With the release of The Middle of Nowhere, their follow-up to the excellent debut Watching in Silence, Circle II Circle are set to once again make their mark in the world of melodic power metal. Sea of Tranquility's Murat Batmaz had the pleasure of catching up with lead singer Zak Stevens and talking about the new record, the new line-up, future plans, and of course Savatage.
Read on for the complete interview!
SoT: Hello Zak, what are you up to these days? Any shows or tours in the plans?
Zak Stevens: We have a headlining tour in Europe in the planning stages for around January 2006. We're talking with booking agents currently about getting out in the US and Canada for some touring soon since we got over 120 radio adds for the first single "All That Remains" in the US the first week we went for adds (September 6, 2005).
SoT: Your second album with Circle II Circle got released earlier this year. In what ways do you think it differs from Watching in Silence?
Zak: We went into writing The Middle of Nowhere knowing we would stick to the current writing formula. But we tried along the way to add any musical elements that each of us thought may have been missing (per our personal tastes) from Watching in Silence. I think the main difference is maybe the new record is a bit more aggressive at time, both musically and
SoT: The biggest change seems to be the lineup. First the original CIIC members left the band to join forces with Jon Oliva and then you enlisted the services of a new band for a European tour? Are you still together with them or was that temporary?
Zak: With the guys in the first lineup deciding to join Jon's band, it was my opportunity to improve the overall musicianship and skill of the band. I didn't want to settle, and this opportunity proved to be a blessing in disguise, as I now have very strong writers in the new lineup as well as great players. On tour, the band will be the guys in the current lineup that played on The Middle of Nowhere.
Circle II Circle live
SoT: You also produced The Middle of Nowhere on your own. What was the experience like and are you happy with the results?
Zak: I'm happy with the final product. Overall I think it was a good record to call my first production effort. I had a great time doing it and it felt very natural the entire time. I was pretty comfortable with that role after learning from some of the best in the business while in Savatage and beyond. I think I'm very lucky in that sense.
SoT: You used almost no keyboards or pianos on your album. Was the pre-planned or what were your motives for their exclusion?
Zak: It wasn't anything we really pre-planned. I don't really plan the order of the songs in the initial writing mode, but I do pay attention to what elements are flowing together as we move through the writing process, for continuity's sake.
SoT: There are also not as many counterpoints vocal harmonies as on "Forgiven" or the title track on Watching in Silence. Were you basically opting for a more raw and more in your face type of record?
Zak: I think that was the natural outcome, so we just went with what we were personally feeling at the time. I think the "feel" factor will always change somewhat for every album we do, going forward as well.
SoT: After I posted a review of The Middle of Nowhere at our website I received two emails from people claiming to be friends of yours. They said the guitars on the new CD were actually all written and recorded by LaPorte? Could you confirm or deny this?
Zak: Both Matt LaPorte and Andy Lee played guitars on the record, and it was a great time working with these to multi-talented guitarists. I'm extremely lucky to have been able to play with such great guitar talents throughout my career, including of course Criss Oliva.
SoT: What can you tell us about the song "Psycho Motor"? It just doesn't sound like anything you've ever sung before, neither in CIIC nor in Savatage. It's more like the hard rock stuff on your first band Wicked Witch.
Zak: That's a good comparison. To me, it was the closest thing to Deep Purple I've ever written or sang.
SoT: Are you ever going to record a CIIC album without the help of Jon Oliva and Chris Caffery? Now that you've been out of Savatage and have released two CIIC discs, people would love to hear what you can come up with on your own?
Zak: The next CIIC record will definitely be including musical writing from myself and the guys in the current final lineup. I do hope to get together with Jon and Chris for a few songs on the next record for the sake of making great music.
SoT: Let's talk a little about Savatage. There were numerous rumours about you rejoining the band or becoming their third singer along with Damond Jinaya. What came of it?
Zak: As far as I can see, there haven't been any solid plans for Savatage to tour or make a next record as of yet. We'll see what comes of any of those supposed plans in the future, I guess.