In a world were there are so many bands to keep track of I want to bring my two cents in presenting you to this interview with XERIA. Anders Ekdahl ©2019
Carlos Z: First of all, I would like to send you our most sincere gratitude from the entire band for giving us the chance to present our work to your audience. A big hello from Spain!!
Do you feel that is has gone the way you intended when you formed back in the days?
Carlos Z: Surely it has. We formed Xeria not so long ago, back in fall 2017, with two priorities: first, to create emotional music in the sphere of melodic metal without the traditional constraints of the genre; and second: to do things the “right way”, taking solid steps before progressing to the next one and paying attention to every detail. We knew we needed to lay down a solid foundation, and for that, we have been working for almost one year and a half solely focused on creating the original material for our debut album, “Tierra”. When we started showing the first demos to our manager and friend Jesús Cámara from Duque Producciones music label, things started to progress quickly and they offered us to sign a contract for our first record. Since then, they have guided us through this difficult music industry of today hand-in-hand, and we would like to send our thanks to them for that.
After a long ramp-up process, we finally feel we have taken off after releasing “Tierra” in March 2019: the first reviews of our album and live shows have been excellent, and the audiences are being extraordinarily supportive and warm so far. For us, this is simply a dream come true, and we are ready to start presenting “Tierra” live all over the globe!
How do you feel about your latest recording? Did it come out the way you expected it to?
-After almost one year of composition, we recorded “Tierra” in the Dynamita studios under the direction of Dani G. (from Last Days of Eden) during summer and fall 2018. When we started to plan the recording we quickly understood that he was the best option, because Dani G. is not only a great producer, he also completely understands all the bells and whistles of melodic metal. We wanted him to guide us through the recording process and to polish our sound with his deep knowledge. After months of working in circles over the same material, it’s crucial to have an outsider that helps to break the inevitable encorsetted “train of thought” of the band.
Therefore, even if we had to overcome some difficulties, stretch schedules and some travels, we decided to go for it and time has shown that it was the best choice. Dani G. helped us not only to achieve a huge sound, but also to take decisions on arrangements, orchestrations, and rounding up the album. “Tierra” sounds fresh, crystal clear yet powerful. When I listen to it I feel that it is the album I have always wanted to create since I was a kid.
In addition, we have been honoured by the collaboration of three exceptionally talented musicians: Israel Ramos (singer of Avalanch) and Lady Ani (singer of Last Days of Eden), who make vocal duets with Marina in “Morir en tu Boca” and “Prohibido Renunciar”; and master Alberto Rionda (guitarist and “alma mater” of Avalanch) who made the guitar solo in “Red de Perdición”. Their work has brought these songs into the next level, and for us, it is a true honor to have shared a bit of their of art.
Do you feel that you by now has found a sound that is the band and that you can build on it?
Carlos Z: “Tierra” is our first album, and being a young band I think you can definitely spot our influences (or at least a bunch of them) across our music. But, that being said, the reviews we are getting emphasize that Xeria sounds “fresh”, generally highlighting the crucible of styles and the contrast between a powerful instrumental section and the sweet and emotional voice of Marina. We are not opening a whole new ground of sounds or discovering a completely new style, but there is a “surprise factor” in our songs. We make melodic metal, of course, and here you can quickly name Nightwish, Within Temptation or Evanescence. We have powerful metal riffs and a demolishing rhythm section, but then you have the angelic voice of Marina Sweet that soften the edges. You can find classic 80’s guitar solos together with symphonic orchestrations here and there; there are synthesizer sounds in the keyboard that move into dark gothic passages, and then into rise-your-hands-and-shout pop-like choruses. There is a bit of Bon Jovi, a touch of 80’s synth pop, sometimes it’s like there’s a Europe-ish chorus on top of a Symphony X riff, and then Hans Zimmer orchestrations. It’s not entirely new, but somehow everything fits together in a fresh and innovative sound.
We have given everything we got to create the music we believe in without stylistic bounds or technical constraints. We wanted to create emotional, elegant and meaningful Metal that can touch people deeply, and I am proud to say that some critics hesitate a little bit when labeling us. For instance, I recently read a review which wondered if we are entering too far into the ground of pop. I found that particularly interesting, because for me that’s obviously not the case, we are clearly staying true and metal. But some of the arrangements we introduced, simply because we believe it made the song stronger and more beautiful, could be a bit confusing when you look at our music from a “taxonomic” point of view.
Is having a message in the lyrics important to you? What kind of topics do you deal with?
Carlos Z: I personally think that the main message is in the music and melodies, where you don’t need to work with concepts but directly with feelings. Since I was a kid I have always listened to a lot of instrumental music and music sang in languages I didn’t fully understand (I quickly remember for instance the Swedish/Finnish folk band Hedningarna, which might be familiar to some of your readers), and I don’t think it had any lack of meaning to me. However, I also think that when lyrics fit the music and manage to touch you somehow, then the listening experience reaches a whole new level integrating mind and soul. Therefore, lyrics are for us an integral part of the song as well, and as such, we devote a lot of work to make them beautiful, meaningful, and to completely fit the music.
We speak about topics that touch us deeply: how humanity is progressively self-destructing (“Tierra” means “Earth” and “Soil” at the same time in Spanish), toxic human relationships, overcoming abuse, etc. Always very human, always evolving about feelings. And not only that, but we like them to be stylistically beautiful, enriched with metaphors and literary devices, so everyone can listen to them from a different point of view and find their own meaning.
All lyrics are written by our vocalist Marina Sweet, who makes an outstanding job, and manages to integrate the emotional content with a beautiful style. She works on them using a very particular approach, starting from an almost “automatic-writing” blast to quickly create an idea while listening to the rest of us working on the music, and from there, progressively shaping each verse until everything fits together.
How important is the cover art work for you? Can a really cool cover still sell an album in this day and age of digital download?
Carlos Z: For us, the art work is a vital part of the album, but not because it can sell anything. As I mentioned before, our mantra is to pay attention to every detail, and we still believe in the concept of the Album as a work of art, as a whole. “Tierra” might not be a conceptual album, but it is definitely not just a collection of songs. The cover is a symbol providing conceptual unity, helping to glue songs together, and something you can portrait in your mind when you are thinking about the music.
As such, with “Tierra” we decided to go for a somehow risky concept: we didn’t want a cover art following the typical style of the genre. We wanted something original, symbolic and elegant. And therefore, we contacted Carlos Mena, an awesome designer who does not normally work in the music environment, but creates labels for wine brands. We explained him the lyrics and concepts in the album, and then gave him complete freedom to work. We are delighted with the result: we find it breathtaking elegant, symbolic, and powerful. And it is definitely not what you expect to see in the cover of your average melodic metal band.
To round up the visuals of the album, we counted on Nat Enemede for pictures (she has recently worked with Kamelot, for instance). You can feel that they are a work of art as well in every pixel. And Ricky Torres put all of this together into a breathtaking booklet and box.
Why is it so hard for bands that come from places not the US or UK/Sweden/Scandinavia to break big? What is success to you and is it something you’d like to achieve?
Carlos Z: Generalizations are always unfair, but in my understanding, all the countries you mention have in common a deeper appreciation for music in the society: you usually see bands playing live in pubs, knowing how to play an instrument is seen as a sign of cultural refinement, there is a deeper knowledge of music history and interest for more complex musical genres (classical, jazz, etc.). For instance, in Spain, as a latin and mediterranean country, music is sometimes relegated to its role as a mere background for partying and dancing; as a consequence, there is a deeper penetration of simple pop music with powerful rhythms and little harmonic or instrumental content. Many rock bands cannot simply attract enough followers to provide enough support, because there is not enough people interested. And without this local support, bands do not have opportunities to grow and get a critical mass to jump to the international scene.
This is not a rant, though. We play because we love music, not to reach a given status, audience or funding, and we understand music might not be the number one priority for everyone. You just asked
What is success? For me, success is every night I’m able to take the stage with my friends of Xeria. Success is to be able to hold “Tierra” in my hands, appreciate its stunning artwork enriched in glittering gold, and listen to it with its crystal clear and powerful sound: the album I wanted to record during all my life. Success is to open for Avalanch, probably the most important Spanish metal band nowadays, in Santana 27, one of the most regarded venues in Spain, and share the stage with Alberto Rionda, one of the guitar heroes I followed in my childhood. This is a dream come true for all of us and that was our aim when we started Xeria. However, now that we are there, we have started to want much more, and we are working day by day to continue growing, improving, and playing live as far as people wants to hear us.
Today the competition is harder. You got plenty of digital platforms for new talent to display their music. How do you do to really stand out in a world where everything but the music is blind to the listener?
Carlos Z: I think one of the things we had clear from the beginning is that what really makes you stand out of the crowd is talent, hard work and strategic thinking devoted to create good music. If you feel something emotional for a song you are listening, it doesn’t matter if it is cool or not. This is not always the case in the modern music industry, because today it is much easier to achieve a HUGE sound in the studio than it was just 10 years ago, and that can easily trick you into focusing on using outstanding samples, a magical guitar effect, or just lay down a simple guitar riff and let the engineer make it sound as if the apocalypse is coming. But sound quality and the “cool factor” can only be the cherry on top of the music’s cake. You really need to have a nice and well built song down there. If not, listeners will initially feel attracted and crank up the volume, but will quickly feel bored and push the “next” button in their players. It would be great if I get comments like “wow, that’s an outstanding tapping”, but that’s not our aim. What we would really like to hear is that one of our songs has become very special to you because it reminds you somehow, for instance, of a past relationship.
When we are composing new songs in Xeria, everything is subject to music, to the emotions we want to create. The very first priority is the song, the melody, the music; and then, afterwards, comes everything else. Initially, we do not care about styles, technique, amp heads or technology. All that comes after.
What is your local scene like? How important is a national scene for a band to be able to break out and make it international?
Carlos Z: The rock and metal scene in Spain is, so speaking, “alive with limited impact”. I already said before that many people here thinks of music as a background for partying: pop, dance and latin styles are the most popular. There are lots of excellent small bands across all subgenres, but the scene gives little chances to grow. As a result, we only got a bunch of big and nationwide-known bands, which also struggle to survive day after day with this limited potential audience. Take for instance the case of Avalanch, with more than 20 years in the scene, and now packing world-class masters Mike Terrana and Dirk Schlächter. They deserve much bigger international recognition, to be up there with the big names as Gamma Ray or Nightwish. On the other hand, the number of followers might be limited, but metalheads here are devoted, avid, supportive and hot-blooded like nowhere else across Europe, and now that summer approaches there are a lot of great festivals to prove that!
Regarding the importance of the local scene… Before, we have been speaking about the relevance of congregating the audience in your live shows, and how that helps your band become sustainable and reach a critical mass. Even in the days of the Internet, live shows are where you get in touch with your audience, where band and followers get to feel each other, and where the most profound contact happens. The stronger the local scene, the easier this contact becomes. And then a band can be built bottom-up, step by step, in order to create a solid and sustainable musical project.
Without that kind of face to face interaction, nowadays you can still use the Internet as a promotion platform. That would mostly imply the use of guerilla tactics in the social media and try to become viral somehow across the globe or in other countries. However, there are a couple of problems there: first, I believe that you depend almost like 90% on good luck and like 9% on morally-gray activities to trick people towards your content (so there’s only 1% left for all the other factors including talent and hard work); and second, in the social media arena you can easily fall in the trap of becoming the next five-minutes-of-fame meme.
It’s definitely great that you can listen to us jumping 3.000km in a mouse click: that has changed the way we understand music today. I feel thrilled imagining your readers checking our facebook page and searching for us in spotify, and listening the music we created! How cool is that?? But social media and online communications are great on top of the local scene. For instance, if by reading this your audience becomes interested in Xeria and people starts following us in Sweden or UK, that would help us setting up a tour there (that would be another dream come true, by the way!). But if we are not strong in Spain, the band would eventually become unsustainable and won’t live long enough to play there twice.
Rock and metal has come a long way since the early 70s but still some people’s attitudes towards it seem to be left in the stone age. How accepted is metal in your area? Is it like in Finland where it seems to come with the mother’s milk?
Carlos Z: I like how you mentioned “stone age” here (laughs). I would say rock and metal are socially accepted, but I have to elaborate a little bit. Hard Rock and Metal have never been fully considered “common” music genres in Spain. In the 70’s and 80’s, specially with the turbulent political times the country was living, metalheads had definitely a “rebel” aura, they were the “bad boys”. During the nineties, with the “grunge” revolution and a well-established democracy, hard rock lost this aura after every kid started wearing Nirvana shirts. But it was like people started tolerating metal because they no longer feared the guy with long hair and metal chains, although not fully understanding the movement. I would say metalheads went from “rebels” to “freaks”: this strange, socially unadapted people.
…But not following the establishment has always been the “sauce” of staying metal, right? (laughs)
What a different landscape from Finland, isn’t it? When Nightwish releases an album there, grandpas across the entire country bring the CD home, light the fire, and reunite the families around while they listen to it? (laughs)
What does the future hold for you?
Carlos Z: We hope the future holds a lot for us. We feel like we have been intensively preparing for this moment, that we are now in square one. We have worked thoroughly, carefully and passionately for years to create the best album we could conceive, to fill a spot we think is blank in the metal scene. And now we are eager to show this work, in which we have shed so much of ourselves, across the globe. The first reviews and reactions have been extremely positive, so we believe we are right in track now. And we cannot wait to fall down the road and play in as much places as we can! We hope we can see you all face to face very soon!!
Hail to you all, our metal brothers! And thank everyone at Battle Helm for giving us the chance to present our work to your audience. It’s been a true pleasure!