Zak Stevens: Machines of Grace


link to podcast interview with zak stevensZak Stevens from legendary power metal bands SAVATAGE and CIRCLE II CIRCLE phones into to promote his latest project and release from MACHINES OF GRACE.

image of zak stevensMatt: For those who may be unfamiliar with your resume, why don’t you give us a summary of some of your past accomplishments bands and career highlights.
Zak: How I got into the business was by joining SAVATAGE, a band out of Tampa, FL, and I’ve been living here in Tampa for 17 years ever since I originally joined them, like ’92.
Matt: I was gonna say, if you live in Florida and don’t know who SAVATAGE is, GET OUT NOW!
Zak: I don’t know, there might be a few, but I don’t know, but that’s how I got my start and then I’ve been in my own band called CIRCLE II CIRCLE, we are about to our 5th album. I did 9 years and 5 albums with SAVATAGE. 4 going on 5 years with CIRCLE II CIRCLE, and now the 1 year with MACHINES OF GRACE which happens to be the band that I was in before SAVATAGE. So we decided to go back and do some unfinished business there but that is the band before SAVATAGE which was called WICKED WITCH way back then. But it was those demos that got me the SAVATAGE gig so now we have a chance to go back and do it again all these years later, something we really wanted to do, so that’s really kinda neat.
Matt: That’s really awesome to be able to go back and hang out with your buddies and start where it all began. Your band-mates that you are referring to, why don’t you tell us a little bit about them, they have also gone on to do a lot of musical projects.
Zak: Yeah, I met Matt Leff, the guitarist, while we were going to school out there at Musicians Institute in Hollywood, you know that has GIT and the first year they had VIT was the year I went. So we had a great guitar school, vocal school, bass school, whatever you want to do. That’s where I met Matt who said "Hey, who wants to play and record some stuff?", so I said "Alright!". So that’s how we met, and then we wound up brining all that up to Boston and that’s kinda where it all began. So Matt’s been playing all that time, and did really way at EMI, he’s done quite a lot . We have a new bass player named Chris Rapoza, and he’s really great. He’s our newest member. He’s so new that I haven’t met him yet (laughs). No, I have, but not in-person. Jeff Plate (drums) went on and did 2 or 3 albums with SAVATAGE, you know, I kinda brought him along when SAVATAGE had an opening for a drummer, I was like "You gotta check out Jeff from where I just came from", and they loved him. He’s gone on to play on all the new TRANS-SIBERIAN ORCHESTRA stuff too, so we have this wide array, kind-of a SAVATAGE "loop", T.S.O. thing. I’ve sang on what will be the 5th one, the one I’m working on now will be the 5th TRANS-SIBERIAN ORCHESTRA record. So we have that little "family" thing, and then we’ve got CIRCLE II CIRCLE. Jeff also has METAL CHURCH. Quite a lot going on in that circle of what forms MACHINES OF GRACE.
Matt: I’d say all of you guys seem very busy. Tell us a little bit about the upcoming album that’s coming out this summer. What label is it coming out of, or is it something that you guys are putting out by yourselves?
Zak: Well… All this time the plan has been just to own it, you know… absolutely by us. We started out a lot like that, but there have been a few licensing agreements with in territories in the world. That’s a great question because things are happening so quickly in that area right now, you wouldn’t even believe it. We’re just going to have to sit back for a few of weeks and see how that plays out. See if it becomes more label driven or become more owned "in-house" like we originally planned. You kinda just have to let it play out like that before you make any of those final decisions. We do have a release date of July 7th, so that’s gonna be cool having that as a release date definitely.
Matt: The production on the record is quite impressive I must say. Can you tell us a little about your studio experience? Where did you guys record it?
Zak: Very interesting, Paul Hagar, our sound-man, has quite a lot to do with what you’re hearing right there, he did an amazing job. He’s gone on to work with a lot of heavy-hitters like AVRIL LEVINE, and I believe several other artists out there like FALLOUT BOY, he’s the GOO-GOO DOLLS live sound-man. I think is live gig right now if I’m not mistaken is MILEY CYRUS, you know, the biggest tour in America. He’s at the sound-desk, if you look down there, there’s Paul. I mean this guy is just all over the place. He was our sound-man back in the early days in Boston 1990, ’91, ’92, it’s crazy. He’s gone on to accomplish as much as any one individual member on his own. We’re lucky to have him mix our record, he’s going to be working with CIRCLE II CIRCLE, we’ve had a lot of great things happen with that. But what we did was had the guitars recorded up in Boston where Matt lives, and then the drums were done in New York where Jeff lives, and I did all my vocals at my vocal studio, where I do most of my records at. If I do vocals tracks it’s called Red Room Recorders in Ybor City it the historic old town district of Tampa. So everybody did their parts where they lived.
Matt: That is part of the digital age these days, so it’s not that uncommon.
Zak: You know what, I would do all those things, and have all those data files and stuff, and then we’d send it on the necessary service to hold that much data, you know. You retrieve it, basically a right-click, choose a command, and you have just imported that whole week’s worth of work in, in one split second you just import it into the track.
Matt: Are you familiar with our friend ROB ROCK that also lives here in Central Florida?
Zak: Yeah! Rob! He’s our boy. He’s our friend, we did a whole tour with him. CIRCLE II CIRCLE in Europe, that was really good.
Matt: He’s also got the right-click method of recording vocals. (pure speculation Rob!)
Zak: Absolutely, he knows his way. We would talk about that on the tour bus as well. That was a lot of fun there.
Matt: Aside from the obvious goal of achieving commercial-success. What does MACHINES OF GRACE hope to accomplish with this record? Is it just a labor of love, or is it, what it is it is?
Zak: That’s a good one, yes, let’s go back and do this now because we almost has this going, and then Zak had to leave for SAVATAGE, the saga was on and on, and it was like… Ughh… We really need to do this just because we were so close, why not just need to step in and finish it? That was the original mindset, and people seem to be liking it pretty well, so it’s gone off in it’s own little direction, so we’ll see what happens. I think it’s pretty much already met my goal as far as just being able to go back and do it, and to say that it came out decent.
Matt: The song writing on the record is a bit diverse, almost a little laid-back at times, it has it’s rockin’ moments. How would you describe this record to someone who didn’t know MACHINES OF GRACE?
Zak: I would say, there are these dudes who have studied a few generations of rock (laughs), and we would like to reiterate this to the public through a series of songs called "the songs on the record". We’re pretty well studied, and what we are doing now here is we are just going to write together, on our own, because we have our own philosophies and way of doing things. This is going to be a little bit diverse, but it picks from a lot of different areas of rock, and it just kinda puts it in a blender and M.O.G. is what you get! (laughs).
Matt: Do you guys have any touring plans solidified, festivals appearances, those kinds of things?
Zak: Starting in August, yes, I guess they are booking some live dates back up in New England where it really all started. So I think it’s appropriate to go back to New England and start playing some of the original shows. I think August is when they’ve slated that, so yeah there will be some live playing and it’s going to be alot of fun. We’re going to be out there playing live, which is where it need to go from here, and these songs are really good live too, so it’s going to be a lot of fun doing that.
Matt: My Prog-Metal friends are going to be asking if you guys are going to be making an appearance at Prog-Power this year?
Zak: You know what? That’s going to be tough because there is a Brazil tour for CIRCLE II CIRCLE, we are going back to South America and we’re going to do Argentina, Brazil, maybe Chile and Columbia or something like that. But that comes so close to being able to do anything at Prog Power, the timing is crazy with that. So probably not, just because I have to prepare to do that right before then.
Matt: Any chance of local appearances like Bourbon Street, or the Haven here in Orlando?
Zak: Yeah! I mean no-doubt, yeah, Bourbon Street, we are going to be there before too long man, we’ve got something going on for November, I think November 14th, CIRCLE II CIRCLE should be there doing a little Metal festival of some sort. MACHINES OF GRACE will probably roll through Tampa before it’s all over. My guys live in different places so we have to work kind of hard to get them all down here for those one-offs. We like to do it, so there will be some playing going on.
Matt: Obviously you’ve got quite a catalog of music that you’ve recorded, in say different styles of music. You’ve had quite an outlet to be creative, are there any other types of music that really interest you that you’d really like to do?
Zak: I think I can sing quite a lot of different styles, but as far as creatively, I have to stick with rock, that’s kind of where I feel the most comfortable. I could try other things, maybe get someone to shed a tear here or there, no I’m just joking. I’m pretty much at home with these two full-time things as far as now with MACHINES OF GRACE, that’s more than I can handle anyway as far as time, so I’m just gonna stay and concentrate on these.
Matt: Before we go, is there anything you’d like to shout out to the people?
Zak: Check out MachinesOfGrace.net the website, if you want to buy the CD now and also get involved in any of the contests, like $100 iTunes gift card, you can do that. Thanks to everyone, and everyone in Orlando, I’m talking a lot to Orlando and I love it because I’m right here in Tampa!

FLmetal would like to thank Zak Stevens, Dave Himes at Connections, Chip and the staff from Chipster PR for making this interview happen!

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