Zak Stevens has one of the most recognizable voices in rock. Stevens first came on the scene as vocalist for Savatage in 1992. Since then he has fronted bands like Circle II Circle and Machines of Grace and, most notably, recorded and toured with Trans-Siberian Orchestra. He is now about to release Fallen, the debut record from his new band Archon Angel. Zak took some time to not only talk about his new band but TSO and much more.
Please press PLAY below to listen to the MisplacedStraws Conversation with Zak Stevens.
On how he began working with guitarist Aldo Lonobile and formed Archon Angel – We both kind of have the same work style, very relaxed and we just like to get stuff done. I think we worked efficiently together more than anything. Of course, we can’t work in the same country so you have to be efficient when you do everything but with technology today sending files and file sharing is no problem. I basically just was working with him on for the first time on Timo Tolkki’s Avalon on the Return To Eden album. I had sang songs before on the first Avalon album but that was a different label, so he switched over to Frontiers. So that’s kind of how this whole relationship came together. So I was working with Aldo on Return To Eden and I’m recording in Michigan and he’s writing songs with Timo out of Italy and everybody’s just kind of all around the world. We just kind of hit it off and have a very good working relationship and kind of see things the same way with similar ear so I think the label kind of picked up on that and they asked us if we’d like to do a project together. I know that Frontiers has a lot of project bands, whereas you do a project but you’re not necessarily a real band, you don’t go out playing shows. I thought okay, it kind of started like that I thought that’s what they had in mind but Aldo was a big proponent of getting out there kind of making it a little bit more. Maybe make it like a real band did go out and play shows and stuff like that. So that’s what we’re both used to so I think that was it another point where we came together in agreement and also in philosophy. 1:00
On the origin of the songs on Fallen – Going into 2019 we just started writing everything from scratch. So it took probably the first 3 months, the first quarter of 2019 to get songs coming in. We had a good batch in the beginning, and then, naturally, you write about 5 or 6 we have writers inside the band outside the band, a big team of people. My wife Katherine wrote lyrics, coming up with the concept, even the band name. We had a big team of people getting their heads together which is good. I kind of like a big team effort these days, I think it puts everybody in control of the things they do best. 4:40
On Paul O’Neil’s influence – I’m just a product of the guys that I work with in my career and one of them being the late Paul O’Neill. I’ve got so many things that I take from him. He’s had so much wisdom when it came to the business and just little things that he would say. He’d say “Hey young Zachary I want to tell you something”, then all those anecdotes just come together. One of them was “Young Zachary let me tell you something, it’s all about the album. If you don’t try to make the best album possible then none of the other stuff matters because it won’t magically come together”. If you scramble and scramble up a record and throw it together and piecemeal a bunch of junk and you’re thinking about how fun it is going to be on tour, the tour probably won’t even happen. So you have to really concentrate on making the best product that you can and you do whatever it takes to do it. 5:40
On his wife, Katherine developing the theme and lyrics behind Fallen – She goes “Have you ever heard of Greek Gnosticism, like with Archon?” I’m like “that sounds cool how do you spell that?” A. R. C. H. O. N. okay all right, she goes Archon Angel. I went “that sounds kind of cool” and I said “well that yeah kind of like it sounds cool” like I’m the guy in charge see if something sounds cool. I’m the one who is the stamp of approval of “Sounds Cool”. Then she’s like “You know what, I could make a whole concept out of this because Gnosticism is one of those kind of forgotten religions of the ancient Greeks” and she’s half Greek, her dad was 100 percent Greek. So I’m like “Okay, all right, I’m buying this”, and then we shared the proposal with the label and everything it was like “God that’s great .” 12:20
“Edge of Thorns”
On his history with TSO after the success of “Christmas Eve/Sarajevo 12/24” – (Paul) said “We’re going to have to start and brand new thing which is dedicated the only Christmas music”, we were like “Oh, wow, okay”, so he said Trans-Siberian Orchestra and I’m like oh we were like that sounds pretty cool. We always knew we had a fascination with the Trans-Siberian Railroad, he loves Russian history and Russian stuff. So it’s like okay, that makes sense based on what we know you like. So, in the beginning, it was like well “We can’t look just like Savatage so, unfortunately, young Zachary if you don’t mind, sing back-up vocals on the records but don’t come out. I can’t really have you coming out singing 2 or 3 songs on the record because it’s gonna look like Savatage. People will say what’s the difference?” So I said “I get it “, bring in a bunch of Broadway performers. So that’s basically what happened. I kind of started knowing that I had to have a little bit more of a background role just by virtue of, I don’t know if it’s a positive or a negative, I was still participating in everything, but, just by virtue of my position in Savatage, could not come out looking just like Savatage. 16:16
On his return to the stage with TSO – In 2015 when Wacken, the largest open-air metal festival in the world, said “We want to have, for the first time, both of our main stages fired up and we want to have TSO and Savatage playing at the same time,” now that got Paul O’Neill very interested. Because he was always interested in breaking records…that kind of stuff was always something that kind of would fire Paul up. He liked to be the first with the most, with the best, with the crazy you know blow it up, the fog it, smoke it up, blow it up type idea. So that was a great time for me as a lead vocalist of Savatage, well one of the 2, me along with Jon Oliva, to come back and give everybody what they want to see in front of 90000 people, which is really where my wheelhouse is all about… it was a good time to come back and (Paul) said “Hey if you’re going to come back and do this you might as well just come out tour with TSO, so are you ready to you know come on back full time?” and I said, “You know, it’s the right time.” 19:40
On the new third version of TSO – I don’t know a lot about it right now. My guess is there’s places in the middle of the country that don’t get quite reached by both bands trying to expand out from both the west coast and the east coast, left and right going to the center. So the east coast has a stretch out going west of the center in the west coast band has to stretch out sometimes way east, but you can’t continue to have that kind of stretch in a country this size. You’re gonna miss things in the middle and also there are so many venues in the middle of the country that don’t have the big markets. They don’t have the ability to get 12 to 15000 people two times a day like we enjoy on the east coast which is really the true market of the band. That’s the original, true market of the band, the east coast and we headed out to west and they built an amazing market in California, Washington, Arizona and all that. So this is gonna be, from what I can tell, being able to play the venues that are the small, maybe 6000 to 8000, in the smaller markets where you just don’t have, it just doesn’t make sense to try to book an arena show. 23:30
Follow Archon Angel: