Former SAVATAGE and current ARCHON ANGEL vocalist Zak Stevens recently spoke with Jeff Gaudiosi of MisplacedStraws.com. The full conversation can be streamed at this location. A few excerpts follow (as transcribed by MisplacedStraws.com and BLABBERMOUTH.NET).
On joining forces with Italian guitarist Aldo Lonobile in ARCHON ANGEL:
Zak: "We both kind of had the same style — very relaxed, and we just like to get stuff done. I think we worked efficiently together more than anything. Of course, we can't work in the same country, so you have to be efficient when you do everything, but with technology today, sending files and file-sharing is no problem. I basically just was working with him for the first time on TIMO TOLKKI'S AVALON on the 'Return To Eden' album... That's kind of how this whole relationship came together — I was working with Aldo on 'Return To Eden', and I'm recording in Michigan, and he's writing songs with Timo out of Italy, and everybody's just kind of all around the world. We just kind of hit it off and have a very good working relationship and kind of see things the same way, similar ear, so I think the label kind of picked up on that and they asked us if we'd like to do a project together. I know that Frontiers has a lot of project bands, where you do a project but you're not necessarily a real band [and] you don't go out playing shows. I thought that's what they had in mind, but Aldo was a big proponent of getting out there [and] kind of making it a little bit more — make it like a real band and go out and play shows and stuff like that. That's what we're both used to, so I think that was it another point where we came together in agreement and also in philosophy. If you're going to do something, do it the right way — be a real band and go play shows."
On the group's debut album, "Fallen":
Zak: "We just started writing everything from scratch. It took probably the first three months, the first quarter of 2019 to get songs coming in. We had a good batch in the beginning, and then, naturally, you write about five or six [more]. We have writers inside the band, outside the band, a big team of people — my wife Katherine writing the lyrics, coming up with the concept, even the band name. We had a big team of people getting their heads together, which is good. I kind of like a big team effort these days — I think it puts everybody in control of the things that they do best."
On the best lesson he learned from late SAVATAGE producer and TRANS-SIBERIAN ORCHESTRA mastermind Paul O'Neill:
Zak: "He had so much wisdom when it came to the business, and just little things that he would say... One of them was, 'Young Zachary, let me tell you something. It's all about the album. If you don't try to make the best album possible, then none of the other stuff matters, because it won't magically come together.' If you scramble and scramble up a record and throw it together and piecemeal a bunch of junk, and you're thinking about how fun it is going to be on tour, the tour probably won't even happen. You have to really concentrate on making the best product that you can, and you do whatever it takes to do it."
On working behind the scenes with TRANS-SIBERIAN ORCHESTRA during TSO's early years:
Zak: "[Paul] said, 'We're going to have to start a brand new thing, which is dedicated to only Christmas music'... In the beginning, it was, like, 'Well, we can't look just like SAVATAGE, so unfortunately young Zachary, if you don't mind, sing back-up vocals on the records but don't come out [in front]. I can't really have you coming out singing two or three songs on the record because it's going to look like SAVATAGE. People will say, 'What's the difference?' I said, 'I get it. Bring in a bunch of Broadway performers.' I kind of started knowing that I had to have a little bit more of a background role. I don't know if it's a positive or a negative. I was still participating in everything, but just by virtue of my position in SAVATAGE, [we] could not come out looking just like SAVATAGE."
On how SAVATAGE's 2015 reunion set at Germany's Wacken Open Air festival led to an invitation to join one of TSO's touring troupes:
Zak: "When Wacken said, 'We want to have, for the first time, both of our main stages fired up, and we want to have TSO and SAVATAGE playing at the same time,' that got Paul very interested. He was always interested in breaking records... He liked to be the first, with the most, with the best, with the crazy fog it, smoke it, blow it up-type idea. That was a great time for me as a lead vocalist of SAVATAGE — one of the two, along with Jon Oliva — to come back and give everybody what they wanted to see in front of 90,000 people... It was a good time to come back, and [Paul] said, 'Hey, if you're going to come back and do this, you might as well just come out and tour with TSO. Are you ready to come on back full time? 'I said, 'You know, it's the right time.'"
On the third TSO troupe rumored to debut in 2020:
Zak: "We really have a tight bond within the bands — that's with an 's.' And now it's not only two — it's three bands now. They made the announcement they're adding a third band. ... I don't know a lot about it right now. My guess is [that] there's places in the middle of the country that don't get reached by both bands trying to expand out from the West Coast and the East Coast, left and right, going to the center... You're going to miss things in the middle, and also there are so many venues in the middle of the country that don't have the big markets. They don't have the ability to get 12,000 to 15,000 people two times a day like we enjoy on the East Coast, which is really the true market of the band. This is going to be, from what I can tell, being able to play the venues, maybe 6,000 to 8,000 [capacity], in the smaller markets where it just doesn't make sense to try to book an arena show. And sometimes the venues around the areas that this band will play, that's the only venue. So that's the top seating capacity. So I think it's a cool idea, and I think it's a good business model. And we're gonna see. I'll be just like you, seeing all the details as they unfold."
On TSO incorporating more SAVATAGE songs into its concerts:
Zak: "I think it means so much to us. I feel my most comfortable singing them. It's just where I come from. I feel like it's like being thrust right back into the days of SAVATAGE, into the original time. I hope that there's time to come for SAVATAGE, I really do. I hope that those days of making records and performing are not over by any stretch of the imagination. It's a sentiment shared by the guys in the band... I'm staying positive about it. Playing the songs in TSO is the next-best thing, and it feels just like SAVATAGE... When I'm actually in the moment, in the song singing it, there is no difference. It feels like SAVATAGE to me."
ARCHON ANGEL's debut album, "Fallen", will be released on February 14 by Frontiers Music Srl. The group made its live debut on last month's 70000 Tons Of Metal cruise.
Zak Stevens image courtesy of YouTube user "squintyt4e"