Seven Spires – Traverse the SeasWednesday, 19th February 2020
If you’ve followed Dead Rhetoric at all, you know multiple scribes have been avid followers and consumers of Seven Spires. From their entertaining live shows through their EP’s and full-length efforts, it’s obvious this quartet have their fingers on the pulse of metal – incorporating everything from symphonic to melodic death and power textures across their dynamic songwriting and abilities. It’s no surprise that Frontiers Music picked up the band, as their second full-length Emerald Seas expands on the sound they’ve been developing since their inception. Atmospheric, heavier, darker, lighter – the shades are all present to convey the storyline brilliantly, proving that metal will be just fine in the hands of the young just as much as the old guard.
We reached out to vocalist Adrienne Cowan and guitarist Jack Kosto for this phone chat – and you’ll discover that these musicians have plenty to say regarding crowdfunding, social media, criticism, songwriting, varied hired gun situations, and lots of thoughts on Seven Spires in general.
Dead Rhetoric: Emerald Seas is the latest album from Seven Spires – how do you feel this record differs from Solveig, and how do you feel you’ve matured and grown as songwriters and players in between recordings?
Jack Kosto: That’s a great question, and I always thought that the biggest difference is that we actually have Chris playing drums on this album, Solveig was recorded before he was even in the band, so that is a sonic difference. Aside from the story on the album being different and needing different textures to tell the story, I feel we’ve become more of what we intended to be. The musicianship, the shred play, the singing is more powerful in all directions, stronger. I feel like we’ve been able to do more in every direction of what we intended to do from the first album.
Adrienne Cowan: Also, nobody probably cares about this except for me but I really focused on the orchestration in a different way on this album. Because when I was at Berklee I was studying how to write for an orchestra, and we made Solveig and the EP before that, I was completely doing that blindly. Now with Emerald Seas I felt a lot more focused, and I had taken a lesson from Francesco Ferrini from Fleshgod Apocalypse for how to orchestrate. I felt like everything was a lot clearer, the textures – I tried to play more with the rhythms rather than this melody, and here is this melody, and these two melodies kind of go together – too many things happening. You probably think this it too nerdy, so there you go!
Dead Rhetoric: Oh no, no – I’d rather understand the insight behind the music. Nerdiness is fine…
Cowan: Yeah! (laughs)
Dead Rhetoric: There were many songs on this album that you’ve been playing out live for a while before recording them. Were there any significant changes that ended up happening because of this?
Kosto: Usually what happens in that process is what we may have thought was a good song gets scratched and started back again from scratch – and that happened a few times. We will maybe save a lyric or save a melody and then rebuild everything. We either change everything or we change nothing.
Cowan: We are pretty all or nothing like that. As people in general, I would say.
Dead Rhetoric: What song took on the greatest transformation from the initial demo stage to the final product?
Cowan: I would guess “Drowner of Worlds” because – when I was working on it initially, I was just writing to some programmed drums and piano chords – I had the lyrics. When I was singing to myself it was going to be a sung vocal line against some melodic chords. It sounded like Radiohead (laughs). Then I had to be like, Jack… help! (laughs). It became this much darker, much bigger thing – the Latin chant at the beginning, the orchestration also turned the (song) into something different, I think.
Dead Rhetoric: What types of insights, tips, and thoughts does an experienced veteran like Sascha Paeth bring with his mixing and mastering help to make the final product for Seven Spires that much better and stronger than you could imagine?
Kosto: That’s another really good question because Sascha is known for working with a lot of classic power metal and hard rock acts. I think he will admit that he doesn’t listen to a lot of music with extreme vocals or screaming vocals so its always really interesting to hear his take on the heavier songs. I would say the biggest thing I appreciate about him is his abilities to make the vocals sound incredible, just working within whatever style there is. We always know the lyrics, the stories, and the texture with which Adrienne tells the story, he makes it all fit perfectly.
Dead Rhetoric: Can you tell me a little bit about the story line, as this is a part of a trilogy of albums?
Cowan: Emerald Seas is actually the prequel to the story. You get the back story of the demon character in Solveig. In Emerald Seas this character is mortal, pursuing the dream of eternal life. The opening line is in Latin, ‘defend the fire within, beware of the beast below, immortality lies in the East’. The fountain of youth is guarded by this ancient, fearsome creature in the depths of the ocean. It’s a pretty cheerful album!
Dead Rhetoric: Do you feel like you’ve established a style that at this point you can willingly take more risks and broaden the scope and vision of the band?
Kosto: Yes, and I think it’s always our intention to do that regardless. Drawing on more outside genres and different elements of electronic music, jazz, or classical music. There is always something that we want to do for ourselves.
Cowan: I don’t know if we’ve really established ourselves as anything. I think that we are definitely a band that doesn’t stick to one thing. (laughs) We like many different styles so it’s hard to write in one specific way. We have our voices together as musicians and that is the Seven Spires sound, more than Seven Spires is a power metal band, or Seven Spires is a melodic death metal band. You know what I mean?
Dead Rhetoric: Considering your many side projects and live circuit work with Winds of Plague and Avantasia among others, what have you learned the most that has been beneficial and applicable to setting yourself up for longevity in a metal marketplace that is tough to make a living at?
Cowan: The biggest thing has been learning to balance being myself as authentically as possible and also still be able to work in any given marketplace. So any place that needs a hired gun, a keyboard player, or needs a backing vocalist, I need to be able to step in and say I can do it, but still maintain my own brand and carry the Seven Spires flag so that I can represent everything that I love when I am away from them. Beyond that, it would be stuff like vocal and bodily health, making sure that I know I can sleep on a plane or not drink too much. Actually those are my two biggest downfalls, not sleeping enough and drinking too much. Stuff like that- knowing how to take alone time while I am on the road because I spend more than half the year on the road now.
I have to be able to do that in order to make money because as you said, it’s so hard to make money in metal. The only way you can do that is by taking tours, doing session work. If you are lucky, songwriting royalties – and then taking the merchandise money and funneling that back into the band to make more merch and put into the tour gear, the rv, and the trailer.
Dead Rhetoric: Thinking back to the start of Seven Spires until now, would you say you’ve achieved most of what you’ve set out to accomplish – and what would you like to see happen over the next few years?
Cowan: We have checked off some things on our to do list.
Kosto: We definitely set initial goals and some long-term goals. We are goals-oriented kind of people.
Cowan: I love lists!
Kosto: We have done some things but there is so much more left to be done. Such as doing an album with a live orchestra, playing certain festivals, doing bigger tours with bigger bands in different places. I would say that we’ve checked off some stuff but there is so much more left to be done.
Cowan: In short, I want to do this band until I die. At least until I retire and I can’t sing or tour anymore. That leaves, let’s hope, many more years that we can check other things off.
Dead Rhetoric: What can the fans expect from these next couple of North American tours that you have set up to support this record? Do you enjoy the fact that the diversity of Seven Spires style wise allows you to pick up touring situations that aren’t necessarily favoring one sub-genre over another?
Cowan: I love that we can tour with different styles of bands. We were just saying that variety is so important for all aspects of life. Because we have so many influences it’s going to be so cool to put on the melo-death cap for five to six weeks in the spring and put on the “Drop Dead Cynical” modern melodic metal… it will fun to do that. As far as what the fans can expect from us, we will be doing our best to upgrade our live show. I don’t want to spoil anything that certain members are preparing.
Kosto: I think the biggest thing to expect is that now that we have a couple of albums out, we can diversify the sets. When we are out with Insomnium and Omnium Gatherum, you can expect a heavier set with more extreme vocals, a little more death metal but still with the classic things that people want to hear- and when we go out with Amaranthe and Battle Beast, you will hear a more melodic set, we are talking 60/40 compared to the other. Both tours are going to be tours you are not going to want to miss if you are a fan of Seven Spires or either of the bands we are touring with.
Dead Rhetoric: How have you learned to process and handle criticism these days – does it differ depending on the source, be it fans versus the media or fellow musicians?
Cowan: I hate the internet for this, because I’m an incredibly emotional person. What we’ve noticed is people have a hard time saying I don’t like this because it’s not my cup of tea – they have to say the screams are bad.
Kosto: When the video for “Succumb” came out, the one thing I remember hearing is ‘the song is amazing, but the guitar solo sucks’. And that’s one of my proudest solos on the record, and I remember I felt secure enough in my performance to know that I did a good job. I think the thing to remember at the end of the day is you can’t always make everyone happy. Jesus Christ could put a video on YouTube and there will be twenty people that say, ‘oh this guy sucks’ (laughs).
I think it’s good to be aware of what people are saying. If someone like Sascha has something to say, I would be more inclined to think about that and listen to that compared to the YouTube comments. It depends on the source, but we like to be aware.
Cowan: I don’t read comments anymore because I get really sad. Even if there is a hundred nice comments and one asshole, I am going to go to bed thinking about that one asshole. It just sucks, but that’s how it easy.
Kosto: I think the trick is to not let it affect what they think is the truest form of our art. We are going to do what we think we should write, tell our stories, and play to our own strengths. There are going to be people that like it and some people that don’t like it, and that’s just how it will be. We will just move on from there.
Dead Rhetoric: What have been some of the best fan interaction stories you’ve had through the years – as it seems you always have a very special relationship with the Seventh Brigade Facebook Group created with your followers/fans?
Cowan: We’ve had some really beautiful experiences. There was this one time we were playing in Worcester, MA with the Seventh Brigade locals – they had a cake made for us with our logo on the icing. I think there is photo of it on Facebook – we were all so baby-faced. Even from the beginning, they’ve really been there for us. When you have a start up company, you need early adopters. They are exactly that- they are so detailed and attentive to every part of our story. They are searching for lyrics, asking questions about the story, telling their friends about us. A beautiful little community. Because there is a Facebook group, we know that when we go to Iowa, there will be a Seventh Brigade person there, or a small group there. We know that there will be family there for us, and I think that’s really amazing.
Dead Rhetoric: Where do you see the state of heavy metal today? What excites you and what concerns do you have for its future?
Kosto: This is a can of worms and a half! (laughs) I’m going to give you my answer in reverse order. The thing that concerns me the most that I see the most nowadays is gatekeeping and elitism in metal. And this is true for all kinds of metal, classic, death metal. There are always these people that think they are better than someone else because they know the bass player of this band that nobody has ever heard of before. The bass player’s ex-wife of Mayhem, or whatever. I see so many people ripping on Forever 21 for having metal shirts in their catalog. Why can’t we let people just like stuff? There’s no reason to bash someone for not knowing something when you just as easily could take five minutes and show them a song or recommend an album. There would be less people complaining about shitty pop radio music – if people would just take the time to share and let people discover new things without having to be an asshole about it.
Cowan: Good answer- that probably would have taken me ten minutes to get there.
Kosto: Aside from that, I think the state of heavy metal is fantastic right now. There is so much good stuff coming out, from seasoned bands and from younger bands. It’s just musically more diverse than it’s ever been, and the internet is to thank for that. Whether you want to listen to the new Judas Priest album, and the new Iron Maiden album, or listening to what sixteen year old kids are putting out that’s blowing away things, there are so many more artists of better quality out there than there has ever been in my opinion.
Cowan: Imagine that, you said pretty much what I would have said, again (laughs).
Dead Rhetoric: Has it been a challenge to decide what fits where in this trilogy album storyline that you are two-thirds of the way through?
Cowan: Not really. Sometimes we have written a song, and we know where it will go in the story – and we pick where it will go on which album. Then we will write a couple more songs, and everything starts to get obvious. If we don’t know what happens, we have learned after so many years to just trust the process and it works out. Like magic.
Dead Rhetoric: Knowing that you are both coffee aficionados, have you ever thought about partnering up with a coffee company to develop your own Seven Spires blend?
Kosto: Every day.
Cowan: If you know anyone that would like to, please send them our way!
Kosto: We’ve thought about coffee, we’ve thought about wine. We’ve thought whiskey, we’ve thought about candles.
Cowan: Oh yeah, candles. I don’t know if you look at our social media, but in all of our rooms – my room, Jack’s room, Pete is a big candle guy too. We are big on atmosphere. One time, I saw Belphegor touring with Suffocation and they were burning incense in their dressing room, it set this incredible mood with the Indian music that was playing before their set. Smell is such a powerful thing, I’d love for people to have a Seven Spires scent where they could feel like they were in the world of our concept albums.
Dead Rhetoric: Different merchandise ideas are great to develop beyond the obvious ones. There are a lot of people that appreciate the interests beyond the basics and help provide insight into the musicians loves and interests…
Cowan: I’ve also seen it not do as well. For example, Fleshgod Apocalypse has wines and pasta for awhile because they are Italian. A lot of people like them, but I’ve seen some people criticize them for… people are mad because it’s not just t-shirts and albums anymore. Come on guys, we all need to eat and we need to make money so that we can continue to make the music you want us to make.
Kosto: So they make more bread and pasta (laughs).
Dead Rhetoric: You also have people that have differing views on crowdfunding – which you did for your first album Solveig. Have your thoughts changed as a result of that process?
Kosto: We all feel in a similar way that whatever gets the job done and lets anyone put out an album or go on tour – the way we went about it was not to just ask for money, but people purchased box sets that were put together by hand, a t-shirt and CD a week before the release. There are ways to do crowdfunding without asking for donations. It’s an amazing way to utilize the internet in the modern world when it’s harder and harder to deal with labels.
Cowan: We would definitely consider it again in the future for whatever reason that we didn’t have enough money together at the time. In general, there is something neat about presenting something we are working on in secret, and here it is, I hope you like it. I like the element of surprise – and sometimes it is nice to involve people in the process.
Dead Rhetoric: What can the fans expect from Adrienne Cowan and Jack Kosto musically beyond Seven Spires over the course of 2020 and into the future?
Cowan: Hopefully Spires – more and more Spires.
Kosto: Basically more Spires. This is our favorite thing to do. I have another band called Threads of Fate with John Pyres from Florida, an amazing singer, and the keyboard player Vikram Shankar from Redemption. We have a new album coming out from that soon, and I also do a lot of mixing and mastering, production work. At the end of the day Seven Spires is known to be both of our main loves, so there will be a lot more of that hopefully.
Cowan: I have some Avantasia dates as well. Those will be in between all the Seven Spires tours. This year we will do the most Spires things we’ve ever done in one year, which I’m very excited about. We are thrilled to have a label like Frontiers that can support our vision and believe in us – their reach for marketing is something that we would never have been able to do by ourselves. They helped us with getting that foot in the door in Europe and it will help us to get over there too.