Seven Kingdoms – Breaking Down WallsTuesday, 13th September 2016
Savatage, Crimson Glory, and Iced Earth are three bands who started in Florida. A state more well known for its death metal output during its incarnation, there’s always been an underlying traditional/power currency brimming (even inspiring side work from much missed Death mainman Chuck Schuldiner with Control Denied). Since 2007 Deland, Florida’s Seven Kingdoms have made impressive inroads to bringing power metal back to prominence through their discography and live performances. Not to mention gaining noteworthy touring opportunities in North America and mainland Europe opening for major acts in the scene like Blind Guardian and Stratovarius.
As a preview to their forthcoming fourth full-length record due in 2017, the band ran a successful $12,000 plus Kickstarter campaign to release In the Walls – a four song EP that features two new songs that will appear on the album, and two re-recorded songs from their debut record featuring the current lineup with vocalist Sabrina Valentine and bassist Aaron Sluss adding their touches to the proceedings. Feeling it is more than necessary to get to know more behind this recording, a lot of their DIY ethics, and thoughts regarding the power metal scene in general, we reach out to guitarist Camden Cruz – along with supplementation answers from the rest of the quintet.
Dead Rhetoric: Your latest EP In the Walls comes four years after your last album The Fire Is Mine. Why has there been a long gap between recordings – has it been more a question of getting things in order due to regular life/work circumstances?
Camden Cruz: Yes- that’s really it… When we released The Fire Is Mine we did a ton of worldwide touring. Needless to say, it was very expensive to put ourselves out there in front of people on bigger tours, and it took time to bounce back from that. I think the last two years of the four, actually was most of the writing. We took almost a whole year off where we just hung out and got ourselves back into a position to do what we are about to do. To release the record the way we wanted to, we are basically becoming the record label with this EP and upcoming release. There is a lot of extra costs and time to make it happen as if we were signed to someone. But… here we are!
Dead Rhetoric: You successfully crowdfunded this particular EP, which is a preview into the next full-length as well as revisiting past recordings with the current lineup. How do you feel about crowdfunding at this point, why do you think you were able to achieve your goals so quickly, and how did you determine the song selection for this effort?
Camden: This was something that we started thinking about right after the release of the last album in 2012. I really do believe though, it was only worth it to do it in the position we are in now. Everyone can release a Kickstarter (campaign) but it really, really works if you already have the fans to back it. We have amazing fans. We owe everything to them for this. It feels like this could easily be the future for the industry. We have a lot more to release than what you saw on the EP Kickstarter, so we are really stoked to put that up this November. As for the song selection, we wanted to do something special for the EP that would make people want to buy a small set list of songs and also help us spread the release out over a bit more time. It takes so long to put something like this together as an independent band, so we want to make sure we can get as much cool stuff out with the material as possible.
That being said, we have always talked about re-recording stuff off of Brothers of The Night since that never really got a chance at a pro recording. We took what we thought were two of the best songs for that record and updated them a bit with what you hear on the EP. You can only get it on that CD. As for the album tracks we selected, “In The Walls” is fast, and it’s a great example of what we are trying to bring in this new music, which is speed. It’s got classic riffs and hooks. “Undying” was a bit more of a thrash-y song, so we thought it would be a good contrast to the constant pelting of power metal…… while still constantly pelting you with power metal! (laughs)
Dead Rhetoric: The fourth full-length will hit the streets at some point in 2017. Can you give some insight into the record, how you feel the sessions went, and will you also continue to go the self-financed independent route or seek out some possible label support for this next effort?
Camden: I think the whole band feels like we finally got something really special done this time. Not to belittle previous releases, but a lot of things came together for this record to be made. We worked off and on with North Avenue Studios and Morrisound since July (and at this time we still have 4 more songs to mix for the album, then send out for mastering) so needless to say it has been a work in progress. Something very different with this process is, we had time off from recording. It was a lot more spread out and we got time to have fresh ears. We used to go into a studio for like three weeks and knock it out. I think you miss things when that happens as a whole, but that also takes a little more time and money. We were able to do that this time and I believe you can hear it, immediately. We will be releasing all of the first edition copies of the full length album ourselves through Kickstarter starting this November. We plan to have it fully released by sometime in January just in time for our 10-year anniversary for the band! Once all of that is done, we have a tour in mind for next year in North America. Sometime before, during or after that we will be seeking new licensing with a label for all of our records.
Dead Rhetoric: How is the band chemistry within Seven Kingdoms, given the fact that Kevin and Keith are brothers and that you and Sabrina are husband and wife? Do you believe this creates even more of a familial bond than the average metal act?
Camden: Most definitely! We are literally a family (laughs). I think that is what gives you an edge with being able to be a band for almost a decade and beyond!
Dead Rhetoric: What’s your assessment at this point of the three full-lengths in terms of Seven Kingdoms development? What would you consider some of the highlights and possibly things you would have improved upon if given the opportunity to do so?
Camden: Honestly, I probably wouldn’t change anything. I think most people can agree that there are dramatic improvements between each of the records, and I think that’s what kind of makes the next record to come out, exciting. I believe we were able to raise the bar again, from where we left off at The Fire Is Mine with this new album.
Dead Rhetoric: Gaining the opportunity to go on the road in North America and abroad opening for acts like Blind Guardian, Stratovarius, and Manticora, what have you learned and experienced that you think has helped fuel the band’s drive and success in the long-run? Any special takeaways or stories that you’d love to share?
Camden: Tours like those were really big stepping stones for us. They took a toll on our wallet, but it’s just that, which helped us be in the position where we are now able to do things a bit more for ourselves and help the band release material the way we are currently. Among just the sheer experience you gain on tours like that, since then, I’ve become more involved within the industry and I think that helps out a lot too with making the smartest decisions we can as a band. A lot of the things I do now, I learned from the people working on those tours.
Dead Rhetoric: Performing in a power metal style, where do you see the changes in support of the genre stateside versus worldwide since your beginning days until now? Do you find that social media and the internet has helped or hurt the cause in exposing this music to a wider, broader fan base?
Camden: Well, as far as fans go, I think places like Italy and like Czech Republic are notorious for very loud audiences… Spain, South America too. America is right up there though. If they love your music they all scream the lyrics, right? (laughs) Honestly, we have had great fans basically everywhere we have gone, and generally I think we are pretty well received by most new fans. Things like Facebook are basically key now days, especially releasing in the DIY format. We are basically hinged on Facebook.
Dead Rhetoric: You also juggle other work responsibilities as a tour manager, merchandise guy, artist manager, and booking agent in the metal scene. Where did your interest/passion for this begin, and do you think these relationships have been beneficial for Seven Kingdoms in the long run? Any special takeaways that you’ve been able to apply to the business side of the band?
Camden: That’s kind of what I was leaning into with that other question. I’ve now created even more work for myself, (laughs) but it’s really beneficial to know most of the ropes in the industry, or to at least have some experience with all of it. As Jim Morris would say, ‘Camden has a ton of hats’ (laughs). It’s hard to keep them all on your head at times, but that’s just how it is. I think the thing that drove me to do this, and really want to do it well, was being put in the position where I relied on people to do their job, and they didn’t. Most of the time costing me cold hard cash. At one point (or many in this case) I just said, screw it, I’ll do it myself. Those moments have spawned some of the best learning experiences of my life, and they have been nothing but beneficial for myself and the band.
Dead Rhetoric: ProgPower USA is the renowned festival for these genres for our domestic scene. How do you feel about the development of this festival, what have been some of the highlights personally through the years – and could we ever see the development of multi-day festivals a la Wacken here or do you think the country is just too spread out to be able to feasibly make this happen?
Camden: ProgPower USA is the pinnacle of the progressive and power metal scenes here in the USA. Recently I’ve been added as a crew member and finally got to see the behind the scenes things. It really is world class as far as attention to the artist. Glenn does a fantastic job every year making sure everything is gone through with a fine tooth comb – which is not easy, costly and time consuming. I don’t think people fully grasp how much work goes into it, and how many people it takes to pull that off the way we do it. I would love to see a major outdoor festival give the USA a name for that kind of thing. There are a few huge outdoor festivals in the USA but none of them are as special as say Wacken. That is still the #1 event for metal in the world!
Dead Rhetoric: How do you define success these days personally and for the band? What’s left on the bucket list for the group to accomplish?
Camden: Our first goal with this band was to get it self-sustaining. That means we can release records and tour the way we want to, without it costing us money. Coming home at the end of a tour and having not spent money (on top of the costs of recording) would be our first ‘dream come true’. We are on a very good start with this first Kickstarter to making our first goal a reality. This will be a defining moment for us and I would say it’s our first major, major goal. I have confidence that we are going to do that very soon with what we have planned so far. Once that happens, it’s just about growth again and we can start paying some of the debt we owe ourselves back!
Dead Rhetoric: If stranded on a desert island with only five bands or five albums to listen to, what would you choose and why?
Camden: Man! that’s always a tough question…. That is something that almost changes daily, (laughs), but as of now I guess I would take this:
-Seven Kingdoms – (the new album coming out) – seriously, I would!
-Evergrey – The Storm Within
-Blind Guardian – A Night at the Opera
-Savage Circus – Dreamland Manor
-Rise Against – Appeal to Reason
Mostly because I can listen to these albums all the way through, and they are great albums to work with – I would be building myself a house right?!
Dead Rhetoric: What particular hobbies/interests do the various band members of Seven Kingdoms have outside of the music when you have the free time to pursue them?
Camden: Honestly, lately I’ve barely had time to do anything besides band and work! When I do get time though I try to catch up on some Gaming (PC MASTER RACE), playing guitar without ‘rehearsing’, Food Gatherings with friends and family, Sabrina and I just got a puppy so there is a lot of attention on him now too! Honestly though, 98% of my time is band and work, (laughs)!
Aaron Sluss: Outside of the day job and working on music for SK and Soulmass, I spend a good portion of my time listening to music, be it going out to shows, searching out new (to me at least) bands online, or collecting and listening to my favorites on vinyl. I’m also a bit of a gear nerd, and do a lot of obsessing over basses, amps, and effects that I can’t really afford (also trying to con Cam into buying guitar gear that I think is cool). I guess that all still falls within the spectrum of my musical interests, so aside from all that I’m really into cars, mostly vintage European stuff, going out to the local breweries and craft beer bars, and occasionally attempting to skateboard without causing significant injury to my hands.
Sabrina Valentine: I paint rocks as a relaxing hobby and also record songs that have been requested by fans as a thank you for their support. I’d like to have more time to do them both, but when I can, I do as much of both as possible. Camden and I just got a new puppy so I really enjoy spending time with Orbit and also my two kitties, Myah and Pandora.
Kevin Byrd: I recently started really enjoying coffee, (laughs). I also like lifting, going to the beach with the girlfriend and playing Pokemon Go whenever we have spare time. Also hanging with my cats!
Keith Byrd: Gardening, I have a slight obsession with growing/collecting exotic plants, especially fruits or anything edible. Besides that, I just hang with my girlfriend and pets at home, watch a plethora of YouTube videos, finding new music… You know, the usual stuff. Also, hoarding as many cats as the law will allow. (laughs)
Dead Rhetoric: How do you see the next 12 months playing out for Seven Kingdoms in terms of recordings, promotion, touring, etc.?
Camden: Well, the recording is almost done! We do have a bunch of stuff planned. We will be dropping the main crowdfunding campaign for the full length in November, and that will come out sometime in January to help us celebrate Seven Kingdoms’ 10-year-anniversary! Other than that, we have a few plans up our sleeve for touring. The details of the tours are still grey, but we look forward to a full North American tour in 2017 to kick off the record, along with some hometown gigs with some big names before that!