To Divinity And Beyond: Or Symmetry In The Land Of Evermore
This interview originally appeared at Progfreaks.com in November 2001 (though the article title is to be blamed on PW)
Progressive metal certainly changed a lot during the last decade, with a vast majority of its new exponents deciding to favor a keyboard-drenched approach ever since Dream Theater's Images And Words hit the airwaves. Alas, the twin guitar focus of legends such as Fates Warning and Queensrÿche was not to be forgotten by a band located in current progressive hotbed Holland; that band being Symmetry (yes, the band got its name from THAT album). With a twin guitar drive that gives the band added power, and a number of different musical backgrounds for its members, this prog metal act has brought its own vision of music to reality and at the same time endured some truly disheartening moments with bravery. Why tell you all this, however, when you can read the very words of Franc Tiehuis (guitar), Erik Masselink (vocals), and Bas Hoebink (bass) regarding the band's own trials and tribulations?
Marcelo Silveyra: Erik, you were once in a top-40 cover band named Balderdash that had considerable success, but which also had to switch its repertoire in order to gain more acceptance. Being fan of bands such as Iron Maiden and Queensrÿche, didn't it ever bother you that the band had to change its material in order to be more successful? When did you realize that you wanted to make music that was your own?
Erik Masselink: At first it didn't bother me. The goal was to play as often as possible. Once we reached "success" with playing every weekend two times, the lack of interest came. The booking agency was getting rich and we realized we were just background music at the usual weekend parties. I wanted to express myself with my kind of music, or even better, with my own music. Then Franc T. called...
MS: Franc, you were meanwhile in thrash band Desecrator, which recorded two demos and played quite a few live gigs, but you eventually found that the band was too limited musically for your own tastes and thus decided to leave. Why didn't you try and take Desecrator into a progressive thrash metal direction instead, something along the lines of say Realm, Watchtower, or something similar? How is your experience in a thrash metal band reflected on Symmetry's music and how important do you think that thrash was on the development of progressive metal as a whole?
Franc Tiehuis: The band Desecrator was always divided in two parts. One part was the guitar player/singer and the drummer; the other part was the bass player and me. The first part wanted to play very heavy thrash, the second part was always trying to keep some melodic parts in the songs. When the bass player decided to leave the band I left too, and started Symmetry with Erik. The bass player of Desecrator played a couple of months along with us but it didn't work out anymore, he was to busy with his work and other things. Playing thrash metal is good training for your rhythm hand; maybe some Symmetry guitar riffs are reflecting this. I don't think thrash or speed metal has had an important influence on the development of progressive metal.
MS: Symmetry took five years, from 1992 to 1995, until its lineup was finally complete. Yet since then there have been two additional lineup changes, with Bas Hoebink replacing bassist Gerrit Knol and Martin Kuipers replacing drummer Marcel Heitmann. What is at the heart of these lineup changes and how does this affect the unity and progress of Symmetry as a band?
Bas Hoebink: I think the replacements were mostly due to a lack of motivation. When there's one person in the band that is not completely devoted, it affects the others enormously. Line-up changes are always very time-demanding. So you try to ignore the lack of motivation ... but in the end it seems to be very refreshing to have a new member. Not only the fresh style and ideas of the new member, also his motivation gives the others a boost! Looking back at Symmetry's history the line-up changes always brought positive vibes and a step forward.
FT: Symmetry is getting better and better due to the line-up changes. We can work out things sooner than before and the band personalities fit together better now.
MS: Talking about how things affect the progress of Symmetry ... back in 1997 you recorded the four-track EP To Divinity, and yet it wasn't released until January 1998, due to the fact that the person with the master suddenly disappeared from the face of the planet! Was there a sense of panic when that happened? How did that experience affect the way that Symmetry now operates in its public relations affairs?
FT: We do not trust anybody anymore! AAARRRRGGGHHH!!!
EM: You cannot imagine the PANIC!!! After a few weeks we traced the master (it's a long story) and we partied all day. Since then we are very skeptical about every offer we get from record companies. Harry W., the owner from the studio and guitar player from Harrow, warned us, but we wouldn't listen. They've been through that also, even with the big record companies. But you can't do it without the backup of one of the bigger record companies. Financing the recordings yourself is one thing, but supporting the record through advertising, promotion, and distribution is impossible. We now have a distribution deal with a few companies but the promotion is almost none. Thanks to websites like Progfreaks [and now PW -ed.]we gain a lot of fans. Public relations with magazines and websites are great and record sales are very good for an independent record. We hope that the new record will get us a good deal so that more people can enjoy Symmetry.
MS: When one listens to Symmetry, there is one thing that becomes apparent immediately: there are no keyboards. During these last few years, and ever since Dream Theater became widely recognized as the new leader of the prog metal movement, most bands have moved from the twin guitar approach to that of a guitar and keyboards. If I'm correct, you have no keyboards basically because you couldn't find a keyboardist who was right at one point. Looking back, how do you think having a keyboardist instead of another guitar player would have affected the way that Symmetry sounds?
FT: Symmetry would not be Symmetry with one guitar player and a keyboardist. I never worked with a keyboardist before (in Desecrator), so a second guitar player instead of a keyboardist completed the line-up.
EM: I'm glad we never found one. It makes us a bit unique in the prog world. Back to the roots and it sounds much heavier. I've always liked the older bands like Helstar, Watchtower, Fates Warning, Psychotic Waltz, Queensrÿche, etc.
MS: Something that is also interesting about Symmetry, regarding the general progressive metal scene, is the fact that you recognize many of the subgenre's originators, such as Queensrÿche, Realm, and Watchtower, which are usually overlooked by most people. I've heard many people actually say that bands such as Queensrÿche, and Fates Warning before Perfect Symmetry weren't even progressive metal, as they believe that Dream Theater started the whole thing. Isn't this closed-mindedness a bit dangerous for a band that relies on two guitars and no keyboards?
FT: When people say Dream Theater started the progressive scene, I think they are definitely wrong ... I only think DT made it "more progressive."
EM: I also disagree strongly. Progressive, as in the term as used here, are bands as Rush, Fates Warning, and Queensrÿche, who took metal to a higher level with their rhythms, mood changes, and lyrics. Dream Theater just added something to it.
MS: Yet another one regarding Symmetry and the progressive metal scene. What are the chances for a relatively new band in a vein of music that has now become quite saturated and in which the number of bands increases so rapidly that it becomes increasingly harder for fans to keep up with all the new music? The same goes for the Dutch music scene ... how hard is it to become big in a scene that is so crowded in proportion to the country's population?
EM: I think we are quite unique with the two guitar players, the twin riffing, and combining the old prog metal with the new, on the edge of heavy metal and prog metal, so it shouldn't be hard to spot Symmetry with the Symmetry sound. In Holland there is a big metal scene in general with a lot of great musicians but just a few places to play. A lot of clubs prefer the cover bands or blues bands and that is very frustrating.
FT: Very hard. But we're playing because we like it and we'll see what comes of it.
MS: Your second effort and first full-length album, Watching The Unseen, has something that immediately caught my attention ... a quote from Thomas Mann's Der Zauberberg [The Magic Mountain]. Curiously enough, it's found after the lyrics to "Slave," which in turn are based on the Hellraiser movies. Horror films set up against classic literature is a pretty interesting combination (I'm not even going to mention the painting on the booklet!). What's the exact relation and why the chosen quote from Mann?
BH: Well ... Erik and I were working on the booklet, as one day being in the library and checking out some old paintings, I discovered Thomas Mann's Der Zauberberg. When I read it I immediately had to think of the lyrics of "Slave" and remembered the painting Erik chose for the song. This song is based on the Hellraiser movie, but also features sex and S&M. Der Zauberberg was so detailed in the description of the human body ... it sounded like art! The song always brings [to] me an image of people that are not so intrigued by sex alone, but especially the human body. I sent the poem over to Erik and he liked it, too. So we decided to attach it to the song "Slave."
EM: Horror films set up against classic literature is indeed very interesting. The old literature and paintings are very vivid and real when it comes to telling a story. Nowadays there is television and movies. It seems that it has affected the writers and painters from today. The classical writers and painters really know how to tell a story.
MS: Talking about lyrics, Erik, you once mentioned that your primary inspiration is movies and books. Furthermore, the band seems to have quite a sense of humor when there are subtitles under the pictures on your webpage, or when one of you writes something for your "Gossip" section. I actually found the phrase "rock n' roll!" quite a number of times. It seems that Symmetry takes a more light-hearted approach to its concepts than most progressive metal bands, which seem to prefer a more "intellectual" side. Would you consider this a fair assessment of the Symmetry approach? Are you guys having as much fun as it looks like?
EM: Yes it is and yes we have! Life should be fun. We all have a job and work our asses off. Music is a relief and a release to our daily stress. We are already "intellectual" all day (laughs)! Our new CD is also inspired on a few movies and books on the same subject and it will be just a fun story. Especially after Frank [Shiphorst]'s accident you realize that it's better to enjoy as much as possible.
MS: Yes, the accident came shortly after you won this year's Rockslag concert, with a fire destroying Frank Schiphorst's house and heavily injuring Frank himself. Fortunately enough, his recovery was quicker than expected, and his friends have all helped him get back on track. What crossed your minds the moment you heard of the terrible accident? How did it feel to take such a blow after having such a great outcome at Rockslag?
BH: When something like this happens, music suddenly is not so important. You could only think about Frank ... and the worst thing was that you couldn't do a thing but wait. We heard he had burn injuries all over his body ... how bad? Would he be scarred for life? So many questions, but no answers? In the end Frank seemed to be very lucky (as far as you can call it lucky). The moment we were all on stage again, a few months after the accident, was incredible! I think that also says a lot about the friendship and the passion in Symmetry.
MS: On the brighter side of things, you recently recorded a video for "Land Of Evermore," which recently aired for the first time. Progressive metal bands usually don't have any videos for their songs, as they are not very likely to get appropriate airplay. What made you guys go ahead and record a video? And, just out of curiosity, who was "the babe" that appeared on your photos regarding the making of the video?
BH: We liked the idea to record a video, it was fun. They've told us before the recordings that there was a very good chance for airplay, so...
EM: We don't know who "the babe" was but we'd really like to ... know her. But of course we didn't. Why? We were too shy I guess. She's in the video as well and is walking in The Land Evermore.
MS: A video, an album and an EP, and several live dates are now part of Symmetry's history. What are you hoping to leave as a legacy in the future and what lies ahead for the band? What are fans to expect from your next album and will you increase the number of live dates after it comes out?
EM: As I mentioned earlier on, the new CD will be based on a few movies and books on the same subject (that's all I can tell right now). Our self will again do the booklet. The songs (five are finished now) will be a bit more compact and slightly heavier. We'll try to be in the studio next summer and pray for a good solid record deal and maybe a little tour. I hope people remember our records fifteen years from now.
MS: Alright, let's end this interview with a couple of trademark oddball questions, the first time ever that these questions are actually asked at the end of an interview! First one: When Bas goes to Segunda day, does the rest of Symmetry get jealous? Have any other band members tried to spy on Segunda day or sabotage it? [Segunda was Bas' previous band, Segunda day is the day the members would hang out (see their website's Gossip page for more on this) -ed.]
FT: I didn't even know about it ?!?! Not jealous at all. We are trying to help the great guys of Segunda, as they will try to help us out (I hope...), and we will play together, not sabotage each other. It is difficult enough to play in Holland, so when bands are trying to sabotage things from each other it would be impossible.
BH: Don't let them fool you! Last time I wanted to go to a Segunda-day, they sabotaged my car! From that time on, I decided not to tell them about it anymore. The Segunda-day is now Top Secret and is announced just a few days before the happening or the day itself, so the Symmetry guys have less opportunities to sabotage my journey. I suggested a Symmetry-day ... but the guys are still in consideration! It's probably their pride ... and I forgive them! If they only knew what they are missing! I'm sure one day there will be a Symmetry-day!
MS: Second one: Bas, what does Sinterklaas [The Dutch Santa Claus - MS] do in Spain while it's not winter ... does he party out at Ibiza? And on another note, since you posed as one of them, are the Zwarte Pieten [Sinterklaas' helpers -MS] entitled to social security?
BH: The word goes that this man Sinterklaas is old ... I mean very old! And partying day after day, night after night, is very rock 'n roll, but probably not the way to become that old. To keep himself that vital and mentally strong he must have a lot of women surrounding him in Spain. The story tells that he lives in a castle in Spain, very sober and simple. But he could not fool me ... this man looks like he enjoys life in every way ... he probably listened to "Slave" a dozen times and made his dreams come true in the cellar! Well ... about those Zwarte Pieten ... walking on the roof, climbing in and out chimneys, breaking entry a thousand times a night, and the risk of being caught by a vicious cat, dog, or worse!!! And once a year go to a cold and wet country like Holland? Just for the fun? No way dude! The life of a Zwarte Piet sucks big time. And social security? Sinterklaas is not mad! Saying those words in his presence is like suicide...
To Divinity (EP) (1998)
Watching The Unseen (2000)
A Soul's Roadmap (2004)