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Power Theory's Bob Ballinger: "There is a fine line between clever and stupid lol, some artists take the whole “pro tools” era to the extreme and create music that they can't pull off live. Its a shame..."

Interview with Bob Ballinger from Power Theory
by Lior "Steinmetal" Stein at 12 November 2019, 11:01 PM

Setting a new standard to one's self is always important, trying to become better over time, to slowly mutate into the next in line. Such motivation and desire is also crucial to make a great album. It pretty much happened for the long running US Metal outfit, Power Theory, sliding in with their new album, "Force Of Will". Steinmetal had a talk with veteran guitarist, Bob Ballinger, about the lineup changes that made it happen for the band, the new album, songwriting, modern perspectives towards music and sound and more…

Hello Bob, it is awesome having you for this interview for Metal Temple online magazine, what have you been up to lately?

Greetings and thanks for this opportunity! I've been very busy with the guys preparing for our album release, revamping our live set as well as writing new material for the next album.

Soon enough, Power Theory is about to officially introduce its new album “Force of Will”, via Pure Steel Records, which I deem as a turn of a page for the band. I can only assume that your anticipation levels are at a critical state. With the end result about to hit the streets, is anyone about to be shocked by what he or she is about to listen to?

As far as a turn of the page goes, I would say yes and no. I believe if a band or band member does not continue to grow in songwriting and performances with each release then it's not worth continuing with either. So Yes, we've turned the page with this line up because everyone now is driven for excellence and No, because musically the foundations are what Power Theory has been about since the beginning, just now a more mature version and vision.

And Hell Yes! … our anticipation levels are through the roof for the fans to hear this! We all have worked our hardest, writing and performing these songs and we’re all very proud of the outcome.

Following Power Theory’s European sting two years ago, things happened in the band, resulting in the emergence of two new faces, Carlos Alvarez of Shadowdance and the rather unknown vocalist Jim Rutherford. What caused this turn of events that led these two gentlemen into Power Theory?

Well, actually 3 new faces & the first of those important changes was the addition of Johnny Sasso on the drums as a full time member. He and longtime bassist Alan D'Angelo lock in the rhythm section stronger than ever. We have been blessed with 3 great drummers before him but since Lorin Savadove (The End A.D) departed to put his own band together we had to use hired guns. Johnny is also the first real Metal drummer we've had!

Carlos has been the unofficial 6th member of Power Theory since the "Driven by Fear" sessions, as he recorded, engineered, and produced that album. We departed ways with our last guitarist, Nick Giannakos from Wretch who graciously filled in for a time. He was just too very busy with his own bands and we had some more commitments to keep. So Carlos stepped up and killed it. Almost 3 years, a bunch of shows and a new album later and here we are.  I guess he's a full time member now too lol!

Our previous singer had been struggling for the last year or so, he was with us and it became clear the new material was going to require much more than he might have been capable of offering, so it was time for a change. Jim was available and things with him just seemed to feel right, everything fell into place with him perfectly so we asked him to join.

Speaking of Jim Rutherford, I trying digging stuff up on the guy, but I found nothing. However, it wasn’t really that crucial for me to rapidly comprehend his powerful voice and his strong influence on how Power Theory sounds on “Force of Will”. How did this relationship began? What is your appreciation of the guy’s performance? Is he a true Power Theory material?

Jim Rutherford is exactly what Power Theory needed to get our foot out of the door and kick it right off its fucking hinges!!! He's a mix of every great singer I'm a fan of; a little Bruce, a little Ronnie, a little Rob, a little Tate, with a splash of Cornell, etc. His vocal performances on “Force of Will” as well as the old material live with us are fucking killer. We've all known Jim from around the Philly music scene for years and there is no doubt he is one of the best singers from the area. We’ve even shared the stage with him a few times with his previous bands Fate 88, and Inevitus. He's one of the nicest and most laid back dudes I know. A little known fact, Jim is just as good of a guitar player, maybe better, than me lol !!

As for Carlos Alvarez, which he is somewhat of a seasoned musician, especially due to the various bands he played and participated in, how do you find his contribution to the massive riffery I have been listening to on the new record? Do you believe that you found your immaculate twin axe?

Haha, that's a great way to put it, he is very seasoned! I feel the twin guitar attack is exactly what this band has needed and now with his contributions we have the right mix. To me it's like a blend of Gorham/Robertson, Downing/Tipton, Murray/Smith, etc. Now I'm not saying we're as good as those guys lol, but I'm saying our individual styles mimic those, so we have a contrast that fits. Me being more of a blues based player and Carlos more classical. Neither of us are blazing shredders but we each hold our own very well and have some cool licks that are memorable but more importantly, fit the songs. It's like Caesar said on Planet of the Apes, “Apes Together Strong” LOL We also share a mutual love for many of the same hard rock & metal bands both old and new. So that helped us mesh together as players.

In the light of “Force of Will”, how do you perceive the musical development of Power Theory? What makes the album, and the band’s efforts, as a standout in the still alive market of US Metal exports?

Some people have described us as Traditional Metal, some as Power Metal, some as Traditional Power Metal lol, I think this is definitely more of a Power Metal album, more so than any of our previous efforts.

What makes this album standout again are the songs, performances by the band and the killer vocal performances by Jim not to mention some amazing guest vocals by Piet Sielck of Iron Savior on our song “Spitting Fire”. I have no doubt that without this line up this album would not be as strong as it is.

Which musical elements were largely emphasized in order to achieve this monstrosity of an outcome?

One of the main differences that achieved monstrosity was we decided to hire a top level engineer to mix the album, Henrik Udd (Powerwolf, Hammerfall) and mastering was once again done by Brett Caldas-Lima (Ayreon, Devin Townsend). This along with extensive time spent doing pre-production and various other little recording improvements all contributed to the massive end result. The songs all start with a theme, and then we try and capture & reflect that mood for it. Then of course there’s the tone, Carlos and I pride ourselves on our guitar tone and what we call the “Power Theory” sound. Textures play a big part as well, we don't always want to lock into the typical metal beat/tempo changes which in turn keeps things fresh and more interesting for the listener and ourselves.

Now with the new members, how do you capture the songwriting process of Power Theory? Has it become a more of a group effort rather than mere sprites of ideas coming from members while the basics of the material is already set in stone?

For this album it was a mix. Some were leftover demo ideas I had from "Driven by Fear" writing sessions that needed a little love lol, some riff ideas Carlos sent me that we evolved together. For example, while he was working on finalizing some arrangements and potential track orders he said, “I really think we need another song, fast song”. I had some killer riffs that, combined with some riffs & melodies of his eventually became the basis for “Spitting Fire”. Then we completed it sitting side by side, with guitars, in his studio. Some of the songs Carlos wrote from riffs & melodies he had or reworked from unfinished Shadowdance material and some were just spontaneously inspired by the act of writing. As far as set in stone goes, well that's one of the reasons I've loved working with Carlos since “Driven by Fear”. Nothing is ever truly set in stone lol. What I think is a chorus he may see as a verse and so on … we try all the angles. He has also helped me to become a better player. The lyrics and vocal melodies were a combination of us all.

In comparison to the 80s, and of course due to the technological advancements of sounds and studio production, US Metal bands have been tending to cling to modern driven sound in order to become heavier, sometimes even to grasp the ears of the younger generation. However, do you believe that in the process, the magic of the 80s is somewhat lost, especially if there is a revival going on? Is bygones be bygones?

I see a mix of both, modern studio technology and studio production are amazing, using the right gear you can precisely duplicate that sound for live performances! The magic of the 80's is only lost when bands fail to make each performance an event for their fans. In my opinion that's what was lost with some of the modern bands, some would even dress on stage like they just got done fixing your roof lol. More and more younger fans are appearing at Metal Shows of bands that have been around since the 80's lately, and that's good!

When it comes to the philosophy between the lines of the album’s songs, is there a crossroads, a mutual ground where the lyrical concept conjures into a main theme? What is your view on “Force Of Will” all about?

By far, it is not a concept album, but the title track “Force of Will” and album closer “The Hill I Die On” do share similar ideas about courage, discipline, honor, perseverance and truth.

Other than that each song has its own meaning; "Draugr" is about revenge, "If Forever Ends Today" is about undying love and fidelity, "Mountain of Death" and "Albion" I explain later in the interview, "Th13teen" is a take on a movie we love “The 13th Warrior”, "Spitting Fire" is about muscle cars and outlaw racing, "Bringer of Rain" is about Spartacus, "Path of Glory" is about 5 brothers who all died on the USS Juneau in WWII, "Shadow of Man" is about the idea that whatever race, religion, or political view you have, when Mother Earth decides its over none of that will matter!

Which of the album’s songs mean to you the most? That one track that makes your skin crawl time and time again while listening to it. Please elaborate on your pick.

LOL, it will be hard to pick only 1! They all make my skin crawl, and I guess if I had to pick anyone song, I would say “Mountain of Death”, because it paints a vivid picture of the story it's written about, which is the Dyatlov Pass Incident. The harmony parts and solos we wrote just have a perfect Russian feel to them.

“Albion” is probably one of your best written epic tunes, certainly a one of a kind, generating both strong emotions and tough grinding riffing. What is your take on this track? On what is it about? Any recollections regarding its writing?

I love this song! I was working on this for "Driven by Fear", but may have over complicated it then, lol. Carlos encouraged me to re-demo my ideas and helped me arrange and complete the song while also managing to sneak in meter & riff alterations. The song is about the idea of “home”. As a child you may come from somewhere else and as an adult you may find your home far away but your true home is always in your heart, your soul, and with your ancestors. I wrote this song for my wife Moni who came to America from Deutschland. It's always melancholy on our return travels home from a visit to her family. But of course we had to write it about a Warrior, lol!

As mentioned, the track “Spitting Fire” guests the mighty Piet Sielck of Iron Savior on vocals, joined by the grandeur of mr. Rutherford. No doubt that Sielck energized the song with his commanding voice. Have you been an Iron Savior fan? How was it to work with Sielck on this track? How did you link up? What was his reaction to the end result?

Carlos and I have been huge fans of Iron Savior for years, although we have different favorite albums by them! We also have a mutual friend Jan Bünning of the band Paragon, Carlos knows him better than I. Piet had recently completely work on the last Paragon. It was Carlos’ idea to have a guest vocalist for the song “Spitting Fire” since the lyrical duel happening seemed right for one album so Carlos reached out to Jan to put him in touch with Piet and he did. He really dug the song and threw down some killer vocals with all the professionalism he would for his own band and he was super friendly as well so working with him was very easy!

Pure Steel Records has been in charge of the album’s promotion, and since nowadays you just can’t promote using a single platform, there is a large selection. Which of these platforms do you find as the most beneficial to assist the band in reaching out as many folks as possible?

With a good quality lyric video and pro performance video, YouTube can be a great tool, as well as Spotify, and Social Media, I believe European Metal Magazine Ads are a great too. It has to be an attack from all angles!

Talking about the present music market, there has been a wide phenomenon of artists that have been mainly focusing on technical abilities in favor of actually write songs that would itch the soul. Is this where we are heading? In a way did the soul of the song get lost?

Okay, this is only my opinion! There is a fine line between clever and stupid lol, some artists take the whole “pro tools” era to the extreme and create music that they can't pull off live. Its a shame, I've seen some bands that were good but were using backing bass and keyboard tracks instead of real players and it just turned me off. Yes, there was no soul! Backing tracks are ok, to some level, but to replace an actual musician in a live performance, I say no!!!!!!

What are the plans ahead for Power Theory? Will there be another launch into Europe anytime soon? What about festivals in 2020?

We are starting off 2020 with a bang, as direct support for 3 shows with mighty Ross the Boss Band in Queens NY, Poughkeepsie NY, and Brooklyn NY. We also have a direct support slot for our well known friends in Sinister Realm's reunion show scheduled, and an appearance at Mad with Power Festival - USA 2020, night one 8/14/20. WE are also in negotiation for European Festivals and some tour dates around them…. More to Come!

Bob, you stunned me with such a mighty release, surely a pleasure to listen to the powerful iron fist of the old US Metal scene. Thank you for the music sir. All the best!

As Always, Thank You so much for the opportunity here and your continued support!



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