Interview with Nicolas van Dyk, Redemption (October 13, 2005)

Hi, first off I just want to congratulate you on your new album. To new fans could your please fill us in on the history behind it all?
Nicolas - Founding this band was a matter of good luck.  

I never gave serious consideration to being a full-time musician; I embarked on a full-time career as an executive in the entertainment industry. I had written a lot of music over the years that I never assumed would see the light of day. One night, I happened to see Ray Alder at a club show in Los Angeles , and went over and said hello – just doing the appreciative fan bit. A few weeks later, at another show, I saw him again and we struck up a conversation. One thing led to another and we became good friends. He talked at some point about wanting to do a solo project, and I played him some of the music I’d written. He liked one of the riffs enough to use it for one of the songs on the first Engine CD, but most of what I’d written was more progressive than the Engine direction that he wanted for his solo project. So instead, I asked him to help me produce a CD which I assumed at this point would mostly be for my own enjoyment. I had met Bernie by this time, and he had a couple of songs that were pretty different from what he was doing in Agent Steel, and I met Jason Rullo of Symphony X at the first ProgPower show and asked him if he’d be available to drum on it. He agreed, and we tracked everything and hired Rick Mythiasin of Steel Prophet, who rehearsed at the same studio where we tracked the drums, if he’d do the vocals. So that basically created the first line-up.

The first CD did well enough to secure us an invitation to showcase our music at ProgPower 4. With the ProgPower invitation, I realized I needed a stable line-up. I had hoped to work with Jason Rullo on drums, but Symphony X is an extremely active band between writing, recording and touring, and even though Symphony X was going to play at the same festival, the logistics of rehearsing wouldn’t have worked. I also got some good advice from my label in the US in terms of locking down a full-time band around me so that we wouldn’t be perceived as just being a project band. I was going out to see a local prog metal band called Prymary play so I could assess their keyboardist as someone that could play with us live, and I was impressed not only by the keyboards but also by the drums and bass player. I asked them if they’d be interested in playing at ProgPower and they were very excited to do so. As for the vocalist, while Rick’s performance on the first CD is quite good – in fact, I think it’s some of the best work of his career – he is really a power metal vocalist at heart, and I knew I wanted to work with somebody who was more comfortable with prog metal; who thought in similar ways as I did in terms of melody and composition. Bernie and I listened to a bunch of CDs and decided to ask Corey Brown, the outstanding vocalist of Magnitude 9, to join us in Atlanta . He agreed, and that was the line-up that performed at ProgPower.

When recording for the new CD commenced, I suppose Corey would have naturally been our choice for a full-time vocalist, but Ray heard the pre-production materials and really wanted to sing on it. I was concerned at first, both because I didn’t want to upset Corey and also because I wanted to make sure Ray wouldn’t just treat this as a one-off project but would be able to commit himself to be Redemption’s full-time vocalist. I have a tremendous amount of respect for Fates Warning and Engine, and I wanted to make sure that I wouldn’t be putting Ray in a position where he couldn’t fulfil his obligations to those bands, but I also wanted to make sure he’d be able to do what Redemption needed in terms of recording, press, live performances, etc. We sorted those issues out and he joined. Now we are, I hope, set with this line-up!

How has your new album been received by the media?
Nicolas - Critical opinions have been almost universally off the charts. For example, Rock Hard France gave us CD of the month when we came out, beating out the new Dream Theater. I think we’ve started building a nice fan base in Europe . The US market is tougher, obviously, but so far almost all the reviews I’ve read have been very positive.

I know artists are not happy to categorize their music, but how would you describe your music to an outsider?
Nicolas - We are prog metal, although I do think that we are doing something a little different in the “prog metal” genre – in fact, many people with whom I have spoken don’t think we fit in that genre. We are certainly heavier than most prog music, but we combine that heaviness with a very strong sense of melody and an emphasis on song writing rather than just being technical for the sake of complexity.

I grew up on stuff like Iron Maiden, Priest, Ozzy, Sabbath, and the like, and was lucky enough to grow up near San Francisco when the thrash scene was emerging, so I saw Metallica and Megadeth play in tiny clubs to 150 people. I was particularly drawn to the more technical and “progressive” aspects of early Megadeth. I also loved a lot of the harder-edged progressive rock stuff that was big in the 1970s – Kansas , Rush and Genesis being my favourites. 

From a musical standpoint, I think we don’t particularly sound like any of these bands – other than perhaps Fates Warning due to Ray’s voice. But you can hear influences from all of them.  When asked to describe what we sound like, I tell people to put Moving Pictures, Peace Sells, Heaven and Hell and Perfect Symmetry in a blender.

4. Where does your inspiration come from, both musically and lyrically?
Nicolas - In addition to the bands I mentioned above, I suppose I have to credit my parents, who insisted from an early age that I take up classical piano. The transition to aggressive music was one part appreciation for the compositional integrity of the form (particularly progressive rock/metal), one part appreciation for the talent of the players, and one part adolescent frustration. The rest of my influences I think I described above, although I should particularly credit Jimi Hendrix for my love of guitar, Ian Gillan and Ronnie James Dio for my love of heavy metal vocalists, and Iron Maiden for being Iron Maiden.

My lyrics have changed quite a bit from the first album to this one. The first CD dealt mainly with third-person storytelling, and while it’s not terrible, it’s also not terribly mature. Telling a story written by somebody else from the third-person point of view is very linear, and can real more like a laundry list of events instead of being able to convey imagery more subtly, or evoke emotion through introspection rather than just a plotline. The new record is a big step forward – the lyrics are much more introspective, and touch on a range of subjects like loss, fear, hope, love, pain, betrayal and other things that, for better or worse, impact all of us. It’s a lot easier to relate to the loss of innocence, say, than it is to relate to people running from a demon living underground in the desert.

5. What topics do you deal with in your lyrics and why?
Nicolas - I think I just answered that.

Who has produced and mixed the album, and are you pleased with the end result?
Nicolas - Tommy Newton, known for his work with Conception, Ark , Elegy, Helloween, UFO and others, did most of the work. He was fantastic to work with, and we hope to involve him earlier in the creative process going forward so he can have an even bigger impact on our sound and musical growth.

Who has done the artwork? And how important do you feel it is to have a great cover?
Nicolas - Travis Smith (Devin Townsend, Soilwork, Opeth, many others) did the artwork. I think he did amazing work. The picture of deliverance that is the back of the CD booklet (and on the CD itself) is, I think, the best work he’s ever done. It’s beautiful and powerful.

When cover art is well done, it makes an artistic contribution to the CD. And it can significantly enhance the listening experience, in terms of setting tone or an atmosphere.

Do you have any touring plans?
Nicolas - We are talking right now about doing some shows in the US and potentially in Europe , but nothing is set at this point.

How do you feel about the co-operation with your label, and are you satisfied?
Nicolas - We are on Massacre in Europe (excluding France , where we are with Replica Records), and they are doing a great job.  I hope we have a long relationship together.

The internet is a very important source for many music fans - how do you use the internet and how important is it for you and other bands?
Nicolas - The Internet is both a good tool and a very dangerous medium. I think the biggest issue is that I believe the owners of the music should determine which it is. Some bands (or labels) believe that MP3s promote their music.  They are free to put them all over the net, for people to listen to in order to learn about bands. Other bands believe that MPs mean lost sales. I think both statements are undeniably true, and it frustrates me when people believe they have the right to not pay for something simply because they don’t feel they should have to pay. 

As far as Redemption goes, we made one full song and clips of several others available through our website and the website of our labels, so I appreciate the power of the Internet in spreading the word about us. 

How do you see the metal scene at the moment?
Nicolas - The metal scene is healthy in all respects except commercial success (outside of a few exceptions, like Stratovarius or Dream Theater).  I know that’s a funny way to look at it, but from the standpoint of good music being created, I think three things have happened: (1) the cost of recording has come down, (2) the Internet has made it possible to make people aware of emerging bands without requiring major-label marketing spends, and (3) new up-and-coming musicians are emerging that have grown up on prog metal, in the same way that people of my generation grew up on NWOBHM bands and the like.  So I think that contributes to a lot of creativity in song writing.  Unfortunately, mainstream media, particularly in the US , favours much more formulaic music that’s accessible to a broad demographic.  So we have to be content to be underground. 

To finish things off - could you pls. make an all-time Top 5 or sort of the 5 most important albums in your opinion?
Nicolas -  

Heaven and Hell – probably the best Heavy Metal CD of all time. (Black Sabbath)
The Number of the Beast – if it isn’t Heaven and Hell, it’s this one. (Iron Maiden)
Moving Pictures – The best prog hard rock CD of all time. (Rush)
Images and Words – Defined – or at least redefined – a new genre in music and set the bar for talent. (Dream Theater)

Perfect Symmetry – probably more ahead of its time than any other heavy metal CD.  Bands 15 years later are still trying to make that CD. (Fates Warning)

Redemption - The Fullness of Time

Album out on Massacre Records.

Click on the album to see more info on Redemption