Lunatic's Serenade

Facebook Twitter Google

The Angus and Andrew interview

Angus Clark and Andrew Ross are two names you need to know; Co-founders of their hard rock project, DareDevil Squadron and axe slingers from the West coast tour of the Trans-Siberian Orchestra.

Today I was supposed to interview Angus and Andrew, but what turned out was one of the most fun and candid conversations of music and shop talk: Topics from Iron Maiden, TSO, solo works and history of themselves before TSO, Alice in Chains and back to Iron Maiden. You could also tell by the way they talked to each other and about their band mates that they had no room for ego. They think highly of the people they work with and are truly humble and aware of where they are and how they got there. As much as I tried to stay on track, the interview took on a life of its own. Though we did touch on subjects I had written down, it was an honor to just listen. We laughed, we cried, we hung up (well, we laughed and hung up). Here's what went down.

HMS: Hey guys, thanks for taking time out. I know it's getting late. (8:40pm EST)

Angus: It's all good.

HMS: Are you all writing for the new DareDevil Squadron record?

Angus: Yeah, we have four songs completely recorded and the fifth one about three-quarters of the way there. We're getting one of them mixed now. We have more material written and looking forward to recording the rest of the full length record. We hope to be done in the next few months. We did the bulk of the writing two years ago. It's been a while since the last record, but a lot has been going on with everyone in the band.

HMS: I really like the stuff on the "Out of the Sun" record. It's really punchy.

Angus: Cool, man. The new record is taking a more progressive direction. The first one was more New Wave of British Heavy Metal inspired. The new one is more like Prog, with weird time signatures - It's more "ambitious", I would say. I mean, we're not Dream Theater or anything, but we were sort of leaning in the Prog direction like with the song "Chronicles of Sorrow (Pt 1) off of the Out of the Sun record. We just had more time as people and the things that inspire us are working their way into the writing and writing more as a band. Andrew: The "Chronicles" song has that mandolin beginning.

HMS: Yeah, the first time I heard that I thought it was a banjo. Then I saw the video of you in the studio and saw it was a mandolin.

Andrew: I do play the banjo on the new record, though.

Angus: Yes, Andrew is a man of many talents. He's a guitar player as well as a singer and brings the mandolin. I am a life-long guitar player and have no experience with the mandolin, which I am not proud of....

Andrew: Well, the frets are really small.

HMS: And the neck is very thin.

Angus: Yeah, really! But it's a fun element of something people don’t hear all the time. You, know Andrew had a good time incorporating it into the song. Here's some back ground about "Chronicles". It was meant to be a multi-part epic where each story in the Chronicles is based on experience from each band member. We did part one on the first album and what’s coming up is part four that's subtitled "Tree of Names". We're sorting out what's to be parts three and five and find what everybody wants to share as to what their Chronicle of Sorrow is (shared laughter). And there's no real reason why we jumped parts 2 and 3....

Andrew: We just thought it would be funny. We’ll let the fans figure it out!

HMS: You can have a contest or something.

Andrew: Ha, exactly. “Give us a reason!”

HMS: One of the big questions is ‘How did you guys end up in the Trans-Siberian Orchestra?’

Angus: I started with TSO back in 2001. In 2000, they split up in to two touring bands. They were auditioning for the West Coast band and they got my name from Marty Friedman who was the lead guitar player in Megadeth at the time. I’m not sure how the path was laid because Al Pitrelli was in Megadeth after Marty. They wanted Marty but he was living in Japan and was unavailable. Al came back, so in 2001 it was me and Al as the guitar players for the West Coast band. That’s my story. Andrew, I met for the first time he walked in at rehearsal. What year was that, Andrew?

Andrew: That was 2007. But, let’s go back. (Directs a question to Angus) How did you know Marty Friedman?

Angus: I was teaching at a guitar camp and he came in to do a clinic and every faculty member at the guitar school got to do a song with Marty. We did “Little Wing” (by Jimi Hendrix) together. It’s funny because we both played melodic stuff, not very choppy. The other members were real shredders. They went to town, you know, like cutting heads with each other. When it was all over, Marty came over to me and said, “Man, I love what you did” and “That was awesome”. Long story short, We were teaching together, I started working with Kitaro (Japanese New Age/Folk recording artist, musician). Marty came to see Kitaro, and he remembered me from that time he played with me. I got his phone number and we’ve been in touch ever since.

"The new record is taking a more progressive direction."

The only lesson from that is, “you never know who’s gonna’ be at your gig and it pays to be nice to everybody”. The connections always pay off in the long haul. That’s how I got the TSO gig. Marty Friedman had my phone number! So to all the kids out there, make sure Marty has your number.

Andrew: (to Angus) That’s true about what you said about “be nice to everybody” because when I first came in to the band I met Dina who works closely with Paul O’Neil. I met her in a bar where I was working and we talked for a while. I told her I was a singer. Eventually we swapped information and had 3 or 4 sessions with her, then Paul came in and we did 2 or 3 more. We worked through the songs and he gave me the notes. Then one day he was like, ‘Alright, man, you wanna go on tour?” That was in 2007 and I guess me and Angus didn’t know that we both liked Iron Maiden and Judas Priest until the next year, right Angus? (Angus replies: “That sounds about right”) I let him borrow my Iron Maiden DVD. We would have conversations about how good metal used to be. So I said,“Hey, we could do that!” We were actually sitting in catering and Angus said, “Alright, cool. We’re a band! Who’s gonna’ be our other guitar player?” I said, my neighbor knows this guy Aurelien Budynek who’s supposed to be pretty good. Angus says, Cool, I know him. Let me text him right now. But he calls him and asked him if he wanted to be in the band and Aurelien was like, “OK”… Chris Altenhaff was the bassist in TSO at the time and we asked him to do it and he did. Jason Gianni, the drummer was affiliated with TSO somehow.

Angus: We had a band of thugs that would practice the show so if a person needed someone to fill in, there would be that guy. That’s how Jason was affiliated with TSO at the time. And it’s a crushingly hard job, in as much as the show is the same for both East and West bands, there are nuances and differences meaningful to the performers on stage translating to the audience and the timing and the mechanics, like “It’s two clicks to the downbeat of this and four clicks to the downbeat of that.” A lot of notebook level work and Jason had to learn both versions of the show and being able to play any time. He’s just an amazing musician. You have to be really flexible to fill those shoes. So really he was on a referral, then I met him at NAMM and saw his name tag and said, “You’re Jason Gianni! You’re the drummer in my band!” That’s how we put it all together. We had a rehearsal room in Manhattan that I shared with some other guys and we went in there and did some demos of the first three songs which were “Forgotten Son” ,”Back Lounge” and “Out of the Sun”. Then it was off and running trying to make the record as quickly as possible. We’re giving ourselves a deadline for April this year for the new record.

Andrew: It’s funny you said that cause’ we haven’t put out a record since ’09. We’re all getting a little meticulous and we all want to put out something really good. We’re all on different paths right now and it’s hard getting all five of us together in the same room at the same time, focused and able to finish the record. You know we’re not paying each other. We make money from record sales, but we’re not paying each other for these rehearsals. We all work in music, but that’s what makes this a great group of guys. We’re all fresh and everyone has something going on that they can bring to the table. Getting everyone available, focused up and finishing the record; that winds up being very hard to do. So that’s what we’re doing right now.

HMS: You mentioned Iron Maiden. I was listening to the song “Out of the Sun” and it had that “Aces High” kind of feel for me.

Angus: Huh, that’s interesting. I guess lyrically, yeah it’s definitely Aces High. I always considered the music more of Rainbow “Kill the King” type vibe. Andrew, what was that video? Iron Maiden: The Early Years?

Andrew: Yeah, “Iron Maiden: The Early Years Part 1”. I highly recommend that movie. You might get a band out of it! It’s like an instruction manual on how to make a band work. It’s impressive. They have everybody who was ever in Iron Maiden up through “Number of the Beast”. Everyone meets up at the Cart and Horses pub where they played their first gig. Almost everybody involved was at some point fired by Steve Harris…and none of them hate him! They’re all like, “Yeah, I deserved it”. Then Steve is telling stories about why he hired everyone (laughs). I just found it really inspiring.

HMS: They are an inspiring band altogether. But I want to say to Andrew: your band Chameleon, that’s some good stuff, right there!

Andrew: Thanks, man. You know, Angus helped us out on the song “Anthem”. That’s him doing that face-melting guitar solo there. We got all our friends to come and guest. Jane Mangini the keyboardist from TSO is on the first record. Caitlin Moe plays violin. It’s just a fun project. It goes in any direction we feel like. It’s sort of heavy. We’re also working on another record; there’s all kinds of things on the burner, not the back burner, but in the works. Unfortunately last year was tough. I had an illness in the family and stopped work on everything. I moved back to South Carolina. But my Dad’s doing better now so we’re back on track. I think this year is gonna’ be really productive for both bands.

HMS: For Angus, I had a chance to speak with Al Pitrelli and him letting you take over most of the solos. It was really neat to see you really work out there. It looked like you were having the best of times.

Read page 2