What better way to reintroduce Metal Squadron, than to do it with the act behind one of the best demos released in quite some time? Traveler is the band in question, and I got founder and songwriter Matt Ries to answer my questions about the Canadians. Some might know the guy from his work with acts like Hrom and Gatekrashör, but are there other things we should know about Matt?
– Well, first and foremost, I’m a music fan. Shocking, I guess! I work a Monday to Friday warehouse job and spend most of my spare time obsessing about music. By the way, I am listening to “Rough Justice” by Tytan right now. At the moment, my focus is on Traveler and an upcoming Hrom gig this summer. One of my long time friends, Jay Bowcott, wants me to lay down a blues solo on his folk record he is working on. So I’ll randomly appear on that one.
Is the concept of Traveler something that has evolved over time, or was the idea to start this type of project something that was born more spontaneously? When did you start writing the material that ended up on the demo? Were these compositions among the first you wrote, or did you choose them from a larger collection of songs?
– Starting my own project has kinda always been in the back of mind. Only now am I in the position to have time to do so. Being in two very active bands didn’t leave me much room to focus on anything else. At the moment, Gatekrashör is on a hiatus due to one of our founding members moving away, while Hrom is a little more casual with releasing material.I began writing the material for Traveler about a year ago. Gradually picking up pieces of left over riffs from previous song ideas that never came to life. As far as a more material goes, I have about 12 songs written for this project so far.
What kind of name were you looking for, and why did you end up using Traveler as the moniker?
– It’s a funny story. Originally, the band was going to be called Starbreaker, hence the first track of the demo. The name was supposed to be an obvious nod to our overlords Judas Priest, without realizing Tony Harnell of TNT already has a project of the same name. When we found out, myself and Jean-Pierre (vocals) decided to message Harnell about using the name. Within a matter of minutes, he promptly replied that this would be “a huge issue”. Needless to say, this had us laughing pretty hard, as we didn’t know we were such a threat! So anyways, keeping with the theme of the “Starbreaker” lyrics, I came up with Traveler. I think it delivers the same punch!
Did you approach Tony or heard from him again?
– We didn’t approach him again after that. We got a good laugh and moved on. No hard feelings or anything. Obviously he’s a well respected musician and an incredible singer.
What are the main influences for Traveler, both musically and lyrically?
– This might seem a little obvious, but Iron Maiden, Judas Priest, Cloven Hoof and Deaf Dealer definitely have influenced me for as long as I can remember. Lyrically, more so taking pieces of my own life and fantasy and wrapping it all into one glorified mess.
Always great to see Deaf Dealer getting a mention. Is the debut album or “Journey Into Fear” your fave from them, or do you prefer the material they released under the name Death Dealer? Are there other Canadian bands that have been an influence to you as well?
– I would not be a proper Canadian if I wasn’t influenced by the “big four” of Canadian metal, Voivod, Razor, Exciter and Annihilator. Assault, and their “Suvival In The Street” also stands out for me. “Journey Into Fear” is an immaculate album! I would say it’s better than the debut, “Keeper Of The Flame”, but I love that one almost as much.
How important are the lyrics for Traveler? Give us an insight into the idea behind the words for the songs, and in particular “Behind The Iron” which immediately caught my attention.
– To me, lyrics are just as important as a killer riff. I always found it to be such a bummer reading boring lyrics over an incredible song. Please don’t kill me, but an example of boring lyrics and overall vocal delivery is “Take Me Away” by Heavy Load. So many of my friends love this song, but I can’t stand it. Everything else they did was beyond greatness to me. For “Behind The Iron”, I mostly had serial killers in mind for that one. I tried to put it into perspective of what it would be like to “face the music” so to speak.
Do you have a fave lyricist within metal?
-Sean Killian of Vio-lence always struck me as an amazing lyricist. His delivery and maniacle way of putting words together always blew me away.
You don’t need to hear much of the first song on the demo to understand that this is pretty much traditional heavy metal with strong references to the glorious eighties. Are you striving to be original or at least to have some identity of your own, or is the goal just to write as good songs as you probably can?
– Of course I want to be original! However, it is pretty difficult these days. But what I care about most is writing good music. Music is going to outlive me, and I would rather leave behind a killer record than a bank account and a box full of shit!
The demo contains three songs, and as you already mentioned, you have further material ready. Do you feel the tracks that are on the demo are representative for the vision you have for Traveler?
– I for sure have more material written. I basically picked my favorite ones out of the ones already written. I never really had a particular vision of how Traveler would sound. I just played what I felt sounded good. Straight from the heart and balls.
The feedback the demo has received in underground circles has been awesome. Did you have such faith in the material that the reception didn’t come as a surprise? Do the positive feedback make you more confident in your own work and the direction you are pursuing?
– I had no idea the demo would have the impact it did. I released it completely blind to what would come. It felt really good to see how many people enjoyed it. So the flame is definitely burning a little hotter right now.
As far as I understand, you are still a member of both Hrom and Gatekrashör. Is it the songwriting side of things that have prompted you to start Traveler, as I don’t think you are a main songwriter in these acts?
– For both of those projects the song writing was pretty equally split amongst members, but I joined both Hrom and Gatekrashör after they had material written. I still played a major role, but the direction of sound was already established. I love the music we have made with both acts, but now I get to see where my own songwriting takes me. I am super stoked for the future!
How do you feel these two acts complements what you are doing with Traveler? There aren’t really many similarities between Gatekrashör and Traveler, but I guess it can be claimed that Hrom and Traveler have something in common, at least when it comes to the guitar work.
– You are right. There’s a definite similarity with Hrom, which is pretty Helloween and Chroming Rose influenced. As much as I love early power metal, I needed something with a bit more punch to scratch that itch I’ve had musically for a long time.
So far the demo has only been released on cassette format, a run that sold out quickly. Is it important for you to have it available on other physical formats as well or are you satisfied with you songs being available only digitally?
– I really want to get my music into the hands to anyone that wants it. I can’t talk about who I’m working with at the moment, but you can expect two different vinyl releases in the near future. All of that will make sense soon. I wish I could say more right now, but to give you a hint, there will be different material on each release. I might do another run of cassettes as well since there was such a high demand for it.
Are you actively looking for a label to cooperate with or do you see yourself releasing your stuff independently like you have partly done in both Gatekrashör and Hrom?
– I was amazed by how many labels approached me to release the demo! We made our decision and you will all know soon enough what we have in store.
Right after this interview was conducted, the news came that the demo would be released on vinyl via Gates of Hell as a split release with Finlands Coronary.
So how did Matt hook up with singer Jean-Pierre Abboud? I guess he probably knew him from his work with the countrymen in Funeral Circle and Gatekeeper, but was he also familiar with Jean-Pierre’s work in Borrowed Time, who released one of my favourite albums from the last few years back in 2013?
– Haha, I can’t remember the exact year I met JP, but he’s such a down to earth dude, we were instant pals. Who knew we’d be rockin’ together? Yeah, I heard Borrowed Time before I met him, and was blown away instantly. I always hoped they would do another album!
Do you see Traveler as a band that will eventually go out and perform the material live, or will it most probably stay a studio project? The demo is filled to the brim with of guitar harmonies. Will you be looking to add a second guitarist if you want to take this thing onto a stage?
– At first I had no expectations of playing live. I just wanted to release something cool. But at the moment I am gathering members bit by bit. You can expect live shows by next year for sure!
While being primarily a guitarist, you have also recorded the bass on the demo. What is your experience with this instrument prior to the recording? Will you continue to handle the instrument, or are your actively looking for a bass player for future recordings?
– I’ve dabbled in bass over the years, but never took it to the studio. So this is my first time taking on the bass duties. At the moment, finding a bassist is the last piece of the puzzle to complete the full line up. The first full length is already written, so I will most likely be taking on bass for the album.
The demo sports a professional looking logo created by Frankie LaPorta and a cool piece of artwork done by Dylan Barstad. How important is the visual presentation for Traveler?
– It’s super important! Who wants to look at boring art? Especially in a 12″ format. One of my favorite things to do is check out the art as I listen to the album. I gave Dylan a rough idea. I wasn’t looking for anything incredibly detailed, with this being only a demo. The artwork for the full length will be a little crazier for sure. Dylan has always been my favorite local artist in town, so it made sense to ask him!
The vocal melodies are pretty original, for instance in a song like “Mindless Maze”. Are they written by yourself, or created by JP after he heard the material? Also the vocals are quite upfront in the sound, is this something you want to keep for future recordings, or is it just a result of this particular recording being no more than a demo?
– I had most of the melodies already thought out for JP, but I’m no vocalist, so I let JP add his flare to it. He did an incredible job. Especially considering we only had two days to get them done. Haha!
You have used a studio called Richhobo. Is this a home studio or a more professional one? Will you continue using this one for future recordings as you are able to get the type of sound you are looking for here or are you looking for an upgrade?
– Richhobo is Jan of Hrom’s home studio. It’s where I’ve done most of my work. But for future recordings, I will be going a little more of a professional route for a healthy change of pace. Sorry about the electric drum kit, by the way.
You seem to be happy about people sharing your demo on YouTube. Is this something that will continue also when you release a full length, or is it valuable only in a phase were you are trying to spread the name around?
– As long as it gets into the ears of people that like it, I dont care who shares it. If it’s good, people will buy it! I’m sure the forthcoming full length will be available on YouTube as well.
Is working on the full length what you see as the next step for Traveler?
– Right now I am teaching our new drummer all of the songs. Once he’s up to speed we will be hitting the studio. So if you don’t hear from us for a while, that is why. But hold on to your butts, more Traveler is definitely on the way.
So is Jan out of the band now? Why is that? Were did you find his replacement, and can you reveal his name as well?
– As you may know, Jan is in Hrom as well. He’s the founding member of that band, so he would rather keep his attention on that rather than spread himself too thin. And I totally respect his decision. His replacement is a long time buddy of mine, called Chad Vallier. He also used to play in Hrom. It’s always better to jam with dudes you’re comfortable with. I will release the full line up soon enough!