Myrath – Carrying On

Thursday, 22nd February 2024

Photo: Leo Margarit

Combining elements of progressive metal with their cultural, Middle Eastern influences, Myrath have made an impact with their music since changing names from Xtazy in 2006. Through five previous studio albums, they’ve been able to tour globally, impressing audiences from Africa to South America, Europe to North America even if it’s on a festival basis. Their latest album Karma may be their most focused effort to date – chock full of amazing songs that are uplifting, sure to move listeners on a multi-level basis. We spoke to keyboardist Kevin Codfert to gain some insight into the latest album, his outlook on songwriting and arranging/producing for the band, favorite experiences playing live, how failures have helped him succeed through Myrath, the realities of limited appeal within their own home country, plus what the future holds.

Dead Rhetoric: Karma is the sixth studio album for Myrath. How do you see this album sitting in the catalog for the group – and what do you enjoy most about your role as the keyboardist in this special style of progressive metal?

Kevin Codfert: I think the main difference between Karma and the other albums is the composing process. Everybody faced COVID-19, we were actually touring Europe during that. Suddenly the border closed, so I needed to come back as fast as possible to the south of France, my place. Unfortunately for the three Tunisian guys in the band, the government didn’t allow flights back into their country, so they were stuck in France, not knowing how to handle the situation. I decided to tell them to come to my place, and we will see. They stayed six months in France, which has been really hard to handle six people in a small recording studio and a small house. I took this opportunity to have the guys in front of me, take out a piano and try some ideas back and forth. Composing like every band composes, but Myrath has never experienced this.

Usually, from the previous albums, I write an idea, send it to Zaher (Zorgati) through the internet, 24 hours later he would come back with an idea, this way is a very digital way. It’s not an easy way to work, but it’s mainly because of the geography. We have some people in Tunisia, some in France – it’s expensive to buy flights and make it work. Strangely, COVID-19 gave us the opportunity to work. It changed all the process of composing. I’m proud to innovate and try new things.

Dead Rhetoric: You’ve premiered four singles from the record to date – how did you decide amongst the band which songs to put forward first, and how do you feel the response has been to date from the followers and critics?

Codfert: Basically, as a musician, if I had to choose (the singles), I would not choose these songs. These songs are great, and we put a lot of effort on (these), but as a piano player, I would have proposed different songs and a bit more complicated songs. That’s where the role of the record label enters. As a pianist, they understand that I really love a certain song, but this one (they chose) is a bit more minimalist. People will like it. It’s difficult sometimes to not think as a musician. In the end, the goal is to try to sell albums, and try to live with our music. Unfortunately, for the moment, we are not living off of Myrath. I am a computer coder for a living, all day long. Zaher is playing in bars. Our goal is to succeed at least a little bit more to live with our music. The way the record label handles this helps for us to achieve this.

Dead Rhetoric: What can you tell us regarding the cover art concept for Karma? Where do you see the importance of strong visual cover art and imagery to put across the right impression for what people can expect when they hear your music?

Codfert: I have to talk a bit about the lyrics. Everything came from the lyrics. Zaher the singer, told me on this album he wanted to talk about what we have been facing for twenty years now: discrimination, racism, speak about war, speak about climate change. The cover art is not for a concept album, we are digging into many different topics. When it’s a matter to choosing the cover for this, you have to find something that is an aggregation or an image of what you are telling in your stories. Zaher told me about something which is rotten inside and beautiful on the outside. We came with the idea of the rotten apple – the cover is more about the apple than the beautiful girl.

Dead Rhetoric: You also play an important role for the band as engineer, producer, mixer and master over the years. Can you discuss your process in these aspects and how you are able to achieve such a multi-dimensional sound with all the layers at play vocally and musically?

Codfert: The process – at the beginning I try to compose a song. When I say composing a song, I am trying to compose something in a minimalist way. I ask Zaher to find some ideas, he brings some ideas and I try to find some piano parts that will fit. We compose a lot of songs – for Karma we composed maybe forty or fifty songs. We decide what is good versus what is not good enough – we end up throwing out 80% of the material and try to focus on what we have. Based on this, we construct the guitar parts, bass parts, drum parts. Once I finish programming the drums I send the parts to the drummer, who can iterate on this and find better ideas. The same thing for guitars and bass – I try to draft something quickly and let the guitarist find better riffing on this. When we have the space, I do a little bit of the arrangement. We start to record – I do the sound design. I work with Jacob Hansen, he’s an awesome producer. I end up giving him these eighty tracks – and he does things his way because the regular ear can’t handle one million notes per second. So we did some arbitrage, lowering the arrangement a bit, let the vocalist breathe.

Dead Rhetoric: How would you compare your work and time with Adagio that you were a part of for over fifteen years compared to what you do with Myrath? What are some of the biggest accomplishments or lessons learned that you’ve been able to apply to the benefit of Myrath?

Codfert: First of all, I couldn’t do anything in Adagio. Of course, I tried to compose songs, compose ideas, business ideas – but everything was centralized with Stephan and his own vision. I’m not telling you that is right or wrong. It’s difficult to make it in the metal business. I couldn’t tell him my ideas, so that was one of the main reasons why I started to work with another band. Adagio was playing with another Tunisian band Xtazy, which was the previous incarnation of Myrath. I liked what they were doing, I knew there was a lot of stuff to improve, but let’s work together, change the name, and start a new story. I started to work with them more and more in a way that I couldn’t work with Adagio. Stephan never gave me the opportunity to do this. I decided to invest myself all in with Myrath and this band.

Dead Rhetoric: What’s it like to perform with this band live and the type of crowd response you get from all countries compared to what people experience on the records? What have been some of your favorite or more memorable moments with Myrath live?

Codfert: My aim as a musician is to share my music with people. And I think I’m influenced by fans to compose. When you are on stage and you see the reaction from the audience singing your songs, you try to create things and it motivates you to be better for the next album. The reactions can be different depending on the geographic region. For example, in Europe, people are a little bit colder than in Africa or in South America. My favorite place to play? I don’t know. We have a lot of fans in Tunisia for example, but they are not buying merchandise so it’s difficult to make things profitable as you are losing money. The loudness of the fans, you will find the maximum amount of loudness in South America and in Africa.

Dead Rhetoric: What were your thoughts on your ProgPower USA performance last year?

Codfert: It was amazing. The first time we were invited, we had to call Glenn a couple of weeks before the festival that we didn’t have the money to come. The fees were not enough to pay for the flights. As three band members are from Tunisia, they are not allowed to have credit cards, or Euros, and enter the US territory without a working visa. All those things made it impossible. We have been invited again, and we could make it. The second time we played just before Mike Portnoy. And the last time we were headlining, it’s a kind of revenge on life. For a band like Myrath, it’s one hundred times more complicated than other bands. When you wake up, you don’t ask yourself if you can buy food with your credit card. That’s the question we are asking ourselves every day.

Dead Rhetoric: Your songs contain a lot of positive and uplifting messages which can be very important in these tense, difficult times. What does the message within the lyrics and music mean to the people within the band – and how does that transmit and connect with the people?

Codfert: Through many years of frustration and discrimination, you have two options. We get depressed sometimes, and through the pandemic there were three years of frustration which was really bad. In the end, if you want to succeed and continue, you have to make the music that helps you through to carry on. That way, our music helps us and the band, and it can help also people who face depression one day. Because I don’t know any people who didn’t face some issues, sometimes we are too proud to admit it.

Dead Rhetoric: Where do you see the state of progressive metal currently across the globe? Are there specific elements that excite you, and are there any areas that you think musicians maybe need to change or dig deeper into to make things better for the overall state of the movement?

Codfert: I don’t know. If I tell you that progressive music is dead, will you believe me? There is no market. There are creative musicians like Dream Theater who are making really interesting progressive music. But there are maybe ten bands on earth who can do this for a living. Progressive music has changed over the years. The new progressive guys today are doing more djent style progressive music. What I can say to the pure progressive scene is try to simplify your music a bit. For two reasons – simplifying the music is more difficult than composing progressive music. Anybody can do fifteen-minute-long songs, it’s easy to do this. It’s not easy to do a three-minute song which is not regimented. The world changed, and there seems to be no place anymore for big progressive new bands.

Dead Rhetoric: How do you balance the music responsibilities you have with your career as well as maintaining the business side of things, plus the relationships, friends, and family time you have outside of your career? Does it become challenging and frantic at times?

Codfert: Of course. I’m coding eight hours a day. That is from eight to five to code, and 5 pm to 2 am in the morning to compose. Plus, a wife, plus a daughter, plus friends. It’s a life that you can’t do if you are not motivated to do it, because it can be destructive sometimes. For a musician that is making a band for a living, it’s okay, and I hope that we can achieve this target. Until we achieve this target, the life is almost work only.

Dead Rhetoric: What have you been able to learn about Tunisia and surprised you? It must be much harder for a band like Myrath to make a global impact coming from a country that isn’t really well-known for its metal bands…

Codfert: When I started to work with these guys, I did it because I loved the music and the potential. Not because of marketing or possibilities. We faced this very soon as a band, a lot of issues. Tunisia is not a metal country. There is a maximum of 7,000 fans that are metalheads – and it cannot get bigger. There is no music industry, no school for music teaching, no school for music marketing. In order to be successful, starting from there is almost impossible. Besides Myrath, I don’t know any Tunisian bands that can make it. The only way we could do something to make it that is possible is because I’m French.

Dead Rhetoric: What’s the best piece of advice you’ve ever received regarding the music industry? And when people seek out advice from you, what words of wisdom or thoughts do you try to impart?

Codfert: The best advice – the first piece is don’t stop things after a failure. We are facing 99% failure, and 1 % success. If you are not allowed to endure the failure, stop music directly. The second one is strategy management when it comes to income. How to spend your money to make the best value possible. There is not a million Euros when you are only selling thousands of albums, the income for the band is almost nothing. You need to organize tours, festivals, video clips, and the recordings. Logistic and financial strategy is something that I learned from other people in the industry. Actually, from my manager, and also friends like Par from Sabaton. He taught me a lot of things.

Dead Rhetoric: Speaking of failure, do you have a favorite failure that happened in your music career that maybe set you up for a better, surprising outcome later on?

Codfert: My best failure was with Adagio. If I didn’t fail with that, I couldn’t attempt to succeed with Myrath. I capitalized on all the failures; I did some introspection and I worked on it. Doing the same failure each time, it’s stupidity. If you can have different failures, it’s better.

Dead Rhetoric: What are some hobbies, interests, and passions that you have outside of music when you have the free time and energy to pursue them?

Codfert: I love skiing. Within two weeks I will ski in the French Alps. It’s one of the biggest skiing stations in the world. I like rollerblading, I like sports. I like coding, a side project around cryptocurrency and blockchain. When I am talking about blockchain, it’s not just work for me – it’s technology. I like to implement stuff into the block chain system.

Dead Rhetoric: How do things look for Myrath over the next twelve months for touring, festival appearances, promotion, etc.? Are there other projects or record appearances we have to look forward to from yourself as well?

Codfert: I think I will focus only on Myrath for the next two years. I started to compose the next album after Karma already. I expect that we can organize a tour soon. The band is my priority.

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