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12th August 2014
METAL DISCOVERY: You’ve also said that the new songs run the spectrum from mellower sounding material right up to the gritty, heavy stuff, so has that widened the changing moods of your music, so it’s given you more breathing space within the music to express the moods better?
VICKY: Yeah.
(Vicky Psarakis on recording vocals for forthcoming new The Agonist album, 'Eye of Providence')
"I find that you do not know your limits as a musician unless you test them. So, one thing I wanted to do on this album was just showcase the wide range, or whatever, of my voice… as long as it fit the music too."
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
Official The Agonist Facebook:
Only Once Imagined (2007)
Albums & EPs
Official The Agonist Twitter:
Lullabies for the Dormant Mind (2009)
Thanks to Nina Potthoff for arranging the interview.
The Escape (EP) (2011)
Prisoners (2012)
DANNY: It definitely has more breadth than ‘Prisoners’.
MD: Less chaos than ‘Prisoners’?
VICKY: [Laughs]
DANNY: That’s it, yeah.
MD: Which is good, structured chaos…
DANNY: Yeah.
MD: And as I said to Alissa last year, I think it’s one of the best metal records I’ve heard in the past decade… after I had time to digest it.
VICKY: Yeah, you need some time.
DANNY: I don’t really regret doing ‘Prisoners’; that album is what it is. It’s a good chaos sort of thing. Now, this album is… well, it will be a secret… you’ll see what I mean when you hear it!
MD: With the emotional upheaval of what you’ve been through as a band during the period of change, has this fed into and helped characterise the feeling of the new music?
DANNY: I think so. Some of it is carried over a little bit lyrically, and then it’s carried over in just general emotion. Like, we definitely felt the recording process more on this one than on the other albums. So things like picking up the way you play something based on the mood of the song, instead of just making sure it’s tight! [Laughs]
MD: Music, in essence, is inherently about emotions so I guess that’s going to feed in naturally.
VICKY: Yeah. It’s also that we didn’t have time to breath… just the process of getting the album done, but not in a hurried way. You know, it wasn’t like: “Oh, this is the deadline and we have to do it and we have to track a song no matter what”; it was just that we were creating this album without actually thinking so much. So, a lot of stuff on the album is…
DANNY: …semi-improvisation sometimes, and it’s like, ideas came about in the studio along with existing ideas.
VICKY: It was a mixture of both.
MD: So the compositions weren’t set in stone when you went into the studio… you were open to…
DANNY: Yeah, it was like: “What do you think of that chorus, the vocals?”; “I think it’s cool, I just don’t know about this part.”; “Well, maybe if I did this, or I do this…” It was a communication thing and then you get to the final product, and that wasn’t really done before.
MD: So I’m guessing there’s a more natural vibe to the technical aspect of the music this time?
VICKY: Yeah, exactly.
MD: I get the impression, as well, that you always like to challenge yourselves as musicians and songwriters, so what was the biggest challenge, artistically speaking, when writing and recording the new album?
VICKY: I can speak for myself, vocally. For me, as you said, from the YouTube covers, it’s always been a challenge to do as much as possible because I find that you do not know your limits as a musician unless you test them. So, one thing I wanted to do on this album was just showcase the wide range, or whatever, of my voice… as long as it fit the music too. If there was a very soft riff, I would think, oh, this is the time for some really sweet vocals; whereas if it as a crazy and chaotic, add harmonies and create chaos!
MD: So you’d let the feeling of the music dictate what you would want to do over it…
VICKY: Exactly, exactly.
DANNY: I think my biggest challenge wasn’t about playing any specific part; as I said earlier, it was more about the challenge of being patient enough to oversee the song from the top view and not worry so much about, “oh, this part’s boring right now, it should have some… no, it doesn’t need it!” So, “there’s this and that going on and that’s pretty cool, so let’s not all fight for space.”
MD: You always seem to have a progressive mentality with your compositions – that is, in a genuine sense of the word progressive; not progressive as a genre. Has that always been a more natural proclivity with your songwriting, rather than forced progression?
DANNY: Yeah, I guess it comes out more naturally. I like it, but it’s not like I’m inspired by Yes and all this kind of ultra prog. You know, I love Opeth and I love a lot of Steven Wilson… I like prog but it’s not like I’m thinking, “oh, this part needs a proggy riff.” It’s just kinda like, I happen to write a riff that’s in an off-time signature and I didn’t even realise it. I just think it’s cool and then, “oh, it’s actually 9/8 or something”. It just happens and then I usually go to Simon at that point because the drummer will be like: “Is this actually cool with the drums or is it just going to be annoying?!” And you usually say: “No, I like it that way, that’s cool!”
MD: I think it always sounds genuinely progressive in your music, it never sounds forced. Interestingly, The Agonist were named as one of the ten best metalcore bands earlier this year by OC Weekly. The metalcore label seems to have followed you around forever, so why do you think that’s persisted when you’re not metalcore, and you can’t really put any genre tag on what you do?
DANNY: Because we started there, from the very beginning. And any band, I find, that’s a metal band that has clean singing and screaming often gets that label… that’s what it is. Which is weird because metalcore itself is… there are a lot of bands that don’t have any singing that are pure metalcore bands but, I don’t know… the name is disappearing, I think; not just for us but in general.
MD: For me, it seems metalcore has been utilised as a putdown term for bands, the same as nu-metal was twenty years ago, so if someone wants to dis a band, they’ll say, “oh they’re just metalcore”, which is quite derogatory, I think, and delimiting for what you do as I’m sure a lot of people won’t even bother to check out The Agonist if they’ve read you’re a metalcore band.
DANNY: Yeah, metalcore with a girl singer. But, I don’t know… people can write that: “They’re a metalcore band”… it doesn’t necessarily bother me; I think it’s inaccurate but the thing is, Killswitch Engage and Unearth, when all these bands came out, I loved them.
MD: And if you ask Unearth, they’ll say they’re not a metalcore band as well.
VICKY: At the end, it doesn’t really matter, though, too, right. It’s all music! [Laughs]
MD: Exactly. And as I’ve always said to people, there should only be two genres of music – music you like and music you don’t.
VICKY: Yeah.
MD: My final question – if you were the eye of providence, how would you exercise that power for the good of the world?
VICKY: Whoa!
MD: Sorry, a very philosophical thing to end on!
VICKY: [Laughs] No, it’s a great question!
MD: You can both answer that in your individual ways.
VICKY: I’ll let Danny start; he chose the title, so… [Laughs]
DANNY: I would, not just for myself, but I would try to give that all-seeing ability to the people, to everyone, so they could see behind closed doors of the people that run the world, whether they’re corporate or government, to expose all that because, if all of that was truly out in the open, there would be revolutions. It’s only partially in the open and it’s all buried underneath conspiracy theories and things like that, so a lot of people think it’s not true or this and that, or whatever it is. But there’s a lot of terrible things going on right now for the wrong reasons, for wealth and power, that means nothing, really. Like, I understand that someone who owns an oil company or something is a billionaire… so if you already have a billion dollars, why do you need ten? You already have plenty of money.
VICKY: It’s a drug.
DANNY: Yeah, that’s it. That’s what I say it is.
MD: So you’d want political transparency.
DANNY: Yeah, but it’s more corporate than political now, that’s the real problem.
MD: How would you answer that question?
VICKY: Well, I kind of agree, I guess. I guess another way to see it would be to get rid of it. That would also be a solution. Everyone being able to have their privacy and being able to explore and… I would say, in general, that it’s a good thing, like it’s opened a lot of doors, but one thing wrong with today is that everything is right in front of you sometimes, and you don’t have a chance to explore and see what’s going on for yourself. You’ve stopped thinking because it’s right there in front of you, and you just accept information without stopping to realise what’s going on.
DANNY: And less appreciation for individual things because you have a plate with everything on it at all times. You can’t be like, “I just really love that one thing”, because it’s like, “yeah, it’s just another thing”… [Laughs]
MD: Good words to end with! Right, thank you so much for your time.
VICKY: Thank you.
DANNY: Thanks.