Interview

STEEL KINGDOM

STEFAN had a talk with guitarist MIKE CAPUTO


Metal To Infinity


A few month ago, New York based Steel Kingdom sent me their debut album entitled ‘’Reforged / Refined to review which I did with an overwhelmed passion for the US Metal movement in general. Yeah, I was satisfied with an album like this – I’ve promised guitarist Mike Caputo to set up an interview when the time was right… at this own moment, it’s time to comply that promise! 

Q: Hey Mike – what up there in the US at the moment brother… did the holiday season went good? 

A: We’ve had some down time here of late that has allowed us to focus on writing and arranging new material…which always makes me happy.  Personally, if I’m not musically creative for an extended period of time, it finds another way out.  So playing the same songs out over and over begins to bore me after a while.  It was time to be creative again.

 

Q: As promised a while ago, I’d like to know some more about the early days of Steel Kingdom as well as I'm curious about the present and future plans of the band. Feel free to tell how SK came to exist. Where the band name comes from Mike? 

A: Steel Kingdom originally formed as Pitch Black about seven or eight years ago.  The name changed because so many bands are called Pitch Black, although there are a bunch out there with Steel Kingdom, but not as many.  It better reflects the band’s sound and influences.  Of the original line-up, only our drummer TK Kennedy and singer Sean Williams remain.  Guitar changed when I came on board in 2006, we added a keyboard player, shed keyboards, added another guitarist, and went through a bunch of bassists. 

In terms of the sound, we’ve evolved constantly and we’re finally coming close to where I envision the sound.  I hope to continue to evolve.  If not, you sound stagnant, trite, dated…whatever you want to call it…but when you stop evolving, you stop being relevant.  That being said, it’s equally important to acknowledge where you came from with respect to your influences.   

 

Q: What were the first ambitions that showed up those days? 

A: We’ve always wanted to play as a tight unit, impress all that listen, and reach as many people as possible.  In today’s age, musicians have much more opportunity to reach people.  The Internet has been a great tool, although some might disagree because it has levelled the playing field in many ways.  Anyone can record an album and sell their music. 

I believe it’s revealed that talent exists everywhere, not just from those signed to a major record company.  Making a living at it is as risky as it’s always been, and it’s not the life I choose.   Each of us in Steel Kingdom has other jobs and family responsibilities, so that limits some of our options…but it’s a well balanced way to make music and perform.

 

Q: How hard finding the right guys to compete the entire line-up? Which guys came on board right from the start and what’s the situation on that point these days?  

A: It’s been a bit tiring finding the right mix of people, but finding the right people often takes trial and error.  When I first started jamming with TK (drums) and Sean (vocals), I knew they were keepers.  We added a second guitarist recently.  His name is Jeff Cummings.  Jeff and I were friends in college and we were in a band named Senebyss during the 90’s. 

We parted ways for a while as our lives took us in different directions, but when the opportunity arose to get Jeff on board with Steel Kingdom, I was very excited.  Jeff and I developed as guitarists at the same time and our styles compliment each other.  Frankly, I’ve never felt comfortable working with another guitarist – except Jeff.  Our new bassist is Christian Pelligrino.  We auditioned him after putting out an ad. 

Turns out, he and Sean travelled in the same circles many years ago.  There was no decision to be made; Christian was a perfect match for the new Steel Kingdom.  As I mentioned, we dropped the keyboards.  Stylistically, it was holding us back, and adding Jeff gave us exactly what we needed. 

 

Q: Each one of the Steel Kingdom members can be considered as well skilled – for example: singer Sean Williams followed lesson at the Hochstein School Of Music, you were totally praised in one of the greatest guitar mags called Guitar Player as ‘one of the finest shredders’ which definitely means a lot, right? 

A: Yes, we’re all pretty well schooled overall.  As you mentioned, Sean studied formally at Hochstein.  As a matter of fact, Christian also studied there.  TK is also very experienced.  Jeff and I went to the State University of New York at Fredonia.  They have a top-notch music school and my experience there was quite valuable. 

It exposed me to many styles, and I learned to combine those elements into my own approach.  I really enjoy playing with the guys in Steel Kingdom because we can all speak the same language.  I don’t want to give music lessons to a band-mate.  I expect them to keep up, and everyone in Steel Kingdom knows their stuff.   

I was featured by Mike Varney in the November 2005 issue of Guitar Player magazine.  Honestly, it was quite an honour coming from the guy who discovered Yngwie.  This was while I was a member of the prog band Mind Sky.  We got really good reviews of our CD titled Timewise, and it sold well.  I’m still very much a prog lover.  Most of my favorite bands/musicians come from that background…

Yes, Genesis, UK, King Crimson, and more recently Spock’s Beard, The Flower Kings, Cross, and Magic Pie.  But prog gets stuffy after a while and I always find myself gravitating back toward metal.  The bands I admire most combine the sophistication of prog with the energy of metal.  Personally, I cite Dream Theater, Symphony X, Sonata Arctica, Fates Warning, and Savatage as my all time favourites.

 

Q: Have you followed special training by a famous guitar instructor or so? By the way, name a few shredders you always looked up to Mike – what makes them so special? 

A: I was lucky enough to spend time studying with Frank Gambale, who played guitar with the Chick Corea electric band.  This got me well versed in jazz.  A few other players I took some private lessons from are Andy Timmons, Steve Kahn, and Matt Smith…none of them true “metal” players, but all giving me important insight into playing tastefully.  My “guitarist” influences tend to be a bit different from “band” influences. 

I went through the typical shredder journey, digesting Paul Gilbert, Yngwie Malmsteen, Jason Becker, Steve Vai, Al DiMeola, and the like.  But I very much like more new age composers like Michael Hedges and Alex DeGrassi.  I find the varied background gives me a wider appeal, and makes playing guitar more fun and interesting for me.  I released an album of acoustic and classical music too, so I’m always writing something and applying different techniques.

 

Q: So, line up completed and rehearsals took place right on I guess – did everything went right during the first period of existence? 

A: At this point, things are great.  We have no weak spots in terms of musicality, no personality clashes, no tension whatsoever.  This allows us to get down to writing and performing without the distractions that often infect other bands.

 

Q: What about the song writing process Mike – who’s in charge for that kinda task? 

A: That’s an interesting question.  The short answer is that we’re all in charge of song writing.  However, we tend to break it down to focus on each of our strengths.  That is, the skeleton of a song is presented, and we all contribute by putting flesh on it…so to speak.  For instance, TK as a drummer makes a major contribution to the development of a song, and I think that’s reflected in some of our stuff.  You can hear this clearly on the instrumental There is a Time on Reforged/Refined.   

STEEL KINGDOM - New Line-Up from L to R

TK-Drums / MIKE-Guitar / JEFF-Guitar / CHRISTIAN-Bass / STEVE-Keys / SEAN-Vocals 

Q: How important is the content of a song to you?  

A: Very important.  I sincerely feel each note I play, and I try to do the same with lyrics.  I’m not into writing junk tunes that have no meaning or relevance in the listener’s life…it’s too easy.  Sean and I collaborate on lyrics, and I tend to draw from my professional experiences.  We usually focus on emotional experiences, and the subsequent introspection that comes from it. 

The Ties That Bind on Reforged/Refined is a pretty good example of this.  That being said, a song like Face Your Fear is intended to go right for the jugular without too much time spent dwelling on metaphors.    

 

Q: Before the release of “Reforged / Refined – has SK made some demo stuff or not? 

A:  Actually, Steel Kingdom released a full length CD with the original line-up before I was in the band.  But we’ve been through so many changes since then, that for all practical purposes, it’s now a different band.  On Reforged/Refined, I had to interpret some of the material from the previous line-up.  I think we did a reasonably good job at creating an album that has distinction from the first album, but still retains the core vibe of the band.

 

Q: Who came with the idea: “c’mon guys, let’s record our first full length album? 

A: I pushed that pretty hard.  As I mentioned, they had the first album out, but I wasn’t on it. It was a different band, and making Reforged/Refined allowed us to usher in a new era for Steel Kingdom.  

 

Q: Meanwhile, I reviewed that album in pure honesty – were you agree with the lines I wrote about? 

A: I found your comments to be very close to our own beliefs about the album and our place in the metal scene.  Thank you for that.  It’s always nice to be appreciated. 

 

Q: Reforged / Refined - Any particular reason why you took a title like this? 

A: We wanted to represent change from the previous line-up.  Also, the content was a bit heavier. 

 

Q: Can you tell to which category of Metal fans this album can be recommended? 

A: Power metal, with progressive elements.

 

Q:  How many times “Reforged / Refined” has been sold so far Mike? Are you completely satisfied with the final result of this product? 

A: We’re making profit on it at this point, but we always want to sell more…it’ll make funding the next one that much easier.  It’s really not about making money (not that I mind making money), but anyone who makes music they love will agree that sincerity is more important.  Sincerity has longevity, and it’s something you can be proud of.  My young kids know most of the songs I’ve recorded over the years and sing along…and that make me very happy...a new generation of metal heads! 

As with any creative project, there are always things that could have been done better.  In retrospect, there were some production issues could have had more attention, but the song content is strong and the vibe is there…and that is the most important thing.

 

Q: Please guide us through a few of the songs’ content? What’s the story behind… 

A: I find I’m not a very good storyteller.  Rather, I prefer making observations and relating them to how I view life.  As I said, Sean and I collaborate on lyrics.  Lyrically, I really like The Ties That Bind, Believe, and The Storm in Me.  We always try to have a positive message in the end.  I’m not a big fan of doom and gloom all the time.  That’s not how I want to live my life, so why write that way?  I prefer to acknowledge struggles we all live with, and how they shape our view of the world.    

 

Q: Released by Prism Break Records – I’ve never heard of this label but I'm sure you can tell more about it, right? 

A: Prism Break is owned by members of Steel Kingdom (including myself) and our engineer.  It’s a way of keeping the finances rolling and not be under the thumb of someone else.  We’ve had other offers, but none that we’re comfortable with at the moment.  If a bigger label wanted to take us in, we’d consider it if it didn’t interfere with other aspects of our lives.   

 

Q: Is the album still available to order? Where? 

A: Absolutely.  Helmut Underground in Europe.  The End Records in the US.  A bunch of other online distros have it too.  CD Baby and Itunes are probably the easiest ways.  There are links right from our website and myspace.  We always respond to direct emails, so you can also just drop us a line at our myspace. 

 

Q: What to imagine from a Steel Kingdom live performance? Ever played outside the US so far and what are the ambitions based on touring only? 

A: Well, my passport is expired, so I don’t think they’ll let me leave here at the moment.  But seriously, we haven’t played outside the US, but would love the opportunity if it came along.  We wouldn’t mind a slot at Wacken...got any connections?      

We truly try to give the audience an energetic performance.  It’s like Paul Gilbert once said…perform like AC/DC, and play like Yngwie.  We play throughout the northeast US and are branching out beyond that as our schedules and finances allow.

 

Q: Am I right while saying there is a new SK album in the works? If you can confirm that – help me out of my curiosity by telling some more about what the album will bring us all later on?   

A: Yes, most of the material has been written and we’ll begin recording in the coming months.  There were valuable lessons learned on Reforged/Refined that will only make the forthcoming album better.  On Reforged/Refined, there was some pressure to get an album out with the new line-up.  Despite that, we were able to heavy up the sound and move the songs into the direction we wanted.  I think there is an energy that came across on Reforged/Refined because of that pressure. 

But now, we have the chance to pay closer attention to production elements while retaining the energy of Reforged/Refined, and the songs are a great reflection of where we are in terms of style, both musically and lyrically.  We’re taking our song writing and sound to the next level on the forthcoming album.  By now you might realise that I’m REALLY excited about recording the next album! 

 

Q: What is your vision on the nowadays world wide Metal scene in general? What type of Metal you praise the most of all – why? 

A: Actually, there’s a lot of great metal out there.  Its not as tainted by commercial pressures and that allows for improved musicianship and creativity overall.  Of course, the down side is there’s less money in it because more people are making records.  But there’s an abundance of great music out there.  I like all of the sub-types of metal…each one has something different to offer.  My preference is for progressive metal, but a lot of the newer metal is great too. 

Killswitch Engage, Lamb of God, and Shadows Falls seem to be on the front lines in the US.  In Europe, I really like Firewind and Rhapsody.  But in terms of classic thrash metal, we wouldn’t be here if it weren’t for the trailblazers - Testament, Slayer, Metallica, Megadeth, Pantera, Anthrax, and Flotsam & Jetsam.  I feel very fortunate that Steel Kingdom has been able to open for many of our favourite bands like Sonata Arctica, Overkill, Epica, Seven Witches, Kamelot, the list goes on and on.     

 

Q: What keeps you busy when you’re not hanging out with the rest of the band making new songs or acting live? Maybe some other ambitions to announce? 

A: My wife and kids are the only people that come before my guitar.  I’m a forensic Psychologist…not your typical metal job, and my career can be pretty demanding at times, but that’s just how I pay the mortgage.  Playing guitar is my heart and soul, but inevitable my music is influenced by my professional experiences.

 

Q: Things in your own way of living that absolutely cannot be lacking? 

A: My family, and creative outlets.  I find that if I don’t have meaningful experiences to draw from, my music will suffer.

 

Q: What are the future plans for Steel Kingdom Mike? 

A: Getting as many people as possible to buy Reforged/Refined, and get some momentum in preparation for our new album…which is shaping up to be something really special.  The more people we perform for, the better.  We’re hoping to book some bigger metal festivals too.

 

Q: Hope they all will be come true brother – hold on to your faith in Metal strongly and keep us informed about further developments in the camp of Steel Kingdom… any last words before leaving?  

A: Love your site.  Fans drive the music, and I’m a fan just like all your readers.  Keep an ear out for the new Steel Kingdom album in the coming months, and hope everyone enjoys Reforged/Refined in the meantime.  We’ll be posting updates at www.steelkingdom.net and some new sound and video clips. 

Thanks for giving me the chance to reach out to your readers Stefan…it’s the fuel that keeps metal alive and thriving. 

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