Shaft of Steel

Band: Shaft of Steel
Genre: Melodic Metal / AOR
Albums: ‘Shaft of Steel’ EP released on 29th September 2014
Location: Originally from Scarborough, UK. Now based in London, UK
Label: Unsigned / Independent

Shaft of Steel is:

Robert Fenning – Lead vocals
Alex Markham – Guitar
Andy Cooper – Bass & backing vocals
Adam Carruthers – Guitar
Chris Smurthwaite – Keyboards
Garth Vickers – Drums

Answers by – Alex Markham (guitar).

We originally met at university in 2004. Rob, Andy and I were all studying for a Creative Music Technology degree and we formed the band in our first semester. We went through several drummers before Garth joined us in 2006. We spent three years writing and gigging around the North East of England but had to part ways when we graduated in 2007. I went to work in radio at that point, with the other guys pursuing careers in teaching and graphic design.

Three years ago, we toyed with the idea of re-recording our old songs and went back into the studio to work on them. We ended up with a whole bunch of new and improved material and we were so confident about it that we reformed the band on a permanent basis and got some additional musicians in to bolster the sound. I know Adam and Chris from my hometown and I’ve played in bands with them before, so it immediately felt right when we got together to rehearse for the first time.

Well, we refer to our music as ‘melodic AOR metal’, which is about as close as you can get to describing our sound. We combine the harder edge of the metal riffs with the melodic sensibilities of 1980s AOR. There are also lots of prog influences in there, but I suppose it would be a bit too wordy to call ourselves ‘melodic progressive AOR metal’!

Evolution of the initial musical and thematic elements:
We started life as a power metal band, singing about the usual dragons, eagles, and in our case, rabbits. We developed our style over time, as we discovered that we had a shared love of 1980s AOR, so the music has naturally shifted more in that direction, as have the lyrical themes. We’re quite proud that, as a band that loosely falls under the label of ‘metal’, we can get away with tackling emotional subjects in our lyrics. We strongly believe that you don’t always have to go for macho content or the prog storytelling angle to convey something meaningful to your audience.

Ideas about the album:
We couldn’t be more happy with our EP. We worked with Dennis Ward and obviously that’s a dream come true for us. We worked hard at this record on our own for a few years, so when Dennis came in and did the backing vocals and mastering, it really did feel like the last pieces of the puzzle had fallen into place. I think we really nailed the production and the vocals in particular. We’re really proud of what we’ve achieved.

The reception has been fantastic so far. We’ve had some really flattering emails and phone calls coming in from all over the world, so it feels like the hard work is finally starting to pay off. There’s still a long way to go though and we really do appreciate people supporting our efforts by spreading the word.

Yes, absolutely. We are supporting Vega and Newman in London on the 8th of November and we will be appearing at the HRH AOR festival in Wales next year. We’ve not planning any trips abroad at the moment, but it all depends on whether the demand is there. If anyone out there reading this wants us to play in their country, get in touch and let us know!

We’re also working on a full-length follow-up to the EP, so expect an album at some point in the next couple of years. We’re determined to go bigger, better and even more melodic with the next record.

Future plans:
We’re currently trying to balance the task of promoting the EP with the process of recording the album, so it’s quite a busy time for us. However, we’re confident that we will achieve what we’re setting out to do. It’s difficult for any artist starting out at the moment to make a living from their music, but as long as other people like what we’re doing and want to support us by buying a CD or a digital download, then we will have achieved our goal and we will keep making the music that both we and the fans want to hear for many years to come.

The songs are all written by myself and Rob. We have a very solid writing partnership that we’ve really honed down over the last ten years. I will typically write all of the music, record a demo, then send it over to Rob to lay some vocals down over the top. We exchange ideas on the lyrics but Rob usually writes them all and he always does a fantastic job.

Iron Maiden have been my favourite band since my pre-teens, so there will always be that influence in our guitar playing. Half of the band are massive Dream Theater fans, so that’s where the prog side stems from, although if you listen to the keyboards you will clearly hear the influence of Peter Gabriel. I’ve loved his piano sound ever since I first heard ‘Red Rain’, so we try to throw that into any song we can!

Andy, our bassist, arranges most of the backing vocals and he’s a huge Def Leppard fan. You can probably tell that from the big choir sounds we’ve got going on. He’s from Sheffield and I think they breed Def Leppard into you up there!

There are some more modern melodic rock and AOR influences in there. For example, Rob and I are big fans of Work of Art, and they definitely influenced the song ‘Drive’. That being said, we still retain some of our old power metal roots. Manowar, for instance, had a massive influence on the riffs in ‘Steel Avenger’, which is a song we’ve had lying around for a long time. However, we’ve also brought that song up to date and taken inspiration from bands like Jorn and Eden’s Curse. The EP really is a comprehensive mix of metal, hard rock, prog and AOR. Looking at it on paper, you wouldn’t think that it would work, but the results speak for themselves. I’m still blown away by it every time I give the CD a spin!

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