Devil’s Train – Rock and Roll FamilyTuesday, 21st June 2022
Returning after a seven-year break from the recording studio with their third album Ashes & Bones, Devil’s Train showcases metal musicians developing material in more of a classic hard rock, bluesy/southern context. Featuring musicians with ties past and present to Mystic Prophecy, Running Wild, Rage, and Stratovarius among others – you can tell these musicians play their hearts out with strong hooks, energetic performances, and this warmth that recalls a lot of the great acts from the 70’s/80’s British/ American scenes.
We reached out to newest guitarist Dan Baune on Zoom who was very happy to bring us up to date on his personal background in music, joining Devil’s Train, the chemistry with the new lineup, thoughts on the German heavy music scene, his personal work running a studio, family support, plus what we can expect on the live circuit from the band and an update on his Lost Sanctuary band.
Dead Rhetoric: What are some of your earliest memories in childhood surrounding music growing up? At what point did you start enjoying/discovering heavier music, and eventually feel the need to pick up an instrument and developing your own material?
Dan Baune: That’s a lot of stuff. I got an Elvis cassette when I was really young from my parents – a best of with all the eras from my parents of the 50’s to the 70’s. I loved it, that was the first exposure to music. It’s not heavy or rebellious, but at the time it was really impactful. Just the wide of range of genres that was in there: bluegrass and country to rock, gospel, and r + b. And then I think it’s interesting, what got me into guitar wasn’t the rock stuff so much in the beginning. It was stuff by Al Di Meola, John McLaughlin, back when they both played together, ripping on acoustic guitars. A few years later in the pre-teens I started enjoying fast guitar and the way that sounded.
You listen to all sorts of stuff when you are 10, 11, 12 years old. Developing your own tastes a bit- at the time there was a lot of rap around, a lot of nu-metal around, late 90’s to early 2000’s. Through that I got into nu-metal, and from there worked my way backwards. I fell in love with older stuff, I was a massive Maiden fan, Motörhead fan, AC/DC fan, all that sorts of 70’s and 80’s music. While I still enjoyed the newer iterations of thrash metal and power metal developing at the time. I was probably about 14 when I started playing electric guitar – I heard “The Ides of March” by Iron Maiden or something, and I wanted to do that.
Dead Rhetoric: Did you take any guitar lessons, or just pick things up by ear and listening to records?
Baune: That’s an interesting one, right? At that time I started playing, my first few years, is when tablature was in its infancy. There was a guy in my hometown, he had a guitar shop, and he gave lessons as well. I knew what I wanted to play, I was dabbling on my dad’s acoustic guitar, I went the shop to buy my starter kit with a little amp and a little guitar. My parents got me some lessons. I had those lessons straight away. My teacher was a classic rock guy, and more of a jazz/rock guy. He liked Santana. I was sort of both – I had my lessons and then I would do my homework and be quite disciplined. Which is sort of that jazz, blues thing, fusion. In my time I had for myself, I would work on heavy music – which wasn’t so much his thing and which he couldn’t teach me so well. I was gravitating towards material by bands I enjoyed at the time, Maiden, Metallica, the classics to tricky stuff by progressive metal bands like Dream Theater, Nevermore, Paul Gilbert as well. As a teenager, everything else sort of went by the wayside a bit.
Dead Rhetoric: Ashes & Bones is the third Devil’s Train album – and first in seven years for the group. Can you discuss the lineup changes and how you believe this impacts the songwriting and performances for this set of material in comparison to the self-titled and II albums?
Baune: It’s sort of not my place to talk about as I’m one of the new guys, I’ll divulge what I know and what I can talk about. It was one of these chemistry things that sort of fizzled out between the singer and the previous guitar player who were writing partners. A lot of it had to do with logistics: people moving to different countries, not being in touch anymore. I think Lakis moved back to Greece, the previous guitar player. Lia (R.D. Liapakis) as the lead singer, it’s not his main band, he focuses on Mystic Prophecy his main band a little more. What was interesting is, Lia wasn’t even planning on doing a new iteration of Devil’s Train, but in writing together he and I started writing together two years ago in 2020. It became pretty clear pretty quickly it was going in that direction – we both really enjoy 70’s rock, southern rock, classic stuff from the 80’s, more melodic AOR or whatever you want to call it.
In a way with the new lineup changes, I want to say that it maybe broadened the musical spectrum a little bit that Devil’s Train is known for. Devil’s Train has heavy, stoner, southern rock vibes. With myself on the songwriting, Jens on the bass, we bring a bit more British touch, sort of that sense of songwriting like Whitesnake, Thin Lizzy. It is the sleaze, shuffle vibe, it has a different flavor in the way that the melodies are done. Obviously, we have a lot of the American influence as well, that Zakk Wylde, raunchy thing. A bit more variety, especially in the guitar work.
Dead Rhetoric: Did it seem intimidating at first to be playing with such stellar players as Lia and drummer Jorg Michael in the band?
Baune: Yes, totally, of course. Lia is an old friend of mine; we’ve known each other for years as we have been on the same label. I’ve helped him out with Mystic Prophecy in live situations, whenever someone is ill or away from some reason. With Jorg and Jens, they are legends. Their discography is incredible, the who’s who of German power metal. It was a challenge to find my feet dynamically in the band because Lia and I wrote the songs together. A lot of the songs I had were written in some form for this project, it’s up to me make certain decisions in the studio and take the heat on some of those decisions. The great thing about these guys, they are as successful as they are for a reason. They play for the song, very keen ears and a sensibility for what works and what doesn’t work. Quite often it’s about getting out of their way, just letting them do their thing and guide a little bit here and there. Especially Jens and Jorg, they used to play together thirty years ago in Running Wild, and they haven’t done anything together since so for them it’s a really nice reunion, it’s really cool to witness. Seeing these guys in their fifties being like cheeky twenty-one-year-olds together again – as that’s how they remember each other.
Dead Rhetoric: How did the idea of recording the 80’s r+b/pop classic “Word Up” by Cameo come about – and do you enjoy thinking outside the box for a cover versus tried-and-true expectations within your style?
Baune: Yeah, 100%. I don’t know if you are familiar with Lia’s discography, there is always a sort of tendency to pick and choose a cover that maybe you don’t necessarily live in that genre we do. We have always found it more challenging to take a fantastic song but genre-wise is somewhere else, making it our own version. Rather than taking a song and making it a one-to-one copy with a modern sound thing. With Mystic, he did a whole cover album with Elton John songs, Donna Summer songs, it’s almost become a thing people expect from him as well.
The other side of that, when you go into record, especially when it’s a new lineup, things can be intense and hectic. I love as a producer starting a session with a cover song, because it gives people a chance to get all the tones right, loosen up a bit and get in a good mood before the songs happen that are so close to our hearts. We tend to do a few of those, some work and some don’t. Some things stick, and “Word Up” was one of those that just felt right from the beginning. It was really easy to put the arrangement together, being a fun song, we could infuse little elements of metal into a chugging guitar, the solo, the double bass parts. Every verse is different in that song, which is what I love about the original. It’s a different song, as pop songs go.
Dead Rhetoric: What is your outlook when it comes to the guitar- what do you consider some of your strengths as a guitar player, and who influenced your approach to the instrument or in terms of songwriting in general?
Baune: In terms of songwriting, that’s very interesting. What my strengths are I would say is I have a very wide musical background. I can bring a certain pop sensibility to heavy genres, and vice versa. Which is something that is a niche of mine. In terms of playing, lead playing, and so on, I’ve been a fan of very emotional playing as well as very technical playing. 95% of guitar players that I hear are one or the other. They play with feel, or a lot of people right now have fantastic technique, but they can’t hold a note, and infuse a note with feeling, vibrato. I like to think that I always do both, listen to both schools.
My go to guys for lead playing would be very different from my go to guys when it comes to songwriting. It’s one of those things, as a lead player, I started as being from the Strat school – Ritchie Blackmore, Yngwie Malmsteen, Paul Gilbert, George Lynch, Eddie Van Halen, and so on. I also gravitate towards people like Doug Aldrich, a raunchy style of playing. In terms of songwriting, a big 70’s Whitesnake fan, that Bernie Marsden, Micky Moody sort of thing, the later stuff as well. Maiden, Metallica, Scott Ian, the San Francisco thrash scene. Lemmy was a massive influence too in terms of songwriting. It’s hard to get it all under one hat- the Young brothers, Lynyrd Skynyrd. I’ve always been a fan of good choruses, good songs, within that and being able to explore the guitar. I am also a big blues fan.
Dead Rhetoric: How do you feel being a part of the Rock of Angels Records roster? Do you believe they have the proper staff and vision in place to push Devil’s Train worldwide, and what do you see as the key responsibilities for record labels in the modern age given the changing landscape?
Baune: I’ll be honest, I’ve been on Rock of Angels for many years now. Monument was on there, the other band I do now Lost Sanctuary is also on the label. We just have a very firm bond and a great team dynamic. They are obviously not the hugest label in town, but their vision and hearts are in the right place, and I like how they work. For me as an artist it’s a lot nicer to be on a smaller label who cares about my music and individually caters to me as an artist then being one of two thousand bands on some major label who all get the same contracts, all get the same package, all get the same budgets and same people to do their videos. That’s why I have always made the choice to stay with them as well. I believe that we’ve worked well together – and the nice thing is being a young artist and them being a young label, we grow together.
Everybody has this discussion as to whether labels are still relevant. I get that some people like to do everything themselves, but I am one of those people that knows my strengths, and I know my weaknesses. I am happy to delegate, to have people help out, and happy to give those people a piece of the pie when they do. I think just in general labels have to remain adaptive these days. The bigger an organization is, the harder it is to go with the times. Just going into that whole streaming discussion, and how the majors kind of missed the boat on getting equity in the early years with Spotify. We are catching up, and the landscape the way it is right now leaves space for newer and smaller companies be it management, booking, or more record labels. That’s a great thing, I have no problem with the majors, you should have the choice as an artist to be with a very specific, smaller label that caters to your genre or whether you want to be a small fish in a big pond and try to grow as a fish.
Dead Rhetoric: What fuels your passion for hard rock and heavy metal as a musician? Are there times where you really have to dig deep to become motivated to handle the challenges that are placed before you?
Baune: (laughs). I think for me, I suppose maybe I am still young enough not to have experienced that. I’ve been lucky enough that my love for this music never really went away. The business is shit sometimes, things go wrong, and bands can be difficult, but the only time I have ever tried to step away from it when I was super unhappy, I was still very young in my early twenties. I realized whatever I need to do to keep this alive, whether I do this professionally or not, it’s going to be a part of my life. In a weird way, the pandemic gave me an opportunity to rediscover a love for listening to music, watching concerts, that for so long I didn’t have being so busy doing records, being on the road, or working to pay the bills. You talk to musicians a lot of times, and the only time they really get to listen to music is in the car on the way to a gig. That rekindled a lot of stuff in me. The way I am wired, a sensitive guy and an empathic person, I feel people’s pain and suffering a lot. What always motivated me, so many people talk about distracting people from their problems, so I suggest people go to my show and lose themselves for two hours and then go back to their lives. Whatever we present to the people, we hope that in some way it provides hope, gives some form of healing, make people feel connected when they feel disconnected in themselves or with other people with the world, it can make people feel a part of something bigger, like a family, a big rock and roll family. That’s always something I can go back to and motivates me when I am doubtful. I am doubtful from time to time, of course.
Dead Rhetoric: Where do you see the state of heavy music especially in Germany currently? Do you believe you have the proper respect and support when it comes to your work – and what improvements (if any) would you like to see to elevate yourselves up the ladder?
Baune: I’ve always been a fan… Germany has always been a bastion for heavy music. Melodic heavy music as well. Germany isn’t very trendy. I have spent a lot of time in the UK, and things there are much more like the states where things are hyped a lot, have a short but intense heyday and then they sort of die off again. The Djent scene, hashtag core, a modern iteration of metal. Maybe for a certain generation that has had an impact in Germany, but most people just didn’t get it. Most people didn’t get why you would want to scream, then sing like they were in a boy band. German fans, and central European fans in general, are very loyal. If you are fifteen and you like Motörhead, you will like them your whole life. Many people have this struggle with Manowar now for example. Because of what happened with Karl, it can be difficult to navigate.
If anything, what disappoints me a little bit is I get the budgets are smaller now, and certain production types and certain types of songwriting are easier and fit the medium more. The shorter songs for Instagram and Spotify and stuff, the instant hooks. The pre-set sounds, and as an audiophile and somebody who really enjoys music, I don’t think there is enough diversity these days. I think bands are trying to copy other bands, whether they are old bands or new bands, and they go to producers who are fantastic, but can only charge a quarter of what they use to charge. So they have pre-sets and certain sounds, workarounds to knock an album out a week. Bands end up sounding the same, unfortunately. I have always been a proponent of… digital gear is great, the Kemper is great, but not for the studio. I don’t get why people would go in and record with somebody else’s pre-set.
What I wish to see is more diversity returning to the field of music production, the soundscape in general. It’s so counterintuitive to me. More bands should mean more homogeneity. More bands should mean more diversity, somehow it doesn’t. How many more new bands can come out with a good-looking female screamer, for example, before it becomes boring? And that’s nothing against any of those bands or people in particular. I wish people would take more time to find their niche, something that’s unique to them as individuals and as a group.
Dead Rhetoric: Beyond your music work, you also have a new production company founded a couple of years back called Noise Foundry Productions. Tell us about this business, your services, and what you see as your responsibilities given the many bands/projects that wish to seek your services? Do you try to take things on a case-by-case basis, personalizing things based on what the clients want and need?
Baune: Cool. It ties in nicely to what we just discussed. To me, I try to be the antidote to that pre-set sound. That doesn’t mean it’s a dated sound. I think every artist and every band deserves a case-by-case approach, a unique approach and a unique sound. I’m there to help them find that and realize that what is in their heads can get into the speakers. It’s what it’s always been, somehow that has seemed to get lost along the way. Bands get so caught up in being visible, when the labels would invest time to developing you and let you do your own thing. Bands are bombarded with so much other media; they end up sounding the same. If you want to do something truly unique these days, with drums, bass and guitars, you need to step away, go out into the woods, and let things inspire you.
I try to give them an escape. A home away from home where they can work, where they can be at peace, where they can be contemplative. And focus on their work. Not having to have those real-world worries for a week or two. I like to do full packages, I won’t lie I also do online mixing and if that’s all that is in their budget, and if you live in a different country, it’s a great way to do stuff. I prefer to do a front to back production, then you really see the vision. The decision about what the final drum sound is going to be on an album, should be there if that vision needs to be there when you are tuning that drum kit, start mic’ing it up. For it to be the best possible product, and result at the end.
It’s mainly me, and I get sometimes other people involved depending on the needs of the recording, and the product.
Dead Rhetoric: How are you able to balance your music and regular work responsibilities with family and friend time? Do you have the proper support from those sources who may not necessarily understand your passion and desires within the music industry?
Baune: For me, I’m lucky enough and made the choice to do this professionally. It doesn’t mean I don’t do anything else – I do audio books and stuff like that. I really enjoy that as well. I spend most of my time in and around the world of music. My family, I’m very lucky that my parents has always been supportive, and my wife let’s me get away with murder. It’s why I chose her, we let each other live our best lives kind of thing. In that sense, I am very lucky. I don’t think I could do it without them. I feel incredibly supported by family and my wife in what I do. I’m very grateful for that, it gives me the strength to carry on.
Dead Rhetoric: What’s on the agenda for anything related to Devil’s Train, your own act Lost Sanctuary, or other endeavors that may be in the pipeline over the next year or so?
Baune: The Devil’s Train record will be coming out. We have it on vinyl, box sets, CD’s, t-shirts, everything. Because we sort of waited, we didn’t want to announce anything super early, all the festivals are booked up this year. Lineups being pushed back, you know how it is. We have a bunch of offers coming in, but most are for 2023 and 2024. We will do live stuff, festival stuff, maybe support slot stuff. I don’t think we will be doing headlining tours immediately because it needs to build up to that for a while. We may start writing the next album pretty soon as well because we finished this record last October.
About Lost Sanctuary, it’s been a bit quiet around that. I have this new lineup that got together around Christmastime, it was sort of a two-piece previously with a bunch of guests. A logistical choice because I was moving, then the pandemic happened. Now I have a lineup together, we can play live, we have a fun little cover we’ve recorded and done a video for, that will come out in the next month. We’ve got some gigs this fall, October/November which will be announced. We are writing new stuff at the moment. A lot of good chemistry with the boys in the band, my youthful drive to still prove something.