Interview by Matteo Bussotti
You’ve probably heard before of “long-distance relationships”. Some of them end well, others…do not. But, have you ever heard about a “long-distance band”? No? Well, I guess you don’t know Forward Shapes, then! This band was created in 2005 at first by Andrei Kryssov and Brian Andrews (Guitar and keyboards, respectively), but they needed other musicians in order to have and record the other instruments, too. And so they finally found Marck Buchner (Bass), Ryan Hunter (Bass, Irish Whistle), the acclaimed Marco Minnemann (Drums) and Alison Vance (Lead singer). Their “geographical diversity” led Forward Shapes to record every part of every song of the album on its own. In fact, they’ve never played live all together, making this project extremely special; and extremely well made. So, we contacted Alison and Andrei to hear what’s like to be in “long-distance band”!
Hi Alison! Hi Andrei! Welcome to Femme Metal! My first question for Alison is a very personal one: when they first contacted you for the Forward Shapes project…how did you feel about that? Did you expect to be contacted after you first sent your demo? And, Andrei, what did hit you about Alison‘s demo in particular?
Alison: Initially I put up a short advertisement for myself as a vocalist on a website that Andrei found me on (I don’t even remember the website), and I told him I could do any style. He asked me to send back a demo, which I did, and once he decided to use me I felt like “All right! Let’s do this!”. I did expect to be contacted after the demo because I made a point to bring great energy that would vibe with Andrei’s vision for his project. I thought, “I can do this if he gives me the opportunity”.
Andrei: Thanks for having us! When I first heard Alison‘s demo I knew right away she was the perfect fit. First it was her voice – I loved her tone and delivery! I quickly sensed the passion behind her performance. The song “Mirrors of You” was specifically selected as the audition/demo track because of the technical challenge it presents to a vocalist – and Alison nailed it. Initially I asked her to record just the first verse and chorus, but Alison went way beyond that and recorded the entire song (this was a very strong sign of her commitment to this). I still remember hearing the final chorus that features a full vocal choir of Alison and Ryan Hunter (co-producer & engineer) – I remember hearing that part for the first time and thinking “she’s the one”. (This demo can be heard on our SoundCloud page here)
Andrei…why Forward Shapes? I mean, I bet some people have called you crazy for having started such a project! At the beginning, did you and Brian think you would have finally made it?
Andrei: I’ve been studying music composition and guitar ever since my early teenage years. After years of listening to bands like Rush, Dream Theater and Nightwish, I decided that in college I would start a Prog band (with female vocals) for the purpose of creating an album. I didn’t want FS to follow a traditional path of recording an EP, playing in clubs, trying to get signed and then release a debut album. The vision was to skip all that and go straight to writing and recording the debut! This was the pitch I gave Brian in the early days and he dug the vision. During the writing stages I had no doubts that we would be able to write enough material – in retrospect writing was the easy part! The biggest challenges came with finding the right musicians and recording. I did have my doubts at times that I would have the energy to persevere until the end – but I believed too much in the songs to give up!
Did you have some particular criteria to choose the other musicians, or you simply “picked up” the ones you liked the most?
Andrei: I did have specific criteria for each musician. For my co-founder I was looking for a classically trained pianist that was into composition. I was very fortunate to have met Brian because he is not only technically and theoretically proficient, but he has an incredible gift of being a very melodic player. The melodies just flow out of him and during our first “jam” session I just knew that he was the guy I wanted to partner with! For vocals it was very open ended, but we were specifically looking for a female vocalist with a rock edge. It was also important to find someone with a fairly original voice – we weren’t looking for someone who sounded just like Anette or Tarja. Technicality and professionalism aside, essentially we wanted someone who could just plain sing and sounded good with the music! For Bass I always wanted a guy I knew from the music conservatory at our University to join us. He has perfect pitch (very useful when learning an hour’s worth of un-transcribed music) and is a killer bass player! I knew the Drums could make or break the album – and I was looking for someone with a very “tasteful” style (ala Phil Colins, Mike Portnoy and Neil Peart). I had auditioned and turned down nearly 10 drummers before reaching out to Marco Minnemann on a whim. When he agreed I knew I hit the jackpot!! I also didn’t feel it was necessary to to audition him 🙂 Finally I also want to mention Ryan, my co-producer and Engineer, who I met randomly because he was Alison’s recording Engineer. Ryan’s Prog and Symphonic influences, classical training and an array of skills made him a perfect fit. He ended up making a lot of random but key contributions that helped shape the final product.
Now, tell me something about you, Alison: how did you start singing? Did your parents support tour decision?
Alison: I think I probably started singing before I started talking. It has always been my passion and my parents have supported me since day one. Once I was old enough (around 7 years old) they encouraged me to perform with a singing and dancing group that trained me and inspired me to continue my training into adulthood.
What’s been the hardest part of being part of “long distance” project? After all…you had to record an entire album not living near to each other!
Alison: The hardest part was finding times that worked with both of our schedules to Skype or talk on the phone or respond to emails. We were both working and our schedules were sometimes impossible to coordinate. We did a good job of making it work, but it was definitely a challenge.
Andrei: The time delay in between recordings. Things take a lot longer when everyone has other commitments (work, school, etc) which delay the production. For example if Alison was unsure of my vision for a certain section, she would record several versions and send them to me. I would then process the recordings, give feedback and have her re-record if necessary. This becomes a prolonged back-and-fourth cycle. Had I been in the same room with Alison I could have given instant feedback and things would have moved quicker.
As a drummer, I have to ask you this: how was working with Marco Minnemann? What do you think about his part in this album?
Andrei: It was incredible! He learned and recorded ALL the music in 4 days. It was insane!! I am beyond pleased with how his parts turned out on the album. Just check out the instrumental track “Elusive” (full track) his playing is out of this world! A true professional – I was really happy to have had the opportunity to work with him.
Alison, what do you think about Andrei and Brian? What was your first impression about them? (You can be as mean as you want!)
Alison: I never actually met or really worked with Brian, but I definitely respect and appreciate his arrangements and artistry on the piano. Andrei is very professional and had a true vision for his project. When he first explained his project I thought, “What a cool thing for his family and friends”. But to see him elevate it and rise to its true potential is very impressive. Andrei was always very supportive of my creativity and artistic interpretation of his music. He learned how to work with a very intense vocalist and I seriously admire that!
What was your attitude towards your part in this album? Did you have to particularly train your voice for it? Was there a particularly challenging part in it?
Alison: My attitude towards my part in the album was this: my job is to bring the lyrics to life. I wanted the listeners to hear the key words and phrases that really defined the album (per my interpretation). I did have to train my voice because I had never done progressive rock before, but luckily I had Andrei and Ryan (co-producer and sound engineer) to guide me to the right sound. The challenging part was freeing myself to sound like I owned the genre. I ultimately had to decide that I had every right to sing this music.
And…as a singer, what was your favorite part of “Legacy”? I mean, what was your favorite “vocal part”?
Alison: I’ve auditioned with “Mirrors of You” and it remains my favorite melody to sing. I love the low smoky vocals of “How far will s/he go…” countered by the belting chorus and the “Whoa’s.” Very fun.
Andrei, when you recorded the album, did you already have all the lyrics written down, or did Alison have the occasion to write something herself?
Andrei: Prior to beginning vocal recording I had written lyrics for three of the seven songs. The remainder was actually written after Alison began recording. The pressure of having the next song’s lyrics done prior to Alison finishing recording a song really helped me put pen to paper.
In which ways do you think you can improve yourself, as musicians and as a band? Is there something new you’d like to try in your new songs?
Alison: I think I can always improve my vocal versatility, so I seek opportunities to collaborate with original artists and I work on my own music. It would be an honor to work on any new songs Andrei might have up his sleeve!
Andrei: As a musician I constantly look for new areas of inspiration (musical and non-musical). Whether it is a new band, melody or some random idea – I constantly look for new things to inspire me creatively. As far as new songs my biggest goal would be to improve as a songwriter. After going through the process I truly now understand what an artist means when they say they’ve become stronger “songwriters”. I hope I can share that sentiment in the future!
Now that your album is out, do you have any plans about going on tour, or physically “regroup” the band, and write some more songs, or are you only focused about sharing Legacy with as many people as possible?
Andrei: No immediate plans to go on tour, play live or write new music. Everyone currently lives in different cities across the US so it’s hard to do that kind of stuff when you are an “Internet” band. I won’t however commit to saying that nothing will happen! It would be awesome to play these songs live so some kind of performance may happen in the future – stay tuned!!
Alison, Andrei, thank you very much for your time and your answers, and…good luck!
Andrei: Thanks again for having us Matteo, hope everyone enjoys the music!!