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Sandstone's Sean McBay: "… there has always been an angst to what we are trying to express, a somewhat unresolvable frustration that we all face in the struggles of life every day"

Interview with Sean McBay from Sandstone
by Lior "Steinmetal" Stein at 15 November 2021, 11:27 PM

Every album is a personal journey of a songwriter, or a band of songwriters, whether life stories, or imagination gone wild, it is all there. There is no specific point in a songwriter's career where he tells himself that he has to better, there is no such thing. It is an inner feeling that is each to his / her own. Sandstone, the British Metal band returning with a new album, made an immense impact with a creative new album, "Epsilon Sky". Steinmetal had to find out on what was that all about, and had a good talk with frontman, Sean McBay  

Hello Sean, it is a pleasure to have you for this interview for Metal Temple online Magazine, how have you been mate?

Hi Lior, I am doing great my friend! Hope you are doing well!

It has been years since the last time I heard of Sandstone. If I am not mistaken you toured with Tim “Ripper” Owens as his touring band right? I guess that it was a great run that couldn’t go on. What can you say that you guys learned from your time with Ripper?

We have been fortunate enough to tour Europe twice with Tim Ripper Owens and was a pleasure each time. I personally found him to be very approachable when we first met, and he was always very helpful with tips on how to maintain the voice for a long tour.

As the tour went on, we all became very close friends with Tim and to this day we are still very grateful for all he has done for Sandstone and getting us out there for people to hear us. I think in terms of learning from him, we definitely can say we have learned a lot about how to conduct ourselves on and off stage and with fans/media people that we came across. He has been at the highest level for so long and for us it was clear to see why as he is a real professional.

Earlier on you decided that taking a hiatus would do you good, it lasted for nearly eight years. Was there a particular reason why the band’s didn’t make a comeback earlier than this year?

No not really, we all have day jobs and families outside of the band and Sandstone just had to take a backseat for a while after our last tour so that we could re-evaluate our goals and of course get back to the writing process for what now is our latest album Epsilon Sky.

In a way, you came back to a Metal scene that is somewhat different than at the beginning of the decade. The variety of Metal that is being offered got even more intense. How do you view your local Metal scene’s development throughout the time that Sandstone was in ice?

This part of the world always has a high level of heavy metal/rock bands and in the twenty years we have been in Sandstone it has always been very competitive. Most bands would know each other and help each other out with equipment etc. so there is a very good comradery between the bands. I would personally recommend bands like Sinocence, Stormzone, Conjuring Fate, Bakken to name but a few great acts from Northern Ireland.

What was the trigger that revamped Sandstone? That moment where you felt that it was time to get out of hiatus and create new music?

I think once we had enough material for a new album, we knew that we would re-enter the fray. We never really stopped writing songs or discussing our future. As stated previously, we just decided that we would step away for a while to recharge the batteries after a few long tours, maybe not intending it to be this long! haha, but I would say without the pandemic hitting we would have emerged even sooner.

Continuing your relationship with Limb Music, you released a new album, certainly an interesting one, named “Epsilon Sky”. I assume that reviews started pouring in, along with the album’s release, how do you find the opinions? Was there an expectation of something different?

The feedback so far has been amazing! We are not necessarily surprised in all honesty because we knew this album would impress people as we are very proud of it ourselves. It's still early days of course and I'm sure not everyone will agree on it, but I look forward to hearing every opinion on it as I and Stevie use reviews as opportunities to improve on elements of our music that someone may point to if we happen to agree with a particular criticism. So, it's a win-win for us.

Talking about a difference, I felt a kind of Sandstone that became versatile, out of the box kind of band. Referring to the narrative of the record, I perceived it as personal, darkly intense on its own accord, and with a measure of dismay and criticism. What do you make of it?

Yea I guess there is truth to that. In many ways we do tend to come at it from a darker feel as I think that's the influences we have ourselves. I don't think you will hear us ever singing about how nice the weather is haha! But yea, there has always been an angst to what we are trying to express, a somewhat unresolvable frustration that we all face in the struggles of life every day.

Would you say that the record exposes your deepest fears, or rather concerns of what will come next? If so, is there a way, in your perception, to confront the situation, to find a way out?

I use the process of writing lyrics to my advantage in many ways. First, I have duty for the band to do it as a necessity to create songs of course, it also helps me rinse off any need I have to express my feelings and thirdly it's a very fun pastime as I see it very much like a puzzle to be solved. I could spend weeks on end trying to make specific words or phrases fit into a particular vocal melody and the key is deciding which one is the right one. I will never bore of that dilemma.

Still going with the album’s narrative, would you say that it changed your perspective upon looking at the world and how it progresses, or rather goes backwards in terms of values?

I am not really one to get too much into that sort of discussion within my writing. Being from Ireland you learn from a very young age that to have fun you must leave politics and religion at the door. My lyrics most of the time are about the weirdness of my own thoughts and not really about much more if I am honest.

“Epsilon Sky”, musically, is a nutcracker, surging over various aspects of both Heavy Metal and Hard Rock, portraying melodies, yet putting notice on being dramatic and flowing. Since I already referred to it as an out of the box album, in your view, how did it come to pass in the music?

Our goal when writing is always to try to be as melodic as possible whilst staying true to our metal/rock influences. Stevie (guitar) for sure deserves all of the credit when it comes to the music you hear in Sandstone. Without him, my songs would be nothing more than acoustic versions of what you hear, he is the reason we are at the level we are at, and he deserves to be recognized by me not least for the achievements of Sandstone.

Not that it was a hard listener, who it really wasn’t but on the contrary, “Epsilon Sky” does have a way with the listener’s mind, not letting him / her out of its sights even for a moment. When it comes to the strong combination of lyrics and music, how were you able to grasp that attention and focus with every song? Is it merely attention to details or more than that?

A lot of the songs are in your face I agree! Songs like Silouettes Drown, I Know Why and Dies Arie are perfect examples of what you describe. I think we just got into a feel and groove with the way we were writing that it turned out like this this time around, which of course we are delighted with. If fans are indeed hooked and not let out of sight, we are humbled by this.

The vocals on “Epsilon Sky” are stellar, in my view, you became a hybrid between Ripper Owens and The Smashing Pumpkins’ Billy Corgan, which turned out to be quite impressive and highly over the top. What can you tell of your development as a vocalist? How did you find the edge that eventually became rightfully yours?

Thats high praise to mention those names thank you! I am on a journey with my voice. I am still trying to improve, and I always will. In this album I certainly brought to the studio more of what you hear from me live especially in the lower register and I find it very rewarding to open up this side of my potential.

I have an American vocal coach named Jaime Vendera and he has helped me a lot with understanding how voice works and how to take care of it. I decided for the benefit of my singing to quit smoking five years ago and I wish I had done it sooner because I can honestly say it has been the best thing I have done for myself in a long time. But I am glad people seem to be receptive to the vocals on this album.

We talked about the versatility of the record, it shares a variety of mood swings, yet with a foundation of that is built upon negativity rather than a positive spirit. This is a statement of developed songwriting skills, how would you say that your abilities, and your comrades, to write improved with “Epsilon Sky”?

I think each and every single member of the band has improved in his own field since our last release. Stevie also mixes and masters the albums in his home studio and is again working at a very under rated level and the improvements he makes are almost daily. Between the two of us as main songwriters I feel we are finally at our peak in terms of understanding what we both want out of a Sandstone album and we play to our strengths more than ever before which is why I believe this is our best album to date.

You have been making albums for nearly two decades, and since we always learn something new, tricks here and there, how did those lessons of the past come to fruition on “Epsilon Sky”?

You are making me feel old!! haha, yea we have been doing this a long time now and as I said previously, I believe we are now at a place where we know collectively and individually where our strengths lay to bring out the best songs. We will always try to improve and that again will be the challenge for the next album down the line and we will relish that challenge as we always have.

Were there any considerations upon bringing in Ripper to be a guest on the record? Do you still keep in touch with him? I know that he has been busy with The Three Tremors and KK’s Priest

Ripper already appeared on the song 'Vitruvian Man' from our last album 'Delta Viridian' so we had no plans on annoying him for this one haha! He is doing fantastically well at the moment with his bands, and no one deserves it more for what he has done for metal over such a long period. We keep in touch a lot, I spoke with him only last week when he congratulated us on this release.

The opening song, “I Know Why”, I believe that I guess on what it refers to, yet I would be nice if you can share. On the musical end, it is built to last, such an interesting structure that works like magic, way beyond the normal Popish flavor. How do you find this tune?

Lyrically this song is about people confessing to each other. The reason 'I know why you're not sleeping' as the lyric goes is because I am guilty of the same crime and I also could not sleep because of the guilt. It's a relationship finally coming to an end after a long period of deceitfulness on both sides and dies with two people confessing so.

The last song, “Critical”, now that is an uneasy one, a lot of regret, somewhat depressive but with a massive musical sense, topping a lot of semi-balladries, emotional as hell. What can you tell about the creation of the track?

This is a very personal one for me and was written around the time of our third release 'Cultural Dissonance'. It again speaks of the failing of a relationship but not for the typical reasons. The lesson learned from this one is that sometimes when you don't have romantic love for someone in your heart, the only true loving thing you can do is to set them free from you even if it will break their heart. This was a personal experience of mine and a lesson I struggled with understanding as a young man, and so like with a lot of things in my life, I let out in a Sandstone song and I am proud of that.

Technically, Stevie showed all his talents and how emotive he is on guitar and how he created a masterful climax with the arrangement, it's a perfect example of how good we are when we work together, a beautiful song if I may say so.

“Fractured Time” got really rather emotional. It one of the album’s heaviest, it has that Dream Theater, and a slight Queensryche, vibes to it. It also displays a different you as a frontman. I found it to be an oddity. What can you tell about its impact on the record?

This is not my vocal, credit has to go to Stevie for that one! He had that song written and recorded with his vocal on there and I just loved how it sounded, so for the first time we get to hear Stevie singing on a Sandstone song and I agree that it sounds amazing!

When you listen to the album yourself, what goes through your mind? Do you find yourself settled with what you are listening to? Where do you find yourself surfing in thought?

It's hard to answer that now because I have probably heard the album 300 times haha, from writing it, to recording it, to mixing it, then doing videos for it I could happily go a week without hearing it! haha, but seriously, when I listen to it, I get very emotional, because it represents the revival of my band Sandstone.

It means the renewal of long-standing friendships with people I consider to be family. It's a time stamp of my life where I will always be able to look back and say that the storm clouds have finally cleared, and the proof is that Sandstone have a new album called 'Epsilon Sky' so I love every second of it!

With 2021 almost gone, and yes there is still Covid-19 to worry about, where is Sandstone headed next year?

With any luck we will be out on the road meeting our fans and playing our music live to them! That is where we want to be next year if it is at all possible and we hope to meet you somewhere along that road too my friend!

Sean, it was great to have this chat, thank you for making the time for it. I wish you guys all the best, you made one hell of an album, please continue. Cheers.

The pleasure is all mine Lior! Thank you so much for taking the time to do this with me it is very much appreciated, and I am so glad that you enjoyed Epsilon Sky! I wish you and your family health and luck, take care, Sean.



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