Cage: Destroying Hell Once Again.
San Diego based metal band Cage don't short change fans when it comes to quality material and an all-round quality package. The new album is Hell Destroyer and frontman Sean Peck talks things over...
How are things with you mate?
I'm in beautiful San Diego, CA which you can relate to being where you're at. It's another wonderful day to be alive man, you know how it is.
I want to do the interview as a sort of introduction to the band - just for those who are on my site and might be more melodically minded and haven't been exposed to the band. You been around for several years now and you're making a good name for yourselves but where did it start?
Well basically, two bands in San Diego broke up. The bands were Nomad and Crusher. They were both kind of like heavy metal or power metal bands back in the early nineties. Members of both of those bands came together to form cage. It's funny because we just released online the old material from both of those bands on iTunes so people can go back and hear like where everything came from.
Yeah I saw that. That's cool.
Yeah, we figured since we had everything archived our American label DA Records said let's put that out and make some money on it. So we said, you know what, let's do it. It's kinda cool that that stuff didn't go to waste and we've got kind of a legacy because both bands were really good back in their day. So those two bands broke up and the band was formed based on a love for heavy metal itself. I was to the point where, being in America, it was hard to find any new heavy metal sound like we were just coming out of and the band Fight, you know Halford's one word band was kinda really the blueprint that we created this thing to sound like. That really, like I said, was a blueprint and we wrote songs really just for the self satisfaction of it. That's really kinda how we still approach songwriting is just to create stuff that you like to listen to yourself and if people liked it that's great. One of the things was we were fighting the grunge movement and a lot of our fellow people that were in local metal bands were no fully chasing the grunge movement. But we stuck to our guns. We were still wearing leather and studs and screaming and people were going 'people don't sing like that any more'. So whenever anyone came through town that was in that genre there was really no one left to open for them, so we got some really amazing opening slots and got to really hone our live show because we were playing in front of big crowds early on when we really weren't that good. (Laughter)
When you really weren't that good.
(Laughter) Yeah, we really weren't that good. We were OK, but it really the songs that weren't up to par.
You've definitely developed. In reviewing all three of your albums there's been a strong sort of a jump there. I think to describe you in one word it's authentic.
I like it.
You like that?
I love it and I have to agree with it. You listen to God knows how many albums all the time and a lot of people have attempted to capture the classic heavy metal sound of the masters and bring it forward into today. I think we're one of the very few that have been able to do it and maintain an authentic sound. It's original because it doesn't sound necessarily like anybody but it kinda sounds like everybody.
Yeah, you have that classic sound.
Yeah, and it's a sound that people can, well since that kind of music was the foundation of all heavy metal we're playing a lot of shows here in southern California with a lot of metal core bands and the young people really get into it because it's the roots from which all of that metal derived and there's still a lot in that music that they enjoy and appreciate.
So who are you are your primary influences? Some of them come through fairly clearly in the music, but personally who are you influences?
Well I'd have to say of course Judas Priest, Iron Maiden, you know, Wasp has a lot that we like, a lot of song elements that we like. I'm a real big fan of the first two Crimson Glory albums which I thought were some of the best metal for that kind of genre. King Diamond is a big influence because of the music, the story telling and the different voices that are employed. Then you know some thrashier stuff like Testament and I have to say some Slayer. Then some of the classic stuff like Black Sabbath, we have some songs that are in that vein. I like stuff like Lizzy Borden. Our songwriting, we go for songs that like have the potential to be like all time classics. You know, I work real estate, but sometimes we remodel a house and we put the classic rock station on all day long. It just makes you realize that some of these songs like from Bad Company or Foreigner or whatever are gonna be played on the radio of like the next hundred years. These songs are so great they'll be played over and over and they'll keep playing them and that's how we try to approach our songwriting. We're trying to make songs that will be memorable and will withstand the test of time no matter what musical genres come and go.
You play a lot of shows. Is there a good metal following these days in San Diego?
Metal here in America, in Southern California is probably more healthy than it's been since the heyday. We have little kids, we're playing to all ages now because the kids just come out in droves and the energy that they put into it really pumps you up. You've got like kids that are like 14 to 16 years old and they're just like fighting their way to the front and banging their heads. It really pumps you, like I remember when I was that age that's the way I was. I'd fight anything I had to fight to get the front of the Judas Priest stage. They're putting their heads down and they don't even look at you for the whole hour that you play. They're just banging and their hair's flying everywhere. Like I said I love playing with these metal core bands and these emo because with what we do we come off just amazing because it makes that style of music look so one dimensional and the kids really appreciate that. Now the kids just come packing in there and they've got Blind Guardians shirts on, they've got Judas Priest shirts on, and all that stuff like a lot of European power metal. There's quite a good scene here now in southern California and America in general is really healthy for this style right now.
Even with what I cover everything is more metal these days. I started out as an AOR sort of site but you expand with the territory and there's a lot more melodic metal out there than anything else probably.
Our label is kind of expanding into metal because of its popularity and they were very excited to get this album and to get Cage and for everything that we stand for because even though in Europe we're still an underground band the people who are into it have a lot of respect and hold us in very high regard. You can see that from the critical acclaim that we always get with every album.
Yes, absolutely there's resounding positivity out there for you. Any live shows in Europe possible? Yeah, we have a new booking agent in Europe. It's the first time we've had booking agent there and now there's a decent market for us. I'm old now and I'm not willing to go on the Winnebago and sell t-shirts and live on macaroni and cheese. I was into that for the first album, but now it's not really what we're excited about. But we have a couple festivals that are paying us pretty good next April so we're going to try to book a couple dates around that. With the agent some of the big festivals next summer are starting to really respond to us because this album has gotten so much praise. There's kind of a buzz back with Cage again in Europe. We had a four year drought out there. We hit this big home run with Darker Than Black out there and everybody thought we were the greatest thing ever. Then we disappear for the next four years until we come out with another amazing record and now everyone's, all these interviewers are like 'Where have you guys been for the last four years?'.
Is there a reason why? I know it's hard to maintain a full time presence in a band and record an album every year anyway.
There's a bunch of reasons. There was stuff that went on behind the scenes but the main think was that it took us a long time to write this record because, number 1, it's super long. It barely fits on one CD. It could have been two albums. We probably rewrote a lot of the songs four or five times because I'm really into the quality control and I can't tell you how many times I've walked into the studio and scrapped a song that people thought was great. Then one of the things we do that a lot of people don't do is we take a new songs and we play it out live a few times to test it to the audience to make sure that it's got that element to it. So between that, pre-producing it and really wanting to make this concept album something special I wanted to set the new standard for concept albums and not just have this vague story that no one gave a shit about. I wanted to take the ultimate story that ever was, the battle between good and evil, and the end of mankind and completely cover it from head to toe, fully illustrate the booklet like we have and really present a package that was, you know. Since Judas Priest and others were coming out with their concept albums I wanted to get the first shot off and let them be the ones that had to play catch up and live up to the Cage Hell Destroyer standard. So I took the time to really get something out that would be able to surpass Darker Than Black, which you know most people thought was, I think we got like ten different album of the year awards on that album. People were like 'Oh you'll never top that one, that was too great.' And we were able to do it, but it took time. We will sell no wine before it's time, you know how that goes.
Yeah, well tell me, I get what you're saying there as far as your desire to make this album bigger and better, and obviously you did pick the most legendary story of all time, do you have a few thoughts behind that?
Behind the story, the concept?
Behind the story and why that appealed to you.
I've always been into the religious conspiracy thing, you know. I'm big on the UFOs and psychics, the conspiracy stuff because it's great metal material. For the first three albums I had pretty much covered every one that there was, you know, so it was time for the next album and I was running out of ideas. I'm like going 'Jesus, what are we gonna do'. So I still hadn't done a story on Bigfoot or the Loch Ness monster but Judas Priest beat me to that one so I came up with the title Hell Destroyer and it just sounded so metal that everyone just loved it. I mean, what sounds more metal than Hell Destroyer? Not much, so we dug the whole idea so I started putting together the story. I wanted to do a concept album back on our second album Astrology, but again, having Operation Mindcrime or King Diamond's Abigail being the standard for what a concept album should be in that genre, I said well OK, we can start from scratch and really go for it. Then I started putting together the story about the Hell Destroyer is God's most fearsome battle angel and I just had this vision of him going into like Hell City and him being huge. I mean he's like Godzilla and he's just smashing towers. I'm a big comic book fan. I just came back from the International Comic Convention this weekend in San Diego.
Oh yeah, I saw that.
It's like the center of pop culture right now. I mean, every movie studio, every television show, it's huge. I talked to a pretty major company about selling the rights to Hell Destroyer story to make a full graphic novel of it. So that's in the works. A lot of people were impressed with the story and impressed with the artwork of the cover and the inside. So came I up with that vision of that powerful vision of destruction and also one of goals for this album was to make God's side of things look more bad assed than all of the Satanist images that are in metal today, Dimmu Borger whatever. Every band's trying to be like, 'We're more evil than you', 'No no no we're more Satanic, can't you see', 'No we're the most Satanic band of all', so it gets a little ridiculous after a while. I tried to take the opposite approach and make this character just look so damned vicious that all these demons were absolutely terrified and they're just getting laid to waste by the thousands. So Mark who does all of Rob Halford's stuff and did some Dio covers made the cover and he really did a fantastic job. He really transferred that image of destruction and violence that I wanted onto real life. Then I just took a bunch of, you know a lot of research went into to it. It's what I've done on all my albums. I really do a lot of research. It's kind of like how Maiden entertains and educates that the same time. I'm really into that and so when we did Revelations I read that several times and took that story along with some comic book ideas that I had for this Hell Destroyer character along with some conspiracy theory stuff like the Bohemian grove which is a fascinating thing. And I kind of melded it all together and I started working with this interior artist, Forrest Butler, and the more I came up with the story the more we were brainstorming on how it could be. So I started writing it out and I presented it to the band and they absolutely loved it. We decided to go with it and the more people I told about it the more people were into it and we got it fully illustrated. Initially it was going to be an entire comic book but my artist was just too slow.
How long did he spend on it anyway? It's an immense cover, an immense bit of art work.
Initially we were working with SPV and I said I wanted to package it like as a comic book in a plastic wrap with a CD kind of placed in the middle of it. SPV said they had no way to distribute a product like that, to put it on the stands. So we had to kind of abandon that and press this 30 page booklet hoping it would fit into the plastic little tabs.
It only just does.
(laughter) Yeah we had to squeeze it in there. Some people were like 'We don't want to print a 30 page booklet' then when MTM saw it they were like completely blown away by just the beauty of it. I bill it as the first ever heavy metal graphic novel. I thought it was a really clever idea and I keep touting that when it comes to this style of music you can only innovate the music so much. I mean it's already all been done. All the notes have been hit and if you go too much innovative musically you come into a real progressive delivery and you just lose the essence of the kind of style that I try to do where you have a memorable song with powerful mean ass vocal melodies. So I try and innovate in the idea department. So I thought this was a real innovation in the idea department along with the bonus track King Diamond, I thought that was a real clever little trick that we did too. That's why I sang some songs in other languages and stuff. I try and, you know, intellectually present clever ideas and make the packaging as great as possible so that people have a reason to buy the hardcopy of the CD and not get it online all the time.
It's nice to actually get a complete package. I still love getting the hardcopies.
I just remember when I was like 16 years old and I'd go to buy a Judas Priest album and I pull it out and listen to it like 10 times in a row and I read every single word in the thanks, the credits, the lyrics, every single thing and I'd just lay there in my room and transport myself away into this metal fantasy land. I really wanted to transport someone away and to completely forget about everything except Cage and this whole apocalyptic vision of what it would really be like if Revelations is true and the end of the world's coming and stuff. Writing and
presenting all this from just being a metal fan what I would dig as a metal fan and that's what we try and put out.
Have you had any feedback, of course you've had the usual sources, but any unusual or unexpected feedback from the record so far?
We're so spoiled because all four albums have been like the greatest reviews you could really ever have. Like 'This is the greatest metal album ever' the reviews that we get are so good there just absolutely ridiculous. I mean 'Genre defining album,' 'Album of the Year,' you know, we're so spoiled. We've got like two reviewers in Italy that gave it like 4 out of 10. I was just like completely flabbergasted. Some people have said it's too long. I've gotten the comments that it's too long of a record. I could never understand. I never got an album from one of my favorites bands and said it was really great but I wish it was shorter. I just don't understand the concept of that. That would be the only strange criticism but everything else has been really amazed by the vocals. They're comparing me to the Halfords and the Rippers and that's really great. The main thing we get is that it's like Painkiller too and since that is kind of the standard for our genre that's really an honor. It makes you feel good when you put all this work and time into a record and people come out and say this is like Painkiller II or this is the album Judas Priest should have put out and it's real gratifying.
Yeah, it's hard for the old guys, in a lot of case, to recapture what the fans want, so if you can do that
To really capture, what was that?
What they used to be about, like the Judas Priests, hard for the old guys to go back 20 years to recapture what fans may want from them.
There's certain magic to certain compositions and albums and I think we've hit it on the mark like 4 times in a row now. I think we're one of the few bands that released a first album that was considered like great and have gotten legitimately better and better each record four times in a row. A lot of my favorite bands their first album was the best and it's been like OK ever since. And that's because we've just taken the time and continued to develop even though we're a bunch of old school metal heads. We still are pushing the envelope. Vocally I'm able to do stuff now that I could never do on the last album.
And why is that so?
Well the last two albums I worked with Richard Carr who, he's the producer who worked with Roy Z on the first two Halford records and some Dickenson records and so I'm working with someone who's tracked two albums with Halford and Dickenson so it's really cool to hear stories about how they did their stuff and how Rick's really diggin' how I'm doing it. So I'm always trying to impress the guy who worked with the masters. So you've got a little of that going on, then I like to take a different voice approach to each song so that they don't all sound the same. We're like OK we're gonna use my Udo, Dirk Schneider voice on this one. Like on Rise of the Beast I've got this Udo thing goin' and then I throw this like six feet under voice underneath it and we put the two together and Rick and I would listen to it back and go 'Oh that's killer' you know I've never even heard anything like that. Then another one we'd go OK I'm gonna sing this one more operatic and that keeps it interesting for the listener and then you know, I'm just pushing the limit on the vocals. On a lot of these I was doing the falsetto stuff that I couldn't do back then and I've got this head voice kind of wail that I've really developed over the last few years. I don't know, I've just been learning more and more vocal techniques and trying to really push the limit and use different voices, not only life but on the albums so that I can, you know, make a mark on how people fifty years from now when I'm dead and buried say 'Man, you ever hear of Sean Peck, we've gotta go get that Hell Destroyer album'.
Yeah, I understand completely, and you're obviously learning and taking in what others can offer you and what advice you can get from wherever you can get it.
Well yeah, I mean I did a lot of um, you know, I threw the black metal voice and the power voice, just trying to keep it creative too, not a lot of people can do that but, not only do it but do it tastefully is one thing. I had a tough time at the beginning of the record because I'd go into practice and I was just wailing and I'd get in the studio and I could do it but it was hard and I was like 'What is the deal?' So during the recording of the album I really made a mental breakthrough. I eventually got where I could just go in the studio and just blast it like I was in rehearsal. But for a while there I was just knocking my head against the wall.
Sonically the album sounds fantastic so how do you do that on a limited budget?
One thing we've always done is really spared no expense on the ve a real organic sound. We got criticized by some of the early would be suitors to the labels, like you need to remix this whole record. We were like 'You're out of your mind, we're not remixing anything'. Really? Oh yeah it was ridiculous. That and we used some vintage compressors like from 1970 that we found online and Rick bought them and that really helped. Then we had some LA2As and all the vintage outboard gear, no plug-ins and all from Pro Tools, so everything went to analog tape and then into the Pro Tools and all the outboard gear was used. There were no computer programs that are in Pro Tools. All the vocals you hear are all unaltered, not tuned down or played with at all. So we're really proud of the analog kind of classic production sound that came out.Absolutely, it sounds a million bucks. With all that work done and the record out, you've done your bit, you can leave it up to fate now. What could you possibly do next? You know I've got a really killer idea that I've been working on
it had to do with the comic book thing. But yeah, we say that every album, like how are we gonna top this album? That's where my mind is churning right now saying how in the hell are we gonna top that record? You know it's gonna be asked but we're gonna give it our damnedest shot. Again it's in the innovation of the idea department that I'm always looking for something clever and then of course the songs have to be great. It's not gonna be easy man that's for sure.
Its early days, your still working on this record so there's plenty of time
Yes, but we're hoping to get something by the end of 2008 because we've got a good buzz going on and we're gonna try to ride this wave and not wait another four years. Like I said, I have a fantastic idea but it's a proprietary product and I'd have to license it from somebody and I don't know that I want to do that, so I might have to obscurely make reference to these characters that I'm talking about. It's kind of close to the whole comic book thing. Keep everything under you hat because I'm still kicking it around, but it's definitely gonna be a unique idea that no one's done before.
Very Cool, sounds excellent. Anything you'd like to add Sean?
Well, I appreciate all the help that you're doing for us and I just want to put out there, like I always do, that people who read this or listen to it I say that any little note or email that we get, or message on MySpace , or message on the forum or guestbook on the website keeps that little fuel on the fire that keeps the metal fire burning. Every time we get a message from some kid saying, 'Hey I just got your album and it kicks ass', you know that just keeps us pushing the metal pedal so I encourage everyone to drop us a line because we always answer everybody personally and that's at www.cageheavymetal.com and www.myspace.com/cageheavymetal . If you want to talk about innovative ideas I'm thinking about putting a song on the next album that's called cageheavymetal.com.
How do you like that?
I like it, the ultimate tie-in.
When they sing along it would imbed right into their brain.
That would definitely work.
But don't give anybody that idea man. Remember you heard it here first.
Well look I think that's great man, I think that's plenty to get typed up and into a nice little interview feature for you.
I really appreciate that and I know you're talking to Ben and anything you can do to help spread the word. People that love this genre of music who are just discovering us for the first time are just blown away. I mean I'm getting emails like 'Where have you guys been all my life, oh my God, I can't believe this,' kinda like when I got into King Diamond on the Abigail album. Then I got to go back and hear two Mercyful Fate albums, the first one. You get to go back and discover all this old stuff that's killer. People who are just discovering us it's like a big Christmas present for them.
All right, good stuff mate.
Thank you so much.
Good talking to you mate.
Hey one I do want to put out that you can put on there is that we do have all these new releases on iTunes from all of our old stuff. I'm just trying to kind of push that for the fall when we're gonna talk about that a little later. It's all up there now but just put a mention in that in the fall we're gonna be releasing all kinds of old material including a completely unreleased album.
Ok, well that's cool. I'll definitely mention it, Thanks Sean.