Interview with Shadowdances (Lithuania), May, 2009

Written interview with Shadowdances made by member of P3LICAN team Ivita during May, Year 2009.


Ivita (I): So, first of all hello and congratulations with a great album release!

Juodas (J): Thank you! We are very happy to finally have it out, there’s been quite a few ups and downs on its way, so we’re very happy indeed that this rollercoaster is over and we finally have our album out!

 I: When I first got my copy of "Misery Loves My Company" I had unfortunately never really heard of Shadowdances before, but I was convinced of its amazing quality by the first time I heard it. I had an idea that Shadowdances is a band from anywhere but Baltic States. What is your opinion on this? Do you see your band as the unique and outstanding element in Baltic and Lithuanian metal music scene?

J: Well, thank you, I appreciate the compliment! It is no wonder that you haven’t heard of us before, because we’ve never had a proper manager or management (apart from Dangus Prod., which released our “The River of Lost” album, but it doesn’t promote its bands abroad, as far as I know, so there you go). And we weren’t trying hard enough to get outside of Lithuania ourselves I guess, so you can say that it’s entirely our fault. I’ve sent away more than 50 promo packs to labels around the world, hoping to release “The River…” album and promote it, but nobody seemed to be interested, so I guess out of sheer frustration I just stopped. I can see your point about the quality of the recording, since this is a common problem in Baltic States, well at least in Lithuania it is. In Latvia you have a great Phoenix Studio with the now legendary Gints Lungbergs, so there is a way to get a quality recording. Estonia, in my opinion, is also far ahead of Lithuania in terms of variety and quality of underground bands. Therefore I am really flattered to know, that you like the album’s quality! I wouldn’t say that I am 100% happy with it, there are lots of reasons for that, but it surely can be a pleasurable listen from time to time and still is for me, although I have heard it probably thousands of times, and that says something, both about the quality of the sound (or rather its uniqueness, since it’s done in a unorthodox way, on my computer, and any sane sound engineer would probably sneer or frown, once he knew how the guitars or some other instruments were recorded) and also the quality of the music. Yes, I think our music is quite original, once you start searching for something similar to it. And not only in the Baltic States, but anywhere in the world too. I’m not trying to be cocky, that is a plain fact. I’ve been fed up for a long time with the way underground works and the way bands keep repeating themselves or other bands. That probably comes from the fact that they are quite successful and are afraid to lose their fans, I am not going to speculate on that, because there are probably lots of reasons for it, but I don’t appreciate this fact and I always want to find something more interesting and emotional than just writing similar riffs that I know everyone is going to dig. I like artists who always reinvent themselves, that’s the artistry I like. It is art, it is not craft to me, and art is not about repeating, it is about expressing yourself and searching for new ways to do it.

I: "Mysery Loves My Company" is very emotional and psychological album. Was it an intention to make people (and girls like me heh) get tears in their eyes while hearing songs like "And It Feels" or "Aura" ? Or was it more like a natural continuation in your band's progress in general?

J: :) Well, I did not think about getting girls to cry, no :) But it’s a huge compliment, thank you! To me, if music can stir or bring out strong emotions, that is the best thing that can happen to a listener. This is what music is for, at least the music that I love. It is not about entertainment for me, it is about immersing yourself in this moment, the moment that is important to the author and to you, ultimately. To me, music has to be intimate and genuine, otherwise it has no point. It has to move you, speak to you, make you cry, make you think, forget what you want to forget. I mean, it has to mean something. Now, getting back to tears in your eyes :) Yes, I think it is closely related to the ability of the artist to get his point across, so it is related to his progress. I am really honored and humbled to hear this, because I know what it means. Music does that to me too!

I: Juodas, please tell me about the lyrics. They sound very personal and very much like taken from stories that surround us every day in reality. I have read all the lyrics from this album and while reading I could put a face on almost everything I read, including my own face. Where did all this come from? Experience? Books? Neighbours?

J: Yes, for the most part they are very personal. That’s my way of expressing myself and dealing with my problems, I guess. My little furry demons, so to speak :) To me, it has to be a mixture – music has to go with vocals, and the lyrics have to mean something. Otherwise I miss at least half the joy and excitement. Music alone doesn’t mean to me as much as it does with a verbal idea behind it, expressed by someone. With the lyrics it is not easy to explain how they come about. Sometimes it’s an event in your life that triggers something, sometimes it’s a phrase you hear that catches on and lets your imagination loose, or it may be a movie you watch, a book you read etc. For me, the best lyrics are those that are left for the listener to interpret. Even though they might mean one thing to me, they probably mean something completely different to you and trigger some of your memories or some things that you experienced and this way envelop you in them, in your own way. So yeah, all the things you mentioned can evolve into lyrics. That is, all except for neighbors, probably :) Unless you mean the Australian TV show, of course! :) Kylie might be quite an inspiration to some, I guess…

I: I was taking a closer look at the album cover today and after reading and looking at the pictures I have some questions about the used symbols.
So first of all- a rose (I assume), which basically a very pretty symbol. Second of all - women. There are lyrics about them ( the sad ones, the adored ones, the sneaky ones) and a pretty shape of a woman's body. Third of all - a butterfly. Then broken glass. And what I was wondering most about - the strange creature on the cover and the CD. Who is this?

Juodas: This question is a bit complicated for me to answer, although it is a very good question and it makes you think about certain things. The cover was done by our good friend Natalie Shau, which is quite famous in the cover artwork circles nowadays, I guess, and apart from the general idea of the front and back covers, we didn’t actually discuss what kind of imagery she’s going to use in the background, leaving all that to her discretion.
I had a general idea about the front cover, that is, some crippled creature screaming misery at you.
By the time she was doing the cover, I assume she has heard most of the material that was to be included, she also knew how in general I envisioned the colors and textures of the album cover, and once I saw the first sketches, I was very happy with the way it was going. I’m not even sure if it was Natalie’s intention, but you can say that the symbols that you mention all have something in common – a transformation or a contrast: for me that’s how life works. It is never black or white and it always changes, so I guess that would be my viewpoint on that.  
As for the women, of course, some of the lyrics come from my own experience. There are always dark spots here and there once you’re in a relationship with someone, and I guess best way that I could have dealt with those was to spill my soul onto the paper. Some of those lyrics are almost 10 years old, so they don’t reflect of the way I feel now, they are a reflection of the particular moment. As for other “women”, they are not necessarily women per se. They are symbols, just like the ones you mentioned while asking about the cover. The one in “The Girl” is probably easiest for everyone to relate to, because there are certainly points in everyone’s lives when they feel out of place or being judged by someone or a group of people just for being themselves or being different than everybody else. There’s also a materialistic and a psychological “mucho” syndrome aspect in a few of the song’s lines, which is about how sometimes women are being treated unfairly in a relationship. It is probably strange hearing this from a guy, but I have learnt a lot from Laima in this regard and in many ways she has opened my eyes on a lot of things. In some aspects some of the relationships are stuck in middle ages’ way of treating one another, and that is a modern oppression in our society. I should probably also mention the other one, in the song called “Shy”. This little weasel I am talking about is actually my shyness. I know, it might seem like the most natural thing in the world and everyone could probably say that they are shy to some extent (as well as other common conditions and qualities, that’s why we have horoscopes that fit everyone :)), but I could never come to terms with my shyness, which sometimes is just killing me. It’s about the way people deal with it I guess, and mine is probably more difficult than that of your common joe’s. It is quite strange to explain, I am in no way modest, but in some way I’m just too self-conscious, self-aware and too insecure, which I hate about myself (as well as about million other things). There’s probably some kind of sensitiveness involved, but there are times when I might be not sensitive at all, I might be cruel and inconsiderate, so I’m not really sure what is happening to me, I was probably dropped when I was little or something :) This is a stupid thing and I probably shouldn’t have even mentioned all this, but you asked, so here you are :) Probably it’s time to think about visiting a shrink, don’t you think? 

I: I would like to know how much time and work there was put to create such a perfect album. It is long and original enough to leave the impression that there have floated a lot of sweat and creativity during the process. Or am I wrong?

J: Once again, thanks for your kind words! The actual recording procedure wasn’t too long (well, at least to most of our bandmates), but it took an enormous amount of time and patience re-recording, adding parts, cutting, editing, correcting, perfecting sounds etc. I tried to record with real drums using midi-triggers and real cymbals to make them sound more natural and coherent at a project studio, but it all went down due to some fault in the mains, which left us with unusable drum tracks, therefore I had to find midi-drums that I could rent quickly and record at home (I’m sure, after those three hellish days of floor thumping and hellish racket our neighbours would’ve killed me, if they weren’t civilized enough :)). So I did and for obvious reasons (trying to save money and avoiding feud with neighbours) I did it in three days. But after that I spent about a month correcting my playing and changing some parts manually, which was really tiring. I had to leave my job for about 6 months (which I hopefully could do since I’m a self employed translator) and complete the recording. So yeah, you can say that this record is built on blood, sweat and tears :) At the time we’ve been offered a contract by an Italian label, this is why I’ve decided for such drastic measures (leaving my job and finishing the album as quickly as possible), but eventually it all went to hell (talk about contrasts in life), label’s boss quit the label and left us with a half finished record and a huge frustration. Then me and Laima moved to London, completed the record here and (finally!) released it ourselves.

I: My very special question goes to keyboard player Lady Amial. When I was hearing "Mysery Loves My Company" for the very first time I could not understand: how can a band be so creative and non-sceptical about keybaord parts in their music? The used effects and passages fit just perfect even though they are pretty different from most bands in the scene. There is also something about the sound from 70'ies and 80'ies that keyboard adds to the music. Please be so kind and tell me about the work with this album. And tell me how is it to be the only lady in the band?

Lady Amial: Thank you for your kind words! It’s the most pleasant compliment when your keyboard parts are called somehow different from those of the other bands’. I like the synthesis of different styles in music, I like when the instrument is out of the style range and out of the context a little. That makes music more multi-dimensional. I like that in other bands, therefore it’s probably natural for me to think this way about our music as well. I’m glad if I’ve achieved that at least a little. The work with this album was kind of lengthy and I’ve changed my mind on some keyboard parts and sounds quite a couple of times. My taste in music is changing all the time, so that makes an impact as well, I guess. I was more into progressive style a couple of year ago, and now I’m also into orchestral approach a lot, therefore I really enjoyed working on parts like the “Shy” or “Perhaps Someday” endings. I’ve struggled to reach the sound that was on my mind in some songs. A simple example - the lower piano in the endings of both “Blossom” and “Autumn Haze” (the one that goes under the solo part) were too “lightweight” or “happy” after the first couple of attempts and were not good enough :). And the idea was for it to have an impression that it’s kind of “drags” a bit in relation to timing, that you struggle to catch up with a rhythm – this slight arhythmic playing makes an impression of “heaviness” that I wanted to achieve. So, I had to change the rhythmic parts a couple of times to get that impression. In terms of melody my favorite track on this album is probably “Perhaps Someday”. The ending orchestral part is a real mess :). There are at least 6 cross-lined strings parts there and lots of backing vocals. So, it was Juodas’ task to clear that mess up when mixing, to try to make all those different keyboard and vocals lines to cut through in the mix, not forgetting the guitars and bass at the same time. Well, it was quite a job to mix all the tracks, actually – sometimes we overdo some of our parts and make a bit of a mess, adding lots of them on top of each other, which most of the time makes your instrument “drown” in the whole mix. And the weird experimental tracks like “Chasing Shadows” is a real fun as well, when you try out the wackiest things and see where that leads you to :).

As for being the only lady in the band – well, it’s fun. We get along very well. All the guys are indeed very different personalities – in music taste and in personal life as well. So, that makes it even more interesting and enjoyable. Especially when you try to organize, for example, coming back from the fest/gig, as I’m usually the most sober driver – no surprise here, probably :). You find one guy, get him into the car, go to get another one, and then the first one mysteriously disappears (finds his way back into the venue)... It’s like catching 4 fishes with your hands at once :). I really miss the guys and doing gigs so much…

I: Juodas, I was surprised to find out that you are both the vocalist and the drummer. How are you combining those two? You have a great vocal, very melancholic and clear. Have you sung your whole life?

J: I am indeed, and it is not as hard as it seems, once you get a heck of it. To me, it seems a lot harder to combine singing and guitar playing, although all the world is doing just that. Sure, physically it might be tiresome sometimes and both of your performances suffer, but that’s just the situation I have to deal with, since I don’t want another drummer and I definitely don’t want another singer :). Anyways, it would be a real problem to find a dedicated drummer or guitarist in Lithuania, because it is so small, and for some reason most of the musicians are more concerned about how much they earn at the gig than about the ideological side of things, so you’re stuck with what you’ve got and you have to push forward no matter what. Thank you for your compliment again! You just don’t stop do ya! No, I haven’t and I wish I could sing more on my own, because I am not a good singer, and it takes a lot of effort to make things at least remotely acceptable for me to fulfill the idea of the song. So I really wish I could practice more (or at all!), but I also wish there was no religion and no arrogance, but we know the answer to that, don’t we?

I: Now you all have to explain me the mysticism behind your music. See, the thing is that when I listen to Shadowdances, I can put a finger on some things which are slightly similar to Katatonia, Tiamat and Antimatter, BUT there is something huge streaming through your music, which is impossible to describe. Who are the great composers and masters of tones behind those beautiful harmonies, solos and melodies? What comes first - the music or the lyrics? Or are they created separately?

J: It is interesting, because after we released “The River of Lost”, someone compared us to Katatonia, although at the time we haven’t had a clue about who they were and how they sounded. So we became intrigued and listened to them and liked them very much, so now you can truly say that there are some similarities between us, because they became one of our many musical inspirations, along with Anathema, Jeff Buckley, Martin Grech, Vast, The Tea Party, Dead Can Dance, Tool, Ours, Type O Negative and lots of other artists plus various movie soundtracks and other things. That “huge thing” passing through our music is probably amateurishness, because, in my view, there’s too much of everything going on there at once :). But I have a perfect excuse for that - actually, a couple - first of all, there was a huge break between this album and “The River…”, and because the running time of a CD is quite limited, you gradually add something new to your songs, and it doesn’t necessarily mean that that part really has to be there at all, you just do it (well, usually it's me who does that and I’m the one to blame for it). Well, there’s pun intended of course, but there’s definitely a lot of truth here, it shows that I have yet a lot to learn in this regard, and this is my second point – it’s about experience and ability to analyze and stop at the right moment, not overcrowding the song. As always, you learn (hopefully!) from your mistakes. If you mean not the music, but the general atmosphere, well, then again, I am flattered and it shows that we have achieved something that I myself adore in the music of my favorite artists – cohesion and completeness of their ideas and ability to pass them on to the listeners, to get them involved and enveloped in their work. For the most part the core of Shadowdances’ music is written by me. There were some exclusions in the past, like the acoustic riff in the beginning of “Blossom” is written by our ex-bassist Tadas, who has intended it as a bass guitar piece, but I have adapted it in the way that you hear on the album. I loved that riff as soon as I heard Tadas play it, so I used it and a whole song came out of it, and this is the way it goes generally. If something fits, it goes into the song. There are no rules. The main criterion is the atmosphere of the song. Giedrius has written a few great guitar leads, Raima has recorded lots of rhythm guitar parts, Aidas came up with very interesting bass parts (he’s a guitarist actually, so probably that’s why bass guitar on the album sounds quite unorthodox), and Laima has done something incredible, as she always does. Some parts of all of the instruments on the album are also played by me, including rhythm guitars, lead guitars, bass and synths. When I was producing it and felt something needs to be changed or rearranged, I just did it, let Laima hear it, and if she was ok with it, we left it at that. Liudela (the bassist of now extinct legendary Lithuanian band Dissection, which two demos recently were re-mastered and re-released by Ledo Takas Records as a digipack – I strongly recommend it if you’re into technical death metal!) also played bass on a few of the songs. The one that made it to the album is “The Girl”. I really love what he’s done there, the bass is amazing on that track. As for the whole writing process, it’s hard to pinpoint exactly how it goes, because it might be a very different approach each time. Sometimes it’s the riff or a certain part that gets the writing process going (like the aforementioned “Blossom”), sometimes it’s the lead vocals’ melody or the lyrics. But I’d say, mostly it starts with the guitar. I strum something, anything really, and hum along, and if something catches on, then I record it into my computer and listen to it next day or whenever. This way it’s easier to discern if the stuff is any good. Sometimes the mood feels just right and I feel very inspired, and at times like these a whole song can come out. That’s the way “When She Closed Her Eyes” was born and recorded, right there, on the spot, by my computer. And I haven’t changed or re-recorded it afterwards, because it felt genuine, and most of the time if you’re trying to fix what is not broken, well, you mess it up, to say the least. Same goes for some of the vocal parts, that were recorded only as a rough guide and were meant to be re-recorded later on, but I just could not manage to do a better take and to convey them better than the takes that I did on the spur of the moment, so I had to leave the original versions, even though I had to deal with lots of problems afterwards, like excessive noise, being slightly out of tune etc. But they just seemed more genuine, so I had to leave them and clean them up as well as I could. The one example that springs to mind is “Just Like Before”. I just could not repeat both of the verses of this song, even though they were recorded on the first take, I held the mike in my hand, didn’t care about how they’d turn out, I just needed to record them to remember the melody afterwards, and those takes were the ones that I had to keep, no matter how overproduced they sound. So, with that, I hope I answered your question.

I: "You don't think this is real, but this is so real" . I need comments on these lines. They repeat in the album and I could not hold myself back to ask why?

J: Well, firstly and foremostly, each is a part of their corresponding lyrics. When I wrote “Shy” I used this line, because, in relation to the lyrics, it means that even if you don’t want something to be true or real (i.e. your insecurity), or wish it wasn’t, or maybe you think that you imagine and exaggerate something too much, and no matter how hard you try to ignore it, it jumps out of a closet and bites you in the… well, neck, of course :) You soon realize that there is a real life and things are the way they are, and you cannot change anything about it.
And then there was “Autumn Haze”, which has another topic, which is about one’s frustration of an unfair relationship, about someone who’s stuck in this maze of misunderstandings and patronizing / self-righteousness of the other part, and is searching for the way out of this degrading situation. So in this case, event though a situation is different, this phrase might have a similar resonance, like you wish something wasn’t true, but no matter how hard you try to disregard it, this is still happening to you. Also, in this case you can look at it from yet another perspective. Like someone might think that these are just words and that they might not be genuine or that they don’t matter at all or are exaggerated, but to someone they mean a whole life, in fact, they are about their own life. In this case this phrase might be used as a general idea of the whole album. For whoever listens to the album, all these words might be meaningless, but they are my life or are taken out of context of my life or my views on things. Well, at least that would be my interpretation of it. Also, talking about the whole creative process and a finished product, to me they are two different things and with the finished product I might not even be sure anymore what I was writing about when I was writing the lyrics for the song, because for me it is mostly spur of the moment, so at the end I myself become a listener and might interpret my own work differently than it was intended to.

I: I am curious to know if there are plans for a new future album. What are you occupied with at the moment?

J: Well, so far I have lots and lots of ideas, as always, recorded into my PC and waiting to be dealt with or disposed of. Some of them are hopefully to turn into songs someday. I believe I could easily record at least 2 albums with what I have right now. Whether they’d be any good or not – that’s another question. But I think I have quite a few worthy ideas. I’ve had an idea to record a very slow and atmospheric album, because I have lots of old material that I’d love to record, but so far I couldn’t quite get to it somehow. All I know is that I don’t want the next album to sound as “metal” as the previous two albums did. As for my occupation at the moment, I used to be a translator, well, I should say I still am, only without anything to translate. It is quite strange, but the recession seems to have affected even the translation sector, so with the projects getting rarer and rarer I’ve decided to start studying sound engineering. As the saying goes “When one door closes, the other one opens”, so hopefully something positive comes out of all this, because I’m into sound and recording for quite a few years now and this is the area that really gets me excited, so being able to study it is one of the small miracles that could’ve happened to me. So far I’m hopeful. We’ll see what the future brings.

I: Tell me about the live performances. Are there any in plan? If so, then where?

J: I am sorry to say, but we have seized to exist as a proper live band, since me and Laima have moved to London, and so far we have no intentions of becoming one. The situation here is very different than it was in Lithuania, you cannot rent a rehearsal room monthly (unless you’re a millionaire), you have to pay a small fortune for every hour you rehearse, and it just wouldn’t work so quickly with us. The other side of the story is that I’m not even sure – maybe it’s just an excuse. I’ve had it enough with disgusting sound at gigs in Lithuania, getting frustrated all the time, so for a time being me and Laima are a home project band, and we’ll hopefully release something in a few years time.
We’ve had a few invitations to play in Lithuania, and still, even after what I’ve just said, I get a tingling excitement thinking about it and remembering some of the nice moments of live performances we’ve had, like our acoustic show at Moulin Rouge bar in Vilnius. So who knows… If we have enough time to rehearse and if the time is right, maybe it’s still possible sometime along the way.

I: Thank you very much for taking your time to answer!!!
Don't stop this journey through music of Shadowdances. It is wonderful!!

J: Thank you so much, Ivita, for your in-depth and very intriguing questions! We have enjoyed answering them immensely! Yet again, thanks for those kind words and all your interest! Thank you, Edyte and P3lican guys, we really appreciate your help and support! Thanks to everyone who has read through this. We wish all of you the best in whatever you do, including the music you listen to, since the good music became such a rarity these days. Don’t stop searching and you will be rewarded! Or not! :) Cheers!

By Ivita

Shadowdances “Misery Loves My Company” (2009)

1. I Crawl
2. The Girl
3. Autumn Haze
4. And It Feels
5. Cold Eyes and Lies
6. Blossom
7. World Made Of Nothing
8. Shy
9. Perhaps Someday
10. Aura
11. Just Like Before
12. Chasing Shadows Again
13. When She Closed Her Eyes (The World Disappeared)