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Circle II Circle

Interviewed by Greg Olma
Interview with Zak Stevens of Circle II Circle from 2007
MSJ: This interview is available in book format (hardcover and paperback) in Music Street Journal: 2007 Volume 1 at

Did the success of the DaVinci Code book and movie have any bearing on you doing the concept album right now?
It really all started with “Holy Blood, Holy Grail” to tell you the truth. That book came out in ’82 but I didn’t pick it up and read it until ’98. I actually got it when I was on tour with Savatage on The Wake Of Magellan album. And really it’s been an interest for a long time but it just seemed like an interesting angle for which to write a concept record. With the movie coming out and everything, that pretty much did put it over the edge as to where we would go ahead and do something like that. We love the angle of it and it didn’t hurt to have the movie come out. I think it just came out on DVD. That has a little bit of a bearing on it but not the sole factor whatsoever. It did spur us on to that final decision to use that angle for a concept record.
MSJ: What was the hardest thing about writing this story?
Really, surprisingly, it was a fictional account, what we did. We kind of imagined we would have a musical sequel, if you will, to The DaVinci Code movie. We all went and watched it together so at the end, now that they identified Sophie, she’s the bloodline and they told her “you are of the bloodline”...
MSJ: Oh, now you’ve ruined the movie for me.
(laughter) I hope not at this point. Then we thought “wow, wouldn’t it be interesting to take it from here at the end of the movie and look at something going forward. Let’s try to take that angle now and look into this a little bit further.” So really our story is just really like a musical sequel to the movie of sorts. It goes off in a lot of different ranges and realms. It kind of plays on the thing that if someone walked up to you and said “we do have evidence that you are a direct descendant of Jesus and Mary Magdeline. Here you are. You are the bloodline. We just need to discuss a few things with you” - basically a powerful group coming up, possibly a secret society. Basically what would happen from that minute; that’s basically where the first note of the record hits is upon that little encounter. And it pretty much goes from there. It was more fun than agonizing, to tell you the truth, building the story because we could go wherever we want to with it. But we did want to put the emphasis on what kind of music would come out of it. So really, the focus is on the music. We just found a way to make it more interesting to make the music. It’s not like this is the biggest belief of everybody in the band; not that it’s our belief that any of this happened or our belief that this is fact. It’s just really a good angle, an interesting angle, after all these years making records for us to get excited about making some music. The music that came out of it; we are very pleased with. To us, it really helped us to have that angle of a story. It’s not necessarily what we believe, it’s just an interesting angle from which to write the concept record.
MSJ: Did you specifically write the concept loosely so that each song could be enjoyed on its own because there are songs on Burden Of Truth that work well by themselves?
Thank you. I appreciate that and that’s exactly what we tried to do. We felt that it was important to have each song stand on its own; maybe giving a hint at the end or the middle the fact that it could be tied to a concept record. But we thought it was very important to have each song stand on its own. So in order to make sure that happened, we took material that we were working on way before we thought about the concept and we thought about “hey, could this fit in? Yes it can,” but we know the song could be a stand-alone. And that’s exactly what we did. We hope everybody can enjoy the songs on their own. When you get them together as a group, they do perform like that too.
MSJ: Are there any songs that were recorded and never used?
Sure, we had about 3 to 5 songs that just didn’t quite fit in. One was almost like a guitar feature instrumental thing that was really neat but when you put it all together with what you have now; stuff like that, it just didn’t fit. So yes, I think that with every record you’re going to have that. Certainly we’ve had some hits and misses. We were happy that we had a lot of material that we were able to make everything fit together and at the end, be comfortable together. But we have stuff that we couldn’t use.
MSJ: Is a concept album going to be something that you will try to tackle again?
I think that with doing this record, it was really so interesting to put it together and it was challenging on its own but it really gave us something to work off of that created an excitement. It really let us know what holes there were yet to be filled and what pieces we had to fill in that maybe weren’t quite there musically. It gave us a direction. I’m kind of leaning on doing something a little like that next time on a whole different subject. Something just as deep, maybe controversial, but I’m kind of leaning that way because we had such an interesting and great time doing it this time. To tell you the truth, I’m kind of thinking about doing it again, right now. It could change. It might be what people come to expect from Circle II Circle now that we’ve hit on a nerve here with this record. I want to make sure I give everybody what they’re looking for so I’ll do a little bit of probing myself with fans and stuff as we go on this world tour in January over to Europe. We got the whole month of January booked to cover Europe. We’ll come home and do some shows in the states. I will be probing fans after the show, maybe at meet-n-greets, as to what they’re looking for. I could give you a more definitive answer as we go along. I’m sure I’ll get some interesting feedback and we’ll try to apply that.
MSJ: You always go that extra mile in terms of overall packaging. Who’s idea is that?
It’s a 3-part idea. It comes from us; kind of like the initial idea of what we’re looking for. Our artist, Thomas Ewerhard, who’s been the artist on all 3 Circle II Circle records, very talented and a big part of it is him. We give him what we’re looking for and then he comes up with it from an artistic standpoint. And then the 3rd part of it is the label staff at AFM and Locomotive, our label in the states. They had a really big hand, especially lately, of coming in and making that happen from a perspective of “we’ve got the artist’s stuff, we’ve got the band’s idea, now we really need to take this through the art department and make it.” It’s a 3-pronged effort and that’s how we’ve been doing it. So each part is very important. We come up with the original concept. Thomas takes it and puts together the art. Then the label has to put it all together in a final piece when they run it through their art department. So, it’s a 3-pronged effort.
MSJ: Is the label always open to new ideas?
Absolutely. We haven’t fought on any of them so far. You know, you might have little battles here or there but we just try to do what’s best. If there was something that we came up with and they have a good point, we’ll go “we’ll consider that.” Luckily, it’s just been really collaborative so far.
MSJ: Do you have any plans for an American tour, specifically in the Chicago area?
Yes, absolutely - either the first leg or the second leg. We’re gonna kind of do short legs, maybe, you know, 5 to 10 shows in a spurt to start out. I’ll start out in Tampa, go up to Atlanta, kind of maybe go through the same promoters of the Prog Power Festival that we just played a couple of months ago, with a different venue. Maybe go to my hometown, Columbia, South Carolina, where I’ll do a homecoming show with a ton of people. This will have to be in February or March; obviously January is booked up in Europe. Then, we’ll go up maybe to Nashville. A lot of the guys from Circle II Circle are from Nashville. So we’ll do a show there. Maybe go up to Virginia. And then on the second run, [we’ll] head a little bit more west and that’s where Chicago comes in. We’re definitely ready to put Chicago on the map. We’re talking to promoters right now to try to get the best venue for us.
MSJ: Have you recorded any shows for a possible live CD or DVD?
We did. We recorded the Atlanta show, the Prog Power Festival; an hour and a half of total live footage we are going to use to round out and finish up our DVD finally. So we have 2 songs that are coming out on the Prog Power DVD that people can purchase and then the rest of them we own, so we’re going to go back and remix all that and put it together with some old footage from the past; kind of a history of Circle II Circle and stuff we have backstage playing with various artists. We’re just going to throw it to the editor and say “good luck”. If it takes a couple of months, it’ll take a couple of months to put it together. So that is on the way. Be patient, we just finally got the footage that we needed. I really wanted to have a good bit of live footage on there to go between scenes and just have the live footage maybe go to an interview, maybe something on the tourbus, or maybe us talking to one of the bands we’ve toured with in the past years. Sometimes the conversations that you get backstage or at a bar next to the venue are kind of memorable. We’re gonna do it.
MSJ: Have there been any projects that you have been associated with that you were not completely happy with the outcome?
Through my career I have been in 30 bands besides Savatage, just growing up. Some of those maybe; where we tried demos and couldn’t keep the band together - various things like that. Most of the stuff has turned out pretty good. Even the band that got me the Savatage gig, Wicked Witch, up in Boston, where I lived for about 3 years in the early 90’s. That turned out to being a good thing because it got me the Savatage gig. You know, that CD we did, we put it together with Bob St. John, the guy who was mixing and co-producing Extreme, the band Extreme, who’s from Boston. Even though it might not have met our expectations, getting a record deal, it still panned out pretty good for me and Jeff, the drummer. Because Jeff Plate was the drummer in the band, we both got to go on and be in Savatage. I would maybe say that that was one of them but it worked out well for me and Jeff to move on. I’ve just been very lucky to go on in the genre that I love so much, melodic power metal, and still have a career for 13 years after that. I feel very lucky about that.
MSJ: What was the last CD you purchased?
The last CD I purchased wasn’t long ago. I went with my daughter. She got All American Rejects and I got, as a matter for fact, I picked up 2 of them. I got this Coheed And Cambria record which I have been hearing about these guys. I got another record from them. It seems like it’s all concept so I’m studying up on that and then I got a Judas Priest record and a Bruce Dickinson’s greatest hits CD which it encompasses some stuff with Maiden and pretty much from his solo records. So that’s the latest stuff I picked up last week.
MSJ: What was the last concert you attended as a fan?
TSO. They gave me 3rd row center; gave me all access passes. We all got back there; Paul O’Neill, Jon Oliva, Johnny Lee Middleton, Al Pitrelli. And of course Chris Caffery and Alex Skolnick are on the east coast company which they already had rehearsed. I saw the west coast company on their only east coast tour. The only east coast show which is kind of strange. The company I saw was the west coast company so I’ve been waiting to see it for years. It just seems that whenever they came to town, I might have been touring or something like that. The timing was good this time. We all got back there and talked a little more about the TSO stuff coming up and the Savatage stuff coming up. It was a great meeting. We’re like a family. Everybody wanted to get back together again and kind of rekindle that flame and look forward to the coming year of music.
MSJ: What is your favorite Spinal Tap moment from your career?
Let’s see. I think it’s definitely going to be the “Hello Cleveland” story. We were playing Cleveland back on the last Savatage tour, I think it was Wake Of Magellan, in the US, Like ’98-’99 or something, and we played a pretty small venue. It was completely packed. The problem was we couldn’t make it to the stage because they brought us from the tourbus right outside. They tried to bring us in the venue but the crowd had gotten so packed that we really couldn’t make it so somebody yelled “Hello Cleveland!” We couldn’t make it inside and when we did, it was a struggle to get on the stage because there really was no backstage. You pretty much had to come in the regular doors because of the way the club was set up. So we called it the “Hello Cleveland” moment. It was about a 10-minute delay until we could get everybody else up there. Circle II Circle hasn’t had a Spinal Tap moment yet. We’re going to have to do something with Stonehenge or something on down the road.
MSJ: Any last words for your fans?
Again, I just want to say thanks for all the great years. If you talk to any of the guys in Savatage, Chicago is going to come to the forefront because the people [are] super nice. We had some great shows there. We were always surprised every time we came to Chicago about how big Savatage really was. We actually have a pretty good Savatage set inside the Circle II Circle set which I think you’re going to enjoy. [It’s] kind of an extended little thing right in the middle where we put everything right together; a little medley so we can fit stuff in a shorter period of time so that you can hear your favorite songs. Just to remind people where we’re coming from; where I came from a little. I’ll never forget about those roots and together with stuff from all 3 records. We just want to say thanks for all the great years. I can’t wait to get back and do it again with Circle II Circle.
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