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14th March 2010
METAL DISCOVERY: How was the show from your perspective tonight?
JULIE KISS: Well, I guess I shouldn’t be negative but it was not great! [laughs]
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(Julie Kiss on the inanity of genderising music through the "female fronted metal" label)
"We just play gigs whatever, wherever; if it’s a female fronted metal fest, fine, but I do get frustrated about the generalisation. It’s actually because there is such a varied scene within female fronted metal. It’s like saying “male fronted metal”."
Julie Kiss in The World's End pub, Camden, London, UK, 14th March 2010
Photograph copyright © 2010 Mark Holmes - www.metal-discovery.com
Interview & Photography by Mark Holmes
To-Mera burst onto the scene back in 2006 with the release of their debut album 'Transcendental' on Candlelight Records, a genuinely innovative and original set of compositions that achieved that rare feat within the all too often self-imitative genre of prog-metal - that is to say, music that was actually progressive on its own terms without succumbing to the generic idioms rife within the output of so many other bands who are supposedly "progressive". Beyond that, they also managed to succeed in producing music that forged an adept balance between accessibility and experimentation, never distancing the listener through all the sonic heterogeneity at work in the songs. Continuing with their autonomously progressive aesthetic on sophomore full length release 'Delusions' in 2008, also on Candlelight, and then a self-released EP towards the end of last year, To-Mera have also proved themselves to have progressed musically as a band, perhaps due in part to various lineup changes since their original inception, but undoubtedly also through their continued iconoclastic approach to songwriting. I met up with the band's vocalist, Julie Kiss, for a chat shortly after their support slot for Theatre of Tragedy at the Camden Underworld mid-March 2010. Settling down at a table in the World's End pub, discussions commence...
MD: In what sense?
JK: We just said backstage after the show that this is probably the second worst sound we’ve ever had onstage.
MD: When was the worst sound?
JK: That was in Leicester. This was close.
MD: Tom’s guitar sounded very weak in the mix.
JK: Yeah, onstage there was no guitar at all. Nobody could hear the guitar. The in-ear monitors just went - “sssshhhhhh”, then I took them out and there was nothing in the monitor and I thought ohhhhh, this is not good! So I didn’t feel great. I don’t know why but this tends to happen at every London gig, we have some technical problem. I don’t know why; it’s some sort of curse! Every London show, something goes wrong. The day started with our sound man calling us and saying, “my sister’s just been in an car accident and I have to go and see her”.
MD: Who did your sound tonight; was it one of the in-house sound guys?
JK: Yeah, it was just the in-house guy.
MD: So you’ve supported Theatre of Tragedy - are, or were, you a fan of the band?
JK: I don’t actually know them that much. They’re quite cool actually; I’ve only just checked them out and I saw in their friends list on MySpace they had Tiamat who I really like so I thought ahhh, that’s interesting. I thought they had quite a few influences from them as well so I thought that was quite cool.
MD: It was announced in the middle of last year that To-Mera had left Candlelight - was that always a two album deal you had with them?
JK: No, I think it was three or four albums but it was on a “we will agree on the terms and conditions before each album”. Basically, we just didn’t agree on the terms for the next album so we thought, well, we’ll just go and do it ourselves.
MD: Yeah, you self-released an EP last year - did you make any efforts to find a label or was it always your intention to become more autonomous as a band free from record companies?
JK: Well, we did really want to try and see what we could do just by ourselves but, at the same time, it was an unfortunate time because we are also busy at the moment with various other things.
MD: Of course, yeah, you’re finishing a degree.
JK: Exactly, I’m finishing in October. It’s been interesting and a lot more positive than we thought it would be. Also, a lot more hard work! [laughs] We sent out a few CDs but this is a really tough time for bands to get signed, especially if you’re a bit weird which people tend to think that we are. So, I don’t know, we’ll see.
MD: So have you set up your own label, or is it a more DIY self-release thing?
JK: No, we recorded it, pressed some CDs, sold it through our MySpace and got some distribution deals in Europe mostly.
MD: Your band seemed to gather quite a bit of momentum during the first couple of years and you seemed to get a lot of press in the big mags but that seems to have faded a little bit now. Why do you think your profile has waned a bit?
JK: I don’t know, you’ll have to ask them! [laughs] Maybe they got bored with us! I’m not sure. I think, also, the first album had a lot more Goth elements…the second album was a lot more techy and a lot more riff-based, and I think a lot of the fans of ‘Transcendental’ thought “huh?!”. So I think it could be a bit of that. The good thing was that we got a different kind of fan base as well as some of the old fans who stuck with us, and we kind of managed to get away from this “female fronted metal” tag a little bit with that album as well and more into the prog metal genre.
MD: That kind of leads nicely onto my next question. Do you find it frustrating when music is generalised where you get the “female fronted metal” label because you always read that in the press, and I think worse when people consider that a genre of metal. I mean, for me, it’s better to judge music free from gender and not just on the basis a band has a female singer. It should just be about the music.
JK: Yeah, absolutely. To be honest with you, recently, I just try not to think about it much. We just play gigs whatever, wherever; if it’s a female fronted metal fest, fine, but I do get frustrated about the generalisation. It’s actually because there is such a varied scene within female fronted metal. It’s like saying “male fronted metal”.
MD: Exactly, and there’s no such label in the media.
JK: Yeah, it’s totally ridiculous and totally frustrating.
MD: I kind of ask this of all bands that regard themselves as progressive because I get varied and interesting answers, but what do you think constitutes progressive in terms of music as a band?
JK: In our view it’s more about trying to push the boundaries a bit; trying to do something a bit more original; bringing in new elements. Just doing something a bit more individual with a bit more individuality. I’m not sure if I’m using the right terms here, but…[laughs]
MD: Of course, yeah, individuality is a good term to use in music!
JK: I know there are two different ways of thinking about it. One is technical, and then there’s prog-rock as a genre and the fact there are so many similar bands.
MD: Yeah, for me, there’s progressive as a genre and then music that’s actually progressing something. I think the best answer someone ever gave was when I asked the Vulture Industries singer, the Norwegian band, and he said that having a genre called progressive is a paradox. He came up with the term “regressive metal” for all the so called prog metal bands who aren’t actually progressive!
JK: Ah, yeah! [laughs]
MD: What’s the most bizarre label you’ve ever heard or read for To-Mera’s music?
JK: I think somebody once said…it wasn’t a term as such, but somebody once said that “they’re trying to sound like Nightwish but the musicians think that they are in Cynic”! Or something like that…[laughs] I thought - “huh?!”
MD: There’s kind of a compliment buried in that statement somewhere! That’s quite interesting!
JK: There was also an interesting Russian review where he said that the music was very repetitive! [laughs]
MD: Really?!
JK: He said it was all the same riffs and I thought, has he listened to the right album?!
MD: Or your band at all! Very strange!
JK: Yes, very strange! [laughs]