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Metal/Prog Metal Interviews

Circle II Circle

Interviewed by Greg Olma
Interview with Zak Stevens from Circle II Circle From 2007
MSJ:

This interview is available in book format (hardcover and paperback) in Music Street Journal: 2008  Volume 4 at lulu.com/strangesound.

Your CD Delusions Of Grandeur has a more modern metal sound to it. Was that a natural progression or was it a concerted effort to change things up?

Well, it was kind of just a little bit of both. I mean, we had, coming off that concept record Burden Of Truth, we knew we wanted to do something different. Every Circle II Circle album has been kind of like a different animal; you know; kind of all together. So we just knew that this one should be the same thing. We just kind of a combination of putting the guys [together] and bringing things to the table that were missing on the last album. Personally, just the fact that we changed studios too. We decided with the way the song writing was going, the early stages, that it was certainly coming out to be something different. And it may need a change of studio to bring the songs, the way we were writing them, to life the proper way. So we went to Orlando kind of went studio shopping because we found in Tampa, we knew Morris is the number one studio in the area with the Morris brothers at the helm. We did a couple of Savatage records back in the day and we did the first three Circle II Circle albums there as well. So we figured for this time, let’s change it up since the music is kind of predicating that approach. So we looked around, looked hard. I found about 7, because in Orlando you’ve got 7 or 8 big studios that actually compare to the one in Tampa because you have the element of Disney in Orlando and there is a high definition demand. If a studio is looking to do some Disney work, they’re going to have to have that. So you have a little bit more to choose from. So we settled on Jeff Stanley Productions. I saw when I first went to look at the studio, I saw the guys in Sevendust were still recording. They rented out the house. It’s actually a house in the middle of a nice neighborhood of really big houses in Orlando. A little bit north of Orlando, near Apopka. We said “wow, it’s the studio." We heard about all the great stuff coming out of there. I wanted to meet Jay. Of course we saw Sevendust there. And before that they had Alter Bridge and they did Creed a few years ago. They had an 8 million selling album. So it’s basically a 4,000 square foot house with a middle story completely dedicated for a studio. I said “all right, we’ll check it out,"  It’s got gold and platinum albums all over the walls so we said that this is a good place right here. It was a great thing to meet Jay and I think it was the kind of studio we needed to kind of bring out the stuff that we were writing at the time. So I think it was a combination of all that stuff that resulted in the new album.
MSJ: You touched on your last CD Burden Of Truth and that was based on the DaVinci Code. What was your inspiration for these new songs?
For the New Songs?
MSJ: Yeah.
Well, it’s not a concept album so we had to look a little elsewhere for the musical building and the inspiration. Basically this is just stuff that’s personal. I write all the lyrics for the songs. Musically, Mitch Stewart, the bassist, and I, who also has co-producing credit on this album by the way, we just kind of drew from personal experience; the stuff we had been through so far. Some person stuff, I’m sure some relationship type stuff. Those emotions go into the music component of it and even more so in the lyrical component. So I just kind of wrote about all the stuff that’s going on in my life lately or things that occurred and people that I know and their lives. It’s really mostly a personal [record]. You can probably tell, the lyrics are a little hard hitting. You try not to make it too tragic. It hasn’t been all that tragic. Life’s been pretty good so it’s not really tragic. In everyday life you’ve got those highs and lows and you’ve got that ebbing and flowing and it’s just a careful balance; maybe of life and work balance. Stuff like that. And all that stuff kind of came through in the lyrics. I just try to go pretty personal but kind of like a day in the life really. That’s what kind of made up these songs. I could go through the list and take out more particulars but overall, it’s just kind of a day in the life of a person and hopefully people can feel that when they listen to the order and it takes you through that emotive type journey; through the album order. I thought it turned out pretty good. For a non-concept album, it kind of flows like a concept album in a weird kind of way. But hopefully that gets across to the listener and maybe they can take their own little journey and kind of equate it to their own life.
MSJ: Well now that Circle II Circle, this is the 4th record, you have been around for a while. Do you find that connection to Savatage is fading and you’re coming more into your own with Circle II Circle?
Yeah, I think so. I think given time alone has been leading to that. We still are going to have the comparisons which are fine and I welcome that. Especially when we write a piano song. I know Mitch, our bassist, he writes pretty much the piano riffs that wind up becoming that piano rock song that we are known for. But even his influences go back to Savatage so it’s kind of hard to [get past] that personal influence thing. Not that I’m trying to get away from it. I never do. I just kind of go with what influences I have inside. I urge the guys to do the same. So I think that’s always kind of going to be there. I think with every record, with every passing year, the band is definitely coming into their own, so, I’m just proud of the guys. I see their development over time and we’re still doing it. We’re still developing. They’re submitting songs for the next album. I say “hold on, hold on, we’ve got to let this one [run]." I back stuff up on my desktop, my laptop. I’ve got MP3s right now that are for the next album that I’m kind of excited about. I’ve got to remind myself to hold on. Let’s work this album first. We’ve got a U.S. tour. We just got back from Brazil. We’re planning a European jaunt. There is so much creativity going on within the band it’s just unreal. It’s kind of like we’ve hit a roll or a stride. Who knows what is going to happen next?
MSJ: Speaking of next, you touched on a U.S. tour. Are you still going to be doing this with Jon Oliva’s Pain?
That’s right, JOP. The double bill. There’s also a band called Manticora that’s coming along from Europe.
MSJ: Manticora?
Yeah, Manticora. We know those guys and we’re going to introduce them to the states. They’re really excited about doing that. It should be great. It’s going to be good for the fans. It’s a different type of show than what’s out there right now. You’ve got your early history Savatage, you’ve got me playing a few surprises from Savatage as well from my later history; my era in the band for 9 years and you have stuff from all 4 Circle Ii Circle records. You’ve got stuff from 2 or 3 JOP albums now. Just a lot of stuff if you’re coming from that angle from a long history of Savatage and you follow the bands into now. It’s going to be a great package for that. You get to follow that whole musical history through the years. I’m also running into the problem of explaining to 20 year olds who Savatage is. Now we have a new problem; people who don’t know who in the world Savatage is.
MSJ: That’s a nice problem to have.
Yeah, it’s not bad. They’re like “this is unreal, I wasn’t born yet." So OK, now you are held to know this. The pop quiz is tomorrow. But you teach them some history there and that’s kind of cool. You know you’ve been around a little while when you start explaining to people who Savatage is.
MSJ: What is the last concert you saw as a fan?
Well, I just saw, let me see. We just caught the Heaven and Hell tour that was a couple of months ago. That’s the actual last one I saw. I’ve been busy ever since December 10th of last year. I haven’t gotten out of the studio yet. I’ve been working on this Wicked Witch band. This is the band I was in before Savatage that got a little deal. The other guy we got from that band was Jeff Plate, the drummer in Savatage and TSO. So he was in my band. We are actually working on releasing 12 songs that we never did release to the public. It’s all music from that time from the early 90s. I guess that was the last one. I finally got to catch Dio and Heaven and Hell live here at the Florida Amphitheater. That’s the last show I’ve been able to go to. I just haven’t had a lot of time. But my kids, my daughter has been to one but it’s more like Panic At The Disco which is more like her speed. But I listen to everything but it’s not really my favorite genre of music, which is alternative rock. That’s about it really. I’m due for a show. I’m waiting for another good one to come to Tampa and I’m going because I’m going to celebrate because I’m down to 3 songs now for Wicked Witch. I’m doing one for Chris Caffery for his [new record] speaking of guys who were in Savatage solo acts. We got Caffery that wants me to sing a song so I’ve got to take a listen to that one. I’ll eventually be able to come up for air and get a show in here pretty soon.
MSJ: Last time we spoke, you were also going to be on the next Trans Siberian Orchestra CD. Did you finish your part?
I have. I was in there last week and we just kind of started the male background vocals. So, I’ve been doing a lot of that role and I understand that’s going to be on going. We finished one song last Thursday and I just got back from Brazil and kind of got a chest cold so I was hacking my way through that session. I was singing OK but between takes, I’m over there coughing. They’re going “you gonna be all right” [and I’m going] “I’m good, just let me know when you’re rolling”. So I’m just trying to get better from whatever I caught in Brazil. I don’t know what it was. Some bad cold that I didn’t have a resistance to.
MSJ: Are you better now?
Yeah. I feel a lot better. I’m still on the last day of the antibiotics. It’s a ten day supply. Today was the last day but I feel a lot better. I’m able to go in now and finish up that Wicked Witch stuff. That went well too. It was great seeing Paul and great being back in with that. Jon was there and Jon was singing with me. We’re still a big family. We will always be that family no matter what. We’ll be working together and people [will be] laughing and whatever they do. We have a good time.
MSJ: What was the last CD you purchased?
Oh wow, Judas Priest Nostradamus.
MSJ: What did you think of it?
Oh, I like it. I think it’s awesome. I’m just now kind of digging in to it myself.
MSJ: The first time I heard it, it definitely is a CD that has to be listened to from start to finish.
Yeah, I agree. You need to carve out your time and get a beer and a bag of chips, whatever it takes, and go start to finish. That’s one of my early influence music that are still coming out with new stuff. I think it’s incredible that they’re still making albums. They’re still just a huge influence on me. It’s inspirational. But that’s the latest one. You know what, I bought another one the other day. The new Disturbed album Indestructible. But I’m just now digging into that. That’s kind of more my speed. They’re more modern metal. They’re a little bit more industrial sounding. We’re a little bit more of the traditional yet modern side. That’s just the latest thing I bought.
 
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