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zondag 14 augustus 2011
SUN CAGED: We are always in progress

Interview with vocalist Paul Adrian Villarreal and guitarist Marcel Coenen of Sun Caged by Vera in July 2011

Guitarist Marcel Coenen is a well-known established name in Dutch (and Belgian) progressive rock scene. The band Sun Caged – one of his outlets – has recently released their third studio album. ‘The Lotus Effect’ has turned into a ravishing work, with an eclectic composition of 24 minutes as mind-blowing centerpiece. High time to change some spiritual talks with singer Paul Adrian Villarreal, completed by some info of Marcel himself!



We hear some slightly new influences on ‘The Lotus Effect’. Can you go a bit deeper into those new elements you would like to emphasize?
Paul: Well, we really collaborated a lot in the writing process this time. So instead of a whole song by one guy, or in one particular direction, I think a wide variety of influences (because we all have rather different tastes, with overlap of course) made there way into each song. ‘Seamripper’ is a great example. Started with an ultra heavy thrash riff, which Marcel & Roel loved, but I wasn’t about to approach the rest of the song that way. (haha) The chorus is more grooving prog metal, but then it develops into an atmospheric ending section that, for me, brought out inspirations like Porcupine Tree or even Peter Gabriel to mind. I don’t know if anyone else will hear it that way, but that’s the fun of it. I could talk about each song in this way really... but it would take a LONG time. (haha)

‘The Lotus Effect’ is your third album and the successor of 2007 released ‘Artemisia’. It means that it has been a long writing process and recording process. When did it actually start?
Paul: Pretty much right away after the release of ‘Artemisia’. But a lot of “life” happened in between. Deaths, births (THREE!), illnesses, injuries, line-up change, even changes of apartments... things did go slow indeed, but we never stopped working on it... it was always “in progress”; never any official hiatus or anything.





This writing process happened to be different than previous times, with more time spent in the rehearsal room. What were the advantages and can we say that ‘The Lotus Effect’ turned into a more coherent record due to that approach?
Paul: I described that a little already, but YES I would indeed say it helped this record feel more cohesive. We all had a big part in each song. Also we all helped balance each other out that way. If a song was straying a little too far away from it’s heart, there would always be at least one of us to notice that and reign it back in. Also, I feel we actually help highlight one another’s strengths in ways the individual might not have done on his own. What I mean is, sometimes when I came in with a vocal line to an existing part... someone might say, I like that vocal melody a lot, so I want to do more of this section now... so then I’d go back and write more lyrics to that section. Or conversely, a couple times I would be the one to lobby for a LONGER guitar solo at a certain point, feeling like this would be a place where Marcel could really stretch his wings.

I guess playing more live must have had a positive influence on the band as well or do I see that wrong?
Paul: Sure, that’s always true. Not only do you get tighter and more chemistry as a unit, but you also get a better sense -- when you’re back to writing again -- of what is going to really “work” in a live setting too, or be the most fun parts to do live.

In this respect, in June 2008 Sun Caged did its first show in the US. I’m eager to hear a bit more about this trip and live experience…
Paul: That was wonderful, of course! It was a great festival where we got to not only play at a top notch venue, to an audience who is not only accustomed to, but actually EXPECTING prog (haha) plus share the stage with some great bands in our genre such as Enchant, DarkWater, and Zero Hour, and of course being part of the support for Liquid Tension Experiment’s 10th anniversary tour (so the house was packed!) That was a blast. Met a lot a really great people, ate a lot of wonderful food! And for me it was the first chance to get back to California, not as a resident, but as a performer. Sort of a homecoming (even though I’m not from San Francisco, haha) We are very grateful to BarFest for having us, and especially to those sponsors who financed our trip! :) and we’d love to do it again, of course!

You recorded an instrumental demo and then you, Paul could focus on writing the lyrics. Can you tell something more about this “job” or challenge?
It’s always a challenge to write melodies and lyrics which you hope will be easy to relate to while doing it over very complicated music, haha. But actually the recording of a nice quality demo to work from was an improvement for me. However the things that became really challenging were really stemming from my life outside the band. (adjusting to a new form of life called parenthood ;)




What can we see as main topics or inspiration for the lyrical contents on ‘The Lotus Effect’?
Paul: Big question, haha. Life. Death. Love, frustration... you know. The big ones. In some cases the spark for an idea came from politics or current events, or from personal events, or in other cases from books etc. But regardless of where the idea started, I usually tried to strip away the specifics and reduce it to the core ideas or feelings. That way it can have a literal interpretation to me, but also can mean other things to other people. Also I was reading a lot of books on eastern philosophies at the time. Buddhism, Hinduism, Taoism, and their many variants & interpretations (modern & ancient). Particularly, I very much love an English author named Alan Watts. I’ve read many of his books, and also have some audio recordings of lectures he gave in the late 60’s early 70’s (he died in 1973). So that stuff gave me lots of ideas, but I never try to present anything as a dogmatically “correct” version of any particular philosophy or religion, nor do I ever want to imply that I’m the guy “in the know” or preach to anyone about what they ought to do or think. I try to just approach those deep subjects more like a stimulating conversation with a good friend.

Why the title ‘The Lotus Effect’? Does it mean that the album and/or lyrics had a kind of purifying effect for you, like a catharsis?
Paul: I thought it worked great for us on two levels. A lot of my lyrics were influenced by eastern philosophies, and yes, the Lotus is a powerful symbol for transcendence. Enabled by the muck of life to grow into something beautiful and unstained. But the “Lotus Effect” is more of a scientific slant on the idea. Modern science finally caught up with what the ancients knew by intuition and figured out by what mechanism the plant achieves its self-cleaning properties. Those studies led directly to the development of high-tech non-stick surfaces like Teflon. So, yes, as a band we had to go through a lot to get this album made, and it became better because of all the trials, but also it has the cool “tech-y” vibe that suite our style of technical and progressive heavy metal as well.

A long epic of 24 minutes length occludes the album. Can you tell a bit more about this mammoth composition and its lyrical theme(s)?
Paul: The great thing is that I began jotting down notes and writing early lyric themes for the individual sections long before I had any idea what the overall would be about. Then as the composition assumed its final form I happened to be reading about the Lotus and it’s symbolic uses for the song ‘Lotus’, as well as background info to explain my idea for the album title to the rest of the band. That’s when I came across the 8 Auspicious Symbols. As I read about the meanings of all the symbols, it’s seemed a perfect fit for the topics I had already decided I wanted to write about for the epic. So, I had my over-arching theme and that really helped me finish the lyrics for the remaining pieces as well as tie up some loose ends in other sections I’d already started in a way that surprisingly connected the whole thing. It all seemed to come together very naturally.

What are the eight auspicious symbols?
Paul: I’ll give you the symbols and a brief description of how they’re *usually* used as tools to help a seeker on his path to enlightenment. But keep in mind that they are found in several different eastern traditions, each with their own slant, and sometimes in different orders or even slightly different symbols, AND furthermore, that I was also, in a way putting my own slant on the meanings too... even sometimes flipping them around for irony. So, again, my version does NOT represent any particular religion or philosophy.

-Conch Shell - a penetrating and reverberating call to awaken
-Parasol - sometimes doubling as a (hallucinogenic) mushroom. Protection (or Illusion of it?)
-Banner - as in a battlefield standard, symbolizing Buddha’s victory over the four maras
-Fish - representing the state of fearless suspension in a harmless ocean of samsara
-Urn - the phenomenon of *space* -- that elemental matrix which contains, holds and conducts all phenomena.
-Endless Knot - the interconnectedness of all things.
-Wheel - Dharma, the wheel of law, the 8 fold path to enlightenment
-Lotus - primordial purity, floating above the muddy waters of attachment and desire




In the meantime a new bassist has joined the ranks. I read it took quite a while to find replacement. How did you eventually find Daniel Kohn and please tell a bit more about his background…
Paul: Finding a new band member is always hard. You need the technical level, you need a similar outlook or goal, and a personal chemistry. We had auditioned a lot of people who would have one or two of those things, but not all three. Finally we found Daniel who fit that bill. He’s a well rounded musician as well, playing piano and guitar as well as bass, also with composition and production experience; so a real asset. He’s also been in the German band Vanilla Rex, and several other projects.

He was just in time to play a few gigs with Pain Of Salvation. That must have been a challenge. Any memories on those gigs?
Paul: When we originally found him, we were in a pinch needing to find someone for the gigs, so we auditioned a few of our more difficult songs with him and we knew he had the ability, but still it was a lot to learn in a short time. We thought maybe at the very least we could hire him for the gigs. But after the rehearsals, we knew, because of chemistry and mindset & personality, that he was the right guy for the full-time slot! But, to add even more challenge, his arm was injured just around that time so he really had very little time to rehearse. But he pulled it off very well, and allowed those gigs to be a great success for us. It was an honour to support them, and their fans were very kind to us too! (plus it was very cool to meet the guys too, they’re all very nice!)

In February 2011 you did a tour with Fates Warning. How do you look back on this experience? You played some of the new songs live, isn’t it?
Paul: Another sheer honour to have that opportunity! Not only are they giants of prog metal, but many of us in the band had already been big fans for a long time! We got to play in great venues, with packed houses, AND the crowds were quite receptive to our music. It was a blast! On the other hand, both Daniel and I were horribly, horribly ill. I could barely speak and had to somehow will myself to be able to SING. It was stressful, but a huge learning experience too. But overall the memories are very positive! PLUS, we’ll have one more shot at it. July 30th we’ll open for them one more time in Kerkrade, NL !!! (and hopefully we’ll all be in good health! ;)

Can you tell a bit more about the videoclip for ‘Pareidolized’?
There’s a clip on YouTube (maybe even several), but I think it’s just the audio. However, we are in the design stage and working out the details for a real video clip for ‘Shades Of Hades’. That will be very exciting to see come to life and it’s a more accessible song. ‘Pareidolized’ is one of my favourites musically, but at ten minutes, not really ideal for a video, haha.

Where and by who was the album mixed and mastered?
Rene Kroon twiddled the knobs. (with lots of feedback from the rest of us, of course)

Who did the artwork and can you tell a bit more about the symbolism?
Paul: It was done by Bas Hoebink; Actually a great bassist and band mate of Rene in “Barstool Philosophers”. We looked at some of the stuff he’d made for them and loved his style and technique. I gave him a few lyric sheets and one song (which ironically didn’t make it to the album, lol) just for him to get some ideas. He came back with several ideas. Some which I thought were on the right track from my point of view lyrically, and I thought we could work on it to get something really great. Then there was this other idea... from out of left field... which everyone unanimously loved.... only I thought it didn’t really relate to the lyrics...haha. So I thought more about it, and figured out a way in my head to make it connect with my concept of the lyrics and we started tweaking from there. In the end I think we ended up with some that really grabs people’s attention, but also has a kind of interesting little story to tell that’s almost a separate story from the songs. Sort of the science vs. nature theme again... or “be careful what you meddle with” but my favourite part is how the water explosion becomes part of the artwork inside the booklet. We have these water droplets that splash around but sometimes contain meaningful things, haha. And that ties back the “Lotus Effect” principle. (because the water particles don’t break, they capture and carry away little bits of “dirt” thereby cleaning the plant.)




Marcel, I remember you played a few shows live with Channel Zero. What did it feel like to be on stage with our reinvigorated Belgian band?
Marcel: That was a lot of fun and great to do, I got an email from Metal Mike (Aardschok Magazine Netherlands) asking me if I wanted to audition for them, and they offered me the spot to be a guest guitarist for a few songs that needed two guitars. I played with them on Graspop main Stage, that was a blast, playing for such a big audience and such a great sound on stage, was a cool experience for sure!

Never thought about joining them?
Marcel: Well I auditioned for that spot, but did not get the job  They had Mikey Doling coming in, and the fact that he is American and has a background with bands like Soulfly and Snot made it more likely for them to choose Mikey, which was OK for me since I am busy with a lot of other things, like Sun Caged of course !

I see that Sun Caged will play at Coqrock in Belgium pretty soon. I hope you have a nice time over there! What are the plans or intentions of Sun Caged about upcoming live gigs or tour plans? Would you like to do pretty long tours or prefer selected gigs?
Paul: It was a cool festival! We were there a couple years ago and they invited us back this time for what the called a ‘Best of Coqrock’ edition. So that was an honour. As I mentioned, we also have a gig July 30 in support of Fates Warning, in Kerkrade, NL ! And we’re also hoping to have a reschedule for a gig we were supposed to support Vanden Plas (the venue cancelled it). We would like to promote this album for a while of course, give it a chance to catch on, and create a buzz, but long tours are not easy for us to manage since we all are involved in many projects. But we’ll see what opportunities arise!

Marcel, I know you are a hard working musician with several projects. If you like to tell us anything about other projects/bands you are busy with at the moment, please go ahead…
Marcel: I am writing now for my third solo album, in the meanwhile I also finished a new instructional DVD which explains my song “Moyra” in total! Every lick, every part I go over and show on HD video how it should be played. I also have a few cover bands in which I enjoy playing just for fun and make some money.

What are the plans for the near future with Sun Caged?
Paul: Promote ‘The Lotus Effect’ as much as we can for a while. Hopefully get some more great gigs to share the music live. Because of schedules, we also haven’t had a chance to do a real CD presentation concert yet either, but at this point we will wait until after the summer festival season, but we still would like to do that. After that we would like to release a little b-sides or “leftovers” album, with some unused tracks from the last two albums, as well as some interesting covers. :) Then I guess it will be back to writing mode.

Guys, thank you for this interview! I wish you good luck with all your endeavours and take care!
Thank YOU so much for your support and interest in the band!








Geplaatst door Vera op zondag 14 augustus 2011 - 21:46:23
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