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dinsdag 28 december 2010
THE SHADOW THEORY: A Ghost Story to avoid the conceited concept album

Interview with Devon Graves of The Shadow Theory by Vera in November 2010

From the very moment I ever spoke to Devon Graves (Deadsoul Tribe tour with Threshold in 2002) I knew he was a moving spirit of a special kind. This conversation was the sequel of it and I had to skip many things because Devon is really open-hearted. Does it sound like a censored version of it? Not at all! There is an opulence of new experiences waiting for you when diving into the matter of his new band The Shadow Theory. Skype did not work in the first place when we had our new chat, so he called me with common communication. From his place an hour from Vienna, we had a nice chat about his new band or project The Shadow Theory and the reunion of Psychotic Waltz.

I think the birth of The Shadow Theory is a matter one thing leads to another, isn’t it?
That’s exactly what it is.

Weren’t you satisfied with Deadsoul Tribe anymore or what was going on?
There are many reasons why I got a little bit fed up. You know, I loved those guys and I still do. When I founded that band I was trying to create a rock band, maybe even an art rock band. A modern band one could play on college radio campuses and I wanted to go a bit more mainstream with the music. And for that, those players were fine. They were not the biggest players around but they could do what I needed. I was creating the music alone and it was really like my solo project. I picked these guys upon their stage appeal. I wanted the band to have a certain vibe. Basically I always spent a year, every time I needed a guy with long dreadlocks asking he could learn to play an instrument (laughs)… I did not feel bad about that because that’s exactly how Jimi Hendrix picked up Noel Redding. What’s good enough for Hendrix is good enough for me… what happened was that I remained in the “prog” genre and we were touring with bands that could just outplay us while we were still headlining. I started wondering: what would it be if I had players that could really be up to these tasks. As you said one thing leads to another and the first time I had this feeling was when I met my guitar player Arne and he was supporting Deadsoul Tribe with his own band Complex 7. We had a mutual friend, Tilo Hess, who talked to me before the gig and he said: hey man, you got to check this guitar player out, this guy is amazing and why don’t you put him in your band. I watched him play and I was really blown away. I said: no way I am going to put him in my band, because I cannot hire a guitar player who’s better than me. I am the lead guitar player, you know. Deadsoul Tribe was not about having great musicians but about having this intense vibe. The thing that Arne had that I really liked was that he had that great playing ability but also had this great stage presence. He has a lot of passion in his playing and he tunes his guitar a bit lower than most of the players in the prog scene. That is the problem: in the prog circle in which I find myself, I am not really fond of prog music. Prog metal is not really my cup of tea. I find it a little bit sterile. It is very intellectually impressing but I find many times that performances are missing passion. They are more focused on abilities than coming from the heart. Basically Arne was the guy who filled up that gap, because he had both.

When we toured a year later with Threshold, Johanne, the drummer was amazing. And to be honest: Threshold are excellent musicians but they are in the first category: they are not showmen! They are not! Except Johanne. Johanne is such a strong performer that he really raises the quality of that band on stage. He gives the audience something to watch, something to see on stage. When I saw that, I really got into forming this “dream band” to get rid of my frustrations with Deadsoul Tribe.

Devon tells about his former drummer, but I ain’t gonna write this, because he felt so much pity about it. He is a friend he still loves, that’s what we can publish…Anyways… with the release of 2007’s ‘A Lullaby For The Devil’ there seems to be a swan song period coming up for Deadsoul Tribe: no more future…

Devon: I want to be a professional and my audience started to criticise my band in the end, as not being as good as Psychotic Waltz and the musicianship was not strong enough and everybody had the idea that I was carrying this whole thing alone. It seemed like a one man show and I took a lot of criticism for that. That’s why I want to do things differently. The main reason why I decided to continue without Adel is that sooner or later, it is just a matter of time, we would find him dead in his hotel room or find him dead on the bus, because he has no mechanism in himself. There is no limit for him. I mean, Jimi Hendrix died with less stuff in his system than Adel. It is very dangerous and I might have saved his life by stopping working with him. It is really difficult for me to discuss, because he is really such a good friend. It is always the same with Adel, everybody gets fed up with him and nobody stops loving him. I still love him to death, we call each other on the phone, we talk and laugh a lot. I am still missing my band playing with him, but now it is a new thing, you know. Now I have The Shadow Theory with all these players that are really professional and I could never bring him into this, because that would not work. Having sessions with Johanne for instance is totally different: when I see how professional and focused he is, how easy it was to record with a well prepared guy… I cannot go back to that mess of the past. I realize that. It is good to be friends with the musicians, but it doesn’t help the band enjoying high peaks. Deadsoul Tribe were my friends, all fine, but we would better watch other people play (laughs).

I think it must be quite refreshing for you to cooperate with people again and be free of total responsibility of all compositions…
Right. In fact I was able to take a break, completely from composing; just letting these other guys take care of it. I do compose; sometimes I pick up the guitar and add or change some parts, but I did a lot of arranging. I put Arne (guitars) and Demi (keyboards) together and they wrote music and discussed it by e-mail. Then they have sent me this music and I chose everything I liked, rejected everything I did not like and put aside the things I was not sure of. And then when I came down on the songs that made it to the album, I started to think about my vocal lines and singing. During that process I start to change the songs, like: this part has to be twice as long or making a verse from an intro or vice versa. It can end up pretty different. I really enjoyed working with their ideas and turning them into different songs, more like a producer would do. It really let me focus my efforts on my singing and making good songs out of pieces of music that already existed. It was really refreshing.

And on the lyrics you would have lots of work too, I guess, because it was the first time that you really wrote a story…
Yes, it was my first story. I like the way you put that, because everybody else calls it a concept album and I find that term a little bit conceited. It is a ghost story. To me that was a new challenge, because I always write philosophical music, even back in my first band Psychotic Waltz I was really trying to do some Bob Marley thing when I almost made a religion out of my band. I took it very serious, I still do. I did it with Deadsoul Tribe too, I really was trying to use my songs to heal some part of the world somehow and I do believe in that. But I think that I have said my piece. I do not have any more to say. I don’t think I can benefit mankind anymore with my wisdom (laughs). Whatever I had to say, it is there and now it is time for me to move on to something new. This time I wanted to make a story. I still can focus on making the lyrics poetic, but I don’t need to make some political statement or moral statement or whatever. Just write a story and try to create a visual atmosphere with this music. Trying to create a movie, you know. It has progressive elements, but it is not prog music. It has thrash elements, but it is too melodic for thrash. It even brings us into some kind of death metal sound from time to time, but there is no way to categorise this music in any kind of thing.

And that’s what we call a personal sound…
This way we came up with our own term: we call it cinematic.

That’s what I have noticed and the music is much more dramatic than before…
It should come out like a film score you know. That fits very well with the idea of telling stories.

Was there a certain happening or interest in your life that made you inspired to write this story?
Well, I think it was just about coming up with a theme that works appropriate with the music, but in the story are details which have happened to me personally. Some scary dreams or any scary phenomenon that have occurred to me I have written into the story. The note of Devon himself you can read here:

A rock star, at the height of his career, lost in the maze of a life of drug addiction and pursuit of
all the carnal vices of fame and stardom, falls asleep late at night, in front of the television,
heroin needle still in his arm. As he flutters on the fringe of consciousness, his eyes are in and out
of focus on a train ticket lying on the coffee table. He tries to remember where he had to go in the
morning, but the drug euphoria was too strong to even hold a thought let alone manifest a
memory. He only knew it was something big. He finally drifts off into sleep into a netherworld of
dream and nightmare. All night it carried on. He would wake startled from a dream. Briefly
feeling the relief of waking up safe at home, but that comfort would forsake him again and again
as the reality in his waking moments began to twist into what could only be, still a dream.
Impossible things. Waking from one nightmare to the next, he no longer knew whether he was
dreaming or awake. There was only one thing that remained constant. Her. She was always there.
A knock on the window, a footstep in the hall, a voice in the dark. She was in every dream.
This album is a ghost story. The song lyrics are written much in a metaphorical poetic style, so not
everything in the story is written directly in the lyrical text. I will write notes by certain song title
headers or in the lyrics in italics to fill you in on any missing details so you know what is happening
in the story. So turn down the lights. Light a candle and some incense. Sit in a comfortable chair.
Turn it up loud, and prepare for our first rock cinema, “Behind the Black Veil”.

The title ‘Behind The Black Veil’ holds a kind of mystery and darkness within or am I wrong?
A black veil is something that might be worn at a funeral. This is another hint of what is going on in the story. In fact if you just listen to the album you might not know exactly what is going on, especially in the beginning, and I had to write some additional notes amongst the lyrics to kind of inform you about the story a little bit. There is a phrase about the character, who this guy is and what happened to him and then the songs begin and lead you through the story and every now and then I wrote a little detail that I did not sing, but then I wrote it. If you read along with the lyrics, you will get the whole picture. (we could not do this, because we did not have these details – Vera)

I read that the album is full of hidden tributes to all kinds of music in all genres…
Yes, that is something that even I cannot answer, because Demi did a lot of composing. Demi and Arne did it and Demi is a very clever songwriter. He could be equally at home in a black metal band or he could be a composer of symphonies or he could be in some black jazz acid outfit, all of this with tremendous conviction and detail. He has been giving me compositions that sounded as if Frank Zappa has written them. Really crazy stuff. I really like that, but not for this album, maybe later. He has got a tremendous wealth of musical knowledge and he is the one who can make these little innuendos and fit them into the whole and maybe I didn’t even notice them.

But the latest track ‘A Symphony Of Shadows’ is something special. We cannot ignore any Queen influences...
Yes, that is intentional. The Queen part of it comes from me, because when I heard this piece, the only part that will do vocally is something in the vein of ‘Bohemian Rhapsody’. I even tried to sound like Freddie Mercury a bit, but in a way that I would do with character voices and so I gave it this real upper class British air with suitable accent, because that was the way people used to talk in this house in the story.

Another feature surviving all outfits is your flute playing… reminding me of Jethro Tull…
You cannot get away from that when I am playing flute. I am only playing flute because I am such a great Jethro Tull fan. I never had a lesson, I never found out anything, I only had Jethro Tull records and a flute, so…

You have touring plans with The Shadow Gallery… I like to hear more about that…
The only fixed touring plans are with Psychotic Waltz. Right now this album is too new and it even hasn’t been released yet, so there is no real feedback or tour offers yet. Especially when I announced that I would rejoin Psychotic Waltz and all these offers rushed into Psychotic Waltz, that kind of overshadowed this release. I think we need to have some patience until there will be a demand to see this band on stage just because of the players that are involved. I am really looking forward to it, because it will be my first band where I have other guys that can sing with me. We can really do these harmonies live and work things out in an interesting way. In Psychotic Waltz I stand and can do it alone. The singing and music is written in a way that one singer can pretty much handle it. In Deadsoul Tribe it became more complicated, then I tried to get into more backing vocals and harmonies. My only choice was to have a playback tape of these harmonies and that worked I think, but I also got a lot of criticism over me. They said: “Hey man, you are the only one singing, but it sounds like ten voices.” Other bands do it too, you know, it is pretty common, but what they do is that other musicians pretend to be singing. Maybe that’s what I should have done, but I didn’t.

It is pretty obvious, like many bands have some tapes for keyboards…
We did that too, even with Psychotic Waltz. We played live with a sequencer, in the early days that has always been accepted. In latest period, the very end of Psychotic Waltz we started to have some samples of vocal harmonies and that was what I was very nervous about that because I thought you kind of cross a line when you do this. But we did it and nobody complained. This is why I did not think about it so much when I did it with Deadsoul Tribe. Maybe we did it too much with ten voices, while I was singing alone. Anyway, I got some complaints. In this Shadow Theory era I want to sing with good singers in my band, these guys are capable to do it. That is an excellent opportunity. Hopefully we can be hitting the road in this constellation.

However, now the touring with Psychotic Waltz is about to begin, we cannot ignore that…
In February and March we will be on the road. We are going on this tour called Power Metal with Symphony X, Nevermore and Mercenary all over Europe.

Check out Psychotic Waltz on stage and do not fail in checking out this brand new constellation around Buddy Lackey/Devon Graves, called The Shadow Theory!

Geplaatst door Vera op dinsdag 28 december 2010 - 15:22:10
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