Of Empires and Gods-Interview with Josh Mortensen of Vacant Throne

Home Interviews Of Empires and Gods-Interview with Josh Mortensen of Vacant Throne
This Article Is Brought To You By : Opposition Rising
Written By: Rene
Mar 28 2013

Vacant Throne Live In Concert

ThrashHead: Power Metal, what is it about that genre that's drawn you to it? Who were the bands which helped mold your creativity and push you towards wanting to play this form of heavy metal?

Josh: I actually discovered power metal quite randomly. When I was seventeen, I got my first car and started dropping by the local record store on a regular basis. I ran across a used copy of Karma by Kamelot and was really drawn to the fantasy artwork and band name. As soon as I popped it in my Sony Discman, I was hooked on power metal for life. After that, one of my friends introduced me to bands like Helloween, Blind Guardian, and Yngwie Malmsteen's Rising Force. And of course, those bands have been significant contributors to my inspiration for writing music.

As far as what draws me to power metal, I think it's the fast, upbeat, and high-spirited qualities of the music. It's the kind of music that inspires others to take on the world.

ThrashHead: Could you tell us a bit about the history behind Vacant Throne? How did you guys come together to create such a killer outfit? Does it go back before your time in the service?

Josh: Like any teenage guitar player, I definitely had aspirations for rockstar-status, but I never got serious about writing music until I was deployed to Iraq. At that time, music really saved my life, and I couldn't imagine going through war without my favorite power metal bands to keep me company. I didn't really have much to do with my free time after patrols other than dink around with a crappy guitar that my family sent to me, so eventually I tried my hand at writing a few songs and I was happy with the results.

Since I only had a year left in the Army, I asked my brother Jason if he was interested in forming a band. Naturally, he was on-board as he had been trying his hand at singing for the past few years. I also talked to my two best friends Ryan and John, who played guitar and drums, and they were jazzed about it. And lastly, Jason's friend Reggie had an interest in playing bass for the band, so we brought him in as soon as I got out of the service.

We started practicing in mid-2010, and now almost three years later we've made our dreams come true by sharing the stage with power metal greats like Rhapsody of Fire and Sabaton. Unfortunately, we have been through a ringer of line-up changes, but those stories are too long to tell here. Reggie, Jason, and I are the only founding members that remain, and we fairly recently added Frank on drums, Chris on guitar/synth, and Alec on lead guitar.

ThrashHead: As I mentioned, you were in the service; tell me about Iraq and how did those experiences reflect upon you creatively?

Josh: My time in Iraq was truly a rare opportunity to experience the themes of heavy metal up-close and personal. Whenever a song approaches the subject of warfare or devastation, like "Genocide" from Fall of the Feathered King, I can draw upon my real-life experiences and attempt to translate them into the music. Luckily, I'm writing in a genre that serves well when approaching war-themes. I'm in the middle of finishing up writing for the next album, and I can tell you I definitely had to look back into my past for a few songs about battle!

ThrashHead: Was it difficult for you to transition back into being a musician, a long haired headbanger?

Josh: The only hard part was waiting for my hair to grow back out! Honestly, there were plenty of metalheads in the infantry, so in a way I got to be a headbanger during my off-duty time as a soldier. But when I got out, it was absolutely gratifying to step into a metal show and have a beer with my horns in the air while not having to worry about putting on a uniform in the morning.

ThrashHead: Apart from Vacant Throne you are also dedicating yourself to earning a degree as well; two questions here, how difficult is it for you to balance the needs of the band with the need to read seven books in a week for a final? Do you think it is vital that fans, especially young, impressionable kids, can see other sides to their hard rocking role models rather than just the stereotypical party monster drunkard?

Josh: Yes, I'm in full-time school at Colorado State University and pursuing a degree in English education. My goal is to be a high school English teacher, or perhaps teach college if I can get funding for a Master's and PhD.

As far as trying to balance school with the band, it's next to impossible. My school days are usually fourteen hours of class and non-stop studying, and the weekends can be worse. Sometimes it takes a lot of willpower to pick up my axe for an hour at the end of the day. But of course, in any situation in life, there is always something worse. I try to remind myself how horrible the military was to justify how hard I am working myself right now.

In regard to hard-rocking role models, yes, I think fans need to understand that the reason their idols are standing on that stage is because they were not the "stereotypical party monster drunkards." Thanks to the internet, there's more competition in the music scene than ever before, and it takes relentless hard work and dedication to even get a hundred people to check out your band. I'm guessing that most successful musicians today learned their work ethic in jobs or school before they ever tried the music scene, and it's important for the fans to know that.

ThrashHead: Vacant Throne's debut "Fall Of The Feathered King" is a damn fine piece of power metal, an album which tells a tale. Now, as someone who has a deep understanding of Mesoamerican history, the cover of the album immediately jumped out at me and so did the tale the songs told...what made you guys write songs concerning the pre-Columbian people of Mexico, the conquest and, finally, the result of two worlds colliding in the last track, "Genocide"?

Josh: Thanks for the compliment. Jason had an interest in Aztec history before the band ever formed and we decided to use that subject matter for our first album. Most listeners have probably never heard about the Spanish conquest of Mexico told from the native perspective, so we thought that would be an interesting take for Fall of the Feathered King. We did throw in one song from Cortes' point of view, "Voyage to the New World," and if you read the lyrics you will see that Eurocentric attitude that has decimated cultures all around the world. Fall of the Feathered King is surely a dark tale, and I think it helped show new fans that we have the capability for intellectually-stimulating subject matter and a respect for history. We aren't just another cheesy power metal band singing about swords and dragons...yet.

ThrashHead: How long did it take for you guys to wrap up the album from concept to final production?

Josh: We started recording in my basement in late-November 2010 and the Cd's came in the mail in early-August 2011, so about 8 months. Of course, we weren't recording the whole time as we couldn't afford to take vacation from work, so we had to record in bits and pieces.

ThrashHead: It seems you guys are looking towards what many bands are doing nowadays, rather than depending on some large label to take on the duties of promoting your music, you're giving it away and letting the hardcore fans buy up the physical CDs you guys put out yourselves.

Josh: Well, we mostly chose that path for our first album in order to rapidly build up a fanbase with very little cost. That way, we will be more attractive to record labels after the production of our second album. Our plan is to grab a professional management company toward the end of the year to help with finding a major record label to get us a spot on a national/international tour. We are hoping to follow Seven Kingdoms' model, who basically did the same thing, and now they are touring with Stratovarius as we speak.

ThrashHead: Do you think that it's time for a serious reevaluation of how the music industry works, are labels just middle men and bands need to take tighter control of their own destinies? In a world where artists are now created and molded by these larger labels just to put out and sell singles, and then turn around and go after people who download music with a vengeance, is it possible that the answer is to precisely give away the music digitally, create a fanbase for a band and then offer quality vinyl, cds with t-shirts and other assorted merch to the truly hardcore? Do you think such a business model will help drive back bands to the era when an album kicked ass from opening track to closing track rather than so many one hit wonders?

Josh: Well, I know that pirating music will never go away. People always find a way to get around the system. Therefore, I think it would be best to follow that model you suggest and specialize in selling quality merchandise and performing shows around the world. I think the heavy metal industry still has a high-demand for full-length albums, but as far as the wider world, I have to agree with you. As technological advances make the consumption of products easier and faster, the music industry suffers. I really don't care what happens as long as Vacant Throne fans can get our albums, pirated or not, and have access to quality merchandise and theatrical shows.

ThrashHead: You guys recently played a gig with Swedish Power Metal legends Sabaton, tell me about the show, did you get any feedback from the guys?

Josh: The show was incredible, and by far it has been my favorite Vacant Throne gig ever. We played in a small venue, but it was so packed that we had trouble even getting off the stage and unloading our gear after our set. I was blown away by our merchandise sales and the number of new fans that approached me after the set. Opening for power metal tours in Denver has definitely been the most profitable business decision for us so far. For our next stop, we need to follow these bands on the entire tour!

As far as the guys from Sabaton, we had the opportunity to hang out with Thobbe Englund and Chris Rorland outside of their tour bus for a short while. Mostly, we got advice about touring and listened to them explain how entirely wiped-out they were. Sabaton is the most fan-friendly band I have ever seen. Even though they had a plane to Sweden to catch the following morning, they went out of their way to sign albums and shirts for as many fans as possible.

ThrashHead: Obviously, there are scheduling conflicts right now, but are you guys thinking perhaps a short, summer tour is in order?

Josh: Right now we only have two things on our agenda. One is the recording of our next album, and the other is Warriors of Metal Fest Open Air 2013, which will be taking place in Ohio on June 28th-29th. Both of those are probably going to keep us busy as the end of the year approaches.

ThrashHead: Will that new album be available as of 2013?

Josh: A possible direction we are heading right now is a multi-album narrative of the King Arthur legends. We are working with about 14 songs that hypothetically will appear on the next album, although some of those might get pushed forward in time. We aren't going to kill ourselves trying to get this next album done by the end of the year, as we learned that mindset can hurt the overall product, an experience we suffered with Fall of the Feathered King. Either way, prepare for something much bigger and better than our debut!

ThrashHead: Let's say you went camping up in the rockies, you're staying in a cabin but a wicked storm blows through and you find yourself trapped under five foot drifts for a week, you're good on food, you have plenty of wood to keep warm...what are the things you would you like to have in the cabin with you during your stay and why?

Josh: Assuming there's no women around, I would love to tackle one of those giant works of literature like Tolstoy's War and Peace or Cervantes' Don Quixote. In between sessions, I'd definitely be jamming out to the album A Coming Storm by Winterstorm.

ThrashHead: Any parting words for longtime, as well as new, fans?

Josh: If I could tell Vacant Throne fans any one thing, it would be this: don't let other people decide who you are in this world. With enough hard work and dedication, you can accomplish anything. If you never give up, you never fail.

Thanks for giving me the opportunity to share my words with fans all around with the world, it was surely a pleasure, and I will definitely inform you of any major updates as they come! Up the bloody irons \m/

You canĀ download our album for free, and add us on Facebook.

Burning Skies - Vacant Throne by VacantThrone

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