» James/Eli - Holy Grail
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Interview conducted September 02 2010
Interview published September 20 2010

Pasadena powerhouse Holy Grail will release their highly anticipated album - 'Crisis In Utopia' on October 26th. They are currently finishing up their opening slot with Exodus on the "March Of Brutality Tour". I caught the show in Louisville, finally getting a chance to witness live this much discussed new California Metal act.

Man, these guys only have out an EP called 'Improper Burial', and they already are being immortalized. I spoke with vocalist - James Paul Luna and guitarist - Eli Santana - all about their struggle to the top, and how they fight to thrill all who love '80s Metal. Indulge us in this exciting search for the truth of the Holy Grail.

MettleAngel: Hey guys, I am so glad to finally meet, and speak with you. To be honest, I have heard so much about you, but I have not had a chance to listen to your music. I plan to buy the EP tonight, and finally witness you play live.

  • Eli: This is how we like our fans to be.

MettleAngel: You mean virgins to your sound? I wanted to go to My Space and listen to some songs, but I have been having Internet issues. I see you have been highly praised by the Media, even though your album does not come out until October.

  • James: Yeah, this is true. (Eli:) Yeah, it is all a bit crazy, we feel so pressured!

MettleAngel: That is insane, to have to live up to the hype, even if it is true! I am curious about your press sheet which states your sound goes back to the days when Yngwie Malmsteen and Marty Friedman played together. I consider myself pretty knowledgable about all things Metal, but I have never heard of those two playing together!

  • Eli: Maybe in an alternate universe!

MettleAngel: Well, to be fair, it does claim to be in an imaginary time. I guess the press agent who penned this is trying to promote the band by making these comparisons.

  • Eli: If that were to actually happen, and they did play together, I would pay anything to get to see that!

MettleAngel: It would make Metal history, but Marty is too wrapped up in his life in Japan. Personally, I think Yngwie is overrated.

  • Eli: I love Yngwie! We all love how much of a dick he is. If I ever meet him and he is nice to me, I would be dissappointed.

MettleAngel: Really?

  • Eli: I want him to be an asshole. We just do not want him to like anything.

MettleAngel: It does seem a bit odd for a band like Holy Grail to be on a label such as Prosthetic Records. Sure they champion All That Remains, and Skeletonwitch, but with your New Wave Of California Traditional Metal sound, you are the odd band out for them.

  • Eli: Well, do not forget that at one time, they had Wolf from Sweden.

MettleAngel: Yes, this is true, the Wolf album 'The Black Flame' was licensed by Prosthetic for the US. They are better off being on Century Media. By my count, you are the first US Traditional Metal band ever to be signed with Prosthetic Records.

  • Eli: Yeah, we do not sound like anything else on that label.

MettleAngel: It is the same as Sister Sin being on Victory Records. I am looking forward to the show tonight. I am very excited about the forthcoming album. My friend wants me to pick him up a copy of the EP. He was not able to attend the show. I assume you will be selling this tonight?

  • James: Absolutely, and it does include our cover of "Fast As A Shark" by Accept. (Eli:) I actually noticed that Gary and Tom of Exodus were playing "Fast As A Shark" at soundcheck earlier.

MettleAngel: Yeah, and the dudes in Malevolent Creation play Y&T "Meanstreak", as well as Exciter and Mercyful Fate before they come on. So tell me why did you choose to cover Accept "Fast As A Shark" on Your EP?

  • James: Our label hit us up asking for two Classic Metal covers to put on the EP, in order to promote the album. Right off the bat, our drummer Tyler Meahl suggested "Fast As A Shark", then Eli said "Exciter", and it was as easy as that.

MettleAngel: So that explains Judas Priest. With Accept, was this to introduce newer fans to this legend, who are due to release an amazing new album, or is it just a favourite song of yours?

  • James: Back in 2009 we did not know Accept would be recording a new album, we were just doing it for the love of Accept and Classic Metal.

MettleAngel: Why did you and the dudes leave White Wizzard?

  • James: We left White Wizzard because we wanted something more than there was to offer. We love thrash, shred, speed, and Death Metal. Jon Leon would never allow anything that was not outside the classic Priest and Maiden realm.

MettleAngel: That is such a shame....

  • James: Six songs on the (EP) came from Jon Leon's riff tapes. The rest of us took those riffs and formed them into actual songs, each writing our own parts and solos. I wrote all my own vocal melodies, James LaRue wrote his solos, and Tyler wrote his drum parts.

MettleAngel: You wrote the songs on the 'GTO' EP, right? Why are there two separate EPs with the same songs? Are they recorded in different studios? Did you coin the name White Wizzard?

  • James: I wrote 'High Speed GTO' in its entirety and LaRue wrote the song "Into The Night".

MettleAngel: This is what I assumed...

  • James: Jon did not write the lyrics either, that was me and LaRue. The EP was first "issued" as a burned demo copy we passed out at shows. When Earache picked up the band (after our departure) they remixed it with Ralph Patlan and properly released it on their label.

MettleAngel: I also figured that you were the main lyricist.

  • James: I did coin the name White Wizzard and thought to use two "z"s so it would stick out, since I love Roy Wood. My friend and I also designed the White Wizzard logo which is still being used today.

MettleAngel: It is a cool logo, and memorable name. It sucks that you were shafted. Since WW signed to Earrache after everyone left, how did you get signed to a label like Prosthetic?

  • James: When we left the band, Jon kept control of the MySpace, so when Earache and Prosthetic contacted him they did not know the rest of the band had left.

MettleAngel: Oh really?

  • James: A friend of mine was shooting Skeletonwitch for Prosthetic, and she mentioned to the label that the band split up and had started a new band. After a battle amongst other labels, Prosthetic emerged as the most down-to-earth, and they had the best offer overall; which is why we chose to go with them.

MettleAngel: I see that you get along well with Exodus, how did you guys get selected for this tour? Malevolent Creation are vintage Deathrash and Bonded By Blood represent the new resurgence of Thrash, did Gary ask you personally?

  • James: Well, my friend Tom runs the Angel Witch fan club, and he is a good friend of Gary...

MettleAngel: And probably Lee as well...

  • James: Yeah, so while I was chatting with him on Facebook, he said "I'm here with Gary right now, and he wants to ask you guys to go on tour with him". My enthusiatic response was, "Alright, that would be awesome!".

MettleAngel: That is serendipitous. How has the fan response been so far? From what I have heard of those who enjoy the band, you are also very similar to Joey of Anthrax, so you might want to attempt a cut like "Armed And Dangerous". It seems that your vocals are also very reminiscent of Tim Baker from Cirith Ungol.

  • James: I would love to cover Cirith Ungol and Anthrax, maybe we will do that for some bonus tracks next album. We also have thrash elements in our music.

MettleAngel: I have heard this, as well. One fan of yours even compared you to Griffin from San Francisco; especially the album 'Protector Of the Lair'. Who are your main influences?

  • James: I am the big old school fan of the band, so it would be Diamond Head, early Iron Maiden, Mythra, Tank, and the 70's Hard Rock stuff like Uriah Heep, Deep Purple, and Atomic Rooster.

MettleAngel: I just found out that it was Atomic Rooster who Paradise Lost covered when they did "Death Walks Behind You" on the 'As I Die' (Single). All along I though it was Coven from Seattle, who named their sophomore album after this song. Tank will release their new album 'War Machine' this fall with Doogie White on vocals. Speaking of vocals, how would you compare yours?

  • James: A lot of people say that I sound like Joey Belladonna and Paul Di'Anno, so somewhere in between there, I guess.

MettleAngel: That would definitely explain the Griffin reference. With Paul, it is more gruff like his early '90s solo effort, more punkish like Classic Maiden, or straight rock like with Praying Mantis, or maybe Battlezone.

  • James: Praying Mantis would be a good reference.

MettleAngel: Eli, I do not want to omit you, what about your influences?

  • Eli: For me it would be Megadeth.

MettleAngel: That would explain the Marty Friedman. Have you read "Mustaine's Memoirs" yet?

  • Eli: No, I have not, but I do want to. James J. LaRue, our other guitar player has it, and actually he is almost done, so I am going to read it soon.

MettleAngel: I have read it, and I do not like how he omits so much of the last ten years. So what era of Megadeth is most appealing to you?

  • Eli: I would say that from 'Peace Sells' to 'Youthanasia' would be my stronghold. Marty Friedman is huge influence on both me and James. We have this thing as far as shredding, where we imitate Marty and Malmsteen.

MettleAngel: I interviewed Michael Schenker last month, he's one of my favourites.

  • Eli: When I started playing in bands I first got into Sepultura...

MettleAngel: The Max Cavalera stuff?

  • Eli: Yeah, probably up until about the 'Chaos A.D' era. The band Death is also a huge influence.

MettleAngel: You mean the guitar stylings of the late Chuck Schuldiner?

  • Eli: Yes, He is one of my favorite riff writers. Carcass is another one.

MettleAngel: Would that be Jeff Walker, Bill Steer, or Michael Amott?

  • Eli: I like both Bill Steer and Michael Amott. Of course, I also like Black Sabbath.

MettleAngel: So you bring the sound of the '70s and combine it with some Melodic Deathrash elements, and create a new type of Traditional Metal band?

  • James: I do not know why we are labeled as Traditional Metal. What we play is just Heavy Metal, with clean singing. (Eli:) He does not scream, he sings.

MettleAngel: I assume, then that the guitars are more thrashy?

  • James: They are definitely thrashing. (Eli:) I am trying to pull out some of that early '90s magic era Death Metal, and infuse it into my playing.

MettleAngel: So then you do have a Death Metal edge, with clean vocals? I just read that Possessed's 'Seven Churches' album was considered the first ever Death Metal album. I am amazed how they are now going to be opening for Danzig. Back in the day, we just considered it all to be different forms of thrash. That included acts like Sepultura, Carcass, Death, and Morbid Angel.

  • Eli: The album 'Altars Of Madness' is totally thrashin'!

MettleAngel: Yes it is, and one cannot dismiss the masterpiece 'Serpent Temptation by Incubus. Even the first three Malevolent Creation are killer!

  • Eli: They are also arguing that 'Scream Bloody Gore' may be one of the first Death Metal albums.

MettleAngel: I would agree with that, over Possessed. When I first heard that album, or the song "Zombie Ritual" on the "Who's Guy Bidmead?" Combat sampler, I was blown away! Death Metal did not really solidify until 1994 with what I consider the Roadrunner and Dan Seagrave artwork era.

  • Eli: Death were one of the first bands to incorporate the blast beat.

MettleAngel: I would again, concur. Briefly comment on the rising California so-called Traditional Metal scene. Four years ago there was a major resurgence of thrash acts from Cali, now it seems to be the new home for the Classic '80s sound.

  • James: I never noticed a Traditional Metal scene in California, but I would like to hear more bands bring clear singing back into the Metal fold.

MettleAngel: How did you recruit Eli? James, have you played in other bands with him?

  • James: Eli and LaRue are from San Diego and share mutual shred friends down there.

MettleAngel: Damn, I too am from Coronado, San Diego.

  • James: Cool! When we were looking for a second guitarist Eli's name came up, and once we tried him out he was a perfect fit.

MettleAngel: Now as Holy Grail gains strength and promise you are mixing Deathrash with Classic Metal. This means that the new material which you have written for the new album will appeal to fans of the '70s, '80s, and '90s sound across the board?

  • James: I think that it is less the '70s, and more the others. The only thing from that era would be some of vocal nuances.

MettleAngel: Perhaps some Deep Purple inclinations?

  • James: Yeah, I love Ian Gillian. (Eli:) I think that it is going to be interesting, because we did not really ask ourselves, "What are people going to think?" We just put this out together, and collectively composed.

MettleAngel: This sounds a lot like what Wolf Hoffman said to me when I recently interviewed him.

  • Eli: Man, you spoke with Wolf of Accept, outrageous! We would just come up with some brutal guitar parts, eager to share with Luna.

MettleAngel: With all the buzz that your former band White Wizzard is getting, I hope to see Holy Grail surpass them. I have to admit they are good, but they are still not up to the quality of those bands from Sweden like Enforcer, Mean Streak, and Steelwing.

  • Eli: I love Enforcer.

MettleAngel: I think 'Diamonds' is one of the best albums out this year.

  • Eli: We actually played some shows with them and Cauldron from Canada.

MettleAngel: I talked to the guys in Icarus Witch, and they are trying to bring Enforcer back to America. At these shows, are the kids and Exodus fans getting into the band?

  • James: Definitely, we have that heavy thrash element in our set so they just dive into that vibe immediately.

MettleAngel: I assume that this tour has been going really good for you in that respect?

  • James: Yeah, there were a couple of off days that were just weak all around; otherwise, it has been awesome.

MettleAngel: Then, have all the bands been treating you real well and everything?

  • James: The best! (Eli:) I do not have anything bad to say about anybody, only good things.

MettleAngel: After Exodus, what other tours do you have lined up in US? Any headlining gigs?

  • James: After Exodus, we have another big tour lined up as direct support for Blind Guardian. We do not have any headlining gigs at the moment but we are working on booking something around October 26th which will be our debut album's release date.

MettleAngel: I want to see that Blind Guardian show, but there are no dates in Ohio or Kentucky. We may have to drive all the way to Chicago! When you changed your name to Holy Grail did you have any problems, like it being taken by a number of other bands?

  • James: No, surprisingly it has never been used. (Eli:) This is kind of why we went with it.

MettleAngel: If it had been taken, you could have gone with A Tribute To Monty Python's Holy Grail.

  • Eli: (Both laughing) I am more of an Indiana Jones type of person.

MettleAngel: Come on Monty Python is classic!

  • Eli: Yes it is.

MettleAngel: When I heard all the buzz when you were signed to Prosthetic last year, I thought for sure some band would have been already been called that. After all, it seems like there are now a dozen different Overkills and Slayers.

  • James: I did my research in a detailed fashion, There were no active acts calling themselves Holy Grail.

MettleAngel: There is a band called Grailknights from Germany who dress like the characters in the movie "Kick-Ass". There is also some two man Black Metal band from Chile called Black Grail...

  • James: There is also a band called The Grails.

MettleAngel: Where are the Arthurian Legend themes, and Excalibur? The artwork from your EP is painted by Ed Repka, and more horror based.

  • James: We have the one song called "Fight To Kill" that borders on the knights in shining armor type wizardry.

MettleAngel: You originally named the band Sorcerer, too.

  • James: There is more a vibe like with the Classic Metal sound of Armored Saint.

MettleAngel: Ahh, I get it! 'March of The Saint'! Although, John Bush did wear some armor back in the day, too. Perhaps, then the essence of Holy Grail would be like something 3 Inches Of Blood might do?

  • James: Yeah, but the rest of the songs are all different topics.

MettleAngel: So, a little myth and fantasy, the rest would be riffs, chugs, and Rock 'N Roll, basically about genuinely having a good time?

  • James: Yeah, you could say that.

MettleAngel: Hmmnnn, this all makes more sense to me now. James, I noticed that you use your full name. Is this because your initials are JP, as in Judas Priest? Incidentally, I am MF as in Mercyful Fate, among other possibilities.

  • James: Ha ha, I don't really have that problem, my initials are JL. I was actually given the first name "James-Paul" but I normally use "Paul" as my middle name. Since there are two members with the name James in this band I usually go by my last name "Luna", which I have adopted as my stage name.

MettleAngel: Well, that makes plenty of sense. You can nickname Eli "Carlos". Eli and James, thank you so much for taking the time to indulge me. I am so excited to finally catch you live. I hope we can talk more later tonight.

  • James: Thanks Man, it has been a real pleasure meeting you. (Eli:) Yeah, we have not done too many interviews yet, but speaking with you was a real blast. Thanks for all the support.

MettleAngel: You are both welcome! Now I will go in and check out Bonded By Blood for the first time, "Teenage Ninja Mutant Turtles"!

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