FeaturesTeramaze – The Dance of Emotions

Teramaze – The Dance of Emotions

Progressive metal captivates its followers through a breathtaking approach to music. Usually pushing the limits of melodies, musicianship, and hooks through creative exploration, listeners never know what to expect and process when it comes to the songwriting. Teramaze of Australia have assembled a deep discography that’s been very fruitful as of late – Eli: A Wonderful Fall From Grace another concept record that’s the eleventh studio record in the band’s career. Exploring the origins of the Halo story, guitarist/vocalist Dean Wells gives us all the details of the making of the record and more in this latest interview. You’ll also learn more about how continuous songwriting/recording helped pull the band through the pandemic, the renewed band chemistry and shared roles for the group, thoughts on what it’s like to be a producer and use psychology as a tool for best takes, how the pandemic has changed his outlook on life, and future plans including a return for Dean to Meshiaak.

Dead Rhetoric: Eli: A Wonderful Fall From Grace is the eleventh Teramaze studio album. What can you tell us regarding the songwriting and recording process for this set of material – were there any specific surprises, challenges, or obstacles to overcome during the making of the record?

Dean Wells: This is very similar to the way that we’ve recorded the last few albums. The main difference was writing a story going backwards and sort of writing the start of the Halo trilogy. That was a bit of a challenge and kind of fun too. No one knew the start, so we had an open landscape to add things from Sorella Minore and Her Halo to build those albums I suppose from the ground up. The hard thing is to write the music that flowed with the story. We did that with Her Halo, that’s the first time I’ve ever done a concept album, and Sorella Minore, that was a long song itself over twenty-five minutes long. Having a whole album right from the start, making it all flow the hardest part was the final song “A Wonderful Fall From Grace”. I had so much music for that, in my ProTools session it was like clumps. It could have been a twenty-five-minute song again. I tried to make it feel right, and I couldn’t figure out how to make things all fit right. I would take a bit of a break and then make things feel right, pieced it back together like Tetris and it’s probably my favorite song on the album.

We still did things how we do them, sending each other ideas. I have a studio here, so I didn’t leave. The main challenge was the storyline making sense with the music.

Dead Rhetoric: Were you and Nathan working in conjunction with the storyline and the music, and that’s what made things harder?

Wells: It didn’t take long to write – we had the idea of the story, a small version of it. Writing the music, I went away for holiday for three days and I didn’t think I was going to write for once. I took an acoustic guitar with me, and I wrote twenty different ideas in my phone while I was away. I came back and had all these ideas that would fit the story. Dave Holley, we brought back as the keyboard player for this album, he had a little piano interlude that was reminiscent of Her Halo, and it got things going along as far as the mood. It came together fast, but finishing it took me ages. Even the production, that tends to be one of the challenging parts.

Dead Rhetoric: How did the idea for this cover art develop? Do you still believe the visuals can convey the right first message for people before pressing play on a record?

Wells: We have been looking for something that represented some sort of mask, part of Eli’s persona. We found an artist that had this art piece already designed. We bought that, maybe even before I started writing. It was a bit strange and cryptic, sort of a magician/showman mask sort of thing. We had this pretty early on. It gives you a slight idea of what you can expect on the record.

Dead Rhetoric: Was “Standing Ovation” the obvious first single to premiere for the record?

Wells: Yeah. I sort of felt with that song it was reminiscent of “Her Halo” a little bit. It was exciting, and it’s the shortest song on the album because all the others are over seven, eight, nine minutes. We knew that once it was written it would be the single. The album is made up of certain singles, but that is the closest thing to like “Her Halo”, “Sleeping Man”, the singles that have been released before. It is something a bit fresher, I think.

Dead Rhetoric: You’ve been very productive in Teramaze as of late – this latest record being the fifth issued since October of 2020, as well as releasing some independent singles in between. Have there been specific circumstances taking place where you’ve developed a strong burst of creative activity – or do you enjoy making up for lost time due to lack of live show activities during the pandemic?

Wells: I’m more of a studio sort of person. I like playing live, and I’ve always written a whole lot of music. I’ve rarely had writers block – not everything that I’ve ever written is great, but when something pops up, I try to get things done. I used to write material for tv shows, pop artists, things like that, and if you start something you can finish a song in a day. You don’t have to wait to get to the songs, I learn to get things done. I don’t second guess everything, I trust my own judgement. I have everything I need in my studio, so I get things done very quickly and present it to the band.

For me personally, I write music because I love it. The band is in a good position I suppose. The pandemic locked us in our houses like mice. I couldn’t deal with that, my way of dealing with that is doing what I’m best at which is writing music. I just kept writing and went through the motions of releasing an album and had enough for another album, so let’s just release another one. It happened, there was no thought in what was going on. This is the one thing that kept me sane, kept me focused – it kept all of us focused. It kept us grounded and the frustrations in Australia – we wrote music about this, it felt pretty strange here. They wanted us in our houses here in Melbourne at 8 o’clock at night. As a creative, that just rubbed me the wrong way. So, something good came out of this shitty situation.

Dead Rhetoric: How would you describe the relationships you have been your bandmates – do you believe it’s always been important to have a proper understanding of the individuals, their roles in the band, and what motivates them most to get the best work out of them long-term?

Wells: The lineup we’ve had for a while, we’ve built such a strong foundation through the pandemic. Through those couple of years, this is all we did, no one was working. It’s definitely the strongest lineup and most well-functioning lineup I’ve had through the career of Teramaze. It helps with the songwriting, with the label stuff, all the little things. Before I was used to doing everything myself, and now I’m finding other members of the band, especially Andrew the bass player, he’s very organized, and I’m not (laughs). He does the webpage, lots of the admin stuff. Everyone has a different role other than the music within the band, which has made things great. We are very self-sufficient in everything that we do right now, and that’s something I’ve never really had before.

Dead Rhetoric: What are your views on the state of the modern progressive metal scene not only within Australia, but what you take in on a global basis? Are there any specific areas that concern you – or maybe need to be changed for the greater good of all parties concerned?

Wells: I watch and listen to a lot of different styles of music. The fact that Teramaze is classified as progressive metal is fine, I listen to Dream Theater and Tesseract, but I listen to a lot more metal and pop. I am tunnel-visioned with Teramaze, we are going to go this way, and it doesn’t matter what everybody else is doing. Being in Australia, we have a mentality that for some reason we don’t like other people doing well. In America, people are more get up and go, encouraging. Australia is a weird place; we play Europe, and they are so open and love what we do. Here, you have to really impress people – at gigs everyone stands with their arms folded. That’s the way it is, there are lots of good bands here. I try to focus on our little road and not focus as much on what everyone else is doing. I’m trying to find new ideas to promote the band – I will tend to look at bigger bands like Metallica who are doing crazy new things. Regardless of the music, they lead the way and try different things, they have the money, and you can apply that to your own band.

Dead Rhetoric: Do you enjoy the freedom of delivering music on your own independent basis versus being under the constraints of a bigger record label? Or what would it take for you to hand some of this responsibility to others that you would feel comfortable with?

Wells: Well, we’ve just been offered something by a fairly big label that wants to come in and take over the lion’s share of things. We are in the process of looking at those things, but we really have enjoyed doing things on our own. Our last label Mascot, they were really great in Europe and helped get us into more territories, but it is interesting doing things yourselves. You can do everything quite well now – the digital stuff is simple; the distribution is simple. The hardest thing is CDs and vinyl, we didn’t realize how many people still want CDs. It’s still a thing. All of the money goes directly to us. We own our music. With the right label, with the right deal, that works for the band, we would be interested in. If it’s lopsided, we are not interested. It’s been an interesting last couple of weeks with this label trying to sign the band, so it’s up in the air.

Dead Rhetoric: What do you consider a critical or pivotal moment or two that helped shape your musical career?

Wells: I don’t think there is only one moment. Things like when I reignited Teramaze and we did Anhedonia, which came out in 2012, I worked with Jeff Waters from Annihilator. We co-produced that album, and before that I was doing some work with pop and tv for years. The band sort of stopped in 2001 and in 2012 came back to do that album. That was a big moment, going back into that when I was sort of just writing songs for other people, started writing songs for myself again and one of my idols helped produce the album. That was a big moment – it helped me realize I’m better off doing this rather than staying with pop music.

Dead Rhetoric: In a recent post I saw on your Facebook page, you mention that ‘I didn’t need a degree in psychology, I produce bands.’ Can you discuss your approach as producer and how it may different between the artists you work with depending on the needs of each individual output? Are you more hands on with some artists versus others?

Wells: Absolutely. If I work with another artist outside of bands, they come to me because they want my opinion. Anyone can press record and say, ‘yeah yeah – that sounds great!’. I’m pretty hard on myself, and my own work because I’m trying to get the right result. With different artists, sometimes you have to break them down, even emotionally, to get the vocals right. The vocals are everything to finish it – vocals have to feel right. Sometimes that can take a lot of psychology to it because some singers get too close to the lyrics or too close to the melodies. Maybe we should try something else. There’s always bands I’ve produced; you get to hear their real story. It feels like there is so much psychology to dance around the feelings – you can do a better solo than that, you can do a better take than that, trying to get the best out of them.

I had to do this with Nathan on Her Halo. The album needed to feel like this, the songs were deep, and they made me cry. You have to think about real life things that matter and then sing. I still have that same approach as I’ve had that done to me. Our original singer Brett Rerekura, he was one of those guys that would walk in and ooze emotion. I almost had to tame it a bit – but he was easy to get to go deeper, sometimes he was too deep. Some singers, it takes some time to dig down. With myself, I try to go into that headspace to lose yourself in it a bit. The constant thing dealing with bands, the fighting – you are always in the middle as a producer. I heard it from a lot of different producers, not that I know what I’m always doing (laughs).

Dead Rhetoric: What do you think you’ve changed your mind about the most personally over the past three to five years in any area when it comes to life, humanity, society, etc.?

Wells: I don’t know if it’s changed my mind, but through the pandemic, you can see how easily people can be divided. By the government, by tv. That was a real eye-opener. I don’t think we should be that easily divided by people on a screen. Filthy rich people sitting there in the government, telling us you need to do this, telling us what to do. At the same time, I saw a lot of people’s true colors. I realize fear is a great manipulator. That’s why I write a lot about that through my songs. I was taking this in, we were shot at by rubber bullets for leaving our house. What the hell is that? That’s so insane. Everyone should say, enough of this. People were locking us down for COVID. It felt like a damn movie. That’s why there is so much music coming out of us, we didn’t want to do this anymore. I tried to turn a real negative into a positive by staying focused on our music, which helped us so much. We realize it helped a lot of our fans too, as they had something they could look forward to. Bands weren’t releasing anything; labels were worried about making money.

Dead Rhetoric: What’s next on the schedule for things related to Teramaze, production work, or anything else music-related over the next year or so?

Wells: Personally, we are looking to try to do some touring – Australia, get back to Europe somehow. Maybe some shows in America. We have lots of music too – I easily have another album’s worth of music for Teramaze. I have reignited my other band Meshiaak, with Daniel Camilleri, that’s in the process as we are writing a third album for that. I’m also working with a band called Vaquero as a producer, and may be working with Vanishing Point, another Australian power/progressive metal band. I will be busy for the next few months.

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