Interview with Zebulon Pike
Hailing from Minneapolis, Minnesota, Zebulon Pike is an instrumental prog-doom metal band that formed in late 2002. I recently had the opportunity to interview guitarist Erik Fratzke to find out more.
MM-Please introduce the members of your band and tell what instrument you play.
Erik Bolen on drums. Morgan Berkus, guitar, Erik Fratzke, guitar and our newest member Tom Berg on bass.
MM-Who are your musical influences?
>Judas Priest, Black Sabbath,Rush, just to name a few. Mostly stuff from the 70's and 80's. Bands that are heavy and progressive on some level.
Also many 20th century classical composers such as: Bartok, Ives, Philip Glass, Schnittke among many others.
MM-Tell us a little about your new album “Intransience”?
>It's our third album, and our first with our new bassist Tom Berg.
MM-How do you think it differs from your previous releases?
> I think it has a more hard rock and prog tinge to it. We seem to be moving away from our doom/stoner beginnings.
MM-What did you set to achieve on this album?
> Compositionally speaking, I wanted to each tune to use a few themes and then transform those themes throughout the song. In the past the songs had tons of riffs, that weren't necessarily developed or tied together as tightly. The new album is not drastically different, but our approach is becoming more refined, yet a bit more exploratory.
MM-Zebulon Pike was of course an explorer’s name. Why did you decide on that name for your band?
> At first we attempted to find a more metal sounding name, and in the process, we ran across this one. The more we thought about it, the more it seemed right.
MM-Was the decision to be an instrumental band an easy decision or was there a time when you considered having a vocalist?
> In fact, the band was initially conceived as a group with vocals. When the vocalist we had in mind didn't work out, we went instrumental.
The decision was fairly easy as our drummer, Erik Bolen and I (Erik Fratzke) had played in instrumental outfits before, so it wasn't virgin territory for us.
MM-Are any of the band members in any side bands or is Zebulon Pike the main focus for everyone?
I play bass in the jazz trio Happy Apple, and guitar in the prog-punk band The Gang Font. Tom has been playing bass Self-Evident for many years now and continues to do so. We all do other projects from time to time, but Zebulon Pike seems to be the main focus for all of us.
MM-Your music is fairly complex and incorporates different styles of music. How does your writing process normally work? Do you just bring a riff and build from there while you jam or do you get a mental idea and then try to work it out?
> I usually have a set of riffs that I see as being "a song", then I bring them in and we flesh them out and connect the dots a a group. There is not much jamming in this group. We spend much more time sculpting the music, than creating ideas by jamming. I always have an over-abundance of ideas, so we end up working on a lot things that eventually get cut from a given tune. Consequently, there's not a lot of time or a need for us for us to jam.
MM-What are you guys doing that sets you apart from other bands?
> Sensitivity to dynamics, and also a sense of melody and melancholy.
MM-In what areas do you think that you need to improve upon?
MM-I noticed that you a few dates coming up. Do you have a more extensive tour in the works?.
> We plan on doing a few weeks of touring in 2009. Right now, it's all our lives will allow. We hope to do something more extensive in the future.
MM-I don’t think that I know of a lot of other bands from Minneapolis. What’s the music scene like there? Are there any great unsigned bands in your area that you would like to mention?
I've lived in the Twin Cities for almost 20 years, and the music scene here has always been vibrant. The arts scene as a whole has always been happening. There's always a steady crop of high quality bands here, so it really helps bring out your "A- game". The heavy music scene here seems to move in cycles, but never dies!! As far as the number of bands, I think heavier music is going through a renewal phase here right now. There will be a lot more in a few years. Some of our favorite local groups right now include: Chooglin', Gay Witch Abortion, Dosh and Self-Evident.
MM-This is minor yet I can’t help but notice that you changed the band logo on the new album. Why?
With a new bass player and our sound continuing to evolve, we wanted to have a more elemental look. Also, I think metal bands in general suffer a bit from having a sameness to their album artwork. Don't get me wrong, I love the traditional metal imagery, but sometimes it's too much of the same good thing!
MM-What kind of music are you listening to these days?
Mostly modern classical. It seems to provide much inspiration and many musical ideas for me these days. One can only rip off Iron Maiden so many times, ya know?
MM-Pick the band from each of the following pairs that prefer and tell why you picked them.
Cactus or Mountain
Mountain. A great combination of blues-y riff tunes and amazing power ballads. That band had a lot of depth, and each member had a recognizable voice on their instrument.
Iron Maiden or Judas Priest
Even though Maiden were a big early influence, I'd have to go with Judas Priest. Priest had so many different phases. I didn't even "get" the early stuff until I was in my late 20's. They helped define metal, and also had a lot of contrasts in their sounds. Not many metal bands would attempt a song like "Last Rose of Summer". The contrasts between light and dark, heavy and soft are what really made a lasting impression on me with Judas Priest.
King Crimson or YES
Yes. Though they are monster players, I really admire their melodic sense. Not many groups can be as musically progressive as they were, and have a great pop sense, but they pulled it off. I really look up to Yes and Rush more and more as I get older. The body of music they created is mind-boggling!
I love King Crimson too, but not nearly as much as Yes.
Pentagram or Rush
Bobby Leibling was one of the most prolific songwriters in rock and is not yet fully acknowledged by the general music listening public. The Victor Griffin-era Pentagram is some of my favorite heavy music , period. Victor's guitar sound on those recordings has been a model for my own.
After saying all that, I'd still have to go with Rush. I became obsessed with them when I was about 10 years old, and they made a deep, deep impression on me. "Caress of Steel" and "Hemispheres" still loom as large pillars of influence form me.
Those were some brutal choices, as I love ALL of the bands that were mentioned.
MM-Is there anything else that you would like to say about your band or your music?
When we started this band, we weren't sure whether it would make it out of the basement and out into the world. It's been really amazing for us to be able to have great gigs, release albums and see that people that are into what we do.