It’s really hard to get an attention on today’s metal scene, but consider this: Progressive metal, grindcorish rhythm and versatile female vocals. These are only one of the few attributes of an American band Azusa including The Dillinger Escape Plan bass player Liam Wilson and Extol guitarist Christer Espevoll & drummer David Husvik. In this interview frontwoman Sea + Air vocalist Eleni Zafiriadou will share with us a background of their debut album, her music taste, personal growth and future plans of the band.
Hi Eleni, thank you for finding time for this interview.
Thank you for interviewing me 🙂
First of all, please give us an idea about the formation of the band.
Azusa began to take shape when David and Christer met at a show of Christer’s former band Benea Reach towards the end of 2014. They hadn’t seen each other for a while. Christer had stopped playing music for almost a decade. That night he got inspired to write music again. A few months later they started jamming and formed the silhouette of Azusa. Extol were huge TDEP fans. When David found out that Liam was into Extol he started thinking about a collaboration. With Azusa he had a good reason for knocking on Liam’s door which he immediately opened. Azusa’s heart began to beat. David contacted me in May 2016. He had seen me performing and screaming in my Noise band Jumbo Jet in the early zeros. I recall listening excessively to Extol in the van with my band mates on that tour through Scandinavia. So I was pretty surprised when David reached out to me over a decade later, asking if I would be up for singing in his new band. He sent the demos and I started breathing soul into this machine.
In your debut album, I can feel unique mix of tastes. What are the music preferences within the members of the band?
Christer and David are into 70s jazz fusion. Liam and I have a couple of overlaps, embracing almost every genre.
I follow work of Liam Wilson for years, including John Frum. He is a true bass maestro with a taste for insane “grindish” rhythm. Are you also a fan of extreme progressive metal?
Yeah, he totally is, a great performer, too. I’m not opposed to progressive metal. But I prefer to see a live show than listening to it on my headphones. I guess progressive rock bands like King Crimson are more my cup of tea.
How did the songwriting looked like on Heavy Yoke?
When I entered the Azusa cosmos the music was already composed. David and Christer started cooking their brew in 2014/2015 and reached out to Liam to spice it up with his magic. Nevertheless there was no clear vision on which direction the vocals should go. So in the beginning I had a fool’s license. I received the demos and barricaded myself into my tiny recording bunker where I switched my inner flashlight on to explore uncharted territory. In the beginning it was essential to be on my very own and not being filtered or censored by someone else. Shortly after I was on a SEA + AIR tour in Norway. On my day off David invited me to his studio where we recorded Interstellar Islands based on the demos I had sent him. After that day Azusa was complete. That’s the way we worked together in the studio. Keeping initial ideas, elaborating or scrapping them. David is an extraordinary melody machine and contributed tons of harmonies that he came up with just like that. The following progress, regarding mixing and mastering, contained a lot of back and forth via email. Whatever the four of us could agree on.
Eleni, please give us an idea about your background and early days? Big compliment goes to your skills within various styles of vocal…
Thank you 🙂 The versatileness comes from my dilettantism. I’m not an educated singer. If you’re self-taught there’s no right or wrong. You do as you please. You’re not aware of any techniques. So expression becomes the most important tool you’re working with. Before I stumbled into the world of music I was a dancer in a Greek folklore group for almost ten years. Those Greek folklore songs were my music teachers. You comprehend odd-time beats by intuition and with your body rather with your head. As a teenager I was a regular concert-goer and enjoyed dancing during the shows. My “performances” didn’t pass unnoticed. People kept asking me if I was in a band or if I wanted to join their band. That’s how I met Daniel, my SEA+AIR partner. He asked me if I could sing. I couldn’t. „I can scream though“, was my answer. Which was a wild guess and a joke in the first place. I didn’t know what I was capable of. And since I couldn’t play any instrument punk was the perfect door opener. Jumbo Jet, my first band, was born. A Germany-based noise rock outfit with people from Italy, Hungary and Greece. Little by little I started to play other instruments in a self-taught, dilettante manner. I joined other projects as a live musician.
Give us more details about your music taste and why do you love jumping between moods? When I was listening to your debut album, I would remember bands at To-Mera and Madder Mortem.
I’m not familiar with these bands. Listening to a couple of songs the only similarity I noticed was that both bands had female vocalists, hehe. Whenever I hear something that strikes me as unique I get interested. Doesn’t matter if it’s world music or hip hop. Then there are artists I’ve been following over the years listening to their complete works. I have great respect for musicians/bands /composers who are doing their own thing no matter what musical trend appears in the musical landscape. Prince, Kate Bush, Prefab Sprout, Peter Gabriel, Arvo Pärt for example. I love the energy of some Krautrock bands like Amon Düül II. Or the other-worldliness of a band like Popol Vuh.
I also have a yen for female voices that have unique characteristics. Kazu Makino (Blonde Redhead), Vashti Bunyan, Renate Knaup-Krötenschwanz, Lisa Gerrard to name a few.
With all the respect to Heavy Yoke, which I like more and more, I sometimes felt, you have to be in a mood for it. It’s great for public transport, work out, running and many other occasions. But if you are not feeling well mind-wise, your mind get weird conjecture and bad thoughts in your head. Is there some music for you which you should be careful when to listen to it?
Sorry to hear that. I believe that applies to any kind of music you’re listening to. How music responds to you has to do a lot with your own perception, mood, form of the day or even the music you grew up with. I can get easily depressed when I’m forced to listen to the radio in someone else’s car. Listening to a bunch of songs from different artist that sound almost alike drags me down.
What approach did you take within lyrics? Were you relying on ideas in your head, experiences and moods or did you also take inspirations elsewhere?
I guess it’s a mix of everything you mentioned above. Sometimes I would listen to a song, one line came directly to my mind and all the other followed. Since the music was full of contrasts the lyrics turned out to emphasize this aspect as well. I remember rewatching The Wire. That might have influenced the lyrics as well. Showing human beings as they truly are. Not the idealized Disney version we make of ourselves. Not as pure good or evil, black or white but always in various shades of gray, full of contrasts, as a product of our upbringing, beliefs and experiences. On Heavy Yoke I was dealing with things that are lurking in the subconscious mind which we often successfully ignore or suppress, especially when we’re occupied with stuff that detaches us from ourselves. But obviously you can’t run or hide from these things. They’ll haunt you in the night. Over and over again. Until you decide to face reality and let the daylight reveal the truth. For this album I worked with a dream diary I was keeping over the last years. Rereading it helped me to understand what was going on in my life.
I am currently going through some big changes in my life, both within work and relationship wise. Lyrics topics as “Fight where no one wins” and abstract meaning of “mirrors” spoke to me a lot. How are you dealing with rough periods in your life? What is helping you? (In my case it’s family/friends and meditation)
Yeah, I guess that’s what life is all about. No ups without the downs and vice versa. I hope you can face the changes in your life with serenity. When life changes bring instability, we’re often driven by negative forces like fear. But crisis have also the potential for a healthy change, for self-reflection and finding out what’s important in life. Whenever turbulences occur, I find peace in the woods. Whether I just walk or go for a run, I love being in the nature surrounded by trees, feeling my body and resetting my head. Sometimes I’m extra lucky and a deer crosses my way. The woods have always been the perfect contrast to my restless life on tour. When I’m in Greece I go for a daily swim. Floating on the water is my meditation. The vastness of the sea helps me to put everything in the right place. And of course I appreciate talking to my friends. They often have another perspective I’m not aware of when I can’t think straight anymore. Plus I have the best brother one can think of. We talk on a daily basis. Having the same upbringing helps big time to understand and help each other.
Do you agree progress is the best way forward, whether it’s music of personal life?
If you mean progress as a form of development, then yes. Always important to update your system in order to move on. Stagnation can be fatal.
What are your ambitions and the wildest dreams with Azusa?
Continuing this ride, recording without repeating ourselves. I would love the idea if people who are not into heavy music discover Azusa. My teenage dream was to travel to Japan. I’d be stoked if this happens with Azusa on a tour.
What is a spectrum of your activities work and music wise to make a living?
I’ve been a full time musician since 2010. I recall the early years of SEA + AIR. We played 500 shows in the first two years. The following about 100 each year. It was pretty intense and eventful. We also collaborated with a dance company and were involved in a theater project. In between we composed a couple of soundtracks. Last year I joined Gordon Raphael’s psychedelic rock band playing the guitar and keys. And we reanimated my first band Jumbo Jet. After 10 years of silence we had a comeback tour at the end of 2017.
Any chance to see you guys anytime soon in Europe?
We’re planning to go on tour next year. So hopefully see you soon 🙂