Interview by Miriam C.
I consider this interview particularly special due to the fact that I’ve been following this band since their breathtaking album “Belighted”. On top of all, I’ve been always mesmerized by their music and by how only two musicians are capable to fill a musical void without an (official) full band on their side. Once again, this chance of interview arose on the occasion of their upcoming album “The Bell” which will be released on the 2nd of August via Kscope. Read with us, more about it and more importantly, reflect on Marjana‘s words about the current society.
First of all, Marjana, welcome to Femme Metal Webzine. I’ve been literally chased you for years in an attempt to have a possibility in interviewing you because it’s since the debut I’m trying to have you here on our pages and I’ve always encountered scheduling problems. Finally, here we are. How are you and how life is treating you nowadays?
Oh, it’s busy. Life is always busy and I think the problem with scheduling is mostly related to me because I’m not a huge fan of interviews. I’m kinda doing it a bunch because the album is out soon but most of the times I’m so busy with all the work that it’s just difficult to find a moment to sit down for an interview. In addition, I travel a lot and I never know where exactly I gonna be and what my schedule is gonna look like. It’s very difficult to plan but, I’m really happy we finally had a chance to talk.
We’re specifically here to talk about to your new upcoming fourth album “The Bell”. If we exclude the studio live album “Ocean Sounds”, the last full-length “Lighthouse” dates back to 2016. Why it passed some much time from the last release and how the overall production approach changed since then?
Well, I think the reason why it took so long because we needed each other to recharge our batteries: “Lighthouse” was an emotionally consuming album and I put everything I had into this project. I was so worn out that I kinda wanted a break and I needed time to restore my energies, I guess. Also, Gleb was busy recording his solo album while I was occupied to try to get a residence permit in the UK. I set my mind to move out for Russia and it took a lot of time work to gather all the portfolio and documents together for it. So, now I’m in England and it’s very nice. Concerning the production process, I think it’s kinda getting a bit smoother with each album because we’re kinda learning from our mistakes and the whole recording, mixing and mastering process from scratch took only 6 weeks. Of course, we wouldn’t chase or adjust the timing and we wouldn’t settle for less than perfect and for us, it’s not like a sport for us to make an album quick as possible but all things considered, I’m very happy that we are such an efficient team. We have also to thank our sound engineer Vlad from Canada who also play the guitars on our album and he does some sound production. With him, everything is just efficient and it’s a lovely professional to work with and this time around we decided to give more exposure to less known musicians: so, we have a wonderful lady playing the drums called Svetlana Shumkova which she is from Canada as well and she’s a wonderful drummer. We have a percussionist called Evan Carson which also was featured on “Lighthouse” too and a few more guest musicians. The important thing is none of them are very famous as the people we used to previously collaborate with and the people participating and recording in the process are making this album. They were so incredibly enthusiastic that it was a pleasure to including this because everyone was engaged in the process.
So, do you think that there will be a possibility these special guest live will play live with Iamthemorning in a foreseeable future?
Well, we are definitely having Evan [Carson] playing with us because we toured with him before. Instead for the rest of the musicians, Iamthemorning is more and more into being a studio project, not an actual band because, as you already know, it’s only the two of us and the rest depends on the occasion where we are touring and which material we are playing, so, we will play with the chamber band which mean is the chamber and the percussions. It’s kind of a stripped-down version for the road because, you know, it’s very expensive touring and the moment you bring more musicians the more expensive it is, so we have to cut down the expenses a little bit in order to adjust the whole program for two musicians which is kind of easy considering how amazing Gleb is at what he does. I mean, he can take up all the space if he needed and even our duo gigs, they look really self-sufficient and you don’t think that something is lacking.
You two on stage create the right alchemy by playing together even if you don’t have a full band supporting you. You can manage it anyway.
Yeah, I kinda like the flexibility of this project and on this regard, we can play with a full orchestra of people but also we can play with the two of us and it is gonna sound good anyway. I’m not very fond of the idea of widely presenting the band as a duo so I wouldn’t go on a tour supporting a heavy band as a duo because I think that we might need some back-up music from other musicians to create a proper sound and atmosphere for the band and that would be appropriate. On the other hand, we do play a lot of chamber concerts as a duo and people seems very happy with that.
Yes, because it’s quite characteristic of Iamthemorning and if we see the current progressive rock scene, you tend to be quite unique…
I guess but also it comes with a lot of difficulties like, for example, for us is difficult to find the right match for tours or for us, the good option as an opening band for anyone in the scene because we would be either too mellow or too just weird. So, we are kind of outsiders, I guess in this way.
[7.36] This leads me to ask you more about “The Bell” because I discovered by reading the press release that this album was composed using the 19th-century format cycle which it originates from Schubert. For the ones that are not so familiar with this method, would you like to explain in what does consist?
Well, I have to say that kind of progressive music is familiar with the concept, you know, concept-albums and the song cycle is pretty much like the classical music version of a concept album and so, it’s basically like a cycle of songs which would be brought together by themes either musical or lyrical and the structure is built in a way that you can listen to the whole theme as an entire story even though they are divided into little stories. There’s no specific plot for an entire album, just a collection of tales which are united by common mood or theme which in our case would be, I guess, human response to cruelty and that sort of morbid stuff. I think Gleb would be the right person to explain that because he’s a classical musician and I’m just a self-taught vocalist. And, it is quite obvious from his playing how emplunged he’s by classical music and his background but I can say that I’ve enjoyed writing this album because it gradually came together to this beautiful cycle which feels like a whole united piece, I mean the songs are good even if you listen to them separately but it makes more sense if you listen to the whole thing altogether because it’s like a puzzle and all the songs are the pieces and they get assembled in this beautiful picture.
In a way, you have introduced my next question which it was focusing generally on the songs. Starting from the consideration that we have to perceive this album as a cohesive unit and you cannot individually discern it, I was wondering how much hard was for you to construct such a fixed lyrical pattern for each song? Do you mind also give us a glimpse over the thematics present on the album?
Well, as I said earlier I think the album came out naturally together. It’s not like that we sat down and we drew a scheme of the album. Gleb, certainly, he did musically it and he had like a plan in his mind but when it came to specifically to songwriting I think it was born out of my fascination with Victorian history in art because while I was gradually moving to the UK, I was visiting more and more and getting access to this amazing pieces of art that were made during the English Victorian era in 19th century and I found it so captivating that I’ve immediately started to study the subject. A lot of amazing stories came out to the light of which I’ve never heard about before, a lot of different cultural aspects including the society of the 19th century and more different background stories from the world of art. So, I just found myself writing about these subjects more and more and while Gleb was working on the conceptual piece that was supposed to end up as a song cycle, it just kind of naturally happened the same thing lyrically. Consequently, I dedicated a lot of my time to travel and attend museums with a specific attempt to learn more about this subject. I didn’t travel solely in the UK, even though I’m expressively speaking about a lot about the Victorian age but usually it happens that everywhere I go I really like to visit museums. For example, there is this beautiful funeral museum in Vienna which has a wonderful example of the grave bell like the one we have on the cover album. To some extent, I should elaborate on it: the coffin bell was an invention of the people of the 19th century that were terrified by the prospect of being buried alive accidentally, I think it was partly caused by the fact that mass media were writing a lot about incidents like that, if we add the fact that people at that time was literally fascinated by morbid things. Of course, in both magazine and newspaper were published articles about death, dying and accident like people being buried alive.
It was quite morbid, I might add…
Yes, so, they invented with a coffin with a thread that came out directly from it and the bell was outside and it was connected either to the gravestone or it was built on the grave as a sort of a separate and tiny bell tower. Therefore, if you would wake up in the coffin, you would realize that you have been buried alive and by pulling the thread, you would bell the ring and it was part of the many tasks of the cemetery attendees to not let go unnoticed the ringing of the bell. I don’t remember finding any of those safety coffin bells in any of the English museums but I did find one at the funeral museum in Vienna and I think, the other one was the Museum of Medical History in Berlin in which it’s exposed a model with a wooden puppet like a doll and pretty much it resembles the coffin with the thread and the bell. Instead of the bell, here you can find attached the doll. So, I was really fascinated with that and similarly, speaking about the themes, I talk about things like the freak shows which were really famous during that time. They collected crippled people and people paid for have a chance to see them for their amusement but I kinda turn these themes to take a look at the modern society and I question myself if the people that taking pleasure in witnessing other peoples’ tragedies and miseries are much better? And how far we have come since then? If you attentively watch the media nowadays, such stories of others peoples’ tragedy get some much hype and so much attention. For example, there is a TV show about people that weight about 300 kg…
It’s an American show, unfortunately…
I never really watched it but I have heard about it for the fans who watch it. I understand why people have to use that kind of TV shows and why it’s so popular? Why do people like it so much? I’m just trying to represent modern society. We got all this technological progress and access to a great amount of worldwide information for the study, learning, development and growing but still, we didn’t change so much from that historical period. It’s quite depressing. For concluding, a lot of the themes in the album go back to the Victorian age and I turned around a lot of them and I added them a modern spin to it by reflecting on what happening in the modern days and society. The outcome that I’ve achieved while I was working on the album I was really retrospective towards this new generation and to be honest, it’s quite depressing. Also, because I think we don’t have so much to take pride in.
Yeah, I agree with you and once again you have anticipated the following question I had prepared for you. While I was collecting my ideas for this interview, I have naturally watched the audio trailer and listened to the first single and at the same time I was really impressed by your statement present on the dedicated press release which affirms: “humankind isn’t making much progress in terms of emotional maturity”. In effect, you just explain to me why and I can absolutely concur with you. If you allow me, I would say that in a way, if compared to the Victorian age, we are on the next level because we love filming everything that looks like sensational and this leads me to think that nothing has changed so much…
Yeah, I just can’t talk about it for a long time and I shouldn’t rant about the society that much because I’m no better by spending so many hours online researching these thematics. However, writing music and lyrics about it, I guess, it’s part of my rebellion. Maybe not a rebellion, but perhaps I’m attempting to stimulate a societal change. It feels like a drop in the ocean but you know, it’s still something and I wish I can do more. I raise money for animal shelters, charities and I work as a volunteer in an institution for disabled kids. Nonetheless, I feel like the biggest impact I can have is through music.
“The Bell” was recorded across several countries (Russia, UK, and Canada) and studios (Mosfilm, Lendoc, Red Wave, Noatune, The Studio at Sunbeams and Union Sound Company). Logistically speaking, how much complicated was to coordinate everything and why did you opt for this peculiar choice?
Ehm, you know that the way we build activities around our band is not based on the location but it is based on the people we work with. So, if someone that we want to work with lives in Australia or in Canada, it doesn’t matter we’ll find a way to communicate, to coordinate and finally getting done. We only work with people that really want that and they go out of their comfort zone to make it work and naturally, it means the same for us. It wasn’t necessarily a difficult process because over the years we got used to working remotely. Even though I and Gleb are from the same city, St. Petersburg, we never really see each other and I’m not living in the country anymore. Indeed, this happened even during the recording process of “Lighthouse” too. During the entire writing process, we have met only twice and the rest of the work was done online which includes exchanging demos, drafts, and suggestions. It comes quite natural when you that, in a cross-continental way.
Now, I would like to spend a couple of words about your debut single which was released almost 2 years ago “Land míns föður”…
It wasn’t really a single but it was just a recording that I did as a token of gratitude to my Icelandic friends that hosted me for a few weeks and I just wanted to record a choral piece. I’m really happy how it did turn out because I had to properly study Icelandic phonetics to insure myself that it sounded correct. However, I wouldn’t call it a single. Those are yet to come.
Moreover, the second part of the question was are you planning in the future to publish a solo full-length as Gleb did?
Everyone is asking about this but my only reply to this question is “I’m more than a doer than a sayer”, so I rather do it instead of talking about it. When it’s done, you’ll definitely hear about it, so [laughs] stay tuned. One thing I’m not planning to do is being idle, thus you’ll hear from me soon.
What 2019 has in store for Iamthemorning in terms of touring in the European continent?
We have an upcoming tour supporting Riverside in September and we are really excited about because this was supposed to happen a long time ago and it’s a shame that it took it so much time. In addition, we have a few solo shows in The Netherlands and London. Other than that, at this moment we don’t have many plans for touring so the rest of the year we will be busy working on our own stuff. I’m really excited about what will come next.
So, Marjana, we’re almost at the end and with this please be free to say hi to your fans and our readers. Thank you so much for this interview!
Thank you very much, I’m really happy that people are so interested in the upcoming album and probably I would like to add that I’ve started a few months ago a Patreon page (link here) where I did and do upload a lot of pieces of information for the fans of the band about the current development in the camp since I’m the one who’s managing the band. I explain a lot about the behind-the-scenes. so, if everyone is interested I would love to see you there. Before I forget, today [this interview was recorded on the 18th of July] we have released our new single “Song of Psyche” and well, just go listen to it.