Oryad – Artistic AuthenticityThursday, 18th May 2023
Creating a sound that contains opera, jazz, and metal elements into this progressive, symphonic-oriented kaleidoscope, Oryad contains members from Colorado and Tennessee – making this a true cross-country collaboration. The latest album Sacred & Profane takes the listener into a doom, progressive opera journey, incorporating modern touches without losing the essence of atmosphere and emotion that keeps this genre vibrant. We reached out to vocalist/keyboardist Moira Murphy and drummer Matt Gotlin-Sheehan to delve deeper into their musical upbringings that soon took them into heavier pastures, the challenges and work behind the new record, thoughts on the state of symphonic metal today especially in the United States, plus tackling the social media landscape and how videos are important to building the brand of the band.
Dead Rhetoric: What are some of your earliest memories surrounding music growing up in childhood? At what point did you gravitate towards heavier forms of music, and eventually wanted to perform in bands?
Matt Gotlin-Sheehan: For me, I grew up in a household where both of my parents were amateur musicians. My mom was really into musical theater, she has a piano in the house that she would always try to get my sister and I to play. We were never interested, but she would play showtunes and sing along to what we knew. She liked to sing, she was very effervescent as far as her performance mentality. My dad was an amateur drummer, and he was the reason why I got interested in playing the drums in the first place. He had an old drum kit from bands he played in during the 70’s and 80’s, when my mom was away, he would put on Bruce Springsteen records, sit me or my sister in his lap with earmuffs on and bang away at the drums as we would scream or laugh. Those were my first memories about being around instruments.
To answer the second part, getting involved in heavier music was a thing that happened naturally. I want to blame the internet for part of it. When I was learning drums on my own, I was listening to all of this 90’s pop/punk music: Blink 182, Green Day, The Mighty Mighty Bosstones. I got a subscription to Modern Drummer magazine for my birthday, they were talking about Neil Peart, Mike Portnoy of Rush and Dream Theater – hopping on the internet I checked those bands out. That was the path that led me down to listening to heavier forms of music.
Moira Murphy: My earliest memories are both of listening to a lot of the oldies in the car, I grew up on Gary Puckett, the Temptations, Tony Orlando and Dawn, The Beatles. Anything from 1950-1980, Crosby, Stills and Nash. From a compositional standpoint, my biggest influence was the 1940’s Fantasia movie. It was the thing that imprinted itself so much on my childhood brain, to this day it still affects me. I connected to this in a way I couldn’t elucidate as a kid. The marriage of different types of art together was really, really important for me. When I was younger, I took up the piano – I’ve been playing that since I was nine. I started singing when I was a teenager, and I started singing a lot at my parents church. I would play piano and sing for three services every Sunday when I was 15 to 18. I would study classical music, I would sing opera, this is what you are going to do. I didn’t have time or bandwidth to have a wider palate, which is kind of sad.
Until I discovered jazz – I would listen to Miles Davis, Bill Evans, soundscapes. Playing with harmony, playing with mood, painting, that was what I was into. Getting into heavier music, I talked to a lot of my friends many years ago who knew me, and they laughed. They believe this is the most obvious thing I should have been doing my whole life (laughs). My gateway was Nightwish. When I was in grad school for opera, you are looking at things as a soprano, and you have .005 % chance of getting one of your very expensive applications listened to audition, or maybe sing, or maybe have a failed audition. They said listen to Nightwish, and it blew my mind open that there is something like this out there. Got into it, but then I thought it wasn’t really me. There is a crowd that is way more aligned to symphonic metal than I am, but when I would plug something into YouTube or Spotify, it would suggest another artist. That’s how I discovered Chelsea Wolfe, Oceans of Slumber, all these other things. All these people that cross genres, cross their own cultural backgrounds with music, which I thought was really cool. As time went on, everything I started listening to got doomier, heavier. My playlists are like Oceans of Slumber, Draconian, Chelsea Wolfe, Sleep Token is my new obsession. Going into this phase, the natural progression is there but there is this theme within all of these music styles which is depth of emotion and soundscapes are a big part of those pieces I connected with. Finally getting past the music being so academic, I was allowed to admit that so much of what I write and what I liked came from a place of pain, sometimes, rather than having to paint it with a gloss.
Dead Rhetoric: Sacred & Profane is the latest album by Oryad. How did the writing and recording sessions go for this set of material, and where do you see the development of the band in terms of the performances, sound, and style compared to your 2021 Hymns of Exile & Decay EP release?
Gotlin-Sheehan: We have been all over the place with this project. The two of us have been the only constant in this group for the past three years. We’ve had lineup changes, different people filtering in and out of this process. The writing for this album, Moira is pushing everything and she’s the engine behind things – I’m working on rhythms and orchestrating the drum parts. We had a lead guitar player who put all the guitar tracks down on the record, then decided to leave as he wanted to do his own thing – no animosity. He was ready to move on. Same thing with our original bass player Adam – he’s one of those guys who had a lot of stuff going on. He went off into his own sound design world. Things were really loose and ethereal for a little while until we weren’t. We worked on this material for a little while, the full band parts, because there are some parts on the record that are just piano, orchestration, and voice – all the full band stuff was an amalgamation of ideas, we threw everything together to see what sticks. It’s cool to be able to look back on it and feel that things at the time were scatterbrained, and realizing we had a lot of really great material to put together and put out as a cohesive work of art.
It didn’t feel like we were trying super hard to put together anything that was a statement or evolution to what we had written previously. Things fell into place despite the internal rumblings going on.
Murphy: That’s a very nice and calm way of putting it. I would say the EP was a panic project on my part at least. With the EP, it was the original group, the four of us. COVID hit, we were trying to figure out how to do shows, it was very hard. And then the city shut down, I had all these stems, and I said let’s just finish this. At least to have something out there, it was really important. We were flying by the seat of our pants. The band bared with me, that process of looking at the songs we were doing at shows, these are very much more informed by symphonic metal, straight across, this is what people want. We would lean more on the opera stuff heavily; it was surprising to see people’s reaction online. People were talking, messaging me on Facebook. Adam on bass, he had a lot to do with the really cool songwriting. Even though he didn’t record on the album, we were writing out weird-ass rhythms, clapping 9/8 into 7/8, coming up with what we liked to fit the mood. We were thinking about what would fit and what would be cool, if the song was aggressive. “Slice of Time” was about insomnia and anxiety. We thought about it being sleep demons – we wanted things to fit what we were going for.
I really wanted to push forward with this. It was this moment of feeling… I might just be thinking for myself here, feeling more artistically authentic than I have all the other times when I put on a cocktail dress, and have to put my hands a certain way to perform classical music. This is a poem from eight years ago, or two months ago when I was on a mountain. I can trust and share this with my friends and feel like this is what it should sound like. The third single will be coming out, and it was an early song I wrote in 2016-17. The original version is so bad, we grow and always teach ourselves new things. It was cool to hear how vastly improved this song is from that version.
Dead Rhetoric: You released videos for the singles “Scorched Earth” and “Eve” – directed by Hannah Maddox of Mad Designs & Media. How do you feel these shoots went, and where do you see the importance of the video medium to promote Oryad through social media platforms in today’s current music industry landscape?
Murphy: Hannah is awesome. She is also a singer, she has a band Heartsick Heroine, a kick ass vocalist, does web design. We are a lot alike as we are both web designers, she does graphic design and videos. Talking with her I realized how much alike we are, and I realized how great she would be seeing our vision. We worked with our PR firm to pick out the singles. The first one is shorter, catchier – “Eve” is the favorite song, I really wanted to push the doomy, prog aspect. We worked with her to do some shots on location in Colorado for the videos. Moving forward considering we are spread out by a vast distance – imagine you are in a car for twenty-two hours without stopping. The US, people forget how big the country is. Pushing for the visual medium is super important. As much as a crap shoot social media is. I’ve noticed year after year, the engagement for business is tanking because these companies are trying to prioritize certain types of behavior. You get chastised for not posting every twenty-four hours. If you give us $25, we’ll boost things to 2,000 more people. They are trying to get rid of organic reach – so trying to come up with other ways to get around those curves is really important.
We want to say more than just being a local band who gigs a lot, you have to have some other hooks and interests. We have videos that include movement, include mythology, including homages to all these great filmmakers is a way to be artistically authentic and have great content that’s good for social. Represent the whole brand and ethos of everything. This whole year we are going to have a ton of videos coming out – I’ve been getting into a lot of editing myself. I spent the last twelve hours editing some video for the next single. We have some cool drum playthroughs of Matt that will be colorful and have the playing in place. It’s a different world. There is no relying on physical CD sales, no relying on people showing up to shows on a Monday night. You could hit your head against the wall for five, seven, ten years doing that – and I know people who have had a lot of success. But I was like well, that’s life – that’s not my situation.
Dead Rhetoric: What do you consider some of the biggest or most important challenges the band currently faces in establishing more of a footprint and foothold not only within your local scene, but also the national/international landscape?
Gotlin-Sheehan: First and foremost, we don’t really have a local scene because we are on opposite sides of the country, more or less. The challenge in my mind, how are we going to … not necessarily skip doing the work at a local level because that’s not something we are trying to do, but we don’t have the luxury of pounding the pavement in Denver or East Tennessee and do shows four nights a week, or local tours in our geographic respective regions because it wouldn’t make sense for us. We don’t have the capacity to jump in the van and do short, seven to ten date runs. You talked about the importance of having this media and marketing, and I think it’s a good way to substitute for some of that groundwork. You don’t often see bands at our level doing this much video content, or professionally produced work. It’s a really interesting challenge to marry that intense video stuff with emotion when we are not playing live as much as we want to.
That goes into the next challenge this lineup faces. We don’t have live musicians outside of the two of us to perform with. We talked about lots of different options, when we did our last gigs of February 2022. Moira was in town, we had two guitar players and a bass player to hop on stage with us. We were running crazy backing tracks still on stage of all the orchestral parts. We have discussed doing this as a duo – drums, piano, and vocals live with all this other stuff rolling from a laptop or sample pad. The challenge that poses is who wants to go see a metal band with no guitar player on stage? It doesn’t really matter how good the music is, at the same time you need some of that visceral energy of a person holding a guitar in their hands can only provide. There is no substitute for that on an emotional level, no matter what creative elements are at play. We have to figure out a way to get somebody involved in this, plugging away at videos, see how things go. We are happy with where things are going now.
Murphy: And I have been working on a couple of things in the background, trying to think creatively and plan to make the performances happen. I have been looking ahead to applying for festivals in 2024. A year in advance now that we have this press pack. We have met musicians related to our music, try to network to do these little festivals. It would be great, logistically it’s better to meet in the middle. Economics can be a challenge. It’s hard when you are not on the ground. I talent scout some guitarists, but they always end up like fifteen hours away in the Philippines. If you enjoy things and you think it’s good, you have to find a way to make it happen.
A lot of the feedback we have been getting from neutral parties, and the people working with us on our team, are saying very positive things. It makes us feel like what we do resonates with people, and we can continue to be working at the things we are working at, while the other things will fall into place.
Dead Rhetoric: How do you see the state of symphonic metal stateside versus overseas in terms of development, popularity, and originality?
Murphy: To be honest, I don’t really listen to symphonic metal anymore. Unless I am listening to Fleshgod Apocalypse, as I love them, and I have been taking piano lessons from Francesco Ferrini. It’s not very big in the US compared to Europe, at all. And that was interesting to me getting into this, a lot of people in the US don’t think of marrying these two styles together, even though it makes perfect sense in terms of song structure. There is an opportunity in the US for symphonic metal bands to work on creating their own brand, but also – it’s a very saturated field. When people discover how cool this was, everyone was getting sopranos at the local conservatory. There is a glut, too many bands, twenty music videos a day. To no fault of any of their own, it all blends together. They may be talented musicians; it didn’t resonate with me in the long term. When something gets very popular and you have a glut of people doing this, you run the risk of homogeneity. Some people like that though, because it’s comfortable. This is your jam, gets you ready for work. It’s exciting to listen to Fleshgod Apocalypse, I saw them in Greensboro, North Carolina – I can’t see because all the guys in front of me are really tall, but I am screaming and jumping up and down. The energy in the room was perfect.
It’s got to be tough breaking through in Europe. If you are not Epica or Nightwish, I don’t know how you can get people to listen to you. It must be super hard to be in a European, female-fronted, traditional power metal band, there is so much of it. Whenever I thought something was cool, I think it’s because there is an angle to it.
Dead Rhetoric: How do you see the next twelve months shaping up for Oryad as far as promotion and activities? Are there any other bands/side projects that the members participate in that we should also know about?
Gotlin-Sheehan: There’s going to be a lot. Leaning into the promotion of this record. It’s so great, the stuff that is on this record where its Moira and her piano, it’s some of the most haunting and beautiful parts of this entire album. With someone as passionate as Moira, she’s going all in on this. Her mind is always going, twenty-five steps ahead. It will be a big push to get this music into as many ears as possible.
Murphy: My mind always running is a curse. Planning on promoting this album as much as possible. A huge PR push, we want interesting and engaging content throughout the rest of the year. I’m getting to interact with people all over the world who get a chance to hear it who wouldn’t normally if we were just playing locally. We are writing new music; I have a folder of songs. We have a theme emerging with all of that. Looking forward to everything, it feels good to have forward momentum and people supporting this. People along the way saying yes, you should be doing this is very encouraging. It’s part of this modern world to have Spotify and YouTube, and I wouldn’t have this platform if we were doing this in the 1990’s. Having the luxury and the opportunity to be able to continue to create, instead of just letting it all simmer up (in your brain), is a blessing.