Today the frontman is in good spirits as he tentatively awaits the release date for this new body of work, which finally hits the shelves this coming Friday, September 24th.
Speaking from his home in Portland Oregan, Franco reflects on the making of the album, the incredible opportunities that slipped through their collective fingers due to the pandemic, his love of the Bee Gees, and fascination with Rush’s back catalogue.
OD – Let’s talk about ‘Strength’, firstly can you explain the reason for the title and the inspiration behind it?
GABRIEL – It’s funny because I was thinking about that this morning and I kind of realised that there is some meaning in the way the album was written, which was during the pandemic, and to be honest, I didn’t realise how depressed and down I was during the whole process.
When the album was finished it dawned on me just how cathartic the whole experience was for me. I was feeling burdened with a lot of negative emotion, as I’m sure so many other people were [and still are] about everything. The process of these emotions works in a very strange way as it’s hard to understand just how deep you are with certain feelings and when you get a small lift out of it, then you begin to understand just how deep you really are.
The reasoning behind the name is kind of paradoxical because I wrote the album during one of the weakest times of my life. Without a doubt, last year  was…so far… one of the worst of my life. Sure, there have been many shitty times in my life, like everyone elese, but by and large, I live a very happy life.
So, the last year was a real dip for me and the title of the album is really about what I needed to move forward again and find a better place.
OD – I understand that the album took approximately 10 months, from April to January to put together by flying back and forth to Philadelphia. Although you found yourself with a lot more time on your hands, was the overall process stressful, or did you find that it gave you more time, creatively speaking?
GABRIEL – I’m sure that thought of: “Oh I’ve now got all of this free time on my hands” crossed the mind of just about every creative person out there [Laughing]!
You really have to want it. For me, the more free time that I have the less I want to create music. I need a deadline and a point to focus on. That’s what drives my work ethic. Taking fun creative ideas and making them into something. I found that the free time kind of hindered my creativity as I was procrastinating on certain things which is just not the way that I prefer to do what I do.
So, having more time didn’t really matter to me, and that whole experience just got in the way. We had about twenty songs prior to entering the studio and we whittled it down to the twelve that are on the album. I’m really happy with the way that it worked out, but I’d not like to experience that type of prolonged “free time” away from normal life again any time soon.
OD – Now with Roadrunner behind the business end of things, do you feel that there is a lot more wind in the bands’ sails?
GABRIEL – So far things with Roadrunner have been great. But as for ‘wind beneath our sails‘ that gonna shoot us to new heights? I don’t really know. [Laughing] All I do is just keep working as hard as I can, and I’m hoping that the label does their part also. If we work together I’m sure we can do something big with this album.
OD – Of course, the rise of the bands’ popularity with ‘Mana‘  saw media from all over the globe praising the band. Then came your name change, and a plethora of plans that had to be dismantled and/or postponed because of the pandemic. It must have been incredibly frustrating?
GABRIEL – You have no idea! [Laughing]. We had so much on the go during that time and it was just incredible to see the hard work finally paying off. We were scheduled to do a run of European dates with Danzig, then there was the Mercyful Fate dates, the festivals…I mean, it was just heartbreaking to see these opportunities slip away in the blink of an eye.
We were about to head out on the Decibel Magazine Tour, (which is a huge deal here in America) and we had US King Diamond dates under our belts. Doors were opening for us all over the place, and then suddenly. They all closed, as they did for every touring band on the planet. It really sucked.
OD – I understand you have a great deal of material already for album number three with up to 12 tracks and a loose concept. Do you feel that you’re in a good place with regards to working ahead of time, and does that allow you to get a little more creative?
GABRIEL – Yeah, for sure. I feel like I’m starting from square one again but on a different board game [laughing]. I do like to solve problems and the last few years have literally been one after the other and to be honest, it’s the determination to keep going…to have that adventure. I’m not interested in money or fame, I want to experience an adventure in my life, and if I can do that while being creative, then that’s a win-win in my books.
OD – Do you feel that you’ve accomplished more than you originally set out to do already?
GABRIEL – I was only saying to my wife the other day: “If I die tomorrow, I’ll die happy because I’ve done so many things in my life already that I never thought I would do” so yeah…I’m just gonna keep pushing forward and see what comes of all of this.
OD – Yet again, plans for dates in Europe have been shelved due to the Pandemic. At this stage, you must be gagging to get over here to perform. Have you noticed an increased amount of interest in the band over the last year or so?
GABRIEL – When we first started the band, and we got a message from a fan, telling us how the music had changed their outlook on something or saved their life, or whatever, I would always tell the rest of the guys in the band, or tell my wife and be like: “this is pretty fucking cool!“. It happens often enough and now there are so many I can’t mention it to the band, because it’s more of a common thing now, and although I think it’s amazing, I just can’t keep on top of all the messages. I try to reply as much as I can but it’s impossible to respond to all of them.
OD – There’s a real eclectic style to your lyrics and wanted to ask where you normally draw your ideas from. Are they from an ethnographic approach, or from other sources?
GABRIEL – More so, I have an idea that comes from my real-life emotions and I build a story around it. That’s where ‘Mana‘ and the EP came from. ‘Strength‘ has more of a direct, straight-from-my-life approach but I still create a character if you will, and build a story around the lyrics. It’s not like: “I do drugs and want to kill myself” or anything like that. I have to build stories around these sad emotions and then have to go to an extreme with them because it’s Heavy Metal.
I’m a person who likes absolutes. That’s why I’m interested in war, drug addiction, explosions and fire, and all that type of stuff. In essence “the simple mind is pleased by simple things”. The lyrics start out as raw emotions and then I go on to create a story around them and add in some fiction. The listener gets to decide where the fiction is.
OD – Would you consider releasing another EP between albums as you’ve done in the past?
GABRIEL – I don’t want to do an EP, but there will be something coming out but not in the traditional sense. It’s not gonna be like anything I’ve done in the past. It’s already written and I’m hoping to get it out sometime next year. With regards to a new album, fans will have to wait two years for that to come.
I’m a big admirer of bands’ work ethic from the ’70s and ’80s. Rush was putting out LPs almost every year. Then you have Iron Maiden, Judas Priest, etc. They just worked their asses off. Recording, releasing albums, and touring…non-stop! In some cases, there were two releases in one year! I really like that work ethic and am trying to be as productive as I can while I’m young and hungry.
Right now, I figure: “I’ve got it, why not use it!”
OD – You’ve expressed interest in investing more production in your live shows and I can only assume that you’re hugely influenced by the grand metal shows of the ‘80s. Do you think that there was a lot of romanticism lost over the decades and it’s about time we had more theatre with the live shows?
GABRIEL – Build the live show as much as possible! The longer we roll along, I want to become bigger, with bigger live shows, bigger crews, etc. Why toss away the stage banners? I got a ‘Mana‘ banner made, and there’s one for ‘Strength‘, both of those will be used in our live shows. Look at Maiden, they have back-drop for nearly every track on their setlist! It’s just an awesome visual to see during a live performance.
OD – With reference to the new material you’ve been working on, would you say that it’s a natural continuation to ‘Strength’?
GABRIEL – The new material that I’m working on now is closer to ‘Mana‘ than that of ‘Strength‘ but it’s not the same. It’s definitely an evolution in sound. I’ve been exploring the idea of working with clean songs with distorted guitar leads over the top. It’s not really done a lot within the Metal genre and is usually more common in Pop music, so I’ve been experimenting with that stuff, as well as some other ideas.
Other than that, lyrically it’s all progressing in a kind of magical, sparkly way. ‘Strength‘ is very “down-to-earth” and “raw” while the new stuff is different but also a direct evolution of what I’ve done in the past.
OD -Has there been any particular album or form of media that you’ve found yourself immersed in due to the restrictions over the last 18 months, or have you been focusing primarily on your own writing?
GABRIEL – Yeah, I tend to do a bit of both. I have a lot of respect for some Bee Gees non-disco stuff. Those albums are really great. In fact, I used some of their songs to inspire parts of songs in my old band, Spellcaster. I used some ideas from their songs and applied them to some of the Thrash parts in that band [Laughing]. I’ve also been going very deep into Rush’s back catalogue.
I love ‘Signals‘, I love ‘Grace Under Pressure‘, and I was just getting into ‘Power Windows‘ then I thought to myself: “They kept going after this. What the fuck did they put out?“. So I looked up their discography, made a checklist and went about collecting all of their back catalogue on vinyl.
Even if I didn’t like some of the stuff, I know that this is RUSH. They will at least, be making something that is musically interesting. Some of their stuff is really weird. Like ‘Presto‘ for example. What a totally strange album. It kind of reminded me of Iron Maiden’s ‘Dance of Death‘. I gotta get back into the ’70s stuff with them [RUSH]. I just find them so interesting.
OD – Can you leave us with a favourite music video from any artist that you enjoy?
GABRIEL – Hmm, that’s a hard one. Let me think for a second. I mean… Pantera performing ‘Domination‘ live in Moscow is mind-blowing but that’s a live video. Okay, how about 3 Inches of Blood with ‘Deadly Sinners‘. It’s a very low production video but the song is unreal. I used to listen to them a lot back in high school.
Unto Others new album ‘Strength‘ will be released this Friday, September 27th via Roadrunner Records. You can pre-order a deluxe vinyl variant from this link. Be quick as they are expected to sell out soon.
Catch them on tour wiht Behemoth, Carcass and Arch Enemy in September 2022. A full list of the dates can be viewed below.
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