The Rock Pit - Hard rock, Metal and Blues Interviews, news & reviews from Australia and around the world

The Rock Pit - Hard rock, Metal and Blues Interviews, news & reviews from Australia and around the world
SHAFT-OF-STEEL-INTERVIEW-2015

HARD ROCK INTERVIEWS 2015 - SHAFT OF STEEL'S ALEX MARKHAM

SHAFT OF STEEL'S ALEX MARKHAM

TALKS TO THE ROCKPIT

ALEX CATCHES UP TO TALK ABOUT THE EP, THAT NAME, WHAT ROCK REALLY MEANS THESE DAYS AND THE MEANING OF LIFE...

MARCH 2015

CHECK OUT OUR REVIEW OF THE SHAFT OF STEEL 'EP' HERE

One of the best EP's we heard in 2014 was UK band Shaft of Steel's debut release.


Rockpit: What’s the London Rock scene like these days? Is it hard to get a gig in the capitol?

 

Shaft of Steel: It’s certainly hard if you’re an AOR band. There’s an abundance of bars and clubs that will only play southern rock, blues and classic rock. The metal scene’s a totally different thing. We used to be more of a power metal band when we started out, and years ago you would never see anything like that anywhere in the country unless you went to Bloodstock. It’s just our luck that now we’ve changed direction, you can see Euro metal bands at least 2 or 3 times a week if you know where to look!

 

Rockpit: You’ve picked up some nice support slots so far is everyone looking after you?

 

Shaft of Steel: Yes, the guys in Vega and Newman were sound as a pound, as we say up north in England! I was a fan of both bands before meeting them and it was great to share a stage with people you’ve been reading about in magazines for years and then chatting music over a few pints afterwards. They’re down-to-earth blokes who love music and love a drink, just like the rest of us!

 

Rockpit: What’s the reaction to your music ‘live’ and does it differ much from your own shows and support slots?

 

Shaft of Steel: The reaction has been really amazing. The show we did at The Garage in London last year was easily the best gig I’ve ever played. The cheers from the crowd kept getting louder and louder throughout the set. We even threw a new song in and that got the best response of the lot!

 

Rockpit: What’s the best compliment you’ve been paid so far after a gig?

 

Shaft of Steel: “You need a bigger stage.”

 

Rockpit: Any live plans so far for 2015?

 

Shaft of Steel: We’re playing HRH AOR in March, which we’re really excited about. It’ll be great to see Vega again and I’m really looking forward to catching Serpentine’s set.


Rockpit: One of the things that first hit us playing the EP is how good you sound already as musicians despite being such a young band, are you just insanely talented or do you all have long pedigrees behind you?

 

Shaft of Steel: Hah, you flatter us! Thanks. Despite our, some would say, youthful looks, we’re all approaching thirty, so we’ve been around for a while. I’ve been playing in bands with Adam and Chris since secondary school and I know the other lads from university, so there’s a long history behind us.

 

Rockpit: If we are playing ‘genres’ how do you pigeon-hole yourself? Describe your sound?

 

Shaft of Steel: Before we released the EP, we were calling our music ‘melodic AOR metal’, as we use heavy guitar riffs, loads of keyboards and big melodic hooks. We’ve dropped the ‘metal’ since, as every journalist who reviewed the EP slapped a big fat melodic hard rock/AOR label on us! Now we’re embracing our AOR side more than ever before.

 

Rockpit: The opening two tracks ‘Drive’ and ‘Spinning Vortex of Love’ really showcase the Melodic side of the band – tell us about the tracks and the sort of bands you look to when creating a sound like that?

 

Shaft of Steel: When we wrote Drive, it wasn’t originally intended for Shaft of Steel. Frontiers Records were looking for songs for Place Vendome’s third album. I’m on their mailing list and I got this email one day saying that they were taking open submissions, so I put together a demo and sent it over to Rob to lay some vocals down. Well, we missed the deadline and that actually turned out to be a blessing in disguise. We spent a good amount of time developing the song further and looked to bands like Work of Art and Toto for inspiration. We were so happy with how it turned out that we kept it for the Steel and it really proved to be a turning point for us, stylistically. It’s ironic that Dennis Ward ended up singing backing vocals on it!

 

Shaft of Steel: Spinning Vortex of Love has a long, long history behind it. It was the first song we performed as Shaft of Steel back in 2004, but it has changed massively in the intervening years. It’ll be obvious to anyone listening to the second half of that song that we have a few Rush fans within our ranks. Rob loves early Michael Bolton and Andy’s from Sheffield, so he was basically raised on Def Leppard. If you put all those influences in a pot, you get Spinning Vortex of Love.

Rockpit: There’s more meat to songs like ‘Steel Avenger’ and ‘Release the Lion Within’: both are heavier than the openers but you seem equally comfortable with that sound too?

 

Shaft of Steel: Steel Avenger was originally my attempt to write a Manowar song and you can still hear the remnants of our metal past on this track. The opening section owes a lot to Blind Guardian, but we really worked on transforming this track into more of a hard-rocker. I was listening to loads of Jorn and Eden’s Curse when I recorded the demo. I bet you can tell.

 

Shaft of Steel: Release the Lion Within owes a lot to Metropolis Part II-era Dream Theater. Dream Theater played a massive part in the formation of this band. I first met Rob when he spotted me wearing a Dream Theater beanie hat in our student union bar and came over to say “Hey, I like Dream Theater too!” Me and Adam must have seen them live five or six times over the years. Chris even bought a Kurzweil keyboard because Jordan Rudess used to play them. So yeah, we like Dream Theater. We’re moving away from these heavier songs now, but we’re still going to try and incorporate some of the more interesting prog elements wherever we can.

 

Rockpit: How has the EP been received so far and are you pleased with the response?

 

Shaft of Steel: Honestly, I couldn’t have imagined a better response. Getting 8 and 9 out of 10 reviews from magazines and websites that I read and respect is just amazing. They seem to be really loving it in Japan. We keep getting bulk orders of the CD from over there. Keep them coming in, hah! I feel we’ve really achieved something, and this is only the beginning.

 

Rockpit: A lot of us out there now just want to hear more! Is that far away?

 

Shaft of Steel: We’re working on the album right now. We put a clip of a new demo up on YouTube recently to bridge the gap. It’ll give you an idea of the direction we’re moving in. We’re really excited about the new material. It’s way more melodic, but it still rocks and kicks arse in equal measures!

 

Rockpit: How do you approach the creation process? Do you jam or do you all bring in ideas and work on them?

 

Shaft of Steel: Typically, I’ll start putting together a chord progression on piano, record that in Cubase, then add rhythm guitar and programmed drums. When I’ve got a song structure that I’m happy with, I’ll send it over to Rob and he’ll come up with the lyrics. He’ll normally do a few variations before we’re both happy, but usually 99% of the first thing he sends back is what we end up using. The guy is a real pro at writing a melody line.

 

Shaft of Steel: Andy then comes in and lays down the backing vocals and bass. This is a guy who once recorded his own version of Bohemian Rhapsody, singing pretty much all the choir parts himself, so he knows his trade well.

 

Shaft of Steel: Drums come next, then we normally leave lead guitar and keyboard solos to the very end. We try and share them out equally between me, Adam and Chris, but sometimes you don’t want more than a couple of solos per song. We might love Dream Theater, but we’re not trying to be them.

Rockpit: First of all the name of the band? You have to tell us is it intentionally tongue-in-cheek?

 

Shaft of Steel: The way I remember it, me, Andy, Rob and our first drummer were all sat in a pub in Scarborough, where we lived at the time, and collectively agreed that we needed to come up with the most ‘metal’ name possible. Various suggestions of “something-or-other of Steel” were thrown around and we settled on shaft. The music changed but the name stuck. It’s memorable and it’s served us well so far. I still get sniggers from the girl on reception at the practice room we use when I ring up to book a room for Shaft of Steel though.

 

Rockpit: What piece of music you have created most defines your sound as a band so far?

 

Shaft of Steel: ‘Drive’. It’s the song that got us attention from the blogs and magazines and it’s the one that sounds most like the direction we’re heading in.

 

Rockpit: What is your greatest fear for the world?

 

Shaft of Steel: Ed Miliband becoming Prime Minister in the UK. I honestly couldn’t think of anything worse.

 

Rockpit: In a world where technology and fast food has led people down a path to instant gratification at the expense of quality and larger more fulfilling experience do you see a way back for music that seeks to engage the intellect and the dulled senses

 

Shaft of Steel: I hope so, but it’s hard to see that happening when you switch on the radio and every song has stupid whizzing noises and electronic fart sounds in it. When I first started really getting into music, it was 1996 and you had bands like Oasis who inspired a whole generation of kids to pick up a guitar, even if they’d ultimately grow out of that music and get into something better. I don’t see anything resembling that in popular culture today.

 

Rockpit: If you could turn the clock backwards what decade or time would you feel most comfortable?

 

Shaft of Steel: That’s easy. The 1980s. Everything I listen to now comes from the 80s, or was at least influenced by it. The odd bit of early Genesis or Rush aside, I’ve minimal interest in anything that happened before then. I much prefer both those bands’ later work anyway.

Rockpit: Who are your most enduring influences?

 

Shaft of Steel: Iron Maiden are right at the top of the list. Adrian Smith’s guitar playing is absolutely everything I’ve aspired to be as a musician since I was 12 or 13. Having said that, I really struggle to listen to any music without keyboards in nowadays. Probably why my favourite Maiden albums are Somewhere In Time and Seventh Son of a Seventh Son.

 

Shaft of Steel: I really got into Peter Gabriel about ten years ago and I’m still obsessed with the keyboard sounds he uses, especially that CP80 electric piano. Here’s a fun fact for you - we used that keyboard patch on three out of the four tracks on the EP.

 

Shaft of Steel: We all love a good power ballad too. You should fully expect a full-blown tribute to the Jim Steinman school of songwriting on the album!

 

Rockpit: Do you listen to contemporary music?

 

Shaft of Steel: It depends what you mean by ‘contemporary’. I listen to loads of new AOR and melodic hard rock, but I avoid pretty much everything else. I used to work for a music retailer and literally hadn't a clue who half the artists we sold were. I think labels like Frontiers and AOR Heaven put out records from some really good bands, old and new. I always make a point of checking out their latest releases and if I like what I hear, I’ll buy the CD.

 

Rockpit: What is your most disgracefully rock and roll moment?

 

Shaft of Steel: Not so sure if it’s very ‘Rock ’n’ Roll’, but we played a gig in Scarborough where we dressed up as people from other bands at our uni who we had a bit of a, shall we say, ‘rivalry’ with. There was a big rock and metal versus hippie singer-songwriter divide on our campus. Not hard to guess which camp we fell into. There was a lot of hostility… from us. We went a bit too far with the stage banter. I have a video of it somewhere. Someone is shouting ‘wanker’ at me for the most of it. It’s all water under the bridge now, but I still laugh every time I think about it. Bloody hippies!

 

Rockpit: What are your ultimate musical ambitions?

 

Shaft of Steel: I’d love to play one of the big European festivals. Touring America and Japan would be amazing too. You have to be realistic in your ambitions as musician in this day and age, but with a little hard work and support, I’d like to think we can get there.

 

Rockpit: If you could compose with anyone living or dead who would it be?

 

Shaft of Steel: It was great working with Dennis Ward on the EP, so I’d love to write something with him one day. The Martin twins in Vega are another class songwriting act. It’d be great to collaborate with them. Robert Säll, Erik Mårtensson and Harry Hess are all on my wish list too. Having said that, I think I’ve got the perfect songwriting partner in Rob. Anything I throw at him, he’ll come back with lyrical gold.

 

Rockpit: Can music still have the power to change the world in 2015?

 

Shaft of Steel: You’d have to ask Bono or Chris Martin about that.

 

Rockpit: What are your plans for 2015?

 

Shaft of Steel: We’re going to spend the rest of the year working on the album, but we’d like to fit a few more shows in if possible. Watch this space.

 

Rockpit: Thinking back to your early memories of music, what was it that first made you decide you needed to be in a Rock and Roll band?


Shaft of Steel: The whole Britpop thing in the mid 90s. I was 10 when ‘(What’s the Story) Morning Glory came out’ and Oasis were the first band I really got into. It’s funny, I was in a Levi’s shop trying on some jeans a few years ago, as you do, and right there was Noel Gallagher coming out of the cubicle next to me. I thought about saying hello and thanking him for being the reason I got into playing guitar, but I reckoned it would have been pretty insincere as I’ve not been interested in anything he’s done for at least 17 years. He’d probably have told me to fuck off anyway!

 

Rockpit: From what you’ve learned so far what is the most valuable advice you’ve been given so far as a musician?

Shaft of Steel: “Wear earplugs”.

 

Rockpit: If you could have been a ‘Fly on the wall’ for the creation of any great album from any period, just to see how the magic happened and it all came together, what would it have been for you any why?

 

Shaft of Steel: Queensrÿche’s ‘Operation:Mindcrime’. I’ve loved that album for years and it’s still amazing to listen to. Sod Dark Side of the Moon, Mindcrime is the best concept album ever. Hell, it’s the best ALBUM ever! Plus, I’d love to see for myself just exactly how much Geoff Tate contributed to the music, given the recent court case.

 

Rockpit: What is the meaning of life?

 

Shaft of Steel: Sadly my degree was in music technology, not philosophy, so I’m unable to answer that one. Better luck with the next guy.

 

 

 

Alex spoke to Mark Rockpit, March 2015

 

 

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