Friday, September 7, 2018

interview: Gatekeeper

Gatekeeper in 2018 impressed lots of fans with their take on traditional heavy metal by way of the album East of Sun. The album came out back in April. This publication is late to the party, but better late than never! Jeff Blackwell (guitars) was gracious and generous with the replies to questions from this publication.
Greetings. Are you right across the border in Vancouver, Canada?!
Cheers, Metal Bulletin! Geoff from Gatekeeper here. Yes, we are based out of Vancouver, but only two of us actually live in the city. We have a few guys out in the 'burbs, like Port Coquitlam, Surrey and Abbotsford. Vancouver is pretty cool. We have a lot of fun at our local shows and we've been getting a great response since our album release but funny enough, our largest shows tend to be out of town.
How did Seattle treat you the last time you were in town?!
Seattle has been fantastic both times we've played there. The first time was in 2015, opening for the NWOBHM band Satan. Northwest Metalfest was a pretty wild gig and it was an extra special honour to have Paul Davidson from Heir Apparent onstage with us. We also had our first crowd surfer which was a heartwarming experience.
Gatekeeper has existed for almost 10 years, right? Who are the current members?
Yeah, that's right, I started the band way back, although it was just a couple demos, a logo and a Myspace page. I didn't make it a proper band until the early 2010s. Up until that point I recorded all guitar, bass and programmed the drums and sang a bit too.
We've had two main chapters in the band up until now. When we were based out of Edmonton, I had Tyson, Shorre, Leillyn and a number of talented lead guitarists on board. In 2014 I relocated to Vancouver and the current lineup of David Messier (bass), Jean-Pierre Abboud (vocals), Tommy Tro (drums), and Kenny Kroecher (lead guitars) was formed. It took me about a year of living in Vancouver before we got this lineup together. We played our first show with the current lineup in March, 2015.
Did you release East of Sun independently, then Cruz del Sur Music (Italy) got involved?
We didn't really release anything independently as we worked closely with Cruz Del Sur regarding the CD and LP for some time before the album came out. The digital and streaming versions of the album (Bandcamp, Spotify, etc) are controlled by us but Cruz Del Sur has been on board from day one, thankfully. They are great to work with and were extremely supportive of what we are trying to accomplish.
How is the reach of the band ever since you are on Cruz del Sur Music?
We'd worked with some labels in the EU and USA for smaller releases in the past so we'd already had some seeds planted here and there, but Cruz Del Sur had a larger budget and a really great team to work with so we've really reached greater heights than ever before with the new album. The CD edition is just about sold out in the EU and we only have a couple boxes on band copies left here and the LP is on the 2nd pressing. Considering that the album came out on April 27th, that's pretty impressive for a band of our stature, I think. That all being said, we've really pushed ourselves as a band and as musicians more than ever before. So I like to think this has an impact on things.
Are Europeans now asking you for shows? Are fans asking you online if you have plans for Europe?
Yes and yes. We regularly get emails, Instagram posts, Facebook messages and YouTube comments from people who are enthusiastic about the band which is very humbling.
And what is your answer?!
Also yes! We actually made our EU debut at the fantastic Keep It True festival in Germany on April 28th which was our album release show. We are booked to return to Germany for Hell Over Hammaburg in March 2019 and we will be roaming around the EU for more gigs. We'll have a formal announcement on this very soon!
I noticed that traditional heavy metal fans in Seattle seemed to take note of Gatekeeper. Maybe it’s the proximity or maybe it’s the fact that we have Skelator, Substratum and other bands playing traditional heavy metal. You did good work on East of Sun and people have noticed it.
That's cool to hear. I have a lot of friends in Seattle and travel there a lot to visit people so even before Gatekeeper played there I had a group of metalhead friends to hang out with. Lucky for me my friends are very talented and play in the awesome bands you mentioned and they've helped us a lot with getting good gigs down there.
Did the band pay for the recording? Did you have help with the recording process?
Yeah, we financed everything ourselves. We recorded the album at Harbourside IT, which is an audio engineering school in North Vancouver. Mike Rogerson oversaw the tracking, mixing and mastering of the record and the very talented Angelo Boose spent a lot of time in the booth with us during the process as well.
When you were young, weren’t your friends listening to metalcore, Slipknot and stuff? What attracts you to classic heavy metal?
Where to begin? Heavy metal is an extension of the things I like most of rock and roll music. The powerful voices, the drama, the tension, the bombastic guitar playing, the crunchy riffs and the thunder of percussion. Bands like Dio, Saxon, Judas Priest, Triumph, Iron Maiden and then Blind Guardian, Manilla Road and so on embody that for me.
Yeah, I grew up in the age of nu metal, metalcore, pop punk, emo, so on. I'm from a smaller town so that's pretty much what I had when I was a young teen. Thanks to my parents I also had Queen, Led Zep and Thin Lizzy. What drew to me power metal and classic metal is the heavy metal instrumentation (shredding solos, chunk power chord riffs, double kick drums) but with a bigger emphasis on great singing and strong melodies. Plus, lots of those bands sing about people with swords so that's always helpful.
It goes to show that you have high standards.
I like to think so. That being said, I'm big into prog rock, jazz, fusion, bluegrass and folk music, too. There's lots of great stuff out there.
What has been the case for Gatekeeper’s journey towards finding someone who wants to sing for real and who can do it?
It's not easy to find a singer who has a cool voice and knows how to use it. I met our singer JP in Chicago at the cool Ragnarokkr Metal Fest (now called Legions of Metal) and we had been in touch before that through his old band Borrowed Time. We were initially only going to have him do a handful of shows with us, but we had so much fun that we decided to keep things going.
Gatekeeper covered cult classic 1980s Omen and Savatage. Does every copy of the album have those covers?
Only the CD editions have these as the LP didn't have enough room. I consider them bonus tracks. They're fun extra tunes that we were able to squeeze in and if people don't like them, all they have to do is restart the album from the beginning.
You picked two bands in their classic eras with great singing.
Yeah, the Savatage song in particular was a tough one. The Omen song we play live at almost every show and it's a lot of fun—JP has been singing that one for a long time and nailed it in two takes in the studio. It's a great low-stress banger by comparison.
Your Savatage cover does not have the background shouts of the original, but it does have the signature big moment of repeatedly hitting the high scream over and over. Why did you leave out the background shouts? Did you run out of time? Did you do the covers mostly as fun rehearsals?
Yeah, our deadline from our label was fast approaching and thing at the studio were extremely hectic so there ended being a couple things that we had to drop which is unfortunate. But that's just how things go. The cover songs on the album were tracked during the drum sessions because Tommy was a monster and got through all his drum tracks for the album in half the time that we expected, so we took a couple extra hours to lay down the covers. We did them without a metronome or anything so they're a little more raw than the album songs to begin with.
Those classic albums have drums that sound real, the singing is great and you can hear everything well.
Absolutely. I've always liked the use of reverb in old 70s and 80's metal recordings. The instruments bleed into each other a little bit and everything sounds really big and open.
When you think about those standards for Gatekeeper, what would you like to improve?
Ah, there are always things to work on! I'm quite happy with the quality of the album but I want to improve on my own guitar playing, writing more melodic solos, trying to make all the songs different and interesting without losing touch with our roots. There are little technical things I would try differently of course. Guitar amps, drum skins, keyboards...
What are you thinking about the sound engineering for the next album’s production?
Haha! I honestly don't mind the production of the album, but we have gotten comments about it and as I said above there are some things I would try doing differently to see what kind of results we'd get. There are a lot of good studios and awesome engineers in Vancouver so you can be sure that our next album will be in good hands.
Gatekeeper has momentum going right now. Is the band working on a new album?
Yes, momentum is key. It's hard to get and once you have it, letting it expire can kill a band for good. We will have new music out very soon, much sooner than people realize and we are working on songs for the second album, too. We have about three songs completely written and at least 12 other riff sets and ideas in various forms that we are sculpting into usable songs. Once we've got all this laid out, we'll pick the best stuff and go from there.
What are some places to hear the complete album?
The album is easy to find on the usual formats. You can buy the physical albums, merch and digital downloads through our Bandcamp page and we are on Amazon, Google Play, Apple Music and so on. Stream us on Spotify too, I have zero issue with that. You can also listen to the album on YouTube but out of all these options, YouTube is the least beneficial for us. The best way to stay on top of our band activities is to join our mailing list. We give out prizes, post new music, videos, gig photos and the latest announcements to our subscribers before they hit the public.
What type of merchandise do you have now?
Mens and womens shirts of course, plus CDs, LPs, 7” vinyl, patches. We've also had koozies and posters. We're working on new kinds of merch as well. Best thing to do is follow us on our social media channels and to join our mailing list!
Thank you for your time!
Cheers Metal Bulletin! Thanks so much for having us. 'Til next time.
- Geoff Blackwell

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