Aesma Daeva interview (06/2007)
|Conducted by:||Susan (phone)|
A few weeks ago I had the great pleasure of speaking with John Prassas, guitarist and composer of symphonic metal band Aesma Daeva. Here are some excerpts from our long chat. First I asked John to give some background info of his band and its members:
John: Let's see, I started the band a long time ago and after having about a million members I've got the line-up that I've got now! That's the shortened version *laughs* I'll start with Earl, Earl's my other guitar player. Earl owned a record store here in Minneapolis called Root Cellar Records. Early collects vinyl records and sells them and I walked in there, pretty cool place, lots of records and downstairs he has what he calls "The Dungeon" and it was all metal. It's pretty much impossible stuff to find here in the states. Basically, we just got talking about the music and when I was asked to play Festival Obscuro I asked if he would play the guitar with us. He had his own band at the time called God Awful which is more of a thrash band, that's basically Earl's roots is thrash metal, he listens to a lot of music but thrash metal is where.... where he..
-Where his heart lies?
John: Yeah, exactly
-So how did you meet the other guys?
John: Tim I met through, just a fan of the band. When we were looking for a new drummer, that's kind of how that came about. Tim was in a... I love to make fun of him about this, it was basically am emo band and he was the guy that did not fit in. You know, if you listen to the band, I mean he was kind of the metal drummer, not really too emo *laughs* Chris I met through Tim. He first played in a group called Whisper and the Noise... we were looking for a bass player at the time and Chris was interested. And then Lori, when we were looking for a singer Lori came about because Chris owns a violin shop and one of his employees was dating a friend of Lori's
-Wow, small world!
John, Yeah it was pretty cool. When I first heard from Lori I wasn't sure what to think. She wrote to me that she was interested, that she was very curious, then she told me that she was into bands like Porcupine tree, I was like this can't be real, you meet very few classical singers who are into other than classical music.
-What's her background like?
John: Her background is mainly classical but she listens to a lot of music. As I understand this is really the first time she's done anything outside of classical music. You know after Melissa quit we had already recorded the drums (for this album) and I always try to take the approach that I write for who I'm working with, but there was only so much we could change. I asked Lori to sing in chest voice once and I was like wow! That's awesome
-Were the songs written mostly for high soprano?
John: Yeah they were mostly written to work for Melissa's voice then I started rearranging things once I started to get to know Lori's voice. And it was on both ends, Lori and I started too get to know each other and find our strengths.
-Are you the sole composers or do you ever compose as a group and jam songs out?
John: There's some songs I'm starting to do that, but I always have a structure, I always go well here's this chord change, here's the melody, but it's just the basic notes and there's plenty of room for movement. It's more structured than most bands, but there's still quite a bit of room for everyone to put things in and add things, as we all get to know each other I get to know what their strengths are and I can go "well I can just leave this for them to write."
-What are some of your influences? It seems like you've been playing this kind of music since it kind of started, how did you get into it?
John: At the time, I didn't really know it existed, it was really just something I wanted to hear and I couldn't find it so I came to the rather sad conclusion that I had to create it *laughs* and ten years later I'm still working towards it, perfecting it.
-Looking back to the beginning, how did you get hooked up with Accession Records from Germany?
John: Yeah, I saw Adrian perform here in Minneapolis, I sent him 2 songs to see what he thought of them and he called me the next day from Germany and said he'd really like to release it.
-Are you still with them or was that just for the first release?
John: Just for the first release. You know I still listen to lots of industrial music but you know I was more into groups like Skinny Puppy, more the experimental side of it and um, you know I guess at one point, kind of half way through the first album I kind of started to go back to metal a bit more, playing guitar and stuff. Eventually it just didn't fit with what the label was doing so I just needed to find someone else.
-Did they get you guys hooked up with playing Metalfest and Festival Obscuro? How did that come about?
John: Yeah, Metalfest was through Earl. Earl actually put together one of the first Metalfest with the promoter. I think they got Sepultura to play that first year, or something like that..
-And Festival Obscuro, that was just a few months later?
John: That was just through Dilema Entertainment. They had heard some of our music and he asked if we'd be interested in playing and opening for Tristania and HIM.
-What an opportunity! Was it amazing to play down there?
John: Oh yeah! Those guys are all metal, really good crowds down there.
-Did you get to spend any time with the other bands and meet the other musicians?
John: Yeah well you know we got to meet HIM and talk to them a little bit, but, I think they're nice people but I think everyone has this assumption that they're supposed to be asshole rock stars, people kind of treat them like they're going to be treated like shit, so I have a feeling that they're nice people but everyone's just defensive. Tristania, I got to talk with them, and that was really nice, you know to get an insight, idea of what other countries are like. I think I talked with them for a little while about Norway and its taxes *laughs* and I think they're required to do a certain amount of time, like service in the army. That and then, you know, record labels and stuff like that, who'd they'd suggested.
-So speaking of touring, I heard a rumor that you'd be touring with Trail of Tears this fall, is there any truth in that?
John: It was going to happen. We were asked to do it, we were going to do it, but right now, this year...
...they're kind of in transition though, right?
John: Well they are, but they are coming, they have a band together. Let's see, last year on Halloween, Christopher from Therion wrote to me to ask if Melissa (Ferlaak, former lead vocalist) would be interested in doing a Therion tour next year and I said I have no idea, Melissa left and signed an exclusive contract with Visions of Atlantis. but here's her contact information and here's some other singers I can think of, and suggested Lori. One of the main reasons why is cause Earl... he has a bone marrow transplant coming up and none of us are really sure about how long for recovery and stuff like that. So I felt it was the right thing to do to suggest Lori, I mean how would you feel if you were in the band and I didn't suggest you for a world tour, you know? But anyway we can't do the Trail of Tears because Therion will be in South America at that time. But, we are going to go out on the road with Therion in the US
-Oh, nice! So will Lori sing with both groups?
John: Yes, and I think it may even be a better match (playing with Therion), I guess we'll see.
-So, how did you start learning the Bawu (traditional Chinese wind instrumental that John plays on the latest album)
John: Well yeah, I went and saw a Koto drum group form California and this Chinese guy from Minneapolis was there playing with them. I took his business card and said to myself "well one day I'll learn to play those instruments" and then I just, one day I called him up and told him I was interested in learning the Bawu and, I only had one lesson. It's not a very hard instrument to play, just with time I picked it up. and I just have Lori play it when we play live.
-That'd be neat. It lent such an effect to the Artemis song. I hope you continue to use that in the future, it just was such a special sound to have.
John: Yeah I'm gonna use it more in the future. I have 4 other ones in different keys and so it'll lend itself nicely to different tunings. And there's a few other ethnic instruments that I hope to use as well. You know right now, and I don't know if it'll be released with Aesma Daeva, I'm finishing a lot of acoustic music, where I'm playing different acoustic instruments and couple of middle eastern flutes, stuff like that. I'm not really a master at them yet so I'm just kinda having sparse little moments here and there. I can see the group evolving in the future to doing some albums that have very little electric guitar and more world sounding... you know, still heavy.
-So this is something you'll release seperately, on your own?
John: I'm considering it. You know I went to school for classical guitar. My school had a very good composition department and every year they'd have a commissioned composer so.. with all the records they had and the music, that's how I started to get into avant-garde music. I thought most of it was absolutely terrible when I first heard it, but that's where I started to find avant-garde music that I liked. They have everyone there as far as composers. But the acoustic stuff is just classical guitar pieces mainly and some orchestra, pieces with other classical instruments. I had one idea for a spoken word piece, and uh, that'd be about it... it's mainly going to be classical instruments. It's sounding really nice I just don't know... I guess we'll see. I'm thinking that we'll just have a link on the web page and fans will find it and I can get some ideas about it before I release it.
-Do you know when your website will be back up?
John: Well it's up, we just need to finish more of it *laughs* I'm not very good at programming websites so when I was working with my friend who was helping me on it I said let's just get this part set up so people can at least buy the CD. I don't know what it is but everyone in the band hates writing their own biographies; you never really know where to start and how to go about it. I'd say in another week here everyone will know what Lori's favourite food is *laughs*
Besides the tour, do you have any gigs coming up?
John: Yeah we were just asked today to play in Mexico again, so we have to work out the details to licensing the DVD and the new album and that stuff. After Therion plays South America they have 2 or 3 more things and then they're pretty much done, so it'll probably be closer to December
-What's your favourite part of playing live and touring? Any favourite songs to play?
John: I love meeting people, it's neat to meet kids as well because they remind me of myself *laughs* Just seeing how intense they are about music and how excited they are about it. I guess just meeting people in general is probably my favourite part. Going to other countries, I love culture, and I'm not really scared of "feat factor" food
*laughs* that's a good way to put it! I've never heard that before.
John: '*laughs* Usually I just convince myself that everything I'm eating is dog and just try it and go "this is good!" But touring, touring is just something you need to experience. It's the ultimate challenge to the marriage.
-How'd you get hooked up with Neil Kernon (producer), what was that like with the recording and how does he work?
John: Neil, I new of Neil mainly through Nevermore. First I went to his website and found that he'd done everything; He's done tons of metal but he's also done early prog and some experimental music, plenty of pop as well. I came to the conclusion that he'd probably be, of a lot of the metal guys out there, he'd probably be the best one for a producer since he's kind of dabbled in so many different genre's out there. so I wrote to him and asked if he was interested. I mean, like any relationship there was definitely challenges but we also have the best album we've every had, I think.
-Was he driving you guys in the studio?
John: No, not really. With some things he's very detail oriented, and so am I, but he kind of taught me which details were worth sweating over and which ones aren't. On some things I was kind of pushing him the extra mile and I appreciate that he went the extra mile. Some days when we were mixing were 14 hour, 15 hour days, then we'd go home and sleep about 4 or 5 hours. And that's also the kind of person he is, he says he functions better on just 4 or 5 hours of sleep, so, yeah, he's a different beast all together. I fell asleep while mixing the album a few times and he kept going full time.
-Do you think you'll work with him again in the future?
John: Possibly, the thing is he's so busy. As soon as all of this Therion stuff is done, Earl's playing guitar again and standing and getting back into shape (after his surgery), I've already got antoher album basically finished and I'm excited as hell about it and I don't know if I really want to wait as long as I need to or might need to. He's definitely one of the better options but I'm curious about some other people who might be more involved in the song writing process. Neil, it's just not his personality to get involved in that. I'd like to find someone who'd just kinda be involved from the ground up when it comes to that. I mean in all honesty I don't want more confrontation but that's kinda how it goes, how you become sure that you want that section of the song to be there is for people asking you if that really works. If you're not willing to fight about it then maybe it shouldn't be there *laughs* but um... I've considered James Murphy at times and have been talking to him on and off and I have some other friends who are really involved in the film industry in California so they'd have one perspective that would really help as far as mixing, but it might be a bunch of different people involved in the next one as far as production and engineering.
-Can you tell us about the music that you've writing for the next album and what direction it's going in?
John: Oh, yeah. It is all way over the top. This last album there's about 4 doom songs, which I love, but I just really have been focusing on, I guess on a personal level, to be writing more up-beat fast songs. They're all based on the book 1984, and uh, it's all songs that sound a lot like "Since the Machine"(from the latest album). there's some pretty dissonant hard listening section but they're my favourite parts. There's a lot of parts like that but there's also some power metal moments, more or less. but there's not any doom on this next album. You know I love the doom stuff I just have to be honest and write the way that I'm feeling. I'm not the kind of personality that would want to just focus on dark stuff just for the sake of focusing on it, just because it's what I'm expected to do. I'd rather just write what I know and how if feel, therefore it's kind of an honest journal entry.
Really my only complaint with this album is I feel every song is a very good song, I'm happy with them, I think the next album is going to be a better "album" as far as listening all the way through. That doesn't mean I feel this is bad by any means though.
-So when you guys play live do you think you'll play mostly stuff from this new album or do you like to go back to your earlier works?
John: Well the band wants to play Stay from the first album, so I'm figuring out how I'm going to do that; and we're probably going to play Origin of the Muse from the thrid album, and we might playing Darkness as well, from the first album.
-So when you're up there and fans are shouting out songs that they want to hear that aren't on your set list, does that make any difference? I've always wanted to know that *laughs*
John: As I've gotten older I've gotten older I've gotten better at getting what they want *laughs* They did pay to come to show and hear the songs they wanted to year.
-Yeah, I mean I know there is an element of rehearsing and all band members knowing what version of the song, etc, but if there is that one screaming fan in the front that is just dying to hear that one song, if they ever plead their case well enough?
John: Oh *laughs* well if it's a song we've rehearsed and we suck at it, this what will happen. the fan will scream that song out and I'll turn to the band and scowl at all of them, as kind of my way of saying, we're not playing it! no! can't do it! *laughs* but if it's a song that we've rehearsed and are ready to play, then we'll play it.
John and I continued to discuss times that we've been screaming fans at shows and he related a story of once being at a Blind Guardian concert where another fan tried to get them to play Bohemian Rhapsody. Aesma Daeva's new album "Dawn Of The New Athens" is out now; more info at www.aesmadaeva.com
Posted on 03.06.2007 by
Susan appreciates quality metal regardless of sub-genre. Metal Storm Staff since 2006.
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