DATE OF INTERVIEW:
3rd November 2009
METAL DISCOVERY: Obviously Emily’s in Mediaeval Baebes as well of course - has that led to any scheduling conflicts between both bands?
TIM NEALE: Not so far; we’ve always worked around the two. I think there’s been one gig where it got put up after the Mediaeval Baebes tour had already been booked and it was just no contest - they were already there. That’s the other nice thing with having the management in common - Julia and Claire do an amazing job in balancing it when it has arisen. But, from rehearsals to gigs, it’s always been a thorough compromise. Emily, I know for a fact, treats them both like her children. You know, she wouldn’t love anyone less or more than the other, so she would never choose. She knows, likely, that’s why she got Julia! But it’s not come up yet. If it does arise, we’ll have to see. We’ll have to get both bands together on tour! [laughs]
(Tim Neale on Emily Alice Ovenden's mutual regard for both Pythia and Mediaeval Baebes)
"Emily, I know for a fact, treats them both like her children. You know, she wouldn’t love anyone less or more than the other, so she would never choose."
Pythia - promo shot, 2009
Photograph by Hayley Madden - copyright © 2009 Pythia/Golden Axe
Interview by Mark Holmes
MD: I was gonna ask actually, it’s two very different kinds of music, but has there ever been any talk of one band supporting the other?
TN: Well, we’ve sort of mentioned it before but that would almost create the conflict of interests so we wouldn’t really want to go down that route. It’s amazing, when a couple of us went along to see Mediaeval Baebes, and for Emily herself looking out at the crowd, and seeing Pythia t-shirts, and vice versa as we get people turning up with Mediaeval Baebes t-shirts at our gigs, it’s almost nice trying to keep the two apart. You’d never see A Perfect Circle and Tool on the same bill, would you, so…or Carcass and Arch Enemy.
MD: Apart from Carcass and Arch Enemy at Bloodstock this year of course!
TN: Yeah! [laughs] But we just want to keep them apart but not in any antagonistic sort of way. We co-exist very happily and we’d always compromise on the two. The Baebes all love what Emily does and came down to the launch party and everything, and we’ve been to see them, they’ve come along to us…
MD: So are you a fan of the Baebes?
TN: Yeah, I knew them before I was in the band. As I say, I knew Ross and Marc for ages, and Marc had always been a fan, and I’d seen them batting around for a while. I went through a big stage listening to Enya, and Loreena McKennitt, and things like that, and it just fit right in with that.
MD: They’ve really, really progressed since the first album as well. The latest one, ‘Illumination’, is pretty immense I think.
TN: Yeah, we’ve had some controversy as well. We’ve had some people…shall we say some of their more scarily dedicated fans leave their fold and come over to us because they didn’t like the new album as they’d dared to do something different that we all thought was amazing. Let’s just say they didn’t last too long on our forums either.
MD: There’s no place for that in the metal scene.
TN: No, or in the music scene at all, particularly if you’re gonna complain about one of Emily’s kids in front of her!
TN: As in one of her bands!
MD: Oh, sorry, I see what you mean, I’m with you now!
TN: She’s not at that stage of her life yet! [laughs] You could’ve had an exclusive there! [laughs]
MD: Yeah, exactly, yeah! It says on your MySpace that…actually, is it ‘Pith-ia’ or ‘Pie-thia’ you pronounce it?
TN: ‘Pie-thia’. An old friend of mine from Thus Defiled and bands like that used to take the piss and call it ‘Pith-ia’, being funny. But if you take it to the actual Greek pronunciation or even the Northern European pronunciation, it would be ‘Pith-ia’. We go for ‘Pie-thia’…
MD: It sounds better.
TN: Yeah, and it does give you the python thing as well.
MD: It sounds a bit more of a meaty name as well rather than…‘Pith-ia’ sounds a bit…
TN: …pithy! [laughs] And Bruce Dickinson made a point of going over and over and over it when he played us on his rock show the other day…which is always a good thing because he mentioned our name about fifteen times in one sentence!
MD: With the correct pronunciation?
TN: Yeah, a trying to get it right thing.
MD: It says on your MySpace that you’re “set to steal the Gothic Power Metal crown in 2009”. What do you think sets your band apart from all the other female fronted Gothic Power Metal bands in the scene?
TN: Well, there’s not anyone really doing our sort of sound. We have been likened a lot to the older Nightwish stuff, like the ‘Wishmaster’ period.
MD: Even ‘Oceanborn’ type stuff I heard in there maybe.
TN: Yeah, yeah, there’s elements of that in there. At the end of the day, if you look at our influences between me, Andy, Ross and Marc, speaking for the boys alone…Richard’s fairly new to heavy metal which brought a brilliant new dimension to everything because he wasn’t jaded in any way, shape or form in how heavy metal goes…but Andy’s quite into newer bands like Sabaton and things like that, where me, Marc and Ross go from really old school Maiden, Blind Guardian, and all the big European power metal bands, and onto Firewind, and Dark Moor, and things like that, and stuff like Carcass and Cannibal Corpse, you know, like really, really heavy stuff. So, in terms of our writing we don’t put any sort of limit as to what sort of riffing we do. If we’ve got old riffs from old bands or other projects we can convert those riffs and put a bit more of a different twinge on it and, there you go, it’s a Pythia riff. I don’t think we’re constraining ourselves by thinking we’ve got to do it this way because it’s the female Goth band thing or whatever. That’s just purely from the riffology of the band. As I said, Richard comes from a completely non-metal background. We took him to see Sonata Arctica. He’d never heard them before and he basically stood at the back of the crowd and going “why has no-one shown me this music before, it‘s amazing?!”. Everything he contributes…me and Ross will come up with a song in a key - I’ll learn it and everything else; I’ll have my metal idea about how it sounds, and then Richard will put his keyboard parts on it and we go “well, I’ve never heard that inversion before, and I’d never have done a suspended 9th there but that sounds amazing”, and then Emily, obviously coming from a classical background, we’ve sent songs off to her with a very clear idea for the structure, like here’s the intro; here’s the verse; here’s the pre-chorus; here’s the chorus, and it’ll come back backwards! You know, it’s all been mixed around in her mind. So we don’t limit ourselves, that’s the main thing. We’re not afraid to be properly British and tongue firmly in cheek whilst maintaining that we are very serious about everything that we do, which I think is the ethos of what a lot of heavy metal has always been about, and has got lost nowadays.
MD: It’s kind of like a British aesthetic you’ve got going on there, but it’s also…I don’t like to say the music’s more European but, you know, it’s more diverse than your average British band.
TN: I would almost make you right on European because I don’t see it as being as lumped in with all the bands from Northern Europe. They’re harking back to the times which we are, the older metal days. A lot of the other female fronted bands are hearing Lacuna Coils and bands like that taking a lot of American influences, especially after the post-…I hate to us a Kerrang-ish term, but the post-nu-metal thing. You know, they’re taking a lot of that American sound and doing these big epic…I don’t want to say Disney metal as I don’t want to put any of them down, but…
MD: Disney metal - that would be Edenbridge then!
TN: Yeah! [laughs] Where you’ve got your Disney castles which look fantastic, and very theatrical, and amazing, you know, like these American pageants and everything, we’re about the proper old legends where it’s all a bit horrible, and dark, and dingy. I think that sort of comes across in the music as well. We’re not trying to portray this big, beautiful Gothic…there’s another fiver in the jar! [laughs] You know, it’s not this big portrayal of huge romance that started in England, batted to America, and then put back in our court after they’ve done their bit to it. No disrespect to what they’ve done, I think they’ve done amazing work, but we’ve cut out the middle man and gone back to grass roots, I think. And that definitely comes across, especially in the age diversity of our fans because the younger kids are hearing it and likening us to bands who influenced the bands they listen to, and the older guys are hearing it and going “oh wait, you’ve done a Gary Moore cover” and “that reminds me of old Maiden but in a new way”. So I think that’s where we sort of come in.
MD: Yeah, and when I said European I didn’t mean specifically the music, but you’re more the quality of band you’d expect to emerge from mainland Europe these days rather than the UK perhaps, because Pythia are quite unlike anything else going on in the British scene at the moment.
TN: Well, like I say, as much as there are a lot of British bands we like, there’s not an awful lot coming out of Britain at the minute. So we had no real basis to put anything on, so we just went ahead and did our own thing as opposed to trying to follow any wave or whatever. I suppose you’d call it the New Wave of New Wave of British Heavy Metal!
MD: NWONWOBHM or something!
TN: Yeah! [laughs] But, at the end of the day, we just do our own thing and if people want to say it sounds a bit like this or a bit like that then fair play to ‘em, but we don’t have anything in our heads when…we don’t have anything in our head generally! [laughs] But when we’re writing stuff, it’s just a bunch of riffs thrown together that we think sound amazing, and then all the other stuff going on to make it sound even more epic.
MD: I can also hear a little bit of…I think this will be my last mention of Goth metal…but Theatre of Tragedy, Paradise Lost and that kind of thing, like Moonspell…like what was originally labelled as Goth metal isn’t what’s labelled as Goth metal today in the scene. It seems like every band that dresses in black and has a female vocalist who does a bit of operatic singing is called Goth metal.
TN: Yeah, exactly, if you speak to me, Ross and Marc, we’re Paradise Lost fans from ‘Lost Paradise’, and all the way through. Maybe a couple of albums in between are a bit questionable, but…that was when it was doom metal. If anything, we’ll hark back to the doom metal period of Anathema and people like that where they took the proper Gothic overtones.
MD: My Dying Bride?
TN: Yeah, My Dying Bride, early In Flames, At The Gates and stuff like that.
MD: Early Katatonia too?
TN: Yeah. So there’s a lot of that is gonna come through, especially as me, Ross and Marc, just speaking for us three personally, we’ve never really been in a project where we can put that side of ourselves out. I’ve either been doing extreme metal, thrash metal, or sort of Black Label Society country & western. Ross has always been doing Descent and Head-On, and of course Marc in Descent. So we’ve finally got a vehicle where we actually don’t have to be constrained at all. I’m obviously not going to get a banjo out and start playing it in Pythia, but we can do a bit of folk, we can do a bit of high-end doom metal from back in the day, and put a bit of thrash in there. You know, I think that’s the reason you’re hearing that sort of thing come through is that it gets to a point in the song where we’re at a loss what to do so we just take a right turn and go completely off-tangent and…
MD: …chuck in a bit of old doom.
TN: Yeah, we stick that in and see if it works or if it doesn’t.
MD: Are you seeing Paradise Lost on their current tour?
TN: Yes, I am, I think. It’s next Monday, isn’t it?
MD: Are you going to the London date?
TN: Ahhh, that was yesterday…I’m just looking at my calendar! [laughs] Hopefully I’ll catch up with them at some point.
MD: I saw them in Newcastle Sunday night just gone with Katatonia supporting ‘em, and both bands are really on form at the moment. So I was gonna say I recommend ‘em, but if you missed it…! You played Bloodstock, of course, this year - was it the Sophie Lancaster stage?
MD: I heard you did a short acoustic set too?
MD: How was that particular festival experience for you, and what was the feedback like?
TN: None of us wanted to leave! Unfortunately, a couple of us had to leave straight after the first night so it was just me, Emily and Andy there for the weekend…and that was a long weekend! But we didn’t want to go home. I actually said to Paul, the bloke who organises it, this is possibly the finest festival I’ve ever been too, and I’ve done Downloads, and Monsters of Rock, and everything else. It was really well organised.
MD: It’s got such a great atmosphere.
TN: Yeah, even down to the…I don’t want to make us sound like a bunch of alcoholics, but the choice of booze, you know, the fact it wasn’t just Carling for the boys, Smirnoff Ice for the ladies. There was good food too…
MD: Did they actually have proper beer there this year then?
TN: Yeah, yeah!
MD: It’s the first one I’ve missed this year for a while as I’ve been to most of ‘em since the first indoor one back in 2001. I remember going in the beer tent last year and asking what beer they had. He pointed to a couple of different lagers, and I was like “no, what beer have you got?”, and he said "yeah, we’ve got Fosters, Carling", or whatever it was. So I was like "okay, just lager and no beer then!" Good to hear they had proper beer this year!
TN: Wychwood Brewery actually did the main stage so…
MD: So they had Hobgoblin then?
TN: Yeah, that was amazing. They didn’t have any of the Wychwood cider, unfortunately, which is my tipple. But yeah, even down to the bands, and what was nice for me was I’m really good friends with the guys from Godsized and Inner Eden, and Abgott played as well, so there was a couple of points in the VIP area where it was me and all my mates, and we’re looking round at each other, going “what are you doing here?!” and “what are you doing here?!”. It was really nice because we’ve all come up through the shitty little club venues to get together, and there we all were stood there in the VIP area drinking next to Bob Catley from Magnum and Krusher, and we’re like “have we actually all arrived?! Are we on the first rung to actually getting there?!” But the stages were run amazingly and I personally thought the sound was great everywhere. Some of the people disagreed but…
MD: That’s very subjective though sound, isn’t it, wherever you go.
TN: Yeah, it depends how near a speaker you are and, during our set, I was very close to one! [laughs] But, yeah, I thought it was amazing. The acoustic stage was a load of fun, especially for me because I literally got off the road, got to where we were staying, dumped all my clothes off and everything, jumped straight in a cab, had to walk…as the rock star [laughs]…through the middle of the whole thing carrying my guitars, basically put them down, chucked a beer down my neck and went straight on! Very rock ‘n’ roll! But it was a lot of fun, and I think it was a very good vehicle for us because it was just at the beginning, before the single came out, and it was just promo-ing the single, if you like. I think a lot of people thought here we go, another up themselves Goth band, power metal wannabe guys, and then we came along and did the acoustic stage with a big grin on all of our faces. We got one of our original fans, a young girl called Emily, who’s been caught on YouTube playing a ukulele along to one of our tracks, so we actually said to her “right, bring your ukulele, you’re playing with us”, and that made her weekend. We did ‘Thunder Rising’ acoustic and ‘Sarah’ and everything, and we did it all with a big smile on our face so it was a good vehicle in front of the two hundred people or so that were there just to basically say, yeah, we are who we are, but we don’t take ourselves too seriously, and if you want to see the loud, more serious stuff, come and see us at nine o’clock on the Sophie stage.
MD: Oh right, I presumed you would have done the acoustic set the day after your main set.
TN: No, we did it before. We were the first band to do an acoustic set, so it was a bit of a baptism by fire for the weekend! It went down really well, and we took the wonderful Bev who played a lot of Richard’s keyboard parts live on the violin. She’s a virtuoso violin player who works with the Baebes a lot. So we had her, and she actually played with us that night as well which was fantastic…and then suddenly butting her 1745 instrument with the headstock of my guitar half way through! [laughs] It was an amazing weekend, and I can honestly say it was one of the best weekends of my life. If I’d have been there as a punter it would have been amazing, but just playing it and people coming up to me the whole weekend and recognising me…a couple of times I’d just double take because people would come up and say “oh, you’re thingy from Pythia, aren’t you”, and I was like “how do you know?”, and then “oh shit, I played on Friday, yeah, alright!” [laughs] It was fantastic.