July 2011 (live podcast)
New Jersey band Ferox Canorus is a progressive-power heavy metal band with an emphasis on melody that formed in 2004. They are fronted by guitarist "Metal" Dan Sorber, who is also a music teacher and music writer for various online educational sites. A year after this interview the band renamed themselves Thy Kingdom Done. While Dan has since moved to South Carolina and as a real estate uses what he discusses in this interview about the business-side of music.
I'd stumbled upon Ferox Canorus while writing my blog of music reviews & contacted Dan. I not just liked the music but came to appreciate his point of view that was honest with the realities of the hassle of playing music. I asked him on my Roman Midnight Music Radio Show to discuss this aspect of music particularly to have a more educational interview.
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AJ: Dan, we've talked a lot on e-mail. It is a pleasure to finally get a chance to sit & talk with you for an hour.
DAN: The pleasure is all mine, Aaron. Thank you so much for giving me the opportunity.
AJ: Sharing music with with folks like yourself who are struggling or just starting out, personally, is some of the most enlightening talks that I get to have. So, it's more my pleasure than you may realize to have you here.
DAN: Alright, let's see where this goes.
AJ: Dan, you've gigged in N.J. & you've been doing stuff for a while, but folks outside of the region aren't necessarily going to be so familiar with your group. Would you mind just giving me a little insight into who is FEROX CANORUS?
DAN: We're a 5 piece from N.J.. We gig pretty extensively within the tri-state area, but like you said, we haven't really done much outside of the region. So, I guess for people who are new to us, maybe the closest comparison I can make is IRON MAIDEN meets DREAM THEATER, might be somewhat in the right ball park. We tend to have this sound where we draw from a lot of influences, so we kind of sound like everybody but nobody at the same time. If that makes sense to you? This songs sounds like IRON MAIDEN or this sounds like METALLICA, but you can't really ... I don't really think there's anybody that quite sounds like us. I mean, I'm not trying to toot my own horn here, but this is something I've purposely set out to do. Familiar, yet unfamiliar.
AJ: Dan, you're the guitar player, but are you also a songwriter or do backup vocals or anything else in the band?
DAN: Primary songwriter. I'm not the only one. I mean, pretty much everybody has input into how a song goes & ultimately turns out, but as far as generating probably most of the ideas that actually end up being a song, I guess I would say I'm the primary songwriter.
AJ: You get the burden on your shoulders.
DAN: It's the fun burden, though. It's the marketing-business aspect that's more frustrating than writing the music.
AJ: Before we go any further there's 2 things I have to ask you. A very very important question. One is, can you tell us where people can go online to find out about FEROX CANORUS. The second question is, what does the name mean?
DAN: Right ... right ... that's a difficult question.
AJ: You knew it was coming.
DAN: I knew it was coming, of course. First, we've got a couple of sites. Facebook & Reverb Nation would be our primary sites. On the Reverb Nation page you can actually stream songs. When I made this interview an event on Facebook I kinda mentioned there would be a little bit of a surprise for the listeners. One of the surprises is our songs have been streamed only, ever since we released the demo, but I've made everything for download now. If you go to that Reverb Nation page you can download everything. That's both demos & live tracks. A little something for people to get their teeth into.
AJ: Excellent. So they can actually get the music & come back to it on their own time.
DAN: Get the music & spread it around. You know, they are demos & that's something I really need to point out. We've had some line-up changes, so while the spirit is the same, the outcome is going to be different when we finally get our first full-length album out. The demos are gonna go bye-bye once that is done, so get them while you can.
AJ: Goodbye to the past.
DAN: Goodbye to the past. We're just going to rip those those chapters out & keep writing.
AJ: We're going to talk about what you're doing now a little bit later in this hour. For now, tell me, when did FEROX CANORUS get started & how did it get started?
DAN: Before I answer that, let me go back & answer what does the name mean.
AJ: I'm sorry, I jumped ahead.
DAN: FEROX CANORUS is a phrase derived from Latin. Ferox being the word for spirited or warlike & wild. Canorus is the word for harmony. The name quite literally translates to wild & harmonious, which i think is a pretty good description of what we do.
AJ: Alright. Now, how did what you do get started?
DAN: The band started as a 3 piece in 2004. I actually wasn't involved at that point. The 3 original members were knocking around N.J. for a while & ultimately parted ways. About 2 years ago they decided to reform & that's when I came on board. We kinda began re-writing old material & writing new material. It was about that time I brought a keyboard player into the game. My drummer came on then, as the original one had left for personal reasons. While the other vocalist & guitarist was originally the bassist. We just keep adding instrumentation. I felt the early stuff was kind of limited. I do have demos from that really early period & I'd be embarrassed to show them to you. One mic in the middle of the room.
AJ: You e-mailed me about those. We'll do a trade of the demos from my band where those recordings will really make you shriek with a mic ... on the side of the room.
DAN: You ever hear of the band 3 INCHES OF BLOOD?
AJ: I have.
DAN: Our original singer sounded like that guy. It was just a completely different feel from what we do now. We're going in a different direction, but the heart is still there.
AJ: Is going in a new direction a deliberate decision or did it come through line-up change or is it a natural progression of what you were doing?
DAN: I would say it's more of a natural progression. It's funny, because we haven't really released anything, yet this band has expanded so much since it started. Originally, the songs were a lot shorter & not nearly as complex as they are now. We just kept expanding naturally. We've never tried to force anything. We've come a long way. I've been through more singers & guitar players than I care to remember. It's tough, man, especially when you've got the kinda of music we do, because in N.J. the real popular stuff is death metal & technical death metal & some of the hardcore stuff. We're in the opposite end of the spectrum from that. Even just trying to find people who want to do this style of music is tough. It's been hard getting the right match.
AJ: Plus, location, time & commitment & all those other wonderful things that come into play.
DAN: Running a rock band is probably the best exercise in frustration that you can ever have. It's rough, because you're working with so many different personalities & music being an art. Everybody has their own take on this art. Really, to be successful as a rock band you need to pull together & be able to work toward a common goal. I've seen so many people that just ... I don't know ... almost refuse to do that & it just becomes impossible for the band to work on a fundamental level, let alone releasing an album & touring & doing all that fun stuff that's associated with it.
AJ: I know from my own personal experience exactly what you're talking about. I was working with a singer in a band who could sing & write competently, but wanted the feeling of being in a band more & didn't actually want to write or rehearse or even ever sing. He didn't come to work. He thought the party would just be there waiting because he was in a band & being in a band made him special. He didn't realize that the reason we never got beyond the rehearsal room & found those parties was partly because of him.
DAN: That's exactly it. They are so against doing anything they actually drag the rest of the band down with them, so you never get anything done. FEROX CANORUS isn't the only band I've been in. I've been knocking around the N.J. scene for awhile & I tend to find 2 types of musicians. One is the person that really means well & is really willing to work hard to make the band work, but unfortunately doesn't have the talent for at all. On the other end is the person who is just so full of themselves they need it done their way. It's really hard finding that right person willing to work at the talent & isn't even gonna butt heads with everybody too much.
AJ: I want to talk about one of your songs for a moment. The demos you have are now about a year old &, as you said, will pop out of existence hopefully in the near future. One of my favorites is the song "Dark Night."
DAN: That's a popular one.
AJ: Is it?
DAN: That tends to be our opener during live shows & it gets a pretty good response. I think it's us in a nutshell.
AJ: The Batman title also draws one's attention.
DAN: It draws attention, but believe it or not, it's not about Batman.
AJ: There's 3 things that really stand out to me & they stood out to me when I first heard it a year ago. It's that riffing on guitar that you're doing. That IRON MAIDEN riff against those DREAM THEATER keyboard runs, to quote you, alongside this unique angular singing style. Angular is the only word I can think of. It's 3 incredibly contrasting approaches all slammed together. That's what just jumps right out at me when I hear your stuff.
DAN: That's an example of everybody's different influences within the band just sort of pulling together, you know, to create a whole that's greater than the sum. I love working with these guys. All of them are fantastic musicians. We pull influences from from everywhere & somehow we just make it work. I mean, there's a certain magic to it I will never be able to describe.
AJ: So, how different is "Dark Night" from what you're working on now?
DAN: I think we get a little bit more ambitious in terms of song structure. One of the things, a common theme that runs through the songs, is just they're all kinda energetic. They have their slow parts & things like that, but generally they're usually high-energy. We've kicked that up a notch with a few of the newer songs. One of the things I've always tried to do with the band is to be sort of borderline progressive. Get as close to that line as I can without really crossing over it & getting to the point where some bands get very over indulgent, like long extended solo sections. That's not what we're trying to go for, but we definitely get a little bit more ambitious with song structure. We got a new one we're working on that ... This is funny. Every time we go to practice we can't remember the arrangement, so it gets like re-written all the time.
AJ: I"ve been a prog-rock fan for half my life from the day I heard YES. I had never heard so many sounds & layers in one song, but I do know what you mean by over indulgent. I've noticed as I've gotten older too many bands aim for a 20 minute song, even if after 3 minutes the thing falls apart & could happily end. They don't have enough to say for 20 minutes, but are trying to be proggy for the sake of it.
DAN: Yeah, that's exactly what we try to avoid. You've heard the band DRAGONFORCE?
AJ: I've actually seen them a couple times.
DAN: I get a kick out of them. I like the band, but sometimes I'll be listening to the song & I'll forget which one I'm listening to. They go into those heavy solo sections & you lose the song. You have to wait for the vocals to kick back in.
AJ: Absolutely. They're all into the guitar flash, but sometimes to the detriment of the song itself & the uniqueness of the song.
DAN: We want every song to have its own personality, it's own individualism. At the same time, I want you to listen to it & know it's FEROX CANORUS, just like when you hear an IRON MAIDEN song. From the first few notes off the guitar you know who it is. We want the songs to stand apart, too. I think this is one thing that we tend to do that a lot of metal bands don't do so well. People who are not musicians may not be able to follow me on this next thing, but we write in different keys. You, as a musician, understand this.
AJ: Rock & metal has a comfort zone when it comes to just using a handful of keys & little else. Stuff easy to play on guitar. But, its interesting that in other interviews I've had, musicians mention how they hear the same thing over & over on the same album.
DAN: Look at AC/DC. It's the same thing over & over. It's like 3 keys & 4 chords. They do more with those 4 chords than most bands, though. They raised the bar.
AJ: A bass line for them is like 4 notes per song just repeated & all the bass lines are the same.
DAN: I don't think I could write decades worth of songs based on only that. We try to go for different keys in every song, keys you don't generally hear metal songs in. That's part of what I think makes each song stand apart from some other things that are in the same genre. We're all over the place. Each key sounds a little bit different. It's about trying to capture what that key is giving you.
AJ: & where you can take it.
DAN: Exactly, exactly. I'll experiment with different risks & different ideas in every single key, just to see what it sounds like. Sometimes the original was better, but sometimes you hit on something & it sounds way better.
AJ: Before FEROX CANORUS were you playing this style of music or were you doing other things? What's your musical background?
DAN: Not really. The band is almost an entity unto its own, at this point. My style has developed as I've been in this band. When I came into the band they taught me what songs they had & I began working with them & just really kind of absorbed what they had. I was like, let me see where I can take this. The longer I worked on it the more it started to become my style. I started incorporating a lot of the elements that made them what they were back in 2004 into my own style. This band has possessed me. Before that I played in a lot of thrash metal bands.
AJ: This certainly is not thrash.
DAN: This ain't thrash, nope.
AJ: Its the DREAM THEATER version of thrash. Jordan Rudess with Dave Mustaine live on stage.
DAN: That is something I would pay to see.
AJ: I'm sure a lot of people would. The big 5. This may seem like an obvious question to you, but there's a lot of people partaking this interview spread out across the globe. When they look at our part of the country here, the N.Y. & N.J. area, they likely think all the music is the same across the area. But, for you & I, we know that to talk about about the N.Y. music scene is not necessarily to talk about N.J. scene. The N.J. music scene is very different from Brooklyn, but the farther you get from our region then those distinctions blur. Can you tell me a little bit about how you see the N.J. music scene where you are? You hinted at it earlier.
DAN: It could be better. There's very few venues out there anymore & I feel there are very few promoters that really put in the effort into reviving the music scene in this area. There's only a handful of venues I play at & even less promoters that I'd work with. It's a very it's a tough scene. Everybody is pointing their fingers at everybody else to get the work done & promoters act more like bookers.
AJ: What about musically?
DAN: Musically FEROX CANORUS would not be a good example of what the N.J. music scene is, as I said. I really do think we're coming from more of a European metal sort of background.
AJ: What do you mean by European metal?
DAN: The way I distinguish it is in a way a lot of people distinguish it. A lot of European stuff is like BLIND GUARDIAN, EVERGREY, those kinds of bands. While in America you'll have bands that sort of lean more to the style of LAMB OF GOD, the harsher sort of death thrash metal sort of thing. That's kinda what's going on here. Sort of a death metal meets thrash metal kind of thing. We're not in that vein.
AJ: A lot of people I know think of N.J. as the home of SKID ROW & BON JOVI & Bruce Springsteen, more bar band type stuff.
DAN: It is, but its not like that anymore.
AJ: That's even farther from you than the thrash metal.
DAN: Different planet. It's more thrash metal revival thing going on right now. I've seen a lot of bands come out that are a more of the old school 80's thrash. A lot of bands that we play with. Thrash metal seems to be making a comeback, at least here.
AJ: Dan, as you've been with this band now for a few years you've really sculpted it &, I should say, it has sculpted you. You've had people come & go & come & go. It's really become ... how might we say it ... it's definitely your your child, without question.
AJ: What is the biggest challenge in fatherhood?
DAN: The biggest challenge for me has probably been getting everybody on the same page. It's something we touched on a little earlier. Getting everybody in the band just sort of on the same wave length & to work together. That's the sort of the reason why we've been around for a while, but nobody's heard of us. Everybody is just not quite on the same page yet. My keyboard player has been taking 25 credits a semester trying to finish up school, so he's been immensely busy. He's a very very key part of this sound, so we certainly don't want to penalize him for that. For some of the others, we just had personal things to work out over the past year or so. It's just getting everybody on that same page & sometimes you've got to let people go when it doesn't work. No matter how good they are or how well you get along, if they just don't want to work for it, then sometimes you just have to let a band member go. That's probably the toughest thing to do is just getting everybody to work together, because when one person doesn't pull their weight, you're done, you're dead, that's it. You're either going to be the only guy in your band, re-hiring people with a rotating door, or you try to work with certain members that aren't being cooperative & you go nowhere. That's got to be the hardest part.
AJ: You wrote to me recently, & I warned you I would quote this as its great, you said that "someone has to be a leader & more often than not I am forced to choose between being a friend & being a businessman."
DAN: Go ahead & quote me on that as it's very true. That's one of the things with forming a band with all your friends. When it comes time to make a decision they don't always take it the right way.
AJ: You're lucky if you still have a friendship after the fact.
DAN: Egos get very easily hurt in these situations. I'm not necessarily talking about the guys I'm with now. I just meant in general.
AJ: I understand.
DAN: It's an art & a lot of musicians take their art very seriously. When something is not going their way they take offense at it more than they probably should. You have to learn to separate your emotions from what you're doing sometimes. You have to look at it from a logical standpoint to figure out how to get things done & get this music somewhere as otherwise nobody will hear it.
AJ: Then you have to re-evaluate why you are doing it, if nobody is going to hear it.
DAN: Exactly. Why are you wasting your time?
AJ: I know a guy who has been playing in a band for at least 2 years now. They have never performed outside the rehearsal studio & have no intention of leaving. They write songs & rehearse them once a week & that's it. I don't quite understand the purpose.
DAN: That would be terribly frustrating.
AJ: He has a couple other bands that perform & this group plays a different style of music & provides some creative outlet, though many of us want to hear the music.
DAN: I can understand that. He's looking for an outlet & wants to play without pressure. For me, I'm too ambitious. I've got to get this music out there & we've certainly played our fair share of live shows. But, I think we took the wrong tactic & we didn't quite build a fan base as we thought we might.
AJ: What do you mean?
DAN: We had the assumption that if you play live a lot then people are going to hear you & they'll come to see your shows. The logic makes sense, but around here its the same people that show up every time. Everybody in the scene has seen & heard you. You're seeing the same faces at every show. The live shows thus aren't promoting you at all, as you're not introducing your music to new people. We've spent a lot of time playing live. Now we're planning on just focusing on this album & getting that out & being able to distribute it digitally, hopefully build some sort of buzz & then make a return to playing live.
AJ: Speaking of your songs, the simply titled demo "Tomorrow" is a favorite of mine.
DAN: "Tomorrow" is actually one of the first songs that I wrote. It's actually very personal to me as it addresses the death of my sister.
AJ: That is very personal. I know some musicians that like to disguise things a bit.
DAN: I'm not like that. I'm like a nudist. Look at it all. Music is emotion & I really feel that content is very important in building a following. People should connect with your music & take something away from it. It's not just a good dance beat, but can actually mean something.
AJ: I want to ask you, before I forget, about a day gig that you've had. You've worked as a guitar teacher. I'm curious, does the teaching you do effect what you do with the band?
DAN: It certainly does. I've heard many teachers mentioned before that they can learn as much from their students as their students learn from them. That's certainly something I agree with. There's a lot of my students that have taught me some things about the guitar, like an interesting viewpoint that I never quite put into that perspective. A lot of my growth as a player actually occurred when I became a guitar teacher. I think from a standpoint where you got to know your stuff inside & out in order to teach it properly, so that really drilled fundamentals in my head. Then you get your students & their enthusiasm in music. Sometimes they will introduce you to band you've never heard of, so it's fun. I think its definitely a give & take relationship.
AJ: Let's talk about what you're doing right now with FEROX CANORUS & where you're going with it. Can you tell me a little bit about the album you're working on?
DAN: Like I said, we've been spinning our wheels in the dirt for a while now. Now it's really time to put in the work & get the music out there. We've taken a hiatus for a while. We're going on almost a year since the last time we played out. We tried booking a couple of live gigs since then. Unfortunately, they didn't pan out due to some personal problems of some of the band members. We kind of decided to let everybody take a break & we'll get back to this later. We had actually started recording the album during this time period around last winter & the whole thing got scrapped. We were rushing it & it just wasn't coming out ... you know, it wasn't really coming out any better than the demos. We decided to take a break. My keyboard player, as well as my bass player, were doing school. Let them finish up. Let everybody work with their personal problems. Actually, for the past 3 weeks we started rehearsals again. It's fun. It's almost like we never took a break. During that time period my bass player made the decision to switch from bass to lead vocals & rhythm guitar. On the song "Tomorrow" he's the one that sings the chorus & he wouldn't have in the past. He's going to take over more of the lead duties. My keyboard player is the one who has been singing lead for the past 2 years now. He is going to continue to do backing vocals & some of the vocals on the softer sections. We added a new bassist. Everybody is a college music graduate except for me. I didn't like the curriculum & restrictions. I probably would have done well, but I have family obligations & couldn't go running off to Boston to study music.
AJ: I've known many music college students who didn't finish as they found they learned more in playing in the rehearsal studio than in the classroom.
DAN: I agree. So, what we're doing now is rehearsing with this new line-up. Everybody is getting used to the new roles. I've been the only guitarist in the band for a long time, so now that I've got a 2nd guitarist I can start doing those dueling IRON MAIDEN harmonies again. We've got to work some of that stuff out. That's got to be in there. That stuff is fun. We're going to start recording the album very soon.
AJ: Do you have all the songs for the album written? How's that part of the process?
DAN: We're always writing stuff. The gears are always turning. We have at least 6 half finished songs. What you see on the Reverb Nation page is pretty much our live set. We're going to be adding another song to that list. That's the one I was telling you about before, that we can never remember the arrangement. It'll be about an hour of music total. We've got a couple longer songs, like 8 minutes or so. We don't set restrictions. The music writes itself & takes us places sometimes.
AJ: Dan, we're coming to the end of this interview. I'm very appreciative of having you talk with me.
DAN: I have to return that appreciation. You've interviewed guys like Graham Bonnet, yet you still give the chance to us smaller guys to have our voice heard. If more people did that it would certainly be easier to get our music out there.
AJ: I might talk to big folks, but we're all facing the same struggles. Graham even asked me if I had work. There's no hierarchy. Is there anything more you want to share?
DAN: For some of the other bands that might be struggling, a couple of take home tips. As we mentioned before, somebody needs to be the band leader. If one is not willing to steer it's not going to go any place. One of the things that irks me about some musicians is they aren't interested in the marketing & business aspect of it. I think that is almost more important than the music itself, I hate to say it. In a perfect world we could let the music speak for itself, but it's far from being a perfect world. You really need to learn the music business if you want your music to read a wider audience. Those that don't want to mess with that & are just here for the art are the ones who often fail the fastest.
AJ: That's probably the thing I've seen more than anything. I think I work harder as a promoter & with a bedroom label than I ever did with a band. I've seen so many bands that don't want to do the work & yet think they'll be touring with MEGADETH.
DAN: Sometimes you hear of these overnight successes. But, those are usually bands that have been banging around for years, but you just never heard of them. There is no overnight success. Things won't fall into your lap. You have to do your homework. That's what it comes down to.