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If your a fan of porgressive rock/metal then the recently released Madmen & Sinners album featuring Tim Donahue and Dream Theater's James LaBrie is a must have. Over to Tim Donahue, the mainman behind this album...

1. What are you currently up to?

I'm currently promoting MADMEN & SINNERS through interviews for magazines & websites all over the world. A MADMEN tour is now being planned by my label in Japan (EMI), so it looks like I'll be busy with promoting this album for most of this year.

At the same time, I've started writing the follow-up to MADMEN & SINNERS, tentatively called MADMEN 2. So I'm also trying to spend as much time as I can in my studio these days.

2. What has been the highlight(s) and lowpoints(s) of your career to date?

Every album is a high point, but they progressively get higher with each release. So naturally, the MADMEN album is now the highest point in my career.

The lowest point in my career was in the late 1980's, after I recorded an album called BRIEF DEPARTURE. I wasn't comfortable with the direction my music and life were taking at that time. But that's all ancient history now!!!

3. Madmen & Sinners, could you take us through some personal highlights please and the ideas behind the music?

MADMEN & SINNERS is a cynical commentary about religious fanaticism and the fucked-up state of today's modern world. The lyrics are pretty cynical, so I think only sophisticated listeners will understand them. The album is musically intense, but I hope people find the lyrics just as intense.

For me as a composer, the highlight of the MADMEN album is the balanc of Gregorian chant and prog metal textures. This balance gives just the right amount of darkness with musical intensity. But there are lots of other deep moods throughout the album.

Here are some track-by-track comments:

1.) MILLION MILES: a cynical look at the Cold War and the insanity of atomic war.

This track features real 1950's USA Civil Defense announcements, and comes to a thunderous conclusion with the launch of a nuclear missile and climactic explosion.

The fretless guitars sound just like a bomb attack- a very scary track.

2.) LET GO: The pain of innocence lost. A cathedral-like ambience sets the mood for this ballad, which features authentic pipe organ, acoustic guitar and James LaBrie's passionate vocals.

3.) MY HEART BLEEDS: Another cynical theme, this time regarding religious hypocracy. The pulsating intro features demonic voices, and layers of thick synth textures. The main body of the track features heavy, intricate instrumental work, climaxing with a large cathedral chorus.

4.) FEEL MY PAIN: A powerful blend of heavy metal and jazz fusion, this track features unusual but catchy melodic moments, coupled with equally unusual guitar work. James' vocals are intense, and the track concludes with equally intense band interplay.

5.) MORTE ET DABO (The Gift Of Death): Real Gregorian chant sung in Latin by an 80-member choir. Church bells and an eerie narration create a dark ambience, preparing the listener for the next track...

6.) CHILDREN OF THE FLAME: Dark and complex, this track takes a cynical look people who actually believe in Judgement Day. This track builds gradually, and finishes with a massive climax depicting the end of the world. The lyrics are apocalyptic: "burning ashes start to rain, on the children of the flame". God's anger comes through in the final, thundering chord...

7.) THE END: Contrasting with the complexity of CHILDREN OF THE FLAME. This simplistic track deals with the guilt of love and sin, and features passionate vocal and fretless guitar work throughout.

8.) WILDEST DREAMS: The story of forbidden love and fantasy. Again, I arranged this track for Gregorian chant, passionate vocals and acoustic guitars. I think James sounds his best on this track.

9.) MASTER OF THE MIND: The story of a mental patient who is wrongfully committed to an insane asylum, where the neurosurgeons are also insane. Not a nice place at all! The track features intricate band interplay and some neo-classical elements. I love the fretless guitar riffs throughout this track!

10.) MADMEN & SINNERS: a 15+ minute epic, combining instrumental and lyrical themes from tracks 1-9.

This lush composition includes haunting chant and orchestration, with diverse fretless guitar and vocal work throughout. These elements come together at the end, and conclude the album in a powerful climax of choir and lush orchestration.

4. How did you hook-up with Dream Theater's James La Brie? Any chance of some live shows?

Our paths crossed through a mutual friend / music journalist, who hooked us up in the summer of 2002.

I'll be supporting the album with fretless guitar clinics in Japan, and maybe China & Europe. Fans can always find details on my website.

5. How has your style of playing developed down the years and what made you first want to pick-up the guitar and play?

My style is constantly developing- it's always changing. So much so, I sound like a different player from album to album! If you listen to my earlier albums you wouldn't believe it's the same person now. I'm back to practicing daily now, and my playing gets smoother and smoother each day.

That said, I can promise you MADMEN 2 will be quite different from the current MADMEN album.

I've always wanted to play the guitar, since I was 4 or 5 years old. Jimi Hendrix, and bands like Steppenwolf & Deep Purple made me want to play.

6. You had Paul Rodgers sing on one of your previous albums. What was he like to work with? Which other vocalists would you like to work with if given the chance?

Yes, Paul sang great on my VOICES IN THE WIND album. He's is a very spontaneous singer, and he sang every song in 3-4 takes. We didn't want to "craft" the vocal tracks with Paul, because the album concept was a very spontanoeus one to begin with. So Paul was perfect for that kind of situation.

But James likes to craft the vocal tracks, and this way worked great for MADMEN & SINNERS because MADMEN is not a spontaneous album at all- it's very conceptual. So it was important for us to "paint" the vocal tracks in accordance with the album concept.

I'd like to do an album with Sarah Brightman. I've already written some music for her, and would love to write enough for a whole album.

7. You design guitars and are a keen player of fretless guitars. In layman's terms how does this differ from the standard guitar?

I've been playing fretless guitar for over 22 years, simply because I love the sound of it. Basically, I play fretless because it gives me a unique musical voice. I can control the pitch and articulation of each note much more effectively on the fretless.

Within the last 15 years, I've released a lot of music on fretless guitar- from fusion to jazz to metal to TV space music.

The big difference between playing fretless and standard guitar is the fact that you really have to LISTEN to what you play on the fretless, and play everything deliberately. Also, fretless is much more challenging to me than regular guitar.

8. How do you view the current rock music scene? Is it better/worse than five years ago?

In general, I don't hear much of a change from 5 years ago. But, some prog metal bands have made interesting music for sure.

Personally, I still find the older music of Rush, Genisis and King Crimson to be the most satisfying rock to me. Of sourse there are many other bands I love, but most of them seem to come from the 70's. Bands like Focus, Rennaisance, Pink Floyd, Yes, UK and Black Sabbath will forever have a place in my heart.

9. What do you do in your spare time outside of music?

I like to flirt with death on my mountain bike...

10. Message to your fans...

Thank you to everyone, for your incredible support of the MADMEN album!

I never imagined MADMEN & SINNERS would receive such a fantastic response, it has even made the top 10 best seller ranking from all over the world.

MADMEN 2 is being born as we speak, and I hope we get all get a chance to meet at a live MADMEN & SINNERS concert soon!


Album review

Interview © 2004 Jason Ritchie/
Format and edit: The Music Index.

All rights reserved.

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