<div align="right"><img src="http://www.sevenstring.org/newsimages/division/division_logo.gif" alt="Division" />
<b>Interview: Mike Blevins and Dave Evans of Division</b>
<img style="padding:20px;" align="left" src="http://www.sevenstring.org/newsimages/division/mike1.jpg" alt="Division - Mike Blevins - Photo Credit: Someone" /><span class="ivorange">SS</span>: Give us a bit of background on Division, and what the band has been up to lately.
<span class="ivred">Mike</span>: Division goes back a long way - we started out in 1993 as Visionary, and changed the name to Division in 1995 when we had a conflict with another band with the same name. We've released three CDs, played hundreds of shows, and been through, oh, I dunno, about forty different lineups since then. There's a fairly entertaining set of individual bios at Division-USA.com
too, as well as lots of other cool stuff on the site.
Lately, we've been pretty heavily involved in writing new songs, and doing pre-pro demos for the next disc. We're just now moving back to doing live shows, with a couple of DC-area shows at Jaxx (Doro, Testament, and Kamelot) and then the Midwest Metal Anthem in Chicago in August.
<span class="ivorange">SS</span>: Division has gone through some lineup changes in the last year. Has that changed your live and/or songwriting dynamic?
<span class="ivred">Mike</span>: Actually, we didn't have one last year (Dave joined two years ago), for once. Continuity is nice. It's changed things quite a bit. I really didn't know what was going to happen when Matt Crooks left, since we wrote basically every song Division has ever played. We had so many changes over a short period that it became less like a band and more like Matt and I and some guys we hired. Now it's really back to being a unit, and we're better off for it - Dave's finally really getting integrated, and the whole lineup is gelling nicely.
<span class="ivorange">SS</span>: Do either of you have any formal music education? And what is your practice schedule like?
<span class="ivred">Dave</span>: I took private lessons early on, a few music classes in college, and then about a year of private instruction a couple of years back. The last round of lessons was probably the most beneficial to me, since we really focused on tearing my technique down and rebuilding it the right way. Plus, I learned enough theory to get myself in trouble.
I really don't have a formal practice routine anymore. We've been writing a lot lately, so I just sort of warm up, and then really focus on drilling the parts of our material that give me the most trouble. We've been writing some parts that are above my level, so I have been improving my technique and expanding myself as a player in an exciting way. I really have a hard time just sitting down and running drills, but I can really get focused if it has an immediate need.
<span class="ivred">Mike</span>: I had some theory in college. I haven't taken formal lessons since I was about 14, but I've been very fortunate to play with some outstanding players over my time with the instrument, and I've learned a lot about technique that way. However, I'm still kinda unorthodox. My practice schedule is sorta "whenever I can". The glories of children.
<span class="ivorange">SS</span>: At what time in your career did you begin to feel comfortable with your playing? <img style="padding:20px;" align="right" src="http://www.sevenstring.org/newsimages/division/dave2.jpg" alt="Division - Dave Evans - Photo Credit: Someone" />
<span class="ivred">Mike</span>: I figure I'll be comfortable with my playing in 2036 or so. Seriously, I've been on stage for over 20 years. I still screw up, but I'm usually pretty confident about the band. My own playing I seldom like, though.
<span class="ivred">Dave</span>: Not yet. I'm not sure I'll ever be happy with where I'm at. About three years ago is probably the point I felt comfortable being on a stage in front of people.
<span class="ivorange">SS</span>: Do you work all your solos out in advance, or do you play off the cuff?
<span class="ivred">Mike</span>: I do things in advance, but I've thrown them out when confronted with one that really didn't work when it came time to record it. Live, I play pretty much exactly what I've recorded, unless someone else in the band is running into me at the time.
<span class="ivred">Dave</span>: It really depends on the song. With Division, I am composing solos a lot more than I ever did in the past, but I always try to leave one or two spots where I can just let 'er rip. Even then, I always have an overview in my head of where I'm going and how I want to get there, although I won't know specifically every note I'm going to play. It's a bit like giving a presentation with good notes and an outline, rather than having it written down word for word. Every so often I crash and burn, but every so often I come up with something that I've never played before. Then that solo in the future becomes a lot more scripted out!
<span class="ivorange">SS</span>: Dave, you're endorsed by KxK guitars, and your KxK V is gorgeous. Can you give us some specs on it, what you like about it and how your relationship with KxK came about?
<span class="ivred">Dave</span>: The full build page of the guitar is currently available here
, although i probably won't be there forever. It is a maple through-neck with mahogany wings and an ebony fretboard, a Seymour Duncan JB/Jazz set, mother of pearl Iron Cross inlays, and medium jumbo frets. The one Rob is building for me now is going to make my current one look like a toy.
My endorsement with KxK came about almost by happenstance. When I joined Divison, I had to make the move to sevens. I was accustomed to playing mid-80s USA Jacksons, so I really had a hard time finding something readily available at the same level as what I was used to, and the Jackson custom shop was hideously expensive for someone who is not an endorser. A couple of people suggested KxK, so I decided to take the plunge and order a V7. I've got the second 7-string he ever made, and obviously I've been very happy with it.
After I took delivery of the guitar, he asked me if I was interested in an endorsement. Around the same time, Jackson confirmed that Mike still had his endorsement (after the Fender buy out), and I was offered one at the same time. It was a tough decision for me to make, since I played Jacksons my whole life, but Rob offered me the better deal. Plus, it is fun working with a small builder, because I have far more input into the process. I was able to persuade him to start offering a more traditional seven string shape, which turned out to be more work than expected. I had to spend time asking people a lot of questions, compiling the most common complaints and requests from players here, and narrowing it down to possible specifications that were practical and achievable for Rob. Rob would keep sending mock-ups, I'd show them to people, they'd tear 'em all up, and I'd go back to Rob. It got to be frustrating for everyone involved, since guitarists hate to think they're not being listened to, Rob hated to deal with the requests of some very fickle people, and I got to play go between, trying not to hurt anyone's feelings. When I got to hold the prototype in my hands, though, it made it all worth it, as I felt a real sense of accomplishment. My constant pestering of Rob made it happen, and now there is another great option for seven stringers to look at. I also owe a lot to Chris as well, because I don't think this would have been possible without this site.
<img style="padding:20px;" align="left" src="http://www.sevenstring.org/newsimages/division/dave1.jpg" alt="Division - Dave Evans - Photo Credit: Someone" /><span class="ivred">Mike</span>: Yeah, yeah, it's always about the Vs.
<span class="ivorange">SS</span>: Mike, the majority of the guitars in your stable are Jacksons. Can you give us some detail about your current lineup, and what makes the Soloist your guitar of choice?
<span class="ivred">Mike</span>: Well, while I'm a Jackson endorser, that's really a bit of a misnomer - I only own two, a USA Custom Shop 7 string Soloist and an '80s USA Dinky 6 string. I used to own a lot more guitars (including other Jacksons), but I slimmed down to just what I need for the bands I'm in - I use the 6s in my cover band - which made my wife MUCH happier.
The Soloist 7 is what I refer to as my "coffin guitar", since it will be buried with me. It's *that* much better than anything else I've played, and it's damn near impossible to make the guitar sound bad. My backup 7 is a USA Washburn Sonic 7, which is a great guitar in it's own right - too good to live out it's life on a stand, actually, although I do practice on it a lot at home. My 6s are the Dinky, a Zion Turbo (which was my main Division guitar forever before the Jackson showed up) and Ovation and Yamaha acoustics.
<span class="ivorange">SS</span>: Who are your influences, now and in the past? And what new bands out there, if any, are inspiring you guys nowadays?
<span class="ivred">Dave</span>: Since my formative years as a player occurred right when grunge was taking over the market, the music I loved so much was drying up and being forced out of site. So, I spent a lot of time digging back into older bands, like Led Zepplin, Cream, AC/DC, Black Sabbath, and Hendrix. There was a period of time where I thought I wanted to be th next Jimmy Page. After a while, though, it just didn't have enough weight to it anymore, and I spent a lot of time listening to bands like Megadeth, Metallica, and Testament, thinking I wanted to be the next Dave Mustaine. I really didn't like much of anything after about '92. Luckily, metal made a resurgence, and now there are plenty of bands that I like: Nevermore, Zero Hour, Symphony X, Altered Aeon, Lamb of God, Nocturnal Rites, Municipal Waste, Imagika, and Evergray, just to name a few.
<span class="ivred">Mike</span>: My biggest playing influences would have to be Blackmore, Rhoads, Murray & Smith, Hetfield, Calvert, Poland, Skolnick, Holt, Emmett, Oliva, and Sykes. Who's influencing me now? There's more rip-your-head-off good guys out there than there than there ever have been. Romeo, Loomis, Broderick, Roman Singleton from Enertia, Marcel Conen, IA, etc. Of course, usually they just influence me to want to take up the accordion
<span class="ivorange">SS</span>: Division's catalog is chock-full of outstanding guitar harmonies. What "dual guitar" bands have influenced your playing and writing style?
<span class="ivred">Mike</span>: Is there any answer to the question other than Iron Maiden? I'm a big Thin Lizzy fan, too, but it all stems from Maiden. That said, I like lots of bands that do a lot of harmony work. Two really underrated guys from the '80s-'90s were Mike Gilbert and Ed Carlson from Flotsam and Jetsam, for example, and of course Locicero and Calvert from Forbidden.
<span class="ivorange">SS</span>: Take us through the Division songwriting process. How do the songs come about, and at what point do you start writing and arranging all of the harmonies?
<span class="ivred">Mike</span>: Usually it starts with a riff idea or two, and then we build a framework for the arrangement. We'll block out sections sometimes as being "solo goes here" or "harmony goes here" without actually having anything for that piece yet. We're still kind of sorting out the new process - the old was that Matt and I would get together off-line and write stuff, and then we'd do arrangement tweaks as the band learned it. Since the lineup is a lot more stable now, it's much more group-focused these days. It's slower, but more satisfying, I think.<img style="padding:20px;" align="right" src="http://www.sevenstring.org/newsimages/division/mike4.jpg" alt="Division - Mike Blevins - Photo Credit: Someone" />
<span class="ivorange">SS</span>: Trinity has recieved outstanding reviews all around. How's the next album coming along and will it be stylistically different?
<span class="ivred">Mike</span>: We've got a fair number of songs complete for the next one - we're even playing some live and you can hear "Hunt" on the MySpace page. If anything, I'd say they're more aggressive than "Trinity", and Nick's doing things that are much more "his" (in a stylistic sense) with the vocals and lyrics. All of "Trinity" was written for our old vocalist Scott Stewart, who's a very different style from Nick. Overall, it's different, but still sounds like the same band - just a bit more pissed off.
<span class="ivorange">SS</span>: What are the advantages of your BDADGBE tuning as opposed to, say ADADGBE or GDADGBE? Do you have any other unique tunings you use?
<span class="ivred">Dave</span>: While there is some really low stuff that I dig, I don't really see us going lower than B with this band; it wouldn't really fit into what we're doing. Plus it would require new equipment, because we sit right at the limit of a 25.5" scale instrument. I think 27"+ is just a must to go that low. So, when we play drop-D, it is really more like xDADGBE. I've been trying to find a way to use the B, but that wide interval makes things a bit difficult.
<span class="ivred">Mike</span>: Actually, we tune down to Bb. (Singers. Sheesh.) One big advantage of that tuning is that we can play our pre-7 string songs on the 7s with no changes, which is good given the hectic sets we usually play. We do use 6 string drop D a lot, which we play on the 7s as BDADGBE, but we don't really use the low B for those songs. All of the "Trinity" songs were written back before we had 7s, so adaptability to those is important.
<span class="ivorange">SS</span>: How would you say your individual styles differ?
<span class="ivred">Mike</span>: Rhythm-wise, we sound very similar, although our physical approaches are very different - very aggressive but "tight". Lead-wise, we're totally different - I'm definitely the "weirder" player, I think. Dave's a little more legato, and a little more likely to go for, say, melodic minor, whereas I'm more of a natural minor kind of guy, and I'll alternate or economy pick more - and I'm far more likely to play arpeggios than him.
<span class="ivred">Dave</span>: Mike is damn near religious about alternate picking. Even when we play arpeggios, he picking that extra note that I hammer up to. So, rather than trying to have a speed race, I prefer to completely contrast his playing with a more legato style. So many of my descending runs are filled with tons of hammers and pull-offs as I slur my way down a scale. I'm also a total sucker for those Albert King type of over-bends, to the point that sometimes I push too far and fret out. I like ascending patterns and descending slides, too. I managed to write one solo that actually uses all of that. Mike is writing some absolutely insane stuff. He keeps getting faster, but he has so much Poland and Skolnick in him that it never sounds like boring scale blazing. About the only thing we have in common is that we both like to play real aggressively and take weird twists and turns.
<span class="ivorange">SS</span>: How dows the new material relate (and differ) from the older catalog?
<span class="ivred">Mike</span>: Really, every Division disc is different, anyway. If anything, I'd say the new material is more diverse, and probably more technical, though it retains a lot of what I feel are the "standard" Division elements (harmony rhythm parts, slightly odd arrangements, etc.). There's a lot of different elements from the last time a Division disc was written, so I think it'll be interesting to see how everything turns out.
<img style="padding:20px;" align="left" src="http://www.sevenstring.org/newsimages/division/band2.jpg" alt="Division - Photo Credit: Someone" /><span class="ivorange">SS</span>: Any tips for upcoming bands and artists trying to make it in today's market?
<span class="ivred">Dave</span>: Have a great ....ing live show. I see so many ....ty bands that are so energetic on stage that they attract a ton of kids that go absolutely crazy at their shows. I have also seen some stupid talented bands that appear to be rooted to the stage and in need of watering. I figured I never wanted to dumb my music down, so I try to practice like I would play live. The best way to learn how to thrash around the stage while playing is to thrash around the practice space while playing. There is no reason all that woodshedding should keep you from rocking out.
<span class="ivred">Mike</span>: Work your live show, and be serious about it - reach out to the audience from the stage. Learn as much as you can about recording cheaply and still getting good sounds. Do a lot of pre-production before you ever push a record button. Listen to your band as a unit, and be realistic about your strengths and weaknesses, and highlight your strengths in your writing, recording, and performance.
<span class="ivorange">SS</span>: How important is the sevenstring when writing and arranging material, and overall to you? What prompted Division to intially switch to 7 strings?
<span class="ivred">Dave</span>: It is extremely important to us, to the point where we now couldn't play most of the new songs on a six. We're at the point where we are using it for extending the range of songs, rather than just writing songs in B and songs in E. I really can't even begin to imagine playing without it, especially given some of the solos I've been writing.
<span class="ivred">Mike</span>: Crooks and I had toyed with the idea for a while, then he bought a Schecter A-7, which prompted him to order his first Jackson CS 7 string. I followed suit, although I was a little recalcitrant at first. The 7s really arrived after the writing for "Trinity" was done (there's a couple of moments where they're used on the recording). Now we play nothing but 7s, and used the extended range extensively in writing the new material. However, that doesn't mean it's all in B. Dave's commented several times on how you'll be in a music store playing a six and suddenly not be able to play a part in one of our songs, so I'd say the 7 strings are pretty much fully integrated at this point.
<span class="ivorange">SS</span>: How much of your material is dependant on the sevenstring?
<span class="ivred">Dave</span>: At this point, practically all of the new material. Only the drop-D stuff doesn't need it.
<span class="ivred">Mike</span>: See above. Live, it would be a bitch to change guitars for the way our sets are structured, so it just makes everything easier.
<span class="ivorange">SS</span>: Your respective rigs are rather simple, yet you get amazing tones out of it. What made you guys go with Mesa, and do you do anything in particular differently to get such solid tone?
<span class="ivred">Mike</span>: Thanks. We've been Mesa endorsers for a long time - they were actually our first endorsement. "Trinity" is basically a stock Mesa Triple Rec (Crooks and I both had them then) through a Mesa cab with Mesa C90s. The "Hunt" demo was actually the Road King that Dave just sold.
It's really just listening to your tone, where it works in the band, and spending the time to dial it in. I've always believed that tone is as much a function of the player as the gear, anyway. The biggest mistake people make with Rectos is not being able to keep their hands of the gain and bass knobs, IMO. Turn up the mids, keep the gain about halfway, and let the amp fight you a bit.
<span class="ivred">Dave</span>: I joined the band with the Mesa endorsement already in place. Lucky me! I'd still play Mesa if I had to pay full price, though, because they are just such great metal amps. A perfect mix of tightness, aggressiveness, and tube warmth. They're easy to dial in, too, as long as your read the manual. They sound so good by themselves that I really don't need to use much in the way of effects. Just some chorus on the cleans, delay on the leads, and a good gate on the rhythms.<img style="padding:20px;" align="right" src="http://www.sevenstring.org/newsimages/division/dave3.jpg" alt="Division - Dave Evans - Photo Credit: Someone" />
<span class="ivorange">SS</span>: What gear are you guys using in the recording studio, and if (at all) what differs in the studio as opposed to your live rig(s)?
<span class="ivred">Mike</span>: For "Trinity", I didn't use my cab - Crooks' C90 cab sounded virtually identical anyway - and we recorded dry. For "Hunt" I didn't even use my amp, since I could dial up virtually the same tone on the Road King. We used an AnalogMan modded TS-9 in front for that one, too.
For the next album, we'll use whoever's cab sounds better - or maybe both, who knows? - and whatever amp sounds better. In the studio, you go with what works. Fortunately, with the quality of amps available, I'm not too worried about it.
<span class="ivorange">SS</span>: You guys have played with some marquee bands, such as Nevermore, Kamelot, Jag Panzer, Evergrey and more. Of the bands you've played with, who did you enjoy sharing the stage with the most?
<span class="ivred">Mike</span>: For me, Savatage, Nevermore, and Zero Hour, but really everyone we've played with over the years (with a couple of exceptions - yes, I'm looking at YOU, Blind Guardian) have been cool and pretty easy to work with. Dio way back in the mid-'90s was a big deal for me, personally, as was Bruce Dickinson. In fact, the only time I've ever had trouble talking to anyone was with Adrian Smith on that Dickinson tour - I got all fanboi on him, and clammed up. He cracked a joke, though, and it was cool from there. Plus, the hospitality chick quit on the owner and stranded Bruce at the mall. How can that NOT be funny?
<span class="ivred">Dave</span>: Zero Hour. They genuinely dug our band so much that they bought us beer after our set. We hung out with them through the next two bands, just drinking and talking gear. They let us play their sweet custom Manne's and were very forthcoming with great practice tips to make us better players. They then proceeded to blow us right the .... off the stage with an amazing live set. Then right back to drinking and chilling. They even said we have a place to stay if we ever want to come out to San Francisco. Here are four of those most talented musicians I have ever met, who write some of the most brilliant and unique music I have ever heard, and they are just so humble. They're music fans just like the rest of us. No ego whatsoever. I have never played with any band, national or local, that I have enjoyed hanging with so much.
<span class="ivorange">SS</span>: Who would you guys really like to play with?
<span class="ivred">Dave</span>: Dio fronting Black Sabbath. The guy is a total metal god, but in interviews he seems like the most down to earth guy. There is something about his voice that just makes me want to break stuff. If someone told me we got to go on tour with Heaven and Hell opening the show, Division would have to find a new guitarist. I'd just die of a heart attack. Those guys are legends. I'd forget that Dave Mustaine was even there, because I'd be trying to compose myself around Tony ....ing Iommi, master of dark heavy riffs.
<span class="ivred">Mike</span>: Metallica from 1988. Maiden. Priest. More realistically, we were supposed to play with Angra, but the tour fell through, and I was really disappointed. I *always* like playing with Nevermore. And I'll play with Zero Hour again anytime, anywhere, for anything. Playing with Testament again will be cool.
<span class="ivorange">SS</span>: Division is listed on Blabbermouth, headlining Midwest Metal Anthem, a two day festival show. How did that come about, and are you taking any special preparation?
<span class="ivred">Mike</span>: We've played in Chicago before - pretty successfully - and the festival organizer (Ray from Edens Fall, a very cool Chi-town band and a great guy) asked if we'd be interested. I think they're going to bring in a "name" Saturday headliner, but it's nice to be near the top of the bill regardless.
We'll be promoting the crap out of the area, and this will be our first POD-based show (I think) after our "learning experience" with carrying all of our gear to Minnesota last year. Yes, the tube amp snobs will be using modelers live. It's easier than dragging an extra 600 lbs. of gear across the country, although it will make if harder for Dave to get whacked in the back of the head by his battleship-sized guitar case.
<img style="padding:20px;" align="left" src="http://www.sevenstring.org/newsimages/division/mike3.jpg" alt="Division - Mike Blevins - Photo Credit: Someone" /><span class="ivorange">SS</span>: What are the best gigs and venues that you've played?
<span class="ivred">Mike</span>: Best gigs were probably Savatage's warmup for the "Wake of Magellan" Euro tour at Jaxx (I'm the only guy left that was in the band for that show, though), and Zero Hour at Jaxx in Nov. of 2006. Jaxx is still my favorite place to play - you can't beat familiarity - but I like JJ Kelley's (best bar food in the universe, and the staff rocks), and the (sadly closed) venue where the Minnesota Metal Mayhem was held last year, which was a great room and crew. Pity about the attendance.
<span class="ivred">Dave</span>: I absolutely loved the stage at Minneapolis Metal Mayhem. It was big, had the best drum kit I've heard, and the sound system was awesome, easily the best sound system I ever played through. The Nevermore/Evergrey/Into Eternity gig at Jaxx was absolutely insane, just one bludgeoning after another was visited upon a sold out crowd. Even then, I'd play a living room to thirty people, just because I love playing live that much. I live for it. Some of the best gigs I've ever played have been dive bars stuffed with crazy kids who would mosh on broken beer bottles.
<span class="ivorange">SS</span>: What's the wierdest thing you've ever seen happen at a show you guys have played?
<span class="ivred">Mike</span>: Man, I could write a book. Two girls making out at the bar in front of us while we were on stage. A stripper jumping up in front of me while we were playing and pulling her dress over her head to get a free CD. The venue almost flooding during a thunderstorm in North Carolina. Bruce Dickinson breaking a SM58 on some dude's head for taking a swing at him. Lots and lots of weird things...
<span class="ivred">Dave</span>: The onstage proposal during Evergrey's set last year. That was a complete WTF moment.
<span class="ivorange">SS</span>: What's your opinion of the American metal scene in general? What would you like to see more, and less of?
<span class="ivred">Dave</span>: The scene sucks right now. I hate how large labels have done so much to destroy live music. I remember a time when all my friends and I would pile into a van and go to the local club on a Friday night. No matter who was playing. Even if we hated them. Live music was the thing to do, and every venue had a built in crowd that was always there. I don't ever see that coming back, as long as labels are trying to push the latest flavor of the month and American Idol is the most popular show on TV.
<span class="ivred">Mike</span>: I think the scene is pretty strong here on the East Coast. I'd like to see more support for "underground" US bands, but it's still pretty solid. The fractionalization of music in general bothers me, though - it seems like bands are content to just "fit in" to an expected style.
<span class="ivorange">SS</span>: What do you do, or try not to do to keep from dating your music? With trends continually changing, what do you feel sets you apart and keeps you ahead of the pack?
<span class="ivred">Mike</span>: We do what we do. This band survived the "death of Metal" in the '90s, and we did it by simply doing what we wanted to do and not following trends. We listen to a lot of different stuff, and it comes out in interesting ways. Never being complacent helps.
<div align="center"><img style="padding:1px;" align="center" src="http://www.sevenstring.org/newsimages/division/band1.jpg" alt="Division - Photo Credit: Someone" /></div>
<span class="ivred">Dave</span>: To hell with trends and labeling music. We just write what we think kicks ass. I remember when this band was not the in thing anymore. The bands that said that about us are now all gone, and their style has dried up. Slayer won the best metal album Grammy. Dio is going on tour with Sabbath. Iron Maiden headlined Ozzfest a few years back. Testament is doing reunion tours. I see tons of teenagers at metal shows now. It's like the nineties never happened and nu metal is scorned. If anything, our style of music has come back around. Rather than writing an album to a script, though, we're forging ahead and coming up with the kind of music we'd like to listen to.
<span class="ivorange">SS</span>: What's next for Division?
<span class="ivred">Dave</span>: A new album. We've been writing like crazy and can't wait to get the stuff down on tape. Or hard drive, I guess.
<span class="ivred">Mike</span>: Well, we've considered everyone but Dave play from their knees to get the all-Gnome image going. We'll just keep doing what we do - writing, recording, and kicking ass from the stage. What happens from there is up to the fans.
<img style="padding:1px;" align="center" src="http://www.sevenstring.org/newsimages/division/header_logo.gif" alt="Division" />
<a href="http://www.division-usa.com" target="_TOP"><span class="ivred">Official Division Website</span></a> - <a href="http://www.myspace.com/divisionusa" target="_TOP"><span class="ivred">Division on MySpace</span></a>