Sunday, 1 July 2012

[INTERVIEW] Skelator

I have recently taken some time to have a few words with one of Seattle’s finest metal acts, and having just released their latest album “Agents of Power”, Skelator have a good deal to talk about. So if you want to read more about He-Man’s arch nemesis, or simply want an insight into their thoughts and influences then read on...

1. First and foremost, you've just had your second album released on Metal on Metal Records last month, and what a great album it is. What has the general overall reception been like for "Agents of Power" thus far? How do you feel it holds up against your previous effort "Death to All Nations"?

Rob: We're glad to hear that you enjoyed the release. The reviews we've seen of the album have been all on the positive side, which makes us quite happy since we really put a lot of time into the writing process as well as the recording end of things. The positive feedback from folks that have been loyal Skelator fans for a while has been nothing short of remarkable as well. DTAN is a great album, and has some of our best songs, but I feel as though "Agents of Power" is simply stronger. We took the lessons we learned during the recording session for DTAN (and also through the recording and writing process of our "Guerreros De Metal" EP) and applied them here to get a quality album. On a more personal note, "Agents of Power" (with the exception of three songs) was written with the current lineup present, so Patrick (drums) and I had more input in the material, whereas the majority of the DTAN songs were either done and ready to go or had space only for minor tweaking.

2. How was the recording process for the album? Is there anything if you had the chance you would go back and tweak or change altogether?

Rob: As with DTAN, we recorded this album ourselves at our practice space with Robbie (guitars) engineering it. We all took time off work for a week to get the bulk of the album done, but we played a show the night before starting to record which was a bad choice as it disrupted the beginning of the recording process. After that initial speed bump the process went smoothly other than the periodic argument over parts or frustration with difficult sections. We found ourselves tweaking and re-writing a couple of sections during the process as well because certain riffs weren't fitting quite how we expected them to. I know that each of us as we were in approaching the end of the mixing stage and moving towards mastering had that "itch" to go back and record a part again or to change a couple things but once you start going down that path then you'll likely never stop and you'll get a "Chinese Democracy" or "Time".

3. If there is one thing I have got to mention it's the cover art. Can you tell us more about it? Because it's fucking brilliant. Certainly one to give the great "King of the Dead" a run for its money!

Rob: The cover art for "Agents of Power" was one of the more difficult parts of the whole process. Jason had a great concept for the album art that we tapped an artist to do, but he ended up more or less vanishing and never contacting us again. We scrambled to find another artist and luckily we did. He was extremely busy but was going to fit it in to his schedule. Unfortunately, he got quite sick and with our due date looming we had to find another option. In a pinch we worked with the label to get a quality piece of art for the album. Jowita and Simone of Metal On Metal Records located some amazing artists and we decided in favor of the piece that is now the cover of "Agents of Power". Maichol Quinto created the piece as a personal tribute to Michael Moorcock and Elric. Maichol's art is nothing short of masterful!

4. And on the subject of our albino champion, it's great to see someone writing about Elric. I mean what can be more fucking metal than a black sword that devours its enemy's souls? It's actually how I came across you guys in the first place, I undertook a mission a year or two ago to try and find as many bands with Moorcock influences as possible. There are a few with the odd song or two dedicated to him but few with as significant an influence as you guys. What made you decide to write the ambitious 38 minute epic devoted to him?

Jason: I read Elric when I was 16, back when I started Skelator. I forced Max (original guitarist) to read it and told him we would write an epic based on this saga. I was also very influenced by Manowar's "Achilles" at the time and I wanted to encapsulate the entire Elric saga into a 30-40 minute track and blow everyone else out of the water. I "finished" the lyrics over the next couple months but if I read those lyrics now they are quite embarrassing. But believe it or not, about half of the lyrics are the same as they were 10 years ago. But ALL my riff ideas were trashed over the years because I really had no idea how to write music as epic as the subject at hand. In 2005 we started writing the "The Dark Tower", in 2006 Jesse and I wrote most of "Cymoril" and in 2008 we wrote "Stormbringer and Mornblade". I also wanted to concentrate on the event of the third Elric book "Weird of the White Wolf" because I noticed that most bands (Domine, Diamond Head, Blind Guardian... etc) mostly focused on the beginning and the ending of the 6 book saga. I think the third book is the most powerful because Elric kills his love, commits genocide against his people and even deceives his allies.

5. Aside from Moorcock, I'm sure there are many other fantasy novelists that influence you. Care to share any favourites? Maybe in the future we could even see some tracks related to Corum or Hawkmoon? *nudge nudge*

Rob: Robbie is a huge Tolkien fan, as well as of the Wheel of Time series. Zach has been tackling a lot of Neil Gaimon, and Pat reads more sci-fi than anyone I know. I've been enjoying Joe Abercrombie's "First Law" series, as well as Scott Lynch's "Gentlemen Bastards" series. I'm also dipping into the Steven Erikson "Malazan Book of the Fallen" series that I've heard high praise for as well. "The Coming of Chaos" from the "Swords" EP is about Corum and we've also discussed writing further songs based upon other Moorcock tales - but really, who knows what the future will hold.

6. Slightly on that subject, have you been watching the TV adaption of George R. R. Martin's "Game of Thrones"? Part of it was filmed an hour from me in Belfast.

Rob: I watched the first season and enjoyed it, definitely made for TV but still awesome, great casting, beautiful scenery, good dialogue. I haven't had a chance to check out season two, though.

Jason: Great show, but as good as it is, I'd rather watch Star Trek any day of the week... except Voyager.

7. When composing the songs, is there one person that does the main bulk of it or is it all spread out among the rest of the group? Do you have any special methods or techniques for drawing ideas and inspiration for the music and lyrics or is it more spontaneous?

Rob: From a writing standpoint we're all over the board. Some of the time a member of the band brings in an entire song and presents it to the rest of the band, but typically the norm is for one person to come up with a few different ideas, typically guitar riffs but sometimes either lyrics or vocal melodies and we learn that section, re-work it, and come up with the rest of the song. It is fairly common for Jason to "sing" guitar riffs like the solo section of the song "Agents of Power "(which in itself is pretty awesome and hilarious at the same time) or the beginning of "Rhythm of the Chain" and then we figure out how to adapt it to guitar. The chorus of "Agents of Power" had all of the vocals and lyrics written but needed a backing so we came up with it at practice. Songs like "Dream Dictator" started off with just one riff idea (the first riff in the song) and we built it up around that with everyone contributing ideas.

8. I noticed you're originally from San Diego and you moved to Seattle due to Patrick's commitments with his education and the local scene being so crap. This was a brave move to make but certainly seems to have worked out for you guys. What were the early days like when you first moved and where do you think the band would be now had you stayed in San Diego?

Jason: When we moved to Seattle it was hard at first because we were the new kids on the block. When we left San Diego we had a following and a reputation for dropping major rock bombs. But here in Seattle only a handful people knew who we were because we toured up the coast in 2005. We also went through A LOT of changes in the lineup since we got here. It took three years to get a solid lineup and begin to finish the writing process for DTAN. It really wasn't until then that we built up our crowd in Seattle and began playing bigger shows. Now we are turning down more shows than we can even try to play, whereas when we were young we'd play any shitty venue just to get some more exposure. Part of me wishes that we could have stayed in San Diego with our "Swords" lineup. We would have recorded our next two albums WAY quicker and we would have been younger and had more fury in our sound. But the music would not be the same for better or for worse. Either way we would have been stuck in a scene that constantly closes good venues and all the good bands always end up breaking up. Also, we would have never met all our dear friends here in the Northwest and would have have less contacts for touring. So it is better that we moved cause now we have a great home crowd and when we return to play in San Diego people will go batshit crazy.

9. Who were your heroes growing up? There must have been one vocalist that made you say to yourself "Fuck, I have got to be a metal singer and nothing else!". I can certainly hear some Halford, Geoff Tate and especially Midnight from Crimson Glory in your voice. Any tips for any would-be metal vocalists out there?

Jason: My first inspiration was Robert Plant, when I was 14 I would listen to the first Led Zepp album twice a day and scream till my heart's content. Later on I got into Metallica and began writing really bad political metal lyrics. Then Max got "Powerslave" on cassette and we were HOOKED. After that it was Slayer, Black Sabbath and finally Manowar. I was all about vocals but I didn't know how to use my diaphragm. But then I got into Judas Priest and that was the nail in the coffin for me. I worked at a smoke shop when I was 20 and would get really stoned and just sing along to Priest 8 hours a day for 8 months straight. During that time I realized how to utilize my diaphragm and hit those piercing high notes. Obviously I have some sort of ear (not perfect by any means), so it's kinda easy for me to figure out a melody and go with it. My friend Luis told me a long time ago that to reach the highest notes you have to visualize it in your head and get your body ready to deliver that note. My aunt Patricia taught me that you don't have to blow your voice to hit a higher note, you just have to contract your throat to the right degree and use a volume that is audible, because the mic will do the rest for you. Other than that, all I can say is you have to find YOUR voice before you can start doing fancy shit and last but not least, practice makes perfect.

10. You seem to gig fairly frequently in your (now) hometown Seattle, which actually had a decent metal scene back in the day with acts such as Fifth Angel, Heir Apparent, Sanctuary and Metal Church until grunge reared its ugly head and put paid to that. What is the local metal scene like in Seattle currently and are there any other 'True Metal' torch bearers such as yourselves or even any other metal bands in general from that area that us readers should be aware of? Myself, I can't get enough of the stuff, so the more the better!

Rob: Midnight Idols is really the only other Heavy Metal band that I can think of locally and they're great. There are a few thrash bands (Fallen Angels, Sword of Judgement, Blood Of Kings, Bitter End) delivering the goods. The scene in Seattle leans more towards extreme metal – a few of my favorites are Phalgeron, Terra Morta, Somnae (shameless plug!), and Shaded Enmity (who Zach and I used to play with).

11. You're quoted as saying "We are not a joke, but we also know how to have fun. Bands that take themselves too seriously bore us. But bands that don't play from the heart should be destroyed, this is our decree." How important is the element of 'fun' in Metal to you? Obviously bands like Manowar and Mercyful Fate would be nowhere near where they are now had they taken themselves 100% seriously.

Rob: If I don't enjoy myself and have a good time, musical inspiration dries up for me. We're all doing this for simply the love and enjoyment of the music we play because heavy metal doesn't really pay the bills. I really hope that those folks that see us play live catch how much fun we're having.

12. The label that released your album is Metal on Metal obviously named after the legendary Anvil song/album, who you recently played a gig with. How was that, and what were the Anvil guys like?

Rob: The Anvil show was a blast and the band themselves was professional, friendly, and genuine. Watching them they give off a vibe of a group of guys playing their music simply for the love of it, I think that anyone who has seen them live will get the same impression.

13. Who have been the best band you've played with so far and any not-so-good experiences?

Rob: I'd have to say Accept or Slough Feg. Rhapsody was amazing (Fabio's voice was remarkable) but without Luca Turilli something was missing. I can't really recall any negative experiences with other bands we've played with - everyone has always been very easy going.

Jason: In San Diego we opened up for Helstar and Agent Steel... That was one of the best moments of my life. Here in Seattle my favorites would be Accept, Primal Fear and Rhapsody of Fire. Other greats would be Slough Feg, Evil Survives and Witchaven. All three of those bands partied at our old house (Snake Mountain) and they will be buds forever.

14. I notice that you have been booked to play the Metal Assault festival in Wurzburg, Germany next year; is this your first trip outside of the US gig wise? And what can the European audiences expect from a Skelator live show? Are there any plans in the near future for a tour in Europe? I certainly wouldn't mind catching you guys live at some point!

Rob: Skelator played in Germany in 2007 at Swordbrothers festival, and has played in Mexico a few times as well. As far as Metal Assault goes, we'll be dropping the rock bombs!


15. It certainly seems that proper heavy metal is riding on the crest of a wave at the minute with regards to its popularity now and the increased number of bands performing it compared to say even 4-5 years ago. Of course there still is a lot of mainstream shit out there but then you've got acts like Enforcer and Atlantean Kodex all making good names for themselves now. What do you think has changed?

Rob: I'm not really sure. Regardless of what subgenre of metal people identify as their favorite, everyone likes Judas Priest and / or Iron Maiden, so I'd say it might have to do with a lot of people going back to the classic sounds that they love to listen to.

Jason: I think it's a generational thing, since people our age were raised by parents listening to classic rock and classic metal it's only natural that we want to write our own brand of traditional heavy metal. Also look at the cartoons and video games that were forced down our throats by big business in the 80's. From Transformers to Mega Man we were always surrounded by awesome harmonies, grooving bass lines and stadium rock drums.

16. It's now been 12 years since you formed, so you've certainly been around a good while now. Any regrets during that time and any moments where you look back and think "Thank god we did that!"?

Jason: Regrets? We should have recorded "Give Me Metal..." v2 with the "Swords" lineup instead of trying to teach all those songs to our first Seattle lineup. It was a waste of time and made many rifts in the band for years to come. Thank the gods of metal all that is over with. As for "Thank god we did that"? Going to Germany in 2007, opening for all the bands I mentioned earlier, and last but not least, starting the band in the first place. I am very happy with the way our friends, fans and family have treated us over the years. The support is what keeps us going and wanting more, as long as that is the case, we will keep writing True Metal Anthems for many years to come.

17. What's going on in the land of Eternia at the minute and what does the future hold for Skelator?

Jason: We have so many song ideas still brewing. No plans on an actual release but we do have a new song that we are playing live entitled "Stronger than Steel".

Rob: West Coast tour in October, a trip to Germany early next year, and writing a ton of new material.

18. I know it's kinda clichéd this question, but if you were forced to go and live on a desert island and take only 5 albums and 5 books with you, what would they be?

Rob: This is an extremely difficult question... No particular order...

Judas Priest - Unleashed in the East
Iron Maiden - Killers
Helloween - Walls of Jericho
Slough Feg - Down Among The Deadmen
Slough Feg - Traveller
Joe Abercrombie - The Blade Itself
Scott Lynch - The Lies of Locke Lamora
Jonathan Howard - Johannes Cabal: The Necromancer
Michael Moorcock - Elric of Melnibone
JRR Tolkien - The Silmarillion

Jason: If I'm stuck on the same island as Rob then I will have to choose different albums:

1. Judas Priest - Defenders of the Faith
2. Black Sabbath - Live at Hammersmith 1981
3. Manowar - Kings of Metal
4. Hawkwind - Warrior on the Edge of Time
5. Slayer - Show No Mercy

Books??? Just give me a Super Nintendo with:
1. Street Fighter II Turbo
2. Zelda Link to the Past
3. Super Metroid
4. Secret of Mana
5. Super Mario All Stars

19. How do you like to unwind whenever you're not recording or gigging?

Jason: Street Fighter, so much fucking Street Fighter. Honestly just with the Street Fighter 4 series I have logged at least 350 hours since 2009.

20. I must thank you for taking the time to answer these questions and really appreciate it. Good luck for the future and keep slaying those falses and flying that old-school flag high. Any last comments before we go?

Rob: Thank you for the amazing interview and the huge variety of questions! To the readers that haven't heard of Skelator, please check us out, our ReverbNation page ( has a variety of tracks from our releases, give 'em a listen! Other than that... Cheers! True metal!

Originally conducted for The Metal Observer

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