Interview : Ana Maria Barajas – Nova Orbis




Interview by Ed MacLaren

Riding high on the growing wave of South American metal exports, Colombia’s Nova Orbis opens up a “new world” of progressive metal on their debut album, “Imago”. Influenced by the prog of classics past but firmly rooted in the future, “Imago” is an articulate and inspiring example of modern prog punctuated by not one, not two, but three strong vocalists. Femme Metal got a chance to talk to lead vocalist Ana Maria Barajas on the eve of their first tour outside Colombia.

Congratulations on “Imago” – what a great debut! And you created an original and musically diverse album like “Imago” as an unsigned band?

Thank you for your comments and for inviting me to talk about our music in Femme Metal!

With “Imago” being such a solid offering, it’s hard to believe you couldn’t find a label to release it. Have you been entertaining any offers since the album’s release?

Since we released the album we have been very focused on promoting it in our country with some gigs and also in some other countries with the help of Lugga Music. But we really haven’t looked for a label, since we want to see first the response from the public and the media as an independent band. But we will probably look for this in the future and see if we get any offers.

What struggles have you dealt with as a band trying to attract label interest and get your music heard? Do you have any advice to other bands looking to attract label interest?

There are a lot of bands from all over the world trying to capture the attention of the labels, media and the public, so it’s really hard for a new band to establish itself in the international metal scene. But with the Internet and all the tools that exist right now, there are more opportunities than before to spread the word about your music, many people from all around the world have the opportunity to go to your Webpage, to blogs, magazines, etc., listen to your music and know about the band and I think that’s great!

“Imago” is a wonderful slab of progressive metal – dark and emotional. Where did the inspiration for the album come from and how did it develop?

Thank you! Well, since the beginning we have been working as a team not just in the performing field but also in the creative field; we all compose songs for the band. In that sense, this first album compiles songs from different members of the band and I think you can feel it when you listen to it. Almost each song has a particular sound. Also the lyrics talk about different issues like fantasy, politics, philosophy and personal experiences. But we wanted to have something common in each song that could show what we are as a band, a certain sound that includes the strength of metal, the magic of the gothic atmosphere and the dynamic of progressive rock.

The guys in the band certainly have chops – the music is rooted in the new millennium but there are lots of nods to classic 70’s prog especially in the keyboards. Where do they get their inspirations from?

You’re right. There’s a strong 70’s sound in the keyboards, and it’s funny because I think that 70’s influence for David (keyboard player) came indirectly from current artists that still have that kind of sound like Erik Norlander from Lana Lane and even Jordan Rudess from Dream Theater. With the guitar players they are big fans of classic prog like Rush, King Crimson, Yes, etc. I personally love that 70’s sound on the keyboards. I think most of the bands right now use keyboards to create atmospheres and generally the keyboard doesn’t have a main role on the songs, so I think David‘s style can be something different and good that has helped the band to have a unique style in the genre. But in general, there is no doubt that those roots from the classic prog still influence a lot the 21st century’s progressive music.

The arrangements and some of the breakdowns and instrumental twists on the album sound very unique to your band. Is it a conscious effort for Nova Orbis to push the envelope musically or does the music develop itself through a more organic approach?

We worked really hard on the arrangements and preproduction of the album trying to find our own voice, which is a really difficult path and we’re just right on the beginning, but probably that effort we put on it is already visible when you listen to the album.

The production is also a standout element. You can really hear the air between the notes – you can listen to each individual performance. Nothing gets lost in a wall of sound. What was Nova Orbis’ plan for the “Imago” listening experience?

We worked on the production of the album with Juan David Garcia, a Colombian producer that has been involved previously with different styles of music. We decided to work with him actually because of his experience not only in rock but in jazz, country, etc. And I think that helped a lot to have a particular sound in the whole album that lets not just the guitars but also keyboards, bass and even the drums have a main role in different parts of each song. We tried to work as a team in the whole production process adding our ideas as a band and the ideas of Juan David as a producer.

You’re experimenting with some different musical styles within the progressive metal framework. The flutes in “The Lamp” give the track a very medieval feel while “Sarah Deserves to Rest” has some eastern influences. What kind of influences do you and the band have as musicians?

Well we have some common influences like Kamelot, Nightwish, Dream Theater and Ayreon. But each one has different musical interests also. For example, David (keyboards) likes Anime soundtracks a lot like Yoko Kanno, Joe Hisaishi, also Hans Zimmer, John Williams and Tan Dun and he also likes Lana Lane a lot. Rodolfo (bass) is closer to bands like Liquid Tension Experiment or Symphony X. Joe (drums) likes extreme metal and progressive like Dimmu Borgir, Xerath, Opeth, Circus Maximus. Jorge (guitar) loves Porcupine Tree, Magic Pie and Opeth. Jose (guitar) is a big fan of classic heavy groups like Iron Maiden, but he’s also a big fan of folk and world music like Yasmin Levy, Cholo Valderrama, Ali Farka Toure, among others. I personally really enjoy listening to jazz voices like Nina Simone and Cassandra Wilson, classic rock and blues singers like Maggie Bell or Ann Wilson (Heart), bands like After Forever, Stratovarius, Within Temptation, Opeth and classical music.

“Love Remains” is a great centerpiece to “Imago”. It has a very theatrical feel with a fantastic epic metal undertone. Tracks like “Unstable Mind” and “Ancient Guardian” help define the Nova Orbis sound. Did you achieve what you wanted with “Imago”?

We wanted to show what we are as a band with our own style, diversity in music and lyrics, multiple voices, strong keyboard sounds… In that sense, when you listen to the album you can feel there’s a different atmosphere, different musical ideas and a variety in the lyrics that show what we wanted to have in our first album. Of course there are always things that you want to improve, and that’s the challenge for your next album, but in general I think we achieved what we wanted with “Imago”.

Nova Orbis has three singers. While you do most of the heavy lifting, Jose and Jorge make some significant vocal contributions. What are the benefits to a three singer approach?

I think it gives a refreshing sound in each song. You don’t listen to ten songs with the same voice, but three different voices along the album, each one with its personal style and it also lets us create theatrical atmospheres if we want to, having dialogues between different characters in the lyrics and doing live vocal arrangements with the three voices at the same time. It’s always a benefit to have more than one singer in the band.

Your voice has a very unique tone – it’s full and expressive but you can still effortlessly sweep up into your upper register. How did you develop your style?

Thank you! Well I think singing is a continuous process and each day you learn more and realize that you have to keep improving. I began to sing when I was very little and it’s a matter of time to gain self confidence, to know your own voice and begin to play with it trying to find your own sound. Something that has helped me a lot to find my own style is to try not to imitate anybody, just explore my voice and follow my own path. Of course, taking singing classes is always a good thing. For me, it has been important to have a vocal coach that can help me identify my weaknesses and strengths to keep growing.

How tough is it to stand out in the growing legions of female metal vocalists?

It’s rather hard since there are tons of female metal vocalists all around the world and also because we come from a country that is not part of Europe or the U.S. where you have the main scene for this kind of music. But the most important thing is to know what you want to achieve and focus on it. Try not to compare yourself to anybody else and follow your own path.

Some of the most original sounding female-fronted metal these days is coming out of South America. It could just be something in the water but then again maybe the kids drinking up metal for years are finally putting together their own bands. What do you think?

The South American metal scene has been growing constantly in the last decades and has a huge fan base. It’s interesting how before, we received music from Europe and the U.S. constantly but we didn’t have the chance to expose our music internationally. Before globalization, the musical projects from the region were pretty much isolated from the international scene and it was almost impossible to think about exporting your music outside your country. Now we have these great tools and people from all around the world have the chance to know more metal bands from South America. There are a lot of great bands ready to be heard and show their music to the world.

Are there any other South American female-fronted metal bands just hovering under the radar we should prepare for?

Of course, I can tell you about great bands like Impromtus Ad Mortem, Rhyme of Tears and Fractal Flesh from Colombia, Hamadria and Yaguarheim from Peru, Blood Parade from Argentina, Six Magics from Chile… well there are a lot more!!!

South American fans are some of the most rabid metal fans of all. What is the South American perspective on metal? Is any of it reflected in your music?

As I was saying before we have had a lot of musical influence from Europe and the U.S. and that factor certainly has influenced the sound of South American Metal but also there is something that is very particular in all the region and that is the vast importance of Latin roots in our culture and I think that is something that even unconsciously influences the way we are and how we express that in music. Latin people are very passionate about life, very expressive and I’m pretty sure you can feel that in all the music that comes from South America. Also, metal music has a huge fan base that keeps growing , which means that in the future the importance of South American metal in the international scene is going to be bigger.

What are your touring plans for the summer? Are you staying in South America or will you head to the north end of the continent or jump the ocean into Europe?

Actually next week we will fly to Argentina to play some shows in different cities of the country which is going to be a great experience, because it is the first time that we will play outside Colombia. And of course if somebody invites us to go to Europe and play then we would love to come!


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