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George Tsalikis: "What is important is that people need to live their lives the way they want without trying to enforce their ideologies on others"

Interview with George Tsalikis from George Tsalikis
by Lior "Steinmetal" Stein at 19 March 2021, 12:01 AM

Tolerance is the name of the game, to know that everyone may think differently and there is no way in the world that an opinion would be torn asunder. Sometimes people think they know best and what would be better for them than impose themselves on others. But it doesn't work easy as no man is a sheep to be dealt with, people have their say and their right to sound their voice. Creating a bridge between reality and imagination, Zandelle's main man, George Tsalikis returns to power, back to his roots, with his second solo album, "Return To Power", stating a fact that he is with Heavy Metal, one with the genre that made him. Steinmetal had a good talk with Geroge in regards to the new record, Zandelle, what kept him busy, how the album takes him forward.

Greetings George, it is quite a pleasure to have you for this interview for Metal Temple online Magazine, how have you been doing sir?

Hello and greetings to you. The pleasure is mine. Thank you so much for this opportunity to speak to you and to your readers. In answer to your question, despite the worldwide pandemic which all but destroyed the live music scene, I’m doing pretty well.

It has been a while since the last time I listened to your main band, Zandelle, actually I think it was since your last album back in 2015, “Perseverance”. I reminded myself prior to listening to your new album, so I had a great recollection. Talking about Zandelle, anything is up with you guys these days? Is there something going on, perhaps an incoming new album this year or the next?

Unfortunately, nothing is going on with Zandelle anymore.  We’ve never had much luck with regards to guitarists so it became too much of a struggle to keep that project alive as opposed to going solo.  At one point I did consider releasing this album under the Zandelle name once Jofu (Joe Cardillo) agreed to play drums on it, but felt it wasn’t really a Zandelle album since there was no one other than myself involved in the writing and arrangement of the songs.  The most ironic aspect of this, is the fact that I originally started Zandelle as kind of a solo project.

Other than your solo career, and of course your new release, which I guess has been a process of the last two years, what have you been doing music wise since 2015? Any new projects of sorts?

I’m happy to say that I’ve kept pretty busy since 2015 with several different projects.  As far as live shows, I’ve continued working with my 80’s Hard Rock cover band, CIRCLE OF 4.  I also performed many shows with NY local Heavy Metal band, MAGUS BEAST while they were in the process of replacing their original singer.  I sang with another Heavy Metal cover band called Blacque Jacque Shellacque which consisted of members of Magus Beast as well as several other local NY bands.  Last year I was fortunate enough to join the Judas Priest tribute band, SINNER.  Prior to that I joined Overlorde and have been working with the rest of those guys on a new album we hope to release later this year.  And finally, prior to recording “Return to Power” I’ve recorded several tribute songs and produced videos which I’ve posted on my YouTube channel:

A busy bee I see, well done. Onwards we ride into your next personal venture, five years after your vampiric debut, you stroll in with a new album, and also in the process, signing with Pure Steel Records, which has also been hosting Zandelle. I guess it was only natural for you to sign with the German label right? How do you feel about this signing?

As you’ve stated, it was the natural thing to do.  Pure Steel is a fantastic record label and have been very supportive since my Zandelle days.  It made perfect sense for me to see if they would be interested in releasing “Return to Power”.  Collaborating with them was one of the best experiences I’ve had with any label up to this point.  They hooked me up with an amazing engineer, Robert Romagna and he helped bring the sound of the album to an entirely new level.  They then hooked me up with a truly incredible artist, Augusto Peixoto who created a spectacular cover for the album.  I couldn’t be happier with the signing.

With the debut album trailing the mythical vampire creatures, there is your sophomore, titled “Return To Power”, which I felt that it had more of your personal touch than the debut. Would you say that this record has a different angle, as if you were traveling throughout your early, and maybe even present, career in a single album? 

As the title suggests, I’ve returned to my Power metal roots for this one.  The previous album was much more experimental with many more theatrical elements.  This time I wanted to produce something that reflected where I came from, my influences, and the style that inspires me the most.  I wanted to write and album where every song would get the adrenaline pumping, the heart racing, and the head banging.  I wanted to push my limits and create an album that would remind people of Zandelle without it necessarily being a Zandelle album.  So in a way, yes… it was very much like traveling throughout my career, picking out the best parts of it and creating something new with those elements as the driving force.

Whether on a personal level, or rather going through the spirit of fantasy, which has also been part of your past, what kinds of stones did you overturn throughout the record? What kind of message do you convey?

The songs of this album are most split into two thematic categories: the human condition, and fantasy.  The fantasy ones are easy to spot.  We have “The Demon Barber” which is basically the tale of “Sweeney Todd” told from his perspective (and trimmed down to the length of one song, so much of the sub-plots of the story had to be left out).  And there are the two closing songs which are two parts of the same story, involving a kingdom that made a pact with a dragon to protect kingdom from any invading enemies.  The rest of the songs, “Live to Ride”, “The Chase”, “Dehumanized”, “Stand My Ground”, “Burden of Proof”, “In Memory” have to do with various elements of my own life experience and I hope something to inspire and give strength to others who can relate in any way.  And lastly, “Together We Rise” is your typical Metal anthem because it wouldn’t be a true Power Metal album without one such song.  Just kidding, there are plenty of amazing Power Metal albums that do not have songs that would be considered anthems, but I couldn’t resist.

 “Return To Power” clearly shows, even when it comes to your solo record, that you remain adamantly loyal to your heritage of pure Classic Metal driven music, not straying towards other directions. Needless to say that you wrote everything on your own and also played nearly every instrument involved. How did you find yourself developing as a musician and as a songwriter through the work on this album?

Honestly, it took a lot of time and effort to get the album to the point where I felt it needed to be and, in some instances, I surprised myself (especially when it came to the guitar solos).  Not only was it challenging as a writer, since I had no one else to bounce ideas off of and to get their creative input, but as a musician to be able to pull off the level of performance required to do it justice.  This was the first time I took on this much of the responsibility for an entire album.  But in the end, I was very happy with the results, and I think most fans of the genre will appreciate it as well.

Talking about Traditional Metal, with the US Metal scene not even remotely close to what it was in its heydays in the 80s with modernized versions of Metal directions thriving in such an impeccable pace, what inspired you, or better said, motivated you to cling to the traditional side of Metal?

That’s easy… I involve myself in the things I love and ignore everything else no matter how popular or trendy it may be.  Don’t get me wrong… I don’t consider myself close-minded.  I’ve listened to much of the newer styles of music in the U.S. Rock and Metal scene and tried to give them a chance to grow on me.  But… they simply didn’t.  And it’s not about songs of the past.  There are many newer bands who’ve released albums in the Classic / Power Metal genre and even older band who’ve released new albums that I absolutely love… so it isn’t about nostalgia.  It’s just about what gets me going.

Within your songwriting and song arrangements, what form of elements did you emphasize this time around that you didn’t put into notice on your debut album?

For this album, I just wanted to produce ten kick-ass Heavy Metal songs that could stand independently on their own.  So I put a different kind of focus on each song this time around.  I place more emphasis on the riffs and arrangements of each song to ensure that they would be captivating, interesting and motivating to the listener.  Looking back, I feel that “The Sacrifice” is great if you listen to it (or watch the videos for which I have one for every song) from beginning to end to truly appreciate it, whereas with “Return to Power” you can pick out any song at any time and enjoy just that song without having to have it in any context.

Reporting for duty to man the skins, you brought in your drummer from Zandelle, Joe Cardillo, to bring down the hammer. How do you find Cardillo’s presence on the album? Would you say that you find your permanent man for the job for the next album? 

Absolutely (in answer to the 2nd part of your question)!!! Jofu is one of the best drummers I’ve ever known and his performance on “Return to Power” brought the album to a whole new level.  He was able to take what I had originally written and make it even better.  He is a true master of his craft and he’s welcome to play on any album I ever write.

When I listened to the epic closer, and yes I started out with the last song, “The Dragon Has Fallen”, I thought of Dio for some reason, even though he was never really a kind of a sort of a storyteller, but something in the delivery itched me. Without being overly melodic, it told more of a tragic end than a heroic glory. What can you tell about this song and its development?

In “Master of the Sky”, a dragon is awakened when an invading horde is making its way towards the kingdom that the dragon is sworn to protect.  The dragon takes flight and begins a devastating campaign of death from the sky on this invading horde.  But the song ends with no conclusion as to how the battle between the dragon and the horde ends.  The title of the final song pretty much resolves that question.

In “The Dragon Has Fallen”, we cut to the kingdom itself where the people who were unaware of what happened far off in the distance, suddenly are alerted to the fact that they are being invaded (…okay… I couldn’t resist a touch of epic theatrics).  At first the townsfolk are confused.  They don’t understand how this is possible since they know that the dragon, whom they refer to as they savior, is supposed to protect them from this very thing.  As they prepare to fight, they send scouts to find out what happened to the dragon only to learn that it was killed trying to stop the invaders.  Here’s where personal perception plays a key role.  I never stated whether or not the kingdom loses to the invading horde or whether they come out victorious.  What I did say is that the people realize that they must rely on themselves.  The last line in the song is “No protector is needed now”, indicating that the people have found their inner strength and are ready to stand up and face this challenge, which in and of itself is a very self-empowering message.   It doesn’t so much matter whether or not you win or lose the fight, so much as whether or not you take the fight to your enemy.

The main tune that moved me, and trust me I found it as no cliché’, is “Stand My Ground”. No matter when, and no matter how many times I will listen to these sorts of tunes of self-empowerment and not letting anyone step on one’s toes, those are relevant. It appears that you are describing an occurrence or a past event that has a relation to this song, what can you share about it?

First off, let me say that I’m happy that you were moved by one of my songs.  As an artist, it really means a lot to hear words like that.  That being said, let me get to your question.  The song is a culmination of various elements.  As I’m sure you’re aware, the political climate in the United States has grown greatly polarized with many people refusing to even listen to any view that’s different from their own.  What I’ve noticed is that there are those at the extremes of all sides (religious, political, etc.) who take this even further and take on an almost fascistic mentality where they want to force everyone to think and act the way they want them to, and when they don’t, those extremists play the victim and cry that they’re being oppressed.

Now, I have my views on those topics but that isn’t what’s important so I will not go into details about that.  What is important is that people need to live their lives the way they want without trying to enforce their ideologies on others.  And that’s basically what the song is about.  Personally, I don’t really care what side of the spectrum you are with regards to politics and/or religion, just don’t try to force me to play by your rules if I happen to have differing views.  I’d be happy to discuss those views in a respectful manner and if convinced by your argument, I’m willing to change my opinion on the matter, but when you try to change people by force, that’s when I have a problem.

Talking about the music, this song is driving, it bestows a load some of power, clenching one’s fist tightly kind of moment. What can you tell about this song’s impact on the record musically as it has a different approach?

I never thought about it in that kind of detail before.  When I wrote the guitar riff, I was going for a heavier, more driving sound with the influence of Iced Earth, Demons and Wizards, and early Metallica.  One of the things I tried to do with this album is to vary the music as much as possible so that it doesn’t sound repetitive or derivative.  I don’t like when I’ve listened to an album and have no idea if I just heard fifteen songs or just one long one.  So, I guess this was the “angrier” song of the album.

How have you been holding up with the Covid pandemic so far? Do you see a light at the end of the tunnel? Do you believe that these vaccinations are the answer that all have been seeking?

Unlike many people during these times, I’ve been pretty fortunate.  I didn’t really suffer any medical or financial issues and for that I’m thankful.  I finally do see a light at the end of the tunnel.  The vaccinations I feel will help bring things back to normal.  I also feel that heard immunity is something that will (and would have anyway) kick in eventually.  I think some things will linger longer such as wearing masks.  Even if it’s not mandated, some people will continue to wear masks long after this is officially over.   That doesn’t really bother me.  I’m just looking forward to being able to play live in front of an audience again that isn’t forced to sit at tables set six feet apart.

Do you have any plans to promote the new album through shows, once those will be available of course?

I don’t have any specific plans as of yet.  The problem with doing a solo album where you play all but one instrument is that you don’t have a band with which to do shows.  But, if the opportunity arises for a tour, I’m sure I can find enough musicians to join me.

George, thank you for precious time for this interview, and thank you for delivering a great record in the name of Heavy Metal. Cheers sir.

Thank you again for this opportunity to speak to you and to your readers.  Thank you also for all the kind words and I look forward to answering more questions after my 3rd album.

You bet



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