First of all, hails and congratulations on finally releasing your second album with Lucid Dreaming. But before we get more into that, this is the first time we do an interview for Lords of Metal, so please first tell us a bit about when and how the idea to start Lucid Dreaming come to life and what you had in mind for it…
Hails Nima, nice to meet you here! Well this goes back a few year; I’ve been in bands for many years, my main band Elvenpath has been around since 2002 but I never really thought of going solo. Then after Avantasia released their first albums, this “metal opera” thing really took off. Besides Avantasia and Ayreon, many projects were released, such as Dawnrider, Delany, Aina, Missa Mercuria and Soulspell. I’ve always been a huge fan of concept albums and when I saw all these projects with various singers, the idea of doing something like this as well slowly came to life. This must have been around 2006 but it took some more years until I could really start working on it. I like being in a band context but this was a different thing. For me it was a chance to work with various singers I liked and to do my part of conceptual storytelling with various voices. So I knew I couldn’t do it under the Elvenpath moniker and I decided to start another project. Thus Lucid Dreaming was born.
The Lucid Dreaming and ‘The Chronicles’ concept is based on the fantasy pentalogy ‘The Chronicles of Prydain’ by Lloyd Alexander. I honestly admit that I am not familiar with this chronicle. Please explain a bit what influence these books have had on you that you decided to dedicate a whole project to them.
‘The Chronicles of Prydain’ is a pentalogy of five fantasy novels, written by Lloyd Alexander and published in the 1960s. The main character Taran grows up on a farm, not knowing his origins. While we read the novels, we watch him grow up, meet a lot of characters, experience many adventures and so become a man. It’s a fantasy mainly aimed at young readers but I guess many grown-ups love them too as it’s a good coming of age story as well.I first read these books as a child and loved them instantly, then read them again a few more times over the years. They are still among my favourite fantasy books.
However Lucid Dreaming wasn’t created especially to set these books to music. The idea of creating a conceptual project with various guest vocalists came first. Only when this was set, I thought about what story I could tell with such a project. And I remembered the ‘The Chronicles of Prydain’ and decided this would be a good subject as the characters are really well written and can be expressed well through singing. And as far as I know, the books haven’t been exploited by any other band yet.
Let’s talk about the music. In general and when we look at it black and white, so to speak, Lucid Dreaming can be categorized under melodic power metal. Can you tell us a bit about your influences and how you wanted to interpret them with the concept?
I have quite a broad taste in music and the older I get, the more varied it becomes. My main influences are traditional heavy metal and power metal. That will always be no. 1 for me. But I also like doom, prog, death, black, Viking and folk metal. Outside of the Metal scene, I’m a huge folk fan, I also like classical music and film scores, there’s even some pop or electronic music which I like. There’s so much good music out there and except for hip-hop, Schlager and jazz I can find something for me almost everywhere.
Besides music, there are other influences. I have quite an interest in history, fantasy, horror and all kinds of obscure and weird things. Heavy metal is just the perfect musical frame for this. Lucid Dreaming is the sum of it all I guess. While power metal is the main ingredient in my music, you can hear some other influences too. There’s some folk here, some prog there, and some nice surprises but I believe they all fit in well.
Although both records can be labeled as epic power metal, the first album was more power metal-oriented, and at some points a bit too cliché. Not that there is anything wrong with that, because I LOVE clichés, haha. How do you look back on the first album, and putting your hands on a project such as this?
I noticed that recording a solo album with plenty of guest musicians is a lot more work than recording a band album! And the more people there are involved, the longer it will take because of course everybody’s busy with their own bands, day jobs etc. I often had to be patient for many months until somebody would finally deliver his/her parts. But that’s the way it is. I still like the first album very much and I’m proud of it. Speaking of power metal clichés, they’re part of it all. Some parts on the album might seem quite cliché, maybe even kitsch, but they all belong where they are and they fit the songs well. Some melodies might sound cheesy to the listener but I don’t mind. It’s still a metal album after all.
I can imagine that putting together a concept album is a hell of a lot of work, especially you’re your dealing with so many different musicians. Especially on vocal matters I can imagine it was quite an effort to choose the right singer for the character. Please explain how you experienced this on the first album, and how it affected your methods when you started working on the new album.
The important thing for me was that every vocalist portrays one character in the story. This means that he shouldn’t only be a good singer; his voice should also be fitting for the character. That’s like casting an actor for a movie. You can’t shoot Titanic and use Sean Connery for the role of a young lover, even though Connery is a world class actor. So I thought a lot about how I envisioned the characters, what kinds of voices they should have. Then I browsed my CD collection and thought about different vocalists whom I could ask. Luckily I have an extensive network of musicians and it wasn’t too hard to find the right people for each character. On the first album I almost exclusively used vocalists who I was already friends with. On the second album I dared to approach some vocalists who are somewhat better known and whom I didn’t know personally before. But the main factor was that the voice would fit the character. That’s also why I used some vocalists who normally aren’t associated with power metal. Would you ever have dreamt of hearing BigBoss of Root sing on a power metal album? But I love his music and his singing and getting him to lend Lucid Dreaming his voice was a dream coming true for me.
What did you want to do different on ‘The Chronicles Pt. II’ and what did you HAVE to do different musically in order to tell the tale accordingly? I mean you have paced down a bit in general on the new album. In my opinion there is a more straightforward approach and the emphasis lies more on the epic vibe. At the same time the music has also turned out more complex, which makes it a bit harder to digest than the first album…
The one thing I deliberately changed was my approach to the guitars. Looking back at the first album, I noticed that the guitar parts are often somewhat simple and a bit boring. Too many open chords and not enough riffs. That’s something I worked on and I’m definitely more satisfied with the guitars on the second album. And of course more real riffs mean more heaviness. Besides that, I didn’t really decide to slow down, become more epic or complex or whatever. It just happened. Of course if you’re working on a concept album you have to pay attention to what is happening in the story and the music must fit the lyrics and reflect the atmosphere in each chapter. But the story varies a lot and gave me plenty of liberty to put different vibes on the album. An example would be ‘My Land Of Pain’. The song is mostly straightforward, envisioning Taran and Gurgi roaming the lands, then meeting the old farmer Craddoc. Then there is a soft, acoustic part which symbolizes the three of them sitting by the fire in the evening, sharing stories. Here Craddoc reveals that he is Taran’s father; a very emotional moment. Taran’s long quest for his parentage seems to be over. But all of a sudden this tender moment is shattered by a thrash metal section with screaming solos…that’s the emotional turmoil Taran is going through upon learning the news. He is happy to finally have found his father and at the same time he knows that all his hopes that he might be of noble lineage (which he would have needed in order to marry his great love, the princess Eilonwy) are gone and he has to bid farewell to life as he knew it. But it’s definitely right that I love long and complex songs with many different parts. I’m not the kind of songwriter who will just throw in a few riffs and call it a song. I tend to work on a song for a long time, patiently working on all the details. And in the end the song will often be full of them, lots of melodies and effects that tell their part of the story.
Needless to say that a project like Lucid Dreaming is not uncommon in the scene. What is it in your opinion that distinguishes Lucid Dreaming from your colleagues?
I’d say most of these projects rely heavily on keyboards, “symphonic” elements and huge choirs. Nothing wrong with that but I wanted a more ballsy approach; more guitars and less keyboards. I wanted the music to be both heavy and melodic. Also, most of these projects seem to use largely the same vocalists. Lucid Dreaming is proof that there are more interesting singers out there and that the underground scene has a huge potential for talent and quality. It doesn’t always have to be Michael Kiske or Floor Jansen. In a nutshell, you could say that Lucid Dreaming is the underground’s answer to Avantasia.
Are there any plans to present Lucid Dreaming live stage on stage at some point? Of course bringing a project like this, whit so many different musicians involved would require a massive pre-production and a lot of planning, but has the idea crossed your mind?
The idea has been suggested by many people and it pops up in almost every interview, haha. But I guess that’s out of the question. It would of course be great to bring it all to the stage but as you say, that would require a lot of planning and money. I’d have to hire musicians for the gigs, all the vocalists would have to travel, stay somewhere and be fed and paid. It would not only cost plenty of money – which no promoter would be willing to hand over – but it would also consume so much time and energy that I simply have no interest but would rather put this effort into creating the next album. Lucid Dreaming was intended to be a studio project and will remain this way. Unless somebody pays me the same amount they pay Tobias Sammet, Lucid Dreaming will remain heavy metal for your living room, haha.
What can we expect next from Lucid Dreaming? I mean, seeing that ‘The Chronicles of Prydain’ is a pentalogy, can we expect at least three more albums?
There will be a third album dealing with ‘The Chronicles of Prydain’. But it has never been a goal to set the entire pentalogy to music. The first album covers the first two novels, the second one deals with the fourth one. But as this story features so many lovely characters I didn’t want to leave out, I couldn’t finish it on one album, so the third album will tell the rest of the fourth novel. The other two novels will remain uncovered. My aim is to release the third album in 2019 but don’t take this as a promise. This project certainly taught me that involving many people means waiting for many people, haha. So it should not be a big surprise if the record doesn’t come out before 2020. I would like to continue with Lucid Dreaming after that but it will certainly take some time before I take on that challenge. The one thing I’m sure of is that it will cover a different lyrical subject.
For the future albums, who are some of your dream musicians you’d like to collaborate with and involve in the project?
There are so many singers I adore and about half of them are already dead, haha. But if you’re talking about dream musicians, let me give you some names I’d love to have for Lucid Dreaming: Daniel Heiman, King Diamond, Udo Dirkschneider, Ian Anderson, Rob Halford, Blackie Lawless, Tarja Turunen and Loreena McKennitt. I doubt that even one of those people will be in any way available for me but we’re talking dream musicians, right? Thankfully there are many great vocalists in the underground scene who will be a lot easier to reach (and pay) for me. I firmly believe that the quality in the underground is not a lesser one than among the big bands.
Well, Till, I guess we can call it a day for now. Unless of course there is something left that you’d like to mention…
First off, thank you for giving me this space to introduce the readers to Lucid Dreaming. It’s been a pleasure. Thanks also to everybody who read all the way to the bottom! I would like to invite you to look up Lucid Dreaming on the www and if you like what you hear, please buy the album instead of downloading it for free. I won’t make the money I invested in this album back but any limit to the damage is welcome. Stay Metal!