Interview By Teresa Hopkins
Though these guys had known each other for about 20 years in and around San Diego, California playing in different bands, the formation of SEVENTRAIN came about in the fall of 2012 as a result of guitarist Eric Horton putting together a group to play at a benefit for a mutual dear friend of theirs, the late Vincent John Crudo, a respected local sound technician and bass player in San Diego.
A new band they may be, but they are certainly not wet behind the ears. Each member’s respective stint with former bands adds up to a pretty impressive resume that includes 24-7 SPYZ, CAGE, DIVE BOMBER, KOFI BAKER, TOURNIQUET, and 6ONE9. I believe their current musical collaboration, however, has hit the musical lottery for a big win.
SEVENTRAIN‘s self-titled debut album, dedicated to “Big Vinnie”, was recorded in Spring 2013 at DML Studios –and though this quip has already been quoted a few times, it bears repeating—“by real musicians with real instruments and lovingly tracked on 2-inch analog…without autotune.” I am very impressed by this first collection of the band’s arena-ready tunes, their ballads every bit as strong as the rockers.
Joel Maitoza, drummer and mastermind of sound from SEVENTRAIN, took time recently to talk with me about the band, the music, and what’s ahead.
Hello Joel! By the sound of things, I have a feeling it’s about to get very busy for you fellas. I appreciate the opportunity to interview you. Please tell me a little about the band members. If I happened to meet any of you, what could I expect?
I previously played drums in the heavy metal funk/soul group 24-7 SPYZ (East West/Atlantic Records), guitarist Eric Horton was in the national metal act CAGE, guitarist Jef Poremba was in a band with Ginger Baker’s son, KOFI BAKER, and vocalist Jon Campos is from a local band called DIVE BOMBER. Bassist Greg Rupp appeared on the CD, but was replaced by Steve (Dino) Andino from the band TOURNIQUET (Metalblade Records) shortly after the recording of the album. We are all pretty laid back, but once you get us going it’s like being in a room with a bunch of comedians that are music nerds.
Did things click for you all right away when you played the benefit for Big Vinnie? Were there any kinks to work out beforehand, or did you instantly feel everything was coming together?
We just went up on stage and played “Snortin’ Whiskey” by Pat Travers together unrehearsed and the crowd loved it. It just locked right in and felt right. We did do a couple of months of pre-production, rehearsing the songs prior to recording the album and hashed out some of the arrangements, but overall things progressed smoothly.
Well, it certainly comes through in the performance on the album. You all sound very unified, as if you’ve always played together. With that in mind, what kind of ambitions did the band have in the beginning?
We all just wanted to have some fun and record an album together. We didn’t care if it sold 1 copy or a million. We weren’t trying to write singles for radio or hoping a label would sign us. It was all just about a bunch of friends getting together and recording some songs. This album is more of an introduction of things to come, just to get our name out and let people know we’re around.
What got you started in music, Joel?
My mom played piano and would sit me down next to her. My parents enrolled me into the Yamaha School of Music when I was three years old and I received my music degree by age six. My grandparents bought me a little drum set for Christmas around this time and as soon as they set it up I beat the crap out of it and broke all the heads. Shortly after, my parents purchased an old Ludwig kit at a garage sale. I started taking lessons from a local college music professor who taught me how to read music and transcribe parts from jazz albums. I did my first tour with a college percussion group at age 11, then played in the school marching/concert band. By my teen years, I was playing the club circuit in Hollywood in the 80s with everyone else. My first album was released right after I graduated high school with a band called Elysian. Ever since then, I’ve been hooked on drums. I can’t thank my parents enough for getting me started on piano and learning music theory early on. It really helped me understand scales, time signatures, harmonies and how to read notation which are all important factors for anyone wanting to learn an instrument.
If you guys weren’t musicians, what would you be doing?
I guess what we all do now. I mean, we have always been musicians, but we still need other income to pay our bills so the band consists of teachers, engineers and contractors. We all have families and unfortunately the truth is that it’s very difficult to earn a living playing music unless you are touring 8 months out of the year or on a major label, so until that time comes we have to still work day jobs.
Technology can be a double-edged sword in regard to that. Some things get easier, some get more difficult. Obviously these days it’s so easy for a band to put a video on YouTube and get attention generated. Music is readily available in many formats, some instantly—most of the time it’s paid for, but sometimes not. And people go to shows and take footage with their cameras and phones. It doesn’t bring revenue to the band, but it does bring good exposure. What are your thoughts about it?
I’m fine with it. It’s not like you can stop the fans from doing it. Although the sound quality isn’t always the best, it doesn’t bother me. It’s the age we live in now.
OK, I’ve gotta ask–How did you all come up with the name? The only other Seven Train I know of is a subway train in NYC—and I get the feeling there’s no relation between the two.
SEVENTRAIN was a name that guitarist Eric Horton came up with years ago. It was kind of a working title for a solo project he previously had so when we were trying to come up with a band name it was SEVENTRAIN by default really. It has no significant meaning necessarily. It just had a cool vibe to it. Eric and I actually recorded an album as SEVENTRAIN in 2003 with some other musicians, but never released it. The songs “Bleeding”, “Trouble” and “Never” on this new release were from the 2003 sessions. We just re-recorded the songs with the new members.
Well, they fit right in with the newer material the band wrote for the album. Even with some acoustic songs in the mix, there’s a very cohesive feel to all of it. I’m not alone in hearing some subtle and some not-so-subtle influences in SEVENTRAIN’s music. There’s a little Audioslave in there, some Badlands too in the riffs and the melodies…Some people even bring up Living Color, which seems obscure, but I think it’s in reference to some of the funky grooves and timings. People are saying Jon Campos’ voice reminds them at times of Ronnie James Dio, and a little like Chris Cornell when he gets a good growl going on. That’s quite an eclectic mix! Do you think what comes out in the music is just a natural result of listening to those artists or is some of it intentional to show respect for the bands who inspired you?
I think a little of both. All the members in SEVENTRAIN have various musical influences which we grew up on. Everything we write and record is a direct result from being fans of those artists. We don’t just listen to metal, we listen to just about everything. You would freak out if you scanned my iPod or went through my CD collection. You would find music from Earth, Wind and Fire, Pantera, The Meters, Bad Brains, Van Halen, Bob Marley, The Who, Dave Matthews, Burt Bacharach, The Police, Talas, Chili Peppers, Allan Holdsworth, Gary Moore, King’s X and the list goes on and on. That’s just a little taste. Add 4 other band members to the mix with even more influences and it can get crazy. For me, if you can shake your head to it or it emotionally moves you, that’s what it’s all about.
I wouldn’t freak out at all. I’m re-inspired because there’s hope for those of us who love classical, old 60’s R&B, funk, and heavy metal! You know, even with consideration to your broad spectrum of musical appreciation—which is bound to come out somewhere—SEVENTRAIN has its own distinctive sound. And the tunes cover a whole range of topics and emotions. So how does a new song come about within the band? Do you all go in and jam together and see what brews, or do you set aside time specifically for writing? Is it more inspired or directed?
Guitarist Eric Horton and singer Jon Campos wrote all the songs on this album and I helped with the arrangements. Everyone added a little something to the songs, but when you put us all in a room it just sounds like us and all our influences come out. The next album will be more of a collaborative effort. It will be quite a bit heavier, but will still have the same bluesy overtones as the debut.
I understand that in addition to being the lead vocalist, Jon Campos also plays the guitar. Did he lay down the acoustic tracks on the album?
Jon played acoustic guitar on a few of the songs. It’s a great writing tool for him. Usually if a song sounds great on an acoustic guitar, it will sound great with a full band.
Your liner notes state that you produced the album yourselves with engineer Don Lithgow. Somebody certainly knew what they were doing! Everything comes out very strong, clear, and well-balanced. What kind of input did Don give you in the process?
I’ve worked with Don before on a handful of albums and I’ve always liked the tones he gets. He’s also worked with such artists as BLINK 182, NEW FOUND GLORY and FINCH. As for myself, I have about 20 albums under my belt and either produced or assisted in producing about 60 percent of those. I’ve been fortunate enough to work on albums with other amazing engineers and producers like Terry Date (PANTERA, DEFTONES, SOUNDGARDEN), Roger Sommers (DON HENLEY, TESLA, ALANIS MORISSETTE, Jim Wirt (INCUBUS, ALIEN ANT FARM, LA GUNS) and Bill Metoyer (SLAYER, C.O.C, FLOTSAM and JETSAM) just to name a few. I paid close attention to how they recorded some of the greatest albums ever, learned as much as I could from the masters and try to apply it to my own recordings. The only difference is that we don’t have the major label recording budget. We tracked, mixed and mastered the SEVENTRAIN record in about 10 days, but I know Bill Metoyer will tell you that some of those early Metalblade records were probably recorded in less than a week (LOL).
That’s impressive! But you know, with a lot of bands’ music, the first and/or earliest albums always have a sweet spot with the fans. Maybe a little of that is sentimentality, but I think the bands’ ambition comes through too. There’s an energy on the early ones that is hard to match years down the road, even as budget and creativity progress. Some of the best albums I’ve every heard were done quickly and on little money.
Very true. Many of those first albums that bands put out have a lot of energy bottled up. You can literally hear how hungry they are. That comes out in their performance for sure.
I’ve been reading a lot of reviews on SEVENTRAIN from critics and fans alike, and all of them are very favorable. I also noticed recently that this terrific debut album reached 36 on the CMJ Top 40 Loud Rock charts—on its first week out! How does it feel to be getting such positive feedback from it?
It’s amazing. We weren’t really sure how the record was going to be received, but so far there has been quite a bit of positive feedback. We would like to thank everyone that has reviewed the album and sent us messages on Facebook asking about the band. We read them all!
What’s been going on since you finished the album? Are you touring? How extensive is it, and where can fans find a schedule of your tour?
We will be playing some select dates in North America this year with MICHAEL SCHENKER, SKID ROW and BLACK STAR RIDERS, but we would really like to try to do a US tour this summer and get over to Europe by the fall. Tour dates can be found on Pollstar or http://www.reverbnation.com/seventrain .
What do you guys like most—or least—about playing in clubs?
It doesn’t matter where we play. We love the energy and the intimacy of small clubs, but we also love the bigger stages in the larger venues. As long as the people dig the music, that’s what keeps us going.
What is your favorite song to play live?
For me, it’s either “Bleeding” or “Change”. They both have a great energy about them, and we play them in the beginning of our live set so it gets the crowds pumped up.
Will you be shooting a video for any songs on this album?
We just shot a video last week for the song “Bittersweet Seduction”. It will have an old western movie vibe to it. It was shot out on this ranch that was like an old ghost town. We are talking about doing a second video as well, but we’re not sure for which song yet.
I think “Change” was a terrific song in which to introduce yourselves. As I listened to the album when I was writing my review, “Bittersweet Seduction” stood out to me as another one that would get people on board. Looking forward to seeing that! I hope you’ll keep us in mind here at Metal Shock Finland to help get the word out with your video premiere.
Yes, I’ll make sure you get a copy of the video when it comes out in April.
Where can fans find your music and other merchandise related to SEVENTRAIN?
The debut album was released on February 14th, 2014 and is currently available on iTunes, Amazon and CD Baby. We are just starting to set up an official SEVENTRAIN website, which should be up and running in a few weeks. You will be able to buy T-Shirts, CDs and other cool stuff there.
What’s the biggest compliment that a fan can pay the band?
The main thing is to just purchase our music and come out to our shows and say Hi so we can meet all of you. We love our friends and fans and see them all as one big family.
What can we look forward to from SEVENTRAIN?
We plan to continue to promote this CD for the rest of 2014 and are currently writing music for a follow up album, which we hope to release in the Spring of 2015.
Joel, thanks so much for taking the time to answer some questions and tell us more about SEVENTRAIN. Please keep us posted—we’ll be glad to share the news. I wish you all every success and happiness.
To read Metal Shock Finland’s SEVENTRAIN Album review, go HERE.
For more information on Seventrain, please visit the following pages:
CD Baby: http://www.cdbaby.com/cd/seventrain