JOHN MACALUSO Talks STONE LEADERS Debut – “I Came Up With That Title, ‘Dark Prog’”
May 7, 2019, 6 months ago
There have been several off-shoots of prog rock over the years, and this year may see the birth of a new one - dark prog - as heard throughout the self-titled debut by Stone Leaders. Comprised of Ivan Mihaljevic (guitars, vocals, keyboards), Dino Jelusic (vocals, keyboards), Marko Karacic (bass guitar), and John Macaluso (drums), the group specialize in a sound that effortlessly shifts moods (sometimes several times within the same song), while also showing off their members’ splendid chops on their respective instruments. Macaluso (who has played with countless other metal artists over the years, including Yngwie Malmsteen, Symphony X, and Dee Snider) spoke with BraveWords correspondent Greg Prato shortly before Stone Leaders’ debut was set to drop Stateside.
BraveWords: In the press release, it describes Stone Leaders’ sound as “dark prog.”
John Macaluso: “I did a lot of prog albums - I’ve recorded like, 200 albums. A lot of it was prog and prog metal. The thing with a lot of prog stuff is it’s very long songs, odd-times, double bass, and fast. With this album, we purposely went against that, in a way. We made sure each of the songs is five minutes, and some are four minutes. So, we really kept control of how long that songs are, so you remember at the end how the song began. It’s more like, groovy-type stuff - not so much odd-time. And then lyrically - I write the lyrics - it’s also very dark. Between the mood of the music and the lyrics, I came up with that title, ‘dark prog’.”
BraveWords: How did Stone Leaders form?
John Macaluso: “When I first came over to Europe seven years ago, I pretty much made my living just doing drum clinics. I’d go to different countries. Actually, when I came over here, I was doing a couch tour - which is meet some friends and sleep on their couches, and then go to the next country! What I did is I booked a clinic in Zagreb, Croatia - it was at the Academy of Music. You’ve got to kind of judge clinics - you can never really plan them, because sometimes, the audience is guitar players and vocalists...and their mothers. So, you can’t just do technical drumming shit. I went to this Academy of Music, and I saw it wasn’t only drummers, and I said, ‘I don’t want to bore the people.’ So, I asked the organizer, ‘Quick, can you get me some musicians? We’re not going to rehearse - we’re just going to go in and jam some songs.’ And the organizer said, ‘Yeah, yeah. I’ve got a great guitarist and a bass player.’ He got my Ivan, who’s the guitar player and singer for Stone Leaders, and Marko, the bass player. So, without even rehearsing, we went up there and played ‘Burn’ by Deep Purple and a jam at the end. And it went over great. The guys were really pro and seemed like good people. So, I said, ‘We’re going to have to do something in the future.’ I went back on tour, I started to keep in touch with Ivan and he sent me some ideas, and I sent him some ideas. That’s kind of how we started - we weren’t really planning on making a record, but I remember I recorded a couple of drum tracks and sent them to Ivan, and a couple of days later, he sent me back great ideas. I was like, ‘Man, this is cool.’ It kind of just happened unplanned. And then he sent me more ideas, I sent him more, and before we knew it, we had eleven songs...or ideas, at least. That’s when I flew to Zagreb, and we recorded the drums, he came to Rome - it took a couple of years to get this damn thing done. But we’re done, man.”
BraveWords: Let’s discuss the band’s elf-titled debut.
John Macaluso: “My favorite band is the Who, and with the Who, there are two lead singers - Daltrey and Townshend. I said, ‘How interesting would it be to have a prog rock or prog metal band with two singers? That’s probably a pretty cool idea.’ And then, I didn’t want to do the typical prog five-piece. I said, ‘It would be cool if we could do a four-piece.’ So, Ivan recommended a guy who sings and plays keys, named Dino Jelusic, and we auditioned him in Zagreb, and he came in and was great. As we were recording, we included him, and he ended up doing half the vocals and a lot of the keyboards. It’s cool, because Ivan sings lead on some songs, and Dino sings some lead, and sometimes, we have both of them singing lead on a track. Also, they harmonize with each other. I’m a big believer in ‘It’s not over ‘til it’s over,’ so as we were making this record, we decided on the two-singer thing. We did the record kind of like how I did the Ark albums - a lot of the stuff was written around the drums. I’m a big Terry Bozzio fan, and with the last album we did with Ark, Burn the Sun, it was very ‘Bozzio drum-influenced.’ A lot of the grooves were influenced by Terry Bozzio. So, with this album, I did the same thing - I recorded pretty much most of the drums before we finished the tracks. In other words, I went into the studio with ideas, and some guitar riffs in my head, and I recorded a whole song - an arrangement. And then I sent that to Ivan, and he wrote over the drum tracks and then he put them in Protools and he cut some pieces and made a double chorus. So, that’s how it was done. And when you do that, you get a different result than most bands do when they start off with a guitar riff. Like, a lot of hard rock is written with the guitar riff first. It’s kind of a different way to write, and the result always ends up way different than when you thought. Sometimes not as good, but sometimes it’s magical. And drumming-wise, I use a lot of bells and strange percussion toys - to kind of make melody on the drums. So, if you took some of the grooves I did without the music, you could actually hear some songs in just the grooves. That’s the way we started the album, pretty much. And after Ivan did some of the guitar riffs, Marko came in and pumped out the bass. Later on, when we had the music done is when we did the vocal melodies and the lyrics. So, Ivan flew over to Rome where I am. And I’m writing lyrics all the time, so I would give Ivan just a title, and he came up with all the vocal melodies, and I’d finetune the lyrics over his vocal melodies. Each track has a story, too - it’s not a concept album, but I tried to make stories out of the songs. It took a while, but I’m pretty proud of it - it’s definitely different.”
BraveWords: Who are the band’s influences, and your drum influences?
John Macaluso: “The four big drum influences are my teacher, Joe Franco, from Long Island. He was my mentor and he played with everybody. Joe was one of my heroes - he still is. I think he’s one of the best living drummers. Terry Bozzio, and Keith Moon is why I started playing drums. And I love Phil Collins, man. My style, I take the madness of Keith Moon, the heaviness of Joe Franco, the technical part of Terry Bozzio, and I put those three together - that’s how I formed this style. And as far as bands, I’d say the Who, Rush, Van Halen, and I’m a big Zappa fan.”
BraveWords: What is the most difficult or tricky piece of music to play of the band’s songs, and why?
John Macaluso: “I think the single we put out, ‘Box Of Time.’ For the main riff, I use two different time signatures - one is 7 and one is 9. But if you add 7 and 9, it’s 16, so it’s actually 4/4 - which most rock songs are put in. But with the odd time thing together, it makes it kind of tricky. I used a lot of that stuff. I love prog, don’t get me wrong, but sometimes it’s a little ‘out for the people’ - like the average person. So, even if I’m doing something odd, I want it to groove. I want people to be able to tap their foot and be able to understand what they’re listening to. Sometimes, you go to a prog show or a prog convention, and it’s like Star Trek fans, y’know? ‘Box of Time’ is pretty tricky to do, if you do it with a click, because the beats go on and off the beat. It wasn’t easy to make it groove, but in the end, I think I did a pretty good job with that one.”
BraveWords: What are the band’s touring plans?
John Macaluso: “I’m not really sure. The record is out in Europe, but we’re going to put it out next month [June] in the States. I’ve got some tours right now I’m doing - until the end of the summer. It’s a strange world today - it’s not like it used to be, with touring. It used to be that you make a record and you’re out on tour - even before it’s out. Everything is different these days. We really have to see how it goes and if it’s possible to tour. We kind of have to see how it goes in the world today. But we’re going to check it out. We’ll see.”