Heart of Steel: Interviews

Mike Vescera and Joe Stump
of The Reign of Terror

Interviewed by Rick
Additional questions by JP

The Reign of Terror recently released their latest CD CONQUER AND DIVIDE on Leviathan Records. I recently had the opportunity to pose these questions to both vocalist Mike Vescera and guitar player Joe Stump.

The new CD is called CONQUER AND DIVIDE. Its a more aggressive CD than 2001s SACRED GROUND. What accounts for the harder edge to the music?

Mike: It just sort of happened that way. We knew we wanted to make a heavier more aggressive CD this time out.

Joe: I just let everything flow and see what happens. The tracks for Conquer and Divide just happen to turn out this way. I didn't have a particular vision or concept other than I wanted the tunes to be heavy, fast and quite dark and also have the over the top guitar vibe that all my solo records do



The CD is getting rave reviews and I have seen it in a number of top 20 lists of the best CDs of 2002. Are you happy with the way CONQUER AND DIVIDE came out and how do you feel it compares to SACRED GROUND?

Mike: I am very pleased with the reviews I have seen so far. I am happy the way it came out, I just think it is a heavier record than Sacred Ground and much more in your face sounding.

Joe: Well I think with every record you always look back and think about aspects of it you wish turned out better. But guitar-wise it's definitely my finest hour. I couldn't be more pleased with my work in that regard. Sacred Ground had it's moments but it was a bit sterile and to polished. A lot of the Euro-power metal stuff is all kind of like that, too generic sounding. I think I was trying a bit too hard to fit into that niche with Sacred Ground. Conquer and Divide is way more in your face.



One of my favourite songs on the CD is "No Limits". To me it sounds like an aggressive update of 70s Rainbowesque metal. Was that a conscious decision or was it merely how the song came out?

Mike: Merely how the song came out. I think the fact the Joe and I are such big fans of Rainbow (Dio era more so) it really shows in a song like this.

Joe: Yes that's the Rainbow vibe all the way, any excuse for me to utilize my obvious Blackmore influences. I made it a bit derivative on purpose, but just like you said an aggressive speed metal updated version of Rainbow.



Some of the other great songs on the CD are "Forsaken", "No Limits" and the title track. Do you have any favourites?

Mike: No, not really. I like them all about the same

Joe: I love those and another favorite of mine is "No Forgiving", that  and "Forsaken" might be the two best guitar solos I've ever recorded. Just like No Limits has the Rainbow vibe, No Forgiving is a page right out of Yngwie's book. A nod to his great influence if you will. To me it sounds like an updated aggressive version of something you'd hear on Trilogy.



There isn't a cover song on this CD like the last couple of Reign of Terror discs. Were you working on any in the studio and they just didn't make the CD or did you guys decide to stay away from a cover for this release?

Mike: Actually, we did 2 covers, both Rainbow tunes, "Sixteenth Century Greensleeves" and "Starstruck". They are bonus tracks on the Japanese versions (or at least one of them is (I think).

Joe: There are two covers, just not on the American release. Both Rainbow (of course) "Starstruck" on the Japanese version, that was Mike's idea he really wanted to sing that one. I wanted to do Light in the Black also from Rising but it's a fast tune and just about every tune of ours on the disc is up tempo. And "16th Century Greensleeves" for Europe complete with a  lengthy guitar intro that's based on the Live On Stage rendition of that track. That came out great.



CONQUER AND DIVIDE was released on Leviathan Records while SACRED GROUND was on LMP. Why isn't LMP involved this time around?

Mike: I am not really sure what happened with LMP. I think it started getting a bit strange there and we decided it was in out best interest to no release it with them.

Joe: LMP wanted first release and couldn't put it out until next year, meaning no one else could release it either. It came out in Japan in Oct. and the states in Nov.



For the SCARED GROUND CD I interviewed Joe and he seems to be very passionate about his music with a definite idea about what he wants The Reign of Terror to sound like. Was it difficult to join a band with a such an impassioned and meticulous leader?

No, not at all. Joe and I met when I was with Yngwie. We became friends before anything, so it was quite easy.



You originally were going to only produce SACRED GROUND? But you ended up as a member of The Reign of Terror. Can you tell us how that came about? 

Joe originally asked me to guest on the CD (1 or 2 songs) and record and produce it with him. As time went on, it just sort of happened that way.



The production on CONQUER AND DIVIDE is much rawer than on SACRED GROUND. Was it a conscious decision to move away from the slicker sound of the last disc?

Yes, we decided early on that we wanted a more raw and aggressive sounding CD this time. We kept that frame of mind through the whole recording process. There is really not a ton of overdubs and tracks, just really straightforward.



How did you get into producing? What other bands besides The Reign of Terror have you produced?

I have always had a part in the production of every record I've made, from Obsession, to Loudness to Yngwie. When I left Yngiwie I just got more serious about producing. I've produced to date: Dr. Sin (Insinity and II), Ron Keel's Iron Horse, Bobby Blotzer and John Corabi's Twenty4Seven CD, I mixed Jamie St. James recent CD (American Man), Crucible (prog band from here in the Northeast) 2 CDs of theirs (Tall Tales and Curtains), of course my solo CDs and I am presently working on Mike Chlasiak's Pain Museum CD.



How is the creative process different from behind the microphone as compared to behind the mixing board? Which do you prefer, singing or producing?

I honestly like both about the same. Of course my main thing is being a singer and there is nothing like playing for people all over the world. Being behind the desk is a great deal more work, there's much more to think about (technically and creatively). You have to be very open minded when working with other artist as well.



Will the band be touring behind this release and if so who will you be going on the road with?

We may do a few shows here in the Northeast, but we would like to tour Europe if the right offer comes up.



For the last tour you went out with Steel Prophet and Helstar. How was that tour and do you feel it raised the profile of The Reign of Terror?

That tour was a lot of fun, both of the other groups were very cool and everyone worked together quite well. I'm not sure if it raised the profile of the group.



In live situations, do you do any of your solo material or material from your other bands such as Loudness or Obsession? Or do you keep strictly to The Reign of Terror material?

Once in a while we will do "Soldier of Fortune" (Loudness), "Crash and Burn" (Yngwie) or "Strawberry Fields" (MVP) , but we've never done any Obsession.



 You have been one of the premier vocalists in metal for quite a number of years. To what do you credit your longevity and how do you keep your voice in tip top shape?

I'm not really sure, I guess I just hang in there and never give up. I sing quite a bit, I think that's the most important thing for keeping my voice in shape.



Tell us about Obsession. Have you guys had an offers to reform?

We have had offers, and if the right offer was presented we would love to make another Obsession CD. I still see Jay Mezias, the drummer quite a bit and we've spoken about it. The other members would most likely only guest on the CD but we would try to get them involved as much as possible.



You were the vocalist for Yngwie Malmsteen for a couple of albums. The story is that he is a very hard man to work with. What was your relationship like with Yngwie and would you consider working with him again?

I am not sure if I would work with Yngwie again. Musically it's quite easy to work with Yngiwe, it's the outside bullshit that is very difficult. My relationship with Yngwie at the time I sang with him was very good. I have not spoken with him in some time so I couldn't really say for now.



You were also briefly a member of the Japanese band Loudness. Can you tell our readers how you came about joining that band and what were the high points of working with them and recording the classic album SOLDIER OF FORTUNE.?

The co-producer of Soldier (Roger Probert) had approached Enigma Records (my label at the time) to find a singer for Loudness. They had auditioned many people and been thru a thousand demos of guys but weren't happy about any of them. Enigma suggested me for the gig. Loudness already had known of me and were very interested when they found out I might be interested in the gig. They flew me to Tokyo for and audition and the rest is history. The high point of Soldier was probably the fact that I was singing for Loudness and Max Norman. Max was a great producer and I learned a lot from him.



On your MVP CD WINDOWS you covered "Strawberry Fields" which was originally written by the Beatles. Have you thought about doing an album covering some of your favourite tunes?

Possibly at one point in time that would be cool. I have thought about it but always seem to be too involved with something else.



Do you have a favourite (or least favourite) project that you have worked on? And do you have any other projects that you are working on that you would like to share with the readers of Metal-Rules.com

Not really, all of them are special in some way. I'm just now releasing my 3rd solo CD  The Altar It will released by Mascot Records in Europe, Avalon in Japan and we're still working on the States. I will be supporting that this year. 



Thanks Mike, If there is anything else you would like to say to the readers of Metal-Rules.com now is the time!

I would just like to say "Thank You" to everyone who has supported me through the years and hopefully I'll see on tour this year. Best Regards!!


The cover for CONQUER AND DIVIDE is an interesting picture which seems to be Satan on his throne? Who did the artwork and how does it tie in with the concept of the album?

Chris Mcarvill did the cover, it's an adaptation of a 16th century Gustaf Dore painting. I just told him I wanted something very dark and gothic and pointed him in the right direction.



Your last solo CD 2001: A SHRED ODYSSEY is getting rave reviews. Do you have any plans to release another instrumental solo CD?

Yes I'll be doing a new full on studio instrumental album to be released later in 2003. I've got all the music written. It's gonna be some of the usual totally sick neo-classical and speed metal stuff mixed with a healthy dose of retro type Hendrix influenced material.



I know you are a big fan of Yngwie Malmsteen. He has just released his latest CD ATTACK. Have you heard it and what do you think of it?

Yes of course, I think it's a real strong record. Yngwie's been bringing it since 83-84 and 20 years later his playing still has that killer instinct. Overall it's a great effort, great tone, heavy tunes and some killer instrumentals. He's gone back to making darker, heavier guitar dominated records and as a fan I think it's great.



How did you get your start in the music business?

 Ever since I was 15 I've never wanted to do anything else but play guitar. I grew up in New York played clubs and bars all throughout high school. After that went to music College at Berklee. After that toured around in various cover bands working 4-5 nights a week. Then I was in a metal band Trash Broadway back in 87-90 we were signed then to Torrid records, they put out the first Exodus and Hades albums. After that disbanded I started to solicit my solo material to labels myself and got the deal with Leviathan. And I've been making records ever since, almost 10 years now.



Your career started to take off in an age of down tuned angst ridden teen rock and alternative. How did you prevail playing a style that is commercially unpopular?

 I thought all that stuff sounded like shit. Not too many people were making cool guitar records back then so I guess I started to make the kinds of albums that as a fan I would've liked to listen to. And as it turned out there were quite a few people who still wanted to hear great guitar even during that period of alterna-crap.



Do you listen to or admire other shredders in the guitar world, artists like Michael Angelo or Dr. Frankenshred?

Both Mike and the good Dr. Frankenshred are both monster players. And there are a ton of great shredders and I've heard quite a few of them. But when I go to listen to guitar it's usually one of my favorite players that I'll put on -Blackmore, Hendrix, Yngwie, Michael Schenker, Uli Jon Roth, Gary Moore. I've been listening to all those guys for over 20 years now.



For all the guitarists out there can you tell us a bit about your gear?

I have an ESP endorsement. They've built me five custom shop Strats and those are my main guitars. They have scalloped fretboards, locking tuners, Dimarzio pickups, alder bodies and are real nice incredibly well made guitars. Amp wise I have a ton of old Marshalls, mostly 50 watt Mark II`s from the 70`s .I also use an Engl Ritchie Blackmore signature model head (great sounding amp). I've recently got an endorsement with Rhino  amplification and I'm using one of their amps called The Beast, another  great sounding amp. Effects include an old dod 250 preamp, dunlop cry baby and roto-vibe, a old Korg sdd 3000 digital delay and an array of Boss stompboxes, chorus, flanger, delay and octave box. A more detailed equipment setup is listed in the gear section of Joe Stump.com



Steve Vai, Paul Gilbert, Dave Mustaine and many other guitarists have a signature series guitar. Do you have or have you thought about having a signature series guitar line?

JOE STUMP: Well the last guitar ESP built me was one they called the Joe Stump custom S. And many fans have emailed me asking if they would make a production model, but I think I'd have to be selling a lot more records before that happens.



What made you want to form a band? With your solo career I assume you would have more flexibility and creative control? 

Well I have just as much control over the band as I do my solo projects. One's just with vocals as opposed to instrumental.



Is there anything else you would like to say to the readers of Metal-Rules.com?

Just a sincere thanks to all the fans who've supported my past efforts and please check out Conquer and Divide, if you love guitar then I'm sure you'll really enjoy it.


Thanks Guys!

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