Interview with Zak Stevens, vocalist for Circle II Circle 4/6/3 by EC

Select Discography
Circle II Circle
--Watching In Silence

--Edge of Thorns
--Handful Of Rain
--The Wake Of Magellan

Band Website
Zak Stevens

On behalf of everyone at Maximum Metal we thank you very much for taking time out of your busy schedule to chat with us. Things must be very exciting for you right now Zak, with your debut album from Circle II Circle slated for the 28th of April on AFM Records. Up until the songwriting process for your new band in 2001, the last thing you did was a Savatage concert back in 1999. The title to your new album is "Watching In Silence", and that sort of echoes your two years away from the music scene. Why the abscence from the metal community?

After eight years singing with Savatage, there came a time when I had to take a leave-of-absence to tend to some personal, business, and family items. During my time away from the music scene, I wound up totally re-thinking my approach to the music business. CircleIICircle is a result of my over-active imagination! I think you're correct about the title track. I did spend a lot of my time away "Watching In Silence", just putting together my game plan for the future.

I'm sure the time you spent as the frontman for Savatage was very rewarding, but had to be draining on an emotional and physical level. Do you think you are ready to do it all over again with Circle II Circle?

Actually through all the years I was with Savatage, I didn't really feel emotionally drained. Sometimes it was physically draining on the road, but that's going to be the case no matter what band you're in. I feel really good and vocally strong nowadays, and I'm ready to go out and support "Watching In Silence" all over the world.

Circle II CircleI must say with every listen of this debut record, I am just simply mesmerized! It has been years since a record like this has come out. Each song just flows with an almost magical melody, catchy and thought prevoking in every possible way. In your own words, how would you describe this album?

I really appreciate your kind description of the record Eric, thank you! If this happens to all the listeners, I'll be very happy! I would describe Watching In Silence as a product of imaginative writing, production, and working hard but having a damn good time! I thoroughly enjoyed the creative process I shared between Jon Oliva, Chris Caffery and all the guys in CIIC while bringing this thing to life.

I'm sure many Savatage fans are going to be picking this release up, hoping for a bit of the magic that great classics like "Edge Of Thorns" and "Handful Of Rain" possessed. In my opinion there are certainly degrees of that sound within this record, but I really believe that Circle II Circle stands on its own. How much input did Savatage members Jon Oliva and Chris Caffery have on the writing process?

The way it worked with Jon and Chris was that I paired up with each of them at separate times to do the writing, but there were parts of some songs that were written by all three of us. For the most part, I wrote the lyrics and vocal melodies for the record, and had a lot to do with the arrangements of the songs. Jon and I co-produced the record, which gave me a chance to show my ear for producing. Jon and Chris obviously gave me musical ideas to work off of.

What are some of your favorite tracks on the record and what sort of ideas came into your mind when the songs were penned?

Some of my favorite tracks on the record are "Watching In Silence", "Sea of White", "Into the Wind", "Out of Reach", "The Circle", and "Fields OF Sorrow". I wrote the lyrics about a lot of things; world events, subjects of interest, my own feelings about before and after I left Savatage, and personal experiences.

The other musicians that make up Circle II Circle are rather new names to me. What led to the final lineup of the band? Had you worked with these guys before?

The lineup for CIIC came together fairly quickly, and I had never worked with any of the guys before they joined my band. I had known of several of the guys' activities with the bands they were in before they joined CIIC. When each of the guys auditioned for CIIC, obviously I got to know them alot better. The core band lineup is Matt LaPorte(guitars), Kevin Rothney(bass), Christopher Kinder(drums), and John Zahner(keyboards). I look forward to introducing everyone to these guys when we hit the road. This is a very solid group with a lot of performing experience between all of us. I'm very happy to be playing in CIIC with each of these guys.

With three members of Savatage involved with this record, how much label interest did it gain? I had read reports that a major US deal was in the works. Why did you pick AFM Records to release your debut?

The label interest I initially got was geared towards their interest in me as a vocalist and writer, initially. They didn't really ask who the primary writers were going to be in the beginning. When AFM Records of Germany found out about the writing team, they were even more excited about what the final outcome could be because the sky was the limit. We're still negotiating with a few labels for the North American territories, but we're confident we will put distribution together fairly soon to get the record out in the U.S. (and all over Europe) by the summer of 2003. AFM has been great through the whole process of making this first CIIC record. I can see why all the bands on their label are very happy.

Up until signing with AFM, had you ever listened to any of the other "underground" AFM acts like Edguy, Avantasia, and Rawhead Rexx?

I met up with Tobias from Edguy (and Avantasia) several times while touring in Europe with Savatage, and we've spoken often. I have all the Edguy records as well as the Avantasia CD. Another band CIIC was familiar with was Master Plan, who is also on AFM's roster. We enjoy their music as well. I just me a few of the guys in Rawhead Rexx at an AFM press conference this past February, they're a great group of guys as well. There are a lot of strong bands that are now signed with AFM Records.

"I would describe 'Watching In Silence' as a product of imaginative writing, production, and working hard but having a damn good time!"
In the past we have seen AFM Records mainly focus on the European markets. I know that in the past the label has had US distribution through Metal Blade (Edguy,Squealer,Steel Attack) and currently The End Records are doing some distro for AFM. Will we see Circle II Circle in the US through one of these distributors?

There is always a chance that we may be distributed through these channels in North America. Right now, we're just keeping our options open. Soon we will make a decision as far as who will be the North American distributor for "Watching In Silence".

What kind of touring can we expect this year? I know you have already scheduled the Prog Power USA fest in Atlanta this fall. Do you expect a big turnout for that?

CIIC will be playing the 20th Anniversary Party for Rock Hard Magazine in Germany in early June. We're going back to Europe in July to play festival shows in Germany, Switzerland, Czech Republic, and Hungary. We're currently planning a tour of Europe for the Fall of 2003 with the best bill possible. We're also playing the Power Prog USA Fest in September, and we've heard the show is already sold out so it looks like that will be a great show for us in Atlanta, Georgia this year.

A couple more questions before we wrap up, I've always been curious if you had been in any bands prior to Savatage? If so, does any of the music exist on CD?

I was in a band called "Wicked Witch" with Savatage drummer Jeff Plate for about three years in Massachusetts in the early 90's. This is probably the band I played the most shows with besides Savatage. WW's demo CD is basically what landed me the Savatage gig back in '92! There is music out there on CD from WW, but it was never commercially licensed. I think you could find it on any one of several file sharing services in the U.S.

In regards to the Savatage gig, how did the band members react when you joined the band and took over vocal duties from Jon Oliva?

The guys in Savatage were very supportive and receptive when I joined the band in the summer of '92. They made me feel really comfortable for a new guy coming into a situation with huge shoes to fill. Chris Oliva was especially supportive. Words can't express how much I miss him to this day.

Have you had any professional vocal training?

Sure I have. I think vocal training is necessary if you want to be sure of your vocal consistency night after night. It never hurts to "brush up" with a vocal coach from time to time, even if you're a professional singer.

How do you feel about the current state of metal in the US?

I think "metal" is doing just fine in the states. It has definitely evolved with bands such as Disturbed and Mudvayne coming along, but with Metallica's new CD coming out soon, classic metal sounds may become more prevalent in the U.S.

Do you think file sharing will help or hurt good metal acts like Circle II Circle?

File sharing will make any recording artist with a CD on the record store shelves nervous. However, with the CIIC record, the graphics and layout of the artwork on the "real" store-bought version is very strong. I think folks will want to have the real copy as well as any downloaded version.

I know one can never say never, but do you see yourself singing for Savatage in the future, if not as the frontman then maybe a guest spot or two?

You're right, you can never say never! But for right now with Savatage not being on the road, it seems unlikely that it would happen any time soon. The whole idea sounds like it would be a hell of a good time, though! I definitely wouldn't be opposed to singing with Savatage again one day.

Well Zak, congratulations on creating an absolute masterpiece with the debut record! We thank you very much and please keep us up to date on all the band's happenings. Good luck with all of your future endeavors!

Thanks again Eric comments on the record and for this interview. I hope to meet up with you soon!

Maximum Metal

Special Thanks to Anke Wallrabenstein and Wulfric Rennison for the live images.

Zak StevensEric Compton4/6/2003

Watching In Silence
Frank Hill10/7/2003
Watching In Silence
Eric Compton5/6/2003

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