!!!AMERICAN HEAVY POWER METAL!!!
We had a conversation with VARKAN. Enjoy!
Welcome to the FILTHY DOGS OF METAL Webzine.
1. Tell us a few things about VARKAN (Members, Starting Year etc).
Alec Damiano: Hello, thank you for having us. The current members are myself, Alec Damiano (vocals and guitar), Dominic Scarano (guitar), Michael Rodriguez (drums), and Sal Barragan (bass). The band formed in 2014 with myself on vocals and bass, my friend Ricardo Hall on guitar, and Mike on drums. We had a few guitarists rotate before our first show, which was with Jeremy Lambert (now with Intent). He and Ricardo left to do their own thing in 2015, and in 2016, Dom and Sal joined and became official members of Varkan. That's the really abbreviated version of our history.
Dominic Scarano: I moved from Pittsburgh, PA to Phoenix, AZ in the summer of 2014, and ironically enough, almost saw them/us open for Doro back in 2015, but wound up not going to the show for whatever reason. I’ve been various bands since the mid 00’s and after taking some time off from playing, I started writing some new stuff in Guitar Pro (which is where I do a lot of my writing) again and decided to essentially dust off the ol’ twang and “get back in the game”. Not knowing the local AZ metal scene that well (at all), I started perusing “Guitarists Wanted” ads online and had narrowed it down to two bands that I wanted to reach out to. I first contacted Alec and in the first practice, her, Mike and I wrote what would become “The Revenge of the Black Queen” and “Shadow Self”. Because of that, I wound up not contacting the other band, which I later found out was the other band that Mike was in at the time…. Small world (or AZ power metal scene), I guess.
2. You have recently released your New Album ''Varkan''. What is the Feedback from your audience as well as from the Press?
AD: The feedback has been overwhelmingly positive. We sent some CDs to Rock Stakk Records, a record store in Osaka Japan, and they all sold out in less than 2 days. People really like it. It's great hearing veterans of the metal scene say that you remind them of the bands they saw on the Friday Rock Show back in the 80's. It's a huge compliment, and we're extremely grateful.
DS: To piggyback on what Alec said, everyone has had a lot of positive things to say about the songs, especially when it comes to the writing and playing.
3. Your music is Classic Heavy Metal. Which are your main influences (Favourite Artists / Bands etc.)
AD: We wear our influences on our sleeve, and I think you can definitely hear bands like Iron Maiden, Judas Priest, Megadeth, Metallica, and Helloween in there. But we also have eclectic tastes.
Sal and I both come from Mexican-American households, and we grew up with a lot of mariachi and banda music, which is very melodic. Most of us also grew up on 70's and 80's rock and metal (what you would call "classic rock"). Dom likes his 80's goth stuff, and Mike is always finding new power metal and death metal bands.
I idolized people like Freddie Mercury, Paul Stanley, and Alice Cooper, and tried to emulate them all the time as a kid. So, there's definitely that theatrical, upbeat element of 70's glam rock as well. We also like a lot of newer power metal and melodic death metal bands like Sabaton, Arch Enemy, Aether Realm, and others, and I think that helps us put a more modern, technical spin on traditional 80's metal.
DS: Some of my very first memories were watching bands like Guns N’ Roses, Skid Row, and Faster Pussycat on the original Headbangers Ball, so hair metal is and will always be my main influence (even though we don’t necessarily sound like any of those bands). My biggest influences playing-wise are Iced Earth, Iron Maiden, and Blind Guardian, which probably explains the abundance of galloping riffs and harmonies in our songs. Oddly enough, some of my favorite and most listened-to bands are 80’s new wave and goth bands like The Sisters of Mercy, The Cure, and The Smiths.
4. Do you prefer Vinyl, Tape, CD or Digital Format and why is that?
AD: They each have their pros and cons. It sounds kinda lame, but I think my preferred format is CD. The sound quality is better than tapes and digital, and it's more portable than vinyl.
DS: For nostalgic purposes, cassette tape, but for listening purposes I would take digital 100% of the time. At the risk of sounding like a contrarian, I’ve never been into vinyl.
5. Why did you release your CD on your own (Private Release), instead of searching for a label and how many copies were pressed?
AD: We wanted to get these songs on tape (well... CD) and release them as soon as possible, as strange as it sounds, because we spent nearly 2 years recording it. We had been playing around the Phoenix scene and were on a number of big shows like Death Angel, Angra, and Xandria, but we felt like not having a physical album or EP was holding us back (it was). We had enough original songs for a full-length album, so we jumped in and recorded it.
I studied music business, so it was a bit of an experiment for me as well, to see how far we could get on our own and see how I could apply what I had learned to the real world. We funded everything ourselves, from the recording to the mixing and mastering, to the artwork, production of merchandise and CDs, hence why it took so long. The first pressing was 100 copies.
We did a lot of stuff ourselves too. Mike did the lyric video for "The Wound Never Heals". I edited the video for "Filthy Human Race" and designed the CD booklet and packaging, as well as some of the merchandise.
Everything we have done has been DIY (with help from friends and partners) and entirely self-funded.
We are thinking of using a label for album #2 and have a few in mind that we are interested in working with.
DS: Being a “new band,” we wanted to essentially do everything according to our timeline and preferences so we’d have complete control over everything and build up a notable fan base with quality “metrics” (as boring as that sounds), which would appeal to a label more.
6. Label or DIY and why?
AD: We're currently DIY, but I look forward to working with a label in the future. DIY is great because you have control over everything. You control your masters, your funds, and how you market yourself. But with DIY, you miss out on a lot of the resources that labels have, mainly when it comes to international distribution, PR, and touring opportunities. I think the ideal situation is to have the best of both worlds, like when bands control their own masters but work out distribution and PR deals with labels.
DS: I concur.
7. Describe your ideal live show as a performance Band. Have you already experienced that?
AD: I grew up idolizing the greats of rock and metal, like Queen, KISS, and Metallica, and am a big fan of today's more theatrical bands like Ghost and Avatar. When I think of an ideal live show, I think of an insanely energetic band with a massive stage production that has lots of pyro and cool lighting rigs. We're not at the level to have a big production yet, but we have good stage presence and energy, and I think we will eventually work our way up to that level.
DS: Having grown up on those Bon Jovi, Motley Crue, and Poison videos, which are equal parts ridiculously and gloriously over the top, I agree with Alec that the bigger the better. I know it sounds inorganic, but we try to model our live shows after bands like Striker, Steel Panther (to an extent), and Helloween. We aren’t the type of band who goes up on stage mean-muggin’ it and trying to look like a bunch of hard-asses (not that there’s anything wrong with that). Sal and I are both huge unapologetic wrestling fans, so we constantly try to taunt each other and do moves onstage, but still haven’t quite figured out how to do so while still playing our instruments and keeping on time.
8. Which things, do you think, a Band should sacrifice in order to succeed?
AD: Even though there are the obvious physical sacrifices, like finances and missing out on family events, I think the most important sacrifices you have to make are psychological. You need to get out of your comfort zone and sacrifice the idea that everyone will like your band, that other people's approval will drive your life, and that you'll make a lot of money and "make it" right away. A lot of the bands you think are overnight successes have been at it for decades. You need to sacrifice a good chunk of your ego and expectations, remain humble, and create the art that YOU want to make. If people like it, great. If they don't, also great. You need to do it for yourself and not anyone else.
DS: In a word, “egos”. Being the “Mick Mars” of the group, I’ve seen many a great band unravel because members couldn’t deal with their riffs/songs being rearranged or their lyrics being tweaked, etc. Too many musicians can’t deal with the fact that a big part of being in a band is compromising and working together “for the greater good”... that, and money.
9. Have you ever sacrificed anything in your life for a better future of your Band?
AD: The biggest reason I moved to the Phoenix area to pursue my college education was so I could be a part of the music scene. I busted my ass in school to get a scholarship so I could get out of Nogales, AZ and move to Phoenix, because that was the only opportunity I had. Most of my family still lives in the Nogales/Tucson area, and I only get to see them a few times a year. So, I've sacrificed a lot of family time and the comfort zone of my hometown. Relationships are another one. I don't know if I'll ever settle down and have a kid. Maybe in the future, but I don't see it happening soon. I've also sacrificed vacation days at work, sleep... and a little bit of sanity. :)
DS: Money. Unfortunately, being in a band is not cheap (not complaining, just sayin’). Between gear, transportation, recordings, and practice space rent, all of that adds up… Still cheaper than playing hockey, though. I think I’ve also lost years off of my life trying to learn/accurately play Kerry King solos for the several Slayer/Jeff Hanneman tribute shows we’ve done in the past.
10. Which attributes, do you think, that a new Heavy Metal Band should have in order to gain identity and be unique?
AD: I think the most important thing is the music. The songs need to be memorable and catchy, for a lack of better terms. A lot of new metal bands fall in the trap of creating "riff salad," which is just riffs after riffs without much of a song structure, and many of them place more emphasis on technique than on songwriting. You can be technical and have good songwriting, but it's a definite balancing act. I think the bands that do well balancing both and creating memorable music are the ones who rise to the top. Sure, there are poppier bands and we have some poppy elements. But what matters in the end is whether the people like and remember the music, not how many notes you play per minute.
If a band has an interesting image, it definitely helps, but it's not the be-all end-all. There are plenty of bands out there who just wear jeans and t-shirts onstage and make killer tunes, and others who have elaborate costumes and stage props, but the music is not as strong, in my opinion.
Have good, memorable tunes, and be true to yourself is my advice.
DS: ^^^ I literally could not have said it any better.
11. Do you believe that Bandcamp and other Digital Platforms help the new Heavy Metal Bands? Which, do you think, is the ideal way for a Band to promote its work?
AD: Bandcamp and other digital platforms absolutely help new metal bands. We've had many people discover us on Bandcamp, as well as the NWOTHM Full Albums YouTube channel. I think the best way for a small, unsigned band to promote their work online is by going through similar channels, by reaching out to a social media page, blog, or community that has an audience with similar tastes.
DS: Places like Bandcamp, YouTube, Instagram, etc. are huge assets for up-and-coming metal bands (and even established bands). Like it or not, that seems to be the most beneficial way for new bands to get the most/best exposure.
12. Do you know anything about the Hellenic Metal Scene?
AD: I am familiar with some of the larger bands like Septicflesh and Rotting Christ, but other than that, I am not that familiar with it, sorry to say.
DS: My first exposure to the Hellenic metal scene was Iced Earth’s Alive in Athens. I’d never heard a live album where the crowd was just as much a part of the recording as the band itself. That is actually my favorite Iced Earth album because the crowd’s energy adds a whole other layer to the songs. Because of that album, I soon discovered Firewind/Gus G. and over the past few years have gotten into Septicflesh. In fact, much of the keyboards/orchestration in “Eclipse of My Soul” was inspired by them.
13. What are your future plans?
AD: We are in the process of writing album #2 and have about 5-7 songs in the pipeline. We already have some ideas in mind for the overall aesthetic of the album. We'll be debuting the first song live later this year.
We also want to record a covers EP with metal versions of songs by non-metal artists who have been major influences on us.
DS: Get ready for “Morrissey Goes Metal”.
AD: We're also hoping to play a few shows in California late this year or early next year, and release another music video around then as well.
14. Thank you very much for your time & Keep up the good work! The closure is yours.
Thank you for having us!
By Steve the Filthy Dog.