Pete Pardo grabs some thoughts from the talented vocalist regarding his new solo album Earth Maker, as well as the latest news on both Artension and Royal Hunt.
John West should be no stranger to any fan of modern day progressive metal. The New York vocalist burst on the scene in 1992 as the replacement for Ray Gillen in Badlands, and toured with them until their eventual break-up. After numerous tours and guest appearances on various musician's albums, West hooked up with the band Artension in 1996, an aggressive neo-classical metal band that shared as much with classic group's like Deep Purple and Rainbow as it does with Dream Theater and Symphony X. From that year until the present, John has recorded five albums with Artension, with number six, titled New Discovery just now hitting CD racks worldwide. "The title is based on the Lewis and Clark expedition in US 1800's", says the vocalist. "I really liked the theme of New Discovery. A lot of options there. For Artension, it is a great album, our 6th!"
Indeed, with such classy releases like Sacred Pathways, Phoenix Rising, and their hot debut Into the Eye of the Storm, it's hard not to imagine any Artension platter not being of superior quality. When asked what record label the band was working with, West replies, "For Japan it is Marquee. Europe is Frontiers.We are arranging licensing deals for the rest of the world now. Of course, the day it is released it is for sale on-line anyways."
Another recent event for the singer has been the release of his third solo album, titled Earth Maker. One listen to the CD and it is obvious that a lot of time,effort, and love went into the creation to these songs. I asked John how the reaction has been so far to the CD. "It has been all positive that I can tell. It took two years to write the album. I worked with various song-writers and musicians on it. The story was very involved and complicated, and in some ways it was like writing a small book." Two musicians in particular who really chipped in with big guitar parts were Savatage's Chris Caffery and Halford's Metal Mike Chlasciak. "They both have their own styles", states the singer. "Chris and I get together and write usually, when we can. Mike would send me tapes of song ideas and I would write to those. Chris likes to work out his parts before he goes in to record. Mike likes to create stuff on the spot. It is a great balance on the album, I think. Chris brings in a huge Savatage influence. His style even permeates the songs he didn't write on."
It's obvious that Earth Maker seems to veer a bit from the neo-classical prog metal style of both Royal Hunt and Artension. Did you intend to go for a more straight power metal sound with this album?"Oh yes", exclaims West, "I wanted to try something different. Why not? I think that is the reason to do solo albums..to expand your horizons a little bit." As for other players on the solo album, West called in Artension bandmate Kevin Chown to play bass guitar. In fact, Chown and drummer Mike Terrana had rejoined the Artension just over a year ago after an extended absence, which seems to have invigorated the band. "I think so too. We took a few years off after the Machine album. The original line-up with Terrana and Chown is still the best. I love the way Chown plays six string bass, and I needed that for Earth Maker."
I aked John how is it sharing time between Royal Hunt, his recording and touring band, and Artension, which has so far been only a recording project. "It gets a little bit hectic scheduling things sometimes", states West. "So far Royal Hunt has been my priority because we do the touring. That's important. Artension is planning a tour for 2003 right now, so...should be very a interesting live band!"
When the topic of his two virtouso keyboard bandmates, Vitalij Kuprij and Andre Andersen, came up, West had this to say, "They are similar in that they both play the classical style, and they are both from the former Soviet Union. Other than that they are very different. Andre is very technical and precise in the studio. He is more loose and free live and a great showman. Vitalij is always free and experimental, as well as a great showman . Let's just say I am blessed to be playing with two of the best. And, I got them to play together on one song ("When Worlds Collide") for Earth Maker!
2003 will hopefully see a new project from Royal Hunt. When I asked whether it might be another concept album , John replied "I'm not sure. Andre always starts the process in the direction he chooses. Last time I wrote a couple of lyrics it was for The Mission album back in 2001." As for a tour of the US, John ponders "The US has been a tough nut for us to crack. It is very expensive to tour with guys from overseas, and equipment etc. My last US tour was singing for Lynch Mob in 1998. Our record companies don't offer tour support for the US in general, but of course, we'd love the opportunity." Let's hope it happens!