POWERS COURT (pre-EQUINOX) was formed in 1990 by songwriter/singer/guitarist Danie Powers and bassist Steve Murray. Their S/T debut album from '96 was a real killer because of the true heavy metal sound and very original, mystical and passionate songs. Currently, the band is in the process of finishing up their second album, which will get the (revealing?) title "Nine Kinds Of Hell". We got in touch with 'High Priestess' Danie to find out every detail about this well talented band from East Alton, IL, USA.
Danie, what are your musical backgrounds?
"Well, I started vocal training and piano lessons at age five. I sang choir for nine years under the direction of Professor Max Handelmeyer. A brilliant German gentleman, who was very strict and demanding. He didn't allow any slacking, but I learned a lot from him. He was very talented and I enjoyed working with him immensely. He inspired me to new heights."
Is it true you also sang at funerals at very young age?
"I was in the third grade, so I was like eight or so years old. I had just left a smaller school, that didn't have a choir, or I would have gotten an earlier start, really. The first time I was on stage singing was at age five, Kindergarten. My music teachers in school just sort of swooped down on me and pushed me in the direction of the choir."
Did you play in any other bands before POWERS COURT?
"Yeah, I started out as a vocalist for a power metal cover band, called MEANSTREAK. We did tunes by SAXON, JUDAS PRIEST, IRON MAIDEN, QUEENSRYCHE, DIO and many others. After that, I formed CRUCIBLE (which was a three piece band playing all original stuff) with bassist B.J. Blair, drummer BLZBob and myself on vocals and guitar. This group evolved into EQUINOX (with Monty York on bass). Shortly afterwards (when Steve Murray entered the band as permanent bassist/producer), we changed the name EQUINOX to POWERS COURT. I believe that was in 1995 or 1996."
Why did you change your band name and why pick this name (POWERS COURT)?
"There were too many bands out there of all genres with that name, which led to too much confusion. Steve chose that name and we all agreed. It was the name of a castle and garden in County Wicklow, Ireland. As you'll notice, my surname is Powers (Danie's ancestors were supposedly from Ireland - ed.MM), so it was kind of cool he came up with that."
Who's in POWERS COURT right now?
"Myself, Danie Powers on vocals/guitars and songwriting; Steve Murray on bass (he's also their sound engineer and producer ) and our current studio drummer, Conner McInnis."
How would you describe your music? I think pure heavy metal is way too simple....
"Well, we came up with that, because most people want information fast and don't want to have to process a paragraph or two (haha...). So, hmmmm... There are different elements - it's true. First and foremost, we're 'considered' traditional power metal. There are elements of classical, hard rock, gothic, middle eastern, celtic folk, spanish and other ethnic styles incorporated into my guitar playing. We're melodic at times and brutal at others. I sing 98% of the time in the traditionally 'operatic' style of power metal, while at other times, I might incorporate more dramatic phrasing in my vocals, that is far less traditional and more unique. Just to add some variety."
Who are your main influences?
"Singing wise: Bruce Dickinson, King Diamond, Jon Oliva, Lorenna McKennitt, Rob Halford and Ronnie J. Dio.
Rhythm Guitar: Kerry King (SLAYER), Old METALLICA, Rocky George (SUICIDAL TENDENCIES) and Dave Mustaine (MEGADETH). That kind of brutal, rapid fire, full rhythm chord style.
Lead Guitar: Randy Rhoads (whom I regard as a god!), Dave Murray (IRON MAIDEN), Ritchie Blackmore & Yngwie Malmsteen. I 'strive' to achieve some of that classical flavor to my leads. I'm no Randy, but there are smatterings of that kind of influence.
Steve's Bass Playing: Steve Harris (IRON MAIDEN) and John Alderette (RACER X)."
When you write a new song, what comes first: the lyrics or the music? And please explain how it all fits together, eventually....
"It really depends. Sometimes, it's the lyrics and sometimes it's the music. Most of the time (like the first verse or the chorus part) it will come to me all at the same time - lyrics and music together - Then I just keep working on it, until it's hammered out. Some of the songs were like 'channeled' to me; the entire thing at once with a visual included. A lot of times, I get this mini movie in my head of the action going on in the song and I just get absorbed in that and the lyrics sort of fall into place from there."
The artwork of your debut CD was inspired by the Book of Kells: a decorated series of manuscript produced between the 7th and 9th century. Did you get inspired by reading about this ancient masterpiece?
"Yes, that's right and the artwork just really struck a chord with us."
Did you ever see it for yourself? (note: the impressive Book of Kells is to be found at the Trinity College in Dublin, Ireland).
"Not in person no, we've yet to travel to Ireland yet."
Why did you choose the griffon on the cover of your CD? Did you feel it was a good combination with the ancient artwork you used or was there another reason behind this choice?
"That actual griffon is also from the Book of Kells illustrations (sometimes it's called 'The Lion of St. Mark'). On our website, you'll see a different version of a griffon. Chances are likely we may update him again for the upcoming CD. For those, who don't know what we're talking about, the 'griffon' is a mythological creature usually depicted as having the ears, body, legs and tail of a lion and the head and wings of an eagle. Symbolically, the griffon combines the intelligence, knowledge and wisdom of the eagle with the strength, quickness, and honor of the lion. They were considered masters of both the earth and sky. Griffons possess the strength of heroes and the splendor of Gods. We just thought that was very cool and adopted him as our mascot."
What about live shows?
"We've been playing out for some time now."
Do you also include show elements, special stage effects and so on?
"The action on stage is very non-stop and there's not a lot of talking. Usually, we have so much pent up energy (we're feeding off the vibes of the crowd) that it's pretty electric. We've never been into the props and that kind of stuff. I was always far more concerned with the actual music and delivery of it rather than putting on some plastic production. We get a larger budget now, that's right. I'd love to have some kind of special stage decorations to invoke the time periods and medieval/celtic mood. But it has to be tasteful... I hate that comical look, that some groups have going on. But the bottom line remains the music will be the main source of entertainment and the decorations will come secondly."
Do you play any cover songs?
"No. We play all originals. When we're warming up, you're likely to hear MERCYFUL FATE, SLAYER, BLACK SABBATH, IRON MAIDEN or SUICIDAL TENDENCIES. I mean, they're my influences! But we broke away from that whole 'clone' band thing a long time ago. I think when you're a band, you have to do your own material. Anyone can play covers. Covers don't display who you are, what you're all about or what your feelings are."
Your new CD "Nine Kinds Of Hell" is possibly going to be released on the Italian label Dragonheart Records very soon. What's (to your opinion) the main difference between this CD and your debut?
"First and foremost, the vocals are going to be much better. They are far more impassioned due to some of the themes. I've been working on my octave transitions to make them smoother. Aside from my falsetto highs, I used on the debut, I've worked on hitting those same notes without the falsetto to give the impression of a more 'angelic' type of soprano voice versus the evil-edged falsetto, but that remains as well. Basically, I'm just adding a couple of more dimensions and really another half octave to the voice with beefier guitars and a better production all around. I think this one will be a bit 'darker' also."
On this CD, you will include a few songs from the period, that you were still called EQUINOX. Didn't you have enough new material to go on about or did these songs just fit in very well (I am referring to the song "Tragedy of Faust" for example)?
"Lack of material wasn't really the issue here (laughs). I have enough material backlogged for three more albums. Actually, our fans kept requesting that we'd release those three songs again on disc. So hey, just give the people what they want, ya know? They are three very powerful songs and they also blend in with the whole 'hell' theme of the CD. "Tragedy Of Faust" is one of our most requested songs live as well, that one and "Dying Embers" off the first CD."
Please explain the concept of your new album and the album title "Nine Kinds Of Hell".
"It didn't originate as massively prolific as some would like to think (again laughs). And it's not about Dante and it's not about Milton either... It's just an expression that we use in daily conversations. I picked it up from an old friend. It's used like If you drink the last beer in the fridge, you're in for NINE KINDS OF HELL, my friend....! - I mean, it originates there and then expands to what I think are nine (songs on the CD) hellish experiences: loss of a love, thoughts of suicide, involvement in the occult that goes awry, religious fanatics making your life hell, because you have a mind of your own, etc.etc."
Did you take any singing lessons? It's almost impossible to reach a four and one half octave like on CD opener "Lords of Winds and Breezes".
"The low voice on "Lords Of Winds And Breezes" was done with a vocal effect. We tried several things to make the voice more 'otherworldly' as this song is about the Greek god, Bellerophon. I mean, I doubt his voice would sound totally human. I wanted it to sound very ominous. For "Nine Kinds Of Hell", I've developed a very low growling voice that is more 'natural' and will be used on one of the songs. No effects of that nature on this upcoming CD. I did get singing lessons, but practice really got me the octave range. That, not smoking and trying to take decent care of myself. Practice eventually got me an extra octave and the '1/2' is now pretty much another full octave on this next one, making it a five octave voice. As I stated earlier too, along with the falsetto high, I've smoothed out my high soprano, which on the first one (CD) I wasn't as concerned with. The voice is like a muscle, when you exercise it properly, it responds well to your demands. I mean some things are physically impossible, but a lot of the time if you set your mind to something and see just how far you can push something, gently of course, where the voice is involved, you will at least take your voice as far as it can go."
Are there any specific goals you'd like to achieve with POWERS COURT?
"To tour Europe and move to Italy - I don't' know. As far as we can possibly take it, I guess. I just enjoy doing the music for the sheer release of energy and communing with the crowd. Where that eventually takes us, is where I want to go. It's the 'doing it', what really matters to me!"
Is there still a market in the USA for a heavy metal band like POWERS COURT?
"Not a lot in our area, but we're completely out of touch with the USA. I mean, the majority of the USA are just trend mongers, who change their interests based on whatever MTV dictates. We're only concerned with 'people with depth' and for the most part that is the European crowd and a select group of Americans with discerning taste. There is a good under-ground movement in the USA, but sometimes it's just difficult to maintain contact with so many 'zines changing horses in midstream and going to the 'rap metal' format, etc. What they are labeling as 'metal' in the USA is METALLICA, KORN, FEAR FACTORY and music that to us should be appearing on 'Yo MTV Raps' and the 'Alternative 100 Countdown'. Just because it has a metal sounding 'crunch' guitar, doesn't make it a metal band as your readers well know..."
How many CDs did you sell from your self-titled debut album?
"Originally, we sold about a thousand copies, then we had to re-order. Not too bad for a first time independant release with not a lot of advertising, we're told!"
And how were the reactions from the media?
"Very, very positive. We were very pleased to see we were welcomed with such open arms."
I saw very favourable reviews in "Sentinel Steel" (#3 '96/'97) and you became "Best quarterly CD" in Metal Maidens (Dec'98).
"Yes, we really appreciated that! It gave me especially quite a boost to see these kind comments. We were very honored with those favourable reviews."
What are your future plans?
"Hopefully after we nail these record and publishing deals, finish up the album, etc., we will be able to better discern that. We sincerely hope so! It would be great to commune with metalheads in areas that aren't dictated by trends and that are open to and thirsting for traditional metal groups. I'd love to do Europe."
What are your hobbies next to music? I heard you're very much into comics and have a huge collection of 'rare' comic books at home.
"Well, it's true, I do, but I've slowed down on that a lot: chaos! Comics kinda changed on me and the availability of the titles I am interested in, was becoming this all encompassing thing trying to keep up with the issues. So I said, screw it. I still have my vintage issues, but I've not been as religious about collecting new titles. Other hobbies include weight lifting and aerobics to keep in shape, nothing fanatical. Occult pursuits like tarot card reading, I'm teaching a couple of friends. I read Runes, I'm into Stone Magick, Norse Magick and am exploring some other things of that nature that I'd kind of put aside for awhile. I do web graphics occasionally, created our websites. I love movies, whenever I have the chance I like to check out the new horror relases. Steve and I like collecting antiques, things of that sort."
What's your all-time ultimate heavy metal song?
"That's a tough question... The first one that comes to mind has to be MERCYFUL FATE's "Dangerous Meeting". I wore out two cassettes of "Don't Break The Oath" before I finally got the CD. Then maybe something like BLACK SABBATH'S "War Pigs". Jeez, that's hard to nail it to one song! I mean, I was a huge IRON MAIDEN fan at one time also. SLAYER, too for that matter."
Is POWERS COURT really Danie Powers plus several band members or do you see yourself as one tight (complete) band?
"POWERS COURT is Danie Powers and Steve Murray with a studio drummer. Steve and I are extremely tight. I mean, I do write the songs and we both hammer out details, so in that respect, my mark is indelibly etched in blood, but Steve adds a lot to it. I'm the lightning and he's the thunder. In the production arena, let's just say the true sound and concept of what I was trying to get across to the masses was pretty much lost on other sound engineers and producers. They just didn't get it like Steve has. Other producers and sound engineers in my past would have a tendency to try to pretty it up too much. I had one clown go so far as to speed the vox up, so that it would sound higher than my natural mid range alto! Production is one of those elements, that a lot of people have no idea the importance of when you're trying to convey who you truly are and what the songs are about. I'm a bit more raw-edged and Steve is a bit more refined, so it makes for a nice blend of power with some polish, I think. We work very closely on the final mixes, so it definitely requires teamwork."
Do you have anything to add to this interview or perhaps a message for our readers?
"Keep the faith, babies! The meek shall inherit the shit I always say, so just remember that and be true defenders of metal! Metal will remain strong!! It takes all of us, ya know..."
interview by: Toine and Rita van Poorten, courtesy of METAL MAIDENS magazine, The Netherlands, March 1999.
(this also appeared in SNAKEPIT #5; 1999.)
Contact POWERS COURT at:
P.O. Box 465,
East Alton, IL 62024,