Ken Jacobsen of Unleashed Power
Interviewed by EvilG in April 2000
Unleashed Power, the name says it all. This band is all about powerful METAL with a power/thrash edge. The brains behind this band is guitarist Ken Jacobsen, who’s crunchy thick rhythms will leave your head banging and your metal heart fulfilled. By no means is this simple music. In both lyrical content and composition this is some pretty heady stuff that might take you a couple of listens to appreciate. Their new EP Absorbed keeps growing on me each time I spin it. If you are a fan of intense aggressive power metal then you have to take a listen to these guys. The below interview is with Unleashed Power’s Ken Jacobsen.
Lets start out with a few questions about your newest EP Absorbed. Firstly – why did you decide to record an EP as opposed to a full length album?
Well I really didn’t decide to record an EP. It was more a few songs that I had left over from the Mindfailure session and it wasn’t enough songs to make a whole album. There was supposed to be these extra tracks. People liked them so much that I decided to record a few more songs and make an EP out of it. We had one song from when the other ones were written so it fit together in a good way. The title song “Absorbed” is actually a new song and it was more of an experiment because I tried to write it in a different way. The recording, setup and pre-production was different. It worked out really well. There was the singer issue too – at the time. We were in a major transition time so I felt this would be a good thing to do to tie it all together. We were kind of waiting around for a couple of years because we had a lot of problems a couple of years ago with different things. The EP was a natural progression.
So “Absorbed” was the new song. As for the others, were they written during the Mindfailure period?
They are much older than that. They were from the original batch of songs the band had way back to the Quintet of Spheres, out debut album. They didn’t get recorded anytime or get produced or get any attention in the beginning of the band so I felt that it was really important because I thought the songs were really cool and I liked them a lot.
Two of the tracks on Absorbed were sung by your new vocalist Len Jarrell. How has reaction been so far to his addition to the band?
It’s been overwhelmingly positive, a lot more positive then I had hoped for. He’s a great singer so he has a lot of recognition for this. As far as that’s concerned, I was really psyched about it. I didn’t know what to expect from this EP quite frankly. The response to it so far has been unbelievable – it really has, I’m not exaggerating. I didn’t expect this kind of a response from this EP in general – both with the vocals and the production and the songs especially. People have been really liking it, I guess it hits a nerve. Being the musician/songwriter it’s very hard to relate to it that way. You never know what to expect.
Upon initially listening to Absorbed I didn’t right away pick up on the two vocalist thing. It wasn’t until I really had a good listen that I noticed slight differences and that it was your new vocalist on these tracks because his vocal style is similar to Brian’s.
I’ll take that as a compliment. It was done deliberately, to a certain degree. Len had certain elements that I needed to emphasize but the song is the song first and foremost. The song has to be the primary objective here. Those were the kind of lyrics and vocal style that needed to be done. He did an excellent job.
So why did vocalist Brian Chaffee leave? Is he still in any band now or has he given up on the music business altogether?
I’m not sure…as far as he’s concerned it was a very awkward situation…I don’t want to sit here and rip somebody ya know? But basically he cost us a tour. That was not a good vibe at the time and we had said a lot of things, it was a lot of work. Basically…I think he has a problem with the stage, but that’s about as far as I’m going to talk about that (laughs). I really don’t want to be negative. He’s a great singer and everything and a great musician in general so I think he’s basically just doing his solo project.
Tell me how you found Len Jarrell and how you hooked up.
There was a friend of mine that had a recording from his previous band, Surgeon, which was a Texas based band in the mid-90’s. This guy had gotten the CD and given it to me and I thought the vocalist was very good. Then when the time came, I gave him a call and asked him to fill in for some shows. He came up and we hit it off right away. Since then it’s been pretty cool that way.
About the lyrics on Absorbed – I assume you are the primary lyricist? I really like the lyrics to the song “Absorbed” – what inspired you to write a song about trends, conformity, individualism…all that kinda stuff.
(Haha) Well, it’s the essence of heavy metal (laughs) first and foremost. Second of all, I got SO sick of seeing all these idiotic trends that were going on a few years back. I still think they are going on. It’s like pseudo-70’s and a little bit of the 60’s but it’s not like their own identity. You know I’m talking about the boots and the flower power pants and alternative metal or rock – whatever you want to call it. All that stuff has been done a million times before and its sloppy and everybody is like “Oh she has those shoes, I’d better get those shoes” or oh now this is the flavor of the month in heavy metal so we gotta have baggy pants or whatever…and oh now it’s retro and we gotta run out and make retro guitars. I saw that with the guitar companies and stuff like that. After a while I really got fed up. It’s like give me a break! Just do what YOU believe in and do what you want to do because that’s what really matters. All this trend crap just comes and goes. It’s funny because it was almost like a worldwide plague at one time but it’s kind of fading a little – thank goodness. But yes it’s still bad, but it’s waning a little and maybe people are building a little bit of immunity to it.
Besides things like that, that piss you off, what inspires you to put pen to paper and write some lyrics?
Lately I’ve been on this trip about there’s this serious lack of team spirit with a lot of people these days. It’s about being individualist. I know it sounds like an oxymoron compared to what I just said but people are very selfish. They try to conform to get ahead – relating to the “Absorbed” song. But basically I see and meet a lot of people who have no idea of what a team spirit is. In the sense of – what does it matter is you have a good goalie if the rest of the team can’t play? I’ve seen that trend in the past year or two and that’s definitely been fuel to some songs. I also think that there is a spiritual void, in general, that’s kind of nagging me a little bit. It’s very materialistic right now. I also think that people really don’t care about much. They go to work and come back home and watch a movie. There’s no enthusiasm about anything. It’s great to be a fan of something and it’s almost like a curse word these days like “Ohhh you like THAT?!?!” That doesn’t make any sense to me. People don’t go out as much as they used to. They just sit in front of their computer and get spoon fed. It’s the same ting with TV. Like working all day in front of a computer then come home and go in front of the TV….from one screen to the next. Instead of going out and experiencing some things. There’s a lot of things going on. Another thing is with the MP3. It was great when it first came out. It was like a new way of doing things as far as getting promotion for bands and stuff like that but now it’s turning on it’s rear end. I see a trend coming now where with MP3 people expect to get free music. Like…HELLO, it cost money to record these songs and it takes money to feed the musicians that are doing it. You can’t spend years on something and not get paid for it. That doesn’t cultivate a good scene and that bothers me a bit…the record companies and publishers and a few others don’t fight for it enough because everybody is going to suffer at the end. It’s great to have free music to a certain point. But let’s face it, you get what you pay for, and if you’re not paying anything then musicianship and the music quality will drop.
You’re not against a site distributing, with permission, one MP3 from an album though?
No, it’s more the mentality of people that I’m talking about. I’m not talking about actually having an MP3 on a website because we have it and you have it so that’s great. But it’s the expectance of a person sitting on their computer saying “hey, why should I buy music when I can get it for free?” I see that mentality a lot and you can’t do that. You can download and check it out to see if you like it or not without having to go out and buy it, just like you would with a radio station. It doesn’t go beyond that point. When you have somebody who goes out and finds the whole thing on the Internet, and gets it for free…that bothers me because sooner or later you will be listening to very poorly produced music because there’s no money and you know everybody is hurting right now. I have the 80’s to compare to here, I’m old (laughs). I remember in the 80’s there was a lot more money in heavy metal, so the productions were more lavish. But don’t me wrong about this because I’m not going in the other camp either. I think there has to be a middle ground here where somebody will say it’s cool to put MP3’s and other sound formats on the site and let people check out the bands as a promotional tool but the line ends where it’s expected that music is supposed to be free. Then you have a problem because you expect something for free.
And it isn’t made for free…
No, it’s not made for free and the effort behind it isn’t. One of the rules of any business is that you’ve got to put a value to something. If it has no value, then it’s being treated as if it has no value. In other words, it doesn’t get respect and it certainly won’t sell anything because it’s free.
About the drummer that played on the EP and on the Mindfailure CD, J?rg Michael, who is now in Stratovarius. I’m curious how did you originally hook up with him?
I had heard him play on a few albums. He has a pretty big name in Germany, even about ten years ago he had a pretty good reputation. I’ve been doing this for a while, so I know people around the world so I started asking around, especially in Germany, about the guy who was on the Mekong Delta albums, etc. Because I had just lost my drummer at that time, he had quit altogether playing, he was totally discouraged. I had called a few people and this big German magazine called Rock Hard, I think right now it’s the biggest metal magazine in the world, but at the time they were not that big and they hooked me up with J?rg on the phone and we talked for a while and I flew over to Germany and we started talking and I played him the new material and he was interested. We ended up in a bunker in Germany rehearsing and we ended up recording in a bunker too (laughs) which was strange. But basically he’s a pretty sought after drummer so unfortunately at this point in time, he got another offer he couldn’t refuse. So right now we are in a major transition that way.
So while he was recording with you guys was he a hired musician or was a part of the band?
It was a little bit different for me because at the time I was only focusing on the music, songs and recording process. I never made it a point to determine if he was a permanent member or if he was gonna be a studio musician or whatever. It just turned out that at that time we hit it off really well and we liked each other so…but there comes point though where the business interferes with the relationship, you gotta eat you know. So he got another offer after, maybe a year or two afterwards.
Will you be using J?rg for any future recordings and are you looking for a drummer now?
I don’t think so and we have somebody else lined up.
Any names yet??
I can’t do that, but you’ll be the first to know.
Cool! I was wondering if you were a fan of Jorg’s recent material with Stratovarius and what you think of his drumming in that because it’s different from your style of metal with Unleashed Power.
Well let’s put it this way. He told me that this kind of material that we’re doing in Unleashed Power pushes his abilities to the very limit, if not over his limits. He had to be at his peak in order to perform this at all times. Whereas in Stratovarius he doesn’t have to work as hard. Of course they are a bigger band then Unleashed Power, that helps too. They also have a lot more girls at their shows, so those type of things ya know (laughs) they play a big role. I think Stratovarius is a good band, I just don’t think it shows what he has, but maybe he doesn’t need to anymore.
Has the lack of a drummer stopped you from playing live shows?
Oh yeah, it’s been the biggest battle that I’ve ever fought for the last two years now, three years maybe. Finding a drummer to play in this band is the biggest challenge I’ll ever have (laughing). It’s really difficult, I’ve really had a tough time. The list never was over 15 guys that could do it. And I don’t want to sound arrogant about this, but literally, people can’t play this, it’s so technical. I’ve changed my attitude towards it a little bit. I know it’s going to require some investment in order for somebody to deal with my mental illness here (laughs) regarding the material. That’s basically what this one guy said “man you’re crazy, it will take me a while to figure out how crazy you really are.” As long as you figure it out in a reasonable amount of time – I’m talking about the material of course.
Have you been able to play any shows in support of Mindfailure or the Absorbed EP?
No, we haven’t done shows for a few years now. We’ve been dead in the water for the last two years, that’s why I was lucky that I could do this EP because otherwise nothing would of happened in the past year.
Now that you are lining up a drummer, do you see yourself playing some shows in the coming year?
I think we need to do another album first. I have three albums written now. There is a lot of material and it’s piling up on me. There’s an album and a half that is completely done from start to finish and I need to record those songs or this is going to drag on forever. We are kind of in the planning stages right now where the minute we get the drummer into the situation which will probably happen sometime in July, we’ll start working on pre-production for the album and do shows at the same time. In other words we’ll start working on the recording and at the same time we’ll do shows. I think it will give a different vibe to the album if we do it that way. It might take a little longer but it might be interesting for me because I’ve never done it that way before. It’s always been like this intense studio mentality where you just get in and work your butt off for three months and it comes out the other end then take a break and work some more.
So how has the written material been sounding? Is it similar to the song “Absorbed”?
Well “Absorbed” is the stepping stone song, trend-setter, for the next Unleashed Power album. It is much more song orientated. If you listen closely to “Absorbed” you’ll hear that I’ve changed my way of thinking quite a lot – as far as the arrangement is concerned compared to all the other songs. It taught me a lot about the way to do things. So the new material will probably be more polished in that way and more well rounded and still have the intensity of Mindfailure. As a matter of fact, I’m able to get 85% of the song-writing process, so there’s no ifs ands or buts about how the song is gonna be by the time we record it. Whereas in the past there was very big uncertainties of how things would sound. Some of the parts on Mindfailure are a little long for me now that I listen back to it. Some of it could of been cut down or some transitions could of been better…those type of problems I don’t have anymore. I able to, very early on in the production and writing stage, say “ok these songs fit well together.” So you have all these songs that will fit well together as a whole, rather than as an individual song. I think that’s one of the things you’ll notice on Absorbed – there’s more contrast between the songs then on Mindfailure. Mindfailure has a much more uniform sound to it and it might be a little too much when you listen to the whole album. Absorbed is much more dynamic – that’s the word I would use, dynamic.
I‘d like to talk a bit about your rhythm guitar sound which I think is amazing and extremely brutal but it doesn’t sound noisy or too distorted. Tell me how you get your sound – it is straight amp/guitar or are you using any effects on it?
Well first and foremost I have really fat chubby hands (laughs)…so the sound has to be meaty. Right off the bat, that’s half of my sound. The other half is that I play very hard and aggressive. I’m not talking about being ahead of the beat, I just like to pound at it and keep it steady. Actually on the new material I’m trying to tone down the distortion level a bit to get more of a distinction out of my picking. I’m actually getting more and more simplified in that way than I used to be. I don’t use a lot of effects, hardly any effects on the guitars. I have a tendency to double it up quite a few times. There are places on Mindfailure, for example, that have like 40 guitars at once.
Did you say 40!?!
Yeah, or more. Actually there are more. We used to call them “fans” where you would have 16 guitars playing a keyboard type of thing instead of using keyboards. We have these effects in the background that sounds like keyboards or an orchestra or something. Those are things that take quite a few tracks to do (laughs). In general I have 8 rhythm guitars at all times…usually. On “Absorbed” it was a little more complicated, I have maybe 14 at some points. It depends. I like to layer things to give it a dynamic level and to give it that fat big sound.
Do you use slightly different guitar sounds for each recorded rhythm track?
Yeah, I use different guitars actually. I don’t change the basic sound, I just change guitars. A Les Paul or a Jackson or whatever I have lying around. It gives it a fuller sound. But I’m actually getting away from that a little bit because it can also take a little bit of the distinction out of the playing when it’s layered that much. Sometimes it’s appropriate, other times it’s not as appropriate. I like to play with it more than I used to. I used to have it all written down on a piece of paper with “I’m gonna do this here and this…” it would be like a roadmap of all the guitars that had to be done. Nowadays I can do it more in my studio, so I can play with it much, much more than I used to. Being able to record in my own studio has opened avenues that I’ve never thought of before, it’s really a great creative tool.
Are you recording all the stuff yourself – the drums, the bass, the guitars…or do you have anyone else helping with the sound in the studio?
Well I work a lot with this guy Tom Anderson who is a master engineer. He’s done like maybe 2000 albums or something like that. He’s been a great mentor to me as far as the technical aspect of it with the recording equipment and techniques. We like to work together because we like to push the envelope and be a little extreme at times. He’s been around quite a lot. He’s very technically minded and he has a lot more experience in certain areas than I have so it’s kind of nice to have somebody to depend on. He basically does most of the mixes. The number one thing I have a problem with is mixes because I’m too close to it. It becomes very difficult for me to be objective after a while.
So you do have your own studio that you do the recording in?
Yeah, actually we mixed Absorbed in my studio. It was definitely the trippiest experience (as far as the mix is concerned) I’ve ever had because I would be sitting in my living room then going out in my studio, take a listen, go back to the living room (laughs). I’m used to being in a recording studio somewhere.
Do you record any other bands or is it just your own material that you record?
Well I’ve done other bands but I haven’t had the opportunity lately. There’s no recording budget for anybody and freebies are a thing of the past now, I can’t do that anymore – there’s been a lot of conflicts around that.
I was curious about what your relationship is to Verdict Entertainment – are you just signed to them or do you work with them as well?
I’m a part owner.
Is anyone else signed to Verdict yet?
It’s a very new company, it’s not even a year old.
Didn’t it used to be called Sort or something??
Sort was a company out of New York that I was also part owner of. But this company is different people and it’s a different perspective on things. We do a lot of marketing and stuff like that. We’re probably going to end up doing more marketing for people in the future.
And do you hope to get any other metal bands on board with Verdict?
Yeah, we’re only going to deal with metal, because that’s what we know. I hope to expand the production facility here and be much more of a creative company, rather then a business in the sense of marketing and stuff like that. I’m hoping we can get more involved in music production but also we have a good foundation as far as graphic design and web design and stuff like that to work from and I hope we can expand that because we have a lot of talented people working on this right now.
What’s the reason for referring to the band as U.P. and then Unleashed Power – is there any legal reasons or is it just the short form of the band?
Its the short form. It’s been the biggest thorn on my side for a long time (laughs). I never really thought about it too much, but I should have. It’s like one of the details that kinda slipped through the cracks and now it’s haunting me.
Everybody asks about it then?
Well first and foremost “U dot P dot” (U.P.) really doesn’t go with the Internet. I didn’t know that 5-6 years ago when it came around, but it really is anti-Internet friendly. Unleashed Power is Internet friendly, so we are trying to get back to the Unleashed Power part of it with the domain name and stuff like that.
Yeah you can’t get u.p.com….too many dots!
Exactly, and if you search on “U.P.” it doesn’t come up with anything. There’s like millions of (results).
A typical question – but one that will help people who haven’t heard Unleashed Power yet better understand where you are coming from. What would you say are your main influences?
Well I’m a big Thin Lizzy fan, but I know we don’t sound much like them but I love that band (laughs). I think they created some masterpieces as far as I’m concerned. I’m a big Judas Priest fan and I think Judas Priest are one of the bands that have evolved over the years from when they started in the 70’s to what they are now. I’m very impressed with them in that way that they keep going and keep being inspired and renewing themselves. It’s a very big inspiration, just to see those guys really working their butts off still. Personally I was a part of the thrash wave of the 80’s. You know – Anthrax, Metallica, Overkill, all those bands. I’m the same age as most of those bands, so I was part of that whole scene from the mid 80’s through the early 90’s. So you can’t help but sound a little bit like that when you’re a part of something like it. I’m really into classical music too and I like jazz but…that’s good to keep everything in perspective of what heavy metal could be because right now heavy metal has taken a down slope for a while and it’s not getting better musicians. It’s been a little discouraging that way and I hope it turns around and becomes more of an early 90’s / late 80’s mentality where people were trying to really become good musicians and push and practice to become a premiere musician. That mentality has not been around for a while. What I’m trying to say, to make a long story short, is that in the last 5-6 years not much has inspired me. It’s been kinda sloppy and not very interesting. But I do think that a few bands have stood out. Maybe Coroner in the early 90’s and lately I think Messegguh is a very good band. There are some Canadian bands that really blew my mind like Oblivion and Martyr from Montreal.
How about ANNIHILATOR?!?!?
Annihilator is cool too, but again that’s back in the late 80’s power/thrashing (ed. note: I think Ken should check out their new CD “Criteria For a Black Widow – godly stuff hehe). But I think they are a very good band, depending on what album we are talking about of course. They change quite a lot (laughs) or I’d say he has changed quite a lot.
Is there any last word or news you can pass along to people who check this out?
Hmmm…I think I’ve pretty much been blabbing my ass off for a while now (laughing).
Yeah, that’s good, lots of information….Thanks!!