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Shield of Wings Interview

Shield of Wings Interview
Performed in June 2011 

I’m not sure whether it is more unusual to have a blizzard in Atlanta or to stumble upon an honest-to-goodness American symphonic metal band. But if blizzards lead to discovering a new favorite like Chicago-area metallers Shield of Wings, then a week of snow-bound madness is well worth it. Six months later, and the band’s debut EP Solarium is still in heavy rotation.

Shield of Wings

Sonic Cathedral’s Robin Stryker caught up with Grace Méridan (lead vocals) and James Gregor (guitars/vocals) to chat about music, weaponry, epic burgers and much more. Dive in to learn more about this up-and-coming band!

Shield of Wings

Robin:  Hello, James and Grace, and welcome to Sonic Cathedral! We’re so glad that you could talk with us today about Shield of Wings and your new EP, Solarium. For folks who aren’t yet familiar with Shield of Wings, could you give us a little bio? I understand that you were not originally a female-fronted band.

James:  That is correct. We started in the Spring of 2005. I came up with the idea for the band earlier in the year, but the first line-up came around in the springtime. Originally, for the first three-and-a-half years of existence, I did vocals primarily. So it was just aggressive, harsh, growling-type vocals. I think it was 2008 when we started incorporating female vocals into the band.

Robin:  In 2008, Shield of Wings were opening for bands like Ed Guy, with just male vocals and more of a blackened-metal style. What caused you to then go in a more symphonic direction with primarily female vocals?

James:  That was a personal thing for me. I was always a fan of female-fronted music. In my mid-teen years, I heard bands like Nightwish and Epica, and I really liked that style. I was also a fan of heavier types of metal. You know, I like them both, but there wasn’t a female singer around. For the first years that Shield of Wings was in existence, it was more of a learning experience. I wasn’t taking things too seriously, I was just writing the music and I wasn’t calculating it. We were performing and doing local gigs for fun. Eventually, I got to the point where I wanted to try writing songs with more vocal melody. I wasn’t that great of a singer, and I liked the idea of having a female vocalist so I tried looking for one. That’s how that came about.

Robin:  Grace, please tell us about your first contact with Shield of Wings and ultimately becoming their vocalist.

Grace:  Sure! At the time, I never had any experience with a prior band ... I was already engaging in classical vocal training, and I had made the decision to join a band. So, I took my head out of the sand and decided to look around. Like James, I’ve always had an affinity towards heavier music, particularly female-fronted metal, and really wanted to get myself into a group that shared the same kind of interests. I came across Shield of Wings and decided to do an audition for them. (laughs) The funny part is, the band had asked for demo vocals. At the time, I had none because I was just a wee little fledgling. But I basically told them: “You won’t be disappointed if you come and have me audition for you!” So I did and that, kids, is how Little Red Riding Hood escaped the big bad… Wait! ... and they lived Happily Ever After!

Robin:  James, did you have to adjust the composition or rewrite any of the songs for Grace’s voice?

James:  When Grace first joined, we were deciding whether to lower the tunings of some of the songs because the key was a little high. Actually, I can’t recall whether we did change anything, because Grace’s range has expanded since she joined the band. Wouldn’t you say so, Grace?

Grace:  Yeah definitely.

Shield of Wings

Robin:  I note that you are a mezzo-soprano, but where in the dramatic/lyric/coloratura spectrum does your natural range fall?

Grace:  When I started, I was simply smack in the middle of mezzo. But since joining the band -- and continuing my classically-training -- my maestra has told me I’m a lyric mezzo.

Robin:  Solarium just came out in late January of this year, how has the reception been so far?

James:  It’s been pretty good so far. Review-wise, most people have been saying pretty awesome things about it via the Internet. Sales have been doing alright as well, and we’ve gotten a great reception overseas. I can’t list all the countries off the top of my head, but there have been sales in Europe and as far as Japan, so that is pretty cool.

Grace:  Like James said, it’s very cool to have an international presence, as well as a domestic one. We’re a U.S. band, and a lot of the symphonic bands are overseas.

James:  We haven’t done too many shows since our CD came out. (laughs) We’ve actually only done one, and it was pretty well-received.

Robin:  How does it feel that someone in Japan or Indonesia or Spain is spinning up Solarium?

James:  It’s a good feeling, I’ll tell you that! A lot of work went into those songs, and it’s really nice to know that somebody is appreciating the music.

Robin:  James, as far as your process in writing the songs, which one did you find most challenging and why?

James:  Hmmm, I have to give that one a little bit of thought. As far as performance, I suppose it would be “War and Rapture,” which was sort of hard because I ended up changing some of the parts during the recording process. Though I wrote that song almost five years ago, it was one of the hardest to play on the recording.

Robin:  Grace, I’ll ask you the opposite … when you are performing the songs live, which actually is the most fun for you?

Grace:  Hands down, “Carnival Mirror” is probably the most entertaining song for me to sing. I would say that each of the songs has parts which resonate with me while I’m on stage, but I think the ups and downs of “Carnival Mirror” singing-wise are fun. It’s fun to kind of slow down with “Malady” because that is the song I started with in the band. It’s the first song we worked on, and it definitely holds a sentimental value.

Robin:  Certainly the opening lines of “Carnival Mirror” catch one’s attention …

Grace:  Oh yes!

Robin:  “As you quench your lust, opening your thighs to mutilation ….” I’ve got to say those lyrics caught my attention the first time I heard them.

James:  It’s a little bit more graphic than the rest of the other songs.

Grace:  Definitely. It is definitely captivating for when we are performing. For all the songs … between “Carnival Mirror” and “War and Rapture” … I think those two songs are definitely go-getting songs for when we are performing.

James:  The most impressive, I’d say.

Robin:  If Shield of Wings were to do a music video, which song would you pick?

James:  I gave it a lot of thought, as far as which song would be the most ideal to promote the band and which would make the best video visually. We planned to release one, but things usually never work out the way you want them to. We couldn’t make it close enough to the release of the Solarium EP, so we figured it wasn’t worth it to try and do a music video two months after the release. Maybe before a future release, we’ll try to have a music video ready to promote the band’s next step.

Shield of Wings

Robin:  Which track from Solarium were you thinking of doing?

James:  While writing the orchestrations as the final task for each song before their completion, I was like: “THIS is the one I want to do the music video for.” (laughs) Yeah, because I was getting so into it. I would say “Carnival Mirror” would have been the song of choice. When listening to it, its emotion induces a lot of imagery for me.

Robin:  Grace, would that be your choice too?

Grace:  I agree with James for “Carnival Mirror.” I think, especially on the album as you are listening to it, the background orchestrations that were included in the album REALLY bring out a whole sense of the song and what you’re imagining and envisioning. I do agree that it would make for an excellent video.

Robin:  With both of you being very visual -- James with your photography and Grace your painting and drawing -- would you want to be the ones who create the overall look of a future video?

James:  We would LOVE to make a music video. (laughs) I wouldn’t call myself much of a photographer, but I enjoy taking photos.

Grace:  I painted, but I don’t paint now. I definitely think music is the number one thing for me.

Robin:  I know that Solarium just came out, but is Shield of Wings starting to think about a full-length release?

James:  Yeah, I’ve been thinking about that for the last couple of months and am continually writing songs, slowly. There hasn’t been a deadline set, but it’s definitely a consideration.

Robin:  Will this be more of a collaborative effort, or will you again write all the lyrics and composition?

James:  That’s the idea for now. I mean that’s always been the idea for Shield of Wings, since its existence. I’ve always written the lyrics for it and the majority of the music. We’ve had periods where things were different and songwriting methods were changed, but I’m not setting too many firm guidelines for the future. We’ll see where it goes …

Robin:  Grace, obviously you are to credit for Shield of Wings being included in the Dame-Nation 2011 line-up in Chicago, since that is a female-fronted metal and rock festival. What do you have planned?

Grace:  You know, we definitely are going to be promoting our EP. We’ve played with Deadmanswake before, and Kryssie and the guys are awesome. I don’t know if you’ve seen, but Lindz Riot from Mary and The Black Lamb reviewed us on Femme Metal. So her and I have been in touch, and she will be playing at the show. I’m really excited to meet all these other bands and get to know all these fantastic musicians. So I’m really excited, and I think it is going to be a pretty big show thanks to all of Eric Sanchez’s efforts. I would say that I am … and I would say that all of us are … looking forward to the show.

Shield of Wings

Robin:  James, I’ve seen some of your insane archery skills. Is there any way in the future that you could combine it with your live shows for that extra Viking edge?

James:  (Grace laughs) What’s really funny about that is I’m playing with an arrow even as we speak.

Grace:  Of course!

James:  I’m actually screwing in the arrowhead ....

Grace:  (laughs) He’s totally taught me how to shoot an arrow. I can credit James with teaching me the proper method of shooting an arrow into a bulls eye. Thank you, James!

James:  (laughs) You’re welcome!

Robin:  Sonic Cathedral readers -- this is how bands REALLY bond. James, is your greatest prowess with Viking weapons the bow and arrow? You struck me as an axe guy, honestly.

James:  Actually, I’m fond of the axe, but I have been called Legolas plenty of times in the past. So I suppose to some people I’m half-elf, to some people I’m full Viking.

Grace:  (laughs) And I’m just a Gypsy wench.

James:  Gypsy wench! (laughs)

Robin:  What kind of mad skills do Gypsies bring with them, Grace?

James:  Trickery.

Grace:  Trickery and all sorts of Gypsy voodoo magic.

Robin:  So we can anticipate being bespelled at the upcoming Shield of Wings shows?

Grace:  Oh yes!

Robin:  At Dame-Nation, will there be enough time to play all of Solarium live, or do you have something else in mind?

Grace:  I would think so. James, what do you think?

James:  We are getting a half-hour set there. I could be wrong, but I think it’s a half-hour …. Ideally, we could play the whole EP because it is a little bit less than a half-hour, but that wouldn’t leave much time for talking in between songs. So, we could, but we were also thinking of performing a new song there. We might play the whole thing straight through, just like it is on the record, or we might switch it up and play a new song. I can’t tell you. (laughs) You’re going to have to attend and find out ….

Shield of Wings

Robin:  For each of you, what has been the most surprising thing about being in a band?

Grace:  The amazing experience of different foods!

James:  What?!?

Grace:  That would be bacon-wrapped cheeseburgers and late-night excursions to White Castle. (laughs)

Robin:  (laughs) Adventures with food were not something you expected when you signed on as Shield of Wings’ vocalist, eh?

Grace:  Definitely not! We indulge in very interesting snackage. But yeah, the food experience has widened for me.

Robin:  Are you ravenous after a show?

Grace:  Absolutely!

James:  Absolutely, but we are usually a little too tired to cook for ourselves, so we have to go out and waste money on fast food. Occasionally, after band practice, we’ll cook up something epic, we’ll have an epic meal. (laughs) It will be Epic Meal Time for us.

Grace:  Including SoW Burgers!

James:  Yeah, SoW Burgers.

Shield of Wings

Robin:  Tell us about the miracle of SoW Burgers and who is responsible for creating this epic epicurean delight.

James:  Well, when I was in Pennsylvania visiting my friend Lindsey Martin, who also did the album art for the Solarium EP, we decided to make bacon-wrapped cheddar burgers. Which is essentially ground beef mixed with chopped onions, barbeque sauce, salt, and pepper. Then we covered the patties in cheddar, cooked it, wrapped it in bacon, and deep-fried it. It was...

Grace:  Delicious! James:  Yeah, tasty! It was then re-created again after a band rehearsal … minus the deep-frying.

Grace:  I was the culinary chef behind the burger patty.

Robin:  Now, I’m absolutely starving. Thanks for that!

James:  You’re welcome!

Grace:  No problem.

Robin:  We’ve come to the end of our time together. Do you have any final words for your new friends and fans at Sonic Cathedral?

James:  Final words? Thanks to the readers and supporters of the band. I hope to see some of your faces at am upcoming show. Also, I hope to see YOU, Robin, at Dame-Nation in July.

Grace:  I just wanted to say, we hope to get the chance to perform for the fans overseas one day. Since we don’t have an official website, if you want to find out what’s going on with Shield of Wings, please check out our Facebook page to keep in touch with us.

Shield of Wings

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