THE MARCH OF PYTHIA
I can mention a number of reasons as to why I sense Pythia are marching steadily on to conquer the Metal scene. One is the professional demeanour that all the band members seem to have. Another reason…that is perhaps more obvious…is the quality of their music – an intense blend of heaviness, melody and hooks.
Around the time the following interview took place, the Pythia camp was a hive of activity. Drummer and founding member Marc Dyos and bass player Mark Harrington agreed to bring me up to speed on Pythia’s latest. So we met in a pub in the heart of the English capital and after a round of cold drinks had loosened up our tongues, well, here’s what followed...
These last few months have been quite eventful for Pythia, right?
Marc Dyos: Yeah. After we finished the Sonata Arctica dates in April it seemed like a good time to make some changes. We knew it was going to happen at some point and things kind of came to a head. So we made a couple of line-up changes…..the first one was on keyboards, Richard [Holland] left us. Again, we knew it was probably going to happen.
He rarely played live with Pythia...
Marc Dyos: He never did. As such he was more of a session musician but nonetheless an important part of our sound. So now we’ve got Marcus Matusiak on keyboards. We’ve known him for a few years actually because he has had some input into Pythia over the last few years so we already knew him on both a personal and musical level.
The second change was Tim Neale, on guitar, leaving us and we’ve brought in Oz Wright to replace him. Oz is a musician who’s played with Pythia in a couple of shows in the past, when we needed a stand-in guitarist. Ross [White – Pythia guitarist] and I have personally known him for over 10 years. He’s a great musician and we’re really pleased to have him on board. Just like we’re really pleased to have Marcus on board.
Now we’ve got a lot of Marks in the band…so we’re starting to call each other by our surnames. [laughs]
What were the reasons for Tim’s departure? I know that before and after being with Pythia, he was and is involved with Metal of a more extreme nature, so did musical tastes have any bearing on his departure?
Marc Dyos: Well, I don’t know. I mean there are some fairly complex issues that I won’t go into too many details on. However, from a musical point-of-view, we all come from different backgrounds. For example Ross and I are more from a Thrash, Death Metal and fast Power Metal background.
Mark Harrington: From my point of view, I’ve played in an extreme Metal band called Demagogue for a number of years. I’ve also played with a band called To-Mera for a while, which is a sort of Progressive Metal type of band.
Do you still play with To-Mera?
Mark Harrington: Yes, I do. We’re not doing a lot at the moment but it’s still there.
Marc Dyos: So going back to what you were suggesting about Tim, I don’t think so. We’ve always come from different musical backgrounds. Tim’s always loved what Pythia was about, musically speaking.
Mark Harrington: I think Tim’s got a very broad range of musical interests, everything from Classic Rock all the way through to extreme…I mean he played in a successful Black Metal band called Abgott. He’s got his fingers in a lot of pies.
I think that’s what makes Pythia that little bit special in that the band’s members have collectively been involved in all genres of Metal. And all these influences seem to come together beautifully in Pythia’s music.
Mark Harrington: I like to think so, yes. I think what differentiates us from all the bands out there... I don’t like using the term ‘female-fronted metal’ too much...
...yeah, that’s not even a genre. It’s just a cursory observation at most.
Mark Harrington: And yet we often get lumped into that. This means we get some obvious comparisons - such as Nightwish. I don’t think it’s necessarily appropriate for us but just because we have a female singer we get lumped with that. Musically, in Pythia’s music I’m hearing more of Stratovarius and Dragonforce on the faster stuff. In the slower stuff, I’m hearing bands like Opeth and Paradise Lost. And I hope that the people who buy our records and come to see us live think along those lines rather than just seeing a female singer with a bunch of guys behind her.
[Perhaps it’s pertinent to note that a few years ago Pythia vocalist Emily Alice Ovenden had auditioned with Nightwish as a potential replacement for Tarja Turunen.]
I have to say that I agree with your comparisons and empathise with your concerns. Marc, earlier on you were telling me that Emily is currently touring with the Mediaeval Baebes...
Marc Dyos: Yes, they’ve got a few things on the go. I think they’ve got a new album coming out this year and they’re going to play live in the States in the next month or so. And that’s just how it works out…whilst the boys are getting the music worked out for the new album. The drums were done about six weeks ago…Ross has just finished his guitar parts this week…..Mark has been demoing his bass parts…..it seemed like an appropriate time for Emily to do what she needed to do with other projects and then come back in time to do the vocal recordings.
So does Emily already have an idea of the new songs?
Marc Dyos: Yes, they’ve already been demoed.
So isn’t this ever a problem, the fact that Emily has to be away from Pythia for spells of time due to her work with Mediaeval Baebes?
Mark Harrington: I think it’s the reality of playing original music at a very high level. You cannot afford to be idle. I think you have to balance the bands and your life. Occasionally, yes, there are clashes but ultimately you have to find a way to work around these things.
Marc Dyos: Personally I can’t complain because that’s where I found her from when I formed Pythia. Emily was already singing with the Mediaeval Baebes when I invited her to join Pythia.
How did Pythia’s imagery start to develop after the band was formed?
Marc Dyos: Fairly organically, really. There wasn’t any pre-conceived idea that this is how we’re going to look on stage. I think we were doing the photo-shoot for the first album – “Beneath The Veiled Embrace” – when we did different images portraying different songs. One of those was ‘Army Of The Damned’ where we all had the armour and the weaponry. And it all sort of caught on from there. So as I said, it wasn’t a pre-conceived idea but it was just something that sort of just happened. Some people like it, some people don’t but we do what we want anyway. [shrugs his shoulders] Plus, again, it’s another thing that differentiates us from a lot of other bands.
Mark Harrington: Arguably I think it’s better to have some kind of distinctive visual representation of the band because, as Mark said, if people don’t like you at least they know about you. And if people do like you, well that’s great.
And let’s face it, if as a fan I just want to listen to the music I can stay at home and listen to your CDs. I might sound materialistic but if I see a band perform I do expect a visual element as part of the live experience.
Marc Dyos: I think that that’s part of what attracted Mark in joining the band.
Mark Harrington: Absolutely.
Since we’re talking about live performances, your most recent tour was supporting Sonata Arctica on the Finns’ UK visit. How did that go?
Marc Dyos: Really well. For me it was a great line-up and musically it worked well. Sonata Arctica didn’t really play much fast stuff but obviously that’s a big influence for us. That kind of seemed to work for the melodic element for them, from Neonfly and from us. It felt like a good bill to be on. It was only afterwards that I saw a couple of reviews which said that things like ‘I’m not sure about Pythia with this bill because they’re so much heavier’. My first reaction was ‘We’re not heavy!’ Then I watched a couple of videos and realised I forget how heavy we are, with the two guitars going and the double kicks and blast-beats…..I sometimes forget that although we are melodic we are quite extreme as well.
Judging from the date I had attended, I definitely think you sounded heavier then Sonata Arctica.
Marc Dyos: It was a really enjoyable tour. To be honest we haven’t done many live gigs this year but the ones we have done have been well worth the while and we’ve gained a lot of new fans along the way.
Are there any other tours or gigs that are impinged on your memory for some reason or another?
Marc Dyos: Harrington, you can answer this.
Mark Harrington: Our Bloodstock last year was definitely a really really good show. We played on a big stage in front of a quite big and very enthusiastic crowd.
In my opinion Bloodstock is the only open-air Metal festival in England right now. Other festivals only seem to feature Metal bands as token bands.
Marc Dyos: Arguably.
Mark Harrington: I think it certainly caters for the full spectrum of Metal, including both well-known and obscure bands. Yes, it was really great to be part of that.
A number of female-fronted Metal bands have repositioned their image and music to appeal to a wider range of fans. For example Within Temptation’s music has changed quite a lot and these days Lacuna Coil often play festivals not strictly within the Metal sphere. How important is it for Pythia to be perceived as part of the Metal community?
Mark Dyos: Well, when you’ll hear the stuff we’ve written for the new album, you’ll know that’s not the case with us. It’s extreme, if not more extreme than the last record – not just for the sake of it but because that’s what makes us tick. We’ve got the faster Dragonforce-type tempos and the slower Paradise Lost-type of slower heavy songs in there. I think it’s a bit more Proggy this time around as well as we’ve thrown in a few weird time signatures.
Mark Harrington: Yeah, I think structurally it’s a bit more varied than before. I think generally in the past it’s been a fairly sort of standard verse-chorus-verse type of approach. This has been a very conscious type of change.
It seems you’re going to give Emily a hard time...
Mark Dyos: [grins] Yeah. To be honest it’s been an easier approach than the last record. As much as we loved the outcome from making “The Serpent’s Curse” I think looking back at the time, we had had quite a few confrontations. I think this time around it’s been quite easy. We know how each other works, we know who’d perhaps be the best person to deal with other people within the band on a personal level when something’s not working. So generally it’s been pretty easy to work on and obviously it’s the first record that Harrington has actually worked on. [Mark Harrington joined Pythia in 2011 when the material for “The Serpent’s Curse” had already been written.] We appreciate what he’s coming up with on the bass lines which I think are going to add another dimension to the album’s music.
Harrington, someone once told me that you recognise a great bass player when he stops playing. Would you agree?
Mark Harrington: [smiles] Yes, definitely. I think it’s true with any band I’ve been involved with and definitely with Pythia, just because there a sort of traditional Metal approach to the music. There’s a lot of guitars and drums and I think the bass fills in as frequently as it needs to. And I like that because I look for the challenge of trying to make that as creative as possible but as simple as possible at the same time. It is the idea that it’s there but you might not necessarily know it. It’s about being understated but also overstated in the right places.
What about you, Dyos? You’ve been playing drums for many years now but do you still hear some drummer play and say to yourself: “Hmmm, that’s interesting…I should try that out for myself”?
Mark Dyos: I listen to all kinds of stuff really, anything from Latin music to Death Metal and most things in between. In terms of everyday practice on drums I tend to use Death Metal type of training exercises, as done by say, Derek Roddy [Nile, Malevolent Creation, Hate Eternal] or George Kollias [Nightfall, Nile]. I love that sort of stuff and I use parts of that in Pythia but we’re not going to suddenly do a 240 b.p.m. all throughout a song.
As Pythia’s rhythm section do the two of you ever find the need to rehearse together?
Mark Dyos: Not really, especially because of how we’re spread out, location-wise. We generally share ideas via Drop-box and things like that. It’s only once the songs are actually written that we get together in one room and try certain things out. By that stage we’d know what we’re going to be playing and how the song should be. When you play in a loud practice-room it’s difficult to work out the details of the song, to figure out who’s playing the wrong note. If it’s on a recording then you can hear everything in every detail.
It must be quite challenging and quite difficult not to lose the organic feel of the compositions when the music is put together via electronic communication tools rather than the band members being in the same room together.
Mark Dyos: I don’t know….maybe it comes with the territory. We’re not like a bunch of hippies that get together in a room and jam for 20 minutes and come up with a riff. I don’t know...
I guess it’s also about being disciplined and having the right attitude.
Mark Dyos: We know what works. We’re looking with one step beyond thinking we know what works live in terms of tempos and feel. Maybe that’s the best way of putting it.
Mark Harrington: I think creatively most of the ideas and structures come from Ross. So the organic process is kind of centred around him and around Marc who drives the rhythm. As Marc said, it’s also a necessity of the logistics involved seeing that we live a bit apart. I think it does work also due to the experience and the time that the other guys have been playing together. They sort of have an understanding of what is going to work so when it does come together it all makes musical sense.
Mark Dyos: I also think that the music we grew up on when we were young, listening to “Master Of Puppets” and things like that, you get to know what tempos work, what goes together, what fills lead better into different sections, how to structure songs…..things like that…..I think it’s all ingrained into me now. I know how to write a song, I know how to structure a song. I can’t really explain it more than that.
Are there any ideas concerning the lyrical aspect of the new album?
Mark Dyos: Emily writes all the lyrics. We’re not particularly restricted on lyrical themes, even though there are some things we won’t sing about. For example we’re not going to sing about modern day politics or things like that. It’s not restrictive in the sense that we’re going to sing just about The Lord Of The Rings fantasy type of theme.
Mark Harrington: I think Emily has an approach to writing lyrics that I quite like. Thematically it’s something very personal but it’s usually wrapped up in metaphors and imagery that keep in with the aesthetic of the band. So it’s almost as if it’s talking about swords and sorcery but there is a personal message within it and it’s talking about personal experiences.
Mark Dyos: It’s a bit more universal which I think makes it easier for people to hook into – even if they’re not into waving swords about and running into battlefield. I think there’s something personal in the lyrics that everyone can relate to.
I think a lot of British Metal bands tend to take a storytelling approach to music……Iron Maiden, Saxon, Bolt Thrower, Diamond Head…..
Mark Dyos: And one of my favourite artists in terms of storytelling is Thin Lizzy and Phil Lynott. He was probably the greatest storyteller in terms of lyrics.
Are you planning on doing another video to promote the forthcoming album?
Mark Dyos: Well to be honest before thinking about that, first we’ve got to sort out the argument on which song is going to be the first single. Once we’ll have decided on that, yes we’ll think about what video could best represent that song.
You know, one thing that strikes me is that Pythia have managed to come a long way way since being formed about 6 years ago without the backing of a record label.
Mark Dyos: Well we do it with different firms. We run our own label from here, which is Golden Axe. So for the UK, we’ve released our albums through them and distributed the releases through Genepool Universal. Our label in mainland Europe is Graviton. We’ve also been dealing with Spinning, who have released our albums in Japan. We’re certainly looking to continue working with Graviton with the new album as well. Regarding Japan we’re currently lining up our options. To be honest, with how the scene and market of the UK is, it’s easier doing it like that for us.
Don’t you think that with the support of a larger label Pythia would be able to develop the band’s stage act? I mean I’m not saying you’d be able to rival the stages of, say, Iron Maiden but at least take your stage act one step further...
Mark Harrington: This is probably going to sound very cynical but I’d question the benefits of labels now. No labels are really going to invest any money on any band unless they’re guaranteed to bring in profits. Certainly, if we’re in control of the budget, and if we see that as a business opportunity, we’ll invest more in, say, stage production. We’d look into getting the resources to do that. Were we with a label I think we’d still think we have to come up with our own funds to do that.
Mark Dyos: I think we’re very well run, financially-speaking. We’re not in any debt, we work out our own cost plans and fundings. That enables us to choose what opportunities to pursue in terms of touring and buy-ons. We try to be selective, for the reason that we don’t want to end up thousand of pounds in debt…which I know a lot of bands are.
How about going to Japan when promoting the next album? Would you see that as a financially sound project, potentially? I think Pythia’s music fits in well with what Japanese Metal fans tend to like.
Mark Dyos: I think Mark Harrington would like that.
Mark Harrington: Yeah, definitely. I’ve got a very well-known interest and passion for the country. It would be great but very cost-prohibitive unfortunately. It’s not like you’re a Japanese band and you come to [play in] Europe where you’ve got one big journey but a lot of territories to cover. If you’re a European band going out to Japan you’ve got maybe 2 or 3 cities where you can play. I mean even the big bands only play Tokyo, Osaka…and maybe Nagoya. It’d be difficult for us.
What do you hope to achieve with the next album that you haven’t achieved with the first two albums?
Mark Dyos: First of all we want to make an album that’s better than “Serpent’s Curse” – which in my opinion is not an easy task…..but I think we’re on the road to doing that. For me, from a drumming perspective, I want to bring more colour to it. The drums on “The Serpent’s Curse” are quite heavy, quite punching. I’d like to bring perhaps more of a live feel to the drums. And I think that might be said for the whole music as well. I think we’re all looking into seeing how we can add a bit more colour and depth to it, without having banks and banks of vocals and keyboards and [instead] doing it with the instruments that we’ve got. I think Mark Harrington added to that with his basslines. It’s very much a riff-based album, even more than “Serpent’s Curse”. And that probably came from not having a live keyboard player with us. So it works better having more riff-based songs in the new album. Marcus, our new keyboard player, is obviously working around that, working with that. He’s finding his way musically into the band.
Are Oz and Marcus being involved with the new songs?
Mark Dyos: Yes, they write their own parts even though they’ve not been involved in the songwriting process as such. Essentially we sent them the drums, guitar and vocals…..and sometimes bass tracks.
Mark Harrington: Structurally it’s very much defined by Emily, Marc and Ross, which to me makes a lot of sense. You’re covering the riffs, the melody and the rhythmic parts. And then it goes out to the others to put their parts on top. There’s not any dictation to anyone telling them: “This is what you need to play”. So it’s more like: “You can play what you want. We’ll tell you if it sounds bad.” [laughs] Well obviously not ‘bad’…but we’ll say if it doesn’t work. So everyone has a creative input.
Guys it was great speaking to you. Best wishes for the new album.
Mark Dyos: Nice speaking to you.
Mark Harrington: Thank you.
© 2013 Chris Galea