Just 15 months after last year’s sophomore effort, “2nd Edition,” Ventura, California’s Gygax has returned with “High Fantasy” (June 21, 2019, Creator-Destructor Records), its third album of gaming- and Thin Lizzy-inspired rock ‘n’ roll (review). Instead of being a dramatic departure from what the band has done in the past, the record is a crystallization of everything it does well and just a flat-out good time from start to finish. Live Metal’s Greg Maki caught up with bassist/vocalist Eric Harris to talk “High Fantasy” and more.
LIVE METAL: I’ve been listening to the new Gygax album, “High Fantasy,” quite a bit, and I really love it. I think it’s your best one yet.
ERIC HARRIS: Thanks, man. I think the same thing.
It’s such a quick turnaround. So many bands today take four, five years between albums, but you just had one out last year and now the new one is out there. Is there a reason why you wanted to do that so quickly?
We like to play. Yeah, that’s it.
Makes sense. Did you have any goals going into making this album?
(Guitarist) Bryant (Throckmorton) and I discussed—we wanted it to be fast, kinda short. Just in and out. That was the only real idea. The rest kind of manifested itself.
It sounds like the sound you established on the first two albums, but I hear in the guitars—the way the guitars are working together—a little bit more of a metal influence, kind of an early Iron Maiden type of thing. Do you hear anything like that?
I guess. None of that went into influencing it, so it’s funny to hear it. I’ve been hearing people saying stuff like that. It’s great. It’s awesome. Early Iron Maiden’s awesome. But most of the stuff we came up with on the album was from way different influences, with a range of genres.
What things inspired the lyrics on this album?
Well, they’re all over the place, man. A lot of them are from monsters from “Dungeons & Dragons.” The first song, “Light Bender,” is about a displacer beast. I just always thought they were cool. (laughs) It’s not much more than me writing a song about a cat. (laughs) “The Eyes Have It” is about a beholder, which I had been meaning to do that cliche shit for a while. But it was really cool. They’re things that interest me. The band doesn’t really care too much about what we write, so it’s nice to have full freedom.
There’s an instrumental track on there, which has some new sounds for the band. What brought that about?
Well, in keeping with tradition, we did a hidden song each album so far, and we needed material for a hidden track on the third album. And no one had anything. We were all hoping somebody else had come up with something. So when we got into the studio, we took a 15-minute break, and I came up with a basic riff for it, showed it to the guys, and they threw everything down. So we just came up with it real quick, and then Bryant and I decided to do percussive saxophone over the top of it. It’s always fun for me and Bryant playing saxophone, so we always try to sneak it into the songs.
Once again, you’ve got some great artwork for the album. How important is that for this band?
I think the presentation is pretty important, at least for our band. We’ve all packaged stuff cheaply in the past or not up to what we could be super proud of. Working with someone like Fares (Maese) is really cool, because you know that it’s gonna be top quality stuff every time. And then with Creator-Destructor and Pirates Press, their packaging always looks incredibly high quality. It’s pretty important to us because we want to make sure that somebody is getting something that’s worth it, something they’ll like and they can admire for a while.
Whose idea was it for the vinyl to fold out into a DM screen? I love that.
Dude, thanks. I feel like that was my idea, but I don’t want to take credit in case somebody else had mentioned something like that. But I just thought it would be cool to do that. We had another plan that we were gonna roll out, but with the timeframe we had, it was a pretty ambitious goal. So we weren’t able to do that. We’re holding onto that one for the future, so we’ve got some more surprises. The GM/DM screen just seemed appropriate. I was like, well, why wouldn’t this be the case?
So obviously, you’re very influenced by gaming, but are you into fantasy novels, and TV and movies, and stuff like that, too?
Oh yeah, dude. Hell yeah.
What are some of your favorites?
I read the “Song of Ice and Fire” series. That’s what turned me on to a lot more other fantasy novels. I had read “Redwall” and stuff like that when I was a kid. There’s a fantasy series called “Malazan Book of the Fallen” that my friend Henry had turned me on to. I think I even wrote about that on the first album. There’s a bunch of fantasy series, like the Drizzt series from R.A. Salvatore—I got into those. And then I just picked up the “Kingmaker” series. I can’t remember the author’s name, but somebody had just recommended that to me. I’ve also been reading another book by Gene Wolfe called “Shadow & Claw.” So it’s just a myriad of different things. I’ve been into the RPG and gaming stuff since I was a kid.
Yeah, me too. I started reading the Salvatore books when I was like 10 years old, and I’m still reading them today.
Yeah, that’s awesome, man. It’s so cool. I was raised in a very religious setting, so when I came up, all that stuff was restricted for a long time. I was kind of a repressed bloomer. So when I was able to get it later on, I just ate it up. It was awesome. I grew up with a bunch of friends, and we’d always game, in Ohio.
Have you watched all of the “Game of Thrones” TV series?
Most of it. I stopped on the last season, ‘cause I just didn’t care.
OK. (laughs) I was gonna ask your opinion on the kind of controversial final season, but I guess that sums it up right there.
Yeah, I’m one of those elitist, nerd kind of people on it. When it first started, I was like, “That’s not how it happened in the book.” Because the books are so rich and so much more vibrant and descriptive. While I think they did a good job on the TV show—at least the early seasons—I think its massive boom in popularity is what gave rise to its destruction.
You did a tour in the spring with Pounder, a short West Coast tour. How did that go?
That was cool. Pounder is fuckin’ tight. Those guys are all super rad, and we had a good time.
Do you have any touring plans in the future coming up?
Yeah, we’re looking into September right now, for a couple weeks on the West Coast and East Coast. But we’re still sussing out details right now.
I interviewed you last year around the time “2nd Edition” came out, and you told me then that you and Bryant had a plan to do three albums and then see where it goes, see what’s happening with the band. The third album is out now, so where are you with that and where you want to take this band in the future?
Well, we have the fourth album and the fifth album already planned out, because we’re already writing. As soon as we record songs—we still like the songs a lot, but we’re constantly moving and making stuff. So we have a few other ideas. I think we’re comfortable with what we did on this album, so we’re not trying to replicate it, but we’re trying to sit in that style of how we want things to sound. I think with the third one, the trifecta kind of helped shape us to and get a good idea of what we like. So now we know what we’re doing, I guess.
I think that’s about all the questions I have. Is there anything else you’d like to say to fans or anybody else out there?
No, man, I think that’s it. Just everybody check it out.