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Interview: Seventh Harmonic
Symph nymphs Seventh Harmonic have been around in one form or another for over a decade now. Initially formed in 1999 by Caroline Jago (Sol Invictus) the band has self-released several albums, worked with a range of vocalists and been put to rest. But in 2009 Ann-Mari Thim of Arcana fame, joined the ranks and a new drive was given to the project.
Fast forward to 2011 and the band’s first release on Out Of Line records, ‘The Garden Of Dilmun’, has already received strong reviews from both the press and music fans. Dominion caught up with Caroline, Ann-Mari and drummer Lesley to get their thoughts on the album’s reception, comparision’s to Dead Can Dance and working together over long distances.
Dominion: Your new album ‘Garden of Dilmun’ draws a lot of inspiration from the muses and the cycle of the year, how did you go about translating these ideas into song?
Ann-Mari: „The album lyrics are based on three different concepts that are supposed to merge into one. They consist of the seasons of the heart, seasons of the year and the three original muses from Greek mythology. More or less they are about inspiration, creativity, wisdom and inner ascension. The concepts are supposed to weave together into one in a way, which I try to illustrate with the prologue and the epilogue I wrote for the album.”
Dominion: How have you found the reaction to the new album?
Caroline: “The reaction has been amazing – 10/10 reviews, ‘Neoclassical/Heavenly Voices album of the year’ in Zillo, and many new fans who seem very excited by it! It is a very happy outcome for us.”
Ann-Mari: “Yes, so far most of the reactions have been really positive and inspiring; a truly great reward after lots of hard work to get the songs and the album as a whole how we wanted.”
Lesley: “I find it especially pleasing when people who don’t normally listen to this kind of music hear the album and are blown away. It transcends genre, and the complexity and depth of the whole album means that people respond to it in all sorts of ways. Some people get what we’re doing completely and others pick up on things that we never realised ourselves. I like that a lot.”
Dominion: How have you found the songs work live?
Caroline: “That’s a process we’re still going through to some extent, but currently we have around half the album tracks in our live set, and they are receiving a very enthusiastic response. From our next concert onwards, the drums will be almost completely live, and that is a new step forward for us – we really want to bring the impact of the new songs out live as much as possible, although often that is down to the practicalities on the night.”
Lesley: “Seventh Harmonic’s music has always been driven by a strong drum sound and powerful rhythms, and the new album probably even more so. I’m enjoying starting to bring that to life on stage, and give the show the added energy of live drums. When we have a singer with such a rich and intense vocal style, it’s great to have a more organic kind of musical performance to accompany that.”
Dominion: You’ve been compared to the likes of Dead Can Dance do you find this to be a compliment or a limiting label?
Caroline: “DCD are my main inspiration, so in that respect it is an enormous compliment. But we’re not just another DCD copy band – for one, the vocals are completely different. I prefer to take the comparison not so literally, but more in the way that they experimented with a large number of musical styles and never sat in one pigeonhole – something which is actually quite hard to achieve in the segmented music industry these days.”
Ann-Mari: “I hardly ever listen to DCD actually and get a bit astonished when my vocals are being compared to the vocals of Lisa Gerrard in reviews. Even in reviews for Arcana’s albums they mention this fact sometimes and it surprises me every time.”
Dominion: You signed with Out Of Line records for this album, how did that partnership come about?
Caroline: “We were looking for a label last summer, and while we had a number of offers, OOL’s was by far the best. Having self-released all our previous CDs, we were really ‘thinking big’ for this one, and OOL have been fantastic in every respect. We’ve always tried to think and work ‘outside the box’, so to go with a label that was less obviously associated with our kind of music was a gamble, but one which paid off.”
Dominion: Seventh Harmonic is proudly declared “an all-female project”. How has this affected the way the band operates and the writing style of the music?
Caroline: “We are proud of that, but we’re not marketed as an all-female band, and I don’t think any of us would want that. It does bring a different energy to the band and I guess also the way we communicate, but in terms of the music I don’t see it as a big issue, and hope it becomes less of one in the future.”
Dominion: You’re both a part of successful bands (in the forms of Sol Invictus and Arcana), how did you both come together for this project?
Caroline: “We met when both bands played together in Autumn 2008, and immediately all became friends across the miles. Ann-Mari suggested singing on some of my tracks a year later, and I was absolutely delighted to accept.”
Dominion: What was the recording process like with Ann-Mari based in Sweden?
Caroline: “In some ways it was straightforward with sending audio files back and forth, with our roles are clearly defined with respect to the vocals/lyrics and composition/music. It wasn’t so easy when we wanted to suggest changes, especially at the production stage – our producer had the patience of the proverbial saint! Relying on email for all communication was actually pretty stressful at times; I think next time it would be nicer for things to be more natural with some time spent writing together in person and just hanging out like normal bands do. But at the end of the day, the distance made us so focused with the result that our visions came together so perfectly, that in retrospect I wouldn’t change how we did it.”
Ann-Mari: “When it comes to recording the vocals for the album it was easier for me to do it myself in Sweden, considering how time consuming it can be to write melodies and harmonies that work well with the dynamic music. I like experimenting a lot with different melodies and doing it in my own time helped me develop the vocals further then I probably would have done if I travelled to London to record them. I prefer to work this way actually; even with Arcana, whom I share the studio space with as it helps my creativity to flow better.”
Dominion: How does working as Seventh Harmonic compare to working with your other bands?
Caroline: “As I’ve mentioned, working long-distance is the key element…although for all of us it is actually becoming the norm as we all work as part of other projects based overseas (Lesley and I play with Monica Richards from Faith and the Muse, who is based in the US; and also the Catalonian band Narsilion; while Ann-Mari collaborates with many projects all over Europe.) For me as the composer and principal musician, obviously it is the band that I have the most emotional investment and creative freedom in, so I guess that is the main difference.”
Ann-Mari: “The cooperation within Seventh Harmonic is very different compared to the cooperation we have within Arcana. I have been fully responsible for the vocal melodies, harmonies and recording in Seventh Harmonic, which is quite different in Arcana. However, in the future I will get the chance to experience more on my own with the vocal recordings for Arcana as well and I am looking forward to that very much. However, in general when I collaborate with other projects, they send the music to me and I get the freedom to record whatever vocals I find fit for the songs, which is challenging in a good way, offering free scope to my creativity.”
Dominion: The band has been around for over a decade. In that time how has Seventh Harmonic’s raison d’etre evolved up until this point?
Caroline: “Initially, SH was really only active for several years when we began in 1999, and then the project became dormant. When we revived again it was with largely a new line-up, and any old songs were rewritten with Ann-Mari’s lyrics and melodies; so in many ways it feels like a different band rather a continuation of what went before – especially now are spread across Europe rather than being confined to any one location and by definition ‘scene’. All these elements point to external changes which in some ways have given us more opportunities, but the ethos at the heart of the band remains the same, and in fact has been strengthened by the empathetic ideals of Ann-Mari.”
Dominion: At one point you seemingly put the band to rest permanently. What was the decision behind this and what led to its eventual resurrection?
Caroline: “I burnt myself out with doing every element of SH pretty much entirely by myself – composing, recording, producing, releasing, promoting, and everything else. I got to the stage where I had less and less time to be creative, and the positive energy and intention behind the band was becoming increasingly negative. I did two overseas concerts with Keltia, a young singer/harpist from Belgium, which ended on a high – but the project had gone as far as it could under its own steam. I tested the waters again in 2006 by doing a low-key mp3 release of a track called ‘Ice Inferno’, which was quite different to our previous sound, and also featured Tony Wakeford (who I work with in Sol Invictus), and Louisa John-Krol, a wonderful ethereal artist from Australia – I felt if it was our swansong, it seemed an appropriate one. But the resurrection was entirely due to Ann-Mari’s offer in 2009, and then it just seemed that – in contrast to much of what went before – fortune was on our side. I still can’t take in how amazing it has all been since.”
Dominion: Who else is involved with the band and how did they come to be recruited?
Caroline: The project has always been fairly fluid with a number of different vocalists – this time, it is the other musicians who join as and when they can. Lesley is the other main member, responsible for percussion and all visuals (live, videos, artwork etc). The other founding member Éilish McCracken will be playing violin with us at our forthcoming UK gig, but as this is the only performance to date that has been outside mainland Europe, our live members tend to be based there. At the moment, our previous singer Keltia is playing harp for us for Northern European gigs, and Nuria from Narsilion plays with us for Southern Europe ones!
Dominion: What are the plans for promoting the album through the year?
Caroline: “We haven’t thought of any particularly unusual ways to do this, but are open to offers. Promotional angel tears? I’m sure someone can take the ethereal theme and run with it.”
Seventh Harmonic’s album ‘The Garden Of Dilmun’ Is available now from Out Of Line records.
The official Seventh Harmonic website can be found HERE.