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Holy Grail Interview

A Conversation with James Paul Luna

By

Holy Grail

Holy Grail

Prosthetic Records
Updated January 19, 2013
Holy Grail made a solid first impression back in 2010 with their debut album Crisis In Utopia, but they look to outdo that performance with their second release, Ride The Void. Their modern thrash sound draws comparisons to bands like Trivium, though they also veer into traditional and power metal with their flashy guitar work and soaring wails from vocalist James Paul Luna. The band is gearing up for a big U.S. tour in the spring alongside Anthrax, Exodus, and Municipal Waste. I had the chance to talk to Luna about Ride The Void and what it’s like for an up-and-coming band to tour with the likes of Anthrax and Exodus.

Dan Marsicano: Looking back at Crisis In Utopia almost three years removed since its release, are you still satisfied with how it turned out?
James Paul Luna: When that came out, it was way behind its planned release, so we kind of had to rush things in the end. Some of the stuff we really wanted to fix. We weren’t 100 percent happy with it, but we were glad that it was accepted as well as it was. It gave us more confidence that this time around, we could really bring it home and feel like people would get a better idea of what we really intended to do the first time around. I still think the first record is good. Listening back to it now, it actually turned out really awesome. All the stuff that kind of bugged me was more about in the moment, you kind of get lost and overanalyze your own art.

Do you guys feel with Ride The Void, there was more time to write these songs and not feel as rushed?
Absolutely. Even more than that, we started pre-production really early while Matt Hyde was doing another project. I’ve known Matt Hyde for a while, so he was doing another record and he said to come by once a week and work on songs here and there, just so we didn’t have it all piled into one month of writing and doing everything. We just kind of went at a leisurely pace and I think it helped make the songs better and make them more organic.

When you guys started writing Ride The Void, were you purposely trying to top the first record? Did the band have a game plan or goal in mind with this record?
I think we always have this idea of being better than the previous release, but it wasn’t so much of, ‘We can’t do something like this because that’s what we did on the first record. We have to do it better than that.’ There were a couple of songs we didn’t use for the first album, and I think we weren’t ready enough to attack them as a band at that time, and this time around, we used some of those songs and totally reworked them and made them a little bit more fuller. I liked how they turned out.

As a vocalist, did you take any steps to outdo your performance that you gave on Crisis In Utopia?
I didn’t try and outdo anything I did. I just kind of went with what each song required and what I felt would go nice on each song. Then just let it flow out that way.

Do you think fans of Crisis In Utopia will feel the same way with Ride The Void, or will they find new things to find appealing?
It’s hard to say right now, but I definitely feel the songs that we have been playing live from this new album everyone really likes. I don’t feel the album as a whole is entirely different. I just think the content is a little more polished than the first album. I don’t think it will deter anybody.

When you play new songs live that most of the crowd, fans included, haven’t heard yet, how do you gauge the reaction to it?
It’s gauged usually depending on what city you’re in. I feel New York crowds and L.A. crowds are a lot different from each other. The best gauge is the applause and the way people react after the song or during the song or if they start moshing; it’s usually a tell-tale sign that they like it.

Did you guys try out any new songs live before you went into the studio to start recording Ride The Void?
No, we didn’t play any before recording them.

Has the band ever thought about doing that, at least in the future?
Oh absolutely. I love doing that stuff. The stuff was kind of half-skeletoned together and hadn’t taught it to the other guys. We’re touring constantly, so we only have a break to focus on writing. Ideally, we would play a lot of this stuff live before we even recorded it. It adds a little bit more energy to it and tweak parts and bridges if you feel like it’s too long live.

Since the band was on the road for so many years following the release of Crisis In Utopia, did you guys find time to write, or did you have to wait to find a break in the touring cycle?
I think we wrote on our own, and once we had our time to write, we brought out those riff tapes we had been writing, and starting forming songs out of them. We didn’t have a specific writing time in-between touring.

Do you see Ride The Void as an opportunity for the band to break out even more so than they did with Crisis In Utopia?
Well, I do see opportunity now that we have backing from Nuclear Blast for Europe, and Universal Records in Japan. I think them, along with Prosthetic, is going to be good. That’s part of the reason why our album’s coming out in January, versus coming out in October when it could have come out. Now that we have a little bit more backing and more coverage for Europe and Japan...I think these songs also lend themselves to a bigger appeal than our first record. I do see there’s potential.

The band has been confirmed for the Anthrax, Exodus, and Municipal Waste tour going on this spring in the U.S. What does landing a spot on a tour of this caliber mean for the band?
It means a lot. We’re just super excited. These are all bands that we totally respect and love and been fans of for a while. We already toured with Exodus - it was one of our first tours - so that’s going to be super fun. We couldn’t ask for a better tour with this album, to help get the word out. I think it could mean a lot of stuff for us in the future, so hopefully it all pans out.

How well do you think the band will fit in with the more thrash metal-oriented acts?
I think our sound is very thrash-based. When we did that tour with Exodus, there were a lot of people really into us. A lot of classic metal fans like Exodus and our band as well. When we did the Exodus tour, we gained a lot of fans that still come out to our shows today. I think it translates really well to that fan base.

When you tour with big acts like an Anthrax or Hellyeah, do you guys gain any insight that helps with the live show?
Absolutely. Touring next to bands that have been doing this for 20 or 30 years...Amon Amarth has been around since the early ‘90s and they were very professional. Even if we weren’t consciously doing it, we adapted a lot of mannerisms. Seeing that every night becomes a part of you and you absorb it without knowing. It totally helps touring with legendary bands like Blind Guardian.

What’s the best advice you’ve ever gotten from a member of one of those legendary bands?
I don’t get straight advice, but one thing they say is, ‘Just keep doing what you’re doing man. It’s going great.’ Hansi (Kursch, vocalist) from Blind Guardian, one of the things he said was, ‘You guys are awesome. Just keep doing the things you’re doing, at least for two years. Then you’ll start seeing success from it, where you can actually live off being in a band.’ That’s cool to hear from guys like that. It was very inspiring.

Which tour has been the most fun for you personally to be a part of?
It was our first tour ever with Saviours and 3 Inches of Blood, and we’ve toured with those bands again since, separately. It was just that first tour, where everything was so fresh and new. We were just so excited to be out on the road. There are just so many stories from that tour, and we created the best bond of brothers with those two bands. It was a priceless tour. Besides that, more recently, I think my favorite was touring Australia for Soundwave Festival. It was like a dream every night, so it was pretty awesome.

Is there any place you haven’t tour yet that you would love to?
A lot of my family is in Mexico, so I would love to do Mexico and Latin America in general. We haven’t really done much European touring, besides festivals. It would be cool to do small/medium-sized clubs in Europe.

If you could tour with one band, past or present, who would it be and why?
I would love to tour with Mercyful Fate. I’ve been listening to them a lot lately, and they are one of my favorite bands. It’s the perfect blend of epic and evil, power metal and all the kinds of stuff I love about metal.

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