Local legends Stormzone are on the verge of releasing their fifth album, the clever and epic Seven Sins. Melanie Brehaut sat down with vocalist John ‘Harv’ Harbinson and guitarist/producer Steve Moore to talk about the album’s concept, the band’s future and those seven deadly sins…
►So, album number five! How does it feel to finally release it into the world?
Harv: Album number five, it’s hard to believe!
Steve: It was ten months in the making from when we started writing through to the recording process. So it feels pretty good to have it done! From my point of view (Steve produced the album in his FireMachine Studio) it’s a relief to have it done and have it out there. It was a lot of early mornings and late nights to get it done! But I think this (album) more than the rest of them feels kind of special to us for whatever reason, and the feedback we’ve been getting so far seems to concur with that.
H: We had another 9/10 review pop up yesterday. So far we’ve had three 9/10’s and a 10/10, which shows we’re heading in the right direction which is what you always want to do. I think secretly we all had high hopes for this one. We all knew during the recording process and listening to the results that it was a wee bit different from what we’ve done before – still in our style of classic heavy metal, but I think we’ve expanded our horizons a little.
H: I don’t think so! We’ll leave the nu-metal to the nu-metallers (laughs), we’ll stay traditional.
►How would you describe the album in terms of its sound?
H: Advanced, in terms of the overall production. Steve’s done a truly magnificent job – he just keeps on getting better and better. The actual album itself is a transition from album number four in that it’s a concept album. I hate to use the term ‘concept album’ but it’s a story told over twelve songs. We haven’t done that before and we may never do it again, but we’ve done it now and it’s great, we’re really excited about it.
►It does have quite a lofty theme running throughout it. Who came up with that and what came first, the concept or the music?
H: The music came first.
S: The first few songs, we had the music done and we would pass that on to Harv, then he would write the lyrical aspect. And as the stuff was coming back to us, we realised that there was a theme, there was a story. So we were able to then try to tie the music in with that – make things darker, and using musical figures and motifs that repeat through songs. So there is a thematic aspect in the music, not just the lyrics, which ties it all together.
H: I was always going to have ‘The Dealer’ on the album and write about him to a degree so I already had some ideas about where he was going to figure in this album. So whenever I got the initial music from Steve, (bassist) Graham and (former guitarist) Davy I decided to do those songs first. I had done that with other albums then veered off in other directions and tackled other subjects. On all of other albums, The Dealer character himself – Death Dealer, he was one of the Three Kings, and he features on Zero To Rage – always within three songs. So I was writing those three songs and then all of a sudden a fourth one popped up that continued the story, then a fifth, then a sixth. So that’s when I realised I couldn’t go back and write about other subjects; the storyline needed to be expanded.
►With a new album comes a new touring cycle. Will you be visiting anywhere you haven’t been before, do you think?
H: Well we’ve all been to Spain (laughs).
S: We’re in the process of lining up some tours and things with our new management company The Distortion Project, they’re looking after that for us. There’s nothing one hundred percent firm yet but there is some plans for that sort of stuff. We keep getting messages on Facebook and Twitter saying “when are you coming back to Scotland, when are you coming to play Sweden?”, all these different places. We would love to go and play them, it’s just the logistics of all of it.
H: With the new management team, James Loveday in The Distortion Project and Andrew (Pennington) in Future PR, everything is a lot more cohesive than it was before so there’s a lot more being organised, whereas before if we had an album out we would launch probably in The Diamond but nothing was really that organised. This time around it’s very…
S: There’s a plan, whereas previously there hasn’t really been. So I think with that, plus what we perceive to be the strength of the album it should get us another few steps up the ladder.
H: This year was always going to be about the album release and we weren’t going to concentrate so much on playing. The only thing we were going to do live was going to be just a bit of a distraction away from the recording process. The recording process went so smoothly that we ended up with a bit of time and we thought we’d better do something else this month! We were going to have July and August more or less free to do the two Spanish festivals and then we’re doing the album launch on the fifth of September in the Limelight – that’ll probably be the biggest local show that we’ve done on our own – so hopefully a lot of people will come and see that. Likewise, we haven’t done that much this year on our own so that, combined with the fact that we’ll be playing quite a few new songs off the Seven Sins album that people haven’t heard played live, will hopefully be an attraction. And there’s other things lined up as Steve says, but even we don’t know most of them! All management is saying is “keep that month free” and so on, so we know ourselves that we’re going to be pretty busy in the near future!
►You’ve toured with some real legends over the years. Who’s been your favourite and why? (I won’t ask who your least favourite was!)
H: Well we do have a least favourite (laughs)! But even he (Bach) is still a legend really, and always will be. For me personally, it’s touring with Saxon. As a young guy, seeing them for the first time probably got me into heavy metal, and if anyone had’ve told me back then at sixteen or seventeen seeing them for the first time around 1980 that I was going to be, as some stage, touring with them…not just touring with them, but befriending them! Sitting beside Biff (Byford) backstage and having a one-on-one vocal conversation with him. And we’re all good friends with the band now, so…for me personally, that’s a highlight.
S: For me it’s pretty much the same. We’ve built up a certain relationship with Saxon, which has been really cool. We were sitting backstage at Sonisphere – there’s Slayer, there’s Anthrax, there’s Carcass, there’s Iron Maiden going by in golf carts, and you’re like “this is friggin’ awesome!” And every show that we’ve done has been like that because there’s always been a few more people we’ve known. When we did the last few Saxon shows we worked with Hell as well, they have Andy Sneap on guitar and Andy Sneap is a big hero of mine – he produces all the big bands, he does all the recording for Exodus and Testament and all these other huge bands. And I really look up to him, he’s the master of recording techniques you know? So when I met him I was doing the full fanboy thing – I got my photo taken with him with a big smug smile on my face! That was great (beams).
H: It’s a challenge too, because when you’re at a festival and you’re surrounded by all these bands, it doesn’t really matter if you get along with them or not – they’re there and if you happen to be able to say hello to one of them that’s great. But when you’re on tour with them there’s always that trepidation at the start. But if, by the end of the tour as it has been with Y&T and Stryper and stuff, you’re sitting having a drink with the guys and they don’t want you to go home because they’ve really taken to you as a support band, it’s a great feeling.
S: I like to think that we are the least hassle that any band could have as a support band!
H: We’re supposed to be. Except for ‘that one’ –
S: That one incident, yeah (both laugh).
►I don’t think you could have done anything right there!
H: Pretty much. We were on a beaten docket, as they say, from the word go! But…we forgive him anyway, absolutely. And if he ever decided that we could play with him again I would have no problem with that. The lineup has changed since then (in Stormzone) so the loose cannon wouldn’t feature as much ! (laughs).
►Has it been strange going forward without David (Shields)? Will you be replacing him permanently?
S: Yeah, we’ve been playing with a new guy, Junior Afrifa, for the past while. He’s just the most awesome dude! He’s 6’4”, dreadlocks, a huge, impressive looking guy. And he can really play, he’s fantastic. I can’t say enough nice things about Junior, he’s just great. It’s never good to lose a guitarist you know, it’s never nice to part ways with people. But Dave’s still our brother, we still love him. It was just one of those things, these things happen.
H: I’ve been lucky enough to rehearse with Junior, as I’ve travelled back and forth. He was introduced into the band while I was in Spain so I had conversations about it, but…whenever Dave left the band it was a big blow. Dave was my right hand man and I think probably out of all of the guitarists that’s ever been in the band he was the one that I interacted with the most, we had a great partnership. And I thought “I’m really going to miss that, it’s going to be hard to get someone else in”. But I think with Junior – I mean, I’m going to find it hard to do my usual stage antics and show him up because I mean he’s massive! And he’s not just big, he exudes charisma – he’s 6’4” or 5”, Predator hairstyle and just a big guy. But the main thing is to find a guy like that who doesn’t play guitar, but this guy can play, he’s a phenomenal player.
S: And he does his homework too: you give him songs to learn and he actually does it! It’s great! Most guitarists tend not to do that sort of thing for some reason (laughs).
H: But everyone will be able to see that for themselves on the fifth of September in the Limelight.
►What are you most proud of when it comes to the band?
H: For me personally it’s still being here ten years after forming the band. Releasing five albums…
S: We’re proud of every little thing that we do, everything adds another little bit of pride you know? I mean, record contracts, getting invited back to places, getting invited to play big festivals, going on pretty big tours with our idols. Everything that we do is a source of pride, so it’s hard to say one thing.
H: We’re really proud of the new album because it would have been very easy after so many years to fall into an apathetic approach, sort of “we’ve signed to a record company for three albums, let’s do the second one – Three Kings was good, let’s just do that again” – but we really stretched ourselves with Seven Sins and I think that comes across in the production and the songs. So, proud that we’re still here after ten years and absolutely proud that we’ve come up with probably our best album yet and one that will ensure that we’ll be around for another wee while anyway!
►You were talking earlier about The Distortion Project management. What do you hope to see from the partnership?
S: Well, James obviously brings a lot of bands into the country so we’re hoping there’s some sort of natural pairings there that we can fit in with. And also booking tours and stuff as well. So there’s more exposure for us. As I said before, we haven’t ever really had a concentrated plan for “the album’s coming out and here’s what we’re going to do” – it’s always been left to our own devices. So we can write and record and do everything else, but when it comes to the logistics end of things, we need somebody who specialises in that area.
H: We’ve done all of these things as you say: we’ve toured with great bands, we’ve done festivals, but most of the time we’ve done that from within the band, by pestering people or getting noticed or whatever. So having done all of those great things and not having anybody really in charge of It that’s been able to take that responsibility away from us, at last – not just with James, but with Andrew – we’re really looking forward to seeing how that expands what we do in the future as far as live work is concerned. Plus James is a real straight guy, he won’t take any crap – from us either! – so when there’s a situation developing where in the past we may have fiddled about and thought “ what do we do, how do we approach this?”, he’s just boom – “don’t approach it, leave it to me and I’ll deal with it”. And we’re all, “I’m not used to this, this is great, work away!” (laughs).
►And finally, based on the theme of the album: what sins are you all guilty of?
H: Probably the sin of being into heavy metal in the first place! (laughs). Realistically I’ve probably got all seven rolled into one at some stage or another! I’m at an age now where I can say that at some stage I’ve probably flipped into all of them haha!
S: Well they say they’re all deadly sins but I’ve done them all and I feel ok!
►Did you read Corey Taylor’s book on the seven deadly sins, where he says they’re not actually sins but just human nature?
H: Yeah absolutely! I think everybody shows them to a certain extent, but as my dad always said “do anything you want in life as long as you don’t harm anybody else”. Most of those sins when you think about it are only personal things to yourself – if you want to show lust or you want to be fat – you don’t actually have to hurt anyone else by having some form of ‘sinful’ nature. But within the context of the album itself there’s things being looked at, where the sins are also potions that people can come along to Dr Dealer and partake of to try and change their lives. So it’s kind of allegorical as well. Within the realm of the album you’ll probably find that if you listen to the songs and then watch the videos that we’re doing later on that are kind of descriptions of what each song’s about, you’ll probably find that the sins are quite healthy because they’re a way of expressing yourself and getting stuff off your shoulders so you can feel a bit of relief in life. But one of the features of the Special Brew as such is that it’s one of the sins potions: Dr Dealer gets you to tell him what it is about yourself that means you really need this (potion), and he’ll give it to you at the end, having absorbed all of your despair or whatever. And you drink it and feel better, but is it the potion that’s made you feel better or because you were able to talk to somebody about what it is that’s burdening you? So within the album there’s subjects ranging from torture and abuse, despair, really dark subjects, but the main objective was to show that there was light at the end of the tunnel and that there was always going to be a rescue. We all need that, I think.
►Ok guys, thanks very much!
H: Great, thanks Melanie!
S: Thank you!
The new album ‘Seven Sins’ will be available on August 3rd via Metal Nation Records, with the launch show being held at the Limelight on September 5th. See below for event info here.
Photo credit: Paul Wharton