Circle II Circle in Dubai

We meet band founder and former Savatage frontman Zak Stevens

Interview

We’ll forgive you if you’re confused by what we’re about to tell you. Metal-loving hearts were broken when a planned Dubai gig by Jon Olivia’s Pain was cancelled in June: the former frontman of metal behemoths Savatage was set to perform a tribute to his old band’s ’80s heyday. So to make up for it, now the same squeal-loving promoter has booked another vintage US metal band, Circle II Circle. Led by Zak Stevens, the former frontman of rock giants Savatage, the singer will be leading the band through a tribute to his old band’s heyday. Hold on – what? Two Savatage singers leading tribute shows? We’re confused too.

So – this is what happened. Savatage formed in 1978 in Florida, by brothers Jon and Chris Olivia. But after achieving fame with albums including career-high Hall of the Mountain King (1987) and concept album Streets: A Rock Opera (1991), Jon quit – although he apparently helped pick Zak Stevens as a replacement. So far, so good.

We’d love to say that was the end of the story – but tragedy struck. Shortly after Jon left the band, his guitarist brother Criss was killed. So Jon rejoined the band to ‘keep the music alive’. And now the band had two lead singers, although Olivia was more interested in his new Trans-Siberian Orchestra (TSO) project, which featured Savatage members, including Stevens.

When Stevens quit Savatage in 2000 to form Circle II Circle it signalled the end of the iconic band. Fast-forward to 2012, and after five albums CIIC are turning to Savatage’s commercial ’90s tunes live, while
Jon Olivia’s new band Pain are recreating their proggy ’80s work on tour. But the two singers are still friends, claims 46-year-old Stevens. Still confused? We’ll let him explain.

Two bands playing the same music? What exactly is going on?
Savatage are no longer active, and because many fans around the world still want to hear Savatage music being played live, Circle II Circle does Savatage tribute shows like the show we’re going to perform in Dubai. Circle II Circle is the closest thing you’ll get to Savatage these days because I’m a former lead vocalist – I was in the band for ten years over a five-album span.

Sounds competitive. Are you still in touch with Jon?
Yes I’m in touch with him on a regular basis. We talk about what we’re doing musically and what he’s doing with writing for TSO and his own band Jon Oliva’s Pain, and things like that. We also talk about the times we shared in Savatage, back when his brother Criss was still alive, and subjects like that.

Why do you think metal has always been seen as outsiders’ music?
Because metal music is the type of music that begs to make a statement. It’s loud, boisterous and usually has a point to make and an attitude to get across to the listener. Metal music is very powerful – so much so that it’s usually too powerful for a lot of people that may just enjoy Justin Bieber or Katy Perry or other forms of light, Top 40-type music. This is not what metal is all about. It’s a rebellious form of music. It’s not for the faint at heart.

How did you discover the music?
One summer when I was nine years old, my best friend’s big brother decided that him, my younger brother and I should sign up and take part in our school’s talent show. He helped us choose our instruments. I was a fast learner on the drums and I could sing while I played. We prepared a few songs, some Creedence Clearwater Revival and some Kiss songs, and we played the show – by that time I was ten years old – and we won. That was what started my career in music.

How would you describe your music to an alien from outer space?
First of all, we come in peace! [Laughs] I’d say, ‘Hey Alien, listen to this music for a little while and see if you can feel the power, energy and emotions that flow from it. It might get loud at times, so feel free to use these ear plugs. This instrument right here, the guitar, has very magical frequencies. These drums give the solid backbone of the music. This bass will rattle your skull. These keyboards give a nice ambience to the music. Enjoy and feel free to rock out, Alien!’

And if your music was an alien planet, what would it look like?
It would look very colourful. Lots of red moons and a red sky. Lots of mountains and valleys. It would run the gamut of topography and be breathtaking. It would have rings around it like Saturn to protect
our planet from musical acts like Justin Bieber, Katy Perry, Beyoncé, Demi Lovato and Kanye West…
Circle II Circle play on Friday November 30. Doors open 6pm, show starts 7.30pm. Domeland@Chi, Al Nasr Leisureland, Oud Metha, www.timeouttickets.com

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