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Unleash The Archers Interview

Good grief, Canadian bands have been pinning our ears back, and Vancouver power metallers, Unleash The Archers are no exception! The band’s latest offering, the Defy the Skies EP, is a brief but power-packed album, with Brittney Slayes’ mighty roar soaring over fiery guitar licks. (Read the review here.)

Unleash the Archers

Sonic Cathedral’s Robin Stryker caught up with Brittney Slayes hot on the heels of Unleash The Archers’ first North American tour. Dive in for Brittney’s take on life in a 4x8 van, lyrical storytelling, the band’s new direction, and much more!

Robin:  Sonic Cathedral is so happy to chat with Brittney Slayes, lead vocalist for the Canadian power metal band, Unleash The Archers. Brittney, welcome back from your fantastic Pedal to the Power Metal Tour of North America! What were some of the highlights for you?

Brittney:  Definitely Mexico was amazing! The fans there are so passionate and enthusiastic. We played one show, where it wasn’t a huge bar, but they packed as MANY kids in there as they could. It was really hot that day; I think we were looking at 45 degrees Celsius. I’m not sure what that is in Fahrenheit … probably like 105 or something. (laughs) And there was no air conditioning. It was a really, really hot up on stage, but afterwards everyone just stayed all night and partied out front. It was a really good show! So, definitely Mexico was a highlight for me.

Also, Saint Paul, [Minnesota] was AWESOME. Nathan is such a wicked promoter! He helped us out big time, and then took us to his movie theater for an advanced screening of The Expendables 2 all by ourselves. That was rad! And then, of course, Canada is always kick-ass. It feels really good to get back home, and we were welcomed with open arms by all of our friends and fans. So it was really nice to finally get back across the border.

Robin:  I think this was the first time that Unleash The Archers toured south of the border. Were there any surprises for you?

Brittney:  Well, the U.S. was a hard nut to crack. That’s for sure! The shows were not very well attended. The people who were there were really excited, and were asking us why we were playing such tiny bars out in the middle of nowhere… Which is of course because we are an independent; we did this all on our own, and we didn’t exactly have millions of dollars to spend on publicity or anything. But no big surprises. We’ve toured a lot across Canada, and know what it’s like to live on the road.

We were definitely a bit scared to go into Mexico because of all the horror stories that everyone had to say. But Mexico was AMAZING. We didn’t run into any trouble whatsoever. I dunno, it was a really good time … life on the road, but just new cities and places we’d never been before, and new bars and new people. That’s always the best part.

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Robin:  (laughs) Methinks you’re not being entirely honest when you say you didn’t run into any trouble on the road. It seems like your mighty steed, the Vangina, was not always at its best during the tour.

Brittney:  (laughs) It is NEVER at its best. She is a horrible, horrible van, and I don’t like her at all! Yeah, we had four separate break-downs on this tour: the first one being in Oregon, and then Mexico, and then again in Texas, and then in Toronto. So she did give us quite a bit of trouble, but that we expected. We knew when we took her on the road that she was going to give us a lot of trouble. We were just gonna kind of hope for the best, and hope that we found some nice mechanics, which we did. Absolutely, we did, and they really helped us out! Man, you say that you’re on the road, you’re in a band and have little money, and those guys really came through for us. But other than that, it was great! I knew the van was going to be a big issue. (laughs) We just sort of were flying by the seat of our pants.

Robin:  During your swing through the US or Canada, did you get a chance to meet up with any of your sisters from Eve’s Apple?

Brittney:  I did, yes! I met Chelsea Knaack in Saint Paul. She is actually just in the middle of a move to Texas to move in with her band, which was totally awesome. She’s a younger Apple, that’s for sure. She has just started getting into the scene. I was supposed to hang out with Melissa Ferlaak. She is HUGE in Minnesota, actually. But unfortunately, her daughter had a little bit of a health issue … no emergency or anything … so she wasn’t able to come out.

Then Lindsay Schoolcraft came out in Toronto, which was so much fun! We hung out in the bathroom all night long chatting. She is just so kick ass, and I love her so much. I’m like: “Man, I just wish I could hang out with all these girls all the time! Eve’s Apple is so amazing.” But unfortunately, we only got to see each other for little glimpses.

Oh, and I saw VK Lynne in LA as well. That was awesome, and she is so cool! We hung out in front of the Viper Room for a little while. Not long enough! I did have one girl actually approach me in Monterrey, and say that she had discovered Eve’s Apple. She was a singer of a metal band in Mexico, and she wanted to be a part of Eve’s Apple. I was just like: “That’s awesome that you know about it all the way down here! Totally put your name in, and I’ll put in a good word for you.”

Robin:  Unleash The Archers pressed Defy the Skies as a 7-inch vinyl. Was this the first time you guys released an album on vinyl?

Brittney:  Yeah. It was really something that we always wanted to do … to print on vinyl. Not just because it seems to be the popular thing and what everybody is doing, but we know that vinyl is supposedly a superior method of listening to music. We also wanted to have the chance for our fans that have record players to listen to us in the old-fashioned way, and because vinyl is just so cool. I put CDs on my iPhone, and I throw them away. But, with vinyl, it’s something you want to keep, and something you treasure. So we wanted to create that sort of collector’s item for our fans as well.

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Robin:  Well, I certainly would love to see your album cover in the larger format, because you guys have GREAT album artwork. Was the cover for Defy the Skies done by the same artist who did Demons of the AstroWaste and Behold the Devastation?

Brittney:  Yes. His name is JP Fournier, and he’s from France. He has done a lot of metal artwork for different bands over the years: Blind Guardian, DragonForce, Immortal, Edguy, and lots of other bands. We actually looked at The Valley of the Damned cover for the DragonForce album, and said: “We really like this kind of artwork. Let’s find out who it is, and approach him and see if he will do our first album.”

He was like: “No problem, I’ll do that for you.” It was a great price … I mean, not like super-cheap or anything … it was good, and we could afford it. His art was amazing, and he came back with such a great product that we decided that we wanted to go back to him. He’s been a good friend and fan all through these years. So we decided that we’re just going to keep it with JP from now until the end of time. (laughs)

Robin:  Excellent! Demons of the AstroWaste is a concept album. Does Defy the Skies also tell a story?

Brittney:  Well, not so much as a whole, like Demons did. But I inherently like to tell stories through my music and lyrics. I like to transport the listener to a far-away place, or try to instill a sort of tangible imagery that they can really relate to. So I did that with each separate song, but it’s not really a cohesive story as a whole.

“The Path Unsought” is about a prophet who sort of ran from his destiny, and ended up having to fight for the people anyways. “Ashen Wings” is about angels escaping from heaven to fight against god -- a wrathful, vengeful god, I suppose, as the First Testament would explain him to be. And then “Soulstorm” is just about … hrrmm, I guess a soul storm. (all laugh) Just the roiling inside that sometimes makes you want to scream and rip everything apart and throw furniture.

Robin:  You have described the Defy the Skies EP as being a taste of the new direction in which Unleash The Archers is heading. What do you mean by that?

Brittney:  We are really going to put a lot of stock in the sing-along chorus and the fist-pumping anthem feel of the music. We also really like the Speed Metal direction of “Ashen Wings.” I think we’re going to incorporate that a little bit more. And the dynamics of “The Path Unsought,” we LOVE doing that … something really calm, and then busting in with something fast and in-your-face. We really like playing around with that sort of feel in music. So that’s probably the best idea.

But who knows? We might get into the studio and say “let’s make it heavier,” and add more growls and chugging and stuff. It really depends. We are really excited to write together, because this will be the first album where we actually sit down with the new lineup and piece it out together, with all five of us and our individual different tastes. So it’s going to be a really good time!

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Robin:  I have heard from a little birdie that Unleash The Archers are working on your third full-length album. Where in the process are you, and how is the beastie coming together?

Brittney:  Actually, we haven’t even touched it yet. (laughs) We just got back from tour, and have no jam spot to play in … we’re looking for a space right now. We spent the last six weeks together on the road, so we’re kind of not even talking to each other. We’ll probably convene in about a week or so, and make sure that we have a spot that we can move into at the beginning of October. Then it will be five nights a week, writing new music.

We’ve got a couple of shows in October in Alberta and on the Island. We’ll get those done, and then we’ll just be focusing on writing new music, for sure. This album, we’re going to take our time with -- so we’re not going to rush it. We are going to write as much as we can, but there is going to be no “just being happy” with something, when we’re not really happy with it. We’re not going to settle. So it’s probably going to take a little bit to finish the album, but we’re definitely going to start writing right away.

Robin:  In your mind, do you have an idea of when you’d like the new album to come out?

Brittney:  I would like to see it printed by September 2013, and I’d like for us to be able to hit the road right afterwards. (laughs) But those are the kinds of things that we said we weren’t going to do, which is to book a huge tour and then HAVE to have it done by then. So we’re going to go with the flow, and let the music come to us. We’re not going to rush it. I’m hoping, though, for 2013 in September.

Robin:  (laughs) If you could see me through the Skype, you’d see my fingers crossed for a new Unleash The Archers in 2013!

Brittney:  I know! What we want to do is sort of record as we go, instead of one big, heaping studio session. So hopefully, we’ll have some sneak peeks and previews and stuff like that out there for you guys, because I know that’s a really long time to wait. And it’s a long time to wait for us as well, to have it in hand and ready to go. So we’ll do our best!

Robin:  Circling back to touring, it seems like, in addition to whatever musical roles people have, they also pick up special skills on tour -- whether as the navigator, finder of roadside delicacies, or the MacGyver. What additional roles did everyone take on during the Pedal to the Power Metal Tour?

Brittney:  Well, uhm … (laughs) that’s funny! Grant is our Trailer Wizard. We call him that because he can back that thing into the tiniest little crevasse, and he will do it in ONE move. We count each other’s moves -- how long it takes -- like a five-point turn kind of thing. He’s amazing! So whenever it was a sticky situation, we’d be like: “Grant, get over here!” And he’d get in, and just wheel her right in there.

There were a few inside jokes on Scott booking crappy shows, and stuff like that. (all laugh) I don’t really know. I think Brayden and Grant became our resident mechanics, that’s for sure. Scott is our oil change guru. He always checks the oil because our van guzzles it like you wouldn’t believe! So he’s always out there, checking the oil and making sure that we’re not blowing our engine up. We’re blowing everything else up, but not the engine at least!

I am definitely the maid. I clean the van constantly, just little things here and there. It’s not a big deal, but when I am driving for long periods of time and have to go in the back afterwards, it’s like an EXPLOSION. I don’t know how they could do that in an eight-hour shift, but they do. There was actually a point where the boys had the van to themselves for three days. I went in there and was like “oh my goodness!” and Brad was like: “How did this happen?!” I wasn’t in the van, THAT’s how that happened, because I’m constantly picking up little pieces of trash, or moving things out of the way so they don’t get stepped on, or grabbing people’s hoodies off the floor, or stuff like that. So I guess I was the resident cleaning lady.

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Robin:  Okay, with the boys being left unattended in the van for three days, did it smell like the monkey house at the zoo? Tell the truth.

Brittney:  Oh, well, it smelled like that the whole time, so it’s hard to say. (laughs) Every time you get in the van, it’s like walking into a sulfur plant or something. It was just five people living in an enclosed space … and I mean LIVING. We slept in there and did everything in there, so our entire lives were lived in this little confined 8 x 4 space. So, it smelled the entire tour. I just felt like I was coming home when I walked in there. (all laugh) We are kind of gross!

Robin:  I’d like to chat with you some about the video for “General of the Dark Army,” which is a track off Demons of the AstroWaste. Was this the first time that Unleash The Archers used crowd-funding?

Brittney:  Yes, absolutely. We knew that we weren’t going to be able to afford the camera that we wanted. It’s called the RED camera, and it’s really awesome! (They used it for Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit.) We wanted for this video to be the best it could be, and we thought that some of our fans might share that same sentiment with us. So, we thought we’d ask if they would help us out, and they came through miles and beyond for us! It was a positive experience for us.

In the beginning, I was against it ... honestly, I didn’t want to ask them for money. They are there to come to the shows and to support us. But I guess this was no different than buying a tee-shirt or something like that, and we gave them cool perks like backstage passes, limited edition posters, and things like that. We tried our best to reward them, so they wouldn’t feel like they were paying for nothing.

But then, the video turned out amazing, and it was sooooo exciting when it all came together and we could share it with our fans! It is a whole other level when you can say that, not only are you a fan of that band, but you MADE that music video happen. So, I’m hoping that people feel as strongly about that as I do, to share that amazing experience with them!

Robin:  The General’s armor is really fantastic!

Brittney:  Yeah, that was actually made by a guy named David Shaw, here in Vancouver. He is just getting into costume stuff -- metal-working, armor-working, and that sort of thing. We actually got the spaulders (the shoulder bits) from a rental company because he couldn’t quite get the ones he made to fit, so we had a little bit of rentals. And the gauntlets were rentals. But everything else was all David: the helmet, those sweeeeet shin pads, and the whole outfit! We were really stoked when he agreed to do all that for very limited pay. (all laugh)

Robin:  I have watched the last little bit of the video over and over, trying to figure out what the General is saying at the very end.

Brittney:  Actually, it’s one of the lines from the song. What is it? Ah, “retribution will never come.” Originally, he was going to say it during that part of the song, but the action was coming to a head and the climax was about to happen. So our director Richard Olak, from Brotherhood, decided that it wasn’t a good place for it, and he was just going to let the story carry it through, and he was going to put it where he could. So he put it at the end there, right before he finishes the beauty.

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Robin:  I really thought the General was going to change his mind, and show mercy!

Brittney:  (laughs) And so many HOPED that he would! But he’s the General of the Dark Army, and he’s not a human any more. He’s merely a dark being, driven on by a thirst for power.

Robin:  Once you make “General of the Dark Army,” where do you go with your next video?

Brittney:  That’s the thing. We’re thinking that we’re going to go in the opposite direction -- something really organic, maybe. Scott, Brad and I are really big movie buffs so we are going to take a cue from some of our favorite directors… We’ve got a great idea but I’m not allowed to spill the beans ;)

Robin:  Are any of Unleash The Archers’ members handy with a camera, where you could try filming it yourselves?

Brittney:  Scott used to be a photographer, but none of us have used a video camera in a professional way or anything. I would LOVE to make movies, if I got the balls one day, because I am so huge into them! I love the movie theater, and I love watching movies. I know this is horribly illegal, but I sometimes download them before they are even out yet.

Robin:  Gasp!

Brittney:  Don’t put that on there, maybe, or the cops will come find me and fine me $601,000. So I would love to be the director of our music videos one day, if we ever come to the point where we have the resources to do that. Maybe one day …

Robin:  Which do you think is the best music video?

Brittney:  “Bad Romance” by Lady Gaga.

Robin:  Really?!

Brittney:  Absolutely! That video was AWESOME. I don’t know why, but I really, really liked it. I love the aesthetic and the way it makes me feel. The costumes, and the opening scene really drew me in; it has a real Guillermo del Toro vibe. It is just so well done! I really liked that video. Strange, I know.

Robin:  Random irrelevant question: If you could be a character in any sci-fi or fantasy show, movie or video, who would you want to be?

Brittney:  Oh wow, hmmmm. Okay, I did want to be the Lita character in Brutal Legend. I so wanted to hang out with Jack Black, and wander around this other dimension where heavy metal ruled all. I thought that was a good time! (laughs) Have you ever seen the movie, Willow?

Robin:  Yes, but not in a dog’s age.

Brittney:  I always wanted to be Sorsha; I thought she was wicked! I think that’s probably who I’d be, or Rogue. Oh, Rogue from the X-Men! She was so poorly portrayed in the movies. Oh man, I could have done a way better job. Rogue is such a wicked character that it was just heart-breaking what they did to her! But that’s a whole other story. (laughs) You got me on a tangent here. I’ll never stop!

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Robin:  (laughs) Okay okay, back to music. What else is coming down the road for Unleash The Archers in 2012 and beyond?

Brittney:  We would LOVE to get over to Europe. I think that’s probably the next big tick on our bucket list. Big or small, two weeks or two months, we don’t care. We just want to get over there! We’re in the middle of sort of working something out, where we’ve contacted a couple of people over there who might be able to help us out. There is nothing solid in the works yet, but we’re on our way, that’s for sure.

Robin:  Fantastic! Do you have any final words of wisdom for your fans at Sonic Cathedral?

Brittney:  (laughs) Metal is, as metal does! Do what you want; do what you love; and don’t let anyone tell you otherwise.

Robin:  Brittney, thank you so much for talking with Sonic Cathedral today!

Brittney:  Thank you, Robin. It was awesome!

Photo credit for live shots: J Kiernan Photography
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