On an early Saturday morning I had the chance to speak with Michael Grant, singer of the awesome new band Onward.
We talked about how the band got started, the progress of their new album, and movies.
I want to thank Michael and Century Media for setting up this interview.
Ultimate Metal: Could you tell me how Onward got started?
Michael Grant: Sure, the guitarist Toby Knapp he was a solo artist for a long time. He did put out one record for Shrapnel Records in 1992 called “Guitar Distortion” which was just an instrumental. It got some good press and a little bit of a cult following and sold reasonably well. After that he kept doing these little projects, like one for Defiled Records called Dargon. But he never got around to what he wanted to do which was to make a proper power metal band. So he finally hooked up with two guys from Billings, Montana Jon and Randy. They got together and wrote eight power metal songs. They did not have a singer at the time but they just went ahead and wrote it. They were funded by a small label to record the band in Denver. Then they heard me through Sentinel Steel Records who also did Defiled Records and that’s how the connection was all set up with the album Legend Maker. They said “This guy would be perfect, this is the kind of guy we are looking for”. So they gave me a call and sent me the tape and I immediately fell in love with it. I just really thought that the music was awesome and then I said “Can I go ahead and write lyrics” and they said, “Yeah go ahead”. One month later all the lyrics were done, they sent me the tapes and I recorded my vocals here in LA. That’s when Sentinel Steel was about to release it and then Century Media heard it and then they wanted to release it. So they bought out Sentinel Steel. That’s how the band got started. When all that happened I said to myself that I am not going to look at this as a project instead I am going to look it as a real band.
UM: What was the original release date of Evermoving?
MG: It was going to be released about a year ago on Sentinel Steel Records but since there was a lot of legal issues, the album was about shelved for about a year. That’s why it took so long.
UM: You mentioned Legend Maker, how was that experience for you?
MG: It was OK. I was really a hired gun for that. They live in Columbia and they wanted an English speaking and sounding vocalist. So they basically told me what to do. I had very little creative input on it. They said sing it this way, translate the lyrics etc. It was good music, I enjoyed singing for them but in terms of creativity it was very limited.
UM: What sort of music is Legend Maker?
MG: Legend Maker is very Euro-power metal like Helloween and Gamma Ray. A lot of double bass, a lot of long songs, things like that.
UM: What did you do before Legend Maker?
MG: Before Legend Maker I was briefly in a band called New Eden. I was also in a local band here in LA called Ocean Seven for a while. Which basically was just something to get my chops off, just to do something. Before that I lived in Connecticut and I was in a band called Morpheus. All of those projects I really never went ahead with, there were just things I did that got me connections. But none of them were very successful.
UM: So has Century Media treated you guys?
MG: Oh God! They are awesome! I can’t believe the amount of attention they give us. I mean I have heard horror stories from other bands in Metal Blade and Nuclear Blast, just what they have gone through and how ignored they were. I feared that was going to happen to us but it has been much the opposite. All those rumors have been shattered to hell because they give us interviews, advertising, they spread the word and they give us full support. The amount of support is incredible and I can’t praise them enough for it.
UM: I have heard some similar rumors so it’s great that they have been doing so much for Onward?
MG: In my perspective maybe for Century Media this is their normal practice or maybe they really believe in us and they want to give us a good push. I have no complaints.
UM: You played at the ProgPower festival, how was that?
MG: That was really good. That was an experience that was a lot better than I thought it would be. Since we are so new and so unknown I thought we were going to go up and play and disappear. But we went up and played our hearts out. So, for the rest of the weekend people were interested in us and kept coming up to us. They bought our CD until it sold out. It was very successful. I am really happy about it.
UM: Did you play all the songs from the album?
MG: No, we played six songs and then we played a new song from our upcoming album and we played a cover song Loudness’ “The Clockwork Toy “.
UM: Did you get a chance to see any of the other bands at the ProgPower festival?
MG: Yeah, my friend’s band Destiny’s End. I am a fan of theirs and I saw their set. I watched Jag Panzer’s set and all the other bands I just sort of looked at for a few songs and then I had to get back to promote Onward. So I did get a chance to catch a little of everyone’s set.
UM: Was that your first live show?
MG: No, we have had others shows before. We had scattered things but we never really had a tour.
UM: Are there plans for a tour?
MG: It’s been such a “Yes No” thing for the past few months and the plans keep changing. We were first submitted to Lizzy Borden and they really wanted us but they got the Yngwie gig and he stepped up to that. We have been submitted to Savatage/Fates Warning but its about to start and we haven’t heard anything. I think what the label wants us to do now honestly is to do some festivals and sort of get a meet and great introduction type shows going. Then go back to the studio and crank out our next album and then seriously get behind a tour. But you never know, if something pops up we are ready to go.
UM: What’s the timetable for the new album?
MG: At first they wanted us to go to the studio in May but that has been pushed back. I actually think we will go into the studio in late summer or fall. So we can do these promotions dates. It will be recorded in 2001 for a 2002 release. We are really happy about that.
UM: I am definitely looking forward to the new album?
MG: Yeah, its going to be a good album. Its called Reawaken. Its a little bit longer, a little bit more dynamic but it has the Onward sound. If you like the first album then you will love this album. We put a lot of heart into this. It’s also heavier. The whole album is already written and all we have to do is record it. The writing process is the same. Toby writes all the music and then he gets together with Jon and Randy and they sort of arrange it and put their little flair to it. After the music is all done they send it to me and I write all the vocals and lyrics.
UM: What inspires you when you write lyrics?
MG: Well, I like to keep it on the surface. Whatever I am feeling that day, something that might be on my head that I want to get on paper. I like writing about three main areas, like thematic elements. For example, the thematic element of Evermoving is constant motion. Something is always moving and happening that is why I called it Evermoving. Another one is the fantasy element. I just create my own stories which is kind of cool because it allows me to get all these strange fantasy and sci-fi ideas out of my head. Then the third one is taking from already written literature and movies and then sort of building on that. So those are my three main areas. But in terms of my thematic and personal philosophies I like to keep it on the surface, keep it non-religious. Make it a little poetic and metaphoric but try not to alienate the audience. Kind of give it a tongue-in-cheek.
UM: How would you describe the sound of Onward because to me it does not sound like most of the power metal bands out there?
MG: To be honest I really don’t like the term power metal to be associated with Onward. In fact, not to be a jerk or anything, I really think we have a heavy metal sound. It is very traditional but we are not trying to sound 80’s, we are not trying to sound European, we are not trying to sound like a specific genre. What we are trying to do is keep the fire of good old traditional heavy metal alive, through shredding guitars, cool vocals and good rhythm. So I would just describe it as good old fashioned heavy metal that is guitar based.
UM: I read somewhere that you really don’t like the term “80’s metal” for Onward?
MG: I really don’t like that because that means that you sound like a specific time.
UM: I was actually guilty of that in my review of Evermoving?
MG: (Laughs) Its ok. I read your review, thanks for the kudos because you just went on and on. Nobody seems to like Toby’s solos so its cool you did. The thing that I am really happy to hear is that it’s catchy. Its make you want to hear the song over again and that is what I tried to do.
UM: Do you guys have an official website?
MG: Yep, its still being tinkered with but its called www.evermoving.com. Its up but its not quite finished. Some guy in Montana is doing it for us.
UM: What bands influenced you?
MG: I listen to a lot of bands that have good vocalists. The classic examples are Iron Maiden, Judas Priest, and Queensryche. But I also love a lot of other stuff that has influenced me like for instance a band that I really like is Overkill. I think Bobby “Blitz” has such amazing presence and his diction is just incredible. I fucking love it. I also like Warrel Dane from Nevermore and Sanctuary. He does some things with his voice that a lot of people just don’t hearing it anymore. He is one of the few baritone melodic metal singers. I am sort of with a small company. There’s me, Warrel, Zachary Stevens of Savatage: he has a great baritone voice. Instead of being the high-pitched screamers that you hear coming out of Europe.
UM: It’s a shame about Zachary Stevens leaving Savatage?
MG: I know. It’s a bummer but oh well. He put out some great albums for us to enjoy.
UM: When you aren’t focused in music what else do you do?
MG: Well, my day job involves the movie business. Which is another big hobby of mine. I love movies. I love going to them and seeing all kinds. I work for a Market Research firm that does market research work for film studios. So I am involved with that. I also love to travel. I love going to see new places. Which is what I hope Onward will allow me to do.
UM: Do you have a favorite for Best Picture?
MG: I really hate the movie Chocolat. When I saw that I was like “You’ve got to be kidding”. Then it got nominated. I really hope “Traffic” wins it. That was such a cool movie. Benicio del Toro was just awesome. You have to check it out; it’s really cool. (Editors Note – I still haven’t seen it)
UM: I really hope Gladiator wins it (Ed’s Note – It did!).
MG: Gladiator is cool too but I don’t know if it will win Best Picture but I think Russell Crowe is a good actor and it will get all the technical awards like Special Effects. That movie was really cool too.
UM: Do you have any last words?
MG: What I have been saying all along is that I know we are new, I know we have come out of nowhere. I just hope that people give us a chance. If you like it pass along to a friend, if you don’t that’s cool. There are a lot of bands I don’t like. If you do like it, come see us live on tour because another big thing we want to push is bring back the live show. The live heavy metal concert experience. We really want that alive again. I noticed that in a lot of gigs you see four guys play the album and I it’s like “what’s the big deal there?”We want to bring the concert going experience back where everyone in the place is charged, fired up, screaming along with the songs. Just the way it was in the old days.
UM: Kind of like an Iron Maiden show?
MG: Yeah where everyone is jumping up and down and they all sing and totally enjoy themselves. So check us out live and thanks for all the support.
UM: I hope to see you guys live soon?
MG: Hopefully in may we do a live show here in LA. Maybe set up a gig with Destiny’s End, make it a real good heavy metal night.