Gitaron interview (09/2007)
|With:||Gio [guitar and vocals], Femke [vocals], Wilfried [bass]|
|Conducted by:||Thryce (in person)|
(Originally done in Dutch)
The Belgian band Gitaron and Metal Storm have had contact with each other before concerning the Spring Madness Festival in May of this year. A few weeks ago, frontman Gio contacted me again with the question if I was interested in reviewing his band's very first demo and doing an interview with them. So, last Saturday afternoon, me and the pleasant and kind crew of Gitaron hooked up, had a few and also the following nice in-depth chat.
Hi guys! Welcome at Leuven, the home of Stella Artois beer. First of all, I want to thank you all again for doing this interview with me, it's highly appreciated.
I don't think many of our readers are familiar with the band Gitaron. Could you first introduce the band a bit, and afterwards yourselves as members of the band too?
Gio: My name is Gio, and I am the vocalist and one of the guitarists of Gitaron. Gitaron was found in March 2006, so we aren't that widely known yet. Though there are a few concerts in prospect, and only a few months ago we just released our first demo album with five of our own songs. The band is in fact based on creating own songs. It's hard to compare Gitaron with other existing metal bands actually, because we try to give our own interpretation to the specific genre we play.
Femke: I'm Femke and I'm also a singer of the band. I supply the vocals with background female singing.
Wilfried: My name's Wilfried. I'm the bass player of the metal band Gitaron. To be honest, the metal genre is actually something new for me, in all different kind of ways. I have listened to only a few styles in the whole metal genre yet. But I was very surprised by the work of Gio, leader of the band Gitaron, who mainly comes up with his own work, who also writes the songs and who plays his own music on his own kind of way. So that was my motivation to join the band.
Where do you guys know each other from?
Gio: I contacted our drummer Tom after playing together in another band. That band was mainly a cover band. It still exists and Tom's still drumming in it. Back then I was already impressed by his drumming skills, so that's why I asked him to take care of the drumming duties for my band. It was also Tom who introduced Aaron, our second guitarist. And well, I already know Femke anyhow (laughs). She's my wife. And I got to know Wilfried from my work at that time. We rather unexpectedly ran in to each other…
Wilfried: I survived it (everybody laughs).
Gio: ... and we started talking about music. He did a try out first, but we were all very impressed by his bass playing. He himself wasn't that impressed, but the more were we (laughs). And that's how we all met each other.
Wilfried, only a little while before the actual interview, you told me something about your previous career as a funky jazz musician, and that you're not really familiar with the metal genre yet. Tell me something more about that.
Wilfried: I'll continue Gio's story about our first meeting and try out. To me, it was all very surprising since I didn't quite know what to expect as I was totally unfamiliar with the entire rock and metal music genres. I went with a very open mind and vision to that first repetition to get to know these guys on a musical level and to try to go along with their play by giving a proper interpretation of the music. It was a bit unusual for me to be playing bass in this music genre. I must say if I look at other examples in the genre that I already heard, I'm not really that attracted to continue to play in this genre. But it's because of the self-willed way of playing guitar and song writing of Gio, and the strong similarities between feeling and atmosphere that he tries to create in his songs, which strongly appeal to me, that I am motivated to play bass parts, in this genre, that are in accordance to the certain atmosphere Gio wants to create. This is not always an easy thing to do, and it's a lot of work, especially for me. But so far I think we really have made a lot of progress. I'm talking about fourteen own songs that we've put together in about a year, and that in my humble opinion are certainly worthy listening material.
What does the frontman thinks of the fact that his bassist is not familiar with metal music, and does not have any background in the genre? Is it hard for a metal band to work together with a musician who isn't into metal?
Gio: It certainly isn't hard. Actually, it's very pleasant to have his bass parts into our music, because I don't think there are a lot of metal bands that have a bassist who has roots in the funky jazz scene. And you can certainly hear that combination in certain songs. And that's really innovating and different from other standard metal bands. So, I certainly have no problems with that fact. There's no age limit on playing music, and everybody can still learn things. And that's also the case with Wilfried. The funky jazz elements he uses in his bass play stand out very well in our music. And there are even certain songs I composed that are aimed at his bass play.
Do you want to add something Wilfried?
Wilfried: Well not really adding something, I just want to say that our metal sound isn't just something covered with funky jazz aspects. I really have to adapt my play. And of course the different music genres that you've played are all an interpretation of an atmosphere and of an experience. And it's within that experience that you play your music. But it's certainly not the intention to show up well the funky jazz elements in the metal genre. For me it's more important that the bass parts are aimed at what Gio composes and the atmosphere he wants to create. Sometimes this inevitably creates emotions that can be situated in other music genres too, but I need to adapt my play not to the funky jazz but to the real metal atmosphere, because that's what it's all about. The bass play has to be adapted to the bass play of a metal band. That's all what I wanted to add.
Ok, thank you. The band was formerly know as Excalibur, but had to change to Gitaron. Where do you got that name from?
Gio: We came up very spontaneously with that name. Actually, it's a combination of the names Gio and Aaron, splashed together with the word guitar (laughs). It all happened rather by coincidence really. We had to change our name Excalibur... Well, we weren't really obliged, but we would have had to change it later anyway as there are a lot of bands known as Excalibur, also in Belgium and around. So we had to come up with something original. After a long search we came up with that name rather in a foolish way.
And does Gitaron have something that Excalbur didn't have? I mean, did the change of name also changed something within the band?
Gio: No, not really. All the members are still the same. And so is the style we play. So no change of attitude or anything… Nothing changed. Just our name. But it didn't have any influence on the songs.
In your biography you say you play "awesome heavy metal". You slightly mentioned something about this before, but with which band could one compare Gitaron? And are these the same bands where you got the inspiration from?
Gio: If there is one band that resembles us the most, it is Grave Digger. Not in a matter of composition, but in a matter of sound. I don't try to write songs in the same style of other certain bands. But if there's one band where we incline to the most, it's definitely Grave Digger, certainly when it comes to style and vocals, although Grave Digger's vocals are a bit rougher. There are of course enough influences but we don't handle the same style or copy a certain sound of those bands.
So you don't have any big examples next to Grave Digger?
Gio: Well, Grave Digger isn't exactly an example of the sound we want to play either… For me Iron Maiden has always been the biggest example to start playing music. But not in a way to compose b-songs for Iron Maiden, if you know what I mean. Gitaron stand for a proper interpretation of songs and music, and we want to put our proper stamp on our music.
Do you all listen to heavy and power metal? Or do you also listen to other music genres?
Femke: I listen to the same music as my husband of course. So it's mainly heavy metal for me too. But I also frequently listen to the radio. I'm actually quite neutral when it comes to music, I listen to all different styles of music.
Wilfried: To find my way into the genre, I'm focused on the metal music. I try to discover things that possibly can be applied on my play, and that can help me to get me into the metal atmosphere that Gio creates. For example, this morning I watched the Heaven And Hell DVD. I really like their music. Their compositions are always really powerful. I also like Primal Fear a lot. A few other examples are Hammerfall, Saxon, …
Wilfried: Yes indeed. But I listen to them after the recommendation of others who are familiar with the genre to become more familiar with it myself.
But to come back to the possible examples for Gitaron, to me no such examples exist. Gitaron stands for Gio's own creations. And that's what the whole band is about. And that's why every band member can do his own interpretation as long as it fits into the total atmosphere of the song, as well as the lyrics and the music. That's the reason why Gitaron stands on its own and is hardly comparable with other bands. At least, that's my own opinion about it.
Gio: The bands I listen to the most are Iron Maiden, Primal Fear, Helloween and Manowar. Edguy are also a great band, and so is Tobias Sammet's other project Avantasia. Also Hammerfall and Saxon. Ayreon means a lot to me, especially when it comes to his compositions and sound.
Yeah, he's a big man.
Gio: Indeed (smiles). I used to be into Masterplan, but not anymore lately because I regret the departure of Jørn Lande. So yes, I mostly listen to power metal: Helloween, Hammerfall, Primal Fear, Gamma Ray. I also like At Vance, but I don't find them that original.
So you somewhat stay in the same genre as Gitaron.
Gio: Sure, of course. But I eat, drink and sleep metal (laughs).
And what about the two other members of the band? Are they also into metal?
Gio: Yes, definitely. Aaron and Tom listen more to Pro-Pain. But also Sick Of It All and Hatebreed. So they're a bit more into metalcore.
Femke, you're Gio's wife. How hard is it to sing in your husband's band?
Femke: I don't see it as something difficult. When we are doing a rehearsal, we don't see each other as husband and wife, but as members of the band. So, no, I don't have any problems with that. And they are all nice guys and they immediately accepted me into the group.
Gio, I read in your bio it was your idea to add female vocals to the sound. Where do you got that idea from?
Gio: I knew what she was capable of; I mean vocaliswise by other bands. And I though her vocals were a great addition to our band. Her vocals really show up well in certain choruses of our songs. And it was really a good thing to add female vocals to the Gitaron sound.
You don't immediately expect female vocals in traditional Heavy Metal. Did you get that idea of certain other bands, or is it again one of your own creations?
Gio: Yes. The addition is an own creation, because the bands I mentioned before don't use female vocals either.
But Axxis for example does have female vocals.
Gio: Yes, indeed, Axxis does have them. Actually, I went to see them live once, and I found them quite inspiring. Axxis is indeed a good example on this matter, and I do want to work towards their sound when it comes to female vocals, although we are already pretty far.
Femke: We also listened to After Forever and Epica, but that's really a totally different style.
What is, according to the rest of the band, the surplus value of Femke's vocals to the overall sound of Gitaron?
Gio: It's hard for me to say it's not good, right (laughs).
Wilfried: The surplus value of Femke's vocals lies in the creation of the songs. I think it's something subconscious that already plays when Gio is composing and writing songs. I think he's subconsciously already busy with how the background vocals have to sound. Femke's vocals totally fit into the music, as you can hear on our demo album. It's certainly an extra twist and an extra contribution to the compositions and also to the singularity of the band. And I find it a magnificent contribution. And it's a way to continue our work on a motivating and innovating manner.
Gio: We did a few rehearsals without Femke and so without female vocals, and the difference was very clear. And that's also a stimulus to keep working with the concept of female vocals.
I've listened to the demo and to the samples on your website, and I must say the effect of the female vocals is really successful. What do you think yourself Femke?
Femke: I also think my vocals stand out very well. I didn't expect it to be that good actually, but that's maybe a matter of self-confidence. But the result is certainly not bad.
What does the rest of the band thinks?
Wilfried: I think it's great that Femke is part of the group, and I'm glad she can make her contributions to Gio's compositions.
Gio: Her contribution on the demo is certainly great. And also remarkable, because she makes the choruses very solid and the contribution of the female vocals also make them sound good. The difference would be huge if there would be no female vocals, certainly in the choruses.
Wilfried: In the future we will make more compositions where she'll take over the lead vocals on certain parts next to doing backing vocals or second vocals. And we all believe that'll give a great result.
Already looking forward to those songs! In your biography I read the band was founded in Spring 2006. How hard is it for such a young band to find their way and to break through in the Belgian metal scene?
Gio: It's very hard! We try to search our own way in everything we do. And nowadays we try to promote ourselves in every way possible. That's easier now with the release of our demo of course. It's easier for us now to go somewhere and present ourselves. The result of that are a few booked live gigs in the near future. But I think that the Belgian metal scene could need a boost. And I will be the first to cooperate on that, certainly with our band. But still, you can't get anything for nothing, so we need to find our own way. And so far, it's not have been that easy.
How would you, as member of Gitaron, describe the Belgian metal scene?
Gio: I truly think it needs to be brightened up a bit. There should be more space and possibilities for newer bands, creations and sounds. In the old days this would have been possible and there were plenty of gigs, but nowadays you really have to worm your way through to get somewhere in the Begian metal scene. And that needs to change a bit. It doesn't need to become easier, just more accessible.
Femke: I think the scene in Belgium is quite poor and there aren't that many bands. Also on the television and the radio, metal bands don't get much attention. And some people just don't know what they're missing if they haven't heard any metal music.
Wilfried: The Belgian metal scene is something totally unfamiliar for me actually. But it's always difficult to find your way in any genre anyhow. But nowadays the media market is so extensive that… Well, this is a good example: you are responsible for a website, and people are interested and I get invited to do an interview. So this means, there has to be a certain interest for what is happening in the music scene. But for the rest, we need to prove ourselves by giving good live performances and by creating solid songs. And there's always a way, we just need to carry on.
Are you looking up at certain Belgian metal bands?
Gio: No, we're not really looking up at them. But we do support some on a friendly base. The band Crusader for example are personal friends of ours, and they play nice music. But looking up at them is not really the case. And they have no influence on our work either.
But what about the fame that Aborted have for example? They're believed to be one of the biggest and most known Belgian metal bands.
Gio: Well, they are already far of course. Maybe in a way we indeed could look up at them for what they already achieved, but not for their music. I mean they play good music. But that's just a personal opinion. So, if we're looking up at bands from the Belgian metal scene, it is on a friendly base and certainly not determinative for our own style or our own songs.
There are a few pictures on your website, taken during rehearsals. What do you guys have to do with Elvis?
(The whole band laughs)
Wilfried: Well, he's still the King (laughs). Elvis has nothing to do with us. The rehearsal studio is obviously property of a huge Elvis fanatic. There are pictures and guitars everywhere and original Elvis LP's are covering the walls. And he is the man's personal musical inspiration. But also for me he'll always stay a unique person in the music world, although I don't know what he means for the younger generations. But Elvis has really nothing to do with our personalities and the music style we play or the way we go about with our music.
That was actually the light-hearted question of this interview (laughs). Now, on to the demo "The First Battle" then. It certainly has the potential to become a real killer. How were the first reactions so far?
Gio: The first reactions were all very good. I had a lot of reactions already, and I also have my personal opinion about the demo. I think it's a very good release because it's a great reproduction of the typical things Gitaron stand for. Of course I have to mention that the demo has been achieved also thanks to our manager Michael Bauwens, who supported us on the financial base. We are very happy with the way it was recorded at the Midas Recording Studios at Lokeren. Those guys really did a great job. And it's also thanks to all those people that the band Gitaron is a fact. Of course, I'm also very happy with the result myself, and also all the reactions I got so far from people of the genre are very positive.
Femke: I also think the demo has been put together very well. Maybe my vocals could have got more attention in certain tracks… But still I find the whole concept we bring on this demo really fantastic.
Wilfried: I don't see this demo recording as a real album recording. Much more time has to be spent for an album recording. But I found the way this demo was recorded already very professional and it sure gives a clear image of all the things Gitaron stands for. As far as I know, all reactions so far were incredibly good, although you have to take into account the reticence and caution that is typical for the overall Belgian mentality. So you have to be careful with comparisons that are made, and you have to appeal to a big audience before your concept gets accepted. But so far reactions have been very good so we keep going on.
How much work was involved in creating this demo?
Wilfried: If you look at it in its whole, there certainly has been put a lot of work in it. But eventually, there wasn't that much work on making the demo itself as all the songs already existed. On the whole, the intensions were clear and it was a matter of entering the studio and playing the different parts. If you'd compare it with a professional album recording, it all went rather in a jiffy. And of course there's a lot of work in the compositions, possibly even years that Gio worked on his creations. But sometimes he also makes up songs and lyrics like greased lightning. It's always a lot of work to record a song of course, and also to get the habit to play it properly. But in my opinion this demo has been recorded very quickly.
Femke: We've really spent a lot of hours making this demo. We also got to know each other better by recording this demo, because sometimes we were really surprised of each other's musical capacities.
Gio: I think, compared to other bands, our demo was really recorded rapidly. Initially we even had planned to record six tracks, but because we were short in time, we only recorded five songs. I've been working on these songs for years indeed and now they're finally into being. But they were all almost finished, so we could record everything very smoothly.
And are you happy with the result?
Gio: Yes. I'm very happy with it. Very happy.
If you had to describe this demo in only one single word, what would that word be?
Wilfried: It's the first battle (laughs). It certainly is the first battle in every way and, like Gio said, it certainly is also an innovating release within the genre.
Which song on this demo is your personal favourite? And why?
Gio: The song that really comes out well, although they all do, is "We're Knights" I think. The song is based on a fantastic bass part and it's really a solid song. This song also appeals to me the most, although the other songs on the demo are great too of course.
Femke: I prefer "Enter My Church", probably because I have a bigger part in it. And my vocals really come out well.
Wilfried: This is totally personal, but my favourite is "Blood On The Wall". It's a very good song. And also the song "Excalibur" is a typical song. It's a bit simpler maybe qua composition, but it's one of Gio's typical creations and marks where Gitaron stands for. It's not about how complicated the song is, it's all about the atmosphere and creating a certain mood.
Do you also try to bring a message in your songs?
Gio: No, not really a message. The lyrics are mostly written based on the why I feel at that moment. I can be in a good mood, or a bad mood, or the moods like in "We're Knights" or "Blood On The Wall" because both songs are very different from each other when it comes to lyrics. But I don't want to bring a message in my lyrics.
The band used to be called Excalibur, and also in some songs you refer to knights and the Middle Ages. Where do get your inspiration for your lyrics from?
Gio: It's quite strange actually, because the song "Excalibur" talks about knights and swords and battles. And so does "We're Knights". But you have to interpret them in another way. The indirectly refer to something else, a certain current feeling I write about. "We're Knights" refers to the fact that we're the knights of these days and does not refer to certain medieval situations.
Let's talk a bit about the cover art. Did anyone of the band draw it?
Gio: We let it made by a tattooer, Tattoo Adri. Besides the front cover of the demo, he also took care of our logo.
Is this a typical Heavy Metal drawing, or does it have a possible meaning?
Gio: No it has no meaning. I wanted to refer to a knight, and he made a couple of drawings and I picked the one that appealed the most to the atmosphere on the demo.
Wilfried: I think the cover drawing indirectly has something to do with fantasy. Emotions have their part in the compositions of the songs and there are no specific messages in the lyrics. As well as the cover art as the songs are all part of the atmosphere Gio wants to create. That's what it's all about.
The demo is entitled "The First Battle", I assume this means we can expect more battles then?
Femke: Well it's a very appropriate title since this is the first effort we recorded. And we also tried to stay in the same atmosphere as Excalibur and the medieval stuff. So we fought our first battle actually.
Gio: I think it's a very applicable title indeed. Our very first battle has been fought and we were victorious (laughs).
That's nice! And how does the story continue? Are you already having contacts with label companies for example?
Gio: Yes, we're in touch with a label at the moment, although we're not totally convinced yet. In my opinion there are enough labels that are much better for us, so... Also I don't totally support the idea of working with labels, and there are enough ways to achieve our goals, and we need to find out what's best for us. And I'm convinced we can get signed at a certain label thanks to the demo. We just need to be patient and we don't need to fall immediately for the first offer.
Wilfried: I just want add that the demo has only been released for a few months, so we need to wait bit longer to see which way the wind blows for us.
A few months ago in May, you guys were headlining the Spring Madness Festival. Tell me something about it.
Gio: It was most definitely a very positive experience for the band and the fans to be headlining the Spring Madness Fest. Though, we didn't have that much live experience with the band yet. We individually were used to make live appearances with other bands, but not with this formation together. It wasn't easy to close off the festival, certainly because we had to play after Crusader, but we've sure made the best out of it.
How was the response of the crowd?
Gio: We've really got a lot of positive reactions after the Spring Madness show. The main aim of a Gitaron live show is playing for the fans. So, between the songs we try to be as interactive as possible with the crowd. And the songs really found favour with the audience.
What aspect of the Spring Madness Festival will be staying in your memories the most?
Gio: For me especially the hard work of the preparations. In only a short while we really had to put a lot of work and effort together for the festival. I think it's a proof Gitaron is a strong band as all went perfectly well.
What is the most remarkable difference between Gitaron on the album and Gitaron as a live band?
Gio: We tried to resemble the Gitaron sound on the demo to the sound of the band's live sound, which is in any case very difficult. I have to tell the fans they need to watch Gitaron perform live. Our sound and performance are on their best when played live. "The First Battle" sound very good and powerful, and also live this is the case.
And what are tour further ambitions with Gitaron?
Gitaron has a lot of ambitions really. We definitely aren't on our highlight yet. But we're certainly on the right way to reach that highlight! And if someone like Lauren Harris can play on the mainstage of Graspop Metal Meeting, why couldn't Gitaron get on Graspop, even if it would be for cleaning up the garbage (laughs).
This interview is nearing its end now. The last words to Metal Storm and its readers are yours.
Gio: To all the Metal Storm readers I would like to say in name of the whole band: follow your Metalheart. Try to check us out live one day. Metal Storm rules! It's the heaviest webzine online! And of course, thanks to Metal Storm.
Thanks to Gitaron for all their efforts and their time to do this interview!
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