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The Agonist - Interview

Present - Jason Levine & Alissa White-Gluz
Interview took place in New York City
September 11, 2007

Jason:  How did your band start back in Montreal?

Alissa:  Well basically Danny and Chris were already in a band and I was in another progressive metal band back in 2003. I happened to quit my band at the same time that their singer quit. So then after a lot of jamming together and auditioning for other bands we decided to form The Tempest back in 2004. Then after we got Simon in the band we basically changed the name to The Agonist before releasing or debut album because we didn't want to have too much conflict with The Tempest being a pretty popular name. Basically Once Only Imagined is like every song we've written since we formed The Tempest. So it really is every song we have. (laughs) We just started playing a whole bunch of independent shows and eventually Century Media took notice and that's that.

Jason:  On the album you have a lot of strong messages. Were these issue you faced growing up?

Alissa:  Well my whole family is vegetarian and I was raised to be very ecologically aware. I also have a lot of family members that survived and some who didn't survive through the Holocaust. So I kind of talked with them about that. Basically I was just raised to be completely compassionate for every living thing. I respect other people's opinions and I welcome a healthy debate. But at the same time I just really think that there's a lot of disinterest going on in the world to the point that people don't really care for other living beings whether it's animal or human or anything else for that matter. Really the balance of the world is gonna get thrown off if we keep on going in the destructive pattern that we are going on now. I like to just plant a seed in people's minds to think before they act rather than just act selfishly all the time.

Jason:  In your first single Business Suits And Combat Boots you talk about the reality of the working world. Was that something you went through in earlier jobs?

Alissa:  Yeah. Well me personally I thought of it because I had. In Montreal I had a little coffee shop job in the trade center of Montreal. Which basically you had all these students that were still in school including myself working in the basement of the tower. Then as you mounted in the floors there was like. I don't know how many floors. Like eighty floors. You got into all these more and more luxurious office spaces where people worked two hours days and then got a million hours off. It was all the higher and higher corporations of the government of Quebec basically. So I just found it funny that they would come down to be served by us and then go back up to their luxury as if we were just mallrats in the basement. So that's kind of what gave me the idea for that. Just the juxtaposition between where they were and where we are. It's just funny because those are the people with what should be the most important jobs yet they're working the least. So that's kind of what gave me the inspiration for that.

Jason:  You recently wrote about the concepts behind all of your songs.

Alissa:  Yep.

The Agonist

Jason:  Can you talk about some of the songs you feel strongly about?

Alissa:  Some of the first songs that I wrote were. I think the third song I ever wrote was Trophy Kill and that one I wrote basically inspired by gun violence and hunting as a whole because the way I see it a gun only serves one purpose and that's to kill. Whether you call it self defense or whether you call it anything you want. It's put in your hand with the purpose of injuring or killing someone else. I think hunting season is just disgusting. It doesn't prove your manhood if you're able to pull a trigger and aim. If someone would tell me they fought down a bear and beat it with their bare hands (laughs) then maybe I'd be impressed. But pulling a trigger doesn't do it. So that's one that really came to mind a lot. Born Dead, Buried Alive was based on the whole Holocaust thing. Business Suits And Combat Boots we talked about it. I basically wrote those short little paragraphs about the songs just because I was gonna put it in the album booklet at first but I didn't want to throw too much information at people. I wanted to give them the lyrics. Let them marinate in the lyrics for a while and let them think of what they want. Then show them what I wanted after so that they could maybe just get a new take on it rather than tell them what the song is about. Because I still write the song in a general enough way that people can understand different things from it. Those are basically just like different subjects that I had thought of going through school. Learning all different things. Learning from my friends and things like that. So it's things that I wanted to express a certain amount of opinion on.

Jason:  You just shot a video. What was that experience like?

Alissa:  The video for Business Suits And Combat Boots. We actually shot it in May I think. Yeah it was in May. By director David Brodsky from My Good Eye. We shot it in Long Island and some in New York. It was a really good experience. Everything went smoothly. Everything went as we wanted it to. Then when Dave presented us the final product after the editing we were just all really really happy with it. Really amazed. Basically that video it has different elements of the song in it because that song covers a pretty wide variety of subjects. We wanted to put it in the vignette format that we did and just intersplice with the live footage. Just because that way people may not understand it at first and it might spark interest into reading into the lyrics more. It also just adds a bit of variety to the visual so it's just not us playing the whole time. We're really happy with that video and it just debuted on Headbangers Ball and we're hoping to get it on Much Music and Music Choice back home too.

The Agonist

Jason:  Has the album been doing well also?

Alissa:  Yeah. Well at our shows we've been doing really well with the album. The only problem right now is that we ran out. (laughs) We had no albums to sell for our Canadian dates which really sucked. Right now we've only got a few left. Maybe like five. There's a shipment of CDs travelling around the US trying to follow us but we can't seem to get it. Our online store is sold out. A lot of the stores. The music stores in different cities are sold out we're being told. Now Century Media's distribution might be sold out too. So we're just. We're happy that people are buying it but we're just hoping we get more printed soon (laughs) because people are not gonna wait around for that long.

Jason:  You have a very heavy tour schedule this year. Is this your first big touring experience?

Alissa:  Yeah. This is like the first tour that we did for an overly extended period of time as a band. The longest we did before was like a week long maybe. It's definitely a learning experience and it's definitely a challenging experience. We all have to learn so many different things about ourselves, about the band and about playing shows. Every show improves our stage presence and our performance and we learn how to make things go smoothly. So that's not a huge problem. Learning to deal with one another is a problem but we're getting better at it. It's just very trying because it really makes you. You know when they say "make it or break it" that's what they mean. Because if you don't really really want to do this 100% touring will make you go home. So it really weeds out the people that don't want to do it with their whole heart definitely. We're not even halfway through our tour right now and it's really hard. Really hard. The hardest experience of my life. So it's definitely a challenge but I'm sure once it's completed that we'll all feel very accomplished.

Danny:  (from other side of the room): We're grateful.

Alissa:  (laughs)

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Jason:  You've been able to play with bands who each have very different styles. Has this exposed you to different areas of the music industry as well?

Alissa:  Yeah. Well really we haven't played a single tour yet and we don't have a single tour booked for us yet that is a perfect tour for us. All the tours have been with bands that are quite different from our style. We played with God Forbid, Doro, Epica, Visions Of Atlantis. Now we're on tour with Sonata Arctica then we're going on with Overkill and Enslaved. So none of those bands completely fit our style. But we're trying to emrace that. Because that way. A lot of these Sonata Arctica fans haven't heard of our style of music before. Then they come to the show and they love it. Obviously there's some that hate it too. But you know. Whatever. They're closed minded. That's their problem. Their loss. Not mine. (laughs) But you know the kids and the fans that do actually get to see us and they're really impressed with it. That's awesome because they wouldn't have seen us if we were playing with bands that sounded exactly like us. So it's cool. It makes the touring a lot harder because we're playing shows where we expect to not be accepted right away. But the fact that we are able to go up there and win over crowds. You know sometimes we win over all the crowd. Sometimes we only win over half. Sometimes we only win over a few. But that fact that we're able to do that and then every time we revisit the city we see people with Agonist shirts on and we see people singing the lyrics. That makes it really cool. So it's a building. It's a slow building process. But I think it's working.

Jason:  Have the fans connected to the messages you are sending out?

Alissa:  Yeah. I've had a few people come up to the merch table because I always sit there after the gigs. I've had a few people come up to me and challenge me on some of the campaigns that I'm working on and things like that. And that's fine. I'll have a discussion with them straight up. Usually we shake hands by the end of the discussion and I respect their opinions. All I ask is that they respect mine. I've had a few people tell me that they've actually become vegan after buying my album. We've had a few people telling us that they're getting our artwork tattooed on them. So things like that is really cool to me. I've had one guy tell me that he used to be depressed all the time but now doesn't let those things get him down. So that's really cool because I'm so glad that I'm able to help people and have them follow my advice in that way. There's nothing more fulfilling than that. So I think fans are. I've had a few people come up to me too and be like "yeah, well I smoke and I drink, so am I not allowed to like your music" and you know what. My band smokes and drinks too. (laughs) So obviously you're allowed. I'm not preaching to anyone. I'm just letting them know what I think about the world and what I think is good for me. If you want to adopt that into your own lifestyle then all the better.

Jason:  You direct people to various website on the album. Are there any you particularly feel strongly about?

Alissa:  Um. Let me look at my list here. (laughs) You know I wrote all of these actually. These websites. The way I got these websites was actually in doing the research that I had for the essays that I wrote about each song. Because some of the paragraphs that I wrote for songs were actually taken from essays that I had written in school. Because I was always a really good essayist in school. Pretty much a lot of these websites are from organizations that will ask for money and ask for support and things like that. But that's not necessarily why I want to direct people there. I just want to direct them to the idea that an organization exists for a certain cause and that action is available for that cause. Like davidsuzuki.org for example. That's really informational and I think he's been working as an ecologist for a really long time. So that's a good one. Doctors Without Borders. They do amazing work and I've met many of the people that work there in person by going to conventions and things like that. I actually left out. Even though I'm working with Peta2 right now. I did not put Peta2 in the back of the album specifically because I know that Peta carries. Probably because they're one of the more outrageous animal activist groups. They also carry a lot of grudges along with them. I don't want people to see Peta and think "oh, ok, it's one of these" and toss it aside because they do a lot of good work and sometimes it takes being controversial to get the attention that's needed for the cause. So people have problems with some of these organizations. That's fine. Just be aware of the cause that these organizations exist for.

The Agonist

Jason:  There are a lot of celebrities that go out and work for causes. Princess Di did. Angelina Jolie does. Would you like to become more actively involved like these celebrities do?

Alissa:  Oh. I would love to do that. I would love to do that. I can't even. That's like a dream of mine for sure. Is to go and actually do hands on physical work in some of these fields. Just to know that I'm actually making a difference. Because as much I spread the word and as much as I can help that way. I would love to actually be able to physically accomplish what I'm trying to do. I would love to go and be able to work in a rainforest or be able to do some research on endagered species. I think that would be the best. I really also like marine life too and there's unfortunately so much pollution going on in the ocean that a lot of species are being extinct before they're even discovered. So I'd really really love to do some work like that. That would be amazing.

Jason:  Back to the music. Did you have any influences growing up that brought you into the scream style you use today?

Alissa:  You know it's really hard to say because I can't even really remember how I got into metal when I think about it. Growing up. My parents are totally into music. My mom loves all different kinds of music. If you walk into our house instead of wallpaper on the walls we have 7 inch vinyls covering the walls. (laughs) Record cases and everything. So I was brought up to accept all different kinds of music. I think I really first started getting into music when grunge came around. I was really into Pearl Jam and Nirvana. Stone Temple Pilots and things like that. So I really liked that style of music growing up. From there I sort of evolved into punk because I really like the fact that it was more aggressive. I really love The Casualties. Anti Flag and things like that. I also like the message behind a lot of those bands. Then when I joined my first band I actually just joined because it was a friend's band who needed a singer. I said "oh, I know lots of people in bands, I'll go find you a singer". Then they were like "ok, well a girl or a guy, it's all good". Then I was like "oh wait, maybe I should do it". So I just sort of decided to start doing it even though I never really sang before. They just happened to be a progressive metal band (laughs) so I just went along with what we were doing and I realized that that was a really cool style of music for me. So then I started listening to more In Flames. Arch Enemy. Bands like that and sort of developed my own style from that. I never grew up listening religiously to any one album and dying to be that person. I just sort of pulled from a lot of different areas.

Jason:  Do you find it more challenging being a female in the industry? Is it tougher to be accepted in this genre?

Alissa:  Yeah. It is. Because you're automatically pigeon holed by being female. Especially now. When I first started out I think it was a little bit more original to be female in a band. Then Evanescence broke out and suddenly every female in a band was Evanescence. Which is really stupid because you should pay attention to the sound of the music not the fact that someone is female. It does make it harder definitely because there's people that will automatically hate you because you're female. Because they hate the fact that girls can do it too. Then there's people that will love it because you're female. Which is great. But at the same time they really should be liking us or disliking us because of the music. Not because I'm a girl. So I personally have to deal with a lot more. I've never been a guy so I can't say if it's more or less. But I have to deal with quite a bit of pressure just because of the fact that guys will see you on stage and be like "you're hot" or think you can't do it as well as a guy or whatever. I pretty much just go out on stage and show them exactly what I can do and more often than not they come back impressed. So I just try to leave all that bullshit behind and just do what we're supposed to do. Which is play a show.

Jason:  You're really aggressive on stage. Does that come out from your feelings of the songs?

Alissa:  Yeah. A lot of. Like 100% of people that have our album before seeing us live say. They come up to us at the merch table afterwards and they are like "wow, I love your album but it's 1,000 times heavier live". That's because we all really put energy into it. We're only a four piece. We're young. We have a lot of guts and we have a lot of energy to show on stage. So we all really rock out hard on stage and we really get into it. For me it's a challenge. When I see someone in the crowd who's being a smart ass and heckling or yawning or whatever. For me it's a challenge to get them headbanging by the end of the set. When I do it's fuckin awesome you know. Every once in a while you get someone in the front row giving me this look of death and I'll stare right back into their face and I won't let down and by the end of the song usually they're headbanging or they got their horns up. So it's part of the music. It's partially because of what I feel about the lyrics that I'm saying. It's also because of the fact that I'm female and I can't let up. Because people prey on insecurity. So I've got to show them that I'm not gonna fuckin let them prey on me. So that's basically where that comes from.

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Jason:  Have you been winning over a lot of fans?

Alissa:  Yeah. Yeah. Obviously there's a few people that are stuck in their ways and don't accept any different kind of music than what they love and listen to. That's fine for them. I'm not asking them to watch my set if they don't like it. More often than not we get a lot of people coming over and being like "I've never heard of you guys" but that's really cool. Our CD sales have been really really good at shows which is why we ran out now. (laughs) But yeah. Fans are getting into it which is really cool. Everytime we play a city that we had previously played it gets better and better.

Jason:  Do you have plans for a follow up album?

Alissa:  Yeah. We actually. Once Only Imagined is really our baby album. It includes everything from the first song that I wrote upon joining The Tempest. It includes the last that I wrote in studio right before release. Right before finishing the recording. It took a long time to get Once Only Imagined out. I think we started recording that two years ago. So we have a lot of new songs actually written or partially written for album number two. We have about five or six songs already written. It's a much heavier darker more mature sound. I'm really excited to get that out. I think the addition of Simon into the band. Our new drummer. He really helped too because he has pretty much exactly the same taste in music as I do. We both really know where we want to take this band. So all four of us working together it's gonna be a really really cool album. We're all really excited to get it out too. So we're working hard on it.

Jason:  Do you have more messages to send out to everyone?

Alissa:  Oh yeah. For sure. (laughs) You know why. It's beacuse living day to day I encounter different people and every person has their own story and by experiencing that person's story I get a message in mind. Already every single day I find something else out that either bothers me or encourages me and I want to share that with other people. Talk about it a little bit more. So I'll never run out of things to say. (laughs)

The Agonist

Sonic Cathedral appreciates the opportunity to talk with Alissa from "The Agonist".

Check out more about the band at http://www.theagonist.net and http://www.centurymedia.com