Heart of Steel: Interviews

Zandelle Vocalist George Tsalikis
Interviewed by EvilG

Let’s start with a simple question that you MUST have been asked before. That is, what is the origin of the name “Zandelle”?

The name "Zandelle" was originally created by me for a character I developed for the role playing game Dungeons & Dragons. When I started the band, I chose to use this name since it was a made up word and therefore I need not worry about another band existing with the same name.



Zandelle formed in 1996. I don’t know what it was like in your local area (New York City), but in 1996, metal (at least what I’d call TRUE metal) was pretty much dead. Was it hard to get started, find the right musicians, etc…?

It was very hard. In fact, when Zandelle started back in 1996, I was only able to find one guitarist and a drummer, forcing me to play bass in addition to handling the vocals. But also, it was difficult trying to get acceptance from audiences, many of whom saw us as a band which played "out-dated, 80's music".



Prior to Zandelle you were in a band called Gothic Knights. What was the reason for the demise (if they are indeed now defunct?) of Gothic Knights and is Zandelle anything like Gothic Knights?

It wasn't so much a demise as it was a breakup between myself and the rest of the band. At the time, I was still in college and was not able to devote the amount of time they wanted for the band. Also, with the change in the way the music scene in the NY area was going, I felt that it would not benefit me to remain in the band. So, in order to focus on my education and so that I wouldn't hold them back in any way, we mutually parted ways. The Gothic Knights continued on without me and are now in fact signing to LMP as well. There music and ours is similar in the fact that we both have very strong Power Metal influences. The main difference however is that they opt for the one guitar setup whereas we prefer the two guitar setup.



Denis Gulbey of Sentinel Steel distributed Zandelle’s first releases. How did you come into contact with Denis? It seems like he’s been quite a great “metal warrior” in terms of promoting true metal in the USA!?!

Denis is really great and has done a lot not only to help Zandelle but True Metal in general. He was actually introduced to me by John from the Gothic Knights just as we were recording the very first Zandelle CD. Denis asked me to send him a copy to review. Upon completion, I did just that and he offered to distribute it for us. In a way, we owe Denis a lot of gratitude for helping put us on the map.



Are there any plans to re-issue your first two releases?

Yes. As a matter of fact, we are planning on not just re-issueing, but re-recording the majority of the songs off the first two albums to put them out on a prequel CD. We just haven't yet determined when this will be done, since for our next album we are looking to put out entirely new material. Maybe if all goes well we'll do it for the album after the next one.



After struggling in the underground for a few years, how does it feel to finally get some international acclaim?

It kicks ass! When I first started the project back in 1996, I was only doing it for fun and had no plans of taking it this far. The thought never even crossed my mind. It wasn't until a few years ago that the band started seriously pushing to take it to the next level. Now that we have a CD released internationally, it feels great. It's cool being able to see something we've worked so hard on actually be in record stores and on Amazon.com. However, we also know we have a long road ahead of us. We may have a CD out but we're still far from where we want to be.



I assume a good portion of this recognition is a result of now being signed to Limb Music (it’s thanks to them that I’ve finally heard the band anyway!!).

Absolutely. Limb has been amazing as far as promoting the new album. They've really helped establish us in the Metal community and we're very happy with the recognition we've received as a result.



Since Zandelle’s inception, in what ways have you seen people’s opinions and attitudes change towards the style of heavy metal you play?

As I mentioned earlier, in the beginning we were looked at as a bunch of guys trying to hold on to the past. People would say things like, "You're good but why don't you play music that is with the times?" Others of course weren't nearly as nice. But now it seems like more and more people are really into True Metal and that is really refreshing to see. In fact, I've not heard the term "80's music" in quite a while. So if we in any way helped eliminate the negative stereotype that was associated with True Metal during the 90's, we at least accomplished something truly important. It's great seeing younger guys wearing Iced Earth, Iron Maiden and Blind Guardian T-shirts instead of Korn and Kid Rock.



Have you had trouble booking gigs or getting on tours in the US, due to the local lack of interest in power metal?

We still have trouble getting gigs because of it. What is worse, is that the clubs nowadays are more interested in money than in having talented bands play their venues. They'll put any crappy band up on their stages so long as they agree to sell their own tickets and guarantee a certain amount of sales. Bands have now gone from being entertainers to be ticket agents. It really sucks when a bunch of musicians are forced to go around begging their friends to buy tickets from them for an upcoming show. Ironically enough, we are currently having an easier time getting booked on large festivals than we do in small clubs.



I know you’ve opened for a number of bands such as Armored Saint, Savatage, and the metal gods Saxon (to name a few)! Were these all gigs where you were the “local talent” or did you get to do a tour with any of these bands?

Unfortunately in all these cases, we were simply the "local talent". We would have loved (and still would love) to get on a portion if not the entire tour with one of these great bands. Unfortunately, we don't have the connections with which to do this. But we are working on it and hopefully that may change soon.



Are there any plans to tour soon and if so where? I think I recently read a press release about you playing at March Metal Meltdown as well?

There are no "touring" plans as of yet, but we have been booking a number of festivals including March Metal Meltdown which we played at just over a week ago. We're also scheduled to play the Classic Metal Fest in Chicago which is taking place the last weekend in June. We've also just signed on to play Metal Mindrage 2 in Baltimore which is taking place in August. And we're working out the details for the Milwaukee Metalfest as well.



I’ve read that your live performance is supposed to me something to SEE as well as hear…as in you are not from the “shoe gazers” philosophy of live performance at all?!

I grew up with bands like Iron Maiden and one of the main things that I've been influenced by is their live performances. This has put the idea in my mind that when a band puts on a live show, they have to be larger than life. The band must totally amaze the audience, not only with their playing ability (which people can get from simply listening to their CD at home) but with the entire visual aspect of the live performance. Otherwise, there really is no reason for people to come out and see the band live.



Why is it that the term “power metal” has become to SOME a dirty word? Do you mind being called power metal and if so WHY?

I wasn't aware that it has become a dirty word. We actually call ourselves "Power / Speed" Metal due to the fact that not only do we have a lot of Power Metal influences in our songs (i.e. Helloween, Iron Maiden, Gamma Ray, etc.) but also a lot of Speed Metal influences (Iced Earth, Blind Guardian, etc.). I guess to some people Power Metal has a negative connotation due to all the Helloween and Stratovarius clones that are out there.



It seems like it’s cool to call your band “US Power Metal” because that means it’s more gritty/heavy like say Iced Earth, Steel Prophet, or even Jag Panzer…but to just say “power metal” might make someone think it’s Euro-power metal…people get so hung up on these silly tags sometimes….does this kind of thing ever bother you or do you not think about these types of things?

It sometimes bothers me which is why I tend not to think of it. Labels are good if you want to get an idea of what a band sounds like. But I find most labels get misrepresented or mean different things to different people so then you sometimes face the problem of proving you're not something. For example, too many people in the USA think of Korn and Linkin Park as Heavy Metal so I spend far too much time explaining that we sound nothing like them and that we are "True Metal". So it can be frustrating. The bottom line is, if you enjoy the music, great. If you don't, it's unfortunate. But calling it something different isn't going to change what the music is.



What's it like to be in an elite and very small class of American power bands?

I think it's kind of cool. It's definitely better than sounding exactly like all the other "new metal" bands that are over-saturating the industry. It makes what we do that much more special.



Have you played live with Zandelle in Europe yet? Are there any plans to make a European appearance either as an opening band or perhaps at one of the summer festivals that take place?

We haven't made our way out to Europe yet, although we are really looking forward to the first time we play in front of a European audience. If all goes well would be honored to go overseas but currently it's not within our financial means. Perhaps if album sales are good enough, we might be able to get some support to get out there.



As a fan of metal, have you personally ever traveled to Europe to witness any  of the larger metal festivals like Wacken in Germany?

Not yet. But again I'm really looking forward to that day.



Who have been your main vocal influences? Sometimes when you sing really high I am reminded just a little of Warell Dane’s days in Sanctuary…

My greatest influences (in no particular order) are: Bruce Dickinson, Geoff Tate, Rob Halford, Michael Kiske, Sebastian Bach, and Steve Perry. Each of them inspired me in some way.



Let’s zero in on your latest album TWILIGHT ON HUMANITY. First off, what does the title refer to?

The title is basically our way of saying that True Metal will take over the music world similar to the creatures from the fantasy world which take over the mundane world in the title track of the album. In that track, the way people live is completely changed through a powerful force and we feel that through our music, we will in fact change the current music trend, particularly in the U.S..



On the album cover there are what looks like Tolkien runes…do they say anything, or were they just put there as part of the artwork?

Good catch! You are actually the first to see that for what it is. I'm impressed. The runes actually say "Twilight on Humanity".



What or who is the demon on the cover? How does having that on the cover relate to any of the songs…or was it just a piece of artwork that you all liked?

Basically it was a piece of artwork that we all (including LMP) liked however the gargoyle also fits in with the High Fantasy topics which dominate the album.



Can you describe the typical writing process for the album, if there is such a thing as “typical”!

For the majority of the writing (especially since Twilight on Humanity) one of us (usually myself or TW) will bring an idea for a song into the studio. The idea may consist of only a guitar riff, or it may be pretty complete with lyrics and vocal melodies. The rest of us will then go over the idea and (more than likely) add our own ideas. This goes on for a couple of weeks before we are completely happy with the final product. Some ideas are changed dramatically from the point of inception, while others barely change at all. We enjoy writing a lot so it doesn't even seem like work to us. Originally I had done the majority of the writing with Anthony adding his ideas to my songs but since we added TW into the band it's almost as if a powerful writing force just grew within the band and now we feed off each others' ideas.



I understand you played bass for the band before switching to vocals only – so do you still write any of the riffs yourself and have input in that area of writing?

Absolutely. I actually also play guitar and a little bit of keyboards and drums so many times I'll come up with a lot of the music for a song. None of us takes on the task alone. We all take part in every aspect of the writing.



What kinds of topics interest you to write about (in terms of the lyrics)? Perhaps you can pick a couple of the songs and give us the background on what inspired the song?

Up until now, the majority of the topics have been high fantasy (medieval folklore: elves, dragons, etc.) such as Immortal Realms, Lord of Thunder, A Hero's Quest and The Champion, though sometimes we will also write songs involving life in general such as The Cycle which is a song questioning our existence and the reason for it all, or Delusions which about overcoming
other people's arrogant and condescending attitudes. Since Twilight we've gone on to topics about Horror and History as well which should make the next album all the more interesting.



Did you have OLD Helloween in mind when writing or recording the track “The Cycle”? hehe...

Not specifically but definitely that type of style. I (like most Power/Speed Metal fans) am a big fan of the Keeper albums and they have influenced me a lot.



My favorite track on here is the album closer that clocks in at close on 12mins. That song being “Twilight on Humanity.” Did this song take the most time to write and record? It sounds very well constructed and thought out!

Thank you very much for the kind words. Yes this definitely took the most time to write as well as record. We wanted this song to show off every aspect of the band and all we are able to do so we really put a lot into it (as you can tell). It was well worth it. People are especially impressed when they hear us play it live although that is rare due to the fact that most of our set times consist of 30 - 40 minutes.



Was the “Fade To Black” lead guitar section in this song (the ascending high part near the end of the solo 9:10 – 9:25) Intentional and has anyone else mentioned this to you yet? Haha!

I've heard that before but I don't think it was intentional. I know TW was not trying to sound like Kirk Hammet on purpose. Sometimes these things happen.



What is up with the power ballad “Eternal Love” – it kind of stood out as something very different when compared to the other songs!? Hehe.. I do like the clean guitar solo parts and leads in this one, but it is one of the songs that for my own tastes came off as filler material…sorry! :-)

There's no need to apologize. I know that this is the one song that people are either going to love or hate. It was not intended as a filler song though. We basically wanted to throw in a song that would break things up a bit. The song itself (although not fast and heavy) has a lot to offer musically and we felt it would be a waste not to put it in.



How have the new songs been received live? What ones seem to be crowd favorites?

They've actually been received very well live. As of now, Warlords of Steel and Lord of Thunder seem to be the ones which really get the crowd going.



Is the band always in writing mode or do you only write when you know it’s time to gear up for a new album?

Always! We began writing the moment Twilight on Humanity was in the post-production phase, long before it was released. In fact, we currently have 5 new songs and are working on the next 5 which will complete the next album.



To close, please let us know if there are any other things about the band you’d like to let people know about and let us know what is on the horizon for Zandelle!

One major change involved the website. Due to technical difficulties we had to move the site from it's original domain to www.zandelle.net.

Other than that, we look forward to playing live in front of all our fans so even if we're not coming to your area in the near future, we will be there sooner or later. We are a very determined bunch of individuals and together we are an unstoppable force.


Official band website

CD Review:
Zandelle - Twilight on Humanity

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