Sakis Fragos, publisher and chief editor of the Greek edition of Rock Hard magazine, recently conducted an interview with guitarist Jon Drenning and vocalist Todd La Torre of Florida-based melodic metallers CRIMSON GLORY. A few excerpts from the question-and-answer session follow below.
Rock Hard: Midnight was one of the most distinguished metal singers of all time. You had replaced him once, though, very well with Wade Black. After his death, why did you choose to recruit somebody else?
Jon: We felt that it was very important to have a singer that can relate to our music and to Midnight‘s vocal style better. While Wade had a powerful, aggressive voice, he lacked the subtleties and emotional values that we felt we needed to really capture the spirit and soul of our music. When we first heard Todd sing, I knew he was special, because he captured many of the qualities of Midnight in our music. He really seemed to get it, right off the get-go, despite not having been a lead singer before. I knew it was a special moment; I remember thinking to myself, “Could it be that this totally unknown guy who used to be a drummer could be our new singer?” We were surprised, to say the least, but everything just felt right and we officially announced Todd as our new singer to the world on what would have been Midnight‘s 48th birthday, April 29, 2010.
Rock Hard: How did you find Todd La Torre and how did you decide to pick a former drummer for your new singer?
Jon: Midnight had died just a few weeks earlier, and I was approached by the promoter for ProgPower USA on our availability to perform. I told him that we would be interested in doing possibly an acoustic set of some kind in memorial to Midnight. A week later, the same promoter called me back, explaining that his headlining band had cancelled due to visa and passport issues, and again asked me if we would like to headline the festival. I told him that it would be an honor to do so, but that it would be quite an undertaking to find singers to perform with us. I knew that Wade Black would be interested, but I felt that we needed to perform many of the classic songs from the first two records, as those were the albums that Midnight had helped to write and, of course, sang on. I started formulating an idea that we could utilize many of the other singers that would be performing with their respective bands at ProgPower. During this time, we were rehearsing with Wade Black, who had missed a few practices. With little more than a month before the show, it was Matt LaPorte who mentioned that he knew a guy who could sing, and should he call him down from Tampa (about 45 minutes away)? We agreed that yes, he should, and so Todd LaTorre was thrust into the middle of a band he didn’t know to perform songs he’d never heard four weeks before a show. Needless to say, he handled himself and the situation with exceptional poise and professionalism. As soon as we heard him sing the first few lines, we all looked at each other like, “Oh my god, this kid has it.” Well, as it turned out, one of our guest vocalists for the show, Zak Stevens (CIRCLE II CIRCLE, ex-SAVATAGE), had to pull out due to outside obligations with his own band, and so we decided almost immediately that since Todd had helped so much with rehearsal, and could obviously sing his ass off, that he should perform Zak‘s parts at ProgPower USA. The response was overwhelming, and rumors swirled from the night of the show onward that he was the new singer. We all pretty much agreed that he had the qualities we wanted, and the fact that he was local was even better. We had several offers from established and admired singers who wanted to be a part of CRIMSON GLORY‘s next chapter, but we really felt that it was important to have a singer in the same country, at least. Todd was also a clean slate; since he wasn’t coming from a band where he had been a singer, he had no preconceived ideas of how it should be, so we had no baggage to deal with. As for him being a drummer, that really had no bearing or influence either way on our decision. However, it must be said here that Todd La Torre is also a badass drummer!
Rock Hard: Todd, given your incredible vocal abilities, why were you playing drums all those years?
Todd: I always enjoyed singing, my whole life really. I just never formally pursued fronting a band before. Drumming and rhythmic qualities always felt quite natural to me, and so that was what moved me. I often times still feel like a drummer at heart that just loves to sing.
Rock Hard: You recently finished your 25-year anniversary European tour. Can you give us a recap of this tour? How people reacted towards your new singer?
Jon: The fans have been really supportive and receptive to Todd, and I think that much of it is due to the fact that Todd gives them the same things that Midnight gave them: A real sense of emotional connectivity, and the beautiful, ethereal, haunting sounds that were so unique to Midnight and to CRIMSON GLORY. I think that it’s kind of cathartic for the fans, because they can have their closure without really having to let go of the idea that Midnight is still with us, at least in spirit. There were fans who we met on tour who expressed such a profound love and gratitude to Todd, and I really think that he was a bit surprised, and very much honored and flattered, by the outpouring of acceptance by the fans around the world. This tour has been the most appropriate introduction to Todd and the next chapter of CRIMSON GLORY, while still being the proper send-off to Midnight with all of the respect and reverence deserved.
Rock Hard: Although you have a 25-year history, there have been several years that you weren’t active. Looking back, which was the toughest period for CRIMSON GLORY? The one after “Transcendence”, the one before “Astronomica”, or the one after the death of Midnight? Why?
Jon: “Astronomica” was really disappointing because we all expected Midnight to be singing on that record, but he seemed to be in bad health again and in a downward spiral. Getting him to commit the time and energy needed to write and record a new record was just too much for him; we tried for several weeks to help him and to motivate him, but ultimately failed. He just didn’t have it in him. Thus we immediately went in search of a singer that we could complete the album with, which turned out to be Wade Black, who lived relatively close to us. We had some great music written, but we knew that the record would be totally different with a new singer, so we did the best we could.
Rock Hard: You have released four albums but you only seem to play songs from your first couple. Why that? Aren’t you happy with “Strange…” and “Astronomica”?
Jon: Actually, many people don’t know this, but “Strange And Beautiful” and “Astronomica” were originally intended to be a double album. Unfortunately, because of Midnight‘s erratic behavior and deteriorating health, this would not be the case. There were songs off “Strange And Beautiful” that got a bad rap, such as “The Chant”, which was actually provided to us by the record company. Against better judgment, we recorded the song, and as a result, the album had a much more commercial, squeaky-clean sound and image, with none of the dark mysticism that our fans had come to expect from us. Naturally that didn’t work in our favor and the album was panned very quickly. However, there are many fans out there who stand firmly by that record, and to be honest, I really enjoyed writing much of the material on there with Midnight. I think that it was the closest that he ever got to really performing the style of music that he was most familiar with, as Midnight was very much influenced by LED ZEPPELIN and PINK FLOYD. However, songs like “Star Chamber” still embodied very much of what CRIMSON GLORY was about musically and lyrically, and I think that fans who haven’t given the record a thorough listening to ought to check it out. They might be pleasantly surprised. Outside of that, as this is our 25th anniversary, we deemed it appropriate to play from the first two albums that really defined us as a band, and we believe very firmly in giving our fans what they want.
Rock Hard: The period before “Astronomica” was full of “myths and legends.” Which were the wildest stories you heard about this period and which of these wild stories are true? There are a lot of stories circulating, that you peed on the masters of this album, that you fought physically with the other members of the band…
Jon: [Laughs] I have no idea where stories like that originated; those things never happened. The truth is, we had an unfortunate incident in which we lost all of the material. We had recorded everything digitally, and we lost everything when the drives failed. Jeff and I had been working on it daily, and we were devastated by it. We knew that we would have to regroup and start all over again, and we did. We took it upon ourselves to make a conscious effort to make it better than we had done it the first time. It was a long and arduous process, but there was no fighting…. There was a also rumor going around about Wade and myself getting into a phyicsal fight in Switzerland while on that tour, but that NEVER occurred. We would have vocal arguments from time to time and loud discussions amongst ourselves just like any other band, but a physical fight never occurred and never would occur in our band. We are still good friends and brothers.
Rock Hard: Can you reveal us any details for your new album? Will it be released next year? Will it be under a Greek label as well? Any songtitles or a title for the album? Please as many details as possible…
Jon: We have had serious interest from several different companies, but we have not yet agreed to any contracts or licensing agreements with any company. We are being cautious in going forward, and want to be sure that we make good decisions and only work with the best persons and companies in the industry. As for the details of the album itself, all of the content is tightly under wraps, so sorry, no spoilers! I believe our fans will be very impressed with our new material…
Rock Hard: Todd, have you taken part in the creative process of the album or just sing in that?
Todd: Yes, I am an equal writer in the new material. It was very important for the band to not have “just” a singer, but a songwriter as well. Being able to play guitar, drums, and sing, clearly gives me and advantage with the creative process, and an understanding with regard to all of the intricacies that go into songwriting. Drumming helps with vocal phrasing, and guitar playing with melody. Being a viable creative member also allows me to truly feel what we are writing, as opposed to singing what someone has already written for me. I have ideas; some will work, while others may not be conducive to that particular feel or sound. I’m very open-minded. That’s the beauty of true collaboration; otherwise I’d just put out my own record. I’m very much looking forward to putting my stamp on the new material and bridging the past 25 years of CRIMSON GLORY into the future.
Rock Hard: Jon, assuming that Midnight was alive, would you do a studio album and a tour with him?
Jon: Yes, I would, but only if he were in good health and a good frame of mind. I had always hoped that we would tour and record with him again, and I know the fans did as well, but it simply wasn’t to be. We are very fortunate to have Todd as our singer now to help us move forward while also propelling Midnight‘s legacy.
Rock Hard: Which do you think is the element of CRIMSON GLORY that makes them so special and they have many fans although they are not the most active band in the world?
Jon: As I mentioned before, I think that our music has many elements that make it both intriguing and infinite. We have always based our image, our sound and our writing on mysticism, ancient lore, astrology and the cosmos, and the unknown realms of the hereafter. These are all aspects that have endeared us to our legions of fans across the globe, and I think that it is largely what makes us unique, inspiring, and timeless.
Rock Hard: Todd, given that you have been a drummer, how difficult was it for you to adjust to being the singer on stage and perform, which is highly difficult as you are the center of attention anyway?
Todd: My drums were my comfort zone and also my blanket. Stepping out front was never something I was seeking, nor the kind of attention that it brings, but since the transition from being behind the kit to being front and center, I must say it has felt extremely natural for me. I have never felt nervous performing with CRIMSON GLORY. There is no question that the 24-plus years of drumming and performing on stage has certainly paved the way for this part of my life and has made me feel at home and in my element. I guess somewhere we all want to have that spotlight; it was just never something I vested too much interest in. Becoming a true bandmember of CRIMSON GLORY is something that happened for reasons that I can’t even explain. The stars aligned for me, and now this band can continue on in a way that feels right, unscripted, and natural. This was just meant to be…
Rock Hard: Todd, has the fact that you are replacing a legendary metal figure, such as Midnight, given you any kind of pressure? How do you feel about the discography of CRIMSON GLORY?
Todd: Well, certainly there was a huge amount of pressure to be stepping into someone’s territory, i.e. singing Midnight‘s vocal parts. This is why we felt it was so important to showcase my vocals over some of the classic songs from the first two records. I feel that the fans deserved it. I needed to do it for myself, the band supported it, and without a doubt, it was in my opinion the best decision to put those songs out on YouTube. Sure, there were few the skeptics and naysayers, but overwhelmingly the response was so positive. I mean, I was instantly gaining fans around the world, and I hadn’t even performed a show as the new singer. Now, I just do what I do. People know that I am not Midnight. My vocal cords are not his. I am, however, emotionally vested in the material, and I do feel it, and I believe this does come across to the fans. They know my emotion is real and not contrived, and that my heart is in the right place. Thankfully, the fans have really embraced me, I am family to them; they have their band back, and the truth of the matter is that they are the ones that make me a star. So, I don’t really feel any pressure from the fans. If there is any pressure, it is because I am my own worst critic. I’m tough on myself, and I always know there is room for improvement. As far as the CRIMSON GLORY discography… I love every record for different reasons. The first two are in a similar style, which I love. “Strange And Beautiful” was more blues-rock-rooted, in my opinion, and clearly had the best production of the other records. That record has great songs, and some of Jon‘s best guitar playing, in my opinion. Despite criticism of that record not sounding like the coveted first two records, I truly encourage the fans to understand that as an artist, you have to try new things. CRIMSON GLORY has always been about not being boxed in, trying new things, and allowing the music to write itself sometimes. “Astronomica” is great, too. Wade‘s singing is full throttle, and the bass lines and heavy textures really give this record the punch that you feel. This record is definitely very worthy in its own right.