Witching Metal Webzine

Witching Metal Webzine

Sunday, August 26, 2012

Interview with Vacant Throne's Josh Mortensen

 You may have seen the review of Vacant Throne's Fall of the Feathered King a few weeks back. Well, Josh Mortensen (lead guitarist) is here to talk about the new album, how the band started, and their journey to show the US what Power Metal can be with their story-telling compositions and theatrical stage-antics that definitely separate themselves from the rest of the pack.

Left to right: Reggie Handy, Frank Candelario, Josh Mortensen, Chris Mauro, and Jason Mortensen. (Not featured: Chris Fernald)

Witching Metal: Okay, first off: tell our readers about yourself and your band. What are you guys setting out to do in the metal world?

Josh Mortensen: We are Vacant Throne, a power metal band located in Denver, Colorado. We just released our debut album, "Fall of the Feathered King," which is based on the Spanish conquest of the Aztecs--a theme that has been missing from power metal that is too laden with fantasy concepts and Norse or Greek mythology. This record was entirely self-produced and is our strong attempt at making a dent in the lacking American metal scene that hopefully draws the attention of a major record label. Our mission is to revive true heavy metal in the United States, as untalented "core" bands are blemishing the American reputation for metal at the moment.

You're right about the mythology-laden bands, it does seem many of them just want to write about vikings and not venture into any new territory. What made you do an entire concept album on the Aztecs?

My brother and vocalist Jason has always been fascinated with Aztec history, in particular the coincidence involving the expected return of the god Quetzalcoatl and Cortes' timely arrival on the shores of what is now Mexico.
Also, I happen to be a war veteran and I have always looked up to the legendary fierceness of the Aztec's best warriors--the jaguar and eagle knights.
Mostly, it was just really fun trying to capture the atmosphere of Aztec mythology and history within the boundaries of heavy/power metal. I can only hope that listeners envision soaring pyramids, bloody sacrifices, and heated tension between the conquistador army and the Aztec people.

Concept albums tend to portray more of a theme. Do you value "story-telling" in your music?

Absolutely. This is especially apparent in our live performances, as we wear costume reminiscent of our theme then take a little time between songs for story-telling. It is a wonderful feeling to be enjoy music by allowing the melody and rhythm to overpower your emotions, but it is something entirely different to be intellectually involved with a piece of music--and that is what we strive for.

Putting on a show takes more than getting up their and playing your music. Takes pure showmanship.

Alright, so tell us how the band began.

In 2008 I was an infantryman in the US Army and had a piece of shit guitar that I would play around with between patrols. I wasn't having the greatest time so I would dream of playing in a metal band when I finished my service. I got inspired by the what was happening around me, so I started expressing myself with some pure heavy metal riffs, that ended up becoming entire songs. I had a crappy laptop with Guitar Pro so that I could write down the tabs for guitar, drums, and bass. I then sent the tracks to Jason, who had aspirations for using his voice professionally as he had experience acting in local theater companies. I also showed the songs to my two best friends, Ryan Burbank and John Deasy, who played guitar and drums. Also, Jason’s roommate at the time, Reggie, said that he liked the music and was interested in playing bass.
After several back-and-forth emails, everyone agreed to start the band when my service contract would end in May 2010. I kept writing music until that time and we had a good 8 or 9 songs ready to go by the time we played our first show in March 2011.

You taught yourself how to play guitar in an army tent for two years or did you already know how to play beforehand? 

I am completely self-taught, but no, I started playing acoustic guitar at about 10 years old. A couple years later I got one of those Sam's Club knock-offs of the Fender Stratocaster for Christmas. After 17 years of playing guitar, I feel I should be much better, but the bane of my existence is committing to more projects than I can handle.

Do you play for other bands other than Vacant Throne? 

No, even if I wanted to I really couldn't handle it. I am full-time student and barely get any sleep trying to keep Vacant Throne charging at full-speed-ahead.

If one were to flip through the liner notes of your CD, everyone would see that you've got quite a few writing credits.
Would you say you are a driving force behind the band?

Yes, I try not to toot my own horn because all of these guys bust their ass. We have fired a couple members, so that's proof enough that you need to work hard to be a part of Vacant Throne. As far as songwriting and band management though, I am definitely the driving force!

Do your influences affect your writing/playing style? 

Of course it is impossible to write music without having listened to it, but I do try to write in my own style. We have about 25 songs in our library at the moment, so it is much easier to get a full grasp of my own style now then in the past. When I first started writing music, I was listening to a lot of Iron Maiden, Stratovarius, Kamelot, Helloween, Cage, Iced Earth, Crimson Glory, and Jag Panzer. I think the most tangible influence a listener could identify in "Fall of the Feathered King" is Iron Maiden, but hey, you can find that influence in pretty much every power metal band in existence today! The top comparisons I have heard from fans and writers are Jag Panzer and Hammerfall.

I would agree with the Jag Panzer comparisons. You guys definitely have the old school power metal feel. Speaking of Jag Panzer(Colorado power metal), what's the scene over in Colorado like? 

By "scene," do you mean metal in general? I must clarify that before I answer!
Of course. Or even power metal if you want to get more specific. How about both? 

As I mentioned before, the "core" type of metal has really taken over the scene here. I really don't want to go on a rant, because I appreciate all types of musicians, but the majority of the "core" bands here in Denver lack talent. Regardless, that seems to be what the fans want, although I don't understand why they enjoy it. Of course, there ARE talented bands here that have some kind of "core" association like Last Word, Deed of Martyrs, and the newly-popular Allegeon, but the majority is just crap.
Now, I will say the local heavy/power metal scene has at least tripled in the last two years, and I believe that Vacant Throne is very responsible for that. When we first started playing, about 50 people would show up, now we are having 200 people come through the door when we play a show. And it is small victory for me when I recognize many of those young faces from "core" shows I have attended! The younger generation is getting a taste of true metal, and they are realizing just how good it is. Other bands largely responsible for the revival here are The Four Horsemen, a Metallica-thrash group of young high schoolers, and Satan's Host, who feature Jag Panzer's Harry Conklin on vocals.

US power metal is often overlooked, especially when one views the 80s, where glam, thrash, death metal pretty much had a good hold. Do you see a growth in interest in USPM in the near future? Obviously, you've seen a decent increase in fans locally, but the US isn't known for being power metal friendly. 

You are correct, when power metal bands tour Europe, they play in arenas, stadiums, and fair grounds. When power metal bands tour the United States, they play in theaters and bars. For example, Sabaton is playing at a barbecue joint when they come through Denver next year. What a joke.
The interest in power metal is there, I just don't think the majority of Americans have heard it. 9 times out of 10 when I meet someone new and they ask me what type of music my bands plays, I tell them "power metal" and they have no idea what it is.
For those of us who still keep true metal alive, the best we can do is share it with our younger generation. Give them a CD, thumb drive, download links, whatever it takes. Because young kids love the music as much as us, they just haven't heard it yet.
For those fans who are interested, there is terrific community of US power metal fans on Facebook that love to discuss the music and anything else related. The group is called "US Power Metal Connection" and you can access it with this link:

Word of mouth is just as good as a few clicks on the computer. In this day and age it's hard and yet easy for bands to get noticed because of the Internet. You guys did your debut out of your own pocket,right? Did you feel like you guys were going to be at a loss? Self-producing your own album is no easy task, I'm sure. 

We are hugely in debt from this album and all costs leading up to it as well. I can only imagine how rich I would be if I never spent a penny on Vacant Throne. But doing what you love takes hard work and money, and we are willing to do whatever it takes, aside from changing our music!
Self-producing our album was no easy task, but of course this was our first time recording anything professional so this is the only way we know how to do it. We can only hope to land a major record deal and get a lot more help next time.

Do you feel like record deals are still necessary in this day and age when you can just produce it yourself?
You guys have CDs but you also have links for free downloads, is it keeping up with the times or what?

The difference is that major labels will advance you a fund to finance a large tour, and that is still the number one way to get a large fanbase today. The internet is changing this, but there really aren't that many bands today who became famous solely via the internet. And now that every other band wants an internet presence, the competition is really stiff.

The labels would certainly help with getting a leg up.
Alright, for closing: What's the future of Vacant Throne? You guys just released a debut...What now?

Well, it's on to the next one for us! Although we are saving the next recording for a record deal, we have about 8 songs ready to go and a few more to add that I am finishing right now. This time around, we will be doing some story-telling once again with our own interpretation of Arthurian Legend. Local fans reading this have heard a couple of the tracks played live. I feel that every one of the new songs are better than "Fall of the Feathered King." My songwriting has matured and this album will allow more opportunity to open up our synth, vocal-layering, and technical abilities.
To be specific, our next step is to record a demo of several songs and start shopping record labels so they can hear exactly what they would be signing us for.

Sounds like a plan! I'm looking forward to hearing that.
Thanks for your time!

Thank you for the opportunity Sean, it was a pleasure! *

You can check out Vacant Throne at their website, go buy their album, and even download their new album at: http://www.vacantthrone.com/
Check them out on Facebook too! https://www.facebook.com/vacantthrone?ref=ts


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