Interview by Ed Mac Laren
Portugal’s Factory of Dreams make it clear from the first molar-rattling power chord that they’re ready to make your head explode with their incredible new concept album “Melotronical”. Musically and vocally epic in every way, it’s a 60-minute sensory assault that leaves you exhausted wondering what the hell just happened – just as you’re reaching for the play button again. Easily one of the strongest albums of the year so far, vocalist Jessica Lehto and composer, multi-instrumentalist and vocalist Hugo Flores – seriously, what can’t this guy do – took some time to talk to Femme Metal about the concept of “Melotronical”, what makes their ongoing collaboration work so well and coming into their own as a top-tier band.
“Melotronical” is one of those albums that you can hardly believe when you hear it for the first time. You’ve beefed up the sound but lost none of your instrumental intricacies and trademark atmospherics. Were you as amazed at the result as the fans were?
Hugo: Yeah, the idea was to impress the audience from the very first track “Enter Nucleon” with an explosive and original sound. The initial synth from “Enter Nucleon” is very aggressive and then with the soaring guitars and blown up drums it’s all settled in for the ride! You know, the story and concept demanded a much more aggressive approach this time, so in the end the sound would really have to be much more powerful. I wasn’t that much surprised simply because I followed the album’s evolution every day, from composing to mixing. But I must admit I was indeed surprised after seeing the whole package and listening to the mastered version. I wanted to convey into music the idea of Tronic – or mechanical motion. “Melotronical” combines the atmospherics and simplicity of “Poles” with the progressiveness of “A Strange Utopia” and adds edge and vivacity to the sound. I’m very proud of “Melotronical”. I think we’ve really made our best album this far.
Jessica: Hugo definitely is a very skilled songwriter and on this third Factory of Dreams album the tracks do feel a bit different compared to earlier releases. The tracks are a bit heavier, the sound might be a bit richer. I was definitely impressed when hearing these tracks for the first time.
You’ve raised the bar for yourselves on this album – and everyone else for that matter. Musically and vocally this album is killer from beginning to end. When did you realize that you had something special on your hands?
Jessica: To be honest I don’t really reflect about my vocals as something special. I just do a job that is as good as possible at that moment, and if others find it special I’m very happy to hear that. (Smiles) As for Hugo’s song writing I have always found it special and it has kept growing with each release, which is very lovely indeed.
Hugo: Jessica is just too humble, I must say that her voice is indeed very special and the album is somehow a unique combination of her vocals with my music. I actually started realizing that it was special once I had my compositions laid down and the concept and lyrics written. And that was even more evident once “Whispering Eyes”, the main single, was taking shape with the recorded vocals. Very powerful music, appealing, yet quite progressive in its own way. But it’s also like Jessica mentions, I do what comes to mind and shape the sound according to that. Maybe for a fourth album I might pursue this line of songwriting, because “Melotronical” is definitely asking for a follow-up album.
What was the conceptual genesis of “Melotronical”? Was there a sudden epiphany or had the ideas been floating around for a while in the backs of your heads?
Hugo: It started because I wanted to play with a ‘robotic’ sound and that kind of material. So, I began writing and thinking about an album title that could represent a whole nature vs. mechanic feel. In the end, what came to mind, was a symbiosis between machine, organic and music. “Melotronical” is actually melody combined with mechanical motion as I mentioned. It was quite sudden, yes; I don’t recall having this concept going around for many times in my mind. However, the robot vs. human issue was present. I enjoy many films of that kind, such as A.I and books like Isaac Asimov’s. Also, my Project Creation trilogy is based around a mechanical dragonfly. So, it was always very present. The album was also a chance to revive two older songs that I had composed a long time ago. One was “Something Calling Me”. The first version was done in 2000 and I was the lead singer on that track. The second was part of “Protonic Stream”, much much older; I figure I was like 15 when I composed it on my dear old commodore Amiga, can you believe it?
Given the complexity and density of this music – and the fact you play all the instruments yourself – where do you start, Hugo? What was your process for building up the tracks?
Hugo: The process hasn’t changed much from my approach since early this decade. But I’ve learned new ways to mix and produce music. As far as the process and how everything begins? Well, it depends. It may be from a title or from an idea for a story, or even simply by just playing around with the synths and trying out melodies and sounds. Once I find a melody that pleases me, I start developing that melody, changing it and making it evolve. Usually I just let my thoughts and ideas go and when I run out of ideas I stop since that means that the track is complete. I don’t like to ‘force’ ideas or to make a track longer once ideas are unnatural. After that, I begin recording the guitars, the bass and later vocals. I also lay down my drums along with the synths and orchestrations, before the actual guitar recordings. Then it’s mixing time. Very time consuming but still pretty cool and creative. As far as mastering is concerned, I prefer to leave that to a mastering engineer, and “Melotronical” had a brilliant mastering process done by Mr. Chris Brown, who worked on so many of my albums and several others from Progrock Records as well.
Hugo, your musical influences are far ranging but there seems to be a little extra nod to 1970s electronic music on “Melotronical”. Were you listening to any Vangelis or Jean-Michel Jarre while composing the album?
Hugo: “Back to Sleep” or “Protonic Stream” are good examples of how I enjoy a powerful synth sound. It’s all about an epic feel to the music, a wide and full of body approach to sound. Even though I don’t listen too often now to Vangelis, he has been quite an influence. I’ve grown up listening to synth based music. I’m grateful to that because synths enable me to do whatever pleases me. Nowadays it’s simply mind-blowing to see the possibilities, and you can have several orchestras right at your hand, ready to play at your command 24 hours a day. How’s that for a musician, huh? (Laughs)
Jessica, you dug deep and provided the album with a tour de force vocal performance, soaring, swirling and morphing from one song to the next. How did you prepare for recording the vocals for “Melotronical”?
Jessica: Thanks! (Smiles) I did not really prepare much before recording. Most of the time, when recording stuff for a new track, I listen to the track once or twice before I start working on it. Other times I just feel very spontaneous and start working right away, without listening to the track at first. It really depends on how inspired I feel. Sometimes I have tons of ideas at once when hearing the intro and other times I need to feel the atmosphere of the track a bit more. However, it was really hard work for me this time around. My father unexpectedly passed away in December 2009 and by the time I started recording for “Melotronical” things were still really difficult to deal with. I lacked inspiration and motivation and I had to dig real deep to come up with most of the vocal lines I wrote. I’m not yet sure about my work in some of the tracks, but on the other hand I never am, I’m always hard on myself and I’m never fully pleased with what I do. I just think I did the best I could do at that time and then it’s okay.
Hugo: Let me add that I fully agree. Jessica‘s work on “Melotronical” couldn’t be better, period. All the other albums are great, but this time, I don’t know, it was perfect. Maybe the fact that she was in a very emotional state may have helped. Or maybe the fact that she thought she would perform worse, Jess consciously lifted her spirit and she told herself to do that extra effort, thus surpassing what would have been a great performance from the start. Kudos to her!
You’ve really come into your own vocally on this album, Jessica. In our last interview for “A Strange Utopia” we talked a bit about vocal comparisons but on “Melotronical” it’s all Jessica Lehto! Your voice has become as individually identifiable as your influences Anneke, Sharon and Tarja.
Jessica: Thanks a lot! That’s just about the nicest thing a vocalist can hear! Of course influences will always be there, but as long as you’re not just a pale copy of them that’s nice.
Hugo got some great vocals down on the album as well and the two of you complemented each other very well. Thanks for letting Hugo record some vocal parts this time, Jessica!
Jessica: Well he’s free to do that at any time for sure! (Laughs) And I’m glad he did this time around, his voice fits great with the tracks and he’s really a skilled singer too, among so many other skills he has.
Hugo:Yes, I’m a good juggler too, and hamster tamer, as long as they’re friendly, and tamable. I already lost a finger due to one of those little things…damn hamster.He was delicious though… Jessica told me several times, “Oh no, you’ll ruin the whole thing!” but I said, “Come on please lemme do it, lemme do them vocals, I can’t just do the music, you’re the one you gets noticed and I’m an egocentric narcissist freak, please please!” and she was kind enough to grant me this little thing here.