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Pythia Interview

To celebrate Pi Day, it seems only fitting to pen the tale of Pythia (pronounced pie-thee-ya), so here goes. Once upon a time in a land far away (unless you live in Corwall, then it’s pretty close), there was a bee-yoo-tiful princess named Emily who lived in a castle. After a childhood surrounded by art, music and Victorian gothic literature, Emily joined a band of errant knights on their sacred musical quest. Armed with classical training and various pointy weapons, the intrepid band embarked upon the first leg of their quest in 2009 with Beyond the Veiled Embrace. Now battled-hardened, Pythia return with The Serpent’s Curse, a weapon forged to slay the dragon of musical mediocrity. Mission accomplished … hooray! The end.

Sonic Cathedral’s Robin Stryker sat down with Pythia’s vocalist, Emily Alice Ovenden, for a freewheeling chat about The Serpent’s Curse, bollocks, legendary monsters and Pythia’s plans for world domination. Dive in to learn what Emily had to say about these topics and much more! And don’t forget to check out the video for their Pythia’s new track, “Betray My Heart.”


Robin:  Good morning, Emily! We’re so glad to have you here to talk about Pythia’s new album, The Serpent’s Curse, which hopefully soon will be hitting US shores. Would you introduce us to the album?

Emily:  Okay well, the new album is called The Serpent’s Curse. It’s taken us three years to make it, and it’s basically ten tracks of very bombastic, full-on British power metal! (laughs)


Robin:  In the three years since Beneath the Veiled Embrace came out, it seems like every single member of Pythia has gone through a major upheaval in their life, whether it was something wonderful like you having a baby or something awful like a loss of a loved one, a major illness or the departure of your bassist Andy.

Emily:  Hrrrmm.

Robin:  The Serpent’s Curse is a darker, heavier album than its predecessor. Did those upheavals have an impact on the tone of the new album?

Emily:  I think it had a massive influence on the album … the sort of journey that we as individuals have gone through. Obviously, as you say, we’ve experienced life, death, birth and everything that comes in between those things over the last three years. And I think it really did shape the making of this album and the writing of it.

Robin:  Congratulations on being a new mom! Did you find that your voice has changed as a result?

Emily:  When I was quite heavily pregnant. I sang with the Mediaeval Baebes up until about 7 ½ months pregnant. But after that, because I have a high soprano voice, I found it quite difficult really to hit the top notes. You know, I was singing with the Mediaeval Baebes at this fantastic festival called Troll Festival, which is in Belgium, and I had this sort of moment in the show where I have to hit a really big Top C. It was at that moment that I realized I probably shouldn’t be singing on stage anymore because I opened my mouth, and what normally comes out, didn’t come out. It was this sort of hideous croak. (laughs) And then I was like: “Okay, I think I need to stop singing on stage for the last couple of months.” Since I had the baby, it’s taken a little bit of time to get the support back … to get the diaphragm strong again. But I would say that I’m probably back to singing as normal now.

Robin:  I’ve heard a few singers say that, just as a result of hormone changes, they gained higher or lower notes, so I was curious whether there had been a change in your vocal timbre.

Emily:  I think the act of pregnancy can expand your lung capacity because your ribs get pushed out. Because I’m not really singing any classical, classical music at the moment, I haven’t been exploring the upper reaches of my voice that much recently. But I know that my voice feels very, very strong at the moment. I think that is also sort of an aging thing as well. I think I’m of an age now where your voice starts to get into its really good period of time. So I’m hoping that I’ll be singing strongly for a good ten years. We’ll see! (laughs)


Robin:  As do we! You’ve described Pythia as being a uniquely British band, as opposed to some of the symphonic metal bands coming out of continental Europe. What does that mean?

Emily:  I think there is something fundamentally British about Pythia. First and foremost, I don’t sing in a stylized American accent; I sing in a very British way. I think that the influences of our band -- which are very much the British power metal influences like Iron Maiden, Saxon, those kind of bands -- I think that they do shine through in what we are doing. So I would say that we are very much a British band.

Robin:  The Serpent’s Curse certainly has a strong fantasy element running through it. Sometimes when I hear it, each song is its own story, but other times, I can kind of weave a story out of the album as a whole. What is going on in the album, as far as a narrative arc?

Emily: Well, I think the album does take you on a whole narrative journey, but as you say, each individual song has a story. The first song, “Cry of Our Nation,” is very much a call to arms. Do you know what I mean? It’s sort of our way of saying: “Please remember that heavy metal is a British invention. It comes from the shores of Britain.” Although at the moment it does seem to have gone to Europe and America. Actually, our press … pretty much the British press … are not that great at supporting home-grown acts. So, it’s very much a call to arms.

I think the album, it sort of tells of our forgotten land in the same way. I’m using a fantasy story to say the same thing at the end: “Don’t forget about us. We’re still making really great heavy metal in this country.” But also, there are a lot of very personal stories throughout the album. I was in quite a dark place when I was writing this album. Things weren’t nearly as sunny as they are now. What I try to do as a lyricist is to write about stuff that is very personal, but in some way, shroud it in a world of fantasy to make it a little less embarrassingly personal, I suppose.

Robin:  Pythia just had a big CD release show with The Mariana Hollow and had also played alongside Dragonforce. Does it feel strange to be up on stage singing a song that is a time-capsule of events that are now shrouded in your past?

Emily: I think sometimes you kind of relive the events when you’re performing a song. When I’m most happy singing, I’m very fully engaged in what I’m singing about. Uhm, and sometimes it can be difficult, because the thing about being a performer is that there is this “the show must go on” idea, which is built into you or sort of forced into you at an early age. So you often find yourself standing on stage, essentially trying to entertain people when you’re not maybe in a very good headspace. So, it can be difficult sometimes.

I’ve been on stage when my dad was in a coma and was just about to die, and things like that. It can be very, very tricky, but it’s kind of the life you choose. And if you can’t hack that, then you probably shouldn’t be standing on stage in the first place.


Robin:  Are you a fan of fantasy literature?

Emily:  I’m a MASSIVE fan of fantasy literature! (laughs) I was totally brought up on Victorian gothic literature, which my father was a big collector of those kinds of books. So I was brought up on M.R. James, Edgar Allan Poe, Dracula, Frankenstein and those kinds of books. And of course, The Lord of the Rings. So, I think those books have just played a massive influence in inspiring me as a writer.

Robin:  In those books, are you rooting for the good guys or rooting for the proverbial dragon? I find myself rooting for the dragon half the time.

Emily:  I think I’m a bit 50-50 as well. There’s a part of me that would quite like the baddie to win sometimes. I suppose it depends on what book. I mean, certainly with Frankenstein, your heart is very, very moved towards the monster.

Robin:  I read Frankenstein for the first time only six months ago, and was surprised at how completely different the original is from later movie adaptations.

Emily:  I think Frankenstein is probably my favorite book actually, if I had to choose one … along with Wuthering Heights, I suppose. I just find it incredibly moving. It’s such a moving story, written by obviously a very unique woman. It’s just incredible.

Robin:  Pythia have very recently filmed a new music video for the track, “The Circle.” Would you tell us about that video, and did you need your thermal underwear for the shoot?

Emily:  I think I needed sort of whale blubber for this particular video shoot because it was so incredibly cold! (all laugh) We filmed the video with a director called Graham Trott, with whom I’ve worked with the Mediaeval Baebes, and I was very impressed with his ability to make something quite simple look very beautiful. “The Circle” itself is, I think, the kind of the song on the album that really sums up the whole concept behind the album in one track. So we were quite keen to get that song out there.

Basically, we filmed the video on the English coast. Although it was quite sunny, there was the most incredibly cold wind whipping up from the sea, and it was ABSOLUTELY freezing. (laughs) Luckily, I was quite well prepared because I’d done quite a few cold video shoots in the past, so I kind of know what they can be like. But the rest of the boys were not as well prepared, and I think they got very, very cold indeed. It was worth it because, actually, it looks stunning. So I can’t wait to get it out there and see what people think of it!


Robin:  Well, I do love imagery of your videos and the romantic aesthetic of Pythia. When it comes to your stage gear and your outfits for videos and photoshoots, do you work with a designer or prowl the shops or is your closet just a wonderland of lovely gothic frocks?

Emily:  (laughs) It is a little bit of all of those things! Do you know what I mean? There are a couple of designers that I work with. One of them is called Veil of Visions, and one of them other is called Van Asch. They are both designers that I know will just make me something that works for me. Because of my work in the Mediaeval Baebes, I get to go around and sing at a lot of Renaissance Festivals, particularly in America. And there’s a lot of clothing stalls at those festivals that I think suit the ideas behind Pythia, so I tend to pick up bits and pieces at the festivals as well.

But the dresses I’m wearing on stage at the moment have been designed by Rachel Van Asch, who is a former member of the Mediaeval Baebes. She left to go live in Switzerland and design clothes and wonderful burlesque hats, cushions and all sorts of things over there. She is a great friend as well, so it’s always really nice to commission work from a friend and support a friend’s business. With Pythia, I think we decided that, if we were going to do this, we should go the whole hog. Do you know what I mean? So the boys wear this fantastic leather armor that has been designed for them, and I wear these crazy gothic princess outfits. We don’t in any way try and follow modern-day fashion or be a cool, on-the-moment band. That’s not what we’re interested in. We’re interested in creating a world that people can get involved in. We’re certainly not what I would describe as the coolest band on the planet. (all laugh)

Robin:  I would disagree with you on that! Will we ever get to see you with a sword on stage again, or have pointy objects been banned from the live shows?

Emily:  (laughs) Yeah, the sword is a real sword, you know. Basically, I sort of got banned. It didn’t occur to me that you’re not allowed to have a real weapon on stage due to health and safety reasons.

Robin:  Spoilsports …

Emily:  I actually got banned from taking it on stage. Actually, I think the guitarists were both really pleased about that, because I think they were a bit worried that I was going to take somebody’s head off with it at some point. (all laugh) But I’ve always got my goblet on stage now instead, so that’s fine.


Robin:  Do you have anything interesting inside your goblet?

Emily:  Oh, I always have some wine because music is ritualistic in lots of ways. I like to have a glass of wine whilst I’m on stage, and try to get into the party spirit a little bit.

Robin:  The feedback from your CD release show was very enthusiastic, especially your connection with the audience. I giggled very much at your offer to sign anything and everything after the show, including (but not limited to) nut sacks. Have you ever been taken up on that particular offer?

Emily:  Nooooooo! (laughs) I’m waiting for that moment when someone does present their nut sack at the signing table. It actually comes from a little bit of a joke in the Mediaeval Baebes. I’m this person who has to push the merchandise on stage, so I always try to make a bit of a joke of it by saying: “We’ll sign anything … within reason.”

But with Pythia, I’ll sign anything, WHATEVER it is. There’s just something about the words “nut sack” that always makes me laugh for some reason! (all laugh) My partner and I have this dream that one day we’re going to open a rock club where we put on brilliant bands that we love. And we decided that the club will be called The Nut Sack.

Robin:  To date, what is the strangest thing that you’ve signed?

Emily:  Oh gosh, I don’t know. I mean, I’ve signed loads of boobs, and I’ve signed swords and arrows, all kinds of weapons, shields, and things like that. But none of these things seem that out of the ordinary to me. There have been all sorts of body parts, but never an actual nut sack. I’m holding out for that one! (laughs)


Robin:  You hear that, Sonic Cathedral fans? Don’t disappoint Emily at the next Pythia show …

Emily:  (laughs) Someone is going to do it now; aren’t they? Someone is going to turn up and present their bollocks on the table, and I’m going to have to sign them. I’m going to have to go by my word.

Robin:  I pray that it will happen, Emily!

Emily:  You’d have to sort of stretch it out quite carefully, though, to be able to write on it; wouldn’t you? (all laugh)

Robin:  I think that there would be those who would be willing to help with the logistics.

Emily:  (laughs) With the stretching?!?

Robin:  Yes indeed, the stretching. If I were on hand, I would do my part to help.

Emily:  Well, I’ll hold you to that as well, Robin! (all laugh) “I’m not doing it unless Robin is here.”

Robin:  (still laughing) Moving on to more seemly topics for our younger readers, I understand that Pythia are also working on a new single. Which is the lucky track, and are you planning on a special pressing like the gorgeous vinyl picture disc of Beneath the Veiled Embrace?

Emily:  We’re working on a new single, and the idea is that it’s going to be a double A-side single. So it’s going to be “The Circle,” which has the video with it. And then the other track (we’ve been advised) is a radio-friendly track called “Just a Lie,” which is off the album as well. Then we’re working on a very special B-side bonus track that goes with it, which is quite an exciting baroque version of one of our most popular songs, so that’s really exciting. So, that’s all going to come out.

I’m not sure if we’re going to do a 7-inch edition. The problem with 7 inches is that you’re kind of limited to being able to put only two tracks on it. So I think what we will do is a really nice CD version of it that contains the video of it, so people can have the video at home as well. (laughs) That’s the plan of action at the moment!


Robin:  Tell us about Pythia’s upcoming shows. I know, for example, that you’ve got a couple of dates soon with the Austrian band, Serenity.

Emily:  Yeah, and that is quite exciting! We have a bit of a connection with Serenity. Marc Dyos, who is the drummer of Pythia, his brother died during the making of The Serpent’s Curse, and Marc wanted to put on a special Queen tribute show for his brother. So he invited Georg to come sing with the rest of the members of Pythia, because Georg is a sort of expert on singing Queen songs. So he flew over from Austria for the show, which was called the Pythian Rhapsody, and did an absolutely stunning job and was absolutely brilliant!

We kind of got to know him a little bit, so it’s really nice that we’re going to be playing a couple of shows with them -- one in London and one in Cardiff. And then, basically, we’re going to be playing some of the festivals over the course of the summer in the UK, and then hopefully going out to Europe a bit later on in the year. So yeah, we’ve got lots of pots cooking, if you know what I mean. I’m going to be over in the States later with the Mediaeval Baebes later in the year as well. I’ve got a lot of touring activity kind of planned out this year, and I just need to work out how to work around the fact that I’m now a mum. (laughs)

Robin:  What new lands would you love to see the Pythia Army conquer? It’s very cool that Spinning Records will be releasing The Serpent’s Curse in Japan.

Emily:  We have a deal in Japan with Spinning, and they released our first album. They have now just released our second album, The Serpent’s Curse, so that’s really exciting. It’s really nice to see the Japanese fanbase growing, to see more Japanese fans getting in contact with us via Twitter and Facebook and loving the music. I would just LOVE to go there. I’ve been to many, many parts of the world with the Mediaeval Baebes and with Pythia, but I’ve never been to Japan. So I would just love to go over there with Pythia. I think we would have a fantastic time, and there is definitely a growing interest in metal in that country.

Robin:  And a country that still purchases CDs, instead of simply stealing the music.

Emily:  Exactly yeah, which is rare in this day and age! (laughs) I would just love to go there.


Robin:  We have about reached the end of our time together, Emily. Talking directly to Pythia fans and those who may be hearing about your band for the first time, what would you like to tell them?

Emily:  “Listen without prejudice,” that’s what I would say. If you’re interested in heavy metal, have a listen to our album and see what you think, really. (laughs) I mean, we are very proud of it, and we’re all massive heavy metal fans ourselves. So I think even if it’s not necessarily your cup of tea, I hope people will see the value in it.

Robin:  Thank you so much for talking with Sonic Cathedral today, Emily!

Emily:  It was my pleasure. Thank you!


Photo Credit (Promo Pictures): Scott Chalmers
Photo Credit (Live Pictures): This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

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