Recently, we at Muses Of Metal had the opportunity to interview the California-based progressive metal band Stryfe, where we got to discuss the band's debut release Beyond Reality, the challenges of being a musician and cake!
Stryfe was founded in Armenia, quite a distance away from the band's current location. What prompted the relocation to California?
The relocation was never a planned band decision or anything like that—two of the founding members, Kay and Kore ended up moving to California at different times and decided to rebirth the band. They found the missing pieces in due time and thus the current incarnation of Stryfe was born.
How would you compare the metal sub culture in Armenia to that of the USA, or more locally in California?
It’s similar in many ways but also different. The main difference that we see is that the metal culture in Armenia seemed to be a lot more grass-roots and smaller than it is in the US. You can even go so far as saying that it was a bit more “true”; however, that certainly differs from person to person. The great thing about playing in the US is that you have a much greater potential reach and a greater number of musicians and bands that you can work with. Regardless of where you’re playing, the core of what makes metal, and the metal community special is the same and that’s what we like focusing on.
How would you, personally, define Stryfe's sound?
We pride ourselves in having a clean and polished sound and work very hard in order to achieve it. We like to keep our music fairly progressive and interesting. We don’t like to be bored while listening to music and we write our music as such. We have a very wide range of influences and believe that those influences particularly help us produce music that is unique while also familiar enough to grasp right from the first time you listen to it. If you listen carefully, you can always hear influences from Armenian folk and Armenian classical music, but we decidedly don’t over-do it either, subtlety is key for us.
How much do you feel that American culture and the style of music present in the US, has influenced the band's style?
It’d hard to say how much it has influenced is, it’s hard to measure it because those types of things happen subconsciously, but we can definitely hear a significant difference between our older material and our newer material, so we know that the influence is definitely there. I think it would be easier for our listeners to measure the difference than us.
Stryfe's debut EP, Beyond Reality was released this February, around 12 years after the band's initial formation. What were your main inspirations behind this release?
It’s pretty simple, really, we had some new material and wanted to put some of it out there. We wanted to get the songs to sound as good as we possibly could. Though we took a very long road to get there, we’re happy with the results and are proud of the material.
Could you tell us a little about each song from the EP?
Speak to Dream – that’s definitely the heaviest song on the EP. We wanted to make something that’s seriously worthy of a furious head-banging session while also providing an interesting rhythm which is present in the verse.
When all Hopes are Gone – This song is a bit more about dynamics than anything else. You’ve got the big heavy epic chorus and the toned done verse with a bunch of strumming and the quiet sections in between. The big ups and downs in the tune make it really fun to play and interesting to listen to.
Beyond Reality – The title track of the EP is the mellowest one. You could even go so far as to say that it’s more of a hard rock tune than a metal one but we feel that it fits in the EP just fine. There’s a good bit of Armenian influence in the music, it’s got a lot of groove, and a nice chorus that’s pretty catchy and easy to remember.
Are there any plans to release a follow up EP, or an album in the near future?
Definitely! We’re making plans to start recording again soon. The idea is to get as much material out there as possible. The process is really fun for us and the results are even more rewarding.
There have been numerous line up changes since the formation of Stryfe, and in June the departure of guitarist JD McGibney from the band was announced. How is the recruitment drive going so far?
Very well, actually. We’ve had a number of really talented players show up and jam with us, but we’re being really picky. We want someone that’s ideal for the band which is why we’re not rushing into anything.
I understand that it can be tough and pretty demoralising as a band to experience constant changes to a line up, how do you stay motivated?
The songs motivate us, actually. We feel that we owe it to our music to stay motivated, to keep going, and to make sure that we don’t let anything get in the way of that.
In another interview I read that in the band's previous line up Stryfe had a male vocalist. How did you find the transition between the two vocalists, and how easy was it to adapt the band's sound to the new vocal style – especially in a live setting?
It was pretty easy. Nicole’s a very powerful vocalist so she kind of fit right in. The crowd was very receptive to the change and it was almost a no-brainer for everyone. Obviously you can’t please everyone, but when it makes sense for you and it makes sense for the songs, there’s not too much else you should be thinking about.
What would you say have been the toughest challenges of being a musician?
Time management is probably the biggest difficulty. When you’re working in a band, you have a number of people who have completely different schedules, and completely different things going on. Finding the perfect slot of time for everyone to get together and work on whatever needs to be done is a challenge sometimes.
What are your thoughts on the use of the 'female fronted metal' tag?
We don’t like or dislike the tag. We found the right voice for our music and that’s really all that matters to us.
In the band's biography, present on the website, it is mentioned that Stryfe, and yourself personally have been involved in festivals aimed at promoting social and political improvements. This mostly took place in Armenia, with festivals Rock The Borders and Rock the Referendum. Are you involved in many social and/or political movements in the US?
At this time, we’re not affiliated with any social movement, political party, or political movement. What I can say, though, is that Stryfe is a proponent of justice, peace, and fairness. If we happen to see something that we can really get behind and provide aid to, we’ll do it.
On the subject of social improvements, what are your thoughts on the Supreme Court's ruling to legalise same-sex marriage throughout the US?
We feel that people should be able to do what they want so long as they’re not hurting others or society in general.
On a less serious note, and a more 'fun' question – what is your favourite cake?
You’re asking the hard hitting questions now! Damn, it’s hard to say. At this very point in time, I’ll go ahead and say red velvet, only because I wouldn’t mind a slice right about now.
Thank you very much for taking your time to do this interview with us. Do you have any final words for our readers?
We only want to say that we’re very appreciative and thankful to all of our fans and friends. This whole thing would be pointless without all of you. Thank you.
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Hello, thank you very much for taking your time to speak with us today. How are you doing? How did you find your journey to the UK?
Morten: Ah, it went fine. We had a little delay on the flight from Frankfurt to Birmingham, but apart from that everything went really fine, really smooth. So yeah, we arrived here yesterday a bit late, I think around midnight somewhere so yeah, got a night of rest and today we are ready for the festival.
In 2009 you played Femme Metal Festival alongside Delain and many others. How does it feel to be back in the UK making another festival appearance, especially as a headline act?
Yeah, it's very cool. It's been some years now since the last time we were here, 4, 5 years I think or something. I think that the turnout tonight is much bigger, that's very cool for us, and I've been noticing in the last years that it seems that the interest for Sirenia has been growing in the UK over the last years, for us that is very cool, very positive and we hope that it will enable us to come back more often also to the UK to play more shows.
Tayla: We can definitely hope that.
Sophie: I think that's true, I think that Perils Of The Deep Blue did really well here, a lot of people I know really liked it.
Morten: Yeah, I think we got a lot of positive feedback for that album actually so, it was a bit cool. I tried to continue a little bit down the same path with the new album. I hope that the fans will like the new album as well.
Speaking of the new one, that was released yesterday. Can you tell us a little about the writing process and the story behind the record, or how it came about?
I think that the composing things for me is like an ever on going process. I'm always writing songs, writing ideas, riffs and stuff. So it's not something I really stop with I just, keep on going but, obviously after we finished the previous album then I can turn my main focus on the next one and, yeah, so that's what I did and you know, it's been like a process for more or less two years. It went pretty much as it usual. You know, it's the seventh album we make now so we have a little bit of experience, so, we pretty much know what to hopefully.
Speak of sevens we have a question relating to that, because there is a lot of symbolism in Sirenia's music surrounding the use of the number 7. The bands name is seven characters long, the band is on its seventh album, previous songs have had sevens in the title i.e. Seven Widows Weep, Seven Keys And Nine Doors and the new album cover features seven ravens, seven snakes, a scythe in the shape of a 7. In Judaism, the number seven serves a general symbol for association with G-d, the number represents the covenants of holiness and sanctity; seven-branched menorahs were used in the ancient temples. Essentially in Judaism the number seven is the divine number of completion. We are quite curious to know, what the symbolism of sevens means in reference to Sirenia's music?
You're not the first one to ask about that [laughs]. Yeah, there is, you know, when I try to write the lyrics I want there to be something about the lyrics that makes people think. I don't want everything to be obvious, like, you hear the song and immediately you get everything and the whole meaning and I want my lyrics to make people stop and think 'What is it he is really talking about here?', 'What does he mean with that and that?'. So, I use a lot of different elements in my lyrics to achieve that goal and numerology is one of the things. I write my lyrics in a way that it is more indirect, it's not really plain and obvious everything and it's something that I want to achieve and for me if I would explain it afterwards. To me it would be like tearing down something that I spent two years building up in a way and it will also remove everything, that kind of magic with the lyrics and people – if I said everything, you know, what it means and so on, then there wouldn't be anything more for people to think about or wonder about or anything, so, I always choose to not speak so much about my lyrics and rather leave it up to the people.
Many of the lyrical themes in Sirenia albums cover mental ill health. In the UK at the moment – as I am sure is the case in many other countries - we are fighting against the stigma often attached to mental ill health. What are your thoughts on the use of music to talk about things like mental health, and is there any hope that music can help change our social attitudes towards rarely spoken about issues?
I think that music is a good tool to talk about anything really, whatever concerns people or whatever they want to talk about. I don't think there should be too much limits, I think people should feel free to talk about everything and with Sirenia's music it's also important for me to write lyrics that match the feelings in the music, that they combine in a good way. For most of the cases the music is quite dark and melancholic, and so I obviously have to focus on the darker aspects of life and mankind and these things to write about things that fit with my music or my conversations, so, that's what I end up with and it feels like the natural thing for me to do with my musical project or with my band but then again there's thousands of different styles and people are more – in other bands – might be more into political things, or religious things or whatever and everybody can write about the things that they are into and the things that they want to get across and stuff.
Do you take inspiration from books or movies? What is your favourite art form apart from music?
Yeah, I was reading a bit more in the past I think. Also, movies I don't watch so much movies anymore but, I think Edgar Allan Poe I have to mention him. He's inspired me a lot since the beginning. In other artists, I also may be have to mention Nick Cave and Leonard Cohen just great song writers I think, really cool lyrics. I think that's basically it. With movies, you know, every now and then I've seen some nice movies and that can also be something that can inspire to write music or lyrics and so on but, at least in the last years it was not like a big source of inspiration, I think I watched may be in the last couple of years just 4, 5 movies or something, it's so little, I don't find time for it. I make other priorities, to put it like that.
You’ve recorded songs in English, Norwegian and now Spanish with Ailyn – do you have a favourite language to work in?
Yeah, I think for me it has to be English because it's a good language to write poetic and it sounds good when you sing it. In Norwegian, for example, there's less words to choose from you know, in English you have for every meaning you have like a bunch of different words, you can always find the word that is easy to rhyme, or it has better sound to it or whatever it makes. So, to me it feels better. I only have two languages that I can choose from and Norwegian, of course - which is my mother tongue – I find it quite hard actually to write in Norwegian. There's a lot of consonants and a lot of words that doesn't sound so beautiful when you sing them. So, that makes it more difficult and also for every word, or for every meaning it's not like in English that you have tons of different words to choose from, from the same meaning in Norway, most of the time you only have one and if that doesn't rhyme or if that doesn't sound good you have a problem so, you have to rewrite the whole sentence or whatever. So, it is much harder to write in Norwegian I find but English is good. Spanish is also, I don't know how to... I understand a little bit of Spanish but not enough to write lyrics in Spanish, but it's a beautiful language with a lot of vocals, so obviously it's very good for singing and it sounds beautiful and everything, but for me it's not a possibility to write in.
Sophie: English as well, it's so worldwide, like everyone can understand.
Yeah, that's true. It's so much more worldwide, if you write in Norwegian there's like only a few Norwegians that will understand and the rest of the world will scratch their heads most likely, so English is definitely the better option.
Sirens are a recurring theme in your music and of course in the band’s name. What was it that drew you to the mythology of sirens?
In the past I was reading different mythologies, classic mythologies, Norwegian, Greek mythologies and it was one of those things that I find very interesting and it has inspired me over the years. So, it was just something that naturally appeared to me from the beginning actually and I think it's still sticking with me to this day. Every now and then I throw in some stuff there from mythology.
Sophie: Yeah, it works well with the female singer as well, it's kind of a bit like the siren and using her voice to attract people to the band. [laughs] That was terrible analogy, but that's kind of what I think of anyway.
Tayla: Drawn to the rocks, literally.
Yeah, it's true. I have always been inspired by that kind of stuff and so it's still feels natural to write about, and you know since even the band name is about sirens it's still a part of, or a natural thing for us to write about so to speak. But, on the other hand I have to try not to over do it and also, write about other things but, every now and then I fall back to the siren thing, so.
You can play many instruments as well as performing vocally. If you had to pick one to stick with for the rest of your life, which would it be and why?
I think it would have to be guitar, it's the instrument that I handle the best and I can express myself best on. I can play a lot of other instruments too, but not as good as the guitar so, if I had to only stick with one I would definitely go with the guitar.
Thank you very, very much for taking your time to speak to us today.
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Hey everyone, We promised you more interview, so here's one. Muses of Metal had the chance to ask a few question to Stefan Schmidt from the band Van Canto about their latest release Dawn Of The Brave and being an A Cappella band.
How was the creative process for your new album Dawn Of The Brave?
This time we had more time to work out everything very detailed because we haven’t been on tour while writing the album. We were very motivated by the fact that Ronald Prent would mix the album and because of the 200 Van Canto Fans joining our choir.
And what were your major source of inspiration on this record?
The band itself and our friendship.
What was the reason behind your choice to cover Europe’s The Final Countdown?
We have to like what we cover and the original has to have interesting melodies and harmonies. Both is the case with this song, furthermore it was my first favourite band.
Now that the album is out, any plan for a tour?
We already kicked off our tour in Russia and are now looking forward to our European Headliner tour, 8 countries, 22 gigs, yeah!
Talking about tour, you’re an A Cappella band, and that means you do the melody with your voice, but you can still do show as long as band playing with instrument. What do you do to keep up all the way?
We only can play 4 shows in a row, then we need a break. We have to take care of our voices and can not party that hard.
And what does an A Cappella band like you need on stage? Any special mic or pedal effects that you use?
We need in ear monitoring so every singer hears himself. Apart from that there is no special equipment.
Have you had any criticism for the lack of ‘instruments’ in your music?
Of course. If you are successful you also get critics.
What’s your least favourite thing about being in an acapella metal band, if any?
There is nothing bad being in this band at all. It’s a dream.
Our signature question, what’s your favourite cake?
The one I get when I am really hungry for cake which happens about 1 time a year, haha.
A few words for all your fans and Muses of Metal readers?
Thanks for your interest in Van Canto and Metal A Cappella. Rakkatakka
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