AGENT STEEL guitarist Juan Garcia & and vocalist Bruce Hall talk about the new album, ALIENIGMA
Interview by Luxi Lahtinen
Agent Steel have just finished the mixing process of the band´s 5 full-lenght album, ALIENENIGMA, with Bill Metoyer in charge to lead the ship. ALIENIGMA will also be released via Agent Steel´s new label Mascot Records. The band´s deal with their previous label, Italian Scarlet Records, came to an end with the 4-song EP titled EARTH UNDER LUCIFER. A multi-deal contract with the Holland-based label Mascot Records was signed in the beginning of 2007. Agent Steel also have a European tour coming up (starting from Frankfurt, Germany on September 5th 2007), but before jumping that far into the distant future, let´s hear what Agent Steel has to say about their new album ALIENIGMA. Let the band´s guitarist Juan Garcia and vocalist Bruce Hall tell you everything about that – amongst other interesting things as well…
Good day sirs over there in Malibu, California! How has life been treating all of you for the last couple of months?
Juan Garcia: Things are moving forward, a bit slow but sometimes that’s the way things are with AGENT STEEL when making a new record. We also just finished performing a few U.S. Live shows in Salt Lake City, San Diego, Milwaukee, and the response to the new songs have been phenomenal. We’ve been under a bit of pressure in finishing the new album because it needs to be delivered to the record company.
Bruce Hall: Life has been busy. Doing this as well as having day jobs keeps your days pretty full.
THE 5TH CHAPTER IN THE HANDBOOK OF AGENT STEEL: ALIENIGMA
Juan told me just recently that the final mixes for your forth-coming, new album ALIENIGMA, have been nearly completely finished or finished already. I guess it´s fair to say you are more than happy for Bill´s (Metoyer) contribution for this album as a producer, aren´t you?
Juan: Well, we thought we were done with the mixes a few weeks ago and a couple of the band members wanted some level adjustments, minor tweaks in the songs and of course this takes additional time, you can spend another few months mixing. For the most part we’re finished with the new album, and I’m very happy with Bill Metoyer’s contribution to the engineering and production of this album. Bernie Versailles also had his input as well with the mixes; everyone’s contributed to the new album. The official release date has been set for August 31st for Europe.
What made you choose Bill to produce this new Agent Steel album? I mean, you guys produced your previous album ORDER OF THE ILLUMINATI all by yourselves – and I think you did a hell of a great job with it all in all. Did you feel like it´d be better to have a producer from outside so that all of you could fully concentrate on the most important thing, which is the music naturally?
Juan: We were very involved in the Production of the new album; Bill Metoyer engineered and is co producing the new songs with us. We got Bill involved because Bernie moved to Nevada and we were limited with his involvement in the recording and engineering aspects of things with AGENT STEEl since he is not here with us in Los Angeles on a full time basis, so that is where Bill has stepped in and it’s worked out for us well.
Talking about the production on ALIENIGMA, you have already told that the production is huge, heavy and has lots of depths. Did you feel that your previous album ORDER (that is) somehow lacked some of these elements?
Bruce: Not at all. I think ORDER sounds awesome. This is just a different record. The sound of an album starts way before you enter the studio. It comes out of your mind and you just try to meet that expectation. Alienigma started huge, heavy and deep and I am happy to say it stayed that way. Certainly nothing we say about the new CD is meant as a slag against any of the previous albums. I am proud of or admire all Agent Steel CDs for different reasons.
Juan: ORDER OF THE ILLUMINATI sounds very good. I just think the new material and production is a bit more intense and powerful because the direction of the songwriting is a bit heavier than in the past, so overall the songs sound meanier with lots of aggression. The new album has different elements that show a heavier side of the band; we try to evolve with every album and not make the same record twice.
When Bill joined you behind the mixing desk, did he give any cool and useful tips for you during the mixing process that even did some ´miracles´ for the final outcome of this release?
Juan: Yes, his suggestions are very helpful of course; he has lots of experience; the very first song that I ever co-wrote with ABATTOIR for Metal Massacre IV (Metal Blade) “Screams from the Grave” was engineered and produced by Bill Metoyer, so its good to be working with him once again; even though it took what over 20 years!!!
AGENT STEEL photo by Rudy De Doncker
LITTLE ENIGMATIZED CUTS
Let´s talk about these new songs a bit more accurately. You´ve said this new record is by far your heaviest work to date and all diehard fans should love it! Are you trying to say that you have sort of come closer to the early sounds with vibes, feelings, etc. that you had on your first two albums? Please enlighten me a bit more…
Bruce: Uhh… well, we definitely said it’s our heaviest work ever. I seriously doubt anyone who hears it will say different. I do hope all our diehard fans love it but I’m certain I never said any should. We are definitely not implying ALIENIGMA bears any similarities to the first two records (or four records) other than that it kicks a lot of ass. I pretty much figure if you want to hear a band re-write old records you may as well just listen to their old records instead.
Juan: When I mentioned that comment it was meant to be as an update on the process of the recording and at the time how excited I was with the sound and mixes. I am very happy with the new material and the overall direction of the songs. We are not trying to recreate the past with this new record and at the sametime I think lots of metalheads will appreciate this; I have no clue if the fans will love it, but judging by our show a few days ago people in attendance were very excited to hear “Fashioned from Dust” and “Wash The Planet Clean” live; we’ve also played other new tracks live and the excitement level is there for sure. I really don’t put too much thought in if people will like the new album, of course I am curious, but what’s important is that we as a band are satisfied. It would be great if the metal fans enjoyed ALIENIGMA as much as we did.
In which areas would you say your songs have improved mostly, and did you pay more attention to the song structures this time, how to make them to sound even catchier and easier for people to adopt when they get to hear the songs off this new Agent Steel record for the first time?
Bruce: Damn… that’s such a strange question. Catchy is in the ears of the beholder, no? I don’t tend to love very complicated music but I can appreciate it. That said, nothing we’ve ever done seems too complicated to understand easily. We’d never enter with the mindset of writing something easy for people to understand because I don’t think we are hard to get as it is. I will say, to my mind, this is a very memorable heavy metal CD but it wasn’t written to be some hookfest. It was written to be crushing.
Didn´t you feel any pressure at all when you started writing songs for this new album because your last album ORDER OF THE ILLUMINATI received such excellent reviews from everywhere – and nobody basically said a bad word about it? Did the songs come up very naturally for ALIENIGMA, or were you forced to do some compromises with your songs for the album?
Bruce: Not a bit. If reviews we’re dollars and my children depended on me to write something that made money so they could eat perhaps it would matter more. Getting good reviews for something you’ve worked hard on is great but we’d be doing ourselves a huge disservice if that was the payoff in mind when we start writing. To me, great music comes from the heart and you shouldn’t let yourself intellectualize it too much. Let it be what it wants to be. We compromised nothing on this record. Never at any point did we say “this part needs to sound like…” or “we need a song about…” or whatever. This is exactly what we wanted to do*.
Juan: The new album was re-written twice, and about 5 songs got thrown out in the process; this was the most input/contribution in the arrangement of songs collectively. ORDER OF THE ILLUMINATI is a solid album and we are grateful for the positive reviews worldwide; hopefully the press will embrace ALIENIGMA because we put lots of time, energy and part of our soul into this new material. There was nothing simple to the songwriting process lots of hard work; we pushed ourselves and at the sametime the ideas came naturally as they developed. Some of the song ideas we debated, like certain riffs, bridges, drum beats and arrangements (if the video cameras were on it would’ve made for a great reality TV for sure). We all wanted the same end result which was to produce a kick ass album with vengeance.
For this album, did you learn, or try out some new singing techniques that you have never dared to try out before in the Agent Steel songs?
Bruce: Yeah… it’s pretty dramatic, too. I just sang for the songs. Since everything really is so much more thrashy I just went for something more intense to match the overall feeling. I didn’t want to force things that wouldn’t have fit just because they are perceived as trademark qualities.
What were the most challenging songs for you personally that demanded more from you singing-wise than some other songs?
Bruce: Each song, in its own way, is a challenge because they all have active melody lines and nuances. It’s definitely a more full voiced approach and can be a bit taxing. I really wanted to convey a feeling and that can take a lot out of you. Worth it, though.
So, can you already pick up like 2-3 fave songs off this new record that you personally feel have grabbed your ears better than some other songs for some reason or the other?
Bruce: “Hail to the Chief”, “Lamb to the Slaughter” – and “Hybridized”. I like all the songs on Alienigma for one reason or another but these are my favorites.
Juan: For me I would say “Fashioned From Dust” “Extinct” and “Lamb to the Slaughter”.
There´s gonna be 10 songs on ALIENIGMA. Did you record some other songs during those recording sessions for ALIENIGMA that you may release later, or was it just 10 songs that you brought into the studio and recorded them?
Juan: There was material left over; I don’t think we will ever release it though; I have it archived on my computer in demo format. I did like some of the guitar riffs that got trashed, some of the vocal melodies were very good, too.
Could you explain the title of the album a little bit? What made you to choose this title eventually? The words, ´alien´ and ´ enigma´ pretty much in itself, however, explain the fact aliens from the outer space are sort of enigma; those green, mysterious and little creatures that are somewhere out there – and that still tend to fascinate people a hell of a great deal all over the world. Ok, back to the album title now… What kind of signal do you want to give to people with it?
Bruce: Being as it is an enigma it is hard to explain exactly what it means.
Juan: If people give it a fair listen while reading the lyrics and really focusing on the message in the booklet; I think they will be blown away by the concept for sure. It’s a powerful message full of legends, prophecies, conspiracies all in the spirit of Heavy Metal.
MASTER OF ARTS: DIMITRI PATELIS
You also chose Dimitri Patelis to do the cover artwork for ALIENIGMA, and that´s not the first time who have worked with him. He also did the artwork for your comeback album, OMEGA CONSPIRACY, so obviously you pretty much liked his style on that album? Could you also be kind enough describe the cover of ALIENIGMA to the readers of Metal-Rules.com, what´s on it actually?
Juan: Dimitri’s artwork is awesome and we are glad to have him on board; it’s really a matter of interpretation; what the artwork means to me, most likely has a completely different meaning to someone else. I suppose it symbolizes creation, extraterretrial intelligence, science fiction, all the above.
Was Dimitri the only option in your mind when you started looking for an artist who could start to work with an idea for this new album of yours? Do you think Dimitri accomplished all those elements for the cover artwork that you were actually thinking silently for it?
Juan: We received lots of inquiries about the new artwork, and secretly I was the one who wanted Dimitri back in the mix. There are for sure some really talented artists out there like Marc Sasso, Travis Smith, and lots of others. I think Dimitri brings an interesting twist, and his vision with our ideas compliment each other.
AGENT STEEL 2007 photo by: Rudy De Doncker
FROM SCARLET TO MASCOT
So what about the release date for it then? Have you already carved in stone together with Mascot Records what are the exact release dates for both the European – as well as North American releases?
Juan: For Europe the release is set for the last week of August (31st), just in time for our European tour. As far as the United States and Canada; no release date has been etched in stone as of now, but of course it will be available on iTunes worldwide once the album is released.
You just signed a multi-deal contract with Holland´s Mascot Records in the beginning of this year. Did you deal with Italian Scarlet Records come to its end then after the ORDER album, meaning you were free to sign with whatever label you wanted to make your next deal with?
Juan: We thought we were free to move on and Scarlet thought we owed them one more record but everything was worked out and we’re grateful for the hardwork and commitment from Scarlet for the ORDER OF THE ILLUMINATI CD, and the Live at Dynamo DVD; we are now signed to Mascot records.
How many albums does your deal with Mascot Records contain actually?
Juan: Two more records, one which will be a live recording.
On what grounds did you decide to change from Scarlet to Mascot? Were you sort of unhappy with Scarlet. they have been promoting and giving tour support to Agent Steel over the years, or was it more or less a question about Scarlet Records not believing in Agent Steel as much as you wanted – and therefore you eventually ended up signing a new contract with Mascot Records?
Juan: Scarlet always believed in Agent Steel and supported the band; I think it was time for us to move on to another label that’s all, perhaps there was some confusion in the communication.
Were you negotiating a deal with some other labels as well, or was Mascot Records actually the only label that made a serious offer for Agent Steel?
Juan: I don’t remember to be honest that was a while ago, but I do recall a few labels contacting us and inquiring about the new material. We were in writing mode, a demo started circulating and the interest started pouring in.
Mascot Records has a long tradition for publishing stuff through their label and undoubtedly in the way they work for their artists, is totally professional and just very dedicated. I guess that´s one of those reasons why you signed to them, correct?
Bruce: They embraced the idea wholeheartedly and have a reputation to back up their words. Can’t ask for much more than that from a label you’ve never released a CD with.
Juan: You can say that yes, and professionalism is a positive factor with Agent Steel and the label.
As you have surely noticed by now, Mascot Records have signed many famous guitarists to the label: Marty Friedman, Paul Gilbert, Tony McAlpine, Vinnie Moore, Michael Schenker – just to name a few. So how do you actually feel to be one artist on Mascot, amongst these very known ´guitar heroes´? Do you feel it´s gonna be an advantage or disadvantage for Agent Steel to be just one artist amongst all these other so-called ´greats´? Do you feel you are treated equally compared to all those big names on Mascot Records?
Bruce: I think it’s a honor to Juan and Bernie, being included among such great players. They both absolutely deserve to be there.
TOURS COMING UP
You also have a European tour coming up later this year with longtime metal pioneers Vicious Rumors. Is it some sort of co-headlining tour with them, or will one of you be the headliners? What countries will this tour cover precisely?
Bruce: Far as I know Vicious Rumors will be headlining. It’ll be fun. The schedule isn’t complete yet but so far we’ll be going to the Netherlands, Belgium, Germany, Italy, France, Greece, Spain, Switzerland.
Juan: We are supporting Vicious Rumours, and we have a good amount of set time, so it will be exciting, also on the bill we’ll have the support from After All. Also on a few show there are some added bands on the bill like Candlemass, also Sybreed will join us for the Swiss show on September 10th at Z7 in Prattlen. There is also a show with Destruction headlining. The tour will cover The Netherlands, parts of Germany, Belgium, Spain, Italy, France, and our first visit to Greece and also the Former Yugoslav Replublic of Macedonia. All the tour dates are available on our website.
What about your further plans after this European tour? Undoubtedly you also have some sort of plans to tour on your own ground and then try to do countries like Japan and Australia as well?
Bruce: Hard to say what will happen, but we are willing to go any place.
Juan: Yes, once the album is released and we are on tour, we’d like to take it as far as we can, and Japan would be something to look forward too. Also performing in Australia would be great as well; we’ve always wanted to go there since AC/DC is one of our favorite all time bands. We’d like to tour Mexico and South America as well, and a proper North American tour is long overdue.
THE DAYS OF TERROR
Have you guys ever thought of putting TERROR back together again, or do you feel it´s better to let it rot in peace – at least for now?
Juan: Terror was an interesting project at the time and there was some success with it in Mexico; we released a record entitled TERROR – HIJOS DE LOS COMETAS on BMG/Culebra Records (out of print) but some things are better left R.I.P. yes.
I wanna thank you guys for talking to Metal-Rules.com and hope to see you guys soon on the tour again. Thank you again and lastly, feel free to spit out the final words to conclude this interview if you just have any – go ahead…!
Bruce: Thanks for your time and for helping to spread the word. I hope you and all the readers like the new stuff.
From L to right: Geoff Thorpe, James Rivera (VICIOUS RUMORS), Bernie Versailles, Juan
Garcia (AGENT STEEL)
LIVE PHOTO CREDITS:
* Juan Garcia (Key Club – Los Angeles, CA)
photo by: Jose (courtesy of www.metaldogma.com)
** Bruce Hall (SF Pound, San Francisco, CA) Thrash Against Cancer Benefit
Show w/ Testament
photo by: Jose – www.metaldogma.com
*** Bernie Versailles – Key Club, Los Angeles, CA)
photo: Jose www.metaldogma.com
**** Karlos Medina, Bass (key club, Los Angeles, CA)
photo by: Jose www.metaldogma.com