By the Light of the
An interview with Brian of
GARDEN OF SHADOWS
Interview by Christopher J. Kelter - February 1, 2001
Just as I was getting started with the Rough Edge writing gig I began to
take notice of which local metal bands were calling the Baltimore/Washington, DC area home. Garden Of Shadows was one of
the first bands that I managed to hear about that was getting good press from all over the globe for
their demo turned full-length "Heart Of The Corona." Nearly two years later, with the release of
"Oracle Moon," Garden Of Shadows take an epic journey deep into the cosmic abyss.
Even with the band being from Maryland, somehow my schedule prevented me from seeing them live for the
last year or so. Finally, I resorted to a phone interview with guitarist/songwriter Brian. Read on as this
engaging interview reveals much about Garden Of Shadows and what the future might
Rough Edge: I was curious to know how people in Maryland get together and make the musical journey to the style that Garden Of Shadows has - how did you get into death metal and what influences bring you to what Garden Of Shadows has to offer? In particularly, discuss the decidedly non-American sound that Garden Of Shadows has.
Brian: When we began, before we were even Garden Of Shadows, I was with the vocalist we have now, the keyboard player from the "Heart Of The Corona" mini-CD, a different bassist and drummer, and I was the only guitarist. I had just bought my guitar and we were just a bunch of friends in high school that got together. We didn't know how to play our instruments. I had been into metal for a long time and I was certainly the person in the band who was the most into underground metal. Everyone else in the band was more into mainstream metal. I was fine with going along with that at the time; I couldn't even imagine myself tremolo picking and doing anything with any degree of complexity. Everybody was just throwing in their two cents worth - we just enjoyed the fact that were able to make music. As we started to get a little better, I started to throw in riffs that I was writing and then I thought that we could really make it go somewhere. It was then that we started looking for a second guitarist. A friend of ours told us about this girl Mary who was into metal and played guitar. I met her at a show and was quite shocked to find out that she had very similar interests to mine. It was surprising simply because there aren't that many people that have interests in the underground. She came to a practice and heard our stuff - we'd only had two songs at the time: "Company Of Solitude" and an early version of "Lovely Cold." She came to another practice a week later and she had written separate guitar parts to all the things that we'd done. Mary transformed and elevated the music. She had a lot of ideas for rearranging "Lovely Cold" - I knew right away that this was a perfect match. As a band we were very excited about Mary joining. Shortly after Mary joined, the bass player and the drummer left because they knew we were going in a very different direction and didn't feel like going into such a heavy form of music. We went through a really long time looking for a bass player and a drummer - we really didn't do much during that time from the Summer of '95 until the Fall of '96 when we found Bret to play the drums. Bret had been in a brutal death band called Sadistic Torment that had just broken up and he was looking for something new. With Bret, things really started to take off. We began to write and practice regularly. We recorded our demo "Heart Of The Corona" in April 1997. As far as the writing and the vision, Mary and I get things started while writing for two guitars and the keyboard lines as well. Then we take it to practice when drum parts and bass lines get added.
Rough Edge: So the writing is a democratic process?
Brian: It's certainly like that except for the main core of the songs that come from Mary and myself. I think a lot of it is just luck that I happened to find Mary and that all of us work well together. Going in this direction, at least we've been able to go further in the direction that we wanted to go in between "Heart Of The Corona" and "Oracle Moon." It's the path that we want to keep going: we want to keep things technical and complex, yet still engaging and musical.
Rough Edge: Tell us a little bit about the success of "Heart Of The Corona," how an unknown band caught people by surprise, and how it has helped the band achieve name recognition.
Brian: We worked pretty hard to promote "Heart Of The Corona." We did it on our own, paid for it ourselves - that's basically what bands do with their first demo. We probably mailed out about two hundred copies of it mostly to 'zines, some to distros, and to a couple of labels. We figured that we'd just concentrate on getting a name for ourselves. We were fortunate enough to get a lot of good reviews and it seemed that the more good reviews we got the more 'zines wrote to us asking for it so they could review it in their own 'zines. Then people wanted to do interviews after they'd heard the demo. It went from there. Everyone seemed to like it so much and I couldn't be happier with the reviews that we got.
Rough Edge: Did you guys go into this with low expectations or did you really have some high hopes for it?
Brian: We were proud of the music, although we felt in certain ways that some of the performances and overall recording quality were truly at a demo level. We just hoped that if it was reviewed as a demo that it would get some good reviews. We also knew that stylistically it wasn't the most popular style out there. We were pleasantly surprised by the reaction to "Heart Of The Corona" and it was better than we'd hoped for.
Rough Edge: I'm interested in how the song "Shards Of The Sphere" came about for the proper release of "Heart Of The Corona" on X-Rated Records - was it recorded specifically to make the "Heart Of The Corona" CD a proper full length?
Brian: "Shards Of The Sphere" wasn't an afterthought as far as the writing went. At the time we signed to X-Rated for "Heart Of The Corona" they'd asked us to do another song as a bonus track for people who'd already had the demo and wanted the CD. We had a few songs at that time and we decided that "Shards Of The Sphere" was the closest to being a complete song and we were very happy with it. We thought that it could be a good indicator of the direction that we were going for in the future not only as a bonus track, but as another song to show labels where we were going with the band's music.
Rough Edge: When I first heard "Shards Of The Sphere" I thought it was the perfect bridge to "Oracle Moon"!
Rough Edge: Yeah, that's not to say the rest of the material on "Heart Of The Corona" wasn't done as good, it just seemed to fit what "Oracle Moon" has to offer.
Brian: I entirely see what you mean by that. I wish "Shards Of The Sphere" could have been on "Oracle Moon" because I do think that it is very similar in feel. We didn't re-record it because we already had enough new material for "Oracle Moon" and we just let it stay on the mini-CD. I've wondered if we should ever try to re-release it on something else because "Heart Of The Corona" simply doesn't have wide distribution.
Rough Edge: Was there any pressure to live up to the hype of the positive press received for "Heart Of The Corona" as you did the sessions for "Oracle Moon"?
Brian: No, we didn't feel any pressure. Whenever we write we do what we like. I feel lots of internal pressure when I write because I want to do something that is good and I feel that everyone else in the band feels the same way. When we started to record "Oracle Moon" we felt really happy with the material going in. We felt that if it was good enough for us that it would certainly be good enough for other people.
Rough Edge: I don't see a producer credit for "Oracle Moon." Did you guys produce "Oracle Moon" yourselves?
Brian: Yes, I'd have to say so. But it all depends on what you mean by "produce"?
Rough Edge: There are all different kinds of producers. Some producers help bands pick out songs, some producers help a band shape their sound.
Brian: Well, certainly in those two respects we produced "Oracle Moon" ourselves. We recorded most of the album ourselves in my home studio. If you look at the credits you'll see that we recorded the drums and keyboards at a local studio; we did the vocals, the bass, and the guitars at my home studio. We mixed it at an outside studio with an engineer.
Rough Edge: It seems obvious to me that anybody who listens to Garden Of Shadows will agree that the band has its own style, that the sound of Garden Of Shadows has right out of the gate with "Heart Of The Corona" was singular and unique. Yet, the band has progressed, or perhaps I should say refined its style, with "Oracle Moon." What would you call it?
Brian: You could call it both. The music that we wanted to create was something very mystical and atmospheric, but definitely death metal at the same time. I think the material on "Oracle Moon" has a much more dreamy quality to it and that's definitely something that we've always wanted. We're very happy with the progression of the band in that respect. And we want to continue going in that direction in the future.
Rough Edge: How did Earache/Wicked World enter the picture? Did they actively seek you guys or did you guys actively seek them out?
Brian: While we were mainly distributing the demo to 'zines, distros, and labels we were letting the labels come to us. We did the same with "Heart Of The Corona." Dan from Earache had come across a copy of the demo tape and wrote to me. Dan liked it and he wanted to know if we had newer material and whether or not we were looking for a label. We wrote back and forth, and I told him we had new stuff, and he asked if he could hear it. We let him hear "Shards Of The Sphere" and a rough rehearsal recording of the new songs. That's how we got the contract with Earache/Wicked World.
Rough Edge: So, it happened pretty fast once it got started?
Brian: Well, it wasn't very long after he'd expressed an interest that he sent us a contract.
Rough Edge: A band's use of imagery often plays an important part in conveying what the band is about: cover art, promo photos, and videos. With Garden Of Shadows there seems to be a focus with celestial bodies. "Heart Of The Corona" shows the band alluding to the sun and "Oracle Moon" utilizes the lunar image. Alchemists years ago tried to make gold from dirt and water - there were attempts to make something valuable out of ordinary things. The alchemists probably thought that things were made up of things that couldn't be touched or felt. Is there a history of what you've read or things that you were exposed to that lead to a focus on celestial bodies?
Brian: For the imagery, it hasn't been a direct conscious decision to deal with celestial bodies. We can write about anything that fascinates us, anything that seems appropriate for our music. I think that nature is about as grand as you can get when you try to take in the scope of the universe. It does seem fitting that we would choose that sort of imagery. Then again, look at all the bands that have the image of a forest. Nature is beautiful. I suppose with a thousand album covers using a forest as a main theme it could get a little repetitive. We are just trying to do what seems right for us. Especially lyrically on "Oracle Moon" I know I was thinking about the universe and the concept that we can never fully understand every working piece of the universe - it's too complex and too vast. One could take steps towards understanding it, but a complete picture is essentially unattainable. The futility of trying to understand it all is very interesting to write about. Again, it wasn't a conscious decision, but once we completed "Oracle Moon" we could see that theme in a number of songs.
Rough Edge: From what I understand, correct me if I'm wrong, Garden Of Shadows has had more success in terms of touring and CD sales in Europe than in America. Is that true?
Brian: It wouldn't surprise me if we had more success in Europe, but I don't know because we're not quite sure what the total distribution and sales between American and Europe are. We're sold out of "Heart Of The Corona" and we're not sure where all the copies went. It would make sense to me that we might be more successful in Europe as the style is more accepted over there. It seems that a number of people in the U.S. have embraced it as well. It's nice to see especially since our style doesn't fit into any of the more well-known metal genres.
Rough Edge: Well, have you toured Europe?
Brian: We played one show in the Czech Republic. We did one festival because Depresy and Septic Flesh were playing there and they are two of our favorite bands. We thought we'd never have a chance to see them in the U.S. Mary and I were talking about going there just to see those two bands even if we didn't play. But we got an offer to play and we talked to the rest of the band, none of them had ever been to Europe, and we turned it into a combination show/vacation. It was a blast to play that festival and we got a great crowd reaction. After the festival we spent some time in Prague - it was a pretty amazing experience and I'm glad we did it. I'd love to play more shows in Europe, but we don't have the opportunity at the moment. If the opportunity did arise and we could do it we would definitely do it.
Rough Edge: The line-up has been stable for a while; I've found that stability in a line-up helps a band achieve what they want to achieve. Do you think the line-up will be stable for a while?
Brian: Stability definitely does help. I don't see any changes happening in the future. We've had quite a revolving bass line-up. Our current bass player Sean actually joined the band right after the demo, but he couldn't continue because of his job. That's when Owen joined and did "Shards Of The Sphere." Sean was able to come back in and he was always the real bassist in the band. Things have worked really well with him. Of course, we parted ways with the keyboardist Scott after "Shards Of The Sphere." It was largely because he is an improvisational player and our music is very structured. He would throw in little solo bits and three times out of ten in a live situation it would result in a wrong note. It was frustrating to hear those stray notes after we'd taped our shows. Even on "Heart Of The Corona" there are keyboard parts that just irritate me every time I hear it.
Rough Edge: But those things are unknown to the average listener.
Brian: Hopefully! I would think that anybody who's a musician that's paying attention could hear it. In fact, when we recorded "Shards Of The Sphere" we made very sure that he played everything perfectly. He played it through a computer so that if there was a wrong note we could fix it afterwards without him being there. He really wasn't that much into metal and another band he was in was taking up much of his time, so we decided that it was best if we both went our separate ways. Mary and I wrote the keyboard lines for "Oracle Moon" and although I play them on the CD I put it into a sequencer because a few of the parts and chord work were kind of difficult to play in real time. In the end it got buried in the mix.
Rough Edge: I still think it is very important to the overall sound that you're presenting. Will there ever be a full-time keyboard player in the band?
Brian: We're working with someone right now and I'm hoping that it works out. But at the moment, there's nothing definite.
Rough Edge: I get the sense that a lot of people are turned off by the brutal vocal sound which is so integral to Garden Of Shadows. What can you say about the band and its music to get people to explore what Garden Of Shadows has to offer?
Brian: I can definitely see the point of your question. We've encountered quite a few people who aren't even into metal who say "I like the music, but I just can't get into the vocals." It's hard to know exactly what to say. I know for myself when I started with metal I was listening to Iron Maiden and then moved into more thrash-oriented styles where it moved from singing to screaming. Then I discovered death metal - the first time I heard it the vocals sounded odd to me. But after I started hearing more and more bands it seemed that the death metal vocals were the most powerful vocals that I could imagine. Then it was the atmospheric death metal bands that used death metal vocals over this beautiful music when I just felt that there was such magic to it. That it spoke to me in such a strong and deep way that I can hardly listen to anything doesn't have death metal vocals. In fact, I can listen to clean female vocals, but listening to clean male vocals never appeals to me anymore. I hear bands that mix up the clean male vocals and the brutal death vocals and I hear myself thinking "if they only got rid of those clean vocals." (much laughter) When people ask about the vocals I always say that it's more of a percussive thing, an emotional content issue.
Rough Edge: Yeah, the emotional content always does it for me, more than just the singing in and of itself.
Brian: We allow the melody to come through in the other instruments so that we don't have to rely on the vocals to carry the melody. We don't necessarily need the vocals to be the melodic center point. We'll let three guitar parts carry the melody if we have to. The vocals should be grand and even though they're death metal vocals, I don't necessarily hear them as being 'brutal' - it's a powerful, regal thing. I would especially advise people who don't necessarily like death metal vocals to read our lyrics while listening to the CD because I know that with a lot of bands all you'll hear is a grunting mess. Especially on "Oracle Moon" we worked a lot to get the pronunciation right - the vocals were done over and over until they were done right. If you read the lyrics with the songs, you'll have no trouble understanding the words and the message contained in them. And I think people will be surprised that there are real words there and not just gore lyrics.
Rough Edge: Let's take a peek into the future: what's next for Garden Of Shadows?
Brian: We haven't got a time-table at the moment. We do have one song recorded from the "Oracle Moon" sessions that didn't make it onto the CD because we already had 54 minutes of new material. It was also the most stylistically different from the rest of the songs. The song reminds me of Sentenced's "North From Here" CD, although we're nowhere near as good as them from a technical standpoint. We've got a number of riffs, but nothing much in the way of new songs, and certainly nothing in the way of new CD. We're not feeling rushed and we're not letting anyone rush us. I think a lot of bands that keep putting out a CD every year lose the original passion that they had. Great music takes time and we're going to give the music the time it needs.
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Revised: 12 Mar 2014 20:08:55 -0600.