Interview – Jeff Teets of Mindmaze

 

So Jeff, how are you doing? Let those unaware know what your role in MindMaze is.

JT : I’m doing pretty good. My main role is the guitar player as well as a backing vocalist live, but I also play keyboards and have played a few other things here and there in the studio as well as being a songwriter and co-producer.

MindMaze has been through a lot since the inception of the original band “Necromance” back in 2004. How did everything come to be though with where MindMaze currently is?

JT : Necromance was a band that my sister Sarah and I formed when we were 14 and 16 years old respectively, and it was kind of a typically unprofessional, juvenile sort of band you have when you’re in high school, but that experience still made us what we are today. Around 2011-2012 we decided to really “go for it” and record our debut album Mask of Lies so we decided it would be a good time to sort of “disband” Necromance and reform under a new band name and start fresh with a more professional and experienced approach.

Having different lineup’s throughout the bands time including getting the help of big shots including Mike LePond for a studio record and some live shows, do you feel the current lineup will be a steady one?

JT : Absolutely. The current lineup is the strongest lineup we’ve ever had as a band, and more importantly, we get along really, really well and travel well together. Our bassist Rich only stepped aside temporarily, so having Mike step in was a real blessing and allowed us to keep the momentum going until Rich was ready to come back into the fold officially. Mike was incredibly easy to work with and incredibly professional and the working relationship was built out of friendship rather than just trying to throw money at someone until they said yes. I think he helped make all of us better players and more professional musicians.

How did you originally get into hard rock and metal? What bands or groups influence you and the band as well?

JT : For me, the big band that really turned me on the path to doing this was Iron Maiden. There were a few other rock and classic rock bands I was into a little earlier, but getting into Maiden was the real game-changer and made me really get into playing guitar. They then served as a stepping stone into a lot of European power metal that I was big into in high school (bands like Edguy, Gamma Ray, Firewind, Nocturnal Rites, etc.) as well as progressive metal – starting with Queensryche and then Dream Theater as well as Fates Warning. I’ve also always had a big interest in melodic rock or “AOR” as some people call it. Our singer is really big into melodic rock and metal as well, and our bassist Rich is a big prog guy – we geek out about stuff like Dream Theater and Rush together a lot. Our drummer Mark comes from more of an old-school 80s metal background. All in all it creates a pretty neat melting pot of different approaches and sensibilities.

As a guitarist, who have been your biggest influences? Have they also affected the style you play and your songwriting approach?

JT : Most of my playing influences are sort of a different list from my songwriting influences. For players, Adrian Smith from Iron Maiden has been #1 for as long as I can remember, and guys like Michael Schenker and Gary Moore are also favorites of mine as well as guys that influenced Adrian himself. I also really like guys like John Sykes, John Norum, Neal Schon, etc… A lot of that sort of blues-based, melodic-driven soloing style, usually with a lot of wide vibrato and attitude in the playing. I’ve also been getting really heavily into guys like Ty Tabor from King’s X and Steve Rothery from Marillion who are both guys known more for creating nice “texture”, using cool chord voicing, and playing really tasteful solos. I’ve never been big into the “shredder” crowd except for John Petrucci (whose ballad solos are more of an influence than anything) and 80s Yngwie Malmsteen stuff.

When it comes to writing, Paul Quinn from Saxon is my favorite guitar riff-writer, but some of my favorite metal and hard rock songwriters are Jim Matheos (Fates Warning), Chris DeGarmo (Queensryche), Kerry Livgren (Kansas), Tobias Sammett (Edguy, Avantasia), Jon Oliva (Savatage), Ritchie Blackmore (Rainbow), and Erik Martensson (Eclipse). I also have a big weakness for writers like Jim Steinman, Desmond Child, Diane Warren, and a lot other folks from the “pop rock” world.

Your debut album “Mask Of Lies” was a huge success, did you ever expect that? I remember the band had sold out of its original press of the album in just over a year.

JT : Honestly, we didn’t really have any expectations when released Mask of Lies. We were proud of the album and we wanted as many people to hear it as possible, but we really didn’t have any expectations, so when the vast majority of the reviews were incredibly positive it was a pleasant surprise. We did all the promotion and distribution for that ourselves so it was really rewarding to see so many people respond to it.

The band just announced your newest LP titled “Resolve”. How did the writing and recording of that go? Was it different than the process of the first two? What can fans come to expect from this new record?

JT : The writing and recording processes were both very different this time around. In the past, we worked on (more or less) one song at a time, arranging the song and doing a rough instrumental demo, then doing the lyrics, and then doing pre-production before we began tracking the album – everything was incredibly mapped out in advance. The new album is a conceptual record, so we had a story to tell, which meant that musically, the songs had to convey certain moods and feelings, even pivoting within each track sometimes. We did a lot of planning, but musically we just stockpiled ideas and then just sort of started to apply them to the skeleton of the “musical map” we’d made. Rich and I wrote a lot of stuff together and he even brought in some fairly developed ideas on his own, and that’s new for us as well. We ended up tracking the album much more sporadically and randomly as well, basically laying down things in smaller pieces as we were ready to commit to them. In a sense, even though it’s 13 tracks, Resolve is sort of just one big piece, or maybe two separate “acts” – a lot of the tracks transition right from one into the next, and there’s a bunch of songs that just don’t follow as conventional of forms as was the norm for us in the past.

It was also announced that Jonah Weingarten of Pyramaze will be in MindMaze on your upcoming tour. How did that come to be?

JT : I met Jonah at ProgPower USA last year, and Pyramaze are also signed to our label Inner Wound Recordings. He’s an ambitious guy who’s really just looking to get out and play live music (especially since Pyramaze barely plays live) and travel, so he actually came to me and asked and we thought about it and ultimately decided it would be cool to put the best foot possible forward for this tour, so it should be pretty cool.

Speaking of your upcoming tour, you are about to hit the road with Arkona and Sirenia. Are you looking forward to this? What can fans expect from your live show on this tour?

JT : We’ll only be playing 30 minutes a night, which for us will be 5-6 songs, but we are going to be keeping things fresh and interesting – we’ll have over an hour of material rehearsed and will switch things up to keep both ourselves and fans entertained. I love asking for fans’ input for set lists so people can hear their favorite songs, especially the people who will be seeing us live for the first time after following us for a few years.

Down to a more serious matter, I know it has been mentioned that MindMaze has passed on tours because of the buy in. What are your feelings on buying onto a large tour? Do you feel it can be a huge help to a newer upcoming band? Or can it hurt a band struggling to make it by requiring a large amount of cash simply to play as well as following tour rules that would be set as well?

JT : I don’t have an ethical problem with the concept of buy-ons as much as I think it tends to narrow the potential field for bands down based on financial capacity rather than musical capability, compatibility, or interest from fans. When I was a 15 or 16 year old going to shows, I wondered why it seemed like tour support was hardly ever good, or even appropriate, but with the insight I have now, I understand it’s because the barriers to entry are so high that it prices a lot of the would-be better options out of the running. Support tours are never going to be a good financial move in the short term, it’s about building a fan base and generating interest in the band so that you can sell more albums, increase your stature, and then hopefully be able to do more touring as a headlining band where you can command an asking price instead of paying to be involved. The price range varies a lot, and some are significantly more worthwhile than others. A tour we were offered last year would’ve seen us coming home a minimum of $15,000 in debt even if we had killer merch sales the entire time. Some bands can afford to do that, but we can’t, and I’m OK with that. This business is far more about persistence than it is scoring one major opportunity that will “break” you on its own.

Any other tour plans for later 2017?

JT : Not really. This support tour (as well as our album release shows) will exhaust most of the time off we can afford to take for a good while. We’re trying to scheme some plans to get back to some places we’ve enjoyed playing before that this support tour isn’t hitting, perhaps sometime in the fall. We’ll also end up playing a lot of local/regional shows I’m sure, but there likely won’t be anything this legitimate tour-wise on our plate.

You had the honor of touring with Saxon before, can fans hope for that pairing to happen again?

JT : That was a fantastic experience and everyone (including Armored Saint) got along really well and it just couldn’t have gone better. We still maintain friendships with both bands and I’m sure our paths will likely cross again, but it’s hard to say at this point. Schedules and logistics are always so difficult to try to work out and plan something mutual beneficial.

As a modern touring band, what are challenges you and the band face daily that those not in a band might be unaware of?

JT : I think the biggest struggle is generally having to do everything ourselves with no crew or anyone to assist us. We do all our own driving. We don’t have any techs in case of any issues, we don’t have people to help load in or load out gear or move it on or off stage, we do our own merchandise, etc… Sometimes it’s hard to be 100% on your game for performing when you have to wear all these hats and juggle all the other responsibilities.

Do you feel like having a female singer still carries an unwarranted stigma by some?

JT : Absolutely, and it’s in different ways than I think people expect as well. The “expected” stigma is these stubborn older metal guys who are just unaccepting of all female singers across the board – which DO exist. But honestly it’s also hard to find a niche when your female singer doesn’t do the operatic thing, doesn’t do harsh vocals or intentionally sing with a lot of added grit, or see themselves as a pop diva with a faceless backing band. The general expectation is for female fronted bands to be one of those things and essentially just wanting to be a band that plays a combination of power, progressive, traditional, and melodic metal can be sort of a weird, lonely endeavor since there just aren’t a lot of bands doing that. If you sell your band as sounding like most of the influences we have, you get a lot of people going “But Dream Theater doesn’t have a female singer” or “But Iron Maiden doesn’t have a female singer”, or power metal, etc… There’s an expectation of the gender of a singer to be the same as what you say you sound like, and the truth is there are a few other new bands that are in the same general wheelhouse we are, but there aren’t any household names. 

Anything else you’d like to say to fans before I let you go?

JT : Thanks to everyone who’s been supporting us over the past few years and continues to do so – we really would never be able to do any of this without the support and encouragement. Knowing people genuinely do give a shit makes a world of a difference and also gives me hope that having made an intentionally different, 68-minute abstract concept album may actually pay off and not go over everyone’s heads, haha.

Just wanted to thank you again for taking the time to chat and I wish you and MindMaze the best in the 2017.

JT : Thank you very much, this has been great!

 

 

 

 

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