Heaven’s Cry – Duality with Symmetry Part I

Sunday, 19th June 2016

Time shifts and tastes change – the internet explosion certainly gave rise to real-time communication and exchange of favorite bands in a lot of sub-genres of music, especially progressive. Message boards, chat rooms, and band forums during the 1990’s aided the cause, which would then blossom into music festivals during the 2000’s. Montreal, Canada’s Heaven’s Cry would be one of the newer bands that gained modest attention and popularity due to this medium change – as well as critical acclaim right out of the start in 1996 through their debut album Food for Thought Substitute. 20 years later they’ve released their fourth studio album Outcast – which seems to harken back to those early, exhilarating youthful days of the quartet.

Encompassing a wide array of progressive rock and metal influences from the 1970’s to today, Heaven’s Cry strive to embrace a free thinking spirit in terms of songwriting – while also not forsaking the necessary melody/harmony ingredients necessary for long-term retention. Establishing early on that twin lead vocalists would make for another difference maker, I took the opportunity to reach out to singer/bassist Sylvain Auclair through Skype, and we would engage in a wonderful hour long discussion. Everything from the long break between Primal Power Addiction to Wheels of Impermanence (their second and third albums) to the building of attention in the 1990’s to today, as well as discussion of Noam Chomsky, Kansas, Styx, and the Canadian television version of The Voice would come up (Sylvain made the show in 2015).

So read on, engage, and discover some life-changing material if you are not clued in to the greatness of Heaven’s Cry on record.

Dead Rhetoric: What started you on your journey to move from a music fan to picking up a bass and performing in bands? And do you have a natural inclination to also be a singer?

Sylvain Auclair: My family had a large vinyl and record collection when I was a young kid. When I was old enough to pick them up and play them I started getting access to so many records. That’s what got me turned on to music. A bit later on after that I started singing in front of the family during parties, at Christmas. I would go around and pass the hat and they would put in some money and encourage me. That’s how I started singing in front of the family at 3 years old. The first artist that I became a fan of even at that early age was Elvis Presley. They bought me my first record which was Elvis Presley’s Greatest Hits and that was it, I fell in love with music.

I have always known that that’s what I wanted to do in life- so many people are saying even at a later age they don’t know what turns them on or what they want to do in life or what their purpose is. People will still be looking for that, and I had this at a young age- so I am very grateful for that. Initially I was a lead singer in a band, I got curious. I picked up a bass and then I sold it, I never followed through. I think this happened a couple of times, I bought like three basses before I ended up playing bass and singing. The way it happened is (guitarist) Pierre St. Jean- the other lead singer in Heaven’s Cry, we met when I was 15 and he was 18. Each of us were singing in our own bands, I was just a lead singer back then. We got this idea of creating a band with two lead singers because we always had such poor background singers in our bands that we thought if we could have two lead singers the background vocals would be amazing. Back then we had mutual favorite, vocal-oriented bands like Styx, Kansas, Journey. Styx and Kansas were the ones with multiple singers in the band, that turned us on to a common goal that we wanted to achieve.

When we decided to form this band together he was already a lead singer playing guitar, so me coming in without an instrument meant he had to step back and let me take on the lead vocal position for a while. Out of luck at one point we had a contest coming up in 1991, the bass player in the band just quit a month before the event. We were in a rut, a bad position – so that’s when I decided to go buy a bass and started singing and playing bass. A month later we were doing that show, it’s one of those things you don’t expect but then you end up playing an instrument because you have no choice, you save the day. So many years after here I am still doing this and loving it.

Dead Rhetoric: When Heaven’s Cry started in the early 1990’s, how did you view the progressive rock/ metal community support especially in terms of being a newer act competing against the established precedence of Rush, Fates Warning, Dream Theater, Queensrÿche, and Marillion to name a few?

Auclair: Well, to be honest back then I was a kid. I didn’t really see the community – for me it was the band. We were doing this all the time- we were stuck in a rehearsal space, practicing over and over again to learn and better our craft. Trying to get us to the level of decency that is required for a band to do an album and be proud of in the long run. Guys stuck between four walls and just basically trying to better that craft and make it happen. Once our first album came out, we got so much attention, that literally blew us away. That’s when I realized this whole community was out there but back then it was different. There was no internet, literally the community was the club scene in the town you were located. The club scene in Montreal was our community, and there was a network of so many bands, the same crowd coming out and going from one venue to another- that nightlife was the community as far as I was concerned. And the record store, because that was where you could purchase all the records of your favorite artists.

Then after that… what happened with Heaven’s Cry is we never got to do a proper tour for the first album. So we never got to reap the fruits of our labor because there was conflicts between the record company and our management, and we were stuck in a bad situation. We got so many great reviews, and the touring only started in 2002 when we released our second album Primal Power Addiction we realized for the first time going overseas to Germany, Belgium, Holland and realizing that there are people that are singing the songs- that was when it hit me.

Dead Rhetoric: Your debut album Food for Thought Substitute made such an impact on the progressive community – gaining a number of best of accolades from journalists around the globe. Now looking back on the record 20 years later, why do you think it had such an immediate, out of the box appeal, and how do you feel about those songs now?

Auclair: When you are a young band and you are trying to better your craft you do the best that you can to get attention. To prove to yourself that you deserve to be part of this band that deserves to be listened to, or at least a listen to be humble about it. You can never expect people to give that attention to your music, so initially you have to do this for yourself. I say that we were trying to prove ourselves that we deserve to play in a band. In the long run when you listen back to it, you hope to be proud of what you’ve done. It was an instinctual way of writing- Pierre had had a little more experience because at that point he had been in Voivod, so it was obviously a renowned band back then and still now. Heaven’s Cry wasn’t even out of the closet. Creatively speaking he led the band to that level of maturity that we needed to get some attention. If I look back on the album, out of the first three albums it’s still my favorite. It’s got that metal aspect to it, very melodic, and the idea of the conceptual album is very interesting to me.

With Outcast the new album, we are definitely going back to that. It’s closer to that first album than anything else we’ve ever done. With Wheels of Impermanence in 2012 when we came back, it was a fast album to put together. Let’s meet the deadlines, and now with this record we had more time to put things together, a concept- longer songs and more elaborate songs. We got to work on the concepts, it’s really going back to our roots.

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