Interview with John West

“Without doubt ‘Artension’ are probably one of the finest Progressive Metal acts, which features John West (Royal Hunt & Solo Artist), Kevin Chown (Edwin Dare/ Magnitude 9), Mike Terrana (Rage & Session drummer), Roger Staffelbach (guitar) and keyboard wizard Vitalij Kuprij. With the band releasing 6 releases and John’s solo albums as well as Kevin & Vitalij work the band are a tight and superb outfit, something they must be proud of. John West speaks to editor Jason Brown when the following question were put to him. If you already have not discovered this awesome band then check them out now. Their new album was released on Frontiers titled ‘New Discovery’ also check out John’s new solos album ‘Earth maker’ also on Frontiers.”

My first question is, at what age did you want to become a singer and was there anybody in your family who inspired you to sing?”

“I have been singing since a very early age. I used to impersonate Elvis at family dinners. My family would encourage me to get up on the table and sing. I was probably 4 0r 5 years old then.”

“Are you a native Indian of America, if so what tribe do you belong to? Also what are your opinion on how the U.S. government treat the native Indian’s of your country? “

“I am of mixed dissent. I have Mohawk blood. I feel that the atrocities of the past are just that. The past. Colonisation has historically meant genocide.”

“What singers are you influenced by and do they reflect in your singing?”

“Right now I am into Stevie Wonder and Luther Vandross. I enjoy soulful melodic singing. My metal influences are Dio, Halford, Hughes, Coverdale. You know, the masters.”

“What was your first band called and who did you sound like, I presume you did cover tunes, if so who?”

“My first band was called Kingdom. We did covers of Phil Keaggy and Boston. A great bunch of musicians. I was the drummer then.”

“What about band influences, who were they when you were growing up?”

“I was a Kiss freak. I also liked Boston, Kansas, Steve Miller. Aerosmith was an early favourite.”

 “What do you think to Glenn Hughes, Jorn Lande, Ray Alder, Rob Halford, Geoff Tate as singers? Are there any new singers that you admire?”

“I love Glenn, a great voice and a nice guy. Halford is one of the best. I’ve never heard Lande. I saw Alder live once… opening for Savatage with Fates. He was pretty good. Geoff Tate is good too.”

“OK, now lets talk about other projects you have done before Artenstion formed, how many projects were you in before Artension? Did you record any material, if so what were they called and how well did they sell?”

“I recorded Cozy Powell “Especially for you” before Artension’s first. It was released after he died in 1998. I did a thing called Sun Red Sun with Rondinelli form Sabbath on drums. I also did one song on Marc Ferrari’s (Keel) “Guest List” album.”

“How did you hook up with the guys from Artension, were you all at a music school? What bands were the other members in before Artension formed?”

“I did the first album as a studio session, basically. Mike Varney wanted me to sing on this project he was doing. I had  heard of Terrana before with Yngwie. I had also heard of Chown with another band with Jeff Kollman in it. Edwin Dare it was called.”

“So why the name Artension and were there any other names in mind? Does the name also reflect in the bands music?”

“They were originally called Swiss Atlantis, I think. Then we came up with Artension. The cross between Art and Tension.”

“How did the deal with Shrapnel come about and how many demos did the band record before you were signed?”

“Mike Varney liked the demos of Kuprij as a keyboard expert. So, the band was built around that, I guess.”

“Did any other labels approach you besides Shrapnel?”

“ I came later, after the music was recorded for the first album, so I don’t know really.”

“How well did the debut Artension album sell for the band? Were you also happy with the end results of that album? Also did the label give you much support?”

“The album did remarkably well. Probably better than anyone expected. We got absolutely no support from Shrapnel. We should have toured immediately following the release of the first album. I think the album is pretty good, considering the budget, and the amount of time we had to do it. The cover is hideous, but that is Shrapnel for you. They get the best records out in a week or two. They make quick money, and the band suffers.”

“Why the title for the debut album ‘Into The…’ and were there any other names for this album and covers?”

“Into the eye of the storm was an old concept I was working on in Badlands. I left Badlands in 1993, and I always thought it was a good concept. So, I used it for Artension.”

“What about the 2nd album, why the title and cover and did it sell better, if so in what way?”

“By the time the second album rolled around, we were more of a band, I would say. We knew each other, and we had a style that was working together. I had done a lot of research on ancient Egypt for this lyrical direction. The cover was better, but the album did not sell quite as well as the first. Touring is everything when it comes to promoting an album. Shrapnel was not interested in tour support. They were making another quick album and cash with another band. Mike Varney really did not see the potential of Artension, other than some quick, easy cash.”

“Same question’s goes for Forces Of… & Machine? (as above #14) Also these albums saw Shaune and John enter into the band, why did Kevin & Mike leave and what bands were Shane & John in before Artension?”

“The album sales went progressively down with each release. This is due to the fact that we had no tours, again. Shane had played on my solo album Permanent Mark. He was great and I recommended him when Mike left. I think Mike and Kevin were both sick of Shrapnel and the way things were being done. They returned after we were free from Varney. I never met John Onder, although I knew his name as a Shrapnel bassist.”

“Who else did you approach to replace Mike & Kevin before choosing John & Shane? What is John doing now? They were our first choices.”

“ I don’t know what John is doing. As I said, I’ve never met the man. He did his tracks at different times, and we never met.”

“Out of all the albums on Shrapnel, which are your favourite and least favourite and why?”

“I really like the first two. Especially Phoenix Rising. I just like the way it sounds, and the songs are good. I think the sound of the first one makes it suffer. The mix on Machine ruined that album. A typical Shrapnel story. Great album, shit mix.”

“So why did you leave the label and how did you hook up with Frontiers?”

“We left after our four album term was up. I guess you could understand why, given the answers previous. Frontiers licensed the album for Europe. We did the re-union and everything because of Marquee in Japan. They wanted to see the band back together and recording. They made it happen. Frontiers were interested later.”

“What other labels did you approach after leaving Shrapnel?”

 “None. Marquee approached us with the idea.”

“How long is the deal with Frontiers and are you happy with them?”

“It is a one-off deal for licensing with Frontiers. So far, they have done pretty good.”

“OK lets talk about you’re debut for Frontiers ‘Sacred Pathway’, how well did that sell and were you happy with the way that the label did promotion for you?”

“ I think they did reasonably well. They have a lot of bands they are trying to promote. We still haven’t toured yet….so”

“Why the title and cover and were there any other titles and covers in mind?”

"I researched the Nasca Lines in Peru. I thought this would bean excellent title track idea. Therefore, the cover and etc. were in that style.“

“What songs stood out for you on that record and why? Any least favs?”

“ I thought it was a great comeback for us. A strong album with strong sound and songs. The playing is outstanding, as usual. I like all the songs equally. They are my offspring…I can’t love any one of them more than another.”

“OK now lets talk about the new album ‘New Discovery’, why the title and cover? Where there any other titles and covers?”

“This was based on my research of the Lewis and Clark expeditions in America’s early 1800’s. I always look for interesting concepts to write about. The music is so intense, and deep. You can’ t just write about anything. It must be deep lyrically as well, in my opinion.”

“This album and the previous one features Kevin & Mike back in the band, were you happy to have them back and what made them want to rejoin the band?”

 “I love this rhythm section the most. It is a totally different sound with Chown and Terrana. They wanted to rejoin because we were free from Shrapnel, and these albums were going to be done right.”

“How well is the new album selling and how do you compare each album from one another, what I mean is how do you see each album as a progression?”

“It is selling pretty good. I think a lot of people nowadays are stealing burned copies. It hurts a band like Artension. We don’t show great sales numbers, but we have tons of fans. You don’t get the tour offers without the sales numbers. The fans are hurting us and themselves ultimately.”

“Where was the new album recorded and how long did it take to record? Are you happy with the end results love the new album. It sounds great, the songs are great!.”

“It was recorded all over the place, and we got together and mixed it at Ultimate Studio in Upstate NY (Cortland). Lonnie Park and Matt Barnes do a great job sorting out all the tracks. Vitalij and I mixed it with Lonnie.”

“So why hasn’t the band toured? We’d love to see you tour, esp if you played in the UK as well?”

“Have you not been approached to play any festivals under Artension? We are ready to tour . We just need a solid offer to build off of.”

“Moving away from Artension, could you tell me how you came to be on the 2nd James Murphy album?”

“I believe that Ray Alder was suppose to of sung on the track you did, were you happy to of played on that album and what did you think of it? James guest on my albums, and Artension. He engineered a lot of stuff for Shrapnel. I wanted to return the favour by writing and singing a song on his record. I really like that album. He is a great player and person.”

“So you recorded 2 solo albums also for Shrapnel, how do you compare each album from one another and did they sell well? What other labels did you approach for these releases?”

“The first one is very progressive metal. The second is more riff-groove metal. Somewhat progressive still, in a way. I like Permanent Mark the best.”

“These albums features various members, how did you hook up with them?”

“They were either friends, or introduced by Varney. He has a big file of great players.”

“You also did some vocals on the Sun red Sun album, how did that come about? Also who else have you sang for?”

“Rondinelli asked me to sing on it. Check my website for my complete musical history.”

“You released your 3rd also album ‘Mother Earth’ recently, how well is that selling and also how did you hook up with 2 members of Halford and the other guys, I know you’re friends with Chris Caffery.”

The album is called Earth Maker. I met Metal Mike backstage at a concert. He introduce me to Bobby. His drumming is phenomenal.”

“How do you compare the new solo album to those previously done? Do you agree there’s some parts in the music that sound like ‘Fight’ or ‘Halford’?”

“This is my first concept album. So, no comparing it to anything I’ve done before. The sound is heavier. Of course, you get the guitar player from Halford.. maybe it will sound a bit like Halford.”

“How did you hook up with ‘Royal Hunt’? What did you think of their previous work and also what did you think of DC Coopers vocals?”

“I was introduced by Yngwies old manager. Yngwie hired me to sing on Alchemy. He is such an asshole, I only lasted three days, and quit. Two weeks later I was in Royal Hunt. I like the old stuff a lot. I think DC is a great singer.”

“What are Royal Hunt doing now and are you still in them? Some people call the band as a joke Royal Cunt, what do you think about that? Ha!!!”

“We are doing a new album right now. I will got to Denmark in March to record my vocals.”

“What are your fav & least fav Royal Hunt CDs and why?”

“I like “The Mission” the best, and Fear. The first album is probably my least fav. The songs have got much better over time.”

“What new projects or albums are you about to sing on?”

“I am concentrating on Royal Hunt right now. I did a Iron Maiden tribute in 1999. Called “Slave to the Power”. I did Run to the hills with Chris Caffery and Jeff Plate from Savatage.”

“Well John, thanx for your time, best wishes from a friend and a fan (me). Do you have anything to say and thanx for the interview. Stay in touch.”

“Thanks very much, and all the best"

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