Dean Tavernier is a musician I have the uttermost respect for. When “no one” cared for traditional metal back in the second half of the nineties, he was partly responsible for some cracking albums with Skullview. As I mentioned in the review of the new Stone Magnum-album, the Skullview-debut “Legends Of Valor”, contains some killer heavy metal, has a totally cult artwork and all the heavy metal- clichés one could dream of. A release that shaped my musical taste for years to come, and tempted me to dive deeper and deeper down in what has turned out to be a never ending hunt for obscure heavy metal.
Three albums followed during the course of 15 years, and while trends came and went faster than you could say “Watching Below From My Moonlight Throne”, Dean and the guys never strayed from the path they paved with the debut. Always 100 percent heavy metal, always 100 percent dedication and always 100 percent integrity. If that doesn’t deserve a certain amount of respect, then nothing does!
Although the band is still together, the latest Skullview-release was “Metalkill The World”, released more or less exactly three years ago. Since then, Dean has formed a new band, the name is Stone Magnum, and with two releases already under their belt, the band has proved that they’re one of the best new bands dealing in traditional doom metal. I did an interview with Dean when Massacre Records released Skullview’s second album “Kings Of The Universe” in Europe back in 1999, and it was a pleasure to hook up with the guitarist again for some in depth talk about Stone Magnum. Dean, I understand that you never planned to form Stone Magnum, but simply wrote a couple of tunes that didn’t fit into Skullview. Don’t you think the musicians in Skullview as well as the fans would have accepted some slow and heavy stuff?
– It’s true that Stone Magnum, the band, was never even a vision when I began messing around with the songs that eventually led to what is now the band Stone Magnum. Of course we had slow and heavy passages in Skullview, but with these Stone Magnum-songs, like “Fallen Priest” and “Locksmith of Misery”, there was a completely different attitude that was spewing forth and it just didn’t sit well with me to present them as Skullview-material, for a couple of reasons. As the songs developed, they really became very personal. Skullview was never a personal endeavor, it was always a collective sharing of ideas. Skullview-songs always began with either Dave (Hillegonds, guitar), Pete (Clemens, bass), or myself coming up with a base riff, then everyone else building onto that. With “Fallen Priest” and “Locksmith of Misery” I basically worked out everything – the bass lines, drum patterns, guitar lines, and vocals, from beginning to end in literally a few hours. The songs were actually started with bass guitar lines first It felt uncomfortable for me to walk into Skullview and say: “Hey guys, here are some new songs. I already recorded them, now go ahead and learn the parts”. This just didn’t fit the Skullview -mold, aside from the fact that stylistically they were quite different.
Dean denies that he wanted to form another band out of frustration born from the fact that Skullview never got nowhere (apart from delivering some killer albums, that is) and also had to deal with some issues related to certain band members which slowed down the momentum of the band.
– That’s not really the case at all. When I started playing in bands, I never had any aspirations of making a career out of music. It’s just something that I love to do. It remains this way today. In my opinion, Skullview were overachievers given the effort, or the non-effort, to be more precise, we put in on the business end of being in a band. We were simply friends jamming metal music, an excuse to get together and share a love for metal music and party on a regular basis. That’s really all it started as, and pretty much remained that way. Fortunately others took notice and basically were responsible in getting Skullview’s name out there in the metal community and it led to four pretty decent heavy metal records over the 15 year span. We actually passed on some opportunities that were presented to us that most bands simply dream about.The bulk of Skullview- members were already set in careers, in debt with mortgages, and families and the whole “American dream” thing, so there were never any pipe dreams about playing music as a job. As long as it was fun for us, we continued on. Sometimes, it wasn’t fun, and if you look at the gaps in our discography, you can pretty much tell when those times were…especially when you mention some of the issues related to members and such. As far as the Stone Magnum thing goes, it really is no different, in my perception. The main ambition is to craft songs. If one person out there hears and likes the songs, then it helps to keep that ambition to continue making new songs. If people turn their backs on us tomorrow, I lose out on nothing, because I’ll still be found sitting in my studio doing something musically.
On your site on Bandcamp, it says that Stone Magnum was “formed as an outlet of personal misery”. Is this the kind of band that can only be formed when you are at certain point in your life? Do you also have to be in a specific mood to write songs for Stone Magnum?
– The period of time when I first started writing “Fallen Priest” and “Locksmith of Misery” and one or two of the others from the debut album, was a very difficult, emotionally challenging time in my personal life. It was a situation that tested my limits. Many times I felt like throwing in the towel and just calling it a day, but that is not in my nature, so my answer was to do something creative to free my mind from the bad things that were happening. The music was like stepping through a door into an alternative reality for a period of time. Those influences found their way into the music. I think initially, yes, I had to be in a specific mood to work on Stone Magnum-songs, that mood was with me constantly for a couple of years. But since the formation of the band it’s changed, and that personal situation has become a thing of the past. We have a full lineup of band members who all contribute ideas and influences, so songwriting has become a more collective effort. There are plenty of bad, depressing, and tumultuous things happening around us every day in the world, it’s not hard to find some negative influence to draw inspiration for a song or mood to write a song to match it.
What about “Stone Magnum explores the dark forces controlling man’s submissive existence”? Which dark forces are we talking about?
– There are a couple of ways to construe these “dark forces”. One is simply derived from one’s own mental state. A sick or exhausted mind can sometimes control the actions of a person in a dark and negative way. The other has to do with mankind and the world itself. Mankind is comprised of two types of people, those who control, and those who are controlled. Those who love to be controlled far outnumber those who have learned how to utilize the tools available to maintain their power. They use religion, politics, and business to exploit the weak and submissive. It’s been happening since the dawn of man, and the masses have become conditioned to it and continue to grow in numbers. The use of moral intimidation, guilt, force and fear keep them in power. Lyrically, we have some songs that apply to any number of these situations, whether it is politically, religiously, or otherwise. Musically, we try to capture a dominant sound to complement the subject matter of our lyrics.
Talking about the lyrics, those of Stone Magnum seem to differ a lot from the words in Skullview. Are the topics for these two bands as different as they seem? What gives you most personally, the kind of fantasy-stuff you did in Skullview or the more personal lyrics of Stone Magnum?
– I wrote 90 percent of the lyrics in Skullview. The other 10 percent were improvised in the studio by our singer. I think most of the subject matter is similar in both bands, for the most part, but the Stone Magnum-lyrics do not drift into the “metal” realm the way Skullview lyrics did. Stone Magnum, like Skullview, both delve into insanity, dark fiction, religion and violence. We had a song or two in Skullview that could be construed as “fantasy” type lyrics in the common definition of that term, but really, we were not a fantasy story-influenced band in that way. Just because we mentioned a dragon, or a wizard, doesn’t necessarily mean that we were a fantasy based band. I think the fantasy tag came from our album covers and a specific song or two. But the album covers being what they were kind of led people to think we were a band filled with fantasy subject matter. It really wasn’t. But for the most part, the lyrics are typically all built around a song title. I’d come up with a saying or a phrase that sounded cool for a song title, then adapt some words that could be translated into that song title. Really, there is no intent to get really deep lyrically in these songs. But the intent is to match the musical style…dark and brooding.
Stone Magnum state all the classic doom metal-bands (Black Sabbath, Saint Vitus, Trouble, Candlemass…) as influences. Is important for you to add some of your own identity as well, or are you more concerned about the quality of the songs rather than trying to establish a sound of your own?
– I think for the most part, we have our own identity, but we are influenced not only by the classic doom metal bands, but by all generations of hard rock and heavy metal music. The mention of the classic doom metal bands is simply a way to give a descriptive comparison of what the listener can expect in terms of musical style. There are many “doom” metal subgenres….and we want it to be clear in our bio that we are not of the stoner, drone, or gothic nature. We are strictly classic heavy metal in the doom realm. As far as how to pinpoint what our identity consists of, dark, foreboding heavy metal is the best description.
– It was a big endeavor for RIP Records to release a debut album from an unknown band as a vinyl only release with no promotion or distribution to really speak of. We simply relied on social media and word of mouth to get the name of the band out there. We’ve done quite well with the sales of the debut album by those standards, and the sales continue to trickle in every week. While the original pressing is still available, I can see the day when a second pressing will be warranted.
Speaking about your debut in an interview, you said you find it pointless to sell a digital version, and at the moment, the first album is still available with no minimum price from Bandcamp.
– Well, let’s face it, the digital domain cannot compete with the satisfaction that comes from holding a 12” vinyl record in your hands. With the debut album, this vinyl was the only available format to listen to the music. With how popular downloading has become in the music scene, many potential listeners don’t have record players and don’t care to. They are 100 percent digital now. The vinyl only release limited a huge base of potential listeners. So giving the download for free was a good option, for a couple of reasons. It allowed us to attract some fans who otherwise would never hear about Stone Magnum. We were a brand new band and had very little promotion, so nobody knew who we were. It was a good advertising medium from that standpoint, and didn’t cost us anything. There were no CD’s available for the downloaders to “rip” to mp3 and plaster all over the torrent sites, the download option was a good way to let people hear an unknown band. And if they wanted the physical product, they could order the vinyl. Some sales of the vinyl obviously resulted out of this, so it worked out. Since the album was primarily being sold through our website at a fixed cost that included shipping, I was constantly sending out orders that didn’t cover the full expense of shipping the packages. Money was coming out of my pocket to fulfill orders, and I could have increased shipping costs, but it makes it unreasonable to expect somebody to order something when the shipping cost is twice as much as the product itself. So having the option for people to download and pay what they want for it helped fray some of those shipping costs so I didn’t lose my ass on shipping expenditures. It helped even things out, so to say. Many thousands of people took advantage of the free download, but what was surprising was the number of people who actually chose to make a “donation”. From $1 all the way up to $10. It really helped to continue selling the album on our website at a reasonable flat price.
I noticed that too,the band “only” charged 30 dollars for a copy of the LP shipped internationally (have you ever checked the cost of sending one LP abroad?), and it seemed I was right in my conclusion that this wasn’t a particularly good deal for the band. Respect goes out to Dean once again.
Continuing the talk about releasing music digitally, the new album is available digitally too, but this time there is a minimum price of five dollars, so has Dean perhaps changed his mind on this issue?
– With the new album, it has only been released on CD, which is nothing more than a glorified digital medium with physical packaging. The CD will eventually be ripped to mp3 by someone, with minimal quality loss, unlike ripping vinyl to mp3, and plastered all over the torrent sites for everyone to have access to. Somebody spent a lot of hard earned money to release this CD, and it wasn’t Stone Magnum, so we figured it would be like cutting their throat to offer essentially the same product for free. People are going to download it for free anyway from torrent sites, but it’s not going to be Stone Magnum enabling it, so we are charging $5 which is apparently reasonable to the downloader market.
Dean denies that the purpose of the three track-release called “Promo 2012” was to shop around for a new deal with a bigger label.
– We work with RIP Records. We didn’t shop for another label to be our home. Once Nick (Hernandez, vocals) and Ben (Elliot, bass) joined the band, we were pretty active playing live, so we wanted to have some representation of the current state of the band for people to hear. We only had the vinyl LP that didn’t include the new members, so if people came to a show and liked what they heard the only thing available for them to pick up was the vinyl, and that didn’t represent the band in its current format. So we started making promo CDR’s with these three songs and gave them away at the shows. The promo CDR’s were quite popular and it was getting time consuming and costly to manufacture them at home…since it was all D.I.Y. So we decided that since we are giving away these promos at shows, we may as well put the songs up for download as well so people could go there and get the material. It was also a good way to introduce our existing fans who liked the debut to our new additions.
How did you choose the three songs to record for this release?
– When I asked Nick if he was interested in trying to sing for the band, we spent some time doing demos with him. He hadn’t sung in a band using this style of voice before, so these demos were his “audition” so to say. We already knew he had the stage presence, attitude, and musical knowledge to be a great frontman for us, but noboby had heard him sing anything outside the black metal/death metal realm. So we brought him in for some demo sessions to see if his style would complement the sound we already had. He sang these songs and they sounded great to us, so we wanted others to hear them too. After all, he would be singing them in our live set as well.
The singer on the band’s debut album, “Stone Magnum”, was none other than Dean himself, but he soon found it hard both singing and playing guitar at the same time on stage.
– What made it difficult for the most part was the fact that the songs were written initially without any consideration for the relationship between executing the guitar riffing patterns with the vocal melodies. The first few songs were written with no intention of them ever being performed live. When the decision to actually form the band came about, the idea was to have a front man, which we initially did. The next batch of songs were written during a time when we had a singer, so all I had to do was concentrate on the riffing, and the vocals would be handled by someone else. When things didn’t work out with the previous singer, and I decided to take it over, I really didn’t know how difficult it was to do both, but I found out quick. Trying to split my attention to both tasks made it difficult for me to be in top form without changing the vocal lines to make it easier to match the guitar riffing. This is probably a remedial task for most accomplished and trained musicians, and I’m not either of those.
Since the “Stone Magnum” was released as late as in January 2012, I guess you are still pretty much satisfied with it? Was there anything you wanted to improve on when you started working on “From Time…To Eternity”?
– Sure I’m satisfied with the debut. It’s a fine slab of metal in my opinion. I still enjoy listening to it myself. It’s the only album I’ve ever done vocals on, so it is a special release for me personally. But aside from that, I think the songs were really good – top quality in my opinion. Prior to writing the new album, I had often wondered if we could top that album and come up with something better. So that was really the goal of the second album, to make it better. I knew with the addition of Nick that we opened some other doors where we could take the music. But we didn’t want to be a completely different band either….we still wanted the Stone Magnum identity. So the challenge was to restrain ourselves from becoming a different sounding band altogether, but still offering a higher level of songwriting direction that was not a complete 180 degree shift.
I enjoy Dean’s singing on the debut, mainly because he has a lot of character in his voice. That being said, in my opinion, the vocals work best on the faster songs. I would agree with Dean that the addition of Nick has “opened some other doors…” for the band.
– In rehearsals, we typically start with a new idea or riff and just let it rip. With Nick’s ability to jump right in and sing along in these improvised sessions it helps direct the path of the song…measure counts and changes just seem to fall into place. This is the biggest way in which having Nick involved in writing material has benefited the band. I think with Nick’s voice, it also gives us some ideas in how melodies should fit effectively with the music. We’re never going to limit ourselves to write just slow music. We are a heavy metal band, there is no limit on the tempos that we’ll incorporate into our songs. Everyone in this band has a diverse background in many different genres of music, so we’ll utilize all our past experiences and potential to continue to make great music.
Both of the Stone Magnum-albums contain seven tracks. Unlike too many musicians, Dean are well aware of the dangers of recording albums that are simply too long.
– We have a tendency to write very long songs. If we wrote three or four minute songs, then obviously we would have ten or 12 songs on an album. My personal opinion is that an album should be listened to in its entirety from beginning to end. Once the album gets over 50 minutes long…then I think it’s hard to not want to reach for something else. If we went ahead and did eight songs…we’d be over the 50 minute mark, so seven strong tracks fit in that 45-48 minute range. This length fits nicely on a vinyl LP as well. So essentially, it’s not the number of songs that is important to us, it’s the length of the album in general that we shoot for. The other part of it is making sure that the songs we do write don’t get boring to the point that you don’t want to hear them all in one sitting.
– The cover art wasn’t really designed to fit the concept of the album to be honest. When we were finishing up “The Gallows Of Ohrdruf” lyrically, we were researching the subject matter and kept seeing images of old gallows that were really cool. One image in particular was really cool and seemed like a great concept for an album cover, and I just kind of kept that in mind. When we were working on the song “From Time…To Eternity”, we didn’t have an idea for an album title yet. So this gallows idea, coupled with the title seemed to connect in meaning in some ways I guess my thought process was that I had this gallow in my mind…somebody was going to, or has already met their fate at this gallow. “From Time”… being condemned to confinement for the rest of your life…”To Eternity”….your soul eternally laid to rest. I suppose anyone can find their own reasoning as to how it fits, but that is mine.
The lineup of Stone Magnum consists of a bunch of experienced musicians. How does this influence both your sound and ambitions? Many people are saying that musicians need to have the hunger. Do you still have it, or are you mainly concerned with your daily jobs and families?
– I don’t know if I personally had or needed any “hunger” in order to play heavy metal music. I just like to write songs. Do you have to be hungry to write a cool riff or arrangement for a song? Influences, circumstances, and moods are more important than having “hunger”. This is not a buffet or a food line. You just pick up an instrument and write stuff that you think sounds cool. That’s all there is to it. The moods, circumstances, and influences around you kind of dictate what emotions will be portrayed in the writings. You shouldn’t write music for the reason to get approval from anyone other than yourself. I consider myself a pretty critical person when it comes to listening to music. If I can’t meet my own likeable standard in a riff or a song that I write, then why should I expect anyone else to like it? That’s all it is really about, pleasing your own tastes. The world is a big place with a lot of people who share similar tastes, so somebody somewhere will like the same things that we do. The challenge is getting those people aware of the music. But, that really isn’t our job. That’s up to the labels, the media, and the word of mouth from the metal heads. Our job is to just make the music and enjoy what we are doing. If a band needs “hunger” in order to make good sounds, perhaps their goals and objectives are different than my own, and it really isn’t about the love for writing music for them. As far as the experience of the members of the band, It certainly makes it easier to be productive in the songwriting process. Everyone has the ability to come up cool ideas, and I know for me it is a comfortable situation.
– I have a long history with RIP records, as you mention…we go back to the Skullview days. We have similar goals, RIP as a label, and Stone Magnum as a band. The goal isn’t to make a career out of this music thing. The goal is to write kick ass heavy metal music, with integrity, and without making a mockery out of metal by experimenting and trying to change heavy metal. It’s simply a common love for heavy metal music…and we share similar views about heavy metal and it works for us.
To round off this interview, I have to ask Dean about his favourite tune off the new album? Also which one of the songs from the debut does he think has benefited most from Nick’s entry?
– I really think all the songs are really strong, but for the most part I really think “Uncontained”, “Gallows Of Ohrdruf” and the title track are my personal standouts. As far as the old songs, Nick has put his own spin on some of them…but for the most part he stayed true to what the original versions were. I think he improved many of the old songs just by the dynamics in his voice versus mine. Songs like “Savior in Black”, “Grave Of Cryptic Sorrows”, and “Pictures Of Your Life” take on a new life with Nick singing them in my opinion.