Tim Donahue: Madmen & Sinners.
Tim Donahue had a broad vision for his follow up to the successful Into The Light release. This time he enlisted Dream Theater vocalist James LaBrie to drive the powerhouse progressive / melodic metal project. Tim speaks about the already highly acclaimed results!
Hi Tim, congratulations on the album - which is finally available!
This one has been a long time coming hasn't it? When did you start work on the album and did you envisage that it would take this long to complete?
Thank you Andy. I started composing MADMEN & SINNERS in 2002, and I really didn't think it would take 2 years to finish the album.
There were a lot of technical problems came up that had to be solved along the way.
From memory, you had plans for this album before the Into The Light project
was released - have you realized your long time goal with this album?
You're right- some of the initial music for this album came to me as INTO THE LIGHT was being released. I'm happy to say that musically speaking, the MADMEN album is everything I wanted it to be. Production-wise, there will always be things that can be done better. I'm aware of this. But the music comes first, before anything else in my book.
The music in not your average hard rock, nor even your average progressive
rock - it's something a little different again. Why chose this route to write/record in?
I really didn't decide a direction to write the MADMEN music in. It came to me quite naturally Andy.
There is no pre-determined songwriting process for me. I just make sure that the music hits me at the songwriting stage. This is an important point for me- the music must hit me at this very early stage because I don't want to rely on over-arranging and over-playing to make the music interesting. The songs must be interesting right from the early stage of composition. THEN it's easy and fun to arrange later on.
Did you have any influences going into making this record - other artists
or albums your really admired?
Dream Theater's SCENES FROM A MEMORY had an influenced the way I approached the vocals. Other than that, I would say older prog rock combined with the general heaviness of today's metal influenced the MADMEN album. Of course, the balance of all these elements within a set concept gives the album its character.
How has the album been received by those you have heard back from?
I don't mean to exaggerate this- but the response has been absolutely fantastic.
I never expected such an outpouring of letters, great reviews and media attention.
Let me take this opportunity to thank you for your kind support.
Anytime Tim! In selecting a vocalist to work with - what it always James LaBrie or
no-one, or did you have a short list you would have been interested in working with?
James was the first vocalist I thought about for this album because I wrote
it with his vocals in mind. But I'll be honest and say that Ian Parry's vocals
were in my mind too, for some of the tracks. That's nice because James & Ian are two of my good friends and favorite vocalists.
It's great to hear James on this record - something a little different for
him again. Have you had much feedback from Dream Theater fans yet?
Yes, very much so. Even though MADMEN & SINNERS is quite different from DT,
I'm glad that so many DT fans are receptive to this approach to prog/metal.
My music is not easy to sing, but James sang great indeed!
You play many of the instruments yourself - isn't that being a little
greedy? :) !!
Maybe so! On one hand, I play everything myself because I'm guaranteed 100% satisfaction. It just takes longer to make an album this way, and it costs a lot to put a tour together once the album is done.
On the other hand, I love working with players whom I respect and who reciprocate
the same level of respect. Many bands break up because this basic ingredient has deteriorated, for whatever reason. But when it's right, it can be magic-
so, I'm always looking for players to work with me.
Tell us about the problems you faced while recording and mixing this album
- there were several studio difficulties to over come weren't there?
Aside from the normal compatibility issues that arose when making my new studio,
potentially fatal issues like the unexpected loss of massive amounts of data almost ruined the entire album. Things got resolved, but it took most of the summer of 2003.
I was a truly madman all summer!
With so much pressure on yourself as an individual, how do you manage that
I stay away from open windows...
Actually, I'm not so good at stress management, and tend to lose a little insanity
with every album. Maybe THAT'S the reason why my music keeps getting heavier.
And following on from that - how do you take a step back and look and
listen to the project objectively?
Many times during the production of an album, I'll listen to other kinds of music because it unlocks my mind from the music at hand. But being so immersed in production,
I never get to really step back until a year or so after an album's release.
You obviously were able to in some capacity as the album sounds immaculate. But how blurred does the line between the artist and the producer get - when you are in fact both?
When starting out, the line is indeed blurred. There's still so much for me to learn, but in my opinion, the trick lies in making the line between being a producer and artist as clear as possible. This means developing a 6th sense, so to speak, in order to produce your album as objectively as possible.
If you're an artist, this can be a very difficult thing because you've probably spent a hell of a lot more time as an artist than an objective producer.
That said, I think its best to have an outside producer whenever possible. It must be the right person and many other factors (like the respect for each other and a mutual vision of the album) must be right-on.
Let's talk about the songs themselves - can you give us a line or two about
the music and inspiration behind each track?
MILLION MILES: a cynical look at the Cold War and the insanity of atomic war.
This track features real 1950's USA Civil Defense announcements, and comes to
a thunderous conclusion with the launch of a nuclear missile and climactic explosion.
The fretless guitars sound just like a bomb attack- a very scary track.
LET GO: The pain of innocence lost. A cathedral-like ambience sets the mood for this ballad,
which features authentic pipe organ, acoustic guitar and James LaBrie's passionate vocals.
MY HEART BLEEDS: Another cynical theme, this time regarding religious hypocracy. The pulsating
intro features demonic voices, and layers of thick synth textures. The main body of the track features heavy, intricate instrumental work, climaxing with a large cathedral chorus.
FEEL MY PAIN: A powerful blend of heavy metal and jazz fusion, this track features unusual but catchy
melodic moments, coupled with equally unusual guitar work. James' vocals are intense, and the track concludes with equally intense band interplay.
MORTE ET DABO (The Gift Of Death): Real Gregorian chant sung in Latin by an 80-member choir.
Church bells and an eerie narration create a dark ambience, preparing the listener for the next track
CHILDREN OF THE FLAME: Dark and complex, this track takes a cynical look people who actually believe in Judgement Day. This track builds gradually, and finishes with a massive climax depicting the end of the world. The lyrics are apocalyptic:
burning ashes start to rain, on the children of the flame.
God's anger comes through in the final, thundering chord
THE END: Contrasting with the complexity of CHILDREN OF THE FLAME.
This simplistic track deals with the guilt of love and sin, and features passionate vocal and fretless guitar work throughout.
WILDEST DREAMS: The story of forbidden love and fantasy.
Again, I arranged this track for Gregorian chant, passionate vocals and acoustic guitars.
I think James sounds his best on this track.
MASTER OF THE MIND: The story of a mental patient who is wrongfully committed to
an insane asylum, where the neurosurgeons are also insane. Not a nice place. The track features intricate band interplay and some neo-classical elements. I love the fretless guitar riffs throughout this track!
MADMEN & SINNERS: a 15+ minute epic, combining instrumental and lyrical themes from tracks 1-9. This lush composition includes haunting chant and orchestration, with diverse fretless guitar and vocal work throughout. These elements come together at the end, and conclude the album in a powerful climax of choir and lush orchestration.
Is there anything you didn't achieve with the final album that you felt you
Musically, no. For me, MADMEN achieves the desired balance of beauty & heaviness,
melodic writing & technical playing. I would have liked to record the drums differently though.
What do you do next to recover from this epic album and the work involved
in recording it? What do you have planned to do next?
I'm busy promoting the current album. At the same time, I've started composing the next album while preparing for fretless guitar clinics in Japan and maybe Europe.
Perhaps another Madmen & Sinners album is in the back or your mind?
You guess it- MADMEN 2 is being born as we speak!
Were there any tracks recorded for this album that didn't make the cut and
might they surface somewhere else in the future?
Yes, we recorded some beautiful acoustic tracks which are more suited for
MADMEN 2 than the current album.
What's currently on rotation in your CD player Tim?
The MADMEN 2 demos!
Anything you would like to add?
Thanks to all my fans, and to you Andrew for your professionalism and support!
Many thanks for your time to talk and please let me know if you need
A pleasure mate!