Zachary Stevens’ debuted as the vocalist for Savatage on their 1993 critically acclaimed album Edge of Thorns. He would continue in his role with the group through the rest of the decade before departing for personal reasons. Zach returned as the frontman of his own group, Circle II Circle, in 2003. Their debut album, Watching in Silence had Zach teaming with his former bandmates Jon Oliva and Chris Caffery for the songwriting. Circle II Circle didn’t really make a dent in the U.S. metal scene, but they managed to have moderate success throughout Europe.
After a line-up change, Circle II Circle regrouped and released The Middle of Nowhere in 2005. The album was released in Europe six months before it made its way to the U.S. With a new DVD and album on the horizon, as well as an appearance on the rumored Savatage reunion CD, Zach took the time to fill us in on all the details.
If I knew absolutely nothing about Circle II Circle, how would describe the band’s music to me?
ZS: I’d say it’s like melodic classic metal, with a modern twist. It’s very vocal driven, but edgy.
Your latest CD The Middle of Nowhere has been out for a while overseas, what took so long for a US release?
ZS: You never know how the timing is going to be on that. Those decisions are made at the upper echelon. It’s kind of hard to figure out the marketing scheme sometimes.
So you’re saying that it’s because of the record company, and you really don’t have any control over it?
ZS: Yes. We can suggest stuff, but they’re always going to have the President of the company making those calls. That’s just the way it goes with those business things. We just don’t have much control over it.
Circle II Circle’s debut album was quite impressive; do you think that The Middle of Nowhere is on par with it?
ZS: Well, for a second record, I think it went where I wanted it to go. It’s a bit different, but in its own way, there two different entities right there. They’re just different animals. I think they’re both equally musical and powerful, just two different styles going on.
What would you say the style of the new record is?
ZS: It’s a little bit more toward rocking up tempo; a little more different themes going on. Watching in Silence was a little more thoughtful I guess.
I would say the first album (Watching in Silence) was more commercial metal. It sounded a bit like Savatage.
ZS: I think so too. There was so much influence from them. Working with the same producer, the piano player, and singer; you’re going to take some of that with you. Now were going into the third record and you’re going to see more growth. With that growth you’re going to see that influence that I had with Jon [Oliva] and Chris [Caffery], without trying to hide anything. I think we’ve make great music together. I looked at Circle II Circle at that time as a way to, if we can get together with these guys, it’s just another way to keep my music out there.
You have an entirely different line up of musicians on the new album, what happened to the guys that played on the first album?
ZS: Well, they’re Jon’s band now, which is very strange (laughs). They’re a local punk band and it’s almost like they come as a package. Your not going to separate one guy out of that group. I needed to go in a little bit different direction and our philosophies were not jiving. It was just one of those business moves that I had to make; one of those things for the long haul. It’s tough that I had to do that, but if it happens, you just have to take the hurdle and go with it. I have a lineup that’s very stable, and I know these guys will always be there unless someone croaks on me.
Are you touring in support of the new album?
ZS: Not right now. I’m working on putting something together in the U.S., but it will probably be in the fall. I’m thinking of incorporating stuff from the new record we’re working on. We’re playing in all the festivals in Europe next summer, and probably another big tour there. We always do a lot of touring over there. That’s where most of the good business is right now; the big crowds and big money, all that good stuff. I’ve done a lot of touring in the U.S. and it’s a whole different ball game. I want to get good music behind us. You can see a nice musical catalog being built with Circle II Circle.
You co-wrote two songs with Bernd Auffermann on the new Running Wild album, do you plan to collaborate with him in the future?
ZS: Yes, I would love to. We’ve been talking. He’s a great guy. I was over his house when I was on the last European tour. We were hanging out, drinking a few beers, and going over the tour. Hopefully we’ll get together and do it again. He’s staying busy. He’s got young kids, and more coming. I have an eight year old and a two year old. If I wasn’t living in Europe at the time, we wouldn’t have time to collaborate. I know what it’s like in his personal life. We all seem to have this life with kids. I’m glad I have this other side of me that is all music.
Chris Caffery and Jon Oliva played a role in the songwriting for the first Circle II Circle album, as well as the second. How was the songwriting process different when you were writing with them in Savatage?
ZS: We never had a chance to collaborate so much. All the top level decisions were going to be decided by Paul O’Neill. The writing was Paul and Jon collaborating, so rarely were you going to see Chris or myself. The writing team was already intact. I came in ’92, and they had been around for close to seven years. A lot of this is about us getting together again. It’s just Savatage hasn’t done much at all with Chris and Jon, and I had done some stuff with touring. Jeff [Plate] is in one of the touring companies of Trans-Siberian [Orchestra]. He lives in New York and I live in Florida, so it’s tough to get together. We’re all really great friends, so we’ve got to find some time to hang out.
The first thing I do when I see Jon, is give him that big old hug. It’s like hugging a bear in the woods. He’s my illegitimate dad, that’s always been the joke. The most important thing now is that everyone still gets along, and even when I left the band, it was they understood that I wanted to go form up a band. It’s different when you’re not the original singer of the band. You do a few records and go, I think I’ll take everything that I learned and go get my own record deal. That’s what I did. They said that they supported me, and that was good enough for me. I was in a pretty lucky situation, but it’s important to keep relationships. If they ever do anything and they need my help, I’ll be right there to help them out.
With so many former and current members of Savatage participating in Trans-Siberian Orchestra, have you ever been approached or been interested in taking part?
ZS: I was approached for the Christmas Eve and Other Stories album, and I did a lot of the vocal sessions; the backing vocals, producing, and compiling all the vocal tracks to get the best recording as possible. That’s stuff that, back in those days, where done on Pro Tools. Now it’s a little bit different. Paul likes to do like eight or nine tracks of vocals, then you go back and see which is the magical moment. He captures a lot of magic like that. Back before Pro Tools, there was quite a process of putting together things from nine different combinations of words. With unlimited words you’re talking millions of different combinations.
Have they asked you to do the holiday tour?
ZS: They have, but you know, GOD it’s hard to just get out and go. I think it’s definitely going to happen, but lately what’s been happening is like…with the Circle II Circle stuff… is all the guys are putting together the music for the next [TSO] record and that kind of got right in the middle of this past [Circle II Circle] one. And before that, I was dead in the middle of it. When they start I’ve always been working with Circle, and the other times I would have my family at the holidays.
Maybe when the kids get a little older? You can’t really just jump in and go boom. Kids are a huge thing, and when they get over a certain age, it gets a little bit different. At least then they can come with me on tour. I love the [TSO] show. I’ve seen it several times. It’s a real entertaining story of narration and powerful music. It’s unbelievable! I’m glad I worked on a good one, and got a nice gold record on the wall. I’ve basically worked on all of them, but more from a production sense.
There’s a rumor going around that the current Savatage vocalist may be leaving? Have you been approached to return at all?
ZS: No, not to this point.
Would you consider it?
ZS: I would. I always told them if they need any help, I would be there, as they have helped me a lot with my stuff. It only makes sense. It hasn’t been presented to me, but they know that I’m there to help. That would be awesome. I don’t know exactly what would work. Would they bring everybody in and reunite them? There are so many different combinations of players.
Have you been contacted to participate in the 25th Anniversary Savatage CD that keeps getting mentioned?
ZS: Yeah, we’ve talked about that.
ZS: I think it’s just pretty much in the planning stages. We had initial talks, but it been a few months. It’s still kind of early I guess. It’s supposed to be out next year I think.
Back in April 2005 there was report that there was footage being put together to do a DVD for Circle to Circle. Is this true, and is there a time frame for it?
ZS: We’re building up all the material. They’re talking about putting it out for the next record. The goal right now is; in April, May or June to have that [DVD] come out with the new record. So we just keep compiling footage from whatever cameras we have; tour stuff, stuff off the road, talking, or just hanging out.
Based on your own perception is the metal scene in the U.S. coming back, or is it getting weaker?
ZS: It definitely has a chance to come back. There has been some good strides towards it, but it’s going to be different now.
Who do you see in the metal scene today that has a chance at being the next big success?
ZS: Right now I would probably say Disturbed has the potential. They’re hitting on all that modern sound. You know, sound effects, real melodic, and the singing is real powerful, up in the high ranges. I love that stuff. It’s real funky, but again real heavy metal, commercial, and progressive. It’s everything kind of rolled up in one.
To me, I kind of think you can go that way, but for me I’m from the school that’s traditional. I’m going to keep reminding everyone of my old school influences. My band has modern elements as well, and I’m adding a lot of modern elements, especially from the rhythm section standpoint. I want to keep it original to the original fathers of metal; to pay homage and not forget where I came from.
What’s the story with the Circle II Circle website? It seems to be perpetually under construction.
ZS: (Laughter) Well, it’s coming out soon! Really, we found that we only needed one page right now in between records. We just post information on it. Along with the release of the next record, you will see the new site. It’s pretty cool. The other site had way too much junk on it. It had too many pictures and archives, and it was ridiculous.
You only need four to five pages for a really well covered metal band. We have some really cool animation software, so when you go from page to page, some cool shit happens. A few pictures of the latest tour, some announcements, the pictures of the record, a discography, a bio; it will all be included. I’m pretty excited about it. It’s simple, but effective.
You keep mentioning a third Circle II Circle album, how far are you into the production of it?
ZS: Basically, it will be twelve songs and it will have two bonus tracks. Right now four songs are completely mixed and mastered. We just need to work with the next eight. Three of the [finished] songs will be on the record, and one will be a bonus track. We are there we pretty much. We’re writing a bunch to see what the final cut is, and what makes it on the album. I’m excited about the first stuff, it’s cool.
Do you have a target date in mind for a release?
ZS: We’re trying for the end of April to turn it in; so we’re are talking June for a release date.
Do you have a working title for the album yet?
ZS: No I don’t, but if I did have something, I would give it to you.Powered by Sidelines