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Tower's James Danzo: "Anxiety is all over this record no matter the lyrical subject. It's in the air everywhere now"

Interview with James Danzo & Sarabeth Linden from Tower
by Lior "Steinmetal" Stein at 12 December 2021, 4:54 PM

The pandemic, which has been part of the lives of many for nearly two years, has taken its toll not only physically, and financially, but also mentally, with even deadlier effects. Schizophrenia is only part of the equation, other than being isolated, secluded and virtually alone at times, these are part of what has been going on. Letting it out through music, that is art, as if as a release mechanism. It may sound banal, because music does that all the time, but everyone has a story to tell. The US Metal old schoolers, Tower, part of the revival of the old Metal scene of the US, unleashed “Shock To The System”, and their intentions are felt. Steinmetal had a good talk with guitarist, James Danzo, and vocalist, Sarabeth Linden, about the prospect of the record, making it and more…

Hi guys, it is simply awesome to have you for this interview for Metal Temple online Magazine, how have you been doing?

J: Thanks for having us in the Temple! Doing the best we can, man.

Times haven’t been that hot for anyone in the last couple of years, and it appears that even after being boosted up with another vaccination, here we have another ominous threat with the coming of Omicron variant. I think it is straightforward to ask you, is there an end to this thing in your view? Will we ever be truly protected or rather consider this virus as the brother of the flu? 

J: Hello Omicron! There's some news no one wanted to hear, right? Far be it from me to predict the future or give a medical opinion, but yeah, maybe we'll need shots once or twice a year from now on, like the flu shot.

When it comes to the repercussions on culture, in particular bands that are planning their tours, festival appearances and so on, come to think of it, it is constantly living in fear that everything will shut down and caput, nothing. What is your input on that? How can the industry in general, and artists, can continue to withstand?

J: As a musician the first thing I think is "what's going to be with touring now?" And of course, that pales in comparison to the much bigger issue of the impact it will have on human lives in general; those who will get sick and possibly die, and those who have been trying their hardest to stay safe and responsible, seemingly to no avail. The impact is devastating either way and there's not much we can do about it. If I knew of a way to contain this virus without ruining life for the vaccinated as well, I'd be a rich man.

On a cheerful and positive note, I was pleased to get to know your band Tower, upon its old school values, to actually know that you returned to action some years back after a sort of hiatus. Even though you released a small token back in 2019, heading out to record a sophomore was probably exciting. Did it feel any different than the recording experience of your debut years ago?

J: Thanks! Yeah, everything about this recording was different. New studio, new engineer, new line-up, new songs, new approach. The material was prepared but the band had barely rehearsed together. Our goal was to wrap this album up in ten days, which we did. It was pretty fuckin' fun!  Having our backs against the wall like that, coming out with the finished product was more satisfying than usual.

Signing with Cruz Del Sur Music, which is no less than a great home for old school Metal bands, you are set to release your new album, “Shock To The System”. About signing with a European label, were there any doubts, as previously you were a roster band closer to home? What made you reach out for a European label in the first place?

J: Cruz reached out to us! We were more than happy to sign with a European label because our music is much better received out there anyway. Touring Europe has been a goal since the band first started, but no one was able to get us there until the Metal Assault festival in February 2020. And that show was fantastic! So, things may be looking up as far as that goes.

When it comes to the lyrical sense on “Shock To The System”, it appears and sounds complex, stuff that bothers you, perhaps even eating you from the inside. Therefore, I ask, what truly bothers you on the record that you believe that it much emphasized than anything else? What kind of fears do you unravel through the record? 

J: Deaths of friends & family top the list for sure. We wrote "In Dreams" for someone we lost unexpectedly during the first summer of covid. "Running Out of Time" is about our country tearing itself apart. "Hired Gun" is about the temperance of everything, and even though it's written from a positive perspective, that can be pretty tough to deal with at times. Anxiety is all over this record no matter the lyrical subject. It's in the air everywhere now.

The artwork, made by Morgan Jesse Lappin, is highly strong, it shares a reflection of a lot of people out there, which suffered, and perhaps even suffering now, from lockdowns. When you look at this artwork, and analyse it carefully, does it give you the creeps? Is this the sum of our fears right there before our eyes with time passing by and we are in the same state?

J: It might give me the creeps in the future when we can look back from a safe distance at these truly insane times. Right now, it's still a little too fuckin' familiar. It's odd how fitting the artwork really is. It was done before any lockdowns were ever in place.

It is not about tackling, it is who you guys are, an old school Metal band that breathes and lives through the classic ages of the genre, and in the current modern Metal scene of the USA. “Shock To The System” felt to me like an energized bunny pumped up with bludgeoning late 70s and early 80s Metal, screaming its way back into recognition. How do you find your mixture of the classic decades within the music on the record?

J: The energizer bunny pumped up on '70s and '80s metal - now there's a visual! That's awesome! We honestly don't have anything in mind while writing music except to make sure it's catchy and entertaining to listen to. Any resemblance to decades past is purely coincidental.

As a supplement to the previous questions, in your opinion, what red lines, musically of course, did you cross with “Shock To The System”?

J: Red lines you say? I guess the most extreme parts of the album? First, the end of "Metatron" which is pure thrash. It was a ballsy move to do an instrumental at all, let alone putting it third on the album. After reading some reviews, opinions seem to be split on that one. To me it's like "Merciless Onslaught" by Metal Church. Not that we need a precedent to do anything we want to! And the opposite extremes would be the lighter parts of the record, like the intro to "Lay Down the Law" or the interlude in "In Dreams". That was uncharted territory for us.

I have to ask you, is it tough to be an old school driven band in a majority that shares most of the contemporary qualities of Metal music? I know that we aren’t in the 80s or early 90s anymore, but there is supposed to be an old school revival, isn't there? 

J: There really is a revival! NWOTHM is a thing now. And lucky for us, because we'd be doing what we do no matter what. I'm not against modern anything as long as the quality is there. To be honest, I find more substance in modern pop music like Dua Lipa or The Weeknd compared to what passes for "modern" rock or metal. It doesn't feel tough on us, no. I think we have a wide enough appeal to thrive in any musical environment.

What cannot be denied, in regards to the songwriting of the record, is that it is dynamic, not always looking for the catch phrase, letting the rough attitude surge with the musical aspects escalating on some of the songs, leaving some room to Pop features, but not too much. How do you relate to your writing style on “Shock To The System”? Has this pattern been part of the band since day one?

J: Always, always, always we start with a hook first and then build a song around it. Once you have a good hook, it leaves room to get nasty with riffs and speed because that's not all there is to the song. You could call it a goal to come up with songs featuring all those elements. We're not inventing any new sounds, so that's all the room we have to play with. Get 'em with the ear bug, kick 'em in the teeth, leave 'em begging for another.

Sarabeth, I was amazed really, you knocked me down from the get-go, you have a soaring voice that I am sure some male vocalists only dream of. Such energies and ferocity in your mood as you sing is a pleasure to my ears. What can you tell about your vocal development on the record? Would you say that the recording experienced dragged with it exhaustion of sorts, as you it sounds that you really gave everything you had on each of the tunes?

S: Thanks so much! Like James said before, we hardly practiced before recording this album. I was built up with various emotions from the pandemic that needed to be let out. Singing is definitely a coping tool of mine; just as physical exercise is for some people. I had not sung for almost a year, so I was losing my mind in ways. This is probably what the listeners are hearing! Me losing my mind! Haha

We talked about the dynamic nature of the songwriting on the record, nevertheless, as always, and out of every experience, there is a learning curve, something to take with you forward. In your view, what did you learn from the ongoing work on “Shock To The System”? 

J: Great question! The first lesson is that we can thrive under pressure if all our heads are in the same space. The second lesson is that we can branch out in heavier or lighter shades and pull it off quite well without feeling vulnerable about it. The third lesson might be to take some more time in the studio for the next album. I'm very proud of everything about this record, but we can likely make an even better one with a bit more time and money on our side. A fourth lesson could be to allow the engineer/co-producer some more freedom to work their magic without us micro-managing everything. Sasha Stroud did some things on this album without our input that worked really, really well.

I believe that one of the album’s finest tracks is “Prince Of Darkness”, a portrayal of atmospheric beauty laid down by amazing riffs and a sweet slow tempo, alongside great lead guitar breaks and enchanting singing. What can you tell about your vision for this track and its creative process?

J: Thanks, that was a fun one to write and play! Of all the songs on this album, it stands out as being very different to anything we've done in the past. Even before we had lyrics, it was clear that the song had a dark vibe. We were calling it "Skynyrd Sabbath" at first for obvious reasons. I'll tell you exactly how the song was written. It started one day with me and Zak in the rehearsal room. He asked me what my favorite key is to solo in. I picked C#, which I got into by playing along to Black Sabbath because they tuned down to C# for a stretch of albums in the '70s. So I was giving Zak some pointers on the C# blues box, and I made up a riff for him to solo over, which became the main riff in "Prince".

There was no intention of writing anything at all, but it was catchy enough that we said "Wait a second!" It was one of those songs that almost wrote itself. Sarabeth was there too, and we all came up with the chorus melody together on the spot, all 3 of us, which has happened before but is pretty rare. For the second half it felt natural for the song to speed up. It's similar to how "Elegy" speeds up in the middle, but it felt so right that it just had to be. The intro was the last thing to be tacked on musically. The lyrics were written much later and when I heard them, I knew this song would be fucking epic. In that sense I'm almost like a fan, I just can't believe what she did. Blown away!

“Hired Gun”, upon its raw nature, delivers a measure of Speed Metal al’a Motorhead sense, truly an element that is missing a lot nowadays. It sounded to me like a spirit was set free on this one. What is your appreciation of this track?

J: Oh yeah! Thank you kindly! That main riff was kicking around for a while. It's a simple Blackmore-style riff that I knew would work if given the proper context. And that context is speed, my friend! Musically it could be described as something Rainbow might have done after stealing Lemmy's amphetamines. Lyrically it's our tribute to Jeff Filmer of Shadowland who left Tower after making the record and playing one last gig. He's still a very close friend, family really, and we see each other all the time, but a very free spirit indeed.

I trust that you suffocated the record by listening to it countlessly prior to its stepping out of the engineering table. What can you tell about those listening sessions? What did those make you feel? Were there contemplations, doubts, perhaps things missing that you came through your mind?

J: We sure did. One thing that wasn't set until the 11th hour was the track sequencing. That's some tricky shit, keeping the order interesting for the listener, making sure that similar songs are placed apart from each other, and having each side a close-to-equal length. It takes many listens and experiments to get it right. Then there's mastering, EQ, and setting the exact spacing between the tracks. You have to really obsess over that stuff. I excel at that, haha.

How does your schedule look to support “Shock To The System”? Is there a future planned forward for you in 2022?

J: Is there a future planned for us in 2022? Question of the century! We'd love to tour Europe, so I'm hoping we can squash this omicron bug and get our asses out there. We have a couple of shows in the works here in the States, including the Legions of Metal Festival in Chicago in May.

Guys, thank you so much for your time for this interview, your efforts are appreciated. Furthermore, you made an incredible record and you got yourself a new fan. All the best

J: Thank you Lior!!



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