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Exclusive! Joey Vera: Fuel For The Engine

By Diana DeVille, Rock Goddess
Thursday, August 8, 2002 @ 9:12 PM

KNAC.COMís Rock Goddess Sits D

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Metal Blade rockers Engine just released their sophomore release Superholic and are planning a fall tour, so I tracked down bassist-producer and ďjoe-of-all-tradesĒ busy bee Joey Vera and met him at the Radisson Hotel Bar & Grill in Sherman Oaks, California to chat about the incredible life of Joe and the Engine that just wouldnít stop roariní. Our conversation follows:

KNAC.COM: This is sort of the sister project to Fates Warning, which you and Ray [Alder, Engine vocalist] are also involved in. Which project came first, and what led you to collaborate on a second project with a completely different vibe?
JOEY VERA: Well, Fates Warning has been around since about 1985-86, and Ray didnít get involved until later. They had another singer, John Arch, who was their first singer, and Ray didnít come in until about 1989 on the No Exit record. I had been friends with those guys pretty much from day one. We were all on Metal Blade, and we had that Metal Blade connection in the very beginning, and whenever we would come into town (they were originally from Connecticut), whenever we would tour Connecticut, Jim specifically and a couple of the other guys in the band, would come out and see Armored Saint and hang out, whatever, so we kinda became friends, and whenever they came out to L.A. to record, weíd wind up hooking up or vice versa, so Iíve always been friends with the Fates Warning guys since day one. When Joe, their bass player, decided he didnít want to tour anymore (I think this was in 1995, 1996), they pretty much just called me and asked me if I would be interested in coming on board in any capacity, and at that point I was already doing a lot of different things, so I came into the situation as, well, ĎI will be the hired guy because I want to be able to do other things,í and they were okay with that. Thatís how itís been ever since -- that was about 1996.

Through that, I never knew Ray all that well before that, so once I got involved with Fates at that time and we did several tours and three records and since then, I got really close to Ray, we became really good friends and had a lot of same interests and stuff. He was the one who originally wanted to do Engine. He was getting into a lot of stuff -- this was several years ago, but he was getting into stuff like the first Filter record, the first Deftones record and started to listening to what was becoming slightly ďnew-schoolĒ stuff back then. This was probably about 1997, so it really wasnít that long ago. He really started digging it and wanted to do something on the side. He didnít know what it was going to be or how he would do it. He doesnít play any instruments; he just has all these ideas and melodies in his head. So the story goes that he eventually hooked up with a couple of different people but ended up hooking up with Bernie Versailles, who plays guitar in Engine now, and they started this collaboration really from the beginning and they started writing songs together. They wrote a whole bunch of songs, but still at that point, who knew what was going to happen? He didnít know if he was going to make a record, if he wanted to have a band; he was just doing it for fun, I think, in the beginning. But after they wrote about ten songs, they let Brian [Slagel] at Metal Blade hear it, and he was like, ďWow, this is really cool, you should make a record.Ē So it started out as a solo project for him.

I came in the picture obviously because weíre friends, and I knew he was doing this, and I started busting his balls. I said, ďWho else are you going to get to play bass? Iíll be pissed off if itís not me.Ē [laughs]. So I kinda forced my way into that, and we made the first record and started this little side project sort of career that weíve got going. Iím not sure, I think career is maybe a strong term for it, but weíre on our second record, so I guessÖĒ

KNAC.COM: Now the first record came out in 1999. When did you decide to do a second record, and how did that decision come about?
VERA: Well, we wanted to do one sooner, to be honest with you, because we were really disappointed that, because we were in all these other bands, it got in the way of us doing any touring or spending any time promoting the first record, so the first record got some pretty good acclaim as far as the journalistic world, got some good reviews and I think it even got some decent airplay in place, but for the most part, nobody knows anything about it unless they were in tune with what Fates Warning or Armored Saint was doing, and through those sort of ways. It was a drag that we never got to do any touring on it and that the record just kind of fizzled out. We planned on doing one a little earlier, but a lot of other things got in the way. Fates did Disconnected, and Armored Saint did a couple of records, Revelation and Nod to the Old School, so we were both busy with other things. The timing was just about right to do one. We should have done earlier, and to be honest with you, I feel like we rushed this record. It seems like we didnít, but we did. We decided, we should make a record this year -- I think that was July or September of last year. Ray and Bernie hurried up and wrote songs, and we were in the studio rehearsing by late November.

KNAC.COM: So it was pretty much a matter of timing? You had this pocket of time.
VERA: Yes, there was a pocket of time, exactly.

KNAC.COM: You have become quite the experienced producer, having done many of the Metal Blade projects including the last couple of Armored Saint records. How do you like producing?
VERA: I love it. I love it, but I do have a limit. I mean, I wouldnít do itÖ itís a rough existence sitting in a studio for ten to twelve hours a day, sometimes for thirty days straight. It gets a little taxing. So Iím not sure I would really want to do it 8-9 months out of the year. I mean, that would be a lot. Iíd never see the light of the day, I wouldnít see my friends; I wouldnít be able to have a life, basically. So itís a really hard thing to do.

KNAC.COM: It just seems you kinda get thrown into that. I remember when we talked about Armored Saint and you were producing that. It was like, someone had to take the reins and that someone was you. It fell in your lap almost.
VERA: Yeah, itís partially, in a senseÖ I have to admit that part of it is also trying to save a little bit of money. Iíve been doing it long enough that I know how to get by and get around things. Iím by no means great at what I do technically, but I do know enough to get around and get the record done, so in that sense it saves us at this point, when weíre not making hoards of money. We get a recording budget, and itís like, we could hire this really expensive guy whoís the bomb, but itís gonna cost us three-quarters of the budget just to have him work on the record. So a lot of the time itís just financial reasons to consider someone like me to do the record.

KNAC.COM: Well, I know I thought Revelation was great. I thought you did a great job on that.
VERA: Yeah, I think I did a pretty good job on that record, and Bill Metoyer also had a hand in that and mixed the record in the end. That was important to me because I was so close to the record for, I think we recorded for two months straight. At that point I was just driving in snow. It was hard for me to be objective, so I thought it was best to bring in someone who hadnít been there the whole time, and that was Bill. He came in with fresh ears and put all the pieces together.

KNAC.COM: How do you approach producing a record? Any particular preparation you need to do to get ready for something like that?
"It was a drag that we never got to do any touring [for the first album] and that the record just kind of fizzled out. We planned on doing one a little earlier, but a lot of other things got in the way."
VERA: It depends on the band mostly. Mostly Iím more like an engineer/producer, because unfortunately, most of the bands that I deal with donít have good enough budgets to spend a lot of time in what you might call pre-production. Where Iíd like to be involved more is getting involved with songwriting, arrangements and stuff like that before actually getting in the studio. A lot of the jobs I do, sometimes I hear some of the music, but I donít really get to have a lot of input until weíre hitting day one in the studio, then I can maybe start having input. But by that time, maybe itís a little too late, you know, ďI would have arranged this song this way,Ē ďI would have changed this here or changed that there,Ē and that would have been done before that. Unfortunately, I havenít had a lot of time toÖ that would be really the kind of preparation that I would like to have, and I really havenít done that aside from Armored Saint, for obvious reasons, but that would be something I would like to have more of, more preparation. To answer your question I donít really have any preparation [laughs] other than just psyching myself up: ďOkay Iím going to be in this room for thirty days straight for twelve hours a day.Ē

KNAC.COM: So itís really, just be ready for anything.
VERA: Yeah, youíve got to be really open-minded and expect anything. Youíve got to be able to just go with the flow, but at the same time you need to take charge a lot of times. Thereís a lot of psychology involved in working with people, especially people that youíve never met before, so you have to be able to play referee. Thereís this whole mindset you go into: Whatís going to happen this time? Itís kind of weird.

KNAC.COM: In producing projects that you yourself are involved with, do you ever find conflicting viewpoints as Joey the producer versus Joey the musician?
VERA: (Thinks a moment and then answers) Yeah, I would say that.

KNAC.COM: How do you handle that?
VERA: At that point I would ask someone else in the room or someone else involved with the project. I certainly second guess myself a lot more than I probably should, but thereís always occasions where Iím not sure about something or donít know the right way to do something. Iíll often ask someone else in the room, ďWhat do you think about this?Ē It doesnít mean I will listen to them [laughs]. Sometimes Iíll get several opinions and my gut will be telling me that I need to go this way, but then again, sometimes someone will bring something up that I hadnít thought of, and I think, ďThatís it. Thereís the answer.Ē

KNAC.COM: On top of being a producer and musician, youíre also an accomplished songwriter, another hat that you wear. What was your role in the writing of Superholic? Did you have anything to do with the actual songwriting?
VERA: Not really. Itís more Ray and Bernieís brainchild as far as the music goes. They come up with all the music parts and stuff together. My input, especially on Superholic more so than the first record, was more after the fact. It was the slight arrangements things like, ďMaybe this bridge should reoccur later in the songĒ or ďthe chorus should go twice as longĒ or ďyou should sing this part again,Ē those kind of things. I wouldnít really call it songwriting. Itís more like arrangement stuff. I had a lot more input in that sense on this record. This record was written, even though it took forever between the two records, we decided, ďOkay, letís do a record,Ē in September, and then it was, ďOh shit, weíve got to write songsĒ. So it was rushed a bit, and Iím not sure we were 100% ready to make the record. We were easily 90% ready, but there was still 10% that was still loose. So even when we went into the record, when we started recording, some of the arrangements we werenít quite sure about, like ďHow long should this part go?Ē ďOh, I donít know, weíll figure it out in the studio.Ē Alot of times Ray wouldnít even write lyrics until the day heís singing. It was that loose in a lot of sense. And also the method we did it, we did it on ProTools. That gave us a lot more freedom to, ďWell, letís see what the song sounds like with the chorus doubled up at the end.Ē So it was really just a matter of me going in and getting the song and cutting and pasting to see what it sounds like with the chorus doubled up.

KNAC.COM: Working the magicÖ
VERA: Yeah, and then ten minutes later going listening to the song thinking, ďThatís too long, do it half thatĒ or things like that. So thatís another technical/creative part that is part of the input from someone like me who is outside. Not the songwriter but someone having input as far as arrangements and stuff like that.

KNAC.COM: With that in mind, how much time did you have to come up with the bass parts before jumping into the producerís chair?
VERA: [laughs] Not a whole lot. It was crazy, because they were writing. I hadnít heard, well I had heard a couple of songs before, sometime in mid-November. It was only like five songs. I was thinking, ďMan, weíre not going to be ready. December 1st is just around the corner.Ē Ray said, ďDonít worry, donít worry.Ē I heard a couple of songs, then went on vacation. I was home for two days, then went out and mixed the Seven Witches record. I went to New Jersey and was there for ten days, and the day I came back, Ray handed me another disc and this time there was eight songs on it. I thought, ďOkay, at least we have eight songs. Thatís better than five.Ē That was a Friday, so I spent the Friday and Saturday learning the eight songs, and we started rehearsal on Sunday. We rehearsed Sunday, Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, and we started recording on Thursday. So for me, it was more just getting through the songs. Just getting the arrangements, getting through the songs...not so much figuring out what the bass parts are. This happened on the first Engine record too. We do things a little unusual. We do the drums first and then we do all the guitars and then I play the bass at the end of it. Normally most bands do bass and drums first and then they do guitars. We would often put most of the guitars down before I played the bass, and it gave me a chance to listen to the drum track. Iím the type of player, especially with Engine, the emphasis really is between the bass guitar and the drums... so it gave me time to get used to listening to the drum tracks and figuring out what the kick drum patterns are, and it sort of spells itself out to me at that point what the bass should be doing. But thereís a couple of thingsÖ like, Iíd be like ďIím kind of repeating myself here. I donít know what to do,Ē and Ray or Bernie would come in and say, ďWhy donít you do this,Ē something Iíd never thought of, and I thought, ďYeah, thatís kind of cool,Ē so then they pitch it too, of course.

Sometimes, since Bernieís writing the music, the guitar parts and stuff, he will often come up with a counterpart to the guitar part, which is the bass part, so a lot of times that is already written before I ever show up.

KNAC.COM: Which could also be helpful recording the guitars before, because you get that framework in which to work.
VERA: Exactly. So we know whatís going to happen, because itís been thought of before. Itís cool, you know, itís got a little bit of both. Itís got some structure and some openness. You have to have a little freedom there.

KNAC.COM: With that in mind, how much more of a challenge is it to interpret someone elseís song as opposed to something you wrote yourself as far as deciding on musical and production decisions?
VERA: Itís not that much of a challenge. It depends on what situation Iím in. A lot of times I knowÖ With Armored Saint itís a whole different ball of wax because Iím really close to it and I have a large part in just everything. Iím a borderline control freak with that band. [laughs].

KNAC.COM: Thatís kind of what I had in mind when I thought of this question, because I know youíre really close to Armored Saint and thatís your ďbaby,Ē and with Engine itís a completely different thing where somebody else comes in with everythingÖ
VERA: Yes, and even with Fates Warning thatís true, Fates more so than Engine. But Iím pretty good at knowing what my role in when I go into something right away, from the get go. I know whatís expected of me, and where the line is that I donít need to bother crossing, so Iím pretty aware of, whatever situation Iím getting into, what my boundaries are, and Iím totally okay with that. I walk in totally comfortable with, ďOkay, this is whatís expected of me.Ē I know when to keep my mouth shut, and I know when to open it. Sometimes thereís times when I should offer an opinion, and thereís times when itís not warranted, so I just sometimes bite my tongue, and so be it.

KNAC.COM: Well, Iím sure it helps that youíre working with friends, people that youíve known for a while.
VERA: Yeah, I mean that obviously helps a lot, because then I can go, ďYou know, I want to be honest with you about something...Ē [laughs] Itís [easier] than if it were a complete stranger, where they donít know where Iím coming from.

KNAC.COM: So, as far as Superholic goes, how would describe the music on this record?
VERA: Iíve never been asked that; I donít know. [He thinks about the question for a moment] I donít know, I always tell people that itísÖ I donít know the terms nowadays. I donít know what they mean anymore. Modern metal, new school metal, Iím not sure what they mean. I always tell people, ďItís modern metal, nu school metal, but thereís no rapping, and thereís a lot of melodies, but the musicís really heavyÖ but the musicís really simple. Itís not really convoluted and crazy. The musicís actually really straight ahead, you know, straightforward. Itís hard to describe really. Itís funny, I was talking to someone about this the other day, and weíre kind of in a weird spot, because weíre heavier than a lot of modern bands, but weíre not as heavy as a lot of nu school bands, so weíre kind of in this grey area in between, which is kind of bad, actually. Well itís good, because I think weíre doing something that there are not a lot of bands doing thatís very similar. Obviously we have influences from Deftones and Filter, but thatís just because of where the musicís coming from. Itís good because weíre doing that, because itís on its own, but the bad thing is that we have trouble, especially right now, finding someone to tour with or finding a niche to be involved with. People like, no matter what you say, they like to categorize stuff. They like to say, ďThis is this kind of band, and theyíre all over here, and these are these kinds of bands and theyíre all over there,Ē and if you donít belong to any of those bands, sometimes you get overlooked because people donít know what to make of you; they canít put a stamp on you. So it can be harmful when it gets to that point.

KNAC.COM: Interesting. I would think that that would be a good thing, because being in the middle like that it could go either way. You could tour with the hardcore, or you could tour with the new school.
VERA: Well thatís the thing. I think that, once given the chance, we could hold our own with either side. I think that a band like oh, I donít know, Fuel or something like that, I donít know, someone whoís heavy but also more commercially pop, we could probably get away with playing with a band like that, because even though the music is pretty heavy and aggressive, the vocals are pretty melodic for the most part -- thereís a few parts where Ray is screaming and stuff -- but for the most part, itís really melodic stuff. So we could probably get away with playing in front of a crowd thatís into that. On the other hand, playing in front of In Flames or Meshuggah or something like that, we could get away with that as well. We might have a harder time, but I think we could get away with that. Youíve seen the band live -- itís a high-energy band; itís not like we are jumping around posing or anything. Thereís a lot of energy, itís very aggressive and even though thereís still melodies in the vocals, itís still very hard edged.

KNAC.COM: And youíre very fun to watch on stage [laughs].
VERA: (Laughs) I have fun up there; I have a lot of fun. So thatís the weird thing. Itís kind of starting to feel the pinch right about now. At this point we can tour with anybody; we donít have a preference. We just have to go out there and play live, because the bottom line is that people can read about the record, or even hear it on the radio or online or MP3 downloads or wherever theyíre going to try to hear the record, but until the person really sees the band live, thatís really when you either win people over or they hate you. So thatís a really big issue with the band that we need to start getting into.

KNAC.COM: So if you think about it, youíre the perfect opening band, because there is going to be something in your music somewhere that is going to fit in with what someone else is doing.
VERA: Yeah. I hope Iím not going to spill the beans too much on this, but we might be getting this tour with W.A.S.P. Supposedly that is confirmed.

KNAC.COM: That would be interesting.
VERA: Thatís the weird thing. At first I thought ďW.A.S.P.? Weíre going to die. Thatís going to be horrible,Ē but I think we could still hold up in front of a band like that because the people who are going to see W.A.S.P., theyíre a mixture of people. There are people who are my age, who are the older generation, those people who are still into listening to metal from the heydayÖ

KNAC.COM: Old school.
VERA: Old school. Iím okay with that. I am old school. Thatís all right, and thereís nothing wrong with old school. But Engine was trying to get away from that because of what our associations are. Our associations are Armored Saint and Fates Warning, and for Bernie, Agent Steel, which kind of has an old school association. We are trying to kind of get away from that, only in the sense that we feel like the kids who are listening to bands like In Flames and Meshuggah, or Fuel and even Blink 182 for that matter, it doesnít matter, but people who are younger who kind of look at old school metal and laugh, theyíre never going to give us the time of day if they know who we are and where we come from and what this perception is of us, so this is the reason why weíre trying to break away from it. But having said that, the important thing is that we need to be on the road, and I think this tour could be really good for us.

Weíre going to playing for a group of people who maybe normally wouldnít come to see us, because theyíre older, theyíre people who are from the old school. Then again, maybe there will be people who didnít get into W.A.S.P until Headless Children or a record later than that, so theyíre really not old school fans. Maybe they didnít get into metal until the early to mid 1990ís, so theyíre really not old school fans; theyíre listening to a lot of different stuff. So those are people that weíre also going to be able to reach that we wouldnít normally be able to. So once I thought about it, after a while, itís going to be a win-win situation for us, not to mention itís either that (where we play in front of six hundred people) or we go headline and play in front of ten people [laughs].

KNAC.COM: How did you come up with the title Superholic, and what does it mean?
VERA: I think Ray has to answer that. Ray came up with the title. I donít think it means anything to be honest with you; I think itís a word he made up. Is it in the dictionary? Have you looked?

"[Superholic] is... modern metal, nu school metal, but thereís no rapping, and thereís a lot of melodies, but the musicís really heavyÖ but the musicís really simple. Itís not really convoluted and crazy. Itís hard to describe really."
KNAC.COM: No, I havenít looked.
VERA: I was actually going to look it up because someone asked me a similar question the other day. I donít think it means anything. I think he just made it up.

Rayís way into cars obviously. He loves cars, and heís got a subscription to Motortrends. [Laughs] I donít know if he does or not, Iím joking. Heís always reading these magazines and heís just way into hotrods; and just everything about cars. ďSuperholicĒ comes from that; it comes from his love of cars. So I think it stands for something; I just donít know what. It sounds cool. It kind of has a combination of like alcohol and nitrous oxide; you know, a lot of turbo systems in cars that use nitrous oxideÖ

KNAC.COM: Umm, okay.
VERA: So thereís this whole souped-up feeling that comes from hotrods, and ďholicĒ is maybe from alcoholic, because maybe weíre all alcoholics [laughs]. So maybe itís this souped-up, crazy high-energy thing.

KNAC.COM: Well, that works for me. That sounds as good a definition as any. So now, do you have a favorite track from the record?
VERA: Actually, I like the title track a lot, ďSuperholic,Ē because itís really unusual, and when [Ray] first played it for me on demo, I thought it was the most interesting thing of the lot of them. Itís got this really cool sample that plays over and over through most of the verses and the intro, so itís got this really coolÖ itís just itís unusual, itís not your average rock song: ďGuitars, drums come in, bass guitar, everyone starts screaming.Ē [laughs] Itís cool, itís kind of moody, thatís what I like about it. Itís quite a departure from anything that they have written. They almost didnít put it on, and I was like, ďOh no, no, this is great. Youíve got to put this on the record.Ē

KNAC.COM: This is where the producer puts his foot downÖ
VERA: Well, not really put my foot down, but I was championing it. I was like, ďWeíve got to work this out. This is coolÖ just go with it.Ē In fact Bernie had written this thing, which is the beginning, weird noises at the beginning, on this little sampler that he has, and the whole time Ray kept saying, ďOh that was just for the demo. We have to rewrite it and get a better sampler and better sounds for it.Ē I said, ďWhy? It sounds great. Just leave it. Letís just use the existing sounds that were on the demo, put them into the song and record drums and bass and guitars over it.Ē So thatís what we wound up doing.

Thatís my favorite. I also like the opening track because itís just so brutal -- ďLosing Ground.Ē Itís a good song. Those are probably my two favorites.

KNAC.COM: Tell me about the cover of ďFascination StreetĒ by the Cure. Your thoughts?
VERA: Both Ray and I are both Cure fans, especially from Disintegration. Itís a great record: itís the consummate tour record. Someone on the bus always had Disintegration, or maybe even two or three people had it with Fates Warning. So itís just one of those awesome records, and ďFascination StreetĒ is just a great song. Itís kind of interesting because, like a lot of Cure songs, nothing changes. Itís the same part over and over and over. But the way that they recorded it, with the vocals by Robert Smith, is just makes the whole thing captivating, and itís not boring. You forget that thereís no changes; it just keeps going on along. The thing is almost seven minutes. We never realized that. Anyway, Ray used to always say, ďThis would be a great song to redo. Just think that the bass part is the main part of the song. Just think about if the guitar were playing the bass part. I thought, ďMan, thatíd be a really heavy riff.Ē So that was something that he wanted to do for several years. I think he even talked about it during the record. So we just tried it.

It wasnít until that point when we realized, you know, itís a little different when itís guitar and bass and drums playing the same part for seven minutes. It gets a little bit like, ďalright already.Ē This is a metal band and we needed to do something, and then we realized, ďDamn, this thing is seven minutes long!Ē So we had to do a little editing and cut it down a little bit. We even rearranged it after we had recorded everything because we were in ProTools and we decided that there wasnít enough energy at the end of the song, so we had to cut some pieces out and bring things up so that the energy caught your attention quicker and drove it home quicker.

KNAC.COM: You totally ďEngine-izedĒ the song; whereas, instead of doing a straight cover, you took the song and did it your own way.
VERA: Yeah. We had to. Itís a trip, because if you listen to it, we added extra parts, we added some extra guitar parts, and mostly in the way that we played the rhythm it makes it seem like parts change, but the parts never really change. The chord structure is still the same, so we were true to the Cure in that sense, that we kept the chord structure the same. We just played with the dynamics and the way that we actually played the structure. It was actually pretty challenging, because it took forever. Even in rehearsal, in those three days we had for rehearsal, it was like, ďIt sounds GREAT for two minutes, and then itís boring.Ē [laughs] What are we going to do? I donít know; weíll just put weird noises on it. Weíll just make it work somehow. We didnít know. We had no idea. So we figured, ďIt sounds great for two minutes. Maybe we can squeeze out another three with weird noises and stuff; at least it will be five minutes long.Ē So it kinda came to life in the studio, which is pretty cool.

KNAC.COM: Well thatís the beauty of it. You can play it however you want to, and then you have ProTools so you can go and experiment with it. How does that translate live, when you get out there on a stage?
VERA: Well hopefully by that point youíve already worked out all those little details. You have to accommodate certain things. Weíre not editing the song, but we are using some samples live that are being triggered either by Bernie or by one of the crew guys offstage. There are some parts in the songs that are necessary or they help sound wise, so you get away with it. Normally we are a four-piece, so thereís not two guitar players, so we kinda have to make do with certain things. Most of the things we are sampling are not guitar parts. Theyíre noises that we created that either come from guitars or that in ProTools, we just gnashed them...You know, put backwards, put tons of crap, reverb and delay on it and turned it back around, and just distorted, horrible sounds that we just made. So they come from guitars but itís not like a guitar player could come in and duplicate it; it would never work.

KNAC.COM: Now generally speaking, how do you feel about doing recorded samples during the live show? Do you think it takes away from it?
VERA: No, I think itís fine, as long as someone is actually performing it. The thing I donít like is lip-synching. Thatís a whole other ball of wax, but weíre not really talking about that. Thereís some bands, obviously, that are playing to a pre-recorded tape that has a lot of background vocals and harmonies and a second or third guitar part, horn sections and who knows what else -- Iím kinda iffy on that. I donít totally agree with that. But on the other hand, I donít think thereís any problem with using a sampler as another instrument as long as someoneís performing it, because with a sampler, it takes a human to actually either push a button or hit a trigger. Fates Warning has been doing that for years. Mark Zonder, the drummer, has all kinds of weird samples on his drum set. His stuff is either drum sounds or industrial noises, but heís actually playing them, and that to me is fine. Itís like another instrument. Itís like having a keyboard player really.

KNAC.COM: Yeah, keyboards can do amazing things.
VERA: Yeah. I mean, I donít really like keyboard players in rock bands though. I donít know, I canít really say that, because I love bands like Deep Purple and stuff like that, that do have keyboardists, but you know, in the age of metal, when it sort of flowered in the eighties, I donít know, to me it was just like ďAaaaaahhhhhhh, it doesnít belong. Get it out of there.Ē [laughs] So, I donít think it belongs. I mean, if youíre going to do stuff, I say sample it. Make the guitar player hit a button on the floor, and some keyboard noise comes out. But keep your keyboard player offstage.

KNAC.COM: So personally, what do you think about -- because obviously you can do a lot more in the studio than you can live -- so, what do you think about making records that are not easy to capture on stage, as far as you have to do a lot of sampling and that sort of thing?
VERA: I donít know. I think a lot of that depends on the artist. Iím kinda split on it. If it was my band -- itís easy for me to answer the other side of the question -- but if it was my band, I would be worried about it, because I would be like, ďOkay, how are we going to pull this off?Ē But on the other hand, maybe even thinking as a producer type person, I think the most important thing is making a great record, so whatever it takes to get there, you do it. Donít limit yourself by like, ďWell, howís the band going to play it live?Ē That to me should be an afterthought. Bottom line is, youíre in there to make a great record. Youíre in the business to make records, so make a great record, make it sound great. As long asÖ unless your intention is to sound like ABBA, with four thousand harmonies and that sort of thing, donít even go there. But if youíre a rock band, and thereís some elements that are going to help the song have its own bite on the record, then donít limit yourself by saying, ďHow are we going to do this live? Weíll never be able toÖ we donít have thatÖ the bass player doesnít sing that well, he canít sing that harmony.Ē [laughs] Worry about it later. I almost think sometimes, you know youíll see some bands, and sometimes theyíre not doing the little nuances that perhaps the producer put in the record, and you donít miss them, unless itís something drastic.

KNAC.COM: It seems, though, that if you put it on the record, you should be able to find some way to maybeÖ if you have to get a backup singer, to have the backup singer come out on the road with you or somethingÖ
VERA: Yeah.

KNAC.COM: But you want it to translate well live because thatís your selling tool right there, youíre out there selling your record across the country.
VERA: Yeah, thereís a fine line there, because like I said, say youíre a rock band, and some producer comes in and says, ďNo, you should sound like ABBAĒ, so then they listen to him, and they make this record that sounds like ABBA, but in reality theyíre this garage rock band, you know, like White Stripes or somethingÖ and how are these two people going to pull off something that the producer made sound like thereís forty people in the band? Thatís a bad decision, because the intention has been distorted.

KNAC.COM: Sometimes you hear a record that has been really overly produced, and you know thereís no way they are going to take that live on the road. What do you do?
VERA: It depends on the band and their budget. It depends on a lot of things.

KNAC.COM: I think thatís kind of fallen by the waysideÖ I donít know, like with all the boy bands and things like that, I guess itís possible but recording budgets generally have been stripped down now, so you donít really have the luxury to pull off all the bells and whistles. You just have to put it down on tape. And thatís a good thing, because you want to be as true to yourself as you can be.
VERA: Yeah, and thereís another argument too, that a good song is a good song. And if itís a good song, it doesnít need all the bells and whistles on it. That goes against maybe what someone like me, who would be wanting to put on the bells and whistles, just because I can [laughs], because we have ProTools, because we have six thousand tracks, we can put bells and whistles on it and itíll sound great. But itís not always necessary and itís not always right.

KNAC.COM: Do you find that the members of Engine have finally ďgelledĒ as a band by this second release as opposed to being simply a ďside projectĒ to everything else you have going on? Do you feel like you are a ďrealĒ band?
VERA: Thatís kind of funny, because there hasnít really been a reason to feel like a ďrealĒ band until these West Coast shows that we just did, because we were actually living together and traveling around together, granted that it was just for five days. Like I said, we never did anything like that. The first record came out, and we didnít do any touring on it. We played one show at the Garage, and a year later we played at the Dynamo festival in Holland, and four months after that we played Wacken in Germany; that was it. So other than making the record, of course I got to know Bernie really well. Bernie and I get along great, so Ray, Bernie and I are the ones that work together and makes the records happen. The drummer, Pete, is usually pretty busy with his band Face to Face, so even on the first record he did his parts and then for the most part he wasnít there a lot. Heíd come around when we were mixing and stuff like that, but he was busy with his other project. And the same thing is happening this time. He did his stuff, he came around occasionally when we were mixing, and heís been on the road since March or April, so heís been pretty busy.

KNAC.COM: I remember that he missed the L.A. show.
VERA: Yeah, because he was doing stuffÖ I think he was in Europe that time, so we got Craig Anderson, who plays with Knight, and he is filling in for Pete doing the shows with us. So itís kind of weird. We really havenít done anything to be a band. I mean, bands do stuff, like they go to rehearsal, they play gigs together, that sort of thing, and thatís what bands do. Weíve never had a reason or an opportunity to do it, so itís been weird. But we had four days of rehearsal before we did these shows last month, and we did a bunch of California shows, and it was awesome.

KNAC.COM: That changed the dynamic a little bit.
VERA: It has, and itís been SO much fun. Iím glad, because making the records are actually fun, because they are very low pressure. Both records have been done in remote areas -- we havenít done them in a real ďstudioĒ so weíve never had the clock ticking on the wall, and the studio manager coming in saying, ďYou know, Iíve been here for ten hours. Youíve got to go home now, or weíre going to start charging you overtime.Ē Weíve never had any of that, so really it was a couple of guys sitting around, drinking a lot of beer, and making a record, creating music. And that, to me, is the best way to ever do it, anytime.

KNAC.COM: The pressure is off, you can go at your own pace and do it right and not be rushed.
VERA: Yep, and we donít have a lot of pressure from the label. They pretty much let us do our thing so itís just been easy and great. That so far has translated over to being a band, you know, playing gigs and traveling around together. We used to do nothing but sit around and laugh all the time, so itís really, really cool. The true test will be the tour, if we get this tour, and I think itís going to be an extended tour; I think itís going to be at least four weeks, so that will be the true test. You might have to ask me that question in October or November when weíre all done. Those sorts of things change when youíre living with people. I mean, Iíve toured with Ray before, and we had no problems. Iím not saying that any of us will have problems because I donít think we really will, but the dynamic, as you pointed out, does change when you go from having a few rehearsals and a few live gigs to being in a bus or a van traveling around the country playing five to six nights a week four weeks straight.

KNAC.COM: Plus it takes priority and it becomes the forefront; this is the thing youíre doing, as opposed to, ďOh well, Iíll just do this whenever I have time.Ē
VERA: Exactly. You have to be totally committed. Otherwise you, or someone, will be miserable if youíre not into it, and somebody will have a lot of bad days in a row. I think everyone is ready for it, though. Weíve all talked about how much we need to tour and how much we want to do this. Bernie is finishing up his record with Agent Steel. Theyíre still working on it, so heís still busy with it. But I know heís going to want to go out and do this. Ray, of course, well, Ray is getting ready to do another Fates Warning record at the end of the year (so Iím told), so he canít really afford to just sit around and wait for Engine to do anything for too long, so heís ready to just go out and do this. And I am too. Iím moving some things around in my schedule to do it, so I want to do it. Everyone wants to be there.

KNAC.COM: So if and when the W.A.S.P. tour Ė and weíll say when Ė happens, when will that be happening?
VERA: Iím told itís starting in mid to late September and will go (I heard) until Halloween, which sounds awfully long to me, so about four or five weeks.

"[Recording] was... a couple of guys sitting around, drinking a lot of beer, and making a record, creating music. And that, to me, is the best way to ever do it, anytime."
KNAC.COM: Do you like that short schedule as opposed to something like the big Poison tour going on now, which is all summer long, like three or four months? Do you like touring extensively, or do you like having breaks in the action?
VERA: I like breaks. I donít like being away from home for more than two weeks. [laughs] I have a three-week threshold. I always talk about it. The first week is always great. Youíre in la-la land; itís like going on a camping trip. Youíre all giddy and everythingís funny, and everythingís just happy-go-lucky. The second week it starts to wear down a bit, because itís the second week. It starts to become more like, ďOkay, weíre working here.Ē Weíre doing gigs five nights a week, six nights a week, sometimes more, so thatís the next mental phase. Then the third week comes along and youíre like, ďOkay, I want to go home now. Iíve had enough of this.Ē Thatís when the heavy drinking kicks in, in the third week. So the third and fourth weeks are a blur. The first two weeks you have a lot of memories, because the first week everything is new. Your transportationÖ

KNAC.COM: Itís a different situation, just a change of scenery.
VERA: Yeah, itís like moving in with a new roommate. The first week is getting to know them. I donít know; itís just new. The second week you start figuring out your own space and, ďOkay, where do I fit in here?Ē ďWhat are they all about?Ē Everybodyís in their own little world. And by the third week, itís like, I hate to say it, but it becomes work in a way. Nothing wrong with that, but it just becomes a little moreÖ

KNAC.COM: Well, you figure that IS your job. That is what youíre doing; youíre out there entertaining the masses.
VERA: It IS work. Thereís no doubt about it. But Iíd rather do nothing else. Iím just talking about this threshold thing. The third week is when it begins to kick in. Thatís just me personally. Maybe some peopleÖ Iíve met some people that say that, if they could, theyíd stay on the road nine months out of the year. I just look at them and say, ďYouíre out of your mind.Ē [laughs] But I enjoy coming home, having some days off at home, obviously family and friends at home are a big part of my life, and I donít like to be away from that too long. I like to stay reconnected. Ideally for me it would be great to do two weeks, have a week off, two weeks, a week off, two weeksÖ. but you knowÖ I donít really like touring all that much. Itís weird, though, because but the thing that I do love most about all this, you said it earlier, and I said it too, is that hour onstage. And for me, if it wasnít for that, I probably wouldnít be doing any of this. Thatís part of touring obviously, you going out there and playing. And for the most part, Iíd say eight out of ten times, I have a great time. Thereís always those couple of days where Iím just not into it, thereís something not right in the room, thereís something not right with the crowd, and itís not fun. But Iíd say about eight out of ten times, I have a great time playing live. So that comes with touring. So itís a tradeoff of the three-week threshold, or do you enjoy playing? And I think it comes down to just never being satisfied. [laughs]

KNAC.COM: But that gives you the opportunity to go out there and actually get on that stage. If you were at home, you wouldnít have a chance to go out there and do it every single night like that.
VERA: No, no. Itís a weird thing. The other thing about touring is that you get really good at it when youíre playing six nights a week. You get really good. When you do a couple of shows here and thereÖ unless youíre playing every day, itís like if youíre a marathon runner or an athlete of some sort, you have to work out. And itís a workout performing. So unless youíre doing it every day, youíre never really going to get up to ten. So doing it six, seven nights a week, the band starts to get really goodÖ as individuals, musicianship, personally, as a performer, as a group together, you get really, really good. And that again, is something that really everyone should be striving for, including myself. Iím kind of contradicting myself a little bit, but Iím just complaining, really. [chuckles]

KNAC.COM: Well, the good thing is, being out there youíre playing every night, and itís like a rehearsal all the time, so it becomes part of your normal routine. You donít really even have to think about it; you just go out there and do it.
VERA: Yep, and I love it when it gets to that point. Even though maybe I complain and I say, ďAw, it feels like a job today; I want to go home; the three-week threshold is in effect,Ē the bottom line is that we are up to speed, and everyone is on. Youíre performing well, and youíre doing goodÖ

KNAC.COM: A well-oiled machine.
VERA: Yeah, and you really notice it. For some reason you have two days off in a row and you come back on that third day -- you wouldnít really think those two days would matter -- but you come back on that third day to play, and you lose a lot of momentum. You kind of have to take a few steps back and start over.

KNAC.COM: Iím always amazed at how busy you stay, because youíre always doing something every time I talk to you.
VERA: Um-hmmm.

KNAC.COM: Itís been three years since the first Engine record. Since then thereís been two Armored Saint records, a Fates Warning record as well as your recent tour with Seven Witches. How do you balance all the projects? How difficult is it to switch gears and get into that particular ďmindset,Ē seeing how each band is so different?
VERA: Itís hard to change mindsets. Thatís probably the hardest thing. Luckily, the schedule thing hasnít been that much of a pain yet. Thereís been a few things that have been crossed, mainly with Fates Warning and Armored Saint, but it hasnít been really that hard. Iíve been pretty lucky I think, as far as scheduling and things like that. I think, as I was telling you earlier, I have a hard time feeling creative when I have so many things going on. When I was touring with Seven Witches, I brought a little recording unit with me and I thought, ďYeah Iíll write some Armored Saint music while Iím out on the road.Ē And I donít know, it just never happened. I just could neverÖ

KNAC.COM: Well, itís got to be difficult, say if youíre in the particular mindset for Seven Witches, and when youíre trying to concentrate on Armored Saint, itís almost like it rocks the boat a little bit.
VERA: Yeah, mentally it rocks the boat. It does.

KNAC.COM: And especially like we were just talking about, when youíre out there just doing it, youíve got the momentum, and youíre in total Seven Witches mode, and then you try to switch that, it just throws everything off kilter.
VERA: Itís pretty weird. Iím not really that good at that. Some people can do that, like have those three-layer thought patterns where theyíre simultaneously thinking three different things, or theyíre involved with three different things or something like that. I have a hard time doing that. I prefer, and maybe itís just a little bit of laziness, but I prefer to finish one thing and put it aside, do this, concentrate on this and donít do anything on either side, put that away, go on to this thing. But, schedule and time donít always allow you to do that. Sometimes youíre forced into having to do, or at least have in your mind to think about, two or three different things at the same time. So itís not always practical. Like this thing, whatís going on right now in my head, a large part of my goals right now, is to get this Engine record happening. We donít have a manager, so Iím kind of trying to beÖ not the manager or the bandleader, but Iím trying to light a fire under everyoneís asses to get this record going. If I donít do it, I donít think anyone else will do it. Ray will understand when I say that heís not that good at doing it. Heís just not. He doesnít care, and I donít blame him. Itís a pain in the ass to be that person, and he doesnít really want to do it. He doesnít care and he doesnít have, I donít know, the enthusiasm or maybe itís the tolerance for it.

KNAC.COM: ďJust put the mic in front of me and let me sing.Ē
VERA: Yeah, he just wants to be the singer, and thatís fine. Thatís totally cool, and heís great at what he does. So I have been helping him a lot with all this stuff that goes on with the band, doing the tour managing for the band when weíre playing out, or doing the books and setting up budgets, all those sort of things, also trying to get the label excited. I mean, the recordís only been out since May, so itís not that old, but if we donít get out on the road and do anything for it, itís just going to fall by the waysideÖ again. So Iím trying to resurrect it and not let it go that way, so Iím constantly talking to people at the label, talking to Ray, just whateverÖ the booking agent, Buckingham, probably hates me because I call him all the time. [laughs] So Iím doing all this stuff for Engine because I really care about this record and I want this record to have at least a fair shot. I want people to see the band live more than anything. With some luck it looks like it might happen come September.

On the other side of the coin -Ė my answers are really long winded, I realize -Ė this Seven Witches thing that I kind of got involved in. Jack Frost, who is the leader of the band, asked me to be more involved. He wants me to produce and engineer the next record, but he also wants me to play bass on it and he wants me to contribute music. So then Iím forced with that, trying to be creative in that senseÖ

KNAC.COM: Popular and in demand. [laughs]
VERA: Trying to contribute something creatively, musically and stuff. This is what I was telling you about earlier, I havenít been able to do anything like that for a long time because I have this problem with not being able to separate my different projects. It creates inertia with me and makes me stop, which is unfortunate, but it slows me down and it clogs me up like a funnel or something, but anywayÖ This is my new challenge right now recently, to be creative. I actually picked up my guitar for the first time in six months, trying to write music in between phone calls about the budget here and Engine and the record, and Metal Blade and interviews or whatever, and trying to be creative with trying to contribute something to this other project that Iím in. So thatís a specific example.

KNAC.COM: The joy of multi-tasking.
VERA: Iím not even sure Iím going to be successful at either one, but it can be hard to do.

KNAC.COM: Itís the kind of thing you canít really even think about, you just have to jump in with both feet and just do it.
VERA: You have to just do it. Sometimes Iíll be so in thought about all these various things, and Tracy will come home from work or call me on the phone, and Iíll just have this blank stare on my face because Iím elsewhere, so it can be hard. [laughs]

KNAC.COM: I can imagine. So whatís going to be coming up for you, say for the rest of the year? Letís see, weíve got the Engine tour thatís going to be happening potentially in SeptemberÖ
VERA: Yep, hopefully that will be in September.

KNAC.COM: Seven Witches, youíre working with that.
VERA: Yeah, I donít know when Iím fitting that in or how weíre doing it yet. But supposedly weíre going to be doing a new record, maybe partially before I leave and then weíll finish it when I get back. So that would be like the first two weeks of September doing some recording with Seven Witches. I think thatís optimistic; more than likelyÖ I donít know whatís going to happen, but my involvement wonít be until later, so Iím saying, Iím holding to early November doing that, that probably will last until the end of November. And then thatís about it.

The only other thing thatís kind of pending is, thereís a band in Italy called Power Symphony. I produced their record for them in 1998 in Italy, and they want me to come back and do another record with them. But they wanted to do it in October, so now thatís going to get pushed back. Seven Witches is behind that and so itís all getting pushed backÖ I probably wonít want to do [Power Symphony] in December; itís just too hard to work around the holidays. Itís too tough, soÖ they donít know this yet, but if theyíre reading KNAC.COM, theyíll find that Iím trying to push this back to January [laughs]. Actually, that reminds me, Iím supposed to get in touch with them as soon as possible. Theyíre waiting for my answer, and theyíve been asking, ďWhatís your schedule with Engine? Whatís your schedule with Seven Witches?Ē Now Iím finally beginning to start to figure it out, so I might just do that by the end of the year.

Then I think Fates Warning, so Iím told, is going to be recording around -- again, itís trying to get that multi-layered thinking thing going -- theyíre supposed to be recording in January or February, so Iíll probably be busy at least the first of the year. And then thereís always another Armored Saint record, although I donít know when thatís supposed to happen yet. It was supposed to happen this year, but it didnít.

KNAC.COM: Probably a lot of it depends on the Anthrax release?
VERA: Yeah. I donít know whatís going on with them now.

KNAC.COM: I heard it was pushed back to early next year.
VERA: I did hear they got another setback. But I think itís coming out in Europe. Is it coming out in Europe this fall?

KNAC.COM: Iím not sure.
VERA: Because they have different deals. I mean, I canít speak for Anthrax, but with us, we have deals in Europe and Japan that are separate from America, so they might put something out in the fall or winter and then try to get it out in the U.S. around January or February. I donít know, but that does kind of leave a window open for Armored Saint, and the label, Metal Blade, really wanted us to have a record done by March, but that ainít gonna happen.

KNAC.COM: You know, I always get asked questions about when Armored Saint has a new record coming out, when youíre going to tour again, and so on.
VERA: My standard answer is these days, probably in a year, but not that July is a great time to release a record. I donít know when thatís going to be.

KNAC.COM: Itís just a matter of time, of getting everyone together.
VERA: The thing with Armored Saint is that we do really well in Europe, so the European office likes us to have a record out in the early part of the year so that we can play all the festivals in the summer and then do a European tour in the fall, like October or November. But that means you have to turn in a record -- they have a three-month lead time -- so if they want to have a record out by like March or April, which is ideal for them, you have to turn it in by January 1st. This year thatís severely pushing it, although you never know. Maybe this sudden spark of creativity will flourish, and there will be open window and opportunities, and everyone will want to do a record, and it will happen. But itís looking unlikely. Iím only saying that because of the Anthrax record more than anything. So if you look at it in those terms, it probably wouldnít make sense for the next Armored Saint record to come out until March of 2004, but that sounds like a LONG way away. [laughs]

KNAC.COM: Yes it does. Thereíll be a lot of disappointed people out there.
VERA: [laughs] So I donít want to say that it will take that long. I hope it doesnít take that long, because thatís too long for me even.

KNAC.COM: Well, maybe something will work out where you can do a U.S. tour before then, in the meantime. You never knowÖ
VERA: You never know. Never say never.

KNAC.COM: Well good luck on the record and the forthcoming tour and all the many projects.
VERA: Thank you. And thank you for spending time with me. That was really cool.


For more information on Engine, check out sorcerystudios.com or metalblade.com

Catch Engine in concert:

Fri 08/09/02 Anaheim, CA, The Shack
Sat 08/10/02 Reseda, CA, Paladino's
Sun 08/11/02 Concord, CA, Bourbon Street

(Live photos by Stephanie Cabral & studio photos by Alex Solca)

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