MindMaze are a promising band like no other. In a time when female-fronted metal is at an all-time high in popularity and also at an all-time high for imitators and copy-cats, this Pennsylvania-based group has strived to create a sound and identity all their own. The band’s debut album “Mask of Lies” was released in February 2013 and the band impressively sold 100% of the first pressing in just 14 months, including shipping copies to 35 different US states as well as 18 countries worldwide. The band accomplished all of this independently through hard work and a strong DIY work ethic.“Back from the Edge” is MindMaze’s sophomore effort which is released late October, through Inner Wound Recordings featuring Symphony X’s Mike LePond on bass and guest appearances by members of Stratovarius, LORD, Pharoah, and more.
An interview with Sarah (vocals) and Jeff (guitars) follows below.
TMR: Hey guys, this is ‘The Metal Resource’ from Holland, how are things going there in the U.S.?
Sarah: Good! Very busy, but everything is going well.
TMR: So, what’s the back story for MindMaze?
Jeff: Basically Sarah, Kalin, and myself formed a band called Necromance back in 2004 when we were very young. We played a lot of gigs and made a couple of poor quality demos under the name with a few other various members along the way. Around the beginning of 2012, when we decided to enter the studio to work on a professional debut album, we decided that we kind of wanted to clean the slate and come into our own as a legitimate band. And thus, MindMaze was born.
TMR: How did the current lineup fall into place?
Sarah: Well Kalin, Jeff and I have been together forever. We don’t officially have a bassist right now. Mike LePond has been covering most of the studio duties and some live shows and the rest of the live shows have been with our former bassist, who was on Mask of Lies, Rich Pasqualone. Before we went in to record Back From the Edge, Rich came to the decision that he wouldn’t be able to continue with the same level of commitment, so we contacted Mike about doing the album. Wev’e been asked if we’re going to be looking for a permanent bassist, but our current arrangement seems to be working well, so we’ll probably just stick with things as they are.
TMR: Where did the name come from?
Jeff: Honestly, we sort of just stumbled onto the name randomly when brainstorming potential names. It sort of just came out of nowhere, and everyone liked it, so we just went with it.
TMR: With respect to the band members, what sorts of things did everyone listen to growing up? Along those lines, what one album do you most remember growing up?
Jeff: As Sarah said, our family more or less listened to 80s/90s country music with a touch of classic rock while growing up. The first metal band I really liked was Metallica, around the time I was 11 – I think everyone goes through a Metallica phase at that age, haha. Shortly thereafter I discovered Iron Maiden, Dio, Black Sabbath, and a lot of the other “classics” of the traditional metal genre. After another year or so, I started getting into power metal, and then progressive metal. I can never pick just one album, so I’ll pick five. Iron Maiden – Brave New World, Queensryche – Operation : Mindcrime, Savatage – Streets, Edguy – Hellfire Club, and Dream Theater – Images and Words. Lately, I’m more inclined to say UFO – Strangers in the Night or Kansas – Masque. I’ve been huge into 80s stuff as of late.
Sarah: Jeff and I both listened to a mixture of country music and pop radio when we were very young, but started to get into metal and rock music in early adolescence. The one album I just remember obsessing over and being such a big deal for me was Operation: Mindcrime by Queensryche. I went through a Queensryche obsession in high school and that album was just unlike anything I’d ever heard and really started my love for concept albums and metal with theatrical elements.
TMR: How did you get into metal?
Jeff: Around the age of 11, I got into modern rock music and classic rock music, then I went through a brief Metallica phase before discovering Iron Maiden and falling in love, around the age of 12 or 13. After obsessing over all of the “classic metal” standards, I discovered power metal, then progressive metal, and it’s just been growing out from there ever since.
Sarah: I was about 13, as it was around the same time as Jeff, but I kind of started with more classic rock and just popular rock bands. The two bands that really started me with rock and metal were Bon Jovi and Aerosmith, then I started listening to heavier stuff like Tesla, Iron Maiden and Queensryche.
TMR: Is anyone involved in any side projects?
Sarah: Not really. We’ve had guest work here and there, but no official side projects.
TMR: For Jeff, what guitar players were a big influence on you and do you feel have an impact on your sound and approach to songwriting.
Jeff: Adrian Smith is probably my single biggest influence overall between his approach to solo composition, feel, tone, and songwriting. Some of the players who influenced him are also big influences of mine, such as Michael Schenker and Gary Moore. I’m also really into John Sykes, Mark Reale, Neal Schon, and Criss Oliva. I’m definitely more of an “old school” style player, but for newer guys, I really do love John Petrucci and Gus G, whose songwriting work with Firewind and Dream Evil was a big influence on the power metal side of our sound. For more progressive stuff, writers like Jim Matheos, Tom S. Englund, and Jon Oliva were big influences as well.
TMR: How does the songwriting process usually go? Lyrics first, music first, other? Does one person take the lead on a song by song basis?
Jeff: Usually I will gather a few riffs and melodies and start to flesh out an idea on my own, and then I’ll bring that to everyone else. I occasionally throw a demo together on my own with programmed drums – but then everyone sort of takes what I’ve started and adds their own flavor to it, and then after we’ve got the music arranged, Sarah will start to work on lyrics and vocal melodies.
TMR: There are quite a few guests on Back from the Edge. How did all of those come about? Were songs designed around having guests on them? How do those parts transfer to the live setting? Who would be the ultimate guest performer on a MindMaze album?
Jeff: None of the songs were really designed with the purpose of having guests, we just decided to ask people to contribute guest parts for things we couldn’t do on our own. There’s some songs where I really wanted the feeling of a trade-off guitar solo, and in the case of “Moment of Flight”, I couldn’t perform a keyboard solo up to the standard of what I wanted for the track. All of the guests are people we know personally to some degree, though I’ve never met one or two of them in person. Everyone was fantastic to work with.
TMR: How does an epic song like ‘Onward (Destiny Calls II)’ happen? How long does a song of that magnitude take to record?
Sarah: This one took a bit longer, not really because of the length of the song or complexity, but just because it required so many layers. In a song like this, there were a lot more keyboards and orchestration that needed to be added than most of the other songs. Adding in all the textures is what really took extra time. The subject and a lot of the composition for this song was easier than it seems because it was a sequel to Destiny Calls, so a lot of the subject matter and musical themes were already worked out.
TMR: How did the band manage to get the global audience for “Mask of Lies”. Do you see a similar distribution of sales for “Back from the Edge”? Any plans to tour to any of those places?
Sarah: The global audience we got for Mask of Lies was actually quite impressive to us just because of being an independent band with no label or management. We really did everything ourselves. We just worked as hard as we could to promote ourselves and get things out there as much as we could. With Back From the Edge, we have Inner Wound’s help with some of the distribution and promotion. They have a bigger built in audience and access to more of the right places to put our music. I kind of see us just expanding on our audience and just growing the numbers of fans in specific areas. We definitely plan to play a lot in the US next year (2015) and look to play in Europe in 2016.
Jeff: All in all, this album came together pretty quickly and easily. We started pre-production around the end of 2013, started actual tracks in February, and were mixing by May. We worked with the same engineer as we did on our debut, so there was a great working relationship and a familiarity that made things go very smoothly.
TMR: The album is released through ‘Innerwound Recordings’, how did you get signed by them ?
Jeff: A friend of the band who does work for Inner Wound told me to consider submitting music to them for consideration, so we did just that, and he helped it get brought to the attention of the label. We were approached and made offers by other labels, but the deal with Inner Wound seemed to be the one that made the most sense for us. They also are a relatively new and exciting label that has a history of working with quality bands thus far.
TMR: About the cover artwork. Do you think it is as important as your music? Does it visualize the lyrics of your songs or what’s the actual story behind its concept?
Jeff: I wouldn’t say that the artwork is quite AS important as the music, but it is pretty important in getting the music recognized by new people and helping give the band an identity.
TMR: Any tour plans in general?
Sarah: In general, just more shows in the US. We’re looking to try to travel more in 2015 and get to some areas of the country we haven’t made it to yet. We’re looking into Canada fro maybe late 2015 and then definitely trying to get to Europe in 2016. I’d like to get some more support shows for touring bands, hopefully even a small leg of dates on a tour.
TMR: If you could pick a band to tour with, who would it be? And where would the tour go?
Jeff: Of all the bands we’ve had the privilege of playing with, Saxon and Primal Fear were the two bands we hit it off the most with and felt our styles meshed best with in the live environment. Doing a European tour with either of these bands would be a dream come true for us.
TMR: As a band today, what do you think is the biggest challenge you face?
Jeff: Honestly, the lowered barriers to entry for the industry has screwed things up. There’s very little quality control anymore, and while it’s great that so many great bands with limited means can make professional quality records and reach fans worldwide, for a lot of people, things just seem like a huge noisy vacuum at this point, and most people have just sort of turned off entirely because there’s very little difference between a truly professional band and a garage band that purchased pro tools software and made some recordings, haha. Labels have become increasingly useless, but they can still accomplish great things in some situations, and ultimately, the public is still reluctant to take a truly independent band seriously.
TMR: What is the most embarrassing music on your phone or in your collection and how do you justify it to others?
Sarah: Haha! Well I guess that depends on who you’re talking to. The most generally embarassing stuff I have is either country music, I still am a fan of the things I grew up with and just some general pop music. I’m just a sucker for well written catchy pop songs I guess. Sometimes it really puts you in a feel good mood without having to think about it much.
TMR: What would be the ultimate cover tune for MindMaze?
Sarah: I have so many it’s too difficult to choose! We all have different specific tastes, so I’m not sure there’s a single song that would be ideal for each of us. One of our choices we had on our cover song list we gave to Kickstarter backers to vote on was “Queen of Spades” by Styx which I thought would’ve been really neat to do.
TMR: What is your favorite concert that you saw and what made it so good?
Jeff: This is nearly an impossible question. I’ve probably been to almost 200 concerts at this point, and so many of them have been great for different reasons. Some bands are great because they sound great, others are technically brilliant, and a lot of bands have a really entertaining vibe on stage. My top 10 list of favorite bands/shows I’ve ever seen would be (in no particular order): Saxon, King’s X, Iron Maiden, Primal Fear, Pain of Salvation, Symphony X, Fates Warning, DGM, Winger, and Evergrey.
TMR: Does MindMaze have any difficulty or face problems with acceptance because you have a female singer?
Sarah: Sadly, yes. There are still a number of people out there who have written off all female fronted bands. Some of it is sexism and some of it is just bias because some people heard a few female fronted bands they didn’t like or thought sounded similar, so they’ve decided that they all “sound the same”. It’s difficult to deal with, but I just try not to worry about those people. Whatever their reasons, biased people will rarely be swayed from their opinions, so I just try to focus on those who do support us and do enjoy what we’re doing.
TMR: Guys, thank you for your time and the interview. We wish Mindmaze all the best for 2015… Is there anything you wanna add?
Sarah: Just thank you so much to everyone out there supporting the band and enjoying our music! We hope to see you all on the road eventually!
Sarah Teets – Vocals
Jeff Teets – Guitars, backing vocals
Kalin Schweizerhof – Drums
Jan 10 Metro Gallery, Baltimore, MD
Video below ‘Back from the Edge’
Interview by John Jackson & Thrashboy