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¬ Aspire (USA) "A Fairy Tale Of Metal"

Aspire have just released their brand new CD “The Age Of Reckoning”!! Is there any deeper meaning or special idea behind the album’s title?

Ryan: We knew right off the bat that this album was going to end up being quite a bit darker in tone than “Quest.” And as we began looking at some of the general concepts and storylines behind the tunes, we realized that there was this kind of thread running through much of what we’d written. We didn’t set out to write any sort of concept album, but we found that many of the songs speak about punishment and retribution, both earthly and divine. And of a changing time, both in small details and larger ones. “The Age Of Reckoning”, as a title, encompasses all of those things…a time for punishment, a time for retribution, a time for change, a time for evolution.

Even though I already enjoyed the antecessor “Quest Eternal” quite a lot, I still consider your new output a huge step ahead!! Where do you personally see the biggest development and progression when you compare these two albums to each other?

Al: Thank you. “The Age Of Reckoning” is much more solid, much more consistent. “Quest Eternal” defined the path that we wanted to follow, and “The Age Of Reckoning” widened and expanded it.

And how satisfied are you with the final result? If you could start the recording process all over again, would you change anything or would you do everything exactly like you did it the first time?

Al: Perfectionist as I am, I always find something that is not exactly right (laugh). But, all in all, I am happy with the album. Change something? I don’t think so.

Have you already got any feedback from fans and media? If so, how did it turn out? Did they like the CD?

Al: The album is less than two weeks old, and we already have one great review online. And in Question 2 you called it a “huge step ahead”, so, the press seems to like it so far :). As for sales, we sold twelve times more CDs than in the first week of “Quest Eternal”. And feedback from the fans is very encouraging too.

Not only the music has left me absolutely stunned, but also the superb cover artwork!! Who has done it and why have you chosen it?

Ryan: I found the artwork while cruising the web one day. We were desperately trying to find something that fit the mood of the album, and Eric’s (Eric R. Martin) art suddenly jumped out. Obviously, the artwork itself – the colour, composition, detail – is incredible. But we also loved the tone of the piece. We chose it more for its imagery and its ambiguity more so than because it fit a single song or idea. It tells a great story, but the story transforms depending on who’s looking at it. It’s a story of loss, of change. Who’s the figure frozen or morphed into a tree? Who’s the shadowy figure in the background? It all depends on who’s asking!

Which of the lyrics do mean the most to you personally? Why?

Al: Lyrics and themes is something that we care a great deal about. We both write lyrics and I am extremely proud of them all. There is not a single ASPIRE song where the lyrics are senseless or banal, even in the “romantic” themes for the ballads. It is our opinion that everything must be perfect in each song. What could be worse than a musically good song, which you are ashamed to sing along, just because the lyrics are so stupid?

One thing that really surprised me (in a positive way) was your cover of “Heaven On Their Minds”!! Jesus Christ Superstar is my most favorite musical of all and this song is simply amazing – nevertheless it’s quite an uncommon choice for a song to be covered by a Heavy Metal band, don’t you think so? At least I don’t know another traditional Metal outfit that ever covered a musical classic... so what was it that made you chose especially this song as a cover tune?

Al: Well, we share a passion for “Jesus Christ Superstar”! I am completely in love with it, ever since I heard it for the first time, when I was 17 or so. Once, during a rehearsal, while we were warming up, I started playing the first riff of “Heaven On Their Minds” and Ryan started singing it. My jaw dropped - his voice was perfect for the part! But then we didn’t really think about it. When we started discussing the possibility of a cover song on the album, we both thought that it must be a metal arrangement of a non-metal song. So, Ryan said: “Let’s do “Heaven On Their Minds” and I immediately agreed.

Like your first album, “The Age Of Reckoning” has once again been put out as an independent release... why? Has there just not been any label interest in Aspire or are there other reasons for this?

Al: Oh, there was a lot of interest! A few independent labels contacted us with the possibility of a signing. One of them even sent us a contract. Well, the contract was a joke – a one-page affair that generally enslaved us. When our attorney redrafted it and we sent it back, it was the last time we heard from that label. Good!
We always do a research about the label. We contact the bands that are signed with it; we look at how well those bands are promoted, in how many stores their music is available. And it turned out that we promote ourselves better than those labels do for their bands. So, why sign a legally binding agreement with someone who doesn’t know how to do his business.
As for the “major” labels, some of them sent us very polite letters of apology, claiming that their roster was full. Whether it is the truth or a nice way to turn someone down – I don’t care. It would be great to get signed with one of them, but we are not waiting for miracles. “Quest Eternal” was and still is very successful; and nobody knew about ASPIRE when it was released. Hopefully, “The Age Of Reckoning” will fare even better.

What do you think, which advantages does it have for Aspire to be their very own masters in every aspect and concern of the album release – from the recording to the design and distribution to the promotion? And – on the other hand – what could a good label deal offer to the band, that is impossible (or at least pretty hard) for you to achieve on your own?

Al: Well, you just named all the advantages. Nobody tells us where to record and how to sound. We choose our own style, our own vision. We have our own budget for the advertisement, we decide whom to send our music to for the reviews (Metal Coven was among our very first recipients, even before the album was officially released :). We make all decisions and it is we alone who rips the profits as well.
What could a good label do for us? First and foremost - touring. Tour agencies are usually associated, or, at least, work very closely with record labels. Besides, for an up-and-coming band, which ASPIRE still is, the best way would be to tour with someone more established. That could be easily achieved with label backing. And tours are the greatest way of promotion, so it would greatly contribute to sales as well.

The whole recording and musicianship has completely been done by you and Ryan Metzger (Aspire singer) alone... why do you keep the band as a duo? Don’t you think it would even increase Aspire’s sound, if you had e.g. a real drummer playing on your albums?

Al: Oh, you’re probably right, although it depends on a drummer :). After the release of “Quest Eternal” we put a band together, we played live a lot. And we started rehearsing the new songs too - Ryan and I wrote “Repentance” even before the release of “Quest”. Well, all was nice, until it came to the serious work. We recorded a two-song demo – “Repentance” and “Fairy Tale” - after seven months (!) of the rehearsals and three line-up changes. It would probably take us another year or two to rehearse the album and the same time to record it. So, when another line-up did not work out, we happily disbanded it and recorded the album as it is. It took us less than three months to write, record, mix and release it all. We have a couple of new songs in the works already!

Even though the band itself consists of only your two guys, Aspire nevertheless performes live as well... how do you manage this and who are the other musicians that help you and Ryan out on stage?

Al: Like I said, we used to have a full line-up. As for our present situation, we decided that if it comes to a good tour, we would hire professionals to help us. If it works out, we’ll go for a full line up again, because yes, good musicians can always contribute to the sound.

Are there any plans for heading over to the old continent and entering some German stages, for example? I’d surely love to see Aspire live one day...

Al: Thanks! Plans – not yet. Dreams – of course! And Germany would be our first and main destination. “Quest Eternal” sold more copies in Germany than in any other country, Germany is the home to the best Metal music in the world, so it would be a great pleasure for us to play there.

Is there any merchandise available from Aspire? If so, what items do you have available for purchase and where can they be bought?

Al: Not yet, but t-shirts will be available in about a month. Probably more things will follow too. We’ll keep you posted about that.

What is the best place to get the latest info about your band and stay up-to-date about all news and happenings in the Aspire camp?

Al: Two places – our official website and our MySpace page: We operate both of them and keep them up to date.

Before we come to an end, please let us know which albums you personally listen to the very most right now... any recommendations for our readers?

Al: “The Age Of Reckoning” is still what I listen the most :). But, seriously, I am a great fan of German power metal, bands like Edguy, Gamma Ray, Primal Fear. I was complete blown away by two metal operas - “Avantasia” and “Aina”.
Also, I still listen to a lot of classic hard rock and heavy metal – Deep Purple is and always will be my favourite band, along with Rainbow, 80’s Black Sabbath, Iron Maiden, Judas Priest.
And, of course, a lot of classical music – Beethoven, Grieg, Bach, Mozart, Wagner, Liszt, Tchaikovsky, Rachmaninov.

That’s it... thanks a lot for your answers, Al!! Keep up the fantastic work with Aspire... now I leave the latest famous last words to you!!

Al: Thank you! It was the greatest interview I’ve ever answered, and it is always a pleasure for me. As for the last words – support independent music! There are many good bands out there, and the fact that big shots labels missed them can actually be a good thing – you can expect something more original.


Questions: October 2006 by Tobi
: October 2006 by
Al Candello & Ryan Metzger