Not too many bands start their career with a concept album in the realm of progressive metal and, more importantly, do it well. Poland's Defying took on this challenge, and with "Nexus Artificial" they introduced themselves to the world with a very fulfilling debut that musically and emotionally can hold its ground next to the big guys. After writing my review I couldn't pass an opportunity to ask them a few questions about their first child and Rafal with Piotr did their best to let you know what took place during the creation process of this ambitious material.
Let's get facts out in the open first. So here's the unavoidable first question to new bands, where, why and how did it all start?
Rafal: It began about 6 years ago when my friend, Jarek Swieszek, contacted me. He was a bassist and we used to played some rock music. He was so hungry for something heavier that he wanted to start a metal band. He had already played with a drummer for some time and was looking for new members. Our first rehearsal took place somewhere in an afterschool club surrounded by toys and teddy bears. Not adapted to band's needs, so to speak. There, I met Tomek, who, just like me, loved Opeth's music. We started playing "Master's Apprentices" and "Bleak" while our bassist soon gave up and stayed with soft rock. So we decided to set up our own band in which we would present a fresh and original metal music. Despite the fact that our city is famous for its metal (Vader was established here!), we were looking for the good musicians for quite long time. Finally, another maniac of Swedish progress Pawel Siemaszko found us through ads and took over the bass. Later my good friend Dominik Pliszko joined us as a second guitarist. In that line-up, accompanied by large dose of cheap wine, the first compositions arrived. They appeared on the first demo "Phial of Prayers" where they sounded like some old hair dryers and the demo was going on and on without any logical order. In the early stage we even had rehearsals in the rickety barn of our temporary singer in the countryside. So the beginning is quite confusing...
What are you trying to 'defy'? Is there deeper ideology behind the band's name?
Rafal: Inventing the name was not easy for us, but we always knew that we want to play ambitiously, defying the generally accepted standards and schemes. The solution was in fact quite simple - Defying as a definition of our goal. This name leads us from the very beginning and reminds us of the initial assumptions. I believe that this will never change.
Judging by your proficiency as instrumentalists and songwriters, am I far off by saying that you must have musical school background? Where does your fascination of music come from? What are your/band’s biggest influences in your music development?
Rafal: Truth is, none of us graduated from any music school. On one hand, we're not influenced by any fixed rules and we can add some freshness to the music. But on the other hand, we often get confused and need to look for an adequate sound for a long time. I think that this is just a matter of years and experience...
Piotr: My fascination with music has its roots in rock and metal, and thanks to it I reached for the instrument. Playing of this kind is most interesting for me. For many years I played in various bands, mostly black and death metal, but then I became interested in other genres, such as post metal, sludge and progressive rock, and I'm very happy that I can pursue my ideas with Defying. Today it's hard to identify what inspired me the most as I listen to different music, including the non-metal or rock, and it all has, to a greater or lesser extent, an impact on my musical ideas.
Human existence is a topic that can be discussed forever. From what angle did you hit this broad topic and what aspects of our lives are most important/intriguing to you?
Rafal: It's true, the theme lyrically was raised many times, but you can still find something new in it, or just tell it in a different way. Our concept tells a story of human creation by beings more or less similar to people. We gave free reign to our imagination and presentedquite dark history of people brutally led by their creators to death. Or maybe not? It always depends on the person who interprets the text.
Piotr: As long as it's not explained, the question of the beginning of mankind will always be in. In ancient texts and legends all around the world there are plenty of pieces of work describing the meeting of the gods and the people, as well as the gods' influence on the destiny of men. We decided to raise this matter on our album, and the result is a literary-musical fiction titled "Nexus Artificial". Intriguing is the fact that if the theory of the human creation by aliens is considered to be true, would we just be rats in a research laboratory? Or there's some higher creators' purpose behind it...
Wasn't idea of concept album little overwhelming for a debut? Did you approach the writing process from lyrical or musical side first?
Rafal: Ever since I can remember, we always thought about the concept album. We have always strived to create songs which would tell some story and not be just a mix of a few riffs, solos, etc. This approach is quite common in prog music. In most cases, we began with creating music – it's in fact the most difficult part. Sometimes, however, we had one completed story in our minds and on its basis the music was created (Portraits, Imitation). It's easier this way because then you can empathize with the lyrical ego of your story and create music based on their emotions. But it's often difficult to have a good completed story from the very beginning.
Piotr: I think that the idea of the concept album isn't overwhelming. You just need to think everything over and carefully sort the ideas out without hurrying. Lyrical part on this kind of albums don't arise in two days, it takes more time, but this is not something unattainable. I cannot see any reason why the debut album shouldn't be conceptual at the same time. Regarding the compositional process, first the music is created, and then the text. I like to write lyrics when the music is finished or almost done because I can notice specific images already presented there and get ready to write them down. In this way, the lyrical input composes perfectly with music, and it's always very important to me. Even if a draft of the text was made before the music, the final version of lyrics is formed at the end. That system of work suits me very well.
Obviously, concept didn't overwhelmed you, the proof is in "Nexus Artificial", but with a successful debut under your belt - do you feel any pressure to write an even better follow up story? Do you think of one already?
Piotr: Frankly, I don't feel any pressure connected with the lyrical part of our next album. The "Nexus Artificial" concludes the theme. The debut involves the relations between the human and the extraterrestrial beings, while the next album will present completely new story and different mood which we've already decided on. The very first ideas describing a shape of it arrived during work on "Nexus Artificial". We've just begun to promote the debut so it's too early to talk about writing music for the second one. I guess there's enough time for putting ideas together to create another concept album, slowly but surely.
Rafal: I don't worry about concept itself, it'll be worse with the music! In fact, we already have some ideas recorded during rehearsals. I, myself, have quite a lot of them. However, this is a rough draft, on which I'm going to work for some time. Now the promotion of the debut is the most important.
Promo material mentioned that you financed the whole thing yourselves. You do this because you want to have complete creative freedom or no record label took an interest in this album yet (which I have a hard time believing)?
Rafal: In fact, we didn't strive so much to find a record label. We sent several e-mails but none of record labels took an interest in our album. We were prepared for that and that's why we decided to try it ourselves. We set up the project on the Polish crowdfunding site and so we managed to finance the first edition. The way of recording the album itself was very frugal, but we used it as much as we could and the effect of our work exceeded our expectations, so we're glad. Apart from that, having control over it brings a lot of satisfaction, especially when each member is fully involved in the process and does their best.
Piotr: Before finishing the album we recorded a demo with the same material and sent it to several Polish record labels. All answers, if there were any, can be summarized in one sentence: "Nice play, but I don't see any cooperation with our label." Anyway, we took matters into our own hands and realized our ideas as intended. The creative freedom is just as important, and recording the album this way we didn't have to worry about it - which is a plus.
I guess everyone is looking for next Behemoth \ Vader \ Decapitated... How is the progressive scene in Poland these days? Outside of bands like Riverside, Satellite, Collage... any new promising ones I should be watching? Do you keep in touch with other bands or is it more or less everyone on their own?
Rafal: As for the high-end bands that released at least two albums and gave quite a lot of concerts in Poland and Europe, we didn't make any contacts with them so far. Regarding the bands like us, that are still at the stage of debut promotion, we are in contact with them. These are not strong bonds but I think with time it will change. It's the matter of giving more concerts together because so far, due to lack of material to promote, we weren't able to. We don't want to play music which is not available in form of an album after our concert, it's amateur. Now with the album - everything should change for the better. And as for the scene in Poland, the ambitious play is getting better. Riverside is an absolute leader, but you should get know bands like Obscure Sphinx, Tides From Nebula, Blindead – these are the high-end ones!
Piotr: When it comes to Polish progressive bands there's lots of them, unfortunately, I don't always have time to familiarize myself with the work of the newly formed ones. Recently, Morowe and Thaw, groups that have interesting ideas to play black metal, caught my attention. They're not afraid to apply non-standard and often even progressive - for this genre - solutions. It's worth listening.
Is songwriting a domain of one person or collaboration of all members of the band, and how does it look in case of Defying? Do you jam out to the main idea until it becomes a full piece or it's more or less fully written before band's rehearsal?
Rafal: I made almost all riffs, but a song does not consist of only riffs! Most of them I created at home and then I was bringing my ideas to rehearsals during which we arranged the rest together. Pawel (bassist) was also giving some crazy ideas. The initial riff in 13/8 in Mismatch was his own one. Over time, in order to finish the compositions, Tomek and I had to start kind of a remote communication connection, as he lived in Gda?sk, which was quite far from our city. We were sending some homemade records and that's how we perfected several songs. Trying to improvise during rehearsals was yet another way of finding the solutions. This is how the last part of Imitation was made, and the middle part of Suppression as well. I think this is a fantastic way to build musical passages. Over time, we began to improvise a lot and almost every attempt unexpectedly ended up with some good material for songs.
Piotr: The songs are shaped during rehearsal after all, when played by all of us. Sometimes it's intense musical brainstorming, which is very positive and shows the commitment of the whole band.
What are your promotional/touring plans? This might be a challenge without label/promoter, but on the other hand you can't let "Nexus Artificial" sit on the shelf - this would be a disaster!
Rafal: We're still waiting for Polish magazines reviews. Soon, the album will be sent to the foreign ones so they could give their opinion. We’re after our premiere concert and we want more of such. I guess it was our best gig! So it would be nice to gig more often, first in our region. We'll check what is the public response and in the autumn we'll organize our own tour or try to join a bigger band. In the next year we hope for some festivals and getting abroad as well. Phew... hope everything would work out!
Anything you'd like to add?
From Poland with love and Satan! [laughs]