DATE OF INTERVIEW:
3rd November 2009
METAL DISCOVERY: Hi, it’s Mark from Metal Discovery here.
TIM NEALE: Hello mate, how are you doing?
(Tim Neale on eschewing the 'Goth' label)
"...we hate the word Goth. It’s actually got to the point where we’ve got a Goth jar! If you say the ‘G’ word, then you put money in the Goth jar!"
Pythia - promo shot, 2009
Photograph by Hayley Madden - copyright © 2009 Pythia/Golden Axe
Interview by Mark Holmes
A relatively new act on the scene, British band Pythia have propelled themselves into the public's metal eye over the last two years with a handful of noteworthy support slots including Ministry, Threshold, Fields of the Nephilim and opening for Tarja Turunen at London's Electric Ballroom back in December 2007 for what was their first ever show. Garnering a plethora of well deserved glowing press for the release of impressive debut album 'Beneath the Veiled Embrace' in October this year, the gothic-inspired sympho-power metallers, fronted by Mediaeval Baebe Emily Alice Ovenden, look set to hit the bigtime in 2010. And it would be success that is well deserved as I discover through discussions with one of the band's two guitarists, Tim Neale, Pythia's optimistic attitude combined with their tenacity in an unfaltering impetus to achieve their goals is entirely laudable, and an approach that is all too often lacking in other British acts...
MD: Fine, how you doing?
TN: All good, all good.
MD: You’ve got your phone this week, obviously! Claire said you lost your phone last week.
TN: Yeah [laughs] After a drunken day at the American football on the Sunday I managed to leave it in a cab but, luckily, the cab driver was honourable and…
MD: These things happen!
TN: Yeah, they do to me…a lot!
MD: I heard the new album a couple of weeks ago and it sounds really good - how happy are you with how it turned out, and how have the reviews been so far?
TN: I’m extremely happy. Most of the time with the recording process, being as a lot of us in the band are actually very audio technical ourselves most of the time with other projects we’ve done previously, we’ve heard it every single micro-step of the way and, being as we recorded everything at home, we heard it in demo form when we originally wrote the songs, and then we heard it in pre-production form - obviously that’s basically just a rough mix - and then we got it back from dear Mr.Hansen and we were all blown away. We weren’t expecting that, to be honest. The sound is amazing. Him and Are, the producer, did such a good job from the rushes through to the master version. None of us in the band expected it to sound as huge as that. And the reviews, thankfully…even the ones that aren’t as favourable have commented how good the production is. The only bad reviews we’ve got, which I wouldn’t even see as bad, are from people who don’t understand the genre, and have just given it a cursory listen to and gone “oh, female voice…songs that are based in fantasy…oh, Nightwish”. They haven’t really given it a thought past that.
MD: Lazy journalism!
TN: Yeah, very, very lazy journalism, which a lot of people are guilty of. To get into Kerrang and to get three Ks, let alone get reviewed at all, we were absolutely chuffed by. The review was favourable from them as well. Getting phonecalls from previous band members that I’ve worked with in the past say “how did you do that?!” [laughs] yeah, but very happy and, thankfully, the media responded in kind.
MD: So couldn’t be better basically.
TN: Well, it could be, it could’ve been 5 Ks! [laughs] No, but obviously, for a first album, we were amazed and blown away. I’m such a perfectionist, as we all are in the band, and if we’d created the perfect work of art, we’d have nothing to work towards for the next one. Therefore, I’m totally happy.
MD: You had Brian Blessed on there doing some narration on one of the songs - how did that collaboration come about?
TN: To start off with, basically, it was a joke! [laughs] Marc, our drummer, is a Brian Blessed nut and the song ‘Army of the Damned’ always had the poem at the end of it. Originally, Emily read it and she did it in a waif-like voice, and it was very sort of overdramatic…as Emily is…[cough, cough]…erm…well, we sort of said, “why don’t we go the other way with it and find someone who can do the reading and just give it loads and loads of power”. We thought like Turisas where they have their little reading on their’s, and other albums like that.
MD: Like Rhapsody had Christopher Lee, and whatever.
TN: Yeah, exactly. Marc jokingly said “let’s get Blessed to do it”, and then we all sort of went “hang on, why don’t we?!”. He’s quite local to me, Marc, and Ross, being as we’re all Surrey-ites, and he’s out this way anyway. So we almost jokingly left it to Marc and went “here you are Dyos, off you go”, and he came back with his agent’s details, prices and everything else, and chucked him a copy of the album and he absolutely loved it. His daughter’s a massive fan. We got to all luckily meet him one delightful Wednesday afternoon and it was fantastic just working with him and, what can I say…he’s exactly as he says on the tin! He’s exactly as he is.
MD: Yeah, he’s got one of those voices as well; one of those very distinctive voices that you can’t mistake as well.
TN: Yeah, and everyone from my parents to their friends to people who are into metal and who aren’t, you know, people who knew about the album and who didn’t, I’ve shown them that song and said, “well, here’s the best bit…forget the solos!”…[laughs]…and they’ve got to the end of it and they’ve all just gone “Brian Blessed!” because, you know, you can’t mistake that voice. But it was brilliant.
MD: When I think of Brian Blessed in terms of music, I always associate him with ‘Flash Gordon’…you know, the “Gordon’s alive!” kind of thing!
TN: Yeah! [laughs] We weren’t going to press that with him as well because a couple of us, our partners couldn’t be there. Like, we said, “can you do a little something to say hello to my girlfriend because she loves you and everything?”, and what he did was blurt that out at the top of his voice! [laughs] But it was fantastic. To get him to say he was blown away by it and thought it was a…I can’t remember what he called it…“a melodramatic masterpiece”…to come from him, you know!
MD: Yeah, particularly someone you would presume isn’t vaguely into metal at all.
TN: Yeah, and the king of melodrama as well. Then we all just sort of stood there looking a bit funny…because all of us turned up that day…
MD: Like, whatever else you were doing, you were definitely all going to be there!
TN: Yeah! And for him to go on about how much he appreciated it, and how he thought it was a work of art, and we all looked a bit aghast, and he went “come on, think who you’re talking too, listen to the album and think about what I do for a living.” Okay, fair enough!
MD: That’s really nice praise though because obviously you’re paying him, so it’s just like a paid job for him.
TN: Well that was the other thing was that he actually dropped his rate incredibly to come and do it because the original price we got through was almost as much as part of the post-production was going to cost. But we sort of thought we’ve got to do this as it’s quite a unique selling point. That was directly from his agent but he heard the album, his daughter heard the album, and he said he’d do it to cost.
MD: That’s great! That kind of leads me onto...for quite a new band, you seem to have a “no expense spared” approach because you have a really professional image for the band in the artwork, logo, and everything, obviously you got Jacob Hansen to mix and master the album, and I think I saw a big advert recently in Terrorizer?
TN: Yeah, in every metal publication.
MD: Do you have much financial backing behind you, or is everything you do self-funded?
TN: It’s totally self-financed. Basically, Emily obviously through being in the Baebes and various different rock ‘n’ roll projects before that, knows the score. Me, Ross, and Marc have actually known each other from the southwest London heavy metal scene for the last fifteen years in different bands and everything else…
MD: Yeah, Ross used to be in Head-On, was it?
TN: Yeah, and I was in a band called Abgott, the black metal band.
MD: Oh Abgott, yeah, I saw them a couple of years ago supporting Turisas.
TN: Yeah, that was my tour; I was the bassist. Ross and Marc used to be in a band called Descent, and I was in a band called JFK who were doing their pub tour rounds for years and years. Andy, who has always worked one way or another in the technical side of the music industry. And so we’re all in no illusion that to make a polished product you need to chuck some cash at it. From the start, we all put money in together. We all had a meeting in Camden one day and basically talked about what it would cost, and all the right issues if we were to split it five ways…well, six ways including Richard as well…the issues about what it’s going to cost, and we sort of went “gulp…okay!” To be honest, we were talking again the other day when we had a meeting that we are one of the only bands in this position, on this rung of the ladder if you like, who actually have a positive bank balance, because we are sensible with what we do; we consider everything we go for. Luckily, also, we’ve had a couple of amazing benefactors. One of our main fans helped us out with being main producer of the video. Another one of our guys who saw us originally when we played with Tarja back at the first gig has helped us out with all of our printing and everything. Hayley Madden, our amazing photographer, has done everything pro bono so far. She did all of the album, pretty much. But, also, we’re obviously gonna go back to her for the next one, and the one after that, and the one after that. So it’s all been quite a happy coincidence that everyone who’s collaborated on this project, even through to Jacob, have all sort of been “ah, this is different for an English band, and different for this sort of genre anyway…I’ll get on the ground level for this”, and everyone’s sort of helped out. As much as we have bitten the bullet and realised we’ve gotta put our money where our mouths are, we also had a lot of help from everyone that made up the huge thanks list at the back of the album! We were really lucky, even down to the point where friends and family offered, but we didn’t want to go down that route. We were lucky not to get them involved this time.
MD: Well, it’s all paying off at the moment by the look of it. It’s been released on Golden Axe Records - is that your own label because Pythia seems to be the only release promoted by them?
TN: Yes it is. We had the album done and dusted and we had label interest from a few parties. Everything was ready to go but, being the current economic climate, everyone was in the same position really. They were all coming up to us saying “we really wanna work with you but what do you reckon if we can do this?”. A couple of people offered us deals and we weren’t happy with what they were offering. A lot of people were offering these development deals. I can’t remember what they’re called, but we got offered one in Abgott before as well. Head-On got offered one as well. They take ten per cent of everything you do; they’re basically a rip-off thing. Everything we got, we were either not happy with or the people couldn’t really move quick enough, and we had the album there, and things like Bloodstock were coming up, and we had some more shows. So we just thought - tell you what, arse to it, we’ll just do it ourselves. Luckily, our management, Peculiar Management, were absolutely on the ball. They set the company up for us; got the distribution deal sorted; and obviously it’s everywhere now - the day the single came out, the day the album came out, it was on Spotify, available on iTunes, and if people want to speak to us in the future about moving it onwards, you know, we own everything so…
MD: Is that an Emily connection that you’re with Peculiar Management because I noticed they look after Mediaeval Baebes as well?
TN: Yeah. Originally we were floundering amongst ourselves, all being very, very determined, strong-minded people, almost self-managing. Even now, no disrespect to Peculiar at all as they are amazing, we pretty much do take care, logistically, ourselves day to day. They just basically do all the stuff behind the scenes which make things happen. But it got to a point where we were talking to bigger booking agents and people like that, just somebody to be the Mr Nasty, almost…[laughs]…somebody to be the business, like mum or dad of the band and, just at that time, Julia at Peculiar had just picked up Mediaeval Baebes, and she heard our stuff and sort of went “wow”. We met up with her after a rehearsal one day, all got on with her, and it was just before the failed Amberian Dawn gig - the guys from Amberian couldn’t make it over, and she came down with her then fiancé, now husband, and filmed it all for us. Then the album happened and that was out, and after the album came out reviews happened and everything else, so we can’t fault them. She did all that at the same time as doing Mediaeval Baebes, so Claire and Julia at Peculiar have made this all possible.
MD: So they’re doing a fine job!
TN: Yeah, a fine job indeed!
MD: It’s in the blurb on your MySpace that the band were brought together by a mutual love of Gothic literature, and metal of course…I presume it’s Emily who writes all the lyrics?
TN: Yes. We’ve had points where…there have been some songs like ‘What You Wish For’ where Emily would do vocals and email them to all of us, or show them to all of us, or post a CD or whatever, and if we’ve got an absolute objection therein then obviously it gets knocked back. The same with me and my lead work and rhythm guitars, and Ross with…Ross is basically the overall bullshit filter shall we say! [laugh] Yeah, but everything’s always put to committee. Everyone in the band knows that everyone’s in the band for a reason in their own little niche and, to be honest, with Emily’s literature abilities, you know, she’s got the book out and everything like that, we pretty much leave it to her because she’s got a very clear idea of what we want. If she goes a bit too far in any one direction that we’re not happy with then obviously we do say something.
MD: So you are actually all into the old Gothic literature?
TN: To varying degrees. I mean, Andy is the baby of the band and he’s very much into a lot of different aspects of what you would class as…I don’t want to say the word Goth; we hate the word Goth. It’s actually got to the point where we’ve got a Goth jar! If you say the ‘G’ word, then you put money in the Goth jar! [laughs]
MD: Like a swear box!
TN: Yeah, pretty much. We understand that we’re always gonna come across that mantle, but I digress. Andy’s got his own very clear idea about…he’s very into the more modern aspects of it. Ross and Marc are pure power metal heads. I, personally, play too many online games. I’m a child of Games Workshops, so I’m very much into Warhammer and stuff like that. So I’ve come from that sort of background, along with coming from Abgott and stuff like that, I was a bit of a Goth in my formative years. We all came together knowing that we had this love of swords, and spells, and wizards, and warriors. Whether it comes across as Gothic literature or not, we’ve sort of modified that moniker a little bit and moved on, but we’ve definitely all got a soft spot for the fantastic, shall we say.
MD: Yeah, that comes across in the artwork and the image…well, maybe not the image as in how you dress, but…
TN: Yeah, but if you see the new stage show that we should be revealing this Sunday at the Threshold gig with Emily’s new costume and all of us lot in our new stage garb. It’s very warrior princess and her minions! Bands like your Turisas’, your Finntrolls, your Blind Guardians and things like that, have proven that, nowadays, ever since the advent of Lord of the Rings and everything else coming out…and, like I say, World of Warcraft becoming so big…
MD: Yeah, and Battlelore too I guess.
TN: Yeah, all the people buying albums now, and all the kids coming up on it were sort of…well people of our age who used to play stupid table top games and stuff if you remember that sort of thing, and all the kids have been brought up on movies like Lord of the Rings, and Eragon, and all that coming out, so…
MD: Well I guess the fantasy thing is perennial and will never go away; it’s always been there in the arts in one form or another.
TN: Yeah, definitely, definitely, there’s always space for dragons and orcs!
MD: Yeah, and American football!
TN: Yeah! [laughs] But, I think at the end of the day, it’s…I mean, myself, personally, I used to listen to a lot of hardcore punk and really get wound up with the state of society; it was very political. And, to be honest, now…I live in the real world, I have to pay my taxes and people have got mortgages and rent to pay and everything else…but now when I listen to music I want to be taken away somewhere else. I don’t wanna…like with the choice of novels I read, it’s all high fantasy or horror. I don’t wanna be in the real world if I don’t have to be! [laughs]
MD: Yeah, I guess when you escape into the arts, you don’t want to be faced with more ‘reality’ kind of thing.
TN: Yeah, a hundred per cent.