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The Entire Band (Ivory Knight)

Interview with The Entire Band from Ivory Knight
by Amy La Salla at 18 August 2005, 6:23 AM

Ivory Knight is one of those bands whose name hit me in all the right places. It had beauty, majesty and a hint of anger. When I heard them I was happy to see that the cool name had not misled me and promptly raised the evil fingers. So when I was given the opportunity to interview John Devadasan Perinbam (vocals, keyboards), Rob Gravelle (lead and rhythm guitars), Steve Mercer (bass guitars) and George Nesrallah (drums) I jumped at it.

How did the current lineup meet?

John: In late 1999, I had gotten fed up with the lackadaisical attitudes of some members of my previous band and decided that if I was going to keep playing original music, I might as well get back to doing the kind of stuff I love, Metal! I wrote a few songs and put some clips from the 1988 Voices In Your Nightmare demo up on the Web. The reaction was amazing and I decided to follow it up by putting together a band. My biggest worry was whether I’d be able to find a drummer with not only the double-kick chops but also open-minded enough to be interested in the Ivory Knight style, which has always embraced all kinds of Metal from Hard Rock to Thrash. I got George’s \[Nesrallah - drums] number from a mutual acquaintance and luckily, he was available, having just left his previous band. I knew Rob \[Gravelle - guitars] from previous bands, in fact, I’ve worked with Rob since the demise of the original Ivory Knight lineup in 1989 – 1990. That lineup became Sudden Thunder – we met Rob through a newspaper ad.

Steve: I met the guys after prompting from mutual friends in 1999 - IK had been looking for a new bassist as John \[Devadasan Perinbam - vocals & keys] was filling in on bass and wanted to focus on singing. We hooked up during one of their rehearsal sessions, I listened, liked what I heard, I played, they liked what they heard, and the rest is history.

 Are you self taught or classically trained?

Rob: I studied music at Carleton U for 4 years. I got my B.A. in Music, but I still need one and a half credits for Honors. Before that, I took guitar lessons pretty much from the get go.

Steve: Self taught, though I did take some very basic formal education at the University level in music theory.

George: Other than a few months of lessons early on, I have not had any classical training.

John: Both. I taught myself by singing along to records when I was growing up, then I took 3 years of private lessons from an excellent classical vocalist. I’m always looking for ways to improve and so I’ve also studied many other techniques via books, CDs and DVDs. I’ve also taken basic piano and guitar lessons when I was a kid, and done some bass instruction (I played bass in my previous band).

What are your musical influences?

Rob: As far as bands go, I grew up listening to Rush, Iron Maiden, Judas Priest, Led Zeppelin, Metallica, Def Leppard and bands like that. Later, I got into prog bands like Dream Theater and Symphony X. They’ve had a noticeable influence on me, but I don’t want to be like them too much. We’re more traditional than progressive. Guitarists that influenced me include Rik Emmett, Alex Lifeson, James Hetfield, Marty Friedman, Randy Rhoads, Van Halen and Yngwie Malmsteen.

Steve: A very small sampling would be Iron Maiden, Metallica, Rush, Satriani, Hans Zimmer, even Dire Straits (for extra groove factor) are from way back. More recently I’ve been listening to stuff like Soilwork and In Flames.

George: My musical influences tend to be on the heavy side, the likes of Slayer, Deicide, Vio-Lence and Exodus and Testament being some of my faves: Morbid Angel, Luciferion and old Napalm Death (Scum and From Enslavement To Obliteration) are also huge influences.

John: I’m into pretty much anything, except Rap. Growing up, bands like Styx, Kansas and Gentle Giant were among my favorites, as well as Rainbow, Blue Oyster Cult and others. Vocally, I would say my influences would include David Coverdale, Ian Gillan, Rob Halford, Ronnie James Dio, although I don’t think I sound like any of them!

How did you get into Metal?

John: I’ve always loved great singing with lots of power. When I heard Dio sing on Rainbow Rising, then Halford on Sin After Sin, I was hooked! I then started exploring other great bands and like Iron Maiden, Black Sabbath etc… Plus, I admit it! I liked the 80’s style with its dark occult overtones! I know all that is considered cheesy now, but that imagery is part of what drew me to Metal in the first place, along with the power of the vocals.

Rob: My cousin got me into Iron Maiden with The Number of the Beast album. I also got into Judas Priest around the same time. A few years later, I got into bands like Def Leppard, Metallica, Anthrax and Megadeth.

Steve: Sort of fell into it via Kiss in my early teen years, then got into Iron Maiden and some Judas Priest, Dokken. I remember hearing Metallica for the first time on my way to an Alice Cooper concert and being blown away by Master Of Puppets. That was quite a few years ago. I’ve explored other stuff, but I keep coming back to some sort of Metal.

George: The first album I ever paid attention to was Appetite For Destruction from Guns N’ Roses (late bloomer); I thought it was the greatest thing! Then I heard Among The Living from Anthrax and I couldn’t believe how fast and aggressive it was! I guess I was never made to listen to anything but Metal, because I had been exposed to tons of other music before then, but nothing really stood out for me; then Metal came and it was like I’m home!

What inspires you to write?

Rob: I always enjoyed the process of creating something out of nothingness. It’s a real power trip in some ways. My thing is that I like to take something typical like a certain chord progression or lick and put my own spin in on it so that it becomes something new. Although we play a very traditional style, I’m really not into rehashing the same ideas over and over again. There always has to be some new twist in there.

Steve: Hearing good pieces makes me want to add to them. I have an annoying habit of harmonizing vocal lines I hear, vocally, trying out counterpoints and stuff, for fun. I try not to subject other people to it \[Laughs]. It tends to come out in our music when we work out backing vocals. Bass writing, I tend to permutate the last cool riff I heard - usually unconsciously.

John: I’ve no idea where it comes from – really, I believe that the music, the lyrics, it’s all out there, part of the universe. As artists, we connect with that source and interpret them through our experiences, ideas, and musical skills.

Walk us through your writing process.

Rob: John and George split the lyric duties. With regards to music, it’s a lot looser. Sometimes one of us has a skeleton for a song and we elaborate on that. Other times, we just jam and see what comes out. On Unconscience, I even wrote one song Eleven using a notation program called Guitar-Pro. Once I was happy with the song, I presented it to the band as a midi file and we learned it from there. Turned out pretty well if I do say so myself. I am writing some more stuff like that. Even for songs that we write the traditional way, I always write out the tab so that I am clear on what I am playing come recording time.

Steve: Sometimes someone brings in a rough musical idea and we spend time honing it out, though occasionally, we poke at stuff that’s nearly complete. Usually we have something nearly complete, musically, before we put in lyrics. It’s pretty haphazard.

How would you describe your music to a newcomer?

Rob: It’s classic Metal, but people have said that it’s got a lot of Thrash and prog influences in it. In fact, we are apparently one of the few bands who mix those genres in that way. It really wasn’t done on purpose. We just like different types of Metal, with John being a traditionalist at heart, George being the Thrash and Death Metal guy and Steve and myself representing the Prog end of things.

Are you satisfied with the reactions you have had to Unconscience so far?

Rob: Absolutely. The response we’ve received from critics and fans has been very encouraging. There have been many surprises when the album would climb the college and Internet radio charts to really high positions, like number 2 or 3. What was really amazing is that we actually fared better than a lot of big name acts! A lot of the time we were the only independent band on the whole chart! Our goal was to show people that we could compete with any band in terms of quality and professionalism and we did it.

John: All this from 4 guys from Canada with no budget whatsoever! Yes, I have to agree with Rob, the reaction has been amazing!

What do you think of the current Metal scene?

Rob: There are a lot of great bands out there. I find there is always a good number of bands carrying the Metal torch, whether it’s in at the moment or not. It’s a known fact that Metal acts have been selling consistently since the late 60’s. I’m not a fan of Nu-Metal though. I find that they all sound alike and there is no emphasis on tasty solos. Some bands have solos that are 4 bars long and don’t go anywhere. What exactly is the point of that??? Why waste 4 bars with meandering notes? Either have a solo or don’t is what I think. You ever hear what Van Halen or Randy Rhoads could do in 4 bars? They could make your hair stand up is what!

George: I think it’s great! You have Nu-Metal dying down and you have this resurgence of Thrash; the Black and Death Metal bands are getting more exposure, which is awesome; when you have bands like Metallica playing with classic Thrash bands like Death Angel I can only hope this trend continues.

John: I love it! There are so many great bands in the various subgenres of Metal – there is always something great to listen to!

What are your thoughts on the different genres of Metal?

Rob: I appreciate all kinds of Metal to varying degrees except for some of the Nu-Metal, as I mentioned earlier. A lot of Metal bands today come across like Pop bands that heavied up their sound to appeal to a young male demographic. When I was a teenager, real Metal bands hardly ever got any radio play or video rotation. They earned their fans through heavy touring.

Steve: It’s interesting to watch the larger genre of ’Metal’, change over time. Contrast the ’hair Metal’ of the 80’s to today’s ’Nu-Metal’. To be honest, neither appeal to me, generally, yet Queensryche had its ’hair Metal’ days which were musically quite good. Stuff like Soilwork borrows a lot from the ’Nu-Metal’ style. Both I find quite appealing. I guess the point of my ramble is that there’s some good, very individual, pieces of work in just about any one of the ’sub genre’s of Metal, and it’s worthwhile to dig around for them. I try not to write off any particular style - I’d never have discovered Sepultura if I did!

George: Great! From classic to Thrash to Death to Black to Prog, etc… you will always find the bad with the good; but I think categories are good; it gives the listener a reference point. I love thrash, and when I am searching out something, the last thing I want is to be in the techno Metal and the like.

John: To me, it’s about the songs, not the genre. A great song is a great song, no matter what style it is played in.

What do you think of the Internet as a method of promotion?

Rob: The Internet has been an invaluable promotional tool for us. It’s allowed us to get a lot more international exposure than we would have been able to otherwise. The only problem is that there is a large portion of the population who are not web subscribers. We have pretty much saturated the web as a form of promotion, I think. Besides CD reviews and interviews, I have posted guitar lessons & tabs on many sites and we have links with a number of similar bands. Just Google us and you’ll see it’s not very hard to find us on the Web. Having said that, we have a lot less exposure in other media. That’s something that we’ve only begun to work on. We have beefed up our merchandising efforts in recent years. We’ve got shirts for both albums, and we’re even getting pins made as we speak!

Steve: It’s a generally great thing. There are people who email us about the band that wouldn’t possibly have the opportunity to get in touch with us, or even hear of us, without the Internet.

John: We wouldn’t be here without the Internet as a promotional tool. All our sales are currently handled online! Much of our promotion and word of mouth has resulted from use of the Internet.

I hear you opened for Sonata Arctica recently. What kind of experience was that?

Rob: That was a blast! It turns out that we had more fans in Ottawa than we thought. They just needed the right kind of concert to come out to see us. That was the most enthusiastic audience I’ve ever seen. They were even chanting Ivory, Ivory before we started playing! The band are nice guys too. I, for one, sure hope to get more gigs of that caliber.

Steve: Fantastic. The fans were very enthusiastic and Sonata Arctica put on a great show. I’m actually having a hard time finding words to express how positive an experience that was.

George: Amazing; fulfilling in every way! The crowd (large one at that) was awesome, and it was just one of those nights where you feel like you can do no wrong musically; great atmosphere.

John: That was the best show I’ve ever played. Everything was perfect, even my monitor mix! I was fortunate enough to chat with Tony from Sonata afterwards, who is not only one of the great vocalists in Power Metal today, but also a really nice guy, very down-to-earth!

Any tours you have particularly enjoyed so far?

Rob: Hmmm… Unfortunately we just haven’t had the financial backing to do any real tours. A few out of town shows is all we’ve been able to manage so far. Anything drivable is fair game to us but most of our shows take place within a couple of hours of our home town of Ottawa.

What are your goals for Ivory Knight in the future?

Rob: We are talking about re-recording the original Voices In Your Nightmare demo. At the same time, we are working on new material too. We’re heading in a more grooving direction, riffs-wise, but I’m also writing some classical style stuff. Should make for an interesting combination!

Steve: Keep playing, write more, get it to more people.

George: I would love to hit the road eventually, and make a living doing this; a dream come true!

Any final words for our readers?

Rob: Keep the faith! Request Ivory Knight from your local college radio stations!

John: Thanks for reading! Pick up your copy of Unconscience by clicking here and Up From The Ashes at this location… Stay Metal!


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