17/08/2006 § Leave a comment
Band Interviews – Band Interviews
Written by Sam Grant
Thursday, 17 August 2006
Present – Sam Grant, Julie Kiss, Lee Barrett, Tom Maclean, Hugo Sheppard, Paul Westwood
Sam: Why did you choose the name To-Mera?
Julie: Well, I was reading a book about Egypt and I just saw this name and I thought it sounds pretty good. So I thought that will do!
Sam: It’s as good a reason as any. Does it have a meaning?
Julie: Yes, the Ancient Egyptians used to call Egypt To-Mera. I always liked Egypt and all the mysticism, the whole idea.
Sam: After you left Without Face did you immediately want to start another band or was it an idea that marinated over an amount of time?
Julie: No, I wanted to start another band immediately. I dunno, I suppose I was quite angry as well, I felt like I had to do something right now and that’s when the idea came. I wanted to do something heavier and more technical, maybe. Originally we wanted to do something with some Eastern influences but that idea was dropped, but I’m glad it turned out as it did.
Sam: I’ve noticed that so far some people are describing your sound as Symphony X-ish, Dillinger Escape Plan-ish – we’ll forget the Nightwish comparisons for the moment, because you’ll get a lot of those, – but do you think that’s an accurate representation of your sound?
Lee: Yeah, I think we’re more happy with being described next to them rather than Lacuna Coil or Nightwish – nothing against those bands at all…
Tom: The fact is that I don’t own a Lacuna Coil album and I have a few Nightwish mp3s. Obviously everybody knows the Evanescence song that was number one a couple of years ago but Without Face was the only ‘female-fronted metal’ that I was exposed to and I thought ‘I like the sound of this’. I discovered the whole female-fronted universe was dictated to by ‘the Triad‘, but I wouldn’t say that they had the slightest influence whatsoever because we don’t listen to their music. They might be the kind of anti-movement inasmuch as we know what they sound like so we know what to avoid.
Lee: I don’t know, that’s possibly a good analogy, it’s not on purpose that we don’t want to sound like any of these guys but –
Tom: We just had no direct exposure to them.
Sam: But what you’re saying about moving away from them – the anti-movement – is a relevant thing because your sound is very complex and the sound of those bands is very basic. But what other bands would you describe your sound as?
Tom: A bit of Dream Theater, the unavoidable classic ones…
Lee: Dream Theater, Symphony X
Julie: Pain of Salvation…
Tom: And the more technical bands like Meshuggah and SikTh, but that’s only a more recent influence, really.
Sam: The thing I noticed most about the CD was the whole Meshuggah, Ephel Duath, Carnival In Coal thing. Though Pain Of Salvation and Symphony X may be influential it was the technicality behind those. You’ve got a lot of jazzy sections as well.
Tom: Yeah, the odd handle. I personally – I don’t about the other guys – I kind of inflicted it upon them I suppose – I always wanted to fuse jazz and metal in terms of rhythm and harmony, not in the sense of the likes of Ephel Duath, which is a lot more avant-garde. It was basically the drummer that defined their jazz sound to be honest, what was playing on top of it wasn’t really jazz but more avant-garde. I’ve been studying jazz and thinking maybe we can take this a little further make it a little less ’out there’, make it a little but more melodic maybe, and just see if those principles fly. And I think there’s a long long way to go to exploit it to the fullest but… haha, our keyboardist is nodding in agreement – he’s our jazz-master.
Sam: I might be wrong about this, but how long did it take to get the whole To-Mera band line-up. Was it eighteen months? From the moment you started looking for people – which was the beginning of 2004 – till Hugo’s inclusion.
Julie: We started the band when I went back to Hungary for the summer. Originally it was Akos, the drummer who plays on the album, and the guitarist from Without Face. We tried to get the whole thing together but it just failed miserably. So I came back to England and started looking for other people like Stu.
Lee: The guitar player from Desolation. And Jay who used to be in Mindfield and… was it Vacant Stare? Yeah, Vacant Stare was his other band. He was decent enough at the stuff – it’s just that he’d turn up for a rehearsal like this and nothing would happen, we’d just be playing one riff over and over again and everyone would just be like ‘ahhh just forget it’. It wasn’t really till Tom was found – well, he found us – he picked up the ball and ran with it, really.
Sam: Was it frustrating waiting for long a final line-up to take shape?
Lee: We’d almost given up, to a point.
Sam: Yeah, I was trawling through some of your old posts on PM:X from a couple of years ago. Was there a time when you thought “this isn’t going to happen“?
Lee: Basically. We were looking for a keyboard player for bloody ages
Julie: I nearly never contacted Tom!
Tom: It took her about two months to get back to me. I gave her my number and I thought ‘this is just never going to happen’ or email address or something, and just out of the blue I got an email from her.
Sam: Now that Akos is no longer in the band and that Tom is in, how easily did his style and personality fit in with yours? Was it an easy and swift gelling?
Tom: His personality is pretty tough, know what I mean?! Since he’s been taking the vitamins he’s much better! All credit to Akos, he was a very imaginative drummer, very skilful drummer, but obviously when it came to finding a replacement we needed to find someone who could just do the job and we didn’t want to pick up someone and just train them through the motions. We found Paul and he could pick the stuff up, that’s what we wanted, someone who could just listen to it and play it, so we gave him a swift audition on the demo, ran through the tracks a couple of times and figured he was the man for the job.
Sam: [to Paul] You have seemed to have picked it up extremely quickly.
Paul: Yeah, I think they were sort of feeding the tracks to me one by one and I was just playing through them. A lot of hard work, really.
Sam: It would take some people a lot longer, they’re very difficult songs to do, especially the instrumental to Obscure Oblivion.
Paul: I have a bit of experience of progressive metal so it’s quite easy to get back into that way of thinking, to see how things are done, to see the shapes.
Sam: You’ve all got different musical background in a sense. Hugo’s is more classical…
Hugo: Not really….
Sam: Not really?
Hugo: Not at all, I’m not classically trained, I’m not jazz trained. I have interest in those things and I enjoy playing them…
Sam: So what kind of stuff were you listening to a few years ago?
Hugo: A variety of things, I wasn’t big into metal before. It always seemed a world unto itself to me. I always admired the metal scene, but it was a whole secret garden that I wasn’t involved in. So I met Tom through a friend and he played me some stuff – and played me some To-Mera stuff – and I got really into it.
Sam: So you didn’t find it hard – musically – adapting to some of the parts.
Hugo: It took some practise. It’s not easy, but I find a lot of it quite intuitive. It has a lot of very strong melodies in it. It’s never intellectual at the expense of being something you can’t understand. You get a feel for it, you understand it, and then it makes sense and that’s important with music, you have to be able to understand it. Once you can feel where the rhythm is and where the melody is you’re much better off.
Lee: It also helps that Hugo came from an outside perspective so he’s not influenced by all the guys out of say, Stratovarius. If we’d found anyone else on keyboards, especially if they were well into their metal, they’d just run up and down the scales as quickly as possible .
Tom: We were looking for someone who didn’t sound like bloody…. What’s his name… thingy… Jens Johansson from Stratovarius or the guy from Nightwish.
Sam: Oh, Tuomas Halopainen.
Tom: There’s a very generic sound among keyboard players.
Sam: A lot of it’s just fudging out the background sound, filling in the spaces.
Tom: We wanted someone who had started from the outside.
Sam: You’ve got five live dates coming up so far, haven’t you. How are you feeling about playing Bloodstock?
Lee: I’m excited, I think it’s going to be good!
Sam: A bit apprehensive at all?
Lee: The one I’m most nervous about is The Peel. Particularly because it’s quite a small stage and the sound isn’t always the best.
Julie: It’s terrible…
Lee: And the fact that there are a couple of competent support bands as well.
Sam: Who’s supporting?
Lee: The drummer from Threshold’s band.
Sam: Oh f***, Kyrb Grinder. He’s good.
Lee: Yeah I know…
Tom: We’ve got Paul so we’re not worried!
Sam: He’s a total nutcase, that guy. He played at the West Kensington thing – the unsigned regionals – Adastreia were doing it.
Tom: West One Four.
Lee: I saw him with Threshold at their Prog Power thing, he was really fucking battering them.
Sam: So what other songs can we expect to hear live apart from the album tracks?
Julie: We can tell you that, but after that we have to kill you…
Tom: This is off the record…
Sam: Will you be playing the Dream Theater cover?
Lee: Under A Glass Moon.. And then…. [mumbles intentionally]
Tom: And then possibly that other tune…
Lee: Vince DiCola.
Sam: And then the Richard Clayderman cover as well.
Lee: Bobby Crush. Some Chaz & Dave. I think we’re doing Gercher. Sweaty Betty by The Macc Lads.
Sam: The artwork on the album. Eliran Kantor. A good friend of Miri’s [Distorted]. How did you come into contact with him?
Lee: We came into contact with him by sending out a bulletin on MySpace and saying ’can anyone program websites and do it for cheap?’ And he wrote back – he was one of about thirty people who wrote back. Some of them were just appalling. Like Geocities, some nonsense that some 15-year old had put together. He put this thing together that was obviously very good. I had to pay him a little more than I was hoping, I was being a bit stingy but it was still damn cheap when you think about it, and it just came to it that he was a very good designer. I think we were um-ing and ah-ing about the artwork for a little while, weren’t we. And thought ‘fuck it let’s just go with the website design’.
Sam: How do you feel the style of the artwork reflects your sound? Or do you feel it reflects your sound?
Lee: Well, it’s kind of abstract, isn’t it. I don’t think anyone could pick up the CD and tell what kind of music is going to be inside it.
Sam: No, it’s not clichéd.
Lee: There are no naked women with wings.
Julie: Actually there is one inside the cover.
Tom: Is that you?!
Lee: No, it’s me. With man breasts.
Sam: [looking at the next question] Oh right…. Yeah..
Tom: You’re so surprised with all these questions, you’re like ‘ooh!!’
Sam: No no, because I wrote this like, three of four weeks ago…
Lee: Oh right, I thought you wrote it on the tube on the way here.
Sam: Might as well have done. There are a lot of inaccurate comparisons made between other female-fronted bands like Lacuna Coil, Evanescence. What other female-fronted bands do you like and do you think these are unfair comparison?
Tom: Elfonia I like, they’ve got the whole jazz/prog thing, they’ve done it really well actually. They’ve fused the two quite seamlessly. But they’re not a metal band, really.
Sam: Yes, they’re almost ethereal in a sense.
Lee: I like Madder Mortem. Atrox. I like some of the Stream Of Passion songs, I think they’re quite good.
Sam: You weren’t sure about them at first, were you.
Lee: No no, it didn’t hit me, and then all of a sudden I heard that song, I think it’s called Passion. It’s got such a great chorus.
Sam: Bearing in mind that at the moment metal seems to be very much divided into ‘male-fronted’ and ‘female fronted’ do you think there’s ever a time when the term ‘female-fronted’ will disappear or do you think there‘s always going to be this ridiculous segregation?
Lee: I think so, because things have got more and more pigeonholed over the years rather than less. You’ve got fucking forest metal, tree metal, it’s just another journalist’s excuse – lazy journalists I suppose – to pigeonhole metal into whatever they see fit. They don’t actually think about trying to describe something.
Sam: Julie – growing up in Hungary – what got you interested in metal in the first place? I imagine there isn’t a huge metal scene in Hungary.
Julie: Um, there is actually.
Sam: What bands are there?
Julie: There are lots of thrashy bands, rock and roll, actually the most famous bands in Hungary which are really big are rock bands, and then there are others like old-fashioned rock and roll. There are lots of different styles, there are loads of interesting ones coming up, like some Hungarian folk ones. To answer your question, I think when I was about ten I got an Iron Maiden album and I’d never heard anything like it in my life and I thought it was great, but for a couple of years after I didn’t hear anything like that, and then I had this friend who was a really big Metallica fan and that’s when I really got into this whole metal thing.
Sam: Is there anything about Hungary that you miss and what’s better about the UK than Hungary?
Julie: Obviously I miss my family…
Sam: I imagine the UK is far better for metal, for a start.
Julie: Yeah, yeah definitely.
Sam: And you’ll play a lot more gigs. I can’t think of many other female-fronted progressive metal bands from the UK at all.
Tom: Female-fronted Progressive metal. See, this is a label now.
Sam: Is progressive metal a label? It’s your own label as well though. Well, I think that’s about it. How you got any final words for anyone who will read this interview?
Lee: Um.. Buy our CD!
Sam: Which is out on –
Lee: 11th September and 3rd October in America.