DATE OF INTERVIEW:
1st October 2010
The origins of Shadow Gallery can be traced back to the early eighties under their previous guise of Sorcerer. Changing their name to present moniker around 1991, the American prog rock/metallers have enjoyed a nearly two decade career as just a studio band with various circumstances and other commitments of individual band members preventing them from making the transition to the live stage. That is, until now, as an announcement earlier this year that they would be headlining the second day of the prestigious ProgPower Europe festival in Holland, which then transpired to be a full European tour, meant their long term fans would finally have the chance to witness Shadow Gallery in action. Gary Wehrkamp chatted to Metal Discovery a day before their performance at the sold out Dutch festival, initially explaining the band's decision to play live after so many years...
METAL DISCOVERY: It was a surprise to many when it was announced in April, I believe, that you would be performing live for the first time ever in the history of Shadow Gallery…
GARY WEHRKAMP: [laughs]
(Gary Wehrkamp on Shadow Gallery deciding to perform live for the first time in the band's history)
"...we came off the last record and we just had more of a unity as a group, and we had momentum, and we just made sure that we didn’t stop the momentum this time."
Gary Wehrkamp in the Kasteel de Berckt, Baarlo, Netherlands, 1st October 2010
Photograph copyright © 2010 Mark Holmes - www.metal-discovery.com
Interview & Photography by Mark Holmes
MD: I’m sure everyone asks this question, but what prompted that decision after so many years of existing as just a studio band?
GW: I think we came off the last record and we just had more of a unity as a group, and we had momentum, and we just made sure that we didn’t stop the momentum this time. And that’s what usually happens after every album – we usually finish the album, talk about touring, prepare a little bit for it, but then we stop and we all get involved in a lot of different things. This time, we just didn’t let it stop.
MD: So sheer determination that you were going to play live.
GW: Sheer determination, yeah.
MD: And it’s been announced that this was your first ever live show, or was going to be, but you obviously played in the States last month…
GW: Yeah, two and a half weeks ago.
MD: So you made the posters for ProgPower lie!
MD: It still says on the posters – “First ever live show”!
GW: Well, we didn’t want to put the word “ever” but marketing thought it was a good way to draw more attention to it!
MD: So did you have any apprehensions before making that transition from just a studio band to a live band?
GW: Not as far as the music goes…not as far as playing…we’re very excited about that. As far as fitting it in with our time, that was a little apprehension - if we’re gonna do this, we have to rehearse, and when are we gonna rehearse, and how we’re gonna get it done, and who’s gonna do what? But we were able to work through that.
MD: When you’ve been rehearsing for the tour, is it a different mindset you’ve been in to when you rehearse for an album before you go into the studio?
GW: Yeah, it’s very different because, usually, you’re writing, recording, rehearsing all at the same time, and it’s usually small sections. You’re used to working on a three minute section, or even a thirty second section over and over to see what else we can do with this - mostly, as individuals, in the studio. But when you’ve gotta play ninety minutes straight, it’s very different.
MD: I guess playing live is not an entirely alien thing for the band as individuals as you tour with another band, don’t you?
GW: Yeah, I do a hundred and ten shows a year. I love being on stage.
MD: Was it difficult choosing a setlist because, obviously, you’ve got so much material to draw upon? Usually when a band tours it’s in support of their latest album but Shadow Gallery have never played live so people are going to want to hear their own favourite tracks from different albums. How was the process of choosing a setlist?
GW: [laughs] Well, it actually wasn’t as hard as I thought it was gonna be. We wanted to respect the fans as to what they wanted to hear, respect Mike for the songs he used to do, respect for Brian for the new songs that he’s doing, and then to ourselves as well, the songs that we like to play. And then, mixed with all that, what we actually sound good playing. I remember rehearsing years ago and there were certain songs we just sounded great playing; other songs just never came across live, even in rehearsal studios. We just decided on a good mixture of everything. There were some obvious choices right away, some fan favourites to start with, and some songs that we knew maybe we could pull off from prior experience, and then some ones we just knew we had to do from the new album. It was a good mix and we’re pretty much all on the same page on where we were gonna go with that.
MD: So there were no arguments where people wanted to play different songs?
GW: [laughs] Seventy five per cent of it we were like – “sure, that sounds good”, but for twenty five per cent we tossed around opinions. But we’re a group that’s very good at compromising with each other.
MD: You played in, as mentioned already, in Tannersville, your hometown I believe….
GW: It’s close, yeah.
MD: It’s a weird sounding venue – the Barley Creek Brewing Company! What kind of venue is that, out of interest?!
GW: Well, it’s funny, we were really looking at that show as a warm-up. We didn’t wanna come here to this festival…I’ve known René since his first year of doing this…and you never know with your first time on stage, so we really didn’t wanna do that here. We said – “let’s take a week off rehearsing and play a little show, and make it a friends and family kinda thing”. We really weren’t going to open it to the public at one point, just for friends and family. Then we started thinking, well, we should probably let other people in, and there was only five weeks to promote it. So it was on the small side. Barley Creek was the right vibe for what we wanted; it was a big outdoor pavilion. Not really big, but big enough to hold, if we wanted, three, four, five hundred people. So it just had a great vibe.
MD: So, effectively, this is your first ever live show at ProgPower if that was just a warm-up.
GW: [laughs] Well, we had people there so I guess this is our other official first show!
MD: In Europe.
GW: Yeah, our first European show.
MD: ProgPower’s completely sold out for the Saturday, I don’t know if you’ve heard that…
GW: I did, yeah.
MD: I believe that’s the first time that’s ever happened in the festival’s history. Did you expect there to be that much interest in Shadow Gallery when it was announced you’d be playing?
GW: I had no idea. I’d be surprised if there were only fifty people, and I’d be surprised if there were five thousand. I’m glad for us, glad for René and glad for the festival.
MD: He’ll get you back, I’m sure, if you can sell it out!
MD: I heard Arjen Lucassen was approached to do a song with you tomorrow…
GW: [laughs] Where did you hear that?!
MD: It was on the ProgPower forum. I think somebody had suggested the idea and I think René said he was approached but was too shy, or something like that. He’s coming along tomorrow though I heard.
GW: Yeah, well, we’re friends so we’re gonna have dinner. It wasn’t that he was too shy. It was a real quick – “hey, if you wanna get up there with us, you can”, but there wasn’t really a lot of time to think it through or make it work. Maybe in the future we’ll do that.
MD: I’m sure it said “too shy” on the forum – I’ll have to go back and read that again!
GW: [laughs] I don’t think he’s shy!
MD: Well, he doesn’t look like a shy guy!
MD: Your original vocalist Mike Baker sadly passed away two years ago – do you regret in any way never having had the opportunity to perform live with him now you’re out there as a live band?
GW: I don’t regret it for myself. I regret it for Mike but it is what it is, you can't recall the past…so no, I don’t have any regrets.
MD: When Mike died, was it a unanimous decision amongst all band members to continue immediately, or was there any moments of “should we quit?” at all?
GW: No, there was never a moment of “should we quit?” but, the next day, we didn’t go “hey, let’s finish the record”. We just decided to take it a day at a time. I never really stopped working on the record…but we just slowed down for a month and we didn’t think about other singers. We just slowly kept going with it.
MD: A great new album with ‘Digital Ghosts’ – what’s the title supposed to represent as it’s slightly ambiguous?
GW: Well, it’s supposed to be slightly ambiguous! [laughs] I guess it relates to a lot of characters on the album. It’s not a concept album so I don’t mean characters throughout the album, but how somebody in today’s age can be gone but everything about them is still here. One of the ways you can look at that is with Mike. His voice, and the emotion from the songs, is still here. If you haven’t met him or seen him, then he’s not really gone.
MD: That’s a nice way of looking at it. On the band’s website, the album is described as “a seamless blend of progressive, metal, and symphonic rock” and that it “advances the boundaries of these genres into new directions”…
GW: Who came up with that?! [laughs] I didn’t come up with that! [laughs]
MD: In what ways do you think you achieved this? Well, I guess to you that’s a redundant question if you didn’t write that!
GW: [laughs] That sounds like a marketing sentence! I didn’t come up with that! [laughs] I don’t know, that’s for you to decide if we did any of that stuff!
MD: I don’t think that was a quote from a review or anything, it was just…
GW: Just a sticker on the CD or something.
MD: Yeah, maybe it was on the CD as well, I don’t know.
MD: I don’t know if that makes the next question redundant as well but I was going to ask if that was your aim when composing the music?!
GW: No, our aim is just to record the ideas in our heads. You write songs and you don’t know what’s going to become of them or where they’re going to go. We all write songs and very rarely we sit down and say – “hmmm, let’s write a Shadow Gallery song”. It doesn’t work that way with us. It’s just an idea…I have an idea, write it down, I’ll send it to Brendt and he’ll say “that’s cool”. If he doesn’t reply to my email with the song I don’t go back to it. So you kind of see what gets everyone else in the band excited.