Pharaoh - Shining Power Beacon Part II
By: Matt Coe
This is the second part of Matt's chat with Pharaoh, who in our humble estimation, are one of the best melodic metal bands North America has to offer. As you see below, Matt and Matt Johnsen covered quite a bit of ground, so if you'd like to get caught up, click here.
Blistering.com: Had you re-signed with Cruz Del Sur Music before that EP came out?
Johnsen: No, and thatís another interesting point here. What happened basically was our deal was up with the Be Gone album. We were no longer obligated to do another recording with Cruz Del Sur Music, but we had a handshake agreement to put out the Ten Years EP. Because we took so long to get this stuff done, we started getting offers from all these other labels. There was this empty spot and we talked to some other people. It was a difficult period for Pharaoh, even though we are not a high-drama band. There were camps in the band that wanted to sign with a bigger label and others who thought we should stick with Cruz Del Sur Music. We decided that while a bigger label could certainly push more CDís out there, it was going to change the entire dynamic of the Pharaoh work ethic.
On Cruz Del Sur, we are given total freedom, if we take four years to do an album, itís not that big of a deal. Iím sure Enrico [Leccesse, Cruz del Sur owner] would like us to put out more material in say half the time, but no one is breathing down our neck, threatening to drop us or withhold our money. When we looked at a lot of these other contracts, they would specify after you deliver one album when they would have to hear demos for the next. There was no way we could deliver this. There would possibly be an inherent boost in sales because of moving to a bigger, better distributor, a little more push promotionally, the things that make a band bigger start with the band. You have to make a lot of commitments that it wasnít clear Pharaoh was ready to make. We are never going to make a living off of this band. There comes a point in which you have to make a little more money but far below abject poverty. I was afraid we would sign with the other label, get a bigger advance but owe more money in recoupable expenses. We would put out the album and be a small band on a big label, the whole thing would fizzle out and it would cause frustrations in the band and break up but leave us with one album stranded on a different label.
We thought about the way we do things, and Cruz works for us best. We were the first release on the label, it was really the best thing. The things we need to grow the band we can do on Cruz Del Sur. We arenít the best-selling band on the label, While Heaven Wept have sold more, and I think Atlantean Kodex have done better as well. Itís not Enricoís ability to move CDís that cause this, maybe it is natural limits that a band like Pharaoh can sell. It came down to what was going to make us happiest as hobbyists. I think the contract is still not fully signed- because we donít live in the same area together. I believe itís somewhere in Timís house under a pile of papersÖ
Blistering.com: Speaking of Tim [Aymar] and his vocals, are there times that he surprises you with some of the melodies that he comes up with on the albums?
Johnsen: This is the thing: In a lot of bands the guitarist writes everything, but as a singer itís tough to write for the voice. Tim has a very different way of thinking about melodies, so my first choice is to hand him the music and ask him to lay down a melody. He has a strange musical mind; heís a very clever guy when it comes to that type of stuff. I think if he has a failing there itís that he can be a little too ambitious. Some of these vocal parts that he writes are really hard. ďCastles in the Sky,Ē thatís the only song on this album that he wrote the melodies and all the lyrics to. That was the hardest song on the album to sing, he was complaining about it and I told him he had no one to blame for it but yourself [laughs]. It always works out in the end. One of the things that makes Pharaoh what it is would be the fact that everyone contributes, everyone writes and is a part of what goes into the songs. Itís an interesting challenge to find words that fit and have to fit in the same melodies and meter.
Blistering.com: You got the chance to branch out with the Fools Game album a few years ago- will there be a second record in the future from this act?
Johnsen: Oh yes, absolutely. Just two weekends ago I went to Matt Crooks studio for drum sessions for the new album. This time around it will be Hunter Ginn from Canvas Solaris doing the drums for the second Fools Game record. John Macaluso wasnít available, so I got in touch with Hunter. He really drilled those songs inside and out, which is very different from the way John works which was listening to them once or twice in the car, then thinking about how to play them in the studio. Thereís something to be said about working on material in a pre-meditated fashion. So Hunter, Matt and I were able to write some material together in rehearsals, which is something I havenít had a lot of experience doing since high school. I was pulling riffs out, there are a few other songs that are more collaborative. Matt isnít taking on any more work until this album is finished - I would expect it to be out by the beginning of 2013.