In at the deep end
Minneapolis progressive metal band Gracepoint release their sophomore album Echoes on 8 April. Here bass player Sam Van Moer gives MR’s Paul Castles an insight into what we can expect, how they found working with producer Neil Kernon and why their headspinning timechanges sometimes leave fans rooted to the spot, arms folded.
Hi guys, thanks for talking with Midlands Rocks. A new album on the way in April with Echoes, these must be exciting times for Gracepoint?
Thank you Paul, it is great to talk with you! Yes, Echoes is the culmination of a lot of work and many years of difficulties so we are very excited to have it finished and to get it out there for others to hear.
This is your second album, is it a natural progression from Science of Discontent or does it contain some surprises?
That is an interesting question. In many ways Echoes is a natural progression from Science of Discontent since it still contains several key elements that were present on Science. We still enjoy screwing around with time signatures and syncopation but this album is definitely more mature from the vantage point of the songwriting. We are less interested in proving that we can turn around beats in unusual ways, even though we still do this, but now many of the changes are disguised a bit more by really solid grooves that help to create more solid songs. Slightly less youthful and self-indulgent I guess but if you try to head bang you still may pull a muscle when we switch things around rhythmically!
Are the songs based around any particular concept or theme?
Yes kind of, but not necessarily on purpose. There is quite a bit of introspection and exploration of a complex mix of the things that haunt the internal life of all human beings. Loneliness, betrayal, attempts to make meaningful connections with other people, self-destructive behavior, among other notable topics.
Music of all eras and genres delve into these kinds of topics so, generally speaking, this is nothing unique to us or our music but since understanding our existence as conscious beings is madly complicated we try to bring our own small contribution to this great and never ending artistic endeavor. And the soundtrack for our thoughts is metal!
How satisfied were you with how things came together in the studio?
Echoes was recorded at a few different studios and over a quite a stretch of time. There were many complications with logistics and with scheduling time with producer Neil Kernon (Dokken, Queensryche, Nevermore) who is a very busy gent. We also had a bit of flux in the personnel of the band and other outside life pressures. This all resulted in a recording process which was a bit more disjointed than we would have liked but you play the hand you are dealt. Overall however, we are very pleased with the outcome and we learned a ton in the process.
You were working with respected producer, Neil Kernon – how did you find that and what qualities did he bring to the process?
Neil has great ears! He will punish you for being out of tune and that is a good thing for metal guys who bang the hell out of their instruments and scream a lot. We learned so many things and actually we are super excited to start working on our next album just so that we can do things even better this time. Neil really helps you to understand proper workflow and organization but underneath all of that he is a master musician, engineer, producer, and has been a magnificent friend to us through the whole extended process. Working with Neil was an honor and his guidance and artistic input was priceless for the album. He helped to focus our chaos and keep everything moving along. He is an old hand at working with scatterbrained musician like us! He is an all-around fantastic guy to work with and we really look forward to working with him again in the near future.
Echoes has some very eye-catching artwork. Can you just tell us who worked on this and what the imagery represents?
Thank you for noticing! We are really happy with it. The artwork was done by Adon Fanion of Ghost Ship Octavius and he did a tremendous job with it. We had an idea inspired by an Igor Mitoraj sculpture called “Eros Bendato” (Eros Bound) which can be found in the old medieval square in Krakow, Poland. The picture has the essence of discovering something that has been lost for a very long time. Echoes of the past if you will. Tying things back to the introspective nature of some of the material, it plays with the idea of the questions and inquiries which make up the very fabric of the mystery that has shrouded human life since time immemorial. Or something to that effect.
Gracepoint aren’t an easy band to categorise because your sound embraces so many different styles and influences. Where do you think you fit into the wider metal picture?
Somewhere in the middle, maybe? It is hard to say but we really do think of ourselves as traditional metal as it might sound if it were filtered through the multitude of newer genres and styles of metal which have influenced us in the last few decades. I am not sure if that will be very clear to you or your readers but it does have some sense in our minds. We are a riff-based, song oriented band with straight ahead power vocals and we have taken a lot of cues from the great thrash bands like Metallica, Megadeth, and Testament and the really classic bands like Maiden, Sabbath, and Priest.
We are often writing on flat tuned 7-string guitars so the sound is heavier and more modern and our use of time changes and syncopation mix in many progressive elements but at the heart of it all we just think of ourselves as metal and choosing a sub-genre is very subjective. Every metal fan has their own idea of what kinds of bands belong where and we are just along for the ride!
I’m assuming you have fans at shows who probably don’t even see themselves as traditional metalheads?
We have often found that we attract musician types quite a bit but by and large we are still bringing in good ol’ metal fans. However, we do seem to have fans that are not exclusively metal listeners and some people who are open to harder music but might have trouble getting into more deathy vocal styles which can take a bit of getting used to. We may appeal to them since our vocals make use of a different form of aggressiveness.
As your music has a number of layers do you feel listeners really have to spend time with it to absorb the full depth and impact of the songs?
Yes! That is a great suggestion and thank you for making it! We really think that giving the music a little time and learning some of the changes will really help people to get what we are doing and that makes everything more interesting and enjoyable. Not to stretch an allusion too far but it is like a winding road and the more you know the curves and the straightaways the more fun it can be to drive.
We have noticed in the past that when we are playing in front of a crowd that has never heard us before we will see people just standing and watching with their arms crossed and we are thinking, “Wow, tough crowd!” Afterward we would find that people really dug the music but they had to pay attention a bit more than normal. Sometimes it is easier for bands that use more straight feels to get a new crowd moving because the pulse is easier to pick up on short notice. Listen and repeat is our advice.
Are any of the band members heavily involved in any side projects at the moment?
Our singer Matt is in a cover band called 80HD and our original drummer Lance, who just recently rejoined, is in a band called Goodnight Ritual but for the most part, we are trying to keep away from too many distractions because it is one of the reasons Echoes took so long to finish. Projects can end up taking more time and energy than people may have first anticipated and it can make it harder to get the main stuff done in a timely fashion. We plan to push into the next album right away because we have lots of material waiting to be brought to life.
I’m sure most of you have been in other bands previously. Is the collective feeling that Gracepoint is your most serious musical project so far for all of you?
Besides Casanatra and Goodnight Ritual, Lance’s other bands which have been his outlets since he parted ways with us the first time some years back, we have all actually really been in Gracepoint pretty much forever. That seems strange these days but we really have something unique, at least in our minds, and so we have toughed it out through thick and thin for many ages.
What tour plans have you got in place to promote Echoes?
Tours are very tricky things. They take a lot of time and money and they can create a lot of difficulties for people. Not everyone has the same amount of freedom and most everyone has important personal commitments. Also, being self-financed and self-releasing the album means we have some limitations and no outside support. That being said, we will see what comes our way and we will grab any opportunity that makes sense.
How busy were the band on the road last year?
Last year we were pretty much absorbed in wrapping up the album and, as previously mentioned, our original drummer Lance and our original second guitar player Lon, were in the process of rejoining and re-acclimating to the band so it was not a big year for live shows. Right at the end of 2015 we started turning our attention in that direction a bit more.
Thanks for talking with Midlands Rocks – For those people yet to encounter Gracepoint can you just give us five words that will give people an insight into what the band sound like and what you all represent?
Intricate, Determined, Syncopated, Heavy, Groove. That is five, right?
Thank you guys very much for giving us the time we enjoyed talking with you and we really hope that your readers will give us a listen. We would like to thank them very much in advance for their time and their consideration, especially these days when there are so many things competing for everyone’s attention. Cheers!