Singer Sarah Teets and guitarist Jeff Teets – MindMaze
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.
Additional promo pictures taken from the bands website
In 2014 MindMaze released their debut album, BACK FROM THE EDGE, and now it’s time for the American to follow up with a brand new concept album, RESOLVE. This interview pretty much continues where the previous one left off. Together with singer Sarah Teets and her brother, guitarist Jeff Teets, we handled the new album, the bands future and everything in between.
Hi Sarah and Jeff, nice to talk with you again, how are you? Are you ready to kick off the interview?
Jeff: Things have been pretty good, though quite busy over the past few months between the album being wrapped up, promoted, released, and then subsequently touring a bit for it. Looking forward to this!
What’s been happening with the band since the release of BACK FROM the EDGE? Have you been out touring much and are you happy with the respond the album got from media and fans?
Sarah: We’ve done a lot of touring since the release of the 2nd album. We toured supporting Saxon and Armored Saint, done a few smaller tours on our own regionally and now we have our tour with Arkona and Sirenia across all of North America. The reception of the album has generally been really positive. The fans seemed to really enjoy it and the reception overall has been really positive.We got a bunch of great reviews.
In 2015 you released the DREAMWALKER EP that you financed through Kickstarter, how come you chose to release it via crowdfunding and not through your label?
Jeff: The EP was really just supposed to be a bonus for fans of the band – we originally wanted to keep it strictly limited to those who backing the crowdfunding project, but in order to get it pressed a certain way, we had to expand the pressing a little bit and sold some to the general public. Our deal with Inner Wound is mostly distribution-only which is generally the way I prefer it.
The EP contains acoustic pieces, is it correct that you let the fans pick which covers you were going to record and what song did you cover?
Jeff: Yes – the Pat Benetar cover was selected via a fan poll, and a big fan gave us a big contribution to record the W.A.S.P. cover as well. The Savatage song was a purely selfish selection of our own.
The EP contains both covers as well as your own songs, were the original songs strictly written with the EP in mind?
Jeff: “Slave to the Cycle” was the first song we wrote after the BACK FROM THE EDGE album sessions, and we already knew then that it wasn’t really going to fit the vibe of the next album, so we decided it would be a good track for the EP.
The song “Dreamwalker” is featured twice on the EP, both in regular version and as a duet with the Swedish singer Urban Breed, how did he end up on the EP? Are you guys long time friends?
Sarah: We’ve actually been fans of Urban for over 10 years. We saw Tad Morose open for Edguy in New York in 2004 and that introduced us to him. We met Urban and his wife at ProgPower in 2014 after she had played some of our music for him prior to that.After talking for awhile, we decided to ask him about doing a duet version of “Dreamwalker” and I was so excited that he actually said yes! We also talked about writing an original duet that has yet to be created.
What did the fans think of the lyric video to “Dreamwalker”?
Jeff: Honestly, there wasn’t much of a response to it – we didn’t push it all that much, but most people seemed to think it was pretty cool, it was a nice low-budget thing to have.
Why did you feature a lyric video and not a proper video?
Jeff: We initially wanted to make a full-blown video for the album version, but it kept getting delayed and delayed and then our old drummer left, so we finally decided to scrap it. At that point the EP was already close to half sold out so we didn’t want to pump a ton of money into promotion.
Can fans buy the EP even if they didn’t join the crowdfunding?
Jeff: Originally they could, but at this point it is sold out and now out of print for the time being.
How was it to tour in the States with Saxon and Armored Saint?
Sarah:It was awesome!We really didn’t know what to expect going into the tour because we’d never done a support tour before. The guys in Saxon and Armored Saint were so nice though and we really learned so much from that experience. It gave us a lot of things to keep in mind for future tours and we definitely gained a lot of fans.
What did the bands fans think of the music of MindMaze?
Sarah: The response was really positive! We sold a lot of merch at most of the shows and many people gave us positive feedback after they heard us play. I think the best part about how positive the reception was, is that those fans we made on that tour are still following us now.
You also did a self funded tour together with Iris Divine. When did the tour occur; how long was it, and who is Iris Divine?
Jeff: Iris Divine are a great progressive metal band from the northern Virginia area that we met through a small show back in 2012. Their album KARMA SOWN was released through Sensory Records in 2015, and we get along quite well as people. We did two small runs of shows with them where we were gone for about five days.
Do you think that the fan base of MindMaze has increased with the release of BACK FROM the EDGE?
Sarah: Definitely. When we launched the Kickstarter project for RESOLVE, we definitely noticed a significant increase in the number of people backing the project and following our updates.
Sarah: MindMaze is from Eastern Pennsylvania in the United States, so we naturally started to favor the Northeast United States because it was convenient to play here more often. We do really well in Baltimore and up in Massachusetts so we’ve returned to those places a few times.
The brand new album RESOLVE
When did you start to work on RESOLVE?
Jeff: Some of the music on the album goes back all the way to around December 2014 or January 2015, but the bulk of the writing took place in the summer and fall of 2015 and pre-production for the studio started around the end of 2015, with proper tracking starting in March 2016.
How long did take you to write the material to it?
Jeff: We sort of stockpiled ideas for months, the concentrated writing process took place over the course of two separate periods in the summer and fall of 2015.
Which comes first, the music and the lyrics and what are the lyrics about this time?
Sarah: The music always comes before the lyrics with us. Sometimes we work on both at the same time. With RESOLVE, the music came pretty well before the lyrics. It was really challenging for me to write the album so I admit I was stalled at a point and not really quite sure how to begin. The album deals with the emotional struggle we face when dealing with loss and traumatic emotional events. It outlines what our minds are experiencing as we process the trauma and learn to face it and ultimately move on.
One More Moment [OFFICIAL LYRIC VIDEO]
Is it correct that you Jeff together with Pasqualone write the music and Sarah takes on the lyrics? Are you writing anything together or do you create your stuff separately and then puts it together?
Jeff: Rich was a lot more involved with writing on this album. We both gathered ideas on our own but fleshed them out together. Each of us has different strengths as a writer to bring to the table, which made things interesting. Sarah generally handles about 98% of the lyrics but I do occasionally give some input on the words of vocal melodies.
RESOLVE is a theme album right? What is the album about?
Jeff: The album is a bit of abstract story that deals with the coping mechanisms that people use to come to terms with loss and betrayal. There’s underlying themes of anger, sadness, blame, guilt, and regret running throughout a lot of the songs as the narrator tries to make sense of the situation and come to terms with what’s happened. We intentionally left it sort of open-ended so people can project their own experiences onto it.
Was it hard to write a conceptual album?
Sarah: Definitely. I mean the trickiest part for me was that it wasn’t really my concept. Jeff came up with the main idea and the structure of the album and then I just wrote the actual lyrics. It was difficult because I wanted to make sure I put enough of my own emotions into the songs and the method to writing was just completely different. You have to think of the entire album as a whole and how the whole thing fits together instead of just individual songs.
How come you named the album RESOLVE? What does the title mean to you and the band?
Sarah: Resolve has a duel meaning. We chose it because it represents the will one has to overcome adversity and conquer their issues. It also represents the actual solving of the problem at hand, the resolve of that issue. It took a little while to come to a final decision, but when we discussed Resolve and realized it had more than one way to represent the concept, we knew it was perfect.
You have once again worked with Carl-André Beckston who made the cover art work and the booklet to the album, are you happy with his work?
Jeff: I’ve never been less than thrilled with any of the artwork he’s done for us, and I think the new album cover is his best yet.
Was he given free hands to interpret your vision?
Jeff: Generally yes, we just sort of let him run with his own ideas, he just ask for a synopsis of the album concept and themes. He always buries a lot of nuance and details within each image that’s really fascinating to hear him explain.
Abandon [OFFICIAL AUDIO]
If the biography last time stated your music as being progressive/power metal this time they adds elements of power, progressive and traditional heavy metal to the description. Do you think that RESOLVE fits into that musical genre?
Jeff: Yes, definitely. I think there’s a bit more of a progressive flavor to this album overall, but we’re still in the same general spectrum.
Do you think the older fans is going to like the music on RESOLVE?
Sarah: Definitely. We definitely drew on a lot of our influences the older fans seem to really dig, like earlier Dream Theater and Savatage. Those that are fans of classic prog metal should hopefully really like this album.
With its 70 minutes of music the album is pretty long, was it your intention to make a long album?
Jeff: Not really – we just wanted to tell a story, and the album is as long as we felt was necessary to adequately tell that story and portray those emotions.
3 of the 13 tracks are strictly instrumental, how come you wanted to add them to the track list?
Jeff: Each track serves a purpose within the framework of the concept – the music had to exist one way or another, it was just a matter of keeping them as separate tracks rather than at the beginning or end of other tracks.
What are the longest songs “The Path To Perserverance” (12 min) and “Drown Me” (8 min) about?
Sarah: “Drown Me” explores the moment when you really feel completely consumed by all your emotions and you’re not quite sure how to continue from that point. The end of the song touches on the moment when that flicker of hope enters the mind and you consider picking up and moving forward. “The Path To Perseverance” summarizes the end result of all the emotions felt throughout the entire album. This song is where the person telling the store sees all the positive in their struggle and that they know that the negative emotional trauma they went to taught them something and made them stronger.
Were there any songs that didn’t made it on to the final edition of the album?
Jeff: No, but a couple of songs did get trimmed down a little bit from their original versions, especially “Sign of Life”.
It says the RESOLVE includes musical influences of Queensryche, Dream Theater, Iron Maiden and Savatage, can you agree with that?
Jeff: Absolutely – I think those four bands are generally are biggest and most prominent influences musically.
Which of the songs are your personal favorite ones?
Sarah: My personal favorite is “One More Moment”. It was challenging to record because it has so many different moods and the demand of the vocals differed so much from part to part. I absolutely love the way it turned out though and I can listen back to the song and feel really proud of it now. The vibe of the song was different for us too and I think that’s why I was so happy with the final result.
Do you think that the songs stand on their own or does the listener have to listen to them in the order on the album?
Jeff: I’d like to think we did a pretty good job making a concept album where the listener needs to consider the big picture to really appreciate it, but there’s still a good number of songs that work perfectly well on their own.
You play quite a lot of keyboard on the album Jeff, are there any plans on taking in a keyboardplayer when you perform live?
Jeff: Yes, actually. Jonah Weingarten from Pyramaze will be joining us on the road for our upcoming support tour.
Why aren’t there any guest appearances this time?
Jeff: We made a conscious decision to go without them in an effort to make a statement about our strength as a band not having to rely on bigger names in the industry.
Oboe can’t be counted as a usual instrument on a metal album and still you play it on RESOLVE, Sarah. Why did you want to include an oboe in the music?
Sarah: I just felt it fit the mood of the song and I happened to know how to play. It’s easy to use keyboard patches to mimic these kinds of sounds today, but since I actually know how to play oboe I thought it would be a nice touch.
Which songs are you playing drums on Jeff?
Jeff: Generally I’m performing on the stuff near the beginning and end of the album. It was a combination of time constraints and playing strengths that led to the decision.
Have you read any reviews of the album yet? Do you care what media think of your work?
Jeff: I’ve read a lot of reviews – it’s awesome that there’s been a lot of really positive, enthusiastic ones out there from people who really love the album. At the end of the day, reviews are always just one random person’s opinion, but I find the ones where the reviewer clearly put in time to dissect the music and concept are generally the fairest ones.
How have fans responded on RESOLVE?
Sarah: The fans have generally responded very positively to the album. We got some truly flattering reviews of the album and seeing that kind of positive response is so inspiring.
Why did Kalin Schweizerkopf leave the band and was his departure expected?
Jeff: It was a mutual decision that was a long time coming, but the fashion in which it happened was a bit of an unfortunate surprise. We had reached a point where we couldn’t really co-exist anymore and weren’t heading in the same direction with the same goals.
Bass player Rich Pasqualone wasn’t a solid member the last time we spoke, what’s his status now?
How did the new drummer Mark Bennett end up as a member in MindMaze?
Jeff: We knew Mark from his previous band and he lives very local to us. Kalin quit with a small tour on the horizon, so we needed someone close by who could fill in in a hurry. That tour quickly gave way to a support tour with Saxon, and eventually we just realized we worked well together, so we decided to make it official.
The Kickstarter campaign
You funded both RESOLVE and DREAMWALKER through a pledge campaign, how come you chose to do that? Does working that way give you more control of the end-product compared to if a label stood for the money?
Jeff: I think crowdfunding definitely allows the band and the fans to maintain a more personal relationship which is better for everyone in the end. We as a band or individuals don’t have the ability to put forth the kind of money necessary to record and produce professional albums and foot expenses for touring, so if it wasn’t for the support of these amazing people, a lot of these things wouldn’t happen nearly as much, as quickly, or at all.
Which are the pros and cons with raising money through a pledge campaign?
Jeff: The biggest thing we always seem to mess up is overlooking certain costs of rewards we’re offering, as well as forgetting to put money away to ship the product when it’s eventually released.
You offered the fans a lots of varied things to purchase in order to finance the album like being mentioned in the booklet, a one hour Skype lesson with a member of your choice in the band, signed CD’s and more; what was the most popular item to buy?
Sarah: A lot of people go for the signed items and the t-shirt/CD combo is usually a big seller. We have some people go for the more unique options like guest appearances, but it’s usually the more basic packages that do the best.
Was it hard to come up with things for the fans to buy?
Sarah: At times it is, for sure. You want to think of something creative that will be unique, but also something people will actually want to spend money on. Sometimes it seems like everything has been done before and it’s hard to come up with fresh ideas. It’s also hard to control yourself when you have a budget and can’t order all the merch in sight.
Is it correct that 224 fans helped out and that you received $12,000USD? Did you get the amount of money you wanted?
Jeff: Yes that’s correct – the money we raised exceeded our expectations and previous experiences, it was great to get that kind of support.
What did the fans think of the Kickstarter promo videos you released?
Jeff: Some people seem to love the “inside looks” into how an album is made, but others prefer to just wait and hear the finished product, but it’s great to be able to generate some excitement from fans during the year-long period where you’re just staring at four walls making an album.
Could you recommend other bands to start a pledge campaign in order to raise money?
Sarah: I think it depends on the needs of the band. It’s certainly a very useful tool for those who don’t have a big enough income to really save considerable money towards their band. It somewhat evens the playing field and makes it possible for bands with limited budgets to make albums.
Do you think that the band is going to continue doing this in the future?
Jeff: It’s very likely. It seems to be a mutually beneficial relationship for all parties involved, so I don’t really see a reason to deviate from what’s working.
Label and management
Just like last time Inner Wound Recordings is releasing the album are you happy with the work the label have put into the band and the albums so far?
Jeff: Absolutely, I think we have a great working relationship with Inner Wound which is just what both parties are looking for, and we’ve been steadily growing with them.
Last time we spoke you only had a deal with IWR for one album, did you sign on for another album after we spoke?
Jeff: Yes – we went into making this album unsure of whether or not it would end up being released by Inner Wound – our deal changed a little bit from the previous album, but all parties are still quite happy.
Do you think that the band have gained more fans in Europe with BACK FROM THE EDGE?
Jeff: Absolutely. Having better distribution there makes it easier for people to get the albums for a fair price and so in turn we sell more albums.
Is the album licensed to IWR from you?
Jeff: With both albums, we maintain ownership of the music, it’s just a distribution deal, which is the best of both worlds for us.
Are there any plans on releasing DREAMWALKER on CD soon?
Sarah: We pressed DREAMWALKER on CD as an extremely limited edition for the fans who contributed to the crowdfunding campaign to make it. A lot of people have asked about re-pressing it to CD, but we decided against that in order to be fair to those who paid to get it originally.
For now it’s only possible to purchase your two vinyls on pr-order at your webstore, why?
Jeff: The decision to release BACK FROM THE EDGE on vinyl was a perk of the KickStarter campaign, and we had to wait until working on the new album was out of our way before we could prepare that for pressing. The album is out now on vinyl and all pre orders have shipped.
How many copies are there available on vinyls of the albums?
Jeff: The BACK FROM THE EDGE pressing is limited to 300 copies.
Will you release the vinyls on the label as well later or only on pr-order only?
Jeff: Inner Wound kept some of the copies to sell on their own and through European distribution markets.
With all the possibilities of streaming music online many consider the music business being on a steady downfall, what are your opinions regarding downloading and streaming music. Is it a necessary evil or can it benefit the bands?
Sarah: Streaming can absolutely benefit the band. While it’s widely known that these sites don’t pay musicians as well as they probably should, they do a lot to bring awareness to bands and music. A lot of people check out bands via streaming sites and then go on to purchase CDs or vinyl and other merchandise. Obviously we’re against illegal downloading, but sadly I don’t think there’s much anyone can do about it anymore and there is a percentage of people who download illegally that do buy merchandise later.
Are you music available to listen to at Spotify, iTunes etc?
Sarah: Yes, it’s available on all the major digital outlets. Spotify, iTunes, Amazon, eMusic, we have some of it up on our Bandcamp page.
Is the album released world wide? What about the Asian and the South American market?
Jeff: We don’t have a deal for those countries, but I know the album has made It to both countries from both us and the label, just on a case-by-case import or purchase basis.
What are the best thing with being on IWR?
Jeff: This label really feels like a team and a community, and Emil is one of the nicest people I’ve met in the business which is fantastic.
Do you currently work with any booking agency, last time you didn’t?
Sarah: Infinity Concerts has been our main booking agency. That’s how we booked all of our major tours. We also still do a lot of our own booking for the smaller tours and individual shows.
How come you once again chose to record the album in Brian J Anthony studio?
Jeff: Brian’s studio is located about 10 minutes from where we live, and we have such a great working relationship with Brian that it almost seems silly to think about recording elsewhere at this point.
MindMaze stands as producer to the album, who in the band has been the most active in the production process?
Jeff: I generally steer the ship, but this time Rich and Sarah were both a bit more involved in calling some shots than in the past.
Why don’t you take in a producer? What’s the best and worst thing with doing the production on your own?
Jeff: The biggest struggle of being your own producer is that at the end of the day, you’re calling all the shots on your own, so anything that goes wrong is your fault. You have to trust your ears and instincts completely, which can be quite challenging.
Do you have a clear vision regarding what you like the album to sound like? Isn’t it hard to be stay objective when you produce your own album?
Jeff: With each album mixing process, we pick a few albums we really love the sound of or think are appropriate for the direction of the album and we’ll send those to Brian and keep them in mind when we mix.
Was any of the members part of the mixing/mastering process or did Brian J Anthony take care of it on his own?
Jeff: Everyone has a bit of an ear in the process, it’s always up to me to give the final “OK” on everything, but Brian does the vast majority of the work on his own.
He also recorded the album, how was it to work with him again?
Sarah: Brian is really great at getting the best work from people while also not being super intrusive into your art. He gives input, but he doesn’t really fill a producer’s shoes entirely. It’s a great balance and he’s very easy to work with. He makes everyone feel super comfortable recording.
What’s his strongest feature when it comes to recording?
Jeff: The friendship we have with Brian at this point is probably the biggest upside to working together – it creates a very fun and laid back studio atmosphere most of the time.
3 weeks ago you released the video to “Sign of Life” and it already has about 37,000 hits, congratulations! What can you tell us about the video? When and where was it shot and what’s it about?
Sarah: We shot the video with Austin Hein Productions at a really awesome place in New Jersey called the Art Factory. It’s a studio made from an old warehouse where they have tons of space for artists to create things, whether it’s video, paintings, photos. We chose the room we did because of all the light bulbs. The first line of the song is, “A light has entered my mind.” We just thought that fit perfectly.
Sign of Life [OFFICIAL MUSIC VIDEO]
Are there any plans on shooting videos to any of the other songs on the album?
Sarah: No. We’re doing a lyric video that does feature some minimal footage of the band, but we’ll most likely be sticking to just the one video.
How come you chose “Sign of Life” to be the first video out?
Jeff: With this album, the single basically chose itself – we felt it was one of the most accessible songs and was different enough from anything we’ve done prior to be interesting, but not overwhelmingly weird or anything.
You got a few shows booked so far and I read that you two are going to open for Kip Winger, how does that feel?
Sarah: It’s really cool and not just because I’m a personal fan of Kip. Kip’s acoustic shows are a display of a totally different type of musical talent and to be even considered talented enough to share the stage with him for that is humbling.
At the end of April you’re going to open for Y&T in Baltimore and you’re also going to host three release-parties, why so many parties in different cities? Are you excited to open for Y&T?
Jeff: “Parties” may be a bit misleading – they were actually just concerts celebrating the release of the album. We chose a few of our favorite cities and crowds here in the northeast US and rewarded them with rare headlining shows with longer sets. Opening for Y&T was fantastic and the guys in the band were very nice to us.
And in May you’re going out on the road the USA with Arkona and Sirenia, things are moving for MindMaze now, do you look forward to come out and meet the fans?
Sarah: Yeah I mean it’s always exciting to meet new fans. I love performing in front of different audiences. It’s exciting to see that we’re growing in popularity too when we play places we’ve never played before and we have fans of our own there.
Have you played the new songs live before?
Sarah: We did a few new songs live back in February when we opened for Dirkschneider in Baltimore, but we haven’t played the new stuff live much at all leading up to the CD release shows and the Arkona/Sirenia tour.
Is it the European market or the US market that’s the band priority at the moment?
Sarah: It’s hard to really pick one as a priority. I’d say growing a fan base in Europe so we can tour there is a bit more of a priority. We’re starting to see things growing a lot here in the U.S., so having the same reaction in Europe would be awesome.
You two are also out doing acoustic shows where you play covers, are you doing that on a regular basis?
Jeff: Back around 2011-2012 we did a ton of acoustic shows, but it’s a pretty rare occurrence now, we just can’t seem to find more time to do them, but they can be quite fun.
Are there any plans on coming over to Europe and perform this year?
Sarah: Unfortunately not this year, but we’re looking to make it to Europe either in 2018 or 2019. These things take a long time to plan out and make happen logistically when you have to do most of the groundwork yourself. We’re definitely very eager to make it happen though, so we will at some point!
Do you agree with the following that’s written in the bio – “The band continued to forge their footprints as one of the most promising and unique female fronted bands to come along in resent times”?
Jeff: I agree – I still think that even in an oversaturated market of female fronted bands, we are still offering a fairly unique take on the genre and style we play, and a lot of reviews of the new album are likening it to genre-defining landmark albums, which is incredibly flattering.
Are you happy with what you have achieved so far?
Sarah: Definitely. Sometimes these things seem frustrating because it can be a gradual build up and the band grows so gradually. When you don’t look at the big picture and how far you’ve come as a whole, it can seem really frustrating when certain things don’t come together. We’ve definitely come a really long way though so I can’t complain at all. We’ve done some really great stuff that a lot of people never get to do.
Let’s round up the interview like last time – could you give the readers three reasons why they should buy the album?
#1 – We bothered to make an album that isn’t for the short-attention span world of today, that requires repeated, dedicated listens to fully appreciate, and I think that’s worth consideration.
#2 – I think it shows tremendous growth and development of our sound and style, and people seem to agree that it’s a big step forward and more mature than ever before.
#3 – The album was inspired by personal events in all of our lives that led to personal growth and maturity, and it’s essentially a piece of all of our souls in musical form.
What are the plans for the band for the rest of the year?
Jeff: After the upcoming tour with Arkona and Sirenia, we’ll probably take a good bit of time off from playing live regularly and start to gather ideas for a fourth album. We’ll eventually start playing live again a few months later, and then start to worry about fleshing out an album around the end of the year so we can start recording it at some point in early-mid 2018.
I have you congratulate you to releasing a brilliant album, I love RESOLVE and I really like to see you live in action soon!! do you have any final words of wisdom to share with the fans and readers?
Sarah: Just that we appreciate everyone so much. We really wouldn’t be here without all our amazing fans and I thank you for sharing this journey with us. Hopefully we’ll see you all out on the road.