The Canadian metal scene has reached maturity now, and the wave that crashed full bore onto metal's shore a few scant years back has seen some artists recede back into the ocean, and others make a permanent beachhead marking their arrival. Two agents of two of the permanent bands, Crimson Shadows and Blackguard, are joining forces, as the energetic and charismatic Paul 'Ablaze' Zinay from the latter is now the front man for the thunderous and powerful former. On the heels of the news, we sat down with Paul and talked his new band, the circumstances of Blackguard and all things Wu.
D.M: You’re the singer for Crimson Shadows now, how did that happen?
PAUL ‘ABLAZE’ ZINAY: Well, I’ve known the Crimson Shadows guys for a long time. Blackguard and Crimson Shadows have been doing shows together almost since the beginning of Blackguard, and pretty much the beginning of Crimson Shadows. We started off close to the same time, give or take. We’ve been playing with those guys for years, so we became good friends with them. Cory [Hofing,] their drummer, we’ve known him forever, talked business and all that. A couple months ago, Cory called me up and let me know that Jimi [Maltais] was stepping down from his position with the band. [Cory] knew that Blackguard was slowing down a little bit, and asked me if I wanted to join up with them. At first I wasn’t sure if I wanted to, but he just kept bugging me [laughs]. So he’s bugging me about it, and I told him I had to think about it for a little while. I knew I had been burned out from touring for a long time and if I joined with them I’d be pulled back into that. We talked about it, we made sure all the details were right, and I said ‘yep.’ I love the music and I love the guys and I love hanging out with them and being on the road and playing songs with these guys. So, I started demoing a new song and we’re working on a new record now and I’m really excited for where things will potentially go with this band.
D.M: So you’ve already started working on new material, then?
PAZ: I think there’s between six or eight songs that are musically done. I’ve done two songs lyrically, but I’ve got more to do, I’ve got to pick it up and get those creative juices flowing again. It’s been weird, because I haven’t actually written lyrics since the Blackguard record that’s not even out yet. I wrote lyrics for that, that was a couple years ago, and I wrote lyrics for one Ages song. It’s one of those muscles that’s in entropy and I need to start working it again, getting used to actually being creative in that respect. You know, I’m in familiar territory, too. Thematically, Crimson Shadows isn’t that far off from where Blackguard was. Now I gotta come up with new ideas. We’re trying to come up with a narrative for this record, something of a concept. That’s been a new challenge, but it’s interesting, because now I have the parameters and let’s see if I can do it.
D.M: Not that Blackguard and Ages aren’t, but Crimson Shadows has always been a guitar band first, that’s always been the forefront of their sound. How do you fit into that?
PAZ: Well, they’re a guitar band in the same way that, like, DragonForce is a guitar band. It’s a very aggressive, power metal band, is how I’ve always seen them. They have really great guitar parts and excellent guitar players. I’m just going to play my role. As a singer and a frontman I’m going to be there filling in those gaps in the songs. The songs needs lyrics and they need vocals, and I’m doing that. I’m gonna try to come up with great lyrics and good parts, memorable. Hopefully I’m going to be able to add some components to the songs that make them better.
D.M: You collaborated with Crimson Shadows on their most recent album, did that give you greater comfort when they asked you to join, that it was a known commodity?
PAZ: Not necessarily. They asked me to guest on the record when they were recording it because they were recording it here in Montreal with our ex-keyboard player Joe [Jonathan Lefrancois-Leduc]. We were in town and hanging out with them in the studio. I was just hanging out and they were like ‘Paul, jump into the booth and do a vocal part!’ Okay, cool. [laughs]. It didn’t really affect my decision making, necessarily. I genuinely love what they’re doing, just upbeat, fun music to play.
They were trying to get me to do a couple shows they had coming up, well at this point it was earlier in the year, but they had some shows that Jimi wasn’t able to do due to work purposes, this was before he officially decided to step away from the band, they were asking me to do a couple shows with them, a couple American dates, a couple Canadian dates. It was too last minute, but I was trying to, so I was learning the set, and granted, I’d seen them live a couple times, so I really studied the lyrics and immersed myself in their music, and I was just loving it more and more actually listening to it and not just taking it in live. I was listening to their set three or four times a day trying to learn it. That was the process of me actually, officially joining the band, just immersing myself in their music and saying you know what? I can totally see myself playing these songs live and having a fucking ball with them.
D.M: So, have you made your debut as their frontman yet?
PAZ: No, not yet. I was learning their set a couple months ago, but there were scheduling conflicts and I couldn’t get out of work. They wound up going with another guy. I was learning the set as a failsafe, in case they really needed me on a one-off show. My first show with them will be in late April, in Montreal, we’re opening for Nekrogoblikon. We’re doing the Montreal and we’re doing the Toronto dates. It’s gonna be really fun, I’m really excited. Playing with Nekrogoblikon, too, I’ve known those guys from way, way, way back in the day. Blackguard, before we even got signed, we were in contact with Nekrogoblikon to do a North American tour with them and Destroy Destroy Destroy. This was ten years ago, when we were all kids saying ‘let’s try to get an epic tour together.’ It didn’t end up happening, unfortunately, but Nekrogoblikon is still going, they’re stronger than ever, and still an independent band as far as I know and they’re doing fantastic.
D.M: Aren’t they the band that if you go into their online store, you can give them five bucks and they’ll spit in an envelope and mail it anybody you don’t like?
PAZ: Really? Holy crap, I didn’t even know about that.
D.M: I feel like I saw that in their online store at some point. You could toss them a couple bucks and they’d make angry phone calls for you.
PAZ: Do you get proof of this? Like, a video of them making the phone call? I feel like that’s something where you could give them five bucks and have no idea if they’ve actually done it or not. Awesome, nonetheless.
D.M: I suppose maybe what you get out of it is the peace of mind that you paid somebody to do that? Maybe that’s the catharsis?
PAZ: [laughs] Kind of like saying, ‘I ordered a hitman, but not really.’
D.M: Do you anticipate that for Crimson Shadows you’ll have to change your singing style at all?
PAZ: Not really. I’m trying to adapt my style a little but more. Jimi used his lows a lot, and I use way more of my highs. So I was learning the older set, I’m using more of my low singing. But in the stuff that we’re writing right now, I’m trying to float a lot more between the two. Which is what I did for Blackguard for the most part. But I feel more comfortable in the highs. The guys don’t want me to be Jimi necessarily, they want me to be me. So I’m writing my own thing, and when the material comes out and I start writing for it, I’m going it give it my own taste. We’re collaborating more, because this is the first time I’m working with another singer, too. Greg [Rounding] and the others guys do clean singing, too. So we’re collaborating lyrically and stylistically, like, what parts do you want to be on, what parts do you want me on? We’re working together on a section here or there, so there’s a lot more dialogue that’s going to happen between us as the record progresses. They’ve given me pretty much free range to do what I want, which is fantastic. They trust me, this isn’t my first rodeo. I’ve been around well over a decade at this point, and they invited me into the band because they liked my style and liked what I did. I’m very much bringing me to this band. It’s not going to sound exactly like Crimson Shadows with Jimi did. I’m one hundred percent confident that we’re going to put out some fantastic music.
D.M: Your joining Crimson Shadows; What impact does this have on your commitments to Ages and to Blackguard?
PAZ: Ages is more a studio effort more than anything at this point. We’re rehearsing to play live and writing new songs, but it’s been slow going since everybody has other commitments and conflicting schedules. Ages happens when it happens, there’s no real rush to it.
And Blackguard [pauses] There’s not really any conflicts any more, unfortunately. Blackguard’s not going to be doing too much in the future. We’re no longer a full-time, touring band the way we used to be. Crimson Shadows is effectively filling that void, in my schedule, anyway. Crimson Shadows is my main project right now. We haven’t made too many official announcements regarding what’s going on with Blackguard, though we are going to in the coming weeks. We’re gonna answer everybody’s questions soon enough, but for anybody listening in on this, don’t expect us to go back into the full North American tour thing.
I want to tell you everything, but at the same time, I shouldn’t before there’s something official. I want to spill all the beans all at once. But there will be a conclusion of sorts to Blackguard. People are asking what the hell’s going on because we’ve been out of the game a couple years. Prior to stopping the touring a couple years ago, we had a record that we’ve been talking about for fucking three years that never came out. The record’s still here, we have it, and it’s still gonna come out and that’s gonna happen this year. That’s going to be a conclusion.
D.M: I suppose that’s my follow-up question – you were playing tracks from “Storm” live, so what’s the status of “Storm” currently? You say we’ll see it this year?
PAZ: The record’s done. It’s been tracked for over a year. It was bad timing. It was really, really, really bad timing. “Storm” should have been released when we toured with Soilwork a couple years ago. “Storm” should have been released then, and it wasn’t, unfortunately. Basically, our inability to say ‘no’ to our booking agent kept us on the road, kept delaying the record. It should have been out then. If “Storm” was out by the Soilwork tour, a lot of things would have been different. We just kept touring, it kept getting delayed, there were financial issues that kept delaying the record as well, which is something I’ll be shedding light on in the future. We’re going to let everybody know the status of the band and of the record. There was a series of unfortunate events that unraveled leading up to this record which inevitably stalled it. It got delayed because of touring, then it got delayed because of financial reasons, and then we wanted it out by the end of the ‘Blodsvept’ tour, which was the last tour we did in 2013, but then we got back and we were burned out. We needed a break and that was it, because nobody’s happy anymore and we were financially strapped. It’s still an issue I’m dealing with today, the financial issue because of the tour. It wasn’t pretty where we left off; the last anybody heard from us was the end of that tour, and it was a bad time for a lot of us. We needed to step away, to have that time to focus on life, and now that we’ve had that time, now we can focus on how to properly release that record. Everybody’s a little more comfortable. It was just everything going wrong leading up to the potential release of this record, and then we needed to walk away from music for a little bit. We were emotionally and psychologically and financially so burned out that we were in no position to release a record and then go tour that. Then our relationship with Victory Records broke down, so we’re not with them anymore. In the past couple years we’ve talked with a couple labels about releasing it, that’s something we’ll be talking about in the future when we make an official press release. But [the record] will come out, and it’s gonna come out this year. We’re coming together to make that happen.
D.M: Pivoting - a couple kickers before I let you go – for those who don’t know you quite as well, what’s your infatuation with the Wu-Tang Clan?
PAZ: Oh God…where do I begin with that? Holy shit. I don’t know if I would call it so much an infatuation so much as I would call it a very deep reverence for the RZA and that group. I bought “36 Chambers” so many years ago for like, five bucks. That’s one of the classics of hip-hop.
D.M: It is. I’ve got a copy.
PAZ: It absolutely is. By any standard, that’s one of the all-time great hip-hop records. If you juxtapose that record against any of the popular so-called hip-hop records of today, man, those guys were real lyricists. They could spit crazy rhymes and it was still saying something, like reflecting their struggle. A couple of years a buddy of mind lent me a copy of “The Tao of Wu” which is RZA’s autobiography. It’s part autobiography, part philosophical, the RZA talking about everything that makes him tick and the philosophy that he’s gone through life with. He talks about the Taoists and Buddhists as well, basically everybody who shaped who he is. He’s giving an accounting of how Wu-Tang came out of nothing and his vision for the group, the vision that he acquired over time, forming a group and the unfortunate downfall after the fact. It’s honestly one of the most inspiring stories I’ve ever read in my entire life. So my love and my infatuation with the Wu-Tang comes out of that. It’s one of the greatest underdog stories, a group of African-Americans growing up in fucking New York in such a shitty time, coming from the crappiest circumstances, that made it, and were one of the biggest hip-hop groups in the world, beat all the odds. It resonates not just with musicians but with anybody. RZA’s got such passion for music and life and philosophy. I feel like when I’m reading his words, when he’s giving advice, everything seems very applicable. He takes each of his philosophies and it can be applied to a very real-life situation. It spoke to me so deeply over the last couple years. When I was reading the book I was sort of in depression at the time and some of the things in there helped get me out of it. That’s why I feel this unwavering devotion to the Wu [laughs].
D.M: I’m with you – my rap collection is mostly old school, and I think the newest album I have is from Dead Prez or Saul Williams and those probably ten years old at this point, at least. Not much that’s new has enticed me.
PAZ: In the hip-hop game, I feel like there’s a magic era. In any era, there’s going to be artists that speak to you and artists that don’t. Some of the guys who speak to me have always been the guys who have the best wordplay and who are really saying something, who have a message in their music. I love Immortal Technique. He’s got fantastic technique, but he’s also got such meaning in everything he says. It’s not just abstract verses about bitches or money or the kind of stuff that’s really prevalent in the scene. I love listening to the guys in Army of the Pharaohs, they’re awesome MCs and so creative in what they do. As a singer and as a lyricist, the more I become obsessed with hip-hop, the more I feel I need to step up in my lyric life. I feel this need to try different styles of lyric writing. I love listening to hip-hop, I love the way they flow through ideas, and it has always given me influence for what I do in metal. You can totally transpose one to the other, they’re not mutually exclusive. The more I get into, the more I felt this need to study different styles. It’s a huge component for me.
D.M: You mentioned that the two aren’t exclusive – hip-hop and metal and rap all come from the blues and are generally championed by people who are outcasts or minorities in some way – do you feel like that’s a connection that the metal crowd largely overlooks?
PAZ: I think it overlooks hip-hop generally speaking because it’s such a different culture. Granted, there’s a lot of metal heads that I know that love hip-hop, they like Wu-Tang and the old school guys. When you look at hip-hop music today as you see it through mainstream media, it’s some of the worst shit. Like the Kanye Wests, the egomaniacs. Kanye’s got some good songs, but I don’t appreciate what he does. There’s just a divide in the culture that it’s hard for metal heads to appreciate a lot of what contemporary hip=hop artists are doing. But if you go back and show Wu-Tang to a lot of metal heads, I think more of them would appreciate it. Hip-hop with a real message, that’s not overly polished up, it’s not just a drum beat with a piano. It’s unfortunate there’s such a cultural divide between metal heads and hip-hop, that it doesn’t resonate with people. But a lot of it does, and people do see through the bullshit and the crappy artists and people are within the genre and have been able to appreciate a lot of the great artists. I wish there were more metal heads who listened to hip-hop, you bring it up to people and they go ‘oh, that rap shit.’ No, no, no, no, no, go beyond the shit you hear on the radio or in the club. Fuck the club. It’s barely art, it’s there for mass consumption, it’s not real art. It’s a bullshit version of it. You gotta dig deeper, go to the underground, that’s where people have something to say, words and verses that you’ve never heard before. I love listening to the new hip-hop artists and being blown away by the way they’re able to construct words and phrases, it’s so inspiring.
D.M: Let’s say hypothetically you’re at a Wu-Tang show and RZA pulls you out of the crowd and up on stage, and says ‘you’ve got one song.’ What’s your one song?
PAZ: Ooooh. “Da Mystery of Chessboxin.” That’d be it for me.
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For more on the Wu-Tang Clan, check them out on Facebook and Twitter