Gatekeeper – Jeff Black

Spread the metal:


 

How’s it going there in the GateKeepr camp at the moment ?

Busy busy busy! Ever since we restarted the band in Vancouver and got uprooted our singer Jean-Pierre to the west coast it seems like things are non stop. Currently we are managing the aftermath of our album release, prepping for our summer festival appearances and on the hunt for a new permanent rehearsal headquarters. And of course we are working on new tunes!

You recently played at the prestigious Keep It True festival in Germany, what kind of experiecd it was and what sort of respond did you receive there ?!

It was absolutely unreal. Like a childhood dream come true. We left Canada on Wednesday night and returned the following Monday and it was just a rush of excitement and adrenaline the entire time, minus a 12-hour wait in one airport. The festival was a great experience. We got to meet Enrico and the rest of the Cruz Del Sur team, along with many Facebook pen pals and some OG Gatekeeper fans from back in the old days. And of course we got to share the stage with a lot of fantastic bands, make new friends and see some killer performances. We can’t wait to go back!

THE FORMATION OF GATEKEEPER

GateKeeper has been around since, but could you shed some light on how everything started out in the first place ?

Basically I was teaching myself how to play guitar and writing some barbaric heavy metal riffs. Just for fun I decided to put some song demos together with a drum machine and upload samples onto the internet. Before long, I started getting emails from cool bands and musicians that I admired and after some encouragement I called up some friends and the original live lineup of the band was born.

Why was GateKeeper chosen for the name ?! Are there any other bands named after GateKeeper ?

I like the simple band names. East to remember, easy to say. Like the classics! Plus it reminds me a bit of my favourite band Blind Guardian. There are a few other Gatekeepers out there but we all play different styles of music. I actually find that we get mixed up with “GateCREEPER” more often.

You have undergone quite a few line-up changes, what has been the basic reason for altering the line-up ?!

The core of the Edmonton lineup was pretty consistent although we had a few talented lead guitar players in and out, mainly due to how busy they were with other bands. This era of the band was very part-time and just a side-project for everyone else so there was only so much we could do as a band. About three years ago I was feeling very bored and tired with my life in Edmonton and decided to move to Vancouver. I took about a year off music while I got settled into my new life, but it wasn’t long before I got the music itch again. I hooked up with our current bassist David Messier and we started jamming together. A few months later we got asked to do a tour of the west coast so we poached a bunch of band members from other groups and asked JP to sing and we’ve been going strong ever since.

Was it easy or challenging to find suitable and like-minded replacements and guys to replace the musicians having left the band ?

It was more difficult to put together the first lineup together, honestly. When I moved to Vancouver the band had already been somewhat established and it was easy to find awesome musicians when we had gigs on the table. We brought in Tommy (drums) and Kenny (guitar) from a Blind Guardian tribute band that I’d been playing in and JP said yes immediately and we had such a good time that we just decided to keep doing it.

When you started out back in 2009, which bands did you consider your main musical influences and what about then years later, do you still consider them as your main influences or have you discovered something new ?

In the beginning it was a lot of obscure doom and old-school heavy metal such as Solstice, Ironsword, Manowar, Doomsword, Atlantean Kodex and Bathory. Over the years and as I’ve brought new the new members into the band I think we’ve kept a lot of this foundation while adding new elements. I listen to a lot of prog rock, jazz fusion and other types of music lately and I’m looking for ways to bring those elements into old-school heavy metal. I’ve also improved my guitar playing a lot and we learn a lot of classic metal cover songs for our gigs so there has been influence from there more than before too. I don’t want to completely abandon the core ideas but I don’t want to write the same songs over and over again either.

Gatekeeper has released a number of EPs and a few split outputs. What was the purpose to release them ?!

Serious bands put out music! We definitely weren’t ready to put out a full length record back in the day. I had a lot of learn about writing, arrangement, recording and simply playing guitar and leading a band. The smaller releases were a great way for us to sow our seeds in the underground. I doubt we would have gotten the response to our album without our prior releases.

EAST OF SUN – THE DEBUT ALBUM

The debut album EAST OF SUN came out on Cruz del Sur Music, how did you end up signing the deal with them ? Can you reveal which other labels pointed out their interest toward GateKeeper ?

We’ve been fans of Cruz Del Sur’s work in the true metal sphere for a long time and they’ve released a lot of awesome music so they were on a short list of labels to contact about our album. Enrico was immediately interested after hearing some song demos and after some back and forth, we came up with a record deal that we were both satisfied with. It was a pretty smooth process despite some delays in the recording process. We also talked a little bit with No Remorse Records (Greece) in the beginning because we had worked with them in the past on the Eternal Champion split but Cruz Del Sur was so enthusiastic about the album that we didn’t really pursue much else. We also considered submitting to Metal Blade Records since we’d been invited by their A&R to be on the newest Metal Massacre compilation.

What kind of a process was it for all of you to get these 8 songs composed and finished for the debut album? How long and much did you rehearse the songs before entering the studio ?

The album is a mixture of old stuff from the previous lineup that we’d reworked plus old material I’d written but never used and a couple brand new songs that the new lineup worked out together. The new songs came together surprisingly quick, just a couple jam sessions plus a bit of time to finesse the details like guitar solos and little rhythm bits. We ‘d been playing the songs live for a while so we’d dialed everything in by the time we hit the studio. I think we spent maybe 2 weeks in the rehearsal room playing the songs to a click track and getting the rhythms tight as possible with the drums. The actual recording began on May 2017 and finally ended in November 2017 and then we finished mixing and mastering in January 2018. So the recording process was a little longer than we wanted but we had to work with the circumstances we put ourselves into.

The album contains a couple of cover tunes by Omen’s “Death Rider” and Savatage’s “Hall of the Mountain King”, How come did you end up doing these covers and did you have other choices on your mind ?!

We play a lot of covers in Gatekeeper in order to fill out our bar gigs and get new listeners into the show a little more so we had a lot of options to choose from. We settled on those two songs because they’re a little more obscure and closer to our general style so we figured they were good bonus track selections for our current fans. We do lots of more popular stuff like KISS, Accept, Judas Priest, WASP, Ozzy, Dio, and lots more.

When listening to the album now as it is out , do think the album stands for what you wanted to achieve for or are you able to find some things which should have been carried out in the different way ?

Lots of the songs from the album were written six, seven or even eight years ago and that’s a long time to keep songs in the oven. It was tough at first to let the other guys go in and add their ideas or change stuff but I think that the songs are stronger for it. I’m an OCD semi-perfectionist weirdo so I always think of things that could have been done differently or whatever and I really try to let go of that. If you get caught in your own head about that kind of stuff it’ll drive you crazy and prevent you from enjoying your own work and it’ll distract you from the important stuff on the horizon.

Actually could you tell a bit more about the making process of the album like where it was recorded, how long did you work in the studio, did you receive good hints from a producer in the studio and with whom did you work ?

We recorded at Harbourside Studios in North Vancouver, which is a professional studio that is part of a technology school. We worked with Mike Rogerson, one of the teachers who has worked on hundreds of albums and also live recordings. He’s worked with some huge artists in rock, metal and all other styles. He had a handful of the student assist us during the recordings. Our main assistant was Angelo Boose, a super talented guy who spent a lot of time with me while doing guitar parts. I did about eight all-night recording sessions during the summer to get all the rhythms, leads and acoustic guitars done. I would work from 8:00 to 17:00, go home, make dinner, shower, nap, then record from 21:00 until 6:00 the next day. Then I would go home, make breakfast and do it again. It was really intense. The main challenge was scheduling, because the studio was also being used by the students of the school so we had to work around their school projects.

All in all are you pleased with the result after all ?

I am. When we handed the masters over to Enrico in January, I didn’t listen to the album until we received our copies of the vinyl in April. After having a few months to disconnect I’m able to enjoy the results more. I’m pleased, but I think we can make the next one even better.

Making videos is definitely a great way of having the needed visibility for a band like GateKeeper. As for  the “Blade Of Cimmeria” video, what kind of respond have you got about it ? And what kind of process was to make that video ?

The video was a lot of fun and I’m glad we did it. As I type this we are almost at 12,000 views since the end of February which is pretty cool! A lot of people who were familiar with our older material were pretty surprised by the song since it is our fastest and most aggressive song to date and the response was a little mixed. Some people dug it, some people really didn’t like it, some people didn’t like it at first but enjoy the song in the context of the full record. I’m happy that people had a reaction at all. Having something go completely ignored would be the worst result.

We shot the video in Mountain View Cemetery, where many infamous photos of the band Blasphemy were taken. Our director was Rob Zawistowsky, a talented young man with a great eye for action shots. We got all the appropriate permission and paperwork, had extremely good weather and the whole shot took about 8 hours on location. We made six torches for the background plus the banners beforehand and it was pretty cold that night.  It went pretty smooth, considering how many things could have gone wrong.

PLAYING LIVE

What kind of following do you have in your territory Vancouver ?!

We’re not very popular here, haha. We probably haven’t been playing around here long enough and we haven’t had any support from local press so if we play to around a hundred people in town then it’s a very good night for us.

Are there places where have you played and what kind of respond have you got from the audience ?

We’ve been doing more touring and out of town shows since moving to Vancouver than ever. We have good fans in Seattle, Edmonton, Victoria, Calgary and Kelowna. We also had a great response at the Ragnarokkr Festival in Chicago, which was a ton of fun. Touring in Canada and the USA can be pretty rough as an independent metal band. You have to fight for every inch of stage that you stand upon and there isn’t a lot of support for artists on the road. That being said, we’ve had some fantastic experiences roaming our beautiful country and we’re going to be doing it again real soon.

Apparently you have played in The States as well, what is the biggest difference between the audience or are they the same and equal ?

We’ve done pretty well at our USA shows. All our USA shows have been festivals or opening for bigger bands such as Satan so we were put into pretty good situations to begin with. I don’t think there is a big difference between USA and Canadian crowds aside from the currency, the accents and the units of measurement. Differences in crowds have more to do with the size of the town, the local scene, the promotion and whatever economic factors are affecting the area at that time.

With whom have you played by the way ?

Loads of different bands. We do have a bunch of recurring pals such as Road Rash, Substratum, Skelator, Time Rift, Displaced, WMD and Riot City. In terms of larger bands we’ve played with Satan, Grim Reaper, Heavy Loads, Jag Panzer, Tygers of Pan Tang, Hibria and Pallbearer.

As several classic metal bands are facing the end of the road sooner or later, do you think that the new generation of traditional metal can rescue and keep waving the flag of metal or is metal going to the catacombs of the underground again ?

I think it’s destined for the underground. But I don’t think it’s just metal—any fad or genre that has a mainstream heyday eventually finds itself in a niche position with nostalgia value holding it together. The way people receive their content and current trends in entertainment and the way that technology has fragmented public tastes and squashed attention spans has sealed the deal. It’ll be different when bands like Iron Maiden hang it up, but that’s the circle of life. As long as kids are still picking up guitars then I think it’s okay, in the grand scheme of things.

Before concluding the interviews, can you reveal what bands are constantly in rotation on your player ?

These days I don’t listen to as much metal as I used to, so it’s a lot of jazz fusion, world music and guitar virtuoso music. Al Di Meola, Weather Report, Bill Cobham, Miles Davis and Mahavishnu Orchestra are all in my car. I’ve also been jamming the newest album by Substratum. Of course, Queensryche and Blind Guardian are a constant in my listening.

All right I thank you for your time to do the interview, the last words are yours …

Thanks for having us and checking out our music. We’ll see you on the road!