MindMaze – Commitment, Determination, and Resolve Part ISunday, 23rd April 2017
For any style of music to thrive, living on the shoulders of nostalgia only gets the movement so far. Artists retire and priorities change, necessitating the need for fresh blood. Coming up on their fifth anniversary as a band, Pennsylvania’s MindMaze are making their mark on a melodic, power/ progressive metal landscape through consistently delivering high quality songwriting and performances – establishing a presence through cultivating their fanbase and including them as often as possible to be part of the process through successful crowdfunding ventures.
While the debut album Mask of Lies and the follow-up Back from the Edge captured MindMaze as a versatile act, boldly developing their third album Resolve as a conceptual, 69-minute recording could vault the quartet into uncharted appeal. The likes of which include many of their musical mentors – Dream Theater, Queensrÿche, Savatage, and Evergrey. Incorporating an emotionally driven, personal storyline with equally dynamic musical content, the band seem aware of the polarizing effects this material can induce – but the rewards are so fulfilling as you dig deep into this record. Riveting lead breaks, exemplary bass performances, shifting and fluid drum work – acoustic guitar interplay, plus the magnificent vocal prowess from Sarah Teets – all intertwined into retainable arrangements and songs.
Fortunate to watch these developments occur over the past few years, it was time again to set up a Skype session with guitarist Jeff Teets. In preparation for some headline album release shows and tour dates across North America with Arkona and Sirenia, we had a healthy discussion about the making of this third record, how live touring can really strengthen a metal band, as well as some of the bands growing pains and lessons learned. You’ll learn that these musicians are as much fans of music as they are pursuing their personal dreams within it.
Dead Rhetoric: Resolve is the third MindMaze full-length – and very ambitious as your first concept record. Tell us about the trials and tribulations in the writing and recording of this endeavor – were you conscious of fan expectations versus your own creative desires, and did you keep in mind the work of acts like Dream Theater, Queensrÿche, and Savatage when working on this?
Jeff Teets: This is going to be a hell of a long answer, I can already warn you! (laughs) Because it’s such a complex question. Yes, I would say we were conscious of expectations from people going into this. I’m not saying that we really wrote specifically trying to gear towards those expectations, but we are definitely aware of them. It’s something that we are still getting use to actually- having expectations from people who have been following us for the last couple of years. We have a couple of albums worth of material now to compare things to. I think when you put anything out you are always anxious to see what people think of it. There is extra pressure when you know people have expectations, either good or bad.
As far as the writing of the album is concerned, writing this album was way different than anything in the past. With the material that’s on both of the first two albums, regardless of when it was written we basically wrote it by myself coming up with a lot of the guitar riffs and chord progressions and the general gist of the song, and then in general working on it as a band and doing the lyrics at the end- we would finish songs one at a time. This time around, we really just concentrated on the bigger picture rather than the individual songs- there were a couple of songs that really did write themselves, such as the song “Sign of Life” that’s our first single and video. For the most part we just kind of stockpiled ideas, in terms or riffs, melodies, and lyrics- what we wanted to do and spent a couple of months with myself and our bass player Rich just jamming through stuff, making rough demos and piecing together ideas. We created a template for the album – we knew what we wanted to do conceptually, and sort of what music was going to be needed to create those moods and fit that part of the story. It was just a matter of taking the stuff that we stockpiled and applying it to this template, then tweaking things as was necessary.
Dead Rhetoric: The playing level and abilities of the band seems even greater with this effort – incorporating spirited acoustic runs on “Twisted Dream” to several sections of bass solo segments and Sarah reaching new dimensions of her vocal range throughout. At this point in Mindmaze’s career, is confidence on a high level as well as trust between the quartet to achieve what you want in your own style as a melodic, power/progressive metal band?
Teets: I would say yes. The big thing that was kind of a pleasant surprise for everybody was definitely Rich (Pasqualone)’s bass playing. Not that he was not a great bass player before, but he spent some time away from the band in 2014- and we hadn’t recorded with him for a while. He’s a couple of years younger than I am, he’s the youngest of us all- I think it was really surprising to everybody that when we went in to record this album how much he had grown as a player. He also wrote 90 % of all the bass lines on the album as well. There were a couple of pieces of certain songs that I had very specific things in mind to compliment a guitar part or a drum groove- but for the most part he wrote the bass parts himself, in addition to writing a lot of the sections of songs himself which was very cool.
Everyone in the band feels confident in our individual abilities. We’ve recorded a couple of albums now, and Sarah in particular is getting a lot better at being able to capture our capabilities better on an album. It’s not necessarily that I think that we’ve gotten better, I think the pressure and nerves that can be there in the studio have kind of gone away. It’s a much more normal process for us. I’m starting to feel the guitar solos and leads that I’m capturing on the albums are really the best I can do, as opposed to like ‘it was good’. There is a certain spark to the guitar and vocal performances on this album that just wasn’t there on the previous albums.
Dead Rhetoric: What can you tell us about the video shoot for “Sign of Life” – which has received a great response through social media so far? Has it been a challenge to decide what songs to push as the ‘singles’ so to speak?
Teets: The video shoot was pretty cool- this is our first video and our first experience doing a video shoot. It was about what I expected- I had talked to some friends in other bands about their experiences and they let me know what to expect. We spent a couple of hours playing through the song and they would go back and concentrate on shots of the whole band versus individual close-ups of one of us. It’s definitely a challenge to play along to a recording completely in time to some degree- particularly when you are doing it through speakers versus using an in-ear monitor. It took a while to get used to the volume difference, and our drummer’s drums are so loud too.
With this album, that song “Sign of Life” totally picked itself. Before we were even close to finishing the album, we were completely dead set that we knew that was the song. It’s one of the more accessible songs, it’s different enough from some of the stuff that we’ve released in the past that I think it has a way to catch people off guard but still is very much what people to some degree would expect from us. Going beyond that, it was really tough. We ended up choosing two additional songs as opposed to one because we were so stuck on which other one we wanted to release. This album didn’t give us that many options for super obvious singles. We didn’t want to necessarily pick the most obvious songs.
Dead Rhetoric: How important was it for the band to come up with a more personal storyline to flesh out over the course of the album? Because many times, the storylines are more science fiction or politically driven, is that why you wanted to veer off course a bit?
Teets: Yes. I would say so. For the most part with our previous albums, we did fairly personal lyrics with a couple of exceptions. Even with the song “The Machine Stops” from Back from the Edge, even though it was lifted from the science fiction story of the same name, it really is identifying with the human emotional element of that story (rather) than it is what I call the Steve Harris lyrical approach, which is more like reading out of a textbook describing what happened.
The concentration on more personal lyrics has always been what I think kind of makes our band what it is. It’s not something that we set out to do early on- it’s something we’ve developed over time and the longer we’ve been a band, given what the trends in a lot of the power metal and adjacent genres are like I feel it does sort of give us a bit of our own flavor. Because we are not writing lyrics based on science fiction, history, comic books- something in that vein. I didn’t really want to do a rock opera, we knew we didn’t want to do something with multiple characters and multiple singers. If I was going to do something like that, I’d rather do that as a side project like Avantasia versus Edguy- make it a separate entity as opposed to bringing in all these other singers. We did have a few sit down conversations about if we were going to do this as a concept record, how do we want to do it? Everyone was on the same page about this right from the beginning.
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