Last month, the Canadians from The Agonist released their sixth studio album, « Orphans », via Napalm Records. It was the opportunity for us to discuss with their American singer Vicky Psarakis about this new album. The band just finished a couple of release shows and is now getting ready to tour Europe with their fellows from Jinjer.

So, « Orphans » has been out for a couple of days now, how do you feel ? How are the feedbacks so far ? You just finished a couple of release shows too, so how was it ?

It was fantastic, actually ! It’s probably the most excited I’ve ever been for an album and after an album release. And the feedbacks have been really really good and what I loved about the release shows that we played is that we played new songs and people already know the lyrics. The crowd, they were singing along, which was crazy to see because I don’t think that’s ever happened to me before. So yes, all has been very positive so far, it’s great !

That’s awesome ! Do you have particular expectations with this new release ?

I’m hoping for the best, obviously. Whenever a band puts out a new album, there’s always that anticipation to see how the fans and the listeners in general will receive it. And it seems that it’s the best feedback we’ve ever had. A lot of people are saying that it’s our best album ever. So, we think our expectations are getting bigger because of that. Now, we are hoping to tour as much as possible and visit places that we’ve never been to before, maybe and… Yeah, we are hoping for the best !

So, more about the album now. The first thing I thought when I heard « In Vertigo » was : OMG it reminds me the old school The Agonist, so to say ! And I was really excited about that. What do you think ? Was it a pure choice to come back to the roots of the band or it just happened like that, during the creation process ?

Yeah, I think it was a combination of both. I think everyone in the band kind of felt that for this album we should stay true to ourselves and do what feels natural. And that’s what I think, like you mentioned, there’s some elements from older albums in there, maybe infused with a couple of new elements too. And I think it’s a very mature sound for this band. It is the direction that suits us and that we should be heading towards from now on. And for myself, it was definitely a challenge because the songs were heavier and faster than anything I’ve done before vocally. But it also felt very rewarding. I mean, when I finished a song and I was listening to it, I would feel really really good about it, very strongly, and positive about it. So, I think that’s a good feeling to have. You know, when you finished something and you feel comfortable with that and happy with it.

Yeah I think it’s really more violent than your previous albums ! You just mentioned about your voice and so on, so let’s talk about it. I’m really really impressed and I feel like you do more and more things with your voice and I especially think about the really deep and kind of demonic growls you do sometimes, they are huge ! But how did you work on these new skills ? Did you work with someone or it’s all on your own ?

No, I’m completely self-taught. I think it’s just I’ve always been very curious as a vocalist to know different vocal techniques out there, both for singing and screaming. And I think that after many many years of singing and kind of figuring out exactly what I’m doing there, I decided to focus more on my screaming the past couple of years. I was just looking at other metal vocalists that I admire and I really love how they sound and how great they scream and just trying to figure out how they do it and, just like anything, I think it’s important to try stuff out and experiment. You also have to realize that it’s not going to always sound great in the beginning, you’ve got to work at it. And that’s basically what I did. I think a combination of that mentality that I have with vocals with writing these songs specifically brought that out, because I felt the music enabled me to do it, like it would fit on this music. I just had do it ! It really suited the vibe here.

Ok, it’s really impressive ! We just talk about the growls, but you also sing some « lyrical » parts, if you know what I mean. Did you also work these parts on your own ?

Yes ! Everything I’ve done is self-taught ! I feel like singing and screaming is a lot like voice acting, you know, your ear has to pick up on certain things and then you have to find how to emulate it with your own vocal. And I think I’ve just always had that curiosity and also I enjoy so many different gendras of music so, of course, I always feel like the temptation to do it myself. And I think this album was a really good album to show that diversity in the vocals.

Let’s talk about the process now. You toured a lot between the last release and this one, so how did you work on this new album ? How long did it take ?

I don’t know for the music because the way we work is Danny who does most of the instrumentals. He writes them at home and then he uploads them. So, he was constantly sending me songs but I only really started working on them after I got like nine or ten songs already. There, I was like ok it’s time to start working on the vocals and the lyrics. I maybe started at around February 2018 and then probably finished around April, so it took me maybe three to four months, I would say, to do the vocals and the lyrics for this album.

Is « Orphans » a concept album ? Or if not, what are the lyrical themes you chose this time ?

It’s not a concept album. There’re many different stories there. Some of them are based on personal experiences or experiences with the band. A lot of them are just based on fictional stories, books and stuff like that and some of them are based on real life tragedies that happened in the world. So it’s just different songs and different vibes. But I would say that the common factor between all the songs is that there’s usually this theme very dark, ominous sort of violent, like you mentioned, lyric. And just talking about something generally unpleasant but that should be talked about. And I think the common factor is that there’s always a part in the song that there’s a moment of positivity and the feeling that everything is going to be ok at the end of the day, which is, I think, the most important message you can put in your songs. I’m talking about something serious and that’s something that everyone can connect with, but at the end of the day I want to give them hope and faith that things will be all right.

It’s a beautiful message actually. Do you already have a favorite song out of « Orphans » or it’s too early ?

Yeah it’s always definitely hard to choose. And I do feel like the longer the album sits and the more you listen to the songs the more you realize which ones you actually prefer. You know you might get tired, there’s some faster than others. I would say as a whole based off like my own personal taste I would probably choose « Orphans » as my favorite song. It’s just really very « Vicky » I guess ! (laughs)

By the way, do you have a favorite song out of the whole discography of the band, maybe one you you love to sing on stage ?

That is definitely even harder to choose. I would say actually that the songs that we played live aren’t my favorites necessarily maybe because we play them like so much and sometimes you get sick of them. There’s a lot of good good live songs in there so it’s fairly hard to choose. If I had to choose a song that I really love that we never played live, I think it’s a beautiful song, I would say « As Above So Below » from « Eye Of Providence ».

And so, you are sick of some songs, can we know one ?

Oh you know when I say « sick », I mean, I’m just a bit tired of them. Maybe the older songs like the ones I didn’t write because those are especially songs that we played the most. But, I don’t know, maybe « Thank You Pain ». It’s a great song, don’t get me wrong, but we played it so many times…

I understand, there’s always an expectation of the audience for you to play this one.

Exactly ! And obviously, in the moment when you’re playing it feels really good. But then when you’re puting it on the setlist, you’re like : that song again ?! (laughs)

On another hand, did you work with new people for do recordings and stuff like that for this album ?

No, actually for this one we went back to our longtime producer Christian Donaldson from The Grid Studio country. And every time we work with him it’s better and better. There’s this feeling of being comfortable with him because he’s practically the sixth member of the band at this point. We also see that through time he gets better and better at what he does and he tells us that we get better at what we do. So it seems like every time we do a new album with him it’s always better.

Do you have a comment to tell about the artwork which is I think really nice but also really simple this time ?

Yeah that was kind of intentional. We had the whole artwork discussion thing through an email chain and no one could really think of some crazy idea that was suiting the music. And I don’t remember exactly, but I think it was Danny at that point. He was like : how do you guys just feel about doing a basic black background with our logo on it and just having some images in the booklet ? And we thought it was the way to go for this album, like sort of let the music speaks for itself and just have a suitable artwork but not anything too flashy or crazy. Maybe it doesn’t need to be this time around.

« Everything is going to be ok at the end of the day » : an interview with Vicky Psarakis from The Agonist about « Orphans ».

You’re about to tour with Jinjer. How did the deal happen ? And I’m just curious, but what do you think about their music ?

It all started when we played a show with them back in 2016 in Europe and we really instantly connected as people and we kept in touch since then. We were having this discussion for a long time, like we should tour together, we should do something together and it just happened : the stars aligned and we have a new album out. Their album is coming out very soon so we heard it through management, because theirs is the same as ours and, that they were planning a European tour but they didn’t have any bands booked yet. So we just contacted them directly and asked and they were very excited to have us. So that’s great. I think it’s gonna be a really good tour because both bands have certain similarities, but we’re also very different at the same time. So, I think it’ll be good for the crowd, they’re gonna get a different vibe from us and a different vibe from Jinjer, so it’s kind of refreshing. And then, personally, I would say I do like their music a lot. I think with every release they’re getting better and better. And they’re really finding their own sort of style that really works for them, people really like it. It’s great to see bands we met rise, gain a fanbase and stuff like that.

On another hand, there’s a topic I would like to discuss with you, but I’ll understand if you don’t want to. Unfortunately, you experienced a sort of bad buzz recently. How did you get through it ? I mean, people can be horrible and especially on the internet…

I think it’s a combination of both, you know. When you put something out there on the internet you’re going to get a wide range of reactions. You’re going to get extremely horrible ones like you mentioned, but you’re also going to get the extremely positive and supportive ones. And you know, when that happened I was actually very okay with that. I saw an enormous response from our fans and other peers in the industry, like people we toured with… We don’t talk too much, but they reached out and messaged me and told me some very positive things. So that was really good to see that at the end of the day you’re not in anything alone. Like a lot of people told me that they had similar experiences and they really understand it. So, it was really good. I don’t feel bad about it. I think you should be able to be free and be yourself and embrace whatever comments you receive whether criticism or positive when they come your way.

The sad thing about that was like you said nothing wrong actually and it got so big… But fortunately everything is good now !

Yeah it’s the classic click bait thing : you do a full interview and they’ll take that one little thing sometimes and blow it up out of proportion to get people commenting and liking. But I anticipated that might happen and it might happen again in the future. You know, when you’re in the public eye there’s no way to escape it. So, I’m really ok with it.

Now, as we still have a bit of time, do you want to take a minute to talk about your passion for puzzles ?

Oh puzzles ! I didn’t expect that ! You did your research ! (laughs) But it’s just one of those things I guess that I like doing when I want to escape everything. I don’t do that often, it’s not like every week I do a new puzzle. But I think when you’re working on a puzzle your brain is really focused on that, so you don’t really wander into all these other thoughts. I think it’s a combination of being able to shut off from everything else that’s going on in the world but also it’s a throwback to my childhood  and maybe a lot of kids’ childhood from the 90’s before this whole era of technology. You had to do stuff like that or play board games or puzzles or whatever that was like the entertainment. So yeah, it’s a combination of I guess nostalgia and escaping everything else that’s going on.

More seriously, do you have something to add for your fans from Belgium to finish this interview ?

I just want to thank our fans from Belgium and I’ll see everyone very soon because we’re playing in Belgium. And I remember actually shows that we’ve played there and always been fantastic and the crowd is great, so I’m really looking forward to it. And just a big big thank you for supporting us over the years and I hope you really enjoy « Orphans ».

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