Transcendental is the name of the album...To-Mera is the band. This new International outfit, with members from Britain and Hungary, have released one of 2006's most stunning progressive albums in Transcendental. Drawing from a myriad of styles, including power & progressive metal, jazz, fusion, gothic, death metal, and of course symphonic prog rock, Transcendental is a polished and professional debut from a band that will certainly make their mark on the scene with this one and should have a bright future ahead for them. Sea of Tranquility Staff Writer Murat Batmaz spoke with bassist Lee Barrett to talk about the new album and how To-Mera became a band.
Read on for the interview!
Sea of Tranquility: To-Mera is a pretty new band. How did you guys form and release your debut so quickly?
Lee: Well, it actually took over a year until we found the right musicians, but things worked very quickly once that was done. It was really when Tom MacLean (guitar) came to the band that it all started happening. He had so many ideas and he literally works so quickly that at times it's almost impossible to stay at the same pace as him.
SoT: How did you hook up with vocalist Julie Kiss? Isn't Without Face a Hungarian band?
Lee: I knew Julie because of Without Face. That band moved to England for a short while and she was still singing for them so that's how we got to know each other.
SoT: Does Julie reside in the UK now?
Lee: Yes, she lives here with me in the south west of London. She is studying a Biology degree and also working part time for a photographer in a photolab.
SoT: What were your motives for choosing a female singer? Is Kiss Julie's real surname?
Lee: Well, it was Julie's idea to start the band, so we had no choice (laughs) ! After the problems she had in Without Face it was important to her to be able to start again, mainly because music is her first love and it would have been impossible to stay away from it. Rather than joining an already established band, she prefered to start again from new so her own ideas could be used. And yes, Kiss is her real name. It is not an unusual name in Hungary. It kind-of translates to "small".
SoT: How would you describe the music of To-Mera?
Lee: Schizophrenic and neurotic progressive metal. It's interesting really, from some of the reviews and comments it seems that we are not "tech" enough for the progressive purists and too weird for the people who like the music that is typical of bands with a girl singer. I guess we have found our own hole to sit in.
SoT: What are some other bands most To-Mera fans tend to dig?
Lee: Again from my comments already it's not really easy to define. I think that the people who like our music tend to have more adventurous tastes. People who only like bands like Xandria or Edenbridge will maybe have a difficult time to appreciate what we do. I personally think that we sit quite well with bands such as Symphony X, etc.
SoT: Hugo Sheppard and Tim Maclean are the group's schooled members? Do you think they played an important role in the heavy and technical sound of Transcendence?
Lee: Very much so. Almost entirely so to be honest. Tom is schooled in Jazz so he was able to bring that style to our music with ease. Hugo was a very important find also. Since he is not a fan of metal (or at least it's not a genre he was ever really exposed to before) he has been able to look at things from an outsider's perspective. With this in mind, he's not influenced by the usual style that dominates a lot of progressive metal and it adds some genuinely original touches.
SoT: There are some quite intricate and complex jazz and classical sections in your music. Were they brought in by Maclean and Sheppard or did you and Julie already have that in mind before putting the band together?
Lee: Yes, it was Tom and Hugo that were instrumental in this. Julie's original idea when forming the band was for a very eastern european feel to the music, maybe based on Hungarian folk (like the intro "Traces". This was one of the few surviving examples), but when the songs started to take shape most of those ideas died in the process. I guess Orphand Land do a very good job with that style, so we should leave them to it! (laughs)
SoT: Ari Pirisi's drumming on the album is incredible. Both his tone and technique are fantastic. Is he a fan of Tool and Meshuggah?
Lee: Akos was very much obsessed by Meshuggah's rhythmic style and I guess it shows in many places on the album.
SoT: I heard the band and Pirisi had to part ways. Why? Is Pirisi going to contribute to the recording of the new album or do you have a new permanent member now?
Lee: Yes, I'm afraid that mainly due to Geographical reasons (Akos in Hungary and the rest of us in the UK) that we had to make the difficult decision to find a replacement. Playing live and rehearsing regularly were two things that we were never able to do before the recording (before Transcendental was recorded we never rehearsed a whole song in it's entirity. Everything was recorded in sections). Now we have a great guy called Paul Westwood, who is based in London. We studied classical percussion at London's Guildhall and he was also the principal percussionist of the National Youth Orchestra here in the UK. He is able to play literally anything that is thrown at him, no matter how strange the timing. This is going to make the next album very interesting indeeed. I feel it's going to be a LOT more technical and experimental than before.
SoT: Could you talk a bit about your producer Brett Caldas-Lima? His work on Transcendence is mind-blowing. Excellent recording and mixing.
Lee: We agree. Brett really knows what he's doing and a lot of the credit for us sounding so good is definitely down to him. We found him on the Andy Sneap forum after I posted a message about looking for a producer who was good but who could also work for cheap! He doesn't have a "real" studio as such, just a laptop and some good microphones. We recorded the drums, guitars and vocals in the back room of a pub in Hungary and the bass and keyboards in my apartment in London. It wasn't easy to work like this, but we just didn't have wnough money to use a "real" studio. Still, the results are more than satisfying so it was worth this effort.
SoT: At one point, you used to be responsible for Earache/Elitist Records, but all of a sudden, Elitist bands were dropped from the roster. What happened?
Lee: It was down to one very dishonerable man: Digby Pearson, the owner of Earache records. I am sure that he may have planned to stop Elitist some time before it actually happened, but since he never replies to emails and never answers the telephone you are left guessing what is actually going on in his brain. As it was, most bands "dropped" by Earache only discovered this when their names were deleted from the Earache website (!). Two bands, Farmakon and Wolverine, were left with unpaid studio bills and I too lost money for things I had to pay for personally because Earache would not. They also owe me thousands of dollars in royalties (I guess this is not unusual for Earache. Just ask Napalm Death, Carcass, Bolt Thrower, or any other band who have had to deal with this label in the past.). It was funny when the news of the label split was made public. I had emails from 4 present Earache artists asking for advise as to how they could get away from the label!
If you're in a band and Earache offer you a deal then please take my advice-run away! It's really not worth the problems you WILL face in the future.
SoT: How did you come up with the idea of Candlelight Records?
Lee: I started Candlelight as a mail order originally. I then started working for Plastic Head and since there was already a distribution network in place there I thought it might be fun to start a label. It was just as a hobby and not something I considered seriously. Originally I only signed Enslaved and Emperor for one vinyl EP each, but then I decided to release both on a split CD. This ended up selling very well and before I knew it I had a full time record label on my hands that I never really expected.
SoT: What prog albums have you guys been listening to lately? What are some of your favourite releases of the year?
Lee: To be honest I don't really listen to too much prog. I quite like Symphony X, Wolverine, Pain of Salvation, etc, but a lot of these bands don't do anything for me at all. Some things I'm listening to right now include Hammers of Misfortune "The Locust Years", the new Sikth album, Secrets of the Moon, Dashboard Confessional (I'm a pretty big Emo geek, hehe) plus my usual bunch of old-school thrash and death metal (lots of Master, Sacrifice, Razor, Blood Feast, Mekong Delta, etc, etc).
SoT: Have you played any shows to promote the new album yet?
Lee: Yes, so far we've played 4 shows with two more planned. It's been a little mixed so far, and at the Bloodstock festival in particular we had a terrible sound on stage which was unfortunate. But the audience reaction is always enthusiastic and I think that with a few more shows then we will be unbeatable.
SoT: What is in the plans of To-Mera for the near future?
Lee: Well, we have just been taken under the wing of a great booking agent (he also handles the booking for Dream Theater, Porcupine Tree, Katatonia, etc), so we are hoping that the oppotunities for playing outside of the UK will be far bigger now. That is our main plan, to basically play everywhere and anywhere in order to promote Transcendental as best as we can. We also hope to have the second album out at the same time next year. We have been building some good momentum with our first album and we need to make sure that we continue to keep that up and not just sit back and wait for things to happen.
(Click here to read our reviews of Transcendental)