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Interview with We Are Sentinels Keyboardist and Composer Jonah Weingarten (Pyramaze)

Interview by Adrian Hextall

From the visionary minds of legendary metal vocalist Matt Barlow (Ashes of Ares, Iced Earth, Pyramaze) and composer, keyboardist and pianist Jonah Weingarten (Pyramaze, Teramaze, solo artist) comes We Are Sentinels. Combining sweeping motion picture style orchestral arrangements, modern classical piano, thunderous percussions, and the dynamic and powerful vocals of Barlow, We Are Sentinels has set out to create something truly unique and groundbreaking. With musical and thematic elements inspired by the great drama, sci-fi, and fantasy films of the last 30 years — combined with duo’s obvious enthusiasm for all things heavy metal — We Are Sentinels works to embody the very essence of the word “epic.” The full length debut album is mixed and mastered by Jacob Hansen (Amaranthe, Volbeat, Pyramaze).

We caught up with Jonah to understand how he and Matt decided to work on an album that retains the metal elements that the musicians are known for whilst embracing the cinematic qualities of a soundtrack.

AH: You’ve been a busy guy since we last spoke. You seem to have quite a few things on the go at any one time at the moment.

JW: Yeah, absolutely. Well, honestly I feel like I’m racing against time to accomplish everything that I ever want to before I’m an old geezer.

AH: Just in terms of bringing me up to speed of where you are these days before we talk about the Sentinels side of things and the work you doing with Matt. What is the current situation with you and bands? I mean are you working with several or these things just on hold at the moment? Where’s everything going?

JW: Well, Pyramaze has a couple live gigs later on this year and then I’ve written some material for the next Pyramaze album as well. Those guys need to get together and get in Jacob’s studio and hammer out some tunes. I don’t know when that’s going to happen but we kind of work out our own phase, but I’m staying busy myself so I always have things going on. And then with Teramaze, we’ve been working on the album now for — Well, I’ve been working with them since September is when I started tracking keys. So I’m done with my keyboards for the album and then I think they just have to do some vocals, and bass, and stuff like that but that album is going– that’s a game changer for sure. I think it’s going to take the progressive metal world by storm. It’s going to be one of those albums that people talk about for decades I really believe that.

AH: Yeah. That’s encouraging though, isn’t it? I mean for you to say that knowing how entwined you are in that progressive metal space, for you to feel so strongly about that particular band that’s quite something?

JW: Yeah, it’s going great. I mean Dean Wells, the guitarist and the song writer, he’s just so attention and detail-oriented to every little thing, like every note has to be perfect and every song has to be a masterpiece or he wouldn’t release it. So being a part of something like that where it has to be absolutely perfect that’s a new experience because usually it’s just a bunch of guys contributing their creative ideas and all that kind of stuff, but I mean yeah, it’s pretty crazy, man. I’m really excited for that to come out and to have my name on it is I think it’s going to help take what I do and what I’m known for to the next level as well so that’s nice. I’m honored to be a part of it.

AH: That’s really nice. And when are you expecting it to come out?

JW: I think later this year sometime is the plan so fingers cross for that. 

AH: With the view to it being a pure studio thing or will you go out with the guys as well? I mean is there a live piece behind that as well?

JW: Yeah, I mean ideally the pieces have to fall on the place. Yeah, that would be great of course. If you can obviously play live to support an album and the album will be heard by more people.

AH: Always. I mean that must, without wanting to knock the guys in Pyramaze for example, I mean that must be a frustration because we don’t get to see you live as we ought to.

JW: Yeah, Pyramaze is always just been a one off type of band. When we play live it always goes well and it’s well received. I wish that we could play more because I love being on stage and I love those guys. So, I’ve been in Pyramaze now for 16 years which is crazy to think about. 

AH: Yeah.

JW: That’s almost half of my life. 

AH: And how many live shows have you managed of the back of that? Because it must be down to tens only I would have thought, is it?

JW: Live shows with Pyramaze 

AH: Yeah.

JW: I mean I think were just barely over the 20 mark, 20 shows like ever.

AH: Wow.

JW: Yeah, and it’s all been primarily big festival appearances and things like that.

AH: Yeah, which is an ideal opportunity to get a decent size crowd in front of you as well……

JW: Yeah.

AH: On the We Are Sentinels side of things. You and Matt have got every intention of taking this out on the road. So that must be a huge deal for you to be able to do that.

JW: Yeah, I mean we definitely want to play live as much as we can. Of course again it’s within the confines of what’s possible with him being a police officer and all that kind of stuff. I’m a bit more flexible but I mean one of the nice things and the things that we were thinking about when we created We Are Sentinals is that it’s very self contained. There’s only two of us and really all we need is a keyboard and a microphone.

AH: Yeah.

JW: And so we’re not lagging around a drum set and we could tour in a car if we wanted to.

AH: Now, that piece just around you only need a keyboard. I mean come on it’s a little bit more than just a set of keyboards because the sounds you’re creating on the album I mean you’ve got a full band there.

JW: I mean yeah, well, I’m more like a full orchestra but it’s just 10 Jonah’s playing all at the same time. So my vision and my hope for this in the future is that I’ll be able to have maybe at least a four piece like string section, maybe a choir, maybe a couple timpani players because it’s all orchestral. There’s no guitarist or traditional drums and anything live like that on the entire album.

AH: Yeah, yeah.

JW: I mean I really feel like we’re creating a new genre of music and I can’t even come up with a name for that genre. I’ve been racking my brain for months now thinking about it so I don’t know maybe you can help me with that.

AH: I mean it’s one I’d heard in relation to — I don’t know if you know the band Starset before now but I’d actually come up with effectively that cinematic sound because it’s definitely a cinematic soundtrack like feel to the music. It’s got the depth that you get that you say from a full orchestra that you only get on a Hans Zimmer soundtrack to one of the movies he’s scoring for or something like that. 

JW: Yeah. Well, that put a big smile on my face. He’s one of my heroes so…..

AH: There you go.

JW: Probably if I had to pick a hero it would be him like if I had to pick one. So I’m a huge Hans Zimmer fan but you can obviously I guess tell from the music itself.

AH: His soundtracks are always the ones that stick in the mind. They’re always the ones where the music has been as good as the movie and sometimes you get a great score but it’s a poor movie.

JW: Better than the movie

AH: Where the movie works well it’s because it’s his score sitting over the top of it and it’s the two together. And that I feel I mean looking at the visual for the single that you sent me through on YouTube I mean you’ve got the epic visuals there as well. I’m assuming that’s mostly green screen work that the two of you were doing there but you’ve got that epic filter haven’t you?

JW: Yeah, definitely. We were able to get like a lady came in and did all the costumes and everything for the video. So it ended up being really cool and it was kind of a throwback to a lot of 80’s fantasy films where there is like a child that’s sort of the center of it. I mean Willow obviously would be the first thing that would come to mind where you have the magic child that’s prophetic or the key to something in a way. I mean I grew up renting Willow from the video store every weekend in the 80’s.

AH: It’s one of those classic films though that it’s so easy to come back to, isn’t it?

JW: Definitely, yeah. I mean it still holds up today.

AH: Yeah.

JW: I love it but I mean what you’re speaking to as far as the visuals go and everything, we can’t really cut corners as far as the visuals go because the music is so full and cinematic. And so we have to have a visual representation of that, but the two of us we have more room to create like a universe as it were and that’s kind of what we’re doing.

AH: I can appreciate that and I mean you mentioned the costumes as well and the lady that came in to make those for you. They almost feel like the outfits that then will carry throughout whatever additional videos you do and potentially into the live show as well.

JW: Yeah, definitely. I mean the sky is the limit. The only thing I guess we’re really ever limited by is our budgetary constraints but I think this is going to catch on. When you think about through musical history any band that’s been legendary or stands the test of time has been a band that’s been a musical pioneer. I mean you always have something comes out that’s new and it becomes big and then you have millions of imitators in that, but the one that really gets remembered is the one that was the pioneer of the genre. So we’re approaching it with that mentality. We’re going to just throw ourselves out there, try something completely new and hope that it catches on and that we can inspire a new generation of music or a genre of music. 

AH: I hope that works. I mean it was interesting I posted the video upon to the MGM Facebook page after you sent in the link and said, “You need to listen to this stunning piece of work.” And it triggered a debate immediately from guys that were expecting music that you and Matt had been associated with before. Where are the guitars? What’s going on? I don’t understand this and clearly it’s enough to throw people off guard because as you say it’s different. 

JW: Right, it’s not metal in a traditional sense. There’s obviously metal influences but I feel like We Are Sentinels represents the best of what Matt and I bring to the table. 

AH: Yeah.

JW: I mean I see my job in We Are Sentinels as creating a canvas for Matt to paint his vocals on because his range and the diversity of his vocals is so broad that we can fill up this big scores with sort of this very, very narrative sort of story telling style of vocals that has it’s values and peace. And we’re able to tell stories that are epic and I think will stand the test of time so–

AH: How did it come about? Where have you guys work together? I mean the last time I saw Matt over here is with Ashes of Ares when they played live they were on tour with Powerwolf for example.

JW: Yeah, right. Well, I’d say there is three contributing factors. I mean obviously Matt singing on the third Pyramaze record Immortal and that’s been commercially speaking our most successful album.

AH: Yeah.

JW: And then there’s a song on that album called Legacy in a Rhyme which is just piano and keyboards and his vocals and that song has received a lot of praise over the years and I think it means a lot to our fans. So I would say that that song more specifically on that album and then in 2016 Matt joined Pyramaze for a special ProgPower USA performance where he came out and did three songs from the album Immortal.

AH: Okay.

JW: And so Matt and I reconnected there and then he also does this thing every year where he sings the national anthem at the election event for the Governor of Delaware.

And he asked me to make an arrangement for the national anthem for him to sing to so I did that too and then yeah, so were just like, “Okay. Well, we had a great time at ProgPower. We obviously have so much musical chemistry, why not do something?” And he was like, “Well, why don’t we do something that isn’t metal. Why don’t we try something different that’s just you and me.” And I was like, “Okay.” So honestly the first album it’s kind of been an experiment. We didn’t have a set vision in mind from the beginning. I just started writing music in late 2016 and then it was lyrically he was inspired that I was creating and then so the lyrics and the music combine gave birth to the imagery and it sort of just been created out of sort of blind creativity I guess and musical chemistry. It’s become this thing now that’s unique as a result because we weren’t going into it trying to imitate anyone. We were just making music for ourselves and what we thought was cool.

AH: Yeah.

JW: And of course I have his voice in mind as I was composing. This big, big choruses and then this sort of more beautiful atmospheric piano parts and then the end result is this album which I think is obviously a strong first step but I’m already working on the second album because now I have more of a solidified idea of what our sound is and what we’re capable of visually and sonically and so forth.

AH: Yeah, and just I know the first one is only just about to hit the shelves as it were but the second one would that see you attempting to do less with the keyboards and where your building out that full orchestral sound on your own and then adding additional musicians here and there to get the organic string sound or something like that or something different?

JW: Yeah, I do want to hire some session string musicians. So I want to get maybe a couple of guest vocalists on there too, maybe some female vocalists. I mean the sky’s the limit, the possibilities are endless.

AH: Yeah, because you could take the sound almost anyway you want it, couldn’t you? I mean you’ve got that capability because of the way you play specifically. You could do almost whatever you want.

JW: Yeah, definitely. And that’s the nice thing is that I have the freedom with this since I am the only musician and the only song writer to do what I want with it and to be inspired by whatever it is that I’m listening to or I’m feeling. So it’s sort of a new feeling of freedom for me I guess.

AH: Yeah. And obviously a question that’s going to — If you look at your existing fan base both yours and Matt’s, it’s going to be a shock for them. Are you worried about a backlash at all because it’s too far removed from what people might expect from you which would be the progressive metal approach?

JW: No, I mean we have seen a few negative comments and some people that are confused but we have said so many times over and over again that it’s not metal and that there’s no guitars and drums. So now it sort of just comical to see in the comments continue about that. It’s like if you want to listen to me and Matt play metal then go listen to Ashes of Ares and Pyramaze and Teramaze or whatever.

AH: Yeah.

JW: It’s not like we’re not doing that. It’s just that we’re also doing this and trying something new and trying to show the world that there’s more to us than just being metal musician.

AH: Metal guys, yeah. It’s a case that it’s like you say you’ve got the other bands are there for you to provide people with the bread and butter, the bits that they expect. But to then get something like this that goes out on a limb it’s a tangent but it kind of opens your mind up to something new and like you say it doesn’t have to be the same every time. 

JW: Yeah. And obviously a lot of our fan base are going to be people who have followed our careers and have loved our metal music but if you listen to all my keyboards on all the albums I’ve ever played on…

AH: Yeah.

JW: –this what I’m doing here isn’t that far remove from that, it’s just that there’s no guitars, and no drums, and bass, and all that stuff.

AH: How many times are you going to have to repeat that phrase in interviews over the next few weeks?

JW: Thousands. I might have just have that printed on a t-shirt and just start wearing it so that way I can just hold it up.

AH: It just says, “No guitar, bass, and drums here. Now, please move along.” Yeah, that’s fair enough.

JW: Yeah, exactly. That’s not what this is. 

AH: You say about, already thinking about the next album and writing, when did you give yourself time off? Because with all the bands you are working with on the writing, you’re doing. I mean, I appreciate it. It’s a full-time thing for you as a musician, but even sung, that’s a heck of a workload. 

JW: I don’t know what time off is. I mean I see other people doing things like going on vacation or laying on the beach or binge-watching television series and I just don’t know what that is, I can’t relate to it, I don’t know what it feels like. Honestly, I see my life as a point A to point B and within that time I need to create, I need to leave a legacy so that that way, everything that I’ve accomplished can be carved on my tombstone one day. I mean, that’s what life is to me, that’s what it means to me. I just want to have all of these albums that all be remembered by people forever. So I’ll vacation when I’m dead, you know.

AH: That’s fair enough. I mean, the beauty of being a musician naturally is you get to travel anyway, we hope you do. If you and Matt really can do this with a keyboard and a car, then there’s kind of no excuse not to get you over to Europe and things like that. I mean presumably, there are discussions in place now because he’d fit on so many bills with what you’re playing. It’s an idea – there are so many European metal bands that you would still fit again just perfectly with that epic soundtrack. 

JW: Yeah, I mean definitely. That’s. Yeah. I mean it’s so, it so sort of open-ended and diverse what we’re doing. We could tour with Nightwish, Kamelot….

AH: If you step away from say the classics to the typical sort of easy fits because what you’re doing is so different. It is not to much of a tangent to say you could actually play with bands that you would never normally have expected to play with. I mean, is there anybody out there that you’d say, you know what, I’d love to be able to play alongside them or with them on a bill that wouldn’t fit your normal profile? 

JW: I mean, outside of the metal world, you mean–

AH: Yeah, absolutely. 

JW: Hans Zimmer plays live. He does like a Hans Zimmer live tour thing, which is all orchestra where he plays on his scores. Or maybe something I mean Apocalyptica for example, that’s one of those like kind of fringe metal acts, where it’s like beloved by metalheads, but it’s not really metal that’s, because they’re just playing the cello or something like that or Van Canto. 

AH: Oh yeah, yeah. With all the vocalists.

JW: Acapella. Yeah. 

AH: All the thing get good crowds as well so that there’s a good audience to build off fire there as well, isn’t there? 

JW: Yeah. Also, I don’t know if Enya plays live anymore, I haven’t followed her career closely enough to be aware of that. I feel like we could tour with Enya because there’s an obvious Enya influence in the music too. It’s sort of that new age sort of atmospheric, lush sound. I grew up listening to Enya, my mom used to play it for me in the car when I was growing up, so it’s obviously found its way into what I’m doing. I saw one comment somewhere where someone called us a heavy metal Enya. 

AH: Would you take that as a compliment though? Surely you would? 

JW: Yeah, absolutely. I mean, everybody loves music. I don’t think that anyone could listen to that and say that it’s unpleasant. 

AH: Not at all, I’ve got Orinoco Flow going through my head as I’m talking to you now. 

JW: Right? You’re welcome. 

AH: Thank you very much [Laughs]. So what are the plans where, where do we go next? Obviously, the album has got to come out. The videos are out there again, getting you some publicity already. But once the album is with us, then the live shows come next, so what’s the plan? Are you booked in for anything already or are you still working on it? 

JW: We’re working on it. We’ve actually gotten a lot of offers to play live already. And we’re just being very choosy about it at this stage because we want to make sure we have our ducks in a row because we don’t. It’s sort of like how the first album was kind of this experiment. We aren’t 100% sure on how we’re gonna do this live and we want to make sure we know what we’re doing. So we’re probably gonna do some, like some very low key, invite only or very low profile type shows to just sort of like get on stage and see how it goes. And then from there, it’s something that we can build on, I wouldn’t even be opposed to having another keyboard player to onstage to help me with all these layers of things that are going on. 

AH: Yeah. Because when you’re doing it in the studio, presumably it’s one piece and then you record the next and it’s over the top and then over the top, you’re not managing 10 layers all at the same time, presumably. 

JW: Oh, right. Yeah. I’ve only got two hands, unfortunately. Yeah, it’s just layers and layers and layers of strings and choirs and piano and cello and horn sections and harps and pizzicato and yeah–

AH: Bohemian Rhapsody influences?

JW: Yeah, definitely. And then, of course, Freddie Mercury’s voice was so diverse in any motive much like, I mean Matt obviously sounds different, but I mean you could probably draw some comparisons. Sadly it’s just how diverse their vocals are, I mean Matt can just be like this monstrous, like demon one second and then the next second just be kind of like crooning sort of this soft, soulful thing that he does. So it’s a joy for me to make music for Matt Borrello to sing on. 

AH: And to be fair that it’s also the way your composers approach a soundtrack, isn’t it? Because there will be those aggressive moments when you want impactful, there’s then the softer moments where you want the calm in a film on the soundtrack kind of follows that path as well. And it sounds like you can do that between the two of you with the music you’re creating. 

JW: Yeah, we’re telling a story, you know what I mean. First and foremost, we want to tell stories and we want to paint pictures in your mind as you’re listening. Take a listeners to a different place and provide some escapism much like movies too. 

AH: When you get to the live shows that suggests that you’ll need visuals to go with it as well. So even if the first few we’re going to be low key, presumably the intention has got to be backdrops, video screens or some things so that there’s something running behind you that goes along with the music. 

JW: Yup, that’s been discussed. We’ll have to come up with a budget for that somehow because that’s kind of the next thing. Basically everything that we’re going to be able to do is contingent on the success of this album and people have to go out and buy it and support the music that they love and the artists that they love so that we can create something new and different visually as well. So, but you were saying like what, as far as what comes next? We have a series of singles to release. We actually have another one coming out in a few days on Thursday for Battle in Winter, which is the next part of the trilogy, Winter Trilogy, that’s on the album, that’s gonna be a big one. I think people are really gonna like it because it showcases a whole range of Matt, I think for sure. And it’s got some really some big percussion sections and some huge string arrangements and all that kind of stuff. Yeah, there are obviously some ballads on that record too, in the vein of Legacy in Rhyme. But then you have these bigger cinematic pieces like a Kingdom in Winter and Battle in Winter and more to be discovered soon. 

AH: Fantastic. I mean there’s clearly going to be an audience for it. I would imagine it might surprise you with the ones that you finally ended up with. But yeah, it’ll be there as you say, there’ll be some that just old school people that just going to doubt that it’s either one way or not at all. But I think with the other, I think you’d pick up fans from classical music, you will pick up the fans from those that like the film schools and the cinematic side of things as well. The ballads themselves, that have a place in music always has had, the ballads are often the ones that launched on the radio, that used to be the way of doing it in the 80’s, didn’t it? It doesn’t matter how heavy your album is, you can get a ballad in there as well, get you the airplay people then pick up the band and away you go. So definitely a multitude of ways of getting to market to get people interested. 

JW: Yeah, and we have three or four ballads on that record and I think they’re all fantastic. I mean, I might be a little biased since I wrote them. 

AH: Well I think you’re allowed to be biased for sure! All I know is that we can’t wait to see you both on tour with this. 

JW: You can count on that, okay. 

 

We Are Sentinels is available on all major digital outlets and also HERE: 

https://www.wearesentinels.com/merch/

 

 

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