VISIGOTH: A matter of sincerity

VisigothI really enjoyed Visigoth’s “Final Spell”, released on tape a while ago, but the release uncovered one major problem: My cassette deck sucks! Although Iordan of Stormspell has talked about releasing it, “Final Spell” has so far not been made available on CD. Therefore it was nice to see Europe’s premier underground label Cruz Del Sur teaming up with Sarlacc out of Ireland to release this small jewel on wax. It also gave me an opportunity to hook up with the band to do a quite extensive piece covering past, present and future. Original members Jake Rogers (vocals) and Leeland Campana (guitars) teamed up to answer my questions.

Visigoth was formed in 2010 in Salt Lake City. What inspired you to start a band together?

Jake: – The desire to play music in a live setting was really the primary inspiration. I called up Lee one night and told him I’d been wanting to be in a band that played this style of music for a very long time and he said he’d been feeling the same way. We started writing songs that night; those songs resulted in the ‘Vengeance’ demo. We recruited Jamison (Palmer, guitar) right off the bat since the three of us had played music together before, and Lee and Jamison were in a band together in high school so the three of us already knew we were comfortable with each others’ approach to music.

Lee: – Basically we realized there was nothing stopping us from being in the kind of band we had always all wanted to be in, so we did it. When Visigoth was formed luckily Jake, Jamison, and I were all between bands and good friends so the speed at which everything came together was imminent.

I can’t remember reading much about Visigoth when the first demo,”Vengeance”, was released. How did you promote and distribute this demo? Was the material perhaps burnt to CD-R and sold/handed out at shows only? Does this show a lack of ambitions at the time, or were there other reasons why the release had such a limited distribution?

Jake: – Well, in short, we didn’t promote it. I did burn a small run of CD-Rs with a little insert sheet and handed it out at some shows, but that was about the extent of it. We just sort of stuck it online as a free download and left it at that. It wasn’t so much the result of a lack of ambition as it was the result of how quickly we had new songs written. We set our sights on writing new material and playing lots of local gigs as opposed to spamming the Internet with our songs. Playing live was an important part of this venture at the onset, so that’s what we decided to focus on.

Lee: – At the time “Vengeance” was recorded and released both Jake and I were full time students pursuing our bachelor degrees, which no way around it is a huge commitment of time and money and so things like your dream band unfortunately have to fall to the side till later. However with the first album on the horizon and school finally starting to get out of the way for the band you can expect to see some great things happening this next year.

I really like the song “Iron Brotherhood” from the “Vengeance”-demo, a really heavy, almost doomy and dark track. Is this a type of song you still could do, or does this style belong to your past?

Jake: – It absolutely is. The songs on the ‘Final Spell’ EP don’t reflect that side of our sound much (if at all), but there is definitely a song or two on our upcoming full-length that have a darker, heavier bent to them. I personally enjoy the heavier, more epic mid-paced stuff a lot, so I’d like to incorporate more of those elements in the future.

Lee says that he tends to lean towards the more upbeat style of the songs from “Final Spell”, and specifically “Creature Of Desire”.

– The “Iron Brotherhood”- style songs aren’t going away though, in fact there are going to be at least two or three more like it on the album. All Visigoth songs are written and recorded with six string guitars tuned to B standard, just like a seven string guitar without the high E string, any song we write has the potential for a really heavy doomy feel or a more straightforward rock feel depending on how we want to use the low range. In other words, I nor Jake think of ourselves as the kind of songwriters that will abandon styles that work really well, and “Iron Brotherhood” is by far the most popular song live. “Final Spell” was a highlight of the first new material we had written as a full five piece band. The album will hopefully be a well-balanced mix of songs like that and the crushing, heavy side of Visigoth.

On “Vengeance” you covered Omens “Battle Cry”, a killer song without doubt, but also one that has been done by some bands already. Why did you choose this particular track and not another one from Omen?

Jake: – It was a very ‘in the moment’ decision – I had been listening to that song in the car on the way to work on music with Lee, and I just sort of walked in and said ‘it would be fun to record a “Battle Cry”-cover’. So we did. Haha!

For the recordings of “Final Spell”, you had a drummer and bass player on board. Are both permanent members of Visigoth? Where did you find Matt and Mikey?

Jake: – Yes, they are permanent members. Matt and I have known each other since 9th grade and he is a very talented bassist, so when he heard we were looking, he hopped on as a temporary member until we found a permanent solution. As time went on, he simply became the permanent solution, haha. Mikey is a bit of a different story. He has played in a few bands here in Salt Lake over the years. There was a gig in 2010 that his band was scheduled to play along with us and another local group. That band ended up dissolving a week or so before the show, but he came to check it out anyway. He knew we were looking for a permanent drummer, we had a friend filling in at the time, and after our set, he approached us and told us that he was our new stick-man and that was that!

“Vengeance” had a rawer sound and Jake’s vocals were a bit rougher around the edges compared to “Final Spell” where things sound more polished and the songs are more accessible. Was this something you aimed for? As many bands don’t find their sound until after at least one full length, I am wondering if you feel you have found yours with “Final Spell”?

Jake: – I think the sound we’re aiming for is somewhere in between the demo and the EP, in a way. When we recorded the first demo, I had no idea what I was doing vocally. Now that I have a better grasp on singing, the vocals are more technically proficient on the “Final Spell”- EP, but I feel they were a bit too…”clean” for lack of a better word. I think the challenge for the full-length will be finding a balance between the two. The songs that we have prepared for the full-length are a bit more varied, with a few slower cuts and longer, more involved arrangements, and I think that we are starting to get a better grasp on the sound that we want to shoot for.

Lee: – It was something we aimed for in the recording of “Final Spell”, and the more accessible sound was us trying something different to try and find a “better” sound than on “Vengeance”. In my personal opinion although finding a sound for your band is really important and Visigoth as a band is starting to get a good idea on what that is, bands should never say “okay guys, this is it we are, we’re done developing our sound” and then stop trying to improve and innovate on their past work. Although this kind of attitude can be risky for the band’s fan relationships, as artists I hope we never stop developing our sound from record to record, song to song, because that pursuit of perfection, or ‘pushing the envelope’ to use a cliché, is what makes good bands better.

The quality of the recording is definitely better on “Final Spell” compared to “Vengeance”. I kind of suspect that “Vengeance” was recorded at home, while you have might have used a real studio for “Final Spell”? Did you use different equipment, or was the first one more of learning process, resulting in a better end result on “Final Spell”?

Jake: – Yes, “Vengeance” was an amateur bedroom recording, and “Final Spell” received studio treatment and was supervised by a trained sound engineer.

“Final Spell” was first released digitally. Was this to test the waters? Were you comfortable with your music being available digitally only, or is this inferior to having it available on physical format?

Jake: – Digital-only releases are clearly, unarguably inferior to physical media. It wasn’t a matter of testing the waters or anything, it was simply that we didn’t have the money to fund any kind of physical release. When Swords & Chains approached us about doing a cassette release, we were thrilled, and when Cruz Del Sur and Sarlacc Productions contacted us asking about a vinyl edition, we couldn’t have been happier. Jamison and I are both avid vinyl fiends, so it felt pretty grand.

Lee are also grateful to the labels the band has worked with so far.

– We have been very lucky that people like those at Swords & Chains and Cruz Del Sur are willing to make an investment in the band to get the music out there physically, and that they like the music enough to do so. It is a good sign we have a bright future making music as Visigoth.

Are the songs on “Final Spell” written by Jake and Lee as the material on “Vengeance” was, or have other members been more involved this time around?

Jake: – Everybody was involved with the songwriting on “Final Spell”, which also probably has something to do with the stylistic disparity between the two.

I see others have already mentioned it, but listening to “Final Spell”, I can’t free myself from thinking of Twisted Tower Dire, and their later more accessible albums. In the title song, I am also reminded of one of my old favorites, Running Wild. Are these bands that mean something to you?

Jake: – Absolutely! Twisted Tower Dire is one of my all-time favourite bands and Tony’s vocals were a huge inspiration for me to try my hand at singing in a band. I actually handed a copy of ‘Crest of the Martyrs’ to the sound engineer and said ‘this is the sound!’ So we definitely had Twisted Tower Dire in mind while arranging the vocals. And yes, Running Wild is a band that most of us are big fans of; I actually remember us referring to the song ‘Final Spell’ as the ‘Running Wild song’ when all we had was the intro riff and the verse, haha.

Lee:  – Definately, Running Wild has been one of my favorites for years.

The songs on “Final Spell” are extremely catchy, do you feel you’re walking a thin line between catchy and cheesy? Have you just had positive comments on the “new” style of the band, or have you also met people who prefer “Vengeance”?

Jake:  – Honestly, we’re vastly unaware of the wider reception to our music seeing as our primary experience has been reaction to live shows among locals here in Salt Lake. Every once in a while we’ll run across a small thread about us on a German message board or something, which is cool since we’ve been compared to some bands that we really enjoy personally, which hopefully means we’re translating some of our influences to some degree of success. Since we have only put out a demo and an EP, I think that we simply don’t have enough material for people to have a strong opinion about the shift in style either way. I’m sure a full-length release will provide more exposure and present a more cohesive sound for people to evaluate. As far as the ‘catchy vs. cheesy’ paradigm goes, it’s really a matter of sincerity, as far as I’m concerned. If it comes across as cheesy but the delivery is sincere, I don’t see anything wrong with it. We didn’t write the EP with ‘cheesiness’ in mind in some sort of ironic ‘dude, let’s write cheesy songs’ way, but some of the melodies and vocal layering and stuff might have pushed it into cheese territory regardless, haha.

Lee: – I think Jake hit it on the head with sincerity being the most important focus to our songwriting styles. Also it’s true, we basically have no idea what the wide spectrum response is to our music but so far what we have got back has all been positive so that means we are probably doing something right. I think the real question here is how do you draw the line between the band writing music that the band likes versus writing music directly to target a desired audience. The real answer is, nobody knows. Once you have written something and put it out in the world, it no longer belongs to you, it belongs to the listeners and what they get out of it. A band might try and legitimately be the most serious epic metal band ever and somehow the plan backfires and they are infamously known for their cheesy musical antics. There isn’t really a control factor for any of this, the best solution is to stick to what you think you should be doing and to what sounds good and true to your ears as an artist, not worrying about what you can’t control anyway. This may sound selfish but as long as your heart is in it there will be listeners that will pick up on that, and instead of being selfish you are actually being true to your fan base, which they will appreciate. It’s kind of like the reverse golden rule, treat your music or art how you want the wider world to treat it.

With the vinyl version out, CD is the only format “Final Spell” hasn’t been released on. Will it still be released by Stormspell as a part of their “Jewels of Gwahlur”-series?

Jake: – We aren’t sure. They contacted us about it a while ago but we haven’t heard anything from them since. It would be nice to get a CD pressing done for people who want the music on physical media but don’t have a cassette deck or turntable.

How has the interest from the labels, both in the US as well as in Europe been after you put out “Final Spell”? Is it already determined which label will release your debut?

Jake: – It hasn’t been overwhelming or anything, but that hopefully has something to do with the fact that we’ve done little to no online promotion and we haven’t been able to afford to go on tour yet. Hopefully it’s that and not that nobody enjoys our music or something, haha. However, the labels that have contacted us are ones that are generally known for their high-quality rosters, so that in and of itself is flattering. It is very likely that full-length will be handled by Cruz Del Sur.

Lee: – Also keep in mind we are living in Salt Lake City, Utah, a widely stereotyped place and also a very musically isolated place. We have also never toured so the greater part of the metal scene in general, the US labels and big music city scenes, have no idea who we are or that we even exist. Everything has been dependent on the internet, which can only take you so far.

One thing that I find a little bit disappointing is when I hear an EP which I enjoy so much that I really start waiting for the full length to arrive. When it does, it consists of a couple of new songs and then all the songs from the EP.  Will the first Visigoth-album be like this as well? Will any songs from “Vengeance” be re-recorded?

Jake: – The full-length will include two songs from the “Vengeance” demo, re-recorded, of course, but that’s it. We’re not including any songs from the “Final Spell” EP on the full-length. The rest of the tracks are new material, so you’re in luck! Or you’ll be very disappointed, depending on what you think of the new songs, heh!

Lee is also excited to re-record the two demo songs and really do justice to them.

People will be blown away by the quality upgrade. But, nothing on “Final Spell” will be re-recorded, everybody already has the songs.

What can you tell me about the brand new material? How many new songs will there be on the full length? Do you have a title for the album ready yet?

Jake:  – The new material is more varied than the music we’ve presented thus far. Some of the songs have longer, more involved arrangements, and there is a wider range of tempos and dynamics on offer. I’m pretty confident that the songs we’re preparing for the full-length are a step up from our previous material, but then again, most bands tend to feel that way when they’re about to record a new album, so I suppose we’ll see what the reactions are from listeners. There will be somewhere on the order of ten to twelve songs, so it should be a pretty standard full-length outing, time-wise.

Visigoth is an active live band, but Jake has a hard time trying to estimate how many concerts the band has done so far:  

– I don’t even know how to give you an approximate number of gigs we’ve played. But yes, we are definitely very active in the live circuit here in Salt Lake. As far as covers go, we usually play one cover per set, and we change which cover we play every couple of months. Songs we’ve covered in the past have included “Battle Hymn” by Manowar, “Hell Patrol” by Judas Priest, and “Necropolis” by Manilla Road.

Do you, like many American bands, dream of coming over to perform at one of the bigger European festivals like Keep It True, Swordbrothers or Headbangers Open Air, or are you satisfied with gigging in the states at the moment?

Jake: – We definitely would love nothing more than the opportunity to play any of the aforementioned festivals! We’re itching to get out and play to crowds who haven’t heard us before. Our Salt Lake City brethren are probably getting pretty tired of hearing us play, haha.

Lee:  – Being that I am very dissatisfied with gigging only in Salt Lake City. I’m sure playing to the European audience that will probably receive us 100 times better than the majority of US audiences will be a dream come true. You never know though, maybe Visigoth will take its home country by storm, but we still desperately want to come to Europe.

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