Interview with Gothic Knights

Interviewed by Jessica Clingempeel
7/15/2018

The band has
been around for quite some time now, founded in 1990, John wanted an ‘epic
power metal’ sound in the band. What inspired such passion for the power metal
genre? Does the band still want to go that route or looking to change things up
a bit and dabble in different genres?

John: Growing
up, my favorite bands were Iron Maiden, Judas Priest, Manowar, Metallica, and
Ozzy just to name a few. It’s those influences and my passion for playing
guitar that inspired me to form a heavy metal band. I wanted to capture the
same intensity as the bands that I grew up with, but with an originality I
could call my own. After we released our first demo in 1994 some people had
compared our music to Helloween and Warlord. The funny thing is that I vaguely
knew of Warlord, and I had never heard the music of Helloween. I had only
started to find and listen to Helloween after the comparisons. I actually
became a big Helloween fan afterwards. As far as dabbling in different genres,
our music ranges between epic power metal style to a dark thrashier side. I
don’t have a desire to do something drastically different; my passion is still
very much into metal.

What kind of
obstacles did the band face when trying to make it big, especially in a country
where, at one point, metal was not popular?

John: We
actually formed the band in 1990 when metal in the US was over-commercialized.
A lot of the glam bands were dominating the scene especially in the U.S. It
seems as grunge took hold, the glam scene died rather quickly and the power
metal scene went underground.

Mario: I guess
timing was our biggest obstacle since we came into existence just as grunge
took over in the United States.

When it comes
to the name of the band, what inspired the name?

John: I
remember writing hundreds of names down. Coincidentally, I just recently found
the notebook of all the band names I wrote down. The one word that I really
liked was the word “Knights”. Aside from the mere fact that I had strong
interest in fantasy, Sci-Fi books and movies – I felt the word “Knights” truly
encompasses what a band effort is and should be. The word “Gothic” came up when
I asked one of my friends from high school who was majoring in English. We were
brainstorming for a synonym for the word “Medieval”, since I liked the word and
its meaning – but as part of a band name he uttered the word “Gothic Knights”.
As soon as I heard it, it was if a light bulb went off! I felt that the word
“Gothic” would capture and represent both the anthemic and fantasy-oriented
themes, as well as the dark lyrical concepts and music I was envisioning.

Was being in a
metal band always a dream or were there other goals in life?

Mario: Since I
decided to take up my instrument at 15 years old, it has always been a dream of
mine to be in a successful metal/hard rock band that could make a living off of
music. Of course, as I got older and saw the musical landscape change in the
mid 90’s (especially for heavy metal), I realized it’s not a bad idea to have a
backup plan – that backup plan was to go to college, and get a degree in a
field of study that was practical.

Flash forward
to 2018 – most of us know how much more difficult it has become for a band to
be successful, given how much the music industry has changed. Today, even
“successful” bands struggle to survive. The love and passion to play music
seems to be the only thing that keeps certain bands from calling it quits… I
know that is the case for us.

John: The
band will always be a passion and a creative outlet. I think if anything the
band has its longevity because we knew as the 80’s metal scene died – for us to
have peace with whatever success we may or may not achieve, we were doing it
for the musical experience as creative artists/performers; not necessarily to
make a living off of it. The other goal I set for myself was to establish a
career that would help fund the band’s endeavors.

Looking at the
artwork for the albums, I must say they are very intriguing. Who came up with
the concept?

Mario: The
first 2 releases (Self-titled and Kingdom of the Knights) were finished pieces
of artwork. We didn’t come up with the concept, however we felt the imagery
conveyed the style of our song’s subject matter.

The artist for
our second cd “Kingdom of the Knights” is Ken Kelly who has quite the resume
for album art. He did the covers for “Destroyer” and “Love Gun” by Kiss, as
well as “Rising” from Rainbow, and a whole bunch of album covers for Manowar.

The last 2
releases were conceptualized by us mainly, along with the help of the
individual graphic designers. Dirk Illing did our Up From the Ashes cover, and
Eliran Kantor did the Reflections From the Other side cover.

With respect
to the concept for Up From the Ashes. our ex-vocalist Rick wanted some type of
bird/phoenix to tie in with the title of the album, and I must say Dirk nailed
it. The metallic golden bird rising from the flames and ash was beautiful,
along with the rest of the cd layout.

The concept
for our last cd “Reflections From the Other Side” came from a creepy/gothic
mirror that was hung up in our old rehearsal space. The mirror had skulls and a
gargoyle as it’s frame. I thought it would be cool as an album cover to
incorporate a grim reaper hacking through a similar mirror. To provide some
more detail behind the idea – I wanted the Reaper to be coming to life as he is
breaking through the glass, so if you look closely at the reaper’s hand, you
will notice the human flesh on his hands.

It was stated
that the lyrical context is heavily influenced by J.R.R. Tolkien, Stephen King,
and other fantasy/horror concepts, ever thought of getting your music in
soundtracks? Maybe record an entirely soundtrack themed album?

Mario: It’s a
good idea, and I’m certain we have envisioned and/or discussed it, but we would
probably need a connection in the movie biz, or learn how to better market
ourselves into that industry.

John: Every
song on the last CD was mixed without vocals in case this opportunity presented
itself. One of the things we need to explore is if opportunities exist for us
where we can get our music into soundtracks or video games. We are also
fortunate that we own the masters to all our back catalog. We could easily mix
and make available versions of our past songs with no vocals.

It has been a
couple of years now since the announcing of Gabriel Colon as vocalist. How many
auditions did the band go through and what made his stand out the most?

John: We went
through about a dozen auditions, whether it was listening to someone’s
recording and/or having them come in and perform a live audition. What
impressed us most about Gabriel was the power in his high voice and his overall
tone.

Mario: We had
worked with about 4 vocalists on a temporary basis prior to finding Gabriel. We
wanted to give these vocalists some time to see if they would be a good fit for
the long-term. Ultimately Gabe was a good fit and had the right voice.

It has been
awhile since an album release and one was in the works for a possible 2018
release. What has happened with that one?

John: We are
currently pre-producing, writing, and finalizing the tracks. It has taken
longer than was initially expected because I ended up going to grad school between
2015 and 2017.

What has been
some of the greatest touring experience over the last 28 years? Worst
experiences?

John: The
tour we did with Last in Line last year was a great experience for us because
it allowed us to branch out into the Northeast. Performing for the first time
last year in Germany (European debut) at Headbangers Open Air was also a real
highlight.

One show that
comes to mind as maybe one of the worst experiences was a show at L’amour
Brooklyn, which was during a snow storm/blizzard. I remember slipping and
falling on the ice with my Marshall amp. Luckily, I didn’t hurt myself or the
amp! So after all the promoting and trekking our van through the snow, we ended
up playing to just a couple of people. Funny thing is that we actually have
that show on video tape.

Mario: Three
great experiences come to mind

1. Definitely
touring with Last In Line was a great experience. Vivian Campbell and Vinny
Appice are legends who recorded and wrote on iconic albums. It was great to
talk with them, and hear them play every night.

2. Headbangers
Open Air gave us a taste of the European Festival experience. The organizers
did a great job at making the bands feel very welcomed.

3. Opening for
Dragonforce at Highline Ballroom. That was just a fantastic and enthusiastic
audience. I thought we sounded and performed really well before a packed venue.

As for worst
experience, I’d have to say playing Blackthorn 51 in Queens – opening for Jake
E. Lee. We had some technical difficulties prior to our start, and the venue
wasn’t nice enough to make up that time because they jam their shows with a lot
opening bands. We wound up playing a 15 minute set… such a complete waste of
time and effort.

As far as
touring goes, who has been some of the greatest bands you have been able to
perform with? Any bands you would love to tour with?

Mario: We have
had the great honor to open for a lot of great metal acts. Here are a bunch:
Queensryche, Manowar, Helloween, Dragonforce, UFO, Michael Schenker, Last In
Line, Jake E. Lee, Symphony X, Sonata Arctica, Savatage, Jon Oliva’s Pain,
Primal Fear, Hammerfall, Angra, Luca Turilli’s Rhapsody, In Flames, Moonspell,
and Delain.

As for dream
tours, Judas Priest and Iron Maiden would be the first two bands we would all
blurt out. Helloween and King Diamond are high are on our lists too.

In my opinion,
I feel that metal is still underrated in the States and there is more room for
the genre to grow. What do you feel about the metal scene in the USA?

John: The
power metal scene hasn’t fully grown to the point as how it is in Europe. So in
my personal opinion, there is opportunity and room for the US scene to grow as
it is not completely saturated. Music scenes come in waves and we are starting
to see a return to more heavy guitar oriented music especially with the current
teenager generation. There will also be a changing of the guard so to speak, as
up and coming bands will take the place of bands like Black Sabbath, who
recently retired.

When not in
the studio or out playing shows, what are some other hobbies the band members
like to do?

Mario: I am
definitely passionate about hockey. I love to follow my team the NY Rangers. As
for recreational activities, I like to bike ride, and go bowling.

As for the
other guys, I’ll give a plug for Dave – he is heavily involved with his website
geeksofdoom.com. It is a website for entertainment news, reviews and interviews
for all things “geek”.

John: I love
to fly fish! I am a lifetime member of Trout Unlimited, and believe and
participate in the conservation efforts.

At one point
you both were in an Iron Maiden/Judas Priest cover band, Iron Priest, is
that still going strong?

Mario: Iron
Priest was a lot of fun, but I left a number of years ago.

John: Iron
Priest has slowed down its activities. This is partly due to the availability
of current members to perform shows. But at this point, we play a couple shows
a year. We are actually going to be recording a demo so we can better market
ourselves to venues that we haven’t never played yet.

Throughout
your career, I’d imagine you have had many ups and down, what would you
consider the worst thing that has happened, and how did the band recover?

Mario: I would
have to say two things… 1. Our drummer Brian Dispost (who played on our first
cd), being diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis. He passed away in 2015. He was a
great drummer and friend. We really miss him.

2. Vocalist
line-up changes. A band’s voice is pretty damn important, and unfortunately
we’ve had to fill that spot a little too often in my opinion. For better or
worse, we continued on with new vocalists because we love what we do.

John: The
worst thing that ever happened is when our original lead singer, who became a
born-again Christian, left the band right before we released our first CD in
1996. We ended up getting offered a three album deal for Noise Records.
However, the deal fell through because of the fact we lost our singer. To
recover, we simply decided that we were going to find a new vocalist, which we
did and then released our second cd – Kingdom of the Knights.

Any last words
for the readers?

John: To me
heavy metal is an art form. As a result, you can absolutely count on Gothic
Knights releasing more music in the future as albums capture a chapter in one’s
musical life. It’s important to follow your dreams, but what is also very
important is creating and setting goals and then keeping to a plan in order to
achieve them!

Mario: We are
always finding new people who don’t know about the band. Younger generations
are being exposed to classic metal bands and are growing the metal scene. If
you haven’t heard of us, I invite you to come see us play, and be sure to check
out our recorded material on iTunes and Amazon, and our social media accounts
on Facebook (Gothic Knights), ReverbNation, and Instagram
(@gothicknightsmetal).

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