Demetris "All Around" Katsikis
Oh my prog goodness! One of the most stimulating bands I ever listened to! If you wanna sink yourself into the contemporary heavy music with an eclectic mix of various metal genres please SEDUCE THE HEAVEN [band name] while you pursue your FIELD OF DREAMS [album title]! What an arsenal of music! Metal of all flavors just flourished on this earth! Elina Laivera, vocalist of SEDUCE THE HEAVEN, guides us around the veil of the band lighting the beacons of professionalism, conscientiousness, devotion, passion and endless vision for the art of music. This band p(rock)gs fellas!
Well, Elina, thanks a lot for your participation in this interview. It’s our honor to host your point-of-view in our radio!
Hello Elina! Where does this interview find you exactly?
Hello there! Well, we have just released our debut album “Field Of Dreams” and some days ago it also got released in Japan, which is an amazing step concerning the early point we are in and the country we come from. The feedback is amazing and amazing things are being scheduled. So yeah, you couldn’t find me in a better situation.
Tell us some things about your career history as a vocalist. How did you decide to become a vocalist? Have you made any studies? Do you play any instruments?
I began studying music at the age of 7, when I started taking piano lessons and generally as a kid I would always participate in choirs and since my early teens when I entered the Music School I studied classical flute so I also attended symphonic orchestras. I have been singing since I can remember myself but I realized I wanted to become a professional vocalist at the age of 14 or maybe a bit earlier. I had just discovered Evanescence, the first female fronted band I ever listened to and it really inspired me to start composing, singing etc. I would always found bands with my teenage friends but as you can guess you cannot do anything serious at such ages, you are just searching for yourself. In 2007, a music teacher at Music School, Dimitris Karavelis, whom I still hold in my heart as a mentor, discovered my composing and singing talents and decided to give me a chance. And so it truly started, I got to perform as a vocalist on stage for the first time at the age of 14, having the role of Mary Magdalene on the rock opera “Jesus Christ Superstar” of A. L. Webber. We even got to present this rock opera at the famous Megaro Mousikis in Athens, in front of 2.000 people and that was the moment I realized this is what I wanted to do for the rest of my life. For about 7 years, I also got to be a member of the Athens Choir Ensemble, also founded by Dimitris Karavelis. I got amazing experiences through this ensemble as well; we got to perform all over Greece and Italy. When I was still at secondary school, I co-founded Seduce The Heaven with guitarist Alex Flouros. I remember writing the lyrics for “Baseless Addiction” in the classroom. When we entered the studio in 2010 I encountered the tough studio circumstances and I realized I wanted to be able to come up with any difficulties if I wanted to call myself professional vocalist. You know, singing by experience is amazing but there are little things that can make the difference and help you overcome technical difficulties. So I started taking classical singing lessons at the age of 18 and through these 3 years of recording and studying in the meantime I developed a specific technique of using both classically and rock coloured vocals. Today I am really happy with my vocal material.
What are your influences as a vocalist? Vocalists that you have as inspirations in your life?
I love Amy Lee. Then Celine Dion, Lizzy Hale of Halestorm. I find her amazing. Also Charlotte Wessels of DELAIN and Carly Smithson of We Are The Fallen. I have many and contradictory favorites. I also like a lot Loreen, a dance music singer from Sweden. Mary Dillon is also one of my favorites; she is the singer of Irish Celtic ensemble Deanta. Regarding male vocalists, I adore Russel Allen. Then goes James LaBrie. They all inspire me, each one in a special way and I love listening to their voices.
How do you study for your voice to be in shape? What are some of the techniques that you use?
First of all it is important that you practice often. The vocal chords are muscles and doing otherwise, the work you have done with your voice could be lost, and it is like going to the gym and then not going anymore. Personally, I do not have much time to study properly every day at home but I do not panic cause I am anyways rehearsing every day with my band, with choirs and other projects I am working with. So it doesn’t matter, the voice gets it’s training daily. Not singing at all would be a problem. But I always try to have 3 days in the week when I study completely focused on my technique. I use a variety of exercises my teacher has recommended me, almost the same things I do during our lessons. I study on the things my teacher gives me from time to time. Or I sing other stuff, like stuff from other bands or other artists trying to approach different techniques in my own way following at the same time the “rules” of correct singing as much as I can. You know, no matter what I sing I always try to have my breathing set correctly, my notes supported from the diaphragm and such stuff. Regarding my technique on Seduce The Heaven, I use a combination of both classical and modern technique. On the album you will listen to me singing with falsetto, chest voice, using belted notes, some more operatic lines etc. You will not find many operatic vocal lines though, do not get confused, what is high pitched is not operatic apparently, I use my chest voice mostly on “Field Of Dreams”.
What would you suggest to an aspiring vocalist, female or male?
Well… not sure I am the one to give advice since I am really young and I am trying to figure out many things for myself at that point but one thing I can say for sure is that they should never give up. Sounds cliché but it is the truth! If it doesn’t happen with the first it might happen with the second and if not keep trying until it happens. It will if you truly wish for it. So work hard and make wishes! I believe the universe hears our thoughts.
What’s your role in the band besides singing? Do you write lyrics or/and music about the songs? If yes, with what issues do you deal with concerning lyrics? And, how do you compose the music from your part?
Yes, I do compose music but the main composer is Alex Flouros. I have only composed entirely 2 songs, “In Close Distance” and “This War Called Home” and “Falling” was an idea of mine but it was re-made by Alex and brought to the shape it is today. The majority of the lyrics have been written by me I can say but I have also worked with our former vocalist Vagelis Kolios on “Reflection” and “Helpless Mind” and with our current vocalist Marios Mizo on “Walls Of Oblivion”, “Ignorance” and “Believe In Me”. You know, it is good to let some space to others, too. Especially when they are talented enough to get the ideas easily and bring a good result. The lyrics deal with difficult situations and the feelings that derive from these; anger, pain, sorrow. It is a really dark and personal album in my opinion. From my part, I write the vocal lines and lyrics upon the backing tracks I get from Alex and that’s how we have been working so far.
You recently had your debut album out, titled “Field of dreams”. Tell us some things about the title (how did you come up with) and what’s the concept behind it?
Well the title actually says it all – “Field Of Dreams”. This album speaks about all the things we are going through in life in our journey to chase our dreams. And the situations we face on the way are usually unpleasant. So we get disappointed, angry, sad, anxious, suppressed. I was experiencing the same things while writing this album. We all kind of have this Field Of Dreams of ours. It is there, waiting for us to find the way to get there. But we must manage to get there in time or the flowers will wither and the field could vanish with all our dreams. Timing is crucial I think regarding all that happens in our lives. So not only must we bring good results but also in the right time. “Field Of Dreams” shows you can get out there and chase life. There will be difficulties and you might fall down on the way but it is up to you whether you will get up and go on or stay there, down.
Do you have any specific approach on the vocal parts on this record, or did you just naturally “go for it”?
Well… at first I was like “I’m gonna put operatic vocals on this metal setting”. But the sound was so aggressive that I felt a different side of me emerging… I don’t know, I just felt the need to scream and shout along, to use my more… “natural” voice cause I wanted it to be straight forward, I wanted it to be like “I start talking about what I feel, so simply, I don’t care about how I sound”. I express myself better with modern singing and less with operatic singing. So because this album was so personal I felt like I had to unfold myself in a natural way. So yeah, I just naturally went for it and I did not think “I am gonna do this and that and put this here and there”. It just flowed within me.
We think that “Illusive light” is one of the best tracks of the album. Vagelis Kolios is adding some really cool growls in that song. What about its composition? Could you tell us a few things about each song of the album?
“Illusive Light” was written in the same way I described above. Alex wrote the backing tracks of the song and I composed vocal lines, growl vocals and lyrics. Vagelis performed the song in an amazing way, he is a unique vocalist, you can listen to more amazing stuff with his new band, FUROR. So, generally most of the songs were written in this way. The album included totally 10 songs and the Japanese edition 12. “Reflection” is probably the most commercial side of the band. “Walls Of Oblivion” follows the trails of PANTERA and is more aggressive. I love the way Marios has worked on his vocals on that song. Really aggressive. And the rhythm section is amazingly set, in my opinion. “Leave Me Alone” is like “Illusive Light” and “Baseless Addiction” songs that reflect what Seduce The Heaven is all about: progressive metal structure, aggressive with the vocal duos playing the game of contradiction. “Field Of Dreams” is a mid-tempo song, pleasant for live performances since the crowd can move along, same as “Falling” which has a more gothic metal feeling. You also get to hear symphonic power features on this one. “Ignorance” is one of my favorites, aggressive like a smashing door on your face. “Helpless Mind” is following a progressive metal structure including some kind of oriental features and symphonic elements. “In Close Distance” is the ballad of the album and it is a lyrical journey arranged with symphonic orchestra and an amazing piano score. Regarding the Japanese edition and the two bonus tracks, “Believe In Me” is a really powerful song, composed by guitarist John McRis who also helped us with the guitar and bass tracking at SoundFlakes Studios. It was amazing to write vocal lines on it, it has a more commercial sensation since it follows the classical verse-chorus-verse-chorus-bridge-chorus structure and it is less progressive, I love this one, its riffing, everything. And last but not least, “This War Called Home” one more ballad, arranged just with piano, vocals and cello in the very background. I wanted to keep this one very simple.
You recently took part in a great fest, “Metal Female Voices Fest”. Tell us your experience from it and how about the reactions of the fans listening to your music in another country?
Well, I do not know where our music could take us in the future but I think that the Metal Female Voices Festival will remain forever engraved in our memories and hearts. Truly amazing days with amazing people and an amazing crowd! The festival people were wonderful and made our stay great having organized everything perfectly. We met many people we’ve been talking on Facebook, fans, fellow musicians, friends. It was a 3-day party between a big family. After 10 years of success MFVF has turned into a family which is growing bigger and bigger every year. Phil, the man behind it all is a truly great person, humble, kind, with vision. It was a huge honour and nothing less to be there. The show went great, we had some “accidents” but the festival crew was so great that no time was wasted and everything worked perfectly and everyone was so excited. It was a huge experience, our second live show as Seduce The Heaven, a great lesson for me personally. I was a bit sick having problems with my voice since the day we arrived in Belgium, as I was not used in cooler weather but things went just fine. The crowd was so sweet; if I could I would hug them all at once! I was truly excited. Months after that gig I can still remember my heartbeat!
But, before that event, you opened for EPICA in Athens, and, as far as I know, this was your first-time live experience, right? Could you describe your experience from that moment as vividly as you can?
Well, to make things clear it was my first live experience with a metal band. Because as a musician I have a huge live experience, I have toured and performed with classical ensembles, with orchestras and choirs. But yes, with a metal band, it was my first time. Well… seriously I was shocked. I was like a child in a playground on stage. Didn’t really know what to focus on; the people, the lights, the music. I doubt I managed to focus on anything that night! I kept having flashbacks many nights later and I couldn’t relax. It was bad and amazing at the same time cause I was scared to death but also extremely excited. The crowd was amazing and they welcomed us warmly even though it was the first time they were listening to our music –and a music that is not really easy to many people. We all had fun and enjoyed it very much.
In general, how were the live experiences you already had with SEDUCE THE HEAVEN? What are the reactions of people who come to your live shows?
Well, as I said we have only done two shows as a band but both were at big places under big names. So far we have received only positive feedback. To tell the truth I do not really watch what is being written. For example live reports etc. But as far as other people have informed me, the majority really enjoys our shows!
What music do you listen to this period? What are your musical inspirations?
Well… I am listening to pretty much everything. I can tell you what I do not listen to: Greek music. Everything else is possible to be found in my mp3 player: from dance to metal, from jazz to pop and Celtic and a God knows what else sounds good to me!
Tell us some things about the foundations of SEDUCE THE HEAVEN. How did you find them (or find you?!). Who are the members? How did you come up with the idea of having male and female vocals together? And, how did you forge the sound of STH?
I’ve known Alex for many years. So one day we decided to start this band. Alex had been listening to melodic death metal at that time and his music took that direction so he said, “shall we make a band of that style”? So immediately it was clear that there would be clean and growl vocals. The clean vocals would be mine and since you cannot find female growl vocalists in Greece, it had to be a male growl vocalist. At the first the line up included Vagelis Kolios as our frontman but then it changed and Marios Mizo came over. The rest of the musicians were found quickly –most of them were already friends with Alex from previous bands. And so the band took shape and here we are today, the boys and me. The sound of STH came to life in combination with Alex’s and my musical influences. But it came along really naturally, we didn’t really think about it. We would just write down what was coming to our minds.
The sound of SEDUCE THE HEAVEN is an eclectic mix of metal elements, something very innovative to our opinion and of course prog in a wider sense of mixing around different musical traditions! How do you accomplish this sound combination?
Uhm.. I am not sure! As I told you, we didn’t really think about it. Surely we started with the thought to write Swedish melodic death metal but it actually turned into something more complex in the end. But it was just ideas that came and we were like “OK, this one is good”! Alex and I have very different musical tastes and I guess this mixture gave birth to something innovative as you say – thank you by the way, I find this honouring.
Through your website, your sound is determined as “moving from progressive to PANTERA-like paths, from the bursting trails of NWOAM and bands like Killswitch Engage to the powerful breakouts of the Swedish melodic death metal scene”. What are your main and secondary influences? And, where do you filter inspiration from when composing music?
For Alex, main influences were Scar Symmetry, Soilwork, PANTERA, In Flames, Killswitch Engage and such bands. At that time I was listening a lot to DELAIN and Dream Theater. Personally I filter inspiration from everyday stuff. It could be a situation, a sound, an image, a memory, a feeling, and something more instant that I do not quite understand. Or it could even be other people experiences that I am watching and I want to talk about what is happening to them.
How would you characterize the SEDUCE THE HEAVEN sound to a first-time listener (with or without tags)? Is it progressive metal with a wider sense? You are more appropriate than us to describe your sound.
I would say Swedish melodic death metal with progressive elements combining female clean/male growl vocals. Damn, again you have to fall into tags!
Following from the above, what is progressive music for you? And music in general anyway? How do you see the future of prog and music in general?
I’d say progressive music incorporates this urge for something new, for something fresh and innovative no matter how many years go by. I still find myself surprised each time I listen to progressive metal for example. It is a difficult, technical genre, it requires knowledge, it cannot be performed by anyone and usually the musicians serving it are not teenagers but they have such a spirit in their music that blows you away. As long as there are illuminated people who can deliver their souls through progressive and music in general, I see the future of the art I serve as a very bright one.
What’s your personal philosophy in life? How do you cope with barriers? And, simultaneously, how do you build your strengths?
My life’s philosophy could be something like… “Love, Live, Breathe, Sing, Create, Share”. Barriers are not missing from anyone’s life. Personally I had a life where difficulties were never missing as well and I can say I am proud of going through tough things with my dignity and spirit well placed. Hard days did not break me down but made me angry enough to get out there and punch life in the face. I am really young but I have faced many barriers in my life to the point it worried me why I had to do things always the hard way. I am sure I am not the only one, but I am happy that I changed for good each time. Today I have a more practical way of thinking, I am more straightforward, I speak my mind, I feel the need to be true and have around me true people. I am more careful but not suspicious. At first I used to build my strength with walls around me. But through the years I figured out strength is letting people come in, letting chances and challenges come in and deal with them and become a better person. So that’s how I build my strength: knowing myself, working with myself.
Does a female vocalist give another dimension to progressive metal or metal in general? Some have argued that the female voice creates a more “pop” sound that derails the music from being progressive or metal; what do you think of this?
It depends. Not all female vocalists are the same. Angela Gossow of Arch Enemy or Alisa of THE AGONIST are not the same with Annette Olzon or Simone Simons. But seriously I think this way of thinking is fading away and female vocalists are very much welcome in the metal scene. It seems like women have lead even more fans in listening to metal. The fact that there are so many female fronted metal bands and so many fans supporting them really warmly for over a decade is a proof, in my opinion.
You released “Field of dreams” album under the Belgian Fyb Records but recently you initiated your collaboration with Spinning records? Is that a label change or a further collaboration for a better promotion? How is it going so far with your [main] label? How are the promotion and the acceptance on people’s part?
Well, our debut album “Field Of Dreams” was basically self-released but then FYB records took up the distribution of the album worldwide, you know also promoting the album etc. Our collaboration with SPINNING records was a further official collaboration contract signed regarding releasing the album in Japan, specifically a new edition of the album which would include two more songs. So no, it is not a label change. So far we get quite a nice promo from both labels, and as a result the acceptance on people’s part is really great.
Could you give us a review of your musical collaborations beyond SEDUCE THE HEAVEN?
Well, right now I am working on various things but cannot speak about all of them since not all have been announced yet. An amazing collaboration I am in the position to share some words about with you, is the one with UNIVERSAL MIND PROJECT, a progressive metal project lead by guitarist Michael Alexander including amazing musicians such as Mike Lepond (SYMPHONY X), Charlie Dominici (ex DREAM THEATER), Alex Landenburg (RHAPSODY, ex-STRATOVARIUS, MEKONG DELTA), Henrik Bath (DARKWATER) and many more. I am extremely happy to be a part of the UNIVERSAL MIND PROJECT, Michael is an amazing person and musician and I am sure this work is gonna have much success. He is one of those people who know what they are doing, they are serious about working and respectful towards other musicians. I see our collaboration as a blessing and I feel I have a lot to learn through this. We also have a very common way of thinking with Michael and you know generally, it is one of these times when you feel like working with a friend and you feel free to say what you have in mind, make suggestions etc.
Have you ever thought to play live with a symphony orchestra? That experience would be a dreamy one we believe!!
I have played numerous times with a symphonic orchestra and the feeling is indeed dreamy. I feel lucky to have had such experiences working on classical repertoire. But now that I am thinking about it, I would love to see how this could be combined with Seduce The Heaven!
What are the SEDUCE THE HEAVEN plans and aspirations/expectations for the future? Any plans for a DVD release? Any tours?
We’ve been organizing many interesting stuff with Seduce The Heaven but the truth is I am not really in the position to reveal much. Of course we have plans for live shows and maybe touring around etc. Plans for a live DVD for example is something we are discussing seriously but requires some time to be organized properly. For anything new we will make sure to inform you by then and of course our fans can always check on www.seducetheheaven.com for anything new. Generally we are planning shows mostly. We love playing live, we love being in touch with our crowd.
A message from your part for the listeners of JustIn Case Prog Radio and all the prog’n’rollers out there is…
First of all I’d like to thank JustIn Case Prog Radio for the opportunity to talk about Seduce The Heaven and all these nice stuff we discussed. To all of you prog people out there, well, rock hard and roll harder! Support the bands you like for this support of yours is what keeps us going.
Anything that you might want to add?
Keep your eyes pealed for whatever new comes out about Seduce The Heaven at www.seducetheheaven.com! Thank you!
Dear Elina, thanks a lot for your time in answering those few (lol!!) questions!
Demetris “All Around” Katsikis
Founder & PROGducer of JustIn Case Radio
PROGducer of JustIn Case Radio and Progressive Metal collaborator in progarchives.com