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ASHES YOU LEAVE: Masters of organic doom/gothic sounds

Interview with bassist Luka Petrovic by Vera in December 2012

We were really delighted when Ashes You Leave broke the silence in 2009 with the comeback album ‘Songs For The Lost’. This Croatian band has conquered a place in our hearts and our collection late nineties and we remembered them as a meritorious doom/gothic act, also unique due to hailing from Croatia. Now that the successor ‘The Cure For Happiness’ appears to be an even bigger stunner, the time was right to contact bass player/lyricist Luka Petrovic and let him write the continuing story on our previous interview, which can be read here. Thus we find out about the latest news from this accomplished band.

Hello Luka! We did an interview in September 2009 when the previous album ‘Songs Of The Lost’ came out, but since I follow you since the beginning, it is great to have an update of things and sequel now that ‘The Cure For Happiness’ is out. I hope you are doing fine…
Thank you very much! Everything is more than fine in the AYL camp. Getting ready for some live shows and dealing with the usual promotional stuff.

’The Cure For Happiness’ is out for a month. What are the reactions until now?
To be quite honest we were a bit surprised by how overwhelmingly positive the reactions to our new record have been until now. It's always a gamble when you record an album with a new singer and with a new sound, so we were prepared for some mixed opinions about it. Fortunately for us the majority of both fans and the media were extremely positive about the album. You always feel that the newest album is the strongest you ever done and sometimes, if you are really lucky, the fans and the media see it that way too.

You recently played your first gig to promote the new album. Maybe it was the first one for the new singer as well? What about the experience of this evening?
Actually we already had three concerts with Giada prior to this one. The main difference is that this was the promotion of our new record, so the set list was built around it while on the previous concerts we did more of a career best of, so that our audience had the chance to hear how Giada fits the band but also to let them see how she managed to master the different vocal styles used in the back catalogue. The evening went great! We had the chance to play the whole album for the first time and the audience reacted really well to it. We are really confident about our new record, so we can't wait to play it live again.

What happened after the release of the previous album? I remember you told me in the former interview that it was the intention to release the next album in 2010. Why this serious delay?
A lot of little things happened and the time just flew by. It became apparent that our former label had no intention of investing any serious money in our new record, so we knew we had to record an album with our own money and then look for a new label to release it. It was all time consuming and we had to deal with things that a band shouldn't deal with after fifteen years.

Well, of course I know you had to look for a new singer again. Why did Tamara leave and how did you meet Giada?
Tamara went to Austria for a semester during her masters on college. Since we were without a singer for a few months we decided to demo the whole album in our own little studio to see how the whole thing will sound and to go through some details before entering a big studio to record the actual album. Between the recording of the demo version and the recording of the album Tamara decided that she didn't want to be in a band any more. Unfortunately all bands that don’t make a living from music have similar problems. There comes a time when every member has to decide if he or she can and wants to manage both the private life and band responsibilities. Tamara decided that she wanted to pursue the career she has been studying for. No hard feelings or anything like that, but it came in a really unfortunate time for us since the other studio was already booked. Luckily for us we found replacement and had to push back the recording for only a month or so. It's actually a funny story how Giada and I met. We met at a concert by chance and were introduced by a mutual friend of ours. She told me at that time that she was a singer and that she was looking for a serious engagement. She knew of our band and liked what we were doing, but at that time Tamara was still a member of the band so we joked about it for a while. We stayed in contact and when the time arose that we were actually looking for a new singer, I invited her to come and audition for us. In the final selection there were three singers and she just blew the competition away.

She is doing a great job, but why someone from Italy without studio experience?
We live in a small town and metal is not that popular in our country, so we were faced with a problem. How to find a female singer that is into metal and wants a serious engagement. We made it public that we were looking for a new singer and made a small audition with the singers that met our standards. In the final selection we had three singers and only one from our home town. All singers had to do three songs from our back catalogue, each sang by a different singer and one from the upcoming album for which they had to do the vocal lines by themselves. Giada just fitted perfectly to what we envisioned we would sound like on this record. She did record with several bands from Italy including backing vocals for Elvenking, but this is her first official release as a lead singer. She was really professional in the studio and I can say that she is the most efficient singer I had the chance to work with in a studio environment. I'm also glad that she is serious about the music and a really hard worker. She is always trying to improve herself and she even took some vocal lessons with Floor Jansen (former After Forever, current Nightwish singer) this summer in Amsterdam.

When did you start writing the new album? Was there a time of strictly focusing on writing? Any difference in the writing process, compared to previous ones?
We had a few songs and ideas but we completely concentrated on the writing process towards the end of 2010. Then in mid February 2011 we entered our own small studio and demoed all the songs. We returned to the practice room for a month or something to go over some details and then in August we entered G.I.S. Studios to record the album. It was finished on the thirtieth of December, so basically something like a year in two studios, and a few months before that only writing. I would say close to a year and a half from the start to the end. The main difference in the writing process was that the majority of this album was written in our studio. Although we had ideas and written songs they were all rewritten or rearranged in the demo phase. Another big difference was that this time we, Berislav, Matija and myself, wrote the album together. More or less going through every detail together and then demoing the whole album before recording it. It was a long process, but it proved to be a good one because we didn't let things to be missed in the preproduction phase. We wanted to enter a big studio with the whole album written, arranged and a clear vision of how we want it to sound.

One of the main features in your music is the proper doom atmosphere in your gothic styled metal. That will always remind me of the nineties of course. Is there a kind of nostalgia for this era, living in the band?
Of course! (laughs) I really hate the modern overproduced, over-edited, generic sound that a lot of bands tend to use these days. I miss the days when you actually heard the band play on the record. A strange thing happened to us on the previous album. When we got the master CD it sounded amazing, but a lot of our own characteristic sound was lost in the process. I remember thinking that in some parts it doesn't even sound like our band is playing. Although we really liked the final product we wanted a completely different approach on this album. So we redefined our sound, got rid of digital effects, went back to analogue pedals and just recorded with our own equipment. There was virtually no dubbing save for some back vocals, but when you hear more than one male vocals, it is actually the two of us singing. I'm not saying that this is something that we will do forever, but we felt we needed to do this now because this sound fitted this material the best and it was something that we wanted to explore.

I applaud the more doom-like approach of ‘The Cure For Happiness’, in comparison with the rather catchy, poppy approach on the previous CD. Back to the roots? Was this on purpose or did it just turn out that way?
Thank you very much! I enjoy it as well. I think that this is just a natural progression in the sound from our last album. After ‘Fire’ the songs got darker by themselves and they kept getting darker and doomier. It was not done on purpose, but over the time we started to rediscover the joy of writing heavier and slower music again. I think that the next one will be even darker and heavier than this one.

You returned to the G.I.S. Studios near Rijeka. Can you tell about the role of producer Matej Zec for the band, since I read somewhere he is also a close friend?
We are actually childhood friends. We went to the elementary school together and we lived in the same building for years. We went from playing Nintendo to exchanging tapes to drinking together hehe. Matej is actually an accomplished guitarist in the probably biggest Croatian rock band called Let 3. Over the years he got into the production of albums and co-owns one of the biggest recording studios in our region and has worked with countless bands as a producer, writer, performer and so on. So, he is a really close friend but also a person who knows his job both as a guitarist and as a producer. We started working with him on the ‘Songs Of The Lost’ album and straight away we knew we would return to his studio. He doesn't interfere in our writing process but he has so many ideas in the arrangement phase, especially of vocals, so his role is more one of a co-producer. He helped a lot with his knowledge and when he has something to say we'll at least try it out.

Violins and flute have always added a fine zest to your music. ‘The Ever-Changing’ for instance is masterly! Can you tell a bit more about this song?
It is a song that has been worked on for quite a while before the final version. The music was originally written by our guitarist Matija and I wrote the lyrics. We had the vocal lines and all the parts, but just couldn't finish the song. So the three of us sat down rearranged it and it became one of the strongest songs on this record. From the start Matija had the idea to reintroduce the flute on the passage and it proved to be a great one. The flute and the violin were something of a signature for AYL sound so we wanted these instruments to have a leading role in this song. It's just a song in which all this little elements clicked right.

You are the man from the lyrics. Can you go a bit deeper into the subjects that inspired you for this album? Personal issues or fantasy? Is there a red thread or concept?
The whole lyrical aspect of this album is basically something like a diary of things that happened in my life in the last few years. The lyrics are in a chronological order and are actually connected. I used a lot of double meanings, synonyms and equivocations, but in the end they are all true stories. Since life has a tendency to serve bad things and those come in clusters, the lyrics on this record have an overall dark feel to them. There is no formula or a certain time when I write. It's just a matter of using actual life as an inspiration. Some lyrics were written in just a few days, while others took several months from the initial idea to the end. The lyrics end with the realisation that we are standing in the way of our own happiness and are becoming addicted to being sad so ‘The Cure for Happiness’ was a perfect name for the record.

You have shot an amazing video for ‘Summer’s End’! Please tell us about the making of and where do these old movie views come from? What do they mean in connection with the song or with what you want to tell?
It was never intended to be an official video or anything. We needed to release the first single and we wanted to keep the cover secret for a while longer. Just to keep the audience wondering for a while longer. So we needed something to go with the song on YouTube. Since our violinist Marta worked at a TV station as a producer, she edited the video using old footage from the great recession in The States. She made a short movie that was intended to just fit with the song but everyone started accepting it as an official video.

Can you tell something about the artwork?
I really like the medical anatomy drawings from the fifteenth and sixteenth century. They have an almost magical vibe to them. I especially love the work of Leonardo da Vinci because his drawings are so detailed, but have all these smudges like he was in a hurry or didn't care about them. So the basic idea was to have a painting of a medical study how to cure happiness. The answer was to rip the heart out. It had to be really accurate anatomically, but I also wanted it to have the vibe like it was drawn a few hundred years ago. I fortunately have a great friend, Filip Burburan, who is an accomplished painter doing a lot of work for Marvel comics and Wizards of the Coast, and asked him to help me out. When I explained him the concept he accepted immediately. First we had to draw the original “destroyed” papers that were used back then and we did a few of them so that we can use different ones in the booklet. Then he drew a few versions of the torso using coal as it was used in the middle ages. I took the one that seemed the best for the cover and then we worked on that one for a few days and the result is our new cover.

The only time I had the chance to see you live was at Brutal Assault 2010. (or was it 2009?) What are your memories on that festival gig?
It was back in 2009. A lot of people say that all large festivals are alike and to a certain degree that is true, but one has to go to Brutal Assault to experience a different kind of metal festivals. I don't know if it is because it is Eastern Europe or because Czech people and we are similar, but the kindness and the way that we were welcomed to Brutal Assault was unparalleled. One of the best times on the road for sure! In the end we stayed there all three days and really had a blast. Our performance was very well accepted and it's a festival that we'll always gladly return to if invited. It was the first time we saw Croatian flags in the audience during our performance. It was something special!

You have another label again. Why and how did you get in contact with Rock N Growl?
As I already mentioned before, after the ‘Songs Of The Lost’ release, it became apparent that our former record label didn't have any intention of investing any serious money in our next record. So we needed to find a label that will have our backs at least with a strong promotional campaign. We finished our record on the 30th of December 2011; that was our last day in the studio. As soon as it was done, with the help of our manager, we started looking for a new record label. There were a lot of offers, a lot of negotiations, but since the times have changed, the majority of these were about if we were willing to pay the label and how much. We have released five records in our career and we have been around since 1995, so we thought that for our sixth record we have to have an honest and fair record deal. This is when our manager stepped in. His name is Axel and he is also the owner of the Rock N Growl Records. In the time he has been managing us he became a real partner of the band and our friend. So we received a really fair deal and as far as the promotion is concerned he is working his ass off for us. We are really happy with how we have been treated so far.

What about the plans for recording a live acoustic show? (you mentioned in 2009)
Yes it was something that we discussed in the past, but nowadays we want to concentrate on metal records. Since the times changed, it became obvious that if we wanted to release an album like that, we have to finance everything ourselves. If that is the case we would rather concentrate on writing new material and promoting our current record. Plus, the environment changed. We have a new singer and I think that we need to establish her and make her known as the new front woman of Ashes You Leave before making projects like these. So for now there will be no live acoustic albums, but you never know maybe somewhere down the road we will have the time and the chance to do it.

What are the plans for the near future, also concerning tours and playing gigs?
We are going to promote this record as much as we can. We would love to present it to the audience in a live setting and we'll do it whenever possible. For now there are no plans for major tours in support of this record, but if the opportunity arises we would gladly go. So, for now, there will be only individual concerts and of course festival appearances during the festival season. As for the future, who knows… We have the 18th anniversary this year and we started working on a new record again. Something interesting for sure!

I wish you international recognition, since ‘The Cure For Happiness’ is a stunner, the best you ever made. If you want to add something still, feel free to do…
Thank you so much for saying that, it truly means a lot! We would like to thank you for the opportunity to introduce our band. We would also like to extend our regards to your readers and invite them to pick up our new record, ‘The Cure For Happiness’.

Geplaatst door Vera op dinsdag 08 januari 2013 - 23:05:30
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