Everdawn – Seek the Silver LiningSunday, 24th December 2023
Residing on the East Coast of the USA in New Jersey, Everdawn displays an intriguing blend of sounds and approaches going into their latest studio album Venera. The fourteen songs contain elements of AOR, melodic hard rock, power to progressive metal beyond the conventional symphonic metal platform previously established through their Cleopatra debut in 2021. We reached out to keyboardist Boris Zaks who thoughtful spoke to us about his early violin training that shifts to keyboards to join metal bands, thoughts on Venera and the importance of diversity, what live touring in Europe was like coming out of COVID-19, the state of symphonic metal acceptance in the US versus other parts of the world, building the brand of the band back after a significant name change, history talk, plus future plans.
Dead Rhetoric: What were some of your earliest childhood memories surrounding music growing up? At what point did you gravitate towards heavier forms of music – and eventually want to pick up an instrument to start performing in your own bands?
Boris Zaks: I’m from Saint Petersburg, Russia originally. My musical background actually started when I was five, playing violin in a musical school. And later on, when I was a teenager, I joined the youth orchestra, and performed in the orchestra for about five years. Almost until the time I moved to the United States. My memories of performing with the orchestra remain with me forever. It was a matter of time until I started missing it so badly that I wanted to resurrect that feeling of being together in a band playing music with other people. At that time, I was no longer playing violin – it was at one point my dream to be a professional. I continued playing the keyboards, it was a matter of time that I wanted to find other individuals that were into the music that I liked to listen to. Eventually I joined a band, the rest was history. I still enjoy recording; I enjoy performing and writing music – music is part of my life.
Why heavy metal? I picked that up when I was a teenager. I was involved in classical music during my early childhood days. I remember for the first time a friend of mine played me The Scorpions “Still Loving You”, the ballad from Love at First Sting. That changed my tastes forever. I picked up heavy metal from that, and that became my favorite genre going forward. There are a lot of intersections between heavy metal and classical music.
Dead Rhetoric: The second album for Everdawn is Venera. How did the songwriting and recording sessions go for this set of material? Where do you see the greatest differences between this record and the debut Cleopatra from 2021?
Zaks: Our composition style remains the same. The formula that worked for our previous album, we haven’t changed much. It starts with me layering keyboard tracks, coming up with melodies. From that the journey continues with our guitar player Rich recording guitars over my keyboard tracks, then drums, then bass, and Alina comes in with the vocal lines. The lyrics are split between her and me, she does most of the lyrics nowadays. There are a couple of lyrics on the new album that are mine, and we collaborated together on a couple of songs as well.
As far as the sound and how it’s different from Cleopatra. I think we progressed. We took all of the positives from Cleopatra, listening to the feedback from our fans, the critics, and we read the reviews. We tried to keep what worked and amplify those components that worked. We also addressed some of the items we believe that we were unable to realize through Cleopatra– and we tried to realize them on this album. We are working now with Jacob Hansen, he is an amazing producer, the sound is amazing on this new album. We could not be happier with how the songs were mixed and mastered.
Dead Rhetoric: Given the diversity present on the record, how does the band ensure a dynamic outing for the listener – especially considering the mix of shorter tracks next to an almost thirteen-minute epic like “Truer Words Ever Spoken”? Are there key factors or elements that have to make the grade to be an ideal Everdawn composition?
Zaks: I don’t think there’s a secret sauce to our compositions or we are coming up with a revolutionary way of storytelling through our music. It’s still like you said a mix of shorter songs and longer songs, because everybody is different. Everybody looks into different aspects of music. Some of the fans of progressive metal, they are accustomed to listening to longer songs. Those who prefer short and sweet, to the point songs, they’ll find plenty of them on Venera and try to accommodate them from this perspective.
It’s interesting you mentioned the long track “Truer Words Ever Spoken”. It’s probably the most ambitious song we’ve ever recorded, we tried to tap into more of a progressive territory with lyrical and thematical changes, time signatures, different interludes that we never attempted in the past that we are attempting now. It’s the most ambitious, and we are hoping to hear some feedback. If our fans like this direction, we will try to incorporate it into the future albums as well. If the feedback is not so great, we may stick to the more traditional songs. We want to see how the perception of the song is going to be once the album comes out.
Dead Rhetoric: I for one enjoy the diversity on the record – the mix of the shorter, compact songs along with an epic, progressive composition. It allows you to explore different dynamics and territory.
Zaks: Thank you. We try to be diverse and accommodate many tastes, so that there is something for everyone. It’s outside of the comfort zone, which can be challenging but also rewarding on its own. We are hoping to see some good feedback, so thank you for providing it.
Dead Rhetoric: What can you tell us regarding the video shoot for “Century Black” – done with Tom Flynn? How did the treatment develop, and were there any special / memorable or funny moments to reflect on?
Zaks: It was a great shoot. Altogether we originally planned on a two-day shoot – one day was supposed to be accommodated for the band performance, and the other day to have the actors with the storyline shoot. We managed to do both in one day – you can imagine all the work that went into accommodating everybody. All the guest actors, they were extras, the ballroom scene with Tom and his crew, there was a lot that went into the preparation for this video. Again, we are very happy with how everything came out. Tom is a true professional, and I think the video came out amazing.
Memorable moments. We tried to follow the modernized version of the Greek mythology there. The pomegranate is the centerpiece of the transformation. A couple of times it fell during the shoot, and it made a mess on the floor. About a half hour following the shoot we spent time cleaning the mess, because we were shooting on a white mat on the floor, sterile white. Can you imagine all the remains making a mess? Red stuff all over the place, we did a lot of cleaning, but it was fun.
Dead Rhetoric: What can you tell us regarding the cover art concept for Venera? Do you believe that there’s still a great deal of importance in proper visuals for covers these days, especially given the style of progressive symphonic metal you’ve developed?
Zaks: Absolutely. It’s an interesting question too, because we have been looking at a lot of albums that became super successful. Metallica’s black album – is there a lot going on? AC/DC – Back in Black album, it’s very basic. Down to earth, minimalized approach. And then you have other bands that release material with very deep details around each image on the disc – not only the front or back, but also in the booklets. Where do you find the balance? I think we went for the latter, the specific and more impactful theme. We wanted to make the storytelling a part of the album. We also believe that image also attracts the listener. Even though to your point, it’s probably a little bit less than in years past, when people would go to the music stores, looking at the LP’s, the CD’s, looking at the specific things that also attract them as part of the buying process. In a digital age, we still believe that pictures and storytelling are important. For right now, we want detail-oriented themes around our album art.
Dead Rhetoric: You’ve been able to do some touring abroad as of late – including opening for Michael Schenker Group. What were those shows and crowds like for the band – did it give you renewed hope and faith in live entertainment after so many years without live performances due to the pandemic?
Zaks: Absolutely. You hit the nail there. It was a time when the world was still recovering from COVID-19. We had to get the vaccination cards, fill out the paperwork to make sure we could enter the European Union, the countries there. It wasn’t fully recovered yet, and that was only a year and a half ago. It was so refreshing to see the crowds in Europe coming and joining us. We were told because the venues were reopening, there were so many concerts and festivals, be aware that the crowds will not be at 100% capacity because there was so much going on at the same time. People wanted to see something, and they had to pick and choose what bands and what concerts they wanted to see.
Nevertheless, we had a good reception. I couldn’t be happier with how things turned out. The experience was a highlight of everyone’s careers within the band. The way it was executed, the crowd reactions, it was amazing.
Dead Rhetoric: What do you think are some of the biggest challenges that the average fan struggles to understand when it comes to specific band or business decisions that have to be made for a band at your level of following currently?
Zaks: Some of the challenges… I guess we aren’t any different from any other band, we are all in the same boat. We are musicians with streaming services out there. On one hand you have instant exposure with the music, with Spotify, Amazon, YouTube. You go on there and you can find any band – the social media, music is there. With everything going on, in order to be successful or profitable, you need to have a certain amount of hits, listens, which is very tough. The number of bands has dramatically increased, bands can now produce albums at home. You don’t have to be a band that’s made it on a national level in order to afford studio time, from five days to a month with a high-profile sound engineer. You can do it on your own, you don’t even have to be signed to a label. If you turn it into a full-time job, you can be really successful and do everything yourself, without labels, without management, without booking agencies.
On this end, it’s quite challenging. How do we find the balance? We do everything that we can in order to increase awareness. When we tour, the fans know that we are there and that we exist. We understand there are thousands of bands like us throughout the world. What can we do? We produce music, to increase awareness. Hopefully we will be able to make a difference, through our storytelling and music telling. Hopefully making lives easier of those who listen to us, our fans. If they resonate with our music, the listening of our songs as a part of their everyday lives, hey, that means that this is something we are doing right. We do it for the love of music, first of all.
Dead Rhetoric: Where do you see the major differences between the acceptance of symphonic metal from US bands versus the establishment of the sound, style and following across Europe and other parts of the world? Do you think things are growing stateside for original acts from the US just as much as headliners like Nightwish, Epica, Delain, and Within Temptation as examples?
Zaks: In the US, as you rightfully said, it’s been a bit of an underperforming genre. I never understood why there are so many people from Europe, from South America, they follow religiously Nightwish, they paved the way into the genre – created the subgenre of metal that’s still relevant today. In the US, it’s been an underwhelming situation. Has it changed over the years? Probably not in my opinion. I don’t think there are enough symphonic metal fans and recognition here per se. Europe and South America remain the cradle of the genre. With that said, I want to mention that we are not necessarily trying to go for a true symphonic metal style. If you listen to Venera, you can tell some songs don’t have as many symphonic elements or orchestration parts as they did on Cleopatra. We are trying to look for different elements in order to not be labeled strictly a symphonic metal band. Some songs are more progressive, some songs are more traditional in nature, some songs Alina is trying more of a rock voice. It’s more present on the new album, whereas on Cleopatra she used more of her operatic voice.
We want to see the response, how listeners react to it. If we have good responses to the diversity, we will continue to diversify our sound. We love symphonic metal, but we don’t want to be in the situation to live in that niche world where situations will not change. We want to be realistic about it. The big takeaway is we will continue to produce melodic music, melodic metal. Clean vocal singing is our formula, and we will continue on that path.
Dead Rhetoric: What’s it like being a part of the Frontiers Music roster after your first release being on Sensory Records? Do you enjoy the staff, publicity / promotional team, and believe that they understand how to best push Everdawn through their channels on a worldwide basis?
Zaks: Certainly. For us, it’s a big change, it’s a bigger label, and it’s a label that believes in anything melodic. They have bands from AOR to melodic rock to progressive metal. I’m happy to be a part of the roster and team. Everything is looking great, the way business is conducted, very professional and timely. There’s no transparency issues, they listen to us and our management, and we listen to what they are capable to do for us.
Dead Rhetoric: You have added Alan D’Angelo on bass to the lineup when Mike LePond had to step away due to his numerous other duties with Symphony X and a slew of other bands. How would you describe the band chemistry and outlook today – as it must have been very difficult to work your way through the name change and following built during the Midnight Eternal days to now…
Zaks: Alan fits like a glove. Not only is he an amazing bass player, but he’s also one of Mike’s best friends. When Mike moved to Florida, he immediately recommended Alan to be the replacement. I want to make it clear – Venera still features Mike LePond on bass. He laid his bass tracks down before moving to Florida and before Alan became a full-time member of the band. Alan has been playing live for some time now with us. We are starting the pre-production for the next album, and you will definitely hear Alan’s bass on the recordings soon. As far as the chemistry, we couldn’t be happier although we are losing an important bass player with Mike. Alan made sure we didn’t have any setbacks, and we are looking forward to continuing with this journey with Alan going forward.
The name change. Unfortunately, it went to a situation where parties had to be separated, we had a schism within the band. It was an internal turmoil – one side following the split decided to ‘air the dirty laundry’, the rest of us we decided to focus on the music. We did not believe in airing that, and our management basically was aligned with us not to focus on the arguing or trying to explain ourselves through social media, because it easily could backfire. We wanted to find a new bass player and singer, and we succeeded in that. Our management did their due diligence in working with both parties to see which party was in the right, which party was in the wrong, accusations were thrown at us. It didn’t take long for them to see which party was in the right, and we just continued moving on focusing on our music.
I’m not going to lie by saying there was no set back. It was a step back, unfortunately. We did have to change in order to move away from all these back and forths. We changed the name, started from the white space. Our experiences were not lost, the songs we already had for the Cleopatra album were not lost, it was a matter of time that we started again. What was not on our side was COVID-19. That messed up our scheduling, our releases. Everyone was in the same boat with us.
Dead Rhetoric: What sort of hobbies, interests, and activities do you like to pursue away from music when you have the free time and energy to do so?
Zaks: Not that much. Music consumes my daily life, outside of my 9 to 5 work. Whatever time I have aside from my family, I’m married with two children, everything else is spent on music. Family first, work second, and music is by far number three. When we have the opportunity to travel with the family, we travel. I used to read books when I had time, but literally I have no time for books. Music is not just my hobby, it’s my commitment, that’s how it’s going to go for as long as I’m able to remain in the music industry.
Dead Rhetoric: When you moved to the United States from Russia, did you experience a bit of culture shock and adjustment that had to be made?
Zaks: Absolutely. Simply because I didn’t speak the language. When I moved here, I was seventeen. I didn’t study English at school, I studied German. It wasn’t really helping me. Even when I tried to apply some of my German knowledge, it was nonexistent. I had to learn English from scratch. I could start communicating after a year, maybe even longer. It was one of the biggest challenges and blockers that prevented me from the easy integration into society. At the end of the day, it was worth it, and I’m glad that I moved. Things happen the way that they happen.
Dead Rhetoric: If you had the opportunity to create a high school or college level course about any subject outside of music, what would you like to create and why do you think this is important for people of that age group to learn?
Zaks: I would put more emphasis on history. I think there’s a lot of rewriting of history going on. Some of the values that were kept twenty years, fifteen years ago – I’m not even talking about hundreds of years ago. Some of the values are lost, and we are looking at a completely different generation with completely different expectations. For instance, 9/11, right? People said at the time that we will never forget, it was 22 years ago. People who remember it well, they do remember it, but the younger generation doesn’t. Or they know pieces, but not all the details, because it’s no longer relevant to them. We need history to be taught the right way, without any bias. It has to be neutral; it has to be based on the facts. Not on the feelings or perceptions. I would introduce an additional history course.
Dead Rhetoric: What’s next on the schedule for things related to Everdawn to promote the new record over the next twelve months or so?
Zaks: We will focus on melodies for the next record. Singing, powerful guitar solos, no matter where we deviate left to right. We may dive into more of a heavier side or AOR-ish side, we also want to listen to the feedback from Frontiers on how the sales are going. We will adjust accordingly and continue with our vision. As far as the plans besides this pre-production, we have five to six songs going – but we want to play live. We have one festival in Denmark in August already confirmed for. We want to play in the US, where we will do an album release in New Jersey. We will play Venera from start to finish, it will be a one-off. We want to look at tours in 2024, nothing is confirmed so far.