Keyboardplayer and original member Jonah W – Pyramaze
Interviewed by: Anders Sandvall
Thanks to Emil Westerdahl at Inner Wound Recordings for setting up the interview.
Thanks to Inner Wound Recordings for the promo pictures of the band.
The brand new Pyramaze album is a concept album titled CONTINGENT; it’s the band’s fifth album so far. The album was unleashed in Europe and North America at the end of April and is jammed with some intense progressive metal songs. This time around I had the pleasure of talking to keyboardist and original member Jonah Weingarten and he opened up about the process of making the album, the past and present members, as well as some more personal stuff. The band performed at Prog Power USA last year in a special show where current singer Terje Haroy teamed with previous singers Lance King and Matt Barlow; of course I had to ask what it was like to perform with the two previous singers again. In October this year the band is going to perform at Prog Power Europe in The Netherlands so we talked about the band’s expectations regarding the up-coming one time only show. If you’re interested in the band and its history, check out the previous interview I’ve done with infamous producer/guitar and bass player Jacob Hansen.
Hi Jonah, how are you today? It’s really nice to talk to you. You are one of the guys who has been in the band for the longest period of time, are you ready to kick off the interview?
Hi, Anders thanks so much for having me. Yes I’m ready, let’s go.
For how long have you worked on the material for the new album CONTINGENT?
I wrote the instrumentals in November of 2015. The album was written and recorded over winter and early Spring of 2016. I personally worked on my keyboards over a span of about five months.
Who writes the majority of the material in the band?
That would be divided up between myself, Jacob and Toke. We each take about a third of the album, which I think helps gives it the richness and diversity you can hear within the record.
Do you sit together and write or do you write separately?
We all come up with ideas on our own and then we bring them all to the table and work on them together once the time has come to record everything properly. Some of it is written on the spot in the studio too.
Do all the members have a say in which songs land on an album?
We used almost all of the material that was submitted for CONTINGENT, actually. It really is a team effort. If we wrote something that sucked, it wouldn’t be a big deal to voice that amongst ourselves and cut it from the album. We’re pretty open.
The lyrics are written by Henrik Favre and Kristen Foss, who are they?
Henrik is the lead singer of Anubis Gate, and a good friend of the band. We like to refer to them as our brother-band, since we share a drummer and collaborate on lyrics and vocal melodies. Kristen is a very talented vocalist who hails from the Twin Cities of Minnesota who I’ve worked with in the past on other projects, including my solo piano album.
Terje seems fine with it and I think he prefers it that way because he’s sort of an introvert.
Foss is singing on the duet “The Tides that Won’t Change”; how come you chose that song as a duet?
I set out to write a piano ballad in the same vein as “Legacy in a Rhyme” because of its immense popularity. I decided that I wanted to make it a bit different though, and be reminiscent of another previous ballad of ours, “She Who Summoned Me” which featured Christina Oberg’s vocals. It being a duet just came naturally and it was really nice to have Kristin’s help writing the lyrics as well.
Why didn’t the band write lyrics to the album? What are the lyrics about?
We chose to let Henrik handle the lyric writing again because none of us really have the time or interest in writing lyrics. We’re all more interested in the musical side of things, so Henrik lent us a helping hand again as he did on DISCIPLES. The lyrics are a post-apocalyptic concept based on modern themes and inspired by current events.
The bio says that CONTINGENT is “an epic post apocalyptic conceptual piece inspired by current event and the human spirit to overcome struggle and diversity”. Do you agree with that and could you explain a little deeper what the album is about?
Yes, I certainly agree with the bio. We like to leave it somewhat up to people’s personal interpretation of the material because everyone seems to have an opinion these days. However, I will say that we try to take positivity from the negative and to inspire people to come together and try to make a difference. The world is very divided right now and we are using whatever voice we have to try and rally human kind.
In your opinion, is CONTINGENT a conceptual album?
It is conceptual, without being a concept album per se. Each song doesn’t necessarily tie in with another song on the record but its all tied in to a general theme. It doesn’t tell a story form start to finish as most traditional concept albums do.
What did fans and media think of the official album teaser you released on YouTube?
We received a very positive response right away! But we’re very confident in what we do and we know that we can satisfy our fans.
Contingent [OFFICIAL ALBUM TEASER]
Do you think the band has developed musically, if you compare CONTINGENT to your previous album DISCIPLES OF THE SUN (2015)?
We definitely have! I feel like we’re a much stronger and more cohesive unit now that we’ve finally gotten our footing with DISCIPLES. I think we know what to expect from each other, both musically and personally, and that really helps create a strong foundation to build the Pyramaze house upon.
What have the members been up to in between the release of this album and the old one?
I’ve been staying busy composing music for video games, independent films, and doing session keyboards for other artists and bands. Jacob has been busy in his studio producing and mixing some of the best metal bands out there. Morten has been brewing his own beer and raising his beautiful family. Terje has been wrestling bears and eating pancakes up in Norway. Toke has been jumping up and down on trampolines and drinking coffee.
Who came up with the album title and does it have a special meaning to the band?
I came up with the album title and I just really liked the word “Contingent” because it can mean so many different things. In reference to the front cover, it means a gathering of soldiers to fight against tyranny and oppression.
Felipe Machado did the cover art work and illustration and Jan Yrlund did additional artwork and design; are you happy with their work?
I love both of these artists! Actually, Felipe has also designed some t-shirts for us as well that are available at www.merchbooth.net.
Was Machado given free hands when it came to the art work?
I have him a general outline of what I was looking for and gave him some ideas for some of the imagery. For example, the futuristic looking symbol and the woman holding the baby. Other than that, I let him run with it.
Machado did the front cover and some of the main images that you see within the booklet, and Yrlund did the layout work and some additional images.
Both DISCIPLES OF THE SUN and IMMORTAL have cover art work portraying a wizard and a kind of statue, CONTINGENT doesn’t include any of those elements, why did you chose to leave that path?
Actually, the wizard is on the front cover of CONTINGENT. He’s just wearing futuristic armor and summoning the symbol of Pyramaze to rally the troops. The wizard will always be there, just in a different form perhaps.
What did fans and media think of the lyric video you released to “20 Second Century”, the video’s got around 12,000 views so far, congratulations.
We’ve had an overwhelmingly positive response! I don’t think that that song is representative of the album as a whole however, as it is one of the more straight forward pieces of music. It just seemed like an obvious first single to us while many of the other songs on the album have more depth and progressions.
20 Second Century [OFFICIAL LYRIC VIDEO]
Was it a given that CONTINGENT was going to be a long album; it clocks in on 60 minutes and includes 13 songs?
I think so, yes, because when you have three different songwriters all contributing ideas, it makes for plenty of material to work with to fill out an album. I think all of our albums heading into the future will probably be the same way, length-wise.
What are the longest songs “Kingdom of Solace” and “Star Man” about?
“Kingdom of Solace” is about how greed is ruining society and how there’s so much more meaning to life than accruing wealth. “Star Men” is about how humanity has to send astronauts into space to find a new planet for us to live on, since we have destroyed our own.
Why did you divide the album into two parts with the first part CONTINGENT- pt 1 The CAMPAIGN and CONTINGENT – pt 2 THE HAMMER OF REMNANT?
It’s actually divided into three parts. Part I and Part II are the dividers. We felt like it would be interesting to make it a three-act play of sorts.
Is it possible to listen to the songs on their own or do they fit better into the theme context?
Yes, I think every song can stand on its own since the album is not telling a fluid story.
Earlier this year you released the lyric video to “Kingdom of Solace”; what kind of response have you gotten?
People seem to like it more now that the actual video to “A World Divided” has come out because the “Kingdom of Solace” video was sort of a prelude to that storyline.
Kingdom Of Solace [OFFICIAL LYRIC VIDEO]
When I spoke to guitarist/producer Jacob Hansen a while back at the release of your previous album he agreed with me when I labeled your music as progressive power metal. Do you agree with that or how would you like to describe what kind of music Pyramaze plays?
Sure, you could call it that. However, I think that the progressive power metal genre is a pretty large umbrella. I would certainly at least consider us to be semi-symphonic or cinematic, for sure. I think that we have our own sound that we’ve developed over the years that is unmistakably Pyramaze.
I read a review of CONTINGENT that claimed the music to be power metal, what’s your take on that?
I think we have elements of power metal in our music, but we don’t meet all the criteria or have enough of it in there that we should be classified as just “power metal.”
Pyramaze’s albums have always done well, does the band ever feel any pressure on delivering something extraordinary because of the success you have had in the past?
We don’t feel pressure, we feel inspired to produce something extraordinary. It gives us meaning and the ability to have a voice in this world, and to inspire others with our music and the message of unity and brotherhood that we work so hard to convey.
The band still doesn’t have a solid bass player in the line up, Hansen took on that task for the album, but what about in a live situation? How do you solve the problem then? Hansen said that was not a serious problem for you and that you focused on other more important stuff.
As with most things, Hansen is usually right! Let us trust in the wise man Hansen, for he is wise.
The reviews I read of CONTINGENT are mainly positive, congratulations, are you proud of the outcome of the album and do you and the band care about what critics have to say about your work?
We haven’t really received any negative reviews, so until that day comes, we appreciate what critics have said.
Do you think old fans are going to recognize and appreciate the music on CONTINGENT?
I think the majority of our old fans will, however you will probably have a stubborn few who only listen to MELANCHOLY BEAST and LEGEND OF THE BONE CARVER on repeat every day.
“Divided by oceans, bound together by brotherhood, we must become that which divides us…we are PYRAMAZE, and we the Ocean!” What is your comment on that statement?
That statement simply means that instead of being divided, we must become that which divides us.
Production, studio work
You have recorded all of the Pyramaze albums in Hansen’s studio, how was it to once again record the album there?
I actually recorded my keyboard parts in my studio in Minnesota. While Jacob mixes and produces all our albums, only he, Toke and Morten actually record there. Terje records his vocals up in Norway at his cousin’s studio.
What do you think of Hansen as producer? Is he easy to work with and what’s his strongest feature as producer?
He’s the best! Jacob has an uncanny talent of taking a song and hearing the essence of what needs to stand out or be more subdued. If it weren’t for Jacob, we’d have a keyboard intro on every single song!
Were all of the members gathered in the studio recording everything together at the same time?
We haven’t done it that way since we recorded the IMMORTAL album, actually. With modern technology it makes it easier to piece an album together from afar.
Was anyone else in the band besides Hansen part of the mixing/mastering process?
Nope, that’s all Jacob.
How long were you in the studio this time?
I personally probably spent about 50 hours working on CONTINGENT spread out over a five month period of time. This enabled me to be more introspective and analytical over my performance, creativity, and the way I approached the arrangements. I really wanted this album to have a modern cinematic feel and utilize a lot of epic trailer music techniques.
Label and management
You’re still signed at Inner Wound Recordings, are you happy with the work the label’s put into the band and the album so far?
Absolutely! Actually, I feel like we’ve really grown with the label and that we are a big part of the Inner Wound family. I’m personally involved with a few other Inner Wound bands as well. But yes, overall I think that they’re good people and they’re doing this for the right reasons.
If you compare how other labels work are there any differences in how IWR do their job?
I feel like they really respect us and appreciate everything that we do, whereas I think that when you’re on a label that has 100 bands and the label is larger in size that you run the risk of getting lost in the shuffle.
What are the pros and cons with being signed to a smaller record label?
I think the pros are that you get to be a big fish in a smaller pond and in the end I think that’s more beneficial than being a small fish in a big pond. When you have a few guys working in an office doing everything they can to promote your release, I think that very well may go further in the long run than just being a needle in a haystack.
What did the label say when the band changed vocalists on the previous album?
We didn’t sign with Inner Wound until we had already secured our new vocalist, so it was never an issue. But obviously Inner Wound are big fans of Terje’s singing on our newer two albums!
Do you see any problems with the fact IWR is based in Sweden?
No, not at all. I think having a strong European label is actually beneficial because Europe is the epicenter of the metal world.
Is there any bonus material featured on the re-released version of IMMORTAL that IWR unleashed 2014?
There aren’t any bonus tracks, but there is a limited 12” picture disc edition on vinyl.
Are there any plans to re-release MELANCHOLY BEAST or LEGEND OF THE BONE CARVER?
Not at this time, but never say never. I know that a lot of people have expressed interest in our older material.
Who own the legal rights to your old albums today?
I’m pretty sure it’s Lance King.
I believe it is in the works!
Who releases Pyramaze’s albums in Asia and South America?
I don’t think we have distribution for our two newest albums in those countries actually, so it would have to be imports.
Is your music available at Spotify, iTunes etc.?
It is, yes! All of the above. But we encourage our fans to buy physical copies of the CD so they can have something to physically hold in their hand and have the lyrics/artwork/etc.
What are your opinion regarding streaming music etc.? Do you see it as a threat to the record industry?
It shouldn’t have to be a threat ideally. People should, in a perfect world, hear the music digitally and then go buy a physical copy of the CD so that they can genuinely support the artist.
We’ve been approached by several companies, but we just haven’t solidified anything at this point in time. Our label does a lot for us, so thus far it hasn’t really been an issue.
IWR released IMMORTAL on picture disc vinyl with 250 copies and DISCIPLES OF THE SUN on vinyl for 500 copies, why so few copies worldwide?
Because the vinyl that we release are more collectors items than anything else, I think. The purists will say that vinyl sounds better.
Could you tell us how and when you ended up as a member in the Danish act Pyramaze?
I began communication with the founding guitarist Michael Kammeyer in 2002 and flew to Denmark to record our debut album MELANCHOLY BEAST in January of 2003. I went through an audition process that involved sending in a VHS tape to Denmark. The rest, they say, is history!
Did you see any problems in the fact that you were living in America and the rest of the band were living in Denmark?
Obviously, logistically it creates a few problems, but I don’t mind traveling.
Was Lance King (ex- Balance Of Power) the obvious choice of singer for Pyramaze?
Our management at the time suggested Lance to us and once we heard him sing we knew he’d be a perfect fit for the original sound of the band. We’re very grateful for Lance and his contributions to our band and our history.
What are your memories from the first show the band did in Minnesota back in 2004?
Nothing but happiness and good times, and knowing that it was the beginning of lifelong friendships and so many fantastic albums.
What did media think of the bands debut MELANCHOLY BEAST from 2004?
It was considered one of the best debuts from a progressive power metal band ever in its reviews. Even though I was so young when I recorded that album, I’m still very proud of it to this day.
Michael was more of a rhythm guitar player and we wanted to get a true lead guitarist in the band who could also fatten up our sound a bit.
The second album LEGEND OF THE BONE CARVER was a concept album, what respond did you get from media regarding that release?
We got very favorable reviews for the album. We still get a lot of love for that album to this day. Its the only true concept album we’ve ever done.
For personal and professional reasons.
Did you search for a new singer for long before Matt Barlow joined forces with you?
We had auditioned a few vocalists, but it seemed that Matt was the perfect and most obvious choice for us. It took about a year to find our match with Barlow.
He was only a member for about one year, why only so short period of time and was his departure expected?
Matt got the offer to return to Iced Earth, and I think it was an offer he couldn’t refuse, so we graciously understood and have since moved on. We’re very happy that Matt was such a big part of our history and are very proud of the IMMORTAL album.
Urban Breed (Tad Morose, Bloodbound) joined the band in 2008, but according to Hansen he later left because he thought it took the band too long to release the next album, is that correct?
Yeah, I think Urban felt like he was slowing us down so we mutually decided it was best to find a different singer.
In 2008 Pyramaze and Volbeat toured together through Denmark, how was that? What are your memories from that tour?
It was fantastic! The guys in Volbeat are really cool and big fans and supporters of Pyramaze. We are very grateful for that. I just remember playing to a lot of people every night, but unfortunately the last two shows were canceled because the singer of Volbeat was having some issues with his health, or something.
Pyramaze haven’t been so active when it comes to performing live, why? Would you have liked to do more live shows?
I personally would like to do way more live, but unfortunately its difficult with everyone’s busy schedules. This isn’t to say its not a possibility, but at this current time we’re doing more one-offs than anything.
In 2011 both bandleader/guitarist Kammeyer and bass player Kvist left the band, what impact did that have on the remaining members?
It caused us to have to reevaluate and regroup. Obviously we were going to have to find replacements and I think Jacob Hansen was a more than adequate replacement there.
What does the duo think of that Pyramaze is active without them?
Michael gave us his blessing as he knows that the band is left in good hands. And I think Niels is playing jazz now or something, so I think he’s cool with it.
Why has Pyramaze have such hard times to find and keep a solid vocalist?
I don’t think we do now, its just in our past. Circumstances dictating what was out of our control.
Yes, very! He is a powerhouse vocalist with a very unique tone and style. I think it fits our sound perfectly.
Which one of the band’s singers do you think have done the best work?
I think they are all wonderful in their own way and have each contributed something unique to Pyramaze.
Is the current line up a solid one?
It absolutely is! And we’re already using this solid lineup to start working on a new album.
With all the changes in the line-up and search for singers have you ever felt that you wanted to quit the band?
Never! Pyramaze is in my blood and its a big part of who I am as an individual. I would carry this band on my back all by myself if I had to because as I see it, we owe our fans to keep moving forward.
I see us as the United Nations of Progressive Metal, but our home base is Denmark.
Personal with Jonah W.
For how long have you played keyboard?
28 years… Jesus I’m old.
Are you self taught or have you taken lessons?
I am 100% self taught. My music comes from my heart and soul.
Where do you live today?
I live in the Twin Cities in Minnesota.
I’m not so much inspired by other keyboard players as I am by composers for film such as Hans Zimmer, Danny Elfman, etc.
Can you play any other instrument besides keyboard?
No, I’m just a keyboard player and a pianist I’m afraid.
Were you active in any other bands before Pyramaze? What was the name of your first band?
My first band was called Shallow Grave when I was 16. We recorded one song on my cassette player called “Eating Your Intestines.” It is by far my finest work to date (kidding, of course). I’ve been in a few other bands over the years: Avian, Echoterra, Blood Promise, Written in Blood, and I have an on-going project called Structure of Inhumanity.
When did you realize you could have your music as a living?
Within the last few years as I’ve begin to do way more studio work, and scoring for independent films, network television and video games.
According to the Encyclopedia Metalium you’re part of quite a lot of acts, which ones besides Pyramaze are you active in today?
I’m currently on tour filling in for MindMaze, who are label mates with Pyramaze. I’m also working on a new project with Matt Barlow called Sentinels, of which I have very high hopes and expectations.
How did you end up in Universal Mind Project?
I started to talking to Michael Alexander and Elina Laivera about a year ago. They are also label mates with Pyramaze. Inner Would Recordings is kind of a big family!
Which one of all the bands do you consider being your main act?
Pyramaze. And Sentinels. But always Pyramaze.
Is it correct that it’s possible to hire your services as keyboard player?
It is, and it can be done directly through my website as www.jonahweingarten.com.
Do you also compose your own music or do you mainly compose music to other artists? Is that something you plan to take further?
I compose my own independent music for network television as part of a composing duo called Unsung Heroes — you can hear some of that work on my website also at www.jonahweingarten.com/unsung-heroes. In the past I’ve done a few solo instrumental piano albums called DANCE OF THE MOURNING CHILD, which is still available on iTunes.
I read you have written music to video games and movies, is that correct? Could you tell us a bit about that?
Yes, it is. I scored a video game that is coming out later this year called Tuna Through Time: Galaxy of Fur, which was created by a company called Impawsible Games based out of Germany. And over the years I have scored several independent films in both the Twin Cities and Atlanta areas. Snippets of all of these pieces can be found on my website if you’d like to take a listen.
Are you happy with your effort on Arian’s album FROM THE DEPTH OF TIME from 2010? Was that the first album you appeared on?
The first and only that I did with them, yes. I’m happy with my efforts and it was cool to work with Dave Ellefson.
Now and then
In September last year Pyramaze did a show at Prog Power USA together with both Lance King and Matt Barlow, how was that, Hansen was on fire when he spoke about the show.
It was amazing, definitely a once in a lifetime opportunity! And as a band we had a blast being able to spend time with our fans, as well as reuniting with our previous singers.
They loved it! With all three singers there, I think everyone got a chance to enjoy their favorite vocalist, which was a very unique experience. We did record it and hopefully that will see the light of day sometime in the future.
Besides that show did you do any other performances on DISCIPLES OF THE SUN? When I asked Hansen that question he said that the band lacked tour support and that you’d maybe tour the next album which is CONTINGENT?
The only other performance we did for DISCIPLES was the Kloften Festival in 2015. We haven’t set anything just yet for touring with CONTINGENT (aside from ProgPower Europe) but its certainly something we’re not ruling out at this point.
Is Pyramaze big enough to perform as headline act today?
Maybe in some parts of the world, yes! But I think generally speaking, given that we haven’t played live very often, that it might be a little difficult to pull off.
In October you’re going to perform at Prog Power Europe in The Netherlands, are you and the band excited to do that?
Yes, we’re very excited! Its going to be great to see our fans in Europe, especially after doing ProgPower USA last year.
Who took care of the bass at Prog Power USA last year and who is going to play the bass in October?
We currently don’t have a bass player so we back tracked them. We plan on doing the same at ProgPower Europe. Jacob takes care of the bass tracks in his studio on our records. We’re honestly very happy with our current lineup and aren’t looking to bring another musician into the mix at this time.
Are you going to do other shows in The Netherlands or Europe at the same time?
We are currently looking in to setting up a “warm up” show prior to ProgPower somewhere on our way to the gig. Nothing is set just yet, but we’re working on it.
What can you tell us about the video to “A World Divided” that came earlier this year? I also have to congratulate you on the 80,000 views the video got so far!
Thanks so much! Well, we shot the video at a green screen studio in Atlanta the day after we played at ProgPower USA. The video was directed by a very talented guy named Chance White who is based out of that area. Its a post-apocalyptic narrative based on current events.
A World Divided [OFFICIAL MUSIC VIDEO]
Are there plans on shooting videos to any of the other songs from CONTINGENT?
Were not shooting anything else at this point, but we do have a couple more videos coming out in the coming weeks, so keep your eyes peeled!
There’s not much info about the band on your website and it hasn’t been updated for a while, why? Who runs it?
Actually we had updated the website design a few weeks prior to the release of Contingent. We’ve been updating the design of the site on each album cycle. Our current website is managed by Mallory Jacobson LLC, a marketing agency based out of the Twin Cities who routinely works with bands and musicians.
The most common question we are asked is when and where we are playing live.
When I asked Hansen if Pyramaze was a band or a project he said it was a band but that families and work has a huge priority, what’s your take on that?
That sounds accurate. We’re all dudes with families and other projects and jobs happening, so its a balancing act for sure.
Aren’t there huge pressure from fans world wide on you to tour more?
Yes, I’d say that’s fair to say.
Star Men [OFFICIAL LYRIC VIDEO]
Do you think the fanbase have increased since the release of DISCIPLES OF THE SUN?
Yes I think it has increased. DISCIPLES has put us back on the map and has been a rebirth of the band. It seems like both fans and critics alike are enjoying our new sound.
What would you like to say to those who haven’t heard the music of Pyramaze yet?
I would say if you enjoy epic melodic progressive metal with big concepts and crisp-clear production, then Pyramaze is the band for you.
1) We’ve poured our hearts and souls into this album and we are very proud of it.
2) Its a very relevant album to what’s going on the world today and what we as human kind can do to come together and unify.
3) Its epic as can be and it will make their faces explode.
Well, that was all for me and Metal-Rules.com. Thank you for doing the interview, I wish you and the band all the best. You have done a really great album again and I hope to see you soon live here in Sweden. Do you have any final words of wisdom to share with fans and readers?
Thank you so much for having me! I would just encourage fans to go out, go to shows, buy t-shirts, buy CDs, and support the artists they love so that we can keep making music forever.
More info about Jonah W here.