On their first European tour and only UK show, eGigs manages to grab iconic vocalist Matt Barlow of Ashes of Ares to discuss the creative process and how it compares with his previous power metal act, Iced Earth.
How are you?
Not bad! Obviously Ashes of Ares are a very new band; how have audiences been reacting to your live shows?
I think they've been reacting really well. We played Prog Power, which was really cool. Earlier in the year, we played the Rock Hard festival in Germany. Going into those two gigs where no one had really heard the songs actually, in the US they heard the streaming from Terrorizer outside of that, the Rock Hard stuff was kind of different. Obviously, we were going out there and we're doing all original stuff that actually wasn't even on the record yet. I had done the vocals but we hadn't even mixed it and we had to tweak stuff out but it was cool. The crowd was really respectful and helped singing along.
They were singing along before the material had even been released?
Yeah because we have one song called The Answer and it has a fairly simple chorus but its catchy and it lends itself to crowd participation. I did a little intro explaining the part I wanted them to help sing and it sounded great so it worked out really well.
In regards to the new debut album that has just come out, how have the fans and critics been reacting to it?
Its been overwhelmingly positive but there are some folks that are just, I cant quite put my finger on it, but I think they were disappointed that it doesnt sound more like Iced Earth or more like Nevermore or they were expecting something different I dont know. Maybe they just dont like that kind of metal at all, I really dont know. Obviously, if Im reviewing a particular genre of metal, Id want to make sure I was interested in that genre. Im probably not gonna review a black metal record because its not my thing but for somebody who likes it, they can tell whether its good or not. I cant because Im not into it. Its not my ear. It is what it is, youre going to get critics either way but Im overwhelmingly satisfied. The biggest thing for me is not the critical standpoint - the critics, the actually paid guys who write stuff like that but the fans shooting me messages on Facebook or saying nice stuff on Youtube on your videos. Overwhelmingly, I've got several hundred thumbs up and eight with a thumbs down I've won.
You were in Iced Earth and did some work with Pyramaze. How does the music of Ashes of Ares compare or contrast with anything else you've been involved with in the past?
I can't change my voice so obviously people are going to hear that when they hear my voice and say: "It sounds like Iced Earth," and that's the way it goes. We really tried to do a true collaboration and we weren't trying to sound like anybody but ourselves. Freddie [Vidales, guitarist] was doing his thing, I was doing my thing and Van [Williams, drummer] was doing his thing and we brought it together. We knew it was metal because that's what we like. We know what our influences are, we know how things are going to mesh together and if it didn't sound good, we wouldn't do it. We would move on to another idea.
Was there any fear that it might come out sounding too similar to Iced Earth or was there a conscious effort to get the music away from that sound?
No, I don't think there was a constant effort to get it away from it, just to do what we're doing. I honestly don't hear it and Freddie doesn't. Freddie doesnt write like Jon [Schaffer, Iced Earth mainman] does. Probably, I would say if anybody wrote one that was closer, it would be when I wrote the main riffs for Move the Chains. Freddie took it and actually made it sound like a guitar player but thats from the picking that I wanted to do on that and Freddie just ran with it. If anybodys guilty, its probably me but I dont know. It just what struck me as the right thing to do for that song and thats that. I don't we consciously tried to sound like it or not but I definitely knew I wasn't going to do something completely outside the box for me. I did try and explore the space a little bit but I wasn't trying to re-invent the wheel.
Is this the first time you've actually written something in the metal world and released it?
This is the first time I've done an entire record. I have written lyrics and vocal melodies in Iced Earth but not for a whole record. For Pyramaze, I was able to write the vocal melodies for the whole record but they weren't my lyrics. I wrote the lyrics for one song. So this is the first time I've had creative control.
How was that for you?
It was great. It was a lot of fun. Freddie and I were sending a lot of files back and forth when we first started out then we got Van involved and we were all communicating back and forth and it was a lot of fun. For me, it's a great process to listen to what someone else has done and accentuate it or make it better or add to it. It's just cool, really a lot of fun to me, sort of like a painter painting and I have this vision over here and I can paint this. I don't know if you know the happy painter guy? [Bob] Ross
The guy with the hair? The afro hair?
Yeah, the guy with the hair! You know hes like Oh, I see a little cloud over here. Thats for me.
How long have you been playing guitar?
I dont play guitar. Im a singer guy who plays a little bit and I have a Pro Tools rig where I can do a riff and then copy and paste, copy and paste. Thats how you can at least write a song. I have at least somewhat of a knowledge of how to pick, how to mute strings and stuff like that. I get an idea and send it to Freddie who actually is a guitar player who can do it.
You did a video for This is My Hell. Why did you decide to choose this track?
I really like the song. It was one of the first songs that Freddie and I started working on. The concept of it is really cool and if I toot my own horn, I think it's a really cool idea. I wanted to make it as broad and outreaching as possible but it's about a guy who has condemned himself to solitude and he's out on the street. Whenever I see somebody that's homeless and you see them on the street, you want to fill in that backstory and your imagination goes. It has that really pretty I just used the word 'pretty' Freddie will hate me for it Spanish guitar-sounding piece in the front and I thought it represented a broad spectrum of what we're about. We go from the nice-sounding pretty stuff to heavy stuff with groove and all that and with layered vocal melodies and things like that in there, nice catchy choruses; I thought that was the best song to represent us for the video.
You mentioned earlier the influences of this release. Who were they for this particular record?
As far as musical influence and band influence, the same stuff that's always influenced me - classic metal stuff. Some of the great guys, the big voices have always influenced me: Rob Halford, Bruce Dickinson but then again, going to the not so singing guys - not saying he doesn't sing well, he's phenomenal - James Hetfield and the thrashier guys like Russ Anderson and Chuck Billy. All those guys influenced who I am today so that's where I went. As far as Freddie, he's got various people that he likes and that's one of the reasons why I knew it wasn't going to sound like, and I know in my heart it doesn't sound like, Iced Earth. He's got death metal influences and he still loves Maiden and all that good stuff but he has so many other influences musically.
Why did you choose Dean Sternberg and Gio Geraca to complete the live line up?
They're friends. In a nutshell, they're guys that we thought we'd get along with. Dean has worked with Van in Pure Sweet Hell. He's also an accomplished guitar player, bassist and vocalist. He did a stint with Into Eternity so that was a great thing for me. I thought that was a great combination because we wanted to be able to do some layered vocals live. Freddie has a really nice voice and Gio is a friend of Freddie's. He plays in Malevolent Creation. That's his full time, part time gig. We thought it would really work. Proximity also helps. They both live close to Van. Freddie and I actually live further away from Van and whenever we get together and practice, we have to drive for one and a half hours to Van's house but we're committed.
You released the album on Nuclear Blast. Why did you decide to choose them?
We definitely put the demo out there for other labels and we thought Nuclear Blast was the right fit for us. We're really honoured because they're on the top of their game as far as indie labels go and we thought it would make a great fit. We knew there would probably be some conflict if Century Media approached us for obvious reasons but I think it's a really cool thing. Hopefully Nuclear Blast gets out of us what we wanted to do and what they expected of us. We want to make them proud. They're like mum and dad! Come on, guys.
Ashes of Ares obviously aren't going to be a full time band. How often do you think you would release albums and play the odd few dates?
If we can do a record every two years, I don't think that's unattainable. It's well within our realm. Maybe not touring all the time will probably help because we're all pretty creative people and we want to do stuff that's creative so hopefully that won't influence our writing behaviour. The sophomore record is a big deal. It's always one that people scrutinise a little more than your debut. We fully intend to explore our space. We're not going to be drastically different because we are who we are and we're very established in the stuff that we like and the stuff that's going to influence us. So just keep rocking it out.
What are the future plans for Ashes of Ares after these live shows?
We're going to be doing a festival in the US around the Baltimore area called Rock Harvest. It should be pretty cool. The night we're paying, we're playing with Circle II Circle. The following night is Flotsam and Jetsam, Heathen, Raven classic heavy stuff. Hopefully we will be doing some festivals in Europe next summer. I think that's going to be a really big forum for us to go out there and spread the word. I think that would be cool.
Have you actually started thinking about new material?
Sure, we have some material already written. We didn't choose the best of the stuff. We think it's all solid stuff but we had sort of a ten song thing. Nuclear Blast said we had ten songs and that was it then later they sort of sprung it on us: "Hey, you need to do a bonus track." That's why we decided to do 'The Answer' as an acoustic version because that's how it started out anyway. I wrote it acoustically and Freddie added that cool big guitar stuff. We did that as the bonus track for the digi-pack. We've already got stuff and we're continuing to work on stuff.
I suppose it's too early to ask for an actual release date?
Yeah, yeah. It's a bit early for that. We need to sell some records so the people at Nuclear Blast won't have a problem signing us another cheque for a new record. Actually, we went over budget ourselves but I will say that every single bit of money that we got, went into this record. There's nothing scant. Also, keep in mind we're a band starting out so our budget was not huge. They were taking a risk on us and we certainly appreciate that. Every ounce of what we had went into doing this record.
That's the end of my questions. Do you have anything to say to the readers of eGigs?
Please buy our record because it's really important [laughs] so we can do another one. Thank you for your time.
Thanks for the interview.