I had the opportunity to hear INVITATION TO FOREVER from Takara and it turned out to be a really good melodic metal album. Therefore I had to talk to the man behind the band, guitar player and band leader Neal Grusky. He was kind enough to let me do this interview with him. He answered questions about the band, the new lineup, label and much more.
Interviewed by: Anders Sandvall
Promo pictures are taken from Takaras website and MySpace
Hi Neal. Awhile ago I got your brand new album INVITATION TO FOREVER sent to me and I was blown away, it’s a brilliant album. I felt that I simply had to talk to the force behind the album. And here we are thank you for taking the time to talk to me. Are you ready to kick off the interview?
Thank you so much and yes let’s go.
How long did it take to write and record INVITATION TO FOREVER?
It took me about 1 ½ years to write and record the “INVITATION TO FOREVER.
You have written the music together with Englen and most of the lyrics are written by singer Monsanto, how was it to co-write the material with Englen?
Well Englen only contributed a few small parts here and there. So those credits only reflect those small parts. I wrote the majority of all the songs musically. I wrote all the ballad “This Photograph” music and lyrics.
Jeff Scott Soto has written lyrics to the song “Spotlight”. How was it to work with such an icon?
Working with a living legend like JSS is also an amazing experience. He is truly the best at what he does.
It says that the song “Still A Mystery” is written by someone under the name Mackey, who is Mackey? He’s not a member of the band or?
Mackey was an ex-keyboardist that wrote this song, which was kind enough to let us use this great song on this new album.
Why did you chose to name the album INVITATION TO FOREVER? Does the title have any special meaning?
I choose the name “INVITATION TO FOREVER” because it fit with my idea of this album in terms of my invitation to the future sound of Takara.
What about the cover art-work, who has done it and do you think it reflects the music well?
A friend of Gus’s, and mine in Brazil named Guilherme Sevens created the artwork for our album cover. I think the artwork reflects images of the album that create a vision and vibe people will hopefully relate to.
Do you have any favorite song on the disc, if so which one?
My favorite song is “Angel of Lies”. It is a heavy song that reflects the passion and intensity I wanted to inject on this new album. I felt like we needed something more intense and passionate than ever on a Takara album.
In the booklet there’s a group picture of the band but the keyboardist Brook Hansen isn’t featured, why?
Brook Hansen is not an official member of Takara. He just stepped in to lend a hand on this album. Brook and I share a similar vision of music. We both have known each other for quite sometime. I can’t say enough about his playing.
You have on your own produced the album. Isn’t it hard to produce the band members? What do you think is the best and the worst with producing your own album?
The best thing about producing this album was to see my vision of the songs come together. The worst is that certain people, who were involved in this album, completely ignored my direction, and performed with complete disregard to any direction that was given by me. Unfortunately, these people will not be invited back for any further involvement in Takara in the future.
What do you think is your strongest feature as a producer?
I feel my strongest feature as a producer is my vision for the songs. As a song writer, I always build a complete picture, and have it ready to go once the recording starts.
Have you produced other acts besides Takara?
I have produced a few other bands here in Southern California.
Singer Monsanto recorded his parts in a different studio located in Rio de Janeiro, was his part then sent to you or how did it work out?
Gus did almost all his recording here in Los Angeles. He only did a few small vocal overdubs in Rio.
The rest of the band recorded their parts in Big Swede Studio in Los Angeles and the album was mixed and engineered by Stefan Johansson, who is he and have you done any other recording session in that studio before?
Stefan is an engineer who has a very nice studio here in LA. I have never worked with him before.
Have you read any reactions on the album yet? What has the media to say about it?
I have read many reactions. Most of the articles I have read have been very positive. I am very pleased with these responses so far. I am not pleased with all the file sharing, and illegal downloading though. It is a shame, and it is killing music. The fans don’t realize that the more albums we don’t sell the less money we have next time to record. File sharing is killing all the small to medium size bands such as Takara. It’s a real shame. This is the first album we have done that file sharing downloads out paced and of our past album releases. The end result really hurt the sales of our new album.
Do you usually read everything that’s said about Takara?
I usually read every review, and every single email. It is a pleasure to hear from each and every fan. They have all been very supportive of the new album, as well as all the past ones.
Do you think that your older fans are gonna recognize themselves in the new album?
I think our older fans will be at home with our new album. It still retains the all the hallmarks that the older fans come to expect from a Takara album. We are just a little be heavier that before. I think this is a natural progression. It is never good to continually create the same album over and over again. Growth is the key to any formula for a band that wants to keep its fans content with their musical works.
Do you think that Takara has developed musically through the years, if so in what way and how?
Yes, Takara has grown and developed quite a bit. The music is more contemporary, and more thought out. It is more mature, and exciting. Passion and intensity have been added to spice things up for more than before.
I think that Takara plays melodic metal with passion and nerve, how would you like to describe what Takara plays?
Very close to what you said, melodic metal with passion, intensity, and dynamics. This is the key to the Takara sound.
You have once again a brand new line up where your friend and bass player Englen has joined. Was it hard to make Englen join the band?
Truth is known Bjorn is a hired gun, as well as Patrick. The illusion was made early to the contrary. Soon, I realized that neither had any intention of anything serious past collecting some monetary benefits, and moving on to the next gig.
Englen brought along the drummer Johansson, was it an obvious choice to put Johansson behind the drums?
At the time since they were very close, it seemed perfect. But, soon after in my eyes it proved less than perfect for what was needed for Takara albums. Now, we have a new bassist and drummer and are preparing for our first shows in a few years. The bassist is a long time friend of our singer Gus.
Both of them normally works with the guitar legend Yngwie Malmsteen, is it a problem do you think that they are involved in another act besides Takara?
Its never was a problem for me. It might have been for them I think. He pays quite a bit of money, so you do the math ha ha.
Both Englen and Johansson are Swedes, what do you think of having two Swedes in the band?
I wouldn’t do it again ha ha.
How did singer Monsanto end up in the band?
Gus found me via an ad on the internet. Gus and I are very close. We share a similar vision. We are the heart and soul of the new album.
Did you try on any other singer besides Monsanto?
I tired a few singers, but no one that I could mention.
Has he been involved any other projects or bands before joining the Takara camp?
He was the singer for Adagio and a few other bands from Brazil.
Jeff Scott Soto also returns to Takara to sing harmony vocals. Soto sings on a few of Takara’s earlier albums, did you ask Soto if he wanted to take on the role as lead singer again on this new cd?
No, I didn’t. I just asked if he didn’t mind putting some harmony vocals on the new album. We had already had Gus. Jeff has his own career, and he is doing wonderfully too. Many fans still talk about Jeff’s early Takara album to me a lot. I can’t blame them. I myself love to hear his voice whenever I can.
Have you kept in touch with Soto during the years?
I first met Jeff in 1984. We have stayed in contact pretty consistently since then. I consider him a good friend.
Is the current line-up a solid one or do you see any changes coming on in the near future?
I guess my last answer, answered this. I am not a fan of changes, but sometimes it is an important part of change. We all need change to grow.
Takara have been signed to many different labels through the years, but for long were you without a contract?
I was working on songs for the new album. We during this time do sell our music direct via our Takara website. www.takararocks.com It is the future of music distribution I think.
You are now singed to ProgRock Records, were there many labels that wanted to ink a deal with you and how come you chose to sign on for ProgRock Records?
I have several other offers. ProgRock allowed us the flexibility that many other bands don’t have when it comes to selling their own product like we have.
Are you happy with you’re the co-operation so far?
We are very happy. They are a very nice hard working bunch of people.
What’s the main difference with being on ProgRock Records and being on your previous labels?
ProgRock allows us the flexibility that we never had before.
Is INVITATION TO FOREVER released world wide today?
Yes, it is released worldwide now.
In which territories has it been released so far?
All, either directly, or via import, many people came come to our site and having sent directly from us, or have it signed.
For how many albums have you signed on for at PR Records?
We have only signed for this one album. I am sure we will be with them for many albums after this one too.
Are you previous albums available in stores today?
Yes, some stores are selling them. We sell them direct.
Many online retails have bought from us to sell too.
What labels released your previous albums? A label did re-releases your old cd’s. What label did that and when was that?
Lion music, zero corp. Lion did a rerelease in 01’
Takara was founded already back in 1987 and did quite a lot of live shows during 1987-88 before you decided to record your first demo that was produced by Jeff Scott Soto. It ended with Soto being your lead singer. What happened with the singer that Soto replaced?
Good question, I actually don’t know, it was so long ago.
Who were members in the band when Takara first started out?
Again, several guys that I never saw again, I just lost track of them, and got caught up in my own thing.
Takara recorded the debut album in 1990 called ETERNAL FAITH, how did the release of the debut go?
The first album was a collection of demos that finally got a release in Japan, and Europe. I was a long road for me to finally get to that point. I will never forget the moment that it all happened. It was one of the best days of my life.
What do you feel when you look back at the 90’s today?
I feel now it a great time for Takara. But a really challenging time for our type of music. We just had to keep our chins up, and continue to work and hope that music trends change as some point soon.
Do you have any contact with the old Takara members today?
I have contact with pretty all of them. I consider many of them permanent family. I support them whenever I can, it’s a pleasure to see some of them, and what they have gone on to do.
The band went through a line up change in 1998, what happened? Who left and who came along for the ride?
Well as bands go, JSS moved on to his solo career. Bob Duda moved on to many other projects that have been very successful for him. He is still to this a great friend of mine, and other Takara members from those days. Carl Demarco and Eric Ragno moved on to their on projects and passions.
Which of your album are you most satisfied with today?
The new one INVITATION TO FOREVER It is the beginning of the future of the next Takara albums.
And which of the albums has sold the most copies?
TASTE OF HEAVEN, till to this day fans still buy this cd from me. I had to reprint them again myself lately. I have had people tell me that all the JSS/ Takara albums are classics. Hearing this makes me feel very good.
Have you done a lot of touring through the years?
Not a lot due to financial obligations. We hope to start this summer finally. I am very excited, and so it the band!
You did release your previous album in 2001, what happened after that?
I took some time off to write. I also didn’t think rushing into a new album was a good idea at the time. I didn’t think the music scene was ready yet. I could see the transition starting, but it wasn’t till I started this new album did I think the time was right to release a new one.
You are now the only remaining original member how does that feel?
It is just part of the business. I don’t like it, but like I said before sometimes, change is healthy. I believe that the Takara name has benefited from some of these changes. Don’t get me wrong, I still don’t think it always the way to go. It would be nice to settle on a permanent lineup.
Are you happy and content with the new line-up?
Our new lineup as this month is quite something. I am pleased. These guys have their hearts in the right place with the band. It is a breath of fresh air for sure.
Where does the band name Takara come from?
It is the word in Japanese that means “Treasure”, or “Precious thing”.
Where in the world does the band have its biggest fanbase do you think?
Good question. I am under the impression it is Japan. I have been told that Europe and Brazil represent quite large fan bases as well.
Are there any differences between the European fans and the US fans?
No, I think they all enjoy great music that lifts them up, no matter where it comes from. Music is universal for all people.
Have you done any touring outside USA?
We went to Europe before.
When Takara first started out did you have any idol or role model that you looked up to or that made you wanted to form a band from the beginning?
Many, Many! Bands like Ozzy, Dokken, UFO, Scorpions, etc.
Do you think that you have managed to contain the musical core of Takara throughout the years?
I feel it has changed slightly over the time, but the essence of it remains true to when it all began.
Takara has a MySpace site, what is your opinion of MySpace?
I think MySpace has been tremendous for promotion. I know our band has benefited quite a lot from this site.
What’s the most common question you get from fans?
Is JSS going to ever do a Takara album again? People love Jeff, and so do I. who doesn’t? He’s a great guy, and true artist. Living legends don’t come around very often. Seriously, I hear things like “when are you going to tour?” and “when is the next album coming out” even when one just came out ha ha. I love it all, what can I say…
Are Takara gonna tour now that the album is out? And are all of the members on the album gonna be on stage if you’re heading out on the road?
All the new members and I will be playing together when we tour. We plan to kick off the tour touring plans in June. The band is now complete, and ready to go.
Do you have any festival shows booked so far?
We have plans for a huge festival in Rio Brazil later this year.
When can we expect to find the next Takara album out in stores?
I am hard at work on a new one. I hope late 09’ or 2010.
Time will tell. But, so far so good!
Give the readers three great reasons why they should invest in INVITATION TO FOREVER?
It is one of our best albums to date. Heavy, passionate, dynamic, and powerful. Great vocals, solos! Great melodic metal!
Thanks for taking the time to answer my questions, good luck in the future and do you have any words of wisdom to the readers of to the fans?
Thanks for all the support everyone. Keep rocking!
More info about the band