THE NEW ALBUM „MIDDLE OF NOWHERE“ SOUNDS AS IF YOU WERE HAVING A LOT OF DARK THOUGHTS AT THE MOMENT YOU WERE WRITING IT – WHERE YOU SHOULDN’T… THERE SEEMS TO BE A CONTRADICTION TO YOUR CAREER AS IT’S GOING RIGHT NOW. DO YOU SEE IT THE SAME? Oh yeah, man. I mean, I’m psycho. There is no doubt about it. And I’ve been told that. Not that I’m gonna be all psychotic and crazy, and things like that. But I know I’m a little strange. I know I’m not like your typical… whatever. But it makes life very interesting the way I am. So I think there is like a dichotomy of thoughts that I have all the time. There is gonna be the dark ones, there is gonna be the good ones, and there might be a little depression in there. Pretty much everyone is depressed nowadays, that I’ve seen. And everyone is on psychoactive drugs. Everybody is just trying to deal with the world. And a lot of things kind of suck about the world right now. There is almost an epidemic of people feeling psychologically fucked up. So, luckily for me I really don’t drive where I would do end life or anything like that. But I think, me, like anybody else, I think we are all susceptible to dark thoughts like that. And I just chose to bring ‚em out and put ‚em on this record. THERE IS ONE LINE SAYING: „I NEVER HAD A REASON TO WANT TO CARRY ON“. COULD YOU PLEASE COMMENT ON THAT? BECAUSE YOU SEEM TO BE A VERY LEVELLED GUY, AND YOU SHOULD BE HAPPY. YOU HAVE A FAMILY, AND THE CAREER IS GOING REALLY WELL FOR YOU… Now, some of these lines are gonna come from stuff I’ve observed in other people. They are not really…, you know, like that line right there – you’re right – that’s not really me. I’ve seen that in other people, so I wanted to say that, as though I were that person. So there is some lines like that on the record that go like: „Hey, that’s contradictive to what I know how Zak Stevens is!“, and stuff like that. True! Because I did kind of observe other people and kind of go inside some people that I know that are also strange, because it’s kind of interesting looking into strange people. So, you know, It’s something that they might have said, I just put myself right there in them. (chuckles) So, you got some of that. That’s kind of confusing, I know… WOULD YOU CALL YOURSELF STRANGE, THOUGH? Oh, I am. At least, like I said, it doesn’t get into the way of… At least, whatever it is about me that is psychologically strange, as long as you don’t let it get in the way of your normal everyday life, and it starts to screw everything up. So, you know, I think I’m pretty levelled in that sense. You know, I’m down to earth. I know that I pretty much like down to earth-things. And it’s like my daughters, a seven-year-old and a one-year-old, and that’s pretty… as down to earth as you’re gonna get. You know, understanding other little humans, who… unfortunately both of them have kind of a streak of mine, that high-energy streak… (makes a whistling sound), drives her mom nuts! But they are pretty hyper. And I know I was. I was kind of like a hyperactive kid. And still I am, you know, here in… YOU’RE MOVING A LOT WHEN YOU’RE TALKING! I’m like: „Arrrgh!“, but you know… that’s ok. I mean, that would give ‚em the personality. For that reason they have like really vivacious personalities which I like. You know, just real distinct, totally different personalities that are really active and funny, because they just don’t hold back anything. Whatever these kids want, it’s like: „Hey – chocolates, cakes! Chocolates!!!“ That’s what my one-year-old says all the time. „Cakes! Chocky! Cookie!“ You know, she wants her sweets. You pick her up, she points at the pantry and just starts yelling out: „Cookies! Cakes! Sweets of all kinds! Crackerjack!“ (laughs) No! YOU APPEAR TO BE QUIET A HAPPY FAMILY-MAN. WHEN YOUR FIRST DAUGHTER WAS BORN, YOU YOURSELF DECIDED TO PUT AN END TO YOUR CAREER WITH SAVATAGE. AND RIGHT NOW YOU’RE ON THE BUS, YOUR FAMILY IS AWAY. HOW DO YOU COPE WITH THAT SITUATION NOWADAYS? It’s never that easy. They don’t like every time I have to leave, you know, cause with everything now… But, you know, there is a reason for it. To me everything happens for a reason. And the reason I’m out here on this tour right now is that things are going well with the new record. Things are gonna be real good this year. So, I mean, I’m just happy to still be able to be a performer in music, and not everyday everybody gets to say: „Hey, I wanna go and do the rock star-thing out there with Circle II Circle, lead-singer, people enjoying what you’re doing!“ You know, this job doesn’t suck at all! So that’s another reason I like coming out and, you know, making money of what you really like to do, and coming out here, being able to see everybody again, all the great fans who have held out throughout all the years… I’m looking at twelve-year’s worth of fans out here. And it’s just incredible. The fans of Savatage and Circle II Circle, and everything I’m involved with, they are just incredible fans. They are really meticulous about their music. They demand a lot out of the music. And they’re like me! That’s the kind of fan I was, you know, I was just: „Blow me away with what you got!“ And that’s the way I try to approach it now. BUT YOU’RE PRETTY MUCH THE ANTITHESIS TO A ROCK STAR, IF I DARE SAY. DO YOU SOMETIMES FEEL LIKE A ROCK STAR WHEN YOU’RE ON THE ROAD, AND DOES IT TAKE YOU LONG TO GET TO THE DOWN-TO-EARTH LEVEL, WHEN YOU GET BACK HOME FROM A TOUR? Mhm…no! It comes pretty fabulously quick, where I just make that quick transition. I know, that’s also an environment I’m pretty much in control in: doing things around the house, helping around the house, helping with the kids, allowing my wife to sleep sometimes – because we still have the young baby-thing going on right now, which seems that it’s been going on forever – but… (laughs)…that’s cool. But you know, I just go right into that other set of behaviours, so to speak. Everything in life, it’s particular sets of behaviours: you do differently over here, you do differently over there. I like it. I think I don’t really have a choice with Zoe, the year-and-a half old. You better get back into your role pretty quickly, because she will kick your ass! (laughs) „Cakes, chocolate! What the fuck, you are already too late with it!“ SHE DOESN’T SAY „WHAT THE FUCK!“ ????!!!??? I know, but let me tell you: you want to see this attitude. If she could curse, she would be cursing. When you see her faces… She’s gonna say: „You went away for two weeks. What do you care? You abandoned us. Give me fuckin‘ chocolates and cakes right now!“ I swear, she’s… she’s scaring me, the attitude on this one. You take something away from her, and she starts slapping you and knocking you out. I don’t know, man, we’ve got some stuff to work with, but that’s what it’s all about. LET’S GET BACK TO THE ALBUM! WOULD YOU AGREE WITH ME, THAT IT’S A LOT MORE SONG-ORIENTED AND EASIER ACCESSIBLE WITH NOT AS MANY BREAKS AS THE PREVIOUS ONE? Ok, very cool! Yeah, it probably is a bit…uhm, I mean… I just enjoyed writing the songs on this record with everybody: Chris Caffery, Jon Oliva and Bernd Aufermann, who joined us on stage tonight. Incredible guitar-player. Unbelievable, I love it. And I’m just lucky right now. I’m surrounded by a lot of great musicians. Now with my band going for the future, this is the one I’ve always wanted. I had to go through one whole line-up before I even got here, but sometimes that’s just the way it goes. But luckily very early were getting it going. And now we are ready to kick. So I’m glad with all that stuff. It just looks like good things were happening as far as the merchandise, the CDs, everything is selling good, we are going here… It’s just really good right now. So we’re looking to get better with every show and just keep kicking it for the rest of the tour. SO WHAT HAS BEEN UP WITH THE LINE-UP CHANGES THERE?! THE STORY WAS, FOR „WATCHING IN SILENCE“ YOU HAD A COMPLETELY DIFFERENT LINE-UP, BAND GOT SACKED, YOU GOT YOURSELF A NEW BAND. THE „OLD“ BAND WHICH GOT SACKED IS NOW PLAYING WITH JON OLIVA’S PAIN. WHAT’S UP WITH THAT? COULD YOU PLEASE EXPLAIN THAT? I DON’T REALLY UNDERSTAND THAT… Yeah, it’s pretty nuts! I think, what it is was, there was a couple of guys who just had some things going on in the last line-up that wouldn’t really allow them to tour as much, or just do a few things that we wanted to do. So we said: „OK, we’ll just go ahead and maybe get a few replacements for those slots and try to g!“ But they didn’t want to do that. They’ve been a real coherent band for a lot of years, they played together and you just can’t get rid of one or two. It’s a package. It’s either they are all gonna be there, it’s all or nothing. So unfortunately I didn’t really have control over all that. But for whatever reasons it was for… Like I said: things happen for a reason. You know, we wanted to get better. And we are better now because of it. And I think they are just a really good fit for Jon’s sound and everything, cause they are an intact band like that. I mean, I even… as far as those guys… we are still friends and everything. I mean, it was just for whatever business reasons it didn’t work out very well. So sometimes that causes a whole flip-flop in plans, but Matt La Porte still came and played some additional guitars on the new record.,.. Come on, man – you know, it’s all a family thing. Come on in and just go for it. But fortunately we could get to the next level with these guys, cause these are some southern boys that make some noise right here. Cause that’s what we are: we are all southern kids from South Carolina, Mississippi, Tennessee and we are just alike. My dad is from Tennessee, in fact I grew up in the state of Tennessee. I knew where all these guys… the fit is great, both personally and musically. So, it was a whacky ride to get here but somehow we got here. ARE THEY INVOLVED INTO SONG-WRITING AS WELL OR IS IT STILL MOSTLY YOU, JON OLIVA AND CHRIS CAFFERY? Well, you know, I just wrote with the same guys I wrote with on the last record: Jon Oliva, Chris Caffery, and then I expanded out. You know, Bernd Aufermann, a good friend from Angel Dust, great friend of ours for a long time. And he’s got great writing-ideas. And when he played some stuff, I said: Shit – I’ll put some stuff with this and we’ll rock out! You know, that’s the whole idea – it’s just friends helping out friends. That’s what Chris and Jon said. I saw Jon like three days before the tour, and first thing was just a big bear-hug. The big bear! (hugs himself) And, you know, it’s always fun. I know we’d all really like to get together and do something again with Savatage, maybe for the 25th anniversary of the band or something like that. So I see things good things coming. Everybody was able to go out on their own and do something. That’s pretty impressive. THAT’S A QUESTION A LOT OF PEOPLE HAVE BEEN ASKING: ARE YOU GONNA TAKE PART IN THE ANNIVERSARY RECORD OF SAVATAGE. YOU ARE, AREN’T YOU?! Oh yeah, I’ve got to! They’ll be keeping me out and blockading me out. (laughs) No, no! They would have to, to keep me from being a part of… No! (laughs) It’s gonna be great! I just want to get everybody back, I want to get all of them: Al Pitrelli, Chris Caffery, Jeff Plate, me Johnny Lee Middleton, Jon Oliva… that would be sweet! ZAK… THE TITLE-TRACK OF THE NEW ALBUM „MIDDLE OF NOWHERE“…. WHO CAME UP WITH THE KEYBOARD MELODY FOR THIS ONE? YOU KNOW WHERE I’M AIMING AT, RIGHT…? Oh yeah! That was… it reminded me of like Aerosmith when I first heard it. But that’s Jon. That’s one of me and Jon’s songs we wrote together. AEROSMITH?! It’s kind of what it reminded me of when I first heard it, but I don’t know. IT’S PRETTY MUCH „EDGE OF THORNS“ I WOULD SAY! IT’S ALMOST EXACTLY THE SAME MELODY. (starts humming the melody) Oh, no. These are chords. Those are just back and forth. NO, NO, NO! YOU REALLY THINK SO? Yeah! It’s got a different thing going on with it. I ACTUALLY THOUGHT THAT WAS VERY TONGUE-IN-CHEEK OF YOU TO DO THAT. BUT IT WASN’T MEANT AS A REFERENCE TO „EDGE OF THORNS“? No, I never picked up on that. To me it’s just like, they are two different whole beings. I don’t know. I’ll have to look at it. I PLAYED THAT SONG TO A DEVOTED SAVATAGE FAN TONIGHT ON THE WAY TO THE SHOW, AND HE WAS LIKE: „GOD… THIS IS THE BEST SAVATAGE SONG I’VE HEARD IN YEARS!“ AND THEN THE KEYBOARD MELODY CAME IN (INTERVIEWER IMITATES MELODY LINE) AND HE BURST OUT IN LAUGHTER! Oh, that little part?! Yeah, the little middle-piece before the guitar-solo… Yeah! I could probably see that. (starts grinning) But it’s just slightly different but it was interesting. It just felt.. I think it’s where the song wanted to go as far as just breaking down a little bit into the orchestral kind of thing. So it just kind of fit the bill, but I don’t know, for that part. I LIKED IT ANYWAY! Ok, thanks! You’re right, very tongue-in-cheek. ARE YOU A MAN WHO RATHER LIKES TO WATCH IN SILENCE OR WHO RATHER TAKES ACTION? HOW WOULD YOU DESCRIBE YOURSELF? YOU SEEM TO BE OBSESSED WITH THE TERM „WATCHING IN SILENCE“, THAT WAS ALSO A LINE ON THE „DEAD WINTER DEAD ALBUM“. Yeah, that’s right. Yes it is, it is kind of like: (starts singing the mentioned line from the song „This is the time“) „Watching in silence I hesitate“. Yes, and yeah! I see that! „WATCHING IN SILENCE“ SEEMS TO BE A THEME WHICH IS ROLLING THROUGH ALL YOUR RECENT OUTPUTS. It is! That’s wild! I did notice that. I was listening to „Dead winter dead“ the other day, and I’m like: „Oh, THERE it is!“. And I’m like: „Whoa!“ Cause that was when me and Jon… we came up with that and he said something like: „Watching in stone, or… watching in something!“ And I was like: „How about watching in silence?“ He said: „Oh… ok!“ So it was something we came up with like together, we knew he has heard it somewhere (chuckles), but it’s, you know… I don’t really think back to all those lyrics like that, and all the songs we’ve done through all the years. It’s like: Oh, you have to pinpoint one, but you’re right! And I noticed that, but I’m like: „Ok. Whatever!“ (laughs) But there you go! Oops… (INTERVIEWER GRINNING) COULD BE A COINCIDENCE… Well, I don’t know, but you’re right. It would form a theme, and I see that. BUT ARE YOU LIKE AN OBSERVING GUY OR DO YOU RATHER LIKE TO GO STRAIGHT-AHEAD? I think it’s a combination of both. I think I like to sit back and watch and kind of see what’s going on. And then I pounce out. I’m like a cat. I want to watch a minute, and then – (makes a perfect imitation of a pouncing cat and starts giggling) One of my famous sounds nobody can do by the way. Oh, there’s only one person in the world, my famous producer-cousin Butch Walker, my first cousin, who is a very big producer in America. I mean, he produces everybody’s records and he’s making millions, just incredible guy. But me and him we are the only ones – that’s because we’re related, he’s my mom’s sister’s son – so that’s why he can do the noise as well. It originally came from a lady that we knew, a spare change-lady, when I lived in Hollywood, California. There was lots of people who begged for change, but this lady was in pretty bad shape. I think she wound up dying about a year after I left, and someone did phone me to say: “Zak, I want you to know: spare change-lady died!” Cause we saw the lady every day, and she would act as if she didn’t know you, and she goes (imitates an old lady talking with no teeth): “Excuse me, Sir, have you got any spare change?” So we got that (editor’s note: sound) right, cause she had no teeth at the bottom. So that’s where we got the impression. And what made me mad, was, she knew exactly who I was, but she would address me the same way: “Excuse me, Sir..:!”, like she didn’t know me. I didn’t like that too much. “You know me?”, “No!” (does spare change-lady again, as well as a few other imitations including Barney, the bear) I COULD TELL, YOUR KIDS ARE HAVING LOADS OF FUN WITH YOU! That’s right. ZAK, YOU JUST BROUGHT UP THE PRODUCER-ROLE. DOES PAUL O’NEILL TAKE MONEY FROM YOU GUYS? You mean, as far as producing the record? OR IS THIS A “BUDDY-HELPING-OUT-A-BUDDY”-THING? Now which record are you talking about him producing? THE CURRENT ONE. No, I produced the current one! Yes! It just has me. (with quiet a proud undertone) It says: “Producer: Zak Stevens”. I produced it! WELL, THAT’S THE KIND OF TRAPS YOU WALK IN AS A JOURNALIST, WHEN YOU ONLY HAVE THE PR-COPY INSTEAD OF THE FINISHED PRODUCT… But no, I mean, Paul produced all the Savatage-records I was on. Singers: you’ll have to work hard for Paul! He demands a lot out of you. Whenever I do a record with Savatage I’m just about dead-tired. He has pulled any pounce of energy out of my singing-voice. I mean, but that’s great. He goes for anything you got. I kinda do that, too. But I produced „In the middle of nowhere“, and it turned out pretty good. (laughs) I like producing now. I WOULD SAY YOU LEARNED A LOT THERE. Yeah, it sounds good! SOUNDS PERFECT, TO ME IT TOTALLY SOUNDS AS IF THIS WAS AN O’NEILL OUTPUT. ESPECIALLY THE DRUM-SOUND, THE GUITAR-SOUND… VERY CRISPY! Oh, yeah, yeah… the drums! I mean, I used an amazing Rosewood snare-drum. It had a pure rosewood shell. You know, you can add a few things and maybe have a combination of, you know, three different drum-sounds. I think my snare-drum on the record is a combination of actually three different drums. One being the one actually played on and two being other samples that I grab, you know from other… like a very picalow snare-drum, and then more of a „Boof, boof!“ (imitates a muffled snare-drum) lower end-type snare. Wow!!! What a snare-sound, huh? But see, that’s the little things, the little tricks – that’s what producing is all about. It’s like: „Oh, that’s good, but let’s make it better!!“ So we have a saying, I’ve got my producer saying: if it’s worth doing, it’s worth over-doing! That’s my producer phrase. „If it’s worth doing, it’s worth over-doing! Now get your ass in there and over-do it!“ NICE ONE! IS IT HARD TO DEAL WITH THE EXPECTATION OF THE FANS SOMETIMES? BECAUSE I CAN ONLY GUESS THEY KIND OF EXPECT YOU TO GO INTO A CERTAIN DIRECTION, LIKE „I WANT THIS, AND THERE HAS GOTTA TO BE THIS OR THAT TRADEMARK ON THE ALBUM!“ DO YOU SOMETIMES FEEL ANNOYED BY THAT OR DOES THIS NOT BOTHER YOU? No. You know, it’s kind of impossible to start writing things for different purposes, or specific fits and needs. We just gotta let the song go where it wants to go. That’s another big thing I always say: Let the song go, where it wants to go! Don’t fuck with it, don’t get in the way. Let the song breathe and open up and just be something great. And still being, but that’s the way we approach it. Everything starts from a miniscule point, and then flares outward at an exponential rate, to where just coming up with things left and right, and just gumping all over it, and I’ve got three different vocal melodies to choose from. We just want to see how many things open up and give us the most choices. Just let the song flourish like that. SO YOU’VE NEVER FELT LIMITED IN ANY WAY? No, I can’t, we can’t really concentrate on, you know, expectations of things we have no control over. We can only control the music that we are writing at the time. And trying to make it the best you can is something that we enjoy. I think we can please ourselves, we’re doing pretty good, because, damn – I’m really hard to please! I’ll tell you that right now! You know, especially in the producer role and stuff. I’m just… I’m a perfectionist. It sucks when you’re trying to be a producer. REALLY? YOU’RE A CONTROL FREAK? No, not a control freak. I work really easily with people, and they just come in the scenario and work. But when it comes down to certain details, after all is said and done, then I’m gonna work to get those few details sort of tied up. But you know, there’s always a few. You can never get everything. You can keep records forever and ever, but you can’t do that – you gotta release the thing. So, letting it go is always gard, because you know you hadn’t gotten everything. But you know what? That’s ok, cause we’re just trying to be perfectionists. Nobody’s perfect! And you know, you can’t be that perfe4ct with it. So I was pretty happy with the over-all package that we could let go. SINCE YOU’RE SUCH A PERFECTIONIST: THERE’S GOTTA BE SOMETHING ON THE ALBUM WHERE YOU GO: „DAMN!! I COULD HAVE DONE THAT DIFFERENTLY..:!“ Well… (laughs out loud) it probably has more to do with…. because, all right… I played a good bit of drums on it. So it probably has more to do with some of the drum side of things than probably vocals. But I like playing ‚em, cause it gives me the feel that I’m hearing in my head. Sometimes it’s hard to translate that feel to other people who just may not get it. But it’s probably maybe a few little things where I kind of went off and tried to act like Keith Moon. You remember Keith Moon, the drummer for The Who, who just went…? Where he’s just nuts (puts on a crazy face an starts playing an imaginary double bass) And I think, I just got a little hyper, you know, at times here… no, probably only one place. But I’d say: „Hey, man – that’s my Keith Moon impression!“ What can I say is, I went whacko like Keith Moon for about a couple of choruses. Just kind of like going: „Whoooaaaa!“. What an unbelievable drummer. He just freaks out on those fills. Poor old Keith Moon! He died like taking too many pills and alcohol. Just didn’t wake up one night. So he kind of OD’ed.. for what we understand. But that’s the only thing I would say if I had to go back. Yeah, I’d fix a few little details here and there. But anyway – close enough for rock’n roll! Those are my drums, too.. They sound good, belle. The ones on the record – (makes a whistling sound), I love that little kit. It’s Premiere! And they’re from Britain, London, I guess. The Great Britain! The Uk… Premiere… drums from the UK…! They’re nice. I can say that, I don’t have a drum endorsement right now. So I can tell you what I play. Hopefully Premiere will get this interview and they’ll go: „Hey…here’s the drums!“ Give me!! Come on!!! I will endorse them in a minute, man.! Premiere rocks! They sing out nice: „Doon, dooon, doooon!“ (another perfect imitation of a drum sound) A LOT OF SINGERS, WHEN THEY LEAVE BANDS, THEY’RE LOOKING FOR ANOTHER, ALREADY EXISTENT BAND, LIKE FOR EXAMPLE TIM OWENS WHO WENT FROM JUDAS PRIEST TO ICED EARTH. DID YOU EVER GET A TRULY INTERESTING OFFER FROM A BAND? HAS THAT EVER BEEN AN OPTION FOR YOU OR WAS IT CLEAR TO YOU FROM THE BEGINNING THAT YOU WOULD START YOUR OWN THING? Yeah, I kind of went into the my-own-thing kind of quick. And I think, since I didn’t go out there and said: „Hey, Zak Stevens out there available for all big bands, and here’s an attorney to it, and he’s got like a couple of lawyers!“ And I didn’t go. So that’s the reason that limited the bill to be able to do that. But I was just going like. „Damn…you know, I like this kind of stuff. I like this Circle II Circle thing!“ And I said: „This could be pretty cool!“ And you have to make that decision. I just felt that if we kept making music, then I was more… then that’s more my own. I’m gonna sound better on that, cause it’s my own music. And I kind of weighed that against going and singing somebody else’s stuff. And I thought: „Oh, I don’t think I can sing somebody else’s stuff as good as what I can do right here!“ So that’s kind of why I didn’t even pursue that. I knew that I would be more fit with Circle II Circle and doing all that! NICE FINISHING LINE… THANK YOU VERY MUCH FOR THE INTERVIEW!