Rich Howells

‘Behind the Mask’ of melodic metal band The Aegean – the making of the music video in Scranton

‘Behind the Mask’ of melodic metal band The Aegean – the making of the music video in Scranton
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This year has required a different approach to just about everything. In The Aegean’s case, it completely changed how the band creates and operates – for the better.

It’s a Sunday afternoon and heavy metal music can be heard outside through the walls of The V-Spot in Scranton, but the bar hasn’t been open in months due to coronavirus restrictions. Locked inside are the group’s five members, each playing parts of a new song one by one on an otherwise empty stage.

Producer and cameraman Jeff Davis stands close and films them all separately from different angles, then together as their friend and fellow musician Will Perna operates the lights, smoke machines, and sound from the back of the room. With no crowd to cheer them on, it isn’t easy to act natural under this odd set of circumstances, but that’s how music videos are made, particularly during COVID-19.

The V-Spot made things easy, though. After spending most of the year apart, The Aegean was practicing together two weeks ago when they decided to make a video for their upcoming single “Behind the Mask.” Guitarist Dave Kline texted co-owner Vinnie Archer and the response was immediate.

“I didn’t even get the second text message out. I was like, ‘Hey, the V-Spot’s closed closed, right? It’s not open at all?’ He’s like, ‘Yeah, you guys can shoot a music video there,’” Kline recalled.

Davis, who runs Feet First Productions with Andy Peck, typically records live concerts in venues of all kinds. They have made a handful of music videos, however, and their schedule is much less busy these days for obvious reasons.

“It’s pretty much just friends whenever they ask,” Davis said. “It’s not really our main focus, so it’s just whenever friends ask us to, basically.”

And they asked, so here they are – guitarists Dave Kline and Kevin Dougherty, drummer Matt Rodriguez, bassist Nick Hennebaul, and vocalist/guitarist Corey Lombardo. On Aug. 23, NEPA Scene stopped by to watch it all come together behind the scenes and to sit down to chat with the local band about their new music before they return to the bar to play a short set during the Steamtown Music Awards this Friday, Sept. 11.

The pain and meaning ‘Behind the Mask’

Like many great songs, this one started with a riff.

“I was noodling around, and then that actually got rewritten about six times. What we ended up settling on was the first riff that we have now and then the whole rest of the song basically. I had that idea for the first riff, and I had that chorus riff I had for a couple years and I just never did anything with it. And then I started screwing around with the verse riff and was like, ‘How can we make them fit together?’ So then the chorus riff ended up getting rewritten three times or four times too to make them compatible with each other. Then everything else in between just kind of got written around those parts,” Kline explained.

“And there was a bunch of versions of this song before those official versions came out,” Rodriguez noted.

“I’ll criticize the guitar parts or the guitar tones 900 times and Nick wants to kill me,” Kline said.

“Our songwriting is so painful,” Hennebaul admitted with a laugh. “I could show you how many versions of this song I have on my phone – it’s disgusting.”

“It’s getting better, though!” Lombardo interjected. “The pain we went through with this song actually made the next three easier. We got a skeleton and we actually then worked out all three of those songs together and nailed down how they all tend to go, so I thought that was kind of cool and maybe we can keep that going.”

They began working on “Behind the Mask” in January, and once it really started coming together by March, the pandemic ended in-person practice and recording sessions and initiated a new approach. Instead, each member recorded their parts on their own and sent them to Hennebaul, who engineered the mix. While they couldn’t get together other than through Zoom meetings, it actually allowed them all to make more meaningful contributions to the song and bring the band closer together.

“I was a real hardass with a lot of stuff. It wasn’t that I didn’t trust them. It was more like, ‘OK, this is what we need to get done and I’m going to take the reins and this is how we’re going to do it, and they were like, ‘All right, fine,’ and we did it. And now I don’t have to do that. I can write a song and just say, ‘Here you go, Corey.’ I don’t have to worry about what he’s going to do,” Kline acknowledged.

“It’s nice to not have to be that controlling over everything, whereas in previous bands that I’ve played with, you had to. They just didn’t want to fucking listen and didn’t want to do things the right way – or they just had bad ideas in general.”

Jeff Davis films a close-up as Dave Kline shreds.

“We’ve gotten a lot better in just these last couple of months. We’ve been forced to. We’ve readjusted how we approach it, but we’ve actually gained a lot of efficiencies and just work a lot better. Now that we know how we need to approach it, especially because we’re getting this first one done, we’re just basically going to gain steam and momentum,” Dougherty said.

“We have learned to trust each other a whole lot more. We know Nick is going to do his thing. We know the tracks are going to be good. When there is something, I feel like we haven’t been scared to bring it up and be critical,” Lombardo added.

“We’ve improved a lot in that aspect,” Dougherty affirmed. “We wouldn’t be anywhere right now if we weren’t able to work online back and forth. We wouldn’t even have these songs written, let along anything recorded.”

“We’re definitely luckier than a lot of other bands right now because we have the ability to really do most of the stuff ourselves. We don’t have to go into a recording studio to record our stuff. We can literally not see each other for six months but we can just write, record our stuff individually, and send it off, like ‘Here, listen to this,’ and go that route,” Kline continued.

“I’m glad that I’m able to do that with these guys because if it was another band, they might have just said, ‘Fuck it, we’re going to hang it up.'”

“We try to aim for quality. Even if it’s DIY, we don’t want it to sound and feel DIY. We don’t want to compromise. That’s why we have like 1,000 revisions on this particular song,” Lombardo said. “I think it’s getting tighter.”

That goes for both the song and the group, who wrote music for two and half years before they released their debut single, “Tyrant,” in 2018 and first EP, “Arethusa,” in 2019. When asked if this next album will be similar or different, they responded “very different” in unison.

“Production wise, and writing wise too, in every way it’s absolutely better,” Dougherty insisted.

“One of the big differences for me between the new stuff and the older stuff is that now these guys are a much more included part of the writing process, whereas when we did the last one – before Corey joined and Kevin was not in yet at that point – I came in and kind of just wrote a bunch of stuff right from the get-go and that’s what we did. This time the songs are going to be a little bit different but also sounding more like modern metal, whereas if you listen to like ‘Ruin and Rust’ off the old EP, that’s got more of a power metal feel to it,” Kline pointed out.

Corey Lombardo sings through the song several times as it blasts through The V-Spot sound system.

“I think this newer stuff is going to be heavier with more of a modern feel to it. There’s still a couple tracks on the old EP that are my favorite and they’re going to be my favorites forever, but I think the whole dynamic is changing big time because now there’s a whole band worth of people writing riffs and bringing stuff in, so we’re writing songs as opposed to just me doing it.”

He doesn’t think he’s perfect either; Kline recognizes his own faults and looks to address them on the next album.

“We’re going to focus on cutting the song lengths down. A lot of the bands I listen to, they’ve got those 7-8-9-10-minute masterpieces. Going in and writing initially, that was just kind of the habit that I was stuck in because that’s the majority of the stuff that I listen to,” he said.

“I was actually over in Amsterdam back in March and there was a bar over there that was a heavy metal bar. They don’t have a jukebox; they have a Spotify playlist and they’ll put on whatever you ask them to. I had them put one of our songs on and the bartenders are like, ‘Yeah, it’s great. This song is incredible. I love it. It’s just too fucking long.’ That was the only criticism they offered. ‘It honestly should have ended two and half minutes ago.’ I was like ‘All right, fair enough.’”

“Behind the Mask” was originally a minute longer, and their plan is to release more concise but still hard-hitting singles like this consistently as they record an album’s worth of material. The strong political and social themes of the first EP will continue in this new batch of songs, coupled with the struggles and anxieties of living through a global pandemic.

“The way we’re feeling about everything, I feel like it’s impossible for mental health and everything not to be affected by sticking home and only seeing the people you usually see,” Lombardo related.

“Lyrically [with ‘Behind the Mask’], I started with Bible imagery of plucking out your eye, all that kind of stuff, because I was thinking of different things other than the usual political stuff. But then everything started happening and I’m starting to see parallels here. It’s sort of about just not accepting what other people tell you just because they think that that’s the truth. I have all that stuff about how you can create your truth as long as you did it behind the mask, as long as you do it with something in front of you to shield you from other people. For me, it’s a little bit more about wanting to accept your own reality and not accept others, for better or worse.”

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#EXCLUSIVE: This year has required a different approach to just about everything. In The Aegean's case, it completely changed how this local melodic metal band creates and operates – for the better. Go behind the scenes of their music video shoot for "Behind the Mask" with at The V-Spot in Scranton with Feet First Productions and learn how they've been making new music during the pandemic, the pain and meaning of the song, a friendly rivalry with Traverse the Abyss, and more in our interview on before they perform live at the Steamtown Music Awards this Friday, Sept. 11! #Scranton #ScrantonPA #WilkesBarre #WilkesBarrePA #NEPA #Pennsylvania #NEPAScene #VSpot #TheVSpot #music #musicscene #metal #heavymetal #melodicmetal #rock #band #stage #musicvideo #localmusic #supportlocal #supportlocalmusic #behindthescenes #makingof #interview #FeetFirst #FeetFirstProductions #TheAegean #SteamtownMusicAwards #ElectricCityMusicConference

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Making the most of it

Back to reality, the music video shoot at The V-Spot only lasts a few hours, but there’s an adjustment period for the first few takes as they perform to an empty venue.

“I didn’t feel comfortable until the third time we played it through,” Dougherty said.

“I didn’t feel comfortable until about halfway through either,” Rodriguez agreed. “Then I got my bearings adjusted and was able to actually play and act naturally. I’m terrible when it comes to being in front of a camera.”

“It’s been a while since I’ve been on a stage and even moved around, so I was dying,” Kline said.

“I didn’t get to move like that in like six or seven months,” Hennebaul added with a laugh.

While The Aegean hasn’t live streamed a set yet, they will be one of eight acts featured on this same stage on Friday, Sept. 11 during the Steamtown Music Awards, which will be held much differently this year. Typically, the award show draws hundreds of local artists to The V-Spot to kick off the three-day Electric City Music Conference with performances in venues all over Scranton, but that’s just not possible this year, so the award ceremony has been spread over three nights, Sept. 10-12, and includes live music each night that Ionic Development will live stream on NEPA Scene’s Facebook page as well as TheVspot Bar and Electric City Music Conference pages. With current government restrictions, only a few patrons will be allowed inside to see them in person.

“I feel like we kind of have to [live stream], given the state of things now. With not being able to play out live, a lot of people are resorting to actually tuning in and watching the live stream stuff. At first, I think a lot of people were like, ‘Ah, fuck this. This sucks.’ Now, they’re giving it a chance and it’s actually turning out to be better than might have anticipated it was going to be,” Kline observed.

“You don’t get that feedback from the crowd. You’re trying to pump yourself up. It’s a totally different ballgame,” Dougherty said.

The Aegean poses outside The V-Spot.

“There are going to bands that aren’t going to be able to survive this [pandemic],” Lombardo said. “But if we’re just making music and trying to push forward, hopefully that keeps us going for the next year maybe.”

In addition to the awards decided by nonpartisan committee, another change to this year’s SMAs is that the public could vote for an additional People’s Choice Award in every category via Facebook polls. Taking a cue from their friends playfully competing for Sound Engineer of the Year, the band got into a meme war with fellow metal band Traverse the Abyss, drawing more attention to their category by busting each other’s balls in increasingly funny and brutal ways. Some fans thought they were actually fighting, but it was all in good fun and resulted in many new followers to their respective pages.

“It’s nice seeing the amount of votes we’re both actually getting. If one out of every 10 people that vote actually listens to the music and says, ‘Wow, I like this shit,’ that’s one out of 10 people that you didn’t have listening to you before that now maybe buy your shit and listen to you in the future,” Kline reasoned.

“Even if we don’t win, it doesn’t matter. It’s still great. I feel like the metal guys are getting a little bit more representation.”

Lombardo believes at least one good thing can come out the pandemic – “There’s going to be an insane amount of music.”

“If we came out of this whole thing without an album or a bunch of singles or something, it would have been a waste of the quarantine time,” he said.

“This is just our first,” Dougherty emphasized. “We’ll have more coming in the near future.”

Photos by Rich Howells/NEPA Scene

Steamtown Music Awards
with live performances by The Aegean, American Buffalo Ghost, Soul Satellite, James Barrett, All the Damn Vampires, The Boneflowers, JoyLynn, and DJ Hersh
Location: The V-Spot (906 Providence Rd., Scranton)
Date: Friday, Sept. 11
Time: 7:15 p.m.
Cost: Live stream is free, in-person seats are $25-$55

Tickets are on sale now via Eventbrite.