Blakearth – Join the VoyageThursday, 2nd February 2023
Containing members with vast experience across the hard rock/metal landscape, California’s Blakearth may be relatively new to most readers, yet their sound contains a lot of classic melodic power / progressive metal aspects that revert to the late 80’s/early 90’s. Their debut EP Earth Fragments possesses heavy riffs, fluid lead breaks, solid rhythm section mechanics, and versatile vocal melodies – bringing to mind everything from Priest/Maiden to Jag Panzer, Vicious Rumors, Queensrÿche, or even early W.A.S.P. We reached out to singer Eric Claro to bring us up to speed on the formation of the group, the songwriting insights behind the EP, lyrical content, thoughts on memorable arena shows with Dio and Iron Maiden in the 1980’s, plus a preview of what to expect for the next Blakearth full-length.
Dead Rhetoric: What are some of your earliest memories surrounding music growing up in childhood? At what point did you discover hard rock/ heavy metal, and eventually want to start performing in bands?
Eric Claro: My uncle actually turned me on to a lot of music. I was 11 or 12 when I started listening to hard rock – the first album I remember hearing from him was Deep Purple – Live in Japan. It was the double album. I fell in love with it. Probably 1978-79. And then I got into some AC/DC, Led Zeppelin, April Wine, more rock driven bands. I was getting into the music, trying to sing but digging everything about it. In the early 80’s – probably 1982, I started hanging out with some friends that were listening to a lot of metal. Priest, Dio, Maiden, all that. I remember buying Iron Maiden – The Number of the Beast when it first came out. I just started singing and practicing to that. Maiden would be my very first influence as far as singing was concerned.
Dead Rhetoric: Can you describe the atmosphere in California as a teenager in the 80’s playing backyard parties as well as the experience/ seasoning you gained performing at infamous night clubs like The Troubadour, The Whiskey a Go Go, and The Roxy among others?
Claro: Oh yeah. The backyard scene was huge, like you said in the early 80’s and even into the late 80’s. We used to play lots of backyards. The only thing about playing backyard parties, I remember my first experience performing in front of a big crowd in front of a backyard, There would be tons of kegs, I remember I was complaining because there was no stage. There is just grass, people start coming in, and I am literally playing to a crowd face to face, a foot away from everybody, people would be standing there holding a beer, looking at you. That was my first experience, and we played quite a few of those.
My first show was at the Troubadour, with a band called Crazy Janis. It was a band I created with a guitar player named Phil Macdonald, drummer Mark Aguirre, and bassist Vic. We opened up for Pretty Boy Floyd. Then we made it from there to the Whiskey A Go Go, play Wednesday nights when they used to serve pizza and beer as payment for the bands who performed. We played there a few times to work our way up to The Roxy, where we played there four or five times and that was a blast. The thing about Sunset Strip back in the 80’s, especially for people my age, it was a blast. Everyone was out in the street, passing out flyers, other bands, women. And then after the Roxy, right next door everybody works their way to the Rainbow, hangs out, eat dinner there, drink. From the Rainbow, everyone went to Gazzarri’s. It was another place that was crazy.
Dead Rhetoric: Tell us about the origins of Blakearth and how you assembled the lineup that’s current in the group? Did you know straight away the style of progressive-oriented power metal you wanted to play, or was it a feeling out process to arrive at this?
Claro: I was in a band called Scarred, a local metal band. We released a four song EP, that was out in Europe as well, but we were never signed. After leaving that band, I decided to do some session work in 2012 when I left. I did that from 2012-2014, and one of the guys in the band, we connected again to get back with Scarred that was a short lived trip, playing shows. After that, I decided to leave that band – instead of auditioning for another band, I decided to create my own band. I started off with people that I knew and played with in the past like Mark, pulled him in the band, and Amy Brandt who played bass, as she was in Scarred as well. I put an ad on Craigslist for a guitar player, that’s where I came across Bojan the guitar player. We played a few shows, opened for Lita Ford in 2015 at the M15 Concert Hall, that was a good show. The band deteriorated for a little bit, I played with Thrust and did two albums with them plus some touring. I decided to bring the band back together again, getting Bo and Mark back. I looked for a new bass player, Amelia, and that was the band. We picked up Andy later on to play second lead guitar.
For a style, we were feeling around with what we wanted to do. Bojan, his style is more European, late to mid-80’s style, Andy is more of a rock, mid-tempo guitar player. With those two styles, we created something out of that, more of a power metal sound. That’s the direction we decided to take with more of a heavier sound.
Dead Rhetoric: The latest EP is Earth Fragments – what you can tell us about the songwriting and recording sessions for this set of material? Did you have any surprises, challenges, or obstacles to work through in the process, and how do you feel about the final product at this point in time?
Claro: The recording, our engineer was actually Billy Graziadei of Biohazard, he’s the one who recorded us. He worked us through the songs we already had. The first thing recorded was the drums, then the guitars were laid down, bass, and vocals came last. The biggest challenge for me was, Billy the way he works, especially with a vocalist, he’ll work you until you can’t sing anymore. I was there for hours trying to get the vocals right, singing backing vocals – all the regular and backing vocals. We recorded at his studio, and as far as the mix we had one of Bo’s friends help us as well as Robert Romagna from Pure Steel also did a little bit of mixing as well. That’s how the songs came together for us as far as the recording. It took us almost a year to finish, we ended up finishing up to the final mix.
Dead Rhetoric: Unfortunately Mark passed away late last year – what were the circumstances that happened in that regard, and have you secured a new drummer?
Claro: Mark had a stroke in March of 2022. He was in the hospital for a while, and he had to go through therapy. He was out of the band for quite a bit – and out to the day of his death, as he never came back to Earth. He never recovered fully from the stroke, and he probably had a heart attack in his sleep. He was a good friend of mine, we have known each other for quite a while. The band had to figure things out, while Mark was trying to recover, we had a back up drummer to sit in for him. From my old band Thrust Joe Rezendes was sitting in for a little bit – just to keep up with the songs. He is the permanent drummer now, but we haven’t announced it yet.
Dead Rhetoric: The cover art is from Jan ‘Orkki’ Yrlund of Darkgrove Design. What are your thoughts on what he was able to do for the band, and how did the process work between Jan and yourselves to arrive at this final output? Had you always been a fan/follower of his work in the past?
Claro: Yes, how I came across Jan was through the band Thrust. We released two albums with his artwork as well. I liked it so much, instead of looking for somebody else, I just contacted him. He was more than happy to do our album for us. As far as the concept, Bojan came up with the album name Earth Fragments. Let’s make it dark with a skull and fragments flying around, the Earth blowing up. That’s how he created the skull and the art.
Dead Rhetoric: Where did you come across for the lyrics on this EP?
Claro: As far as all the songs. I just went by what I was feeling each day in the writing. For example, “The Raven” is based on the Edgar Allan Poe poem, try to circle things in my idea of how to present the song in combination with the story of this poem. “Warlord” is more of a war-driven song, back in the 1700’s. “Dead Heart” is about a love affair that went wrong, the woman is murdered and the ghost comes back to haunt the man. “Voyager” is about a mariner on a trip in the ocean, pirates searching for treasure and gold. “Temple of Darkness”, that’s another war-driven song as well. Sheer attack on your enemy.
Dead Rhetoric: How would you assess your abilities as a vocalist now that you are in your mid-50’s? Are there specific tools/techniques you employ to keep your voice in tip top shape, both in the studio and when it comes to the live performances?
Claro: As far as the live performances, I don’t really do voice exercises. I go in and belt it out. I have never had any formal training either, I just went by what I heard on the albums growing up, just singing along with them. Keeping up nowadays, it’s a little tougher. I can hit certain notes, but if there are things I want to extend I struggle a little bit.
Dead Rhetoric: What would you consider some of the biggest challenges Blakearth currently faces in trying to establish more of a footprint / foothold in the scene, not only locally but on a national/international scale?
Claro: It’s a bit tough, there are so many bands out there. Especially younger bands, and a lot of these bands are really good too. We are a little bit older; it might be a little tougher for us. I don’t want to use the word compete, because it’s not about competing – it’s about what we love to do. We are just going to keep doing what we are doing. As far as getting our name out there, we were lucky to get picked up by Pure Steel Records, which is located in Germany, a mecca of metal. The good thing is that the distribution is around Europe, and some in America. That’s a plus for us. Performance-wise, we are still up to date as far as putting on a good show. Musically we are still writing, we are working on another album to deliver to Pure Steel, in the works right now.
Dead Rhetoric: Do you believe you also had a leg up due to your time in Thrust, giving Blakearth a leg up in terms of promotion?
Claro: That is absolutely true. My time in Thrust, I joined the band in 2016 and I was with them for five or six years. Two albums came out – Metal Blade did a re-release of Fist Held High and I got in the band at that time. And then we did a new album with me singing on Pure Steel Records. I made quite a few friends with the label; it did help being in Thrust too.
Dead Rhetoric: What do you consider three of the most important bands in heavy metal that shape your outlook on the genre – or inspire you – and what’s the best concert memory you have attending a show purely from a fan perspective – plus what made that so special to you?
Claro: I saw Dio in 1983 at the Long Beach Arena. Dio, Iron Maiden, and Judas Priest are my top three bands. Amazing, the stage shows unlike now the bands are performing in smaller venues, they were huge arena shows. Huge stage sets, dragons, explosions. Dio’s vocals were amazing as well, the talent on stage. After that I saw Iron Maiden in 1985 at the Long Beach Arena, for the Powerslave tour. I was totally blown away again. Seeing all this made me… it’s a cliché to say it, I wanted to get up on stage, be like Bruce Dickinson, run around and sing. Eddie coming out, all this – those are main influences as far as singing and seeing everything live.
Dead Rhetoric: If given the opportunity to teach a high school or college-level course of any subject matter of your choosing outside of your knowledge in the music industry, what would you like to teach – and why do you believe this is important for people to learn?
Claro: I would like to teach history. There is nothing like your background or where you came from, and your roots. A lot of it nowadays is being taken down, destroyed. Not too many people nowadays know what their roots are. From what they know, it’s all through media. Learning about your history, I would love to teach. Young kids need to learn about their lives, their background, everything like that.
Dead Rhetoric: How do you see the next twelve months shaping up for Blakearth or any other music related activities personally for you? Will the next recording be a full-length effort, or are you content to put out smaller EP/single related content?
Claro: Compared to the EP, as far as the songs for the next album, it’s getting a little more intricate and progressive. The writing between Bojan and Andy, they are always presenting ideas guitar-wise. We are getting more progressive with our style, the audience will be amazed with the second coming of Blakearth. Because I think they are more powerful, climatic, more of a bigger sound than the last EP we just put out. As far as shows, we are doing a show at the Whiskey with Bitch, and that’s on March 9th. We are still booking, we have festivals we’ve handed our music to, waiting for feedback, overseas and in the United States. We will play local shows around Los Angeles, maybe Las Vegas, maybe further down south somewhere. We are looking to build our name by performing more shows and working on the next album in a year or so.