Insatia – Rising from the FlamesFriday, 23rd June 2017
Many bands struggle with finding an identity that fits and further enriching it. That doesn’t seem to be a problem for US/Canadian act Insatia, who have already seemed to find their essence with their second album, Phoenix Aflame. Power metal fueled with just the right amount of symphonic backing, the band has hit the ground running, complete with a number of well-known names in the scene making a number of appearances with this sophomore effort.
Solid riffing and catchy melodies defines Phoenix Aflame. An enjoyable combination that many fans in the melodic metal range should appreciate. Able to grab vocalist Zoë Federoff for a chat about the band’s beginnings, the hardships of playing a style that’s traditionally more favored in Europe, getting vocal lessons from Floor Jansen, and more.
Dead Rhetoric: As a newer act, could you do a brief history of the band to this point?
Zoë Federoff: Insatia was founded in 2009. It went through quite a few line-up changes because were in Tucson, Arizona originally. Tucson is not exactly a hot bed for melodic or power metal. It’s tough to find people who can commit to doing a band, at least to the extent that we want to do it. I joined the band in 2012. I was there for the first album release, Asylum Denied, and nowadays the band is mostly based in Montreal, Quebec, and I’m still here in Tucson though I’m planning on moving to Montreal as well.
Dead Rhetoric: What do you feel some of the biggest changes are for Phoenix Aflame compared with Asylum Denied?
Federoff: I think it’s a massive change, and I recognize that’s kind of a risk in some ways because this new album sounds very different, in my opinion, from Asylum Denied. But it was cool because we got to construct the songs around the vocals this time. Last time, the album had already been written and I just added vocals to it. For this one, I actually came up with all of the vocals first, for every song, and we constructed everything around the vocals to really make a strong melody line. So that was very different. In the end it shows, what I think of as a positive. We’ll see what people think.
Dead Rhetoric: The album [Phoenix Aflame] was recorded back in 2015 – what caused it to take longer to be released?
Federoff: The two biggest delays would be that I had something of a health crisis that lasted for a year, where I just had to take it easy. I had really regular doctors’ appointments and stuff, and I had to focus on me for a while, and my daughter as well. It was nice to take a year off to just get better and be with my daughter. The other reason was that we really needed to establish the right line-up for this album. In terms of being able to go out and play shows with people who both had the talent and the time to commit to it. Those were the two biggest factors in why the album is being released now.
Dead Rhetoric: Do you have any new written material at this point because of that time in-between?
Federoff: Actually yeah. I have about 15 songs ready for the next album in terms of vocals and synths and stuff. We’ve already started writing guitars and bass for them as well. We are already working on our next album.
Dead Rhetoric: Lots of big names were lending a hand on the Phoenix Aflame. How’d all this come about, considering that Asylum Denied was kind of a quiet release?
Federoff: What ended up happening, was by accident, the bass player for Serenity [Fabio D’Amore] ended up finding our material and he really liked it. He contacted me on Facebook to say, “Hey, I found your stuff and I’d like to produce your next album.” It caught us off guard, because like you said, Asylum Denied was a fairly quiet release. It was independent and from a band here in the States. When Fabio took an interest in us, we were really surprised, and he really believed in us and he believed in the product, so he wanted to show it to other people. He brought a co-producer on board named Staffan Karlsson, and Staffan is awesome. He’s probably the most talented audio engineer that I’ve ever met. And he’s worked with Roxette, Earth Wind & Fire, Arch Enemy…so he knows a lot of people.
He asked some of his friends, like Chris Amott and Apollo [Papathanasio], to guest on the album. When they told me that Apollo had agreed to sing on the album with me, I was like, “Are you kidding me?” Because I’m a huge Firewind fan. It was definitely a surprise to be able to have all these people on our album. But it’s also nice to know that this many people really believe in us and where we are going with this. That felt good.
Dead Rhetoric: Seems like you were pretty excited to work with Apollo, was there anybody else you were particularly stoked to work with?
Federoff: Obviously, I’m a big fan of Chris Amott. I loved him when he was in Arch Enemy, and I love what he’s doing now with Armageddon. We also got to work with Erica James, who is a fantastic violinist from Oklahoma. I actually met her by accident, because I was on vacation in Oklahoma with my family. I heard this amazing violin music coming from down the street. Like electronic violin with a rock band behind it. It was symphonic rock kind of stuff. It was so interesting that I ran down the street to this outdoor stage area, and there was this chick just playing violin with this incredible, powerful rock band behind her. I was like, “I have to talk to her.” So after the show, I found her backstage and I was like, “Hey, I love what you are doing and I really want you to do it with me.” Erica James ended up doing guest violin work on the album as well, and she’s just incredible.
Her band, The Erica James Band, they’ve had a lot of success over in Texas and Oklahoma – the southern area, for their violin-fronted rock stuff. She’s an awesome chick. I had a lot of fun working with her. A lot of the guitar work was done by Chris [Hermsderfer] from Serenity. And Chris is hilarious. He’s a good friend of mine now, and I really respect what he has done with this album, and what he has done with this album as well as with Serenity and his other band Beyond the Black. Pretty much everyone on this album is a musician that I really admire and respect, and that’s been a huge treat for me to work with them all.
Dead Rhetoric: Do you think that working with all of these guests allowed you to have a better grasp of what you want Insatia to be?
Federoff: Yes. It was nice for me personally, because I got to be more at the helm at this point, in terms of taking the band in the musical direction that I wanted. It was nice because I feel like Fabio understood a lot of that and he had a lot of his own ideas, that were even better than mine, which is what the producer is supposed to do. Altogether, these people came together and it’s a very new sound compared to our last album, but I think it works better.
Dead Rhetoric: One thing I noticed about the album, which I really like, is the length of the album. Is there something to be said for a compact, 40-minute album in a land of 70-minute giants where a number of symphonic/power metal seems to be going lately?
Federoff: Brevity is the soul of wit, right? [Laughs] I’ve heard amazing longer pieces that I love, but if you can say something with the same effect in a shorter amount of time, there’s nothing wrong with that. If you get too superfluous and it becomes too self-indulgent after a while…I don’t know if I can say this in an interview, but it’s kind of like musical masturbation after a while. It’s like, stop jacking yourself off and get back to the point [laughs].
Dead Rhetoric: I had discussed this with Xandria recently with the idea that ‘more is more,’ and they can pull it off,but not every band can…
Federoff: That’s it! If a band can, then by all means ‘more is more’ and stuff. I think it helps to have a producer that can rein you back in and say, “Now hang on there.” For bands like Xandria, you know, go for it. But for everyone – if your producer is telling you, “Hey, that’s too much,” then listen to them. That’s what they are there for.
Dead Rhetoric: You alluded to this earlier but to be more specific…what are some of the hardships associated with being a younger band playing a style that’s traditionally much more popular in Europe than here in the US?
Federoff: To put it in perspective, we really only ever played one show in Tucson, Arizona. It’s not a market…most of America is not a market for that matter. Montreal is a much bigger hub for all styles of metal, which is why in the end, we decided to re-establish most of the band in Montreal. That’s made it easier because we have found musicians who are familiar with the style and love the style. It’s a huge weight off our shoulders, because here in Tucson, there are some really great death metal bands and some really great alt-rock bands, but there’s nothing really like the European-styled symphonic or power metal.
Dead Rhetoric: I was looking up some old interviews and I saw you had received vocal training from Floor Jansen of Nightwish – how’d that come about?
Federoff: It was really cool, because I got to meet Floor back in 2012…it was like the second show she was playing with Nightwish after whole Annette leaving-thing. So I met her and she briefly mentioned doing the voice lesson stuff because I had said that she had been a huge influence on me. Typical fan-girl stuff, like “oh my gosh, you’ve had a huge influence on what I’m doing right now.” She mentioned that she did private online lessons, so I was pregnant at the time with my daughter, but I checked out the lessons after she was born. I really wanted to start re-establishing my core strength and getting my vocal chops back post-pregnancy, so I applied to be one of her students and she accepted me. It was awesome. She was the most humble, down to earth teacher I’ve ever had.
I’ve worked with some really great vocal coaches, don’t get me wrong…really talented, classically-oriented coaches, but working with Floor was great because while she has that classical background, she is also a metal singer. So she knows how to add that edge to your voice in a really healthy way. So I really loved working with her, and I deeply respect and admire her as a person. Seeing her permanently join Nightwish, I was like…the right person got that job, all the way around.
Dead Rhetoric: Right now you are in the midst of relocating the band…where would you like to see the band in 5 years?
Federoff: In the next five years, I hope we get at least one more album out, if not two. We have a lot of material ready and waiting to go. I’d like to get a couple of North American tours in there, because we have done regional west coast tours but we haven’t really hit up the east market yet. It would be cool to get over to Europe at some point. I’d love to see that happen. I would like to go to Finland actually, because my heritage is actually Finnish and Russian, so I really want to see those places at some point. If we can wrap that into doing the band stuff over there that would be pretty cool. But for me, I’m keeping an open mind, and I’m a musician at the end of the day so the only thing I can promise myself is that I’m going to be creating a lot more music in the next five years.
Dead Rhetoric: You mentioned having a child, and trying to push a band to the next level. Does that present any of its own challenges?
Federoff: It doesn’t have to. There are a lot of women in metal, and in music in general, who are moms. In This Moment’s singer, Maria [Brink], she’s actually a mom and she had her kid back when she was a teenager and she still made life happen for herself, and I really admire that. A lot of people have this vision that it’s either or. It really doesn’t have to be. If you have a respectful relationship with the other party, there’s no reason why it can’t be okay. Like, I’m gone for a week to record vocals here, and when I come back I just get a solid week with her. That kind of a thing. Then for smaller trips that maybe don’t have shows involved, I really want to start taking my daughter with me. So if I had to go record vocals in Montreal, she can come with me for a week and we’ll be fine. I’m very comfortable with the whole mothering thing, I love it. It’s fun, and I’m lucky because I have a really easy kid who tends to take an interest in whatever I’m doing at the moment instead of wandering off and burning stuff [laughs].
Dead Rhetoric: What’s on tap for Insatia in the next six months or so?
Federoff: We have the album coming out next week, so that’s pretty exciting. We are planning a couple Canadian shows this fall. One of them is opening up for Dark Tranquillity in Montreal. I’m really excited because Dark Tranquillity is one of my favorite bands of all time. Maybe a few other shows in Toronto, Quebec, and places like that. Then sometime early next year we want to do a North American tour – we’ll see how that pans out because there’s a lot of preparation involved…a lot more than a typical fan probably realizes, but we do want to get out there. We want to get on the road with this thing. We have a music video coming out next week as well, and we have a second music video that we are planning on shooting sometime in December. We have a lot on our plate – it’s going to be fun.