The Agonist – Fragile ExtremityTuesday, 12th October 2021
With a stream of high-quality releases, The Agonist has been known for a while to be an act that’s tough to pigeonhole. For all of their extremity and musicianship, there’s a certain level of grace and elegance that shines through at times – giving them a very unique feel within the scene. Their newest EP for Napalm Records, Days Before the World Wept, continues this idea with some brutally heavy and intricate moments peppered with more gentle melodies. This time complete with an entire concept to back it all up. We spoke with vocalist Vicky Psarakis about said concept, the evolution of the band, her new band in SickSense, and a multitude of topics below.
Dead Rhetoric: How did you fare through the quarantine period? Not that we are totally out of it yet.
Vicky Psarakis: Yeah, who knows when we will be out of it! I came home after a tour we were supposed to have got cancelled about a week before it was supposed to start. It wasn’t quite a shock, but it was like, “Wow, okay!” Since the rest of the year was planned for us to tour after putting out a new album. I was not prepared at all. I came home and thought, “What now?” Thankfully, something switched inside me and I realized that this was the moment I could do all of the things that I wanted to do, but never had enough time for since I’m away from home for so long.
So it was a little bit of a blessing in disguise, since it allowed me to pursue my own things outside the band, still in the musical realm, but building my own community. I started my own Patreon, my own Twitch, and all that stuff. I am really grateful since it has been a year and a half, and all of those things have gotten me through it. I don’t know where I would be if I didn’t have that.
Dead Rhetoric: How does Days Before the World Wept advance The Agonist?
Psarakis: I might be the fact that it is just five songs and not a whole album, but I feel like it’s our most cohesive work that we have done. Part of that is because it is a concept in terms of the lyrics and the themes, so it ties everything all together. There are a lot of elements that are present in every single song. It is very heavy and dark, but there are a lot of moments that are fragile, at least vocally. There’s a lot of contrasts that tie together beautifully. That seems to be what a lot of people have been saying for “Remnants in Time” so far. I think it’s a very mature EP, musically and lyrically, and it’s very cohesive.
Dead Rhetoric: Describe your thoughts on how The Agonist (and your vocals) has changed since your first days in the band?
Psarakis: I think when I joined the band, there was a period of getting to know everyone and my role in the band itself, so my role in the beginning was more musical. It was just singing – I didn’t have much to do with the songwriting itself, outside of my vocals and lyrics. The band would come to me and say what they wanted to experiment with – like pushing genres or putting the band into a different direction – and I just kind of went along with it. Plus, I was a total newbie. I had never been in another professional band or anything, so I said, “Ok, whatever you guys want.” But after three albums, things reach that point where we all kind of knew where we needed to go musically. Decision-wise, it became really clear what our sound should be and taking our strengths to focus on them.
Vocally, of course, I think I have come a long way. I think that is just who I am as a person. I am always asking what more I can do with my voice. Not just for The Agonist, but in general. I think that will be a constant that will keep evolving.
Dead Rhetoric: So what do you feel is that definitive piece, as you have been going with the band, that defines The Agonist? What makes something sound like The Agonist?
Psarakis: We are one of those bands that are very difficult to place. We have done tours where we are the heaviest band there, and then we are the softest band on the tour. It’s really hard. There are people who really enjoy the heavy parts and the deep growls, and then the second I start singing they hate it, and vice versa. We have a lot of opposites and extremes in our music, and maybe not too many happy moments. There’s a lot of dark vibes and heavy vibes. I will say that in the lyrics you will find a lot of positive reflection. At the end of the day, I want to write music that gives people hope. I hope that they can connect with it. I don’t want to write music that makes people hate their lives [laughs]. So in terms of sound, those elements – dark but melodic, full of heavy intense moments and just soft, fragile moments too – I think this EP is a good representation of our sound.
Dead Rhetoric: You mentioned it before, but what can you say about the lyrics and concept of Days Before the World Wept?
Psarakis: It dabbles a bit into the afterlife idea. The first song on the EP, “Remnants in Time,” talks about a person’s final moments in life. It’s a bit vague, but there’s a reason why this person wants to keep living, and as they are on the verge of death, they meet this demon-like character that offers them a deal. They ask what they would do or give up to live a bit longer. I was influenced a little bit by those supernatural movies and TV shows and stuff like that – when a demon comes to you, there’s this innocence and beautiful looking presence and that’s how you fall for it. Then of course, a big surprise, it doesn’t work out the way you wanted.
The character ends up dying and then within the next few songs, it talks about their journey through purgatory and encountering the grim reaper, and then finally about half way through the EP, the character is resurrected. They come back, and the very last song “Days Before the World Wept” is when this person is back, but the world is very different from the world that they left behind. If you look at the lyrics, it is a very dystopic future setting. But going back to what I said before about hope, the chorus is really just saying that no matter what, they are grateful to be back and they will fight for the things they believe in. It’s hard for me to describe my lyrics because I could say that the theme is a certain way, but it is written in such a way that there are multiple interpretations. So it sounds more fantasy, but the lyrics are really relatable.
Dead Rhetoric: The Agonist has always been had a lot of vision and time put into making great videos to accompany your songs. What stands out about “Remnants in Time” to you?
Psarakis: Our bassist, Chris Kells, is our videographer and everything – he is in charge of all of our videos. Just having someone in the band that does that, you can tell that there is a little extra love into it. The process that usually goes into it is that the two of us sit down, I explain what the lyrics are about, and he tries to get some visuals in his head and we bounce ideas off of each other. For “Remnants in Time,” we decided to bring back a storyline with a character because the past 4 or 5 videos have just been the band and nothing else. Based on my explanation of the concept of the EP, you can see I have like 3 different outfits in the video. One is my normal performance outfit like I would wear on stage. Another one is this girl in a white dress, all innocent looking. And the last one is the demon. That’s really the transformation I was talking about. I’m the demon and I am luring this character in to get what I want. Then the chorus hits and that is the point in the lyrics where there is a change in perspective and the demon is talking, saying that they took your time away and you will never find it.
That’s why we wanted to experiment with prosthetics and get a professional make up artist for special effects, to really put the lyrics into a visual as well. I am really happy that a lot of people caught it as well, they said that the visuals were like the perfect thing for the song. One thing I found funny, I might as well share this [laughs], I saw a few people complain a little bit with the demon look in that it wasn’t necessary. That they associated it with the low growls that were happening and they didn’t really read the lyrics to see that it has nothing to do with the vocal technique, it has to do with the words that are being said.
Dead Rhetoric: To combine that with what you were saying before – you start to growl and then sing, and the people are just done with it in either direction – metal has a very finicky side to it. Especially when looking at online comments.
Psarakis: Oh for sure. I learned a long time ago to just ignore the comments. 9 out of 10 times they are off-base. They are just someone’s initial impression. It’s totally normal. I don’t expect someone to watch our video for the first time or listen to our song for the first time, and totally understand it. Our music is not cookie-cutter, radio-friendly. It takes a few listens to see what is really going on. At the end of the day, it’s just personal tastes too. Not a lot of people have the maturity to say, “It’s not my cup of tea, but that doesn’t mean it’s bad.” That’s okay! It doesn’t make me feel any less or anything like that.
Dead Rhetoric: You have started in another band called SickSense. Could you give a little information about where you are at with that band right now?
Psarakis: That was a complete curveball out of nowhere. I didn’t actively go out and try to start another band. The other vocalist in the band is actually my husband. He is a really good rapper and screamer. He does not sing [laughs]. What happened is that this band in Montreal was looking for a new vocalist and he auditioned. He wrote two songs for them that did not have any singing at all. They really liked it, however, the guitar player, who writes the music, said to him that he felt like the songs needed singing to have a proper chance. You are kind of shooting yourself in the foot if you are making something kind of catchy but there’s no singing in it. So I helped him out with the third song, which was actually “Make Believe,” the song we released. I wrote the chorus with him and sent it back to the band, and they were ecstatic about it.
Then it was a question mark about whether they should just invite me to join the band. In the beginning, I had thought about if I should do it, since it’s so different than what I already do. But I think that’s what made me want to do it. I wouldn’t want to do another The Agonist 2.0 or something remotely similar. I love how I can have my dark, serious, melancholic side with The Agonist, and this can be something a little more fun and light-hearted and catchy. I get to rap there as well. It’s really exciting.
Dead Rhetoric: I feel like it works better when people have bands that are totally different from each other. They can really focus on that one aspect on each band – dark and melodic versus the catchy stuff.
Psarakis: Definitely. One thing I will say is that SickSense is also a band where each individual member listens to a whole set of different music. What’s funny is that Bran, the guitar player, also has a black metal band. He can write these extreme black metal songs and then he can write catchy nu-metal catchy songs too.
Dead Rhetoric: What’s the toughest challenge you’ve had to overcome in music?
Psarakis: I guess the toughest challenge, honestly, would be being taken seriously. I am 33 years old and when I started music, especially in the metal world, I was around 20 years old. It was around 2010-ish and things were a lot different then. I think women are taken a lot more seriously now, but I don’t even want to make this a gender thing. I think it was mostly the fact that I was a singer and I have had no formal education theory. I play piano and am completely self-taught. With vocals, learned most of my techniques by myself.
So I found myself surrounded by extraordinary musicians at times. The trade off I found was that the better you are, the more cocky you are as well. I remember times jamming with other people and mentioning that the guitar was out of tune or something, instead of saying “Hey, you are right,” I would get the look of like, “What do you know?” I don’t need to go to school to hear things properly; I have a very good ear and that’s how I have been able to teach myself a lot of things that I do. My ear is like a sponge, I pick up everything around me. I had to fight a bit to be taken seriously because I guess what you do on your resume sometimes speaks louder than your actual output.
The more I started doing in the scene, especially once I joined The Agonist, there was a complete 180 in how I was perceived. Especially to this day, I see a lot of people saying that I’m underrated and stuff like that, but I feel like I have proven my worth. If someone doesn’t take me seriously, I think that they are just extremely insecure or have their own issues in life that they need to reflect on others.
Dead Rhetoric: At this point, in addition to The Agonist, you have built up yourself with things like your YouTube channel and that sort of thing.
Psarakis: I think when it comes to opinions, not all of them are equal. A random person on the internet could say whatever they want. For me, the real test is how I am being perceived by my peers and the people I work with. Everyone that I have ever worked with, at least recently – not way in the beginning – has treated me with respect and have been 100% satisfied with how I do things. I don’t want to sound too full of myself, but people do love working with me. I think that’s a testament to how professional I have been, or how I have taken myself seriously so that other people can take me seriously too.
Dead Rhetoric: Along with YouTube, what do you enjoy most about doing the covers that you have been putting out?
Psarakis: I think it’s the best way to experiment. Especially when you tackle stuff that is really out of your comfort zone. I feel like if I didn’t do that, I would be like less than half of the vocalist I am today. I think the true challenge is doing it while taking some elements of the original performance while still being true to yourself. Not trying to copy and mimic what the original is doing. That’s what I really love about it – that I can experiment and grow my voice, and also be able to create a different spin on a song I already love.
Dead Rhetoric: The EP is out soon, what is planned for this year into next year?
Psarakis: We have been trying hard to get into shows, but Canada is just not there yet. There’s shows in the US, shows in Europe, but Canada just isn’t quite there yet. We are trying, because we didn’t get to tour for Orphans, and not being able to tour for this too would suck. I am happy we chose to put out an EP and not a full-length, because imagine not being able to tour for two full-length albums. If that happens and we can’t play shows, you can expect more content online. More music videos, more of what I am already doing – more stuff on Twitch and social media, covers, collaborations, and things like that.