Interview by Robert BradyWhen most women are little girls they dream of the Knight and Shining Armour and the dress they will adorn themselves with. Some women find earlier than others. It certainly seems music found Jamie Lee-Smit the founder of the ‘Belgian’ metal band Azylya. Azylya is a musical concept conceived from the mind and heart of Jamie Lee-Smit. Every time I listen to Azylya I feel like I am going to see a film at a film festival. Jamie Lee-Smit certainly has unleashed her cinematic influences in her music. I love the fact is that she never allows one moment for her listeners to get bored or think it all sounds the same like some bands have a tendency of doing on their albums. There is always something different with every track and composition in Azylya‘s music and at the same time they remain on point with their objective overall as not to alienate the listener from getting the main concept. Azylya has something for every metal pallet. If you like female fronted metal it certainly has that to the forefront, there are black metal elements with the male vocal along with progressive, gothic, power metal elements. The running theme that seems heavily present with in Azylya is the cinematic film score style of metal that only a few bands as Rhapsody of Fire and Epica have dared venture towards. As female fronted metal has really flourished in the past 15 years with bands like Theater of Tragedy, After Forever, Tristania, Epica, Leaves Eyes, Within Temptation and Nightwish, I believe Jamie Lee-Smit and Azylya are at the forefront of the preservation of the road and trail the previous bands have built. As a 40 something who grew up as a metal child of the 1980’s where our choices in women in metal were limited honestly to 4 bands in Girlschool, Rock Goddess, Warlock/Doro, and Lita Ford it is encouraging to see women now on the frontline of the battle and to see young women like Jamie Lee-Smit take her dream and vision and enlist in the business, I definitely see women in metal thrive in the next few decades and bands like Azylya carrying that banner for years to come. Azylya is described as a musical concept conceived in your mind and heart. What was your vision when you conceived this concept and how long had this concept been in your mind and soul?
When you imagine a concept when you are 14, you do not feel limited by the means nor the technique. Add here and there a large classical orchestra or a choir of 300 peoples is not a problem. It took me two years to go from the basic idea to a structured narrative with a beginning and an end.
The biggest challenge was to translate the sequence of images comprising the history of Ginger (the heroin) in music. Translate in such a way that the listener can share the sounds, the colors, the pain of the story … a crazy thing but I had the extraordinary opportunity to meet crazy musicians able to achieve.Some grow up in homes surrounded by music, what were your parents listening to that started your journey towards the love of music?
It seems that, every baby already, I froze when I heard an air of classical music or opera. For me, the first real contact with music took place thanks to the cartoons which I quickly learned all the songs. Without being cut off from the music, I was for many years a top athlete in swimming. Drives five hours per week, competitions and courses the weekend filled almost all my free time. I listened to most of the music in the car, while traveling with my mom and singing in the car with my dad who had no radio on board.
When I decided to leave the world of swimming, I fell in love with the world of musical (it was the epoch of Notre-Dame de Paris, Romeo and Juliet, the 10 Commandments) and I thoroughly invested in the dancing and singing. At the age of 13, shortly after starring in a musical called Big Bang Blues, I was spotted by a metal band at a show in a school and it is now six years since I live in this world while continuing to listen and love other musics.Who were your musical inspirations and influences growing up as a little girl growing up ?
Very young, classical and opera music then great cartoons (Disney, Dreamworks, Pixar …), the music of the great classic films (Gone with the Wind, Rebecca …), then musicals and metal . Today, I listen to a wide range of music and my tastes at the singers go from Simone Simons (Epica) to Amy Winehouse.I hear heavy classical music elements in your music, have you had any formal musical training, if so describe your training?
I just hit the notation, guitar and drums but nothing I really liked. I wanted to sing. So, when I chose this path, my parents looked for a good singing teacher but being new to the area, they have advanced in the dark. As there was really only me who can say if a teacher made me move or not, they trusted me and let me choose. While many teachers have left me good memories, it is finally with Gyle Waddy (an American living in Belgium incredible, a true “handyman” of the entertainment world: singer, dancer and actor who knew him and worked with people like Lena Horne, Harry Belafonte, Diana Ross, Michael Jackson, Charles Bronson and many others) I found the symbiosis that should exist between a teacher and his pupil. Today, I continue to take classes with him.Many artists have different appraoches to the songwriting and development process, can you describe your approach to your own process in your writing?
First of all, I give musicians the theme of the song and what I’d like to see. We therefore discuss the images I have in my head and the whole group starts to dial. The decor (heavy loss, sunny, light), the speed of movement (slow, fast, jerky, repetitive …), sounds (more guitars, more keyboards …), other desired sounds (music box, Gregorian chants …). When the frame work is final, I put my vocal line and finally words.
How did Azylya come together once the idea and vision were birthed within you?
Actually, the thing was done so naturally that I never even thought that the project would not have been possible. I must have a damn good dose of unconsciousness. Once the project matured in my head, I started (with my mom) looking for musicians who liked the idea (at least I assume they embarked on the project) and each brought his stone to the creation. It was later it has sometimes had problems, but I could always count on Anthony who was like me part of the first line-up. (Today, members of the group are more than ever welded).Are there any bands you would like to open up for and who have you opened for and how was your experience?
We are at the beginning of a story and it would be presumptuous of us to believe to be of any help to another group. By cons, many musicians have helped to overcome steps or open doors, I especially think about Vynce (Whyzdom – FRA), David Homer (Apparition – UK), Tony (Max Pie – BEL) and Wizz (Wizzard – BEL) … thank you, it was only happiness to cross your path.What metal festivals have you played or what metal festivals would you like to play ?
The Raismes Fest (near Valenciennes in northern France) was the first festival I attended while I was still singer of Sad Siberia. Two-day fest, two scenes, thousands of spectators, it changed me the rooms in which we usually played.
With Azylya we had the chance to play the PPM Fest already in 2012 (the largest indoor festival in Belgium), the same day as Sonata Artica and Accept. We will soon play in Wolverhampton (UK) at Dames of Darkness Fest 3 with, among others, Delain, R-Mine Metal Fest in Tongeren (BEL) with bands like Rhapsody of Fire and Nightmarre and ScarFest 2013 in Werrington (UK).
In the future, we would like to get one day course on the stage of Wacken Open Air Fest (GER), the Durbuy Rock Fest (BEL), the Graspop (BEL) or the Hellfest (FRA) but also on the scenes of many other fun fest.I hear many cinematic elements in your music that sound like mini film scores, are there any films whose scores have influenced your sound?
At home, the world of my parents was between literature and image. My dad is a writer, book collector and enthusiast of film, TV series and from my earliest childhood, he showed me numerous films. As music is an integral part of the show, it insinuates itself into us without us really realize fint account and remain attached by our soul. So as soon as I looked at my project Azylya, it was just natural that I want to see these songs come dressed an important part of musical setting.Dead and Live, what musicians would be a dream for you to work with on a project?
Because you give me the choice – among musicians missing: Freddy Mercury (Queen), Michael Jackson, Amy Winehouse, Kurt Cobain and among the living – the bands Dimmu Borgir & 30 Seconds to Mars, Carter Burwell (music Chapters I, IV and V of the Twilight saga) and of course with Dan Smith (Dan Smith Project) a young French composer who asked me to put my voice on the music that I love.Without giving too much out to the listener, tell us about the vision behind your upcoming debut album, “Sweet Cerebral Destruction”?
For now, I saw a kind of dream I did not 20 years, I’ve done enough scenes to not count, I’ve asked my voice on the other two albums that came out, I have projects waiting for me … so I have no back and let me just enjoy this daydream because I know that will come soon enough time of doubt and choice …Coming to a close here after the release of you official debut, “Sweet Cerebral Destruction”, what are your tour plans, and where will you open the tour and who with?
At the moment our first date is April 20 to Roeselaare (BEL) with the English group Absolva. A dozen dates have already been confirmed for 2013 and 2014 for some contacts but we hope that the CD release (we can not thank enough the quality of the work done by the Realsound Studio and the many supporters of Carlo and the entire team Wormhole Death) and the effective promotion of our label will open the doors to new festivals or concerts …
Thank you to you Robert for this interview and I send lots of kisses to your readers, Jamie-Lee