Three months have left until the end of the year and after I heard Niviane’s new album “The Ruthless Divine” I think hardly any band will beat it. Absolutely a killer one! Today, the band launched a video for the first single “Fires In The Sky” and until you hear “The Ruthless Divine” which will be released on October 30th via Pure Steel Records, we have a special treat for you: the interview with Norman Skinner.
Hi! First of all, thank you for accepting us. How are you?
Thank you for having me. I am doing well considering the circumstances. All my friends and family are healthy and I do hope yours are as well.
Niviane was formed in 2014 in Sacramento, California. We are about the same age, so I guess we discovered metal through the same bands and genres. Still, glam metal and thrash metal are characteristic for California. How and when did you discover metal, which bands you loved back then and how is the situation today?
I first discovered what we would consider “Classic Rock or Classic Metal” in the early 80’s (age 5-10). Bands like Kiss and Black Sabbath at 1st and then once MTV launched I was immersed in glam metal videos… Def Leppard, Twisted Sister, Van Halen. It just grew from there over the years. Bon Jovi was an early favorite until middle school. I started getting into heavier bands and Metallica was the new favorite for me. High School is where I truly branched out and started to discover many different bands… Testament, Savatage, Fates Warning, Alice In Chains, Dream Theater. There were so many awesome bands to discover. Some old, some new but all NEW to me. Fast forward to the present and may of those bands are still favorites today but heavy power metal and related are my current favorites. Evergrey, Primal Fear, Soilwork, Brainstorm etc… etc…
How the metal changed over the years (in our case decades)?
I would have to say the production has changed the most. I hear many bands emerging today that sound similar to bands from the 70’s and 80’s just with better production. The other change has been the multitude of sub-genres. Too many to keep up with. It’s all metal to me.
I am curious about the band name. I have to admit I had no idea how to pronounce it till I heard ″The Ruthless Divine″ and the song ″Niviane″. What is hiding behind the band name? Any meaning?
Join the club. I had trouble pronouncing the name when I joined the band as well. Additionally, in different parts of the world it is pronounced differently so some may think they are mispronouncing it when multiple ways are correct. The band was named prior to my joining in 2015. Original guitarist Claudeous Creamer (Possessed) had a band called “Serpent & Seraph”. They had a single called “Tears of Niviane”. He took the band name from his former song. When I did a little research on who Niviane was I thought it would make for some great lyrics. Anything from Arthurian Legend makes for a good power metal theme. LOL! Plus, since people were always wondering how to say the band name I decided a song would help clarify that… Or at least the way we say it.
Co-founders of Niviane are guitarists Mark Miner and Claudeous Creamer along with bassist Rick Stallkamp and drummer Mark Sprague. When and how did you join the band?
They formed in late 2014 and were working on the 1st 3-4 Niviane songs. They had a singer they were working with but it was not going well. I had recently made public I was looking to join a new project. A friend of my Brian O’Connor (ex-Vicious Rumors\Deadlands) contacted me and let me know Claudeous was looking for a singer. Claudeous and I had played shows together with our former bands and had a respect for each other. I contacted Claudeous and he sent me 3 songs the same day. 2 days later I had all lyrics done and sent him back recorded versions with my vocals. That was it. I was hired on the spot before meeting any of the other bandmembers.
The band had some significant line-up changes. How the changes affect the band?
Luckily all line-up changes really had little to no impact on the band. Although Claudeous’ departure was somewhat of a shock, it happened within the 1st year of the band’s existence. The handful of songs he had written were never used. Mark Miner was already giving Gary Tarplee guitar lessons and informed us he would be a great addition to the band. We never even had a formal audition. Mark Sprague unfortunately had his own personal issues that prevented him for performing at the level we required. I knew a change was needed and proposed replacing him with the drummer from my solo band Skinner. Noe Luna heard the material and was very excited for the opportunity. After a couple rehearsals the band was on board as well. Both of those changes were made before writing for our 1st album was finalized so again no real impact.
Cover art for your debut album ″The Druid King″ was signed by our Dusan Markovic (I say our cause he is from Belgrade too). He also signed the cover for ″The Ruthless Divine″ album. How did you find him and what made you keep him on the second album?
When we were recording our 1st album I performed an internet search for cover artists. I chose the 5 I loved and without any information on pricing etc. I submitted portfolios of all 5 to the band. Everyone including myself chose Dusan as our favorite. He did such a brilliant job on the cover for “The Druid King” when it came time for the next album I reached out immediately. So many bands as us who did our cover art and I always recommend Dusan. He is getting more and more popular which is well deserved!
We scheduled this interview at least ten days ago, but since I got sick we postponed it a bit. In the meantime you launched the single ″Fires In the Sky″. How do you choose the song you will immortalize as a video and can you reveal us which video do you have in plan?
I am glad you are feeling better. “Fires In The Sky” was written just as we were starting to record “The Druid King” album. It didn’t make the cut because we already had enough songs for the 1st album ready to go. Since we wrote it long ago we have been playing it live and fans reacted so overwhelmingly that we knew it would be our 1st single and video. The music video for “Fires In The Sky” will be released Wednesday, October 7th and since you asked I will let you know our next two planned videos are for the songs “Psychomanteum” and “Forgotten Centurion”.
Speaking of videos, I have to go back to the past… Tell me something more about video recording for ″The Berserker”.
It was a huge undertaking. We filmed the battle scenes up in the mountains during lightning and hail storms. It was very windy and very cold. All of the actors really hung in there and delivered for us. By the time we were done with that shoot we had to move to the band location in an old barn. It was already after 11 at night in Winter. Extremely cold. We pushed through and a terrific video was the end result. RAAD house films is the company we used for both “The Berserker” video as well as our upcoming “Fires in The Sky” video. They have also been brought back to shoot our next video as well.
Can you compare ″The Druid King″ and ″The Ruthless Divine″? What is most significant change, which details are you the most satisfied with?
The production is the biggest change. As great as “The Druid King” was we wanted a heavier overall sound to the new album so we switched engineers and used Zack Ohren this time around. The songwriting has definitely matured. During the 1st album there were 5 guys trying to figure out each other’s style and just sort of putting songs together. For “The Ruthless Divine” we were much more comfortable working together and collaborating each of our ideas. I believe the songs show our growth. What you have is a heavier and more dynamic album.
At first listening I thought this is a concept album. But as I am listening to it, I think I am wrong. So, when you are writing lyrics, do you have any leading ideas or you just take it flow…
We get that question a lot. The truth is I have free reign to write about anything and everything in the band. However, with us being a power metal band I choose to stick to themes of battle, mythology, history etc. I’ll throw something else in on occasion for instance “Fires In The Sky” is very sci-fi aliens. I never have any ideas in the beginning. I wait to hear the music and just feel it out.
In general, how does the creative process look like in Niviane? Who is in charged for music and lyrics? What inspires you the most?
In Niviane we have 3 primary music songwriters. Mark Miner, Gary Tarplee and Rick Stallkamp are consistently writing new songs. All of these song ideas are submitted to me. I then am sort of the gatekeeper. I work on them all but only those where the ideas come easiest get worked first. 99% of the time I will chop the song up and rearrange it to better fit what I want to do vocally. I then take the new structure and work out my vocal melodies and lyrics. I write 100% of the lyrics. Once completed I will record demo vocals and then the band as a whole works on the song piece by piece making all the final changes and edits so everyone including drummer and keyboardist gets their ideas added. We always have way more music than we need which is a fantastic problem. For inspiration I get it from everywhere. TV, Books, my family and friends, interactions, personal experience. I am a sponge.
If you are not a Niviane member, while listening to this album, what would you say: on a scale from 1 to 10 how would you mark it and which song(s) you will choose as your favorite?
I would give “The Ruthless Divine” a 9 because as a fan of heavy power metal this album has everything I love. Driving riffs, melody and powerful vocals. I could never give anything I have done a 10 because I will always be self-critical. “The Druid King” for instance I think has a couple filler songs so I would give it a 6 or 7. Fan favorites from “The Ruthless Divine” have been “Fires In The Sky” and “Psychomanteum” by personally my favorite is “Like Lions”.
I have to mention Pure Steel Records, your label and our associates. What made you to sign a record deal with them?
Pure Steel Records had just last year release my side band Hellscream’s album “Hate Machine”. I was very impressed with their work ethic and communication. I asked if they would be interested in the new Niviane album and they asked to hear it. They absolutely loved it and we worked out the contract details.
Which bands influenced you the most as a singer? I ask you this because your singing style is specific at least for my ears.
I have taken a bit of my style from various bands over the years. I would have to say if you really listen you can hear some Iced Earth, Halford, Testament, Skid Row, Killswitch Engage, Brainstorm and others.
Speaking about singing, how important vocal training for you?
I have only had a handful of voice lessons and am mainly self-taught. I do believe instruction is important if you truly want to be a master of your craft. I took just enough lessons to understand how to properly sing as well as what to and what not to do. I occasionally will watch instructors on YouTube if I want to perfect a technique.
Besides Niviane, you have a long history behind. What is interesting for me is that you are also singing in power thrash metal band Imagika, also in Hellscream heavy power… What attracts you to power metal?
It’s my favorite genre of metal. I am drawn to the heavy guitar riffing combined with spectacular vocals. Shredding guitar and the addition of keyboards at time make it very dynamic. I do tend to be drawn to the heavier side of power metal. The lighter more classical fantasy side I am not as into. Bands like Rhapsody, Sonata Arctica, and Blind Guardian for instance I am not a fan of.
How did you discover power metal and which bands are your favorite from the genre?
I would have to say what I consider to be my introduction to power metal or a version was hearing Savatage “Gutter Ballet” and “Streets” albums in High School. I was really discovering Power and Progressive Metal at that time. My top power metal favorites… Primal Fear, Brainstorm, Angel Dust, Mystic Prophecy and Iced Earth and Savatage. I love many other bands that have similar sounds but may not be considered power metal such as Evergrey, Manimal and others.
Over the years you shared the stage with many bands like Vicious Rumors or Primal Fear… What is the best experience you had by now? Or maybe you had a bad ones?
Luckily I have not had any bad experiences with the larger bands I have performed with. All the bands have always been very gracious and sparing with their time. Testament, Delain and Primal Fear are a few that took the time to hang out or talk with us. The new vocalist in Vicious Rumors is a riot. We had such a blast on tour.
Which are the positive sides of touring life and which are the negative ones?
The positive if actually meeting those fans that you normally wouldn’t and of course introducing your music to a whole new fanbase that would’ve potentially never heard you. There is something very special about seeing a long line at your merch booth and meeting new fan after new fan stating they had no idea who you were and that they were blown away. The comradery on the road with your bandmates is always great. If it brings you closer then you are with the right guys. It not it may not last. The negative usually stems from a crooked promoter or poorly attended show. Maybe some other band’s manager having crazy demands. The politics of the music business.
Is there any difference between playing in small clubs in front of 100 people and on big shows playing in front of 10 000 people? Where is your comfort zone?
There is an intimacy to playing a smaller venue vs when it’s a sea of people. I am able to give direct attention to more people and speak with them longer. When it’s a large venue and attendance of course I love that but I am more playing to everyone front to back and it’s hard to meet people and chat as much.
You have a solo project simply called Skinner. Working solo and with the band, where is the difference, more creativity, motivation, freedom?
Being in a band scenario, things move much quicker. Multiple guys working to make and album, shoot a video, book a tour. When it’s Skinner… It’s just me. I’m working with various musicians. Choosing music, finding what works for me. I do have more creative control and freedom but things take much longer and are much more expensive to make happen. I do like having the option to work with musicians I normally wouldn’t have had the opportunity and I can write whatever style of song I choose. It doesn’t have to be power or thrash etc.
The inevitable question in the last few months in the interviews is related to the Corona. We are all talking about the bad sides of it, but is there a good side of Corona, did this madness brought anything positive, at least for you?
Worse than good unfortunately. The only positives I can think of relates more to my solo and recording projects. Since all other musicians are also at a standstill I was able to make a lot of headway on my upcoming Skinner and Elemantis albums. Additionally I have a cover song I did with some musicians that will be released in the near future.
I have heard some rumors that Niviane is already working on a new album. I am looking forward to hear it. Besides that album, what are your future plans?
Yes we are. We already have more than enough material for a 3rd album. To date we have completed working out all the fine details for 2 of them and are about to dive into a 3rd song, We hope to be back in the studio in the next 6 months recording. New music videos are planned for Niviane and Skinner. A new Skinner single and album as well. Writing for the next Imagika has begun and recording for my debut Elemantis album is underway as well. Always staying busy!
Do you miss live performances?
I do. It’s not so much the performing for me as it is the interaction with fans and friends. Hopefully things will start opening back up sooner than later.
What are the biggest challenges you had by now in your music career?
Getting that big break. It has never quite happened. With each album release I make more fans and a larger group of people learn who I am but I have yet to have a breakout moment. Hopefully there is one in my future. When you are relatively unknown it is hard to get the tours and opportunities. Perhaps this is the album that will change all that.
What an unfulfilled wish you have?
I have toured North America so many times with various bands past and present but have yet to tour in Europe. Each time something is planned it falls apart. I am still hopeful.
Thank you so much for your time, I wish you all the best and hope we’ll hear Niviane in Europe soon.