Psychotic Waltz – Enter the VoidSunday, 16th February 2020
Intertwining a wide array of progressive metal, progressive rock and outside the box influences, San Diego act Psychotic Waltz didn’t easily fit into any “flavors” of the month during the 1990s. But their discography is rich and vibrant with unique songwriting, contributing an alluring combination of sounds that created a buzz through the metal community and influencing many musicians along the way. Their previous four albums have seen a few re-releases over the years, causing the band to do reunion shows starting in the early 2010s and eventually spurring the band on to record and release their first studio album in 24 years with The God-Shaped Void.
Guitarist Dan Rock brings us up to speed on how the band feels having a new record out after being away for so long, if there were any challenges to handle and overcome – plus, letting us into the band’s highlights during their first run, how accidents have turned into strengths and resilience for certain members and the power of goosebumps when it comes to hard rock/metal memories.
Dead Rhetoric: The fifth studio album from Psychotic Waltz is The God-Shaped Void. It’s the first new album of material from the band in 24 years. Can you discuss the fears and concerns about writing and releasing a new album to live up to the legacy of your discography and at what point you started feeling comfortable with the process?
Dan Rock: Sure. To be honest, I don’t think any of us had any real fears about it. Not to sound fearless or arrogant or anything, but we kind of felt like when we first got back together in 2011 to do the few tours that had been put together, we had been broken up for about 14 years and got all five of the original guys together to jam the old stuff. We still felt a personal connection and the music came out sounding [great], the fans really enjoyed seeing us live again. It gave us the feeling that we are still the same people, and we still know how to play our instruments. It seemed safe to guess that if we started writing some new material, it would hopefully live up to the old stuff. We all agreed that if it didn’t, and we got done with the album, sat down and listened to it, and we all looked at each other and said ‘guys, this sucks’, then we wouldn’t release this.
We didn’t expect that to happen as we all had some good ideas backed up. The songwriting process kind of came quickly. The first song we worked on was called “The Fallen”, imagine that song the way that starts out. It was actually a snippet of a song that we began working on back in 1995-96, that we never quite finished so it never made it onto Mosquito or The Bleeding, but I actually still had the cassette tape. We used to record on those back in the day for the younger crowd who may not know what those are. I took the cassette, converted it into an MP3 in my computer, and emailed it to the guys to start working on this one. It seemed like a good place to jump off, and everybody started putting pieces together. It took a few months to get that one, but when we were done everyone was pleased. It set the tone for the direction that we would take with the album musically. At that point, in a roundabout way, that’s when the fears subsided. We knew all we had to do was make nine or ten more (songs) like this and we were good to go. It took a while, but eventually we got there.
Dead Rhetoric: How did the recording and songwriting process take place this time – and where do you see this album stacking up in comparison to the previous records? Were there any specific surprises, challenges, or obstacles to work through, and how do you feel about the final product?
Rock: To get to the last point, we feel great about the final product. We are proud of the songwriting, our songwriting has matured it seems over the years. Some fans are going to like it less, some fans are going to love it, some may be indifferent – but to us it reflects who we are today. The sonic quality, we couldn’t be happier. We were lucky, we got Jens Bogren doing the final mix. We got a local studio here, Ulrich Wild did the engineering here. We had a really good time with all of it.
In comparison to the previous albums, I would say it sounds better than all of them. Some people may say they like the rawness of A Social Grace and Into the Everflow, because they were raw and primitive, recording on tapes with no automation. It was fun. The place where we are at here and now is what made us happy with the sound of this one.
The challenges that we had recording it… the only real challenges that we had is our singer Devon lives in Austria and the rest of us live here in San Diego. Back in the 90’s that would have been a huge problem, but today with the internet it’s simpler. It slowed us down a bit because you would have a whole day’s difference, sending him files at nighttime and he would be asleep, and get to work on them the next day so I wouldn’t get them back until the next day. It slowed things down, but with filesharing, uploading, and downloading – there wasn’t much of a technical hang up. But again, better late than never! (laughs).
Dead Rhetoric: What can you tell us regarding the cover art this time around?
Rock: This was Travis Smith – we had used him on our fourth album The Bleeding in 1996. He’s been doing t-shirt designs for us since Mike Clift our original artist died in a tragic bicycle accident on the highway years ago. Travis had been a friend of ours since a couple of guys (we knew) went to junior high with him where he was the go-to guy. We couldn’t be happier, he’s grown so much. Look at The Bleeding cover, that was one of his first. You can’t swing a dead cat without seeing a Travis Smith cover these days. We trust him enough that we gave him demos with the songs we were working on – listen to this, and let it inspire you. Get back to us and see if we are on the same page, and pretty much he was. We had a little bit of constructive criticism, a detail here and there, something darker or lighter with the colors. It really did fall into place quite well, and if we do another album I am sure we will end up using Travis again, we’ll see what happens.
Dead Rhetoric: What surprises you most about the legacy and longevity of Psychotic Waltz over the years? Do you believe you’ve been able to make an impact on multiple generations of music fans and fellow musicians themselves?
Rock: Interesting question. I don’t want to consider myself old enough to be affecting generations (laughs). You do have the fact that quite a few bands have thanked us in their liner notes over the years, and that’s very humbling. In the same way that Black Sabbath, Pink Floyd, and The Beatles influenced Jethro Tull, Queensrÿche, etc. For younger, newer bands to throw our name out there, it’s flattering – and I do see some of it and see it in bands names or a riff we wrote – it’s all fine and dandy. Like John Lennon once said, all music has been rehashed, borrowed.
A good point to bring up. Our manager is an old friend, Ula Gehret, he was at Century Media and I would bring him some of my solo albums and meet up in Los Angeles along with the Psychotic Waltz records. He would sell them, call me up and say, hey Dan – I have a check for you, can you bring more records up. When he offered to manage us when the 2011 tours came up, it felt like such a good combination. We trust him, he’s a good guy, he’s in our corner, he likes our style of music, he likes our sense of humor. He was very much responsible for all these re-releases coming into play over the years- the vinyl stuff that got released, the picture discs, color vinyl, all the stuff we are selling on tour, the new stuff coming out. We have him to thank for all that. Obviously the record companies that he worked this through, they did small reissues Metal Blade and Century Media, and we are grateful for them too. I honestly don’t know how to explain it. There’s enough demand that people like it. That’s a good feeling, we listen to those albums and it’s cool to think that these (records) got an extra shelf life other than the printing in the 1990’s.
Dead Rhetoric: How does Psychotic Waltz translate in a live performance that probably differs from the studio record experience? And how does the band handle the response in many European countries that have always seemed to favor what you’ve done compared to North America where it seems like the band has developed more of a cult but loyal following?
Rock: Yeah, I didn’t know that we had any following here in America to be honest with you. We never played much out of southern California, we did a couple of shows in Arizona back in 1992 when we were just starting out, and we played in Las Vegas once. We never went north of Los Angeles or east of Phoenix. When we played the ProgPower festival in Atlanta, we were quite pleasantly surprised to see and hear so many fans, singing along, cheering us on. I expected people to be polite and give us the golf clap after every song, but there were people singing along, they knew the (material), the t-shirt stands they had our shirts. We were like little rock stars over there, and it felt really good. We had a little recognition in the US, and to play for a crowd that truly enjoyed the music we were doing.
Like you said, the European countries definitely seemed to favor us more over the decades. When we were hitting Europe during the 1990’s, we missed… we were never really hair metal, but that’s what we grew up on, and then things moved into grunge, and that didn’t really define us. We didn’t fit in either one of those categories. MTV didn’t have a place for us, FM radio didn’t have a place for us, so largely we went unnoticed. European crowds, they like what they like, and they are very loyal to it. We would see the same faces, people coming out to the shows year after year. I may be really bad with names, but I’m very good with faces – and I remembered those people. It was pretty cool, we saw some of those people at the most recent shows, they are older, greyer, a little bit balder. It’s cool to have that kind of connection with people.
Dead Rhetoric: What would you consider some of the benchmark moments in the career of Psychotic Waltz – specific highlights of songs, albums, tours, or shows where you knew you were making an impact?
Rock: Well, I would say the Dynamo Festival in 1991, our very first full show in Europe. We played the Dynamo club the night before, Biohazard let us borrow some of the gear onstage and we ran through a couple of songs to make sure things worked. We only did three songs, and the next morning when we played at Eindhoven at the Dynamo Festival, it was in front of 30,000 people and we were the opening act around noon. I’ll be honest we were nervous- we had played a lot of club shows, but that many people at an outdoor festival, with the first note coming out is going to be us? I was nervous, we didn’t have a click track – if you listen to any bootlegs or video footage, we definitely played a little bit fast. The thing that made us confident and feel good was after the show, we got the European version of a standing ovation. They chant something in German, but it means play one more. That gave us a wow factor. We met some people after the show that have become lifelong friends – and they said as an opening act, nobody gets that response. That was one defining moment.
Another one was when we got to record with Scott Burns. Legendary producer to record us on our third and fourth albums, having somebody with his kind of background helping us out, taking the recording sound sonically to the next level. The Mosquito album to us, was the best we had ever been recorded. I still talk to Scott once in a while, that was a good moment. Another moment is right now. Being invited to play on the Power of Metal tour with Nevermore and Symphony X, that was epic. I wish all of our tours could have been that good back in the 1990’s, we might not have broken up. It was so well done, professional, so welcomed by everybody there – and to be back on stage after not having played in 14 years, you can’t imagine how good that felt to us to be even considered by the crowd as much as we were. We finally got the album done, and from what I hear it’s been getting some pretty good reviews.
Dead Rhetoric: What are your views on the ever evolving, changing landscape of the music industry today compared to when Psychotic Waltz was around during your run of the 80’s and 90’s?
Rock: There is an awful lot of music to choose from these days, isn’t there? It’s hard to… I would go to iTunes, and get lost. I’ve got dozens of favorite albums that I’ve heard my whole life, and there is so much new music. I don’t know where to begin so I don’t even start, so I resort to the classics. It’s going to be ever evolving, it always has. If you think about music since they began recording it with early Victrola records, every ten or twenty years there’s a major change. The first rock star was Enrico Caruso, the Italian opera singer that led way to Bing Crosby, and then Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin, the Buddy Holly’s that led to early rock and roll which led to The Beatles. And then into heavier rock with Led Zeppelin, Black Sabbath. It’s constant progression every ten, fifteen, twenty years – some major leap in the style of music. Hair metal, grunge, nu-metal.
Where it’s at now- I couldn’t tell you. I lost track. Like anything with technology and advancement, I am sure there are pros and cons with the best and worst out of it. People have a lot more freedom to hear stuff they might not have before the landscape got so diverse.
Dead Rhetoric: Being wheelchair bound for so long following the rappelling accident you had in the early 90’s, what helped pull you through this significant life changing aspect, and what helps you keep your mind, body, and spirit on the right path today?
Rock: Just to be clear – I did have the repelling accident that caused me briefly to be in a wheelchair, but I’m not permanently in one – that’s Brian the other guitar player. People read, think and see pictures. I was repelling off of a bridge with Mike Clift and a couple of friends, I’m the one who fell 40 feet into the rocks below and should have been dead, and here I am today. I was in a wheelchair for a couple of months because I had a broken knee and broken ankle, broken wrists. I couldn’t play guitar for about eight months. I was fortunate, lucky and blessed to be even able to pick up a guitar and play- I couldn’t even pick up a piece of paper at first. It was a long recovery to relearn how to play guitar – a lot of it is muscle memory.
Brian on the other hand – he and I were friends in 10th grade when he could walk. He moved to another city out in El Centro, had a car accident in the 11th grade where he broke his back. He’s had that permanent injury since 1984, and unless some major technological advances in medicine happen, he’ll never be able to walk again. I tell you – I’ve known a couple of people in wheelchairs, and he’s resilient. I can’t say that I would be as upbeat and positive as him considering the situation. There are difficulties everywhere you turn- especially in Europe. It’s not wheelchair friendly, the countries have cobblestone roads, the roads are narrow, stairways are narrow with a lot of twists and turns when a lot of these buildings are older because of their designs. I’m proud of Brian, I consider him one of my best friends and he was one of my best men at my wedding. I couldn’t be happier to be in a band with him, it’s such a joy again to be going over his house, writing, and working on new material again. We crack each other up, and we get along well on the road and when we are not on the road. I’m glad he has a good attitude towards things, if he didn’t it would make things a little more difficult.
Dead Rhetoric: What has heavy metal meant to you personally as a genre – and what albums or bands have that longevity and respect in your realm that you turn to for inspiration, energy, hope?
Rock: Well, I never have thought about that before. I’m not sure. I don’t really think I look at it as an entity that needs to mean anything to me, so much as it’s just something that when my ears hear it, I liked it. I look to a couple of things in particular. I was at a gas station, before I could drive it was ninth grade with my dad. And he went into the store to pay for gas and the radio was running, and on comes “No One Like You” by the Scorpions. First time I heard it, and I immediately loved that song. It was catchy, it had clean parts, heavy parts – and when the guitar solo came on, I was blown away. The harmony part of it, that inspires me still to this day – Brian and I get our harmony influences from the classic rock, early metal bands like that. You hear something, and you know you like it – nobody had to tell me because it was in a genre.
Same thing with Ozzy and Randy Rhoads, Van Halen – my mind was blown. I saw Van Halen in concert, my dad took me in the ninth grade – but when I heard Diary of a Madman with Randy Rhoads, it took my love of the guitar to a whole new level. What he was doing, literally gave me goosebumps. Brian and I, our inside joke is when we are writing, we want to achieve goosebumps hopefully in ourselves, and the people who listen to our music. I can say our album isn’t the type of thing you listen to at a party, because you’ll miss all the subtleties and nuances.
Dead Rhetoric: How do you see the next twelve to eighteen months shaping up for Psychotic Waltz? Will there be another studio album based on the reception to this one, or are you just taking things slowly but surely?
Rock: We are already looking into more shows in Europe, around the September/October timeframe. We want to play the album live and give the songs a chance. Probably not a US tour, but maybe some one-off shows here. To be honest at this point in our career, it’s just hard for us- the rest of us have jobs and families. If all this could be happening when we were in the 1990’s as teens and early twenties, that would have been great. Now, we have reality to do with. As far as another album, it’s definitely something that we are considering. We would like to. I don’t want to give too much away as to whether that is or isn’t going to happen, we don’t know. I imagine people will like this record because we like it. Everybody would have to be very patient, and hopefully we could find a way to record a new record a little quicker than seven-eight years, because it’s time consuming. I wouldn’t count it out, as long as we can come up with good ideas.