DATE OF INTERVIEW:
11th June 2012
Initially commencing life as a one-man project for American singer/songwriter JJ, Shattered Destiny became a fully realised band just last year when he recruited four talented musicians from mainland Europe to fulfil duties on lead/rhythm guitar, bass and drums. With an EP, 'Fragments', released early 2012 (recorded/mixed by Dark Tranquillity/Hammerfall members, and mastered by the illustrious Jens Bogren), they've already garnered a significant degree of attention from the metal community and music press through a potently fresh blend of prog, thrash, and power elements, skilfully interwoven into four tracks that are lyrically set against a melancholically dark conceptual backdrop. And it seems the Shattered Destiny story has only just begun for this quartet of songs are but mere glimpses into a wider concept that's set to be unleashed on their debut full-length album early in 2013. Plus they can already count the esteemed BAFTA winning BBC documentarian Louis Theroux amongst their fans. Straight-talking, good humoured and down-to-earth, Shattered Destiny founder and frontman, JJ, provided Metal Discovery with an insight into this most promising of new bands during a half hour phone conversation...
METAL DISCOVERY: I gather Shattered Destiny started life as a one-man project before you assembled a full lineup last year – have your goals and ambitions changed in any way since becoming a fully-fledged band?
JJ: Yeah, most definitely. Obviously being a fully-fledged band, we can pursue playing live and touring as a real band and not just a project. So rather than just being some musical ideas laid down, we now look at Shattered Destiny as a real band with real ambitions and goals.
(JJ on marrying concept and music through the songwriting process)
"I piece together the key parts to have the story flow and that gives emotion for the music and the lyrical content, and that emotion is what I use to compose, to feel the chord changes and the progression within the song itself. It’s all based entirely on the emotion of the story."
Shattered Destiny - promo shot
Interview by Mark Holmes
Photograph copyright © 2011 David Morley
MD: The lineup’s a very multinational one with everybody based in different countries so has that proved to be any kind of barrier thus far?
JJ: No, not really. People do come from different countries but most of the band actually lives overseas so they’re together. So the instrumentalists can all practice together and play together, and then we work over Skype doing video/audio conferences to work out ideas to just bang out some parts of the songs and that kind of thing.
MD: So do they all live in the same country in Europe or in different European countries?
JJ: Most of ‘em live near the Moscow region and I travel over there a lot so it works out really well for me.
MD: On the press sheet it says that “for the studio recording, Mark Zonder agreed to step in and lay down drums” which implies he was just recruited as a session player. Is that the case?
JJ: Yeah, that is true. To my knowledge, Mark does not play live anymore; that’s not his thing. At the time, we had a different drummer and he had to bow out right before we were going to record so I needed to get someone who I knew could learn the parts fast and do a good job. So I gave Mark a call and we talked, and that worked out really well.
MD: The drums sound amazing so they’re gonna be big shoes to fill when you get somebody else in, I guess.
JJ: Well, yeah, our old drummer was good but he’s not the type that could be a professional musician. Our new drummer - who we will probably announce in a couple of months - so far, he’s looking pretty good. He comes from a jazz background so he’s got those kind of chops. We just had to give him a little education on the metal tricks! I think everybody will be quite pleased with his work.
MD: I guess it’s sometimes good having somebody from a different genre come in because then they’re gonna approach it differently…because you’ve got the progressive thing going on as well.
JJ: Oh yeah, absolutely. With the music in general, I never approached it as just being a metal project. I look at trying to create the soundscape to have an atmosphere and an emotion and a feeling, and then that becomes metal.
MD: So if we can talk about ‘Fragments’ a little bit which I think is really, really good. The four tracks are bound together by a concept so do you feel more comfortable working within the boundaries of a concept and do you think your compositional style lends itself well to having a lyrical concept?
JJ: Oh, absolutely. Those four tracks are just part of the entire story which is comprised of eleven tracks total and the full-length will be all eleven. When I set out to record songs, it’s a story; a complete movie, if you will. This actually began as a screenplay for a movie so it gives me a beginning, middle and end. And I piece together the key parts to have the story flow and that gives emotion for the music and the lyrical content, and that emotion is what I use to compose, to feel the chord changes and the progression within the song itself. It’s all based entirely on the emotion of the story. So, for me, it kinda has to be that way. I like the idea of a full portrait of music rather than just an individual hit.
MD: So when you say it started off as a screenplay, is that something still in the works or has it been abandoned now?
JJ: Not completely…[laughs] You know, making an album takes a lot of work. Making movies takes a lot more work and a lot more money! [laughs] So, you know, it’s one of those things – down the road, sure, with the full-length, we plan to make at least one full-length music video for it and that’ll have some of the ideas. As far as a full-length movie, who knows? If an offer ever comes out there and somebody wants to back it, yes, then we’ll do it! [laughs]
MD: And if the band becomes mega-successful then you can fund it yourselves!
JJ: Yes, if that happened, we’d pump all kinds of money into it, that’s for sure!
MD: Actually, I shouldn’t say “if”, I should say “when” to be more optimistic!
JJ: [laughs] Yeah, there you go, think positive!
MD: I have to ask about ‘Epilogue’ on the EP because there are a whole load of Death references in the lyrics so is that a bit of a tribute to Chuck Schuldiner going on there?
JJ: Oh, a hundred per cent! What’s funny was when I wrote the first draft of the lyrics, I had three Death albums named in there accidentally. And I was reading them and went…I should force all of ‘em in here, it’d be cool!
JJ: So I went back but I could not, for the life of me, work in a ‘Scream Bloody Gore’ without it just sounding absurd! I tried a few times too! The word “gore” just doesn’t work in here! [laughs] I love Death’s music and I always thought Chuck had great, great lyrics, like with ‘Spiritual Healing’ onwards, really deep. I really appreciate that so it’s a nod to his writing ability. And there’s a video coming out for that. Our video will be out for that, hopefully, it should be done in about two more weeks. It’s a fully animated, lyric style video but really, really slick.
MD: Ah, nice. I’ll look forward to seeing that. You have a fairly distinct vocal style which is quite theatrical in one sense so it actually feels like a story’s being told through the style of singing. Is that the kind of vibe you were aiming for?
JJ: Absolutely. My vocal influences are, I would say, far beyond my vocal ability so I looked at it as a storytelling type of vibe. And ‘Fragments’ was my first time in the studio as a singer so it was a little bit of working out the kinks and, through that, I think we definitely figured out a style which is going to work as we move towards the future. And the full-length will have some guest vocals for certain parts of certain characters in order to round it out. But, yeah, the Alice Cooper type of theatrical production is exactly what we want in terms of delivery and the live show too.
MD: In terms of influences, I don’t know how true this is, but I can hear a bit of Peavy from Rage in there…
JJ: [laughs] That’s funny…yeah, I love Rage. Do I try to sound like Peavy? Maybe it ends up that way but I absolutely love them so they definitely have some influence there.
MD: This might be a more obscure reference but going back a few years as well, Mike Howe from Metal Church…
JJ: I love Metal Church too…[laughs]
MD: Subconscious influences manifesting then, maybe.
JJ: Yeah. Actually, Mike Howe I always thought was a fantastic vocalist. I guess he quit the music business altogether.
MD: He did, yeah.
JJ: The three albums he was on, I used to listen to all the time as a kid.
MD: Oh yeah, amazing albums. In your music, there’s a good fusion of power, thrash and prog elements and there’s a good balance of old school and contemporary sounds as well so did you work hard at balancing out all those different elements in the songwriting process to try and achieve an overall sound that’s unique to Shattered Destiny?
JJ: No, I didn’t work at it at all. I just kind of mashed things together that sound cool. You know, if I’m playing a riff, I go “that’s a pretty cool riff” and once I get what I think is a good main riff for a song, I build around that. I figure out what key that riff is in and build the song around that riff, and just kinda put together things that sound cool. And then, when I go back and work out the final arrangement for the song, it ends up being a mix of that because, in my metal, I like all kinds of styles and genres. I purposefully didn’t restrict myself, saying “this is a thrash song”. I didn’t do that and I think that lends itself to being a little more free. Since we are a new band, there are no preconceptions; we’re not locked into sounding a way so if we can put out our first album that has a variety, no-one’s gonna get mad on the second album when…“well, that one’s too progressive” and that type of thing.
MD: I think it sounds very fresh with what you have now – a few nods to what’s gone before but forward thinking too.
JJ: Thank you.
MD: I gather you produced the EP yourself but Dark Tranquillity’s Martin Brändström recorded it under the supervision of Hammerfall frontman Joacim Cans – in terms of “supervision”, what exactly was Joacim’s role in the process?
JJ: He did vocal coaching in the studio…smacking me around, making me try to sing better!
MD: Not literally, I hope!
JJ: Well, you know, maybe literally… “sing better”… whack! Joacim, he’s a good friend of mine and offered a lot of support and ideas…just supporting the whole project in general. And he recommended Pontus [Norgren] to mix so I had to give him a nod for that. Honestly, he’s one of the people that inspired me to do the full band originally. So he was definitely really helpful on the support side.
MD: Yeah, a lot to thank him for by the sound of it. And you had, as you said, Pontus mixing the EP and another Dark Tranquillity guy, Niklas Sundin, doing the artwork. You said you were already friends with Joacim but what’s the connection with Dark Tranquillity; did you know those guys from before too?
JJ: Yes, I’ve known them for many years. I met Mikael Stanne back in 2002…he’d been a fan of some of my previous work that I’d done and he recognised me and came and told me. So we just started talking and it just turns out we have a lot of similar interests. We’ve been friends ever since. Choosing Niklas for the artwork, I’ve always loved his artwork and we have a lot of the same thoughts as far as presentation should be, and the darkness in it. With this project, it fits exactly his style. I did a pencil sketch of what we wanted for the cover and he went with it and it was just perfect. I mean, first draft and it was exactly what I meant.
MD: It looks great. It’s very dark and quite surreal.
JJ: Yeah, and it reflects the emotion of what’s on the EP. I’ve always thought that albums should be about full presentation; you can’t have great music and then no visual with your album. You need to have it matched and for everything to go together. For the full-length, we wanna do a full booklet that kinda tells each song’s story with various artwork throughout the booklet to represent the story too.
MD: So Niklas will be busy!
JJ: Yeah, and I used Martin for the engineering because Martin’s a cool guy and he does all the Dark Tranquillity stuff. So if I’m gonna go and stay in Sweden, I might as well work with somebody I like!
MD: Did the final recordings meet or exceed your original vision for how they would sound based on, obviously, the original demos you would’ve had?
JJ: [laughs] …well, I play everything on the original demos so absolutely!
JJ: I can get through all my instruments but, yeah, everybody else is…Roman is a far better guitarist than I will ever hope to be. So, yeah, I think it sounds beautiful. Of course, I’m always gonna be most critical of myself so… [laughs] …so I can always improve but, the rest, I love it.