Interview by Ed MacLarenHearing a band’s debut album for the first time is like digging up a treasure chest. You have no idea what’s in it but you’re hoping that, whatever it is, it’s going to make you rich. Uncovering “Breaking the Stillness” – the powerful debut album from Finland’s Shear – is a treasure in its own right – a refreshing and engaging listen that will reward your ears again and again. The album is built on catchy melodies and progressive arrangements but what really raises the eyebrows are the balls-out voice of singer Alexa Leroux. On each track, her vocals cut loose adding some grit to the polished music underneath. Femme Metal Webzine got the inside scoop from vocalist Alexa Leroux on the new album, her powerhouse vocals and how classical training works well in the metal world. Welcome to Femme Metal Webzine, Alexa! Congratulations to you and the rest of Shear on “Breaking the Stillness”. An excellent debut album!
Thank you very much! Glad you like it!Shear brings a sonic cornucopia to the ears – crunching riffs, swirling keyboards and powerhouse vocals. This album will definitely appeal to fans of power and symphonic metal not to mention the progressive metal faction.
Well, thank you, once again. Our album is a little more melodic mixed with progressive, than symphonic, but I hope it reaches fans of different metal styles also. I believe it’s diverse enough, so even if people don’t like all the songs they might find some elements they really like.Are you excited? What are your expectations for the album? The prediction here is that even though it’s early in the year, you could be seeing “Breaking the Stillness” on some best of lists at the end of the year.
I am very excited about having an album finally come out. I can’t really predict anything and in a way I think it’s better I don’t even try to, but it would be totally awesome to see it succeed.Track for track, “Breaking the Stillness” is a powerful listen from start to finish. What’s the secret to maintaining that kind of momentum over a whole album?
We really took our time writing the songs. Every song was written with a purpose and they all come from a very personal space, so that is probably what helped the most.
How did the release of your EP, “In Solitude” prepare you for the recording of “Breaking the Stillness”?
Before recording the EP we had never before worked together as a band in a professional studio, just recording demos, so there was a lot to be learned about each other in that way. For example, it took us a couple of days to perfect the setup for me to record the vocals while doing “In Solitude”. When we entered the studio last year to record “Breaking the Stillness” we knew exactly how we liked to do things, so we could just start recording right away and everything went really smoothly.If the “In Solitude” EP was a taste of what was to come, what kind of statement did you want to make with “Breaking the Stillness”? Were you successful?
I think we didn’t necessarily want to make any statements. We just wanted to evolve and we definitely did that. There are two songs on “Breaking the Stillness” that were already on the EP. “In Solitude” and “Scorched”. We changed some of the lyrics and melodies, some guitar details also, because they weren’t really up the standards of the newer songs.Did signing to Lifeforce Records have a strong impact on your attitude towards what Shear could accomplish as a band?
When we recorded the album we didn’t yet know who would release it. We were really happy with the outcome and when Lifeforce approached us and said they also liked the album we knew that we were doing something right. Knowing that they believe in us has boosted our confidence as a band.Did the signing have an impact on the music you’ve created since then?
The whole album was recorded by the time we signed with Lifeforce Records, so it didn’t really affect the album. We’ve already started writing new songs, but personally I don’t think it has had an impact on the things I write about, because the things we write about come from another side of life.Shear is full of experienced players from the Finnish metal scene. How did the planets align to bring the guys together?
Finland is a pretty small country so the amount of people involved in the music scene, especially the metal scene, is quite limited. Everyone pretty much knows each other. Therefore, it’s also very common for musicians to play in many different bands and projects. The guys knew each other from previous musical endeavours and got along very well both on a musical and personal level and wanted to form a band together.
As the last piece of the Shear puzzle, what was it about you and your voice that got you the front woman gig?
I feel this is something the boys should answer, but I’m just going to go ahead and say that it was my awesome sense of humor that had more to do with me getting the gig than my actual singing. I mean yeah, they sure were surprised I didn’t sing opera, since I had told them I’ve studied it. They probably were expecting a mediocre imitation of Tarja Turunen. By the way, I can do that too, but let’s not go there now. I walked in the rehearsal room, we talked for a while and then we played some Iron Maiden. I actually still remember Lari’s wide surprised grin. They were all a little confused, because I was supposed to be shit, but turned out to be pretty OK. We just clicked.You have a ballsy, full and powerful tone in your vocals. How did you develop this singing style?
By just singing, and singing, and singing, and shouting and trying to find my limits vocally. Then I just decided that fuck it, there’ll be no limit if I decide there isn’t one. Think ballsy and you’ll sure sound it. It’s all about the feeling in my opinion. I’ve found myself many times in life in situations where I’ve just wanted to scream my lungs out and punch walls. Instead I’ve skipped the punching and focused all that energy in singing.You have a background in classical music – what got you attracted to metal?
Even though I’ve studied classical most of my life I’ve always listened to everything else. As a kid I found rock ’n roll, but in my teens I found a love for metal, because I just needed something a little more aggressive, in a way. I’m not a violent person; it’s just that, like I said earlier, singing metal was a good outlet for my energy. And I’ve always had lots of energy.How does that classical background prepare you for a career as a metal vocalist?
To be a classical musician you have to be really relentless and consistent. There’s really no room to slip up if you want to be the best. You have to practice like crazy and be really exact. So you actually end up spending your nights rehearsing the same thing again and again and again. It really taught me a lot, not only as a vocalist, but as a musician and a person. You don’t give up until you get what you want and everything is possible, you just have to find the right path for yourself. It also trained my ear. Now I’ve got a really good ear. It’s all thanks to that classical background. It doesn’t only help me as a metal vocalist, but as a musician in general. For example, when playing and recording songs I can spot a lot of things – as in mistakes – that people don’t notice until I say stop, listen. I’ve also got a very good ear for melodies, of course that might also be something you’re born with, but I know that practicing Mozart didn’t hurt either.The United States has its share of female “power” singers in metal while Europe seems to favor a more gothic and operatic style of vocal. But we’re seeing more European vocalists such as yourself and Sister Sin’s Liv Jargrell – among others – using a more hard hitting vocal style. Do you think we’re going to see more?
I’ve never been into the whole gothic, operatic metal thing, so for me it was never even an option. Maybe there’s more girls like me out there, who don’t want to be all that pretty and sound angelic. We need more ballsy female singers. And I don’t mean growling or screamo, just proper singers with an edge.Your screams at the end of “No Way Out” are killer. How do approach “designing” your vocals for a track? Are you focused on melody or are you looking at the dynamic range of the song – the softs and louds?
The first thing I focus on is definitely melody. I put it all down and after I’ve got a clear frame I usually work on the dynamics, to add some movement and feeling. It’s funny because I talk a lot about feeling the music, and it has absolutely nothing to do with the lyrics. First I feel the music and then I paint it with words that in my opinion describe the music. The screams at the end of “No Way Out” are definitely something that I had to fight to get on the final version of the song, because I don’t do any screaming on the rest of the album, so the general opinion was that it probably wasn’t right for this album. But I had decided that it was totally necessary and it brings a little of a surprise to the listener at a fairly late stage in the album, so we kept it and now we’re all really pleased with it.Shear traveled over 2000 km to play Germany’s Summer Breeze Open Air last August. What was it like playing in front of a big German festival crowd instead of the more intimate club venues in Finland?
First of all the crowd was completely unfamiliar with us, so we really didn’t have any clue as to how they would react to us. But they were awesome! The Finnish crowds are really good too, but they take some time to warm up and get singing or clapping along, no matter if it’s a smaller club. Although that might also say something about me, maybe I’m a shit frontwoman and it’s my fault they’re not clapping? (Laughs) I don’t know! But at Summer Breeze I didn’t even need to open my mouth and the crowd was already banging their heads and pumping their fists in the air. By the second verse of our song “Scorched” you could hear them trying to sing along. I have nothing but utter respect for such a welcoming crowd.Did you get a lot out of the festival experience – personally and musically?
We stayed at the festival for the whole week, just the six of us and we just decided to live on beer and weird festival foods. We slept in a tent and just enjoyed life at its best. You know, being with your mates, without a care in the world and just doing lots and lots of stupid things. It was awesome! Musically I learned that I need a better Plan B in case I get sick on longer tours!Are you going to tour outside of Finland to promote “Breaking the Stillness”?
Well, we’d absolutely love to do that, but it’s not completely up to us. If it were, I think I’d already be on a plane to Japan.(Famous) Last words?
I don’t know who said this first, but I first heard these words from Justin Hawkins, The Darkness’ lead singer. And it goes: “If it’s worth doing, it’s worth overdoing”. And that’s exactly how I try to live life.