Circus Maximus Interview with Michael Erikssen: "We don't mind being compared to Dream Theater knowing they are one of the best bands out there"

13/06/2012 @ 13:08
Circus Maximus is the kind of band that can't let you down. If you're into the traditional, melodic progressive metal, then all their albums are guaranteed to please you. The five year absence was too much, but "Nine" makes up for it and Michael Eriksen answers convincingly all the questions he’s been asked, about the direction of the new album, the band's plans and his relation with Kamelot and Dream Theater.

Hi Mikael, it's Chris from the Greek site First of all, congratulations for releasing another impressive album. The third in a row...
Hi Chris, I am glad to hear that you enjoy our music, means a lot.

So, why did it take you four years since the release of "Isolate"? After all, do you believe that it worked on the benefit of the album?
It sure feels like forever and it is actually five years Chris! We feel like we're freakin' Def Leppard man, hehe. I guess everything happens for a reason, right? And as you said I believe this 'break' did benefit us well. I guess we could have worked our asses off and released an album two years ago, but we really wanted this album to be at its best and to do that we needed to digest the songs over time and take them apart and put them back together again. Things didn't go smoothly I can tell you, we encountered several obstacles along the way, Truls had trouble with his knees, Mats couldn't play guitar or use his computer for months because he had injured his arms and I encountered issues with my throat. The way of life right there Chris...

Circus MaximusWhat are the main differences in your opinion between "Nine" and your previous releases? I'd say I mentioned the orchestrations of the songs and mainly sometimes the way keyboards lead the way to the melodies, as well as the production of the album. Would you agree?
The main difference must be the sound. On our previous albums we used Tommy Hansen to mix the music and he did an amazing job, but this time around we wanted a 'new' sound. Christer Cederberg is a good friend of ours and we have always loved his work. He is a metal-guy, but he mixes a lot of pop and rock-music. We just call him 'Tha Master', hehe. We really wanted to see what he could do with our songs, and I guess you can say he nailed it! What also makes a difference on this album is that we decided early on that Mats would be the guy to write most of the music. He had a lot of material lying around that we all loved. Mats is an amazing song-writer and he is great at seeing the song as a whole. You won't hear many guitar-players out there saying: 'Too much guitars there, let's take away the guitars and let the keyboards do their thing'...

You, also, have a handful of 'commercial' songs (always for your standards). You know each song from "Game Of Life" to "The One" -more or less- could be used as a sample of the album or become a videoclip. Did you have in mind to make some 'simpler' and 'catchier' songs this time or did it just occur?
When we sit down and write a song we always want it to be the best it could get. If the song ends up being 'short' it will still have the right elements to make the song interesting for the listener. There is always 'something' going on which the listener might not catch at the first listen, but that he or she might discover later on. As you mentioned in the previous question there are a lot of interesting keyboards on this album and sometimes you’ll ask yourself 'is that a keyboard or a guitar-fill?'. Have to love that...

Circus MaximusThen, you've chosen "Reach Within" as the single to represent (in a way) the album? How come you chose this one? Which others did you have in mind?
Our record-company (Frontiers) were the ones who came up with that idea. They really loved that song and we had no issue on that request. It is a good song and it will for sure blast out of many car-stereos this summer. Roll down the window and let the song take you away... Having in mind any of the songs on Nine has a potential to be a single, if you'd ask me. I read an review earlier on where the journalist said '"Nine" is this century's (Def Leppard's) "Hysteria" album, not one bad track'. "Hysteria" is my all-time-favorite album, so to read that made my day...

Having in mind that your last album came out four years ago, I initially thought "Namaste" as a statement, because here in Greece it kind of means 'here we are'. But it's obviously about the Indian salutation isn't it?
Haha, how cool is that!? I am glad it didn't mean 'Fuck off' in Greece then, (laughs). "Namaste" is written by Truls and he got his inspiration from the Japanese version of the word, which again is inspired by the Indian word as you said. Cool lyrics by Truls though!

Circus MaximusWhenever I hear you saying 'like the deserts miss the rain' on the first verse of "I Am", the song "Missing" from Evertything But The Girl comes to my mind. Admit it, it was on purpose, hehe...
Hey, I have a 'Everything But The Girl'-tattoo ...busted (laughs)

Then, my favorite song seems to be the closing "Last Goodbye". Great vocal melody on the chorus and really nice instrumental parts.
I am glad you like that song Chris, it is a very beautiful song. The lyrics are very personal and they are written by Mats and myself. I've had people coming up to me saying 'man, that "Last Goodbye" is some serious stuff. I was working-out on the treadmill and I caught myself crying to that song... on the treadmill man'.

Well, as you know, we don't get any lyrics with the digital promos, so tell us about the lyrics of the album, if there is a concept behind it etc...
"Nine" is no concept-album like "Isolate" was, although there is a red line throughout the album. We talked about naming the album "Architect Of Fortune" which again is the first track on the album, but we felt "Nine" was more 'in tha face' and of course easier to pronounce, hehe and if you dig deeper into the meaning of "Architect Of Fortune" on Google you'll find that the symbol '9' often comes to that is prog for you...

Do you think it's more important to have deeper lyrics when you play progressive (metal) music? Which are your favorite lyricists and where do you draw inspiration from?
My favorite song-writers are as mentioned Kip Winger and Richard Marx. I really can 'feel' the words they are singing to me and I do not need to have my dictionary beside me, if you know what I mean? When it comes to inspiration I can get my 'kicks' by watching a movie or reading a headline in the news.

Circus MaximusYou once again have two tracks that clock around ten minutes and one around nine. I believe such songs are necessary for bands like you, so as to find the space to lay all the music you have to. What do you think about such songs?
We love creating music that really touches people, and sometimes you need to dig deeper into the aspect of song-writing. We enjoy writing long songs and to write a long song and still make it interesting is a tricky one. Take the opening-song "Architect Of Fortune" which clocks in over ten minutes. Everyone who has heard that song says: 'man was that ten minutes? It sure didn't feel like it' Mission accomplished...

Then in my opinion you sometimes balance between power metal and prog metal. If there’s a joint genre called 'prog/power' you are the perfect example. I suppose -as all musicians- you don’t like labels, but where would you place yourselves?
Without 'labels' the metal-scene would be one big melting-pot, haha. There are so many different genres within Metal that a band needs to be 'labeled' to reach its potential audience. If I read a review of a band and the journalist says they're a mixture of Dream Theater and TNT I would know what to expect before checking out the band. We don't mind being categorized as a prog band, although I would maybe call us a melodic-prog-metal-band...

From the very first record everyone said that your voice is very near to that of Roy Khan. I guess, since he's a Norwegian guy he must have been a big influence on you. Then you went on tour with Kamelot and people started talking that you would be their next singer. Fans of Circus Maxius got worried too. How do you react to all this comparisons between Circus Maximus and Kamelot, you and Khan etc?
I grew up listening to Conception, so yes Roy has had a huge influence on me over the years. I was also a huge fan of Geoff Tate and Morten Harket ( A-HA ) and so was  Roy, so for us two to have that 'familiar' sound comes more natural to it, so to speak. I love Kamelot and I consider them as good friends. They are all about melodies and creating good songs, and so is Circus Maximus.

Did you ever consider joining Kamelot? Was there an option? How would it affect Circus Maximus?
I first and foremost joined in on their North-American tour as a friend helping out a band in need. Roy couldn’t do the tour and there were a lot of jobs and money at stake. I also saw this as an opportunity to build relations for Circus Maximus 'over there'. At that moment no-one knew that Roy wasn't coming back for sure, but when it finally hit the light I had a good talk with Thomas Youngblood. My heart belongs in Circus Maximus and we have a lot of plans for the future, so for me to 'join' Kamelot wouldn’t be fair to either Circus Maximus or Kamelot. They need a vocalist who can be 100% dedicated.

Circus MaximusThen, the second comparison you must have been used to, is between your band and Dream Theater. It's pretty normal I guess, since they are a big and obvious influence on your music, especially on Mats' sound and playing. But as a huge fan of DT I can see the line that separates your style. Even the similarities between the cover of "The 1st Chapter" and "A Dramatic Turn Of Events" made this conversation come up once again. How do you handle it?
Haha, yeah, that was quiet funny actually and I've read some interviews with the guys in Dream Theater and they were as 'shocked' as we were. I saw this funny comment on a YouTube-link where this guy said something like: 'Every Prog-band should put that unicycle-dude on their cover making it one big-ass Epic journey' (laughs). We don't mind being compared to Dream Theater knowing they are one of the best bands out there. We have been emailing back and forth with James (LaBrie) the last year and got to have a good talk with him when Dream Theater were here in Oslo three months ago. Great guy and an awesome singer!

I guess that you have to be fans of Dream Theater's music, so I'd like to know how do you feel about all these changes that took place? Many fans were annoyed by the way both sides handled it, as they thought that they made a 'soap opera' out of it. Could you ever think of Dream Theater without Mike Portnoy?
When I heard the news I first thought it was a joke, but when getting to see how things were in the Dream Theater-camp in a more behind-the-scene approach, I guess it was inevitable. Mr Portnoy is one of the best drummers around and Mr. Mangini does his work justice. I really love his playing on "A Dramatic Turn Of Events" and I am looking forward to hear what they can come up with next. Mike Mangini's drum-solo on this tour was out of this world!

What are your music preferences in general nowadays?
Anything with a good melody I must say. Two songs has blown my mind the last year and that is Gotye's "Somebody That I Used To Know" and Coldplay's "Every Teardrop Is A Waterfall", man those are some great songs! On the Metal scene I have been listening to Symphony X's "Iconoclast" a lot. Russell is tha man and Mike Lepond is one kick-ass bass-player! Looking forward to the new Richard Marx album and the new Jorn.

Circus MaximusBeing around for quite a while, do you think this is a good period for rock and metal music, especially progressive rock and metal?
Yeah, I believe metal is bigger than ever and yes more and more people are opening their eyes and ears for progressive music. Life is good...

There are labels that specialize in progressive rock/metal. Although you’re in a very good and respectful label, I am not so sure that its target group suits you that much. Do you believe it would it be better if you were in a smaller but more specialized label?
Times are hard for every label out there. They are all trying to find out how to survive the 'new industry'. We have been with Frontiers for many years now and we are happy with what they have done for us. A progressive oriented label could only do so much knowing our music appeals to more people than just the average prog-listener. I know a lot of people who listens to our music that don’t like prog-metal at all. Remember we are all about melodies. Not many prog-bands that come to mind are...

So, what are your future plans?
We plan to tour a lot, hopefully we'll reach all corners of the world this time around. Tours are already in the planning and who knows maybe Greece will be on the list...

I wish for it. Well, Mikael, thank you for your time.
My pleasure Chris! Let’s bring the Circus to Greece.