Can you tell us some more about your background as a musician and were you in any bands prior to Cea Serin?
Yeah, I started playing piano at age 12 after hearing this cool piano piece in a horror flick. I told my parents that I wanted to take lessons and that’s what started it all I guess. At 14 I started playing bass, 16 started taking vocal lessons, 18 came the drums and more formal vocal instruction. Keith started playing guitar and piano much earlier than I did. And I think he got serious about it at around 14 or so. The first band I was in was called Eleventh Hour and I was 16 at the time. I just played bass and sang backup for that band. I guess we were a proto-prog metal band cause our songs were complex and reasonably well written for our age. That was a great band to be in cause we were all so close to each other, it was like a family. However, that family just didn’t really agree on a musical direction. So after a year or so the band broke up and one of the guitarists and I left to form a band that was supposed to be “Pantera meets Dream Theater.” We hooked up with Keith Warman and Chad Suire and formed Ashen Dawn. That was extremely hard to handle cause we could never find a singer and I wasn’t good enough a singer to handle that duty yet. You would think that being in Baton Rouge, Louisiana would have just a ton of local musicians. Wrong. We searched for two years for a good singer and when we found him it still didn’t work out. There just aren’t any dedicated musicians in this area of the world I guess.
Cea Serin is a two-man band, and basically your brainchild. Why did you choose to do it this way and why didn’t you form a band to create your music?
When Ashen Dawn was still around I was writing some lyrics and music that the band wasn’t really agreeing on. I was really into Carcass and heavier stuff while the rest of the band was mostly into the melodic progressive or straight up metal stuff. This was frustrating to me. More so on the lyrical aspect. I remember I had this line in a song called “Eclipse” that the singer wanted to change.
“For all my violence, a moment silence
to the god who thinks I’m wrong
And in my glory I’ll tell you a story
of the demon that made me strong”
Well, the singer didn’t like the whole “demon” thing in it. But it wasn’t how it sounded. The song was about how we both have two sides to our personality (sometimes more). You have the side that is focused on the good and the side that is in on the bad. For me, I was getting to a point where the bad side was taking over. I realized this and had to make some strong decisions in my life. Whatever the outcome, my ordeal made me stronger. And thanks to the “demons” at the time that I had to stare down I became a better person. I wanted to have a band that I wouldn’t have to hold back on musically or lyrically. So I started using our keyboard/sequencer as a workstation for some new songs. One day I showed Keith some songs and he was really into them. When I had some songs completed he brought up the idea of doing a project with me. And that was really how Cea Serin came about. I wanted to have something that I could experiment with and enjoy myself doing instead of worrying what the others would think.
You work together with Keith Warman. What part does he play in Cea Serin and how did you hooked up with him?
Keith Warman is a very important part of the Cea Serin sound. After Eleventh Hour broke up I put an ad up in a music store stating that I was looking to form a band with a drummer and a singer. Keith and Chad were a package deal, just like Jamie Nauman (the other guitarist) and I was a package deal. They called us up and we hooked up. Keith and I had a lot in common musically. We both grew up listening to Barry Manilow and Yanni. We also had the same ideology for song writing. Whenever I write a song I pretty much know what I want the guitars to do. Sometimes I don’t, but most of the times I do. I’ll show Keith what I have and explain to him what is going on in the song. He’ll take that idea and put his guitarist twist on it. I never played the guitar, I’ve always played bass, but I have a six-string bass so it makes it easier to finish out chords and such. I intentionally add parts in there for Keith to solo over because I firmly believe that he is one of today’s best soloists. It is such a pleasure to run session with him while he is doing his solos. He has a great understanding of song texture and layers. He’ll take an idea of mine and spin it into something a hundred times better. He is also the guy that makes our stuff sound as good as it does. He used to hang out at a local studio where he picked up on a lot of recording knowledge. He also just has the intellect to pick up on new stuff and understand it when it comes to recording. If he were never a guitarist he would make a terrific recording engineer.
You released a first demo in ’97. How were the reactions on that tape from press and fans?
When I first began to send them out I was sending them out to the progressive metal audience. I guess I thought they would be the most open-minded. I thought everyone was just going to hate it and scream bloody murder about how much it sucked. But I was shocked that we didn’t get anything negative at all back from it. I was giving out free copies left and right and I sent out just hundreds of them. It took a big toll on my wallet but I think it was worth it. I started getting some real nice things said about us and it was great.
What are some of the more memorable responses you have had so far?
Label response was pretty decent I guess. But as far as reviews go there were a lot of European mags that were saying that if we were European we would already be signed. We had our three-song demo reviewed in the normal CD review section of SFP magazine and we beat out the likes of Marilyn Manson and such. I really don’t take reviews all that much to heart because it’s really just someone’s opinion of you. I like to hear it when people say that they have listened to it over and over and over again. That is what pleases me. And when I wrote “Into The Vivid Cherishing,” which was based on a real life experience that happened between my girlfriend and her terminally ill mother, I showed her the finished song and explained the lyrics which moved her to tears. Not that that is a good thing, but for an artist who’s job is to put himself in a situation and write about it, well, it was gratifying to see that I had pulled off my job.
Did you receive any reactions from labels?
Yeah, after the first demo, we were written to by Immortal Records in Poland and Cellar Records in the state. However after talking with them nothing materialized. I talked to Immortal for three months and it all seemed real cool but once I asked for documentation in writing so I could review it with a lawyer things just stopped.
On this new demo CD there are four songs. Can you tell us some more about each song, what they stand for, and about the lyrical content?
“Into the Vivid Cherishing” is about something that happened in my girlfriend’s life. Her mother was dying of cancer and she moved from Virginia to Louisiana to take care of her. She basically watched her mother die in front of her and in her own home. The type of cancer she had made her get to a point where she couldn’t physically move, she couldn’t even move her jaw to close it shut. So after I heard all these stories and all the pain that she had gone through it was such a moving ordeal. While writing the song I had this one image stuck in my head. That image really drove the song, and is probably why the song is so long. I had a picture of two people in a room together. One was sick and in bed and could not speak, the other was by her side and watched the images flicker on the wall from the TV, candle, and street light. I saw one person who had everything in the world to say to the other, but couldn’t find the words to say them. She wanted to comfort and help the other person but just couldn’t express it in words. The other person who was ill also had all the things in the world to say but couldn’t physically bring the words out. It was this quiet moment that was so sad for me to think of. Both people having so much to say, and memories to convey but just sat there in a room, waiting. The song also takes place before and after the ordeal and speaks about dealing with it all. Like the line: “sometimes at the mornings rise, I forget you’re gone.” That line is powerful to me cause I know that sometimes you wake up and you forget that a loved one is gone and then you realize what the reality is and it just sinks your soul.
“Holy Mother” is a strange tale indeed. I have known people who have taken drugs and experienced demonic things. But I have never known anyone who has had a religious experience through drugs. Holy Mother is about a person who, while tripping on a mind altering drug, sees the Virgin Mary in a pool of his own blood that trickled down from his arm. This is the first time that he has ever been touched by religion in any way. He feels calm and at peace and soon learns that this drug he is taking is the only ticket to feel that way. It now becomes about feeling like they are a part of something and some void is being filled in their life, and not about euphoria. The more he takes the long her sees her, and it takes more each time to see her. He then thinks that if by taking an overdose he can be with her forever.
“Sudden Faith pt. 1” is the first part of my question/answer song. I’ve also known people who have lived their lives devoid of faith because they didn’t want it to impede on their lifestyle. These same people find faith when faced with a serious crisis. They ask “why me, what did I do to deserve this?” And part two is the answer to that question.
You use clean vocals and also more aggressive vocals. Why this combination? I know a lot of people who like progressive music who get turned off when they hear cookie monster vocals.
I was always worried about people getting turned off by the drum machine aspect but I can see the death metal and black metal complaint too. My answer to that is that I really don’t care what people think. There are always 400 other generic sounding bands out there with Geoff Tate rip-offs they can listen to. Personally, when I listen to progressive bands and the singer gets to a point where the lyrics are supposed to be angry or frustrated or something, I just don’t buy it when they sing it clean. I’m sort of like an actor to others I guess. When the lyrics call for a growling or a screaming it is what the lyrics call for and I can’t deny that. The lyrics and music have a very intimate relationship for Cea Serin. Many bands write music without ever considering what the lyrics are going to be over it. For me, I know exactly what is going to happen. The death, black, and prog style vocalizing is just what the music and lyrics call for. I love it personally. Often times when I’m driving along and singing to a song and I feel that growling should be in there, I’ll put it in there. I really would like to do a cover album one day where I sing clean over Carcass and At The Gates and scream and moan over Conception and Fates Warning.
What do you consider progressive music?
My definition of this is always changing cause it seems that every time I give a definition someone comes around and challenges it. Recently I stated that “progressive” music was something that challenges the boundaries of modern music. Not so much about being technical but being intelligent. And then someone says something about Nine Inch Nails falling into that category. Okay, so I guess I have to change my definition. There has to be a strong level of musical competence and a high level of intelligence. Now, intelligence is a subjective term indeed. I hate lyrics that have gnomes and dragons in it, I just think that is so childish and impersonal. To me those types of lyrics really aren’t all that intelligent. What I’m talking about is music that is profound and intense. Progressive to me is taking what is expected of you and going beyond that. Moving people with your words and with the notes that you have strung together. Being a “musician” and not an “entertainer.” It is more art than a Billboard hit. Progressive is becoming beyond the norm and drawing new lines, opening your mind to new ideas and thoughts. This definition could go on and on but I think mostly it has a lot to do with a high level of musical competence, integrity, treading your own path, writing songs that have a deepness to it and writing songs with substance. I don’t want to name names or anything but I’ve picked up a lot of CD’s that sound progressive but are by no means “progressive.”
By who are you the most influenced?
That’s a tough one. I guess Megadeth would be a good answer cause that is what really started me off on my path to where I am today. But I’m constantly picking up new stuff along the way. There is a lot of Yanni in me, a lot of Chopin in me, there’s Anacrusis and Willie Nelson and church singers, there’s Yngwie and In Flames. I don’t know. I’m really influenced by what happens around me. Like whenever something happens to me, something pops in my head, whether it is a rhythm or a drum beat. But those things come from a conglomeration of things I’ve heard all throughout my life.
Between both demos is a pretty long time, why did it take you so long to come up with a new demo?
Man, we went through so much nonsense it wasn’t even funny. That’s a long story but basically we borrowed a digital 8 track from someone and half way through it chokes up on us. Okay, so we get a new hard drive and we have to start all over again. That’s finished so now it’s time to mix it. We have so much to mix we have to do it on computer so we bring it to a friends house and it takes half a year to do that just because we had to work around three schedules to get together. Then some tracks came up missing so I had to do those again. It just went on and on and on. And this time around we have all new stuff so no telling what crap is going to happen.
When you create new music, what conditions work best for you?
I really have to write alone. There were times when someone would come in the room with me while I was working on the parts on the sequencer and just sat down and listened and I had to stop. I have to be in the mood too. I’ll put a song aside for a month if I don’t have the right riff to go next in the mix. I don’t want to just sit down and bang out a song just to have a song. These are moments in my life and pieces of art for me. I take my time with all of them. I don’t need any special lighting, no drugs, no alcohol, no scents burning, none of that. I hear it first in my head and I’m at the point right now where I can translate that to my hands pretty quickly.
How does creating music help you personally?
It gives me a reason to wake up in the morning that’s for sure. Other than that I’d be dead a long time ago.
What gear do you use to create your music?
A lot less than it take to record it. For the first two demos I used a Roland D-20 as my sequencer/workstation. I do a lot of writing on acoustic bass and a lot more on my six string bass. That’s all it really takes. Now, I’m all set. I have a new Kurzwel K2500S keyboard that will allow me to play the music I’ve always wanted to play. For the next Cea Serin offering you’re going to hear some different stuff going on that’s for sure. But really it all goes on in my head first and then it’s just translated to the sequencer. I put in my drum tracks and now I’m able to orchestrate it all with the strings, the winds, the percussion…the whole deal. I’m very excited about my new setup.
Being a two piece band doesn’t make it easy to perform live. Is Cea Serin a studio project or do you also play live?
We started out as just a studio project but now we are looking at playing live. That is one of the reasons I got that new keyboard. It will allow us to play live. We have so much going on now it would be impossible to pull it off with the budget that we have. Give us some more time and we could be coming to your town pretty soon.
What are your views on the current underground scene?
I think metal is back where it belongs. I hated the whole late 80’s early 90’s thing where one cool band would come out and then you had like 50 copy cat bands following the same formula. Now those bands are all extinct. I think there are a lot of great bands out there, but I also think that with modern technology there are a lot of really horrible bands coming out with their own CD’s. But hey, if they sell copies and people like them, that’s great. Personally, I’m glad metal has been pushed back into the underground. It just goes to show that this form of music can’t be killed. Without going into the tired “metal rules” cliché which I hate so much I’ll say that we are a testament to the long-standing power of metal music. They took it off the radio and they took it off the MTV and years later we’re still around and doing pretty good. I’ve seen more metal CDs at my local record store than ever before. Who cares if they have names like Blood Tasty? It’s out there and thanks to bands like Marilyn Manson and Korn who have broken through the whole world knows that heavy music is around for a long long time.
If you had to choose the best ten albums of the century which ones would they be?
Well, I can only really chose the best albums for the past 23 years but my personal picks for my top ten favorite CD’s that I own in my collection are:
10) Sarah Brightman – Eden
9) Conception – In Your Multitude
8) Yanni – Live At The Acropolis
7) Cradle Of Filth – Dusk and Her Embrace
6) Carcass – Heartwork
5) Evergrey – The Dark Discovery
4) Sarah McLachlan – Fumbling Towards Ecstasy
3) Dream Theater – Images and Words
2) Lord Bane – Age Of Elegance
1) Yanni – In My Time
But that’s kind of a rough collection. The top 7 are definite main stays though.
If you want to add something go ahead.
If anyone would like to check us out we now have a CD available through mp3.com. We have currently sold out of everything we have in stock so we are offering a CD through the people at mp3.com. There is also something else I want to address. I know this has been said about a billion times, but I think we are all the same here. Whether you like death metal, or black metal, or gothic or whatever, we are all cut from the same thread. Instead of bashing your neighbor because they like an album you hate, just shrug it off, you both listen to the same kind of heavy music. I wish we had some kind of hand signal that we could throw at each other. I mean, besides the sign of the beast and all, cause not everyone is into that. A lot of times I’ll be on my college campus and I’ll see a guy wearing a cool metal band tee-shirt but we’ll sorta walk past each other and ignore that we’re there. I’d like to flash some symbol at that guy to tell him or her that I think that they’re cool. You might be wondering where all this is coming from. Well, I remember a story about how Paradise Lost went on tour and got the tour bus torched cause they weren’t “evil” enough. It’s junk like that that gives us all bad names.
Thanks for the interview time and choosing Cea Serin to support in your magazine. I appreciate it very much and value the time that I have spent writing this to you. It means a lot to me that you dug the music enough to want to hear more from us. Take care in the future and best of luck on whatever you do.