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InterviewsPacific Northwest act Tyranny of Hours unleash self-titled CD

Posted on Sunday, September 08 2013 @ 18:44:57 CDT by Pete Pardo
Progressive Metal

Tyranny of Hours has burst onto the Pacific Northwest female power progressive music scene with their debut album of the same name. The album is full of the kind of heavy metal power that has been well received across Europe but has had a slow time catching on over in the States. Tyranny of Hours is talented enough to both inspire future followers and fans; while at the same time hopefully ignite the genre in the mystical Pacific Northwest. Sea of Tranquility's Mark Johnson was fortunate enough to attend Tyranny of Hours CD release show and was entertained by one of the best light shows he's seen in years. This band is ready for prime time and it is with great pleasure that Mark brings to you lead singer Michelle Mattair and lead guitarist Don Graham.

Mark- Welcome to Sea of Tranquility. We appreciate both of you taking time out of your busy schedule promoting your debut album and rehearsing for your upcoming shows to take some time out to answer some questions for your fans. Let's begin with an introduction as to how the band was formed and your beginnings as musicians.

Don – Sure: I started playing guitar at 15 – which I thought was really late at the time. I was a big fan of the European style guitar players at the time, Michael Schenker, Uli Jon Roth, and Yngwie Malmsteen as well as the late Randy Rhoads. Most of the players at the time were busy coping Van Halen finger tapping and whammy bar tricks, and while I was a big fan of Eddie, it wasn't the style I wanted to emulate. I really appreciated the straightforward, every note picked, no tricks approach of the aforementioned guys, so I studied them and tried to learn that style.

I played in a handful of different bands and eventually toured for a couple years in a cover band. After that, it was going to be original music or nothing for me, so I started digging in to learn how to record. Right around 2000-2001 I came across the Pro Tools "free" software they were using for promotion at the time, and immediately loved working with it. It was all of 8 tracks (way better than the 4 track cassette recorder I had before) and 2 or 3 plug-ins, but it was pretty awesome for the time.

I began competing in an online guitar competition called Guitar Wars. The entries were pretty simplistic, but they were well received and I learned a ton. Over the next few years I worked on my songwriting skills as much or more than I did my guitar chops and started putting the early version of the Tyranny of Hours lineup together, working with Michelle Mattair and drummer Russ Rosenbalm. We eventually took on the name In Vellum.

Tyranny of Hours "officially" formed in late 2010 out of the ashes of In Vellum. It was essentially the same lineup, consisting of myself, Michelle, and Russ along with the addition of keyboardist James Borst. We changed both the name and the approach at the same time. There is an established progressive rock band out of the Bay Area known as Moth Vellum so we started looking for another name. We also tweaked our style a bit at the same time; as we wanted a more powerful approach to the music we were writing – which was a bit more "progressive rock" at the time.

As we were in the middle of writing the first album, James left to devote more time to his own project (Cry for Eden) and another business he was starting. Then Russ let us know he was moving to Spokane, Washington (about 8 hours away by car), so there for a few months it was pretty much just Michelle and I hammering away at writing the album and hoping to find some decent musicians to join us.

As we began to really hit the studio to record the album in late 2011, we hired studio drummer extraordinaire, Larry London. Along the way, Larry became a full time member and that was the foundation of Tyranny of Hours. We added bassist Jordan Harrington in late 2012.

Michelle – I used to play piano and trumpet in grade school. Didn't stick with it, but kept my basic understanding of notation and composition. My first band was a jazz trio in Tucson, where I was going to college at the time. I'd always loved all kinds of music, but learning to sing Sarah Vaughan and Ella was a whole new thing and I had a blast doing it, even if our gigs were for tips and free dinner and I was mostly broke. Ha, ha. I still love singing torchy and jazzy stuff, like The Manhattan Transfer, Julie London, Mel Torme.

After that, I came back to Oregon and sang and played rhythm guitar in a few rock bands, along with college and part time jobs to feed my two sons. But after a while, it stopped being fun and I just got tired of singing other people's songs in smoky nightclubs night after night, which was physically hard on my voice, too. So I quit completely for a while, and it wasn't until Don and I met and musically clicked, that we started writing just to see if we could do it. And here we are. Moth Vellum…thanks…that brought back some good memories of their debut.

Mark – Rather than ask you about the current Northwest metal/progressive scene, where do you hope to see the scene in say five years?

Michelle – I'd love to see Portland take back some of its glory days, when it was an exciting hotbed of original music of all kinds. Owners of local venues took a chance on promising bands, even if they didn't yet have much of any audience. But with so many venues' predilection for the blues and tribute bands, the "sure things" that always seem to draw; it's a challenge to get booked in a premier venue. This genre's been huge around the world for years now, but it's still a small and relatively unknown niche around here and in the U.S.

It's a chicken/egg syndrome: you can't build an audience if you don't play - - but it's hard to get booked if you haven't developed a draw.

Viewed from a sheer business opportunity perspective, however - - venues who sit up and take notice can see the large audiences attending Epica, Symphony X, Dream Theater, Nightwish, and Kamelot shows in Portland. It's a significant market waiting to be served at the local level – and not just when famous bands breeze through town.

Mark – Are there other bands in the area you know of that the world should also hear?

Michelle – NeverAwakE is a fantastic young power prog band – one of the best and most promising I've heard in years. They have the talent, songs, and vibe to be international recording artists.

Mark – Who are your favorite bands in the genre globally?

Don – Symphony X, Dream Theater, Stratovarius ….Threshold. It's funny, because when you say "The genre", I immediately think of progressive metal more so than "female - fronted symphonic metal" which is probably where most people would place us. Even though we do have a female front person in Michelle, we tend to lean heavily toward the prog side of things and our influences are primarily from older prog rock, fusion and prog metal.

That being said, I'm not dodging the original question, I love old Nightwish and Within Temptation and I think Epica is doing a great job of holding down the really heavy technical side of things in female-fronted metal.

Michelle – Threshold – yes - amazing band…it's hard for me to talk about them without feeling sad…Mac McDermott was one of the greatest singers I've ever heard …RIP, Mac!

Mark – Ok, let's talk about your debut album. You set the tone early with the lyrics, "Now is the time. Now is the pleasure. Feel it – the high ground. It's coming alive. Take all your time. Find all your treasure 'cause. Now I see what is free survives". What is your dream for Tyranny of Hours?

Don – Ah, the lyrics from The Warm…well, obviously there's the generic "lottery dream" of becoming a major live act who can pack stadiums around the world, but I am an engineer and a realist. Our more down to earth goal is enough success that our income from the band's sales and lives shows can finance the next album, the next show, and so on.

Making money in the modern industry is tough, and recording a high production value album is very expensive. At this point, it's a one way street for us – a labor of love, to employ an overused term. For something more tangible, a stretch goal in the next couple of years, would be to play Prog Power USA and Female Metal Voices Fest with the release of our second album.

Michelle – (laughs). So many DIY gurus mention setting your sites on the more attainable "mini fame". In short – lowered expectations in which you can still possibly make a decent living at your own music, if you can figure out the angles – but you won't be Paul McCartney or Queen – those days of rock n' roll dreams are pretty much gone. Fair enough, I get it.

So, we were laughing about what must be the next level down – "micro fame"!! Even more realistic! A few gigs here and there…some people besides your mom and dad know who you are…you sell a few CD's and downloads and at the end of the day – you're proud of what you did as you head off to your day job. I guess it would be funnier if it were not for the fact that so many truly KILLER bands seem to swim at that level. It's a sad statement of the music industry that many times, it's not about great music, so much as great spectacle.

Mark – The debut album seems like a great introduction to the band, its style and the types of stories you would like to tell. Is there an overall concept for the album?

Don – Yeah, there is kind of a "lite" concept to the album. We didn't want to get too overblown and do a huge concept album, but we wanted to have some real content and a flow to it. As a self-titled album, it speaks to the universal theme of the passage of time, history, and mythology and blends them together a bit. I guess it's a bit of a dark album, but not overtly so.

Mark – Do you plan to write about the storied past of Portland or the Pacific Northwest in any songs of the future? (The Portland Shanghai tunnels, Timberline Lodge, Lewis and Clark adventures, or others?)

Michelle – I love history. Anything which offers inspiration is a possibility, but there are no plans to write about these things in particular.

Mark – From where did you draw inspiration for the lyrics to "Above the Salt"?

Michelle – Anger. For our collective betrayal as a nation and world by creatures gloriously unencumbered with ethics or personal integrity – the parasites who serve a bottomless hunger for power and control. Ill-conceived wars and corporate bailouts, Big Pharma, slow poison by GMOs and pesticides…our planet is under siege and humans are its virus. God – didn't that sound like a little speech! Ha. I don't want to sound hopeless or morbid. There is always hope. It's just that for now, my head's trying to get some perspective.

Mark – "Amber" sounds like it was directed at someone.

Michelle – It's a universal theme -- regret. My vehicle for it was imagining remorse in one of the Lords Stanley, who helped seal the fate of England's last warrior king, Richard III. William surely had opportunity for introspection while awaiting execution 10 years later by Henry VII - the very horse he chose to back in Richard's place.

Mark – "Legacy" almost sounds like a Viking song.

Michelle – I love that! Legacy is actually about losing the part of you that had passion and trusted yourself when you were young and vibrant and knew you had something special. Losing your compass to self-proclaimed oracles with answers... dabbling in this and that without ever committing, and feeling like there's still all the time in the world – until one day you wake up and it's too late -- you never did break away from the herd.

Mark – Please tell us the story behind "A Breath with Peace" since the lyrics and your vocals are in Gaelic.

Michelle - - I get a lot of questions about that. You can form a deeply personal interpretation of something spoken in a language you don't understand, especially one as magical as Scots Gael!

A Breath with Peace is the simple litany of an ancient Goddess, breathing the humble joys of Earth as she prays each year for a rebirth and renewal she is never sure will come. Languages rarely translate directly, so there's actually another, separate Gael translation, very lyrical and a bit different from these lyrics, which are as I wrote them in English:

Smell of grass and light and hope
Cup my hand around a stone, a breath, a secret place
All is fresh and new so like a world just born
Golden star - once again, shine upon this ancient face

Mark – On "The Hapless Wand", Michelle really goes for it with her vocals. How much fun is that to sing live?

Michelle – It is fun to sing! All the album's songs are, actually. Partly because they're so demanding to sing, for one reason or another - at least for me. I write melodies based on what the song demands, not on what I can easily do. Sure makes me work a lot harder! The Hapless Wand has its challenges. Control needed to smoothly navigate several transitions between chest and head voice, and that final note at the end where I gotta hear myself just right to resonate to hold it out…I'm learning to work with my in-ear monitors on that. It's still the case for a lot of singers – there's nothing quite like the ole' low-tech device of cupping hands to the ears to hear yourself the best!

Mark – "Transvaal Sphere" is proof that you guys are studying some interesting facts and historical events. Tell us how you found out about the sphere.

Don – Oh yeah, it's a very interesting concept. West Transvaal is a mining town in South Africa. Sometime in the 1970's (I believe) they began finding small metallic spheres buried in the rock they were extracting. They didn't appear natural and gained a reputation in the region. Eventually they were studied by some university professors and dated to about 2.8 billion years old. They have some very odd properties, such as being made of a nickel steel alloy which does not occur in nature. Also, it's rumored that they all spin in their display cases slowly over time without vibration. Some people think they are from extra-terrestrials. Anyway, it's one of our earliest songs and at one point, was going to be the intro to the album, as a reference to "the beginning of all things".

Mark – "Vain Hope" contains some of the best keyboards on the album. James has been a close partner with the band. Describe how you have worked together.

Don – Actually Mark, all the keyboards on the album were written and played by me! We did work with James on some pieces early on, but none made it on the album. You are right though, James has been a close partner and helped us in numerous ways -- and is one of our best friends.

Mark – The symphonic sound of "The Warm" and other tracks makes me wonder what your sound would be like with a full orchestra. Have you ever thought about using an orchestra?

Don – Oh, yes! And if you loan us the money, we'll have a full orchestra on the next album. Ha, ha. Seriously though, much of this music was written as orchestral scores, but the cost of recording a full symphony orchestra is outrageous. Maybe one of these days.

Mark – Where is the "The Path that Lies Apart"?

Michelle – Here's the thing: it's in the hearts of anyone with the courage to seek their dreams and fight the good fight. Sorry if that sounds corny or pretentious. But it's true. Take the old wisdom: "Know thyself." It had no intrinsic meaning for me, when I was younger. Now it does.

One of the hardest things in the world is to figure out what really matters. What you stand for. Then to have the heart to stand for it… that's the path that lies apart. And it's different lessons and roads for each person.

Mark – Will there be a "Dark Symphony" II? It sounds like you have more room to write.

Don – Interesting you ask that. Dark Symphony was the only song on the album played on a six string guitar in Drop D. It's also the only song that featured Jordan on bass, since I'd previously recorded all the bass parts myself, before we met him. It has a different feel to it that I really like. So, to answer your question, I suppose there's a possibility.

Mark – Your music is very visual. I know you are planning to create a video, but share with your fans which song you plan to use and maybe some of the ideas behind the production.

Michelle – We're still working on that. We'll have more to share as it develops.

Mark – Your CD release show was incredible. Thanks for the invitation. Can you share with us the playlist?

Michelle - With a couple adjustments to the order of songs, all we did was play our full album, except A Breath with Peace.

Mark – That light show was incredible. Was that something that Black Diamond provided, or will you be able to take that on the road?

Don – We contracted Jason Goers from Lights Up Loud. He did do a great job.

Mark – What is next for Tyranny of Hours?

Michelle – We're writing the second album and in process of bringing on a new bass player because Jordan's leaving the area after he and his GF Amber finish art school this fall. They'd been planning this for a long time, so it wasn't any big secret when he joined the band. We wish them both the best – they're cool people.

Mark – Are there any comments either of you would like to add to the interview?

Michelle – Mark, I think it's very cool of you to have taken the time to listen to the whole album, read the lyrics, and ask questions that make sense. Thanks for doing that!

Don – What she said. (laughs) And - - stay tuned, because the best is yet to come!

Mark- Thank you again for taking time out of your busy schedule to answer some questions for us. We at the Sea of Tranquility wish you and Tyranny of Hours much success with the launch of your debut album and all that you do in the future. Thanks. ;^)

Mark Johnson

(Click here to read our review of Tyranny of Hours)

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