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InterviewsTales Of The unexpecTed - An Interview With Avant Garde Metallers unexpecT

Posted on Wednesday, September 27 2006 @ 23:40:47 CDT by Duncan Glenday
Progressive Metal

In our review of unexpecT's In A Flesh Aquarium, we said:

This is where Mamga meets Sleepytime Gorilla Museum, it is where Squonk Opera meets Children Of Bodom, it is where Broadway meets dark metal. Here, performance art intersects with dark goth music, and modern avant garde opera (yes, the classical kind) enthusiastically breeds with modern Scandawegian metal

If you take nothing else from that description, take this: unexpecT's music is the eclectic intersection of dramatically different styles, an avant garde sound that defies genre and demands an open mind of its listeners. Challenging? Perhaps - but we found it exhilarating and refreshing, and while it is a study of modern composition, it's also a lot of fun.

Considering the classical training of some of the band members, it's no surprise that this is the product of a metal band adopting the modern classical music of a Bartok or a Mahler.

Sea Of Tranquility's Duncan Glenday caught up with unexpectT's syriaK, and tried to get behind the music...

Duncan Glenday - Sea Of Tranquility: Are you familiar with the Sea Of Tranquility webzine?

syriaK - unexpecT: I can't say that I was. I discovered the webzine when I saw the review for In a Flesh Aquarium. But I'm always fond of finding new information portals about progressive and fusion music.

SoT : For those readers not yet familiar with UnexpecT - can you give us a brief "nickel tour"? You know - the band's background, where you live, how you perceive your style of music, etc.

syriaK : Well, the band started out in the Montreal area as a more conventional melodic metal act in 1996 with Artagoth at the main wheel. We then entered the cast one by one over the years : syriaK (1996), Exod and le bateleur (1997), Chaoth and Leïlindel (2001) and Landryx (2003). There's been a major line-up change in 2001, with 3 of the original members leaving the band, and since Exod transitioned from the drums to the keyboard we've been left without an official drummer for 2 whole un-productive years. Each wave of new musicians brought its load of new influences. European metal came on first, followed by folk, jazz, electronic, prog, experimental music, noise and so on for a rather long list of beloved styles. We are now musical sponges, accumulating and dispersing as we see fit. We've been lucky enough to be born near Montreal, as I see this city as one of the major musical scenes in North America. Metal is definitely not as popular as in Europe, but compared to many areas of our continent, it's really active ! Anyway - I'll make it short and say that we're free spirited musical creators with our feet planted in a metal platform. Madness included.[Laughs]

SoT : Tell us a bit about the lineup, and each person's musical background.

syriaK : Artagoth is a completely self taught guitarist, having learned first from bands such as Metallica, Iron Maiden, Death and other old school metal bands. Exod, le bateleur and I are old classmates from classical music school, where we learned our base instruments: piano and violin for le bateleur. Our classical formation began at age seven! In our teens, Exod picked up the drums and I started playing guitar. After returning to his first love, Exod started to learn a lot about sound manipulations, sampling and electronics - so he now combines his electronic knowledge to his pianist approach, making him quite a good electro-alchemist. Chaoth and I followed some jazz courses for one year, but before that, Chaoth was mostly self taught, learning by playing songs of personal favorites: Victor Wooten and Jean Beaudin. Landryx took some drum lessons but has the same learning pattern as Chaoth. As for Leïlindel, she has had some vocal coaching and diverse singing projects including a huge modern musical theatre production called Antoine et Cléopâtre - a Shakespeare classic revisited by Lewis Furey. She's a professional contemporary dancer who always sang as much as she danced.

SoT : How democratic is UnexpecT, creatively? Who writes the songs?

syriaK : As a free collective of musicians, the band is definitely democratic, since every idea is listened to, no matter who it comes from. We always try out an idea before discarding it entirely. There's always a base to work on, but for the arrangements, details and personal parts, it's a confusing process since it's always different. Everybody is implicating himself in the parts of the others, throwing in ideas and different approach. From our beginnings, Exod, Artagoth and I were the main composers of the music, but things are changing and now everyone is participating. Some songs are based on piano partitions, while others usually start from a guitar framework. Anyway, a song passes by so many different stages in its life that it's hard to recognize the original idea after it's completed. I specialize in the arrangements - every little detail from every instrument is scrutinized and analyzed. They're twisted, reformed and moved constantly until an indefinite moment where we feel it's ok to leave it be. It's extremely hard for us to say that a song is completely finished - even in studio we continue to polish and polish and polish, and polish even more, finishing the polishing in an audio bloodbath!

SoT : The odd names you've taken remind me of the Norwegian dark metal crowd, who do the same sort of thing. You know – 'Ihsahn' and 'Samoth' and so on. What prompted you guys to go that route?

syriaK : I must confess that this scene influenced us a bit in our decision to take stage names. When we recorded our first album Utopia, many of the bands we were listening to involved musicians with those kinds of names. But beyond that fact, we thought that it was fitting with our imagery and themes, dealing with the fantastic, surrealism, abstraction and the outer worldly. It was a way to detach our normality and daily personas from our music - to live and be something else for the span of these musical moments. And in an international context, it's far easier to pronounce and remember than some weird family names [Laughs]. All in all, it's a game - we're not so serious about it. You could call me Horse!

Promotional Picture Of unexpecT

SoT : [Laughs] And are any of you guys involved in other projects?

syriaK : No. And seeing the incredible amount of time it takes just to run a seven-member band, I can't see how we could participate in any projects than unexpecT. It's a 100% dedication process. I've been in another band for some years ago called Magister Dixit in which I played keyboards, but it was too much, since I was also the one managing unexpecT. Exod composes from time to time songs for an eventual solo project completely different from what we do, but that's all. We keep the team close together. In fact, we're a family. We've been together for so long, through so many hardships, that we couldn't conceive losing a member--

SoT : What keeps all of you busy from day to day, and how do you spend a typical day when away from your music?

syriaK : You know…the usual stuff…being evil, crush out the life of beautiful and endangered life forms, causing traffic accidents and eating mammals [Laughs]. No seriously - everybody is busy with their (unwanted) day job to help fund the band, looking to the sky and hoping that we'll be able one day to earn our living from music. In our spare time we all have different activities, but I could readily affirm that most of us are video games fans and cinema lovers. Partying and discussing, listening to other's music of course, writing, making love, eating, sleeping and most activities humans usually do. I'll stay general because it would take a whole day to enumerate each of our precise tastes. And I'd add that there's not so many moments I'm away from our music…like I previously said, having a band is more than a full time job, so I don't have much spare time.

SoT : Where did the name unexpecT come from?

syriaK : From Artagoth's little pet mutant. Actually, the name existed before all the others came into the band so it wasn't really a common decision. And I must say that it never had to do with the fact that we do 'unexpecTed' music. That pun is often used - legally so - it's understandable - but our music at the time wasn't weird at all so it's really by pure chance that we came to create such twisted turns. Our band's name never influenced us in any way.

SoT : And what's with the odd capitalization? And did I get it right? Sometimes I've seen you described as 'uneXpect' – but I got 'unexpecT' from your web site.

syriaK : That's a quite mysterious subject you board now - you know - it goes with our impulses, just like the music. The X was capitalized first because of aesthetic reasons - but then I found that a little too common and capitalized the Then I'm saying to myself "what a strange grammatical rule - capitalizing the first letter of a sentence. What the heck, let's just stray elsewhere..." I don't think much of it. Sometimes there's no capitalization at all. We don't really care. I guess I write it as my fingers fancy at the time of the execution.

SoT : And what does In A Flesh Aquarium Mean?

syriaK : I' m referring to the human body…the receptacle for an incredibly vast ecosystem where ideas live, thoughts, molecules, atoms. For me, there's a whole living world inside ourselves and it should be one of our main goal to listen to it and follow the impulsions from insides. Our bodies are talking to us, but most of the time we just lend it a deaf ear and lead life following exterior influences and stimuli instead of interior ones. I'm not saying we should live internally on a constant basis, but there's an equilibrium that should be respected. So the music on In a Flesh Aquarium is a whole human experience, with all its highs and lows, quick turnarounds and diverse emotions. Just like a human mind, it goes everywhere in the span of mere seconds.

SoT : We writers always find it difficult to describe music via words, so we have to fall back on genres. But In A Flesh Aquarium defies genre. In my review of your album I invented a genre called MIO – or Metal In Opposition, a sort of metal equivalent to progressive music's RIO genre. What genre – or genres – would you use to describe your music to someone who hasn't heard it yet?

syriaK : The only one I think that would be helpful a bit in describing our music could be Avant-Garde Metal. It is general enough, so you know it's going to be modern and slightly weird but it doesn't present a barrier, or confine you to a pre-determined genre. Many categories of sub-genres could be stapled to our style, but the list would far too long. Experimental or Fusion metal is another possibility - but anyway, like you said, it's often impossible to pinpoint an exact term for any band. I really like MIO though!

SoT : What other bands do you compare unexpecT with?

syriaK : It seems that each reviewer associate us with different bands, depending on their own cultural background so it's hard to say. I could say we could relate to a band like Mr.Bungle, but only in spirit. The fact that we use so many different musical sources and that the mood can change so rapidly from seconds to seconds is a trait that we share, but that's all. We're mainly a metal band who delve unabashedly into other musical realms. I can compare us to any band that experiment and fusion any style without remorse [Laughs]

SoT : In my review I compared you with Sleepy Time Gorilla Museum. I know you're familiar with them – how would you compare their music with unexpecT?

syriaK : I discovered Sleepytime when they signed on The End Records. Before that, I'd only heard a song or two. They too have this thing for brain twisting and musical torture but we definitely use those characteristics in different ways. From what I know, they're more on the ambient side of the bizarre. Good musicians and imaginative humans. I would gladly tour with them.

SoT : Are you familiar with French band Magma, or America's Squonk Opera, and do you compare yourselves with them in any way?

syriaK : Squonk Opera is totally unknown to me, but I've heard some songs from Magma a while ago. Not enough to really give a grounded opinion about it, but from what I remember it was quite weird and progressive. They created their own language too I think. That's something we have in common. We sometimes use what we call the Siaknarf, which is inversed French. We started to use this tongue for phonetic motives. We wanted a language that sounded harsh, exotic and different so we inversed Molière's tongue, changed some grammatical rules and bam! We had our own personal language.

SoT : Besides your own record - what would you say were the best albums of the past year or so?

syriaK : To be quite frank, I've been so busy with the band in the last year and a half that I've missed nearly everything musical that passed on. I kept listening to my current collection and didn't discover many new albums. The last not-so-new album that really caught my attention was Frances the Mute by The Mars Volta.

SoT : One of the things I liked about the new CD is the tremendous mix of instrumentation. There's obviously the standard rock lineup, as well as violins, piano, clarinet, cello, sax, occasional electronic effects – and a female chorus. What have I left out? Did I hear a xylophone in there somewhere?

syriaK : Yup, there's a xylophone, but it's played with the keyboard. I always thought that the textures diversity in music is what makes a section stand out from the others. I've been raised at a classical school, so I grew up listening to all kind of instruments and orchestras. Finding new textures is equally important as the actual musical notes. I really see our band as a small orchestra so it's normal for us to try out different instrumentations.

SoT : What's your favorite moment on the album?

syriaK : I'd say the finale of Psychic Jugglers - the loud moment when a screaming choir starts to rhyme like imps on a rampage, just before the clarinet solo. All this section until the end is a favorite of mine. Gives me shivers!

SoT : What other elements of music would you like to employ on future albums?

syriaK : Hard to tell…there are so many possibilities. We'll go with the mood of the moment. I'd sure like to include more orchestral instruments, perhaps work again with the clarinet and horn sections. Who knows…We already have some cross-over fusions in mind, but they'll clarify themselves in the future.

SoT : I was trying to get some friends into your music, and had them listen to your samples on yourMySpace site. But those samples really don't do justice to the music on your new CD – and my friends weren't as impressed as they should have been. Will you be changing the samples now that the CD is out?

syriaK : I think so. We didn't want to give away too much of the album before its release, but we'll sure put another sample on MySpace soon. Anyway, it's impossible to judge a band by 1 or 2 songs so - since every one of our songs are separate entities and breathe a life of their own - you can just glimpse a part of our music by listening to these samples. But you have our permission to send them some MP3s if you want to convince your friends of your musical wisdom [Laughs]. I'm not against digital sharing, if it means that in the end, it's for discovering and buying later on. That's still the best promotion we can have as underground artists.

SoT : Tell us about your album's cover art

syriaK : It's all about mystery and theatrics - freakish imagery to fit with freakish music, a part of visual madness and a circus sleight of hand.

SoT : Have any live shows been planned to support the CD?

syriaK : Yes, of course! For the moment, we have a couple of shows planned at different places in North America, our release party show in Montreal in September, and a short tour in the US with Tub Ring and Foxy Shazam. We're definitely looking for more shows. We don't want to be a studio project, and we're told that our live representations is one of our strengths. So if there's any booking agent reading thi : we want to tour!

SoT : [Laughs] So how did you wind up with The End Records, and what was the attraction of that label for unexpecT?

syriaK : Actually, I discovered the label by their mail order. I've been ordering CDs from them for a while and I knew that the bands they worked with were somewhat the weirdos of metal - so we figured we'd fit in that roster! We sent them our mini CD we_Invaders which they really appreciated. We met at a festival in Toronto where they saw us live for the first time and that did the trick! Since then, I always thank fate that we got hooked up with such an interesting and respectful label. They definitely understand the process of creation and support musical freedom. I think their vision of the musical industry may change and shake up the current established system!

SoT : How have your sales been in the USA vs. other parts of the world, and where are you the most popular?

syriaK : We can't really say, since we haven't receive any sales charts yet, the album is still very recent. As for popularity, again, it's hard to tell. We've toured all over Canada and we've done just 5 shows in the US. The reactions were pretty good everywhere we went! Since we've been more active in Quebec than any other place in the world, I think that's where our popularity is larger at the moment. I can't wait to tour more extensively to grasp the extent of our popularity everywhere else !

SoT : And have you received any reasonable degree of recognition in your home market?

syriaK : The major media in Quebec is not really interested in the metal scene, but in the last few years, things are changing. Since Montreal is more and more on the international map, the Media is slowly beginning to take a slight interest in us. There's a really good and organized metal scene though. There is an incredible potential here, if only the big media would notice that metal is not an under form of music. In that vision, Europe is far more advanced in the recognition of metal music. But we're lucky to have such dedicated fans who spread the word constantly and makes the ranks grow each day! We'll soon participate in a kind of award ceremony for alternative music in Quebec that should be really well covered by the medias so, since it's for all genres of music and we're representing the metal genre, I think it'll help a lot and gives us an even better exposure. Things are looking good! [Laughs]

SoT : Some people I know run organizations called ProgMontreal and ProgQuebec – and they're actively promoting Quebec-based music, particularly the more eclectic styles. Are you aware of them at all?

syriaK : Nope - it's news for me. But I'm glad you mentioned it! I'll dig them later on.

SoT : In conclusion - is it too early to ask what comes next, after the album?

syriaK : Well, there's an animation video in hold for the song "Desert Urbania", but we still don't know when it's going to be ready. Another video would be a possibility. We'll try to tour as much as we can to get the word out there and of course, composing our brains out for the following album [Laughs]

SoT : Well, thanks very much for taking the time to talk to us! The new album is great, and we hope it helps accelerates your penetration into the world market. Take care.

syriaK : Thanks to you for your time and appreciation! See you on the road!

All images in this article are the property of unexpecT

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