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.

What’s the optimal way for people to listen to “Melotronical”? There’s so much going on conceptually and musically.  Sitting in the dark listening on a great set of headphones works well but you miss out on the lyrics and the artwork. 

Jessica: Headphones are a good idea, may it be in the dark or not, since that allows you to hear those small little hidden extras that Hugo has embroidered into the music.

Hugo: A dark room, with candles, the occasional incense (no drugs…or not much) headphones on, and just let the music flow. Don’t mind the lyrics, no one understands them anyway! (Laughs) 

“Melotronical”’s album packaging is beautiful – Linda Kindt’s illustrations are spectacular! Was it difficult trying to develop a visual aspect to “Melotronical” to complement the audio?

Hugo: It was pretty easy for me, since I didn’t do it…er…. but I did send Linda my initial ideas, but 99.9% of the work is hers…I should ask Linda to answer this one… maybe she’s around, oh, yes!

Linda: Creating the entire album artwork was an interesting and rewarding experience for me as an artist. I found the concept of “Melotronical” very inspiring ever since I heard about it so I didn’t have much trouble coming up with ideas. Of course it was a bit challenging to create artwork about songs without hearing the music first but fortunately I was given very good descriptions about contents and themes of each song. Based on that info I made few sketches about the songs and then Hugo chose which ones to develop further, and after six months of co-operation we finally had the artwork we both were happy with.I’m glad I was able to be part of this project – it was a pleasure to create art for such an amazing album. 

Hugo: …and Linda Did a tremendous job!

Factory of Dreams music is unique and sounds quite different from both your other projects. What is it about the combination of your talents and personalities that sparks this kind of creativity?

Jessica: I don’t really know what the thing is. It all relies heavily on Hugo’s compositional skills and ideas, I think it’s in them that the uniqueness lies. Plus working together has gotten smoother and smoother with each release since we know each other pretty well by now and know what to expect from the other person.

Hugo: Not all relies on my compositions, because when I write stuff for Factory of Dreams I know Jess will be able to cope with the insanity, so, there are no boundaries to the music composition and structures. I know I can count on the best vocals possible, so, I do whatever pleases me and in a way I know I’ll be pushing vocally and instrumentally. Plus Jessica is a fun person to be “around” and we get along very well. Having this friendship makes it all easier, even if we’re not in the same room, it’s very comfortable to work with her, like fluffy and comfy.

Given that evolution is at the center of “Melotronical”, how would the two of you describe the evolution of Factory of Dreams from “Poles” until now?

Jessica: The music has gotten more and more complex, and I think the vocal arrangements might have gone the same way too. Poles feels like a fairly easy-to-get-album while the amount of listens required to really “get” it seems to increase a bit with the second release and a bit more with this third release.

Hugo: Melotronical” couldn’t be done earlier, simply because at the time, musically, my views were a bit different even if the main style found on “Poles” is present, definitely. With “Poles” I wasn’t yet sure if I wanted to do more albums in that vein. Factory of Dreams was developing back then, and after the acceptance of “Poles” by fans I realized we could keep on doing Factory of Dreams“Poles” is slower, more atmospheric, easier to get into perhaps, even if this is always very subjective and depends on the listener and mood. “A Strange Utopia” is the most proggy of the three albums, and the most experimental in terms of sounds, with many loops and several guest musicians and singers playing around – 
and very well I must say. Melotronical” is powerful, much more aggressive but it’s also a very cohesive and mature album. This might be my favorite album I’ve done so far.
So, progressiveness can be within a band’s genre but can also be applied to a progressive band and Factory of Dreams is that kind of project. You’ll know what to expect from us, roughly, but you also know that no album is ever the same.

The relationship between the two of you must be pretty easy and comfortable by now. Musically, you seem to bring out the best in each other. What do you do to shake it up and challenge each other? Other than Hugo’s pranks, that is…

Jessica: Hugo, a pranky boy? Nah never! (Laughs) Well, I can’t really think of anything we do to challenge each other. It all just feels very natural and smooth. We all put down a lot of energy on this project and it feels totally natural to do that.

Hugo: I challenge Jessica with the music, that’s all. All other challenges are very subtle, and hardly do I ever need to “challenge” her because what she does is always so good… actually she’s the one to perfect everything by herself. What I do very few times is suggest some changes here and there and this is very occasional. Joking around is common, but no one notices that in the final product since we’re professional when the music has to come forward. 

Have the two of you thought about developing a long-form video or short film to accompany the album? The concept is cool and it might be fun to watch Jessica evolve from an electronic molecule into a singing cyber-entity…

Hugo: I’ve had someone tell me about making a comic book based on the album, yes, but in the end what can be done is a videoclip for a specific song. You won’t see the full story of the album develop in that video, because it’s just so weird that to put it on a video would be difficult in so many ways. This said, we’ve filmed a videoclip for a track [Editor: The now released “Back to Sleep” video], in a huge location and we hope to release it very soon! It’ll feature incredible lighting effects and an eerie atmosphere. We’re excited about it!

Now that you’ve completed your Factory of Dreams “trilogy”, have you thought about shutting the factory down for a while and working on some other projects separately? Do either of you have anything in the works?

Jessica: It’s up to Hugo when it comes to Factory of Dreams I guess, I’m here to record vocals if he needs me to and I’m always happy to do that. I have some other stuff on the plate too, some vocals for the next Beto Vazquez Infinity release and then I’m working on finishing the fourth demo for my own project, Once There Was, which seems to take ages but maybe one day… 

Hugo: I’m working on the third Project Creation album now, but also composing some new stuff for Factory of Dreams. It won’t be soon, but I’m working on it!

OK guys… what about some live shows this year? “Melotronical” would make for an awesome visceral experience with the right stage show. What do you think?

Jessica: I’ve never really thought of Factory of Dreams as anything but a studio project, but now that I’ve started rehearsing some of my own material in acoustic versions to be able to perform it live the thought of live shows is a bit more tempting. Still it would be so much to put together since we don’t really live next door, Hugo and I. Never say never I guess, but there haven’t really been such discussions up to this point, things feel good the way they are now. 

(Famous) Last words?

Jessica: Music should be YAY. Always. If not then there’s something wrong and you should go hug a bunny instead.

Hugo: I’d like to quote a famous person that once said “Music should be YAY. Always. If not then there’s something wrong and you should go hug a bunny instead. We hope everyone buys “Melotronical”. Drop by our Facebook page, leave a comment or message, we always reply.

 

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