Band leader/guitarist Tom Frelek -Waken Eyes
Interviewed by: Anders Sandvall
Thanks to Emil Westerdahl at Ulterium Records for setting up the interview
Thanks to Ulterium Records for the promo pictures of the band
EXODUS is the name of the brand new Waken Eyes album. The Canadian band is led by guitarist Tom Frelek, whom I had the pleasure of interviewing. In the following chat we spoke about the new album, the line up of the band, which includes Mike LePond (Symphony X etc.), Henrik Bath (Darkwater) and Marco Minnemann (Joe Satriani). EXODUS is an album that speaks to you if you’re into progressive metal music, however the main focus is not on longer instrumenal solos but on vocals which makes the album a bit different to other progressive metal albums.
Hi Tom how are you today? Thanks for taking the time to talk to Metal Rules.com. First of all, I have to say that I love the new Waken Eyes album, it’s a really ambitious piece you have delivered.
Hey there! I am doing well, busy busy! Thank you!
Is it correct that you began work on EXODUS back in 2013? What took so long to get it released?
Yes, [at the time] it was only certain riffs and ideas that were thrown around. The main song writing and arranging was done in 2014. It took a while to get released because it was the first project for the band. I had to get all the musicians together and get the parts recorded all over the world. Then mixing and mastering, and record contracts and all that takes some time.
What inspired you to write EXODUS and what is the album and the lyrics about?
The inspiration came from the theme of fearlessness. There is so much fear in the world that I thought it would be a great idea to write about this topic.
The main theme in the lyrics as a whole on the album is “fear” and what it means to be “fearless”. Every song on the album has something to do with fear and fearlessness, whether it is about media, governments, love, spirituality, war, or depression. It’s about overcoming these fears that are put upon us so we may live the better life that we deserve and become stronger people. The inspiration from these themes comes from everyday life experiences. For example, the song “Exodus” is about the point of view of someone who was in the second World War and how that feels in their eyes. Definitely a fearful experience. “Still Life” is about being stuck in a life where you’re not progressing.
Did you write the album on your own or together with someone?
This album was written by me alone mostly. But as in most albums, you write the base demos of the songs and once the other players get the songs they add their own style to the music, which gives it a whole band feel rather than just a solo project. You can totally hear the influences from all the other players even though they did follow a loose guide track.
How long did it take to finish the material to the album?
To write all the material for the album took maybe 2-3 months. Tweaking and re-writing it all takes time & patience. It’s worth it in the end, I think. Some riffs were already written so it was a matter of arranging the songs.
Did you have a clear vision in your head about what EXODUS should sound and be like, or did it come to you gradually?
I think for this album I did have a vision of how I wanted it to sound. I wanted it darkly melodic with a cinematic feel to it. But yes, once you start writing, the song just takes over and it becomes this whole different thing. It’s quite amazing what happens when you really dive in and focus on the music.
In the bio following lines can be read, “Certain songs have lyrical ideas about war, media, falling in and out of love, spirituality and faith, good and evil. To sum it up, it is an album about hope”. Do you agree with those words or would you like to add something more?
Yes, this pretty much sums it up without going into detail about every lyric, lol. Basically these songs speak of realities that we face daily. I hope these songs can help people who need to hear something they can relate to and also just for those that love to rock out, prog style.
What did fans think of the official album teaser you featured on YouTube?
I think fans really liked it. It showcased good pieces of the album, from the orchestral parts, to the singles, to the more prog stuff. It was a great teaser I think.
Exodus [OFFICIAL ALBUM TEASER]
Where does the title EXODUS come from?
Exodus means “to exit from”. So I used this term as to “exit from fear”. To exit from the normal way of thinking which ties into the theme of the album. It also is a very strong name as well. Sounds nice.
The layout was done by Jan Yrland and the front cover by Nick Chou;what do you think of their work?
Very pleased with their work. Very talented and professional artists. They really put into perspective the vision and ideas I was looking for and it works well with the theme of the album.
The official lyric video to “Back to Life” has had over 20,000 clicks so far, how does that feel?
It feels great! It’s still growing and our other video has almost 60k views, which is really amazing. It’s great to see so many people being exposed to the music we write and giving us a warm welcome into the music community!
Back To Life [OFFICIAL LYRIC VIDEO]
Your music is described as progressive metal, but how would you like to describe Waken Eyes’ music?
Well this is tough because this is our debut album which is a lot more metal, so it makes sense that we are labelled as progressive metal. But in the future I’d like to be exploring different styles as well which don’t necessarily have to be a metal. I would say we are a prog rock band, plain and simple. You will see different styles like jazz fusion, classical, and pop in the tunes that will change the vibe but still have that core Waken Eyes sound.
In the bio it can be read that you wanted to create an album filled with heavy, melodic, cinematic music filled with vocals. Is that a statement you think describes the album correctly?
Yes, I think those elements describe this record accurately. It has that cinematic feel which I am a really big fan of, as well as that heaviness of the guitars with soaring vocals.
Piotr Sopa appears on keyboard in “Cognition” and Kristine Bishop on vocals in “Cornerstone Away”; how did they end up on the album?
Piotr is my cousin and a very good keyboard player/song writer. When I was writing “Cognition”, he played the piano sections on that song. I needed his skill to play a nice piece like that. Kristine came aboard when I wanted two songs to have female vocals on them. In the end we chose to have her on one, but it is still a great tune. I met Kristine a few years ago after hearing her sing at a pub in my hometown. She had a great tone to her voice, especially the lower register.
Why did you decide to play keyboard on EXODUS? Why didn’t you feature a keyboardist?
Ideally, I did have my cousin play a few parts on the album, but I wanted to work closely with the song and the orchestrations. Also, I enjoy composing these pieces on keyboard so I wanted to do them myself 🙂 In the future I might have a feature keyboard player, especially if we’re on tour.
Have you read reviews of the album yet? What does the media think of it and do you and the band care about what critics have to say about your music?
I have read some of the reviews. We’ve got a lot of great feed back from the media and reviewers. Some are overwhelmingly kind. I think it’s very cool when critics review your music, after all, the whole point is to get music out there and share it with one another. Yes there will always be people who don’t like this or that, and that’s okay. You can’t please everyone, lol. But our true fans is what drives the music for us.
Was it your intention of making such a long album, it clocks in at about 80 minutes?
Not really. It just ended up that way. I had to actually cut one song off the album because it wouldn’t fit on the CD! I kept writing music and have grown attached to each song that I didn’t want to “save” it for the next one because by then it wouldn’t be as relevant. The music was in the moment and it wouldn’t represent it years later I think with new written music. I also wanted to give the listener top quality songs and maximum effort.
The final song on EXODUS is almost 20-minutes long, tell us a bit about the song and why it became so long?
Subconsciously I always wanted to write a long epic song. I’ve always liked the journey and story it takes. For “Exodus”, the song kept going until I truthfully felt it was finished. I planned to add the orchestral part in the middle because of my cinematic background. The song represents the stories my grandparents told me about the second World War. The fear they felt, the things they saw, and the power they had to overcome those fears in such a horrific time.
How have the fans responded to EXODUS and to which category of fans does the album turn to; fans of progressive metal or fans of the famous members’ other bands & music?
I think both. Fans seem to really enjoy it. I keep getting wonderful emails from fans on how much they enjoy the record. Fans from the other bands for sure have crossed over and enjoy EXODUS as well. A lot of fans overseas really seem to enjoy the record.
When you started the band did you know which people you wanted feature as members?
I knew the kinds of players and voices I wanted. It was a matter of reaching out to them and going from there. Seems to have worked out 🙂
Was it easy to recruit Minnemann and Lepond?
Yeah, it was a matter of getting in touch. After I contacted them, we talked and I sent them the demos. They seemed to like the project vibe so it went from there. Marco and Mike are down to earth guys that just enjoy playing music and interacting with musicians and fans. Both have been on many projects as well.
Why did you choose Bath as lead singer and what is his strength as a vocalist?
Henrik is a gem of a singer. Cool ass dude, who can really sing like a beast! I first heard of Henrik when a good friend of mine showed me Dark Water which blew me away. I contacted Henrik some time later and we did the same. Sent him the demos and we chatted a bit until we came to an agreement. I could say that Henrik is the voice of Waken Eyes right now. Really strong!
Do you see any difficulties in the fact that the members are based worldwide, you in Canada, Lepond in the USA, Minnemann in Germany, and Bath in Sweden?
Yes this is the difficult part. Since everyone is all over the globe it can be difficult getting everyone together. In fact it most likely will be tough since everyone is also busy with other projects and obligations.
If the band was to perform live, would you call in all of the members, or would you hire session musicians?
The ideal situation would be to call everyone and schedule a time to get everything done, but we’d probably have to add session musicians if some guys can’t commit to the schedule or date.
Where was the album recorded, and were all of the members gathered at the same time to record?
The album was recorded in San Diego, Toronto, Sweden, New Jersey. All the guys recorded their own parts in their home towns, at their own studios. Nope, we weren’t all together for the recording process; it was all done separately.
John Ornberg and Andre Alvinzi in Fascination Street Studio took care of the mixing and Jens Bogren the mastering, were you a part of those processes?
Yes, I was deeply involved in this process as I wanted the mix to come out precisely to what I felt sounded great sonically. I would have lots of notes for Jens, Johan and Andre per track until we got a finished product. Needless to say they all did a outstanding job. They really put the album together and made it sound like a whole.
Label and management
Was it easy to find a label and get a record deal?
Not to say it was easy. It was more of decision which label to go to and what was the best fit for the band at this time.
Did the search for a label begin early in the bands career?
The search for the label came about in the early stages of recording actually. I felt like I needed to get the ball rolling on getting the word out for this band soon. Henrik suggested Ulterium Records and the rest his history.
Were there many labels that showed interest in the band and what made you choose to ink a deal with Ulterium Records?
There were about 3 or 4 labels I was looking at. In the end Ulterium seemed to have a good relationship with their bands, after Henrik suggested them to me. Going to a big label early on isn’t always the best idea as they have so many artists on their roster that sometimes a newcomer doesn’t get much attention.
Are you happy with the work the label has put into Waken Eyes and the album so far?
Absolutely. Emil from Ulterium is very professional at his work and wants the best for the artist. Word has spread and keeps spreading from interviews, to radio spots, videos etc.
For how many albums is Waken Eyes signed for at UR?
We are signed in for one album for now. This was one of the reasons for UR.
Do you see any problems in the fact that the label is based in Sweden and you in Canada?
Not really, but I guess in terms of promotion most of it is in Europe and not so much Canada, so you can feel a bit disconnected. The market is bigger in Europe for sure so it makes sense.
Is EXODUS available on Spotify, Tidal or Itunes?
Yes. EXODUS is on most platforms, including iTunes, Spotify, and Tidal. Anywhere a fan can reach our music is a blessing.
UR is releasing the album in Europe and America but what about the rest of the world? Who releases it in other territories?
I think we are working on getting the album released in Japan through another label right now but I am not sure when that is happening. UR releases in Canada, US and Europe.
Is the band currently working with any management?
Right now the only management we use is our label Ulterium Records for inquirers. And consequently you can email me 🙂
Personal with Tom Frelek
Could you tell the readers a bit about who you are and when your musical journey began?
Well, I live in Canada and was born in Poland. I love all kinds of music, from metal to pop, to classical. My musical journey began at the age of 10 when I first picked up the guitar and I haven’t put it down since. I started playing classical music and going for lessons. Soon I would discover metal music and from there it was a spiral of playing in different bands and styles.
Is guitar your main instrument? Have you taken lesson or are you self taught?
Yes, guitar is my main instrument. I am mostly self taught as I took a few months of classical guitar training when I was just starting out playing guitar.
For how long have you played guitar and when did you first pick up the instrument?
I picked up the guitar at age 10 after someone brought it to our home. It may have been my grandparents or my parents. So that’s about 20 years or so right now. Still learning everyday 🙂
Are there any particular guitarists that have inspired you through the years?
Many guitarists, it’s hard to name them all. Early on I was into Slash, Kirk Hammet, Jimmy Page, Jimmy Hendrix. From there it spawned into Paul Gilbert, Steve Lukather, Jorn Viggo, Al Dimeola, John Petrucci, BB King, Stevie Ray Vaughan.
Is it correct that you also play keyboard and can you play other instruments besides those?
I can play keyboard yes. Not very well, lol. For compositional purposes I really enjoy playing keys. I can do drums and bass as well. Although don’t ask me to play any of the drums or bass on the Waken Eyes record, haha.
I read that you discovered heavier music when you heard MASTER OF PUPPETS, how old were you back then?
Yes this is true. I was about 14 or 15? Somewhere around there. I still remember that moment actually. I first heard that blazing riff it sent chills down my spine. That was a huge deal for me. From there I think I learned every Metallica song to date, lol.
When did you gain an interest for progressive metal?
Well, after playing for a while you want to try new and exciting things in music. I felt that I really liked playing with odd time signatures and poly-rhythmic beats. As a youngster I would often complain about pop music and how simple it was, which can be true. But, sometimes simplicity is as beautiful as intelligence. Also, hearing bands like Dream Theater and Pagan’s Mind opened my eyes to all these new ways of playing music.
Reverie was your first band right? What can you tell us about that band?
Lol, yes this was my first real band, actually with some high school friends. Funny you found that! Actually Piotr my cousin was singing for the band that time. It was a really heavy type of music, In Flames meets Killswitch meets Jorn? Lol. We recorded the album in the drummer at the time parent’s basement with a portable recorded. It’s not the best quality CD but sure sounds heavy and fun! We play for a few years until the momentum of everyone kind of stopped. It was a real fun time.
Third Dynasty was the band that followed Reverie; what kind of music did you play back then and for how long did that band last?
Third Dynasty lasted a few years as well. Third Dynasty was the first prog metal project I had started with my friend David Kole who was the drummer. We wrote all these songs and recruited our high school friend Bryan Campbell for bass, Michelle Connoly for keys, and Mike Monteiro for vocals. It was progressive metal with long songs and thematic and conceptual songs. We played some nice shows, one with Queensryche which was real cool.
Where in Canada do you live?
I live in Toronto, Ontario, eh.
Is it correct that you have performed a lot live in Toronto? Have you done shows elsewhere?
Over all the bands I have been in, I’ve performed many times in Toronto. It’s a great place for music. Very live 🙂 Not necessarily lots of metal bands but still good music.
MOMENT OF CERTAINTY is the name of your instrumental solo album, when was it released and why did you want to record an instrumental disc?
This one was released in 2010, a while ago! This was the first record that I released on my own. I’ve always been a fan of Joe Satriani, Paul Gilbert, Steve Vai. I wanted to make my own guitar record. I also felt I needed to release something as I was growing inpatient of not putting out new music constantly. I still play these tunes live and I’m looking forward to writing the next solo album!
You are also a prominent song writer; what artists have you written for? Is it hard to write for someone else?
Thanks man. I’ve written songs for local r&b artists, pop singers, and metal bands. Some film projects I’ve added sound tracks too, which is always fun. I don’t think it’s hard, it really depends on the person you’re writing for and how they work with you. You kind of have to suppress your own passionate views and look at what they want but at same time use your skills and influence to add that uniqueness to the song.
Do you have a large fan base in North America? Do people recognize you on the streets?
I think we have a good following in North America. It is still growing as the album finds new people everyday. It’s definitely more prominent in Europe right now but I’m hoping for more fans reaching the album through different mediums. Lol, no, people don’t recognize me on the streets and I think that’s a good thing for now 🙂
Is Waken Eyes a band or a project?
Definitely a band that will keep on going! It may seem like a project since the members are all in many different projects, but rest assured this band will keep going no matter what 🙂
Are there any plans on doing live shows in the near future and would you like taking the music out on the road?
We are talking about this right now and seeing what we can do with the members. We may have to get some session guys right now to play as scheduling is hard for everyone. The next goal is to have a successful tour going. This can be expensive and we are working away at this!
Why doesn’t Waken Eyes have a website? The band’s got Facebook page but are you active on Twitter and other kinds of social media?
I think when we were rushing to finish the contract and album we decided we didn’t have the time or the budget to get a website from our label. Although we should probably have one, it would help out. Definitely something we will do.
Who runs your Facebook page?
This is run by Ulterium Records and myself for now.
What can you tell the readers about the video to “Palisades”?
This was a separate studio show video. All the guys recorded footage of the tracking to “Palisades”. My shots and the bass shots were done by my good friend Nof Polinario at Iguana Studios in Toronto. Henrik shot his in his studio and Marco in his as well. Mike wasn’t able to film his parts so I had my friend Francesco fill in for bass duties.
Palisades [OFFICIAL MUSIC VIDEO]
How does it feel that over 50,000 people have seen the video so far?
It feels great. I love the exposure and how many people seem to dig it. I want it to climb even higher. The more the merrier!
Any plans on shooting more videos to any of the songs?
We are thinking of doing a story video for “Cornerstone”. I think people would like that one. It’s a half ballad song with guest vocalist Kristine Bishop on it. Not sure when but it’s something I’ve been thinking about for a while.
When was the idea born to do a guitar play through to the song “Deafening Thoughts”?
The idea came a couple months after the CD was out. I wanted to put out a guitar play through since we did a music video, a lyric video, and now a play through. Seemed like the next best option; it was fun do to. All filmed by and directed by Nof at a Rehearsal Factory in Mississauga, Canada.
Deafening Thoughts [OFFICIAL GUITAR PLAYTHROUGH]
What are the plans for Waken Eyes during 2016?
Get the word out some more, possibly festivals, maybe a few one off shows and possibly a video.
Do you plan to continue releasing albums with Waken Eyes in the future?
Yes, I’m already doing some writing as we speak! I’m excited to share new music as well possibly sometime next year.
Since it took quite long to finish EXODUS, is there material available for a second album already?
I always write music so I have a bunch of ideas stored up. I’ve started writing new music for the second album as well. But again, I am always excited to share new music with you guys.
What would you like to say to those who haven’t discovered the music of Tom Frelek or Waken Eyes yet?
Go check it out! Music is truthful and from the heart with cinematic feeling but it also crushes with heaviness. You won’t be disappointed 🙂
Could you give them three reasons why they should buy EXODUS?
It’s Heavy, Cinematc, and Truthful.
Well that was all for me and Metal Rules.com, do you have any words of wisdom to share with the fans and readers?
Thanks to all the great fans out there that keep this music alive! You guys have been nothing short of amazing and kind when this album came out. Spread the word to all that you think might benefit from our tunes! I hope our music brings you a meaningful experience 🙂
I wish you and Waken Eyes all the best in the future and once again thanks for doing this interview.
Thank you guys. My pleasure!