With their three excellent demo tapes, first released separately throughout 2014 and then collected onto “The Warrior’s Spell”, available both on CD and LP last year, Tarot is one of the most interesting acts to pop up during the last few years. Their strongly seventies influenced brand of hard rock, might not appeal to all the metal heads, but it seems like most of the people that show an interest in the band, end up loving the dreamy sounds of Tarot. Main man Will, also the guy behond Heavy Chains Records, have always been a supporter of Metal Squadron, and this extensive chat sums up what has happened with the band since the last feature we did back in August one and half years ago. The main focus of course, is the band’s brand new album, “Reflections”.
The fact that you decided to start your career by releasing four demos/EPs, three of them within a year, do you think it gave you a chance to evaluate and refine your musical expression in a different way than if you had collected the material for a full length release instead?
– Totally, I think working this way allowed us to experiment and refine our sound to what is today. I think these days we have managed to mix the heavier Sabbath inspired parts with the more wandering, dreamier bits fairly seamlessly, which is pretty much what I always wanted to be able to do. I really think that bands shouldn’t rush into releasing full length albums until they know exactly what they are doing, and what they want to achieve. This is the way I’ve always done things in the bands I’ve played in.
Let’s go back to the compilation “The Warrior’s Spell”. You recorded two new tracks for this one. Most bands would probably have put them at the very end of the compilation, why did you stick them in between the tracks from “The Watcher’s Dream” tape and the “Dying Daze” cassette?
-Those two tracks were written around the same time as the stuff for “The Watcher’s Dream”, so I think it made sense to put them after that. I also felt that because the cassette version of “Watcher’s Dream” sold out so quickly, those songs still would have been new to a lot of people, and to me they just seemed like a good selection of tracks to kick the compilation off with. I had toyed with the idea of completely mixing up the track order but I think the difference in production on each release wouldn’t have suited this method, in the end I think newest to oldest was the way to go.
Personally, I ended up buying all of the demo tapes, then the CD and at last the vinyl. In retrospect, it was a lot of money spent for the mostly the same material, but I guess this is what eventually will happen when you release something good on tape format only and in limited numbers?
– We didn’t really plan what was going to happen with our music, and the reaction we got from it surpassed anything I had experienced before from playing in bands. At the time, the limitations seemed to make sense, as I was also new to running a label and didn’t want to end up with boxes of unsold tapes, with that said they weren’t any more limited than your average tape run from a small label. In future we will make sure our releases stay in print, as I can’t say I’m a big fan of the idea of people buying up copies of stuff they think will be in demand and then flipping them on Discogs a month later for ten times the price.
Why do you think the response to Tarot was so much stronger compared to what you have got in previous bands? Is Tarot better, more original, or is it also about timing, releasing stuff at a time when people are ready for it?
– I’m not too sure, I think it’s just because the music of Tarot is a little more accessible to most people than my other bands, and at the end of the day we are playing music that is intended for fans of the old gods of hard rock, and who doesn’t like that stuff? I don’t want to say that we are the most original band ever or anything like that, because we really aren’t, but I can’t really think of any other modern bands playing in this style, so maybe that helps draws people in.
Out of curiosity, why did you chose to remaster the “Dying Daze” EP for the “The Warrior’s Spell”-CD?
– I mastered the original version myself, I think it sounded fine on the tape version, but in succession with the tracks from the other releases it wasn’t quite as loud and punchy, so I had my friend who knows how to get the sound this music needs have a look at, I think the version on “The Warrior’s Spell” sounds much better.
I remember from an earlier interview we did, that you described the first demo as very rough, did you have to think twice when Ván wanted to add it as a bonus on the vinyl release of “The Warriors Spell”?
– To be honest I wasn’t overly keen on the idea to start with, but I hadn’t actually listened to the demo tracks for a couple of years, and they didn’t sound as bad as I remembered, I think I was just being overly critical of those recordings. We had them re-mastered and in the end I think they are actually pretty cool, even just to show how the band sounded in the beginning and how the sound has progressed in the few years we have been together.
The CD-version of your new album, ”Reflections”, is shipping at the moment to those who have pre-ordered. Please give us a little insight into the process that has lead to what is your first real studio album. In what period of time were the song written?
– I started writing the album at the beginning of last year, so summer here, I pretty much just kept on writing music after “The Warrior’s Spell” came out. We worked on rough demos until we had enough material for the album. The actual recording of the album took place during the autumn and winter months, we worked on it most days for a few months, spending more time getting it exactly how we wanted it than on previous releases. I think the production turned out better this time, I’m really happy with how everything sounds. By the time summer rolled around again, we had a completed album.
It sounds like there were some things about your previous releases that you weren’t completely satisfied with and wanted to improve?
– I think the previous releases are all good in their own right, and I’m happy with all of them, but I think the way the new stuff was written lends itself to flow better and feel like a more complete piece of work. I think over time we’ve managed to get a production that suits our music too, so I guess the previous releases could be seen as stepping stones to get to how we sound today.
Was the creative process that lead to “Reflections” different to recording the three demo tapes , or did you try to do it more or less the same way, even though your recorded a couple of more songs this time?
– In terms of writing the individual songs it was pretty much the same, but this time I knew I was writing for a full length album so I wanted to think about the way the songs flow and compliment each other more than in the past, I spent quite a while thinking about the sequence of the songs whereas in the past each track was more of a stand alone piece. The writing process felt pretty natural which was good, there were a few times when I wouldn’t be able to come up with ideas or how the song should continue, but luckily this writer’s block didn’t last for too long and the ideas flowed pretty freely.
What do you usually do when you experience this kind of writer’s block? Just put everything on hold for a while?
– I’m actually my own worst enemy when this stuff happens, the more I can’t come up with something, the more I want to do it, so I’ve spent a long time just sitting around trying to come up with ideas. I think I’m getting better at just letting go for a while though, and this is definitely the best approach to take, just go do something else for a while and don’t think about the music, and when the time is right the ideas will start flowing again.
Tarot started out pretty much with you experimenting with writing riffs on the organ. Is that a method you still use, or was it more of an approach in the start when you were searching for an expression?
– My approach to writing songs is more or less the same. I guess with the early stuff I focused more on writing with the organ and synths, as I knew I wanted those instruments to be prominent in the songs, and felt that in order to do that I had to start with them. Now I am a little more confident in writing this kind of music, I can start a song on guitar or bass and know that I will be able to fit some keys in to what I have come up with. I think this works in my favor since my skills on the keyboards are still quite limited, and I consider myself a guitarist more than anything else. I try not to worry about whether or not there is too much of one instrument or not enough of another, it all seems to balance out in the end. Haha!
With Tarot growing quite a bit since you started out, have you also outgrown your own recording studio, or have you used it this time as well?
– I still record pretty much everything in my home studio, and all of this new album was recorded in this way. I really like the freedom of being able to spend as long as I like working on something, and I enjoy the production and mixing side of things too. I think I would prefer to slowly upgrade my own studio space than spend money on going into a professional studio in the future, as the recording in this way is something I’ve always done, and I think it helps shape the way the releases sound. We also often add ideas to songs as we record, sometimes completely changing entire sections from how they were originally written, I think recording in a home studio lends itself well to doing this sort of thing.
I know some bands spend a lot of money on collecting the instruments and equipment they need to get the sound they want. Is it necessary to have vintage equipment only to get the sound Tarot want, or are you kind of mixing the old equipment with new technology?
– To be honest, I’m really not that into obsessing over equipment. I own two electric guitars, one steel string acoustic and some fairly minimal synth stuff, I’m more interested in getting the sounds I want out of what I have rather than amassing a huge collection of expensive toys. One thing I’ve noticed is that people who are really into gear are often not overly creative with it, I don’t think it’s necessary to make good music, as the ideas have to come from you, not a ten thousand dollar analog synthesiser. Of course there isn’t anything wrong with being interested in all this stuff, but I don’t think it’s really necessary to make cool music. This might come as a surprise to some people, but none of the Tarot recordings have been made on analog recording equipment, I think a lot of people have a pretty skewed idea of what it means to record this way, just because you record on tape doesn’t mean your music is going to sound like the first Black Sabbath album, you could easily get that rotten, ultra polished modern sound using analog gear if you really wanted to, just as you can have a nice warm sound using digital stuff. Would it change your mind if you found out that the latest album by some modern metal abomination was made using analog stuff? I don’t mean to shatter any illusions, but really it’s all a bit of a fantasy that people need to let go of. Haha! I really think there is more to the type of production that suits this kind of music than the medium it was recorded on.
The CD-version of “Reflections” is available through your own Heavy Chains, but I guess it makes sense to let Ván handle the vinyl release, as the postage sending it from Australia to customers in Europe would probably be outrageous.
– Ván will be releasing the LP later in the year, which I am excited about, as they really know how to put out a quality vinyl release. You are right though, I don’t know if I’ll ever be able to release an LP unless a cheap pressing plant pops up in Australia, or postage prices drop dramatically, and I don’t see either happening any time soon.
There is an instrumental called “Reflections” on the album, but why have you chosen it as the title of the album as well? Is it connected to the lyrics in any way, I guess they can be viewed as that, reflections?
– The title ‘Reflections’ just came to me in the middle of recording the acoustic guitar for that song, I don’t know, it just seems to suit the ideas on the album. You are right though, the lyrics are reflections of something, just what, I can’t say exactly, this ‘unspeakable other’ is really what I’m writing about.
Epic hard rock seems like a term you now use. Does “epic” relate mainly to the music, to the lyrics, or both?
– I suppose it just relates to the general atmosphere of the music as a whole, it’s not really that important really, I don’t think ‘epic rock’ is a particular sound or anything like that, and we are really just a hard rock band, but it just seems a good way to describe what we are doing.
I think I can hear some stronger folk rock influences being incorporated into the music this time. Is that an influence for you, or is it still mostly about seventies Deep Purple, Rainbow and Uriah Heep?
– I’ve never really been into actual folk music, my intake of folk really comes from listening to rock bands who were into it, Horslips, Jethro Tull even Led Zepplin, I guess these guys did the hard yards listening and interpreting that stuff, so people like me can appreciate it. I like rock and metal music first and foremost, so I think stuff like Uriah Heep, Rainbow etc are still my main influences.
As you didn’t want to give away too much about the band name or the psevdonyms in the past, I guess the same might be the case about the lyrics? What function do the lyrics have in your music, are they simply there to accompany or strengthen what is already being communicated by the music, or do you have a clear message that you want to get across to the listener?
– The lyrics are definitely an important part of Tarot, they aren’t really trying to convey a direct message, it’s more like me trying to coax out ideas that I can’t really articulate myself, it’s actually hard to explain, but I think it works better for the listener to interpret them in their own way.
Ideas that you can’t really articulate… Is that what you referred to as the “unspeakable other”? What makes you able to articulate them in the end?
– Yeah, as ambiguous as it sounds I guess what I’m interested in isn’t something you can talk about outright, the ideas need to be coaxed from the beyond.
I remember you saying that the songs on the demo fit together and had a consistent theme. Is that also the case with the material on the new album?
– All the Tarot stuff has a similar theme, I guess just variations of the theme. I think the more I write, the closer I get to being able to get this across, but as I said, it’s difficult to explain exactly what I mean.
Thanks to the amazing work of Karmazid, you now have a different visual presentation than in the past. While the new cover art is simply amazing, it’s maybe more conventional than what you had in the past. Was it a conscious decision to change things? What sort of information did you provide the artist to work with?
– I think Karmazid’s illustration for the cover is stunning, and totally suits the vibe of the album, I didn’t want him to change his style to fit with the previous art, and I don’t think anyone could imitate the great work of Waning Gibbous. I actually provided him with fairly minimal information about what I wanted, but he was already a fan of the band and I guess he understands what we are trying to do, so it worked out really well.
Is anything happening with the other bands you are involved in at the moment, or has the success of Tarot, if you can use that expression, made Tarot your number one priority?
– Tarot was my main focus in 2015, writing the album took a lot of time, but I also played some really cool shows with Dracula, who are on hold for now due to the emigration of Count Hawlok, and The Wizar’d. Running Heavy Chains has also become more time consuming, so I spend a considerable amount of time doing that. This year we have some cool shows booked for The Wizar’d, and I’m also currently playing drums in a new rampaging speed metal nightmare with Dan from Deathhammer who is living in Australia at the moment, expect a release through Heavy Chains soon!
Cool! As a fellow Norwegian, I am interested in hearing how it has been working with this maniac?
– Working with Dan is great, we’ve had a blast jamming these new songs, and he is a total machine when it comes to writing deadly riffs! We have similar ideas about how heavy metal should sound and similar ideas about how to party.
Talking about Heavy Chains, I know you are releasing the tape version of the Angel Sword album soon as well as the CD version of the Scalare album, but what else.
– I’ve got some really cool stuff in the pipeline, as you mentioned the Angel Sword full length came out just the other day, which I think is really killer pure heavy metal, if anyone is into old Running Wild they need to check this band out. Next up will be the Scalare full length, a cassette version of Trial’s last full length, a release from a new hard rock band from Germany called Vvlva, and the hard rocking speed metal explosion that is Torpedo! Hopefully later in the year there will be new Wizar’d stuff, more Sweet Torment, Crypt Vapor, and I also have some other extremly cool stuff in the pipeline, but it’s a little early to disclose too many details. I will be working on some Tarot merch too, so keep an eye out for that.
One band that little is known about, is Eldorado who had the track “City Of Gold” on the split single with Scalare. I know you mentioned for me once that they’re not from Australia, as stated on Metal Archives, but is there any other information you can share? Will you continue working with them? Do they have something planned?
– Eldorado are the most mysterious band I’ve worked with, communication with them is sporadic at best. Last I heard they had another song in the works, but I have no idea if or when that will surface. I hope they do more stuff, because the song on the split was great. I can confirm they are from Europe, any other information would be pure speculation.
Are you getting closer and closer to a live debut with Tarot for each release, or is it still about getting the right gig and the right people to be able to get your songs across the way you want them to sound?
– It’s very early days yet, but the wheel is slowly starting to turn on getting Tarot ready to play live. It will be quite a while off yet, but hopefully sometime in the not too distant future it will happen.