PowerQuest : Interview with Steve Williams

Can a band survive the departure of all it’s original members bar one ? Well I suppose that dependson the drive and determination of the sole survivor. When PowerQuest started to shed members a couple of years ago it wasn’t clear if main man and keyboard player Steve would assemble a newlineup and keep the PowerQuest flag flying. Even if he did could a new band of hired guns recapture the ethos displayed before, an ethos which won them a legion of fans and an impressive reputation as a high voltage live act ?

We saw PowerQuest’s new incarnation at Hammerfest earlier in the year and things were clearly starting to come together. The release of the Blood Alliance album in March well and truly deliveredon the promise shown by that performance, PowerQuest are undeniably back and far from being their own tribute act the new line up takes things new heights. CackBlabbath caught up with Steve to find out some of their turbulent history, his thoughts on the art of creating an album and the musician’s dislike of genre pigeon holes.

Tricky one first, So what would you classicfy PowerQuest’s music as ?

Good question, cos it touches on a problem we’ve had over the years, that PowerQuest is to most people power metal.

Isn’t it ??

Well, Not to me it isn’t, well not only. The problem is that everybody wants to put things in pigeon holes. With us youhave the kind of melodic hard rock, almost Van Halen-isms going on in placesthrough to the more traditional power metal through to the more progressivemetal, and even the progressive rock connotations in places. It’s quite a broad spectrum and it does give you quite a lot of flexibility when it comes to plyinglive, you can go out and play with a band like Journey or Thunder as well as youcan go out and play with a Symphony X or a Dream Theater.

But for some reason that isn’t a good thing to a lot of people. I’ve found with a lotof the power metal fraternity that they want two songs and they want them to behyper speed. Now that’s fine if that’s what you want, but it’s not what I want to write.That’s boring to me, an album should have ebb and flow, should have rise and falland all that kind of thing. That’s part of the art of creating an album, an album shouldn’t be just 10 songs you’ve written, it should be 10 songs you’ve picked from abunch of songs you’ve written that say something specific and do it in a particular way.

Powerquest have been through a number of line up changes recently, what brought that about, and do you feel the lineup you have currently is a settled lineup ?

Yeah, it’s a difficult one to cover in a very short answer, the line up changes hark back from the end of 2008 when the Bass Player Steve Scott who’d ben with me since the start of the bandin 2001 deprted, he moved back home to New Zealand and the follwong year our vocalist Alessiodecided he was going to retire from metal and do an alternative rock kind of thing, which is his chouce of course.

Andrea, the guitar player, played in another band which had exactly the same issues as PQ, all themembers left, so we then found ourselves having to build two bands from scratch so he decided “Steve, you’re going to have to do PQ and I’m going to have to do my thing”.

Then Francesco the drummer decided, again quite sensibly really, what’s the point of having a drummer based in Italy when the rest of the band is now based in the UK ? So he kind of fell on his sword for want of a beter phrase.

So that kind of left me in the situation after 4 albums and 8 and a half years orso of where do I go from here, if anywhere. Really the thing that changed my mind was the response of the fans, people writing in and emailing me saying “you’ve got to carry on”, so slowly but surely I started putting my ear to the ground and checking out who was out there, having worked with Italian guys for so long I’d kind of lost track to be honest.

How difficult has it been for the new guys coming into the band ?

To be honest the guys I have in the band now I really can’t say enough good things about. It’s been a challenge to them in a lot of ways, firstly to come in and follow in the footsteps of the guys who have gone before, and secondly to record an album that’s actually going to better what’s gone before. I was very fortunate that all the guys were PQ fans before they joined the band, whichis a massive, massive bonus as they kind of understand the legacy of what’s gone on.

On the flipside I’ve also said to them “Don’t think you have to mirror what’s happened before, you are the band now, not those guys, so you can put ideas forward and suggest things to me. Don’t feelthat Steve’s going to stamp over whatever I say”.

I think one of the key things that the fans were saying to me, and funnily enough the guys who leftthe band said to me “when people think of PQ they think of you Steve you write all the songs, you do all the business stuff that goes round it, we just come and play and record when you want us to. Now it’s not quite like that but I appreciated them saying it as it encouraged me to get out there and see what we can achieve.

And how’s it all coming together ?

I think now, 12 months down the line from when we demoed stuff for the new album it’s all clicked into place really well, and it did really quickly to be honest.
So there’s the new album, Blood Alliance, which came out in March and that’s the acid test.

Do you think the sound on the new album has changed quite a bit from having the new members in the band ?

I would say that sonically it probably has changed, another key factor is that we completely redid the way we recorded, new studio, new producer, and refresh everything. The upshot of that is this is probably the heaviest album PowerQuest have ever done, and arguably the fastest, maybe not acrossthe board but in 3 or 4 moments it does get very hectic, I think we go up to about 215 beats per minute in places, it is furious but along with that I think it is the most consistent record from a writing point of view. For me the true test is when you say to whoever is in your band you can pick songs for a live show, which ones shall we do off the new album? and somebody suggests every song.

Do find that given the history of the band, and I mean everyone has their favourite PowerQuest song,that there’s that moment live when you say “anyone want to hear a new song” and get the predictable “no, play an old one” answer ?

Yeah, one of the things I have been conscious of is becoming a tribute to myself. Ok we’ve got twin guitars now, it’s heavier with a bit more shredding but the vocals are quite distinctly different and that is the first ting most people notice. I said to new singer was Chity “listen to the back catalogue, don’t pick the songs that you think are the fans favourites, pick the songs that you think work best for you, hence why we ended up playing Another World at Hammerfest, one that we’ve never played live before. It just suits him, and it suits the rest of the guys.

What you’ll find is the return of some songs that have not been played live for a number of years, also the introduction of a couple that have never been done along with a couple of classics interspersed and about 50% from the new album.

So the new material will be a big part of the setlists moving forward then ?

I think it’s important that the new guys (well I say new, they’ve all been in the band at least 12 months) but for the benefit of casual observers these guys deserve to be able to play the songs that they’ve been involved in, and they come more naturally anyway because they’ve been with it from the ground up.

How did you go about assembling the new band ? We first heard of guitarist Gavin whenhe was playing with Triaxis, so how did he come to be in the band ?

Funnily enough I knew his brother and both of them auditioned, which is kind of weird, given that they’re twins it was a little bit surreal. They’re both fantastic players in terms of technical ability.

The thing is 50% of playing in PowerQuest is about being a great musician, the other 50% is about being a great person, and that’s what we’ve got. We’ve always had that kind of thing going on but it was ultra important when we were bringing in the final pieces of the puzzle that they had that.

The combination of Gavin and the other guitar player Andy Mitchell is quite a frightening  prospect in some ways. They’re both young guys and they’re arguably the best twin guitar combo that I’ve come across for a while.

So does that force you to up your game, the fact you’ve got these guys coming in that they are really going to push what you do ?

No, not really. For me it’s always been about the songs, it’s not about how technical I need to be or would I need to solo at warp speed or whatever. If a song deserves it we’ll do it. I listen to these guys regularly and it’s incredible, but I’m too old to feel threatened by it 🙂

Shortly after this interview CB was lucky enough to squeeze into a packed to capacity Sophie tent at Bloodstock Open Air 2011 to check up on progress, and what a f*kin show it was. The promised mix of old and new was delivered, with the new stuff such as Blood Alliance more than holding it’s own against classics from the band’s extensive back catalogue.