Niviane – Rise of the DruidWednesday, 29th November 2017
Dead Rhetoric: What can you tell me regarding the cover art for The Druid King?
Skinner: Initially, we didn’t know what the album was going to be called. The very last song that was written for the album was “The Druid King”. Before that, I think we had another song… that song was written at the last minute and we put it on the album, it ended up being a cool idea for an album cover. When it came time to do the art and layout, I went online and searched a bunch of artists, looked for art concepts I liked and a bunch of different bands. A Sound of Thunder, I really liked the art work that they had been getting, Dusan Markovic is the guy that does their artwork, so I put a portfolio for him and four other artists I liked and asked for pricing. Not only was Dusan’s the best (workwise), but he was also the cheapest. So it was a no brainer, everyone in the band was unanimous about it. I told them my idea about the woods, the druid in there, nighttime- delivered the idea to Dusan along with the lyrics to the song and he sent the initial drawing with the spirits walking around, the trees, and I didn’t envision all that. When he delivered it, we had a couple of tweaks to the color, because it was (greener) and we wanted more blue-ish, and that was it. We have had so many people saying it’s some of the best artwork they’ve seen, so we will be using him again for sure.
Dead Rhetoric: How did you feel about your years with Imagika and four studio albums you released while in the band? What are some of your fondest memories or takeaways that occurred that shaped your style or outlook today?
Skinner: Ah, the old Imagika- we are going back. I joined the band in late 2004, I was in another band called Machine Called Man, and honestly I was still trying to find my own style and what not. We had opened a show for Symphony X, and the drummer of Imagika and one of their techs saw me perform and knew their singer had quit after the first three Imagika albums. They contacted me, asked if I was interested in trying out, met up with the guitar player, tried out the songs- the first audition I nailed it. Funny thing was, Neil Turbin the first Anthrax singer was there, and I wasn’t supposed to know he was there, he gave the band the thumbs up or thumbs down and he gave them the thumbs up. I joined and I learned a lot. You listen to the first Imagika album, I didn’t know how to do vocal harmonies. It was the first band where I was able to use some of my thrash influences. Let’s not get this wrong- they were a thrash band before I joined, and then we became a power/thrash band. We were a hybrid band, a mixture of thrash and power metal. We had a lot of cool shows and got to do a lot of cool concerts.
It was the first time I was signed to labels, I sat there with my mouth shut and picked up a lot of the business. Steven Rice the guitarist was handling everything, I was more of the right-wing man, going along. I was taking it all in, making sure I learned as much as I could. In 2010, the band had just run its course with me. Some of the band members were gone, it wasn’t the same brotherhood, I wasn’t having much say in anything. Since all the original members were gone, it was Steven’s band and Steven’s show- my hands were cuffed so I told them I was parting ways. We left on great terms, and then two months later they folded shop, called it a day, got rid of Imagika altogether, and since then Steven and I have not been getting along. I think he blames me for the fall out of the band, so it’s sad. I have a lot of fond memories. If someone would get us to think about a reunion show I would totally do it, I love all those guys.
Dead Rhetoric: You mention in another recent interview the struggle to keep up with social media as an artist due to the millions of other bands fighting for limited consumer attention from the fans. What tactics have you used that seem to work better, and do you think quality wins out in the end?
Skinner: That may be part of it- I’ve noticed unfortunately more is more. Especially if you are using Facebook- people aren’t seeing every post. If you want to announce a show, a tour, or released a video- you can put a post up there, (but it) doesn’t mean everyone is going to see it. You have to post it multiple times, you have to post it every couple of days. I still have times where we’ve been playing a show in an area, announced the show numerous times and the people didn’t even know we were in town- even if we’ve posted about it 25 times. Aside from them, we have to use every outlet that we can- Twitter, Instagram, YouTube, everything you can. You don’t know what person it’s going to hit, and who is online or who is seeing what. Everyone’s friends list is growing, we have more things to feed through than the previous day.
It helps if your product is quality, right? If you put something out and they think it’s cool, they’ll want to keep in touch and check out when you do put out something new. With us, one thing I know that is huge is we use Online Metal Promo- even though we have promotions from our label and promotions from our management, I believe promotions are everything. I would suggest to any band that is trying to break through on the market, use some sort of promotional company or person to get you out there. You need to get your name out there so people know who you are, and two: make sure there is product out there or you are playing out there so people know where to get it. That’s about it.
Dead Rhetoric: What are the biggest takeaways you had running your own label with Dead Inside Records?
Skinner: (laughs). The biggest takeaway was, I was really only making money off my own bands in the end. That was the number one reason why I closed up shop, I’m losing money on all these other bands. I wasn’t having enough time to devote to my own music, I bit off way more than I could chew. The good thing was, I did get a lot of contacts and figure out the in’s and out’s of how record labels work when I was lining things up. A lot of insider information that made it much easier for me to get Niviane signed when the time came- we knew what labels were looking for and how to package ourselves as an artist. And it worked- when I shopped my Skinner album I hit up 80 labels and got 1 hit that was a bad deal I would never sign. As opposed to Niviane, since I’ve learned more, I hit up 60 and got 4 offers. It was a fun time, started up something new and had about 20 people on staff. They were all volunteers who wanted to be a part of something special, we had some really good bands. I wish I could have done more for them.
Dead Rhetoric: Where do you see the state of heavy metal today? Where do you see the greatest areas of concern, and do you have any suggestions or ideas to improve things?
Skinner: In every other country, it seems that metal is better perceived and received than here in the US. Heavy metal is alive and well, there are a million bands that I haven’t even heard of that are out there. You see a show flyer on Facebook from bands from a different region and there are more bands you haven’t heard of it. The support for it is what’s lacking, especially here in the United States. In the US it’s all pop, hip hop, r+b, and country. We are losing music venues left and right- we are seeing higher tier bands now playing dives, that’s just the way things are. Labels, you aren’t going to get tour support unless you are a top tier band.
It’s a real do it yourself environment, you have to invest in yourself and you have to make smart investments. Are you going to play for a decent crowd? For instance, you will not see Niviane heading out on our own headlining tour with a bunch of bands from our area- we would rather do a buy on and invest a little bit of money to reach a bigger audience on a greater stage. Or play a bigger festival and take one weekend off, but reach a wider audience. If there was more support for metal in the United States, more people would be aware of it, there would be more fans, and places would be packed a little more to heal things a little bit. I see things staying the way they are, or getting worse- and bands are just going to have to find a way to do it themselves, unfortunately.
Dead Rhetoric: How do feel about the band in a live situation, and what have been some of your favorite Niviane shows?
Skinner: People say we’ve been crushing things on stage. They believe that we are a next level band that belongs on bigger stages, bigger tours. We play a lot of local shows with other bands, and we bring a lot of high energy, big vocals, shredding, well-crafted songs. We try to look at this as playing Wacken every time we play- we want to bring that there.
Dead Rhetoric: When looking at your entire music career, what are some of the proudest moments either on record or live that will stay forever embedded in the memory banks?
Skinner: I look at my musical career as two things- you have the live portion of it and then you have the artistic part with creating records, recording them and releasing them. Live, some of my proudest moments would be some of my favorite shows. For Niviane, opening up for Primal Fear and Rhapsody, that was an awesome show. It was early in year two of our career, we went out with a bigger act, and people wanted to buy merch right after. Best moments for everything else- some of the albums that you release, when you are hearing that master copy for the first time, we go ‘wow’, you see the reviews come in.
I get a lot of people that discover me through my newer bands and then find out my other stuff. I think every time I finish a new album I’m proud of, that’s a highlight. Or if I’m playing a really good show and the feedback is there, those are all great memories.
Dead Rhetoric: When you think of the world successful, who are the first two or three people that come to your mind? And has your definition of success evolved or changed through the years?
Skinner: Let me answer your first question. If we are talking in terms of musically, I can start naming off bands that I think are successful: Iron Maiden, Iced Earth. When it comes to my own personal success, I’ve always set goals- they can be small goals. My first goal was to play a club- and we have a club in San Francisco back in the day called The Stone that was the cool place to play. I accomplished that goal, then I wanted to record a demo tape- back when that was a cool thing to do. I recorded my first demo, then I wanted to do a little tour. I never got into this to be rich or famous. I’m happy for what I have done. I’ve released my 13th album now with the Niviane album, there are bands that haven’t released that much music. I think I’m lucky, I keep working hard at it. I think I’ve been successful every since that first club that I played at.
Dead Rhetoric: What’s on the agenda for Niviane as well as your other work in Skinner and Hellscream over the next 12 to 18 months?
Skinner: There’s a lot. I’ll start with Skinner and Hellscream. Hellscream, the new album is completed- it’s called Hate Machine. We are shopping it, Dave (Garcia) from Cage is in this band. He’s finishing stuff with Sean from Cage, they have a new project they are working on. He’s trying to shop the album, I’m shopping it as well. He and I have full time projects we are working on, so this is a side thing. If anyone’s listening, check it out. Skinner took a back seat to Niviane, that’s my solo thing. I have a new album that is almost completely written. I’m hoping by spring to start recording.
Niviane we have a lot of stuff going on. I’ve been actively looking for touring opportunities, we’ve had a lot come our way but either the pricing wasn’t right, or the timing wasn’t right. Or we’ve been passed over for other bands that are a little more well-known, so we just have to understand that is the way that it is. We want to tour and support the album for the fans. Aside from that, we’ve been trying to record our first video but we’ve been having issues- our director keeps disappearing on us. We want to get that out there, videos nowadays are very important. We are finishing up pre-production material for the next album, we want to do drums for album two very shortly. Pitch Black has said they want to do the next five albums with us- we are not hurting for a label to pick us up. We have to see how they do with this one. Heads down, moving forward. If I look at our idea queue, we have two albums worth of material right now.
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