Interview With Unexpect

Categories: Interviews
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Published on: July 28, 2011

Some time ago Natalie did a review on Fables From Of The Sleepless Empire, the latest album by Canadian avant-garde metal band Unexpect. She was totally blown away by it. She also did an interview with Syriak, the band’s main lyricist. Syriak talked candidly about the band’s decision to release their latest record by their own means, its concept and the theatrics amongst other things..

Congrats on releasing such a strong effort as Fables Of The Sleepless Empire. It was quite a struggle to let it see the light of day. What happened?

In fact the album itself was nearly completed by the end of 2009. For sure the fact of getting back to a completely independent state made our task a bit more difficult. Even though we always took care of most organizational aspects ourselves, there were a couple of details in the field of logistics that we had to learn to successfully release our album internationally. The departure of Exod also made our task harder. We’ve worked with him a lot to setup things correctly and be able to do shows without him. There’s been a lot of figuring out to do but now everything is marvelous and the result is great ! And of course, the fact that everybody in the band has full and busy lives outside the band, it’s pretty hard to coordinate our efforts.

You also decided to release this album independently. What triggered this decision?

Well, there’s nothing like doing things yourself if you want the results to be as you want them to be. Having total liberty has a price and taking care of every aspects of a release is extremely hard work but it’s great ! There’s absolute transparency in everything since we’re the ones taking all decisions and communicating with everyone. We just put all the facts in the balance to see the advantage of staying with a label or go free…and the facts told us that it was better for us at this time to go independent. I won’t go too much into details, but the way the music industry works makes it extremely hard for the artists to get even just a little bit of money out of their music and hard work. In removing some intermediaries, we’re finally getting a fairer share. It’s definitely NOT a money-making thing we have going on as we never put a dime in our pockets in all our years of hard work, but at least now maybe we’ll be able to at least reach a break line where we won’t have to actually spend money to keep the band alive.

Fables of the Sleepless Empire functions very much as a concept album. How are you able to incorporate a cohesive narrative into much a manic mosaic of sound?

That’s one of my thing…I love to conceptualize…linking seemingly chaotic elements with the help of a few key aspects, visual and literal, to develop the interconnectivity of it all. Since I’m the main lyricist, it’s easier for me to create thematic bridges between songs. Most of the time, the conceptual plot is thought of only after everything is done, as I see the whole final picture. I put a lot of thoughts into the album title and the concept of fables came as the best idea. Seeing that our music is very story-like even in its musical structure, and given the metaphorical and surreal aspect of the lyrics, presenting the songs as Fables was quite natural. In fact, now that I look at all our past songs, there’s always been that tint, so they also all could be fables and self-sustained micro-universe of their own.

You are frequently asked about your influences, and the answer I have read most often is that you position yourselves as musical scavengers, borrowing everything from everywhere. I am specifically curious, though, about the way that you incorporate non-metal influences into your sound, particularly folk and the carnivalesque?

It’s one of the most fun parts of our creative process. Adapting totally non-metal parts to a song, sometimes metal-ize it a bit and incorporate the result so it can actually make sense in the song instead of just being a random piece of music thrown in just for the sake of diversity. Sometimes those non-metal parts sound closer to their true nature, but we also like to take the sections and shape them into a metal part so it becomes harder to find the true origins of the inspiration. We don’t do it just for the sake of strangeness, it really has to make sense and add something important to the song. Considering that we’re all fans of a lot of different music styles, it’s easy and fun for us to considerate everything when we’re composing. I guess a part of the folk sound could be attributed to the violin because, no matter how it’s used, it reflects a kind of gypsy and traditional aspect.

Speaking of the carnivalesque: whether live or recorded, you music makes me feel as though I am at a demented gypsy carnival. Is this a deliberate choice, or is the dark circus impression and effect of the way you combine sonic influences?

Even though I totally like carnivalesque and circus like themes whether in music or visual, I don’t really think it’s ever been something overly conscious from our part. I guess we may like this more than we think on a sub-conscious level because there is indeed a couple of parts and lyrics in that vein and we often get told that the general feeling people have while listening to our music is of that nature. Well…circus and carnivals are associated with fun and scary…and since I hear a lot of people telling the same thing about our music I guess this is a good match. There’s also quite a lot of sense of ironic humor and sarcasm in our lyrics, and even though we take our music seriously, we approach it playfully with the intent of entertaining/inspiring people.

What is your writing process like? How do you pool your talents to create a record?

On this last album, most of the songs came originally from one or 2 members who already composed for either 2 instruments or even the whole lot of them…it’s always different. Most of the time, we rework the structure and personal parts. Everybody add their own touch and inputs, sometimes just in details and sometimes more drastically. So, globally, it’s a collective effort but it generally stems from a single mind or a pair. A lot of personal home work and a lot of get-together to work on deeper levels and get everybody connected. As for the vocal arrangements, rhythmic and melodic wise, they’ve mostly been made by Leïlindel and I. We put a lot of time in that department to create something fun and different.

I think that more performing artists need to position themselves as sideshow performers, making the world a little bit stranger, and this is something that Unexpect does very well. Is this one of the band’s goals, to make the world a little bit weirder with your music?

I think it is perfectly healthy to sometimes let go of yourself and expulse some of the madness everyone of us got inside. Weird is good if it’s not abused of. Subtlety is a must and if you really want to appreciate weirdness there’s got to be some stability and normality at some point so it can stick out a hundredfold when it happens. Even then, what is defined by the word “weird” is usually just what people are not used to. Something can be weird to one and completely normal for the others. It’s really just a matter or perception. Maybe our “weirdness” shall be the standards of the mass in a possible future and the freaks will be listening to pop music…you never know…so if making the world and people a bit weirder is taking them outside of their comfort zone so they can experience new things, I guess that YES ! we DO want to make them weirder. Not for the sake of being weird but for the sake of progress and evolution.

Is there any other bands you feel particularly drawn to, or that you think are working within the same milieu that you are?

I really love bands like The Mars Volta, who push the boundaries in their own way from album to album…or projects like Ulver, who shape shift and morph into completely different entities all throughout their career with a focus on creative growth. Or bands like Opeth, who mix such smooth and soothing parts with fierce and brutal ones…that’s one of the musical traits I associate myself the most with : Contrast. I think that’s what gives music an interesting equilibrium and a sense of deepness. When overly-repeated, heavy sections somewhat lose their effectiveness if they’re not balanced with contrasting and different parts. I guess that’s why I prefer extreme roller-coasters to straight line drives.
Another band that we’ve met and discovered recently is Diablo Swing Orchestra from Sweden. I love what they’re doing…it could be partially described as some kind of “Triplets of Belleville” metal that brings that inner carnival out of your body. So you see, in overall, I love bands/projects that stand on their own feet and make a difference. There are enough clones in the musical landscape and I don’t see the need to repeat the same thing ad nauseam.

The Canadian metal scene is particularly vibrant and interesting, and UnexpecT are one of the brightest lights out there. How do you see yourselves fitting in to the landscape of Canadian metal bands, and specifically French Canadian metal bands?

I guess we always had our own special niche since we’re quite out-of-the-box even when compared to other bands here. Since the Canadian scene appears to be one celebrating diversity and evolution I guess that we’re definitely at the right place! Bands like Protest the Hero, Devin Townsend, Augury, Despised Icon, Cryptopsy, Kataklysm and so many more all have their own unique style and I think that’s one of the most awesome aspect of this scene…diversity.

What do you enjoy most about the French Canadian metal scene?

Pretty much what I’ve just said…not matter what language we use, we’re all under the same creative banner I guess. Even though there are obviously some cultural differences, I could not tell if it really affects the music or not. I’ve heard people say over the years that French Canadians are weirder. I don’t know…Maybe so…something in the water some would say… In any case I can take that as a compliment!

Do you have any plans to tour in support of Fables of the Sleepless Empire? If you could choose to perform with any other metal band, who would it be?

Indeed, we’ve got some touring in mind. We’ve not returned in Europe since our participation in the Progressive Nation tour with Dream Theater & Opeth in 2009 so we’ll be working our way there for sure. In fact we’re already coming in mid-August for the Brutal Assault 2011 in Czech Republic and maybe a couple more shows…that’ll be a good start ! We’ll also try to come visit our fans in Canada & US. There’s already a couple of Canadian dates in the oven that we should announce soon. And concerning the rest of the world, we’ll see what we can do and be sure that if it we could go everywhere we wanted to, we would do it !

ChaotH’s 9-string bass is an iconic part of Unexpect’s image. How does that instrument help produce UnexpecT’s signature sound?

The fact that Chaoth is using a lot of unusual tapping and slapping techniques surely brings an additional layer to our compositions. The fact that he can do both rhythmic and melodic parts (sometimes both at the same time) it is a wonderful tool to have when composing. We try to feature each musician in the band equally and I think it makes a good change to have such a bass in the spotlights. Chaoth works hard to show people that bass doesn’t have to be a dull instrument with the only purpose of supporting the rhythmic section. Of course, sometimes it has to do that, but it can be so much more ! That’s why he started early in his life to practice listening guys like Victor Wooten who were pushing the bass boundaries.

Time for the final question. What is the biggest Spinal Tap moment in your career as a musician?

The first one that comes to my mind is one of the first shows we did in the US in 2006 I think. For some reason, the technicians that night were having a most difficult time to get their shit together. We were the openers that night and the schedule was extremely tight. So we were there…waiting on stage for the technicians to get everything working when someone announced boldly in the venue’s microphone that the show was beginning with a booming : “Here they are…Unexpect ! “. People scream : YYEEEEAAAAHHHH !!!. But the fact is that most instruments were not even plugged or connected in the sound console…no sound…nothing coming out of the microphones. But upon hearing the announcement, it seemed like all the technicians guessed that their own respective job was done. Not the case. Biggest confusion ever.

We stood there for almost 10 minutes on stage like jerks in front of a silent expecting crowd who were all wondering what the fuck we were doing. We couldn’t play, all the technicians had left the stage and the soundman didn’t seem to understand our signaled pleas for help. There’s usually always someone nearby the stage, a tour manager or anyone in that case…but not that time. So we had everybody in the whole venue just looking at us in the most unpleasant way wondering what we were up to, and us, on stage, trying to get someone from the venue’s staff to come on stage and actually plug everything correctly so we could make a show. When they finally realized that something was wrong, they finally came but we had something around 10 minutes left to our set time, so we played a incredible set of 2 ½ songs. ;)

Oh…and a classy one to finish this…I once also did some spinning and fell hard on stage, stunned for a few seconds because I slipped in a puddle of vomit left on the floor by a  member of Ion Dissonance who seemingly ate too much before doing their show. Can I tell you that it was one of the last times I did a show barefoot?


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