The Agonist – Seizing the MomentWednesday, 28th September 2016
It’s been pretty busy times for The Agonist over the last two years. After finding a new vocalist in Vicky Psarakis, the band released their fourth album, Eye of Providence. They jumped on a number of tours following, and the re-invigorated line-up started up songwriting as well. A year and a half after Eye of Providence, the band has returned with their fifth album, appropriately titled Five. And with a new label in tow.
As The Agonist has yet to really repeat themselves, Five takes the elements introduced on Eye and expands upon them in new directions and sounds. Vocalist Psarakis appears more at home with Five, extending her range to new levels, while the remainder of the band continues to diversify and mix genres with ease. All of which were discussed in a chat we did with the singer, along with some talk of some Internet discussion of a recent photo shoot, and how she tends to her voice on the road.
Dead Rhetoric: Did you feel more comfortable in the song/lyric writing process with Five, given that you’ve had some time to acclimate to being in the band?
Vicky Psarakis: Absolutely. I would say that it’s exactly what you said. I’m more comfortable – I’ve been in the band for 2.5 years now. There wasn’t as much pressure as there was with Eye of Providence, where I had just joined the band and there was a lot of working with people for the first time, and thinking about the already existing fans of The Agonist and what they might expect me to do vocally. Once I passed that hurdle and Eye of Providence was done – working on Five was completely natural, and it was just the songwriting process between me and my bandmates, with no external pressure.
Dead Rhetoric: Looking back over the last few years, is it surreal to look back at the last few years, going from doing cover songs on YouTube to being a member of The Agonist?
Psarakis: Yeah – that was the goal when I was doing covers on YouTube…to be grabbed by a band, and it happened so I couldn’t be happier. Even though that was the goal, I didn’t expect it to happen. It felt like I was chasing a dream, and in the end it doesn’t happen for most people. It’s a big change and a completely different experience. In the one scenario, you are at home recording covers in the safety of your living room, where this is more of a full-time, professional job.
Dead Rhetoric: Coming in with Eye of Providence and now with Five, from your perspective, has The Agonist found their sound?
Psarakis: I think so. It’s hard to tell because every album is different – especially in The Agonist. You hear a progression from album to album. This album [Five] felt a lot more comfortable, vocally, to me. It felt a lot more personal and I felt like I could connect with it more as a musician. I think it’s a step in what The Agonist is going to sound like. We are that kind of band where every album will be a bit different than the previous one. But I feel like we are [moving in a clear] direction.
Dead Rhetoric: Admittedly, this seems a bit strange to bring up, but it seemed like a big thing on the Internet…are you surprised by the number of comments that have been directed at the new band photos, in particular with you being singled out with people thinking you were replaced by a new singer?
Psarakis: I was a bit surprised to be honest. I did expect a little bit, just because of the styling and the picture, and the editing – everything is a little different compared to previous photo shoots. I don’t usually have my hair up that way or and I’m not usually dressed that way. A lot of it had to do with the editing with PhotoShop – the coloring of it and all that. I did expect a few comments but was surprised at the amount of comments.
Dead Rhetoric: It almost seems like there is a bit of irony that is being missed…thinking back to the video for “Gates of Horn and Ivory,” where you satirized looks over the music.
Psarakis: Yeah, it wasn’t intended [to cause controversy]. But when we did get the photo back…the thing that everyone has to realize is that a lot of times things are last minute, or there are deadlines. If you aren’t happy with something, sometimes you don’t have the time or luxury to work on it more until you get the result you want. It’s like rolling the dice and taking the risk, and we accept whatever comes back. At the end of day, it’s just a photo right? People have to realize that we are musicians and what counts is the music itself – we aren’t models [laughs].
Dead Rhetoric: I think too, that if you look at The Agonist over the years in terms of photo shoots – you never really have the “stereotypical picture.” There’s always something that’s outside of the box…
Psarakis: Definitely. We always try to do that both with photos and videos – trying to think outside of the box and do something that hasn’t been done before. It’s difficult, because everything has been done [laughs]. We just try to make it a little less clichéd than what people expect us to do.
Dead Rhetoric: Speaking of videos, the video for “The Moment” has you in a water box for a portion of it. What was it like to record that?
Psarakis: It was pretty crazy, as you can imagine [laughs]. It definitely wasn’t comfortable having to do that, but it was well-worth the end result. That is what I had in mind when I was doing it. I envisioned what it would be like when I was on-camera and I knew it was going to look amazing. A lot of times you have to make sacrifices for the end results. Most of the time those sacrifices are well worth it.
Dead Rhetoric: Are there plans for more videos down the road at this point?
Psarakis: Yes, we are definitely releasing a video with the album release at the end of the month. Hopefully another one later on, but I’m not sure since we are going on tour right away. But I’m positive that we will end up doing another video as well.
Dead Rhetoric: Nice – like I already said…the approach with The Agonist is always been to do something different, so it seems like it’s something that fans look forward to because they know that they aren’t going to get the standard, “band playing in the garage” thing…
Psarakis: [Laughs] Definitely. Even when we do performance videos, we try to make the scenery or the environment interesting. Like you said, it’s not the band in the garage. Storylines and all that stuff is great – but at the end of the day, fans do want to see is us rocking out in the videos. So we have to deliver the performance bit, but it’s about how we are going to make the performance look a little more interesting than the typical band video.
Dead Rhetoric: Could you discuss the usage of the fifth element in regards to the album Five?
Psarakis: That was one of the reasons that we named the album Five. It’s very general really – it’s just the whole idea of the fifth element and it’s something that you can’t perceive and touch. It’s only something that you can feel. Throughout the years, people tried to connect with that, through meditation, drug-usage, or whatever. We as a band, we feel that it’s something that anyone can connect to through music. That’s something that not a lot of people do anymore – where they just put on an album and they sit down, without doing anything else, and just focus on the album. We believe that if you do that, and if the album really speaks to you – it’s a great album, then it can take you to that place where you normally wouldn’t go to in your everyday life.
Dead Rhetoric: Do you think that overall, because metal listeners can skew in a different direction, that the ADD/whatever you want to call it mentality – is that a detriment to making something that actually stands out as art, as opposed to making a bubble-gum pop song?
Psarakis: Yeah, it definitely contributes to that. It feels like people don’t have the attention span anymore. 20-seconds in, if it is not something that is absolutely hooky, they just close it and move onto the next thing. It’s kind of sad – a lot of the music is dumbed down, especially in genres like pop or modern rock, but it’s happening in the metal genre as well. It’s expected of bands to do that too. If you want to work with the big-time producer, they are going to tell you that your music needs to be simpler – it has to have that hook or that catchy thing for someone to want to listen to it again and again. That’s fine, because throughout the years – even decades ago, there were bands that had those songs. But they were only a couple songs. They would release an album that would have that one track that had a hook, but the rest wouldn’t be like that. They would be more progressive, or at least not like that more standard structure of music that is happening now. The main difference is that is expected on every single song, rather than just one or two tracks.
Dead Rhetoric: Looking at the songs on the album, is “The Man Who Fell to Earth” about David Bowie?
Psarakis: Yes, that was a song that Danny [Marino] wrote the lyrics for, but he didn’t actually write the lyrics. He used one of David Bowie’s methods for lyric writing. He would cut out words around a topic that he had in mind, from magazines or whatever, and he’d take those cut outs and rearrange them to make a song. That’s what Danny did – he took a bunch of review of David Bowie’s last album before he died, and he passed that onto me afterwards. I created the vocals around the sentences that he had. It was a way of paying tribute to him.
Dead Rhetoric: The other song I wanted to ask about, which you can probably see coming already – is what made you choose “Take Me to Church” as a cover track for the album?
Psarakis: The band wanted to do a cover for a long time, then when we signed with Napalm, they asked if we could potentially get a cover onto the album. So we really pushed ourselves to really find a song. We wanted a song that was relevant, and was playing out there on the radio that people know outside of the metal genre. It was really hard to find something because a lot of the time we would like a song musically, but the lyrics didn’t make sense for us…or the other way around. When we heard “Take Me to Church,” the lyrics are kind of dark and you could see a rock/metal take to the song, so we went along with it and jammed on it, and it made it what it was.
Dead Rhetoric: With a song like that, it’s a good thing that you didn’t turn it into something overtly aggressive. You definitely but The Agonist spin on it, but with the sound at the end, do you think that if you put that out there, it could bring in some new fans for the band?
Psarakis: I hope so. I think that was Napalm’s reasoning behind it – when a metal band covers a big song that’s on the radio, that it could bring some fans who would never hear of the band otherwise. So they pushed for it, and we wanted to do it as well. It’s not like we were forced, obviously. We ended up picking a good song I think. The way it turned out – like you said – we put The Agonist touch to it. I hope it does well for us. You can never tell, but I think it’s out there now. It’s been playing on the radio, so that’s a good thing.
Dead Rhetoric: So how did you end up signing with Napalm Records?
Psarakis: Our contract with Century Media was up – it was only for 4 albums. We were faced with a decision to renew our contract or go to a different label. We had a couple offers, and from everything we had, the Napalm deal was the best one, so we chose that.
Dead Rhetoric: If I remember correctly, you didn’t do too much with growling before The Agonist. What type of training have you done to keep your voice in shape on the road?
Psarakis: You are right about that [screaming] – joining a band, it’s like diving into deep waters right away. But there’s not really one method to whatever you do. One thing I learned from being on the road is that all you need to do it take really good care of your voice. Often I try to speak as little as possible and I go to bed for a good 8 hours, and drink lots and lots of water. That usually helps.
Dead Rhetoric: Going more generally, what drew you into metal music?
Psarakis: I think it was something about the aggression in it. I was a teenager, 14 or 15, when I first heard a few metal bands. I think it was the fact that it sounded like nothing else that was on the radio at the time. Especially for a teenager growing up, it’s a good release from every teenage worry that you might have. So the aggression and the emotion really drew me in.
Dead Rhetoric: You have a tour coming up with Epica – what else do you have planned once the album comes out?
Psarakis: We have a short European tour before the US tour. It’s like 2.5 weeks. We’ll be playing with Epica at Epic Metal Fest in the Netherlands. A few shows in Sweden, Germany, Spain, and Portugal too. Aside from that, we don’t have anything else but we do want to tour as much as possible. Come 2017, we are going to try to get more European and US tours – hopefully other places as well. We want to be on the road as much as possible and promote this album.