Presenting up and coming bands have always been a motivation for me. Sadly, when you have wait for a magazine to go to press, interviews with the same bands are all over the internet when the magazine finally hits the stores, even if you conducted them weeks before the rest. Therefore, I have decided to some interviews which will only be published here at Metal Squadron. If you enjoy this feature, done with Jeff Black, guitarist and main man in Canadian newcomers GATEKEEPER, please click “Follow” on this blog, cause there are lots more to come if I know I have the readers to justify it.
Jeff, please introduce the readers to GATEKEEPER. I remember being friends with you on Myspace before the whole thing turned to shit, so I guess it must have been a few years since the band was formed? How old are the members, and do any of you have experience from other bands?
– Hey everyone, this is Jeff Black and I play guitar in GATEKEEPER. We are an epic heavy metal band from Canada, and our roots are based out of the old-school styles of Manowar, Bathory, Solstice, Candlemass and early Doomsword. I first formed the band in 2009 I believe, when I wrote some songs and put samples on the internet. At that point the band was more of an idea, but in 2010 I asked some good friends to join the group and here we are now. The other members of the band are Tyson Travnik (drums, also our recording engineer), Shorre McColman (lead vocals), Leillyn McColman (bass) and Justin Song (lead guitar). We are all in our early-mid 20’s, and we all currently play in other bands: Scythia, Bardic Form, Ironstorm, Tessitura and Keep 6. All different styles of music. Some of our members have played with Canadian traditional band Striker as well. We’ve all been playing in bands since our teen years.
If I remember right, GATEKEEPER started out more or less as a one man project. Was it clear from the start that the one man-thing would soon turn into a real band?
– Yeah, “Lord Black” was me trying to be cool, but now we use our real names. As I said, the band was originally just a fun idea, a way for me to write some barbaric riffs and melodies. I used programmed drums, and I was just going to find someone to sing and play guitar solos. However, some of the MySpace clips and YouTube samples gathered some attention from some people, and they all recommended that I start a full band and record everything properly.
I think a couple of early versions of the songs on the EP did circulate some time ago. Did you do a demo first, and then re-record everything for “Prophecy And Judgement”, your current EP-release?
– Yes, most of these songs have been written for several years now. Many were featured as sample clips on YouTube. If you search hard enough you could probably find them again, plus a version of ‘Tale of Twins” featuring Dan Cleary from Striker. The songs from the “Prophecy And Judgement” were recorded as demos (except the title track) but never officially released. There are a few CD-rs floating around that I gave to friends, people who attended the gigs, and folks who bought shirts.
You have used the Rosenquarz-studio for mastering, a studio which was also visited by some of the bands that you claim to be influenced by, like Solstice and Isen Torr. If you had unlimited funds, would the dream be to record in this studio as well?
– I’d heard about Rosenquarz from the booklet of the Isen Torr EP, and after some searching, I found that many of my favorite bands had recorded there as well. Our drummer Tyson who runs Sonic Dungeon Studios, where “Prophecy…” was recorded, looked over their gear list and was amazed at the old-school analog gear they were using. They did a fantastic job of the mastering and if money wasn’t an object, I would book us to record the next release this summer with them. Highly recommended.
You will be performing at Torment in Fire II in Calgary in April along with some cool and upcoming Canadian bands like Funeral Circle, Gatekrashor and Hrom. How many concerts have you done so far with GATEKEEPER, and what kind of audience do you expect to turn up for an underground event like this?
– Torment in Fire is going to be a blast. There are few traditional-styled bands on the bill, but all the bands share a very down-to-earth mentality, and a DIY attitude as well so even though most of the bands are intense black/death/thrash, it seems to fit somehow. Funeral Circle, Hrom and Gatekrashor are very good friends of ours and we have supported each other since the beginning so we look forward to finally sharing a stage with them. I’m also really excited to see Piledriver, Barbados, and Mystifier! This is a true underground event, and I think it is going to be very well attended by all sorts of crazy metal maniacs. Torment in Fire II will be GATEKEEPER’s 5th performance. We’ve done several shows in Edmonton opening for Into Eternity, Striker, and Ancients and we also played in Devon, a small town outside of Edmonton, a gig that our drummer set up and promoted.
The CD-version of your EP is released by Aforja/The Forge. How did you get in contact with them? Did you know the label before you got the offer from them? The vinyl edition will be handled by Death Rider, and I believe it was Oliver Weinsheimer himself who got in contact with you. This must be an honour for the band, and probably also pave the way for an appearance at either Keep It True or Hammer Of Doom? Which of these two concepts do you think will fit the band best?
– GATEKEEPER has had a contract with A Forja for quite some time now, almost two years maybe? I had seen Francisco from A Forja posting on some forums online, and I saw that he had done some cool releases in the past, such as the Solstice and Atlantean Kodex live tapes (Highly recommended, if you can find them – ed), plus the full-length by Midnight Priest and more recently, the amazing Ravensire! I sent him an email saying how much I’d enjoyed his tape releases, and in his reply, he told me he was interested in working with GATEKEEPER. A Forja is a dedicated label for true, initiated metal fans, and it’s really rare to see someone put this much love and energy into their work. That being said, being approached by Death Rider Records and Oliver himself was a monumental thing for us, because he is such a legend in the true metal community. I think that the vinyl version of the EP is going to look, and sound totally glorious and I hope that people who enjoy the band pick up a copy of the record, even if they already have the CD because it’s almost like a piece of art, you know? I hope we are able to join a lineup for Keep it True or Hammer of Doom in the future. If I were to choose which festival I’d like to play… well, it would depend on what other bands were booked, haha! These kinds of traditional metal bands never play in Canada, so going to Germany with GATEKEEPER would be a big experience not just as a performer, but as a fan too!
I read on your blog that you play a Saxon-song live. Which song is this? Do you do other cover song to complete your live set, or do you already perform songs that will feature on your first full length release?
– We play a cover of “Power and the Glory” from the 1983 album of the same name. Shorre and I are raving Saxon lunatics and we wanted to do a song besides “Princess of the Night” or something. We are working on another cover by Twisted Tower Dire right now. I would love to do more covers of cult NWOBHM bands like Traitor’s Gate, or also old-school Canadian bands such as Kraken or Black Knight. We like to play more upbeat covers because our original songs are more mid-tempo.
Do you still regard GATEKEEPER as a side project? What other projects occupies your time? Do we talk about other bands, ordinary jobs, studies or what?
– At this point, GATEKEEPER is still a fun, creative side-project for me. I am a full-time musician, and my main instrument is actually jazz piano/keyboards. I give lessons 6 days a week, play in all sorts of other groups and do recordings, etc. Tyson is a machinist, and he runs the recording studio and if often booked with local bands and he is committed to his family. Justin has a degree in education and is finishing his music degree right now. Shorre and Leillyn are brothers and they are both at university working on degrees in honours mathematics. I think they are learning to build time machines or some crazy stuff. Maybe if they succeed, I can take one back to 1984 so I can see Manowar in their prime, haha!
Listening to your brand new EP, Atlantean Kodex is the comparison that springs to mind, both regarding the tempo and atmosphere in the music as well as the clear, laidback vocals. What do you feel are the similarities between the two bands, and also the differences?
– The ‘Kodex are probably my favorite “new” band playing old-styled heavy metal. In GATEKEEPER, I try to bring out concepts and ideas that inspire me to write music, and much of this comes from mythology and pulp fantasy writers and cool movies. Those things don’t only inspire the music and lyrics, but they also inspire the imagery, the way we carry ourselves onstage and how we portray ourselves in online promotion. At the same time, we’re just a bunch of nerds who like old heavy metal, reading books, drinking tasty beers, and bashing out heavy riffs. It’s a balance that I strive for, and I think Atlantean Kodex nails it, or maybe something similar. I wear my influences on my sleeve, and if people don’t like that, I don’t care.
Also, I think Manuel and the other members of Atlantean Kodex have been quite supportive of GATEKEEPER since they heard the band for the first time?
– The guys from Atlantean Kodex have been supporters from the very start. In fact, Manuel is one of the folks who suggested that I turn the one-man project into a full band (Along with Erik from Argus and Pilgrim from Funeral Circle) and he also put Oliver from Death Rider Records in contact with me. Not only that, but their drummer Mario did some recordings for me when I was having trouble finding someone to play drums on the songs. We are all fans of each other’s music. One day I hope to play some gigs with them and I’d kill to have a jam session with them as well!
If we look at the time you needed to complete “Prophecy And Judgement”, I guess we will have to wait for some time to get to hear your first full length release? Do you have the songs ready to be recorded?
– A lot of things happened during the recording phase of “Prophecy” that held us back. Personal stuff, scheduling conflicts. I also had a really inefficient way of doing things at the start and I had to re-record the rhythm guitars of the whole EP by the end. We had a band meeting not long ago and we decided that a full-length album at this point would be too big of a task for us right now with our other commitments, so we will focus on writing music, picking the strongest material, and releasing smaller numbers of songs so we can get the music out sooner. We have about 8 or 9 finished songs, and we’ll record the best material song by song and use those recordings on splits, compilations or another EP. We hope to have something new by the end of this year!