How was the band formed? Z: It was formed in 2003 as an outlet for songs that I co-wrote with Jon Oliva and Christopher Caffery in 2001 and 2002. This was something we had talked about doing while we were in Savatage together up until 2000. We thought it would be considered a "project" rather than an actual band but we formed a lineup in 2002 and it has remained a band effort ever since.
Can you tell about your band? Z: We are about to release our seventh album. We have six previous studio album releases since 2003 - Watching In Silence (2003), Middle of Nowhere (2004), Burden of Truth (2006), Delusions of Grandeur (2008), Consequence of Power (2010), Seasons Will Fall (2013). We have one live album - Bootleg Live at Wacken 2012. We are a power metal /progressive hard rock band from Tampa, FL USA.
Where are all band members from? Who does what in the band? Z: I live in South Carolina, our bassist Mitch Stewart lives in Mississippi, our guitarist Christian Wentz lives in California, guitarist Bill Hudson is from Brazil but lives in CA also. Our keyboardist Henning Wanner is from Germany and lives near Dusseldorf, Germany. Our drummer Marcelo Moreira is from Brazil and currently lives in Brazil.
What were the ambitions of the band when you started? Z: When we first started we thought about the band being a "project" band and our goal was to release one or two albums and then I was going to do solo albums after that. But we kept the band going year after year and now we are about to release our seventh studio album this summer.
Could you explain your music to someone that hasn't heard you? Z: We have a melodic hard rock/metal sound. The vocals are very melodic and stem from the vocal style of Savatage, Iron Maiden, Dio, and more modern bands such as Godsmack and Disturbed. We have an old-school sound for the most part. We have a touch of Southern Rock added to our sound because of the fact that the founding members (Zak, Mitch) are from the deep south of the US so this sound also comes out in our music.
Where was your first gig? Z: Our first show was at the Rock Hard (Magazine) Festival in Germany in 2003 after the release of our first album Watching In Silence.
Where was the latest gig? Z: Our latest gig was this past October in Siegburg, Germany at the Kubana Club to end off out European Tour 2014.
Who writes your songs?/Who writes the music who writes lyrics? Z: On the first two albums, I wrote the songs along with Jon Oliva and Chris Caffery of Savatage. Starting on the Burden of Truth album, most of the songwriting was done by me and Mitch Stewart. On our latest album Seasons Will Fall, our guitarist Christopher Wentz started writing songs with me and Mitch. On our new release coming out this summer, myself. Mitch, Christian, and our good friend Marc Pattison also joined us in writing songs. I teamed up with Mitch on a few songs and I also teamed up with Christian on a few songs as well. But all the other songs for the most part were written by the four-man team of Stevens, Stewart, Pattison, and Wentz.
Who has the best sense of humor in the band? Z: The good thing about being in CIIC is that all the guys have a very good sense of humor. It's hard to say who has the best one. I have a crazy sense of humor and so does Bill but Christian has a very sly, dry sense of humor and Mitch is very funny. Henning is funny as well and Marcelo loves to laugh and play practical jokes on everyone. It's very hard to tell who's the funniest but there's never a dull moment in CIIC ha ha...
What's good/bad with the band?/What genre do you feel you are? Z: We all get along really great and that is a good point about the band. Everyone travels well and that's good because we always travel great distances to play tours and shows. On the other hand, we all live great distances apart so that makes it very hard to get to starting points for tours sometimes. Our genre is progressive metal / power metal / melodic hard rock hybrid sound.
Why did you pick that particular style?/What are your songs about? Z: The style stem from the types of music we came from. From basic hard rock bands to prog metal/rock bands to me coming from Savatage (theatrical rock/ symphonic metal sound) to speed metal. It's just a combination of the sounds each guy came from in the bands they were in before they joined CIIC. Our songs are about everyday life and events. About intriguing stories of human existence or the human condition. They are also about personal events and stories ithin our own lives.
Do you have any clips on YouTube? Z: Besides all of my videos on YouTube from when I was a vocalist for Savatage, the song videos that CIIC has on YouTube are "Watching In Silence", "Revelations", "Evermore", "Seasons Will Fall", and "Diamond Blade".
Do you play covers or all original music? Z: We play all original music generally, but sometimes in our live performances we play a few cover songs so that I can play drums on a few songs in live shows.
How old are you? What got you started in music? Z: I am 48 years sold. I started playing drums when I was nine years old and soon after that I was in my first band with my brother who was eight years old and a good friend of ours. We won a talent show at school when I was ten years old. It was from that minute on that I was all in and interested in a career in music.
How old were you guys when you first stood on stage? Z: I was ten and so was our guitarist at the time we played our first show. My brother played bass and was nine.
Best/worst gig you've played? Z: A great show CIIC was Wacken 2012 where we recorded the live album Bootleg Live at Wacken 2012 that we released last June. The worst show was probably in 2006 where we arrived in Milan, Italy for a show and we were told that it was cancelled due to a championship soccer match in the area.
What places will you be playing in the immediate future? Z: CIIC will play some shows in the USA in September, 2015. We will play a tour of Brazil and South America in October 2015. We will also have a tour of Europe from mid-November through mid-December of 2015. More shows for 2015 will be announced as they are booked. Stay tuned.
Where have you played from then till now? Z: Last year we played in Brazil, Europe, and Dubai. This was our second trip to the Middle east to play Dubai. Our Next trip to the Middle East will include Dubai and Lebanon. We started filming a documentary film on CIIC last year and those three tours were covered in the film. We will continue to film the documentary and capture the tours of 2015 as well.
Which band is the best you´ve seen? Z: I think the best show I've seen is actually the first live show I had ever been to. It was KISS on the Destroyer Tour in '77 when I was 10 years old! That was the first concert I ever saw. Looking back I still think it's one of the best shows I have ever seen.
Is it always the same songs live? Z: We always vary the songs that play greatly because we have seven studio albums to choose songs from. So there is an abundance of material to choose from as you can imagine. This allows us to change the set lists on tours quite often. And it helps us not to get too bored at the same time.
What has been the best or most promising gig so far? Z: There have been a lot in our history, but I would say that Wacken 2012 gave us a lot of impetus to forge ahead and have a lot of great tours after that. We had also taken three years between records at that point, so it was an important show to let everyone know that we were back and out there touring again in support of a new album at that time - Seasons Will Fall.
How big crowds do you usually play for? Z: It varies a lot, but we play to crows anywhere from 25,000 people at festivals to about 5.000 per show in Brazil to 1000 persons or sometimes more and sometimes less on our regular tours of Europe, the Middle East, and the USA.
How do you get psyched up for a gig? Z: We're pretty low-key for the most part. We just pick a few things that we want to improve on from the last show and try to key in on those opportunities we find. The adrenalin is always there so we don't have to do too much to get excited for the show. We're always excited to play.
What are your goals with your music? Z: We try to find new creative avenues for songwriting with each record and we want to gain new followers with each new record. We would like to have a few hit songs within our genre so that's something we're always pushing for. We just always strive to get better so good things can happen.
Is it easier to get your inspiration from older bands or from bands that are more modern?
Z: My original inspiration came from older bands nut now I split my inspiration between older bands and modern bands. I get on YouTube quite often to rediscover things from older artists and I do the same with the modern hard rock bands just to see what they are doing and how it compares to what we are currently doing.
What are your sources of inspiration? Z: As far as for songwriting I watch a lot of historical documentaries and investigational shows. I find that stuff to be very interesting and the contents of the most intriguing topics usually makes it into my lyrical content to some extent on just about every CIIC record.
What's the first step when making a new song? Z: We start with music first most of the time. Just cool riffs for the most part. Then we arrange the parts together while I analyze the musical and just let the music tell me what the song is about instead of forcing a topic into a song. I try to let the music talk to me in a sense and then I work on the lyrics from the feeling I get from the musical content of the song as I'm working to finish it.
How do you feel about the downloading of music instead of buying albums? Z: Well in our genre downloading is even more of a problem than in all the other genres of music. People enjoy stealing downloads and they don't really care to own the physical product for the most part. This will probably end up being the demise of record labels as we know it, but for now we just try to overcome the problem the best ways that we can. That's about all you can do these days.
What would be your dreams for the band? Z: I would just like to see us thrive in the music scene by proving that we have a great deal of talent and that we can make a very individualized and original sound in the industry. We would like to be one of the bands that puts these elements back into the music in an age where it is absolutely lacking and the quality of music itself has been on the decline for years now.
Besides your own music, what genres and bands do you listen to? Z: I listen to R&B, smooth jazz, and blues music outside of my own genre of music for the most part.
What do you hold most dear? Z: I still think the power of old school metal music is amazing. I'm excited to see more and more younger kids discovering it and realizing that this was the golden age where musicians actually knew how to play their instruments because they took the time and put the hard work and years in to be great writers and musicians.
What would be your greatest fears for the future? Z: That people stopped listening to and/or buying music altogether.
When you are on stage, what do you fear most then? Z: I just fear major technical failures such as the PA going down or microphone and instruments cables or the instruments themselves going down. I think that's a common fear among all musicians when they play live shows.
Have you been part of any other projects? Z: Lately I have had guest appearances on the latest Avalon CD by Timo Tolkki and the last two Stardust Reverie albums by composer Jesus Arjona. I will also be appearing on upcoming albums by a French project called Foreign and a German project called Dawn of Destiny.
Have you been in any other bands? Z: Before I joined Savatage in 1992 I was in a band out of Boston, MA called WickedWitch who later formed again in 2009 to release another album under the new band name Machines of Grace.
How important are your fans? Z: Our fans are the most important thing that we have. We look to them for feedback about projects and the albums we produce and we speak to them as much as we can on our social media pages. Without our fans and followers we don't exist.
What's the funniest/most memorable thing a fan has done for you? Z: I received two gifts recently on our latest European tour that contained pictures of me performing in concert and the pictures were placed inside of the gifts. The gifts were actually for my two daughters. I thought that was incredible and my daughters really enjoyed getting them. We have the best fans in the world without a doubt.
How often do you rehearse? Z: We rehearse a few weeks before each tour and we get together usually in the location of the first show of that particular tour we are doing to go over all of the material before we start the tours.
Name 2 of your own songs you like at the moment? Z: I like the song "End of Emotion" from the album Seasons Will Fall and the song Burden of Truth from the album of the same name.
What drives a band that isn't all that famous and renowned to try to make a living on their music and to keep playing? Z: I think you just have to believe in yourself and you have to picture yourselves being successful and standing in that moment. You have to always be willing to improve and listen to feedback from fans and your managers and everyone around you. It's very hard to succeed at all in the music business so you also have to have a short memory and a heart of steel.
Do you have any webpages? Z: You can follow us on the CIIC Facebook page at www.facebook.com/circleiicircle and our website www.circle2circle.net. You can also follow our twitter page at www.twitter.com/circle2circle or mine at www.twitter.com/stevenszak or follow me on Instagram at zakstevens!!
Describe your show, visually and musically Z: We have six guys in the band, so we have a lot going on onstage. We have five guys that sing so we have a lot of vocals going on most of the time. Lots of harmonies, etc. Lots of good melodies happening. It's a powerful sound with two lead guitarists and a bed of keyboards happening. Big powerful, melodic vocals over the top. We have a very big, fast, and powerful drum sound from Mr. Moreira. A very big sound overall because of the number of guys in the band.
How do you view the music industry of today? Z: It's both confusing and opportunistic. Confusing because of the enormous number of bands involved, but if you are dedicated to success you can rise above all of the clutter. It still takes many years to be an overnight success in the rock genre without a doubt. But people are looking for real talent again and are looking at rock music to be the genre that rescues music. The lack of real talent out there and people who can really play should be viewed as an opportunity by bands that are serious about their craft. All is not lost.
What is best/worst with playing the clubs? Z: Club gigs are great because they are very intimate. As long as people aren't smoking in the clubs and blowing cigarette smoke into the singer's face then I don't really mind club shows.
Tell us about upcoming gigs and why we should be at them? Z: The best thing about our upcoming shows in the USA, Brazil, and Europe is that we will be featuring songs from our new studio album being released this summer. This will be the start of our touring campaign to support the new album all over the world in 2015/2016.
How would you describe your sound in one word? Z: HUGE
What is your favorite crappy instrument? Z: My old Kalamazoo bass.
What's your Pre-show ritual? Z: I generally just stretch out and connect with my vocal muscles and try to relax as much as I can. I just try not to cause any vocal tension and try to do what I can to alleviate that as much as possible so that all the vocals and the vocal range are as easy to reach as possible.