DATE OF INTERVIEW:
22nd October 2015
Lion Shepherd are a new project featuring the combined talents of core songwriting duo Kamil Haidar and Mateusz Owczarek, and they've opted for something of an enigmatic online presence. Eschewing the usual band bio on their website and social media outlets in favour of reproducing Aesop's centuries old ‘The Shepherd and the Lion’ fable, it's a bold move in creating an air of mystery, and one where the sole focus is necessarily directed towards their music and array of concomitant videos. With their debut album, 'Hiraeth', released at the end of September in their native Poland, and due out elsewhere on November 20th, it's a mightily impressive initial offering from this exciting new venture, and one of the most beautifully crafted, melodically sublime albums of the year. Blending Western rock, metal, prog, ambient, folk and psychedelic modes of expression with ethic and world music elements (in particular, strong Middle Eastern ingredients), their fusion is an emotionally potent one that, thematically, mixes up socio-political discourse with more abstract lyrical perceptions. Metal Discovery met up with Kamil when the band's trek around Europe with Riverside as opening act on their 'Love, Fear and the Time Machine' 2015 tour stopped off in Manchester, where he talks 'Hiraeth', his multimedia aims for Lion Shepherd, as well as future ambitious plans for the band...
METAL DISCOVERY: How have the shows with Riverside been so far; have you been received well by their audiences?
KAMIL: Oh, yes, yes. The tour is amazing. By now, we’ve had a great response… in London, two days ago, and we’ve played two shows in Germany and then the Netherlands. So having a great response means that a lot of people are interested in our music, which is super cool. We’ve sold a lot of records during the shows, so it’s wonderful. And I’m very happy that we’re in the UK already because, for us, it’s a big step forward and the audience here, I think due to the legacy of rock ‘n’ roll, is very demanding, so we were really preparing ourselves to meet the UK audience!
(Kamil Haidar on combining Western modes with ethnic/world music)
"I love listening to artists from outside Europe and outside the US - from Israel; from North Africa; from Middle East; from far Asia as well. This tribal, ethnic and world music overall, it has such a big power and just to combine it with rock music, which is also very powerful, it’s an explosion of emotions."
Kamil Haidar backstage at The Ritz, Manchester, UK, 22nd October 2015
Photograph copyright © 2015 Mark Holmes - www.metal-discovery.com
Interview & Photography by Mark Holmes
MD: How did Lion Shepherd come to be; what are the origins of the project?
KAMIL: We are based in Warsaw. Previously, we played in a few metal bands but I always wanted to add something new which is, in my opinion, world music and ethnic music, especially that I’m a man of Arabic ancestry; my father is from Syria and I was living there for many years, so I always wanted to include it in my music career. So, now, we decided to switch to the much wider sound range with a lot of non-rock instruments, like ethnic ones. A lot of artists from the Middle East are recording with us; from Yemen; from Iran even; from Syria. So, this is it.
MD: You’ve included the old Aesop fable of ‘The Shepherd and the Lion’ on your website. How does the moral of this story fit in with the concept and motivation of the band and your music?
KAMIL: Actually, we will see. I really loved it because I found it and… ahhh, I will not write another normal bio on the website where “the band started here and here”, so let’s do it more twisted! So, this is the thing and I love the story, and the moral... we’ll see.
MD: An interesting answer!
MD: Your debut album, ‘Hiraeth’, which is out on 20th November over here, I believe…
MD: But it’s already been released in Poland?
KAMIL: Yes, on 25th September.
MD: It sounds magnificent, and there’s a lot of depth to the songs, both in the actual music and the moods created within. So did you spend a lot of time on both the writing and recording processes?
KAMIL: Yes… actually, the writing process was quite fast because we were really inspired after touring with the previous band where we were touring, also, with Riverside. So we did it really fast, but the recording process, due to organising all of the artists I wanted to have and all the instruments I wanted to have in the production, it took several months. So, yeah, we put a lot of care into this record, so I’m really proud of it.
MD: Over what time period was it recorded?
KAMIL: It was recorded late 2014, and in January 2015 we were finished with it. And, yeah, it was released in September in Poland, and it’s doing pretty well - we were on the fifth place on the sales list so, as a debut, it’s really wonderful; you know, everybody’s surprised.
MD: How have reactions generally been to the album in Poland?
KAMIL: Yeah, the reactions have been really good. The response for this kind of music has been really awesome and we’re looking forward to playing there as well.
MD: The title of the album comes from the Welsh language, I believe…
MD: … and it has no direct translation into English, although I gather it means a nostalgic mourning of the past for what’s been long lost.
KAMIL: Yes, exactly. The meaning of this word, I loved it instantly. It’s very close to Portuguese “saudade”, which defines Fado music, which is very moody and has a lot of layers, so I want our music, also, to be in this scope.
MD: The music has quite an innovative blend of progressive, rock, metal, psychedelic, ambient, world music and Middle Eastern flavours…
KAMIL: Yeah, everything that comes to our mind is on the record! If it will be pop music or disco music, we will have it there!
MD: So where did the idea come from to mix up all those different styles?
KAMIL: I love listening to artists from outside Europe and outside the US - from Israel; from North Africa; from Middle East; from far Asia as well. This tribal, ethnic and world music overall, it has such a big power and just to combine it with rock music, which is also very powerful, it’s an explosion of emotions.
MD: You use some very exotic sounding instruments on the album, like the Syrian oud lute and the Persian santur - does it come very natural to you when incorporating Eastern instruments and sounds with Western modes?
KAMIL: Actually, during the composing of the album, we knew that we would use these instruments. So, it’s composed in the way to give these musicians a space… because I want them to have ease with combining their tunes, and their mood, and their scales, with this kind of music. It was composed in a way just to be easy for them to transpose their own style and just to combine with it easily. But, yeah, we use them and they’re very difficult instruments, as a matter of fact. The lute is an 11 string instrument without frets and the santur has 250 strings.
MD: So you get all the quarter tones in there…
KAMIL: Yeah, quarter tones… everything is in there.
MD: Do you use any of those instruments live?
KAMIL: Some of them. We have a lute and we use it, and the santur we will use next year. Because, on this tour, we… we want to show this music in two different ways. One is a more progressive way, like on this tour, there’s a four people band, and we have keys and we have lute but we also have percussions, so this Middle Eastern mood is always with us. But, next year, we also want to be a big band; we call it the Lion Shepherd Orient Ensemble, so there’s a nine or ten people band. Then, we will have all of these things, like a Yemeni female singer; an Iranian santur player; an oud player; all these percussion players… like a big band. We are very excited and, after coming back from this tour, we are preparing this show.
MD: And then you have to come back to the UK with that band… that sounds incredible!
KAMIL: Yes, certainly, certainly.