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CIRCLE II CIRCLE: You just need 50 minutes and 3 beers.

Interview with vocalist Zak Stevens, bass player Mitch Stewart and drummer Johnny Osborn of Circle II Circle in The RockTemple in Kerkrade on October 16th, 2010
Interview: Danny Focke, Photography: Davy Focke

Circle II Circle had a gig in The Rock Temple in Kerkrade and I had the opportunity to interview the band. I expected to interview Zak or Mitch, but to my surprise it turned into a very pleasant chat with Zak, Mitch and Johnny.

What does the name Circle II Circle mean?
Zak: The way we originally came up with it was that I came out of Savatage and we looked at that as a circle of friends. It was its own circle of circumstances. So when we started CIIC, we were a band that could perform songs written by myself, Jon Oliva and Chris Caffery. We were the original writers. So that was the avenue we had to get that music out. As we had a whole new line-up, it was a whole new circle of friends. It went from one circle to another.

You almost always use titles with a structure of ‘Something of Something’. For example, Edge of Thorns, Handful of Rain, Burden of Truth, Consequence of Power,…
Zak: Yes, indeed, it started even with Savatage. I don’t know if we intentionally did it, but looking back it really had a pattern to it. With CIIC albums we did it on purpose. Except the first, I would imagine that the sixth album better has the word ‘in’ in the middle. ;-)

So you have a new drummer, Johnny Osborn. Did you have auditions or did you know him already?
Zak: He toured with us before. It was in 2003, when our line-up was changing for the first time. Johnny did the European tour but he was busy playing in Metalium and X-Thirtien. He had some previous contracts and we parted. But I introduced him to Mitch and some other guys. He couldn’t join us back then, but we had another opportunity between Delusions of Grandeur and Consequence of Power. So we brought Johnny back on board to be a permanent member of the band. So he’s not a brand new guy, but someone who worked a lot with us already.
(note: Johnny Osborn played in Doctor Butcher, a solo project by Jon Oliva and Chris Caffery in 1994 and played with Metalium, also with Chris who left after their first album. Johnny also had a band called X-Thirtien)
Johnny: We’ve known each other for very long. Zak lives in the same state. We saw each other at a lot of events and we hang out a little bit.

It’s certainly an advantage to keep the same musicians. Mitch and Andy are with you since 2003.
Zak: That’s right. Mitch, Andy and myself are the core of the band, and Johnny has to become the core. It’s a special chemistry. We gotta keep that.
Johnny: We got lucky. The chemistry is really great with the song writing and the live performances.

Is Consequence of Power a concept album?
Zak: Yeah. It is a story set on the border between Mexico and the United States. There’s a lot of things that happen. The way we originally came up with it was, watching two specific tv shows in the United States. One is called “Border Wars” which details our customs and border patrol in their battle against the illegal drugs brought in from Mexico. It’s an actual reality show that shows their operations. So I kind of get hooked on that. And the other one is called “Gangland” on History Channel. That details all of the activities of every one of the gangs that’s in America and in Mexico or anywhere around our borders. After watching these two shows for three or four months, it made its own story. Our story is fictional and set inside that setting. The FBI is involved and there’s a good side and a bad side to the FBI. It’s kind of hooked up with the cartels in Mexico. There’s also the regular FBI and they don’t know that the renegade FBI has split off in a rogue type effort. The main character accidentally hears something. He is hiding and he hears a negotiation between the US government and the cartel. He hears all this important stuff and they don’t know and then they find out about him. And they come and get him. And in order to keep his life, he has to join them. He becomes like a street soldier who has to fight for the bad side of the FBI and the cartel. Then he meets a girl. Have you seen the artwork? It’s a very long story. It’s probably a two hour interview in itself. But I think everybody is going to learn the basic story over time. And that’s what laid the groundwork for the music.

Who did the artwork?
Zak: It’s the same artist who did 4 out of 5 of our albums. It’s Thomas Ewerhard. The artwork inside is another artist, Claudio Bergamin, a new guy.

You are still friends with Jon, off course.
Zak: Yeah, we just did a show together, two nights ago. We played at Z7 in Pratteln in Switzerland. We see him all the time.

You’re still co-writing with him?
Zak: No, we haven’t been writing anything together, lately. The stuff from Jon was on “Watching in Silence” and “Middle of Nowhere”. Since “Burden of Truth”, it’s all been just us. It’s mainly me and Mitch, but these other guys get more and more involved.
Johnny: The nice thing for me for being in this band is that Zak is a great drummer. Maybe you see something tonight. We are talking about it. They really gave me a lot of freedom to drum my style. It was really cool and that added a little bit of spice.

Jon’s voice was a bit broken during his Progpower performance. Anything wrong with his voice?
Zak: Well, he got sick and it’s hard to get it back on the road. It’s hard even when you’re not sick.
Johnny: We played at Z7 and when we were doing “Hall of the Mountain King” Jon said: “Here’s the mike.” And that was kinda cool. It was like passing the torch, singing the end together. It was pretty cool.

Is being associated with Savatage all the time a burden or an advantage? You have more CD’s now with CIIC than with Savatage.
Zak: It’s the same amount now. Everyone forgets the “Japan Live”. ;-) But even if people wouldn’t ask us anymore to play “Taunting Cobras” and “Edge of Thorns”, we would play them anyway, because we enjoy playing that stuff. It’s a piece of my history, you know. And I don’t mind the comparisons. That’s where I came from anyway and I just don’t want to deny that.

There are also still a lot of references in the CIIC tracks to Savatage. For example “Redemption”, the resemblance with “Jesus Saves” cannot be a coincidence.
Zak: You can blame that on Mitch. When we were writing it, we didn’t think about that too much. Mitch is a real big fan of Savatage.
Mitch: It’s important to still embrace that side of Zak. That’s where he comes from and why deny that. He’s strong at it. With the drummer we have now and with Andy, who’s got to be the greatest guitar player I ever shared the stage with, it brings on a whole kind of other side of Zak. That’s where the other stuff kind of comes from.
Zak: Also you gotta think of where our fans are coming from. There’s little taste of old Savatage and new, CIIC, old and new. We are trying to reach all the fans.

Like you said, Andy is an incredible guitar player. He has something original in his solos, like for example in “Mirage” and “Episodes of Mania”.
Mitch: He is, what I consider a true guitar musical genius.
Johnny: He’s amazing. Me and Zak, we were in Mitch’s own town and they were playing some songs on a stage and we were outside listening to Andy, and the lead came through. And we were: “Oh, I cannot believe it”, you know.
Zak: That’s the beauty and magic of music. In the bigger stage, that’s why we have Andy in our band. Because we want to get him out and we still feel like we need everybody in this band out to the world more.

Your last album is, in my opinion, darker than the previous ones?
Mitch: Yes, it is. It’s because of the story.

It’s harder to digest, but once you know it, it’s better than the others.
Zak: That sounds familiar to what people are telling us.
Johnny: We also try to cater in to the US as well. A lot of the fans are tired of the cliché metal. So we try to come up with something creative and we are getting some pretty good radio playing. We got invited to a Heavy Metal club at the local University. We expected 10 people and we opened the doors and there were 80 people cheering. And they all had CD’s and we signed them. And we did an hour and a half interview.
Zak: The younger kids are trying to explore the roots of metal now. Zak Stevens has been out there quite a while and he symbolizes this metal style of vocals. They wanna see where all this comes from. And I see it in Europe too. I’m talking to 25 year olds, who were 8 years old when I did the first album of Savatage.

My last question: what question would you like to hear in an interview, but is never asked? Everyone asks about Savatage, Jon Oliva,…
Zak: I think you covered about every area we want to hear in an interview. I think you did a good job.
Oh, I got one. How do you listen to the new album? You gotta listen to it from the first song to the last song. It’s a story. It’s like reading a book. You don’t start at the end.
Johnny: Well, actually, you can listen to one song. My favourite now is “Out of Nowhere’. It’s getting radioplay and so. But if you listen to the album in the right order, you get to go on a journey. You just need 50 minutes and three beers. ;-)

OK, a great thought to end this interview, thanks guys.

Geplaatst door danny op zondag 31 oktober 2010 - 19:06:42
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