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Noctura Interview

Noctura Interview
Performed via Skype in July 2011 

Hailing from Indianapolis (USA), the rock band Noctura spent the first few years of its existence as a two-person studio project comprised of Mandy Suiter and Jeremy Roche. On the strength of a handful of demos alone, the band quickly garnered a devoted following around the world. And yes, their music is THAT good ... one could be forgiven for mistaking their early songs for lost tracks from Evanescence’s Fallen album.


Noctura has recently released their full-length CD, Surrender the Sun, mixed by none other than Dan Certa (Seether, We Are The Fallen, The Fray). Sonic Cathedral caught up with Mandy and Jeremy on the heels of their CD release concert. Dive in for a behind-the-scenes look at the making of Surrender the Sun and Noctura’s first live performance!

Robin:  Congratulations on Noctura’s debut album, Surrender the Sun, which was released on June 21st. Now that the album is actually out there, how do you feel?

Mandy:  Very relieved! This is something Jeremy and I have been working on for two or three years now. It’s been in the making for that long. So it feels really, really good to have a finished product instead of just a collection of works-in-progress, which is what we’ve had for the past couple years.

Robin:  On the album, which track is the oldest and which is the newest?

Mandy:  The oldest song on Surrender the Sun is “Bleeding for Truth.” The newest song would be “Venom.”


Robin:  In listening to Surrender the Sun -- and I don’t think I am the first person to make this comparison -- there seems to be more than a touch of an Evanescence feel to it.

Mandy:  Especially in our earlier stuff, there is more of an Evanescence feel. That is probably a lot of me coming through because I’m a big Evanescence fan. I was really, really excited when I heard them for the first time because it was something that combined all the elements I love most about music. I used to sing in choir in school, and hearing someone who has a soprano choir voice and combining that with heavy rock guitars, it was just something that I’d never heard before. I was such a fan and it made such an impression on me that I think it was inevitable that that kind of influence would come out in my own writing. More so especially in the earlier ideas.

But it’s kind of cool because, as we’ve grown as a band, we’ve progressed. I don’t think we’re there yet completely, but we’ve started to carve out our little unique spot in the spectrum. So yeah, in the same way that bands like Nirvana started a trend with grunge music, or bands like Nickelback did with commercial alternative rock, I feel like Evanescence were trailblazers for this kind of genre -- at least in the U.S. Since then, bands like Halestorm, Flyleaf, and Paramore have come to the table with their own spin on things. I’m hoping that is something that maybe we will be able to do as well.

Robin:  “Venom,” the newest of the tracks, has a very different sound than “Bleeding for Truth” and other early Noctura songs. To what do you attribute the evolution in your sound?

Mandy:  I think the main thing is just time and experience. It seems like every new song we write takes a slightly different turn, whether it’s a difference in the final result or just a difference in the way we approach it or combine ideas. In both cases, it’s cool to see because it means we’re evolving as artists and writers.

Robin:  With the exception of a couple of songs, you and Jeremy wrote, performed and produced the entire ten-track album. If I understand correctly, though, neither of you can read music …

Mandy:  (laughs) That is correct. Neither of us has any formal training at all, and we don’t speak the same language at all. That has made for some really interesting songwriting and communications between the two of us.

Robin:  Then how do you and Jeremy go about writing songs?

Mandy:  It often starts off with an idea that one of us has on our own. A lot of the songs on the album began as just a piano/vocal idea that I had come up with. I’d play it, and sometimes I’d have ideas for the other instruments and sometimes I wouldn’t. Jeremy and I would just sit down together and work through the ideas. If it was something I came up with, I might let him know if I was feeling a certain type of vibe for the song, then he would just start playing different ideas. There were songs that came together in a day, and there were songs that came together in a year-and-a-half. (laughs) I guess it just depends on where we are at mentally and how quickly things come together. It kind of depends on luck and karma and fate, I’m not sure. But we’re both really excited now because the next time around, it’ll be a lot different having a full band.

Robin:  The fancy-schmancy recording was actually done in your house, Mandy; is that right?

Mandy:  Yes yes, that was all done in a little corner of a bedroom in my house, except for “Bleeding for Truth.” That’s the song that we did in the summer of 2009 (I think), where we went to a studio here in Indianapolis. At the time, we were thinking we were going to embark on our whole album recording then, but we only got through a couple of songs before we realized that it was a little pricier than what we could afford. At least to get it done the way we wanted to get it done, because we have so many layers that we were working with. So that one was actually recorded in a studio, but was remixed and mastered with the other songs to match the rest of the album. But we have to give credit for the sound quality to Dan Certa, who took our recordings to a whole new level with mixing and production.

But yeah, most of the songs were just recorded in a tiny corner of the bedroom. The studio experience that we had with “Bleeding for Truth” helped us to have a little more knowledge on how to record properly. Or at least how to do a better job than we did on our super old recordings where we were just kind of winging it. There were a lot of books that we checked out and bought that REALLY didn’t do us much good at all, except cost us a lot of money.


Robin:  So do you live in a really, really quiet neighborhood ….

Mandy:  Nooooooo!

Robin:  … or do you deal with sirens going by and the neighbor’s dog barking?

Mandy:  Yeah, there have been a couple of times where trains have come through when I’ve been recording vocal tracks. For things like guitars, it doesn’t usually matter too much because we did a lot of direct-recording with direct input, so it didn’t pick up any outside noise or anything. (laughs) But it’s still distracting when you’re playing something and you have a train rolling through or a dog barking … and a lot of times it was MY dog. Actually, I think there are probably some vocal tracks on Surrender the Sun where she might be snoring in the background, but I’m not sure. (laughs)

Robin:  (laughs) You realize that hardcore Noctura fans are now going to flyspeck Surrender the Sun to identify the elusive dog snore in the background?

Mandy:  It could be, because she can be very LOUD. So I wouldn’t be surprised.

Robin:  Who did which parts of the album? There are only two of you, but obviously the songs have drums and piano and guitars and thick orchestration.

Mandy:  I did the vocals (obviously), and I did the piano and the orchestral accompaniment. Jeremy did the guitars and also did the bass lines. Kris Haughey came in and did guitar lines on three or four songs on the album. The drums … well, in addition to guitar, Jeremy plays drums as well. Sometimes I would have a basic idea, but what usually happened was that Jeremy would air-drum all of the drum parts, and I would watch him. Over the years, it got to the point where Jeremy would do air-drums and I would be able to tell, from where he was drumming, which drum he was hitting. So I would translate that, and program them all in one by one. So most of the drums on the album are not actually someone playing a kit, but it was based on air-drumming that Jeremy did.

Jeremy:  It was a very long process.

Mandy:  Yes, very tedious and long!!!

Robin:  Jeremy, what sparked your interest in teaming up with Mandy to form a female-fronted band?

Jeremy:  Some friends of mine asked me to start jamming with them, and I said “sure.” Then they found Mandy online. When I heard her voice, I thought: “Man, she’s awesome.” Most of the singers in the bands I’ve been in weren’t at the same skill level vocally as Mandy, but they had the guts to get up in front of people and do it. So when they found her, I thought, “Okay, I’ll try it. She is really good, and that could probably make a huge difference.”

Obviously that group of guys didn’t work out. They were some of my close friends, and they didn’t really have the same direction that Mandy and I had and were wanting to go in. So a lot of times they would leave, and we would sit there and come up with ideas on our own. We kind of had a back-catalogue of stuff. Once that thing separated, we started our own little deal.

Robin:  Noctura formed in 2007 and you already had songs written, but your first live gig wasn’t until June 2011. Was it frustrating to not play live during those years?

Jeremy:  I think so. It’s kind of amazing how many people have the musical talent to do stuff, but it’s hard to find people that are the right fit that want to do the same thing as you, you know?


Mandy:  I think it was particularly frustrating for Jeremy because he had played in bands that were gigging before. Once he was in a position where he was really excited about the material that he was working on and writing, he was probably really eager to get out there. I was too, but I was coming from a place where I had never performed before. So it wasn’t like it was something that I was missing. It was just a new, kind of scary thing that I knew would happen at some point, but I didn’t know when. As much as I was anxious to play live, I was kind of content also on all of the leading-up time, getting ready to perform.

It was frustrating with it just being the two of us for so long because it made working through the songs kind of difficult. We would write a song and we would have all the parts down -- even some of these album tracks that we had finished before we found any of the guys that we are playing with live now -- we’d have songs, we’d even have the whole finished album mix of the song, but we’d have no way to practice it. We didn’t have a group of guys where we could actually go in and practice. So when we got together for the first time with other musicians to play these songs live, it was really interesting because it was literally our first time playing these songs at a practice as well. We could play through them to some extent, but not like you can with a full band. So that was really weird for us.

Robin:  How long before your June debut concert did the live line-up come together?

Mandy:  It was around three or four months before the show that we were finally able to assemble a group of guys together, where we knew we’d actually be able to have a full band for the performance. But we still couldn’t practice our whole set list or anything because we were finishing the album as we were prepping for the show. Even though we had a group of guys together, we literally finished “Venom,” the last song that went on the album, I want to say two or three weeks before the June 21st album release. (laughs) So there were some songs that we played at the show that we had really only been able to practice maybe three to four times before the show, which is a little unnerving. But, you do what you’ve got to do.

Robin:  What was the most surprising or interesting thing about doing your first show?

Mandy:  Gosh, there were a lot of things! For me anyway, since it was all so new to me. I wish I had known how vastly different the hearing experience is for me as a singer when there is a whole roomful of people, as opposed to rehearsing to an empty room. I had kind of gotten to a point where I was like, “Okay, this is great, I can hear… I got this!” Then as soon as we hit the stage, with 400 screaming people, it totally changed the whole sound aspect. It was really, really, really hard to hear everything I needed to hear to sing properly.

Robin:  So what did you do, rely on muscle memory to carry you through?

Mandy:  Yeah, I basically just prayed. (laughs) Someone with more training would probably know how to adapt to that kind of situation, but I hadn’t really prepared for that so I just had to sing whatever I could, even though my ears couldn’t tell if it was in key. So I just sort of went with it, maybe guessed at some of it, and did the best I could. That was definitely a struggle for me.

Robin:  Jeremy, I know this wasn’t your first time playing out, but did Noctura’s live debut bring any surprises for you?

Jeremy:  Yeah, the lights were different for me. The last time I played the guitar in front of people was a long, long, long time ago. So the very first note I hit, the light shined right in my face and it made it really hard to see what was going on. We don’t practice with the lights and that kind of stuff, so that was a little different. And I couldn’t get too far away from my amp or else I couldn’t hear it. But all in all it went okay.

Mandy:  He and I both are just complete noobs to everything … me more than him. (laughs) It was a very strange experience. Another thing that I was really taken aback by was the enthusiasm of all the fans who were there. I was really kind of just in shock by the excitement level, by the energy level of everyone who was there in the room, and by how supportive they were. They knew it was our first show, they knew it was my first time performing EVER, and I just felt that they all really had our back. I felt supported by everybody who was there that night. It was really cool.

Robin:  I was blown away that Noctura sold out your debut show three months in advance, and in less than three days after they went on sale. Plus people flew in from across the country and Canada to be there.

Mandy:  Yeah, it was very crazy. I think the tickets went on sale on a Friday morning and were all sold out by Sunday night. We had pretty much been thinking, “Man, I hope we can get a decent-sized crowd, so we don’t have to play to an empty room.” We had no idea it would be that much in demand.


Robin:  (laughs) You guys haven’t learned your own appeal yet. If I’m not mistaken, Noctura hit your crowd-funding goal on RocketHub to help finance the album in two days, and then went on to triple that amount.

Mandy:  Yeah, whatever the lowest goal amount was through the crowd-funding site, that’s the amount we picked. We thought it would be cool if we could buy a new pedal or something to use for the recordings. We really had no idea. I mean, we don’t want to take anything for granted. It’s not like we’re ever in a place where we can assume that we’re going to get a certain level of support. We’re really surprised every time.

Robin:  Awwwww. (Mandy laughs) Have your lives changed at all, since Surrender the Sun came out and Noctura had their debut gig? Or is it average Joe by day, rockstar by night?

Mandy:  (laughs) I think it’s pretty much business as usual for the most part, but then there is some extra coolness added to our nights and weekends. Since the album has come out and the show has happened, there has definitely been a spike in awareness about Noctura, and we’ve definitely had a lot more people finding us and sending us messages and fanning us on Facebook and things like that. That’s kind of been cool to see. It makes us feel as though people like what we did, which is really rewarding. We’ve had amazing fans who have been believing in us for years, and I can’t even describe how cool that is, and it really kept us going and made it possible for us to do the album. But now we have people who are just now hearing about us, and instead of hoping we put out a good album, they hear it right off the bat and still decide they dig us. That’s different kind of cool that we’re not used to.

Robin:  Other than the United States, where is Noctura’s strongest fanbase? You already have fanclubs in several countries, right?

Mandy:  Yeah, there is a Brazilian fanclub …

Jeremy:  There is one in Greece …


Mandy:  Someone just started one in Indonesia and a couple of our regular fansites are run by people from the United States, Argentina, Australia and the UK. I don’t know if there is a particular concentration of fans in a given country, but I want to say Brazil might be a strong contender if we were to compare.

Robin:  We have reached the end of our time together. As always, the last words are for the band. Do you have any parting words for your friends and new fans at Sonic Cathedral?

Mandy:  We’re really excited to be featured at Sonic Cathedral! You guys have a very cool site that helps introduce the world to amazing music, and we’re really happy to be a part of it. Feel free to stop by any of our sites and say hello!


Band Website