Jeff Teets of MindMaze
Name: Jeff Teets
Label: Inner Wound Recordings
Location: Allentown, PA (USA)
Genre: Traditional/Power Metal, Progressive Metal
-Mask of Lies (February 2013) (Independent)
-Back From the Edge (October 2014) (Inner Wound Recordings)
Cover Artwork by Carl Andre Beckston (MONOWASP)
Photos by Jatzi Nieto
Well, our singer Sarah is my sister, so I’ve known her for literally my entire life. We started expressing a mutual interest in music around the age of 11 or 12, listened to a lot of the same bands, and decided to just start something together. Our drummer Kalin has been with us for the vast majority of the time since our formation under the name Necromance in 2004. We’ve gone through a few bassists and originally had a second guitarist, but the three of us have definitely been the three core members all along. None of us have any “prior band history” so to speak. Mike LePond has been our session bassist for a little while now, and obviously he has quite the resume behind him. We met through mutual friends maybe four years ago, and when our last bassist Rich decided to step down from full-time status, we asked Mike to fill the gap. It’s been a real treat to play with someone so professional and skilful, but he’s also a really nice guy as well.
I find our sound to be a bit of a marriage between elements of progressive metal, power metal, hard rock, and old school metal. There was never really any conscious decision where we said “this is what we should play” stylistically, it just sort of grew into this. When we were younger it was definitely a bit more immature and uncomplicated, but the progressive elements have crept into the music as we’ve gotten older and grown as musicians. I like the idea of writing fairly accessible and catchy songs but laced with elements of more complicated styles.
Evolution of the initial musical and thematic elements:
As I said in my last response, I feel like things have definitely matured naturally as we’ve gotten older. I feel like our new album Back From the Edge has shown a lot of growth over the debut album Mask of Lies. The style seems a bit more cohesive, the songs seem to be a bit better written. We tried to push ourselves to really make a better record than we did the first time.
Ideas about the album:
Everything is always going to be a growing process – you learn a lot from your mistakes as you go. That being said, I think we’re playing hardball for sure this time around. The production is better, the songwriting is better, the artwork is better, the individual performances are better… I really feel like everyone has stepped up their game. I love having a great team of people to work with – from the musicians, our engineer, the guy who does our artwork – it really is a team effort, and I think everyone elevated to a new high this time around. However, I’m sure inevitably, we’ll be saying the same thing when we make album #3. There’s always some room for improvement.
The response to our debut album was honestly stellar. Just about all of the reviews were rather positive, and the album sold well, especially for a completely independent band. I think we surpassed a lot of people’s expectations (including our own) for what a completely independent band can do with one debut album. I think we came out of nowhere for a lot of people. Now we have some label support from Inner Wound, so things seem to be growing organically, but now people have expectations coming in, which might be good or bad. We’ll see.
Next step; live or studio:
Two of our biggest goals right now are to get some solid touring experience under our belt, as well as play an international show, most likely in Europe. The Inner Wound deal is a nice piece of puzzle in making that happen, but unfortunately, everything is always about the money, which is something we don’t have much of as a band, so we have to pick our battles appropriately and go for the opportunities when they arise. The industry has devolved to a weird point where it’s now possible to be a band with well-received albums and international fanbase, but clubs in your own local area won’t even take you seriously, or you can’t seem to get noticed for support gigs. We’re hoping things on this front improve. We knew we have fans all over the USA and the world now, and getting out there and playing for all of them is a big goal.
I view our career as a ladder, and right now we’re maybe 2 or 3 rungs up that ladder, with quite a few more left to go. The goal is always to keep advancing and keep growing, whether it be through making better albums, doing some significant touring, international shows, better press coverage, etc… we just have to keep progressing. As long as each successive thing we do continues to advance our profile, we will still be here.
Lyrics, themes and concepts:
Well, neither album we’ve done is a concept album, but that’s something we’d like to do for our third or fourth album – we’re not sure yet. For the most part, we try to shy away from cheesy, cliché lyrics for power metal bands (for the most part anyway – “Destiny Calls” probably being a notable exception), especially on the new album. We tend to write about real things and human emotion in one form or another most of the time. Even our sci-fi inspired epics on each album deal a lot with human elements. “Dark City” was all about finding the secret to what makes a person who they are – whether or not they’re more than the sum of their memories, and “The Machine Stops” is about railing back against the onslaught of technology and fighting to keep raw, human emotion alive. We largely don’t deal with sci-fi or dungeons and dragons stuff, but when we dance with those things, we like to do it in a way that brings out the human, emotional side of the characters, rather than the cheese factor, or what have you.
Preference; live or studio:
As I’ve said, we’ve never really been “on the road” for a lengthy period of time, but in regards to gigs vs. studio work, it’s a tough call. Both have their pros and cons for sure. I went to school to study audio production, so naturally I’m a bit of a studio nerd, and I think that the end result that comes from nailing a part, seeing a composition come together, or holding a master disk in your hand is really hard to describe and difficult to top. That being said, over the past year or so, as we’ve started to establish more of a legitimate fanbase, it’s been immensely satisfying to play some shows hours from home and see people singing along to the songs and getting so into the performances. Getting out there and meeting people who really care about what we do is amazing, but gigs also come with a whole lot of potential baggage that the studio doesn’t.
I handle the vast majority of the musical composition. Usually I will get some riffs and melodies and a loose structure together on my own, maybe throw a demo together, and then the rest of the band might help in the arrangement process and add their own little flare to everything. Sarah wrote 100% of the lyrics on the new album, as well as most of the vocal melodies, but sometimes we work on that stuff together a little bit. Melodies are very important to us.
Iron Maiden has always been the #1 band for us as a collective group. Sarah and I are very much into all sorts of Prog, Power, and Traditional metal, as well as AOR, hard rock, etc… but our drummer and live bassist aren’t really as into this whole scene, so we’re largely united by bands like Maiden and Dream Theater. I think our sound borrows little bits from early progressive metal (Queensryche, Fates Warning, Savatage), traditional metal (Maiden, Riot, Saxon), old school hard rock (UFO, Thin Lizzy, Kansas, Tesla), and the standard Euro power metal stuff (Firewind, Avantasia, Gamma Ray)… We’re a female fronted band but we really aren’t strongly influenced by any female-fronted metal, except maybe Doro/Warlock. I’m a big fan of some newcomers like Triosphere, Beautiful Sin, and our labelmates Vandroya as well.
Preference; cater to the audience or music for its own sake:
I think that it’s all about finding a balance between both. We tried pretty hard to assess our own strengths and weaknesses on the debut album when we were making this one, and listening to valid audience feedback was an important part of that. I think if a band shuts its ears to all forms of criticism and dismisses them as invalid, they are likely closing the door to a ton of musical growth that can be made. However, I think it’s all about being able to discern between valid and invalid criticism. Sometimes you have to learn to just ignore the people who were never going to like what you were doing in the first place and just keep doing what you want to do, for the sake of the music.
At this point, it’s hard for me to answer this accurately. I feel like we’ve accomplished a lot that we’re proud of, but it’s hard to really asses the long-term effects of some of what we’ve done. The new album as a whole is something we’re all very, very proud of. Even though it didn’t really go as everyone had hoped, being selected from hundreds of bands to open for Motley Crue last year was a pretty awesome feeling. Feeling like we’ve established a solid and growing fanbase all over the world that really cares about what we do has been a really great accomplishment as well, and lastly I think that landing our deal with Inner Wound is something we’re all quite proud of.
I really can’t plug the new album Back From the Edge enough. The record comes out October 24th in Europe and October 28th in North America, via Inner Wound Recordings. We will be filming a video for the song “Dreamwalker” soon, and we can only hope that 2015 will be our biggest and best year yet! Thanks to everyone out there who supports us!