Aeon Zen is the brain child of Rich Hinks who presented on the second album new guest singers. The one-man show became a band, even if they work with different singers on the album. Time to learn a bit more about the man behind Aeon Zen!
Please tell us first a bit about yourself! When did you start playing? And at what age you wrote the first songs?
I received a lot of formal musical education when I was younger which really helped me build my current musical style. I started first playing piano when I was about 5 years old, followed by alto saxophone a couple of years later believe it or not, and receiving music lessons on both, as well as plenty of music theory lessons and that sort of thing. It wasn't until I was about the age of 14 that I got my first bass guitar, which I then taught myself to play, practicing as many hours a day as I could. Then a couple of years after that I taught myself to play guitar as well. So it really is a lifelong love of music that has spawned Aeon Zen.
I believe the first Aeon Zen song I wrote was the 12 and a half minute The Demise Of The Fifth Sun when I was 16, with a few others on the first album, A Mind's Portrait, written around that same time. As for when I first started writing songs in general, it's hard to say, but the first songs I wrote in a rock / metal style would probably be at around the age of 14 when I first started learning to play bass.
In 2009 you released A Mind's Portrait. You played all instruments, but got a few guests for the vocal parts. Did you have a certain singer in mind when writing the songs? Or did you just later think about who would fit in?
It depends on the song, sometimes I know exactly who I want to sing on a certain, for example Andi Kravljaca (of Silent Call) singing on Existence on A Mind's Portrait or Nick D'Virgilio (of Spock's Beard) singing on Crystal Skies from the new album The Face Of The Unknown, but other times the song just goes in a certain direction and I know what type of vocals would suit it best and then when the song is complete I can figure out exactly who's voice would work best for the song.
I always write out a musical score of the vocal melodies, so that I know what the vocals are doing when I write the song, and I then send that to the respective singers when that's all complete so that they can record themselves singing my vocal melodies.
Now you have The Face Of The Unknown out, only a year later. Are you a workaholic? Or have some songs been already written when A Portrait's Mind were released?
Well, I am more or less always working on music, writing and recording, so it is an ongoing process. A couple of tracks on the album, Crystal Skies for example, were written around the time of The Demise Of The Fifth Sun off the first album, but others are more recent. I started writing completely new material for The Face Of The Unknown virtually straight away as soon as A Mind's Portrait was finished, around April of 2009, so I guess you could say I'm a workaholic, although this is also what I do for pleasure, so it's not such hard work for me!
I think I then finished writing all the songs and recording all the instruments for the album by about February of 2010, and then had the various guest singers start to record their parts. So I think all the music on The Face Of The Unknown was probably finished by about July 2010. There is a lot of work involved, but I love to do it!
This time another bunch of singers added their vocals, only Andi Kravljaca sings on both albums. Why the change of singers?
I like to have lots of variety in my music, so having different singers helps achieve that. It also helps me create different textures within my music. If I only used the same 3 or 4 singers (or if I only used one singer for that matter) on all of Aeon Zen's recordings, although those methods do have their own qualities, I think it could diminish the surprise and excitement of Aeon Zen's albums. Although I do have a certain style (Aeon Zen is not suddenly going to become a pop group for example!), I don't want people to know exactly what they're going to get with an Aeon Zen album, I like to change things up and keep it all fresh. It's also great to be able to work with all these different singers!
You choose the longest track as the opening track. Why Salvation? Wouldn't a shorter track make it easier to get into the album?
A shorter track might make the album slightly easier to digest, especially to those who aren't used to listening to this sort of music, but I wanted to start the album with a track that has a lot of power behind it and shows what Aeon Zen is about. Salvation is a real statement of intent, it has a great mix of heavy sections, soft sections, progressive sections, it encompasses quite a lot musically, twisting and turning all the way through, which will hopefully keep the listener's interest and keep them wanting more with the rest of the album!
In my opinion Michael Eriksen's voice and style fits perfectly to your tunes - but I don't want to minimize the other singers -, will you work again with him? As far as I know he was one of the vocalists you wanted to work with on what's now The Face Of The Unknown...
It was great working with Michael, he is a fantastic singer and a cool guy too, so of course it was great to have him on The Face Of The Unknown, along with the other guest singers Andi Kravljaca (Silent Call), Jem Godfrey (Frost*), Nick D'Virgilio (Spock's Beard) and Jonny Tatum, and I do some vocals on the album too of course!
As to whether we'll work together in the future (with any of these guests, not just Michael), I don't know right now, it would be great, but I haven't started thinking about singers for new music just yet, we'll have to see what the music where the music goes and what lyrics and melodies I write in the future.
I read that another singer on your wish list was James LaBrie. Did you manage to get in touch? Convince him to contribute his voice to the next album?
I actually said that in an interview as somewhat of a joke that has been taken slightly out of context (laughs). Of course it would be great to work with him, but we'll see what happens in the future.
You played some live shows already, how did it work?
Yeah, I've played a few live gigs with Aeon Zen and they've been great! It's really nice to be able to play this music and bring it to people in a live setting. The sound is fantastic and the music has been really well received.
There are a lot of technical aspects to Aeon Zen's live show, for example, we're using electric drums on stage, as well as digital guitar amplifiers, to give the best sound quality possible. I really want my music to be heard the way it was intended and not affected too much by different venue's acoustics and what's available there and then on the night, so a lot of work has gone into making sure everything sounds right and creating a sound that is every bit as good as the albums.
An idea about Aeon Zen live one gets by watching the videos you posted from ProgBury. Can fans expect more live videos?
(If you haven't seen the video yet, check it out here)
I want to keep providing new things for the fans, whether its new music, videos, whatever, so I'm sure there will be more videos in the future!
Are there any plans to tour?
I have actually just announced a European tour in March 2011, Aeon Zen is the support band to The Devin Townsend Project for 23 shows in 12 countries starting on 3rd March. We will be performing a varied set of tracks from the first two albums, A Mind's Portrait and The Face Of The Unknown. You can find all the tour dates, including a few in Germany, on the website at www.aeonzen.com
You now have a live band; will you work with these guys on the next album? Or will you handle all instruments again?
I will do all the instruments again myself. It is great playing with other musicians live, but it is those musicians playing my music. Aeon Zen is a way for me to create my music and get it sounding the way I want, so of course the best way to do that is to do it myself!
Have you already written new songs? Did playing live inspired you?
I currently have about half an hour's worth of material written and recorded instrumentally for the next Aeon Zen album, so it is all underway and it's going really well and sounding great so far! It's very exciting writing and recording new music; I can't wait to share it with everyone.
Playing live is a great way to get my music across, but I don't think it has affected my writing for the next album too music, although I always try to keep in mind how a song will be performed in a live setting to keep things sounding organic and natural.
You have a tablature page on your website (www.aeonzen.com); will you do some instructional video for your fans in future?
It's possible; it would be a nice thing to do, so we'll see!
What are your plans for 2011?
2011 should be a great year for Aeon Zen, I will be on tour in Europe throughout March and I also plan to release another new Aeon Zen album which I have been working on, so there should be lots of new stuff for everyone to enjoy! So please give Aeon Zen your support and check out www.aeonzen.com
I hope everyone has a fantastic 2011! Thanks for the interview and I hope to see you all out there soon!
Aeon Zen touring with The Devin Townsend Project in Europe gives metal fans a chance to check them out live. It's an interesting package, so check the dates!
Beside that it seems that we won't have to wait very long for new music... I have to thank Rich for answering my questions and I think this wasn't the last time we talked about Aeon Zen.