A lot of the background and history of Eternal Champion were covered in the first and second interview we did with the guys. This Third one could and probably should, have been published earlier, but singer Jason Tarpey is a busy guy, and it has been a tough couple of months for me as well, not being able to devote as much time as I like to the site. However, patience is always rewarded, and here is chance to get some information on “The Armor Of Ire”, clearly one of the very best releases of 2016.
The feedback the band has received so far, has been nothing sort of exceptional. As music like this will never appeal to the big masses and sell big, I guess praise in underground circles, from fans of underground heavy metal, is probably the best feedback Eternal Champion can get?
– Yes sir, the underground has responded well to it and that’s great. To be honest we don’t do this for the praise and are not driven by it at all, but we do appreciate it and it does make us feel that the time it took to put this thing together was worth it for us and the small number of people that understand it or are moved by it.
What has been the most satisfying about the feedback? I guess it’s always nice when people recognize factors that you know you have put a lot of work into. Any of those that have been spotted by those listening to the album?
– As the guy that writes the lyrics, I appreciate it when someone who is familiar with the weird fiction genre will recognize what stories the lyrics are centered around. Or if someone is curious about what the lyrics for “I Am The Hammer” and “The Armor Of Ire” are about, I like that.
In my opinion, this year has been rather weak when it comes to new, traditional metal releases, something which makes your album even more outstanding. Have you been able to follow the scene closely, have you been impressed by anything new released lately?
– Man, it’s hard for me to keep up, I know there have been a handful of great albums that I haven’t listened to yet, and there is also a small handful of excellent releases that I really love. For instance the Sumerlands debut, Angel Sword “Rebels Beyond The Pale”, Demon Bitch “Hellfriends”, the Iniquity demo, Altar Of Oblivion “Barren Grounds”, a few others that I’m having trouble remembering, but yes I agree the number is small. Next year will be filled with them.
If we look back at the career of Eternal Champion so far, the number of songs you have released are very modest, we are talking about eight different songs with vocals and three intros/instrumental tracks. Quantity over quality, is it mostly about working hard on each of the tracks and having a strict quality control, or is it a struggle with time and schedules to get songs written and rehearsed?
-It’s both. Logistically it’s hard to get together and practice. Arthur (Rizk) is always on tour, Power Trip are road dogs so Blake (Ibanez) is always gone, not to mention half the band lives in the northeast the other half in Texas so it’s hard to get on the same page. If we book a show then we practice somehow, but if we are just writing songs then we record demos and send them to each other and work that way. Also, we will always only put out what we consider well crafted songs, nothing less, we have little time to work with and even less time to waste, so the number of songs we will release in the future will always be small. I’m always skeptical of albums that have too many songs.
As working slowly seems to be the only way for you, due to other commitments, do you enjoy being a singer in a band more now compared to when you put all your time and effort into it with Iron Age some years ago?
-Yes, I enjoy it more now. We only do things we’re interested in, no obligations, easy pace, it’s very nice. I’ve always had long gaps between releases, going back to the beginning with my first band, and I had a great time touring my entire twenties away but it’s hard physically, emotionally, financially. It’s now been six years since I’ve been on a proper road trip with a band and I’ve only just recently considered it a possibility again. Earlier this year I quit my day job and became my own boss, now I can spend more time on music and be more flexible when it comes to playing gigs. I think next year we will play more often and may even release something.
While the general feedback on the album has been outstanding, I see some people mentioning the two instrumentals, as they don’t seem to get the point with those. Some has even suggested they were needed to be included to turn the album into a full length release instead of an EP. Why did you include them on the album, and what function do they have?
– “Shade Gate” is so fuckin awesome, completely necessary to close out the album. “Blood Ice” is Carlos’ Ice Magic intro that couldn’t be recorded at the same time as “The Cold Sword” so it’s placed separately from it on the album. If we want to call our next album an LP and we only want to put three songs and an intro on it then we will, just so we can laugh at everyone crying about it.
How much time did you spend on arranging the order of the songs? Did it pretty much arrange itself with “I Am The Hammer” being the obvious choice for the opener? What about the instrumentals, where they written to fit in between certain tracks that already existed and to close the album?
– Yeah we knew that “I Am The Hammer” was the opener from day one and the rest of the songs seemed pretty obvious when you think about the vinyl version and how that would flow. “Sing A Last Song Of Valdese” always seemed like the last song, and the rest fell into place around those two.
The band has decided to rerecord «The Last King Of Pictdom», an old fave of mine from the demo tape for “The Armor Of Ire”. Jason says that he wasn’t fully satisfied with his peformance the first time around, and that was one of the reasons why they agreed to redo it.
– I just wanted to sing that one again, do a better job on my end and tighten up the music a bit.
You once told me you are most inspired to write when you read a good story. Any examples of that on the new album?
– I love Karl Edward Wagner, I almost made “Sing a Last Song Of Valdese” about another book of his called “Dark Crusade”, but then it occurred to me that I’ve already wrote a song in Graven Rite dedicated to his novel “Bloodstone” so this time around I wanted to focus on his short stories. There’s actually elements of the lyrics in “Sing A Last Song Of Valdese” that are pulled from other stories in his collection called “Night Winds”, most notably the story “Raven’s Eyrie”. Kane is just an awesome character and I’m always tempted to write more songs in his honor.
We discussed the differences between writing lyrics and stories in an earlier interview when we spoke about the “Swords Of Steel”-anthology, but do you see yourself being able to develop lyrics you have written for Eternal Champion into something bigger, for instance a short story or a novel?
-Yeah I really want to find time to write more, that’s something that’s on the top of my list. I want to finish and flesh out all these ideas I have for the stories that will include the happenings in the Eternal Champion songs “I Am The Hammer” and “The Armor Of Ire”, that would include at least a few more short stories, maybe one novella.
You once said that you wanted a big, early eighties sound for the album, do you think you have achieved it, and did you have a particular album in mind when searching for the right sound? I sometimes catch myself thinking that the album could have sounded a little rougher around the edges, but I guess you got the sound you wanted for these compositions?
– I’m very happy with the production, Arthur handled it beautifully. There were some albums I suggested to him and some others that I know always inspire him, Ozzy’s “The Ultimate Sin”, “Hall Of the Mountain King” by Savatage and “Deliver Us” from Warlord. While it’s not an eighties album, the drum sound on Morgana Lefay’s “Sanctified” was also mentioned.
When I heard the song «Retaliator» from the EP, I kind of expected the album to be more aggressive sounding, but instead you have a pretty diverse collection of songs, with the title track being very melodic, even with some keyboards. An awesome, but pretty different track from what you normally get on an epic heavy metal album. What were your thoughts when Arthur let you hear this song for the first time?
– The first time I heard the music for the track “The Armor Of Ire” I thought it had a lot of feeling in it already. The keyboards, the guitar riffs, it’s very dramatic. I was blown away by it, I think it’s really special musically.
As it’s a different type of song, was this track in particular challenging for you when it comes to creating the vocal melody? I have to say you really nailed it, as the end result is simply stunning.
– Thank you, yes it was very challenging for about five listens, then I put it on my headphones on repeat while I was working outside and the vocal line and melody just came to me once I took my mind off of it. I didn’t have to record it on my phone or anything because it was immediately stuck in my head. The lyrics came almost as quickly.
Speaking about Arthur, he seems to be a very important part of Eternal Champion these days. As far as I understand, he has done a lot of work on this album. Playing drums of course, but also keyboards, bass and some guitar solos in addition to producing.
– Arthur was completely crucial to this album and this bands continued existence. Hopefully when we record the next one things won’t be so chaotic and he won’t have to play so many instruments.
The track «Invoker» was supposed to be on the split you did with Gatekeeper, but it had to be scrapped due to the fact that the drums were too fast for Jason to sing. The version that appears on the album is a newly recorded version of course, this time at the correct speed. Talking further about the material, the guys had five songs and an instrumental ready already back in 2013 when we spoke for the first time…
– The last track we finished for the LP was “Sing a Last Song of Valdese”, Arthur had that song for awhile and we were always bouncing it back and forth but we never finished it until it came time to do the LP. We have had all these songs now for almost three years and are anxious to move on and write more. I know that “The Armor Of Ire” just came out, but for us it has passed and we want to create more. There are riffs being thrown around but I’m hesitant to say if and how many new songs we have.
You will do your first gig on European soil at Keep It True in April next year. How do you prepare yourself for something like that? Are you able to enjoy the other bands and the atmosphere, or are you one of the bands that will steer clear of that and just focus on your own performance?
– I have to watch some of the bands, especially Atlantean Kodex, Manilla Road, of course Cirith Ungol, we will be playing pretty early in the day so we can enjoy the festival after our set.
How do you approach the task of performing the Eternal Champion-songs live? Are you trying to reproduce the material, or are you looking to add something.? As a blacksmith, I guess it must be tempting to work on swords and maybe other stuff to bring onto the stage?
– We try to bring an intimidating level of power and barbarism live, we want to sound good but I’m not worried about my voice sounding as it does on the album. Something happens when we play a show and I sound different every time so I try not to worry too much about that. It’s really about connecting with the audience and creating a ball of energy in the room that hopefully I can throw all the way to the back of the room. And yes, I love forging swords and other weapons, I’m sure that some of them will make their way onstage soon.
When you performed at the Union Pool in October, you had six members on stage. Who were doing the bass? What does three guitarists give you that two don’t in a live setting?
– Derek Scace was on bass at Union Pool and he will be our new bass player, it’s great to have him as he is a longtime friend and excellent bassman. We had three guitar players on the LP so all three played the gig. It sounds heavier.