Photo: Goran Kljutic www.urbanmescalero.com
Devon Graves is often connected to his former band Psychotic Waltz, but with five albums long career with his band DeadSoul Tribe he has proven to the world that he is a very talented musician, producer, songwriter who can do things on his own and personally I find DeadSoul Tribe a much more exciting and complete musical experience.
DeadSoul Tribe were in town for ProgPower Scandinavia 2008 recently and I had a chance to meet with Graves for a long and interesting talk about anything from days in Psychotic Walt and reasons for starting DeradSoul Tribe to Gaves’ approach to creating music, current state of metal scene and last, but not least the many new projects that we can expect from this unique individual in next couple of years.
MR: I wanted to start by asking you about the latest album, A Lullaby For The Devil, even thou it’s almost year old, I didn’t have a chance to talk to you about it so I would like to ask you about it. Comparing to the albums you’ve done with DeadSoul Tribe it’s defiantly different sounding album, and I think that this development that can be tracked back to some of the stuff from The January Three. Could you tell me about you view on this album and what the response to the new album was?
Devon Graves: I just wanted a change, you know. The previous albums, especially, A Murder Of Crows, The January Three and The Dead Word, on those three albums I was trying to create the sound, she sound for the band. I called it tribal metal and I developed the sound throughout the albums and introduced new elements and kind of evolved from album to album, but it seems to me that the outside opinion, especially from reviewers and stuff, they took it the wrong way, like “Devon, doesn’t have any more ideas, he is making too many albums too fast” and that wasn’t the case at all and to me it was very hard to some up with the sound that could be identifiable with us.
When I was doing A Lullaby For The Devil, personally I felt it was time for a change and it was also a way for me to raise up to the challenge, to show that I have a lots of musical ideas, but I am only putting ones forward that I think are right for this band. But when that was perceived as artistic limitation then I made this deliberate change and came up with some other influences in.
At first I wanted to change, but I didn’t know how I wanted to change. I could have just as easily made an album that was extremely mellow and acoustic and I still want to do an album like that and I even toyed around with an idea of making it a double album with like one side that was mellow and other side that was heavy, but just changed my mind as I started making these riffs more and more and I just decided to make a bombastic album and make something with high energy, faster moving, you know.
As for the response to it was really quite good. But to me the response was quite invisible, because I didn’t have that much contact with the world regarding this music, not in the way I had before. For example when I am doing an album and the album is finished I normally have to sit in my room for days and days doing interviews and then I get this feedback from journalists and stuff and this time I didn’t do so many interviews so I was really in the dark as of how this was taken, only now that I’ve been out playing and heaving met people do I see the real reaction of people and it was quiet positive, but it was invisible to me to start with.
MR: As you’ve mentioned it, you come up with albums rapidly, dare I ask is there something in the works? Are you working on a new album?
DG: Actually, yes and no. When I finished A Lullaby For The Devil I’ve actually completely stopped writing for like a year. I wanted to, first of all see how this album is accepted and received and also make a decision what direction I want to go from here, because one thing I’ve learned is that I don’t want to repeat A Lullaby For The Devil. I don’t want to say, that this is the new sound now. I even know now what I want to do for the next album now and it will be more cinematic sounding. The song “Goodbye City Life” is the closes example to what I want to do, but I want to make the album flow kind of like a one long song, you know in the way Dark Side Of The Moon does.
But I want to wait a while before I do this album; I want to do couple of other things first. I have this other band that I am making, kind of a experiment, the band with some players from all over the world actually, for example Kristoffer GildenlÃ¶w (ex-Pain Of Salvation) is going to be a bass player, Mike Terrana (ex-Rage, ex-Malmsteen) will be the drummer and one quite unknown guitar player Arne Schuppner who is one of the greatest guitar players I have ever met and a Greek keyboard player Demi Scott who is a phenomenal composer. I have lots of known players in this band, but the funny thing is that two unknown bands are doing all of the composing. This is their work and I am kind of arranging it and producing it and then writing my vocals at the top of it. That’s what I am doing now, this album is in production now, in fact all the guitars are tracked, songs are written and it’s my turn now to decide what I want to do with vocals.
MR: Is it weird for you this feeling of now writing every single song that you are part of?
DG: It’s a good thing for me right now, because I don’t want to look too quickly into the next thing that I will do, because I want my thoughts to mature as to what I want to do and also I want to try another thing. There will two projects I will do before new DeadSoul Tribe album. First is this band, which we called The Shadow Theory and the second project is going to be something more revolving around acoustic guitar. I’ve been doing a lots of playing with acoustic guitar this year we did some acoustic gigs and I think that music fits well to my voice, It’s something that I kind of need personally, you know. I’ve been in Psychotic Waltz for eleven years and then after that DeadSoul Tribe and I feel like making something with less distortion too.
I don’t want to call it DeadSoul Tribe, I just want to make album like this and I think that it’s going to be a beautiful thing and I am curious to how this will be received, because I think that my style of singing…well I thought that it would be a strength in heavy metal to have a kind of singing that I do, you know the contrast of really heavy riffs and really sensitive vocals, but there is not such a big audience in metal that tolerates my style of singing. I have lots of fans that I have had from the beginning, but I can’t brake to something larger doing it the way that I do it.
MR: I think that the mixture of those mellow vocals, heavy riffs and the tribal rhythms is what makes DeadSoul Tribe unique and has it not been like that this band wouldn’t be as good as it is.
DG: That’s how I feel about it, but what I have noticed is…let me give you an example – We player at Summer Breeze Festival and we played just before Sepultura and right after One Man Army and this was day long festival of just complete aggression in music, just brutal force. And for me I thought; these people have been here for two days watching this stuff and by the time we go on the stage they are really going to see something, that’s what I felt. These people are going to see something special, but this is when I realized that very few people cared about it.
And I felt that we played really well and I felt that my voice was strong and that we were doing it and by the end of the songs the audience kind of stopped and you know.
MR: But perhaps the crowd at Summer Breeze Festival is a wrong crowd for you. Especially the young people who are not open to something new, but mostly want to hear one genre that they care about and see everything else as boring.
DG: I don’t know I feel that that is good description of metal as genre, or progressive…I don’t know. I am not progressive. Am I metal when I play flute and acoustic guitar? I don’t know, but non the less I only get invited to such festivals and sometimes it’s take well, especially in front of my crowd, but in front of strange crowd…for example, we’ve played here couple of years ago, when we toured with Rage and it seems like the crowd was barely tolerating us. It looked like they just wanted us to finish, to leave so that they can get the aggression the power and nothing more. These types of people do that and I find it bit weird and bit sad. It makes me sad that these people don’t have even a little emotion in their hearts except for anger in music. But that’s the way it is and on the other side I can play in front of these same people with my acoustic guitar and they love it.
MR: How do you explain that?
DG: Because they don’t have expectations of what I should sing like. With DeadSoul Tribe there are powerful drums and guitars and they seem to get expectation to how I should sing to accompany that – if it’s not going to be aggression, it’s going to be these really high notes, which believe me I could accommodate, but I just don’t like it, but when I play the acoustic guitar then they get it.
And the thing is that not only do they get it, but also their mothers and fathers get it, and brothers and sisters get it. You know I could play in front of anybody, you know, my wife’s mother and she will get it, even thou it’s my same songs. They are like “Oh you play guitar so well, you can sing so well”. you know I never take compliments on my guitar playing, never. I never receive them. I guess that the feeling in playing solos is gone and I am not playing fast enough or something.
MR: As a “prog” fan I would say that lots of prog fans are into technical stuff, which is ok. It’s cool to be technically good, but still create music with atmosphere, emotions etc. That’s the most important thing in my eyes.
DG: There are very few guitar players who can do both. Very few. Almost none, but there are few like for example Eddie Van Halen can do it. You know he has like blousy style and feeling and absolute precision.
But the funny thing is when I am playing the acoustic guitar I start to hear “Hey guitar man, come over here, have a drink with us” and this not special guitar playing. I play much faster on electric guitar then on acoustic, but when I do this I guess it reaches to people and this was my observation so I thought that maybe I was spending a lots of time where I am not belonging and maybe there is a world out there for me, but I just have to find it.
MR: The acoustic project that you talked about; are there going to be other people involved or is it just going to be you?
DG: I am sure that Kristoffer will play some fretless bass, I would really like to team up with this guy, make partnership with him and maybe some of the guys from my other project could contribute to that project, they are certainly welcome to.
I would want every song on it to be able to be broken down to acoustic guitar, but it doesn’t mean that that is the only thing the songs are made of. There will for sure be some electric guitar and keyboard and for sure bass and some drums, but just done in the clean way, the clean sound. Atmosphere and texture is what I am looking for and just some different kind of personal release, a break from all the heavy stuff that I am doing and especially after The Shadow Theory, because that is going to be much more bombastic that anything DeadSoul Tribe ever did, it’s absolutely nuts, in fact when The Shadow Theory comes out you can be assured that even thou each of the players in this band would deny being prog, this band will be very appropriate in progressive scene, it’s kind of a progressive death metal / progressive trash metal.
MR: Is The Shadow Theory gong to release album on InsideOut like DeadSoul Tribe?
DG: I don’t know. I told them about that, but I have also couple of other labels interested and I really like InsideOut I really do, it’s like a comfort zone and this band is all about testing the new grounds so I wouldn’t mind seeing what else exists.
MR: You basically write everything yourself for DeadSoul Tribe, produce it, play everything except for the drums, you are also involved in creating the artwork, so I was wondering how does it feel being in control of just about everything. Adel Mustafa does an amazing job on the drums and his part in DST shouldn’t be underestimated, but you play all the guitars and bass on the album, but you always put the pictures of the guitar and bass players who are basically only part of the live DST band. Can you tell me bit about all that?
DG: You know, when I left Psychotic Waltz I really wanted this autonomy, I wanted to be able to make decisions myself, you know. After being in the group of guys that in the beginning of Psychotic Waltz everybody was open minded to each other and we did whatever we wanted, mixed it up in a pot and nobody was complaining, but as we got later and later on people stated getting strong headed about the things they wanted not only for their pars, but also what they wanted for my part, you know and I got sick at tired of my songs being changed behind my back and just such and tired of not getting some things I wanted like sometimes I would want their idea to be different, because I have a vocal melody that would sound really cool if we would go to this cord and you would be surprised how hard that was some times.
But also being in studio with engineers sometimes and asking “Hey man I want this certain effect after that certain effect” and they guy is telling me why that is not possible, but I know that’s possible and in fact I could turn the knobs and show him what I want.
I just wanted to have my hands on the equipment and play my bass and guitar and just have everyone leave me alone and jut let me put my ideas down because in case of for example Dan Rock (the Psychotic Waltz guitarist / producer), the reason that I couldn’t express my ideas to him was because if I sing a melody to him there are other things that are going on in my mind that support that melody, but obviously he can’t hear them and I wanted to make music that way, I wanted to test myself as a musician and I wanted to test myself as an engineer and as a producer and also I still have a lot to learn as a engineer, a lot to learn, but it’s very fun for me, very fun and so DeadSoul Tribe was this idea of giving myself this autonomy and just to see how it flies, are people going to like it, am I going to sell any records, is it going to happen and can I even do it this way.
I could’ve easily called this Devon Graves, you know because it was supposed to be my solo thing, right. But personally I don’t like solo projects named after the artist, I don’t like it because especially if you don’t know who the guy is. “Point Dexter” and you look like “Who is this guy”, but a nice band name makes you curious and so I gave it a band name and the band was fictitious, band didn’t exist, but I made it as if it were a band.
Piece of art for me, you know and then I found these players that…well I didn’t need to find guys with idea and not even the best players in the world, I just needed to find these other two guys that fulfilled this vision that I had of what this band should look like on the stage. So I picked them more on their hairstyle, you know with the dreadlocks (laughs), but now the dreads are gone of course (laughs).
But it was just an idea of forming a band that I would like to see. So now I have that and I have done that and I would like to continue doing that, but now also it’s nice for me to start working with other players and now collaborating with guitar players who write the songs.
But the cool thing about that is that I have these great players in The Shadow Theory, some of the fines I’ve ever heard yet I still have this control of anything I want they will do for me because they are all fans of Psychotic Waltz so they are very happy to be jamming with me and whatever I want I get and that’s really nice, but really I don’t make them change their notes. They make their arrangements and they send them to me and then I put them in Macintosh and I start cutting them up and arranging them like “This part should repeat twice and this part should be out”, I just arrange it so that it’s useful for me as a singer, that I can write some vocals over this and now that’s all in place, those songs are all in place, just like that, waiting for me to lay these vocals whenever that may be.
It’s a nice situation for me, because I have a whole album worth of music where I didn’t have to write or perform all. There is also something to be said about how easy it is just to do just one part and not play everything.
You know what, I am this guy that is beyond just like styles and like certain images or categories, I am beyond that, I have much more universal thinking about music or just basically about what I want to do with my life and I want to do many things in life, I don’t just want to make a band and then move forward with the band’s career and record ten albums more then I ever should’ve with that band. I just want to do these phases and anyone who takes a change as a negative thing is probably thinking of it in a wrong way.
Take for example Metallica, everybody picks on Metallica “Old Metallica was good and new Metallica sucks”, but the thing that they are not thinking about is that it’s still Metallica, they just have new songs. You have those first three or four albums and if they continued that way you would have like nine albums that sound like Ride The Lightning you would get tired of them by now.
MR: It needs to be challenging for the artist and it can’t be challenging recording the same thing over and over again, but it also needs to be challenging for the listener. Personally I don’t find it exciting if I put the new album from a band and I know what is waiting for me. Sure there can be some quality in the songs, but the excitement is gone.
DG: Yeah. Me too. But not even only within one band, but I don’t define myself within genres or styles. I did define my projects this way, you know, and that’s why I like to do a metal project, acoustic project etc. I would like to give each of these projects; different name, different players and take a year or two and see that through. See how it’s received, you never know. I personally have the feeling that this acoustic guitar thing is where I belong, I feel it and I feel it when I stand in front of people.
I was touring with this band called Dornenreich, fantastic group, they are black metal band, but they made a duo with violin and acoustic guitar player, beautiful music, great guys and we toured where I played in front of strangers almost every night, only couple of concerts were filled with people who knew me and the thing that I’ve noticed, I just started playing a song, a Tenacious D song, one piece of the song that nobody knows, so I opened with it playing a simple cord and then when I sung a simple line I could see the look and these people’s faces. all of a sudden they stopped talking and they were like “Wow”. I had their attention from the first word and I kept their attention through the whole concert and at the end I closed the set with “Tribute” by Tenacious D and just killed with that. Everywhere I played it every night, people just roared through the song.
MR: Well I was looking forward to talking to you and I am even more looking forward to seeing the show tonight, because I’ve never seen DeadSoul Tribe live before. Tank you for your time. It was a pleasure.
DG: Oh, you are welcome. There is one thing that I should probably tell to everybody and that is that this will be the last concert we play for some time, the last DeadSoul Tribe concert for at leas the time that it takes me to finish these other two projects, but we are releasing our live album, which is finished and later there is going to be a DVD.
MR: From this tour?
DG: Yeah and the live album is finished and as for DVD I still have to see it and decide if what we have there is good. It’s in editing when they are finished with cutting it all together I will take a lokk and see if it’s something I want the world to have. That live abum is a fitting way to leave before I take that break where I will finish The Shadow Theory and then this acoustic thing where my heart is really crying out now and I am looking forward to that and then when that’s done things are going to go in on of the two ways; either A – the acoustic thing is going to do something for me and maybe I must continue in this direction or maybe as it has been one more album and time for next step and the next step will be DeadSoul Tribe album.
MR: Sounds great with all these different thing that we can look forward to.
DG: I have my next three years planned (laughs).