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20th March 2015
METAL DISCOVERY: Vicky’s vocal range is incredible, not just in terms of pitch, but also in terms of style. So has that allowed you to become more diverse between each of the songs? It’d be difficult to imagine Alissa doing justice to tracks like ‘A Gentle Disease’, ‘As Above, So Below’ and ‘The Perfect Embodiment’. I mean, they sound very much like Vicky songs.
DANNY: They are. Especially ‘A Gentle Disease’ and ‘The Perfect Embodiment’ – they are a hundred per cent, vocally, written by Vicky. ‘As Above…’ was a collaboration between me and her. But, yeah, that’s definitely representative of one of the new things she brings and it’s great.
(Danny Marino on the 'Eye of Providence' concept)
"It’s not like an anti-technology concept to the album; it’s just that I find it so interesting and unbelievable, the world that we live in... it’s like with anything, man can corrupt them because man is inherently selfish, so you’ll have people using it for bad things at the same time."
The Agonist - promo shot
Photograph copyright © 2014 Jeroen Aarts Photography - www.jeroenaartsphoto.com
Interview by Mark Holmes
Official The Agonist Facebook:
Only Once Imagined (2007)
Official The Agonist Twitter:
Lullabies for the Dormant Mind (2009)
Thanks to Nina Potthoff for arranging the interview.
Prisoners (2012)
Eye of Providence (2015)
MD: Talking of ‘The Perfect Embodiment’, that’s one of the more heartfelt tracks on the album, for me; it has a very moving, emotional depth. I gather that one’s a more personal song, lyric-wise. Reading the lyrics, it seems to be quite an emotionally introspective song, although optimistic overall. What’s this one about?
DANNY: The lyrics are by Vicky so I’m not going to say exactly. But ‘The Perfect Embodiment’ is who you’re trying to be, trying to be perfect… doing the right thing or questioning what that is. What is it to be the perfect embodiment, who you are, sort of thing. It’s about the same thing that everyone goes through… but it’s about a personal experience that she had, specifically, so I don’t want to go into details.
MD: The video for ‘Gates of Horn and Ivory’ is interesting stuff … it looks like that was good fun to shoot stuff in the first half of the video? With your very tight-fitting leather jacket as well!
DANNY: That’s my wife’s jacket!
MD: Oh, is it really?!
DANNY: That’s why! She’s actually in the video. She’s one of the makeup artists in the video.
MD: Ah, okay, and she’s the eye on the album cover as well, is that right?
DANNY: Yeah. So it was a lot of fun to shoot; we were just laughing all the time. The director, David Brodsky, is a longtime friend so, yeah, the whole time was just laughs and it was really cool to finally do a video where we weren’t so serious. It’s always been so serious, you know.
MD: I’m guessing it alludes to the pretentious, fabricated, image-based side of the music industry…
DANNY: Yeah, which we’re totally a victim of, just naturally by being the band that we are with a female singer, and with Alissa too and all that. It’s this double-edged sword of, like: “Great, look at all these people following you now and look at all this attention you’re getting.” And it’s like you’re getting attention for the wrong reasons and you’re attracting bad attention from those that hate what that stands for. And, so, I just wanted to call that out but, in a way, we’re calling ourselves out on it too. It’s like, we’ve gone through that with the photoshoots and using them online, and getting lots of attention for it because of a pretty girl in the photo. But it’s kinda like you just want to draw the attention to that about how ridiculous the whole thing is. We know, musically, we’re a band with a lot to say, artistically, and we’re not just a visual band, and I know there are other bands out there that get the same bullshit. It’s like: “Oh, you have a girl singer, that’s why you get attention,” and they’re actually a really good band… or they’re not, and it really is just selling sex, which there are bands out there like that now. I just want to say that we’re not one of those!
MD: Indeed, definitely! I’ve read a few comments online where people have interpreted the video as a bit of a dig against Alissa, but I presume it’s more a dig against people’s interpretations of the band being Alissa-centric when, of course, it wasn’t and shouldn’t have been at all?
DANNY: Kind of. It’s not a dig at Alissa, specifically. It’s a dig at how the industry creates characters like that and positions people’s eyes in such a way they like that. So it could’ve been anyone; it’s not necessarily about Alissa, it’s about the industry surrounding it.
MD: I’ve also read some very inane comments where people seem to have drastically missed the whole point of the video, where people have been: “What are The Agonist doing?! What’s all this about?”
DANNY: When that happened, I think it was a small percentage of people thought we were actually really serious about that! Immediately, a bunch of our other fans would jump up and correct them.
MD: Doing your job for you so you didn’t have to bother explaining yourselves!
DANNY: Yeah.
MD: Almost the antithesis of last year’s promo shots by Von Wong, some of the latest band images show a more fun side to The Agonist. Was that deliberate to balance out the seriousness, which I guess ties in with the ‘Gates of Horn and Ivory’ concept too?
DANNY: Yeah, kind of. When we went into the shoot, it wasn’t exactly planned, it was just a matter that we want more photos because we did the Von Wong shoot and it was really cool, but it was really specific. And we just wanted some photos that people can use for posters for tours or whatever, that just represented the band as we are, not in some scenario… just who we really are. So we started shooting and we were in that shoot for one day, and we were just like: “Hey, why don’t we try doing some fun things?” So, as we started doing that, it wasn’t “try this” or “try that”, it was “anything, go, go” and the photographer was just clicking.
MD: Which fits in with ‘Gates of Horn and Ivory’ – remove the façade and see who you really are, kind of thing.
DANNY: Yeah, that’s right.
MD: A central theme of the album through some of the songs is about the invasive use of technology in people’s lives and, I guess, George Orwell predicted the whole invasive, mass surveillance era, decades ago, with ‘1984’. Was Orwell partly an inspiration on the album’s themes?
DANNY: The thing is that I’d say much more of an influence would be ‘Brave New World’ because we don’t live in 1984. ‘1984’ is like North Korea – it’s a known force that’s imprisoning other people. Where we live, in the West, it’s a ‘Brave New World’, sort of Huxley concepts, where you’re enslaved but you know nothing. And you have an ignorance to it on purpose, because to think about it makes you feel uncomfortable, so you just try to forget it. And, also, because the technology provides such convenience and satiation for everyone’s needs that they definitely don’t want to give that up because it’s just so good. So you just allow it, and I do it too. I have a smartphone in my pocket right now – it’s an Android phone so Google is receiving everything that I do for their benefit because there’s so much marketing and other uses to know that I went to these places today, and I walk an average of three kilometres a day, and I’m from this part of the world. All these statistics that are useful for corporations, are useful for governments… that’s the world we live in and it’s getting more and more like that, so that was kind of an influence for that as well. Like writers like Kurzweil, ‘The Singularity…’, and things like this, how we’re eventually going to fuse with the technology. Like, it’s not going to be in my pocket, it’s going to be in my body. It’s getting closer and closer and it will be eventually. It’s not like some crazy science fiction idea… it’s gonna happen.
MD: I guess all Google could ascertain from your phone at the moment is that you’re moving from country to country… like stats for how many bands are on tour!
DANNY: Musicians in bands end up being anomalies… we’re not the average person at all!
MD: Going back to the Orwell thing, doing a bit of digging online, interestingly, you’re being supported by a band called Orwellian in Cleveland in April, who describe their use of the “Orwellian” adjective as: “…an attitude and a brutal policy of draconian control by propaganda, surveillance, misinformation, denial of truth, and manipulation of the past.” That sounds like your own critique on ‘Eye of Providence’!
DANNY: Maybe we could strike up a good conversation!
MD: Obviously, Orwell was quite prophetic but do you think something like James Cameron’s ‘Terminator’ franchise of movies will transpire to be a reality in the future?
DANNY: It could be. I think that’s a little bit less likely. Things would have to get really bad for that to happen. They want to keep everyone in a low sense of happiness so that’s more likely gonna happen rather than massive cybernetic wars and things like that. Maybe a ‘Matrix’ scenario could end up happening where virtual reality could get more and more possible and good for people where they think: “I’d rather live in this world where everything’s happy and I’ll just go to sleep instead of living in this world.”
MD: Finally then, as the album’s general theme is centred around some of the pernicious consequences of technological progress for humanity and the more widespread, invasive use of technology, I guess it’s also important to remember there’s also a positive side to advancing technology too. So, to redress the balance, if you had to write a song about the positive side of technological progress, what would it be?
DANNY: [Laughs] I do think that it’s amazingly positive. It’s not like an anti-technology concept to the album; it’s just that I find it so interesting and unbelievable, the world that we live in. Like, for example, without technology, The Agonist would not be where it is. We’re, very much, a product of a band breaking out through the internet and social media. It wasn’t traditional, you know. We did it completely through that and we have a very strong online following. I never would’ve found Vicky without YouTube. You know, all these things, so it has so many positive effects. As I was saying before, when technology will fuse with the body, eventually, it’ll all be for good things. Like, you’ll no longer need to take antibiotics because if cancer enters your body, your nanotechnology is automatically gonna destroy it. And that’s it, no more cancer. So, many good things but it’s like with anything, man can corrupt them because man is inherently selfish, so you’ll have people using it for bad things at the same time.
MD: Well, thanks so much for your time, a very interesting chat.
DANNY: Great, thanks.