Originally starting as an instrumental progressive metal outfit, Stride have finally sound their singer and released a stunning album in late 2005 called Imagine on Sensory Records. Filled with soaring vocals and a mix of crunchy metal and impeccable chops, Imagine has been one of the most talked about albums on the prog-metal scene. Stride bassist Mike Martin spent some time recently with Sea of Tranquility Publisher Pete Pardo to talk about the new album, the history of the band, and the future of this talented ensemble.
Read on for the complete interview!
SoT: How has the reaction been from fans of the band and the media towards the new CD Stride? It's a bit different from your debut album.
Mike: So far it's been very good. We were a little worried honestly, as it's not your typical progressive metal album. It has a lot of melody, softer parts, catchy hooks and choruses, harmonies, etc., and sometimes people might tend to think that we are trying to be a sell out or something, but really this just kind of the way it came out. I would say primarily its because of our vocalist, that's the way that he is, and he brought this stuff out of us. The response though has been excellent-we had some good reviews, some bad reviews, but hey, you take the good with the bad. Can't make everybody happy.
SoT: That's true! Can you talk a little bit about the history of the band, and when you decided to go from being an instrumental group to one that featured vocals?
Mike: Joel and Matt met up in California where they were attending MIT, and they started jamming together and put together Stride. Before long they left California because they couldn't stand the music scene and came here to Houston and put this thing together. They found Rick, who was tearing it up on the keyboards in some other band, and said "hey, this is the guy!" For the longest time they were looking for a singer, but they could never find the right one so rather than become stagnant they decided to put together an instrumental album. One of the songs was even called "NSA"…no singers available! (laughs!)
Mike: There were singers around, but not ones that fit with the band. So they put this album out, got really good reviews, played some gigs, but all the while they were still looking for a singer. Actually, we've all known Gary for years, but he was always with other projects and doing other things, and they never really thought to try to get him, but when he did become available they jumped on it. They got him involved in a three song demo that came out really well, and Ken Golden of Sensory/Lasers Edge got a hold of one and he loved it, and said let's do something. That's around the same time that I got involved with the band. They had a good turnout with the pre-show of ProgPower 4, and then got invited back for ProgPower 6 last year. We had a really good turnout and got a great response from that, sold a lot of merchandise as well. Gary just kind of evolved everything with the band you could say, and Joel is a really creative writer, as he is great at balancing melodies and chops and things, so that's kind of how it all came about and here we are today.
SoT: Did you get along with the other bands on the ProgPower bill?
Mike: Oh sure! We made a lot of new friends, the other bands were great, and again, the fans were very receptive to us. It was just a great experience all around, and we had a blast.
SoT: Any plans for a fledged tour?
Mike: Yeah, we'd like to. We don't have anything in the works yet, but it's something we are trying to do. We're trying to get tour support, but we want to see how the album is going to do, as we want to support the album, which is important. Also, we signed on with a management company out in Europe to try and get things going out there as well.
SoT: How did you originally hook up with Ken Golden?
Mike: The guys actually sent him the debut instrumental Music Machine album, but hadn't heard anything from him. Right around that time ProgPower 3 was rolling around, and everyone always heads out to that each year. Our drummer Matt sees Ken and ask "Hey Ken, I don't know if you remember us, we're the band Stride and we sent you an album a while back and wanted to know what you thought?" and Ken is like "Oh yeah, the guys from Texas right?" We said "yeah" and he's like "get a singer and we'll talk!" (laughs!) He's a really good guy with a great taste for music-I like all the bands on his label. Once he heard the 3-song demo that we were working on with Gary, he was like "yeah, I can work with this!", and that was right around the time of the ProgPower Pre-show gig, so it all snowballed from there. He's been a real heck of a guy.
SoT: What was it like to work with artist Mattias Noren?
Mike: It was a pleasure! He certainly knows his stuff, has worked with numerous other bands and has a great reputation. We actually selected that artwork-he already had that artwork done, and we looked through what he had available and fell in love with it. It really fell in with the "imaginative" aspect we were trying to get.
SoT: You hear a lot of references to bands like Dream Theater, Zero Hour, Andromeda, Planet X, and even Journey when people talk about Stride. What are some of the band's influences?
Mike: Well, each of us stem from a different brand of influences. Matt, Joel, and Rick all had heavy influences from bands like Kansas, Boston, Yes, Rush, Genesis, that had the progressive feel but were rooted in the 70's and 80's style. Gary is a whole other story, as he doesn't even follow the progressive scene (he's a huge Beatles fan). That's one of the reasons we were drawn to him, we wanted to find someone who had different ideas than the rest of us. Me, I'm a huge prog fan, and love bands like Dream Theater, Symphony X, Stratovarius, Redemption, love that new album with Ray Alder, in fact, Fates Warning has been one of my favorite bands for ages. I played with this band Vigilante back in the 90's and we got to tour with Fates Warning once, and I've been a fan ever since.
SoT: What are some of your favorite tunes on the new album?
Mike: Well, my favorite is "The Waiting", because everyone gets a chance to shine. There's some really cool shredding solos, I like Gary's bluesy vocals when he sings the verses, it's just a real well rounded song….plus I get to do a bass solo! (laughs!)
SoT: That's always a good thing!
Mike: Well, yeah. Plus I also like "Time" a lot too, mainly because when I listen to it I get emotional and love all the cool harmonies that Rick and Gary put together for it. As far as the instrumentals, "Ion Drive" has that cool Kansas feel to it. After Music Machine, that instrumental thing is in our blood, so I'm sure each album will have a few of them.
SoT: Can the fans expect a similar style on future releases, the combination of melody and chops?
Mike: Definitely yes, but also no. Meaning that I hope that we will evolve from this and better our writing technique. We want to do a lot of the same formulas, like the big harmonies, the versatility, the chops, the instrumentals, we just want to continue to evolve and be different.
SoT: I can almost see you guys on a future album diving into maybe a sprawling concept theme, or doing some epic 20-minute songs or something.
Mike: Oh, absolutely!
SoT: So what is the next step for the band?
Mike: Well, we are probably going to try and get some touring under out belts and support for the album. Later on this year we want to start writing again. We have a few ideas working, but later this year we want to get right back at it so we can keep on top of our game. We definitely want to do that 20-minute epic! (laughs!)
SoT: Well, you are certainly on the right label to do all that!
Mike: I agree! We are really enjoying everything that is coming our way right now, and we appreciate the support that sites like yours have been giving us.
(Click here to read our reviews of Imagine)