When musicians decide to do something slightly different within the frames of traditional metal, it usually catches my interest. Ezra Brooks, a solo adventure by S. Vincent, based in Toronto, Canada, really appealed to me, more or less upon first listen. The unpolished production, the cool riffs and solos, and the rather limited, but yet cool vocals all worked quite well. Since I first heard the demo material about half a year ago, the songs have been remastered, an extra track added and the material released on CD via Barbarian Wrath. “Target” is one of the more original sounding releases in our field so far this year, and more than interesting enough for me to hook up with Vincent for for some much needed info on this project.
You are already in Gatekrashör, and I believe you recently joined Manacle as well. What is the status of these two acts at the moment, both when it comes to playing live and recording?
– Things have slowed down considerably for Gatekrashör, primarily because I moved to Toronto. We are still active however and will be appearing at the third edition of the Frost and Fire Festival in Ventura, California. That is currently our only scheduled live performance. As for Manacle, our debut fullength will be out this year. While myself and our new drummer Miguel did not play on it, we are looking forward to playing more shows, working on new material, and will be functioning as a unit from now on.
I am not sure how involved you are in the songwriting process in the other bands you are involved in, but do you feel Ezra Brooks is a result of some sort of musical creativity and influences that you can’t get out in the other bands you are in?
– Partly. Let me start with Gatekrashör and Hrom. While I am heavily involved in the songwriting process for Gatekrashör, and have written some of the songs myself, many of the tracks are a product of jamming out riffs and ideas from all members. With Hrom, I was much less involved in the songwriting process, but I still had a great deal of creative input. That said, Ezra Brooks has been an outlet since around 2008, and has gone through several incarnations in that time. The project started as High Passage, and eventually transformed into Amulet. Around 2011, when the excellent UK band of the same name came into existence, I knew a name change was necessary. A friend of mine suggested Ezra Brooks after an obscure whiskey he had bought; at first it seemed ridiculous and then the name grew on me. Throughout this whole time, the style of music I had been writing did not fit with the style my other bands were doing.
Does Ezra Brooks simply need to be a solo project, where you have no one else but yourself to rely on, or do you consider looking for other members for recording or perhaps also performing live?
– It needs to be a solo project in the sense that I want to retain full creative control of every aspect of the sound – if I do obtain members, they will be performing what I’ve solely written. While it’s not a priority at the moment due to my schedule being busy with Manacle and my doom project Smoulder, I will eventually seek out members for recording purposes and possible live performances.
Why is it so important for you to be in full control of the songwriting?
– Because I have a very specific approach to writing the songs. Some tracks will go through a few dozen changes before I’m happy with them, while others will go through hundreds of changes. From organizing riff placement, to adding drum fills, or combining new riffs with old ones, there’s always a rigorous and strategic editing process. Sometimes I’ll write half and a song and not come back to it for a few months or years. Other times I’ll write a whole song in a few days. I have even scraped entire songs after realising they were too similar sounding to another band.
You have stated that Ezra Brooks is your vision of arcane heavy metal influenced by the strange, unpolished, and forgotten obscurities of the 80s, 90s, and beyond. What kind of bands or releases are you referring to?
– That statement is an effort to avoid the usual “For fans of…” description that accompanies releases. Too often, I have been disappointed by bands that don’t sound remotely similar to the ones used in said descriptor. I didn’t want to put an idea of what Ezra Brooks should sound like into someone’s head by claiming it’s for fans of another band. I wanted people to listen to the music and speculate for themselves what my influences might be. That being said, I knew this kind of question was inevitable. Here is a list of releases that are the best example of what I am trying to create. Each of these albums is different in their own unique way. Whether it’s the vocals, riffs, drum sound, or obscure production, they all are altogether excellent: Killen” Killen”, Tyga Myra “Deliverance”, Dark Nova “The Dark Rhapsodies”, Mortox “Stormbells”, Cobra “Back From The Dead”, Siren “No Place Like Home” and the self titled album from Lords Of The Crimson Alliance. I’ll also add that “and beyond” refers to newer bands of my “age” that exist “inside the power cage,” so to speak. Specifically bands and releases post-2000 that have stood out to me, such as Magister Templi, Witches Coven, Demon Bitch, Iron Dogs, Borrowed Time, and Sanctuaire.
Some really cool releases there, different choices than the usual stuff named dropped by most of todays musicans. What is it about an album like for instance “Stormbells” that appeals to you?
– I think it’s the strange delivery of the sometimes off-key and out-of-nowhere vocals that first appealed to me. And after a few listens I realised there’s a lot of killer riffs hidden throughout
What I really like about the material on “Target” is all the killer riffs as well as the raw sound. Vincent agrees that the riffs are essential in Ezra Brooks…
– The riffs are definitely the most important ingredient. I will usually write an entire song before the lyrics and vocal melodies are figured out. Some songs have had lyrics or melodies written beforehand, but for the most part they come after the riffs. As for the raw sound, I like production with quieter vocals and guitar/bass lines that are not easily discernible so they might not be noticed on the first play through. I enjoy listening to an album for the second, third, or even tenth time and hearing something I didn’t hear on previous listens.
If we compare the early versions of the material that was released on Bandcamp and also distributed on very limited quantities on CD-Rs, and the versions now released by Barbarian Wrath on CD, the material has, as already mentioned, been remixed, but there are some other small changes as well, aren’t there?
– Yes there is! Solos were added to “Wielding The Mirrored Gauntlet” and “Target”, thus filling these songs out in the way I had originally intended. My goal was to bring promo copies with me to give out while on a trip to Boston and to California last year, and of course, time ran out before the solos could be added to the songs. There’s not much else worth mentioning beyond the solos, unless you want to sit down and listen to each version side by side, which is of course somewhat ridiculous.
You play all instruments on “Target”. You are very used to the bass of course, but was one of the other instruments particularly challenging for you? Are the drums on the recording real or programmed?
-Nothing was particularly challenging. There were only a few guitar parts that required multiple takes, mainly because I haven’t spent anywhere near the same amount of time playing guitar as I have bass. That said, in recent years I have been leaning heavily towards guitar playing due to my work with Ezra Brooks and Smoulder. As for the drums, they were programmed by myself, as my drumming abilities are limited to the simplest of beats. Jan (Loncik) had planned on playing drums for the promo, but as usual, time was not on our side. Future recordings will most certainly feature reals drums, but for now I’m sticking to programming them.
Have you been singing at all prior to creating the Ezra Brooks material? While the vocals, objectively speaking might not be the best, they kind of fit the music. Are you looking to improve them, or is this more or less the style of vocals you are looking for?
– I have done backing vocal harmonies and whatnot on Hrom and Gatekrashör recordings, but before doing the vocals for Ezra Brook my actual singing experience has been with my doom metal project Smoulder that I started with my significant other, although recently we’ve changed formats and she has taken over vocal duties to align more closely with the epic doom style. For Ezra Brooks, I’m not looking to improve them directly by taking lessons or anything like that. They are the style I’m going for and they align with the vision I have. Before recording began, I would recite the vocal melodies in my head over and over again until I couldn’t forget them, then when it came time to record I just sung what i imagined it sounding like in my head. A lot of the melodies were changed as I recorded; others were improvised on the spot. Some had even been planned for years and were not sung until the day I recorded them.
Recording and mastering as well as the guitar solos are done by J. Loncik who plays in Hrom and also was in Gatekrashör. Apart from the fact that you obviously know him from before, why did you chose him to help you out with the recording?
-I chose Jan for a number of reasons. He is one of my closest friends, we share interest in many of the same bands, and he knows very well the type of sound I’m going for and how to get it – especially when it came to the solos and my request for the vocals to sound like they’re echoing through a dungeon. Two, the offer to help me record this material had been on the table since I told him about the project years ago. Three, he stubbornly refused any payment beyond a handful of energy drinks and a few late night and early morning drive-thru trips.
For the cover of the CD, Vincent has found a cool piece art from a seventies book cover.
-I found it via a sci-fi Instagram account who had shared an artist’s paintings. I’ve always loved the look of this particular style of sixties and seventies science fiction artwork, and after looking up the artist online I soon came across the painting with the two spaceships in combat. As soon as I saw the image I knew it had to be the cover. After some modifications to the lyrics, I ended up making the track Target about the painting, and thus it fit perfectly into the Ezra Brooks universe. Thankfully, after I contacted the painter Bob Layzell and asked him to use it, he graciously gave me permission. I’m extremely pleased with how it all came together and would be honoured to use his art again in the future, when and if the time comes.
Tell us a little about Ezra Brooks! Who is she, and how is she able to travel in time?
– She is a rouge time traveller warping through space and time using a cursed magical amulet that is not entirely under her control. She has been forced into the life of a fugitive for a crime she has no memory of committing, and is constantly struggling to stay a few steps ahead of the Time Guards. Was she framed? Or does the amulet eventually lead her down a sinister path against her own will? These questions will be addressed on future releases.
What about the Time Guards? What is their role, and why are they after her?
– When Ezra discovered the amulet, the secret of time travel came with it and she founded a group of travellers called The Protectors. They are sworn to keep the secret of time travel out of the hands of those who would use it for evil. After a series of unknown events in the future, Ezra is accused of crimes she has no recollection of committing and is forced to flee and The Protectors are torn apart. The few remaining members formed a smaller group named the Time Guards in an effort to tighten the grip on the secret of time travel and bring Ezra to justice.
For how long have you been working on the story? Did it start when you named the band Ezra Brooks, or even earlier? Where does the inspiration for the story come from?
– I came up with the idea of a character that travelled through time using a cursed amulet about a year before the name of the project changed from Amulet to Ezra Brooks. I had even sketched a rough version of the Amulet logo which later morphed into the Ezra Brooks logo you see today. Besides the general interest I’ve had in fantasy, sci-fi, and time travel since I was teenager, influence for the story has come from a number of things, including the Dragonlance series, authors Micheal Moorcock, Barrington J. Bayley, John Jakes, and a few video games like “Perfect Dark”, “Metriod Prime”, and “Golden Sun”.
With “Crisis In The Reactor”, the CD contains one bonus track compared to the version first released. Is this a song that was recorded in the same session as the others, or a more recent one?
– This track was recorded a few months after the first version of the promo was released.
“Tales From The Ezra Brooks Cycle” is also a term you have used or are using. Are all the lyrics on the CD and also on releases to come, connected in a way, making one long story, or do you see yourself writing different lyrics and still keeping the band name?
– All the lyrics so far are connected in the sense that they all involve Ezra in one way or another. A number of tracks will roughly address the main story of Ezra Brooks (how she found the the amulet, the extent of its power, the constant pursuit of the Time Guards, and the nature of the “cycle” she’s been pulled into), but for the most part, the songs basically each tell the tale of a different adventure in a different time or place that Ezra has, or will, travel too. In the future, some songs may or may not feature different lyrical themes.
There is an interesting cover version on the CD, I believe it’s the first ever, of the mystery band Tales Of Medusa. The band has, at least here in Europe, become some sort a legend, both due to the fact that very few seem to know who was playing in the band, but also because their material was so awesome.
– I believe they’re just as big of mystery here. Unfortunately I was not lucky enough to receive any of their releases, although I have tried. I first heard of them around the time “The Fatal Wounding Gaze” was released via Matt, the former mastermind of Funeral Circle. After looking them up and eventually hearing a track from their debut, I immediately tried contacting the band, but It was too late. I have a number of friends who live in the same city as Tales Of Medusa, which is thought to be Vancouver, and also have some of their releases, but none of them claim to know their identities. I like to imagine they are sworn to secrecy…
As you are planning to release more music already this year, what can you tell us about the material? Is it musically in the same vein? Will it be a full length album?
– The tracks featured on the “Target” CD are all songs that have been written for a number of years (with the exception of “Dreaming of a Better Time…” which I improvised in the studio). I planned to release a full-length album right off the bat, entitled “Tales From The Ezra Brooks Cycle” as opposed to “Target”, that would feature these tracks alongside five others that were written during the same time, but I scraped the idea. For now, the material that i plan on releasing this year will be a mix of those five older tracks as well as songs that I’ve written in the last few years. Said release will most likely materialise in the form of another demo or EP. Musically it will all be within the same vein with varying degrees of obscure doom, power, and epic heavy metal influence.