Pinball Wizards, A Q&A With Redemption’s Nick van Dyk

** 2016 is the year progressive metal emerged from its long-standing shadow. The genre, long associated with haughtiness and a self-serving nature (music for musicians), is far more advanced now. So too are its audience and exposure points. This brings us to progressive metal stalwarts Redemption, a band that’s enthralled smart-minded music fans since its eponymous debut hit shelves (actual store shelves) in 2003. Now going on its 15th year, the group — comprised of Nick van Dyk, Ray Alder, Greg Hosharian, Sean Andrews, Chris Quirarte, and Bernie Versailles (currently on medical leave; donate HERE!) — isn’t losing a step as it ages. In fact, new album The Art of Loss, ups Redemption’s ante. The songs are catchy, they play into Redemption’s penchant for complication, and they just feel right. Sure, the group have written their longest song to date — “At Day’s End” — but in no way does it sound or vibe tired or old. Throughout The Art of Loss, Redemption are crisp, professional, and sonically right on the money. That they’ve enlisted a bevy of talent — guitarists Marty Friedman, Chris Poland, Chris Broderick, Simone Mularoni and vocalist John Bush — to guest isn’t a sign they’ve lost the plot. Rather, these players (Bush is a vocalist, natch) are part of group of gifted musicians who’ve interacted with one another, are friend’s with each other, and who enjoy jamming with dudes who know their way around an instrument. Decibel and Redemption guitarist/keyboardist Nick van Dyk talk new deals (now on Metal Blade) and why The Art of Loss isn’t a tip of the hat to Megadeth’s past.

How did the Metal Blade deal fall into place? I gather Ray had something do to with it.
Nick van Dyk: Maybe not as much as you might think! We’ve been in the Metal Blade circle, socially, since our inception. Brian is a friend as is Tracy Vera. The label had been aware over the years of our relationship with previous labels but we never really had a serious conversation about moving to Metal Blade, in part because I don’t like to impose on friends. Last time we were contemplating renewing a contract, though, Tracy approached me proactively with the idea of working together. She has been a tremendous advocate and the entire Metal Blade team is fantastic to work with. It’s great to be in business with friends and I feel special pressure –- in a good way –- not to disappoint them! Obviously, the label is one of the great indies in the world and is a legend in heavy music so it’s a great place for us to be.

This Mortal Coil came out in 2011. What have Redemption been up to in the years between This Mortal Coil and The Art of Loss?
Nick van Dyk: We toured a bit in support of This Mortal Coil, and performed in 2012 at the Progpower festival, where we took our production values up a notch and recorded the performance for a DVD / CD release. This release, Dreams from the Pit, was released in 2014. That DVD took a long time — we had the usual assortment of technical problems that seem to plague us every time we try to do something, including hard drive failures, etc. but we pushed through it as we always do and are very proud of the finished product. We of course also endured the tragedy of our friend and bandmate, Bernie Versailles, suffering a brain aneurysm from which he is continuing to recover.

Good to hear Bernie’s on the road to recovery. Separately, you enlisted ex-Megadeth guitarist Chris Poland to guest not replace Bernie on The Art of Loss. How did Chris come into the picture?
Nick van Dyk: Chris is an established session music in Los Angeles, and I was having a conversation with a friend (Matt Johnsen of the band Pharoah) about who might contribute to the record given Bernie’s medically-necessitated leave of absence. He suggested Chris, who had done session work for him. I’d been a fan of Chris’ work dating back to the first Megadeth record and had seen him play a number of times with OHM. As it turns out, I’d met his manager before (which I hadn’t realized at the time) so I reached out and Chris and I got together for dinner to talk about things. He’d heard Redemption and liked what we had done, and he was excited to contribute. Obviously, there are many talented players out there –- and we’ve got a number of them on this record –- but stylistically, the non-traditional approach that Chris takes really brings a lot of uniqueness to the music. He’s using a lot of fusion elements and scales you don’t normally hear in metal, and this crazy legato style that he has which really is unique to him. So, it elevates the music and tweaks it into interesting and unique directions. It was amazing having him work on this and he was a total professional and just a delightful guy.

Surprisingly, you also have Marty Friedman, Chris Broderick and Simone Mularoni appearing on the new album. What was the motivation to get what appears to be an entire ex-Megadeth guitar lineup on the new album?
Nick van Dyk: It’s quite funny, because it really wasn’t a “master plan”, although I’m sure it seems like that. When we started, I thought we might as well shoot for the stars in terms of guest talent, and I developed a short list in my head of who might not just be incredibly talented but also musically unique, and Marty was at the top of that list. To be frank, while I’m a huge fan of his playing I hadn’t kept up with his solo work and all I knew was that he’d made quite a name for himself in Japan after leaving his former band and that he’s almost become a Steve Lukather-type player there, hugely in demand for session work. I reached out to him through a mutual friend and he said he’d be open-minded to listening to our music once we got it in decent shape.

While I went to work on getting said music into shape, Ray had an occasion to speak with Chris Broderick, who is also in the Metal Blade social circle and is friends with Ray and myself and also Bernie. In addition to being a great guitarist, Chris is an extremely kind person and wanted to be helpful given Bernie’s condition, but he was busy at the time working on his new band (Act of Defiance) so he didn’t know how much, if anything, he’d be able to do. Now mind you, I think of Chris primarily as a friend, not as a former Megadeth guitarist, because I met him before he joined the band and due to his schedule I probably interacted with him more before and after his membership in that band than I did while he was in it.

We finished our music, and I sent it to Marty, who invested a fair amount of time providing feedback and most importantly saying that he’d be up for it. But Marty is in very high demand and obviously brings the value of his reputation as well, and having him play on the entire record is beyond the means of a small band like Redemption. I picked the two tracks where I thought he would have the best influence, and went on about my business, which included contacting Simone, who I had met through Tom Englund of Evergrey and who said that he’d play some solos on our record. Simone was very generous with his time and played some absolutely mind-boggling stuff on four songs for us. One solo, in particular, just made Ray laugh when he heard it because it’s just jaw-dropping. It was around this time that I discussed the project with my friend Matt, who raised the idea of Chris Poland without knowing that I’d gotten Marty’s involvement. So I approached Chris, believe it or not, as a unique fusion player who was known for doing session work, rather than as a former Megadeth member. After all, he’s 30 years removed from having played on those first two records. It wasn’t really until Chris Broderick came up for air after finishing recording the Act of Defiance record and said that he’d be interested in contributing that I realized how all these pieces were coming together. That, plus some creative considerations, led to the unique collaboration that we’ve got. More important than anything, we have four remarkable guitarists, each with a very unique approach to their instrument, pushing our music into interesting areas with phenomenal playing. I mean I’m not stupid and I understand the promotional value as well –- but creativity drove this collaboration, not commercialization.

There’s a surprising array of talent on this record. So, how did John Bush (ex-Anthrax) enter the fold?
Nick van Dyk: John has been another friend for many years through the Metal Blade family. He’s a great guy and I think one of the all-time underrated vocalists in heavy music. The guy is so good it’s scary. It wasn’t until the first time I saw Saint live, which was pretty late in the game, that I understood how powerful his voice is and how in control of it he is. Anybody who hasn’t seen him perform life should make it a mission to do so. So there are songs that suit Ray’s voice, and there are songs that aren’t necessarily perfect for him. And I’d been thinking of this Who song but to be able to really nail it, you have to nail the vocal performance, which I think is one of the most iconic vocal performances in the history of rock music, really. It might be the single greatest rock vocal of all time. And what makes it that isn’t that Roger Daltrey has perfect pitch or that he has the most mellifluous voice – it’s that he absolutely goes for broke and the passion and emotion of his performance makes the song real in a visceral sense. Without that passion and emotion -– and here I might use my metaphor once again, but without casting aside the fear of a wrong note or a cracking voice or even sounding a little silly in this cynical age, you’ll never have the performance required to do justice to the song. It takes tremendous courage and the willingness to throw oneself into that vocal with total abandon and commitment to pull it off. That and, frankly, a gravelly voice! So who better to do this, I thought, than John. I had spoken with our common friend Joey Vera, and also Tracy Vera, about a year before we actually recorded it and eventually mentioned it to John in passing at an event we both attended, and he said he was up to it. I think the combination of Ray’s melodic warmth and John’s raw emotion make it a huge success. John also knows Bernie, and so this particular cover serves as a tribute to our friend, whom we love very much.

The cover of The Who’s “Love Reign o’er Me” features John. What does this song mean to Redemption?
Nick van Dyk: I’ve always loved this song, and of course we have a history of doing covers and generally doing covers that one wouldn’t expect to be played by a progressive metal band. Hallowed Be Thy Name and Subdivisions are probably my two favorite songs in the world, and nobody needs yet another version of those songs by a heavy metal band. But this Who song is a great song, and in particular it delivers the same emotional quality that I try to achieve with Redemption. And while covers exist, not many do –- in part because it’s very, very hard to pull off the vocal. So it was a good candidate in theory. As to what it means to us, I didn’t select the song with this in mind, but if there is a theme to The Art of Loss, it’s that one of the most important conflicts in life is in the choice between love and fear. Whether it’s starting a relationship, ending a relationship, pursuing a passion, making a career choice, embracing forgiveness (as a recipient or giver) or just about any big decision you can think of, in many ways it boils down to love versus fear. And it’s not always the easy choice, but one thing that I’ve learned in life is that love is always the right choice. So in this sense, the title “Love Reign o’Er Me” is absolutely perfect. Mr. Townsend had something a little different in mind when he wrote it because Quadrophenia is about issues of identity and informed by a particular class struggle at a particular point in British history, but it can also serve as a broader concept and like I said, as a title if perfectly encapsulates the message of The Art of Loss: love must win out over fear for one to have a healthy and happy life.

Usually loss is accidental and unexpected.
Nick van Dyk: It can be accidental, but it can also be foreseen. A job winds down, a friend or relative becomes ill, a relationship sours, a business idea or creative enterprise fails, etc. Loss is an inevitable part of life. We spend a lot of time fighting it –- and many times that is appropriate. I fought my cancer diagnosis pretty damn hard, after all, and if I hadn’t, I wouldn’t be here. But there is also an elegance to accepting with grace that which we cannot change –- an elegance to letting go of something, mourning its loss but appreciating what it brought to our lives, understanding that the lifecycle of a job or relationship or dream can be finite but its impact on our life can be forever. There is an art to accepting this. It’s a difficult lesson to learn but an important one -– and it’s essential to the dynamic of love overpowering fear because if every decision we make is based on a fear of losing something –- which we may very well lose anyway -– then we are never able to really experience life.

Lyrically, is there a central theme?
Nick van Dyk: There isn’t one unifying thread that ties together every song, like was the case on This Mortal Coil. However as I mentioned earlier, many of the songs deal with the concept of love being more important than fear. This doesn’t apply solely to a romantic relationship -– it cuts to the very core of self-worth, self-confidence, and our ability to learn and grow as human beings and to ultimately take responsibility for our actions. Love must conquer fear for us to live. That’s the central theme in a nutshell.

What was it like working with Tommy Hansen? A little like homecoming?
Nick van Dyk: Tommy is tremendous, and we had the advantage of spending more time on this record than was the case on Snowfall, since we started that record out working with our friend Tommy Newton who had done our previous two records, but things got complicated by my illness and his schedule and we ended up needing to adjust the mix with Tommy Hansen without the knowledge of working together beforehand. This time I contacted Tommy in advance of us recording, and we agreed to work together, and I was able to give him better quality material to work with and also be more engaged since I wasn’t in a hospital in Arkansas with tubes in my neck trying to hold down food the whole time.

How long were you in Denmark with Tommy?
Nick van Dyk: While I had hoped to make the trip to Copenhagen to be there for a bit for the mix, the demands of my “day job” prevented that from happening. We did the entire thing remotely, which isn’t ideal but frankly Tommy is so good at his craft we were able to make it work. It helped that he had worked with us previously and could take our previous work together as a starting point. And it helped that I gave him better quality materials to start with. Of course records are never perfected or even truly finished, they are simply taken from the artist when it’s time to finish them. So I’m sure that if schedules had permitted, we could have done even greater things if we’d had the luxury of spending a couple of weeks together during the production. Perhaps this is something we can do next time!

When you listen to The Art of Loss, what are you most proud of?
Nick van Dyk: Nearly every artist says that their current work is their best every time out, and saying that engenders an appropriate amount of cynicism from the audience. But in this case, I can say the following: it’s the first record of ours that, even after listening to it literally hundreds of times during recording and mixing, I’m still not tired of it. I play it 2-3 times a week in my car still. I think the record is our best and really comes together in all ingredients: songwriting, performances and production. It’s very hard to capture lightning in a bottle, and I think that has happened in the past with the song “Sapphire” and the song “Black & White World” (from The Fullness of Time and Snowfall on Judgment Day, respectively). I can’t guarantee there’s a moment like that on this record, but top to bottom I think every song delivers. The musicianship is extraordinary, Ray sounds amazing, and the production is terrific. I also have to mention the artwork, which I think is the best we’ve ever had.

How would you describe Redemption’s new music at this stage?
Nick van Dyk: I think Redemption found its voice as a band a couple of records ago and the signature elements are still there: melody combined with aggression, an appropriate level of compositional complexity and musicianship with an unabashed desire for hooks, a cinematic quality at points, an “emotional urgency” to the music and lyrics that speak to the human condition. We aren’t deviating from that basic approach, but I think we continue to get better at it. We stretch a bit more on this record than on the last couple, with the longest song we’ve ever recorded with Ray at around 23 minutes. And I think the addition of the guest guitarists adds a heightened degree of virtuosity to the musicianship. So ultimately this is Redemption, better than ever, I think. I should mention that we returned to work with our producer Tommy Hansen, who had done such a tremendous job with Snowfall on Judgment Day, because we wanted the warm sound that we had on that record. I think the vocals and guitars “pop” a bit more on this record. And I should mention, in the vocal department, that Ray sounds extraordinarily great on this music. I think the touring he did with Fates Warning kept his voice in tremendous shape and it really shines here.

Travis Smith is yet again the creative mind for the cover art. Did you direct him or was there more free rein on his part?
Nick van Dyk: I’ve been lucky to have really connected with Travis creatively since the get-go. In the past I’ve usually had an idea of what I wanted going into it -– the concepts for Fullness and The Origins of Ruin and Snowfall and Mortal Coil were all in my head when I first spoke with him about those records. Here, I didn’t have something in mind. I wasn’t even certain of the title when we started working together. But Travis is so gifted and so creative and as I was sharing the song titles and lyrics with him, he kept coming up with ideas. In the end, the cover (a broken wine glass) was my idea, but I think it captures the minimalist approach that he used to great effect on Devin Townsend’s Addicted cover, which is one of my favorites. And I dare say there is an elegance to wine and a fragility to the glass that speaks to the concept of the art of loss. Life and the human psyche are both fragile, living life inevitably involves loss, and coming to terms with it involves elegance. In the end, Travis created original art for just about every one of the songs plus the cover and the incidental artwork -– he’s a genius and he’s a very important part of the creative process for us. It’s a pleasure to work with him, always -– he’s a tremendous guy.

What are your plans for 2016 and beyond?
Nick van Dyk: We hope to tour in support of the record in the U.S. and possibly overseas, and I don’t anticipate another 4-plus year break in between records!

** Redemption’s new album, The Art of Loss, is available now through Metal Blade Records. Get it on CD or as a deluxe 2-LP edition HERE.