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12th August 2014
The announcement of Alissa White-Gluz absconding to front Arch Enemy earlier this year seemed to engender a greater degree of furore amongst fans of the Swedish melo-deathsters than followers of The Agonist. In fact, when the innovative Canadian metallers declared relative newcomer Vicky Psarakis as their new singer, the Chicago-based Greek vocalist was predominantly welcomed with open arms by a refreshingly accepting fanbase. And rightfully so, as Vicky's vocal strengths, in terms of style, power and range, are astonishing and befitting of The Agonist's diverse and genuinely progressive dynamic, as evidenced on new single 'Disconnect Me/Perpetual Notion'. All fares well ahead of the new album, 'Eye of Providence', slated for release in November. Over in the UK for three shows as part of a wider European festival/club tour, Vicky, along with guitarist Danny Marino, spoke to Metal Discovery in their dressing room, a few hours before showtime in Bilston's Robin 2...
METAL DISCOVERY: How’s the tour been so far and how has the new material been going down with the fans? I gather you play three new songs…
DANNY: Yeah. You did your research!
(Danny Marino on the widespread acceptance of new vocalist Vicky Psarakis)
"I think our fans are really open-minded; that’s why there’s a lot of acceptance for the change..."
Danny Marino and Vicky Psarakis backstage at the Robin 2, Bilston, UK, 12th August 2014
Photograph copyright © 2014 Mark Holmes - www.metal-discovery.com
Interview & Photography by Mark Holmes
MD: Setlist.fm is very handy!
DANNY: Yeah, it’s been great – really fun on stage and off stage on this tour. Everyone’s just in a really great mood. And the reaction to the new songs has been really good, actually. I’m very happy too because seeing the reactions for songs that we know already we’re gonna make music videos of and things like this… it’s a good sign! [Laughs]
MD: Definitely a good sign! The new album’s scheduled for release in November?
MD: Is it a little frustrating right now, having to wait that long now that the album’s finished and I guess you just want it out there?
VICKY: I wouldn’t say frustrating but I think we’re all anxious. You know, we really wanna show the fans the full album to see what’s going on.
MD: Obviously band personnel changes can always cause a bit of commotion amongst the fans, although you seem to have been incredibly well received by the majority of The Agonist fans, so has it been a huge relief to read all the positive feedback on Facebook and wherever?
VICKY: Yeah, it’s actually pretty awesome; especially when it’s a lineup change and you’re the singer, it’s a lot more pressure because it’s the main face of the band. And yeah, it’s been mostly positive feedback… especially from the shows. A lot of fans, after the show, they come up to me and are like, “you were awesome… I’ve seen The Agonist before, five or six times, and you were great.” And it’s, “wow, thanks!”
DANNY: I think our fans are really open-minded; that’s why there’s a lot of acceptance for the change, because we’re a band that does a lot of different genres within our music and so, if a fan likes us, they’re probably the type of person that’s not close-minded, musically. So it helps us to be able to be accepted with something like this.
MD: There’s been a degree of negativity as well and, although that was probably anticipated, does it still hurt to read some of the more antagonistic comments?
VICKY: No, it’s completely understandable. Obviously, myself included, there are a bunch of people that listen to bands just for the singer. It’s not a bad thing, necessarily; it’s just a matter of choice. So, obviously, a few fans of the band were fans of Alissa… but there are some fans that have been kind of on the fence, like: “I mostly listen to The Agonist because of Alissa but I will still give them a chance.” And a couple of those people were actually at the shows, and they came up to me personally, and they were like: “I’m so glad I actually came to the show because I enjoyed it.”
MD: That’s great.
VICKY: Yeah, if you can win over those fans step-by-step, I guess it’s… what more can you ask for? [Laughs]
MD: For me, your vocal range seems to be as great, if not better, than Alissa’s, from what I’ve heard from the multitude of YouTube clips where you’re singing songs from all kinds of genres, so do you think some people’s animosity is for the sake of, because they don’t like change?
VICKY: Yeah, I think so.
DANNY: Some people just enjoy internet trolling…
VICKY: [Laughs]
DANNY: I’m sure if you find some of the most negative comments on our page and track those users, you’ll probably see them doing similar comments on other websites and things.
VICKY: Sometimes, it’s actually the same people over and over!
MD: Hopefully they’re the ones who actually come to the shows and then realise how great it is!
DANNY: We read all comments… it’s kind of entertaining!
MD: You discovered Vicky on YouTube, I understand… and because there’s an overabundance of crap on there nowadays, it must be hard to discover actual talent amongst all the shit…
VICKY: [Laughs]
MD: …so did it take a while to discover Vicky?
DANNY: I’m not sure of the exact amount of time but it wasn’t that long. We just had to weigh a bunch of options really fast. We were thinking about, okay, maybe known female singers that we know that might be interested in doing the job… that wasn’t really… even if interested or not, everyone that we thought of, it’s like, it’s not right to do that. You know, we’d really have to change our sound. And then we thought maybe going public with it, like open auditions and “send in your videos”, and we didn’t like that idea. And so just kept searching online and came across Vicky.
MD: I’m guessing it’s a step forward financially for Alissa by joining Arch Enemy, although my personal opinion is that she’s taken a big step back artistically. Is that something you’d agree with?
DANNY: Well, I would in the sense that I know she can sing and she can’t sing in Arch Enemy. I was curious if she was going to, but I think they made the right move that she didn’t, as a band and marketing-wise and all that. But, you know, I’m sure she’ll end up doing some other projects in the future too.
MD: You used Chris Donaldson again, to produce the new album, so I presume he’s someone you inherently trust with your music? Obviously, it’s the fourth time you’ve used him…
DANNY: Yeah, it pretty much is. We were, for the first time ever, not going to use him on this album, for the purpose of trying something different. Not because he wasn’t good; he’s great, but it felt like we should do this. I spoke to a bunch of producers… and it was just kinda like, why don’t we just stay with Chris because I feel much more comfortable with that, especially with a brand new singer and with deadlines. And I knew Chris would give us his full attention whereas maybe some big producer in LA or something would like, “yeah, get in and get out”.
MD: And you’re a progressive band, in essence, I guess, so your relationship with him has progressed over the course of the four albums, and you’re always learning new stuff from each other, I presume?
DANNY: Yeah, he’s seen us grow and we’ve seen him grow. I mean, we did the first album in his garage and the gear there was not at all like he has now! He’s built up his studio and it’s a full-on professional studio.
MD: I guess he must have a good understanding of how to make good, technical music sound great being in the band he’s in.
VICKY: Yeah, he’s a great musician too, so it helps.
MD: Indeed, absolutely. ‘Disconnect Me’ has been the first single released from the album – why did you choose that track to represent the first taster of new Agonist material?
VICKY: Well, we didn’t actually choose it… it was the first song we actually completed. The guys had a bunch of music and then listened to all the tracks, and then we’re like: “Hmmm, which one could be a potential single?” And it was a very high-energy song so we’re like: “Let’s go with this.” And we wrote lyrics, vocals, all that, and we went to Chris and tracked it along with ‘Perpetual Notion’ and, yeah, we released it.
DANNY: That release that’s out there, it’s from a different recording session. We re-recorded those two songs to make them better.
VICKY: Yeah, we re-recorded those.
MD: Oh right, just so you have consistency of sound and mix and everything.
DANNY: Yeah. What that was, we were in a rush to be able to do what we were saying about coming out with a new singer and new material right away, instead of like, “Alissa’s gone” and that’s it. So we had to make sure that we had some kind of material to show people.
MD: On that track, I can hear a little bit of ‘Slaughter of the Soul’-era At The Gates and maybe a bit of Into Eternity as well with some of the vocal phrasing. Are those two bands that have been an influence in any way over the years?
DANNY: Yeah, we like both those bands.
VICKY: Yeah, I do. I’m a big Swedish metal fan, like At The Gates…
MD: Dark Tranquillity and all that kind of thing?
VICKY: Yeah.
MD: The Into Eternity thing really hit me on the outro for ‘Disconnect Me’, when the vocals come back in, and I thought that really sounds like Into Eternity… in a very good way, and in a very Agonist way too!
DANNY: They’re our Canadian brothers!
MD: Exactly, yeah! And Pascal played the solo for the song with his hand in a cast because he’d broken a knuckle?
VICKY: Yeah.
MD: Has that set some sort of precedent for broken handed guitarists?!
DANNY: It’s a new style!
MD: Yeah, exactly, yeah! The solo’s great anyway but when I heard him talk about the broken knuckle in one of the studio updates, I was in awe! You know, that’s incredible.
VICKY: Yeah, it’s good to let the fans know what’s going on.
MD: Would you try that yourself with a broken knuckle?
DANNY: Probably not!
DANNY: I did the second half of the solo, with the pick, that’s me. But the whole tapping section is Pascal.
MD: The other half of the single, ‘Perpetual Notion’, has a very different vibe about it, and you’ve said in the studio updates that the new album shows a more diverse side of The Agonist between songs, rather than within songs, so would it be fair to assume that ‘Eye of Providence’ is set to showcase your musical diversity in a more structured and unified way?
VICKY: Yeah.
DANNY: Yeah, that’s a good way of putting it. We pulled some genre elements from the last two albums and then we added some we’ve never done before, for sure.
VICKY: I would say there are a lot of rock parts in songs. You can hear some classic rock and you really don’t get that vibe from the previous albums. So I would say that’s the new element.
MD: Is it a matter of each song is its own entity and will sound different from the previous song on the album?
DANNY: I don’t know!
DANNY: It’s kinda like, for us, I think it’s the most representative album of who we actually are. The rock thing that she’s talking about is my roots; that’s what I grew up on and it’s, still to this day, the music that touches me the most and the other guys in the band too. So, to be able to finally bring that in but still keep it in a metal band, that’s what’s been the goal all along.
MD: Finding a good balance between the two.
DANNY: Yeah.
VICKY: Exactly.