Lec Zorn - 2002 The Update Interview

In The Spotlight - Lec Zorn
Interview with Lec Zorn/Steve McAtee
Written by: Lee Bradfield (June 05, 2002)

An update from Lec Zorn as to progress on the forthcoming album. Each of the tracks is given a detailed overview, as discussed between Lec and Glory Daze's Lee Bradfield.

'Lecoverture' immediately reveals your love of Kansas with the affectionate title pun (Leftoverture) firstly.
Yes, that's right I originally titled this song 'Genesis', which was meant to be more symbolic of the beginning of my career rather than a tribute to a band that has been a big influence on me But when I taught the song to my album's drummer, Eli Hludzik, he described it as an 'overture' and I guess that influenced me because a few months later I got the idea for 'Lecoverture'

Then into the music which eventuates into an instrumental mosaic of the album's melodic themes and riffs to come, woven skillfully so as to never get tedious.
Thanks, I'm glad you think so.

To what extent has Kansas influenced not only this piece but your songwriting across the board?
Cool that you notice the Kansas influence I got the idea for this song from the introuction of Kansas's MTV concert, which was later released on videocassette as 'The Best of Kansas Live.' The band walks on stage to a collage of 'Nobody's Home,' 'Song for America,' The Pinnacle' and 'Incomudro - Hymn to the Atman,' all done in a very synth-symphonic way. I've always loved that intro and decided to try the same concept for the beginning of this album.

I think it worked pretty well and I look forward to experimenting with and growing in this progressive rock style. I have a lot of prog rock influence but it is heard only moderately on this album. I expect that more of that style will be heard more on my future albums.

'Long Time Coming' sounds not unlike Burning era Shooting Star, and seems to explore the lyrical theme of how long it's taken to get this album to the final stages.
That's interesting. I'm a huge Shooting Star fan but I never thought about that song as sounding like SS. I'd have to think about that you're absolutely right about the lyrical theme. The song is totally autobiographical. I wrote it in early 2001 when I was just a few weeks away from the start of the recording of the album. I realized that I was on the verge of finally fulfilling my longtime dream of making an album and I was thinking back to the long road full of obstacles and setbacks that I had traveled to get to that point. It's a very emotional song for me.

It's also vocalist Tracy White's (Intruder/Shotgun Symphony) entrance onto the album - how well do you feel he's conveyed your lyrics and 'never give up' themes on this track and others?
Tracy did a great job. He has an outstanding smooth and powerful voice and is without question one of the elite singers of the new melodic rock generation. I told him what I wrote each vocal song about and I he interpreted the variety of emotions on the album very well. I hope to work with him, as well as all of the other musicians on the album, again.

And the timing seems to be really good to have Tracy on my album. His debut solo album is scheduled for early Northern Hemisphere Autumn release on Frontiers Records. I'm hoping that will increase exposure for my album.

'Eternal Flame' definitely brings out the Styxian mid-tempo power ballad with Tracy in top Dennis De Young form.
Yes, that's precisely why I wanted Tracy on my album within seconds of my first listen to Intruder's 'Dangerous Nights' album.

You must have been over the moon with this one - it could have been from Paradise Theatre?
Every bad boy has his soft side Seriously, though, I really wanted to make a classic sounding power ballad for this album because I miss that type of song so much and so many of even the best melodic rock artists have shied away from doing that type of song since the grunge invasion began. It's as if they say to themselves 'Ooh, I'm afraid to make another power ballad.

The grunge fans might think that we're a bunch of wimps.' But I'm in no way aiming this album at grunge fans. If some of them like it, I'll be very pleased. But this album is aimed at melodic rock fans. And if any grunge fan ever makes fun of it, I'll wear his scorn like a badge of honor Some of my favourite songs of all time, especially from the '80s, have been power ballads.

In fact, I recently made a CD-R for myself titled 'The Definitive Ballad Collection - Volume 1' that is in the Your CD-Rs section of www.melodicrock.com. I'd like to get the power ballad tradition started again and I'm pleased that I wrote what I consider to be a good one for this album. I wanted to from the start but it was a struggle One thing that I learned while making this album is that it's harder to make a ballad sound good than it is to make a rocker sound good.

You can have a mediocre rocker and pump it up with loud guitar, pumping bass guitar, pounding drums, big keyboards and powerful vocals and those things put so much power into the song that it's easy to overlook that the song's composition is very mediocre. But if a ballad is mediocre, I think it's painfully obvious.

Some writers such as Dennis DeYoung of Styx and Jim Peterik of Survivor can churn out one classic ballad after another with apparent ease. Right now I still can't I would like to do that someday as long as I don't end up doing just that type of song like Air Supply. Air Supply did some great ballads but the band was very monotonous which I think is why their success was relatively short lived. And I want to have lots of variety in my music.

Interestingly, I wrote a lot of this song while watching a game of the Xtreme Football League (XFL), an ill fated American football league that folded after just one season and $70 million American dollars of losses. The game was a thriller between the Los Angeles Xtreme and the Chicago Enforcers. The Xtreme won in what turned out to be the only overtime game in the league's history.

It probably sounds strange, but my Saturday evening pattern during the XFL's existence was go to the 6pm worship service at church, go home, put on my headphones, and play my Yamaha SY-99 synth. Then I'd watch the XFL game with the TV volume turned down and part of one of my songs came out of it I love American football almost as much as melodic rock by the way.

My ballad writing has improved and I already have two more ballads in the works that have a good chance to make it on my second album I hope I get them polished enough And from a lyrical standpoint, I'm also very pleased with the way that 'Eternal Flame' came out. I wanted to express extreme emotional and physical closeness in a relationship and think that I did a good job with that. I've heard lots of expressions of sexuality in music and I remember less than five that I consider to be in good taste. But I consider this song to be among them.

'Fighting Chance' immediately calls to mind the Survivor classic 'Eye Of The Tiger', pulled off with style and great chord changes.
Yeah, I won't insult anyone's intelligence by denying that one.

Survivor fans are gonna love this?
I really think they will. I didn't get out to write a song so close to any particular song but Survivor is so much a part of me that it's almost inescapable that their influence was going to be strong on this album. And with Survivor not having released an album of original material in 14 years, I'm happy and proud to carry on their sound to those who miss it.

And furthermore, I don't think it would be appropriate for me to try not to sound like Survivor. This album is a reflection of who I am. If I tried to be something other than I am than my music wouldn't be from my heart and I wouldn't feel comfortable releasing it. Long ago I promised myself that I will never release anything that's not absolutely, positively, 100% from my heart. But still, I didn't think that the album was going to sound so much like Survivor.

Mike Walsh apparently heard the Survivor influence and decided to emulate Frankie Sullivan's classic guitar sound. Mike puts a lot of his own style into it as well. And I want to emphasize that this album contains influences from several progressive/melodic rock artists, not just Survivor.

But getting back to 'Fighting Chance'. I really think this song has a great athletic feel to it. I'm hoping that it will become a classic sports anthem the way that Queen's 'We Will Rock You,' 'We Are the Champions', Alan Parsons Project's 'Sirius,' Europe's 'The Final Countdown' and a few other songs have. The song could easily be embraced by anyone who is trying to rise to the occasion and overcome seemingly insurmountable adversity but it's strong, steady rhythm, I think, makes it a natural sports song.

I regret that I didn't try to get radio stations in Indiana to play it when my alma mater, Indiana University, was preparing to play heavily favored Duke University, the defending national champion and top ranked team in the country, in the (NCAA) men's basketball tournament. I really think that the IU team and fans could have rallied around the song. And by the way, they ended up shocking the world by winning the game.

I wish I'd gotten IU to adopt it as a theme song but as universal as the song's message is, I think there will be many opportunities for it to be embraced by people for many years to come.

'You Keep Me In The Dark' is yet another flowing AOR gem, reminding me of Power era Kansas.
AOR gem? Wow, thanks 'Power' era Kansas - I never thought about that comparison, but I can imagine it now that you mention it. Someone on the Shooting Star mailing list that I'm on compared it to Survivor's 'When Seconds Count' and SS's 'Silent Scream' and I think that's an extremely accurate assessment. And appropriately, I picked those albums as my third and fourth favourites of all time, respectively, in my last interview with you I'd previously picked out the SS influence, but not the Kansas or Survivor influence. But I hear them now.

Mike Walsh (Departure) really shines on this one with some blistering melodic guitar.
Oh yeah All of his solos on the album are just great And I particularly welcome that after the dreary guitar work that is the rule almost without exception in grunge and alternative music.

He seems to have made a huge difference to your album?
Oh yes, absolutely, without question. Obviously, he did an outstanding job with the guitar solos, which is the main reason that I hired him. But his work on the album goes far beyond that. For example, when I sent him the master tapes, I recorded sample guitar tracks of mostly power chords and told him where I wanted the solos and a few other things inserted.

Rather than merely playing the power chords, Mike, in many songs came up with completely different guitar parts, which were far better than what I had and which I probably would have never thought of myself. In addition, he came up with the idea of adding the Hammond organ. I hadn't thought about the possibility of using organ with my music, but Mike did a great job with it and it adds a Deep Purple sound to my music, which is cool.

On a humorous side note, Mike had been looking for a 55 Hammond to buy and found one sitting next to a church dumpster, which he took and ended up using on my album, and finally, Mike produced not only his track's but also Tracy's. And he might do even more on my next album I've written a West Coast style song called 'This is the Time' that will feature a full horn section.

The song stems from my re-discovery two years ago of the classic Chicago album 'Chicago 17.' I'd forgotten how much I like horns in music when done well. And it turns out that in addition to everything that I mentioned about Mike above, he's an accomplished trombone player as well and writes horn arrangements. He's a very complete package who I look forward to working with again.

'Starting All Over Again' revisits Survivor territory in a big way, this time swinging toward their underrated classic Caught In The Game, yet still managing to pay affectionate tribute without sounding too derivative.
Very well said once again I think that every song on this album can be accurately compared to other artists and other songs but I don't think that any of the songs are so close to another song that they can rightfully be considered to be rip-offs.

Another surefire classic for the album?
I sure think so I think it's my third favourite song on the album behind 'Going the Distance' and 'Second Chance,' one of the two new additions to the album. This song is the type of positive, high-energy hard rocker than has been sorely missing for the past 11 years and which I hope to bring back with this song. And the song is very personal to me as it represents my recovery from the hardship I endured on February 14, 1998 (Valentine's Day) and the subsequent few months, which I mentioned in my last interview with you. I plan on releasing, in order, 'Going the Distance' and 'Second Chance' as singles from the album. If I think there is sufficient interest in a third single, I expect it will be this song.

'Perseverance' exposes your affinity for Genesis, reminding me especially of the Duke/Abacab era.
That's an interesting assessment, I'll have to think about that one. That's the oldest complete song on the album, having been written in one weekend in March 1998 and it's always reminded me of a combination of Kerry Livgren of Kansas and Geoff Downes of Asia.

But definitely, I am a huge Genesis fan as well. Particularly of the first four albums that feature Phil Collins on lead vocals - 'Wind and Wuthering,' 'A Trick of the Tale,' 'And Then There Were Three' and 'Duke,' which I cite as my fifth favourite album of all time.

Some of their Peter Gabriel albums, I think, are musically great but I've never cared for Gabriel's weirdness. And from 'Abacab' on, I think the band got too commercially conscious and turned into a pretty ordinary outfit by the time 'We Can't Dance' appeared. I consider their only post-Phil Collins album, 'Calling All Stations,' to be a modest step back in the right direction.

And as for the Genesis influence in my music, I think it's pretty strong in the bridges of 'Going the Distance'. I'm not sure about anywhere else on the album. But they are without question one of my favourite bands and I miss their prog days. And there's a good possibility that their influence will be present on future albums.

Lots of tempo and melody changes in this great instrumental, where Eli Hludzik (Dakota) shows his versatility and huge command of changing rhythms?
Yes, that's right. Eli is an excellent and versatile drummer. And I realize that now even more than when I did the last interview with you. About the time of that interview, he'd joined a six-man jazz-fusion band called Ray's Music Exchange. They have two albums out that were both made before Eli joined but they're working on a new album with Eli and touring heavily with him. They're becoming quite popular nationally in the jazz market and have a strong live following.

I've seen them twice in concert already this year and plan on seeing them again on June 19 at the BBC Brewery in Louisville, Kentucky, where I saw my two previous concerts of theirs. If you get a chance to check them out, I recommend that you do. Even if you're not a big jazz fan, they're a very fun band in concert and they play a different setlist every show, which I also hope to do if I ever tour. How I wish that some of my favourite artists would do the same.

RME's music is very complex and having seen Eli play with them, I realize that he's way overqualified to play on my album. But I expect that I will write some more progressive and more complex songs for future albums. Anyway, Eli did a great professional job on the album and is an extremely quick learner. But I think his best work is on the two instrumentals, 'Lecoverture' and 'Perseverance.' He seems to shine the most on the most complex stuff. But that's not surprising.

Most of my favourite drummers are those in progressive bands such as Phil Collins in prog era Genesis, Mike Portnoy of Dream Theater and John Macaluso of Ark. In such bands, they have more opportunity to show their expertise. Before Ark, I was previously familiar with Macaluso from the band TNT. I knew that he was a very professional rock drummer and partly because of his involvement, I bought an ARK album when I read that he was in the band.

I was astonished to find out how phenomenal he is. And similarly, Eli is able to show the extent of his talent more so in RME than in Dakota. But I want to emphasize that I'm still a big fan of both TNT and Dakota, even though their drum parts are less complex. Anyway, now that I'm more familiar with Eli's talent, I hope to utilize it more fully on any future albums.

Getting back to 'Perseverance,' it's interesting to me that the only all original instrumental song on the album is also the first song that I completed for the album. Since some of my favourite songs of all time have been instrumentals, I figured I would write more for the album. But maybe next time. I did what came naturally and hope to always do that rather than trying to force things that aren't there.

'Going The Distance' reaffirms the positive attitude/lyrics prevalent throughout the album, reminding me of Vital Signs/When Seconds Count era Survivor (right down to the Rebel Son lyric reference).
Wow, maybe this album is even more Survivor influenced than I thought. I considered this song to be mainly Asia/Genesis/Kansas sounding I'll have to give it more thought. It's cool to hear other people's impressions of my music. It's interesting that you and others sometimes hear things in my music that I don't. I like that.

But you're definitely right about the 'Rebel Son' lyric reference. I think there are about 12 intentional lyrical references to favourite songs/artists of mine on this album. I'm very curious to see how many you and others will successfully pick out. Anyone who gets all of them is a certified melodic rock mega-maniac.

And I emphasize that when I insert a lyrical reference it's meant to pay tribute to, not disrespect that artist. And I hope that this song leaves all of the listeners on a major emotional high. Like I said all along, I decided that this would be the album's closer. This is possibly my favourite song that I've ever written, with 'Second Chance' being up there also, and topping it will be a huge challenge that I'm looking forward to immensely.

How vital has a positive attitude proved to be in pursuing this dream you've had for years?
It's been extremely vital. Especially considering that at the time I started making this album seven years ago, I wasn't aware that any new melodic rock was being made. I wasn't on the Internet yet and wasn't hooked up to a network of melodic rock fans all over the world. I felt very much alone in my interest. Had I not had a positive attitude, this project probably would have been up the creek without a paddle.

But I stuck to my convictions, remembering many great melodic rock lyrics in doing so, largely those by artists who influenced this album. And in turn, I hope that the lyrics on this album will be a tremendous source of hope, encouragement, comfort and motivation to many people. Even if I never meet them in person, I want my fans to always think of me as a great friend.

And in addition to those eight songs, there are two songs added in recent months I started shopping the album around with the first eight songs I recorded. After all, there were only eight songs on Boston's first album, Led Zeppelin's fourth album and Styx's 'The Grand Illusion' while some of Pink Floyd's classic albums have only five or six songs.

But two major European melodic rock companies told me that they were interested in the album but were concerned that there weren't enough songs on the album by today's standards. And when thinking about it, I realize that they're right. The industry standard of the day calls for more songs.

So I went back into the studio and recorded two more songs. Eli joined me for them and to perform the guitar and vocals I was just looking for someone from this area who could do it right away. I figured that I already had more than enough internationally known melodic rockers on the album for the album to sell well.

So I asked Andrew McNiece of www.melodicrock.com to place an item in the news section of his page, saying that I was looking for a guitarist and vocalist. He did and I got several requests, mostly from people who are almost completely unknown. But much to my surprise, I got a message from one of my biggest guitar heroes, Tommy Denander of Sweden. I wish I had a videotape of my facial reaction when I scrolled to the bottom of the message and saw his name.

Based on the message, Tommy apparently doubted that I had heard of him. But the truth is that I'm one of his biggest fans. I discovered him last year through his all-star project Radioactive on which he collaborated with many top musos. I discovered Radioactive when I typed the name DiCola into eBay, looking for stuff from Vince, one of my biggest keyboard heroes. I liked the Radioactive album so much that I started tracing Tommy's roots and I bought albums that he did with Sayit and Denander/Gaitsch.

All of those albums are great West Coast. And his style is very unique. He has the extreme speed that is mainly associated with heavy metallers, but his style is as soft and smooth as silk and is appealing to fans of softer music. So I couldn't turn down Tommy's offer. His interest in playing on my album was a phenomenal honor for me.

Tommy also got me his Sayit/Prisoner bandmate Piere Wensberg to perform on those last two songs. Piere is an excellent vocalist, very reminiscent of Steve Perry. And since Tommy and Piere were already on the album I decided to add Tommy's neighbor in the Stockholm area and my friend of four years, Bjorn 'Nalle' Pahlsson to play bass guitar on those last two songs. Nalle has played with Easy Action, and, most recently, Alfonzetti. So it turns out that I got six internationally known melodic rockers to be on my album. Much better than the one or two that I would have initially been happy to get.

I think that the last two songs are very powerful compositions that fit well with the first eight. 'Second Chance' is an exhilarating guitar/keyboard oriented rocker with a very strong hook - so strong that I consider this song to be one of the two best I've ever written, along with 'Going the Distance.'

The lyrics are among my deepest ever, dealing with the all-important need that all of us have for reconciliation. The other new song is 'Faithful to the Bitter End,' a slower, sentimental song about the search and finding of the ultimate love that we all so much desire, whether we realize it or not.

And to close out the album is the interview with me, conducted by Jeff Matheus. It was recorded on May 19 and is 39 minutes long. I cover a lot of subjects in great and will be able to fit all or at least most of it on the CD. I think that the interview will make a great enhancement to the album. In case 'In the Studio' or a similar show doesn't do an episode on this album, I did one for myself through this interview.

Continued thanks for your interest Lee and to all of the readers, thanks for your interest. I hope you all love the album and I hope to see you at a concert in the not too distant future, somewhere in the world. And please check out my web page at http://www.leczorn.com for sound samples and other information.

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