We've got something a little different for the Sword and Laser readers today! I know we usually focus on science fiction and fantasy books (and, of course, the authors who write them) but when EPIC RUINS came to my attention, I knew we needed to take a closer listen.
We've delved a little bit into the relationship between the music world and fantasy themes, but there haven't been too many current bands that have truly made it an integral part of their identity. Instead of trying (ineffectually) to explain EPIC RUINS to you, I'll let the band speak for themselves:
What is EPIC RUINS? How would you describe the music to someone who has never heard it before?
Jordan: EPIC RUINS is a band of boys either living in or originally from Fort Worth, TX whose members are Jordan Richardson (drums, guitars, synth) Steve Steward (bass, synth) Sam Anderson (vocals, guitars) and Jeff Dazey (saxophone) with songs written by Richardson and Steward, respectively. Other crucial cast-wizards on this album include "Big" Mike Richardson (throat cutting guitar solos and keys), Kevin Aldridge (backing vocals, guitar), Justin Pate (organ, backing vocals), Walker Wood (synth grumblings), Kerry Dean (backing vocals), Ray Liberio (backing vocals), Teresa Marie (backing vocals), and Jordan Roberts (harmonium time travel). It is truly an all-star cast, rich with talent from a super exciting creative place known as Fort Worth...but more specifically known as Fort Wizard.
The name of the album is The Void Mariner and the Mystic Boogie of the Sacred Line.
Semantics out of the way, first and foremost, we're a rock band trying to make classic rock music. We had this idea when Steve and I started conceptualizing the whole thing, that is, to essentially make the music that we had been waiting to hear. We wanted it to rock, and be heavy, yet we also wanted it to be mystic and psychedelic. We wanted it to be spacey and delicate when appropriate and most importantly we wanted to tell a fantastic story. I guess I'd describe the music as bold: weird but attainable. If I had to make comparisons to other stuff I guess Id say EPIC RUINS is maybe something like Pink Floyd if they were from East Texas. Hopefully its a joint passing sonic refuge that you can file somewhere between Black Sabbath, Pentagram, Weather Report and odd 70s soundtrack music.
And from early on in the process of making the album, we knew we wanted to make it into a film, which is the next chapter coming in the EPIC RUINS story, so-to-speak.
Steve: I tell people it’s “Texas Space Rock,” and if that still draws a blank, I tell them “Pink Sabbath.” I like to think of it as ‘70s rock from an alternate universe, one in which Jimi Hendrix dies of prostate cancer in 1991 and Willow is a critical and commercial hit.
Between all your various projects (and Jordan touring with Ben Harper and the Relentless7), how do you find time to work on another music project like this?
Steve: It’s a lot easier to do when the emphasis is on an album rather than rehearsing and booking shows. When we’re all able to get together, the focus comes from knowing that the next session might not happen for a month or two.
Jordan: Ive had the most insane and action packed and wonderful year. Ive had the chance to tour the world a couple times with BHR7 and most recently we backed up Ringo Starr on his promotional tour for his new record. Its been a dream come true and with EPIC RUINS I get a chance to realize all the things Ive wanted to do with my great brethren in my home town and beyond... So needless to say, every break I got from touring and my life in LA in the second half of 2009, I was on a plane heading to Fort Worth.
Give us a little backstory on the album and how it came to be.
Jordan: Typically, its taxing and annoying to talk too much about the music you want to make, because a lot of times that can squeeze the urgency out of it when you actually go to create, but in this case, it was necessary to lay the ground work for this band and record far in advance....Partially, cuz me and Steve live several large states away from each other and are also busy boys with other projects, but also because we wanted to create a basic narrative idea first, and then make the album. A few years ago, our tastes were expanding beyond what our then current bands were writing and we started geeking out about our love for 70s rock music....especially conceptual albums that pushed the scale and definition of what making a record meant.
Steve, a consummate storyteller, had begun to develop this character, Ashera (more on her from Steve) and I was dying to formulate a group of songs with a common sonic and lyrical thread. I'm originally from Fort Worth, TX and know Steve from bands in College and after. I live in LA now, while Steve is still in Fort Worth. Steve introduced me to Sam Anderson about a year ago and I immediately fell in love with his voice and his general bad ass-edness. With these crucial pieces now together we decided last summer it was as good a time as any to start work on the record. We set some studio dates, having no songs written together, other than individual ideas, and forged ahead. I took a flight straight from Chicago after Lollapalooza and headed to Fort Worth to start work... We showed each other song sketches recorded on cell phones and read to each other lyrics from our notebooks. We worked overnight, typically from about 2am til sun-up having haggard jams and molding these sketches into songs.
Steve: Jordan was producing and engineering the last album by my old band, Darth Vato, and while we were messing around during a break, we came up with this song called “Dunk Conquest.” And we decided to make a weird rock band at some point in the future. Then a couple of years happened. We started talking about our ideas and sending riffs back and forth to each other during the end of 2008. In August of last year, we started piecing together all the fragments. We’d get to the jam room around midnight and go until the sun came up, and when we had the ideas somewhat structured, we went into a studio and carved them into songs, kind of drafting friends of ours who had a particular voice or style that served our songs. By the time we got into the studio, we’d found the story and decided to make a concept album about it.
Jordan: We recorded the record when we had time, over a few months from August-December, with 3-4 day sessions at a time. We were mixing the finished songs in LA with Danny Kalb (Ben Harper, Relentless7, Beck, Rilo Kiley) while writing the next tunes that would be recorded. In total, we wrote, recorded and mixed the album in 19 days.
You guys obviously have a huge love for all things fantasy, what are some of your favorites? Books, films, games, etc.
Steve: My favorite fantasy films include Conan the Barbarian, The Beastmaster, War Goddess, The Ray Harryhausen Sinbad movies, The Neverending Story. I’m a sucker for anything with an ancient temple it in. Holy Mountain, El Topo and Zardoz are big influences on me, too. I am also a fan of Star Wars and the Buck Rogers TV series, as well as movies like Starcrash and Planet of the Vampires. I love Robert E. Howard’s Conan stories, and I like the backstory and world of Elric—I just have a hard time reading Michael Moorcock because his dialogue is terrible. I also read a lot of Stephen King. As for games, I’ve always been drawn to fantasy-inspired action/adventure games like Zelda and especially Rygar. I’m a huge fan of Morrowind and Oblivion. I wish Bethesda would have made The Elder Scrolls V instead of Fallout 3. (Ed-- I'd take both!)
Jordan: My favorite book is Meditations by Marcus Aurelius, which I first read under Daniel Stessen's suggestion. Its the wildest thing Ive ever read. Also, I really trip out on mythology and the Old Testament as well. I really love the idea of these other fantastic worlds that existed on this earth. Holy Mountain and Cloak and Dagger are my favorite movies. GAUNTLET for N.E.S. is my favorite video game.
Which came first, EPIC RUINS or Ashera: Twin Blades of Doom? How far do you plan to take this universe you've created?
Steve: The idea to make an album predates Ashera, but I had her kicking around in my head for a while before we started recording. She came into EPIC RUINS when we started piecing together the narrative behind the album, and when he had a better idea of what the album’s story was, I was able to cut some knots I’d run into in Ashera’s story. I’ve always envisioned Ashera as a comic book, but one where there’s some finality. Maybe she finally meets her match or maybe she grows old and dies, but there are some ideas I want to get across and a lot of those have to do with her coming to grips with her own mortality. More than that, though, Ashera is the commonality among 5 movie ideas and a TV show, which are all part of the WIZARDVIZION universe.
The Void Mariner seems to be the character inspiration for the album. Does he show up in Ashera at all, or is he a stand-alone character for the album?
Steve: The Void Mariner and Ashera share a common enemy. For him, the conflict is one step closer to his ultimate showdown, but for her, the villain is the main event. He’ll be in the Ashera movie, but he’s definitely a supporting character. In the album, the Void Mariner’s adventure with Ashera is just one more episode he remembers while he’s reflecting on his life. She definitely leaves her mark on him, though.
When can we expect to see the album come out? The film?
Jordan: I think the album will be available for consumption by late spring, but we are going to start leaking it on the internets soonish. The, "record business" is now sort of the Wild West and all rules of the past are off. With a common sense knowledge of this, and a real desire to push boundaries and be current, we aren't going to do the old traditional "press 1000 Cd's, and try and sell them at shows" dinosaur practice....First off, following in practice of our favorite decade, the 70's, we're going to make a vinyl pressing and pre-sell them on the our sites. Other than that, our plan is to do weird and exciting and hopefully innovative things online and literally in alleys behind bars and other places out in the wild to get the music out to people. For super cheap. We also want to make our live shows events, and play in interesting places and spaces.
And Because of the plans for the film, we see finishing the album as just the next step in our ultimate plan of the WIZARDVISION Universe. This is a pretty exciting realization for a rock band, where finishing an album can sometimes bring a feeling reminiscent of the day after Christmas. You work so hard and then its done...It can be scary knowing you have a finished piece of art and no way to know if people are going to hear it. In our case, we are super excited about a new set of challenges in trying to get a film off the ground that's made specifically for and in conjunction with our album . Its two representations of the same story: visual and aural. That's a new concept that we couldn't be more on fire about.
The film is written by Steve and myself and will be directed by Daniel Stessen. We're going to start shooting late spring. We've never tried to put a movie out, but we have a load of incredible people that are helping us get it done, so I can say hopefully it will be ready for people to see by early 2011, if not late this year.
The EPIC RUINS Void Mariner movie will serve as a "filmtrack" for the album and vice versa. 7 individual clips for 7 individual songs with an ongoing and complete storyline throughout the film.
Steve: The album should be out late spring/early summer. The film is in development, so sometime between now and the end of the world. Hopefully closer to now.
Anything else you'd like to add for our readers?
Steve: When you hear the EPIC RUINS album, I suggest good speakers, low lighting and a comfortable seat. Allow yourself an uninterrupted 40 minutes or so. Some cannabis wouldn’t hurt, either.
Jordan: The most exciting and special part of the record is that every single note has a purpose and meaning crucial to both the sonic and narrative parts of the story. And much of that was not intentional. It sounds cliche and silly, but there really was some cosmic shit and serendipity happening. But I think that's not hard to believe when you realize that this record was made by a bunch of drinking buddies, some who've known each other for over a decade. Like brothers (and one sister) reuniting, and the party favor you get to take home at the end is a wicked album made by people that believe in the power of storytelling.
People over use the word "epic". We do our best to use it sincerely.
"Child and Cobra" -- Later in the album, the main character, the Void Mariner, recalls a fable about the "Child and Cobra" that he heard in his formative years ...Recalling these memories further confirms his desire to later face his one time best friend and now rival, Belzel, in a final showdown that wraps up the record.
"Sacred Line" . This is the opening track on the album. Lyrically and instrumentally, it sort of works as an overture for the the album, introducing the ideas behind the power of the Sacred Line is and how that power drives the characters throughout the rest of the record.