Sunday, 3 March 2013

An Interview with Dyonisis

After listening to the breathtaking album "Intoxicated" by the unique Dyonisis, I managed to get in touch with them for an in-depth interview. Read ahead to find out how they came to be, what makes them tick and what they have planned for the future.

1. First off… as I said in my review, if alcohol is the main influence on your music then what the hell are you drinking?

Nel: Hahaha! Mostly cheap lager from the cornershop, our favourite is a drink called Primus, Intoxicated was practically fuelled by it!

Tom: I think we stated alcohol as an influence as Nel and I first got to know each other in the haze of our student drinking days, and the idea of writing songs first came up when we’d had a few too many!

2. It’s been quite a while since the release of the mind-blowing “Intoxicated”, are you working on anything else yet?

Nel: Yes, we'd love to have some new material to play to people, for our own sanity if nothing else! We've a few songs written already that we've been playing out live and, thus far, the feedback has been good. On the whole though, we've always had the philosophy that it's better to take your time and make sure that you're happy that the material is strong enough to be released first. It's frustrating for both the band and fans when there are long gaps, but we'd rather get the music as good as possible first, rather than throw out something half-written and expect people to pay for it regardless.

3. The composition and mixing on “Intoxicated” is near perfect, as you’ve probably read across the web I’m not the only person who thinks so. How did you achieve this, and was it hard work?

Nel: Oh man was it ever! There are things we'd do differently if we made it again, but we pored over those songs with a fine-toothed comb, arguing countless times over tempos and midsections. But for all that hard work, it could just have easily been disliked by everyone, it's the gamble you take! You make yourself very vulnerable in releasing something, and when you've poured a lot into it, it can be gutting when you get the inevitable bad reviews (praise will never be universal). On the flipside though, it's really rewarding during the times when all that time and effort is appreciated, so thank you! Much as we know that not everyone will like what we've produced, the positive feedback makes it feel like all of those arguments and debates and tears were not in vain!

Tom: We spent a lot of time debating and plotting how we wanted the album to sound, and in some respects we managed it, and with others not. As a musician the challenge is to try and recreate the ideas, themes and sounds in your head, which can be pretty challenging at times.
We had a lot of help from our long term engineer and co-producer Dan Worrell, who’s studio we used to record most of the album, and who then mixed and mastered it. There’s a lot of strong opinions in the band about what direction things should go in, but it’s also incredibly useful to have to have opinions and ideas from outside the band.

4. Even though it would probably make lots of heads totally explode, do you think you could make something even better in the future?

Nel: Hahaha – well “better” will always be a subjective term it's good to aim high though! I think we always want to get better with each release. With the first album it was my  first band and I knew nothing about recording so we stuck some carpet underlay to the wall and recorded it at home using some of the daftest techniques possible (in retrospect!) The songs were also less experimental and the lyrics not always as cohesive as on Intoxicated. With what we learned about songwriting and recording since then, it was easy to improve on that for Intoxicated. However, the learning curve only gets steeper after that! I think that all we can do is write the best that we can, and make songs that we're all happy with and then we'll have to wait and see whether it's considered better or worse after we release it. Scary stuff!

Tom: As far as we’re concerned there’s no point releasing a new album that we don’t feel surpasses the last one in both song writing and production, which is the main reason the material we’re working on at the moment is more of a challenge for us than ever before. Our first album, Dyonisis, was the sound of us learning to write and play together as a band, and when it came to the follow up ‘Intoxicated’ we worked hard to make sure we had a cohesive album we were proud of. Intoxicated turned out pretty well so it’s a tall order to top it in a lot of respects.

5. What was it like emerging as a band that doesn’t quite sound like anything else?

Nel: People get confused I think! It's a double edged sword because we have the potential to appeal to a variety of people, who are into a broad spectrum of genres, but you'll also get critisied for not being "X" or "Y"-genre enough for some tastes. Because of this, it can sometimes be tricky to fit into specific magazines/gigs/radio shows, but on the other hand, those who feel like we fall within their remit enough to give us exposure tend to be happy to stick their neck out on something a bit leftfield, even if it's just to add a bit of variety 

Tom: It’s both a blessing and a curse to be honest. I don’t think our sound is particularly radical, but we hope it has a distinct feel and sound of its own which helps us stand out from other bands and attract listeners from many genres. But the other side of that is that it can be hard to get exposure for the music, especially in the early days. 

6. It seems as though so many bands want to sound just like somebody else or everybody else, why do you think this is? Would you find it unfulfilling if you didn’t have your own sound?

Tom: Most bands seem to form through common musical influences – it makes sense for people with the same musical tastes to start making music together, but the result of that is that they’re likely to sound a lot like the bands that influence them. It was slightly different with Dyonisis as we formed the band more out of friendship that common tastes. Myself and Nel met a university and started writing songs together because she was the only singer I knew at the time! Marcus joined on bass on a temporary basis originally as he was busy with several other projects, but his style fitted really well with the songs we had so it became a permanent arrangement and expanded the sound we had. We had a few different singers alongside Nel in the early days, but we met Lou as a friend of Marcus’, and again her voice and attitude fitted well with the band and so she became our last recruit.
We’re all very different people with different styles and influences, and although we do share some common musical influences everyone brings a different dynamic to the sound which has lead us to the sound we have today. On top of that I think there’s a determination in the band to create a slightly unique sound; it’s all well and good trying to sound like the bands you love, but more often than not they did it a hundred times better than you ever could! 

Nel: I think it's natural to want to emulate your heroes, but personally, yes, it would feel much less fulfilling to feel like there wasn't enough personal expression within the sound. Sometimes I think that people get afraid of straying from an imaginary blueprint of what they "should" sound like, rather than seeing what sounds that their own particular combination of members produces. It's a shame because that attitude can be restrictive and (personally speaking) I see it as almost short-changing your own potential, and that of your bandmates. 

7. It seems as though the goth scene has welcomed your music with open arms, did you have any associations with the scene before the band, and did you intend to reach this audience?

Nel: Our bassist Marcus was very into all things Goth (as well as a few other genres) and we met Louisa because we all used to go to the same alt/Goth nights in our hometown. We didn't set out with the intention of courting any particular scene, but we've been so grateful to the Goth scene for being happy to cover us in fanzines, offer us gigs and include us in podcasts. The support of the UK Goth scene was what started to get our name out there, and allowed for us to play outside of our hometown for the first time. Goth-related music doesn't tend to have a problem with programmed beats and electronics, which can upset some rock and metal purists. I suspect that some of the appeal to a Gothic audience would be the exploration of the more emotionally dark side of the human psyche in the lyrics, also.

8. Do you think the future is bright for gothic music?

Nel: I'm sure Goths prefer the future to be mist shrouded, enigmatic and brooding ;-P 
Every genre has its ups and downs, and times when the overall standard is “better” than others. Where it is currently is hard to say, but there are enough good bands out there to make me feel hopeful.

9. You've been labelled as all sorts of things from metal to shoegaze. Are there any labels you really disagree with, and what genre do you see yourselves as?

Tom: It’s always hard to try and define a genre, which is the reason we invented the tag ‘ethereal rock’, as it’s the closest we can come up with. There are a few descriptions of our music that take us by surprise but there’s so many elements and influences in the songs that we can usually see where they’re coming  from. It’s always fun when reviewers branch out from comparing us to other bands and try and describe us in other ways, I think that can often be more effective and evocative.

Nel: There are some that are definitely more confusing to hear us described as than others! Personally, I don't think that we sound very metal, but we have plenty of fans who are really into the genre who describe us as such, so who are we to argue?! It's interesting to see that within any genre, there's still lots of debate and flexibility as to what that genre encompasses. Genres are sometimes useful as a broad brush, but the more detailed picture is often much more complicated, and the terminology can start to become more of a hindrance than a help after a while. I think that's why all but the most die-hard fans of most genres tend to include some flexibility as to who is "allowed" to be included in shows and things.

10. Why do you think your music is so hard to define, and do you think it’s a good or bad thing?

Nel: All four of us listen to very different stuff, and we simply combined the sounds and techniques each member brought to the table. The songs tend to appeal to an emotional streak within us, and we tend to frame the sounds and the structure around that emotional response, it liberates us from having to pay lip service to any one particular genre, so long as we like how it sounds, it has some form of impact and we enjoy playing it.

As previously alluded to, it can be good and bad. It provides us with a lot of freedom and a large potential fanbase, but in cases that need that "broad brush" approach, such as in print media, it can make life a bit more tough.

11. What inspires your music and what bands influence you?

Nel: The lyrics tend to be influenced by real life emotionally conflicting situations. Vocally I’m inspired by a lot of singers from the 90s such as Skin, Katie Jane Garside and Sarah Bettens. Marcus is pretty Reggae inspired and Louisa enjoys the epic classical sweeps of filmscore music.
Tom: It’s hard to list specific bands as we all have so many different musical influences, but I think that all adds to the fun. In my opinion a good song is the most important thing and we try and blend all our different influences around that.

12. Is there any recurring theme or a message you want to get across?

Nel: Not consciously, although lyrically things often revolve around whatever's been bugging me lately! I think to communicate something accurately you need to acknowledge that most things in life are emotionally complex, and nothing is simple. Life is bitter-sweet and acknowledging the light and the dark together gives a more accurate picture of human experience. It's also about finding the beauty that's embedded in life, despite how bleak it can feel sometimes.

13. Do you have any specific goals or things you’d like to achieve in your music career?

Nel: Everything that's ever happened through the band has already felt like a dream come true! When we started out we agreed to ride it out as far as it took us, until we felt like we were either plateauing, or not having fun anymore. So I guess we want to keep playing as big a variety of shows as possible and to keep loving what we're doing, that's enough for us!

14. What lessons have you learnt from being a musician so far, and what has been the low point and highlight of your career as a band?

Tom: There’s been many low points – shambolic gigs, critical reviews, late nights on the motorway when you can’t help thinking ‘why do we bother?’ But these are eclipsed by the rewards of being in a band, getting to write and record the music you love, the thrill of being on stage, and knowing that people enjoy and connect with the songs we write. 

Nel: So much to choose from...! 

I guess I've learned that you never stop learning! That there are always people more talented than you out there, and those whom you consider to be not so good, so it's worth not getting too caught up in comparing yourself to others - just learn what you can from good and bad examples of technique without getting personal about it.

Always try and be as helpful to those working alongside you as possible. Almost everyone you meet in this game has a none-music job which pays the bills, and most people sacrifice a lot of their free time and income to make the music scene what it is. Making life as easy and fun for everyone as possible gives respect to what they give in return.

Lowpoints... Any gig where you know you're not performing your best. It's one thing to perform badly, but to do so in front of people who have paid and given up their time to see you is one of the most awful feelings in the world.

Highlights... There are a few gigs where everything had clicked together brilliantly. There was one occasion when we were playing with a band that we had played with the previous weekend, and the proceeding gig had gone pretty badly. The band in question tried to use this to undermine our confidence and were being particularly vicious towards me during our soundcheck. The resulting anger drove us all to play better than we had ever done to date. The atmosphere in that Rock Bar's basement was electrifying as we poured that anger into the music... Maybe that's another lesson, don't waste your time trying to undermine the people you are playing with, you might just piss them off enough for it to bite you in the ass!

It would also be impossible not to mention being invited to play with ASP last year at a special open-air event he put on featuring ourselves, Persephone ASP and his Von Zauberberbrudern acoustic project. Not only is it every musician's fairytale to be personally invited to play alongside an artist that you have spent years admiring, but also the park was beautiful, everyone was lovely, there was a full moon and a great crowd - it felt like a terrifying and fanastical dream!

15. If you could be in any other band which would it be?

Nel: Ooo... Tricky! I think personally for me it would have to be Skunk Anansie, I grew up loving their music and they were the first band where I learned to appreciate listening to more deeply, to the other parts of the music besides the vocals. I could never replicate Skin though, that woman is phenominal! A duet would blow my mind, however!

16. Which musician would you most like to work with?

Nel: I find Tool's music brilliant and infatuating, so any of those guys would be amazing! Or maybe writing for someone like Sarah Bettens, her husky voice really speaks to me.

Tom: A Tool duet would be amazing! But we are quite lucky that we’ve been able to work with some amazing musicians over the years, and we’re currently working with DJ Wayne Sealey to bring his experience and style to our new songs. I’m not sure I’d work too well with the guitarists I admire as our approach would probably be too similar, but there are some amazing singers I’d love to work with, Chino Moreno from Deftones has a fantastic voice and a really unique approach to writing melodies.

17. If you could put any band or genre of music in room 101 which would it be?

Nel: Ahhh no fair! It might sound glib but I really do believe that every genre offers something to the listener and that everything is valid. However, because of the power of music to appeal to the emotions and communicate in an almost animalistic way, I'd have to say music with a far-right message, or anything that props up hatred for utterly ridiculous and destructive reasons.

18. Is there anything else you would put in room 101?

Nel: All my Dyonisis-related files were wiped recently thanks to a computer virus so topically (and probably selfishly seeing as I should put “abuse of power” or some such here!) I'm going to say computer viruses and all of that ilk!

19. When can people next catch you live?

Nel: We've nothing official booked for 2013 yet, as we've been focusing heavily on writing new material and with bill-paying jobs as well, it's not been possible for us to fit the necessary rehearsing in, but we're chomping at the bit to get back out there, so if you keep an eye on our official facebook then we promise we'll be shouting about any gigs in the coming year, as well as sharing demos of new material as we go!

I'd like to say big thank you to Tom and Nel of Dyonisis for taking the time to return such a detailed, thoughtfully answered and interesting interview.