Interview by Vard AmanArmenia is little country that is steadily claiming its rightful place in the in the music world (and right near the top of my “to visit” list). While there may not be many bands (yet), the bands that are coming out of Armenia are top quality. Take Dogma – a unique band fusing Armenian Folk music with Progressive Metal. How good are they? Here is what Ian Anderson of Jethro Tull had to say about them: “The best musical Metal band this side of Mars. Amazing bass player. Brilliant vocals. Searing guitar. Thundering neutron drums. This band feature instruments which are weapons of mass destruction…. Oh, to be so young.” And I’m inclined to agree (you can read the review here). I caught up with Dogma‘s vocalist, Zara Gevorgyan, for a chat about Dogma and Armenia. Hi Zara. Welcome to Femme Metal Webzine!
Hi Vard, firstly I need to say a big thank you for the nice and positive review of Dogma’s second album “Under Dogma” you presented to the readers of Femme Metal Webzine. And another thank you for this interview offer!Tell us when and how you all met up and how Dogma started?
They say “Anything happens for a reason”. That reason was the formation of Dogma 🙂 One very beautiful day I wished to finally record one of my songs, therefore I came to Vibrographus studio, owned by Vardan Grigoryan, whom I also knew as the bass player of the famous of those days band MDP. But on listening how I sing Vardan refused to record me and asked to wait for some time. That took a couple of months. I was almost hopeless already, when one day the phone rang 😉 . And I was to discover only later that by that time MDP was disbanded, whereas Vardan and Henry Grigoryan (guitar player), always having the idea to make ethnic-folk elements in their music more vivid, were looking for a way of its realization. So, I happened to be that exact “way” to give start to the realization of all of their musical ideas. Soon Derik (drummer) accepted Vardan’s invitation to join us. A month later we played our first solo concert in the big hall of Yerevan Puppet Theatre.Were you in any bands before Dogma?
The answer is a definite NO. Believe it or not, I had never taken serious steps towards a singing career before that. My musical education on piano was the only serious engagement in music. Although always having a great desire to sing, I chose a different profession. For some period willy-nilly I was doing quite different things, postponing the actions towards a serious singing career, as if it was not the time yet. Probably, that manic uncertainty and abundance of multi-field activity I was having before would go on, if not Vardan’s call and the decision that I am the one they had been looking for 🙂 . Their confidence was a stimuli for me. I realized that the time had come!Dogma‘s sound is totally unique, which makes it really hard to explain. How would you describe it?
Yes, you’re quite right. We find it difficult to describe as well, therefore we leave genre definitions to critics, whereas our website says Dogma‘s music “…Can transfer the listener from a powerful mountainous landscape to a serene apricot garden in the blazing sun”. Well, that’s true 😉 !
Heno is the composer of all of Dogma songs. When composing he doesn’t define boundaries for the music he creates. He has a very unique handwriting, which makes Dogma’s music outstanding and easily differentiated. The usage of Armenian ethnic melodies is one factor giving uniqueness. Since we carry the Armenian background and heritage, a samelike musical thinking is developed, therefore creating new purely Armenian ethnic melodies must be natural. However, we do not cover Armenian famous folk songs, like most bands do. We give privilege to the music we create together and want to be presented to the world with our own original music.What inspired the name “Dogma”?
When suggested the name ”Dogma”, each of us found some personal explanation and thoughts over the term “dogma”. That is to say that each of us had our own dogma to believe to or neglect. One thing was sure – the common dogma for all of us was the music, its incontestable presence and superiority over anything else in our lives. Easily said – there is only one “Dogma” for us, through which we question the essence of other dogmata. I agree, it’s complicated 🙂 Well, I may guess your next question now 😉 … It was only later to discover that there were more bands named “Dogma” in the world, most of them old and disbanded though. But the idea we liked was somewhat stronger than that fact.In 2010 you shared the stage with Ian Anderson of Jethro Tull. How did that come about?
In 2009 our company promoted Jethro Tull concert in Yerevan, so I was in charge of production. We got acquainted with Ian Anderson and during all their stay in Yerevan I was next to him providing translation and solving any management issues. When Ian asked whether this was my main job, I mentioned that Vardan and I were in a band. Nothing more, actually. And since our album was not ready yet then, I promised to send it once it was released.
Immense was my surprise, when on going back Ian emailed me, saying that he had done some search and listened to a couple of our songs on internet and that he didn’t expect it, that we sounded great! I was so thrilled to hear this from my favorite musician! Moreover, I was deeply touched that he was the one who was interested and found our music himself! Soon our first album was ready and we sent it to Ian. To our big pleasure he enjoyed it!
In 2010 we started another project and invited Ian to Yerevan with his “Ian Anderson Plays Orchestral Jethro Tull” program. And there I was to receive the next surprise – invitation from Ian Anderson to be his guest act during his show, presenting two Jethro Tull and two Dogma songs!!! Heno was also invited to join us on stage with his guitar! That was such a great honour for us! Ian Anderson playing on Dogma songs with his divine famous flute! Me singing the most famous JT songs with Ian Anderson! That was fabulous, that was breathtaking! That is something to remember for good and live with.Are you still in contact with Ian?
From time to time we exchange some emails. But I hope our paths will cross again sometime somewhere in the world.What would you say are the major changes between your debut album “Ethnic-Methnic” and your new one, “Under Dogma”?
“Ethnic-Methnic” was a real challenge for us. It took us a year to make it and there we tried to provide overall understanding of Dogma’s music. It had more songs with ethnic-metal elements, a couple of acoustic songs, all in Armenian and only one bonus track in English. Whereas “Under Dogma” is more moody, perhaps, more atmospheric aimed at leaving the audience “under Dogma”, making them “under-stand” Dogma’s emotions, viewpoint, thus convincing them to have their own viewpoint, avoiding all kind of existing dogmata. As well as, “Under Dogma” is almost half English. It also has acoustic songs, which assure the desired lightness of the album after all!How do you find writing in English vs. writing in Armenian? Marina from Ambehr (she was the person who introduced me to Dogma) said in an interview that it can be quite difficult to write lyrics in Armenian because it can be quite complicated: “It’s easy to sing in Armenian when the lyrics are written perfectly, but it’s difficult to create a good text in Armenian”. Is it the same for you?
Well, then I need to thank Marina! She is right in a sense. Armenian is a very rich, beautiful and old language, I adore it, actually! It sounds perfect in bell letters style, but sometimes converted into something modern, colloquial, it loses most of its charm. Perhaps, this is what Marina meant – if you don’t know exactly how to keep that charm, you are most likely to fail with its usage.
On this note, I’m fortunate enough to have linguistic skills, which comes handy when writing Dogma’s lyrics. I’ve found that neat line between the literary, dialectic/folkloric and colloquial Armenian, by which I knit my stories. To our big surprise, the foreign listener enjoys our Armenian songs as well, which, probably, is the proof that music is above the rest, and our lyrics serve the tune, they are adopted to the tune, without hindering the listener from getting the right emotions without even understanding what it is sang about. Personally, I prefer writing in Armenian, but if the tune “wishes” to be in English, it will be.
Are you planning to write more English songs in future?
If Henry composes more “English wishing” songs, there will be more English songs. Now I count at least 3 songs to be in English 😉 As I mentioned, the choice is not for commercial purposes, it is rather dictated by the sound alone. And if you pay attention, you may notice that all our English songs are somewhat sad, melancholic, moody, ambient – these are the emotions I find hard to convey in Armenian.Tell us a bit about your shows and tours, in Armenia and in Europe?
Starting from the first concert we’ve played in a huge number of local festivals and in almost all the clubs in Yerevan. This lasted till 2010, when I had my first baby, and I asked the guys to slow down a bit. But one month after my daughter’s birth, I performed with Ian Anderson in Yerevan. In 2012 we were invited to play at Germany’s Wave Gotik Festival. We made part of a huge musical project with the well known composer and inventor Tod Machover. We performed at the Republic Square of Yerevan for the Red Bull X-Fighters’ Jam.
Soon, again, I was expecting our second child. At that time I had to refuse a couple of invitations from abroad, preferring to keep calm and get prepared to meet my son. We used that period to conclude the work with our second album. Our son was born in August, “Under Dogma” was released in December, 2013. It was a productive year 😉 But, there was a time-out again.
Now we have to perform rarely in clubs, but each of our gigs is a real show with a perfect sound, and is always a long-awaited event by our fans. Also, now we are restarting in a sense, since we farewelled our drummer Derik and welcomed Gor, a new young drummer, who invests all his efforts to make Dogma’s music sound as firm and distinct as it was before.What was the response to Dogma at Wave Gotik Treffen?
Oh, that was something incredible! Really, we couldn’t expect such a warm acceptance – for the first time a band from Armenia performs at such a big well-known festival! The European audience was so much resonating, that was very pleasant.
Later, judging from the comments, we realized that the Wave Gotik audience was used to having somewhat «calm» concerts at the Leipzig Central Theatre, that is why Dogma‘s powerful music at the beginning of the show was a shocking therapy 😉 But the audience became warmer and warmer along with each song, and at the end of the show it burst out with a storm of applause, delighted exclamations till the last second and on of Dogma‘s presence on stage. We are so much grateful to them for the emotions we had that day!What are your future plans? Are you working on any new material?
Now, when I also combine motherhood, I occasionally happen to join the guys at the rehearsals. But they keep on working on new pieces, trying to make them ready for the third album. Since my second child was small, I felt I wouldn’t be able to leave him, therefor we stopped working on the album promotion tour in Europe. Hopefully, in spring Aren, our boy, will be 1,5 years, giving me a bit more leeway, so we already have agreements to perform in Europe in spring-summer 2015.Armenia is a country I’ve become increasingly interested in and a country I would love to visit. Tell us a bit about Armenia. What is it like as a country, the people, the customs, and what is it like to live there? And how easy do you think it would be for a foreign person to live there?
Thank you for your interest! Believe me, you will be welcomed in Armenia and fall in love with this country! To describe it in two words – Armenia is kind and sincere. Armenians welcome any foreigner open heart, and you’ll be very surprised to see how they will unselfishly spend their last money to please you, treat you, welcome you in their homes, keep you in their hearts. You will be astonished on realising how tide are family bounds here and how much they care for each other. If you’re fond of discovering old culture, you’ll find dome a dozen of its pieces in Armenia. Just don’t get engaged with politics or the government – they are the same as anywhere – crappy! 😉Armenia made worldwide news in 1988 because of the devastating earthquake in Spitak and the subsequent relief efforts, including “Rock Aid Armenia”. Do you remember any of it?
Unfortunately or, perhaps, fortunately, I can’t remember the earthquake itself and all the undertakings around it since I was a child then. But, by all means, every year on December 7 I feel the sorrowful emotions my family, my relatives, who had witnessed this tragedy, are having. Even now, after 26 years, you’ll still see traces that tragedy left in Spitak and on faces and destinies of its dwellers. It’s a very sad picture, indeed.
I know that many people, nations, individuals, famous persons provided their aid. “RockAidArmenia” was a great example of philanthropy demonstrated by a number of rock icons, and it keeps on providing support to Spitak up to now with new projects. It is where I need to say hats off to those humane musicians.Next year is going to be the 100th anniversary of the Armenian genocide. What are your thoughts about that?
This is another mournful page of the Armenian history and not a single Armenian can be indifferent about it. Very frequently foreigners mention that Armenians smile rarely and occasionally. Here many people think that the horrific sufferings Armenians had to go through during the Genocide is genetically passed to its descendents. I can’t insist, but I know for sure that every year on April 24 every Armenian mourns, puts flowers at the Tsitsernakaberd memorial and grieves for the unlived lives of one million innocent Armenians, who were brutally killed not for their sins, but for being Armenian.
I can only sincerely hope that one day all nations will wake up from their imposed hibernation and despite all nasty political games and pressures, people will cry out against this crime – crime against a whole nation! Maybe that is when souls of the assassinated Armenians will finally rest in peace! We, as carriers of that gene, feel obliged to be part of this campaign, to rise awareness, to make people feel our feelings. And we will do it our way – through our music. We already plan to give a series of concerts dedicated to the 100th anniversary of the Armenian Genocide.What is the music scene like in Armenia, especially for heavier bands? (I just know Divahar and Ambehr, who are now in Russia, and of course, you).
Armenia is a small country, consequently the audience listening heavier music is small as well. All music activities are mainly centered in Yerevan, since venues in regions are technically poorly equipped. There are 2-3 new bands which are more underground due to the same reason and all of them overcome big difficulties. There were more bands, but they disbanded along with the time and some members formed new bands abroad.
Dogma stays somewhere between the underground and the mainstream – we always escaped participating and getting awards at ridiculous local music competitions, but we also do not play for underground audience alone. From time to time we get out to the “light” from our “burrow». 😉
Here is to be mentioned that Vardan Grigoryan, Dogma‘s bass player and founder, has a great investment in the formation of rock scene in Armenia. With the desire to change something in the mediocre musical field of Armenia, he formed a company named Vibrographus and started organizing local rock concerts, festivals with bands from Transcaucasia, followed by a number of big international rock festivals.
Soon in 2009 his company enjoyed confidence and promoted concerts of legendary bands in Yerevan – Jethro Tull, Uriah Heep, Deep Purple, John McLaughlin. This period was a real blast for all the real melomans for there was such a hunger for suchlike concerts. Being very enthusiastic and filled with the desire to meet and bring music icons to Armenia and make their concerts happen in Yerevan by all means, the company faced financial problems and had to stop its activities afterwards. Therefore, not many big things take place in the rock scene in Armenia nowadays. However, Vardan still keeps on supporting all those local bands who turn to him for technical assistance or for advice. Incidentally, by Vardan‘s initiative today a concert will take place with participation of 4 new, young and teenage bands, who turned to Vardan for a piece of advice, but got their first ever technically well-supported real indoor show!