Progressive Metal is a genre that has grown exponentially in numbers over the last decade. Whereas Progressive Metal bands were a rarity a decade ago, now they are springing up all over the globe. The difficulty for the modern Progressive Metal band is in distinguishing itself. Sea of Tranquility staff writer Geoff Glenister had a chance to sit down and talk with Steve Michael, drummer for The Great Gamble, a new US based Progressive Metal band formed in Scranton, PA, now in the process of relocating to Boston, MA. The Great Gamble has recently released their debut, Book 1, to the public, which takes great strides in showing a unique and distinguished style for them.
SoT: So tell our readers a little about the band: how did it start, and what made you decide to play the style of music you guys play?
Steve: We got started in church listening to P.O.D. and Pillar back in high school. I was originally the rapper alongside Albert and another one of our friends played drums. He went off to college and I filled in the next year and the rest is history. We've evolved from a simpler hard rock sound over the years. We listened to a lot of Switchfoot/Third Day-type of stuff. After a few years of competing in the annual Assemblies of God Fine Arts festival we began listening to Dream Theater after Albert picked up their DVD from a local music store. We haven't looked back to the simple writing and playing styles since then.
SoT: When people find out you're in a band, and ask what style of music you play, how does the conversation typically go after that?
Steve: The conversation typically drops off. We usually have to explain that the music switches times signatures a lot and that the songs are longer. These facts usually spark the interests of most people; others don't really understand what we are talking about. Haha.
SoT: "Book 1" is a concept album – can you give us a summary of the plot? And is this planned to be part of a larger "series" of concept albums?
Steve: The plot of "Book 1" centers around two kingdoms, one good and one bad. King Benjamin, leader of the good kingdom, and Lord Dagon, ruler of the bad Kingdom, are in a constant battle with each other for land in an undisclosed region of the earth. Meanwhile, more and more people die every day from the sport of battle and more and more evildoers (witches and turned-elders) get in on the action of war and politics as the days go by. Seth, the Sleepwalker and savior, is destined to stop this madness but must get through trials of his own in order to restore balance by defeating Lord Dagon. This story may evolve into something bigger depending on how we feel about our characters but nothing is planned so far. Each of these characters represent what the world looks like today, so depending on how the world continues to move we may or may not have a story to continue. We don't want to force the story but be inspired by our surroundings.
SoT: How was the name, "The Great Gamble", chosen for your band?
Steve: We were formerly called, "Axeom", which means a proven fact. It was based off of the notion of proving to people by our actions that we are Christians. Our music won't prove it but our actions will. We changed the spelling from the original word as well. We wanted to start fresh in college and begin to attract a new following of people and felt "Axeom" would be a name we would have to explain in-depth over and over again to fans. In the midst of this dilemma me and Albert were at church one Sunday and our Pastor Dan Nold of Calvary Baptist Church in State College, PA titled one of his sermons, "The Great Gamble of Love", or something close to that. As soon as he said that me and Al looked at each other and nodded. We knew "The Great Gamble" was it and had the "swag factor" we were looking for. That just goes to show that there's nothing that can be forced in this life. Everything happens when it's supposed to and we learned that on that particular Sunday. In fact, we weren't even planning on going to church that Sunday!
SoT: Who are the "writers" and/or "composers" in your band? Do you collaborate together, or individually write songs?
Steve: We collaborate together on every song. We jam everything out as most bands probably do. Albert has developed as a great songwriter over the years and wrote 95% of the lyrics you hear in the songs. He's amazing. We all are beginning to write lyrics for the next album, however, so I think there will be a great level of diversity coming soon as far as lyrics and music are concerned. However, it will all stay in the form of heavy metal/progressive rock and virtuosic play.
SoT: Who are your musical "heroes"? What artists or bands inspire your sound?
Steve: Dream Theater, Coheed & Cambria, Avenged Sevenfold, Between The Buried And Me, Living Colour, Pantera, Tom Quayle, Jimmy "The Rev" Sullivan, Dan Briggs, Victor Wooten, and many others from many different styles of music.
SoT: What about personal inspiration – can you tell us about someone who inspires you as a person?
Steve: Mike Portnoy inspires me as a person. He knows what to do and gets it done in the face of adversity. It seems that in the world of music today there's so much going against a band's will to achieve the level of play and fans they'd dreamed of as young players. A lot of band's have given up and fallen off because of the many obstacles they've faced whether it be personal or something that a label wants or doesn't see in the prospective band. Money, money, money and more money is the key a lot of the times as to whether a band will get their shot. It's not fair because a lot of bands can be great if just given the chance. It also depends on who you know. Mike's track proves what kind of dude he is as well. He's arguably not the most technically proficient drummer and not the most skillful in different styles but he's been given countess Modern Drummer awards and is the youngest drummer EVER inducted into the Modern Drummer Hall of Fame. I'd rather have these awards forever than just be able to play with one hand or know every style of music and bounce around from artist to artist my whole career. He knows who he is and knows what his niche is. And he does it very well. He's a beast.
SoT: How is the search for a label going?
Steve: We aren't actively looking anymore because we're waiting for Al and Matt to finish school. Maybe when they're done we'll have a better following and great reviews to bring to a label, making the process that much easier (hopefully).
SoT: On your Facebook page, you are very open about being a Christian band – there doesn't seem to be a very high percentage of Christian bands in the Progressive Metal genre. Can you tell us what it's like to be a Christian Progressive Metal band? How is the reaction from the fans? What about the reaction from other Christians?
Steve: We don't get too many reactions about being Christian men. We don't really want to "push" on people that we're a "Christian" band. We're simply Christian men who play Heavy Metal and Progressive Rock.
SoT: What are your thoughts about how your faith is integrated into your music?
Steve: Our faith is integrated into every aspect of our music. Music is spiritual. You can't see it but you can feel it and hear it. We play it because we love these qualities about music and we know that a great musical experience can touch someone in a way nothin else can. Also, the subject matter of a song can help someone through a tough time in their life and help them be strong. The instruments add the nostalgic effect that may remind them of their past and help them to deal with whatever they're going through. When they arrive at their final destination they can look back and remember their experience. This is great for someone to be able to do for themselves. Music also provides a great emotional release for fans. Music can be angry, hopeful, tragic, and/or confusing. But once someone connects to it they can make it their own. This is how we see music. We are able to integrate our faith in God about what we write and perform through knowing these things.
SoT: What is your favorite album from 2012 so far?
Steve: I'm absolutely enjoying Periphery's new album, "Periphery II: This Time It's Personal". What a great display of melody, perfection, time, and playability from each member. Not to mention the singer's great voice and range. My favorite track is "Have A Blast" Featuring Guthrie Govan, who I had a chance to see host a Workshop at Berklee School of Music this summer with Albert. I'm almost done learning this song. Matt Halpern has definitely become one of my favorite modern drummers behind the late, Jimmy "The Rev" Sullivan and Travis Barker. What a great album though.
SoT: Thanks so much for sharing with Sea of Tranquility! Is there anything else you'd like to say to our readers?
Steve: Thanks so much for taking the time to interview me and learn more about our band. We are great friends from this day forth and I expect many more great conversations between all of us. God bless you man. And let everyone know they can pick up the album for Free or any donation amount @ thegreatgamble.bandcamp.com. Thanks again man!!!
(Click here to read our review of Book 1)