Seven Spires – Recoloring the Present

Wednesday, 26th July 2017

Long time readers of this site know of the affinity for Seven Spires. Fortunate for this scribe to catch early shows of this band around the Boston-area that they call home base, in four years they’ve released a debut EP with The Cabaret of Dreams, performed numerous shows with local talent up and down New England as well as gained opening slot shows with a variety of symphonic, death, power, and progressive metal acts from Fleshgod Apocalypse and Arch Enemy to Sonata Arctica, Amaranthe, to Unleash the Archers. They’ve developed a sound that features power, classical/film score, and extreme elements – providing a picturesque landscape to the songwriting and performances you rarely hear from a younger group.

Successfully using social media and crowdfunding throughout their career, they’ve achieved so much in a short time, spreading their sound globally to a burgeoning fanbase hungry for more. Their latest album Solveig should quench that aural/visual thirst, so we felt that it was more than appropriate to catch up with vocalist Adrienne Cowan – who is very hands on and friendly in her vision and execution of all things Seven Spires. You’ll find out how things have been going over this four-year journey, the concept behind Solveig, how they handle social media and enjoy connecting with their fans, as well as how important family support has been for achieving her dreams. Fresh on the road to perform at the Metal Days week-long festival in Slovenia, here’s our interview.

Dead Rhetoric: Seven Spires has been in existence now for 4 years. How do you feel about the development of the band from a musical as well as a fanbase standpoint – are things moving at an acceptable or faster than anticipated pace?

Adrienne Cowan: So, as far as musical growth – I think we are all always growing quickly but never as quickly as we would like. And it’s not to say that we are not growing, it’s just that we are all Type A personalities to the point where everything has to be super ambitious, like robots. We as musicians also practice at our craft every day. Considering we haven’t put out anything since 2014, I hope we continue to expand our following exponentially.

Dead Rhetoric: Solveig is the first full-length record for the band – consisting of the previous songs from The Cabaret of Dreams EP and 8 additional songs that also fit in with the concept. Did you rework/retool the old material now that Peter and Chris as your rhythm section have been in the band awhile, and can you give us some insight into how the rest of these recordings went?

Cowan: We did re-record the songs from the EP. As you said, it’s a concept album, so the EP songs were act one, and the following eight songs are act two. Jack and I had pretty much written the entire record, three times (laughs). I re-orchestrated the EP songs, because I had been at Berklee and doing this a little longer, so I had a better idea of communicating my ideas more effectively. Unfortunately, most of the record was done before Chris came into the band, so he is not on this record. He will be in the future though. Having a bass player like Peter on the level that Jack is at guitar, makes an incredible difference as to the depth of certain songs.

Recording with Pete was an eye-opening process for me. As a 15-year-old fan of Yngwie Malmsteen and Alexi Laiho, I always knew that as an over the top vocalist, I would absolutely always need a guitarist who was my equal in that they loved to show off musically, had the training to back it up, and of course had a complimentary musical background to mine. What I didn’t realize is how much of a difference it makes to also have a bassist who fits this bill. Pete came in with an open mind, great tone, a background in metal, classical, and jazz, and these parts that added so much more depth to the songs.

We were not blessed by the metal gods with Chris until after everything on Solveig was already recorded, but I have worked with him in the studio on other projects and know that he is the perfect blend of beast and human metronome. He is a student of all genres and has an immense wealth of knowledge when it comes to time play and other brain-tickling musical challenges. I am always writing new material by myself and with Jack, but it’s going to be an absolute blast working with Pete and Chris on the next records. They push me to be better!

Dead Rhetoric: How did you come up with the conceptual story for Solveig? And is it a challenge for you to fit specific points of the story and be economical with words as the music develops, or do you trust the process so to speak that things work themselves out over time, editing, and refinement?

Cowan: I really trust the process. We write tons of music all the time- we are two albums ahead of this one already. By now, we write songs and trust this will fit in somewhere, and that will fit in elsewhere. It is difficult to say everything as concisely as possible with any lyrics. I’ve been working on pre-order perks for the album, and handwritten lyrics including the song “Burn”, which is the longest song on Solveig – and I probably could have been a little more economical lyrically.

The story usually comes first from a deep-rooted feeling, which is then expanded via mood boards and other visuals – are we spending a lot of time upon a grey and dreary sea, searching for an old home that doesn’t exist, or are we in a sleepless neo-Victorian/black metal hell lit by the souls of the dead? At the same time, we begin talking about what musical directions we want to take – more extreme? More commercial? A song or two gets written, I see the first scene of the story, and the skeleton of the thing just unfurls on its own.

It can be difficult to fit the story into the confines of the lyrics, but even more difficult is to tell the story through characters, as opposed to a narrator. I’m not terribly keen on singing something like, ‘And then he forged the enchanted blade in the fires of old, with sweat upon his brow and a hunger in his heart. Then he climbed upon his dragon’s back and went to war. Saved the kingdom. The end’. It’s so important to get into the characters’ minds and really tell how they feel; it’s part of what lets the songs stand as individuals.

Dead Rhetoric: Guitarist Jack Kosto and yourself went over to Sascha Paeth’s studio in Germany to work on some of the final mixes and touch-ups as well. How was this experience, and what is his method or work process like that makes the recordings that much better or stronger?

Cowan: It was an amazing experience. Sascha has worked on almost all of my favorite records, in his corner of the metal world. There was a point when we were over there that Tobias Sammet called him, and my 15-year old self went, ‘Oh my God!’ (laughs). It was like all the characters from my favorite book were real and coming to life. Recording with Sascha was a little bit surreal, honestly. I was a little bit intimidated at first, but he is such a cool person, and has this amazing set of ears, sense of melody, and the ability to bring out a performance from a vocalist that is so memorable and effective. He made me feel very comfortable – made me lots of tea, talked about my lyrics and the feelings behind them, talked about my favorite vocalists and what was great or not so great about them. I guess he knows how to quickly get to know what makes any given musician tick, so he can get the performance he wants out of them.

Dead Rhetoric: From what I understand, this is the first part of a trilogy of albums, and that you are already developing material for the third record. Will Seven Spires always be pushing the boundaries and extending outside elements to broaden the outlook of symphonic metal due to your love of cinema, theater, opera, and wide array of musical inspirations/influences?

Cowan: Seven Spires will very likely always push the boundaries of symphonic metal. Until recent years, I always felt that the genre was growing a little bit stagnant. There is always much to be expressed – I really don’t feel great about only writing ‘there’s an attractive person in the general vicinity’ songs – and there can be so much more to storytelling than epic high notes and blast beats. Humans are creatures of complex hearts, so I think sticking solely to the drums/bass/guitars/maybe a string patch on keys/miscellaneous vocals lineup would never feel like enough tools to properly illustrate this in music.

Life doesn’t happen in three-minute segments, either; there are always things from your past popping up and recoloring your present and future experiences. Film, theatre, and game scores highlight this with recurring themes, and I very much prefer to also write this way. It only makes sense for us!

Dead Rhetoric: You use social media extensively to not just market the band and engage with the fans, but also individual endeavors – such as the vocal covers you choose to do. Where do you see the importance of the internet, what platforms have been most effective for Seven Spires, and how do you handle the ever-changing music consumption model for followers who often stream or download music versus physical product ownership?

Cowan: Wow, that’s a good question. The internet connects the world. With it, we are able to speak and interact with our fans in ways that we wouldn’t be able to without it. We have a Facebook group called the Seventh Brigade, I guess it is kind of our fan club of sorts where we can all be together and crack stupid jokes and talk about music, but there are people from all over the US, Europe, South America, and I think that is so cool.

Facebook live streams have become more popular these days I guess, I like to go live because I get to actually talk to people who support us and like our art. But, I think having that real-time video style and other day-to-day video updates also allows people to really get to know the artist behind the mask. I know that, for example, if Shagrath did live streams of him hanging out or practicing (does he even practice anymore?) I would be totally thrilled to see that he is a person with a house and I don’t know, a kitchen and a semi-regular life, kind of like me? So maybe it is the same for people who watch our videos. We are also quite a visual band with strong aesthetics, so photo-heavy platforms like Instagram are great for expressing this and finding people like us who enjoy the darker and finer things in life.

As far as the ever-changing music consumption model, there’s really no fighting streaming, downloading, etc. It’s great that people are able to access music like this – the trick is to create a physical product people will actually want. There are people who don’t bother with anything more than mp3’s, there are people who want to support bands by buying their record, and then there are those people that want something really special. They actively want something from the artist’s world, so for these people we make something unique: a hand-sanded, stained, and varnished wooden box full of letters from one of the characters as a way to tell the story, plus handwritten lyric sheets. At that point, it’s not just about records and money. They are holding a piece of the band’s soul, or a relic from the band’s universe, and so on.

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