Catalyst Crime – Catalyst for ChangeSunday, 24th October 2021
A few years back, the band Catalyst Crime was announced and featured some key names from scene. Established vocalist Zoë Marie Federoff (Insatia), drummer Gerit Lamm (Xandria), and Jonah Weingarten (Pyramaze) sitting at the forefront, we’ve finally reached the release of the band’s first full-length self-titled album. A powerhouse of symphonic metal that isn’t afraid of blurring genre lines in the best way possible while still delivering an epic and cinematic experience. We spoke with Federoff as well as guitarist Kaelen Sarakinis to discuss their release, their intriguing songwriting process, advice, as well as what they’d like to see as far as changes in the genre go in the future.
Dead Rhetoric: The band was announced a bit ago, did you take some time to develop what the music was all about before you released a full-length?
Zoë Marie Federoff: It’s more like we got everything together and then the pandemic happened. It kind of left us holding a completed album waiting for everything to get back to normal.
Dead Rhetoric: What are you most proud of with the album, as it is your first release?
Federoff: I think I am really proud of how we went outside of a lot of typical symphonic metal boundaries. We brought in progressive metal and death metal, and there are other symphonic bands that bring in some of those death metal elements, but usually they have a male vocalist doing the harsh vocals. It was a lot of fun to do both of them as the female vocalist. In fact, in a lot of reviews, reviewers have missed the point that I am doing all of the vocals on the album. They think one of the guys is doing the growls [laughs], that’s me too!
Kaelen Sarakinis: For me, it’s how quickly people jumped on board in support of what we were doing. When Alex [Krull] heard what we were doing, with our demos and stuff, he got excited about it and wanted to work with us. That’s the type of thing that I’m most proud of, because before it was fully developed, we were really catching the attention of people and that gave us the steam that we have now. In symphonic metal, it’s a more niche genre, so to catch attention quickly where a lot of bands go unnoticed is really great! I think we need more symphonic metal bands to catch attention.
Dead Rhetoric: You’ve got a lot of guests and friends involved in the album. Any fun stories about how they anyone got involved?
Federoff: There’s a lot of them actually [laughs]. Everyone that got involved is a really good friend of at least one member in the band, which is really nice. We had these relationships going on before we knew we wanted them on the album. It’s funny because a couple of the guests were met on 70,000 Tons of Metal. I met Alex Krull for the first time on the cruise several years ago and we really just hit it off due to our very similar background as single parents. I have to credit 70,000 Tons of Metal as a place that allows you to create these kinds of friendships. It’s the same thing with Harri Hytönen from Kalmah. I also met him on 70,000 Tons of Metal [laughs]. That’s actually where I fell in love with Kalmah. His guitar playing was so impressive and dynamic that I knew we had to have him on the album.
Dead Rhetoric: I saw that you have a new guitarist (Chëna Ohanele) since the album was recorded. What does she bring to the band?
Sarakinis: Oh my gosh, I could rave about her for days! I started writing some new material for the next album, with her and Jonah [Weingarten], and we have been working on some cool stuff. She wasn’t a part of the writing for the first album, so I can say that she’s bringing hard-work, dedication, thick riffs and solos, and honestly, she all around has a work ethic that is hard to find in guitarists. There are so many guitarists out there, but to find a guitarist that sticks is really tough, and to find people who are able to work together without egos to find the best working solution – she is well-rounded on every aspect. Personally, I don’t think we could have picked a better guitarist to join the band.
Federoff: I totally agree. She is magnificent and yet not pretentious. It’s amazing!
Dead Rhetoric: You kind of feel like you have the band set, in terms of the way you want it to move forward?
Federoff: Yeah, it’s a good group. It’s a very strange group, it’s like the island of misfit toys I have to say [laughter], because we all come from such different backgrounds and walks of life. Somehow it all ends up working out together musically. I am very fond of everyone in this band, and even better, I love working with them!
Dead Rhetoric: Can you talk about the writing process for the band? I was checking out another interview and I heard you write vocal lines and place the song around them?
Federoff: It’s a nontraditional approach, and we acknowledge that, but we really wanted to work on making the songs something that sticks in your head. People sing along with the vocals, not the guitars unless they are cool – I respect people who sing along to the guitars [laughs] because I have heard that before too. But we wanted to make the songs about the vocal lines, and of course we give space to the rest of the instruments, but writing the vocals first has really worked out for us so far and we will definitely continue to do it for the next album.
Dead Rhetoric: It’s interesting that you mention that, since when you hear someone writing the vocal lines first, it usually ends up having a more pop-ish feel to it. When I listen to the band, I hear a lot of pure symphonic stuff, and the extreme pieces shine through too.
Federoff: Thank you for saying that, because that was a goal too. We didn’t want it to become too poppy to the point where it was just about the vocals. It was our goal to give space to everything. I think all the members of the band get to shine quite brilliantly in places. Kaelen came up with this verse part in “Condemn Me to Chaos” that has this groove to it. It’s really different and fun. That’s something that also stands out on its own in the song, and of course we made the vocal lines very memorable as well.
Dead Rhetoric: So what do you feel makes a vocal line ‘pop?’ Is there something that makes it stand out to you where you say, “Okay, this is something we can work off of?”
Federoff: You know, when you are writing hooks, you are looking for this resolution that people generally hear when they are listening to pop music. It’s that resolution that keeps bringing people back for more and more, and keeps the song on repeat so you sing along with it. So hooks are the most important part when writing vocal lines and there are very familiar chord progression and melody lines that have been repeated throughout musical history. Pachelbel’s Canon in D is present in like 40% of all pop songs produced today. There’s familiar chord progressions and melodies that we just like to listen to and we just keep listening to them over and over again. We are no exception. We have borrowed from here and there as well, creating our own melodies but also following some familiar melodies when it comes to how human beings listen to music.
Dead Rhetoric: Could you discuss the father/daughter relationship and its impact on Catalyst Crime’s music.
Federoff: It was never the original intention to have my father in the band. It happened quite by accident because our original bassist, who was fantastic, had to step out due to a health crisis and he stepped out one month before we were supposed to go into the studio. That put us in a bind, we didn’t know what to do and weren’t sure how to hire a bassist with a month to go. I was raised by a very metalhead father. He took me to see Iron Maiden when I was growing up. He’s the reason that I’m into heavy metal, and he also happens to be a very good bass player. So I approached him, I did not talk to my mom first, and asked him if he wanted to play bass on my heavy metal album. He was like, “Sure, I’ll do it!” He wrote everything and recorded it within a month, which was nuts. Then afterwards, we told my mom, “I’m thinking of taking him on tour with me [laughs]!”
Dead Rhetoric: You are versed in the symphonic metal world, what makes Catalyst Crime stand out? I know you’ve already mentioned a few things already.
Federoff: What I feel we bring to the table is that instead of having beauty and the beast vocals, we have one singer, me – a female, doing both vocal parts and I think it adds a different vibe…
Sarakinis: Jeckyll and Hyde kind of vibes…
Federoff: Exactly! I love that, because it gives me a different style of vocals to express and emotions with. There are some emotions that just lend themselves much better to harsh vocals than clean vocals. Having that freedom for me to express those vocals, instead of having a man express them, it feels really good. We are still kind of unique in that sense, though there are a couple other bands doing that, like Seven Spires, but I really enjoy doing both.
Sarakinis: I think for us, we have a variety of influences amongst us with the umbrella/common ground of symphonic metal. I guess to me, it’s going to bring in some different tastes in metal. I love prog, so bringing in as many elements as possible to make the song whole is essential to having a good track. It’s not going to be cookie cutter, like if it doesn’t fit the genre it doesn’t go into the song. Anything we decide to come up with – sometimes we discuss in the studio to simplify things down but then we come back to certain things, but then it doesn’t hit the same with a certain groove to it that comes in from different styles. I like a lot of deathcore and technical death metal and prog, so I try to bring in different sides of guitar playing into it, even if it’s still in the backbone rhythm section of a symphonic metal part. You want to have that little catch of curiosity. Jonah, in his other bands, he has certain styles. When we discuss riff ideas, we sometimes have different ideas and I’ll throw out some ideas that aren’t so typical for the genre but it works really well to catch everyone off guard. I know Gerit [Lamm] likes the riffs to break even because of that bounce gives a lot of fun for the drums. When I write my riffs, I think about everyone. How can we spice things up for each of us, even if Gerit and I are the backbone.
Federoff: I have to interject, since I’m pretty sure that my dad joined the band partly because he really liked Kaelen’s guitar style. It wasn’t typical symphonic metal guitars.
Sarakinis: Matt [Federoff] is also a bit of a prog nerd like I am, so we nerd out sending each other music all of the time for fun guitar and bass riffs, grooves, and things that are a little different. We are bringing some different things to the table for next time, so watch out Zoe, you don’t know what I have in store for you!
Dead Rhetoric: How far along are you, in terms of plotting out new material?
Federoff: We have about 14 songs we are working on now.
Sarakinis: I think there are about 20 in Jonah’s roster that we have been back and forth with.
Federoff: Gosh, maybe we do have 20!
Sarakinis: it’s more about deciding what we want to work on [laughs]. I know Zoe doesn’t have vocals on a few that Jonah and I have been going back on forth with. There are about 14 with vocals, and six without vocals as well.
Federoff: Yeah, we are going to try a couple of them without writing the vocals first.
Dead Rhetoric: What do you feel is the best piece of advice you have been given about music?
Sarakinis: I don’t think I’ve ever been given good advice, but my advice would be not to give up on your dreams. There’s a lot of people I’ve seen in the scene who, for a variety of reasons, can’t keep up with music all the time. It’s one of those things that getting anywhere successfully might take more time. Especially in our genre you have a lot of people popping in here and there – some bands that don’t last. But when you meet people who are all as passionate and who have been waiting it out, for the right people as well, it can really work and be great. It’s more of a don’t give up mentality – you have to sift through the scene to find the right musicians.
Federoff: I would agree with that, and would add that the best advice I have gotten was from another woman in the genre. When people try to criticize you, or take you down a few pegs, they are trying to control you. They want something that you have. I think all women especially in this business need to understand that when someone is telling you something that might seem negative or might be perceived as negative about you or your music, a lot of time what they are trying to do is insert themselves as the solution to that problem and control you in some way. So don’t let them.
Dead Rhetoric: Back when you were in Insatia, we talked about the struggles of a band playing a more European style in America. Have any of those thoughts changed over the years?
Federoff: I still personally feel that there is some sort of bias against non-European bands and musicians in this genre – and I will say that very carefully because there some good bands that are coming out of the States and Canada at this point. Overall, people still expect it to come from Europe. I really don’t think that is fair. We are overlooking not just us, but a lot of other symphonic metal bands that are doing some really cool things over here in the States, like Seven Spires for example. I don’t know if that attitude is going to change, but what do we say…Gerit is our necessary 1/6 of Europeanism in the band [laughs].
Sarakinis: I’m the token Canadian to balance out the North Americans here.
Federoff: You are Montreal, which is basically Europe. Now, of course, all of our confirmed tour dates are in Europe, so we’ll see how they feel about how non-Europeans doing this [laughs].
Sarakinis: North America doesn’t have as much of a fanbase for symphonic metal. North America, in general, kind of toned down their local band support, as well as their general concert support. There’s a lot of metalheads that I know that are going to more electronic festivals and thing like that, more than they are going to metal shows. As a symphonic metal band in North America, I find it harder to have that same pull that you do in Europe for symphonic metal. But we are a primarily North American symphonic metal band, so we will have that hurdle in Europe as well that Zoe was talking about.
Dead Rhetoric: What would you like to see from metal as we move forward?
Federoff: I think the biggest thing I want to see from metal going forward is I want to see an end to the gatekeeping/elitism. Metal has so many subgenres now and they all bring something to the table. Just because you don’t enjoy one subgenre, it doesn’t mean to need to take a shit all over it. The other big thing is: can we please stop asking women what it is like to be in a metal band? I am so over it. The last thing I want to say is that can we please stop pretending that there is only a finite number of female musicians that we are allowed to have in metal? We haven’t met some quota of women in metal. There aren’t too many women in metal, or singing in metal. There can be just as many women as men, and there is number we have to stop at.
Dead Rhetoric: I saw the post you had made earlier about something similar and as an interviewer I like to read other people’s chats to see what questions I can come up with. It’s really embarrassing sometimes the things that people ask female vocalists.
Federoff: It’s extremely embarrassing. It can stop now. We have been telling people for like 10-15 years at this point. I remember watching interviews with Floor [Jansen] and Simone [Simons] kind of slapping down those questions, as well as Charlotte Wessels from Delain. It’s time for people to learn. It’s 2021, soon to be 2022. Please adjust.
Sarakinis: Along with the women thing, I’d like to see less hyper-masculinity or toxic masculinity in metal as well. That is prevalent still, despite the progress our community has made. We are known to be a lot more gallant than most, but unfortunately we have a bit of a problem there that needs to be re-managed. Hopefully we can get a bit less of that, because we see it coming out in those comments towards women in metal, as well as the homophobia too. I’m tired of it. We are almost in 2022…come on.
Federoff: Don’t change the music, change the people. Make the scene better! Music is great, let’s make the scene healthy.
Dead Rhetoric: You mentioned a tour in Europe. Do you have any other plans at the moment?
Federoff: We have so many plans right now and unfortunately they all hinge on this pandemic getting under control. The problem is, as soon as you reschedule one thing, it creates a domino effect and you have to reschedule everything else and see if it still works. We’d like to say that we are making concrete plans, but like every band in the world right now, we are waiting with baited breath to see what actually happens next.
Sarakinis: So it’s just the waiting game, and the writing game in the meantime.