"Your True Self": a subject that is very near and dear to me. There is nothing that I believe in more in life, than the being of one's true self and to always stay true to what they believe in. It is also the name of the most recent album from Star Queen.
Star Queen is the brainchild of Bulgarian vocalist Stella Tormanoff. Lars Eric Mattsson of the Lion Music label discovered her in 2001, and he made the brilliant move of pairing her up with Swedish guitar virtuoso (and Winterlong leader/guitarist) Thorbjorn Englund to arrange her music which was originally written on the acoustic guitar. The pairing of the 2 was very successful in both a musical way and also a personal way! Stella moved to Sweden to live with Thorbjorn and Star Queen has produced 2 very fine and very unique releases which are titled Faithbringer and Your True Self
In the past couple of years, I have come to know Stella and Thorbjorn rather well and they have become very good friends of mine in the process. Recently I asked the both of them if they would like to participate in an interview for us here at Sea Of Tranquility and both most graciously agreed. So prepare yourselves for the very in depth and very interesting conversation that we had. One things for certain, Your True Self is a very appropriately named album. You the reader will see why I say this by reading this interview where both Stella and Thorbjorn are both as honest as honest can be (at times brutally honest) in discussing such as the career of Star Queen, the music scene, and uh…. Ashlee Simpson!
Dean H. Pierce – Sea Of Tranquility: Hello Stella and Thorbjorn, welcome to this interview for Sea Of Tranquility! How are the both of you doing? :- )
Stella Tormanoff: Hi Dean! Thanks for the interview and for keeping up the fan site. Such great work you did there! I am doing well, dealing with art and so on... just as usual.
Thorbjorn Englund: Hi Dean! I am doing fine here too, ...recovering from the worst flu in many years... yuck... But now I'm ok again, so it's time to shape up that guitar playing and get some chops workin' again.
SoT: We just had a blizzard here in the northeastern United States (this interview was conducted January 25, 2005), how is the weather up there in Kalix Sweden? I bet the snow we have here in New Jersey is nothing compared what you have in the great northern lands!
Stella: Well, I think that Sweden is very influenced by the global heating. This winter is extremely warm though we have enough ice and snow, but not in the south of the country...
Thorbjorn: As Stella said, we have some loads with snow coming down on us every winter, and actually as I look out the window it is snowing right now and has been doing so for a couple of days now.... brrrrr.... But this winter really IS warmer than usual.
SoT: For those that are reading about Star Queen for the first time, could you give an overview of what Star Queen is all about?
Stella: Star Queen was a project created via Internet. We have two albums Faithbringer 2002 and Your True Self 2004 and they are connected through a philosophical concept. We are not playing popular commercial music. My style is very principal about art - it is progressive and syncrethic. I am trying to make it as different as possible from everything else, cuz if we will repeat what others have done; it is no value at all. I am influenced by rock-operas, gothic metal, progressive, folklore, and classical music... I am trying to break all the known frames of styles by structuring and composing my songs the way I do. Our concept is very deep and done to fit any intelligent and sensitive person. If you're one of them, then there's a lot for you to discover in us. Every detail has a meaning and I am keeping a positive attitude in the messages of my lyrics, considered to what the listener would get as a final feeling. Star Queen is definitely an outsider project.
Thorbjorn: Well, She said it.
SoT: Stella, where did you come up with the name Star Queen?
Stella: Well, as some people have noticed, my name Stella means "star" in Latin/Italian. Queen comes with the symbol of uniqueness. You know every country, sphere has great people but the queen is only one. We are just too special to have a name being lower than queens and kings, ha ha! It can be garbage queen also cuz there is lots of darkness and sorrow, misery and madness in our concept... Star has another meaning but my name; it is a symbol of the supreme, the inaccessible, the dreams, might and mystery. NOTICE - STARQUEEN has nothing to do with the notion CELEBERTY and the image of all that vanity/parade and meaningless masquerades. They are just parodies of themselves. At least 90 % of all those...
SoT: How did Star Queen first come together?
Stella: I sent a demo to Lion Music and the producer and guitar player Lars Eric Mattsson contacted me and said he'd be interested to invest in 2 albums with my own compositions. Then he decided that my style would fit and be in a good symbiosis with the style of Winterlong, so he got me in touch with Thorbjorn. And then Thorbjorn made the arrangements based on my demos made in Bulgaria (my homeland).
Thorbjorn: Yea, that's how it all started. And we were more or less in the beginning of a newly discovered road in our lives. Who knew what would come out of that project...
SoT: Could you tell us some about your debut CD Faithbringer?
Stella: Faithbringer is a very powerful album and has an aggressive attitude, also with a little bit of fairytale-tarot concept. It was recorded without meeting the band members. Everyone worked totally individually without nearly contacting the others, so it was based all upon impressionism, so to say, ha ha! Thobbe and I were discussing a little about the music, but Lars Mattsson, Erik Tornberg, Bob Katsionis and Tony Eriksson did a completely individual musical work, just as they felt the music. So the exciting part was that no one knew what the next one would do, and especially for me - burning to hear the results. I did not dare to have high expectations since I wanted everyone to have total freedom, but the final result was quite different from my acoustic demos... ha ha! :-D
Thorbjorn: Yepp. It was a challenge to make the music in that way. Also quite a great experience, but I don't think I'd wanna do it again, because nowadays as I own my own studio I prefer to be in control of every move, hehe...
SoT: Stella, there seems to be a concept that runs through Faithbringer and the current album Your True Self. Could you tell us a bit about the story you are telling?
Stella: Of course, the story connecting the two albums is influenced by my personally experience while growing and developing as a person. But I have tried to keep away the concrete bother of my personally problems or stories, as it is for example in the awesome rock-opera Ayreon. I just find more abstract and general conclusions as important compared to a cliché story. Most of them are already told and banal. Some people find the fabula elements in my concept childish and naive, but I have also tried to make it understandable for everyone including people who are not so deep into art. I find the stories of broken dreams, spiritual pain, the standard love or party stories, dragons and swords or some vampire concept very boring and over-used. But I have tried to present them in another light, from another point of view that goes deeper into the human psychology. I have chosen feelings that are a little bit scary; so people avoid them or avoid talking about them, avoiding confessing that they exist...
Faithbringer and Your True Self are a fragmental story of a deep-thinking person with strong individuality, which is living in the wrong time, the wrong world. This person tried to fit and survive, tries to be happy and to do good, but the social and mental environment are just against all he/she does. This person tried to keep its faith and to find its true self by analyzing the soul, the world...
SoT: I also notice you have done the cover art for Your True Self and did a terrific job at putting that all together, have you done covers for other bands as well?
Stella: Yes, I have done the booklet for the third album of Winterlong, which is already released, and also for the tribute of Gary Moore Get Us Moore where Star Queen performs Empty Rooms. There are a few other graphic projects I am working on...
SoT: Thorbjorn, I notice you now handle production duties on Your True Self and the recently released Winterlong self titled CD. The difference sonically between your debut Faithbringer and Your True Self is remarkable! What were your plans to improve on the Star Queen sound when recording this new album?
Thorbjorn: Well, I had this idea in my head. The sound I knew the album had to have was somewhere out there, but it wasn't until after all the pieces had fallen into place that the sound became totally clear, or should we say the sound-possibilities became clear. So I kind of drove in the direction I had in my mind, but always kept an ear on the acoustic and compromised my way from there. I think that that album has an "airy" sound, not that compressed like most albums, but more acoustics and transparency. However, on the latest album with Winterlong I went for the fattest and heaviest sound you can imagine, and guess if that mix can tear down buildings!! I figure one must really adapt the mixing to what's going on in the music with finesse, or the results could be so wrong.
SoT: My compliments on a terrific job on both releases, would you entertain offers to produce other bands in the future?
Thorbjorn: Sure! Actually I have been working with a good friend of mine, Payre Hulkoff, in my studio here for a couple of months, recording an album together. It came out very cool and we're just about to lay the final touches on the mix, but as you mentioned it, this was probably the first outside-production I've done so far. I'd definitely like to produce other bands from time to time, it's always fun! We'll see...
SoT: One of my personal favorites from Your True Self, is a song entitled "Rainbow", could you both give some insight into the lyrics and musical arrangement of this very special song?
Stella: Well, I have started to write songs when I was 11 years old and Rainbow is one of my first ones. First a did not know English, so I wrote the most on my language, but as soon as I started to study English I was writing the majority on that language. So "Rainbow" is one of my first songs. I wrote is when I was 14 and we have just changed the arrangement. "Rainbow" is a beautiful romantic fairy-tale about a cold-hearted prince who has it all and feels pleasure to cause pain and he cannot realize why he cannot find peace and happiness for his soul... I am seeing my self a part of any of the personalities in the concept, and particularly in "Rainbow". I like to imagine myself in different peoples position, just to see their point of view. There is sentence in each and every lyric... that gives not an answer but just more open questions for you to think and analyze... ;-)
SoT: What are your personal favorite songs from the new album?
Stella: "Draft", "Labyrinth of Spleen", and "Rainbow", but it is hard to say... Just like to ask a mother who of her children she loves most.
Thorbjorn: All the songs are great! Stella is such a great songwriter!
SoT: Your True Self features 2 brilliant new musicians in bassist Peter Uven and drummer Mats Holma, what new elements do they bring to the sound of Star Queen?
Stella: In my personal opinion, it was a very good idea to change the band members. Nothing wrong with the previous ones, but I'd like more people to be given chances to play and create, and to change the whole vision of the project for being more unpredictable. I find Mats and Peters Style more rocky and mature compared to the modern fast power metal, which is so boring sometimes. They brought this 70s attitude to Star Queen which I love and I have been thinking a lot about. Something that Thorbjorn has not got in his style since he ha be listening more to the 80s and 90s music. I find it original to have again the bass at a front position in the band as it was in the 70´s. This is something that I miss in today's rock and metal - the bass is just a fast or monotonous "boom-boom" following the drums... I like when the bass sticks to the position of another guitar-player for example.
SoT: Are either of you involved in any other musical projects besides Star Queen and Winterlong?
Stella: I sang another version of "Exile", arranged by Lars Eric Mattson and it will be included in the coming Condition Red album, also a wonderful ballad written by him for a rock-opera he will release in the future... I sang some back vocals in an industry- project Thorbjorn worked on recently, Give Us Moore and I sang a few lines in "Oblivion" song from the new Winterlong. But wait for Thorbjorn, he has a long list with projects... ha ha! :-)
Thorbjorn: Well, as I mentioned I've been recording some stuff with my old buddy here, the band is called Kettenhund, and the music is something like a machinegun going berserk. It's just pure and heavy industry, with some very cool influences. Payre wrote most of the album! Right now he is hunting down a label wanting to release it. It was actually very cool to get some new influences during this time, and I think it's also very good to get to know other forms of music than just the one you usually write and produce. This gave me a newfound power, and I feel it has influenced me in a positive way, and that's where my other project comes in. I have started to plan for a solo album, and I will handle the vocals on that album, hehe.
SoT: Have you been back to visit Bulgaria lately?
Stella: The last time we visit Bulgaria was the previous spring 2004. For me the most exciting there was to meet my old friends and family and the concord of Queensryche and the re-united Judas Priest. It was an incredible show!
SoT: What music have the both of you been listening to lately?
Stella: Honestly, I have not been listening to music that much these days. Some Nightwish, Evanescence, Edguy, Irish folklore, Ayreon, Rainbow, Midnight Sun, Judas Priest. I think that the new Green Day album is quite cool even though not exactly my style...
Thorbjorn: Judas Priest! Oh man, they are just simply the best.
SoT: I have noticed a surge in popularity for female fronted metal bands throughout the world. Bands such as Nightwish and Within Temptation are doing very well in Europe, and Evanescence is doing well just about everywhere! How do you feel about this current movement?
Stella: I know I sound too much self-confident, but I am sure that, if we had a bit more luck and money behind us, we could do as well as those 3 bands. Just someone have to pay the medias, so the world will see you. There are other bands like Edenbridge, for example and a lot more I have not heard about. They are much better than Within Temptation, which have some good melodies, but are totally worthless to me. Nothing against them, probably they are good musicians, but it is so pop-like sound and cliché gothic vision, so I don't find it special. Nightwish are one hell of a classy, artful band to me. I am a bit tired of them, but I've been listening too much to their music, I suppose... ha ha! Evanescence are a million dollars production. This is the way I have always imagined Star Queen to look, but with more European sound. I think Amy Lee is a very wise and talented girl for being that young. Their team and producer are just the top of everything. I think they need little more routine in their live performances. They sound cheap and bad having in mind how much money are behind them...
SoT: Recently there was a controversy concerning artist Ashlee Simpson and her being caught lip-synching to backing tracks on the American TV show Saturday Night Live. What are your opinions on artists that do this sort of thing in live performance?
Stella: Ashlee Simpson is the next Britney Spears example - how without talent but money, you can make an artist from garbage. Both of them have no talent, they look plain and sing playback if it's them who sing at all, who the hell knows what happens in the studio. They don't do shit but being puppets of the music industries. They have not written or decided anything, but when their parents have money and relations, they start to send them to musical and artist lesions since they are babies almost. It sounds and looks good but they music have not artful value at all. It dies with them and the idiots who admire all that porn. Just I wonder sometimes if I watch Playboy TV or MTV... They look and sound very similar.
Thorbjorn: Well, in my opinion I find it sad. I mean, I don't care a rats #"% about what all those superstars are doing, but it's sad that the music-business on the bigger scale is so damn spineless and ridiculous and so completely focused on all other things but music. Let's face it: If you've got the booty and the rack, then you can be a pop star! It has got NOTHING to do with talent in my ears. Sad, but true…
SoT: Do you feel in time that music fans will inevitably seek out the independent labels because of the poor quality of the mass marketed garbage that most major labels shove on the public these days?
Stella: Unfortunately, Dean, I feel very negative about that. People are downloading music even though they have the money to buy it. They buy cell-phones instead. People are commercial consumers. I have been recently to a few musical stores in Gothenburg - Sweden and I saw what they offer, I see what they advertise and play on TV - a few bad artists. They're 3 or four good songs that come out per year. I find it horrible. If you have seen the latest video of the band Korn - this is how it looks like on the music market. Music has nothing to do with it - it is only empty sexuality and dumb lyrics - depressing!
Thorbjorn: I believe the time for indie-labels are right. Exactly as you say, the major labels are feeding us with so much overproduced garbage that there's no other option if you still wanna listen to great music. But as Stella mentioned, we are just facing the biggest problem in the music business for decades, -Illegal downloading. And when that's gonna change I don't know. As an artist I am a bit worried about that. As of a coincident I stumbled upon my latest album on the Internet two weeks prior to release... and that's a serious problem.
SoT: Both Star Queen and Winterlong record for the independent Lion Music label, how well has this worked out for both your bands?
Stella: Lion Music is one of those few record labels left that gives chances to unusual musicians and who put the art before the money. I am very grateful to Lion Music for giving us a chance. I am proud with what I have done. All can be better, but in this life, this time with these chances, we all have done our best.
Thorbjorn: I am forever thankful to Lars Eric Mattsson. Without him and Lion Music we'd be homeless musicians. What label of today would sign neo-classical bands and stuff that went way beyond expiring date in the early ´90-ties?? I tell you, without independent labels, the world would be a lot duller. Thanks to Lion Music we are 100% free to make exactly the music we want to make and we never have to change with the fashion, or with what's in and out.
SoT: This past year has produced both a new Star Queen CD, and recently a new Winterlong CD. Since the both of you seem to work rather quickly, is it to early to ask if there are any ideas for the next Star Queen album?
Stella: I have no plans. I dream of an acoustic album. Just the simplicity of beauty. But I have no plans, just a few demos and melodies in mind. But I have a concept and desire to work with totally new team. Contact me, if you are interested - labels, musicians...
SoT: Any final words the both of you would like to say to our readers?
Stella: Buy music, don't steal it! What the world would be without art... Be free and find Your True Self!
Stars bless you!
Thorbjorn: Thanks to all of our fans! Keep the spirit high!!
SoT: Thank you so much Stella and Thorbjorn for the interview and the music!! :-)
Stella: Thanks to you, for the fanship, Dean! ha ha! I wish more people could listen as carefully as you to get all the messages in our music and be able to appreciate it cuz we are not radio-hit-band, it is just much more than you can hear at once... Stars bless you and all our fans!
Thorbjorn: Thank you, Dean for a nice interview! Keep up the great work!