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Metal/Prog Metal Interviews

Zero Hour

Interviewed by Arnold Hablewitz
Interview With Troy Tipton of Zero Hour from 2001


MSJ: This interview is available in book format (hardcover and paperback) in Music Street Journal: 2001 Year Book Volume 4 at lulu.com/strangesound.

First off, the album. I hear a strong Watchtower influence but it sounds quite a bit like you went in a far heavier and more brutal direction than that, almost like Meshuggah. What inspired you to do that?
Jay [Tipton, guitars and Troy's twin brother] and myself really dig Meshuggah; that's one of our favorite bands if not our favorite band right now. When we got done with the self-titled album, that was more of a Fate's Warning/Dream Theater-style, and we were just evolving; getting into more heavier stuff and that kind of pumped us up into heavier material. With Watchtower, I always loved Doug Keyser's playing. I guess a little bit of that rubbed off. We always had been fans of heavy, dark, and intricate music, so that's what we set out to do with "The Towers of Avarice."
MSJ: What I think is a really cool thing about the album, is how the majority of the riffs are just simplistic and brutal riffs, and yet when Jasun goes into a solo the guitar is just balls-out, creating a nice contrast. Is that something you consciously think about when you write songs?
Yeah, the most important thing to us is writing a good song, not how many licks we can throw into [the song]. Y'know, not doing an instrumental piece with vocals over it. Our whole deal with going into this [was that] we wanted to write a concept disc to begin with, so we looked at it as more of a film score-kinda piece. We just kinda let it go, and that way it allowed Erik [Rosvold, vocals] to be really dynamic with his vocals, his performance, and writing his lyrics. The most important thing to us is writing a killer song, instead of throwing a thousand licks in there. When we do that [writing a lot of licks], we're always like "Aw man, this is too much!" and we always scrap it. We get on our trips doing that but then we always come back down and say "Ok, we're trying to write a song here!" In spots, a little simpler, but always crushing, and making a statement at the same time.
MSJ: What would you say is the difference between the new CD "Towers of Avarice" and your first one, an independent release?
Definitely the influences! When "Images and Words" came out, Jay and I were really changed by that. We had really gotten into that kind of style. We even got hooked up with a couple keyboard players and stuff. Before the self-titled, we were never a keyboard [-using] band. We had always played with two guitar players or that sorta deal. We hooked up with a keyboard player actually from Mike Varney. Mike…we were talking to him back in the day. He was like, "Yeah, you should hook up with a keyboard player, it's the 'Dream Theater' thing" and we were like "oh, Ok." So we did that and basically we got our whole Dream Theater/Fates Warning sorta styles out on that album, and we were just like "y'know, that's cool, we've done that, but…" This is truly the album we've wanted to write. We didn't incorporate that much keyboards into this album; just a few spots. Jay and I picked up the slack. Instead of thinking "Ok, we'll do this part and then we'll have the keyboard part doing this arpeggiated ostenato or something over it," we were like, "hey we're gonna do that," instead of having the keyboard player do that. It allowed us not to think of writing a song and keeping in the back of our minds "oh there's going to be a keyboardist and we'll have him do that instead of us." Now, Dream Theater…y'know, we don't listen to [it] all that much and we don't listen to Fates. Actually, just very rarely listen to 'em; once in a blue moon. The bands we're really into now are Meshuggah, Tool, and we like Nevermore, Strapping Young Lad, and things like that. It just got into a heavier sense but still doing intricate and exotic licks and things like that.
MSJ: It says in the booklet that Eric does what little keyboards you guys have. I've seen pictures of you guys live, and it's obvious that he wants to concentrate on being more of a frontman than an instrumentalist. Based off your last answer, do you just try to make up for what the keyboard adds in the studio, but on guitar and bass in a live situation?
Well, the one song that really has the keyboards is "The Ghosts of Dawn"; that's the song that Erik wrote. And we don't perform that song live. The other songs really, they just have a keyboard spot in one area, or two areas of the song…if that. Like, the first two songs don't even have keyboard spots.
MSJ: It's just something to add color to that part of the song.
Yeah, exactly!!! And there's a lot of parts that probably sound like they're keyboards, but they're actually just sounds that Erik is creating with his voice. Multiple voices like…for example, on "Demise and Vestige" where it's all [sings] "overwhelming sound", and there's this part back there like [mimics] "Aaaaaoooowwww", y'know, some weird low ascending thing.
MSJ: That's just him multitracking?
Yeah, that's just him doing all kinds of stuff. He's a huge Dead Can Dance fan, so he does some strange stuff with his voice and when it all combines it makes this great, dark, presence to it. But as far as keyboards, we don't really touch them. The only part that Jay did keys on was that middle part in "Demise and Vestige". Anything else was Erik. Now, our vibe live is really cool, because for some reason these songs were definitely meant to be played live, and they have an energetic presence so you really feel it dynamically. The bass and the kick drums are kicking you in the chest, and y'know. When we play live people are like "Man, I can't believe so much sound is coming out of just four guys."
MSJ: One thing I've noticed is that Eric is not at all like other progressive metal-style vocalists, in the sense that he is incredibly versatile.
Oh yeah, one of the biggest reasons for that, is he's never been a progressive metal fan. When he joined the band he never owned a Fates Warning, or a Dream Theater, or a Queensryche CD. He was always more into older metal people like Rob Halford, 'Sad Wings of Destiny'-era, and Black Sabbath with Dio. But then also into Genesis with Peter Gabriel and Steve Walsh from Kansas, and then Dead Can Dance. He's really all over the map. It brings a new flavor than your sort of typical operatic metal singer. He's more versatile, like you said.
MSJ: Was this something you were shooting for when searching for a singer?
Well, back in the day my favorite singers were like Midnight [of older Crimson Glory], and those type of singers, so I always wanted a singer with a lot of range. It was weird, our keyboard player that [when] we were working with on the self-titled release said "hey, I know this great singer. He used to be in a band with me called Prodigy; let me give him a tape!" and we said "yeah sure!" We didn't see this tape for like months, and we just thought he said "ah, screw it!", but then finally it showed up in our mailbox it was "Voice of Reason" from the first CD and we were just blown away. We were like "wow, where did this guy come from?" It was really luck that we stumbled upon Erik, and when I think of singers in the progressive metal genre, he's really my favorite progressive metal singer, and I'm so glad he doesn't sound like the typical…
MSJ: Ray Alder, James, LaBrie…
Yeah, it helps us become a new-sounding band at the same time too.
MSJ: How does one get a hold of the first Zero Hour CD?
You get it directly from us, e-mail us at zhtowers@aol.com and we'll give you the info on how to get it. Order it from our label at lazersedge.com. There's also still some catalogues, like DreamDisc, etc. There's a few places spread out that do have it, but the best way is through our label or through ourselves.
MSJ: Any touring plans in the works?
Yeah, actually we're planning on doing a couple of dates in Europe; we're playing ProgPower in the Netherlands. We're also getting a show together in Italy, our distributor is putting that together. And it looks like we're probably gonna do a weeklong East Coast tour with Symphony X and Pain of Salvation. We just got word of that a few days ago. Talking to our manager and the label it looks really promising, but nothing is set in stone just yet. Jim from Inside Out America called our label and asked for us; he saw us at ProgPower and really dug us.
MSJ: Your label Sensory is really pushing this release a little more than some of its others. How do you feel about your label?
Really happy with Ken, he's been really honest, he doesn't hold anything back from us. He's been straight up with us from the beginning. When we were talking with other labels, we were always getting verbal-agreements on everything; they'd send us a contract, we'd say send another one, and then they'd send us the exact same one. It was a constant dance. With Sensory, what we always verbally agreed on would go through, he's really and honest guy, and they've done a great job promoting us with help from Mazur.
MSJ: How did you get Travis Smith to do the artwork and layout. Was that your suggestion or the label's?
Sensory Records. We were looking at different artists and he sent us a few links to websites of artists he was thinking of working with or had worked with in the past. A few we looked at we never saw eye-to-eye on [with the art direction]. And then he brought up the name Travis Smith; he's like "I've always thought about using Travis Smith, he works with your budget." We're like "Travis Smith, we know that name from somewhere", and when he named off some of the bands he'd done, it's like "oh yeah, that guy rules!" And he got in contact and we came to an agreement, and he did everything! When I first got the CD I just stared at it for like, half and hour…
MSJ: 'Cause it was like "Whoa, we can afford this?!?"
Yeah, I was just like "This is crazy, look at this!" I was just really blown away. After putting the thing in and hearing the job from OceanView Mastering we were just on cloud nine, like "how could this get any better?"
MSJ: What are the current goals for Zero Hour?
As soon as we get done with the European dates, we wanna get back to doin' some write. We have written some songs, like a 16-minute song that's like a two-part song that we already have together. We always say it's gonna be our "Demise and Vestige" for the next album. Whenever you do the long songs, you gotta have the clean tones, the heavy stuff, it's gotta be dynamic. If it's just cranking away for 15 minutes people are gonna get bored.
MSJ: That's what I noticed about "Demise and Vestige." It's like that spot on the album is like the perfect spot for it because that song could tell the story of the bands sound right there; it's got everything!
I agree with you, that's my favorite song for the band. That was the first song we actually wrote for the album. The last one we wrote for the self-titled album was "Metamorphosis", the longest one. So we were still in that vibe. I'm just so stoked that we already got one dialed up for the next album. It sounds incredible. It's gonna be really killer.
MSJ: Is there any talk now about what the next concept might be for your next CD?
Actually the next CD is probably not gonna be conceptual. We'll have to see. We're not approaching it as a full album concept. We'll have shorter stories with like, the 16-minute song, that'll tell a short story. But we've already been talking about the album after this next one, wanting it to be a full concept on our 4th album. But with this one, we were like "let's take a break and let's compile several short stories." We enjoyed Towers very much, but it was a lot of work, and we'd go for weeks without another part of the song, but when it comes up. But then we'd finally come across another part 'cause we're so anal we want everything to sound perfect. We would write parts but we'd just be like "Oh, that sucks! It's just not it!" And me and Jay bein' brothers works out perfect 'cause we're brutally honest with each other. Whatever we do at the studio stays at the studio.
MSJ: When you guys write, between you and Jay, is there something you're trying to do where it's like, he'll write something and then you'll just try to counter it?
There are definitely times like that, like in Strategem. I came up with that opening bass line and then he's just totally doing this different counter point over it. We definitely try to make every part the best it can possibly be. When I listen to Towers, I have no complaints! Self-titled album, that's a little different!
MSJ: How do you view the current metal scene, more specifically the progressive metal scene?
There's some great bands out there, like Spiral Architect, they're just amazing. Lars Norberg is just an insane bass player.
MSJ: You wanna talk about Watchtower influence!
Yeah definitely. Watchtower definitely helped create that monster. There's no doubt when you listen to 'em, and you go "Yeah, there's definitely a Watchtower influence there!" And they say so, which is really cool. There's not many bands daring enough to try and do something like that. Our buddies Power Omen, I'm looking forward to their new disc. I think the music scene did in fact get saturated. I think there's a lot of bands that think they should be labeled progressive metal but just don't belong in the genre at all. I think there's definitely some strengths and weaknesses to it. Years back the progressive metal scene was really growing, and now…every magazine I talk to, our label…everybody' saying how saturated the scene is…that progressive metal isn't all that important anymore.

MSJ: Not enough bands doing an original sound!
Yeah, you can only buy so many Dream Theater sound-alike bands. Ya want something more original, 'cause it's like "well, I could've just bought the Dream Theater album!" There are so many bands that say they are prog-metal bands, and they have the "happy keyboards", and everything, and you can hear the Rush and Yes in there, but where's the metal?

MSJ: Most bands have what we like to call a "Spinal Tap moment"; a specific incident that is really embarrassing and could have come straight out of the movie. Could you remember one in particular for us?
Well, in Progpower in Lansing, IL, we were doing "Stratagem", and I'm doing my bass lick in the middle of it when all of a sudden Mikey just starts in with this Buddy Rich stuff. I couldn't comprehend what he was doing, so I stopped. I asked him later and he said he just following the timing and that it was basically just coming out of his ass at the moment. I'm looking at him, and I'm trying to jump back in, but I couldn't get back in, but by some miracle, when it came into that really heavy part after that lick, it just all came back in fine! We were talking about the whole thing after the show, and Mikey just goes "and y'know what the funny thing is, Troy, is that everyone's gonna think that you screwed up!" And sure enough when we get back and I read the message board on the website, there's this guy who's like "Troy lost the groove for a minute. I feel for ya brother!"
 
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