Canadian metal outfit The Agonist are back with their sixth studio album, Orphans, set for release on September 20 via Rodeostar Records. Already being described as “more extreme, more melodic, and more exciting,” the long overdue follow-up to 2016’s Five has endured drama, frustrations, and even sabotage to stand tall as the most triumphant moment in the band’s career.
Rock Confidential spoke with frontwoman Vicky Psarakis about the challenges surrounding Orphans, her songwriting style, making connections with music, and her thoughts on “female-fronted” metal bands.
Vicky, thanks for checking in! How are things going?
Things have been really busy, but good busy. I’m currently in Montreal, because the album is coming out in three weeks and we have a bunch of shows planned. We’ve been busy rehearsing and filming more music videos and stuff.
What’s the next video?
It’s coming very soon so I guess I can give it away. It’s for “As One We Survive.”
We’re less than three weeks away from Orphans being released. Do you get anxious the closer it gets to the street date?
Yes and no. I never really get anxious about something that’s happening in the future. I’m more of a day-to-day anxious person. So if I know we have a new single dropping let’s say tomorrow, which we don’t, but I would be anxious about it, like the day before. Not a month in advance. I do know that there’s more stuff leading up to the release so I’m more like, “Oh I can’t wait for that song to drop or that little teaser to be out.” I’m sure a day before the album drops that I’ll be anxious about it.
You’ve probably lived with these songs for so long that part of that excitement has passed.
Yeah, it’s kind of funny because the album took even longer than normal to come out. So all these songs – from the demo stages to the release – I would say a year and a half. I’m still very proud of the songs of course, and the album, but they’re almost old news to me and I think the only thing that prevents it from not being exciting is that we haven’t played the songs live. So there’s that aspect of it that comes in and makes it kind of refreshing. But yeah, the musician in me is like “Okay, can we write new music now?”
How long has Orphans been completely finished?
Completely finished? About a year. A little over a year, actually.
That’s a long time.
It’s a super long time. We had a really hard time releasing it. If things would have went our way, this album would have been out in 2018.
What are some of the hurdles you had to jump to get the record out?
So, basically, the main thing is that we didn’t have a label at the time. And that is for reasons aside from the music. A lot of things happen that I personally don’t deal with at all. I don’t even wanna deal with it. I’m just here to write music and sing. Some people out there didn’t want us to release this album and we just kept really, really pushing and pushing and we almost considered just releasing it on our own – which isn’t a smart business decision. But we were, I think after six months, we were frustrated and sitting on this album that’s so good and we couldn’t do anything about it. And then finally, Napalm reached out to us and proposed to release it under a sub-label of theirs called Rodeostar. And as far as we’re concerned, we’re using all the same resources from Napalm – the same team of people, same social media outlets. So we were like “Okay, let’s do it.”
Who didn’t want you to release the album?
I think it’s okay if I were to speak openly about it. I’m not one to cause drama but I think for anyone that’s out there and watching and kind of seeing what’s going on, I think it’s fairly obvious that the person that’s been trying to hold us back is Alissa (White-Gluz, former vocalist). In the beginning, she was doing it a lot through interviews and just talking very badly about the band members. That is super awkward for me, because this is a person I’ve never met in my life, so it’s weird for me to be talking about it. There’s no knowing how far and to what extent her reach could be to hold this band back. I definitely know some stuff that she’s done and other things are just speculation. So, I don’t wanna throw that out there, but I will say that she has been trying to kill this band ever since she was fired.
As much as that sucks, this record is so strong. It’s good revenge – if you want it to be. A couple of favorites early on are “Mr. Cold” and “Dust To Dust.”
That is by far the greatest thing I could ever hear. Like I said, to me it’s always been about the music. It’ll always be about the music. I think the frustration that we had was further fueled by the fact that we were sitting on this album that we felt very strongly about. Good things come to those who wait. Feedback like that is what we needed to hear.
How have your contributions to songwriting changed?
My first album, Eye Of Providence, was a bit more shared. I would say I had 70% involvement in the lyrics and the vocals, which is still a big chunk. I was new to the band and the guys, even though they hadn’t done it before, they were willing to try and help with the vocals. Because A) they wanted me to feel more comfortable and B) they weren’t 100% sure of what I could bring to the table. I had done one or two songs as an unofficial audition and they liked it. As soon as I joined the band, Eye Of Providence was set to be recorded, I think two or three months after that, so I went from doing nothing to writing a full album in two months. But since that album, for Five and for Orphan, the way we work now has kind of been upgraded. Danny (Marino, guitars), who is the main songwriter, has a home set up now. So he’ll sit down with the riffs that he has and program the drums and everything, and make a solid track by himself. Then he’ll send that out and everyone will kinda tweak their part on it. The majority of the time I’ll write the lyrics and all the vocal lines and harmonies and send it back. When they hear the song with vocals, sometimes we’ll make some structural changes or small little things to complement the vocals. Then we’re done and we just wait to hit the studio and copy the demo.
I’ve read that you write lyrics based on real life events and experiences. Is there anything you can elaborate on for the new material?
Yeah, I do that. Sometimes I write based off of stories. Fiction too, as well. It’s all about what the song calls for. I’ll get the track, listen to it and try to get into the mood and see what stories fit. Since you mentioned “Mr. Cold,” that one is based off of the ghost sightings of the Mothman that were happening in the ’60s. As soon I heard that song it had a very eerie, ghost-y vibe to it, and it’s just really big. “Blood Of My Guide” is based off of a war story. I didn’t wanna write specifically about World War II or anything like that. I was inspired about a specific battle that happened in Greece, but I just made it a little more general. It’s about the repercussions of war and why people go to war and fight but I also wanted to throw in the metaphorical sense of that as well. You’re fighting to stay alive, but you’re also fighting for your blood, your family, for the things you believe in.
In general, it seems like people have lost the connection we used to have with music. What do you think about that and what are some early records or songs you can remember listening to as you were growing up that really meant something to you.
That is an interesting question. I think what contributes to that is the accessibility of music that we have today, which is extremely positive. I have a Spotify account, and as soon as a new album drops, I’m like, “Okay, I’ve got to hear this album.” Back in the day, you had to go to your local record store and hope that they brought it in. If not, you had to order it and wait for shipping and all that. I grew up in the really small town in Greece. When I was getting into metal they didn’t have anything like that at the record store, so I would have to wait to go to Athens and go to the big metal record store there and then spend all of my allowance money buying albums. But it was that. I think the fact that you got the physical album – you’re sitting down with it, you’re opening the booklet, you’re looking at the lyrics. You’re really, really focused and paying attention. Whereas now, the accessibility is great but sometimes you’re just overwhelmed. There’s so many things that are happening at once that it’s hard to force yourself to be focused on that one album when it comes out.
The experience has changed. Just like you remember having to go to the big record store to get the albums you wanted, you’ll always remember that and you probably remember some of the records you bought when you went on those trips.
Oh yeah. Even in music there’s the click-bait thing happening. A band will release a single and they have to have something there to bring people in, to make sure that they’re gonna want to listen to the album. There has to be a gimmick or something, something extreme, or weird or whatever. Back then, let’s say Opeth dropped a new album. I like Opeth and I’m gonna buy the album. I’m gonna put it in my CD player, listen to it very carefully without doing anything else at the same time, and you would notice a bunch of things that the band didn’t have to accentuate back then just to pull you in.
I do remember albums that I bought back then that really pulled me in. And mentioning Opeth, Still Life was one of them. As soon as I heard that album, I was like, “Woah!” It was extreme, it was progressive. I was listening to bands at the time that had growls on them. Like earlier In Flames or At The Gates. But when I heard Opeth it was weird in that they brought the really proggy and heavy element to it too, so that shook me. I’m also a huge fan of The Gathering when they did their first stuff. I remember hearing one album, and then I went back to the record store the next day and I bought every album I could find. And then, of course, there’s classics like Iron Maiden or Judas Priest, which is probably the first stuff I heard in metal that I was really, really into. It’s so melodic and so powerful.
Not too long ago the words “female-fronted metal band” were so over-used. It finally seems like the “female-fronted” part of that has been pushed aside and the focus is on the band and the music.
Well, it’s obviously a bit ridiculous to use it as a genre description because you’re not describing the genre. You’re just describing the appearance of the band. But I’d be a bit hypocritical to say it doesn’t have any positives with it, because let’s be honest – if you start a female-fronted band you do get a bit more attention right off the bat. It’s just the eye candy aspect of it, even if you’re not trying. People wanna look at women more than they wanna look at men. That’s just the world we live in.
I haven’t noticed. (laughs)
(laughs) I think it’s great if there’s actually talent and good music behind it. I think the term was created because in the 1990’s and especially early 2000’s, there weren’t too many bands doing it. Even if the band sounded very different among themselves, they wanted to emphasize the fact that there were females in metal bands – so let’s just create a thing called female-fronted metal. But I think there’s more and more of that now. Will we ever reach a point where there’s just as many females in bands as males, probably not. I don’t think it’ll ever be 50/50, because it is a genre that’s mostly dominated by male fans. But I think the more and more it happens, the more people don’t care too much. It becomes, “Oh okay, it’s a girl in a band” versus, “Oh my God, it’s a girl in a band!” Which is cool, because yes, at the end of the day, it should be about the music. It’s okay to use the click-bait factor to your advantage if you’re actually good at what you do and your music is good and you have something to say. Otherwise, it’s just a gimmick for nothing. Gimmicks can be cool if they make sense. Slipknot has a gimmick, Ghost has a gimmick. A lot of bands have gimmicks but you need good music to back it up.
At the same time there’s also no mention anymore of “the hottest chicks” in rock and metal from the fans or the media. And if you do comment on a band member’s appearance, especially if they’re female, it’s “insensitive” and “sexist.”
I think that’s bullshit in my honest opinion, because you’re putting yourself out there, whether you’re a female or a male. You’re putting yourself out there and if you just happen to be attractive, of course you’re gonna get comments like that. And men get them too. And I think it’s even worse as a woman if you’re dressed provocatively and you get those comments and then you’re upset by it. It doesn’t make any sense. You should anticipate it. I’m not saying you shouldn’t do it. I’m saying you should anticipate that you are gonna get those comments and embrace it. It’s funny sometimes that I’ll see backlash for men that do this. I remember I really liked this band called Nothing More. The singer goes on stage without a shirt and he’s super ripped and people were saying bad things about it. And then I’ll see the response to the comments like, “Oh you shut up. If this was a woman, you guys would have zero issues with it.” So to me, it’s a free world. Anyone can do whatever they want. You wanna go on stage naked or you wanna go fully covered – it doesn’t matter, but you should anticipate the comments and you should embrace them. Don’t feel offended.
We’re in a strange place where everybody is offended by something and if they’re not, they’re looking for something to be offended about.
Yeah, that’s really sad but it’s true. I actually watched the new Dave Chappelle special the other night. He tackled a lot of that. Here is my viewpoint: Sure, words can hurt, but is it really that bad? Does it really hurt that much? I remember as a kid, being in school, and being bullied over stupid things that didn’t even matter. Because I was Greek. Because my mom sent me to do the school photo in this nice flowery dress that was all fancy. Because I brought a lot of money to buy a lot of books because I was a bookworm. Kids would make fun of me. That happens to all kids and it happens for stupid reasons. It has to happen. How are you gonna grow up in this world and have a tough shell and be able to go through actual real problems in the future if you don’t deal with a little bit of bullying as a kid? I don’t think we should all jump the gun and be offended and try to silence people.
Orphans is available September 20 via Rodeostar Records.
Orphans track listing:
01. In Vertigo
02. As One We Survive
03. The Gift Of Silence
04. Blood As My Guide
05. Mr. Cold
06. Dust To Dust
07. A Devil Made Me Do It
08. The Killing I
10. Burn It All Down