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Paul Zinay: "Blackguard Is Like The Ben Roethlisberger Of Metal"

Paul “Ablaze” Zinay, frontman for Montreal-based symphonic metal quintet Blackguard, certainly lives up to his nickname. The highly caffeinated, hyperdriven shrieker radiates an exuberant zest for life, onstage and off, that never seems to ebb. With his hardworking band currently on a promotional tour for the group's new label, Victory Records (starring Otep and also featuring Destrophy, Sister Sin, and One-Eyed Doll), we crossed paths at Jaxx Nightclub in Springfield, VA. Paul agreeably took some time away from his pre-show workout ritual to answer some questions and discuss, among many other things, Blackguard’s adventurous touring versatility.

Mike Smith (OverkillExposure): I’ve rarely seen such a diverse tour package. Do you appreciate that kind of variety?

Paul Ablaze: Well, when the tour was first pitched to us, I was actually very reluctant to jump on it for that very reason – it was so diverse. And I didn’t think that we’d necessarily go well with any of the other bands. I was almost scared that every band’s fan base would be working against each other. But it’s been quite the opposite! Everybody’s been great, and the crowds have been amazing for every band. Otep’s fans are probably some of the least pretentious fans we’ve ever played for. We’re used to playing in front of power metal crowds and prog metal crowds and even underground death metal crowds, and unfortunately, those shows bring out a lot of elitists. People who are there for one style of music, and one style of music only. And I find that Otep is bringing out a crowd that’s very pure and genuine. They want to hear heavy music and see a good show, and that’s it. They don’t care about subgenres; they don’t care about any of that insignificant crap. Everybody’s enjoying the show for what it is, and they don’t have any preconceived notions or hatred toward another subgenre.

Mike: None of that “I hate you for who you are, and I’m not going to change my mind.”

Paul: Yeah, exactly. Like “Aw, that’s pussy music!” You run into so many different haters on the road, opening for some of these different bands. And either you’re not brutal enough, you’re not technical enough, you’re not progressive enough for them, and people just simply can’t take a step back and enjoy it for what it is. So I feel that this tour has been just that, with incredibly open-minded people.

Mike: I’m a fan of most subgenres and I like to simply call myself a fan of heavy music, so it’s pretty hard to relate to these prissy, snobbish opinions about what “true metal” is, and that kind of thing.

Paul: That’s my most hated word in the language of metal: “true.” That’s the most bullshit word, and I absolutely despise it. All it’s there for is to demean other bands for no reason at all. It’s basically saying that you can’t do what you want to do because… I’m not sure how to express this… It’s for somebody who simply doesn’t appreciate another style of music and can’t allow somebody to do what they love to do. They need to demean them by saying it’s not “true.” And then, of course, something else is “true.” Well what the fuck, man? What makes one genre of music less meaningful than another one, or less sincere? Who are you to judge whether or not someone’s writing music in a sincere or insincere way?

Mike: One of my problems with the metal scene at large is that there’s often a refusal to agree to disagree. Everyone’s preferences have to be right and “true,” and it turns into a big pissing match.

Paul: Yep. The Internet is proof of that! [Laughs]

Mike: This is an all-Victory Records tour. Has sharing a label with every band on the bill been helpful?

Paul: I think this whole tour was put together as a promotional tool by the label, and it’s great ‘cause we have Victory staff with us on the tour, helping pass out samplers and everything, with tracks from all the bands. So yeah, it’s to help the label, but it does aid everybody, especially when it comes to passing out these samplers. So someone who’s into Destrophy might hopefully pick up someone else on the label, or listen to one of our tracks and dig it. So in the end, yeah, being part of the same label family helps out everybody.

Mike: And how has your experience with the label been so far?

Paul: Great. I mean, they’ve worked incredibly hard for us since day one, and that’s something I absolutely love about this label compared to some of the past people we’ve worked with. They were willing to put in the time, money, and effort to really see that our new record was promoted properly. And it was. So it feels like the promotion for this record versus the last one was like night and day. And I’ve been doing so many more interviews for this record than for the last one, ‘cause Victory has a great publicity staff, and they work hard for all their bands. So this is exactly where I want to be, and as long as they work hard and continue to work hard for us, I love those guys to death.

Mike: I know you guys went by the name Profugus Mortis for a time, and put out a record under that name before renaming yourselves Blackguard and titling your next record “Profugus Mortis.” That much I know, but not much more. Can you share a little background on that whole transition?

Paul: When we were in label negotiations for what would become the “Profugus Mortis” record, we were dealing with Sumerian Records in the States and Nuclear Blast over in Europe. And they brought to light the fact that there were other bands in Europe, like in Germany, that had very similar names to Profugus Mortis. So they asked us, kind of offhand, if we’d be willing to change our name. It wasn’t forced on us by any means, and we’d actually already tried to change our name before the release of our first record [“So It Begins,” 2006], but we never came up with one that we all agreed on. So when they brought it up, we said, “Okay, we’ll take another crack at it, and if we think of something we like, then sure, why not?” So finally we agreed on Blackguard as the new name, and that was that.

Mike: The new record is definitely Blackguard, but also different in some subtle but significant ways. How do you feel about the musical progression of “Firefight?”

Paul: We definitely took more of a symphonic route than a folk metal route. The “Profugus Mortis” record had a lot more folk influence in the music, and that was largely due to our keyboard player at the time, Jo, who was the principal songwriter. So after he left the band, and our lead guitarist Kim Gosselin took up all the writing duties, we made a conscious shift away from those folk metal influences. But even back then, we’d had a lot of symphonic elements, so we wanted to bring the symphonic elements forward and dial back the folk elements. We wanted it to be a darker and meaner record, rather than happy flutes and that kind of crap. We just wanted to make a heavier record, and this is naturally what came out of it.

Mike: Do you guys have any plans to replace Jo with another keyboardist?

Paul: Nope!

Mike: Really? All those old keyboard leads will be on backing tracks?

Paul: Yep. That’s it. We don’t wanna do it. We have no need for a keyboard player! Dimmu Borgir uses backing tracks. Cradle Of Filth uses backing tracks. Edguy has keyboard parts and they use backing tracks. The only time it’s kind of awkward is when we’re playing the old stuff that has actual keyboard leads, but even then, we’ve been doing that for a year now and nobody really bitches about it, so whatever! We’ve gotten away with it for this long, and we’re not going write straight-up keyboard leads in any future music, so why not just use basic symphonic backing tracks? It is what it is. We don’t need another member; we don’t need to pay somebody else to do it when we can have a machine that’s always tight, always on time, never complains, and doesn’t need to get paid? [Laughs]

Mike: So how do you plan to replicate the awesome leads on songs like “Allegiance?”

Paul: Press play. [Laughs] Simple as that. It’s OK, ‘cause we bring it live, so it’s fine.

Mike: Who are some of your favorite current artists out there?

Paul: There’s a band called Fleshgod Apocalypse, and they’re on the Summer Slaughter this year. Kim got their CD and we were playing it in the car, and they’re actually a really, really great technical death metal band with symphonic elements. I really, really like them. But I’m not listening to too much new stuff actually, so I’d have to really think about that. [Laughs] It sucks, ‘cause when people ask me about my musical tastes, I’m never good on the spot like that. It’s all over the place for me. I don’t listen to one thing for too long, and I’m always jumping all over the place in terms of new artists. And there aren’t too many new guys that… Not that they aren’t impressing me, but none of that’s really floating my boat right now.

Mike: How about your local scene in Montreal? Who shows promise? Who do you really love to go see live, or support in general?

Paul: Lots of really good local bands! There’s a band called Incarnia that I used to work with; they’re a fantastic freaking band. I really love those guys. They’re another great symphonic melodic death band, very much along the lines of Dark Tranquillity. There’s an amazing technical death metal band called War Ignition. They play every now and again, but musically, they are just out of this world. Those guys are really, really great. Really good songwriters. I hope to hell that they get picked up sometime soon. Another great local band in Montreal is The Trigger Effect, which is more punk rock. I’ve known those guys for years, and they’re one of the hardest working bands in Montreal right now. Another really amazing freaking band.

Mike: Having toured all across Canada and the U.S., have you noticed any significant difference between crowds in those two countries?

Paul: Nah, not really. I mean, there are crappy crowds in the States and crappy crowds in Canada, and good crowds in both too. All depends where you go. So many factors go into good shows, y’know? You really can’t separate it nationally. There’s no way I could say that Canadian crowds are better than American crowds or vice versa. It depends on what kind of crowds come out, what kind of tour you’re on… Typically, we do better in certain cities than others. Worcester, Massachusetts is just one of those places where we have such a good time. The Palladium is amazing, I love playing both the small stage and the big stage, and we have a great following there. So that’s just an amazing spot. Of course Montreal is great, and we have some powerhouse metal markets in smaller Quebec towns, where tons of people show up and really tear it up. Then you go further west. Edmonton’s great, Calgary’s great, Vancouver’s great… Regina’s cool sometimes… [Laughs] But yeah, it’s all a crapshoot, man. Sometimes it’s great, sometimes not. Whether you’re there on a Saturday or a Monday can make a world of difference! Whether you’re there with Symphony X or Deicide makes a world of difference.

Mike: Speaking of stages – and more specifically, your stage presence – are you a big coffee drinker?

Paul: Yes. [Laughs] Huge, huge, huge coffee drinker!

Mike: Does a bigger stage help with that?

Paul: Sometimes I need a couple more cups to get me going. When I’m faced with a bigger stage, I need that little extra jolt. But the adrenaline of the show takes over, so that helps keep me going.

Mike: Well, hopefully you’ll get an endorsement one of these days!

Paul: I want to get an energy drink endorsement! That’s my goal. Actually there is something I’m working on that’s a little up in the air right now in terms of solid details, but Ari from Destrophy and I are working out really consistently on this tour, and he did a feature in a fitness magazine a couple months back. So he was scheduled to do another photo shoot, but we pitched a feature for all the bands on this bill, ‘cause I work out and am very fitness-focused, and so is Otep, and Liv [Jagrell] from Sister Sin is a personal trainer! So we’re pitching the idea of doing a feature with all the singers of the bands. So we’ll see how that turns out, and hopefully there will be a feature in some magazine in the coming months with all the singers on this tour. We’re keeping our fingers crossed.

Mike: On the subject of tour packages, one thing I love about Blackguard is that you guys seem to fit in almost anywhere.

Paul: Yeah, it’s kind of weird. Or we don’t fit, but we fit anyways. [Laughs] We force ourselves to fit. We’re like the Ben Roethlisberger of metal! [Laughs] I can’t believe I just said that. Awesome!

Mike: Seems appropriate to me. [Laughs] And I do think that after a while, people get used to a certain reality, and seeing Blackguard on a straight up, brutal death metal tour feels just as appropriate as a prog metal tour, like with Symphony X. What have been some of your favorite tours in the past couple years?

Paul: Well, those vary for different reasons. The Nevermore tour that we did a couple months back was one of my favorites because the camaraderie was amazing. Everybody just became best buds, like us, Nevermore, Warbringer, and Hatesphere. It was just one of the funnest tours we’ve ever done in terms of hanging out and being with people. In terms of the shows, it sucked monkey balls for us, and was probably one of the worst tours we’ve ever done – merch wise, and crowd reaction wise. So that was the best/worst tour we’ve ever done. [Laughs] Ensiferum, we got along with those guys great, and we have a similar style of music, so the crowds were amazing on that tour… I mean every tour has had its highlights, y’know? And I appreciate every tour for the camaraderie we’ve had with certain bands. You don’t always get along or become best friends with every band, but sometimes that does happen. Like when we did that little run with Leave’s Eyes after Kamelot dropped off the tour, we became family with them. We met up with them in Europe earlier in the year, and got to hang out with them for a couple days in Germany, and we love those people. They’re some of our best friends right now. We got really tight with Powerglove and Symphony X on this last tour too, and we have a great relationship with the Powerglove guys. I’d like to think I became really good friends with them. Their drummer Bassil and some of the other dudes on that tour, I discovered they were fitness buddies of mine, so we got to work out every day, and that was a lot of fun. So yeah, every tour has something positive about it, even if the shows aren’t always great. I’ve yet to experience that tour where all the shows are fantastic and blow my mind, and yet I hate everybody on the tour. That hasn’t happened yet, but maybe one day.

Mike: Tell me a few more things about yourself, outside of music.

Paul: I’m a darts enthusiast. I love playing darts a lot. It’s what takes up a lot of my time at home. And I actually get really mad when I can’t play with them on the road, ‘cause not a lot of places have dartboards. But I love playing, and maybe one day I’ll try and compete in a league or something like that. Or maybe I could make money on the road that way, by hustling people with darts. [Laughs] So I’ve gotta work on my game and get that good, where I can just whoop everyone’s ass. I should set up the board at the merch table and start hustling. I’m pretty poor right now, so that’s a good idea. Any way I can get money off fans! [Laughs]

Mike: I’ve heard a rumor that you’re a preacher.

Paul: [Laughs hysterically] No, not at all, man! I had a nickname, the Reverend Paul Ablaze, but I’m not really a preacher. That would be really funny though. But there’s a form you can fill out online for a couple bucks, and you can be ordained to marry people. And I wanted to do that, but never got around to it. I might’ve just told someone that, or something. That rumor went around. [Laughs] Maybe I should do that, get ordained online. I know I can; I just have to spend the money on it, and it’s not that expensive. So I’ll go get ordained, and maybe I can marry someone at a show.

Mike: Sure! You can go down Alice Cooper’s Sunday school route. So, any last thoughts, suggestions, or plugs?

Paul: Yeah, sure! We have our new record “Firefight” out now on Victory Records, and it’s in stores all over the place, so please go pick it up! Go check out our Facebook and MySpace, and please come check us out live. I’m sure you’re gonna be entertained and have a good time doing it, so come out and party with us!

OverkillExposure's avatar

Mike Smith is a native Virginia writer and a diehard metal and hard rock fan. As a music journalist, he is a staffer with Metalunderground.com and Outburn Magazine.

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