary Wehrkamp: It was very refreshing actually! We decided right from the beginning that we weren't going to make a concept record, or a Tyranny Part two. The band received a lot of attention, especially via e-mail, from fans that wanted to see the second part, which was kind of deflating because we didn't want to go through that again just yet.
Mike Baker: So many bands try to top themselves when making concept records. It's almost if they get in a groove, making a few in a row and then the fans expect one every time. We wanted to get back to writing just a CD's worth of songs.
SOT: So, will Tyranny Part Two ever happen somewhere down the road?
Gary: You never can tell!
Mike: We won't say no, but certainly not right now. It's really the furthest thing from our minds at this point!
SOT: Legacy seems to focus more on vocals and melodies, as opposed to some of your earlier albums that are a little heavier and musically more complex. Was that done intentionally or is that the style that band is moving towards?
Gary: I think when we lifted the reins of having to write material that fit into a concept, such as Tyranny, it definitely helped us be freer to go in any direction we wanted. I don't think however that we intended to be more melodic than in the past, because it always has been one of the biggest stamps we have. Our sound has lots of melodies and harmonies, basically the big vocal sound, so we did this one just like any other record.
SOT: I noticed, especially in "Destination Unknown" and "Colors", the vocal arrangements sound to my ears to be better than anything the band has ever done. It's obvious that you are putting a lot of work into this aspect of your music.
Mike: Probably a reason is just having better techniques, such as Gary becoming much more involved in the back-up vocals. He always sang back-up vocals, but on Legacy we added a lot more.
Gary: I think I got into a groove towards the end where I turned my whole basement studio into nothing but a back-up vocal session thing! It's soundproofed to an extent, but at the same time I didn't want to bug my girlfriend all the time, so I literally, in addition to all the soundproofing I have set up, hung blankets all over the place and made a big cave. I went into the cave and didn't come out until there was like forty million tracks!
Mike: We always feel it's a good contrast because we don't do a lot of doubling on the lead vocal parts. It's usually the one voice carrying the song, and when the backing vocals come in we go for this huge wall of sound.
SOT: Now it's time for the million -dollar question. What kind of work does it take to write a 35- minute song, specifically "First Light?"
Gary: About 35 minutes and a bottle of rum!!
Mike: Can we get the million dollars now?
SOT: I wish I had it!
Gary: Seriously, it takes many ideas, many hours, and many months.
Mike: We actually had a whole bunch of ideas for different songs, bits and pieces more or less. In the end we winded up taking the best parts of those songs and making them all into one. At least we think they are the good parts!
Gary: It's amazing just how much crap I can actually write!
SOT: Funny how so many musicians say that!
Gary: That's pretty much what it was, a lot of crappy ideas and a lot of good ones, and we took the good ones and put them together to make one long piece. Usually I write about a hundred ideas to get four good ones, and this was a situation where a lot of musical ideas were started and Mike drew some magic from it. I hated some of what I wrote but Mike kind of brought some parts out, and said, "Let's use that somewhere." In fact that was the phrase for a while, "Let's use that somewhere" and the next thing you know we put it all together and it just grew.
SOT: The nice thing about that track is even though it is over a half hour long it really flows, and goes from some challenging instrumental parts, to atmospheric moments, and some really melodic sections as well.
Gary: We wanted to make sure that even though it is made up of a lot of different ideas it was important that it sounded cohesive and not idea A, B, and C all pieced together. All the pieces needed to segue properly so you got the impression that you were in a different song, but it was really the same song, just a different movement.
Mike: One other important note was that when we finally did put those seven or eight parts that we really liked from all the different ideas that were written, it all came together very quickly, in just a matter of hours in one day really. The first twelve or thirteen minutes of the song, which is largely the vocal section, came out real quick.
Greg: I got tired of having like 25 tapes of ideas, so let's just have one tape from now on!
Mike: Then we just added little by little, going off in different directions, and eventually we were over twenty minutes. At one point we actually thought of making the whole CD this one long song.
Greg: But then we thought, "Oh no, not another concept album!" The song did grow a bit from there. The very last thing written for it was the first two to three minutes, which was done the night before we recorded, at like five in the morning. We wanted more atmosphere in the intro, because it originally started with guitar and the vocal.
Mike: For the longest time it kind of hung there for a while, as we worked on the other songs more, and we didn't quite know how to finish the song off. We wound up giving it to Carl Cadden -James (bass player) and he took some of the story parts and made it a lot better, and added some of his touches to it, so he deserves a lot of credit.
Gary: We have as much to say about this song as the song is long!
Mike: Yeah, really!
SOT: I'm sure you said the same thing after you recorded Tyranny!
SOT: How does the songwriting process work in Shadow Gallery?
Gary: It's a difficult process sometimes because we are all songwriters and we all have ideas. Usually we work in small groups and build up from there. Brendt Allman (guitars) and I usually are in involved in the music from the beginning, not because we are better writers or are more involved, but because we are very much into programming drums. We don't write anything with a drummer, but write the drum parts ourselves. So usually Brendt is at the studio and he'll demo something and Chris Ingles will add keyboards, or I'll do something and get it together and make tapes for everyone. We kind of take it from there, and people add ideas that we shape and change them. In the past things have really changed back and forth, but with Legacy time was an issue, so we presented the demos and recorded them.
Mike: From there they give the songs to Carl and I and we work on melodies, lyrics and storylines.
SOT: How has the response been so far to Legacy?
Gary: It's been great. I was a little apprehensive, coming off of Tyranny, in what people would think. All throughout recording I let things go even though I really wanted to be a perfectionist about it, so I was a little worried. So far though the response has been great!
SOT: How do you feel when people compare Tyranny to some of the other great concept albums in the progressive rock genre?
Gary: Flattered, beyond flattered actually! It blows my mind. I've heard people compare Tyranny to Pink Floyd's The Wall, which is my favorite, and I would never place Tyranny anywhere in that same league myself, but it is flattering.
Mike: Yeah, Operation Mindcrime is another I have read it being compared to, just because of the overall feeling or vibe of it.
Gary: Making a concept album has always been the biggest thing I have ever wanted to do in my life. I always envisioned Shadow Gallery's fourth album being this grand concept record, but Carl just got started with his idea a little sooner than we all expected. So it ended up being our third, which was ok in the long run.
SOT: Can you describe each Shadow Gallery album and how the band has evolved over the years.
Mike: The first album was the band as a straight metal band. Once we got signed to Magna Carta, they wanted us to go in a more progressive direction. We were just kind of feeling our way at that point.
Gary: By Carved in Stone, when I joined the band, many of the songs were already written, and had a much more heavy influence, which at the time I didn't really like. Once we filled the album out with more progressive elements and overdubs, I knew it was a band that I wanted to be involved in.
Mike: With Tyranny, we definitely wanted to outdo ourselves with what we accomplished with Carved in Stone. Carl approached us and had this whole storyline, so we sat for a few months and put Tyranny together. It was however a very hard time for the band, as many things went wrong and the band got real burned out.
Gary: We put a lot of things on hold in our lives to record that album, and got real exhausted after finishing it. After, we took a nice long break from each other to kind of recoup. The next thing was to figure out how to get everyone motivated to start writing and recording again, which we eventually did and the result is Legacy.
Interview by Pete Pardo