I N T E R V I E W S
Nick van Dyk - Redemption
"Man of Talents"
Interview with guitarist Nick Van Dyk of Redemption about their new release 'Alive in Color', the band, and his "day job".
By: Mark Cubbedge | Published: Saturday, August 1, 2020
ALL INTERVIEWS FOR: REDEMPTION
Nick van Dyk at ProgPower. Copyright Mark Cubbedge [website]
Nick van Dyk has been the driving force, chief songwriter, guitarist, and keyboardist for progressive metal band, Redemption, for nearly 20 years now. With seven full-length albums under their belt, the band is regarded as one of the shining stars in the progressive metal community.
If all that wasn't enough to build the consummate resume for lifetime achievement, then also consider that Nick is Co-President of Activision Blizzard Studios, which creates television, film and short-form content based on Activision Blizzard's library of iconic and globally-recognized intellectual properties, including Call of Duty, Candy Crush, Overwatch, World of Warcraft and hundreds more. Before joining Activision Blizzard, Nick spent time at The Walt Disney Company where he played a significant role in the acquisitions of Pixar, Marvel and Lucasfilm.
Maximum Metal: Nick it's hard to believe it's coming up on two years since the headlining performance at ProgPower USA and the August 28th release of 'Alive in Color'. Nothing is a labor of love like music. Can you tell us about the process and hurdles in getting to the finished product?
NvD: In contrast to some other periods in time where we've had unique challenges, this one went relatively smoothly. There are complexities involved in a multi-camera shoot and our director Patric Ullaeus is in high demand, but the editing process went well. Likewise, Simone Mularoni did a great mix, including one in surround which is the first one of these we have done. The only real delay was that we were looking for a new label to release the package and although AFM has been nothing but professional and easy to work with, signing a new deal always takes some time.
MM: One of the great things for fans is the extra work and effort put into this release resulted in a more comprehensive final product than you originally intended. How did you end up ultimately deciding on what to add to the release and how to package it?
NvD: The package itself is a little complex since there is a Blu-ray and a standard def DVD and the audio CDs, and because of some rights issues there is a song included (Megadeth's "Peace Sells" with Chris Poland) on the audio that isn't on the video, so managing different authoring processes added a bit of a wrinkle, but it really wasn't that hard to pull off.
Another important factor is that our amazing fans helped contribute some toward the budget of this project through Kickstarter, and I of course wanted to provide the product in the way that they wanted it, which meant being responsive to some folks that don't have a Blu-ray player. Videos alone don't really perform well these days, so the live audio was important. Those considerations really drove the format.
MM: I know you're quite the wine connoisseur. What did you crack open and drink once the record was finally completed?
NvD:I usually wait until I have the package in hand before doing any formal celebration, although when Simone and Tom and Vikram were in Los Angeles for a couple of weeks after our most recent show here, we certainly had a lot of good wine together!
Normally I would have some champagne but I'm on a pretty strict diet right now and champagne has too much sugar in it. So, I think probably a nice Supertuscan or left-bank Bordeaux when the package is in hand will probably be the way I go.
MM: I know having Chris Poland on stage was kind of a surreal moment for you. How did that relationship develop and work out to have him "secretly" fly to Atlanta for a surprise appearance?
NvD: We've worked with Chris on two studio albums now and he's become a friend. I'd been following his fusion band oHM for many years locally--they play at a very famous, small venue here that is the place to play in LA if you are a jazz or fusion guy, or occasionally a metal guitarist will come through there.
Anyhow, when our original guitarist Bernie Versailles had that horrible aneurysm that took him out of commission, we initially wanted to go with session musicians to see if Bernie could recover in time to rejoin the band relatively soon (this was for our 'Art of Loss' album back in 2016, I think it was). A friend of mine mentioned that Chris Poland did session work, and his style is so unique that I thought it would add an interesting dimension to our sound, and also elevate the musicianship. We get along really well and he is such a low-key, zero-ego guy. He's been so gracious and really complimentary about what we do and I think he really digs playing on our material, and was in our video for Damaged from Art of Loss. We had him back on our most recent studio album, along with Simone Mularoni, again for the versatility of his sound. And his solo in the song "Indulge in Color" is one of the highlights on that record for pretty much the entire band.
When we signed up to do the show, I knew I wanted to do another video package since we would be featuring a new vocalist and a new guitarist since Simone was kind enough to come perform with us, and as long as we were making a big investment in this I decided to pull out all the stops. One of those stops was having Ray Alder come in and surprise everybody on one song; that was Tom's idea, actually, which speaks to his professionalism and the respect and friendship that we all enjoy. And the other big surprise was asking Chris if he wouldn't mind coming out to do it.
Chris doesn't travel that much and he hadn't played metal out in many years. I think the last time he played "Peace Sells" on stage was when he toured with Damn the Machine back in the mid 90s, so we're talking 20 years or more. He was game for it, so at that point it was no holding back.
You're right, it was surreal indeed. Again, he's so complimentary (and complementary!) about what we do, which is crazy enough, but playing that song with him was really just amazing. Subsequently, he told me that David Ellefson had seen a clip online that was shot from a cell phone and thought it was awesome. No word from Mustaine but I have to imagine given that I've worked with three of his former guitarists, if he ever becomes aware of us, he would at least have an idea of how much respect I have for what he's done. And maybe he'll get a kick out of it, who knows. ;)
MM: Tom Englund, obviously known as the singer and guitarist for Evergrey, is accustomed to having a guitar in his hands on stage when he performs. What was that like for him performing in Atlanta sans guitar?
"The difference between a good show and a great show is the exchange of energy between the band and the audience."
NvD: Tom is an incredibly talented guitarist in addition to having an amazing voice that fits our music perfectly. But beyond this, he's an incredible "front man" which is a job that involves one's presence and one's ability to engage a crowd and take them through the roller coaster of a set, keeping their attention and their energy because the difference between a good show and a great show is the exchange of energy between the band and the audience. Tom's incredibly good at that, and that requires confidence, so I suspect he didn't feel awkward without a guitar because what he really holds in his hands is the audience.
He brought up from the beginning that he didn't want to play guitar. It's one of several things that he and we have done consciously to keep us distinct from Evergrey. So I think he was prepared mentally for it from the get-go.
MM: It's not often keyboardists get a lot of conversation when it comes to live music. I'd be remiss if I didn't mention the addition of Vikram Shankar to the lineup, however. He's a brilliant musician and composer and I think fans will see his added energy in the live performance. How did you first connect with him and from your perspective what does he add to Redemption?
NvD: Vik is an incredible talent. We've all, by now, seen those videos of some 8-year-old kid playing Beethoven piano concertos blindfolded or playing a perfect Dream Theater song or doing all three parts on "La Villa Strangiato" or whatever it might be...that's Vikram.
In the past we had worked with a marvelous keyboardist named Greg Hosharian who was a big part of our 'Snowfall on Judgment Day' record. After that record, he had some logistical issues with both touring and recording metal and I think his passion turned away from progressive metal and more to honoring his late father, who was a composer and conductor, and doing a lot of work in the classical music realm in both those ways.
So, Redemption managed the next three records with me playing keyboards, which is something I'm comfortable doing since I grew up with piano lessons and it was my first instrument. But from a live performance standpoint there's only so much I can do, and also from a compositional standpoint it's nice to have another cook in the kitchen who has a different collection of spices, if you'll pardon the metaphor. So with that in mind, the band and I had always kept an open mind about having a formal keyboardist one day should the right circumstances arise.
Enter Tom, who had seen a YouTube video of Vikram re-interpreting an Evergrey song on piano. I started checking out more and more of Vik's playing and it's like I said above, just astonishing in that "how is this kid playing a piano concerto blindfolded" kind of way. Tom thought it was important that I meet Vik, and we arranged to do so at a ProgPower show, must have been ProgPower in 2016, I suppose? We hit it off immediately and once I talked about it with Sean (our bassist) and Chris (our drummer) we agreed it would be a perfect fit. Thankfully, Vik was interested in joining us and he's now a key (no pun intended) part of what we do, both from a performance and increasingly also from helping write material, which is something we really couldn't take much advantage of on the previous record.
MM: 'Alive in Color' is your first release on AFM Records after parting ways with Metal Blade Records. Most people understand the music industry today isn't a big money maker for metal bands unless your name is Iron Maiden. How difficult is it nowadays to get a record label for support and distribution?
NvD: The industry is not what it once was, that's for sure, and while there is more music than ever, the chance for a band to be around long enough under the wing of a record label that can provide guidance and direction and really develop them into the best version of themselves is probably pretty much over.
Like many other things, this is increasingly a relationship business. I have a great relationship, both professionally and also friendship-wise, with the senior folks at Metal Blade. They were terrific to work with and actually we had another record with them, but the economics of the live package were not something they were able to work out with us. Tom obviously knows the AFM people well, and introduced us, and they've been fantastic to work with. They were interested in the live record, but also wanted the next studio record so I went to Metal Blade who were kind enough to release us. We've been lucky that we're dealing with very good people who are good at what they do.
I suppose one corollary of the decay of the old record industry model is that the labels are smaller and more niche-focused, and as opposed to somebody who is doing it for a big paycheck even if they aren't into the music, now you have people who are generally fans of the genre in which they work. So, there's some likelihood they will have heard of you, or heard of somebody who is connected to you. It's probably a little easier to reach out to people at labels and build an interest in you as a new band than it used to be to knock on doors and try to get people to listen to a demo.
MM: Some music fans may not be aware of your "Day Jobs" over the years. From being an executive at Disney and working on things like acquisitions or mergers for Pixar and Star Wars to your current role as President of Activision Blizzard Studios, which is a movie production company. Can you talk a little bit about a day in the life of Nick Van Dyk with his executive hat on?
NvD: Every day is different, but it's very true that my "day job" is what enables and supports my musical exploits. Without going into this to the extent that it sounds like an article in the Wall Street Journal, I graduated college and went to work for what's called a management consulting firm which is really a preparatory track for going to business school. I went to business school and earned an MBA and went to work for Disney in their corporate strategy group, which basically manages merger and acquisition activity, and then I left Disney because I wanted to actually run a business, which I did for Activision.
A day consists of meetings, managing projects, a fair amount of getting yelled at, putting presentations together, making sound decisions with limited information and working on getting more information to make better decisions than you otherwise could. Beyond those vague commonalities, every day is different.
MM: Obviously you are a man with considerable business knowledge and experience, and you have the unique position of also understanding the music business like few others do. What's your take on the short-term and long-term impacts of touring due to the COVID-19 virus? Will we see a flood of albums in a year because everyone is writing new music? Thoughts on how concerts will be received once people are able to gather again?
NvD: It's clearly a situation that we've never seen before and it's going to evolve in ways that are unpredictable. In the short term, it's brought touring to a halt, and I do suspect people are writing a lot of music (Redemption included). Recording isn't as easy as writing, unless people have a home studio, because working in a studio tends to be several people in close quarters, often sweating, for many hours a day. I know we aren't being cavalier about it so while there should be a glut of new music coming out eventually, I don't think it's going to be as much as people might think. In an ideal world, bands would spend more time perfecting the writing so that the music that comes out is really great.
As for what concert-going looks like on the other side of this, it's hard to say. There will be a return to it eventually; I wouldn't be surprised to see several different phases, psychologically more than legally. I have a desire to see live music but I don't have a desire to stand shoulder-to-shoulder in a pit any time soon. So, I think some combination of venues coming up with ways to reduce crowding (for example the little venue I mentioned earlier where Chris Poland's fusion band plays is having very, very limited seated attendance at the moment), live streaming to help make up some of the difference, and people gradually adjusting to the "new normal" will eventually get us back to something that works.
Things can change, though. I'm old enough to have a vague recollection (it was before my concert-going days) that large-venue seating became more or less assigned after the tragedy with The Who [Dec 3, 1979-11 people died]. This is a very different type of change-agent we're dealing with, but it's not beyond possibility that there could be fundamental changes in concert-going as a result of it.
Still, ultimately we are both social animals and moved on some subconscious level by music--these are powerful, innate characteristics of being human. So, I expect we'll find our way back eventually.
MM: Redemption will also release its eighth studio album -- maybe later this year? -- and second with Tom Englund. Any insight you can share into that record at this point with us? Also, any update on guitarist Bernie Versailles?
NvD: It won't be this year, but if I were a betting person I'd say summer of 2021. We have been writing, but I don't think we'll be finished recording before the end of the year and I have some ideas on who I'd like to work with in terms of mixing and their calendars tend to be backed up months in advance. Based on what we've come up with so far, it's definitely a Redemption record but I think people will notice the increased involvement of Vik on keys, both performance-wise and from a writing standpoint as well.
As for Bernie, we remain very happy that he is healthy and living with his family. I don't want to speak for him, but I don't believe he is involved with music at the moment.
MM: You were pretty public about your battle with multiple myeloma, a rare form of blood cancer, a few years ago. I followed your blog pretty closely as I had a friend who battled the disease as well, but ultimately didn't make it. Thank God your story is a much better one and as I understand it you are in complete remission. Why was it so important for you to put yourself out there during that difficult time and really be a face and voice for something so little is known about?
NvD: First, I'm very sorry to hear about your friend. It's a terrible disease in general, and myeloma is pretty nasty in particular.
I started my blog as a means of keeping people updated--I am fortunate to have many friends and consequently there were many inquiries and chemotherapy can tire you out, so rather than have literally thirty update calls a day, I thought it would be more efficient to let those who wanted to know what was up check in there. Over time, it developed into a bit of a cathartic outlet for me.
But really--and this is why I keep it up even though there are very few updates now (for which I'm of course very thankful!) --the reason behind the blog is there was very little information about what it was like to go through that treatment, and what I came across when I was diagnosed was pretty unrelentingly negative. I wanted there to be someplace people could go to learn as much as they cared to, because fear of the unknown is a tough thing to cope with and I thought I could help. Since my doctor was brilliant, and my therapy (knock on wood) appears to have been highly effective, I can also be an example of why to use aggressive therapy and what a good outcome can look like. In this way, I feel like I'm giving back.
MM: Nick again congratulations on the upcoming release on August 28 of 'Alive in Color' on AFM Records. We'll look forward to the next studio album as well, and hopefully fans will be able to see Redemption on tour again in the not-too-distant future. Best to you, your family and band mates. Stay well and healthy.
NvD: Thank you so much, Mark! Best wishes to you and yours, and to your readers!
Redemption - Alive In Color (Release: Aug. 28th, 2020)
01 Intro / Noonday Devil
02 The Suffocating Silence
03 The Echo Chamber
05 Someone Else"s Problem
06 Little Men
07 Long Night's Journey Into Day
08 Threads (Featuring Ray Alder)
09 Black & White World
10 Indulge In Color (Featuring Chris Poland)
01 Intro / Noonday Devil
02 The Suffocating Silence
03 The Echo Chamber
05 Someone Else's Problem
06 Little Men
07 Long Night's Journey Into Day
01 Threads (Feat. Ray Alder)
02 Black & White World
03 Indulge In Color (Feat. Chris Poland)
04 Peace Sells... But Who's Buying (Feat. Chris Poland)
06 Threads (Feat. Tom Englund)
07 The Fullness Of Time - Part 3 - Release (Live Bonus)
ALL REVIEWS FOR: REDEMPTION
|Nick van Dyk||Mark Cubbedge||8/1/2020||"Man of Talents"|
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