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dinsdag 29 september 2009
Redemption: The Stars have to be in Alignment

Interview with Nicolas van Dyk of Redemption by Vera in September 2009

In between the many releases of 2009 there are selected ones that instantly stand out. ‘Snowfall On Judgment Day’ is such a gem that immediately hooked me: this is progressive metal done to a turn: heaviness blend with virtuosity, melancholy with an undercurrent of hope, harsh yet melodious… The fourth effort from the band of Nicolas van Dyk got it all! High time to get a little deeper into this American outfit. Nicolas appears to be a gracious and eloquent musician who takes the time to explain things.




The band Redemption started in 2000 and one of the first people you recruited was Ray Alder as vocalist (though on the first CD only as guest). How did you ever meet each other and did you know him long before this cooperation for Redemption?
It’s largely a matter of serendipity. I had always played around and written some music, but never thought anything was going to come of it. I’d been a huge fan of Fates Warning for years and I accidentally bumped into Ray at a Flotsam and Jetsam show in Los Angeles. We started up a conversation and I did the usual “I love you guys, thanks for the music” kind of thing, but I didn’t overstay my welcome and so I said “goodbye” and that was that.
Then two weeks later I went to a Saxon gig at a tiny little club, where I saw Ray again with Bernie. I didn’t know Bernie at the time but I had met the guys two weeks ago and so I wondered if I might go over and say hello again. I briefly thought to myself “how big a loser would I be to do that?” and then I realized “well, I’m at a Saxon concert by myself…how much more of a loser can I be?” 
So I went over, we had a good conversation and Ray invited me over to a rehearsal that Fates was doing the next day just prior to their European tour for ‘A Pleasant Shade of Gray’. So I got to sit on a couch and had a two-hour performance just for me, which was amazing.
Anyhow, we became friends and about a year later I had gotten to know Ray well enough to play him some of my music and wound up writing one of the songs, “Taste” on the first Engine album (Ray’s solo project). By this time I had written a lot of music and I really wanted to do something with it. So I asked Ray to produce it, as I didn’t dare to ask if he’d like to sing on it. He agreed to help, and with his name and a bit of money I was able to get some great musicians like Jason from Symphony X. We recorded the first album mostly just for fun. I never thought anything was going to come of it. I sent it to Ken Golden (boss of the independent Sensory Records) and he thought it was marketable. So we put it out and it did enough business where we thought it’d be worthwhile proceeding. So we put an actual band together, I wrote a bunch of material and we played the ProgPower show in Atlanta with Corey Brown as the singer, who is now in Balance of Power. We probably would have proceeded with him as vocalist, but Ray had heard the new material I had written and liked it a lot, and asked if he could sing it. I certainly wasn’t going to turn him down! I explained the situation to Corey, who was very cool about it.
Anyhow, that was back in 2002 and although we changed our bass player a couple of CDs ago, we’ve been pretty steady since then. We’ve been a real band for quite some time now, very far removed from the project that this started out as.

What were your purposes when founding Redemption? Did you have a proper view from the beginning for the band’s musical direction?
I think the previous answer probably touched on a lot of this. I never really expected anything when we were doing the first record – I thought I’d just have a CD to listen to myself. Obviously, once ‘Fullness’ came out, I’ve been much more focused and professional about it and I have a clear idea of what I want to achieve.



Some excellent albums were released, but Redemption did not play live that often in the beginning, I guess. What was the reason?
I’m not sure it made much sense to play out after the first two records, beyond the festival that we played. We did a major tour after the third CD, and now we’re releasing our fourth. I will say that it’s difficult to tour extensively, both because there’s not enough money in it and because my “day job” is a pretty big responsibility and requires a lot of dedication. I can’t just take three months off at a time to go on a tour.

2007 changed that absence from the stages. Firstly it meant your one and only gig to date in Europe. Can you tell a bit more about the trip to Europe and your show at Headway Fest 2007?
It’s challenging to play out in the US, let alone Europe where the cost of getting six people plus crew over there is a fairly big number. The stars have to be in alignment, sort of. We had the chance, though, to come over and play Headway and we jumped at it. It was a great experience and we hope to do it again one day soon.

Right after you were asked to join Dream Theater on their US tour. That must have been a challenge! What did you feel at that time (with few experience in gigging…)
It was a logistical challenge, actually, to make it work given the demands of my day job. Obviously, performing on a bill with Dream Theater is probably the highest pressure situation for any prog metal band. We could always tell how well we did by the reaction of the first five rows – these are the people that buy the Platinum Package and are really there to see DT and almost are offended that anybody else is playing. They would start with their arms folded across their chest and by the end of our set, hopefully we got a few of them to cheer. 

Personally, I was never nervous about performing. We hadn’t played to more than maybe 1,000 people before, and the first show was three times that size, but I had no nerves. There were times during the tour when I was aware that DT was watching, which was flattering more than anything else. All in all, we really only had maybe one or two bad shows out of the 26. I remember one show where my low D string broke on the very first note of the first song where I was playing all alone…I was looking around for my tech but he was nowhere to be found…it was a real mess. But we recovered haha. Overall, it was a great time, a great tour, and the DT guys (including their crew and management) were terrific to us. I hope we get a chance to do it again sometime.



The live experience was rounded off with the recordings of the show at ProgPower Atlanta 2007 (which is released last March on DVD). I guess you must have become a good oiled unit by that time. Are you happy with this registration?
Yes, definitely. It’s an authentic live recording, which means nothing’s been fixed in the studio so it has a true “live” feel to it, and I think it shows a band that’s pretty tight and firing on all cylinders.

When did you start writing the material for ‘Snowfall On Judgment Day’ and did you feel differences in this writing process?
I had the first song written before we went on the last tour, and the rest of it came together over about a year, from late 2007 through 2008. It probably would have been sooner but we had the DVD to work on as well.

I wouldn’t say there were any real differences in the writing process, other than I got a few new tools to use. In particular there’s a very cool instrument plug-in called Evolve that works with Pro Tools to do some very cool synthesis, and that makes an appearance on a few songs on the new CD.

In recording you did feel improvement, because I read that the band had the opportunity to play much more together before recording. Can you tell something about this recording process?
Everybody gets better on their instrument the more they play and record, so hopefully we’re better musicians now than ever before. I think more than being better, though, the impact of playing together made us think more cohesively as a band. When we would record parts, we had a knowledge of what the other players would do, and the ideas were more synergistic that way.

As for the recording process, I’ll put together a pre-production demo to a click track which will have guitar parts recorded as direct-input (meaning just the unprocessed signal from the pickup) as well as tracked through a POD to get an idea of what the guitar will sound like, and then I’ll put a very simple bass line down, do some of the keys (or all of them once in a rare while), and then sing a melody line. I’ll send this out to the rest of the guys, and then we’ll record drums, bass, keys and vocals in that order. We do the drums in a studio, and then the rest can be recorded at my home studio. When we mix the record, the raw guitar parts are used and are “reamped” through a mic’d cabinet and a good recording volume. This process saves time and money.

As the drums and bass and keys are tracked, Chris and Sean and Greg will all take the basic ideas that I have laid out and add more as appropriate, so they put their mark on it as we record. Ray, too, will change a vocal line or a melody, and of course he’s a much more accomplished vocalist than I am so there are things he is able to do with his voice to affect a melody that I’m not capable of.



Can you tell about your cooperation with European famous producer Tommy Hansen for the mix of several records?
We had previously worked with Tommy Newton, who is a good friend and a fantastic producer. We started down that road this time as well, but our schedules got to the point where we weren’t finished with the CD, but Tommy was running out of time to work on it. I was originally going to have Tommy Hansen just finish things up, but we ended up starting from scratch and so I made sure we got the heaviest guitar tone we could get. Tommy’s mix is good and bright and I think the guitars have more crunch and the drums, also, come through more prominently than what we’ve done in the past.

You shot a videoclip for ‘Bleed Me Dry’. Can you tell us a bit more about the making of… (Recording a first videoclip must be a new experience…)
The director is a friend of mine and he thought it would be a cool thing to do. We did it “guerrilla style” and everybody on the crew basically did it for nothing, which was great otherwise we could never have afforded to do it. We really had two days of recording – one in a studio for the musicians, and another in a warehouse for the concept piece of it. They were long days, but it was fun to do.

‘Walls’ will be the new single. Are there plans for another clip?
Probably not. There aren’t really any outlets for video anymore, other than the Internet, and there just isn’t enough of a return on the investment. Doing a good video isn’t cheap – thousands of dollars. That promotional money and effort is probably better spent elsewhere, unfortunately.

At ProgPower USA you are a regular guest. Isn’t there a chance you come over to ProgPower Europe someday? And what about other tour plans, in US as well as in Europe?
We’d love to play ProgPower Europe – we haven’t been asked yet but it would be a lot of fun.

As for other touring plans, we are eager to play out but it probably won’t happen until 2010. Ray is doing another Fates Warning record right now, and I have always maintained that I want to respect Fates first and foremost and never have Redemption interfere with it. But we do look forward to playing out, and hopefully getting over to Europe again!



Is there a special reason why you called the album ‘Snowfall On Judgment Day’?
For the previous two CDs, I had a definite connection between the title and the lyrics. For this CD, there’s no connection at all. The title was something that I liked the cadence of – just the sound of the words and how they flowed together, and it has a kind of mysterious connotation. And it’s consistent with our overall theme of combining darkness and light; our lyrics are melancholy but there is underlying hope.

And in this respect, can you tell something more about the lyrical themes. ‘What Will You Say’ for example, seems very personal, isn’t it?
Not personal, but it’s something that everybody can relate to, I think. I decided a long time ago I wasn’t going to write songs about trolls or dragons or walking through the frost-covered Carpathian forest to worship dark forces!  Our lyrics are about human frailty: fears, regrets, and the like, but also hope and triumphs. All of these are done in a way that people can relate to, which is critical to establishing the emotional link with our audience. Our songs, in a sense, are all relationship songs: they either deal with how we relate to ourselves or to others.

Another favourite of mine is the long occluding ‘Love Kills Us All/Life In One Day’, a composition I would like to hear more details about…
This was the first song I composed for this CD; I actually put it together (mostly, anyhow) before the Dream Theater tour. I think it’s a good example of Redemption at our best: it’s got very powerful melodies, a ton of emotion, some cool technical sections, and a balance from more mellow stuff to pretty aggressive prog metal. It’s got a “big finish” to it, also, and from the moment I wrote it I knew it would close the CD. Again, it combines sadness and hope in the lyrics, so it’s a good example from that standpoint as well.

You have a special guest in ‘Another Day Dies’: James LaBrie. Please tell about this cooperation. And isn’t it funny that some people say that Ray’s lower-ranged vocals for Redemption are akin to James’ ?
When we were touring, James was particularly gracious and told me he really liked what Redemption was doing. I asked him if he’d be interested in doing a guest appearance and he was totally fired up about it. I didn’t write that song for him, and I didn’t really even know what type of guest appearance would work, but when the songs were all finished, I knew the verses in ‘Another Day Dies’ would sound great with James’ delivery, and the idea for the duet during the chorus came to me as well, and I sent him the pre-production demo and asked him what he thought. He loved the idea, and here we are.

As far as Ray’s lower-ranged vocals sounding like James, I haven’t heard that before, but I do think that it’s a valid comparison for some sections, maybe more for the style of delivery than actual similarity in the voice. The song ‘Peel’, for example, has verses that are kind of “snarled” in a way that is similar to some of James’ work on ‘Awake’.



How did you ever get into music? What were your musical experiences before founding Redemption?
I'm fortunate that my parents forced me to take piano lessons when I was six. I wound up playing semi-competitively for about twelve years and that gave me a foundation in music, theory and composition that basically enabled me to have the confidence that I could pick up a guitar. I picked up the guitar because you couldn't get a piano to sound like Iron Maiden! :) And this was before keyboards were accepted music in metal, so my options were limited. :)

I had played in a couple of cover bands for fun over the years, but never played originals with anybody prior to this band.

What do you hope to achieve in the near future with Redemption?
I want to continue to expand our fan-base. I’m eager to see how well our new CD will do, since it’s the first to have the benefit of us having done the tour with Dream Theater. Hopefully people will be interested! Actually, the day after it leaked there had already been 700 downloads, so I know there is interest – hopefully some people are interested in buying the CD!

Are you involved in other projects or bands?
I have done some guest appearances, but nothing too significant, other than contributing keyboards to the new album by Fools Game.

If there is any news I forgot to cover, feel free to add it here…
This was a very thorough interview, I think, and I hope I gave you some good material!

You surely did. Music-wise as well as during this interview, you are a great “partner in crime”. I wish you all the best with all your endeavours. The album is a real stunner!
Thank you, Vera! I’m glad you enjoy the CD!



Geplaatst door Vera op dinsdag 29 september 2009 - 10:33:10
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