Sunday, May 24, 2009

DragonForce makes 'Guitar Hero' metal

If you've ever played
"Guitar Hero," chances are you've heard DragonForce. The UK-based metal outfit's music is featured at the advanced stage of the video game, picked because of its super-speedy riffs, '80s-style guitar solos and overall head-spinning appeal.

I chatted with keyboard player Vadim Pruzhanov, who along with vocalist ZP Theart, guitarist Herman Li, guitarist Sam Totman, drummer David Mackintosh and bass player Frederic Leclercq make up DragonForce. (Interview originally published in the Gannett LSJ) Thanks for reading! (Courtesy photo)

By Anne Erickson, Gannett LSJ

• NOISE: Did you grow up listening to metal music?

• Pruzhanov: Yeah, I listened to Black Sabbath and Led Zeppelin because that's what my dad listened to most often. I liked the whole Sabbath and Ozzy era, and I also listened to classical music.

• You guys are known for your speedy delivery. How do you play so fast?

• I don't know! I guess it's because we're just fun-loving chaps. We've always played fast and it was never a deliberate thing. We just wrote what worked well with the melody, and it came naturally. But the speed brings more energy to the shows.

• How important has "Guitar Hero" been to your career?

• It seems pretty big. I remember when "Guitar Hero" first came out and they asked to use one of our tracks. We said yes since we're pretty big gaming fans and we thought it would be a great way to get the music across to fans that weren't necessarily metal fans. It got a wider range of people listening to our music, so it was definitely a good thing to do.

• Have you ever played your own songs on "Guitar Hero?"

• We have! Herman and I played it, and we were both fast at it. We would be better if we spent more time playing, but we tour so much, so it's hard to have enough time.

• Your newest album, "Ultra Beatdown," entered No. 18 on the Billboard 200 chart last year. That's a great debut.

• I think we're most pleased with this album. The songs have evolved; they're a lot catchier and not just constantly fast. There are some mid-tempo ballads on there, too. We're happy with the record, and we got better as musicians on this album.

Interview with C.J. Pierce of Drowning Pool

The guys of Drowning Pool know all about survival. After facing the death of their lead singer a few years ago, the band is back and charting better than ever with the drudge-y single, "37 Stitches." More importantly, the guys have sets an example for others in the heavy music genre by devoting so much time to entertaining the troops overseas.

I recently had the chance to interview Drowning Pool guitarist C.J. Pierce for a feature. Check out the interview here (originally published in the Gannett LSJ), and thanks for reading! (Courtesy photo)

After death of lead singer, band rediscovers its heart

By Anne Erickson, Gannett LSJ

Drowning Pool is best known for the 2001 hard-hitting, fist-pumping anthem "Bodies."

"Let the bodies hit the floor/Let the bodies hit the...FLOOOOR" croons the intro, breaking into a galvanizing chant.

Guitarist C.J. Pierce says the success of "Bodies" was surreal.

"What happened to us wasn't normal," said Pierce, chatting via phone during a rare vacation week in his hometown of Dallas. "We sold a million records in 11 weeks. It was like winning the lottery."

In today's modern rock world of heavy guitars and memorable choruses, "Bodies" is still relevant. It fits snug in any rock devotee's iPod mix.

That Drowning Pool continues to make albums is a testament to the band's endurance and grit. In 2002, the group was faced with a grave challenge. Lead singer Dave Williams was found on the band's tour bus, dead from natural causes.

"He was a brother to us, and it was like losing a family member," Pierce said.

Even so, quitting was not an option: "There wasn't a time when we didn't want to continue making music."

The band brought singer Jason "Gong" Jones into the fold. But things weren't comfortable: "All of us live together on the bus, and a big part of the band is our personalities meshing."

In 2006, the band added vocalist and friend Ryan McCombs, former singer of metal outfit SOiL. Drowning Pool felt like a real band again.

"The stars aligned," said Pierce.

The band's newfound feeling of unity comes out in the title of its current full-length, "Full Circle."

"After losing Dave, it took us years to come back to why we started playing music. It's about four buddies, hanging out, writing music together and putting on rock shows. And I feel like we're at that point again."

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

12 Stones flashback

Today I was listening to Pandora and stumbled upon a random 12 Stones song. The lyrics spoke right to me; I'm sure you know the feeling. :) Here's my recent interview with lead vocalist Paul McCoy and story (originally published in the Gannett Lansing State Journal).

Grammy-winning rocker comes to Flint; Christian vocalist Paul McCoy hit it big duetting with Amy Lee

By Anne Erickson, Gannett Lansing State Journal

There's a good chance you've heard Paul McCoy's screams at least a few times.

The lead vocalist of 12 Stones is famous for duetting with Amy Lee on Evanescence's 2003 breakout hit, "Bring Me to Life," screaming, "Wake me up" every chorus. The song earned McCoy a Grammy and catapulted him into hard-rock fame.

But there is much more to McCoy and his band, 12 Stones.

12 Stones is a hard rock band from Mandeville, La., signed to Wind-Up Records (Creed, Evanescence). The outfit's self-titled debut came out in 2002, complete with post-grunge rock, soaring vocals and intense riffs. "Potter's Field" followed in 2004, and 12 Stones released its most recent album, "Anthem for the Underdog," in 2007.

Catch the band - including McCoy, guitarists Eric Weaver and Justin Rimer, drummer Aaron Gainer and bass player Shawn Wade - at The Machine Shop in Flint on Friday.

We chatted with McCoy about winning a Grammy and the band's positive take on hard rock.

• LSJ: How did the collaboration with Amy Lee on "Bring Me to Life" come about?

• McCoy: We're on the same record label, and I was sitting in the label's office and heard a demo version of the song. They had the idea to have a male vocalist on it, and I just said, "If you can't find anybody famous to do it, let me know and I'll do it for you," kind of jokingly. A few weeks later I got a phone call saying, "If you're really interested, we want to use you on the song." So I flew out, met the band, did the song, flew back and two months later it blew up. Now everybody knows me as the "wake me up" guy. (He laughs.)

• Was it crazy winning a Grammy for best hard rock performance for that track?

• McCoy: It was actually one of the coolest experiences I've ever had. I won that when I was 23 years old, so to own a Grammy and be thrown into that list of names that is so established at that age was an honor.

• You guys are from the New Orleans area. What impact did Hurricane Katrina have on you?

• McCoy: It was pretty crazy to see how everybody was affected by it, not just the band, but everybody in that area. It was very hard to watch and go through, but it's kind of coming back around and people are getting back on their feet.

• How does that experience come out on your new album, "Anthem for the Underdog"?

• McCoy: We never really set out to have anything on the record about Katrina, but when you live in that kind of environment, anything you go through works itself into the music. So I think the idea of overcoming adversity and getting over tough times comes through on the record.

• I read Chris Daughtry co-wrote one of the tracks on the album, "Broken Road," via e-mail. That's cool!

• McCoy: Yeah, "Broken Road" was a song that was actually written for Chris Daughtry's record and it wasn't done in time. ... I heard the song and said, "We can't let this go to waste." So we contacted Chris and said, "Hey man, what if we continue to write the song and put it on the 12 Stones record and give you credit?" He was all about it. We made changes back and forth over e-mail. When went on a tour with Chris, he would come out and sing it with us every night.

• It is true your name, 12 Stones, is a reflection of your Christian faith?

• McCoy: We picked the name 12 Stones out of the Old Testament of the Bible. It's a symbol of strength and a reminder of God's power. We had a bunch of different band names and we threw them into a hat - no lie! - and 12 Stones is the name we picked out. It definitely has a spiritual meaning.

• You guys are embraced by the Christian community, although you've never really labeled yourselves a Christian hard rock band.

• McCoy: Yeah, if there's somebody out there who listens to our music and they get something out of it spiritually and it helps them get through something, that's really cool. But we also want to embrace those people who take the songs for other reasons.

• Your music is heavy, but the lyrics seem to always come to a positive place.

• McCoy: That's what we wanted to do. We wanted to prove to people you can be loud and aggressive and scream and still have something worth saying. ... And then we have some songs that are just like guilty pleasures and fun. Our rock songs have a lot of meaning to us, and we want people to embrace that and take it for their own personal message.

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Grand Rapids rock band Pop Evil breaks out with 'Hero' and '100 in a 55'

Grand Rapids boys Pop Evil are all over rock radio these days! The band's latest single, the rock ballad "100 in a 55," is striking a chord with hard rock fans. The band is also representing the Midwest at the famed Rock on the Range music festival in Columbus this month. Check out my interview/story below. Thanks for reading! (Courtesty photo)

Music: Pop Evil edges toward top; hit 'Hero' helps band break through

By Anne Erickson, Gannett LSJ

They have Kid Rock's engineer on speed dial. They're on tour with rock behemoths Puddle of Mudd and Saving Abel. And they have a Top 25 rock radio hit - something unheard of for a band without major label backing.

Grand Rapids rock band Pop Evil is on the cusp of something big.

But even with the hoopla, lead singer Leigh Kakaty shows no sign of the pretentiousness that usually comes from swelling success. He is funny, personable and light-hearted.

-Breaking out

Like many young bands, Pop Evil discovered early on that to make some cash with their music, they had to start by playing other people's hits.

"We wanted to play our own music but learned quickly that wouldn't pay anything," said Kakaty.
"So we decided we had to play some covers to make more money and get a good producer."

That producer turned out to be darn good - Al Sutton, who works with Kid Rock. Gathered in Sutton's Detroit studios, the band got to work on its Ready or Not EP, tapping heavy influences such as Metallica, Pantera and Our Lady Peace. The disc spawned the hit "Somebody Like You," and the guys made a name with heavy touring.

-'Hero' Origins

Fast-forward to the present. Pop Evil's new album, Lipstick on the Mirror, dropped in August of 2008. Filled with soaring melodies and powerful vocals, the disc features the single "Hero," which is turning into the group's breakthrough hit. The track reached No. 24 on the active rock chart, next to major-label bands like Avenged Sevenfold and Trapt.

If you think "Hero," with lyrics like "I won't be your hero/I won't be your superman/Everything I did was for you/Everything you said was a lie," is about a romantic rumbling, think again.

"Everybody thinks 'Hero' is about a relationship, and it's not, really," said Kakaty. "It's basically about someone we trusted who was close to us and who back-stabbed us.

"It's also metaphorical to this profession we're in. The more success you have, the more people want to bring you down. We're your hero today, but who's your hero tomorrow? It's about standing up for what you believe. And if it's really what you love to do, you do it regardless of pain and tribulations that come with that success."

The success of the song is turning negative into a positive for the guys.

"To have someone you trust turn out to be conniving and scandalous is hard to swallow. To get something positive out of that, now that this song is getting us national attention, is great. And it's very ironic."

-Onstage antics

The live show is everything to Pop Evil.

"If you have people spending $30 on a ticket, you want to earn their respect," said Kakaty. "We bring our A game every night. And to see people singing your lyrics and singing your songs every night is definitely what being on the road is all about."

And if you're at one of the band's shows, chances are, you'll spot Lansing's own Donnie Herronen, aka DJ Donnie D, rocking it onstage.

"I would describe it as the Kid Rock, Detroit-Michigan mentality. There's always a DJ," Kakaty said. "To have Donnie spinning and filling the empty gaps during the live set is very important. And to know Donnie D, to add a personality like him to an already very personality-driven band is very unique. I think it's one of the big strengths of our band."

Herronen loves being a part of Pop Evil. Come October, he'll tour full-time with the band, but promises to make it back to his Lansing digs at least once a month.

"Having the guys ask me to join Pop Evil means the world to me," Herronen said. "It's like fulfilling a dream."

-On tour

was doing this interview smack dab in the middle of the band's tour with Puddle of Mudd and Saving Abel.

How are Wes and the guys treating Michigan's new rock darlings?

"The first thing Wes (Scantlin, from Puddle of Mudd) said when we met him was, 'I have a Pop Evil CD in the car, and it's the only CD in my car right now.' There's not really a word to describe that," said Kakaty. "It's like, 'Wow.'

"The crowds have been embracing the band, too. To get the response we're getting is overwhelming. We are most excited about getting people to listen to some Michigan rock and roll.

"We come from the state of Kid Rock and Eminem and people who perform their music. They don't just sit up there and play their songs, and we take that same philosophy with our band." -xo