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Skeptical Minds Interview 2013

Skeptical Minds Interview 2013
September 25, 2013 (via Skype)



The way to a metal journalist’s heart is (not surprisingly) music that offers a fresh twist on a beloved genre, but chocolate runs a close second. Oh yes, it does! With the Belgian band, Skeptical Minds, we get both. On the music front, Skeptical Minds combines metal riffing and vocals with electro elements and the organic warmth of a live cello. On the confectionary front, it has become something of a tradition for us to join Skeptical Minds for a jaunt to Belgium’s chocolate capital of Bruges after Metal Female Voices Fest.

Skeptical Minds



Sonic Cathedral’s Robin Stryker chatted with vocalist Karolina Pacan and founder/guitarist Michel Stiakakis for all the details on their upcoming EP, Living In A Movie. Dive in for a freewheeling discussion of the EP, Skeptical Minds’ upcoming full-length album and comic (including the first hints about the story line), Hulking out, and much more!

Sonic Cathedral:  Sonic Cathedral is very happy to welcome back Skeptical Minds! Karolina, you just celebrated your fifth anniversary with the band, and it looks like you guys took a little trip to celebrate. Would you tell us about your anniversary celebration?

Karolina:  It was actually quite amazing that it’s already five years since accepting for the Skeptical Minds, and it was very nice to come back in time to Amsterdam. It all actually started there. It was a strange feeling inside, you know, because you don’t realize how time passed very quickly. I can say that I feel very happy and very blessed to be in the band for so long. It doesn’t happen very often now, so I feel very happy!

Sonic Cathedral:  Did you do anything special in Amsterdam to celebrate?

Karolina:  <laughs> Oh, we ate, we drank, and we spoke.

Michel:  We visited the city too! So, five years ago, we met Karolina there. We walked in the streets; we went in some places to get food; and we made almost the same journey … but five years after. We walked the same streets, and it’s like we came back in the past all together with the same team and the friend [Stéphane Odent] who introduced us to Karolina and Karolina to us. That is how we celebrated. It was not a party with gigs and so on. It was just between us, friends. We wanted to live that same day, but five years after. The most important was to be all together.


Skeptical Minds 


Sonic Cathedral:  That sounds like a wonderful way to celebrate! Of course, the big news is that Skeptical Minds will release their four-track EP, Living In A Movie, at Metal Female Voices Fest in October. Please give us an introduction to your album, and why you chose to release an EP when a full-length album will come out in 2014.

Michel:  Yes, good question because we work almost on two things together. <laughs> I will first say two words about the next album, so we can understand what happened with the EP. The next album will tell us a story. Okay?

Sonic Cathedral:  Mmmhmmm.

Michel:  That story will be shown in two ways. One way is the music and words on the CD. The second way is a comic with the visual and the words. So, we have two versions. We have 11 chapters, and each chapter is a song. We wrote more songs than what we needed, so the songs we put on the Living In A Movie EP, we won’t release on the album, but we like those songs. We play some of them on stage already, and we didn’t want to have those songs unreleased. That’s one reason.

The other reason is production, I think. Until now, Skeptical Minds have done everything by ourselves -- all the studio recordings, mixing, and mastering. But it’s not our real job, so we felt that we reached our limits about production, and we wanted to go further. Of course, each time, we want to make some new steps. But alone, we are not able to make those steps, so we need to go further and say: “Okay, we’ll work with studios and record everything not in our houses, but more professionally.”

The EP was a good occasion to make some tries before the album. We could learn some things, and have the opportunity to study the new way to work. With four songs, it’s easier, and it’s also easier to be more coherent. When you have 11 songs, you have less space for experimenting (and it takes a lot of time and money), so we decided to do the EP in that way. And we are glad of the result! In the matter of production, we are further than before, and we also learned some things that will be useful when we are producing the album.

Sonic Cathedral:  For each of you, what were the most useful lessons from recording in a professional studio?

Michel:  Huh, you are always learning, so it’s difficult to say. When you do things at home, you can take your time. You can compose and record things 10 times per day until you have a good result. In a professional studio, you have to be ready before. We did it in two or three takes, so we tried to be ready. There is a lot of work you have to do before. When you work alone, you learn a lot how to get the sounds, how to quantify the sounds, how to work on the mix and the frequencies and the mastering. You learn many things. But the problem is, because it’s not our job, we spend a lot and a lot and a lot of time to have a result that a sound engineer can have quicker and much better. Before, we did things by ourselves because we had the material, and it was also to spare money. That is it.

Karolina:  Well, for me, it’s actually as Mich said. When you are at home and you are recording yourself, you can do one billion takes, and you can correct whatever you like. But when you are going to the studio, you HAVE to be ready. There isn’t time for mistakes, unless you are a millionaire and can spend all your money in the studio to fix everything. <all laugh> But yeah, in the studio, there is more pressure. It is easy to de-concentrate, and you have to be really, really ready to be able to focus and get the good result easier.

Sonic Cathedral:  On the EP, there is a newly recorded version of “Broken Dolls”, which had been on the previous Skepticalized album. What did you do differently in the new version?

Michel:  We knew that we would have a better production, so that’s one thing. The other thing is that we tried that version on stage with Iliana [Tsakiraki] as a guest vocalist. We tried that version for the first time in Greece last year. We liked it a lot, so we did it again at Metal Female Voices Fest because Meden Agan was playing with Iliana. Everybody likes that version, and we are also very good friends with Iliana, so it was also a good occasion to immortalize that thing and to have it for us.


Skeptical Minds 


Sonic Cathedral:  Mich, you are Greek. But Karolina, what is a nice Polish girl doing with such a fascination with Greece?

Karolina:  Well, I think it’s like falling in love. You don’t know what it’s all about, but you just feel it in your heart. So that is how it is from my side. I just FEEL it. Yeah, and there is also mythology, all the history, everything about Greece is really fascinating, and it’s really deep and very rich. It all comes together, and you have a wonderful romance.

Sonic Cathedral:  When was the first time you actually visited Greece?

Karolina:  Hmmmm, two years ago, I think it was for the first time. Yup.

Sonic Cathedral:  Speaking of Greece, Greek fans were the very first to hear the Living In A Movie EP two months before everyone else. Would you tell us about your special listening party?

Michel:  We wanted to make a listening party in Greece. Why? Since we played there last year, we have many many many people who write to us regularly and who ask for us. What happened that day in that gig was just incredible. There were a lot of people because of Epica (of course), and when we played, there was like a chain reaction. I will say that in the public that was just crazy! After the second song, everybody was like quoting us since years. We thought it was a mistake, but everybody knew the songs and everybody was singing with us. The most impressive thing was that we never sold a CD in Greece before. It was incredible what happened that day! We never had that in Belgium or anywhere else. People come, they see you, they have fun, but they don’t sing like the Greeks did.

We had a very good evening, and we kept in contact with Greeks, which is why we wanted to make something special. This summer, as we had to go there to discuss about some other things and do some things, we said: “End of August, we’ll be ready with the EP. Why not present it there?” People came, and they were very happy. We were too!!! We had another great evening in Greece with Greek fans!

Sonic Cathedral:  Apparently, you must have had a wonderful time because you will soon do a mini-tour in France, Belgium and The Netherlands with the Greek band, Dimlight. Karolina, are you looking forward to gigging with your Eve’s Apple sister, Sanna Salou from Dimlight?

Karolina:  <laughs> Yes, that’s true! We will have three dates with Dimlight. I can say that, for me, it’s a very big pleasure because Sanna is a good friend. We always have many talks on Facebook and Skype. When we played in Greece, we had many help from Sanna and her bandmates, so we wanted to give a return. We see that it works very well!

Sonic Cathedral:  Let’s talk about your upcoming full-length with the comic book. Alain Poncelet, who created some panels in 2010 for the track “Broken Dolls”, will be illustrating the comic book. Will the comic book have a similar aesthetic?

Michel:  I want to say “probably”, but I don’t know yet because I just saw the first script (drawn by Alain Poncelet). So it doesn’t go into details. We just have the story, and how we will present things. But I think it will be close.

Sonic Cathedral:  I believe the upcoming album is the first concept album by Skeptical Minds. When you create an album with a story arc, does that change how you create the album?

Michel:  Yes, because here we started with the story. Usually, the lyrics come at the final position. We always started with melodies -- guitar licks or piano licks -- and then we develop the electro and all the rest. At the end, we came with all the lyrics. Here, it is different because first we decided what the story will be. We divided it into different chapters, and we know the main idea of each chapter (what every song will talk about). Then you have to build around that. So, you work together on the comic side and the music side.

The inspiration is difficult to find because you have to reproduce the same kind of feeling … everything must be connected. As work, it’s completely something else. It is more like how you make a movie, than how you make an album. That is my sensation, and I think Karo has the same too because it starts from the story and the visual first, and then we have to build around that.


Skeptical Minds 


Sonic Cathedral:  Without spoiling the surprise, can you give us a sneak peek?

Michel:  Okay, something that we haven’t told anybody: I will just tell you that it’s a girl. (It is always a girl, of course, because Karolina represents that girl when she sings.) It is a girl who has a dream, and in that dream, she sees her death. Her death will happen very soon -- maybe in two weeks or two months, but it’s close. That is the beginning, but I won’t tell the rest. <laughs>

Sonic Cathedral:  Thank you for giving Sonic Cathedral a little taste to whet our appetites! Karolina, something that I find fascinating is that you are rather shy in person. But when you perform, you transform into this metal warrior who dominates the stage. How do you get into that mindset?

Karolina:  <laughs> Mich says that I’m the Hulk!

Sonic Cathedral:  <laughs> Aha, so the secret is to Hulk out!

Karolina:  When I’m on the stage and I see so many people, it’s very motivating. It gives a lot of energy. It wakes up inside of me kind of a warrior, and I feel an inner duty and a big passion to bring something special to the people. <laughs> And, of course, SPARTA!!! Yeah yeah, you know that.

Sonic Cathedral:  And you have Leonidas’ shield tattooed on your arm if you ever forget. Both of you have been musicians for quite a while. Do you ever get nervous performing, or have you done it so long that nerves aren’t a problem anymore?

Michel:  Karo first.

Karolina:  No, I’m not stressed at all. Actually, I cannot wait to be on stage. It is kind of an excitement. So no, I’m not stressing.

Michel:  None on my side. I’m in bands since 20 years, so now I’m not stressing anymore. I can say for three or four for us, that’s true. In the beginning, for the first gigs, you stress a lot. The first time you make the Metal Female Voices Fest or such kind of fest, you stress a lot. After some times, it’s changed to something else. We are not stressed anymore, and we wake up very early when there is a gig. Even if you say: “Okay, we have time, we can wake up at 12:00”, at six or seven o’clock in the morning, you are already awake because you are impatient to go to the gig.

We are just anxious that everything will work correctly. When the sound check is made, there is no problem; we are just impatient to be on stage. Like Karolina said before, when we climb on stage, we feel an inner energy growing, and we just want to let it explode. That’s how we feel, and I think the other members feel like that too.

Sonic Cathedral:  At last year’s Metal Female Voices Fest, Skeptical Minds was celebrating its 10th birthday (along with the festival), and you had a wonderful custom guitar that you played on stage and then gave to a lucky fan from New York. Have you heard whether that inspired him to start playing?

Michel:  Yes indeed, it was a guy from New York, who came with his son. He didn’t expect to win because he was the first to order his [lottery] numbers on the internet. Immediately when we posted the link to order, he ordered the 10 first numbers. Then he sent us an email like: “Oh, is it possible to change because I have 001, 002, and so on?” He thought he would have more of a chance if it wasn’t numbers like 4, 5, 6, and we said: “Okay, that is nonsense because every number has the same chance to be chosen.” So he left it like that, and then he won because we chose 008. So, when I was doing the pulls … actually, Karolina was doing that … but when I was saying the numbers, I KNEW it was that guy who won because we had that conversation in the beginning, so he was lucky.

When he received the guitar, he told me: “I cannot play now, but I want to learn.” His son was there, and he said to his father: “Oh cool, now I’ll have a nice guitar!” But the father said: “No, it’s mine. I want to learn now.” But I didn’t ask him if he learned or tried to play. Well, I knew he would try. But did he continue? I don’t know. I think perhaps he will come back to Metal Females this year, and we will discuss about that for sure.

Sonic Cathedral:  Well, if he hasn’t been practicing before, I’m sure he will diligently practice before the festival. Mich, I believe you have a very nice story about who inspired you to get serious about playing the guitar.

Michel:  That is true. You are well informed. So, the original Savatage guitar player was Criss Oliva. When I was a teenager, I loved metal and loved to see the gigs. When I saw those guys playing, I always was dreaming and said: “One day, I want to have a guitar, and do the same.” Okay, when you say “one day”, it never happens. You have to decide and do it. Then it happens. When I saw Savatage the first time, I saw that guy playing and technically he was amazing. But what I really loved was the emotion he could bring in his solos and the melodies he played. The next days with my friend -- the friend who initiated me to heavy metal and who attended that gig with me -- we went to buy our first guitar together. So Criss Oliva was the guy who made us take the decision and buy our first guitar.

Skeptical Minds 


Sonic Cathedral:  Karolina, lots of little girls love to sing, but what was it that took you from simply enjoying singing to studying music seriously?

Karolina:  I think it’s all about the dream, and what you want to do in your life. You know, when I was a kid, I was always singing. Wherever I went, I was singing. I wanted one day to sing professionally, to sing on a nice stage with a cool band. I wanted to bring to people, with my music, something really beautiful to change their lives and make it more happy. With that dream passing year by year, I was really convinced about what I wanted to do. And okay, here I am! Luck was by my side. <laughs>

Sonic Cathedral:  Did anyone in particular inspire or encourage your musical journey?

Karolina:  Well, I can tell you that my father is a musician -- he’s a metal guitar player. He was always talking to me about the music, and I was really fascinated about it. That was also the reason why I wanted to do it professionally.

Sonic Cathedral:  Obviously, anyone who turns on the news is bombarded by scary, horrible stuff. So, I’d like to ask for opposite: What has your most beautiful experience in the past year been?

Michel:  Is it censored or not?

Sonic Cathedral:  Not censored. <laughs> Well, maybe slightly censored.

Michel:  I will say two things -- one about music experience, and the other about private. Okay? So, about music, there are two things. It is the gig in Greece of course, and the Metal Female Voices Fest. That was something very special, and we met some special people. So that was the two most important moments for me.

And for the private, I went to Greece; I went back to Crete in April. I am originally from Crete, and I had 17 years to go there. So that was very important to me to go back. That is the most important moments for me. And also, you spoke about what happens in the world. Greece lives difficult moments now, so it was important to go back and also very strange to find the situation there because it is not easy. That is my side.

Karolina:  For my side, it was also the concert in Greece and Metal Females … exactly the same as Mich. It was very beautiful. From the private side, I could finally visit LEONIDAS in Greece. <laughs> That was one of my big dreams, and also Mount Olympus. Finally, it happened that I could go there. That was very special.

Sonic Cathedral:  Wonderful! We had talked about your gigs with Dimlight and the EP release. What else is coming down the pike for Skeptical Minds?

Michel:  Actually, we planned eight gigs from this weekend [late September] until mid-November. We are busy to try to book other things for this year, perhaps four or five more. We will begin the album recording the beginning of next year, and then play a lot. Next year, probably we will have 20 to 30 gigs. I will try to plan also a tour in Greece for five days or six days. Not only one date in Athens; instead, playing five or six cities on a real tour. Around here in Europe too. I think, with the next album, we will try to play all around.

Sonic Cathedral:  Are there any particular countries that you are anxious to perform in?

Michel:  Yes. We have lots of demands from America. When I say “America”, it’s the whole continent, North America and South America. So, the United States (of course), Canada, and we have a lot of people in Mexico and Uruguay who ask for us. The only problem is that, for a band like us, the costs are very, very expensive. So, we need a minimum amount of contacts to make a minimum amount of gigs, to be able to cover those costs. We don’t want to come back rich, but that’s the reality. That is how we try to work. I think it could be possible in 2014, so we are starting to take contacts, and we will see where it leads.

In Europe of course it is easier because Belgium is close to many countries. But to go out from Europe, it’s very difficult. So, we’ll try with the American continent, and in the future, perhaps, Japan, Hong Kong, and things like that. It is not for this year, I think -- perhaps 2015. The first time should be America. That is what we will try for a priority.

Sonic Cathedral:  Well as an American, I hope those plans come to pass!

Michel:  So you’d like that, eh?

Skeptical Minds 


Sonic Cathedral:  Oh yes! Mich and Karolina, we have about reached the end of our time together. What final words would you like to leave for your Skeptical Minds fans?

Michel:  Ahaha, I will go first. I am not gallant now, and will let Karolina go after. It is the first time I can speak directly to American people, and I’m very happy. So, what I would like to say is: “Thank you for the support from the people who support us!” Ah, I repeat myself twice in one sentence, but that means what it means. We really want to meet them there, and not only at Metal Female Voices Fest. We want to meet them in America, and we’ll do our best to come in 2014!

Karolina:  Mich said it all! <laughs> Okay, from my side, I can also say that I really hope for Skeptical Minds to come one day for many dates to America. I hope to meet all the wonderful people out there at the concerts, and have a chat after the gig. So, let’s cross the fingers. Everything is possible!

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

Michel:  No problem. Thank you too.

 Skeptical Minds

Promotional photos by Helcanen
Live photos by Stepix (Stéphane Odent)


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