Demetris "All Around" Katsikis
…In our world, in order for one side to be successful, wealthy or even "at ease", there's always another "the other side", the one that suffers (hence the album's cover) - we wanted to represent it. So basically, we can't achieve it (Utopia), but if we just open our eyes a little, we might be able to make the other side suffer a little less…
Yoav Efron on Utopia
DISTORTED HARMONY from Israel made their statement in the progressive metal scene in 2012 with their debut album “Utopia”. Yoav Efron (Keyboards, Composer and Founder), Yogev Gabay (Drums) and Guy Landau (Guitars) speak to Demetris Katsikis (Founder and Progducer of JustIn Case Radio) and myself about their plans for world domination in a breathtaking interview...
This interview is meant to start in an unorthodox manner: how was the experience from the other night where your debut album “Utopia” was streaming in its entireness on JustIn Case Prog Radio? Have you done this before and would you do it again?
Yoav: I'd like to thank you all for the amazing opportunity and support you've given us the other night (and ever since Utopia came out). We had a blast and although we've done this before, it's an exciting and fun experience each time we hear our album being played. Thank you so much for this!
Yogev: Thanks for having us on the show and taking this interview, it means a lot!
I absolutely loved that show! Apart from hearing our entire album online, the chat with you guys was great! Funny people you’ve got there
Guy: Thank you for the great opportunity and support you've given us that night. It's always a great pleasure to know that people around the world hear your music. I'm always amazed how easily and quickly things can move fast in this generation with the Internet. It's exciting to seat on the computer and listen to your music streaming live on a radio in other country and chat with fans.
I did it for the first time.
Apart from radio shows and interviews, how satisfied are you with the publicity that DH and “Utopia” have received? Have you identified the routes to global domination?
Yoav: We have indeed identified the routes. I can say that our next album will include subliminal messages as part of our "world domination plans" and that's all we can say about it at the moment. Seriously though, we're extremely satisfied and honored by all the amazing reviews, feedbacks and the support we're getting from audiences from all over the world, both professional and fans and we thank you all so much!
Yogev: I have the global domination tutorial since I was a little boy so you can be sure we have that covered.
As for the publicity, I’m very pleased with the amount of exposure we got - worldwide.
Of course I want it to be bigger and wider and to get to new people around the world, but since our manager, Raya Kosovsky, took over the publicity side of stuff, I’m pretty sure that by next year there won't be a single kid without a DH shirt!
Guy: I'm very satisfied. From the first moment "Utopia" went online, we got a lot of great comments, supports and solidarity.
Our work is in processes. We are working on a new album, killer live concerts and of course- we have Raya our manager she's taking care of our publicity and progress to a global domination!
We would be interested to hear about the popularity of progressive rock and metal music in Israel – is there fertile ground in your country for a progressive metal band to grow? (us bearing in mind there are a few Israeli bands in the scene, see ORPHANED LAND or CAPRICIA for example)
Yoav: Professionally there are many interesting and unique Progressive bands here. The scene is indeed strong and we have so many talents waiting for their break. One of the people (whom I just spoke with by the way) responsible for keeping the Prog-Scene alive (and kicking) is our very own manager Raya Kosovsky, and that tracks back years before we even existed as a band.
On a personal note, being a band, a working musician here in Israel is almost impossible, so no, the ground isn't fertile and you work extra hard to grow, but you have to keep at it, simply because you don't want to (or can't) do anything else but make music.
Yogev: The music in Israel is very developed and diverse. Taking into consideration the fact that Israel is a small and young country, it's very plausible that the variety of styles will be very wide, due to all the different people who came here from all over the world.
I think that the percentage of progressive metal fans in Israel is the same as the percentage of fans everywhere else. But, because we are a small country, the numbers are a lot smaller. Therefore, less people consume this kind of music.
That been said, I don’t think a progressive metal or rock band can exist by only playing here.
Guy: Well, the progressive rock in Israel has a small scene. Israel is a small and young country and I believe progressive rock and especially progressive metal are relatively "new genres" for the Israeli crowd.
However, the metal scene is pretty big but still not enough if a band wants to grow in Israel.
You can see a band like Orphaned Land. There is no doubt they are the most successful metal band that ever came from Israel and build a huge circle of fans during the years.
And yet, they are playing mostly outside of Israel.
Bearing in mind you are a (fairly) new band, what would you suggest to an aspiring band that has just started in the scene?
Yoav: Practice, practice, practice and then practice some more. Make an album, not a single, not a demo - an album. Try and do it as best as you can. Know there will be mistakes, it won't be exactly as you want it to be, but put every inch of your heart and soul into it - promote it, and practice. Aspire to be the best at what you do, realize it takes time and then practice some more. Embrace the fact that this will be your life, get hammered… then practice.
Yogev: The obvious thing, which is probably the most important factor in my opinion, is definitely how you play, reflected by the amount of time you put into practicing. Practice as much as you can. But another issue I learned to be equally important is your visual show on stage.
The way you look can make all the difference. I'm not talking about your physical appearance, clothes and stuff, but the way you “rock out” on stage and the amount of energy you project to your audience.
Guy: Lots of practice and the inside connection of the band members. There will be always "ups and down" but the work takes time, especially in music.
Are there specific goals that you have set as a group? E.g. touring around the world, big money, hall of fame, a discography that will be remembered in the ages, or just go with the flow? Is DH a full time job for the members of the band or more like a hobby?
Yoav: I believe that when you start a band, when you have your first concert and when you release your first album, if you're proud of yourself as a band - the goals will come naturally, and they probably were always there. Instead of saying "our goal", I will say that, personally speaking, we plan on touring as much as we can, to become a consensus among music lovers and professionals. Try and bring something new and exciting with every new song/album. To have the best live show there is, to have enough money to keep making music and never stop. I can't say and be sure this will happen; I can only aspire to make it happen. But if I'm being completely honest, I wish that in 20 years we can all look back at what we've done and be f**king proud of ourselves, as friends (a band).
Yogev: Music as an art speaks to the emotional side of people. I think that as a band, we want to get to as many people we can and affect people all over the world with our music.
Of course growing up as a little metal head, touring the world is an old dream and I'd absolutely love to do it, hopefully soon!
You asked about DH being a full time job. Well DH is not a full time job for me. I’m a full time student at Rimon Music School in Israel and I play in a couple of other bands. But yet, DH is my top priority right now. I also do recording sessions here and there. This is probably my biggest passion, recording. I absolutely love recording!
Guy: I remember my Matriculation Exams in English at high school. One of the exercises there was a full conversion in English with a teacher.
One of the questions the teacher asked me was "what are your dreams/goals?"
I immediately said that one of my dreams is to be on the front of one of the famous Guitar magazines as "Guitar World" or ""Guitar Player". Well, the dream didn't come true yet! However, I did already get to be in a big magazine and hope it will not be the last. We got an article in the famous British magazine called "Prog". It's a big honor to be published with the band you love and believe in. DH is not yet a "full time job" for me but this is my aim. As a new band, things takes time and we just keep making music together and preforming.
Why “Distorted Harmony”? Is it just a ‘catchy’ band title or does it represent something further for you?
Yogev: I think I’ll let Yoav answer that
Yoav: Well, this is a little personal but I came up with the name something like 6-7 years as a name for my "studio" (there was no studio by the way). At the time I felt like it has a personal note in it, being that how I felt my life was - I was young. Before we released the album, I sat down with Yogev, who didn't really like the name at the time and we decided that we'll try and find another name for the band. I sent him 3-5 messages a day for a week with different names (some were very stupid). We didn't find anything we like, so we asked the band, and since they all liked Distorted Harmony, we decided to keep it.
Guy: For me "Distorted Harmony" represents the multiple styles that every member gives to the band.
I grew up on Jazz music and heavy stuff on the same time I think the music we play demonstrates our musical ambition and the places we all come from.
How difficult was it for you to get the band together? Was there a selection process or a natural combination of interests?
Yoav: It all started something like 3 years ago. I posted online that I'm looking for musicians for a Progressive Rock/Metal. I got a few responses, met with them and we decided to start working together. I remember someone recommended Yogev, unfortunately it took him two weeks to get back to me, by then I had already found a drummer. After a few months, the second drummer quit and I managed to contact Yogev again, this time he was available and we started working together. We then entered the studio to record a few demos (which will remain confidential for like… forever). The other two members quit and after a few busy months Yogev and I decided it's time to find new members and start working again. I posted that I'm looking for a Vocalist for the band and met Misha, Yogev brought Iggy and we both asked Guy, who was playing in another band with Misha at the time to join us - that's when "the real" Distorted Harmony was formed, somewhere in late 2010 I believe. There was no selection process, just a love for music.
Yogev: DH started with Yoav alone. He started working on the music somewhere in 2006. After a while, he started to look for musicians to join him. I was in the army that time. After playing with a few drummers he contacted me, and I’m stuck with him since
When I joined in, the band included another two guys, a guitar player and a bass player.
That didn’t work out, and there were just the two of us searching for band members again.
Iggy, our beloved bass player, was in the army with me so I got him to come and try it out, and he definitely blew us away and ran through the “test” song embarrassingly fast. So he was in. Guy came from a band of close friends of ours. And he too, slid in like a glove.
Misha came from that same band Guy was in and the search was over!
And now we live happily ever after.
Guy: I remember I've met Yoav for the first time and we had a great Chemistry together. He asked me if I want to join a heavy metal project - not Distorted Harmony. It was supposed to be another project, a heavy one, like the bands Soilwork or Death. I said yes. In the meanwhile I heard the demos of Distorted Harmony and I was fascinated! This was the project I've really wanted to join but at the time they had another guitar player.
After few months, while playing with Yogev in a small Jazz Competition in our school, he approached and asked: "Say.. Would you like to come and play with Distorted Harmony?" I was like: "F**k yeah!"
From that moment on we started to play/write together and it felt like a really natural combination.
Composition and lyrics: a one-man job or a collaborative result? Which comes first?
Yoav: The lyrics actually come last. There's no "one-man job" here, it's all collaborative. I bring the band the song, by then it will have the groove as I saw it while composing, the riffs, rhythm and key past and we'll call it a sketch. We'll then start rehearsing, playing and changing as we see fit, whether it'll be changing the drum parts, grooves and even the structure of the song. I'll take all that we've done and work on it at home, revising it and we'll keep at it until we're satisfied. By then I usually have a concept of the melody I want for the song, and that's when we start working on the lyrics. It'll usually be me and Misha, but as you can see, Utopia has many credits for the lyrics and we all give our input in making them fit the song the way we arranged it.
Yogev: As I said before, most of the music was written by Yoav. When the band came together at this final form, we started working on his stuff with a goal of recording in mind. As the process progressed, we “adjusted” his parts, and song forms to sound as tight as we can with a big emphasis on creating a constant sound for the album. So you can basically say that “Utopia” is Yoav's music, bent, ripped apart, and organized back by all of us
The lyrics for “Utopia” were written by a lot of people. Mostly by Yoav and Misha, Guy wrote one song - “Blue” and a few friends contributed lyrics as well.
After the lyrics were done, Misha and Yoav sat down to write melodies that will suit the songs in the best way. I absolutely love the result.
How each of you studies for his musical skills to be in shape? What are some of the techniques that you use?
Yoav: I don't really know how to answer that question. For me, just playing the parts over and over again, finding the right "fingering" will be enough. I actually stopped practicing a few years ago switched my focus to production, but that's a completely different subject
Yogev: I have a practice routine which I try to do every day. Coordination exercises, timekeeping stuff, a lot of “snare” technique reading material and lately I started to spend a big part of my practice time on playing straight ahead grooves. I’ll put a Hip-Hop album on, Lauryn Hill, Eminem or Snoop-Dogg and just play it through, concentrating on the groove only. As less fills as I possibly can...
Making the simplest grooves dance and sounding tight, is the most required skill for a drummer in my opinion.
Guy: I have a practice routine on a lot of subjects. Listen to a lot of kinds of genres and I try my best to produce any style - from Jazz/Funk/Soul improvise to Folk Finger picking. I actually don't practice much on Speed today. I am emphasizing on sound, effects, Time, Harmony and writing. For DH I practice the songs over and over again and of course I need a really long warm up before a concert
Some metal bands from Israel incorporate traditional ethnic elements in their music. Have you ever thought of doing this?
Yoav: No. It's not part of my repertoire. I grew up listening to Jazz, Soul, Queen, Sting etc. I find no benefit in bringing some "Oriental" just because we come from "this part of the world", especially if I'm not accustomed to it, and don't really like it personally.
Yogev: I think the ethnic side should come naturally. Israeli music is highly affected by ethnic music due to the cultures we’re surrounded by. I think bands like Orphaned Land, who embraced the ethnic sound (in a great way) as one of their main directions, grew up listening and absorbing that kind of music. Therefore, it sounds very natural when they combine it in their songs.
I think DH didn’t go that way because it wasn’t natural. DH is more western music based (Rock, Jazz and Pop).
But hey, we’re working on our 2nd album, who knows what will happen
Guy: Not much. There are some great ethnic musicians in Israel but I've never connected to the genre much although I appreciate it.
Talking about Israel, a lot of people tend to discuss the political situation – does this influence you in any way in your composition process?
Yoav: I personally believe that the person makes the difference, not the lyrics to a song and although Utopia is basically a "Pacifistic" song, I don't want to involve politics and personal agendas in our music/lyrics. We make music, a universal language, why should I tame it with politics? If somebody would like to know my political views, that's a different story.
Yogev: I don’t think politics directly affect our writing. Also, I think it’s a risky place to go to lyrics-wise because it's such a sensitive matter.
You might ask yourself about the lyrics on the title track, Utopia, which are clearly about war. The main statement is against that. No side is taken into consideration.
It's all about just stopping the unjustified hatred that surrounds us so much.
Your debut came out as a digital download and CD, but self-released. Have you been approached by a label to release your second album? How are things progressing on this front?
Yoav: That's a question for our manager. I can only say that we started working on our second album. Many exciting things, both musical and official, are happening as we speak and we can't wait to get into the studio and share our new music to the rest of the world, signed or unsigned.
Yogev: I’m actually not quite sure about that. Raya, our manager takes care of the business end of things. All I know is that we are working hard on the new stuff and we will start sending demos to labels when we have a solid amount of material.
Which ‘Utopia’ are you referring to and is there a concept behind the album?
Yoav: Utopia is basically a non-existing place or concept by definition. Many of the songs speak about the things that are wrong in us as a society and/or individuals and I believe Utopia (the song) sums it all up. In our world, in order for one side to be successful, wealthy or even "at ease", there's always another "the other side", the one that suffers (hence the album's cover) - we wanted to represent it. So basically, we can't achieve it (Utopia), but if we just open our eyes a little, we might be able to make the other side suffer a little less.
Yogev: No, this album is not a concept album. When we sat down to discuss the album title, I think it was Yoav who said he wants one of the songs to be the title for the album. After he said that, it was quite obvious that “Utopia” will get the gig
How would you characterize the DH sound to a first-time listener (with or without tags)? Is it progressive metal with a wider sense?
Yoav: Although you can't deny that "Utopia" is a Progressive Metal album, influenced by the likes of Dream Theater and Symphony X, we're very diverse in our musical background and we all bring the music we like when arranging a new song. We're trying to get as far as we can from the traditional progressive-metal sound (while staying true to its roots as much as we can - and want) simply because there's so much we love to play and listen to. We referenced Opeth, Porcupine Tree and Muse as our inspirations, but the fact is that they're only a few of the bands that might help describe our sound. On that note - you'll definitely be able to hear and feel it in the next album.
Yogev: Tough question. It is progressive metal by definition; Long songs, big arrangements, a lot of solos and unisons, big guitar sound, rapid time signature changes etc. But, we are influenced by so many genres like jazz, pop and electronic stuff that you can hear a new blend of sounds in our album. Most of the melodies are very “pop” like, very catchy, you’ll fill tones of jazz harmony segments and stuff like that.
I’d like to think we take the best of each world. So if a melody we write sticks to your head after one listen, we did our job
Plus, we have a lot of fans who don’t listen to prog or metal usually so I guess we’re on the right track.
Guy: With tags I believe that a first time listener will say that we have the Dream Theater "Color". DT is one of the modern progressive bands that really created a new access to the genre. In Distorted Harmony, considering the diverse tastes of music every member brings, I feel that there is something different in the sound and the color. It's still a progressive music ,Rock/Metal but we absolutely don't want to sound like a specific band but to take our influences and make a new "picture".
Following from the above, we would like to hear your personal views on what progressive music signifies for you and how you see the future of the movement.
Yoav: To be honest, I grew up listening to King Crimson, Genesis, Jethro Tull etc. But that's where I stopped. I was (and still am) a huge fan of Dream Theater and Symphony X but now I find myself listening (when it comes to Progressive) to bands like Porcupine Tree, Opeth, Meshuggah (they are progressive!) and just recently discovered Anathema. The reason I think I keep listening to those 3-4 progressive bands is because each as defined their own sound, brought a new and unique dimension to the Progressive Music world (and archives) and I wish (for my band of course as well) we will start hearing new (and even adventurous) sounds in the Progressive music scene. I think what makes this genre unique is the "ability" to say - "f**k you all, I'll do it because I like it and I can" and frankly, I'm tired of hearing "another" grinding/shredding guitar solo, a worn out unison or the same 7/8 groove. We have so much "to take" from all the new and exciting genres out there, and I wish I could hear that more in the Progressive music scene.
Yogev: I personally see prog metal and prog in general as a stage to express whatever you want, in any way you like. It feels like you have no boundaries in this genre. Sadly, most of the prog metal bands take this fact and abuse it so much that you can’t find the song itself behind the whole mess. That is the reason I hardly even listen to this kind of music any more. It's all so messy and so loaded with information that I just can’t enjoy it like I used to. I feel that prog players prefer to have a complex or technical part over a part that serves the song best. That's where they lose my attention usually.
In DH, we put the song writing, fluidity, and overall sound in the highest priority. That's why I like our album so much.
Guy: When it comes to Progressive rock and metal I grew up listening to Dream Theater, Pink Floyd, Yes, Symphony X, King Crimson, Genesis, Jethro Tull, etc.
The uniqueness of the bands is the songs. Most of the time progressive composition has long instrumental parts and solos. Every member has a place to express his ability sound and feelings.
I'm not that familiar with the modern progressive bands and music. When I hear progressive bands today, most of the time, things sound really great, the production and the playing is amazing. But I sometimes think bands give a lot of attention to the instrumental parts and solos and not to the singer and the melody. Sometimes the only thing you need is a song and a melody that will "catch" listener ears…
What music do you listen to this period? What are your musical inspirations?
Yoav: When it comes to metal I'm stuck listening to Meshuggah and just Meshuggah. They're absolutely amazing and I'm learning and gaining so much from listening to them, not to mention the pure joy of listening to amazing and complex heavy music. My favorite band would be Muse and I also started really digging into Radiohead recently so I can definitely say they're both a big inspiration to me. Beside my love and admiration (that's all I heard as a teenager) for Jazz which I try and get as many as I can and incorporate it in my writings, I also started listening to the Foo Fighters, loving and taking as much as I can from their awesome song-writing and there will always be Queen.
Yogev: The music I grew up on is quite different than the stuff I like listening to now. I grew up listening to old rock groups. A lot of Deep Purple, Dio, Queen, Rainbow, Pink Floyd, led Zeppelin, Kansas, Yes, King Crimson and stuff like that. Later on I got into the heavier stuff like Metallica, Pantera, Slayer.
Today, my musical taste took a detour to all the non-metal stuff out there. A lot of modern Jazz, Funk, Soul, R&B and Motown all the way to Hip Hop, breakbeat and electronic stuff.
The only metal survivors in my playlist are Opeth, Porcupine tree, Lamb of God and Meshuggah. A lot of Meshuggah.
Other Djent bands are in there somewhere, bands like Periphery and Animals As Leaders.
Guy: Today I try to a listen to and learn every kind of genre in music. It starts from classical music, Jazz (modern and hard bop, Aaron Parks ,Joshua Redman etc..), every kind of rock and metal music during the years, Folk, Indie etc..
I listen today mainly to Alternative / indie music. That sounds very general to say it because there are a lot of "genres" inside the alternative idea... I listen to bands like: Arcade Fire, Radiohead, Foals, Fleet Foxes , Bon Iver, Other Lives, Sigur Ros, Biffy Clyro, Muse, Jeff Buckley etc..
Do you find time for other musical collaborations beyond DH?
Yoav: As a musician, I think it's wrong to do just one thing, playing one specific genre and style, a single band, just one project etc. I think it's our nature to expand and explore as much as we can (physically and mentally). Speaking for myself, I divide my time by writing/composing for DH, composing and doing sound designs for commercials and promotional videos and promoting and improving as a record producer (which is basically the thing I love doing most).
Yogev: Of course. I play in a few bands other than DH and I play in projects and recording sessions here and there.
I’m actually a part of a Jazz group in my school which is going to play in a 3 week tour across the east side of the U.S in a few big Jazz festivals!
Guy: Sure, I play in another Israeli Rock band with our singer Misha. I have other projects with different people, different genres - Electronic and Folk.
I also compose arrange and produce with other musicians.
I think it's a great thing to have different projects and to play with different people. It opens your mind to new things and eventually gives you your own unique sound.
We tend to forget about ladies when talking about progressive metal; have you ever thought to include female vocals into your music?
Yoav: Frankly? No. If we will find it fits a song as a backing track we might. I actually prefer Misha's falsetto.
Yogev: I don't’ think we ever considered that. First of all we have Misha, so fortunately we don’t need to think about it
In my opinion a man's voice is a lot more soothing to this genre. I don’t know why, but female singers just don’t sound right to me in the confines of this genre. The problem is probably with me, but it just doesn’t sound coherent.
Sadly, it’s still a huge boy’s club.
Guy: Not much. I never liked that much progressive rock bands with female vocals. It's not really my style. I love Misha's voice and I think he gives something different to the genre.
What’s your personal philosophy in life? How do you cope with barriers? And, simultaneously, how do you build your strengths?
Yogev: Sometimes you win, sometimes you lose, sometimes it rains.
Guy: "Take your time to think, but when the time to act arrives, stop thinking and start working." Napoleon Bonaparte
I take this sentence as an example to music and creation. Most of the time musicians today can be stuck with a great music in their drawer or their hard drive. It's hard to take an act and just spread your music. Every musician is wondering if his creation is the best thing for himself at this moment. Musician just needs to make and keep on the hard work.
How were the live experiences you already had with DH? What are the reactions of the people who come to your live shows?
Yoav: One thing I love about us is that we bring the rehearsal to the stage. We have so much fun and energy and that's exactly what we hear after the show. With every show we see more fans, young and "old" alike and we get such amazing support from our fans that it just makes us want to perform more and more. We will start working on a "show" pretty soon and we hope to bring all of our love for music, playing and performing, our love for one another plus some Rock'n'Roll to the show.
Yogev: The shows we had, all of them, got excellent reviews and they were a lot of fun!
But the last show at the “Barby” was absolutely outstanding. We played “Utopia” top to bottom, we played our new song “Misguided” and we pulled off a very cool Muse cover. The amount of energy that night was unbelievable. Best show I had!
Guy: We had great reviews for our live shows. It's really important for me to feel comfortable on stage and have fun! We have a killer show in our concerts and the crowd dance and sing the songs with us and have a lot of fun.
What are your immediate plans for the future?
Yoav: We started working on our new album - that's probably the most exciting thing for me, but another very important thing we do is trying to get to as many people we can with Utopia and eventually get the support from labels etc. It's all happening as we speak and it's very exciting.
Yogev: New stuff sounds great!
Guy: It’s killer stuff
A message from your part for the listeners of JICPR and the readers of Progarchives is…
Yoav: Given I just recently discovered Progarchives, I believe our manager Raya, being an active member for many years will have much more to say to the community. I will just say that it doesn't matter what type of music it is, seeing such passion and love for music is just heartwarming. I would like to thank you personally for your support, love and appreciation for what we do. Seeing how much we care and love the music we do, accepting and embracing it. You guys rock!
Yogev: Just big huge thanks for all your support with Utopia! You guys are the best!
Guy: Thank you all for your supports and love for our music!
Anything that you might want to add?
Yoav: This is probably the most thorough interview I've ever done and I would like to thank you for this wonderful opportunity. Thank you so much for supporting us, but basically - thank you for loving what we do! Yoav.
Yogev: Just want to let you know how excited I am that people react and like our music. No bigger pleasure in the whole world! Yogev
Guy: Thank you for the great opportunity. It's an amazing thing to know that people around the world love and support what we do! Thank you!
Peace, Guy L@ndau>
DH, thanks a lot for your time in answering those questions!
Demetris “All Around” Katsikis
Founder of JustIn Case Prog Radio and JICProgducer
Distorted Harmony official page - www.distortedharmony.com
Facebook - https://www.facebook.com/distortedharmony
Bandcamp - http://distortedharm0ny.bandcamp.com/