Scardust – Timeless ProgFriday, 13th April 2018
Many young bands have grand ambitions, but Israel’s Scardust comes across on the short list of bands that have already been able to deliver on their promises. The progressive metal act has only last year’s Sands of Time and a previous EP under their belts, but it’s some very dense and complex stuff. The type of material that you’d expect to hear from a similar band who are veterans in the scene.
Built under the idea of designing a rock opera (and in fact writing one), Scardust provide a unique approach to progressive metal. At some points, you can clearly hear those showtune-esque moments in the guise of a full-on metal band and it’s a thrilling sensation. So we contacted vocalist Noa Gruman to talk about the band’s beginnings, her own music backstory, and what the future holds for the band.
Dead Rhetoric: To start, could you go into a brief history of the band?
Noa Gruman: I guess the band started as a collaboration with a very good friend of mine, Orr Didi, who is a brilliant musician. We used to compose music together for a few years prior, but one day we realized we needed to take it to the next level. We sat down and realized that we both loved the progressive metal so much that we needed to write a rock opera, or something similar. That was how Scardust was initially born. So we wrote this enormous project called Gates of Dawn. We worked for a few months and composed every single detail. It was exactly one hour long and a complex piece. It was so complex that we had to have three lead singers, a full choir and orchestra, so we found Yoav [Weinberg], our drummer, and our bassist Yanai [Avnet] at this point to build the band.
When we started playing together, we realized that the Gates of Dawn project would take a while – like a few years, and we just wanted to start a ‘rocking on stage’ project. So we wrote new material, which became the Shadow EP. This was when we found our guitarist Yadin [Moyal] and our first keyboardist Lior [Goldberg]. We put Gates of Dawn aside and focused on the EP, then started performing. We would do the Shadow EP, maybe a few covers, and a song or two from Gates of Dawn. We became a real band [laughs] in 2015. We started performing all over the country at that point.
Dead Rhetoric: Do you have any plans to put Gates of Dawn out?
Gruman: Of course. Actually, Gates of Dawn is the second part of a trilogy. We are writing the first part – I don’t know if it will be a full album or just one song on the next album, but we are building a foundation to eventually make Gates of Dawn in the future. Hopefully two albums from now, but I don’t want to make any commitments. But we are aiming to eventually put Gates of Dawn out there.
Dead Rhetoric: In keeping with your ambitious plans, on Sands of Time you had a five-part song – are you weaving that into everything you have planned, or was that a stand-alone thing?
Gruman: It’s a separate piece for sure, and the whole album speaks about time in different ways. For example, “Arrowhead” talks about the journey you have to achieve your goals and the conflict you have between your personal life and career. “Queen of Insanity” talks about insanity and how your childhood affects your adult life. “Out of Strong Came Sweetness” is a Jewish mythology piece. “Gift Divine” talks about death and the ending of your journey. So everything involves around the concept of time, and growing old, and the journeys you have in life. I look at the album as a chapter in the band’s life. This is what connects the whole album together. But the five parts of “Sands of Time” can definitely stand as their own piece.
Dead Rhetoric: You have a life-long immersion in music. Could you go into some of your background, because it seems you have had a lot of things going on?
Gruman: I was born into a musical family, you might say, because both of my parents got together with a musical background. They are not musicians as their profession but music played a big part in their lives. So I was surrounded by music for as long as I remember. We used to sing and play together as a family. My mother is a classical violinist, and my father is a rock and roll guitarist, so I had both worlds. A progressive metal nerd was born from this combination [laughs]! Music was always a big part of my life, but after the army years I definitely understood that it had to be my main thing. I can’t do anything else – I tried. My Jewish-Polish mother tried to force me into being a computer engineer but no, I had to be a musician. I can talk about that for weeks [laughs]!
Dead Rhetoric: The biography you had on your site was quite extensive.
Gruman: I wrote a few musicals, plays, and I was in the Israeli opera for a few years. I did choir conducting in Denmark, and I participated in a number of projects. I really love all kinds of music. It doesn’t matter if it is jazz/big band, classical/opera, metal, or kids TV shows with children’s music. After the army, I decided I would only do music, so I left everything. I had a pretty tough three years financially, but it was totally worth it. I just took everything I liked, musically, and it paid off. I believe that to do something 100%, you have to be 100% in it.
Dead Rhetoric: With the variation in your background, do you think it influences Scardust’s sound as well?
Gruman: I think it shows. We draw inspiration from everything we like. Orr is very similar to me – he likes all kinds of different things. I think his favorite genre after progressive metal would be pop music. Because of that, we have those catchy choruses.
Dead Rhetoric: In listening to parts of Sands of Time, like “Arrowhead” as an example, it wouldn’t be too far out of line to extend it to the full rock opera like you have planned, but do you see yourselves even doing an entire stage set-up to go with it?
Gruman: I definitely thought about it a few times, especially with Gates of Dawn, since it’s actually a rock opera with plot and characters and everything. We are bringing some of that to our big shows, with the costumes and the choir. For the “Arrowhead” video, we made the art pieces and costumes, so we bring some of it live. It’s a dream, but if we decide to go for it, it will take a while.
Dead Rhetoric: Are you at the point where you think that would be a level of ambition you’d like to see the band push in?
Gruman: I have to think realistically. Unfortunately, we live very far from the main action, either Europe or the United States. We do struggle financially with the band. I guess every band does, but for us, every show or tour, it’s like 10 times more. This is why I dream big, but I also have to think realistically.
Dead Rhetoric: Which is good, so you don’t overextend yourselves too far.
Gruman: Exactly, and we do try to bring the theater onto our stage, as much as we can.
Dead Rhetoric: As long as we are talking about the scene, what would you say about Israel’s metal scene?
Gruman: It’s great. It’s like a big family in a way. A big, dark, and over-the-top family, but because it’s pretty small; everyone knows everybody. I love it. We have this bond between the bands I think. We help each other, in most cases. Of course not everyone, but in most cases, because when you understand that music is not a competition – it actually brings people together. You realize that when you help each other, great things can come out of it. The whole is greater than the sum of its parts. People in the local scene really understand that. I think the level of the music here is higher than what I see elsewhere. Because it’s challenging to succeed in this business, and when you live here, it’s more challenging. People really push themselves. It shows in their results.
Dead Rhetoric: You had Jake E. and Kobi [Farhi] on Sands of Time. How did you get them both involved?
Gruman: Kobi is a friend – he also participated in our first headlining show in Israel. I am very involved in Orphaned Land. I’ve been a live female singer for them for the last two years and I was in the choir on their latest album [Undead Prophets & Dead Messiahs]. For Jake E., I just wrote to him and he answered, so I was lucky [laughs]! I really wanted his rough but poppy kind of voice he has. It really suited the song “Blades.”
Dead Rhetoric: In getting back to that diving in 100% thing, I also saw you were a guest on Mike LePond’s record as well – are you trying to push your own name and get it out there as well, in addition to just Scardust?
Gruman: I just really like Mike LePond and Symphony X and the Silent Assassins. So it was a big honor to take part in this project. I wouldn’t take any project, just the one’s I really love. It’s not really about making my own name or anything like that – I genuinely love the person and the music. The same thing goes for my choir work in Orphaned Land, and the upcoming Amorphis album. It’s not about pushing me in particular, but doing what I love.
Dead Rhetoric: Do you feel that you have been getting more of those guest appearances more frequently lately?
Gruman: Definitely. People get to know you more and more, and I see it as a very good sign.
Dead Rhetoric: You do vocal lessons as well – how do you go about helping someone who comes to you?
Gruman: Most of my students are rock or metal singers, because there aren’t as many teachers in that field. So it’s natural that these are my kind of people. Every singer is different, so every singer should build themselves up to be the best they can be. I’m just here to give tools, guide them, and help them to achieve everything they want. Not even the sky is the limit. People tend to limit the technical aspects. People say, “This is wrong, you shouldn’t do this or that.” I don’t do that. Everything is possible. It’s just a matter of having the proper tools to achieve it. I aim high for all my students. I show them that everything is possible, even things they didn’t imagine they could achieve.
Dead Rhetoric: I like that approach, because there’s always that mentality of “I can’t do this.” With my own background as a teacher, I hear that all the time.
Gruman: Yeah, and also replace the word “hard” with “challenging.” Challenging is something that you actually want to work on. Hard is something that you can’t do – ‘it’s too hard.’
Dead Rhetoric: Sands of Time came out last year. Do you have any plans for new material at this point or are you waiting for a bit?
Gruman: No, we aren’t waiting…not a chance. We are writing for a new album. Sands of Time was released independently, and we had a big crowdfunding campaign, so we couldn’t’ sign with anyone because of that. But it helped us to get to our audience, and people felt like they were really involved in the project with us. That was more important than signing with a label for us at this point. For the next record, we will go bigger. We are writing it as we speak. Hopefully we will have something for 2019 or 2020.
Dead Rhetoric: As you move towards that, are you looking to stick with the independent route and do more crowdfunding, or now that you have a full piece of music, are you trying to get a label’s interest?
Gruman: We would like to find a label. You described it perfectly.
Dead Rhetoric: It’s a tough spot, because you don’t want to keep the same people for money all the time.
Gruman: Luckily for us, with the right approach, we are now able to make some band money and hopefully when we get the point [of recording] we will have enough from the band money. The sales of Sands of Time are going amazingly and it will definitely help with the next album.
Dead Rhetoric: Do you feel there’s been more of a gradual build, in terms of fan reaction? I received the album last year directly from the band, I believe, but I never saw too much PR about it until recently.
Gruman: I guess it was our fault, as we are doing everything independently. We decided to release the album with a release concert, and we produced everything ourselves. I guess we just put so much into this concert that we couldn’t do everything all at once. We may have lost a few months with the promotion of it, but it comes and goes.
Dead Rhetoric: If you have something that’s of a certain quality like Sands of Time, that point shouldn’t matter much either, as long as you can get the word out.
Gruman: I hope you’re right [laughs] and thanks. It was definitely a challenge to make everything on our own, and we learned a lot.
Dead Rhetoric: Was there anything that you took away from that experience – the crowdfunding, the recording, etc, that you would like to change for next time?
Gruman: Release the album better [laughs]. We learned a lot from releasing it the way we did. We rushed it because we had to make it to the release concert, and then we were super focused on the concert. We weren’t focused on the release at all, and that’s a huge mistake. The crowdfunding was amazing. The audience felt involved in the project, and it got amazing results with the album sales. The people feel like they know you personally and you know them, which creates this bond between you and the audience. Next time we will do everything differently.
Dead Rhetoric: I saw that you did an acoustic show as well. How do you veer between doing a heavy metal show versus an acoustic show? What are some of the differences between the two, or are there?
Gruman: It’s very different. They say that good songwriting can work with just guitar and vocals, or with a full production with a metal band. If it’s a good song, it’s a good song. We had to rearrange a lot of things. We used grand piano, double bass, a smaller drum set, a string quartet, and an acoustic guitar, so it sounded different but we kept the Scardust vibe in it. It opened our audience up – we got some very interesting reactions from people who don’t really listen to metal, but they really reacted positively to our acoustic set.
Dead Rhetoric: Just to wrap up, and some of which we’ve covered already, but what are the next steps for Scardust at this point?
Gruman: We will be touring Europe in the summer. We will be opening for Therion in April. In the summer, we have our annual, big concert in Israel, then the tour. Then we will work on the next album.