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Frank Serafine & Zachary Randall (Northern Crown)

Interview with Frank Serafine & Zachary Randall from Northern Crown
by Abir Kalai at 23 January 2015, 1:05 PM

The newly released “In The Hands Of The Betrayer” EP, the introductory production by the American doom metal band NORTHERN CROWN strikes as an amalgamation of a myriad extra-doom elements, rendered by Zachary Randall’s heterogeneous guitar lines further adorned by Frank Serafine’s vocal artistry, engendering a relatively “contemporary” doom sound.

So Mr. Zachary and Mr. Frank, welcome to this Metal Temple interview and thank you for taking the time to answer the questions! So, your first EP has been receiving positive reviews by various critics. Were you waiting for such results?

Zachary Randall: Uhm, for me, I didn’t know what to expect. I obviously thought that it was good. Until the reviews started coming in, I had no concept that it would be this overwhelmingly positive. What about you, Frank?

Frank Serafine: I figured it was going to get about a little off the road sort of review, just because people generally do not rate first releases very high. Because a lot of time, first releases are not as full as the later releases. The style is not fully developed yet. And so I feel like most people tend to rate the very first thing you put out about not of the road kind of score, although I gave 110% into the record.

Zachary Randall: Yeah, everybody involved, all of us worked really really hard. Frank in particular. As he came on, came into the project very late as he like recorded the drums – the drummer is a friend of his – so we did a lot of work in a short amount of time to make this album.

Great for you! Tell us about the writing process and who wrote which track.

Zachary Randall: So I wrote the music, Frank wrote all the vocal melodies, and helped with the arrangement. He was my partner every step of the way, he was every bit as important as I was and the songs turned out the way they did. So I presented to him with basically completed songs, and the lyrics, in sort of talking in general about what I wanted, but his performance I didn’t have to coach any, and basically he would send the track to me in pretty much every instance. I didn’t have to ask him to do anything. He was that spot on.

Frank, are you classically trained?

Frank Serafine: Well, it depends on what entails classical training because I was raised at a very young age in music theory. In grade school when I was under ten years old, I was trained in music theory and I took it very verbally from a singing standpoint. I didn’t really learn anything, past then up to the later years but I have been singing ever since.

Frank, what other genres did you use to sing before recording a doom album?

Frank Serafine: Ah, I love that question! I actually sing a lot of different styles, I just have a lot of music interests in general. I like to sing as much as I can. I started out singing classics, classic rock from the 60s, crooners from the 1940s like Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin and even a little bit of vocal jazz. But of course I took very readily to rock ‘n roll and heavy metal and that started about seven/eight years ago in a band from Nashville, Tennessee.

So how did you meet each other?

Zachary Randall: You wanna tell the story or should I, Frank? I don’t know if I heard it from your perspective, I will tell it from mine.

Frank Serafine: Oh sure, why not? My fiancée basically told me that one of her really good friends and coworkers at the time, since she was co-working with Zach and company, needed some work done on his music. He was having a bit of trouble taking it in the direction that he wanted to take it at the time and even concentrating on making music together. So, I listened to some of his tracks, and he sent them to me kind of under the radar. I thought that they had so much potential. He hit the nail on the head of what doom metal is. And I thought that as soon as these tracks are fully realized, it’s going to be something awesome. So I wanted to be part of it as soon as I heard the first two tracks.

So, from Zachary’s perspective?

Zachary Randall: Uhm, so his fiancée as he mentioned is a dear friend of mine and he kinda heard the songs early on, but the band had a sort of different form, and I’ve been mentioning to her the frustration of keeping the line-up together. I am like I don’t know if I’m going to finish this, and one day out of the blue, I got a message from Frank on Soundcloud. Now since she lives two stages away, obviously I knew who he was, but we never met, we’ve never spoken. I got a message from him on Soundcloud about the tracks, and we started talking you know, pretty regularly up to that point, and first he helped me find a drummer as I realized, I actually used to be the vocalist of Northern Crown and you know, my talent aside, as a vocalist I’m not even in the same realm as Frank. So I realized that this material needed a stronger singer. Frank just offered and I had him do a couple of demos for me, like the opening verse of “Heaven And Hell” and he did the first verse and chorus of the title track of “In The Hands Of The Betrayer” and at that point there was no question at all that he was going to be the guy in the record, and it was like yeah, the gig is yours, Dude.

So you mentioned that the two actual members of the group are Frank and you (Zachary). Will the other mentioned guest members end up in the official line up?

Zachary Randall: So the key point is Roberto who is also a really good friend of mine, would like to keep recording. I usually hear from him a couple of times a week, he wants to know when we’re gonna start writing new songs, so Roberto probably will continue to be in the lineup. Everybody else, I have no feeling one way or the other, I mean for certain it’s Frank and I, I would have a hard time imagining doing another one of these records him singing it and helping me produce it, apart from that the reality is that we don’t need a full band until we play live, Frank and I can handle about everything so we’re both pretty much multifaceted that way.

Speaking of live performances, if you will ever be on a tour, which other bands do you wish that you share the stage with?

Zachary Randall: Candlemass for sure, My Dying Bride absolutely. those are my two big doom influences outside of Black Sabbath. What about you Frank, who would you like to share the stage with to play live?

Frank Serafine: I personally would like to tour, either with Katatonia or Daylight Dies

Zachary Randall: Oooh! I actually saw Daylight Dies open up for Candlemass back in 2008, it was a really cool show.

Frank Serafine: Gosh! I just love what they’re doing to the doom genre, they’re bringing a bunch of unique chord progressions, and sort of giving it a sort of Death Metal edge with the growls.

Zachary Randall: Yeah, there‘s a band from Sweden called Isole, it would be cool to have a show with them if we have the opportunity. But you know the dream would be Candlemass to be on the same stage as them for sure.

So how did you come up with the idea that you cover exactly “Crystal Ball” by Candlemass – which I think you nailed it even better than the original version?

Zachary Randall: First of all, thank you very much, so I knew it was gonna be a cover on this record and actually it was originally going to be “Electric Funeral” by Black Sabbath. But the thing is, when you wanna cover Black Sabbath, it’s feel.

You have to be in the same room as the rest of the band. We recorded this a thousand of miles apart and it generally worked pretty well but for something like Black Sabbath I need to be in the same room as the drummer to do that properly, so as I’m working on it, it just wasn’t gonna happen, and I basically tried to figure out how to fill this album. I was actually, uhm, Frank’s fiancée Stephanie suggested we do a Candlemass song, and then I think within a day or two I had a rough demo of Crystal Ball done that I sent over to Frank.

So who choose the name of the band “Northern Crown”, you or Frank?

Zachary Randall: There were actually a couple of guys that were in Northern Crown before Frank and it was the original bassist who came up with the name. We actually had like a couple of shows coming on and we didn’t have a name picked out yet, so at a rehearsal one day we had a big list of names and he suggested Northern Crown, which is named after the constellation of “Corona Borealis”. And I soon as I heard “Northern Crown” I thought that it would be the name for the band.

So as listening to the tracks I noticed some thrash riffs. Any underlying influences?

Zachary Randall: I’m definitely a thrash guy. I mean I’m a music guy. Metallica is probably one of my top 3 bands, you know James Hetfield is one of my guitar heroes. When I started writing music and I’ve done some Black Metal in the past, thrash and doom always creep in everything I do. I don’t know that the thrashy sound is gonna be a big part of what we do going forward, but there’s always a thrash influence on my band.

It’s clear, but what made you choose the doom genre for your project?

Zachary Randall: That’s just what I write. I had been doing Black Metal, and I just stopped having fun with it. Heavy Metal is my favorite genre about music. In my heart, I would be a classic rock guy like a 70’s rock guy. And I sort of think you should take the intersection of heavy metal and classic rock you wind it up with doom. And you think about Black Sabbath or that the early heavy metal was really doomy. Or proto-metal stuff like Blue Cheer, which is more blues and it is metal but still really distorted and doomy. The best explanation I can say is that’s where my heart is as an artist is doom metal.

So any upcoming album on the way?

Zachary Randall: We are writing as we speak, as Frank and I have careers. There will be another album when we actually have the time to sit down and record one. We’re both in the mindset that we’ll keep doing this. But like I said, we both have careers outside of this band, so that takes precedence for us.

Will it follow the same concept or would it rather be oriented towards longer, lower tempo tracks miming the classics of doom metal?

Frank Serafine: From what I’ve heard of the new stuff that we’re laying down, it is very much more legitimately classic doomy than what we have done on the EP. We were talking about the early days My Dying Bride.

Zachary Randall: The one song that people seems to gravitate around in the EP is “To Thee I Give An Orchid” and it’s very pretty, emotional song, also a very bleak song and I like that bleakness. So that’s something I’ve been sort of trying to sum it up some more, and I like these low tempos, the long songs, the arrangements for the strings, the organs and the choirs. And it just happens that other people like that stuff too so that’s what I’m trying to focus on and I wanna make sure to get Frank as the vocalist a lot of room to apply his craft because you’ve heard him, he’s an amazing vocalist. And the less crowded, the less busy I make my guitar, the more room I give him to basically run it. You listen to Dio, you know Tony Iommi writes differently for Dio than he did for Ozzy because Tony gets out of the way, lets Dio do his thing. I’m putting a flattery on my friend here, because Frank is not classic like Ronnie James Dio style of heavy metal vocals so I wanna make sure I give him a good work that makes sense.

So speaking of doom, Where do you see the place of it in the metal scene nowadays? The question is for both of you!

Zachary Randall: You go first, Frank!

Frank Serafine: Okay, I always think that doom metal tends to attract a lot of people that generally don’t feel comfortable talking about inherently happy scenarios or bombastic ideas. There’s no sort of major crazy fantasy elements. With lyrics in the doom genre I think I feel that it’s more or less something that is felt rather than explained. And so I feel I always have a place in heavy metal and always exist in one form or another. But I do see involving a lot. I think a lot of melodic elements are becoming more pronounced. And I think this sort of melodic lexicon is involving to incorporate a bit more of a complex blended style.

So, Zachary?

Zachary Randall: So, doom is interesting and it’s become really popular in the United States recently. I know I see it like we have a lot of people like us in Europe, and obviously someone from North Africa talking to us (the Metal Temple interviewer). The doom scene in America is interesting and that is now becoming a style of music that people outside of the metal world listen to. You know, America’s N.P.R. (National Public Radio) bands like Pallbearer get  played on N.P.R. So it’s something that’s still in the underground but something that’s been really like culturally embraced in U.S. So doom is sort of the forefront of metal right now whereas a few years ago it was Black Metal. Look at when Frank talks about how doom is evolving, and it’s involving in front of everybody’s eyes right now because it’s style of music in the U.S. that people wanna hear.

This album is the most personal art you've ever created, could you explain further?

Zachary Randall: All the lyrics are told straight from my life – without getting into details. It’s sort of telling about me, expressing frustration, heartbreak about three really bad days of my life. I’ve read what some people think some of the songs are about, and that’s what they’re about. I think, one of them I’ve actually told Frank what it’s about but otherwise, he’s saying he doesn’t necessarily know exactly what the songs are about. But what I like about what we did on this record is that I think this is immediately relatable to anybody might think that those stories that I’m telling everybody can relate and have their own interpretation of them.

Zach and Frank, any final words? Let’s start with Frank!

Frank Serafine: I think my perspective on singing for this album and upcoming songs, I’d like to approach this from a very musical theater perspective. And I believe that it’s the drama that’s really involved in them. And if they need to be just belted out there at time could be the emotion so raw and huge. The feelings are universal, but different possibly. The vocalists need to step up to the play, and make the intense drummer involved in their lyrics, really developed, like a line that is something very drastic like in “To Thee I Give An Orchid”, the protagonist comes down from the mountain and he sees his  love there in the arms of somebody else. I tend to think that in real life, rather than freeze it up or walk away, somebody just has to shout it and I figured that’s what I would do and would like to see done in a stage production – if they were to do it – so I think that way if I were just shouting my anger and disbelief. And I feel that makes a good record when you have legitimacy to the drummer behind the lyrics.

Right! So, Zachary?

Zachary Randall: I’m really excited at the support that we’re getting for this record, you know obviously beside Metal Temple, has been positive about us and supporting us. This has been, It’s one of the coolest things in my life artistically and professionally but Northern Crown, sort of overshadows pretty much everything I’ve done in my entire life, just the fulfillment that I get from it and that I get to do it with an equally talented and passionate guy like Frank, and as I say we live in a world where we can make professional quality music but still, you know, have a job and be a family man like there’s no reason that in this day and age that you can’t do that. So as long as we are physically able to make heavy metal music I think that we’ll probably be making heavy metal music. And I hope that people continue to enjoy it the way that I have for this first record.

Thank you Frank and Zachary from Northern Crown, and keep on metal!

Zachary Randall: Thank you very much!

Frank Serafine: Thank you so much, that was awesome!



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