Interview by Tony Cannella
The Canadian band The Agonist have been in existence since 2004. Since their inception the band has released a steady parade of excellent album as The Agonist continues to grow and progress. With their newly released fifth album (“Five”) the band has really delivered an album that not only compares well with their previous works, but may even surpass it. Recently, I had the pleasure to speak with lead singer Vicky Psarakis about a variety of topics. It was obvious to me during our conversation how enthusiastic (and rightfully so!) Vicky is about the new album.
Congratulations on the great new album, “Five”. I’m really loving it.
Thank you. That’s great to hear.
How would you describe the record for anyone who has yet to hear it?
That’s a hard question. I feel it’s a you just have to listen to it, and see if you like it sort of thing. I feel it is a very diverse album. It’s a metal album in the end, but there’s a lot of elements in there that are maybe outside the metal genre, some songs have a more rock attitude, there’s songs that have maybe more of a jazz attitude. I feel like there is something on the album for everyone, so it’s just a matter of listening to it and formulating your own opinion.
I would definitely say that “Five” is one of the most diverse albums that The Agonist has ever done. One of my favorite songs and the song that really stood out for me was “The Raven Eyes”. It is definitely one of the most different song that you have ever done. What is the idea behind that song?
That was just something that happened. It was, I think, two weeks before we were leaving for L.A. and Danny sent me an acoustic recording on his phone, which was basically the guitar parts to “The Raven Eyes”, and I heard it, and it felt like we really had to create a song around that acoustic track to have on this album. It wasn’t like it was intentional or anything like that. I heard his acoustic parts, we wrote the lyrics, I sang over it, then we added piano and put strings over it, and it turned out to be what it is.
Would you say that that song has jazz influence to it?
Yeah, definitely. When I heard the guitar, obviously I was going to put vocals over it, but I want to add more to the instrumentation of it, because we had done an acoustic track on “Eye of Providence” (“Gentle Disease”), but that song is just acoustic guitar and vocals whereas, hearing the guitar on this one it felt like it needed more. It felt like we could do more with the chord progression and the guitar. After I did put some vocals on it I added the piano which gave it sort of a jazzy vibe, I guess to it.
Could you talk a little about the writing and recording process for “Five”?
Basically we started working on the album in the beginning of 2016. It was a very smooth process, we weren’t rushing. The songwriting was very natural. I think like three or four months later we had fourteen tracks done and ready to record. We went down to L.A. in May and we recorded at West Valley Studios with Mike Plotnikoff; that was also a first for the band – this is my second album with them – but as far as I know they have done every single album here in Montreal, so it was a new experience for everyone to just pack up and go somewhere else and stay there for a month as a band to record an album. It was definitely a great experience and it felt really good to be amongst ourselves, five musicians in the same house for a month recording an album.
Why did you decide to title the new album simply, “Five”?
The obvious reason is it’s our fifth album and there is five people in the band. There is a deeper reason, I guess. We tried to speak in the fifth element with the lyrics, which is basically – just in simple words – something that we can’t necessarily see or touch as human beings. A lot of people throughout the years have tried to escape reality and tap into that element by meditation or using recreational drugs. As a band we believe that music is also a good form of escaping reality. What we were hoping to accomplish with this album is that someone will play this album, they’ll close their eyes and at the end they’ll feel like they got away from their everyday life for a bit.
So lyrically, would you that there is a common theme running through the album?
Not necessarily. I think what ties the album together and the lyrics is just the way that they are written; it seems as if every song is in a story telling vibe. While the songs may not be connected by the lyrics – maybe some songs on the album are, for instance “The Raven Eyes” and “The Trial” are talking about the same theme – but the rest of the songs are not around a certain theme, it’s just the way that they’re portrayed that is very similar.
All of the song titles on “Five” begin with ‘The’ (with the exception of the bonus track “Take Me to Church”). Is that a coincidence or was it by design?
That was something that we thought of about half way through the pre-production process when we had like four or five songs done. And just observing the lyrics, it felt like we would be enhancing the storytelling mode by titling the songs that way, because when it is like “THE Raven Eyes” or “THE Moment”or whatever, it’s pretty straight forward that the lyrics that you’re about to read will revolve around the title.
Another song on the record that I really loved was “The Moment”. Can you talk about what that one is about lyrically?
“The Moment” is a little more abstract lyrically. Obviously the chorus is very straight forward. It’s really about us seizing the moment, whatever that moment might be. I wrote it based on some of my personal experiences, but I feel like if you read the lyrics anyone can relate to it. I’m certain that everyone has gone through a phase in their life where they were experience something very important, and either they realized it in that moment or they realized it later on. I feel that it is important that any moment that we’re going through in our lives that is super important – whether it is for us as musicians, playing shows or writing a new album or a personal experience – meeting your significant other, getting married, having children; whatever it may be for every single person, I feel it is important to realize it and really make the most out of it when that moment comes.
You did a cover of the song “Take Me to Church” by Hozier and included it as a bonus track. Why did you decide to cover this song?
The goal was to try to find a song that isn’t a metal song, that is kind of out there on mainstream radio. We looked at various options and we were narrowing it down, because a lot of the songs out there were pop tracks and the lyrics don’t really fit us as a band or a metal band in general, but when we stumbled upon this one, the lyrics are actually kind of dark. It felt like we could take it and make a version that has The Agonist feel to it and wouldn’t sound too out of place.
It really does fit in with what The Agonist is about. I was also very impressed with the lyrics.
Cool. I’m happy because that is how we felt too. When I saw the lyrics to the song, I was like, “wow I can’t believe this song is on mainstream radio”.
This is your second album with The Agonist. How does it feel to have been accepted by the fans?
It feels great. Honestly, I would be lying if I said it wasn’t a worry of mine, because let’s face it, when you replace anyone in any band there’s going to be some worries. I think at the end of the day it is important to realize that you can’t please everyone. No matter how bad or good it turns out to be, there will always be positive and negative comments. It’s just about staying true to yourself and doing the best that you can. What really felt great is that, like you said, I was accepted from the beginning, but also it was really nice to see that I managed to win some people over; I remember on the first tour there were a bunch of people that came up to me after the shows saying that they were very unsure about me being in the band, but seeing us live proved them wrong, so that felt really rewarding as well.
After you joined The Agonist and released the “Eye of Providence” record did you find yourself checking out social media to see what people were saying?
Yeah, for sure. There have been times when we post a new song or video and I’ll check some of the comments out, I’d be lying if I said I don’t do that. At the same time, I don’t obsess over it, I’m not one to check every two hours and see if there is a new comment. It’s really important to see what the fans are saying; it’s also about being able to distance yourself from the negative comments and focus on the positive ones, because sometimes there will be some substantial comments there that say more than just, “this is great” or “I love this” or whatever and it’s really rewarding to see that.
People on the internet can be so negative sometimes.
I feel that a lot of the times the reason there are many negative comments is that I feel like people will only take the time to make a negative comment, whereas a lot of people that like a song, they’ll just click the ‘like’ button on YouTube and they’ll just listen to it and move on. Not a lot of people will spend time saying how great something is, whereas if someone really dislikes something, I feel like they really take the time to say how much they dislike it (laughs).
Who are some of your favorite singers?
Just to mention a few: Mikael Åkerfeldt from Opeth and Anneke van Giersbergen from The Gathering and her solo work, Daniel Gildenlöw from Pain of Salvation and then outside the metal genre, I like Sting a lot, Tori Amos. There are definitely a lot of singers that have inspired me throughout the years.
So, when does the touring begin for “Five”?
Actually, the first leg is starting roughly in about a week. We’re heading out to Europe first for a short three week run. After that we’re coming back and we’re doing a North American tour with Epica and Fleshgod Apocalypse in November.
We’ve come to the end of this interview Vicky. Thank you so much for doing this.
Do you have any final words for your fans to close this out?
I would just like to thank them for supporting us throughout the years, whether they’re existing fans of The Agonist before I joined or newer fans after I joined. I would like to thank them because without our fans we wouldn’t be doing anything, we’d have no reason to go out and play shows. I hope they enjoy the new album and hope they continue to support us in our future endeavors.