Interview by Vard Aman
Ambehr are one of the most unique bands around, from their sound to their history. They were founded in 1995 by Art (bass & vocals) in Armenia – a country not well known for its heavy music. In fact, it’s a country that not many people know much about at all. (Go to your atlas – it’s the orange bit just below Georgia… no, not that Georgia, the other one… Got it?… Excellent!) They then relocated to Russia, where they have remained ever since. But the most unique thing about Ambehr is the music they make. Inspired by their roots and not limited to any style, they have created “Amber Metal” – Folk Metal, but not like any other kind of Folk Metal; Power Metal, but not like any other kind of Power Metal; Progressive, but not like any other kind of Progressive. Art was later joined in Ambehr by his sister, Marina, on vocals; and together they have created a dual vocal style that has come to typify that unique Ambehr sound. I caught up with Marina to talk about Ambehr (and about Armenia too).
Hi Marina, welcome to Femme Metal Webzine.
Hi Vard, nice to meet you.
I understand Ambehr is originally from Yerevan in Armenia. When did you move to Moscow? And why?
Yes, Ambehr comes from Armenia. The band was founded in 1995 by Art. In fact originally there were only three musicians in Ambehr, Art (bass, vocals and author of all the songs up to now), Ashot (guitar) and Hrant (drums), no female vocals. They decided that there would be more new possibilities to grow for the band in Russia and left for St. Petersburg first. It was in 1998, 14 years ago. They earned their living and played gigs there till 2000 (and recorded their demo album, “Life and Death”); after that Ambehr moved to Moscow. I joined Ambehr as a female back-vocal only at the end of 2003 in Moscow together with Natalie from Nemethon, Moscow (now she sings in Arcane Grail, Moscow/Germany); our first song on the stage was “Spider’s Web” from the album of the same name (2005).
Have there been a lot of changes to the line up over the years?
Actually since 2002 Ambehr has changed 5 guitar players: In 2002 two guitarists, Zurab and Vitaly, came to the band instead of Ashot who went back to St. Petersburg; In 2008 they were replaced by Igor and Vladimir; At the end of 2011 Igor left and now Dmitriy is our new guitarist.
Have you been back to play in Armenia since?
We were invited to the fest in Yerevan in 2008; it was a big international festival Rock the Borders with Italian band Sadist as a headliner. Before that we had got some invitations from Armenian organizers ended by nothing due to very expensive cost of trip from Moscow to Yerevan.
Armenia is a country that not many people know very much about; including I’m ashamed to say, myself. Tell us a bit about Armenia. What is it like a country? What is it like to live there, or to visit there?
Armenia is a place where I will always long to return. It is tiny but very beautiful, with an ancient cultural heritage. The summer is very hot there. It lies in the highlands near the Biblical mountains of Ararat. Armenia is rich in monuments of culture and nature; that is why it is called “open-air museum”. There are over four thousand unique monuments in Armenia: the monuments of the pre-Christian era and many ancient Christian temples which are all over the country. I love our unique Lake Sevan, Jermuk waterfall, lake Parz and Kari, as well as beautiful and diverse mountain landscape of the country. I think if you visit Armenia in summer you will never forget it!
Of course, Armenia made world news in 1988 with the massive earthquake in Spitak and subsequent relief efforts, including “Rock Aid Armenia” that featured many Metal and Rock musicians. That was a long time ago now. Do you remember any of it?
The charity concert with ELP, Gary Moore, Black Sabbath, Asia, Mike & the Mechanics, Rush, Deep Purple, Bon Jovi, Iron Maiden, Led Zeppelin, Foreigner, Pink Floyd, Queen, Yes, Whitesnake and others was held on July 8, 1989 in London and after that, in 1990, the album was released. Certainly I remember that many famous musicians (as well as simple people all over the world) supported Armenia in trouble and provided a real help to the victims of the earthquake. We are very grateful for their efforts and will never forget about it.
What is the metal scene like in Armenia?
As I’ve been living in Russia for many years I’m afraid that my opinion about the metal scene in Armenia wouldn’t be full and correct. However I can say that at the moment there are many good bands in Armenia; with female vocal – I can mention Stryfe with Eva (maybe the band has changed the name now) and Dogma with Zara (Zara’s sung recently with Ian Anderson from Jethro Tull in Yerevan); for me, they are really fantastic singers!
Listening to your excellent and unique dual vocal style, you and Art really seem to work very well together and compliment each other perfectly. Does it help being brother and sister? Have you always been making music together?
To tell the truth, we’ve been singing together since we were children (our father taught us some Italian songs when I was 6 and Art was 4.5 years old). When my brother was 12 he learnt to play guitar, and we began to sing The Beatles, later – Deep Purple, Led Zeppelin, Metallica etc.; the audience were our family and our friends. Besides, we both finished music school: Art learnt to play the piano and my specialty was violin. We really understand each other very well, and when Art invited me to sing in Ambehr at last, it was not difficult for me to join the band. But I have to mention that Art is the author of all my vocal parties.
Your music is very diverse. Each song on “Amber Dreamland” sounds very different from the next. Do you have any insight into Art’s songwriting process?
It depends on his mood at the time. I would like to know myself how he creates these bright pieces of light… All I can say is that Art has always expressed his feelings through music. And I love his music very much.
Describe Amber Metal for us.
Frankly speaking we can’t define our music style now. Some reviewers call it power metal, others – power & folk basing on death-thrash! For me, Amber Metal is just beautiful songs about everything that excites most of people: life and death, nostalgia about the times of heroes and knights and today’s relations between people.
How has your sound changed over the years?
The style changed from one album to another, every time we were asked why. We cannot explain the reasons exactly, maybe the band just grows up and would like to change ways of self-expression. When two first demo albums were released there was no female voice in the songs; the band played death-thrash music. “Spider’s Web” was also in the style of death-thrash but with female back vocal. Only from the next release, “Sword’s Song” (2006), the sound began to differ noticeably from the previous albums, it became softer than earlier. The last CD that was released in 2011, “Amber Dreamland”, is mainly a collection of melodic songs; the ballade of the same name describes the Land of Amber. Each song on the CD is a different story, at first glance, independent of each other, but united by one feature – they are about our dreams of Amber Land which come from fairy tales and maybe from our childhood.
“Garnan Aravot” (“Spring Morning”) is sung in Armenian (I hope I got that right). Are you going to write more songs in Armenian in the future?
You are right – “Garnan Aravot” is sung in Armenian. In one interview Art confessed about this song that it was extremely difficult for him to write the lyrics in Armenian. Originally he had written all the lyrics only in English, later he wrote some Russian songs. Armenian is a very complicated language to know it perfectly and especially to set to music. Art told that he would try to write more lyrics in Armenian for our new releases…
“Garnan Aravot” certainly turned out very well in the end! What is it about Armenian that makes it such a difficult language to sing?
It’s easy to sing in Armenian when the lyrics are written perfectly, but it’s difficult to create a good text in Armenian. There is a huge difference between literary Armenian and colloquial language. You should find a fragile border between them – only in this case the lyrics will be simple and elegant at the same time, only then it will go well with the melody.
Does Armenia have its own unique style of folk music?
Certainly it does. For example, maybe you have heard the music of Jivan Gasparyan with his duduk, he is famous all over the world…
Other that “Garnan Aravot”, “Amber Dreamland” is all in English; while your 2007 album, “Chornaya Doroga” (“The Black Road”) is in Russian. What are your thoughts on singing in different languages on different albums?
As I’ve told originally Art wrote lyrics for our songs only in English. One day he wrote a couple of songs in Russian for a female band. Shortly after that the band broke up. So we decided to use these songs for our Russian album as a separate project (in order to be understood better by Russian audience). It was a good experience, some songs from the album “Chornaya Doroga” was a great success for Russian audience. So we understood that we could go on with Russian songs for Russia and with songs in English to be heard also outside Russia.
Have you ever been tempted to include both Russian and English songs on one album, or to release both Russian and English versions of the same album as some other Russian bands have done?
For me it’s not a good idea to mix Russian and English songs in one album, it would be an album without a concept – for no one. From my point of view Russian songs are Russian first with their melodies – lyrics just supplement the picture. But translating a Russian song into English can simply kill all its charm.
Do you have any personal favourites from “Amber Dreamland”?
Certainly I do, best of all I like songs “Let’s Go Down”, “Proud Heart” and “Garnan Aravot” (I like very much the lyrics of these songs as well).
Tell us a bit about your upcoming album, “Bezdna” (“Abyss”).
It is a Russian album; the music is melodic with elements of folk. It was recorded together with “Amber Dreamland”, but was not released at the same time due to different reasons. I hope you will have an opportunity to listen to it soon, in about two months.
How often do you play live and how do you find the audiences in Russia?
Now we do not play live so often as earlier, several times a year – while some years ago we played two or three times a month. Anyway I can say that the audiences in Russia are very sincere and hearty, especially outside Moscow.
Have you done any tours, and have you toured outside of Russia and the CIS?
We travelled to many towns in Russia to separate concerts or festivals but not tours. The reason is that the bosses will not tolerate our long absence in our offices. Unfortunately we did not tour outside of Russia and CIS (except one time to Armenia). I hope still there will be a chance for our band to do it in the future…
What do you like doing when you’re not singing for Ambehr?
I like to read good books, also I have a hobby – walking trips and living some days in a tent. When I lived in Armenia I was fond of paragliding during 5 years and also jumped with parachute several times! Unfortunately in Moscow I haven’t got any opportunity for it…
Thanks very much for talking to us Marina! We’re looking forward to hearing the new album soon, and many more to come!
Thank you for your attention; it was a pleasure for me to talk with you. Good luck to you and to Femme Metal Webzine!