I was completely blown away by listening to the debut album from Cea Serin. “Where Memories Combine” is an album that without any exaggeration triggered my interest on progressive metal again. Being a fan of progressive, I was convinced that this genre is walking to its end slowly and only few would remain to hold it. But with new bands like Cea Serin, progressive metal will always have a future. The mastermind of the band, J. Lamm kindly accepted to answer my questions. Enjoy.
Hello J. First of all I need to congratulate you once more for this magnificent album called “Where Memories Combine.”
Thank you, I’m glad you enjoyed it.
Secondly, thanks for taking the time to answer my questions. To start off the discussion, when I listen to the Cea Serin music, I can only categorize it as the so called progressive genre. I know you must hate categorizing; however you describe your music as “mercurial metal”. I wanted to ask you what difference you think there is between progressive and mercurial metal and what is so mercurial in your music?
Yes, I didn’t really want to be lumped into the pot of the Dream Theater, Fates Warning, Prog Band X, because I feel that if people keep hearing about Cea Serin being this progressive metal band they’ll probably be disappointed with the CD if they get it. I don’t want them to think that I sound like Geoff Tate or James LaBrie because I’m not that kind of a singer. I’m talking vocally, of course, right now. The vocals being the most obvious difference in the prog genre. I use a lot of death metal growls and black metal screams, and at times a bit of the Mr. Doctor (of Devil Doll) acting in the singing. I think most prog metal fans will find this repellent in a sense because its not as catchy or melodic. However, the vocals are done in a way to compliment the music (or play off the music some times) and do the lyrics justice.
The second difference in the prog vs. Mercurial is the music. I call it “mercurial” metal because I bring my various influences to the table in different forms. The Yanni influence that I have may not be as apparent on the “…where memories combine…” CD but it will be on the next album. The “adult contemporary instrumental” style (as Yanni puts it) is more prevalent in the keyboards than in the rock instruments. Aside from the obvious death/black and prog metal stylings we’ll shift in styles into other genres. Flamenco guitar with extreme vocals, latin percussion, celtic tap dancing, etc. There are also other songs people haven’t heard yet that combine industrial elements and so on. I plan on writing more material in this unexpected vein. There was even a point where Keith did a country style solo over an older song but we ended up scratching it because it didn’t hold to the concept or flow of the song.
I believe it is mercurial in the sense that you don’t know what is going to come out next. What will the vocals and/or music do in one minute will change in the next. But the challenge for me is to keep in a strong context; a cohesive structure and flow is my purpose in the song writing.
Can you give us a small biography of the band so that the readers can know a little bit about the history of Cea Serin?
Sure. Cea Serin started off just with myself. I had been in a band with Keith prior to Cea Serin called Ashen Dawn. This band was a more straight forward melodic metal band in the style of Crimson Glory and Vicious Rumors but a bit more technical. While in this band i had grown to want to do different things that didn’t really fit into the concept of Ashen Dawn. I happened upon a drum machine that I paid for in half with Keith and I began to work on songs that were current to my past and present playlist. As i worked on these songs I ended up becoming more accustomed to song writing. I listened to different bands in what they did to get inspiration. I messed with different sounds and structures, and so on. When I had a couple of songs I showed them to Keith and he immediately liked them. Months went by and he brought up the idea of maybe doing a project with these songs that didn’t fit into the Ashen Dawn formula. This would be our first demo.
So basically, I began in a small melodic progressive metal band and started to do my own thing that happened to get more interest and enjoyment out of myself. I could write the lyrics I wanted without worrying about what others would say. I didn’t have to “okay” any parts with anyone. It was all just a process of me finding myself musically and lyrically while learning how to write music with modern equipment.
I read on your note on the CD, that Cea Serin does not hold a stable line-up for reasons that we are going to discuss later. Doesn’t this make things a lot harder with any live shows you might want to do or even with the progress/composing of the band?
No. First, here is how we do things. I’ll write the songs and when they are done I present them to Keith to record. I’ll show him what I have written and he’ll take those guitar parts and make them his own. I’m more a bass player than a guitarist so my skills are lacking in the lead and rhythm guitar playing department. When he takes what I have written he’ll often change a thing or two up and make it sound much cooler. For example, the opening riff to “Meridian’s Tear” The first four measures was what I had originally written, and when the riff changes slightly the last four measures that is what he took and improved upon. I write all the drum, keyboard, bass, and lyrics. Keith takes the guitar parts and improves them. I’ll also come up with the bizarre ideas and it’s Keith’s job to interpret that into the recording process. I came up with the tap dancing thing and what I wanted her to do, but it was Keith that took that tap dancing performance and chopped it up into sections and placed them into the audio, rearranging the original tap dance solo into something much cooler.
As far as playing live goes….
I honestly never really enjoyed playing live. You got a bunch of people just staring at you either really into it or just examining what you’re doing waiting for mistakes. I never could deal with drummers so I would be happy playing with a drum machine live. We’ve had a drummer in the past that did a great job with the material but it didn’t work out for one reason or another. Also, people keep telling me that no one will accept the material if we use a drum machine….which makes me want to do it even more.
In a live setting I just wanted to sing so I could move around and not be a stationary singer. The bassist and Keith did the backing vocals, Forrest did some death metal backing vocals. The keyboard ran a click track to the drummer which played to a click and a drum program so he would know where he was at. All the while I had the keyboards sequenced and running to the mixing board. It sounded okay I think.
On many parts of your note, I got clearly the point that you do not want the members of Cea Serin to elevate their selves through the music. For this reason, you do not send photos to magazines and you alter the line up quite a lot. Although I don’t agree with such a strategy, why do you think there is fear that each one of you will shroud the music?
It seems silly to me when I buy a CD and immediately when I open the CD up there is a band photo. Like they’re the most important part of the product. I got this one metal CD and I swear there were four band photos in it. ‘Just in case you don’t know what we look like, here is another photo.’
This is mainly done because they want to be stars. They want people to recognize them. They want to be validated for what they do. They perform great on a CD and they put it out there with their faces on it just waiting to be worshiped. That’s one huge problem with music today. People get into cause they can’t wait to be in the magazines. Time and time again I see interviews with people that remark about how excited they are to be on the cover of Magazine X because they’ve ‘read it for so many years.’
Everyone wants to be a star. There are also those people out there that pick up a magazine or see a video and they judge a band by their appearance. Labyrinth has gotten flack in the past for wearing capes in their band photo. Metallica got crap for cutting their hair. The Kovenant changed to a more Marilyn Manson look and everyone remarked about that. There are going to be those people that look at a band and see that one guy is wearing a Rhapsody shirt and they’re never going to want to hear that band cause they think that they must sound just like Rhapsody. So there is that aspect of it. There is also the aspect that I want to take band photos that are vastly different than other bands. I’m not saying I want to raise the bar, I’m just saying I want to see a change.
I actually took band photos for the new CD. You can see this photo on the back cover I sent you. I made some mannequins to represent the three of us in this band. I made a chest cavity by blowing up a large balloon and wrapping it quilting string and then covering it up with watered down glue. When it dried I popped the balloon and voila, I had a chest cavity. I filled this void with certain items that represented us, and I had gold spirals coming out of the cavities as well. Our arms had chains around one limb and flower arrangements around another, and I used a torn up old couch in a natural and beautiful setting. It took a long time and the details are too much to get into (plus, the photo doesn’t show them all, but I know its there) but it looks pretty different and gets my point across.
My face isn’t why people go and buy a Cea Serin CD. My face doesn’t matter. People shouldn’t be star struck when they meet their favorite band in their home town. I’m no different than anyone else and should not be treated like I’m special. Putting my image on a CD would just be some vain attempt to try and get women and stroke my ego.
Back to the music now. One thing I noted through the songs is that although you have quite a lot of complex parts, you keep a balance on the songs. For example, there is always a verse, a bridge and a very melodic chorus dressed up with instrumental parts. Do you agree with that and why do you think that Cea Serin need to have all these instrumental parts? Does it help you to build maybe an atmosphere that you want, a sort of “A picture contains 1000 words?”
Well first, I write the music and don’t even think of the lyrics. I know what the song is about and I’m writing the music to correspond with certain images in my head. I just try to write the best music I can. When I’m done I decide where those lyrics are going to go and what is going to be without lyrics. Sometimes there will be a part that’s cool by itself and I can’t imagine putting lyrics to it. I do have verses and choruses and bridges and things like that, but not necessarily in that order. I structure the song as if it was an argument and the chorus is where I get to my point in a very clear way. I like a very strong chorus. I want it to hit the listener hard like the song was cool up to that point and just got cooler. Could the songs use an edit to make them shorter and cut out the instrumental sections? Sure, but then again I would be subscribing to a theory of mine that I hate.
I believe that songs are the general length they are today because the song writers have been conditioned to write them that way. We have all grown up listening to pop music in one form or another. Whether we grew up listening to Motley Crue, The Cure, or Megadeth, it’s all popular music. And these musicians who write these songs want their music to be heard. How do they get heard? Through the radio and MTV, that’s how. You can’t be on the radio if you have a ten minute long song. And unless you’re Michael Jackson you’re not going to have a 10 minute long video played on MTV. Why would a radio station want to play one song when they can play 3? I will not subscribe to this ideology of 3 minute radio edit songs.
So even the most extreme metal band is writing songs of this duration and of this structure. It’s not their fault, it’s how they grew up. If the only thing you listened to growing up was Devil Doll and and avante garde music then that’s how you would structure your own songs.
No thank you, none of that please.
I have read that you draw your influences throughout experiences in life. I can understand that lyrically, but how does this work with actually composing music?
I’m not sure how other song-writers get their music but I’ll explain how my ideas come. Some people just sit at their guitar and noodle around for an hour before a riff materializes itself. Some artists just play their piano and mess around until something sticks. I’m a bit different. When something happens to me, when I see something, when i hear something, when i read about something, etc. music immediately pops into my head. It’s important to continue to stretch your knowledge of your instrument to become a better idea-translator. Maybe this is how everyone does it, I don’t know. This is how I do it.
For instance, I’ll see a movie that has a small thing in it that I think is cool. That small second gives me an idea and I start to think about it. When I get to a certain inspired point in this creation of an idea the music pops into my head as a soundtrack to that idea.
Recently I had this idea of a girl that kills herself in her home. Her parents are rich and have a nice big house with a second floor. She ends up jumping off the second floor and breaking her neck in the living room below. This family just happens to have a son with Downs Syndrome as well. I kept thinking about how this death would affect him. And I thought about how everyday when this girl came home from school she would practice piano, not that great of a player, just a beginning player but the brother didn’t know this. He would stay upstairs or watch her around the corner as she would play and he would envy how she could play the way she did. We know one would look, he would try to play the piano like her, but for some reason it didn’t sound the same. But now he sits in his room and he hears no piano, doesn’t understand why she hasn’t come home to play. He goes in her room and sits on her bed, watching the door for her to come home. The parents are in another room and there is an entire different situation with that. But for this one scene I composed this small piano intro for this song that deals with the ignorance of loss, anticipation for something you’ll never hear again, anxiety of not being able to understand. It’s my own challange to put myself in these situations I make up in my head and to do it justice. But when I was thinking about his scene in my head: of an overhead shot of the living room, moving up the stairs, looking at the family pictures, going across the hall and seeing the brother in the sisters room, laying down on the bed and waiting for her to come home, that whole thought just put the music into my head….I just had to translate it.
That was an imagined situation that deals with real life, so the same thing goes when I experience something in my own life…the music just comes.
Does Keith Warman (lead and rhythm guitars) does actually participate on the song writing or he is only doing the guitar parts on the songs?
Like I said before he’ll take a guitar part I’ve written and improve upon it. He’ll also make suggestions while we are recording to change the drum sound, add a thing here or there. He has a lot to say about vocal performance, melodies and harmonies while we are recording also. The first time he hears the vocals is when I’m recording them for the first time. So it’s pretty fresh to both of us when we are recording. Because of that he can say things like, ‘make it more fragile’ or ‘try this note instead.”
He is the reason why the production sounds as good as it does. He really labors over the recorded material to bring out the best in it. The solos are all his too. It’s one of my favorite times in recording when we get to the solos. It’s great seeing how it comes together. He’ll start off with a great improvised solo and just build on it. Take all the great aspects of the improvisation and just build some of my favorite guitar solos.
Also some times when I’m playing guitar parts and Forrest or Keith is around, they’ll make suggestions to me. And these suggestions often work their way into the mix somehow.
“Where Memories Combine” will be released through Heavencross records if I am not mistaken. In which parts of the world this album is going to be released according to the deals you have up to now and are we going to see the albums on many European countries in the future?
Around February of 2004 Heavencross is going to try and secure some license deals throughout Europe. I’m hoping we will get all of Europe covered. Also, we have an American deal in the works so it will be released there as well. Also, we are working on Japan right now. Hopefully, if interest grows for Cea Serin it will be easier to secure markets for our music. It is so important to me that the music is heard. I know that I am always looking for a new CD that will change my life. I honestly love Cea Serin and I think that if I love it so much that others will enjoy it just as well.
For the rest of my life I will be listening to Yanni’s “In My Time,” Sarah McLachlan’s “Fumbling Towards Ecstasy,” Lord Bane’s “Age of Elegance,” and Devil Doll’s “Dies Irae.” I would love to know that somewhere out there is a person who feels the same way and is affected by the music of Cea Serin like my favorite artists affect me.
I know that you are going to play on the Prog Power Pre Party and the Metal Mercy Benefit. If you have done them already please tell us about your experience there if not tell us what does it mean for you and the band to play such festivals?
We have already played those gigs. I’m a bit negative about our past live experiences. I don’t want to talk bad about anyone, cause certainly I have my own faults, but everything was just thrown together in a short space of time. The bass player we had called me up and wanted to put the band together specifically to play at the Prog Power pre party in Atlanta. I said yes and had no idea how to do this stuff live. So for months the core three of Cea Serin were traveling to Houston, Texas every weekend to practice with this hired rhythm section. The material is far too complex to just get together on the weekends for an extended practice so we never got as tight as I wanted.
I also had some problems with the people; there were personal issues that would be low class of me to drag out in the open as well. So the experience wasn’t a positive one.
It was nice that there were people moved by the performances though. There were a couple of people that came a long way to see us that night who had been waiting for a live Cea Serin show for a long time. It was nice to give that to them. It was also nice to prove that, one way or another, we could pull it off live.
And please tell us about your future plans on touring. I guess we will not be seeing you a lot in Europe, or there is going to be any nice surprise?
If there is a big demand for us to play in Europe I can’t see why we shouldn’t go. Of course, there will be money issues. Will we be able to afford to go over there for a limited number of shows? We’re signed to an independent label so we’ll just have to see how things go. I would love to play out of our country though. I’ve traveled through a lot of the U.S. and love traveling. I love seeing new places and seeing how each region and each section has its own culture and brand of people. Every place has a different reaction and a different style.