Interview for Mrocznastrefa.com ( Poland )
Answered by : Chaoth – December 2011
Hi! This is Kepol from Dark Zone. I’ve red some announcements about Your newest record “Fables of the Sleepless Empire” and even taking them into account, I’m in state of shock! I love unrestrained avant-garde music, but You are undoubtedly one of the most interesting bands! What idea lies behind UNEXPECT? Desire to trespass musical boundaries, wish to create something that can’t be classified by journalists and fans or simply – love to making truly avant-garde music?
Well, initially, like any group of musicians coming together, the idea was simply to make music and write music that would be an answer to what anybody in the band would have as an influence, and this is in the late 90′s (yes, Unexpect has quite a history) but the band quickly turned into it’s second phase (We, Invaders.. and on..) with some member change (that’s when I, Leï and Landryx come in the picture, circa 2003). That’s when the band started experimenting with new sounds with songs like Desert Urbania and Summoning Scenes that were already in the work before we (the new members) came in anyway so, I guess the transition to this was natural. There was no moment where the band consciously said ”Alright, this is the music we’re gonna play now”… it really happened gradually as a common taste for extreme and different was being fulfilled by the band members. There is no moment when it all came clear but, I must say that one song that sticks out as a ”everything-goes” moment would be Summoning Scenes. Writing that song was like ”really ? Can we do that ?”. Actually, it’s really the critics that told us that we were doing something new and different and weird. We really were just recording the songs we’ve been working on but, yeah maybe, as we were doing it, we had that feel that there was something there….
I won’t deny that “Fables of the Sleepless Empire” is my first contact with Your music. How can You describe the previous materials, namely – “Utopia” and “In a Flesh Aquarium”? Few words about the main musical ideas concerned each of them would be nice. What new are You bringing on Your newest album?
Like I was saying, there was no musical concept or ideas behind those records, it really was just recording the songs we’ve been working on. ”Utopia” was the initial record that was an answer to the initial members love for European melodic metal that was a rather new trend back then and Unexpect was the first Quebec band to touch this style and make it his own here. It still amazes me to this day that they wrote that record when they were only 17-18 ! And then IAFA was the peak of the new experimentations. We never really toured extensively at that point so it was more of a studio project almost, that we learned to play and present live and that became the band that we are today. Now FOTSE, by far my favorite record, is the evolution of all those years and all those influences and experiences. We grew a lot as musicians as we toured a lot in the last years and worked on music so much in the past that, well, we got somewhat good at it and this record is really the balance between our extreme madness and a more making-sense-song-writting attitude. The way I see it
It’s easier to describe Your music in a abstract way than by the names of the genres. “Cirque du Soleil goes metal amidst an acid-trip version of The Dark Crystal” is one of them, but mine personal is: “neo classical prog metal meets Tim Burton cartoons”. “Unsolved Ideas of a Distorted Guest” and “Unfed Pendulum” sounds exactly like that. Did You tried to refer to cartoon soundtracks while composing material for “Fables of the Sleepless Empire”? FANTOMAS experimented with such things before, but convention is still fresh…
To be honest, even the circusy/cartoony feel of the band is not even intentional. Blame our use of the chromatic scale and 3-4 rythms but really, they’re just musical notions that we apply to our sound. Everybody in the band has some musical training of some sort and we like to use those tools and apply it to what we do. Of course we love Tim Burton and his visual world but, I don’t think that it was ever an influence… well…. maybe in the We, Invaders days actually.
Most of the tracks from “Fables of the Sleepless Empire” making an impression of few works played together in the same time. There are lot of intelligent dissonances between some parts or surfaces of Your tracks. Were elements of each track made in the same time? What was the most important thing while composing that cosmos of elements together?
Most of the material was composed in a rather short period of time, yes. I’d say that 75 % of the album was composed over a period of 6 months. All (or most) of the material was recorded and ready by the end of 2009 but we took a long time figuring out all the details of the final edit and our new path as a band, which was a big thing. When we finished the album we still didn’t knew if we’d go on with a label or if it would be and indie release and that took a long time to sort out. I don’t know exactly what was the most important thing while composing… I don’t know really. We never had a concept or an overall view or idea of the record. It really was just about working on the songs that we had at the moment, which is what we always did.
Didn’t You afraid that You’d go too far while arranging songs? UNEXPECT is a one, big, musical enterprise, a kind of a musical theater, but there are some good taste’s boundaries after all. How are You seeing future evolvement of band’s music?
No, we weren’t afraid at all of crossing forbidden borders… because, for one, that is exactly what we like to do… and second… I feel like this record was based on a more ”making-sense” philosophy where everything was breathing and balanced and where every idea was exploited for what they could be. If anything, the good taste boundarie was crossed and destroyed with ”In a Flesh Aquarium” but ”Fables of the Sleepless Empire” is a way more balanced record.
You’ve mixed Your newest record with Jef Fortin at Badass Studio. I think that mixes are the key stage while producing such complex album as “Fables of the Sleepless Empire”. How much time mixes have taken? Was it very hard to put all pieces together? What difficulties You had to overcome?
Yes, Jef did an amazing job and was incredibly patient with our excessive demands, hehe. Syriak and Leï spent countless hours with him in the studio overviewing all the details and guiding him through the process so it really was a team effort. It’s never easy to mix something that wide and it’s hard to know where to start but, basically, once you have a solid drum/guitar/bass mix, you can add all the other elements one by one… I wasn’t there but, like I said, Syriak and Leï could go on about the specifics of that incredible headache.
You’re coming from Canada, but if I had to guess Your inspiration, I would point such bands as WINDS, ARCTURUS, PECCATUM, ISHAHN, THOU SHALT SUFFER, ULVER which are Norwegian names. Are You truly looking favorably into Norway?
Not especially but I must say that Emperor and Arcturus were probably part of the earlier influences of the band in the late 90′s. Peccatum was a great project too and I remember spinning the record a lot when it came out but I wouldn’t say that the band is specific about Norway. We do have good friends in Trail of Tears which are from Norway as well. We did play Oslo once while on the Prog Nation Tour but that is the extent of our experience in this country. Of course, metal music owes a lot to the Scandinavian country so, I won’t say that we are directly influenced by it but I’m aware of the tremendous effect it had on melodic metal over the last 15 years.
Guitars, Keyboards and violins You’ve decided to record in home studios, while rhythm section and vocals was recorded in Badass with Jef Fortin. Why exactly such division? It means that Syriak, Borboen, Artagoth and Exod recorded some of their parts simply in their houses?
Yes, this is simply how it goes down in the 21st century I guess. It always gets easier to record high quality tracks in our home studios with all of the modern software and hardware available and we are all set-up at home to produce our own pre-production demos. So the guitars were recorded in home studios and re-amped and improved in studios with Jef Fortin’s gear and know-how. I had the chance to record the bass with him and it was a great experience. When you have the songs down, it doesn’t really matter if you record it separately because it’s the kind of music where everything is over-calculated and in it’s right place so, it’s just a matter of building the puzzle piece by piece.
How can You describe the specificity of studio recording sessions and stage performances of such numerous band as UNEXPECT? Your instrumentation is incredibly complex. It’s enough to mention that yet vocals consisting of few sorts of male and female vocals, including clean, growling, and theatrical kinds of it. There must be different difficulties and advantages of recording in studio and performing on stage…
Well, that is something that we hear a lot. We read people’s comments on the internet, wondering how the hell we could pull it off live because there is so much going on on the record but then they see us live and they get it. Every track that is on the record is played live and, us being 6 musicians all playing rather busy parts, there is more than enough substance in our live performances… maybe too much actually, hehe. Of course, everything is more polished in the studio… Vocals are a hard part to render in a live setting because, not only is there 3 leading vocalist but the actual parts are very dynamic and all over the place. After all these years, I’m still in awe in front of my guitar players when I realize that they play that stuff and sing their guts out at the same time… not exactly a walk in the park.
You’ve been appreciated by Mike Portnoy, whom seems to picking up valuable, in he’s opinion, names from time to time. You’ve hit the road as one participant of Progressive Nation 2009 Tour. How did You remember visit in Poland? How UNEXPECT have been received by the public waiting to see headliners? OPETH and DREAM THEATER are undoubtedly big names. Many not-accidental listeners You’ve seen near stage?
Hehe, I have a great memory of Poland actually. We were traveling in a bus all across Europe so every morning we were waking up in a new country next to the venue and around noon we were getting out of the bus to realize where we were. That day, as soon as I walked out of the bus, I was saluted by a bunch of Polish fans drinking beer and they put a big can of beer in my hand and that was my breakfast. On for a good day. After that, I remember spending an hour feeding ducks in a pond next to the venue… now THAT’s metal. I don’t remember the name of the venue we were playing in but it was brand new and, apparently, that night was the first show ever to take place in that venue. Also, a good thing about the Prog Nation crowd was that it was all prog fans that were open to new music. Most people were there for DREAM THEATER of course but they were also aware that the opening bands were Mike’s pick and they were all ears. That’s the cool thing about the prog crowd… the open-mind-ness. No cross-armed Slayer fan yawning at our weirdness. All in all, I have only good memories of Poland.
How would You assess the openness that polish listeners have for innovative, unconventional music? Did You had any opportunity to talk to some polish fans or journalists then?
Like I said, I did feel a great openness from the listeners from the very beginning of the evening. We usually always play the ”metal” gigs and that was very refreshing to be on a ”prog” tour. We did feel a difference in mentality and an open-mind like you say. I need to mention that one of my personal biggest instrumental influence is a polish guitarist called Adam Fulara. He pushed the boundaries of guitar playing and to be more specific the ”tapping” technique and brought it to new levels. He is known for his Bach adaptations on the 6 string and double neck guitar. I would recommend checking this cat out (yeah… cat… that’s how we cool musicians talk… cat…).
You’ll play some shows in Your country now. Any foreign performances ahead? Will You come to Poland to promote “Fables of the Sleepless Empire”?
I certainly wish we would but we don’t have any plans for this at the moment. We will indeed come back to Europe in the summer of 2012… maybe Poland will end up being part of the plan. I would personally love to go back. We have been confirmed on France’s HellFest and are waiting for some other festivals confirmation. More details to come…
I truly can’t hold myself from asking the question about Chaoth’s instrument :] Guy is playing on monstrual – 9 string bass! Have it been made upon request? Is there any manufacturer whom have such beast in He’s offer? Where did He get idea of using such instrument? 9 string guitars are rare stuff (excluding 12s) not to even mention about basses!
Well, you happen to have the right guy for this question. The bass was indeed custom made. There is no 9 string bass that are manufactured in series that I know of. The bass was built by Fred Bolton at Bee Basses in Oregon USA. He is specialized in ERB (stands for Extended Range Bass). I was very influenced by Nuclear Rabbit’s bass player Jean Baudin who is a 9 string bass pioneer and he got me into the ERB world. I first got a 7 string when I was starting to experiment with contemporary tapping techniques and then had a custom 9 string made for me. I had it since 2005 and have played only with this instrument ever since.
Can You say that the kind of music which He’s playing demanding 9 strings? The Bass parts on “Fables of the Sleepless Empire” are crushing, smashing, are truly awesome and amazing, but did He truly needed 9 strings to play them all?
I don’t think that any kind of music DEMANDS a 9 string bass but it can be an interesting spice to a mix. It really changes your perception of the instrument. I don’t play all 9 strings on every song. I still have the role of the bass player and I need to find my place in all of this crazy instrumentation but its fun to be able to step out of the usual bass patterns and use the instrument as a leading one. Both ”We, Invaders…” and ”In a Flesh Aquarium” were composed and recorded with a 7 string and only ”Fables” features the 9 string actually.
Your lyrics seem to be very surreal. Who’s writing for UNEXPECT? Something more about them?
The main lyricist of the band is Syriak. He’s always been the main brain behind the lyrics. Artagoth and Myself also write a little bit. On FOTSE, He (Artagoth) wrote Silence this Parasite and I wrote The Quantum Symphony. There has never been one topic when it comes to writing and it can go from pure abstract mind trip to social criticism to philosophy but always with that ”fantastic” vibe to it. We like to ad that veil to the writing so that you have to dig a little further to find the meaning and you might encounter other interpretations on the way. I personally have been fascinated by the UFO and Extraterrestrial intelligence idea in the last years and I wanted to bring some of that influence with the song The Quantum Symphony.
Instrumentation is considered, dictated by strictly defined formula or is it some kind of band’s career implication, of line-up’s metamorphosis?
We clearly never had a formula to compose any of our music and never an official way of working on songs. We used to work on riffs and harmonies as a group in the earlier years and now it’s more about individual preproduction that we send back and forth to each other always adding our colour and less rehearsal room time but, then again, maybe the next album will be completely different. I’m open for a completely improvised record, that would be something interesting. We all have a home studio setup so it’s really easy to put down an idea and show something that has already been worked on to the best of the individual and then we make it UneXpecT by working on it together and adding all the elements.
Are You spending much time in rehearsal room? Is there any frontman in UNEXPECT, a kind of director who’s animating life of the band?
No, like I was saying, we don’t really anymore and I think it’s sad. I’d love to work more on the bands music and techniques in a more hands-on approach and even have jam sessions of pure improvisation and madness to see where it would lead but we’re more at a studio band stage now… at least for now. Let’s see what the future holds… There is no one leader when it comes to directing the artistic and musical path of the band but as far as business and people relationship, Syriak would be at the steering wheel. Most of our independence business is in his hands and we really appreciate all the time and effort he put into it. Syriak… I want to marry you…
I’ve watched the unofficial video made by Your fans for track “The Quantum Symphony”, using some episodes from “Ink” movie. What do You think about it and initiatives like that?
Yes, I have seen it too and was pleasantly surprised that a fan would take the time to do that. It’s always nice to see your art inspiring other people to do something creative too. I haven’t seen the movie from which the clips are from though. We actually have a lot of fans that come up with drawings or paintings or even tattoos and tell us that it was inspired by our music and it’s very rewarding to see that. Our music is indeed very visual I think and I love that people get it in this way. It’s always a pleasure to touch people…. take that any way you want…. it’s a pleasure….. we like to touch…..
Thank You very much!