A Q&A with The Spectre Beneath
Prog/power metal band from the north-west…
What’s the title of your latest release, and what does it mean to you?
We’ve just released ‘The Ashen Child’. It means a lot to us because it’s our first release with new singer, Stevie, and it sees us getting back on our feet after losing our previous singer to ill health. It took a long time for us to regroup and find Stevie, so ‘The Ashen Child’ is quite a significant release for us.
What was the hardest part about putting this release together, and why?
Definitely trying to get the vocals done, it feels like we went through the wringer with them. The whole thing was recorded with our previous singer but early on we could tell something was off, her usual power and delivery in the top lines was not as it once was. It turned out she was having issues with her throat and, upon advice from her doctor and vocal coach, she stepped down. Trying to find someone to replace someone who gave The Spectre Beneath a fairly unique sound proved very difficult. We tried six singers, all really good but they lacked that tone we were after. After 18 months of soul-destroying searching, we happened upon the powerful talents of Stevie and she agreed to sing for us.
Who produced the release – what did they bring to it?
We produced the album ourselves. I don’t think a regular producer would be on board with what we’re trying to achieve. It means we control every aspect of it. For the most part, Katy and I write all the music and we have a definite idea of how we want it to sound. We get the biggest buzz out of coming up with a seed of an idea and then developing it into an epic track. With digital technology, we can try different song structures and work on new ideas as well. Nothing is off the table and any ideas should be tried at least once. I don’t think the process will ever become old to us.
What do you want the listener to take away from listening to your music?
This leads nicely on from the previous answer because what we would like for the listener to take away from our music is what we’re trying to achieve, and that is attempting to have a female singer sound like a female singer. I know this sounds daft, but hear me out. There are a lot of female singers in metal, a hell of a lot more than you would think. However, a few years ago, I realised there weren’t that many female singers who sing straight-up metal, it’s usually symphonic, poppy, gothic or core tinged to allow those growls and screams. When they did sing metal, they approached it in the same way a man would sing the songs, or sing them in the usual metal way. What I wanted to do is to have a woman sing metal but throw away the metal vocal tropes. Women write different types of melodies and use different inflections and intonations etc… and I wanted to bring that out. Which is why, when I first came up with the idea of The Spectre Beneath, I approached Katy to help write the vocal melodies so they would not only be suitable for a female voice, but be nuanced and styled for a female voice. We’ve already had some criticism for it because the vocals are not what some reviewers are expecting and so are unable to get past them, but, on the flip side, some of our fans adore what we’re trying to do. To answer the question, I would like the listener to notice how the vocals are not your usual metal vocals and how they are a juxtaposition for the heaviness of the music.
How does a track normally come together? Can you tell us something about the process?
For the most part, I come up with a bucket load of riffs and mould them into some sort of song structure. When I’m happy with a working instrumental demo, I start working on any vocal ideas I’ve come up with whilst writing the music. I take my ideas to Katy and we work on vocal melodies together and she demos them adding her own style to them and then we take the songs to Stevie who then adds her own flavour to the mix. The rule we all go by is to perform the vocal melodies how you personally want to do them and not how you think they should be performed.
What band/artists have influenced you the most since you started this project, and why?
From a musical standpoint, always Iron Maiden and Megadeth as I think they’re mixed into my D.N.A. at this point. But for The Spectre Beneath, and in particular a vocal influence, I listened to many bands with female singers and I would say a few did influence the direction. Kobra and the Lotus for sure, I’m a big fan of Kobra Paige, I love her tone and power, their 2nd album, High Priestess, was certainly a benchmark when we were putting together our debut. A Sound of Thunder because they were straight-up metal but had interesting themes and didn’t take themselves too seriously/ Lastly, Unlucky Morpheus, or any project with Fuki in it. Her voice is so clear and sharp, it was definitely an influence on the type of vocal tone we were looking for.
What countries would you like to tour? Are there any standout venues you’d like to play in?
Japan and New Zealand, two beautiful countries I’ve only ever seen on TV and in books. Budokan is an iconic venue to play. I know Bruce Dickinson described it as a big gym, but either way, I’d love to play such a historical venue.
If you could pick one track for our readers to listen to in order to get a taste of your music, what would you pick, and why?
Probably ‘Refuse of the Past’, because it’s fast, heavy but very melodic and sing-a-long-able. Interestingly enough, we made a promise when we started writing, ‘The Ashen Child’, to have any vocal screams at the start of any of the songs. For us, it’s a bit of a well-worn trope, instead, we wanted to go for bigger finishes and also adding some vocals in the middle sections. However, as ‘Refuse of the Past’ is based on the Charlton Heston movie, The Omega Man, we had a sample of Charlton Heston from the movie itself. It was placed at the start as a lead into the song, but for fear of copyright, we made a last-minute decision to remove the sample, but we felt the song needed a punch into its frenetic beat. I suggested adding the last line of the chorus and it worked a treat. We’ll still be avoiding the ‘scream at the start’ trope in the future, we only did it this time out of last-minute necessity.
What ambitions do you have for the band/your career?
When co-writer Katy and I got together to start writing music for The Spectre Beneath, we envisioned five albums with the fifth one being a full concept continuing the story of Sidney Stone. We had an idea of how to develop the music from album to album, how to avoid repeating the same thing album to album without losing the core sound and how we didn’t want to use the same production twice, which I feel is an easy habit to fall into. Although we’ve suffered a couple of bumps in the road over the last two and a half years, our aspirations are still to reach that five-album goal, to write the best music we can, to leave our mark in our corner of the metal world and, at the end of all that, be in a position and have the opportunity to go beyond our initial plans and push The Spectre Beneath further. We want to bring the band to the live arena as well but with Stevie currently in the USA, it’s a little difficult, but we’re working on it.
Finally, as you leave the stage, what are your parting words?
Get me a cup of tea.
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