All My Shadows – Unleash the MonstersTuesday, 21st March 2023
These days, when veteran musicians wish to develop a new band or project, as long as the quality of the songwriting is on point, the right parties will appear to elevate the profile. All My Shadows may be a newcomer to some, but with three-fifths of Vanden Plas involved, there’s relevance to this side offering. For those of you familiar with a lot of 80’s-related melodic hard rock or metal, especially if names like Dokken, Whitesnake, Mr.Big, or Ozzy Osbourne matter to you, then this debut album Eerie Monsters contains the right hooks, bite, and charm to appease your musical tastes. We spoke with guitarist Stephen Lill about the formation of All My Shadows, differences between this band and Vanden Plas, key memories touring with Dream Theater plus playing with an orchestra in the early days of Vanden Plas, differences in capturing ideas for songwriting now versus his youth, plus what’s in the pipeline for both bands over the next year or so.
Dead Rhetoric: Eerie Monsters is the debut album for All My Shadows. Can you discuss how this material developed, and how you changed the concept from different vocalists to sticking with fellow Vanden Plas singer Andy Kuntz to handle all the vocals for this effort?
Stephen Lill: Yes, it was like that. I had this idea for this 80’s rock/metal album in my head for years, I was a big fan of this music like Dokken, Mr.Big, Whitesnake. Over the years, I’m a songwriter for Vanden Plas, I write for rock operas, I write for other bands – I decided that when I have a good idea, I should write it. I had these songs in my PC for a while – I talked about it to Frontiers Records and with Andy, I thought it was a good idea to do it someday. During the corona times, you were sitting at home, doing nothing, and the decision was made to start this first kind of project. My first idea was to make this with different singers – there are a lot of good singers in the rock scene. I figured I could write these songs with Andy, he’s a great singer, he could write perfect lyrics – we could develop the vocal lines and invite some singers to finish the CD.
The feeling for All My Shadows for Andy and me was like when we were young guys starting Vanden Plas – we would write riffs, start singing, have a lot of fun, like we were students or kids. We liked the songs; I made a demo for Frontiers and Andy sang four of the songs on the demo. When we heard it, I said Andy, why should we search or choose other singers? It’s perfect, and exactly like I wish to have it. I discussed it with Frontiers to do just with Andy, they said go for it. The decision was done, and it was very easy.
Now I’m very happy I did it because after the decision was made to be the main singer, why not try to make it a real band? With singers, you have different decisions and it has this project character. All of a sudden we formed a band with my brother Andreas on drums, Franky R. on bass, and Markus Teske on keyboards. And that’s the way All My Shadows developed.
Dead Rhetoric: To me it does has a little bit of a feel of the early Vanden Plas material, like Colour Temple. There were songs back then that were a little more melodic hard rock before you moved into your more progressive metal direction. Would you say that’s fair to compare?
Lill: Everything you said is totally correct. It’s exactly that feeling. When I wrote these songs, they were coming naturally out of my mind, my playing. I like John Sykes, I like George Lynch, I like Paul Gilbert, they were my favorite guitar players when I was a young kid. It was for me, there was no pressure to write these kinds of songs. I wrote them because I like them. When we discussed to make another band, it was directly clear from the beginning that it makes no sense to make Vanden Plas part two. Even though Vanden Plas is a progressive metal band, I’m not that much into progressive music. I like to play it, but I don’t listen to progressive music. I like for example Symphony X, I like Evergrey, those are great bands – but that’s the top of the bill for me. If it’s getting too complicated or too experimental, it’s not my cup of tea. If I grab a CD, it’s always Ozzy Osbourne.
Andy’s voice is very distinct, so of course if you have Vanden Plas and All My Shadows there will be comparisons. Regarding the music, if the song is just four minutes with just three riffs, it’s rock and roll/metal. If it’s finished, it’s finished. If you are doing progressive music, I don’t want to say you are forced to make the songs longer. For example, I am writing music for the next Vanden Plas CD, and I finished a song that’s over twelve and a half minutes. Even for Vanden Plas, there are songs that are just five minutes long. You hear this music with other ears, people who listen to Vanden Plas expect something more technical, maybe. For All My Shadows, when the song was finished and I was happy, the song was done.
That is the right comparison that you made with Vanden Plas in the beginning. When we worked on Colour Temple we were young. We worked together in the rehearsal room, the riffs, and when we were done, we had “Father”, we had “My Crying”, and that kind of feeling it was a bit freer for us. If the people liked it, it was cool – I’m happy that the people like it.
Dead Rhetoric: Were “Silent Waters” and “The Phantoms of the Dawn” obvious choices to showcase as videos/singles from the record? And how do you feel about the process and promotional value of making videos these days in the social media platform landscape?
Lill: We had these nine songs finished, and somehow we are newcomers even being in the rock scene for a while. The first song has to show the maximum of what the band is standing for . When we sat down and listened to the songs for a video, it’s good if it’s not too long, if the song starts very directly with what this band stands for. We listened to the songs, “Boy Without a Name” is a cool rocker, but is the hook catching you directly? The song develops within itself. “Syrens” was a bit more experimental. “Wolverinized” would have been cool as it’s really heavy, and then “Devil’s Ride” is again a bit more experimental. You cut down the list, and in the end, you have two or three songs. “Silent Waters” was not my first choice, but I talked to Frontiers and the chief said he would take that song by a hair. They are businessmen, they know how to present music to the people – my first choice was “The Phantoms of the Dawn”. It was planned to make one video, but time-wise you need the musicians to come to the place and a good place to shoot the video. Let’s try to make the main shots for “Silent Waters” but try to make some secondary shots for “The Phantoms of the Dawn” – cut something together. We shot it with Alexis, the son of the bass player – he made the cut of the second video with his passion and support. Without that a second video would not have been possible. Budget and timewise, for a newcomer band, we would have to pay for more.
The whole business side for bands, it’s still not a problem to make two good videos. But to that point, all the bands are struggling. Back in the day you saw bands like Dokken, they sold millions of albums, they had “Dream Warriors” in a Hollywood movie, it was crazy. Today, which normal rock band is able to play a song in a Hollywood movie? Impossible. Metallica, maybe? Dokken was not a band that was headlining Monsters of Rock – they were a well-known band, not on the top of the bill but they were able to be very well known in those days, thirty years ago, even more. I don’t want to complain – we can make music now, I am here in Austria playing our rock opera now, we can make a living out of music, but it’s not that easy for bands to make it up to a certain level for their living out of music.
Dead Rhetoric: How did the cover art concept come about – was this a collaboration between the band and artist from initial ideas to final developments, or did you give free reign for things to develop based on their visions?
Lill: The cover art was basically Andy’s idea. He had this skeleton in mind, and Stan who is responsible for our layout and artwork for years with Vanden Plas – he’s so talented and so good. He is an artist, and a few days later he will present us something that’s 80% or 90% what you see with the final product. What he did with the skeleton, the hat on top, Andy had the idea with the monsters. He wanted the shadow monsters, but they shouldn’t be too obvious. It’s pretty cool, and I’m happy with it.
Dead Rhetoric: Will there be a possibility down the line of taking this material onto stages, even if it’s on a limited basis, case by case, for festival or small touring jaunts? Or are you content to keep this more of a studio project when you have enough material together to record as time allows?
Lill: If we can play live, and with the musicians in this lineup they are so good, it would be a shame if we couldn’t play live. The problem is in my opinion, in Germany a lot of clubs closed because they couldn’t pay their rent. If there’s a club now with two and a half years of bands not playing live – a lot of bands are trying to play. Bands that were playing in venues of say 3,000 people, they go to 1,500. And the bands from there go down. Well-known bands could play a club of say 300 capacities, because they are able to play. Smaller bands won’t get the chance to play, and we are newcomers. It would be crazy for us to go to a well-known club saying we are All My Shadows, we want to play here. They would ask what touring we’ve done before, how many albums do we have? It’s our first CD. The same with festivals – every band is looking for festivals. There are smaller festivals, where we could play in front of 5,000-10,000 people. You have to be realistic – there is nobody waiting for All My Shadows. That only happens if somebody who is doing a festival is maybe a fan of the band – and give that band a chance.
We want to do it, but a club tour would be hard. We have to record the new Vanden Plas CD, we have theater projects, where we play our rock opera and Jesus Christ Superstar in another town. It’s a schedule thing.
Dead Rhetoric: What would you say are some of your personal highlights when it comes to your musical career? Specific albums, live show performances, videos, travel excursions, or other events when you knew you were making an impact with your art/craft?
Lill: The funny thing is, when we are somewhere with a band, on tour we talk to people. And they are rock fans – they say they saw Vanden Plas in 1997 or 1998, on tour as support for Dream Theater. You have no idea how many people remember this tour. It’s more than twenty-five years ago, the tour was great. Music-wise it was the best thing that ever happened, as support for them. It was altogether eight weeks, we played from Finland down to Italy, everywhere. We felt respect from Dream Theater, they were so cool. They were very professional. We had good sound, good stage, cool concerts. We have played festivals, but if you saw the tour it was the best music-wise.
Regarding CD’s for Vanden Plas, I think the opener for us was The God Thing. A lot of people like that album, but I like the development of the band in the 2000’s. Like Christ 0, I am in this heavy side of this music. I like the last two The Ghost Xperiment CD’s very much – my range of music goes from Pink, Christina Aguilera, Robbie Williams and also, I am a big fan of Slipknot. I don’t want to have limits regarding heaviness – if it fits for Vanden Plas, I use it. Even how heavy I play; it will sound different because of the other musicians that I play with. Highlights are hard to say. We have played in Vanden Plas since the end of the 80’s.
A very important point for us is in 1992 we had the chance to play for the first time at a theater with an orchestra. We played Jesus Christ Superstar as young kids, we were in our early twenties. Andy was playing in our hometown, they asked him to play a character in the Rocky Horror Picture Show musical. Some people saw him, they asked him to play in Jesus Christ Superstar. They were searching for a band to play with the orchestra, and Andy said my band is playing. From out of nothing, we were inexperienced, but it’s so unbelievable. With more than thirty studied violinists, cellos, all these school musicians. We couldn’t realize what was going on. The conductor came out to see if we were a good band. We played our songs, and we covered from Queensrÿche “Best I Can”. So, the conductor could see we could play more than 4/4 beat, we could play complicated stuff. We played, and after 45 minutes he said we got the job. In one month we would rehearse with the orchestra, and they were sitting there like a movie, tuning their instruments. We played like sixty shows, and money-wise it was a good thing. With this money we were able to produce Colour Temple. This start with the theater was the start for Vanden Plas. We were able to rent a professional studio to record that album.
Dead Rhetoric: Now that you are in your mid-50’s, has your approach or outlook to guitar or songwriting changed from when you were developing your skills throughout your teens, twenties and thirties to what you look to achieve today?
Lill: Yes, sure. Everything has changed. I remember even today when we were writing The God Thing, I was living at home, writing some stuff. I collected the riffs for “Rainmaker” and “We’re Not God”, I had to remember them. I had an old tape recorder from my dad, I would record, stop, find the right position to record all the parts. Take the tape to rehearsal, with no drums, keyboards, and I would have to explain what I wanted. Explain by listening to a tape recorder, it’s so funny. You were going home so proud of a tape in poor quality. In the rehearsal room, everything was loud, the sound could be a mess. Compared to today, you have your PC, your own home studio, all the instruments available programmed, and if you compare that to writing songs today. A demo today, is like 90% like the CD sounds – if you synchronize it, the same key, the same sound – just better quality. It’s only been thirty years – I don’t want to know what it will be like in two hundred years.
The development is crazy. And I am happy for that. Since I like to write songs, I enjoy writing them all alone. Too many cooks will not do a good meal. I want to be the only cook, and listen to it myself, change it. Maybe it’s my ego. In the early days it was a problem if I presented a song and there are too many people explaining to me how they think a song should sound – even if I have it already in my mind. I finish the songs and want to present it. You have to be self-confident that when you show the people your music they will like it, I’m happy that if I show a song to Andy, he knows where to put a good melody to it. We have two bands together; we are very fast with this.
Dead Rhetoric: How do you see the next twelve months shaping up for activities related to All My Shadows, Vanden Plas, or any other musical endeavors you have in the pipeline?
Lill: It shouldn’t be a one CD project with All My Shadows from our side. We have songs ready for the next CD, it depends on how many we sell and how happy Frontiers is with the band. We have to wait to see the reactions – we have great reviews, the people like it. I’m very happy. We are focusing on the next Vanden Plas CD. We have finished writing the music, Andy is working on the lyrics. We will start the recordings in two months, maybe, hopefully to release… next year in the spring. If the CD from Vanden Plas is finished, then I will finish the songs for All My Shadows.