Interview by Mark Fisher
If you were a fan of early nineties prog metal than you more than likely remember Canada’s Varga. The band released a handful of major label albums for Zoo before calling in a day in the late nineties. Over a decade later, the band has reunited and have released the first of two EPs. Enter the Metal is a powerhouse release that harkens back (flawlessly I might add) to the spirit that dominated metal in a pre-grunge world.
We caught up with guitarist Sean Williamson to find out more about the band’s return and their new EP Enter the Metal!
How have things been going since Varga returned to the world of Metal?
It’s been great. This time around we decided we wanted to do it all ourselves, with no one to answer to, completely on our own terms. The amount of work involved can be overwhelming at times, but it’s really satisfying to see it starting to pay off.
It’s been well over decade since we last heard from Varga.
How did this reunion come to be and was it hard to go back to being in the band after such a long hiatus?
Dan Fila and I got back to playing together back in 2003 with our friend and producer Julius “Juice” Butty in a band called Hypodust. Then around 2007 we got back with Joe Varga covering classic metal full-albums live. Stuff like Master Of Puppets, Number Of The Beast, Piece Of Mind, Paranoid. That was a blast, and after a few years of that Joe said “hey man, why don’t we call Adam, see if wants to hang out sometime and jam for fun.” That was in 2011, and once we started jamming out the old Varga material, Joe was like “fuck man, we should talk to Juice about recording these songs again at his studio. Do it right this time.” Those old songs never got the chance they deserved, and we were all totally into it. That started the ball rolling, and it just keeps going.
A lot of bands, when they reunite especially, re-record old material to test the waters but you guys are jumping right in with new material. What made you decide to come out with new material right away?
Actually, it might be new material to most people, but these songs were originally written before our deal with BMG. Like I said, these songs were never properly recorded in the past, but really represent the true Varga sound. We made a lot of changes to them. Some have different tunings, different arrangements, lyrical changes, but there’s a couple that are pretty much note-for-note the same as when they were first written.
Enter the Metal is an excellent reintroduction to you guys in my opinion. I hear a lot of “classic” sounds throughout. Was there a conscious decision as to what you wanted to sound like or is this just what flowed out when you started writing?
The only conscious decision was just to be true to ourselves. Nothing more. There’s no pressure from a label to keep things concise, write hooks, keep songs short. None of that. We have no limitations. I think it’s cool that the “classic” influences shine through. When you cut your teeth on early Maiden, Rush, and Metallica, those playing techniques embed themselves in your style. Personally I really dig odd time signatures, bar chords, and ultra-tight downpicking, that’s how I learned to play, and what I’m good at, so that’s what I use. If I tried any other style I’d be faking it.
There are a lot of really progressive moments on Enter the Metal. I think that “Mad Scientist” is probably the best example as it reminds me of early Megadeth and later years Death, without sounding overtly like either. Can you tell our readers a little about that songs and what inspired it musically and lyrically?
The songs we write usually start out with a couple of parts that go good together. Then we start stacking other parts on top until we get a rough arrangement. Some parts will stand out as being better for verses, or solo sections. Then Joe will take whatever we have, and come up with lyrics that the song inspires in him. For whatever reason, he came up with Mad Scientist. Maybe because the band is kind of like a Mad Scientist, mixing riffs in a boiling test tube.
How many takes did you have to do for the scream at the end?!
I was there for that. He did it on the first take. You mentioned the classic metal influences before. Someone joking around said “Hey Joe, you should do a Bruce Dickenson scream at the end,” and we laughed like “Yeah, that would be awesome!” So he gave it shot. When he got near the end of that scream, I remember pointing up in the air, meaning “Go up one more note, dude! Keep going! Hold it longer!” And he pulled it off. That was a great moment for sure.
“No More Clean Air” is another standout for me. I love the snarly, sinister feel of it. Obviously, it’s an environmental song but what triggered the writing of it? Was there a particular thing you saw or read that set you off enough to write a song about it?
Well, we live in Hamilton, Ontario – Steeltown. How could we not write a song inspired by steel factories?
Will any of these songs be included on the upcoming full length? Will the full length be mostly in the vein of the EP or will we hear some of the industrial elements as well?
The next release will be 6 more songs in the same realm as Enter The Metal. We recorded all 12 songs at the same time, but it was too much to fit on one CD, the songs are so long. So we split it in half. They’re gonna be separate releases, but we plan to have a special double-disc set, and also double-vinyl because they are meant to go together. Enter The Metal and the sequel, Return Of The Metal.
This is a much better time in history to be an independent band than it was in the late eighties/early nineties. What factors played into your decision to reunite without a traditional label behind you?
Other than getting cash advances on record sales, or tour support from a label, there’s really no need for them anymore. I mean, a label will add a certain level of legitimacy or prestige to your band, and certainly can open a lot of difficult doors, but at the end of the day its about the artist and fans connecting with each other, and that’s easier now more than ever.
What do you have on tap for 2014?
Return Of The Metal comes out in May, so there’s a lot of work to be done preparing for that, and we’re currently booking shows so that we’re out there gigging when the album comes out. We have a lot of writing to do for the next album after that too.
Thanks so much for your time. I really, really dig the new EP and wish you guys a lot of success this year! Are there any parting thoughts you’d like to leave our readers with?
Support independent metal! Major label acts are one thing, but if you like a band and really want to support them, go to their websites, and buy the CD, or download directly from the artists website. That way they get the whole dollar, which means they can afford to record more music and play live for you … which is really what it’s all about anyway.
See the interview at ColPop.net