There is progressive and then there is progressive. While one being overly Dream Theatre-esque the other is more organic and in some ways listener friendly. LA’s PHAVIAN are of the latter variant. Patrick Hassani answered my questions. Anders Ekdahl ©2012
Your music is described as progressive metal. Wherein lays the progressive part of it?
– Labeling us is always a bit of an odd job to do. We adopted the genre “Progressive Metal” because some of its main characteristics are very much a part of our music: Complex arrangements, long song length, odd time signatures, tempo changes, key changes. These are all common elements in almost any Phavian song, as well as characteristics used to describe “Progressive” music. The funniest part about the label to us is that we are well aware that a huge part of our compositional nature is actually derived from the Classical and Romantic periods. So maybe it would be more appropriate to call us “Regressive Metal.”
Do you see any limitation in being just a four-piece in terms of playing live, writing music etc.?
– It’s funny that you ask. We actually CAN’T function as a four piece. Phavian is supposed to be a five piece band, but since the departure of our last permanent 5th member, Tomo Yokoyama, we’ve had a friend, Omeed Izadyar, filling in. Omeed played live for us for a year and a half as well as helped record the 4 new albums. So really the only thing we can do as a four piece is write music! But as it stands, we are working with a new guitarist to finally become the new permanent 5th member of Phavian. And once he’s learned all his parts, we’ll be back to touring!
With metal bands coming from or around LA I always get the impression that you live in some sort of vacuum. What is the metal scene like in Southern California?
– A vacuum? I’d say about the only comparison is that the metal scene here sucks. We don’t mean that the bands suck, just that the scene itself sucks. Most venues around here don’t really like to book local metal bands, the crowds don’t really want to see local metal bands, and the local metal bands don’t want to play here. Most of the metal bands that we go out to see are actually from abroad!
How much of a DIY attitude do you have to have in today’s music/recording industry climate?
– DIY is our motto. We learned a long time ago that no one is going to “discover” us and hand us a million dollars to write a new record. So we spend a lot of time educating ourselves on how things should and shouldn’t be done. Doing it yourself isn’t for the faint of heart though. It takes a lot of time, dedication, and money to get things done right, but if you push through there is a light at the end of the tunnel. There’s a lot of benefits, and freedom, that you’re allowed when you own all the rights to your songs, and aren’t under the thumb of anyone. That doesn’t mean we wouldn’t be willing to sit down with a label and have a real discussion. It just means that we understand what a recoupable cost is.
What can you benefit from doing it yourself that would have been lost had you been signed to a label?
– You have the benefit to be very creative and do something crazy…. like record a 4 album concept! It also means that we don’t have to worry about writing a “Hit.” I could go into details about how many albums need to be sold in order for a band to ever see a penny of profit, but you’d fall asleep on me. Let’s just say that if we sold the amount of records needed to earn a penny with a label, I would own more than 1 suit!
“Meridian I” is the first album in a series. What kind of concept hides behind this way of releasing albums?
-We decided to break it up this way for quite a few reasons. Financially, this keeps costs down a lot. When you book studio time for huge blocks, you can get a better rate. When it costs less to make the albums, we can charge less! We feel pretty good only charging $7 for each album, especially considering a lot of bands charge $10 minimum. Besides that, we’ve come to realize that people would rather have a consistent stream of smaller amounts of new material rather than one giant chunk every 2 or 3 years. If all goes according to plan, we should actually have a new album ready not too long after the last of these 4 albums (Stretta). So even though we would have released 4 CDs in a 2 year span, it would probably only be another 6 months or so for a new one! And besides, why not? ? We wanted to push ourselves, and trust me when I say that recording 4 albums in one shot is VERY challenging. I can confidently say that none of us will ever attempt it again.
What is it that inspires you to write the music you play? How much do you look to the past in order to move forward?
– Writing music is kind of like scratching a bug bite. When you are scratching, it feels great and the world is peaceful. When you stop scratching, your life is miserable and you don’t want to do anything except scratch the bite. When we’re not writing, we go a little bit crazy. Seriously though, it’s a lot of fun to write and play music like this. Playing a pop song just doesn’t have the same satisfaction for us. Not that there’s anything wrong with playing pop, but it’s a very different exhilaration playing a song that is 12 minutes long, and that you know took you a month to really nail down. I think we do look to the past to guide us quite a bit. A lot of our favorite bands (Rush, Pink Floyd, ELP, King Crimson, etc) helped form the entire Progressive genre. We also look back at ourselves in order to grow. Most people don’t realize that a lot of the “current” songs we have are actually old to us. Once a song is written, we then have to learn it (which takes a while for this kind of music), then record it (which takes forever for anyone), and THEN we play it live. Some of the songs on these albums are at least 2 years old to us. Anything we’re starting to write right now won’t even see the light of day until all of these albums are finished being released in 2013. While we write those new songs, we are looking at the reaction we get from our old songs in order to grow as musicians.
The band name might not be the most common word. What is the meaning behind it and what has it come to symbolize to you now?
– One of these days we’re going to come up with some ridiculous back story for what the name really means, but it actually doesn’t mean anything. It’s a made up word that we thought sounded cool. Really it just symbolizes whatever we do!
How important is it to have a concept that goes beyond the music/lyrics, i.e. clothes, stage show etc.?
– Stage show and image are a huge part of being a band. We always try to put on the best show we possibly can. We don’t care if there are 1000 people in the room, or just the sound guy. We’ll try to rock their brains out! And as for image, that’s the easy part of being in a metal band. If you just wear black clothes you look the part usually. Not that you can’t dress up more than that – often times Elizabeth has on an intricate outfit and wild face paint. The rest of us are just hairy dudes that let her be the eye candy.
How far do you see Phavian going before you hit the edge?
– Well from our rehearsal space it’s only a few miles before you get to the cliff! In reality, we have no idea what the future holds in store for us. We’re well aware of the fact that it’s unlikely we’ll ever have a hit that is played on every radio station across the globe for years to come. But that won’t stop us from pushing as hard as we can and enjoying the ride while it lasts. Being a musician is a lot more fun than sitting in a cubicle all day, and none of us would trade that for the world!