Persefone – Spiritual Evolution

Sunday, 2nd April 2017

Some bands are able to fire off albums like they are going out of style, putting a new one out every year or two. It’s a process that can work, but it doesn’t fit the mold and style of every band. Take Andorra’s Persefone, who only put out an album every three to four years. They may not be at the tip of everyone’s tongue that way, but you can rest assured that when they do put an album out, people are going to take notice.

Such is the case for their fifth and most recent recording, Aathma. Continuing to grow and evolve with each release, Persefone weave progressive and technically-pleasing material into their atmospheric and emotive melodic death framework. In this regard, Aathma is the pinnacle of what the band has achieved to date – multi-layered depth, sweeping melodies, and at times mind-bending progressive rhythms pulling together to create an album that is both ear-pleasing and emotionally resonant. We were able to have a chat with the band’s keyboardist Miguel Espinosa over Skype to discuss the band’s continued growth, the approach to Aathma, their home country of Andorra, and more.

Dead Rhetoric: The teaser that you released for Aathma was 14 minutes long – what was your thought in releasing such a large chunk of the album?

Miguel Espinosa: We realized that iTunes added over 1 minute of each song as a preview, that was the main reason. We were really surprised, but the label told us that iTunes does that with most albums. We decided that it wasn’t fair that some people couldn’t hear it because you need iTunes to hear it. So we proposed the idea to the label – a 14-minute preview of the album and they agreed. It worked out pretty well in the end.

Dead Rhetoric: It was kind of surprisingly, because usually you see a teaser come up and it’s a minute or two tops!

Espinosa: We care about our fans, and it’s a few months between the time the album is completed and the time it’s released due to promotion. That’s practically a requirement – we can’t go any faster. It’s fair to them, since the fans helped us with the crowdfunding, to deliver a big part of the album as a teaser.

Dead Rhetoric: Speaking of crowdfunding – what made you decide to go in that direction for this album?

Espinosa: We have no money [laughs]! When we did Spiritual Migration, we were a really small band. We did a tour with Obituary, but we didn’t expect so many people to be interested in the album so we decided to make a big effort and go with Jacob Hansen to do the mix/master, and the rest was done by ourselves. So it wasn’t all that expensive in the end. That album became our biggest success, and there was pressure to make this album sound better than [Spiritual Migration]. We started thinking about how to improve it, and I think that Jens Bogren one of the biggest producers out there now. He can make an album sound big and epic – the sound that we like to have with Persefone. So we thought he would be the best option, and then we checked the prices. We also wanted to go with Travis Smith again for the artwork, and looked into a few other things. The budget was expensive.

So we decided to go with crowdfunding, but we were really scared about doing it. We didn’t know how big our fanbase was at the time. There’s that feeling that you start up a crowdfund and nothing happens. But we talked with our label/management, and they felt we had a very loyal fanbase and thought they would be able to back us up. And it ended up working out just fine.

Dead Rhetoric: With the successful crowdfunding, did it allow you to do anything differently with the album?

Espinosa: It helped out with the mix and mastering. When you do a crowdfund, there’s big part that goes to the production of the clothing/merch and the shipping out of packages. It’s actually a lot of money. We could make the album – that was the main goal. In the end, we didn’t get much extra money. I actually think we had a small negative [in the budget] and had to put money in. We didn’t ask for the whole budget of the record. The biggest thing we wanted to keep was Jens Bogren. The album was becoming very complex and we felt that the album mix would be very difficult and he was the guy to make it work for us.

Dead Rhetoric: Was there any concern that due to the longer time between releases that people would forget about the band or are fans used to it at this point?

Espinosa: In business you need to stay alive – making albums or making tours. It’s how it works. We are really a small band. We feel like we are growing though. When we started working on this album, we didn’t expect to spend four years working on it. We had done some touring and kept our name in the media, but the writing process is difficult in Persefone. We like to get new experiences to write an album. We like to learn new things, musically, to put in the album and it requires time. Maybe Persefone is never going to be the band that releases an album per year or every two years. We really need to say something with every album and I don’t think that can happen with a short time period.

Dead Rhetoric: On the other hand though, do you feel it makes the fans – the ones who have been waiting for the album – appreciate it a little bit more?

Espinosa: We like to fill the album with a lot of music. Our first album was a little bit shorter, about 43-minutes, but after that each album has been 60-70 minutes because we know we don’t release an album every year or two. We like people to have a lot of music to listen to in that time. I think that they appreciate that. They know we don’t release as much music, but when we do, we take very good care of it.

Dead Rhetoric: Was it a challenge to be without founding member Jordi Gorgues for Aathma?

Espinosa: The last three years have been difficult to the band. It’s not only Jordi that left the band, but also Marc [Mas Marti], our drummer. He [Marc] had been with the band for seven years so he had done all the tours with us. Marc decided to leave the band after the second Asian tour because he wanted to pursue other musical projects. It was difficult because it’s not easy to replace a drummer like that. We added Sergi Verdeguer and he’s been working out fine – he can do everything Marc did and he’s done an extraordinary job on the new album.

While we were dealing with that, Jordi came to us with the really exciting news that he was going to be a father. He asked take some time off from the band but he didn’t ask to leave. He just wanted to know how it could work. For touring purposes we had Filipe Baldaia, who is our new guitar player. A year passed and Jordi came to us and said that he has been really happy with the band and he achieved all the goals that wanted: to tour and make albums that had an international release. It’s always sad to say goodbye to a band member. I think that even though he’s not in the band photo, he’s always going to be a Persefone band member. We never know – maybe sometime he will appear again in a live show or an album – if he is ready, he will be welcome.

Dead Rhetoric: What makes Aathma feel different to you than previous releases?

Espinosa: For me, as the keyboard player, I have liberated myself. The band has given me the freedom to do whatever I want. In Spiritual Migration, the keyboards work well but there was a different kind of focus when we wrote the songs. In this album, I think the keyboard presence is important. There’s a lot of layering and melody. I feel very inspired because of that. I worked with Carlos [Lozano Quintanilla] and the rest of the guys and when we were writing the songs they always told me to do whatever I wanted. If I felt that there was something that could make the song better, to go ahead and do it. They also suggested things for me to include – it’s been very inspiring to work with them and improve the keyboards in Persefone. It’s something relatively new for me – not that I’ve been blocked in the past, but this album seems like I have complete freedom, and it’s been great.

Dead Rhetoric: I actually wanted to ask you about that, because it does feel like the keyboards have more of a presence on Aathma than in previous records.

Espinosa: I think it’s not only the keyboards, but there’s a bunch of guitars backing in every song. We wanted that, because we always had a feeling that the songwriting in our songs is a bit crazy. We know what we are doing in every song but in this album we took more time to let every song breathe and expand. By doing that, we had more space to add some more guitars in the melody in the background, and the same thing happened with the keyboards. I think it makes an impact to the overall sound of the album.

Dead Rhetoric: The title track is 4 parts and a total of 20 minutes – did it require any special consideration when you were writing it? Were you planning on it being as long as it ended up being?

Espinosa: We liked the idea of having a 20-minute song. We did it with Core, having three songs that were 20-minutes each. We had problems with getting it released, because we weren’t established and the label didn’t trust that it could work. They didn’t like the idea, but the media and fans loved it. So we wanted to do another 20-minute song. We felt that we have more knowledge now that would make the song interesting, and the lyrical content of the album gave us some freedom to do it.

Dead Rhetoric: What went into the “Prison Skin” video? I heard it was originally intended to be a lyric video.

Espinosa: When we started working on the promotional material, we were thinking of doing two videos, and one could be a lyric video. It’s a very useful promotional material nowadays. We like to hire artists and let them contribute – even with Travis Smith. We always tell him to do whatever he thinks is right. We are musicians and like to have freedom to work on songs, and we feel that artists should get the same treatment. So we got some artists from Andorra – we got a girl that was an amazing painter and another girl to work on the animation and told them the story behind the song and that they were free to do whatever they’d like. They did such an amazing job with the drawings and animation that it wasn’t necessary to have the lyrics on-screen. You can follow the video and it will have the same effect, if not a larger one, because the images make you think about what you are listening to. So we left it like that. It was a little scary with the epilepsy warning!

Dead Rhetoric: Yeah, I was surprised when I saw that!

Espinosa: It was a strange thing for us, because we let them do what they wanted. Someone came to the studio and told them that the video was great, but the flashing made them dizzy. There might be some people out there who may have problems watching it. So we made a warning at the beginning. It’s funny in the end – I don’t think anyone had any problems with the video.

Dead Rhetoric: You mentioned the artwork – you basically let Travis have free reign with the concepts involved?

Espinosa: Travis is a guy with a lot of experience – he has been doing this [for a while]. We told him that when we were young, we used to love all the covers that he did. He has been doing covers for longer than we have been playing music. Every time we work with him, we have the same approach – we say Travis, you can do whatever you want. He says “ok, but I need some clues.” He has a very focused way of working. He likes to get some ideas of what we are expecting to have in the cover and booklet images. Every time he sends us something, he gets us thinking and we send him some other crazy ideas. In the end, it’s great to work with him because he can deliver what you have in mind, or make it even better.

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