Jonah Weingarten of Pyramaze

Phoenix: First of all, congratulations on the release of “Disciples of the Sun.” You’ve already been getting a lot of high praise for it from critics and fans alike. How does it feel to be back, so to speak, and receive such accolades right out of the gate?

Jonah Weingarten: It feels amazing honestly. We poured our hearts and souls into this record, not to mention the trials and tribulations we went through to secure a line-up that we feel comfortable carrying the legacy of Pyramaze forward with. We are so happy to know that the fans love it so much, as well as the critics.

Phoenix: You can tell that a lot went into the album. And I think the fans’ positive response is what you really want to hear even more than the critics, because they are your support and extended family, in a way. As you mentioned with a new and secure lineup, with that change it is understandable that Pyramaze’s sound has shifted to fit the styles and influences of the current members as well as with the ebb and flow of the preferences and trends within the genre. How do you feel about the evolution of Pyramaze’s sound over time and where do you see it going in the future?

Jonah: A lot did go into it really, but the biggest and greatest motivations for us are the friendship and brotherhood we share as band members, and the relationships we have with our fans. The fans mean everything to us. In my opinion the concept and idea of the “true rock star” died with the inception of social media as we know it today. That kind of illusivity and arrogance can’t exist or be received when you don’t have any privacy. I for one, really enjoy interacting with our fans on a daily basis, as well as hearing their opinions and ideas on our music. If we are making music for the fans, then their criticism and praise should be taken into consideration. Our music is what’s on the surface, when there is something so much deeper and more powerful taking place here.

And yes, our style has changed a bit, but I think for the better. I feel like we are capable of reaching a wider audience, while the core of the Pyramaze sound remains intact. The future of Pyramaze seems very bright to me…we already have plenty of material ready to go for more albums. I have about 10 songs myself that I am ready to bring to the table.

Additionally, I think it’s impossible for our sound to grow stagnant and/or repetitive because of all the influences our core group of song writers bring to the table. That all will go into the giant melting pot known as Pyramaze, with the end result being many diverse, epic, and melodic records to come!

Phoenix: That’s fantastic that you take the fans’ opinions into consideration. Not every group does that, and I’m sure the fans pick up on that. I do agree with you that Pyramaze’s foundation is still present, but the sound on “Disciples” seems a bit more streamlined and accessible, which is good, especially if you are seeking to reach a wider audience. And hopefully, new fans of this album will decide to delve into your previous discography as well and keep swelling your fanbase. That’s great to hear that you already have an albums’ worth of songs to submit on your own, and you have so much talent within the group that I’m sure it wouldn’t take long for the next album to start development. Having so many influences amongst yourselves will continue to bring a great blending of ideas for your own continuing sound of epic goodness for us to look forward to.

Jonah: Yes, and from Toke told me yesterday, both him and Jacob also have a bunch of songs/riffs/ideas ready to go for album number 5.

Phoenix: So are you planning for a fairly quick start to the next album?

Jonah: I don’t want to jump the gun on album number 5, but I will say that it is certainly on our minds. Especially given the reception we have received for “Disciples of the Sun.”

Phoenix: I’d definitely want to ride that wave, especially if ideas were already in the works.

Jonah: I don’t want to lose momentum again, like we did with the seven year break after “Immortal.” It’s so awesome that our fans didn’t forget about us and remained so excited for this new album and the future of Pyramaze after all this time has passed.

Phoenix: Yes, definitely.   Some fans can be fickle, but when true fans believe in a group and their potential, they will hold on as long as they need to.

Jonah: A fan wrote me this morning and said “The new album doesn’t sound like an underground niche thing like with Lance or Matt.” That was a good point and was something I hadn’t really thought much about, but I think he is right. Not to downplay Lance’s and Matt’s contributions to the history of Pyramaze, but our new sound is a bit broader and not based on the reputations of who our singer is and what he has accomplished with other bands in the past.

Phoenix: Yes, as much as I love the other albums, with their epic concepts, there is something about “Disciples” that seems to open the gates. I’ve only heard positive comments personally from others, and many have commented that they love Terje’s vocal sound with the band. As you mentioned, Lance and Matt definitely had reputations that preceded them. Bringing Terje on as your new singer was a fantastic choice. Tell us how you got Terje on board, and how you see his involvement with Pyramaze in the future.

Jonah: Jacob had worked with Terje on some other projects in the past in his studio, so he was the one who suggested him to the rest of us. Terje demoed up some vocals on a song that ended up being “Unveil” and that sealed the deal.

Phoenix: Speaking of the seven year gap, you gained a tremendous asset with Jacob’s joining Pyramaze along the way, with his hand in producing, songwriting, playing guitar and bass, engineering, mixing, and mastering…you have alluded to his joining the band being essentially a godsend that kept Pyramaze from actually disbanding. How did it come about that he decided to join forces with you and how did that help propel you forward to making this fourth album, aside from your sheer perseverance and tenaciousness to keep going?

Jonah:   Yes, Jacob literally saved this band from demise. He has come in and gotten his hands into every aspect of what we have going on. We are so lucky to have him in this band! We asked Jacob to join the band in 2011, and he started writing songs for us right away. It certainly doesn’t hurt having a world class producer and guitarist in your band!

Phoenix: Yes, I was thinking what a great fortune you had in getting Jacob’s involvement not only because of his skills, but also because he has a quite busy schedule, I imagine, producing so many bands and involvement with various albums (mastering, mixing, recording, etc.).

Jonah: Jacob has been there since the beginning of Pyramaze as our producer, so he has always felt like a member of the band anyway. He certainly has a busy schedule with his producing and mixing, and it means so much to us that he is willing to use any free time he has for the band.

Phoenix:   That’s true, but now he’s part of you on a whole other level. It’s great to see him playing with you.

Jonah: Yes, it will be very cool to share the stage with him and Terje for the first time at the Kloften fest at the end of June in Denmark.

Phoenix: I’m sure that will be a fantastic vibe to play live together.

Jonah: I think it will be yes, and I’m looking forward to bringing the epicness back to the stage.

Phoenix: I’m sure your fans will also be anticipating the epicness as well, seeing your renewed energy and passion. So you have one festival confirmed. Do you think you’ll be playing mostly festivals at this point, or do you see a tour in the near future?

Jonah: I think we will primarily be doing festivals and one-offs, but If the right tour came along, then never say never.

Phoenix: That’s certainly wise not to rule anything out, but things have to align just right. I hope that the right circumstances come along. But for now, I’m sure people will be thrilled to see you at the festivals. Speaking of bringing epicness to the stage, can you tell us about your gear setup? What instrument(s) and equipment do you use to produce your wide range of voices that are so crucial to Pyramaze’s sound? And is your live setup the same or different than your studio setup?

Jonah: I use primarily Korg products, as they have an extensive selection of orchestral patches that I love. My live setup is usually pretty similar to what I have going on in the studio so that I can put those epic strings and choirs through the PA.

Phoenix: So, when composing using all of the wonderful selections at your disposal, it appears that sometimes your piano/keyboard parts parallel or mimic the melodies from the vocals or guitar, and at other times they are completely counter yet complementary to the musical theme. How is it decided which approach is best in the song?

Jonah: There is always a method to my madness. My approach to writing my keyboard parts is to do whatever I think will enhance the riffs or the vocals for the respective part of the song. I like to make the choruses as big and epic as possible, and the verse riffs as heavy as possible. I tend to lean towards more syncopated patterns and melodies on the verses. I always just go into the studio and go “raw” as in I don’t like to be prepared at all. I just come up with my parts on the spot based on whatever I am feeling and inspired by at that moment. That way it gives the music that passion and inspired feel that I go for. I play entirely by ear and by emotion, and I feel like that ends up benefiting the finished product.

Phoenix: That definitely seems to work for you. It seems improvisation and working intuitively or instinctually is a strong suit for you, and you incorporate that strength into the music.

Jonah: When I’m writing, recording, and performing live with Pyramaze I am channeling the emotions and power I feel when I am watching an epic movie with a amazing soundtrack. Hans Zimmer, Danny Elfman, Howard Shore, etc., are some of my heroes.

Phoenix: Your cinematic affinity is definitely evident in your work, especially with instrumental features. Can you say more about your creative process when you compose a song like the orchestral opener, “We are the Ocean,” where you have the main input rather than contributing to a part of collaborative composition with other song structures to work around?

Jonah: When I write a piece like “We Are the Ocean,” I am taking into consideration the fact that this is the opening statement that sets the precedent for the rest of the album. It needs to be epic, sweepingly melodic, and it needs to build. The listener needs to feel like something big is about to happen. I also take into consideration that this intro may be our live stage intro as well. I enjoyed getting my fingers more into the song writing for the album this time around as well.

Phoenix: It is a wonderful, sweeping opener and announces the album’s presence with a beautiful fanfare. I could definitely see its being a live opener as well, easily attracting people’s attention and setting the stage for the rest of the concert.

The other piece you wrote for the album was the eleventh track, “From Black to White.” This composition is particularly interesting because you chose to make it switch time signatures from 6/8 to 4/4 constantly throughout the song in a notable but seamless fashion. There is actually a lot going on in that song, but it is pieced together nicely for a tight fit. How did you go about writing this song and deciding the particular intricacies with that composition?

Jonah: I always write metal songs by writing the melody and rhythmic patterns first. I don’t play guitar so my approach is not traditional at all. There was a mistake in the booklet and I did not receive credit for writing “Back for More.” That song really shows my style even more than “When Black Turns to White,” as it is driven by a main melody that is catchy and stay stuck in your head.

Phoenix: I see, that’s good to know, too (about “Back for More”). Both of those songs are catchy melodically. I can see how composing via piano can work much differently that composing by guitar, and working more from melody rather than from chord progressions (in a general manner of speaking). What do you enjoy most about collaborating with your bandmates? How do you feel the chemistry “clicks” among all of you?

Jonah: I have never experienced a higher level of musical chemistry than with my bandmates in Pyramaze. And that goes for when Michael and Niels were in the band too back in the day. We really feed off of each other’s ideas in a big way. We all have a complex understanding of what makes Pyramaze sound like Pyramaze, if that makes sense?

Phoenix: That’s great to hear, it completely makes sense. Not all groups can say that about each other, and sometimes the camaraderie is hard to put into words. It’s an intuitive connection that you all have with each other, on the same musical page.

Jonah: I’m laughing so hard right now because all of a sudden I could just hear Michael saying his most quotable quote to me ever from the “Legend of the Bone Carver” recording session: “Jonah, that sucks just a little bit,” after I played something he wasn’t very fond of! We all say that all the time whenever we get together now. Now I can hear Jacob saying it to me too, lol!

Phoenix: That’s great. (well, not that it sucked a little bit, but a great memory) At least he felt free to be honest. 🙂 So it’s a running inside joke.

Jonah: Yes, it will never die. We have so many fantastic and fun memories from our times together. I really enjoy getting to hang out with Michael when I visit Denmark. Even though he is not a member of Pyramaze anymore, he still was the biggest and most integral part of this from the beginning. And he will always be like a Brother to me.

Phoenix: That’s wonderful that you and Michael are still on great terms and that you keep in touch, even in person when you can. Do you have any other stories of lighter moments that you’re able to share from your time together as a group during this latest recording?

Jonah: Well, unfortunately I had to record all my parts for “Disciples of the Sun” on this side of the ocean this time around, but we certainly had some great times when we made the video for the title track last February in Denmark together. Michael even came and hung out with us on the set of the video shoot!

Phoenix: That’s fantastic. I’m sure it feels great to have him seeing the continuation of Pyramaze and the good hands it remains in. I would imagine his support and blessing would mean a lot.

Jonah: Yes, it is, baby. Now we are all grown up and out on our own, lol! It sure does, as does his friendship.

Phoenix: Which is terrific, because sometimes relationships sour when members part ways. I’m glad to hear you all are still close.

Jonah: That makes two of us. 🙂

Phoenix: So, how would you describe each of your bandmates (you can include past members if you wish) – as well as yourself – as members of Pyramaze? Everyone has different attributes, strengths, characteristics, personalities. What stands out to you about each person

Jonah: I’m going to use Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles as a reference point here, so bear with me. Jacob is Splinter, our experienced warrior leader who is very wise. Toke is Michelangelo, the goofy party dude. Morten is most definitely Donatello, the brains and computer genius who always has a great attitude. Terje is Leonardo, the stoic and reserved frontman who isn’t afraid to kick some serious ass. I am Raphael, passionate and dedicated beyond measure, yet driven by emotion underneath it all.

Phoenix: That’s a very awesome analogy. I didn’t expect that, but that was a very thoughtful yet relatable reply.

Jonah: Well, I am a child of the 80’s after all!

Phoenix: The best decade. 🙂

Jonah: I agree! Best pop culture decade ever!

Phoenix: Now they’re trying to remake everything for the current generation…But we were there for the originals.

Jonah: True story! Best music decade as well in my opinion.

Phoenix: Yes, a lot happened during that decade, musically, cinematically, artistically, and definitely defined lots of pop culture.

Jonah: Yes, and a lot of pop culture from that decade has influenced Pyramaze.

Phoenix: What examples can you give?

Jonah: For example, we have a song from the “Melancholy Beast” record called “Legend” which is based upon the 80’s movie of the same name. As well as the song “The Mighty Abyss” which is based off the James Cameron movie “The Abyss.” Obviously musically we owe a lot to bands like Maiden, Queensryche, Metallica, Megadeth, etc.

Phoenix: All definite giants in the 80’s. The musical influences certainly make sense and influence many current musicians, but it’s nice to know the specific movie influences with the song associations. How did you decide on the themes for “Disciples?”

Jonah: Our lyrics were written by Henrik from Anubis Gate this time around. I think most of his lyrics are up for interpretation. Whereas our previous lyrical content was a bit more transparent and story based.

Phoenix: Yes, the past albums were more concept-related. I was wondering with Henrik’s lyrical involvement if he was given free rein to write about whatever he wanted or if you guys gave him a framework to work within. How did you collaborate with him?

Jonah: He just had free rein, and I know I speak for all of us when I say we couldn’t be more happy! He was given our songs, and within a very short period of time had come up with the lyrics for them as well as some vocal melodies and so forth. It was a true collaborative effort.

Phoenix: That’s great. Henrik has a gift for lyrics, and it sounds like you trusted him from the start. And he is known to come up with a catchy vocal line or two… 😉

Jonah: He surely does, and that’s the way we run things in the band. We completely trust, respect, and rely on the artistic and musical abilities of everyone involved.

Phoenix: Again, that can be rare in a band, trusting each others’ contributions and deferring to each one’s input and expertise. That’s a testament to your chemistry and maturity.

Jonah: We better be mature at this point in the game haha! But yes, Pyramaze is based on the foundation of mutual respect, both artistically and otherwise.

Phoenix: One would think, but that’s not always the case. I think that foundation you have is evident in the music, it infuses the compositions and tightness of the group. I’m sure you’ve heard stories about egos that get in the way to the ultimate detriment of a band’s success. It’s nice to know that isn’t part of Pyramaze’s culture, which can only help to ensure future success. 🙂

Jonah: Thank you so much for saying that! And yes, we are just a bunch of goofy dudes that get together and make some music together. I’m glad people are receptive to that.

Phoenix: It’s evident you enjoy what you do, and in turn, makes people enjoy it with you.

So, this might be a difficult question to answer, like choosing your favorite child, but do you have a favorite song on “Disciples?” If so, why do you think that song was the one that rose to the top for you?

Jonah: I have spent a lot of time trying to figure out a favorite song on “Disciples,” but in the end I simply cannot choose just one. I love each song for different reasons. “Genetic Process” and “Back For More” have my favorite lyrics, the title track is the most epic to me…yeah, I just can’t pick one song.

Phoenix: That’s fair. I don’t think I can pick one either. They all have strong points and I can’t narrow it down to a single one. In some ways, I see that as a good sign, because it’s a strong album without filler.

Well, Jonah, thank you so much for spending your time with me. You have the last and final word…is there anything else you’d like to say to our readers?

Jonah: Thank you so much to all of our fans for sticking with us and staying by our side through all of our hard times and line-up changes. You all mean so much to us! Additionally I want to thank all of you new fans who are just learning about Pyramaze. Thank you all so much for believing in us and supporting us!  – Jonah W.

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