GATEKEEPER: Pushing creative boundaries

Gatekeeper_Photo_2As we have already covered the early days in not only one, but two previous interviews, it felt natural to catch up with the happenings after the split Gatekeeper did with Eternal Champion in March 2015. To help us out, we got Geoff as usual, but new singer Jean-Pierre, who is also Geoff’s roommate, filled in on some of our questions.

Even though, some might claim the Eternal Champion-track drew most attention, I guess the split release did some good things for Gatekeeper as well?

Geoff:  – I just checked the YouTube videos of each song that No Remorse put together and our song “Angelus” has about 1,900 plays and Eternal Champion’s song is up to 32,000 plays so there’s not much to say, haha! It’s impressive that they have done so well, considering that they are playing a niche style of Heavy Metal and don’t play a lot of gigs. They’re a great band. I really love their track from our split and they have been comrades of ours. No Remorse put together a very nice package for that release, we got to work with Lionel Baker II and as far as I know all the copies are sold out so I consider the release a success, even if our tracks went under the radar.

JP:  – I mean, the boys in Edmonton got to do a cool release with our friend Jason (Tarpey), so I’m sure they enjoyed it. I’m pretty sure they weren’t thinking about what it could do for them.

You were also included on Metal Blades “Metal Massacre XIV” alongside some other great newcomers. Did this sampler do anything for you? I remember speaking to a musician who at the time, this was after the press release about it went out, didn’t even know about the fact that one of his songs featured.

JP:  – Haha, was it Ian from Metalian? That comp didn’t seem to have a lot of legs, but if you ask me, it’s way more in the spirit of previous Metal Massacre-comps, much more than the prior one from several years ago! Metalian rules especially!

Geoff: – It was a pretty surreal experience to be approached by Metal Blade. Alan Averill had heard our song on YouTube and sent me an email about using it. This was in 2015 and I had just moved to Vancouver and the band wasn’t really active at this point. It’s a great compilation with some cool bands and I’m proud to have our music attached to a Metal Blade release but it wasn’t exactly a big break for us. We got a bunch of free CDs and LPs out of the deal, a small royalty and they did a great job with the layout and band selection. Our bassist David and I got to meet Alan at the Frost And Fire festival a couple years ago and he was very friendly. We got to chat about the Blood Revolt album and swap some stories about the guys from the Canadian band Revenge.

Some years ago Geoff moved to Vancouver, and as a result of this, the lineup changed. It would be interesting to know what prompted this, if it necessary to take the band forward and to the next level, or if it was related to work and Geoff’s private life?  

Geoff:  – It was mainly personal. I had carved out a decent little life in Edmonton but I felt stuck, bored and tired with everything and decided that I needed to try something new. I had started writing fictional stories and for music magazines and decided to pursue that more seriously and take a little break from playing in bands. The old members of Gatekeeper understood and we all agreed that the band would go with me since I had been writing all the music and lyrics and fronting the money for most band activities. After about a year of living in Vancouver I got the itch to play again. I met David Messier through my friends in the band Spell. We became fast friends and started working on some new Gatekeeper riffs in our spare time. I also started playing in a Blind Guardian tribute band with Tommy and Kenny, who ended up joining Gatekeeper on drums and lead guitar. Darin, who now plays bass for Skelator, was also in that band. We got asked to play shows in the USA with Gatekeeper and we didn’t have a singer, so I decided to call Jean-Pierre to help us out. I’ve known JP since about 2013. We had such a great time working together that we decided to turn that touring lineup into a full-fledged band. It’s a very different chemistry compared to the early days but overall I think it’s quite good. We all hang out together and have a good time and we have been working on the creative elements as a unit so I think the band is much stronger than before and the members are more invested, which means we can do more with it.

I remember you telling me when that when you started putting out records, you viewed Gatekeeper as a fun, creative side project, since you were pretty occupied with music all day long. Is this still the case, or has it changed?

Geoff:  – Yeah, back in Edmonton I was a full-time musician, so I was teaching music lessons plus playing in about four bands, mainly cover and tribute bands and making money that way. I’m still teaching a lot of students in Vancouver but I also have different day job and I put almost all my creative energy into Gatekeeper now. Every so often I’ll go out and do a fun little gig, like a Candlemass tribute with the guys from Spell, or playing 2nd guitar in Order Of The Solar Temple, but I’ve decided that Gatekeeper is the band I want to really sink my teeth into and push my creative boundaries with.

So both a Blind Guardian- and a Candlemass-tribute?  Sounds like two quite different challenges right there?

Geoff:  – Yeah, very different. This was with two totally different groups of people. The Blind Guardian stuff was way more difficult to play, speed picking is not my strong point. But very fun projects. I just love to play gigs.

You have done quite a few cover versions, some that have already appeared or will be appearing on various releases. Omen’s “Death Rider” and “Hall Of the Mountain King” by Savatage will be bonus tracks on the CD-version of the new album, and there is an Exciter-track ,“Victims Of Sacrifice”, on the tape edition of the new album. In addition, you will also appear on a release called “Granbretan Invasion”, a NWOBHM-tribute put together by Skol records, where I believe you are covering a Tredegar-song. How are you thinking when you are choosing tracks to cover?

Geoff:  – Yup, the old lineup also did “Power and the Glory” by Saxon and “At Night” by Twisted Tower Dire on live recordings. The Exciter- and Tredegar covers involved a lot of discussion because these songs were getting compilation releases with Skol Records and we paid for studio time specifically to record those. We were looking for tunes that already suited our sounds. The Tredegar song we picked (“Richard III”) kind of sounds like a Gatekeeper song already and “Victims of Sacrifice” is sort of mid-tempo compared to lots of their other songs. We’d been playing the Savatage and Omen songs on tour and we decided to record them in the album sessions because we had some extra time left over when we were tracking the drums. Omen and Savatage are huge influences on our style so we didn’t really have to argue about those ones. We didn’t record either of those songs to a metronome in the studio—we wanted a rougher, more live sound for those.

JP:  – We deliberate pretty closely I’d say. We’ll spend about a week throwing around songs until we all hone in on the best choice.

You are lining up at least one show where you are doing two different sets, one with original songs and one with cover tracks which is a tribute to 80s metal. What is the idea behind this? Are these four tracks part of that set?

JP:  – Yeah, amongst like 10 or 11 other covers! We just wanna play for people, bud! Everyone in this band is quite seasoned at this point, working very hard to maintain the musician’s life, it’s such an amazing feeling and getting to share it and meet with all sorts of other talented people makes it even better!

Geoff: – We play a lot of covers in Gatekeeper. We have about 14 songs that we can do and we’re gradually adding more. They are mostly classic 80’s metal like Dio, Ozzy, Priest and WASP, but we also include the other songs you asked about. We’ve done a few gigs like this, usually in smaller towns where there aren’t many other bands to play with. Whenever we play in a new city, we pack the set full of cover songs. I think it helps win over unfamiliar crowds. It’s also fun to be able to go to a party where people are playing instruments and we can just show up and put on an impromptu performance.

Geoff feels the band’s own material gets the attention it deserves when performed alongside cover versions of tracks that probably everyone showing up is familiar with?

Geoff: – It may seem counter-intuitive, but in the long run I think yes it does. People respond to music that they recognize, so I find that if you play a familiar song that gets people excited then they will generally be more enthusiastic for your original songs. I’ve done this same thing in other groups and it made a huge impact on show attendance over time.

Gatekeeper_CoverLet’s turn our attention to the new album, “East Of Sun”. Geoff told me back in 2013 that the band had had a meeting where they discussed the future, and concluded that it was too early for a full length release, and that they  would rather release EPs, or individual tracks for split releases and so on. This turned out to be a strategy that Gatekeeper followed. However, I guess Geoff didn’t expect it to be five years before the band got an album out.

Geoff: – I think it was the route we had to go. Even those small releases took an absurdly long time to finish with the old lineup so trying to tackle a full length record would have been torture. No disrespect to those old crew, they had other priorities and Gatekeeper was just another project for them to work on in their spare time between work and school and their other bands. It was actually JP’s idea to do an LP. I wasn’t sure about it at first, but we all talked about it and decided that it was time to make a serious statement and solidify the new lineup to the world.

JP: – All sorts of bands went through a period that I would call ‘practical germination,’ I mean, pretty much every great band spent some time finding their sound and grinding it out before making a long playing record. We spent a good two years solidifying ourselves as Gatekeeper.

Why have you chosen to include the tracks “North Wolves” and “Swan Road Saga” which both featured on your first EP? Weren’t you satisfied with the way these tracks came out on “Prophecy And Judgement”?

Geoff: – Yes, that’s one reason. When I wrote those songs I could barely play the guitar and the recording process was extremely bumpy, especially the drumming. We still play those songs live with the current lineup and everyone brought their own style into those songs and I think they sound better than ever, not just in the playing but in the production and the details in the arrangement too. I don’t listen to the old versions anymore.

JP:  – I dunno, I think they sound pretty sweet, Shorre’s singing is great!

In addition, the song “Bell Of Tarantia” featured for the first time already on the live album “Shadow over Calgarae” recorded five years back. You also recorded a studio version of this song for the split with Funeral Circle back in 2015.  I have to admit that for those of us who have followed the band since very early on, the new album would have been even more exciting and fresh if all the songs were “new”, so to say. Wouldn’t it be more satisfying for you as well, to present only material that the listener didn’t know from before?

JP: – It is a tradition of every band featured on a Metal Massacre comp to record a definitive version of the song for the full length record. I have no idea why anyone would have an issue, going back to all sorts of great bands, you will find nothing but split releases and small recordings with different lineups of all their strongest songs. We concentrate on the strongest, and rest assured, we have plenty more up our sleeves. We’ve been laying low, but our action is full time.

Geoff: – We had a couple discussions about this topic because we knew that some people would feel this way. It was a decision that we took very seriously and I really think that it was the best thing that we could have done for the band at this time. It’s a snapshot of what the bands sounds like now. Everyone was itching to put something out and we had gotten a really good offer from our producer Mike Rogerson so it was time to strike.  Mark my words, you will not be waiting long for new material after this album!

Geoff isn’t too keen on revealing too much of what the band are up to next…

Geoff:  – We have a few things up our sleeves.  We are already writing music for the second album and we have another special thing planned before that. We will have new music coming out sooner than ever!

Was the fast and furious “Blade Of Cimmeria” written to be the opener of the album? You also made a video for it, and last time I checked it had about 5200 views. You might have reached the same number of views with a simple lyric video, was it still worth the work you put into the video?

Geoff: – It wasn’t written with that intention, but it became clear that it was the best thing to have as an opener. It’s totally different from anything else we’ve ever done and we wanted to make sure that it caught people’s attention. I like to go against expectations when I can. The video shoot was a lot of fun! I love doing that kind of stuff. Our director Rob Zawistowsky is a talented guy and did a fantastic job. David and I made most of the props ourselves—such as the torches and the banners that you see in the wide shots. We shot the video at Mountain View Cemetery which is where the band Blasphemy took a lot of their infamous photos. The camera that Rob rented is the same camera they used to film the last couple Harry Potter films and the shooting took place across 8 hours. It was a beautiful clear day, but it was quite cold once the sun set. It was a little uncomfortable at first, but after one or two takes of thrashing like a maniac it didn’t feel so bad.  The worst thing about it was having to go to work the next morning. I was so sore. We did about 30 takes of the song at maximum energy every single time. I have nothing against lyric videos and maybe we’ll do one of those too. but I much prefer high-action music videos with lots of energetic band footage so I’m very happy with our decision. We had a ton of fun working on it and I think the finished product speaks for itself. We got to premier it on Deaf Forever, it’s our most popular video yet and we got asked to play Keep It True as soon as it was released, so I think it’s a successful video.

JP:  – We wrote that in about a week during the summer of 2016 when I was still living in Portland, Oregon. As far as “views” or whatever: Uh, we play music, we don’t think about superfluous nonsense propagated by corporate swine. Oooooo look at me, please like my thing, fuck that! Heavy metal only!

Duncan Storr has done the brilliant artwork for “East Of Sun”. Why did you approach him in the first place, and do you have a favourite artwork that he did in the past?

Geoff: – We’ve had the chance to work with some fantastic artists over the years such as Karmazid, Ralph Torres and Lionel Baker II but Duncan Storr knocked it out of the park with this painting. He was on our short list of favourite artists that we wanted to work with. We all love his work with Skyclad and the recent Dark Forest album. My favourite past works of his are the covers of “Jonah’s Ark” from Skyclad and “Chronicles” by Hawkwind. His work is so distinctive and full of personality. And Duncan himself is a gentleman, I had a great time chatting with him over email about music and the concerts. The art piece that we used was something that he had done previously and we loved it so much that we bought the rights to it as soon as we could. Duncan even went out of his way to add a few more details to it after listening to some demos of the songs.

JP: – He did great work with Skyclad, that’s for sure.  His eye for colour and detail is completely unique and beguiling.

The title of the album is inspired by  the book, “East of Sun, West of Moon”. Geoff lets us in on his relationship to this collection of Scandinavian folk tales.

Geoff: – My maternal grandmother is Norwegian and there’s an organization in North America called “The Sons of Norway” which my family was involved with for a long time. So I got to learn about Nordic culture at a young age. She and other people in the organization introduced me to some of the old Norse folk tales and the mythology, but she is a devout Lutheran so I don’t think she intended for me to become so interested in the pre-Christian side of things. I got a copy of “East of Sun, West of Moon” when I was a kid but I actually haven’t read it for many years. I had completely forgot about it until my girlfriend gave me a book called “Fantasy: The Golden Age of Fantastic Illustration” by Brigid Peppin a couple years ago. It contained some of Kay Nielsen’s illustrations from “East of Sun, West of Moon” and all of a sudden I was hit with this flood of inspiration. I wrote the main riffs to the title track that night and played them for the rest of the band onstage while doing sound check at our next gig.

Gatekeeper_Photo_1You have said that it parallels the content on the record where each song stands on its own. Are you simply referring to the fact the album also contains individual songs, not connected in a way? What about the title track, is that inspired by the book or the story called “East Of Sun, West Of Moon?

JP: – No. It’s about a very insane, dark and tumultuous period of my life, articulated through imagery of the Greeks. The way it ties in is the city name shared between those two realms, Troy, and this is our own tale.

Geoff:  – What I will say is that the songs don’t really follow any of the specific stories from the book, it’s more about recreating the feeling of wonder from reading the stories and staring at the illustrations as a child. But otherwise, yeah, I look at the album as a collection of individual stories and self-contained sagas. This also parallels the works of my favourite writer, Robert E. Howard.

When we covered the split you did with Eternal Champion, you told me that you in the newer material was trying to draw imagery and influence from myth and fantasy fiction, but applying more of your own personal experiences. It seems this is something that can be heard in the lyrics on the new album?

Geoff: – Yes, this is still true, although it’s mostly JP writing the lyrics these days. We still do some of the more history and mythology-based tunes when we feel inspired in that direction but I’m enjoying JP’s approach and it’s nice to not have to worry about slaving over lyrics for weeks at a time.

Why do you think it makes the lyrics better when you let some of your personal experiences in, not only rely on getting inspired by what you read in book/stories or see in movies?

JP:  – I mean, it’s how I write everything. Since I’ve joined the band, they’ve been gracious enough to let me put my own spin on things, and actually; Geoff and I both collaborated on lyrics quite recently on a new song, really liked that as well!

Geoff: – I think it’s crucial to take inspiration wherever you can get it, but it’s also important to bring some of yourself into that inspiration. It makes the words seem more human, easier to relate to. I don’t think there’s anything wrong with writing a song about Conan of Cimmeria and his cool sword or something. At the very least, a lyricist can come up with interesting and vivid imagery to set the stage and guide a listener’s imagination instead of just paraphrasing another persons’ words with some ham-fisted rhyming couplets. I’m not going to claim to be a great writer but it bugs the hell out of me when lyrics are dull, flat and totally on the nose of their source material. And I think it makes the lyrics sound far more authentic when the writer is able to focus on the human element within the stories they are singing about.

As you seem to share at least some of the same ideas, have you considered writing more lyrics together, or do you think that will only make things more complicated than doing it on your own?

Geoff: – When JP was still living in the USA, we left most of the lyrics to him and didn’t interject too much, aside from some general things like “maybe don’t sing in this section” or something like that. We are working on some new songs now and I’ve contributed some lyrics here and there. Since JP is living in Canada now, it’s a lot easier to collaborate on things and bounce smaller ideas around. I’m very happy with the new album but I think we’ll be able to push ourselves even further on newer releases.

As Oliver released your debut on vinyl through his label, I guess it didn’t come as a huge surprise when you were asked to perform at Keep It True?  Apart from performing there yourself, I guess this is also a chance to see some great bands. What are on your list of bands you have to see this year?

Geoff: – It was a little surprising, because we were asked for play with less than two months notice! I figured we might get asked to play one of Oli’s other festivals or maybe next year so it was a little surprising to hear from him so late. It’s no secret that the younger bands from North America have to pay for almost all of their travel expenses so I was worried that we wouldn’t even be able to afford the plane tickets. However, the album pre-orders have been amazing! We’ve paid a big chunk of our travel expenses from that and they are almost sold out. As for the other bands playing, I’m interested in seeing Saracen, Flotsam & Jetsam and of course Heavy Load. I’ve seen Raven and Grim Reaper a few times already but I’ll definitely watch them as well. There are a few bands I’m not as familiar with, so I’m hoping to see something new and interesting while I’m there.

JP: – Everyone, every single band. It’s only eight or nine each day this time, Super stoked!



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