Who Speaks Proper English Anyway?
Thanks to the good people at Metal Blade I had the pleasure to meet up with guitarist Carlos Lozano Quintanilla who is one of the original members of the band Persefone who hail from the small but beautiful country of Andorra. I also want to say a thank you to the staff and management at the venue in Glasgow called Slay where the band just recently played for their kindness and help.
We sat at a table behind the curtain which partitions the standing area and backstage. I popped my phone down on the table and we got to chatting. He firstly apologised that English is not his first language and that he would “do his best“. I reminded him that being Scottish that English is not mine either😀. He did a great job as you will see. This is what Carlos had to say in answer to my questions…
CGCM: I have never had the chance to visit your home country but from the photographs I have seen it looks absolutely beautiful.
Carlos: It is kind of a strange country since it is very small and we are surrounded by mountains, and it is kind of difficult to get there, you can only get there by car or bus. There are no trains, you can’t go by air, well apart from helicopters, mostly that is for if anything really bad happens. It is so difficult to get there, so it is quite tricky to visit.
CGCM: You know you are the only band I know from Andorra, and I am wondering that as you have managed to break through and tour all over the place, em, do you know of other bands that are now perhaps coming through having seen you manage that? Do you feel you might have helped or been helping others from there?
Andorra’s Support Of The Band
Carlos: I think we are starting to see that with the journalists there because they see us as the first band to break through elsewhere and we have a lot of support from the people in Andorra, even if they don’t like our music, it is just like a proud thing. As we are that small, we are not a huge band… but we are often in the newspapers and on local television all the time (he laughs at how crazy it sounds, but you can tell how happy he is that they are seen like that by their countrymen).
Even the government are really supportive of us, like one month before this tour, the minister wanted to meet us and they gave us a little letter for all the work we are doing by placing Andorra on the map in our own way. Now they even ask us to start, (pauses) maybe teaching the kids how to get here without making all of the many mistakes that we did. There are 2 or 3 bands right now that are kind of starting, we never know, but we hope for other bands to come through.
CGCM: If I may can I ask for a bit of background on the band, just for anyone looking in that doesn’t know too much about you?
The Back Story
Carlos: The band have been together for a long long time, our first album was released in 2004, can you imagine? I had hair (laughs and strokes his head… I laughed as I used to have hair too), I was young, now I am old (laughs). The thing is I am actually from Spain as is the keyboard player Moe (Miguel Espinosa).
We were friends from like when we were teenagers and we had a band back then. The idea we had was this thing like mixing death metal with progressive metal, but really it was bad as we didn’t have the skill sets for it then. For personal reasons I moved to Andorra myself and one year later he came too as we wanted to keep playing together. We met the rest of the guys in Andorra. We found some guys and its been like this for years. It was friends making music, Andorra was not full of musicians, we were the only ones I think willing to do this in the country. That is kind of the story.
CGCM: So are the rest of the guys originally from Andorra?
Carlos: Yes some of the band. Toni (Mestre Coy bassist), Sergi (Verdeguer drums), and Marc (Martins Pia singer). Filipe (Baldaia guitar) was born in Portugal but now lives in Andorra.
CGCM: I am very interested to know how you managed to break through. Your story is I would imagine quite different from bands in say the UK or USA etc. What difficulties did you have to face and beat to make it to where you are now?
Their Own Battles:
Carlos: At the beginning, it was very tough, because for some reason being from Andorra was a bad thing to be, like labels, they didn’t really trust the stuff we were doing. I don’t know why. We were battling a lot to get the opportunity to get our music out there. That took years. At some point, I am not sure when being from Andorra changed to being exotic and a cool thing.
Now it is much easier, the first years, (pauses), to be quite honest the first few releases we did weren’t that good. We were still trying to learn how to record and produce and get to the level that some major labels could be interested. Since we released Spiritual Migration (their fourth album from 2013) it became way easier. Definitely now I think that people really appreciate that we are from such a small country and its not a problem anymore,
CGCM: I am wondering that in the early days was there much in the way of recording studios? Could you record there? Or did you have to leave to do some of the things for making albums?
Getting Outside Help
Carlos: (starts laughing) We bought some stuff, it was a trial and error thing. The first album we did everything ourselves. We bought some gear and we recorded and released it. By the third album in 2009, (he pauses trying to work out how to explain things) we were like “What if we record here and send everything out to mix”, a great idea we ever had. We met this guy Jacob Hansen (Danish producer, bands include Delain, Pestilence, U.D.O amongst many others) who helped by mixing it (Spiritual Migration). We were so happy about that.
The good thing was the producer or mixer could tell us things like “it’s good but your tracking is not so good in this part, you need to buy this new microphone or some other bit of gear” so we could get a little bit better on the next album. From the beginning we have been recording in Andorra, every album so far.
CGCM: And you still do that? I can see why Andorra is proud of you. You really are a home-based band…
Carlos: Yeah but we do mix outside, we send the tracks to other places for that part. Everything else is done at home.
CGCM: Your last 3 albums have been conceptual, is that always been what you wanted to do?
The Original Aims
Carlos: Yes, since the beginning we wanted to lyric-wise, although we have always been all about the music, we just wanted to make awesome music. I am not a singer but I am one of the main writers so the vocals are seen as more of an extra instrument, but after we did Shin-Ken (third album from 2009), which is a Japanese type concept album, we all had this approach to spirituality, some of the band members started meditation and that became an influence on all our lives so we wrote the next album on a spiritual type of topic and the next 2 albums continued in the same vein.
We were very much inspired by people like Ayreon, where you have this journey and you get lost in this other universe and we wanted to bring that to our albums as well. Also, soundtracks where there are motifs that repeat at various points. We wanted to bring that to the table.
CGCM: When you are writing or composing is everyone involved?
Carlos: At some point yes, but not from the beginning. This music is a little bit challenging to write and if you have many different people in the room at the same time all trying to say something, it becomes much trickier. So usually I start with an idea with maybe Moe and perhaps one other, 3 maximum.
We have the first rough ideas and we take that to someone else in the band and they try to put something else, then someone else, and so on. Mostly we try to get everyone involved but never in the same room at the same time. We tried that once, it was a mess (starts laughing), we never got anywhere at all, so we try to keep it to 2 or 3 persons at a time maximum.
CGCM: So is it the music you always work on first?
Carlos: Yes. Music first always. The melodies, the stylistic approach. We like to get pictures to be inspired by, like movies. We write the music as a whole. Each song has to fit in as one thing, it has to go from beginning to end. We want it to feel like a movie. After that we put thoughts on the lyrics. We really put a lot of thought onto those. We want it to be perfect with the music and have meaning. That is very important for us.
CGCM: You do have recurring themes on spirituality not religious as such, but is that important to you all?
A Philosophical Conversation
Carlos: Some people in the band are religious and some are not and that’s why we don’t talk about religion itself, it is a polarizing topic in general. It is often about spirituality, we feel everyone should have even a little bit of spirituality, not dogma.
If you are here experiencing this world just for materialistic things its kind of sad, we sing about how every human being is not just the face you have, or the name you’ve been given, we approach things like a liberation, freeing people from that focussing on self or materliasm. We don’t come at it from a religious angle.
CGCM: Personally I am an athiest, and don’t consider myself a spiritual person. I do focus on ideals like community and the importance of working as a society, we all need each other…
Carlos: Exactly. We believe that we are all one. There is a verse of one song where we sing that your soul is not contained to the limit of your body, it is like the opposite, your soul contains everything, you and me. We try to go with that message. Instead of polarizing we want to be bringing people together through the music.
CGCM: In a way you are saying similar to what the band Orphaned Land says. We are “All One“. It doesn’t matter your beliefs, your skin colour or sexuality, we all come from one root. Civilisation started in Africa and we all stem from there. There is more that unites us than truly separates us.
Carlos: Absolutely, it is the same message. We really believe in it, that is the beautiful thing. We experience that when we write some topics in Andorra, this little country up in the mountains quite isolated, but we travel the world and see people in Japan, US, UK and all over Europe who have the same feelings so we see we are the same no matter where you are. That is why we are so happy to be going down that path and hearing the feedback on our lyrics. It’s a beautiful thing.
CGCM: The new album is one that I find that I have to listen to all the way through. Like all good conceptual albums there is a need to follow through on the journey. I was wondering what were your favourite concepts when you started and have they changed through the years?
All About Concept Albums
Carlos: When it comes to conceptual albums, the first memory I have is War Of The Worlds. (He starts to sing some of the melody lines from the album). It was amazing, all the narration, it felt like I was listening to a movie. My mind was all over the place imagining the story. It was better than the movie! After that as I said earlier Arjen Lucassen was a huge influence with Human Equation and Into The Electric Castle.
Also of course Dream Theater, Symphony X when they started doing albums with one theme, it felt good to me. Also Cynic, huge, huge influence for us. However, we now feel more confident in what we are doing so our influences can be books movies and even conversations. We talk a lot within the band. We have a system in the band and we are comfortable with it.
At this point, I explain my own personal reasons for gravitating towards concept albums and Carlos comes in with…
Carlos: We try to make people think. We want people to be able to come back to the same album many times and find new stuff or new meaning say in the lyrics. That is the beautiful thing, you can go back all the time and enjoy it again like a good movie. Even if you kind of know what will happen you suddenly see or hear something that you hadn’t noticed before.
CGCM: Yeah, I think that is why I love prog so much.
Carlos: You know, we are thinking of releasing something very soon, it won’t be a long album, it will be a shorter thing, we want to get the same experience in a shorter time and scale.
CGCM: I noticed that on the new album, there is more like electronic vibes, was that something you planned or did it just happen as you were writing or recording?
Carlos: Before we start writing the music, we try to get like a palette of colours or sounds and our keyboard player is the one doing all the post-production. We wanted to get him inspired and he is really into movies so (he pauses and thinks a little), there were 2 things I knew I wanted was like using a 7 string for the first time to get this low end which was new for the band and for the mechanical kind of stuff we asked Moe to watch both Bladerunners and to the soundtracks as I wanted something like that.
He did all that and came up with that palette and made the album sound more futuristic. We don’t want to repeat ourselves and it was good that he was inspired by that reference. Folks are noticing that and we are very happy about that.
CGCM: It seems you are branching out on each release…
Carlos: Yes, we are doing the prog thing, the death metal thing but also the mellow parts, it’s complicated and when you have all that finding the balance can be a tricky situation. I think you could mix prog with just about anything, from jazz to stuff like Rush, black metal and soundtracks, everything, well as long as it makes sense. Then it works. We love that freedom.
Progressive music is not all widdly widdly, it is Pink Floyd where you can enjoy the transitions, excited to see where it goes next, it should be a journey. Or something as you are listening reminds you of the beginning of a track, you have like an epiphany like “oh I remember this” and it feels beautiful. Like it is played in another mode or another context, that is progressive for us. Not just the freaky complicated notes or patterns. You want to start a song but not know how it will finish.
CGCM: What I love about this 3-band bill is you are all prog yet you are all different.
Carlos: Yeah, I feel like Ne Obliviscaris are progressive but in a very different way to us, completely different approach, that’s beautiful you know. For fans it is great to see and hear the differences. Then there is Asymmetric Universe who are more fusion who are killing every night.
CGCM: I have another couple of questions if that is alright. You have given us so much already…
Carlos: It is fine. We have time still.
CGCM: Thank you. I wanted to ask about guests on albums? How do you go about that?
All About The Guests
Carlos: Well the first time was for the Japanese-styled album Shin-Ken and we wanted a singer from there and we sent some emails to the lady we wanted and that worked. It was beautiful having someone put her talent onto our music giving us another flavour. On Aathma everything started with Paul Masvidal who we met in Europe at about the last show Cynic did before they broke up. It was like a wish list thing having him sing one of our songs. We asked and he was like yeah why not? It turned out beautiful.
After that, we were more confident about it and we thought “why don’t we just ask people?” Each time people were like “yeah” and we have been blessed by people saying yes. By the next album we were like, OK wishlist… (starts laughing hard). We don’t hesitate, we go in like all guns blazing. We are approaching people kind of like Arjen, just to get different voices that we love on our own music. It is amazing to see how other people see your music through their eyes. We already have one person we want for the next recording and we will just send him the music and the idea and perhaps like Paul who we did that with who changed everything, lyrics, everything. Sort of Devin style. It was wonderful.
CGCM: Just to wrap up, what are your plans going forward? Any chance of a headline UK tour in the near future? I mean tonight will be what 45 minutes?
Carlos: Yeah but it is full of notes (laughing). Its like a Ramones show but progressive, it’s “one two three four” and straight into another. (still laughing away). We are about to tour the US with the same bill which is nice. Hopefully doing something in Europe by February next year with the right bands. We plan to release something before we do that and go from there. See what happens.
The All Important Thank You’s
A HUGE thanks to Carlos for his time in answering all my questions and giving such interesting answers. I was sitting with him for over 40 minutes and I thoroughly enjoyed my time with him. CGCM wish him and all the band all the very best for the future. Once again thank you to the folks at Slay and the good folks at Metal Blade.
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