A CAREER SWITCH CAN BE OF BENEFIT FOR A BAND WHEN THEY DISCOVER THAT THE START WAS NOT THE SOLUTION FOR A SUCCESSFUL CAREER. LONDON BASED EIGHT LIVES DOWN MAY HAVE LAUNCHED SUCH A CAREER SWITCH WHEN YOU COMPARE THEIR FIRST EP ‘MAY CAUSE DEATH’ WITH THE DEBUT ALBUM ‘HUMANS’, THAT WILL BE OUT ON SEPTEMBER 5TH THROUGH THE INDEPENDENT CULT OF PARTHENOPE LABEL. WE TRIED TO FIND OUT WHY AND ASKED SINGER ALIKI KATRIOU ABOUT THE EP AND THE NEW ALBUM…
EIGHT LIVES DOWN is a 4-piece band with four different nationalities: Greek singer Aliki Katriou, French guitarist Paul Allain, bassist Marcin Orczyk from Poland and Brazilian drummer Rodrigo Moraes Cruz. Today, you seem to live in the UK and The Netherlands only. Did that give logistic problems at the beginning?
ALIKI: We thought it would but it just proved to be good motivation to improve or learn skills needed for recording and creating more accurate demos. Everyone in the band has other sources of income, so there is less stress and financial pressure put on the band and we are able to travel every now and then for rehearsals and gigs. When Rodrigo moved to The Netherlands, we already had our sights on playing gigs in different countries and we had started organizing gigs in various countries for the next year. Of course, as luck would have it, a worldwide pandemic occurred instead… This remains the plan though, so living in the same country wouldn’t make a big difference. Also, Marcin and I are planning to leave the UK too to make our way to different countries. So hopefully we’ll end up a 4-piece band with 5 (!) nationalities living in 4 different countries. Mine aside – I’m a half and half; my father is Greek and my mother is from New Zealand, so the band is rocking some extra tag-ons to the 4 nationalities 🙂
‘Humans’ is not your first release, that was ‘May Cause Death’, an EP with 5 extreme raw punky sounding songs. Tell us some more about that EP…
ALIKI: Yay, ‘May Cause Death’! During the writing process of ‘May Cause Death’, the primary concern and exploration was towards sub-genres of metal. I knew I wanted a metal band and I have a massive love of punk music and respect for the significance and weight of many punk lyrics. It makes me very happy to hear that you’d describe the sound with three words I love musically: extreme, raw and punky! The idea was to blend some genre characteristics, so the first song nods to stoner, second track to nu-metal, third to death, fourth tips the hat to disco and fifth to alternative metal. I was happy with the result, but felt that more variety would be even more fun and representative of my musical inclinations. There was a period of making minor adjustments to the material and during this time we discussed cautiously and found out that we all wanted to go in an even freer direction and that we were happy to commit to metal as a genre, but no specific sub-genre fit our desires.
‘Humans’ is your debut album. On the 2 demo tracks that you have put on your website, ‘Why’ and ‘Misguided’, we hear a complete different EIGHT LIVES DOWN and you are singing with a clean voice. What happened?
ALIKI: Between our EP and ‘Humans’, we changed guitarists and Paul came on board. We started experimenting with our music and quickly found out that we personally experience sub-genres as a limitation rather than something that breeds creativity. So we put the idea of adhering to anything too specific aside and started writing songs with more fluidity. No ideas were ignored or rejected and we took on the fun of trying to integrate everyone’s input. We established a new ‘rule’ in the band: suggestions are always welcome but every instrument gets the final say in what they will play. This kept the writing process very communal with no one falling to the wayside. I have always sung clean, my entire life, and clean vocals are something I love that resonate with me. I started taking classical singing lessons when I was 16 and I continue them to this day. The vocal choices on ‘Humans’ relate to certain emotions and dynamics I want to convey and they switch to accommodate and highlight the lyrics, which often contain different voices and perspectives.
Dylan Sutton has made a rather minimalist cover for ‘Humans’ in black & white with just the band logo and a circle with skinny humans. What was the idea behind this design?
ALIKI: I know, isn’t it awesome? We purposefully reached out to Dylan due to the aesthetic he has in his work as a tattoo artist. He is very good at finding a balance between minimalism and intricacy. This is best seen in the artwork inside the booklet of our album. For the cover, we wanted something that would stand out. We brainstormed a lot of ideas just to get a sense of what we like aesthetically but, ultimately, decided that the artist should have full control. When we first discussed the cover with Dylan, he suggested a circle and I loved this idea because we wanted something that would stand out but at the same time nothing with a clear, visual protagonist. We asked him if he could add skinny humans to the design and he was happy to do that. The brief was something down the lines of ‘humans with no discerning characteristics but different from each other’. The album has so many voices and perspectives that we felt we needed lots of little people sprinkled on it somewhere.
‘Humans’ will be released via Cult Of Parthenope, an extreme metal label established in London, UK. Why did you choose them?
ALIKI: I would sign with Cult Of Parthenope ten times over. The contract we’ve signed is fantastic, which is so rare in the music industry! They were willing to discuss and make adjustments according to the band’s needs and they are really wonderful, decent people with a love of metal music. We wanted to sign with a label who still care for each act they have signed on and aren’t so attached to their own image that they won’t allow for much creativity. Not to mention the shows they host, their black metal festival in Italy and the other bands that are signed onto the label! We would have wanted to plan gigs and tours with these bands anyway, so being on the same label makes it more likely that this will happen sooner rather than later.
Recently, you have released a lyric video for ‘Opening Shots’, the first track on ‘Humans’. What is that song about?
ALIKI: ‘Opening Shots’ was meant to be an introductory song for the band, the band’s sound and our live shows. It was created with this in mind so there are a number of sections that are punchy and the energy level is quite representative of the band live. The lyrics are focused on extreme beliefs and opinions and the foundation for this was the mentality associated with third-wave feminists. There is a layer of irony to the song… The first riff comes in somewhat subdued before the drums enter and give it a different drive. There are two spoken lines that setup some absolutes (“The masses speak, they never lie”) and inform us that the song will be looking at emotions and morals generated by extreme mentalities (“Social justice, they must die”). For the initial verse-centered structure, the vocals stay in high screams. The idea here was to use a more ‘hysterical’ tone that could be associated with lack of sanity and a female voice. The combination of tone and sentiments expressed, underline that those who criticize often are not behaving much differently than the people they have disdain for. Eventually the music slows down into a heavier section. The lyrics switch to a clean tone to convey the calmness of those who claim or believe they hold the middle ground. However, this middle ground soon becomes unstable as the rhythm picks up again and we move into a guitar solo with vocals overlapped over the first half. Tension builds on the guitar as the vocals are now mostly in lower false fold tones. There is an observation of people’s behaviours and our tendency to talk big without ever following through on what we said. There is a moment of synchronicity between the guitar and vocals on the line “We are the ones to blame” during which there is hope that maybe we’ll learn from our errors, but eventually this way of thinking devolves into further extreme opinions (“We’re nothing but a stain”). The guitar solo starts spiraling after that and eventually we musically come full circle.
In a comment, you said: “The album explores aspects of the human condition and mental tendencies.” What exactly do you mean by that?
ALIKI: Hehehe, what’s written above for ‘Opening Shots’ is part of what I mean. Each song on the album jumps around in its point of view multiple times during the song. The only exception to this is ‘Sacrifice’, which is a very stable song but lyrically represents a non-human entity. It is there as an ironic contrast against all other songs which try to capture the ever-changing thoughts that people hold and express. Our ‘condition’ is determined in part by our function and our brains seem to be the most significant aspect of this. As a species we tend towards external perception, thinking and processing – we rely on peer groups to determine our behaviour, what we do will either align with other humans or go against them. We seldom behave or think independently, apart from some grandiose self-delusions which are necessary to maintain sanity.
Is ‘Humans’ a personal album or a message to the human race that we are heading into the wrong direction by destroying our planet?
ALIKI: It depends on what we mean by personal… ‘Humans’ has personal moments but this is largely due to my belonging to the species and my inherent inability to fully remove myself from my thoughts (thankfully). I am unable to remain unaffected and unconcerned by my surroundings and I don’t think anything is created in a vacuum. A major concern of ‘Humans’ is how our brains tend to function and process information and how our and other’s behaviours affect how we think. It isn’t a concept album and, as a result, there is no concrete journey from A to B. There are some light motifs that appear (a concern with apathy being one) within the lyrics but, overall, it is more fluid as an album.
You have also started a new series on your YouTube channel, called ‘Thoughts On’ In the first one you talk about breathing. Do you think there is still a market for vocal teachers with so many singers in the female fronted metal scene already doing that?
ALIKI: As a constant student of voice, I would say yes. Studying vocals is like any other instrument; you can devote a lifetime to it and never be done. As a result, all singers and teachers have different journeys with the instrument and this brings about different insights. No one person holds all the answers so having one teacher – or even a few – is a scary prospect to me. I am a singing teacher. This is different from a vocal coach and different from a singer who teaches. A singer who teaches is someone with professional experience and working with them is like an apprenticeship. A vocal coach traditionally is someone who works repertoire and performance, so they will have extensive knowledge of music, how to sing in an appropriate way for that style and era and they will mostly give instructions on expression and dynamics – you’d work with a coach if you’re already a singer. A singing teacher is a person who understands the anatomy and physiology; the mechanics of the task and can teach you how to do the task. In the classical world all singers work with singing teachers and vocal coaches. The singing teacher will train the singer, then coach will suggest that songs be performed in certain ways and then the singing teacher deals with the technical aspects of this request. It’s a symbiosis of coach, teacher and singer. In contemporary styles there is more of a mentor-role attributed to the teacher. This reflects the fluidity of acceptable sounds, choices and options that the singer has. I chose to become a teacher because I love hearing people sing, I love hearing new songs, I love being able to provide solutions that are long-lasting, I love reading about voice. Prior to teaching I had a bookshelf full of technical books about voice – and I don’t mean just ones written by voice teachers. It is a love and an obsession. Ask me about voice and you’ll see the excitement that you’ve given me an excuse to talk about a subject I really care about! With this in mind, I was never really concerned about a market… It wasn’t what drove me. However, I think that being a good teacher is a difficult job that requires constant effort and development. I know that there are many teachers but we still desperately need more good teachers. I find myself in good company with metalheads as most of them tend to devote a lot of time to what they do and I see wonderful results from my peers; not only in terms of technical singing but also in relation to treating the students with care. I personally would rather have more teachers enabling more people to be able to express themselves vocally so I that I can hear more music that accurately portrays what the singer had in mind. At the end of the day, I’m here for the music.
There’s a concert planned on September 12th at the Kulturwerk 118 in Sursee, Switzerland with Xordia and Arcaine. Will you use that as an album release party and do you think it will go on with the COVID-19 crisis still alive?
ALIKI: A good question and, of course, no one knows! Right at this moment in time, yes, we think it will go ahead and as far as we know this gig is happening. Everything is changing and shifting from day to day so, when it boils down to it, we’ll have to play it by ear… This gig was planned before the album release date was set so the intention was not to have this as a release party, although if it goes ahead, I’m sure mentally we’ll all take advantage of that and treat it like a release party. We are still trying to organize something for a planned release party, possibly later in September, but the situation is very unstable so we haven’t announced anything until we can guarantee it will happen.