The band around former Savatage singer Zak Stevens already presents their 5th studio album these days. Titled 'Consequence of Power', the newest effort of Circle II Circle once again amazes with first class powermetal that besides Zak's soaring vocals comes up with razor-sharp guitar licks and the perfect dose of power. We got the opportunity to ask Zachary Stevens all about the new album and of course we didn't hesitate for a moment!
After the release of 'Delusions of Grandeur' Evan left the band and was replaced by Bill Hudson, but where is Evan and why did he leave?
Zachary Stevens: Unfortunately things got complicated with logistics and coordinating with Evan for CIIC because he is the owner of the very successful cover band Hells Bells here in the US. As things got busier with HB, it was just harder and harder to coordinate business so it worked out well for both sides and we wish Evan continued success always. Bill Hudson helped us out greatly so that we could have the same basic guitar setup in the band. After about a year, Bill and CIIC realized that setup just didn't work for us anymore, so we also parted ways amicably. The exact same situation with Evan also actually applies to Tom Drennan. Logistically with Tom living in Tennessee and not in the same place as the rest of the band, it was just difficult to coordinate after a while. The only other change we made to the permanent line up for the C.O.P. record and going forward is the addition of Johnny Osborn on drums. The cool thing is that Johnny was part of our lineup on a temporary basis in 2004 for some touring, so having played with him before, we were excited that he's back with us as a permanent member. Johnny also lives in Tampa, FL with me so we've been able to get a lot more business accomplished in general in the band since Johnny joined us nine about ten months ago.
You have only Andy Lee left on guitar, is there going to be another guitarist when you are going to tour again?
Zak: No actually there will not be a second guitarist on tour w/ us this time out. We simple found that the band was sounding really good, really tight with this setup. The entire show really took some good forward. We're really excited about the line-up.
After the fourth album the band toured with Jon Oliva's Pain, how was that?
Zak: That was an awesome tour for us and JOP. We played 15 big US markets on that run in 2008 in support of the Delusions of Grandeur album. It was good to kick off what has become a lot more touring for CIIC in the US. We thank Jon and JOP again for a great time and a great tour.
I always wondered if Circle II Circle is a real band (don't get mad), or a Zachary Stevens project, what is it?
Zak: From the beginning of CIIC in 2002 it was my intention for CIIC to be a band. Not a Zak Stevens project. It's definitely a real band effort in everything we do start to end from song writing to touring. CIIC is a band from the beginning, period.
"Consequence of Power" is your fifth and new album, who was responsible for the song-writing?
Zak: Mitch Stewart and I write the majority of the material. Mitch has been the main driver of the process, especially over the last three albums. He writes riffs and sends me the results via e-mail (MP3s). Then I assist with the arrangements and with writing all the lyrics and the vocal parts. So together we have created a pretty strong song writing team, along with Andy (guitar) and Johnny (drums). These guys still have to write all their own parts since Mitch and I come up w/ just the basis outline. So every guy in the band is extremely important in the final analysis as far as song writing is concerned.
Songs like "Whispers in Vain" and "Redemption" sound very Savatage-like. Is this just coincidence, or are you thinking: " Now I'm going to write a Savatage sounding kind of song".
Zak: Actually we didn't make it a focus to write like Savatage on this record, but some things did sound very Savatage-esque in the final result. "Redemption" is really the only song that stood out me to be in that vein, but I'll have to check out "Whispers in Vain" again now that you said that.
Although there are some musical similarities between Savatage and Circle II Circle, what are in you opinion the biggest differences?
Zak: There are many differences, but probably the most obvious is the fact that 'Watching in Silence', for example, has the most Savatage-like sounds because I wrote the album with Jon Oliva and Chris Caffery in one-on-one writing sessions with each of them. So you�re naturally going to get more of a similar sound due to the writers on the album all being previous Savatage members. As the years, albums, and overall history has developed with CIIC, you get less and less Savatage influence. This is a typical natural progression you see most bands that have member coming from another prominent band. The writing for the past three albums has been outside of the Savatage influence and in-house in the current line-up so that has resulted in us coming into our signature sound in the past five years or so. So what you have on C.O.P is the latest of a song writing process that has been developed over that same time frame and you can see the obvious differences. Yet we still strived to maintain the recognizable CIIC sound that we've had throughout our career.
Aren't you sick and tired of journalists always comparing the band with Savatage?
Zak: I don't mind the comparisons because you can't erase where you came from so you just have to do what you do best and move forward in a positive direction. That's what we've been able to do with CIIC from the beginnings with the 'Watching in Silence' record all the way to C.O.P. As far as being affected by Savatage, there's really not a lot of that going on musically w/ CIIC. If anything, those comments have to do more so with my overall vocal sound and techniques. However that part can't be changed, so I really don't worry about the comparisons. Savatage is where I got my start in the business, so I have no reason to begrudge that fact at all.
The songs on the new album are very good, no leftovers so to say. Did you write more tracks than those on the album and how do you decide if a song is worth being on the album?
Zak: We wrote 15 songs for C.O.P. and didn't use 4. Especially with a concept album, the songs that don't seem to fit the story or are a bit weaker really become obvious. SO it's not really that difficult to let go of the weaker songs in most cases. The more difficult decision is figuring out which of the submitted songs has to be carved out a bonus track for the record label. Ouch!
What is the Consequence of Power?
Zak: C.O.P. is really about the risk and rewards of having limitless resources, money, and power. There is always the lure of greed and the decision making process to do the right things or to do the wrong things. There's always a consequence waiting when you inherit lots of power. That's my basic take on the meaning behind the title.
Your music is described as power metal on the info sheet, is that a correct description in your point of view?
Zak: In some ways it, and then in some ways it isn't. CIIC's sound and our influences that go into making our music are very diverse. So we have an overall sound that's hard to pinpoint like that. CIIC is really its own animal out there in a crazy music jungle. It's hard to list us in a convenient a category that's for sure. We're somewhere in the vicinity between hard rock, power metal, and progressive metal.
How is the relationship between the (ex) members of Savatage, Circle II Circle and Jon Oliva's Pain? One big family?
Zak: Yes that's a good description of the overall picture. We've always tried o help one another in the business as much as we could. It really started in 1992 for me when I joined Savatage and became a part of the force that Jon Oliva and Paul O'Neill orchestrated around 1987. So we just have all banded together to keep the musical juices flowing for as long as we can and it's a really great family to be a part of.
The band started in 2002 and 8 years later you already released your fifth album, did you have that in mind at that time?
Zak: Actually in the beginning we weren't sure how far CIIC would go. Jon Oliva and Chris Caffery and I just wanted to write together have a band called CIIC as the medium for our writing. It was basically just fulfilling something we wanted to do for years leading up to that point while we were all in Savatage. In the music biz you can't really look forward past the current album you're working on, no matter where you are with your career. So we're just focusing on one album at a time at that point in time. And as we've been able to make more albums, I sort of just let the natural processes take their place and considered everything that happened, happened for a reason. It's a benchmark for CIIC now that we've had the same number of albums released as in my era with Savatage. So I'm just really thankful and excited to still be a viable part of the music biz 18 years later.
Another band with you on vocals is Machines of Grace, can we expect an album of them?
Zak: I think MOG will do another album. It's really busy w/ CIIC right now, so I have to let some of that dust settle late next year and see if we can get together and put some material together for another album at that point.
Besides that, you also participate in Trans Siberian Orchestra, how do you plan all this?
Zak: It's not that difficult for TSO because I only sing on the albums right now, whether it be lead or background vocals. So not yet touring with them, I can manage CIIC shows all over the world and even play some MOG shows in the States.
Circle II Circle is going to promote the new album together with the band Primal Fear. Are you playing in big halls, or some smaller clubs and what do you expect from it?
A: We're playing some big halls as well as the larger clubs. It's a great situation for us and we thank Primal Fear for having out with them in Europe as their guest. They are going to be some great shows to be a part of.
Can all the members put bread on the table by playing just music, or do some have 'normal' jobs?
Zak: Fortunately, CIIC has been very busy for the last few years. Some of the guys in the band are also doing more side projects than ever these days. So thankfully we don't have to have a side job. We all had to do that for many years while working in the music business and it's so difficult to really get anything done in the music business when you have that situation and have to work at non-music jobs so much.
Anything else you want to share with our readers?
Zak: We just want to say thank you for all the support for all these years and we're looking forward to seeing everyone starting in less than 2 weeks on the C.O.P. European Tour. Thanks again everyone!
Interviewed by Reinier de Vries