Serious Black – Not Just Another Supergroup

Wednesday, 7th January 2015

Towards the end of our conversation, Serious Black vocalist Urban breed drops this bombshell on me when talking to him about my early memories of Tad Morose and their third album A Mended Rhyme: ‘I don’t even own a copy of that album…and it’s the first professional recording I ever appeared on.’ Come on Black Mark – or anyone else scouring the used CD bins… get this man an original copy of his own record!

Now that that’s out of the way, let’s get back on track. Most of you in the power and progressive metal community are well aware of this man’s incredible vocal presence through the years starting with said Swedish act and going through everything from Bloodbound and Trail of Murder to an appearance on a Pyramaze album, as well as recent effort Project Arcadia. His latest band is a sextet called Serious Black, containing the following musicians who may be familiar to you: guitarist Roland Grapow (Masterplan, ex-Helloween), drummer Thomen Stauch (ex-Blind Guardian), guitarist Dominik Sebasatian (Edenbridge), bassist Mario Lochert (Emergency Gate, ex-Visions of Atlantis), and keyboardist Jan Vacik (ex-Dreamscape). Their debut album As Daylight Breaks contains a lot of familiar nuances in terms of power riffs, symphonic elements, and larger than life melodies that bridge their previous discography footprints while honing in on a very engaging, energetic, and uplifting aural platform.

So on one late Sunday morning in December I felt it was time to catch up on Skype with Urban, and you find that he is a very friendly, humorous man who takes his craft ‘seriously’. Given a half hour to talk, you’ll learn more about not only this band, but also wild rumors about him, what makes a great metal vocalist in his eyes, and why you will not catch him singing “No Son of Mine” anytime down the road…

Dead Rhetoric: Serious Black has an interesting description in terms of your back story: six experienced musicians and also friends prior to your inception. Can you tell us how things came together and how you intend on outliving the ‘all-star/supergroup’ tag?

Urban Breed: (laughs). That last bit is going to be easy! (laughs) It all came together because Mario had this idea that he wanted to do something with experienced musicians that would be like a full-time band, a long term goal. Not just make an album on the side so that we have something out there or a bit of product hanging around, the world needs a band that stays together as a band with a long term goal. I will agree that I could use that at this point, so this sounds like a good idea. As far as the second part, I don’t really care about the ‘supergroup’ thing, that’s just a tag put on there for marketing. We are going to work, we are going to do good music, and we put this first album together under high pressure because we have a tour to get on in January and we had to have it out before then. We worked really hard and the outcome is pretty good, which is promising for the next album, as we are already looking forward to doing more work together.

Dead Rhetoric: Naturally people have high expectations that the band will have semblances of their favorite moments from Helloween, Tad Morose, and Blind Guardian due to the members at hand. Did this put any added pressure on the group in terms of the songwriting and performances for the debut album As Daylight Breaks?

Breed: Maybe subconsciously, but not in a way that we’ve experienced. We more or less figured that if we allowed everyone to write, those elements would just be there. Every one of us has taken a big part in the songwriting for every band that we’ve ever been in before. Whatever flavor you are looking for in those bands is going to be there in Serious Black. I would say we were pretty relaxed about that.

Dead Rhetoric: So did that mean that all of the band members had song ideas ready for this record and then you passed ideas back and forth through the Internet?

Breed: I will say it like this. Even if you are doing this together in like a rehearsal situation, pretty much the only way you are going to get any real work done is if someone had the core of the song already together that everyone can build upon. Otherwise you are wasting everyone’s time or you just get really lucky coming up with something together. We did do some jamming and looking at some things, but overall it was a situation where Roland would put in the core of a song, I would put in a core of a song, Mario would put in a core, we would all put in ideas. We would allow everyone’s personality to shine through in the end result. That’s really we how we did it. We did a lot of polishing up on the ideas in our own studios, the freedom to work in this way was fantastic. We were not constrained by the fact that we were working in isolation or that we had to be in the same location at the same times. It was quite a liberating experience I should say.

Dead Rhetoric: What song would you say was the biggest surprise from the inception of the idea to the final recording on the record?

Breed: Let’s see here… biggest surprise. That’s the thing though. I had a pretty good idea where my song ideas were going. As far as the others, it was probably one of Mario’s as to where that was going. No, no, no- I think it was a song of Tommy’s, “Listen to the Storm” that was the biggest surprise.

Dead Rhetoric: It must feel great to hook up on your first European tour out of the gate with Hammerfall, who have such a fervent, long standing following. What are your views on live performance these days – and do you have a preference between that and your studio work?

Breed: Preference, well first as you said I think it’s a great opportunity to start off getting on a great tour. One of the advantages going out for the first time is that we don’t really have to be the headliner. We are looking forward to this opportunity with Hammerfall. As far as the other part of your question, I don’t really know… what do you think?

Dead Rhetoric: I would think at this point in your career there’s enough of a difference in both aspects to enjoy them equally. The creativity you gain from the studio work and the energy of live performances…

Breed: It’s really hard to tell when you are in the middle of the creative process, but when you are playing live that’s fun, right here, right now. You may think there’s a lot of pressure, I don’t really feel that that much. I just relax, have fun and enjoy that moment with the crowd and the band. So that’s play time, that’s for sure. When you are in the studio, that’s work. That’s the difference I would say to me. Some people think playing live is nerve wracking- but I’m not really afraid of failure on the stage. It’s a fun experience and you are making that experience along with everyone there. If you take that stance it’s not too showing off to the crowd, you are being there with the crowd and I think it’s quite a different experience. That has to be around mindset- that has to happen too in the studio. I really want to make sure I connect with the songs emotionally, and this can be hard sometimes because you are not always writing your own songs. This is actually one of the reasons why on the limited edition of the album there is a cover song of Genesis “No Son of Mine”, and I don’t sing on it because I absolutely disagree with the lyrics on that song. Jan is doing the vocals on that and he did a fine job. I believe it’s really important to be open and honest when it comes to vocals, people will hear it if I don’t feel the song.

Dead Rhetoric: Are there any tricks of the trade you use to keep your voice in tip top shape? And I’ve heard in a recent interview online where you discuss times on tour where you have to adjust notes due to vocal injuries – how do you maintain a level of professionalism night after night when that happens?

Breed: That’s how you do it, you try to find a different way. Preferably you try to make sure you don’t get there to begin with. I very much live in the moment when I’m on tour so it’s hard not to react with the crowd and take on the world. Sometimes you can do a little too much and end up in a tough situation. I would say that at this point I should know better. What I really need to make sure to do is not talk to people too much, which is really hard because you would like to meet your fans. I love the feedback that I’ve gotten from people through the years where people say this song has made a difference in their lives.

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