A talk with
STEVE MONTOYA (Vocals) & PABLO ROYBAL (Guitar)
(Questionnaire by Stefan)
Hailing from Sante Fe, New Mexico – Savage Wizdom just released its second cut entitled “A New Beginning” in a masterly way ! More specifically, US Metal addicts will have a huge asset to this piece of ingenuity. After their first album, the activities were at a dead end but the passion for Metal music, coming from frontman Steve Montoya, emerged in full force and led to the rebirth of the band. Now surrounded by his own son called Steven on guitars, Savage Wizdom apparently found the right musicians and formula to rejoin the US Metal community in full glory. Their new album has me completely in its grip and along with the upcoming interview, I'd like to go back in time to speak all about the fortunes how it all started and more. Lets’ get started !
Q: Hi guys, welcome here at Metal To Infinity webzine Belgium where US Metal still reigns supreme… bands like Savage Wizdom give this style of music even more elegance. To start I want to go back in time, more especially to the early days of existence. When, in which way and by whom the real story of Savage Wizdom actually began?
STEVE: After ten years of being a long haul truck driver, I got the itch to be back in a band. I started looking around and I ran into Morris Branch [former bassist] and we decided to get together to see what we could come up with. I knew Wes Rivera [former guitarist] and he introduced us to Santiago Jaramillo [former drummer]. That was the original line-up of the band. We started writing songs and that was the beginning of the band. Chris Salazar later replaced Santiago on drums and Chris Herrera came in later as a rhythm guitarist.
Q: What about the origins of the band name Steve?
STEVE: The name came from an old Conan comic called the Savage Sword of Conan. I have always been a fan of the Conan comics and I wanted to use the Savage reference somewhere. Wizdom was the first name that I had in mind for the band and I decided to just add the Savage name that I liked so much to the Wizdom part. The spelling change [with a Z instead of an S] was just something that I threw in there to be different and make the name standout a little more.
Q: As I’ve heard, you were the lead singer in late 80s Thrash Metal act Prowler, right? The only Prowler I know from that period released the mighty EP called “Prowling Death Squad” through New renaissance Records. I checked it out and the name Steve Fienroth was listed as their frontman. What’s the right story brother?
STEVE: I am not aware of that band. My band was based out of Los Angeles. We started in New Mexico and later moved to California. We were together from 1983 until 1995. We played at the Whiskey A Go Go and all of those Sunset Strip clubs.
Q: Back to Savage Wizdom - how was the search for the most suitable musicians? What conditions they had to meet in your opinion?
STEVE: I was just looking for people to work with. I didn’t set a lot of requirements for them. I really just wanted to find people that I could work with and who would be willing to work with me. I figured that we could figure out the rest along the way as long as we were working towards releasing some kind of decent product somewhere down the line.
Q: Eventually you found the appropriate members, what happened next? I suppose you're immediately launched rehearsals, right?
STEVE: Yeah we got started working on new songs right away. We were playing all original songs at our first show. We weren’t too interested in playing covers.
Q: What type of Metal you played back then and what were the ambitions?
STEVE: I wanted to do something kind of like Primal Fear. Something that was heavy but really melodic. I wasn’t thinking too far ahead about what I wanted to accomplish other than I just wanted to have good product.
Q: In connection with your style during the early years, You can enumerate a few well-known bands for comparison?
STEVE: There was a little bit of each guy and putting all of the influences together to develop our sound in the early years. Wes was really into Slipknot, Morris was really into Disturbed and the Chris Herrera and Chris Salazar were both into heavy thrash. I was kind of the lone guy who was into bands like Manowar and Primal Fear.
Q: Did you ever raised a demo recording?
STEVE: We recorded a five song demo sometime in 2006 when we were still a four piece. It was when we still had Santiago on drums before we got Chris Salazar or Chris Herrera. We recorded “Behold,” “Not An Illusion,” “No Time For Mercy,” “Final Legacy” and “Spellbound.”
Q: I have read that the first three years of your existence was filled with numerous live performances. Tell us about the most memorable events please.
STEVE: We played our very first show at a teen youth center and got a good response. First shows are always important and it was cool to see that everyone liked it. I think we were all surprised. Playing an outdoor gig at The Zone [tattoo shop] in Albuquerque was memorable too. It was different and memorable even if only for that reason.
Q: Then it was time to record a full-length first album “No Time For Mercy”. I guess fully financed by the band, how would you define the album regarding the style of Metal?
STEVE: No Time For Mercy was a thrashier album. It was a bit of a compromise because some of the guys wanted to go in a heavier direction with lots of riffs and [imitates heavy death metal drums] and I wanted to keep it to something that you could sing to. I think it came out good but the recording was rushed. When we booked time at Stepbridge Studios, I thought that we were going in to records just a few songs. Instead the guys decided to record eleven. We recorded the whole thing in a couple of days and I wish that we took more time with it.
Q: I suppose that some members of the band were not very enthusiast because, a couple of months followed to the release date, Savage Wizdom called it quits. Which was the only real reason?
STEVE: The guys just wanted to go in a different direction. They wanted to be a harder band. I didn’t mind going that direction a little. Some of those songs like “Cradle Of Destruction” have a little bit of that. It’s not the direction that I would have chose but I had fun and enjoyed it. I didn’t want to go any heavier though and I think they did. About two weeks after we released No Time For Mercy, Chris Salazar [former drummer] called me up while I was at home and told me that he was quitting the band and that he was going to come by our practice space to pick up his drums. They must have had a meeting together with the four of them because they all showed up at 1:00 p.m. to pick up their gear. I didn’t see it coming because we had just released a CD and we never did anything to promote it. So I helped them pack everything up and the next thing I knew I was standing in an empty studio by myself.
Q: It was Steve Montoya who wanted to reform his band in Februari 2008. He had to look for fresh blood and succeeded with flying colours. Besides his own son Steven, there were some other guys able and willing to join the ranks. Please, introduce the new line-up and it would be good to know some more about their musical background.
STEVE: Well a couple of months after everyone in the band decided to leave, I got a call from Santiago Jaramillo [original drummer]. Santiago had spent the first couple of years with us and he called me out of the blue to ask what was happening with the band. I told him that the band was done and everybody quit. He told me that he was playing with a guitar player in Albuquerque and they were trying to get their own thing going but it wasn’t really working out. So then we started talking about reforming Savage Wizdom.
PABLO: Santiago had showed me the demo that he had recorded with the band when we were trying to our own band going in Albuquerque. More than anything else, I was really struck by the singer. I just couldn’t believe that there were people in the area who could still sing like that. I remember thinking to myself “I wonder if I could get this guy to sing on some of my songs.” I never thought that I’d be working with the guy just a few weeks later. So it was Santiago who brought me into this.
My musical tastes are quite similar to Steve and Steven. We are all Maiden fans, Dio fans, Queensryche fans so we got along quite well. They turned me on to bands like Helloween and Primal Fear so I knew that I was in good company. Things never really materialized with Santiago so after a few months of playing with him, we decided to part company and look for another drummer. Steve knew Steve Cordova from their days in Prowler and called him into check out the project and I couldn’t believe how good he was.
He spent some years in the early 90’s signed to Warner Bros. with his band Fear Of God so he was a professional musician. His tastes differ a bit from the rest of us though. He’s really into bands like Rush and Queen but he likes a lot of classic metal stuff as well. Our newest member, James, is into heavier bands like Amon Amarth, Lamb Of God, and Children Of Bodom so he brings a new element as well.
Q: Disappeared from the radar for a couple of month, Savage Wizdom re-emerged to the US Metal scene later 2008. Musically, there was a change audible… can you give a little more clarification about that?
PABLO: It was clear to me from the beginning that this was going to be a different band altogether from the one that had just recorded the CD just because my style of guitar playing is so much different from Wes’s. I originally brought up the idea of just changing the name but we shot that down pretty quick because it is a good name and we didn’t see any reason to abandon it. Steve, Steven and myself wrote “Do Or Die” in the brief period that we were looking for drummers and it was just a completely different animal. Whereas the other guys were trying to push for everything to be heavier, I like the emphasis to be on melody more than anything. I’m really not into Slipknot or bands like that. I like music to be tuneful. So if “Do Or Die” sounds a bit like Iron Maiden, it’s because that band, for me, is the epitome of what metal should be and I derive a lot of my style as a player from Smith, Murray and Gers. As Steven started to become more involved in the writing process, he started pushing for more of a power metal direction so we just sped things up a bit.
Q: And another new guy teamed up by the name of James Stuart III, why did bassist Sean Coblentz decided to leave the core?
PABLO: Sean left to attend to some personal matters. We kind of saw it coming for awhile. To be fair to Sean, I don’t think that this was ever really his genre of music from the beginning. He likes it but he is really more into bands like Korn and Godsmack. Sean is a talented guy though.
He came on board and learned all of the songs at lighting fast speed and, to his credit, he stuck it out for two and half years. He recorded the album with us but we eventually began to see that his interests were being diverted elsewhere. He was also having some financial issues as well and I think the expenses of being in a band began to wear on him.
We were hoping that he would at least stick it out through the release of the CD but in late November of last year, he sent us all a text message basically just saying that he couldn’t do it anymore and he wanted to concentrate on his family life.
Q: Might be the best line-up ever, you were ready to go for round number, I mean the recording of a second album. The new effort got the title “A New Beginning”, very appropriate, isn’t it?
PABLO: Very appropriate indeed. That title has been relevant to us any number of times over the last couple of years.
Q: Speak for yourself, in what way this new album differs from the predecessor?
STEVE: It’s a lot more melodic.
PABLO: It’s definitely more melodic and I think just all around a lot more polished than the debut is. We spent a fair amount of time in the studio cutting basic tracks and adding orchestral arrangements here and there, double tracking guitar parts and vocals parts here and there and we spent a decent amount of time getting the vocal effects right and getting the mix as good as an underground independent band can. It’s a more refined album. It’s also bigger in it’s scope. Every aspect of it from the production to the cover art is just bigger and more ambitious in terms of what it is trying to accomplish.
Q: Based on the production, mastering, engineering and stuff… who were all involved to complete the whole album?
PABLO: Our good friend Augustine Ortiz served as our production engineer and co-producer. He and I have been friends since high school so it was very cool for me to have him involved with this project. For all things music related, the guy is incredibly talented and knowledgeable. He’s built a bit of a name for himself in the local scene here in New Mexico and for good reason. He is just that good. We had intended for him to handle all aspects of the recording from scratch tracks to mastering but unfortunately, he was sidelined by some personal issues midway through tracking which left us looking for a mixing engineer to take us through the next step.
We found Mike Apodaca through our friends in Blinddryve who had just finished recording with him and highly recommended him. None of us had met the guy but we certainly hit gold once again. Mike has a real passion for the mixing process. Prior to us, his experience had mostly been in mixing death and thrash metal bands so initially we didn’t really know what to expect. But he was enthused about working within a genre that he had never worked with before. It was clear that he was going to need to learn some new tricks for us. I think Steve and Steven drove him crazy with vocal effects. Death metal vocals tend to be very dry and both Steve and Steven like a certain type of delay in their vocals. Not overdone, but they need to sound big and epic. Steve Cordova was extremely picky with his drum sound too. Mike was very professional about it though. He took everyone’s feedback into account, good and bad, listened to our suggestions and was completely dedicated to making sure that he gave us a product that we were happy with.
We sent the tracks out to Timo Tolkki for mastering out in Helsinki. Being a big Stratovarius fan, I initially wanted Timo to handle the mix as well once it became clear that Augustine wouldn’t be able to finish the project. I was outvoted by the guys who wanted to get someone local so that they could be more involved through the mix process. Nonetheless, I wanted a fresh pair of ears to tackle the mastering and Timo’s track record speaks for itself. Much like working with Blaze Bayley, it was a huge honor for me to have one of my rock heroes involved with my project.
Q: The cover artwork looks great guys, epic minded all over ! Feel free to speak a few words about the creator of this majestic piece of artwork.
PABLO: JP did an amazing job with it. He came to our attention through the first edition of Steel For An Age fanzine which we were most happy to be featured in. We were struck by the cover art for the publication and asked our friend Thanos Stafylarakis if he could get us in contact with the artist. He supplied us with the info and we proceeded from there. I pitched him this concept featuring the ouroboros symbol (serpent eating it’s tail) which is a symbol tied to Greek and Norse mythology which represents rebirth.
We felt it was appropriate considering the album title and the relation it had to the state of the band at the time. I remember revealing the early sketch of the cover to the guys following a recording session with Augustine and everyone almost fell out of their seats. We just couldn’t believe what we were seeing! It was everything that we had hoped for and more. We found ourselves in a bit of an odd position of realizing that we had to make the album sound as good as the cover looked.
We later came to find that JP had also done the artwork for Avantasia’s Metal Opera albums of which Steve, Steven and myself are all big fans of. We really struck gold with finding someone of that calibre who was willing to attach him name to our project.
Q: Will you announce “A New Beginning” as a concept album or preferably not?
PABLO: I wouldn’t call this record a concept album. It’s got some reoccurring themes of rebirth and daring to chart your own path through life but as an album it doesn’t have much of a narrative form. It doesn’t tell a story the way all of the real concept albums do.
Q: No nonsense, full fledged US Power Metal with a nod to the old school movement… this album means a lot to me guys ! Are you agree with what I have written down in my review?
STEVE: It’s awesome. I am glad to hear that you appreciate what we do.
PABLO: We loved the review. I think you really picked up on what we were trying to do. The whole idea was to utilize what we love about old school metal but modernize it just enough so that it doesn’t sound dated. I think some of the power metal bands like modern Deris-era Helloween have done that brilliantly and we were trying to capture some of that.
Q: How do you handle negative criticism of your music?
STEVE: It hasn’t happened yet (laughs). No, I think it is something that you can learn from.
PABLO: We always welcome everyone’s feedback. The good and the bad. I think you learn not to take criticism personally. All we’ve ever tried to do is do the best that we can at any given point in time and as long as we are happy with it… that’s the most important thing. You realize that what you do isn’t going to appeal to everyone and hopefully some people like it as much as you do.
Q: How is the partnership with Blaze Bayley established?
PABLO: I flew out to New York to see Blaze play at BB King’s in Times Square. He so rarely makes it out to the States so I had to catch this show. I had the privilege of meeting him after the show and got to talk to him for a solid twenty minutes about everything from his days in Maiden to his solo career. I even got to pick his brain a bit about the concept behind his Tenth Dimension album which I absolutely love but have never really been able to decipher the story behind it.
Blaze is honestly one of the coolest rock stars that I have ever met. You can see it in the way that he talks to his fans that he genuinely appreciates every one of his fans. He will talk to every fan that wants to talk to him, sign every autograph and take a picture with anyone that wants one. At the end of our discussion, I had mentioned my band to him and I told him that we were getting ready to begin production our new CD.
I was aware of some guest appearance that he had done with Sinnergod and Dragonsclaw so I just asked him what his price was and if he would do it. He gave me his manager’s email address and told me to contact her. The price was well within our budget and once he approved of the lyrical content, we sent him the track. He recorded his parts at a studio in Birmingham in one day, sent it back to us and we cut it together with Augustine at his studio in Santa Fe.
Q: What can you tell us about the textual content and which songs get your preference… why?
STEVE: I like songs that tell stories so that’s usually how I write my lyrics. “The Barbarian” is my favourite and just like the band name it was inspired by the Conan comics. That song has been in my life for so long and to see it finally come alive with this band… That song just has a lot of meaning to me. “Shattered Lives” is about the children that survived the Holocaust and “Do Or Die” is just a story that I dreamed up about a stunt driver who cheats death. I also like “Trail Of Sorrow” which is a two part song about a detective and the serial killer that he is trying to catch.
PABLO: Steve does the story telling songs so well so I work a different angle with my lyrics. Sometimes I say that Steve and I work in opposite ways as lyricists. He will take a broad idea about a barbarian character or a stunt driver and hone in on a specific story. I will be inspired by a specific idea and then move outward to a more broad idea of theme. “Chase The Dragon” was inspired by Stephen King’s Dark Tower series. It was originally intended to be much more overtly about the Dark Tower stories and characters which is why the first line of the song mirrors the first line of The Gunslinger [Dark Tower book one] and the “train run off it’s track” line being a reference to one of the characters. I decided to move outward to a broader idea and make it more metaphorical.
The dragon reference is simply a metaphor for anything that is sought or pursued that is bigger and greater than the people who quest for it. It’s really about people who will pursue something to no end even if it means the death of them. In a very broad sense, that is really the plight of Roland Deschain [lead character in The Dark Tower]. I was quite proud of how that song came out. I also really like “Shattered Lives” because of Steve’s choice of subject matter and the melodies that Steven wrote. “The Barbarian” is another standout. It’s got a really epic chorus and “Let It Go” is a favourite as well because of the Blaze Bayley factor.
Q: What about the mutual musical co-operation between father Steve and son Steven, who has apparently had a good learning experience?
STEVE: He brings out the best in me. He knows me better than anybody musically so he knows where I am going and what I want when I am working on a song. I think it’s pretty unique for a band to have a team like that and I am very proud of how far he has come. I know how Eddie Van Halen must feel.
Q: What is supposed to accomplish with this new album “A New Beginning”? Perhaps a rapprochement of a well-known record company?
PABLO: We sent the album out to a few companies and, once again, didn’t receive a response. We produced the entire project out of our pocket so all we were really seeking was distribution. We were really hoping to get a bite from Nuclear Blast but I guess they weren’t interested. It’s okay though because we have been selling it independently and the response (particularly overseas) has been better than we expected.
We all agreed from the day that we entered the studio that this was not going to be a project that was going to allow us to quit our day jobs and live like rock stars. This was about getting a respectable product out there into the world. By that criteria, I think we have succeeded.
Q: In which way you guys take control of the promotion campaign? Is it a worldwide matter?
PABLO: At the moment we are doing everything independently so we’re limited by a lot of factors namely budget and time. We’ve got an ad running on Brave Words right now and we are doing the best we can to get this out there and make people aware of it just because we really feel that this is the best work than any of us have done so far. But in the two months since we have released it, the response has been great and we have received orders from all over the world. Greece, Australia, Japan, Norway, Canada, Germany, Belgium… We have actually sold more units overseas than we have in the US.
Q: I’d like to ask for an address where mainly aficionados of the godlike US Metal genre have the opportunity to place an order?
PABLO: Physical copies are available for purchase at CD Baby (www.cdbaby.com) and Amazon. You can also email us at email@example.com if you would like to buy directly from us. Digital versions are available on iTunes, CD Baby, Amazon and at our Bandcamp page (savagewizdom.bandcamp.com). You can follow us on Facebook too for all of the updates on where the CD is being made available an what we are doing.
Q: What's on the program for the foreseeable future and beyond?
PABLO: At the moment we are just in support mode for the new disc, but we have already been kicking around a few ideas for new songs. I really don’t know when we will get around to the next CD or really what lies ahead in the future at all. But at the moment we are looking to play some dates around the US and just bring as much attention to this new release as we can.
Q: One last question before concluding: how’s the current scene metal scene in New Mexico guys – any good bands in promotion?
PABLO: There are a lot of bands on the New Mexico metal scene right now from all different subgenres and styles. Thrash metal fans should check out our friends Regicide who will be releasing their debut release Fall Of An Empire early next year. Also, 3 Weeks Later who just released their first EP Glass Prison recently. For the progressive death metal fans, check out Carrion Kind. Certainly won’t be everyone’s cup of tea but they are at the top of their genre. Both progressive and aggressive and precise as hell. For more of a modern metal vibe, check out Blinddryve. They have two releases out: a full length called World Insane and an EP called Our Domain. Also, Shit Happens Inc. who just released their first release 11 Year Itch recently. Links are posted below:
*3 Weeks Later: http://3weekslater.bandcamp.com/releases
*Carrion Kind: http://carrionkind.bandcamp.com/
Q: May I thank you for this friendly cooperation and like to wish you all the very best of luck and success with Savage Wizdom. The pleasure was mine but in order to finally conclude, the honour’s on you !
STEVE: No, thank you. To know that our music is being played and appreciated in Belgium… it’s an honor really. Thanks for the great review too.
PABLO: Thanks Stefan! Reading reviews like yours is really encouraging. It’s great to hear that there are still places out there with a strong metal following and we are glad to see our efforts being accepted by that community.