Stonehenge (May 2002)

Hungarian Hewn Rock

StonehengeStonehenge ... a circle of stones that for some Godforsaken reason is still standing in Southern England and drawing curious tourists every year, right? Well, sort of. While one could hardly be faulted for interpreting the word that way, progressive metal aficionados should soon be able to give it another meaning. Stemming from the unlikely location of Hungary, Stonehenge (the band) has recently released its debut Angelo Salutante, and with an invitation to play at the ProgPower Festival in Europe and dealings with Pain of Salvation's management Roasting House in the works, it seems that this quintet may very well be on its road to public conscience. Before any of that comes to full realization and keeps the band's members from active PR campaigning, however, yours truly had the chance to get some answers as to what the past has meant for them and what the future may hold in store. Ladies and gentlemen, please welcome Stonehenge...

MS: Something that's rather curious about Stonehenge is the fact that you recorded a video for "Between Two Worlds" before even releasing your debut album. In the past few months, we've talked with different musicians about recording a video when its rotation could be limited due to the song being "progressive," but none of them had made a video before releasing an album! Was this part of a conscious marketing strategy or did you suddenly just get the chance to do it and grabbed it right there? And for everyone who has never been involved in the making of a video, what is it like to record one?

Stonehenge: Back in 1999 we had long been thinking about making a video, and there was a splendid opportunity to realize it when after recording a song for a compilation CD we got acquainted with a very talented guy (Andr´s Asztalos), who takes filming and 3-D as a hobby but indeed does it at a quite professional level. He is responsible for all the shooting and computer animated graphics, while our guitarist, Balázs [Bóta], took a very significant part in assembling and editing - it is no wonder, since he graduated from the Academy of Fine Arts just some months before that time. None of you would believe how little it cost to create the clip! As the only thing we had to pay for was Andr´s' work, and he, being a big fan of our music, was kind enough not to ask much, we could manage on less than $200.

The main idea behind making the video was to give a sign of life, that time primarily for the Hungarian scene, because we knew that the next step was but releasing the debut album, which was quite far in the future then, and we didn't want to be forgotten. It proved to be a good idea, since the video has often been played ever since on Hungarian TV channels and helped to get our name a bit more known. We received very good feedbacks, one of which is the fact that after watching the video, Daniel Gildenlöw from Pain of Salvation resolved to make a video for their new album with the same guy. But this was not the only advantage we gained by making the clip - we also made very good friends with András and spent a lot of time together. If you have never been involved in making a video, you can easily catch the feeling, as András cut a fun version from the bungled shots, which is available on our web page. During the shootings, we made a lot of fun and laughed very much - at an occasion, a porter was under the impression that we were making a gay sex video, because three of us had long hair and Zoltán [Batky] (vocals) had painted his nails black...

Stonehenge - Angelo Salutante (2001)MS: When recording Angelo Salutante, you went in the studio with Barna Hidasi on October 2000 and then did not return until March 2001 in order to gain a fresh perspective on the music that you had recorded. This is a somewhat unorthodox recording process. Didn't you ever feel as if you were just taking too long to finish the album or lose your patience while doing it? What do you think would have been different if you had recorded the entire album in one continued series of sessions?

Stonehenge: To be honest, we had a limited amount of money and rented the studio for as long as we could afford, which was 12 days. Hidasi Barna is regarded as the king of sound engineers in the metal genre in our country, and he is not only a very good technician but also as conscientious as possible - it was not a rare occasion that he worked till dawn with us. We were all under great pressure, especially at the end of the 12 days. It was clear that it was impossible to make everything we had planned in time, and we were having problems with the equipment too - the 24-track analog tape recorder, which we used to record the drums and guitars, sometimes got "out of tune," and the pitch problems made the music sound just terrible when the analog and digital devices were playing back simultaneously. We spent hours trying to solve it by lowering the pitch of the synths or by some other way. At last, with a few minor ideas left out, we managed to finish mixing at the end, but we were far from being satisfied with the result. We knew that there was still a lot of work to be done (and a lot of money to be spent), and however much desire we had to release the album, we had to wait for three more months until the studio was available for a week. We recorded all the keyboards again with improved patches (by chance there was a digital piano in the studio with a very realistic sound) and some new parts, then remixed everything. This time it was much better; although we still felt it was not 100%, it was good enough to be handed over to be mastered.

Stonehenge live at the Summer Rocks Festival in 2001 (© Stonehenge)Stonehenge's career seems to be on a good run as of late, with you meeting the members of Pain of Salvation, playing at the Summer Rocks 2001 and Pepsi Island festivals, participating on a national Iron Maiden tribute recording, working for an international distribution deal, etc. Does it ever feel like you're finally taking off with all this, or is it just business as usual and things change little by little?

Stonehenge: It can be seen both ways. We indeed feel like sitting in an airplane that has just started its way on the runway. A lot of very exciting events happened to us last year: we made friends with Pain of Salvation, whose music is one of our favorites; we spent a lot of time together with Daniel when he was here in Budapest (the reasons of which you can listen to in Remedy Lane, their new album); and Adam [Baki], our keyboardist, visited them in Sweden while they were in the studio. On many occasions we performed before thousands of people with great success, which proved that progressive music is not only for private listening, what some tend to think, but works live as well. The interest of the international progressive scene in us, especially in the States, the offer from Pain of Salvations' management Roasting House to promote our debut album and record the next one, and the opportunities to play abroad (including ProgPower Holland) are things we have always been dreaming of, and they might give the impression that we are on the way of taking off. Nevertheless, we achieved all this with very small steps and we know there is a lot of work left to be done.

MS: Something that is interesting about your personal history is the fact that you were really introduced to heavy metal only in 1997 via a power metal band with an Yngwie Malmsteen influence. Sometime after that, your ratio of metal albums increased from 0% to about 70%. What was it that you identified with in metal music? Was there some element that you had never heard before in other types of music or something special that grabbed you?

Stonehenge: It's hard to tell. I never listened to the current hits; my favorites were Dire Straits, Mike Oldfield, Vangelis, Pink Floyd and such. When I first heard Dream Theater around 1995, I definitely liked it, but I wasn't ready to understand it yet I guess, there was just too much heavy and complicated stuff in it for my taste. When I joined the power metal band I had to get used to the heavy stuff, and as I liked it more and more, I began to discover the representatives of the metal genre. And what an immense world there was to discover! As time went by, I learned to distinguish the different genres of metal and to be selective. I like my "old" favorites nonetheless, but there is so much profoundness, expressiveness, and dynamism in metal that is hard to find in any other genre.

MS: Alright, now it's my turn to bombard you with a couple of the trademark series of oddball questions! One: Your vocalist, Zoltán Bátky, can play the drums apart from singing. Has there ever been a case in which he tries to kick Kristóf Szabó out of the drum stool and a big fight ensues? And, judging that such a case is kind of improbable, who would win if this were ever to happen?

StonehengeStonehenge: Zoltán plays the drums and sings in a hobby band, which helps him much in handling his ardent desire to steal the drumsticks from Kristöf during Stonehenge rehearsals. In the past, he was always jumping on the drum stool and started to beat the drums whenever Kristöf stood up, making everyone crazy! It would be an interesting experiment to see who would win considering the fact that Kristöf is 200 cms tall [about 6' 2" -ed.] but as thin as a man physically can be, while Zoltán's height is average but he has a considerable X dimension. Let's hope we will never get the answer!

MS: Why Stonehenge and not Chichén Itzá? [Ancient Mayan city in Mexico (more info) -ed.]

Stonehenge: Back in 1992, Balázs (the guitarist) disappeared for a whole year and no one knew where he was. When he finally came back, he told that he was visiting the world's most mysterious places in order to find a suitable name for his new band. He visited Mexico, but when he arrived at Stonehenge he knew at once that this is the only name he can choose...

...of course, that is not true. Actually, this was the first name that slipped out of a 14-year-old boy's mind...

MS: Ahem, now returning to more normal questions ... the interests and objectives of each member of Stonehenge seem to be quite different at times, although they often circle around music. For instance, your bassist Bertalan Temesi wants to attend the Liszt Ferenc University of Music and perhaps later go to study at the New York Bass Collective. What does this kind of interest represent for the unity and existence of Stonehenge? For instance, what would happen if Bertalan does indeed move to New York at one point in the future?

Stonehenge: Till today, we could successfully handle problems of this kind. Berci is a full time musician. He plays in several bands, including one of the most popular Hungarian rock bands called Black-Out, and we haven't encountered significant problems yet. He is not likely to go abroad in the near future, but if any of us did, we could easily arrange for a substitute I think. All of us have one or more full-time occupations, but there is always a way to arrange things.

MS: Zoltán Bátky seems to be hellbent on becoming famous and being remembered in the future, which he obviously intends to accomplish through his music career. Does he push you all to greater extremes in order to reach success? Is his will for success and recognition the biggest in the band, or would it be fair to say that you are all quite ambitious?

Stonehenge: Zoltán is quite an exhibitionist guy, but he has already achieved to control his temperamental personality in the band. On the other hand, he is one of the most dominant features of Stonehenge. While Balázs or Adam are fairly introverted types on the stage, he is storming, shouting, crying ... nevertheless, however hungry he is for success, he does not want to ruin the progress of the band. What he wants is some respect ... people to come to him after gigs telling him "you have touched my soul with this or that song...," or mails saying, "I can understand how you felt while writing that lyrics," etc...

MS: Continuing with the different members of the band, Bálazs Bóta has been in Stonehenge since the very beginning and is indeed the only remaining founding member. Considering the fact that the band has been around (although with different lineups) since 1992, has he ever told the rest of you how he feels to finally release an album after all this time? Do all of you tend to feed off on each other's enthusiasm for the progress of Stonehenge?

Stonehenge Stonehenge: Balázs is the only founding member in Stonehenge, he is the heart of the band. The band is very important for all of us, but of course Balázs is the one who is the most deeply touched by any appreciation. After all, he has put an enormous amount of energy into Stonehenge in the last ten years without being acknowledged. Now that we get letters from all around the world every day telling us how much they liked our music, it's like seeing your 10-year-old child winning champions[hips] for him.

MS: What is it like to be a metal band in Hungary? Musicians tend to move to bigger places where the population is more concentrated in order to have a better chance at reaching wide audiences, which would be exemplified by the fact that everyone in Stonehenge, except for Kristóf Szabó, has moved to Budapest. Continuing this trend, have you ever considered moving to another country where the metal scene is bigger or has wider exposure?

Stonehenge: It is both easy and hard to be a metal band here. As we heard from Pain of Salvation, there are hardly any places in Sweden, the land of metal, where they could play. Last year we had the chance to play at several festivals for thousands of people at each, and I don't think there are many countries where a mid-sized band has such opportunities. However, playing progressive metal, we are a representative of a subculture in a subculture. There are a few metal or "metal-ish" bands in Hungary that could rise from the underground - they have a massive fan base and media exposure - but the remaining 25-30 (including us) have very limited playground; they depend heavily on a few people that run the metal business in Hungary. It is very hard to get into the metal scene here, but as the metal media is run by metal fans, I believe that any band that makes quality music can achieve what we managed to until now.

This genre has no masses of fans anywhere in the world, so I think it is no use to move to another country, but we gladly accept any opportunity in other countries, like we are glad to record our second album is Sweden, or play in Holland at the ProgPower festival.

MS: Perhaps one of the strongest characteristics about your music and Angelo Salutante is the strong emotional charge that some of the songs carry across. I found the lyrics to "Fly" particularly touching and beautiful in that they touch upon a relatively simple subject but with considerable emotion. Is it ever hard as a musician to play this music when it's an important part of you as well? Have you ever been brought close to tears by your own creations?

Stonehenge: Zoltán is responsible for the lyrics, and he only writes from the deepest bottom of his heart. He is an extremely sensitive person and whenever something touches him, he writes it down as a verse. During songwriting, he just tries to catch the feelings of sounds and notes flying around him, and make words out of them. These words are usually the base of the concept of the song.

...And a personal secret from Zoltán: When I heard the recorded album for the first time in the studio (in darkness, only the small LEDs were blinking, and the music was flowing through me), I was crying like a child.

Stonehenge (l to r: Adam Baki, Kristof Szabo, Bertalan Temesi, Zoltan Batky, and Balazs Bota; © Stonehenge)
Stonehenge (l to r): Ádám Baki, Kristóf Szabó, Bertalan Temesi, Zoltán Batky, and Balázs Bóta

Angelo Salutante (2001)
Nerine (EP) (2005)

Added: May 17th 2002
Interviewer: Marcelo Silveyra

Artist website:
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Language: english

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