IMAGIKA Band Interview
Interviewed By EvilG
The world’s best unsigned/indie metal band, Imagika, are back with another killer album – MY BLOODIED WINGS. In this interview we talk to the band about the music business, the bands direction, the new album, touring, etc. Enjoy!
First of all, congrats on the release of MY BLOODIED WINGS! For us fans, this album was a lot quicker coming that the long wait for DEVILS ON BOTH SIDES! ha! Besides self-releasing your earlier albums, you’ve been involved with a number of labels such as WWIII, Mausoleum, Crash… Does the business side of things get frustrating when you are continually forced to jump ship?
Steve: Of course! Just to set things straight, Imagika has never been signed to a label. We license our CDs to labels to release in whatever territory the label can handle etc. We get zero support from the label(s) because they’re not investing a lot in the band. Imagika has tried to sign with labels in the past and it just has never been in the cards. So instead of fucking whining about it we make the CD out of our own pocket and find some label to release it.
How are things going with Crash Music so far, or is it too early into the release of MY BLOODIED WINGS to say?
Steve: Don’t really know yet. I know they sent some promos out, but I don’t think they e going to go out of their way to do anything special for the band. Goes with what I was saying before. Small investment = little effort on the labels part. Of course, we’re completely aware of the fact that they’ll just throw the CD out there and hope it sells a few copies to make a couple bucks and that’s all. We’re just involved with them to get the CD out to fans that want it and hopefully it’ll be a little easier this time than it’s been in the past because of the distribution. Either that or we would be still be sitting on this CD.
Crash are handling the CD for North America, has a label licensed the CD for Europe yet?
Steve: Nope. Really kind of strange this time around because we’ve always had a deal overseas and nothing happening in North America.
You’ll be doing a video, the band’s first, for “Hunter’s Moon” this August. What made you pick that song over the others?
Steve: This is not going to happen because the company/director we were working with pulled out/had issues at the last minute. This is after weeks of planning and there was no way we could switch gears to another company/director to get it done so we shelved the idea for now. And since this was going be the band flipping the bill we decided to invest in shit that was going be more important in the long run. The video would have been done months after the release of the CD and I know Crash wouldn’t have done shit with it, so that’s that.
Has there ever been times when any of you felt like packing it in due to business shit, or perhaps when original vocalist David Michael threw in the towel after recording most of his vocals for the DEVILS ON BOTH SIDES (2005) album (vocals that were afterwards scrapped when new vocalist Norman Skinner joined)…that had to be quite frustrating?!
Steve: Yeah I don’t think you can run a band on our level and not think about packing it in when shit like this happens. I mean you say to yourself “I’m fuckin wasting my money on this for what again?” But we keep doing it because we actually enjoy our own music and because it just has to piss off the a-holes that always write crap on Blabbershit! HA! We’re not stupid and naive. We do get it that what we are doing is somewhat dated and not the next “Big Thing”. We just do this for ourselves first and everyone else second.
Norman, did you listen to the vocals that David did for DEVILS ON BOTH SIDES to get an idea of what might be required?
Norman: No, I didn’t want to hear them as I wanted my own fresh takes on the songs. I think had I heard his versions I would’ve written the songs more to his style than mine. I did however hear his tracks later. It’s very rare that a singer gets to hear what another vocalist would do with the same music. There were similarities in spots but ultimately many, many differences.
Does the band still have friendly contact with David, or since his departure have you lost contact?
Steve: Yeah we still talk to Dave, hang at some parties together etc.
Back in 1999, Imagika played some shows in Europe with Grave Digger and Iron Savior…since then the band hasn’t been to Europe. Have there been any offers to do a tour there and are there any plans to take Imagika over there in support of MY BLOODIED WINGS?
Steve: We’ll supposedly be doing some dates there in Oct./Nov. so let’s hope that all works out because we haven’t been there in years. We e tried to get on tours in the past, but again when you’re dealing with labels that have zero clout with agents, promoters etc. it’s not really going to happen. When we toured Europe with Grave Digger it was because of my friendship with Chris(singer), otherwise that never would have happened. We have a booking agency now in Europe so we’ll be touring there as a headliner with a Italian act as support. We’ll probably be playing backyard BBQs and old folk homes so it should rock! HA!
MY BLOODIED WINGS comes off as heavier than your previous release DEVILS ON BOTH SIDES. Was this intentional or just happened naturally?
Steve: Really? You know for me it’s just the next CD. The band puts together the best material at the time and we roll with it. This CD has way more leads and shredding and Norm took a very “metal” over the top vocal approach so maybe that’s why it seems heavier. Andy’s production helps a lot too.
Norman’s vocals on DEVILS ON BOTH SIDES were overall more melodic then they are on MY BLOODIED WINGS – do you feel that was dictated by the music, or did Norman also decide to sing more aggressively?
Steve: I think he decided to just go with a more aggressive style on some songs. I’m sure the music had something to do with it also. He’s been getting some shit because of the direction he took. Some reviewers didn’t like all the “metal” screams, but they can fuck off as far as I concerned because that’s what REAL Metal is all about. Maybe Norm will do all Death Metal growls the next time around to confuse people or maybe we’ll go emo metalcore! HA!
Norman: I wanted to get a bit more aggressive on this album as well as work my higher register. I figured the ballad was enough melody for the whole disc. Ha! The next album vocally will be just as aggressive but a bit more melodic like Devils was.
For a while, Imagika had a second guitarist, Pat Toms. What impact did he have on the band and what songs did he most influence?
Steve: He was responsible for most of the riffs on “The Darkest of All Secrets” and the intro riff to “Throw the Horns”. Plus, Pat and I traded leads in most of the songs. I think the guitar playing on this CD is really killer. I know I stepped it up a notch and so did Pat. As for impact on the band it made it a little fuller sounding live and took up more stage space plus it helped that he paid part of the rent…. Seriously it was pretty cool while it lasted, but Pat made the decision to go so we l have to deal with it.
Pat left the band just a couple months ago, prior to the release of MY BLOODIED WINGS. Was this a shock to the band and have you found a replacement?
Steve: Not really a shock, but a little perturbing none the less. I hate people that just quit when they can’t get their personal shit in order. Let’s just keep it at that. As for a replacement, we’re still looking. No one has lit my ass on fire yet so we’ll see what happens. I was the only guitarist in the band for years so we’ll go on with or without another guitarist, but I do like having the sound of two guitars in the band.
Will the second guitarist be a hired gun for live performances, or are you looking for a contributing member for songwriting/recording?
Steve: I’ll be quite honest regarding the writing aspect. I don’t really need much help writing. Never been an issue with me. Now some musicians think writing a riff here a riff there is being a songwriter, but sorry, that isn’t the case. So we’ll need to find someone who can play the material written and be able to record leads etc. as asked. That was an issue with Pat because he walked into a band that has been operating the way Imagika has for years and wanted to be a songwriter, but it wasn’t going to work. The band will tell you I have way more material than they can really even keep up with. This isn’t me going all “Jon Schaeffer” it’s just the way the band has done things from day one.
MY BLOODIED WINGS was mixed in Sweden by Andy La Rocque. How did that come about and what does he bring to the sound of Imagika that wasn’t there before?
Steve: I just contacted him because we were looking for someone to mix the CD and from past stuff I’ve heard, I thought Andy would be great. Plus we’re huge King Diamond fans. I liked that he made each band he works with sound different. It wasn’t one of those cookie cutter productions most of the large labels have now. Good or bad, it sounds like Imagika at this point of our career. Plus he needed some Protools shit and our drummer works for the company so that always helps! Andy was definitely not some asshole Rock Star and we had a goodtime working with him.
Could each of you pick a favorite song from the new album and tell us why you chose it?
Steve: Same as yours, “My Bloodied Wings”. I think the song is very cool with great playing by everyone on this song. Plus the lyrics are really in depth and it has some cool unique riffs.
Norman: My favorite is the title track “My Bloodied Wings”. It’s very epic sounding with some of the best riff changes to date for Imagika in my opinion. The lyrics are also very personal to me. I wrote this song as my marriage was ending and put all the emotion I had at the time into it.
Henry: From a drummers stand point its very fun to play: “Weaken”, “Throw the Horns”, “Inhuman” and “My Bloodied Wings”. They have some cool grooves mixed with aggression and I just have a blast playing them.
Elena: “Hunter’s Moon”, “Heart of Icarus”, “My Bloodied Wings” — we play those in a different/lower tuning. I love those the best because they are heavy, have lots of orchestration, and are intense. But, I also love “Throw the Horns”. That is a thrasher and I enjoy playing that one.
My current fav song on here is the title track “My Bloodied Wings”. I love the opening riffs that sound slightly different from the typical Imagika style. Tell me a bit about that song and how it ended up being the album’s title track.
Steve: Well the opening riff goes back to my old band Gotham. I’ve had it hanging around for years and since I knew Norm could probably do it justice I whipped it out and gave it a update to make it work. To me, the riff sounds like the Mission UK (a band I really dig) with some Zep thrown in. Then it hits those Thin Lizzy harmonies before going into Queensryche territory. I like the way it shows off some very classic influences and comes off as still being somewhat original. Since it was a pretty long track we figured it would make a good closer and the title had a cool vibe so it seemed a natural for the title track.
With an ever increasing back catalog, how do you choose your set list and what older songs do you feel are fan favorites that should include?
Steve: That pretty easy since we can’t remember how to play any of the real old songs we stick to the new ones! HA! There’s more truth to this than you l know! Seriously, we get a pretty good idea of what tunes work well live. “Evil’s Rising”, “Chaos to Murder”, “The Fallen One” are examples of tunes we play live. We really don’t go back any farther than the And So It Burns CD because that’s where people usually started hearing about the band a bit.
Norman, how do you approach singing the older material live? Do you try to copy the original or do you attempt to re-interpret the vocals?
Norman: I was an Imagika fan before joining the band so I love it when we play the older material. I sing it just the way it was written but add a bit of heaviness or a scream here and there.
Speaking of playing live, has the band ever considered recording a live DVD? I know this can get expensive and might require label support but is it something that you’re planning on at this time?
Steve: That would be cool, but without a label that would support it I think it would be real tough to pull off. Never can say never though.
Looking back at the many live shows you’ve done, what one(s) are most memorable and why?
Steve: Most important to me was our first show because we video taped it and man did we suck! That gave me a good sense of how much work needed to be done! Most memorable for me was the first night of the tour we did with Grave Digger. We played in Frankfurt to around a 1000 fans that didn’t know who the fuck we are and we pulled it off and made some fans and didn’t get bottled! We ended up doing our 45 minutes in about 30 since we were fuckin on fire with all the pressure to make a good first impression in Germany.
Henry: The tour in 99 was great just because we got to experience life on the road and I know Steve and I took to it like a fish to water. We played some shows with Agent Steel on the west coast and those were a blast – we meet a bunch of cool metal heads on that mini tour.
Elena, you got to jam with Metallica and you even appear in a short segment of the SOME KIND OF MONSTER DVD. What was that like and how close were you in the running for the bass position?
Elena: At the time I jammed with them, I didn’t make the connection that all the filming was for their movie. It was a cool experience, especially jamming the classic songs with them, because Cliff Burton is one of my favorite players and one of my first influences. I will honestly never know if they ever considered me for a real audition, though.
Considering how panned Metallica have been in metal circles for many years now, did you have any second thoughts about trying out?
Elena: I didn’t know of any actual open auditions, but I knew that, after Cliff, they always chose players with an already-established name — and, who the hell am I?????? ha ha ha! I never would have had a chance, although I could play the music with no problem, so I didn’t even entertain the thought of auditioning.
Through various sources, though, I did hear that Lars referred to me as a “female Geezer Butler” and that they were saying lots of positive things about me. I also heard that, because of that whole jam session with me, the question of them considering a female bass player was asked. But, that just wouldn’t happen.
Did the Metallica guys express any interest at all to know what band you were from? It could of been quite a break if they would let a band like Imagika open for them rather than the usual crappy bands they play with.
Elena: Isn’t that the truth! When I jammed with them, it was their “ReLaunch Party” — a special party for their fan club members, I believe. So, they were pretty swamped with people talking with them. I did speak with Lars briefly and gave him a flyer to one of our upcoming shows at that time (July 2002) even though I knew he wouldn’t show up! Otherwise, none of them talked with me about that but were very complimentary about my playing.
Henry, on the new album, one thing that stood out for me was your drum performance…just…WOW! Killer job, you’ve outdone yourself. The drum sound is also very well mixed.
Thanks man, that’s what it’s all about for me! Just to have one person enjoy what I play makes all the hard work worth it!
How do you come up with your drum parts? Is a lot of it improvised or do you listen back to the riffs and change things and work out patterns and fills on your own when not jamming?
I improvise all songs when I first hear them. Steve comes in with a song idea and has a basic arrangement to his riffs and I just play whatever inspires me. I usually have Steve and Elena play each section of a new song a few times until I work out the basic drum ideas, then I build it up and then trim off what I think is over kill. I keep the cool chops, and try to come up with some cool breaks with Elena. I have the opportunity to be playing with a great bassist and I think together we make one hell of a rhythm section! One of the BEST in the Bay Area!
How did the songs for the new album take shape? Steve, did you white the riffs mostly at home and them bring them to the band or do you write with members of the band in more of a jam environment?
Steve: Nope everything starts at home on the can, guitar in hand! We laugh about this all the time in the band. With 2 young kids it’s the only free time I have to write material. I usually write the tune and do a general arrangement. I’l bring it to the band and everyone starts to put their stamp on it and it becomes a song. Yeah,Yeah I’ve heard the one “so that’s why the tunes sound like shit!” already thanx!
Norman, even though “One More Day” is not one of my fav songs on the CD, it was great to include because you get to show a different side of your vocals with a more emotional ballad. What are your thoughts on doing these types of songs in a band like Imagika?
Norman: My overall thought was… “Are the fans going to like this?”. A ballad for a thrash band is definitely not common practice but then again Imagika is about trying different things. I thought we had enough of a Power Metal flavor to pull it off and I really think it turned out nicely. Will we do another one? …that remains to be seen. I think we were testing the waters on this one.
Are you still finding time for your other bands? If so, what’s the latest you’d like to let people know about?
Norman: My other projects always take a backseat to Imagika. When I get time I try to do as much as I can. Tramontane is finishing demo tracks for a new full length CD called “The End of Tribulation”. Fans of old Tramontane may be a bit surprised as this CD is very epic. It has classic power metal singing, Death vocals and even female opera vocals. It won’t be out until 2007 at the earliest. Machine Called Man released our first CD “2.004” and have just begun writing for our 2nd release. I’m not sure when that will happen. The “Legen Beltza” CD “Dimension of Pain” is being released in September I believe. Their track War of Wars features both Steve and myself as guest performers.
What kinda of things do you each keep busy with when you’re not working on something Imagika related?
Steve: I have 2 kids (5 and 7) that keep me plenty busy. Plus I have all those songs and shitting to keep me busy! HA!
Henry: I’m in a relationship so that keeps me busy, but I practice my drums as much as I can, and I also work at bettering my graphic art skills. And when time permits I like to play video games like Quake 4, F.E.A.R., Half-Life 2, etc.. Yeah busy guy I know.
Elena: My son!!! He’s three (an only child) and I am a stay-at-home mom, so he’s got complete control over me!!!
Being from the Bay Area of SF and playing a form of thrash metal, you have obviously all had the opportunity to open for or meet many of the bigger bands from the area. Who have been some of the coolest you’ve meet, and who have come off as being on the whole rockstar trip?
Steve: A couple of the guys in Heathen are cool. Paul from Exodus is cool. As for anyone else, you know we haven’t had much contact with them because if we play with bigger bands they are usually acts from overseas on tour etc.. We don’t get asked to play with local acts much. Exodus, Testament, etc. play around here quite a bit and we never get asked to do the shows. So figure it as you will. As for the “Rock Stars”, I don’t like to talk shit about other bands because I really could care less about their petty pathetic little problems.
Henry: The Nevermore guys have always been very cool with me. One of my favorite bands with one of my favorite drummers and when I have had the chance to hang out with them, they have always been cool! Good people! Ah, I just ignore the rockstar ego, I don’t waste my time with those idiots!
Since day one, many have said things about how Imagika are keeping alive the Bay Area thrash metal sound. As time has progressed, do you think that statement is still accurate? If you think it’s true, do you ever think when writing “this doesn’t sound enough like classic thrash metal” or do you just write stuff and it comes out as is?
Steve: No I don’t. Imagika is not a Thrash band. We never really were. Not in the Slayer, Kreator, Sodom, etc. sense. Not what I consider real Thrash. We have some of those ideas in our music but we really just write what we want. If it’s thrashy, cool. Progressive, cool. Whatever works and makes us happy we’ll go with.
Do you write or record songs that you don’t use? For example, songs that are either too mellow, too heavy, or just not fitting into the Imagika mold enough to use?
Steve: All the time. But I consider almost anything suitable for the band because it’s not as if I have some secret techno, disco, emocore shit I’m working on. I just try to keep a good balance of material going so we’re able to make the CDs have enough diversity throughout.
Looking back at your past releases, do you have a favorite, and a favorite song….beyond the stuff on the new album which a band always considers to be their best? hah!
Steve: Sure some stand out tunes for me from past CDs have been “Realize”, “The Fallen One”, Redemption”, “In Your Shadow”, “Back To The Beginning”.
Henry: There are favorites from every CD for me, but I tend to like a lot of the stuff on the WORSHIP, and DEVILS ON BOTH SIDES CD.
Norman: I still love many of the songs off DEVILS ON BOTH SIDES. “Evil’s Rising” & “Back To The Beginning” are still 2 of my favorite Imagika tunes.
To me, it seems like Imagika have always been on the verge of going to the next level in terms of popularity. Is this something you also feel and you happy enough with the level you’ve taken things too?
Steve: Yeah we’ve been on the verge for what, 13 years! HA! Of course we’d like to be able to sell more records, tour properly, have more fans etc. but it isn’t happening right now. We do get a little more of fan base each year, but it’s not as if it’s going to go through the roof. If we would have been on a bigger label that provided us with tour/media/radio support etc. it might have happened. But in all honesty we’ve always had the goods on a musical level, but have had some bad productions and not been involved with the right people in the business. Plus we’re always gotten flack for being un-original….Whatever!
Do you see yourselves continuing to release albums through smaller indie labels or even on your own for the foreseeable future or if you don’t get a big record deal within the next few years, do you think you need to change your style or approach…or (let’s hope not) retire from the music scene?
Steve: Well the big label thing isn’t going to happen. We all know that. Shit we have a hard enough time getting some half ass indie to even bother listening to our CDs! It could end tomorrow; it could be a couple years. I try not to plan that far off and just work on what needs to be done now. We won’t be playing any trendy shit soon because we’re way too old for that and no major label is going to sign a bunch of 30-somethings to a deal playing Metal. But we’ve done a lot of cool shit as a band and plenty of bands wish they could even get past the demo stage. I’ll always play whether it’s Imagika, myself or whatever.
Steve/Henry, considering you are the original members of the band, and you’ve been plugging away with Imagika since the early to mid-90’s, you must be playing in Imagika for reasons beyond becoming rock stars. So what is it that continues to keep you motivated, uncompromising, and keeping Imagika alive?
Steve: Stupidity!? No it’s just because it’s our music, our beliefs, our right to do it if we choose. I do it because it’s who I am. Being a Rock Star would have some nice bennies but it isn’t going to happen so hey, life goes on. I can’t complain!
Henry: I just love to play my drums and we have all worked hard to bring Imagika’s music to the masses. We do it because we are musicians first and love to play/create music. This is my passion and I will never stop until I die! This is the mark of my existence in this world, a verse that I contribute to the song called life.
Onto a lighter note…All your albums except WORSHIP and MY BLOODIED WINGS have fire on the cover. You also named one album AND SO IT BURNS. So who’s the pyromaniac and can we have the flames back for the next album? ha!
Steve: Sure! We’ll have flames all over the place. Well, our old singer was a flamer….Just shitting, but yeah I dig fire. Always have. I think it’s alive and beautiful to watch.
Henry: Haahaa who knows maybe the flames will return!
Fill in the blanks (if you want)…
Coolest person in metal is: Norman Skinner!
Biggest asshole in metal is: Norman Skinne!r
Biggest poseur in metal: Well it ain’t Norm, so I l go with Dave.
Worst sellout in metal: obvious – Metallica
Worst comeback: Metallica
Best Comeback: Priest
Style of metal you like the most: NWOBHM, Traditional.
Style of metal you hate the most (if there is any?): Metalcore, Emometal, Flower Metal oh and I really hate all these chick fronted metal bands I don’t like chicks singing metal ! Female vocals are cool, just not in Metal for me.
If there are any closing comments or news items you like to let people know about, here’s your place to plug it!
Steve: Thanx for all the support over the years! We do appreciate it.
Elena: Thanks for your neverending support of IMAGIKA!!
All the best and thanks for the music!!!!!!!!!