Pyramaze – Confidence and ComfortSunday, 13th December 2020
“There’s not a lot of professional keyboard players who grew up in Montpelier, Vermont.”
That is quite the calling card for Jonah Weingarten, who many of you may know from his versatile work in the metal field and beyond. Gearing up for the latest release with his melodic power metal outfit Pyramaze, Epitaph continues to prove this international band are at the top of their game when it comes to memorable songwriting and performances – vocalist Terje Harøy very underrated for his captivating range and execution, while guitarist/bassist/producer Jacob Hansen gets a chance to flex his songwriting and instrumental abilities on top of his seasoned role in the recording studio.
We reached out Jonah during a snowy day in Minnesota, and he was happy to fill us in on where Epitaph slots in the Pyramaze discography, the special guest appearances including former members, the importance of music and entertainment even in these pandemic times, and a slew of items you can expect from Jonah in the coming year or so.
Dead Rhetoric: Epitaph as the sixth Pyramaze studio album is also the third record with the current lineup in place. Does the band feel very comfortable positioning everyone ideally to get the best output and performances through each record – especially considering the international lineup of musicians across Denmark, Norway, and yourself in the United States?
Jonah Weingarten: Absolutely. Having a solid lineup as we have now which has been the longest that we have had a solid lineup as you know, it’s been very beneficial to us and helped us create a true trajectory towards making albums that keep getting better and better. I think we are all very comfortable with each other and we know what to expect from each other. The album making process is actually really easy for us – especially when you have a guy like Jacob Hansen in the band, you know the sound is going to be ten out of ten, top notch.
Dead Rhetoric: And do you still delve out the songwriting amongst the main lineup?
Weingarten: I wrote six of the tracks myself for the new album. When I am writing, I create all the keyboard parts and orchestral beds first, send them over there and then they add their guitars and drums and stuff. When those guys write songs, they send me over guitars and drums and I add on my keyboards after the fact. I would attribute the fact that we can have twelve or thirteen songs on the album and have the album sound fresh and never sound boring all the way through because the dynamics and diversity that are created from such a creative process such as this.
Dead Rhetoric: Where do you see Epitaph aligning in the discography of Pyramaze? Were there specific elements or aspects that the band wanted to push forward or dial in to make this a bit different from the other records?
Weingarten: Some of us wanted to incorporate more elements from our older sound, the first three albums, into this- but give it a more modern touch at the same time. You’ll hear guitar riffing that’s more akin to the Bone Carver or Immortal albums, but with catchier vocal melodies on top of it.
Dead Rhetoric: Did you reach out to Henrik Fevre for the lyrics, or did you handle this time around?
Weingarten: We don’t have any lyricists within this band, we had Henrik from Anubis Gate help us this time. We also have Christoffer Stjerne from the Danish rock band Hero, and he helped write some lyric and vocal melodies also, for songs like “Particle”, “Indestructible”, and one other song he worked on.
Dead Rhetoric: How did the special guest spots come up with Brittney Slayes for “Transcendence” and former singers Matt Barlow and Lance King on the closing twelve-minute plus epic “The Time Traveller”?
Weingarten: For Brittney, we’ve known her for years. Jacob has produced and mixed their two most recent albums with Unleash the Archers, both are outstanding. I’ve been friends with a bunch of members from Unleash the Archers for a bunch of years myself. I was hanging out with them a couple of years ago at an Unleash the Archers show, we had dinner together and I asked her if she would ever want to collaborate on a song, and she was very excited. That was the beginning of that, and I got to choose the song she sang on, which is “Transcendence”. It’s very driving and anthemic, I wanted her to sing on that. More traditionally, when you have a female vocals, especially for us it’s been on ballads. I wanted to have a duet though on this song that was a full out metal anthem.
We did a show with Matt and Lance at ProgPower USA in 2016 where we had them come on stage and guest on the songs from their respective Pyramaze albums they sang on. Plus we had them all come out together for the final song “Disciples of the Sun”, it went over really well. It made sense for us to do something musically together on our next album. We also brought in our original guitarist and founding member Michael Kammeyer to write the story and the lyrics/vocal melodies for “The Time Traveller”. Which also ties into the album title Epitaph, which has several meanings but for us it means a way of honoring our past, everything we’ve accomplished. We wanted to show that we are all still a big family, the result being “The Time Traveller”.
Dead Rhetoric: Giannis Nakos of Rem3dy Art Design handled the cover for Epitaph. How did you choose him specifically, and what did you enjoy most about the work and art he provided for the band?
Weingarten: Jacob was the one who was in contact with him and chose him to work with. We wanted to have an album cover that was something kind of different from what we’ve had in the past. With a newer color scheme that we haven’t used ever before. We fell in love with this cover and these colors. The purples, pinks and neons you see, but it’s very ethereal, and so many layers. You can see more details, a baby’s head that’s coming out of the neck of the spirit on the front cover. It came out really cool.
Dead Rhetoric: How do you feel about making the move up to AFM Records from your previous work with Nightmare Records, Locomotive Music, and Inner Wound Recordings? Do you believe you’ve been able to make steady growth and gain the trust and support necessary for these record labels to properly support your visions and product to the best of their abilities?
Weingarten: Yes, absolutely. We had a nice run with Inner Wound Recordings from Sweden, we are still good friends with them. I think that we needed to move up to a larger size label to get even more promotion and all that comes with the political pull that comes with being on a bigger German label like AFM. One of our most common things that people have said is how we are not more well known, making such great music. I think it just comes down to getting your music out in front of people. We are really excited to be working with AFM and of course their promotional department.
Dead Rhetoric: Do you think many people fail to understand the importance that labels still have for the arm of promotion? Because a lot of people would rather take care of things themselves, and I believe there is still a bit of stock in the reputation and pull a label can have…
Weingarten: Right. Bands that want to self-release their own album and think that’s a better choice, be prepared to have a lot of money set aside to promote their album. It’s a nightmare, I’ve done that before with the We Are Sentinels album I put out with Matt Barlow. It’s a full time job, and a huge investment of time and money. When you are on a label, it’s the label’s job to do all that for you so you can focus on the creative side of the band. Sure, there is a paradigm shift that has been happening to some degree, but I would never underestimate or undervalue being on a label, especially a label like AFM.
Dead Rhetoric: In a previous interview we did a few years back, you mentioned the importance of music and art being very important to humanity and survival. Considering these pandemic, COVID-19 times, do you believe that we are in need of the power of music and its healing properties now more than ever?
Weingarten: Yes, I would say that. And on the flip side I also think that music and art needs humanity to step in and support us now more than ever. All these people are stuck in their houses, and having great music to listen to is a really important thing. On the flip side, record labels and artists aren’t able to tour this year, it’s scary to put out an album during a pandemic when you can’t play shows to support it. We are counting on the fans to buy physical copies and digital copies, as long as you are buying it and spreading the word of the music, it’s all very critical right now.
Dead Rhetoric: Decades back, keyboards were a tougher sell in heavy music genres compared to the wide-open landscape and outlook today. How do you see the evolution of the instrument and its importance, especially in the genre that Pyramaze is a part of?
Weingarten: I can tell you as a keyboardist myself, and being a professional for almost twenty years now, that stylistically there’s been a lot of evolution that’s happened. I’ve always dealt with the stigma of being a keyboard player, being accepted into metal, but there are so many bands in Europe that are flagbearers for having keyboards in their music, like Nightwish, Sonata Arctica, Soilwork, bands from all the different genres that utilize keyboards.
My opinion is it’s always been close-minded when it comes to fans that want things meat and potatoes or don’t want to listen to anything that has keyboards in it. It’s totally silly, keyboards are the most universal instrument there is. You can include keyboards in any genre of metal and make things more dynamic and more interesting to listen to. I’ve become more into the orchestral side of keyboards. It’s weird to even call myself as a keyboardist, I find myself more of a musical brand or composer. I go into the studio and create layers of sound behind drums, guitars, and vocals. When I think of a keyboard player, I think of the dude from Yes or something like that. I never touch my keyboard unless I am in the studio and using it as a tool to create music. I don’t practice or play. I’m weird in that way.
Dead Rhetoric: Do you find yourself listening to more orchestral and cinematic/soundtrack music as a result?
Weingarten: That’s mostly what I listen to. I’d say I don’t listen to a lot of metal. 20% of what I listen to is metal, the rest is all film scores from all my favorite music composers.
Dead Rhetoric: What would surprise people to learn about Jonah Weingarten the person when he has time away from his music and studio activities? How do you think you’ve evolved and changed as a person now that you are in your late thirties from say ten or fifteen years ago?
Weingarten: The older I get the more goal oriented I’ve become. I’m always thinking about how can I continue to grow as a person, and how to rely on the world outside of music to survive. I think the age of the rock star is really dead. The way of the world, social media, everyone is very accessible, we are all this community with the fans and the musicians are all as one. I have had to do these side hustles to make ends meet in addition to music. I’m a professional musician where bands hire me to write and play on their albums, when I’m not doing that I’m doing side hustles like bartending, investing in the stock market, anything I can do so I can get to a place when I’m in my forties where I can do music and not worry about how I’m going to pay my bills or where my next meal is coming from.
Dead Rhetoric: Do you think there is a stigma relating to social media as far as mystery being taken away from musicians these days?
Weingarten: I would say that. Social media these days is a toxic environment where people are just yelling at each other about politics or whatever. It’s funny, I joke about this on my social media channels a lot where I post a new Pyramaze song, the diehards will comment on it, but if I post something about politics, it gets 300 comments and so much more interaction. We’ve become this world where art is valued less, and narcissism has sort of taken over. You have to appeal to people’s narcissism to get them engaged. You can’t post a piece of art and expect everyone to pay attention.
I’m a glass half full person. I try to use social media, my music, for good and to try to make a difference and unify people. I have friends and fans that come from different religious backgrounds, political backgrounds. I don’t care. I think people have figured out within social media that they can make more money by dividing people than trying to do the opposite.
Dead Rhetoric: We’ve just finished a contentious political season in the United States for certain. What is your hope in the long run to possibly make the situation better for more people to get along and not seem so divided?
Weingarten: Oh. I think it will all pass. We are going through a hard time right now. People are stuck inside and everyone is just anxious to get back to their normal lives, get back to some sense of normalcy. I do think that is coming once the pandemic is over. There is a vaccine coming out soon. There is light at the end of this tunnel, and we will get through it.
Dead Rhetoric: What’s on the horizon for your other musical projects/ outlets beyond your work in Pyramaze that people can expect in the pipeline say over the next year or two?
Weingarten: I just announced that my other band Catalyst Crime has signed a deal with Massacre Records. That’s very exciting – a symphonic metal band that I am a member of as of earlier in the year. The new album was mixed and produced by Alexander Krull from Leaves Eyes and Atrocity. That album is coming out in 2021, we have a music video shooting coming up in a month. I’m working with a bunch of artists from Europe so I’ll have more albums in my discography in 2021 on some labels over there. The Pyramaze album is my third album I’ve had come out in 2020. The first one came out in January, the Serious Black album which I handled all the keyboards for. And I played and composed the new intro for the Leaves Eyes album that came out in October. I did the score to the bonus Viking documentary for the album that came out. I played on five or six tracks on the Night Crowned album, that came out on Noble Demon Records in February, epic black metal from Sweden.
I’m always staying busy and I feel like my name is getting out there more and more in the world as far as someone to hire as far as writing songs and handing keyboards as well. I have worked with hip hop and pop stuff. I have a video game soundtrack that will be coming out next year too. With a company from Germany, and I’m the executive creative consultant for that game too. It’s called Johan Weingarten’s Ninja Brigade. It might be coming out on some pretty big video game consoles next year. Tomorrow I’m going into the studio to do the intro for the new Ashes of Ares album. The day after that, I’m doing some composing and songwriting for a well-known Swedish singer, his solo album.