FeaturesPyramaze - Hunger for Contingency

Pyramaze – Hunger for Contingency

Developing their own take on power metal due to diverse influences from the multiple songwriters within the band, Pyramaze keep interest alive due to their high-quality discography. They’ve had the good fortune to gain premiere vocal outings from Lance King and Matt Barlow – leading to their current vocalist Terje Harøy, who can hit similar, emotionally multi-octave notes as Russell Allen and Tom Englund. They’ve also survived the loss of founding guitarist Michael Kammeyer’s retirement following the release of their third album Immortal, slotting in Jacob Hansen who the metal world knows best for his prolific studio work with Amaranthe, Volbeat, and hundreds of others.

Hot on the heels of 2015’s Disciples of the Sun album, the fifth album Contingent takes the band one step further into another dimension – darker, heavier, powerful, and progressive when called for, but fearless in keeping the songwriting principles as innovative as possible, in a genre that can sometimes get stale and stagnant. Couple this with a lyrical framework that eerily mirrors the tumultuous current climate going on for the state of world, and you can see why Pyramaze are making steady in roads in the metal community.

Thanks to social media we quickly set up a Skype interview with keyboardist Jonah Weingarten, who seems very pleased to discuss the fun times and working relationships of the band. We also tackle talk of future projects with Matt Barlow, his thoughts on crowdfunding, and the great friendships that have been made as a result of the band’s work.

Dead Rhetoric: You received great critical and fan response for your last album in 2015 Disciples of the Sun – and made a triumphant appearance at ProgPower USA last year for a showcase night with special guests. Did this fuel the fire creatively and bring up band morale so to speak going into the latest release Contingent?

Jonah Weingarten: Yeah, I definitely think so. With Disciples of the Sun, we were getting our footing together with the new lineup and so forth. So we had that, and then the album was very well received which was awesome. We were nervous about it because we didn’t know how the new sound would be received. And then we had that great performance at ProgPower as you said, we really got to hang out with each other a lot and have some fun and talk about future plans, so it all came together nicely. I really feel like we are on a roll now, picking up the pace.

Dead Rhetoric: Which came first for the new record – the overall post-apocalyptic lyrical conceptual theme with current events and the human spirit entwined, or the musical framework? How much of a challenge is it to get things flowing in the right direction from first piece to last, while developing individual songs?

Weingarten: The framework of the songs came first, actually. They sent over their songs and I had sent them mine. They put guitars and drums to my songs, and when I started to put together the keyboards it was coming out very cinematic and sci-fi-ish I would say. Mainly because of all the stuff I’ve been inspired by recently. Since the music started coming out in that direction, we tossed around ideas for the lyrical content or if we would do a concept record. We haven’t done a concept record since Legend of the Bone Carver. What we landed on is Contingent- which is not really a concept album per se, it’s not telling a story and each song is a stand-alone thing but it’s sort of a commentary on current events. This whole post-apocalyptic, future kind of thing is kind of happening right now.

Dead Rhetoric: Was it a situation where Henrik (Fevre) of Anubis Gate worked on the lyrics again or did you work hand in hand for the ideas?

Weingarten: I had a Skype session with Henrik. We were thinking of different ideas together, and we landed on this. We just let him have free reign to do his thing because he’s good at it.

Dead Rhetoric: When it comes to your contributions, did you wish to explore more of a cinematic element and how important do you think the balance is between the guitar work and keyboards to make Pyramaze’s overall sound?

Weingarten: The cinematic influence with me is ever growing. It’s what I listen to for the most part in my free time, movie score music. I’m pretty obsessed with it, and it finds its way into the music. As far as the balance goes between the keyboards and the guitars, I’d say it’s a fine line we walk. You don’t want to have too much of one or the other. It needs to be balanced sometimes, and other times you need to have more guitars and drums, while on other spots it needs to be more keyboard-centric. That helps create the dynamic that we have and that people know and love about Pyramaze.

Dead Rhetoric: How special is it to not only have Jacob Hansen on guitar/bass in the band, but his experience as a studio owner and producer?

Weingarten: It’s huge. It’s the spine of everything that we are doing, the framework. And obviously it’s very convenient for all of us. It helps us streamline but not in a bad way- I don’t want people to think we are an assembly line churning out albums. Especially given that we don’t have a lot of time- more so in the case of Jacob not having a lot of free time because he’s so busy producing all these big bands these days- it works out very nicely. He’s able to work on the Pyramaze stuff in between to fill in the cracks and we get these albums done. The finished product is always amazing sounding too.

Dead Rhetoric: Do you apply any takeaways from his production values and how he shapes the song from what you develop in the demo stages to the final outcome?

Weingarten: Throughout the creative process we have his production in mind. We know it’s going to sound crystal clear and fantastic. I can tell you that I’m influenced and inspired by that, because I’m not afraid to make more dynamic and complex keyboard arrangements, for fear of them being buried in the mix or coming through in the right ways. I know that he’s mixing it, so it works.

Dead Rhetoric: Did you know straight away which songs you wanted to make lyric videos for – and how do you feel about this medium, which seems to be almost as important to set up promotion for new records as standard concept videos?

Weingarten: We didn’t know, we figured one song was cool, so let’s make a lyric video for that (laughs). It’s not as organized as you may think, we throw them together when the time comes. We are fortunate to be able to work with some very talented film directors and lyric video composers. It’s a great way of releasing singles, I will say that, instead of just putting out a YouTube video with the album artwork. It gives people something to look at, and hammers in the lyrics and the message of the song because it’s spelled out right in front of your face.

I don’t think they have as much impact as full on videos though. You can just look at overall views as a way of backing up that theory- our “Disciples of the Sun” video has twice the views over any of the lyric videos that we’ve ever put out.

Dead Rhetoric: Will there be a conceptual video off the new record down the line?

Weingarten: Coming out tomorrow. We are really excited. The director’s name is Chance White, and we were excited to be working with him. It’s our “Operation: Mindcrime”. You’ll just have to see it for yourself. Chance is a genius. I will be working with him again in June, as he’s working on a video with my Sentinels project I’m doing with Matt Barlow. I have nothing but nice things to say about Chance. I think people are going to lose their minds when they see this video- it’s different than anything we’ve ever done before. It’s massive and very epic, and symbolic of what’s going on today in the world.

Dead Rhetoric: What took place for two artists to work on everything relating to the cover, illustrations, and layout for the new record – and is it a back and forth process between band and the artists, or do you completely trust the work of Felipe Machado Franco and Jan Yrlund?

Weingarten: I think at this stage in our career we are going to gravitate more towards artists who we’ve worked with in the past or ones that we trust and have a reputation. So that way we can just give them a concept, and know they are going to do an amazing job. And both of these guys are phenomenal. I was given free reign from the rest of the band to take care of the album cover, so I went to Felipe and I told him what I had in mind. He went with it and did an amazing job. You’ll notice throughout our videos, the album artwork and this kind of thing there’s almost a Spielberg-ian kind of vibe. There’s a woman holding a baby in one arm and a machine gun on the other, on the front cover of the album, and that was my idea. Something very symbolic, that children are the true victims of war, society, religion, and so forth. And then you’ll see this in the music video as well.

Both artists were able to grab ahold of the general ideas that we were throwing at them. I like to tie everything in together, I like symbolism and cohesiveness. So I knew that both of the artists would be able to handle that very well.

Dead Rhetoric: Being an active member with Pyramaze since the early 2000’s, how do you feel about the overall evolution of the band from the beginning days to now? What would you consider some of the landmark moments in the band’s career, either from a studio or live perspective?

Weingarten: I have these kind of introspective moments all the time, where I kind of look back on my career with the band. It’s been 15 years now, and it’s a beautiful thing to me because I joined Pyramaze as one of the original members of the band in 2002 when I was 19 years old, and I’m 34 now- so my entire adult life has been spent in Pyramaze. I’d like to think the rest of my life will also be in this band – when I’m 80 years old I’ll still be making Pyramaze albums in the retirement home (laughs). I have made some of the best friends of my life just being in this band and it’s such a wonderful experience. Of course, there are the hard times- when we’ve lost vocalists or parted ways with vocalists. It’s a timeline- every album is different and every album speaks to what’s going on in the band and with the members, plus what’s going on in the world and where we are at as people.

When you take an album like Immortal with Matt Barlow, it was very inspired at that time because Matt was in the band. The chemistry that you have with band members at the time manifest themselves into the art you create. And now with Contingent, I think this is the best album we’ve ever done. It’s a reflection of the friendship that we have together, the musical chemistry and the vision we all share. We are going to continue to grow- maybe I’m jumping the gun but I really believe our next album will be even better than this one. It’s important for bands to always want to grow and get better, because you don’t want to be rehashing what you are doing. Every member that has ever been in Pyramaze has been an integral part of what we do- we love them and respect them for it, and are very grateful for all of their contributions.

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