Interview: Kirill and Aimee of Huntsmen
Interviewer: Tim Finch
With their latest album 'Mandala of Fear' out today on Prosthetic Records, I jumped at the chance to have a chat with Amiee and Kirill from the band to try and fully understand the depth of the concepts on their new opus.
The Razors Edge: Your new album, Mandala of Fear is about to get its release. It explores various themes around a sci-fi-esque tale set in the near future through war into the apocalypse. Where did the idea for the tale come from?
Kirill: The ideas came from Chris Kang while he was out for several months due to back surgery. During the healing period he started to come up with a story, imagery, and general riff ideas. Once Chris brought everything to us, in addition to a collection of lyrics and partial songs, we started to advance the story and created what you ultimately have in front of you. A story of a soldier and her journey through trauma, loss, and recovery. If you look back on our 2 previous EPs, as well as our first full length album American Scrap, you can see an underlining theme of post-apocalyptic stories and various connections between all the albums.
The Razors Edge: With the story telling aspect, some would view this as a concept album, do you see it that way?
Kirill: The easy answer is yes, but I won’t lie it’s hard for me to say yes. Sure, we have a graphic novel that goes along with the compositions, but we’ve always wanted the listener to connect and relate to the music and story regardless of it being a concept or not. We have a tendency to walk the line.
The Razors Edge:The intricate story telling and musicianship spans two LP’s, was the length of the record always intended? Or did it evolve into the behemoth it is?
Kirill: Length is something we have never cared about. We want to paint everything we want, we want to tell our full story, and we will go on as long as we need to. Luckily, we have self-control and are very vocal about what is and isn’t working. We rarely extend a song or album for the sake of having a “full length” feel, Mandala of Fead just became what it is naturally.
The Razors Edge: What comes first the story or the music and how do the two mesh together in the creative process?
Kirill: Riffs are always coming out of left and right field, but story is something we want to nail down pretty far ahead. It’s easier for us to write the music AFTER we have a path planned out and a basic idea of where we’re going. We’ve had times where we have a riff, but once we all sit down and hear one person’s interpretation of the song or the mood/feel they'd like, the riff may get scrapped or worked on.
The Razors Edge: For the physical release there is an accompanying comic book drawn by Danny White. How did that come about and at what point did you decide to compliment the music and story with Danny’s art?
Aimee: I first met Danny back in highschool, well over a decade ago, and I’ve always loved his illustration style. Whether he is recounting a memory amongst friends, or drawing a single cell comic, Danny is an incredibly talented storyteller. With Mandala of Fear we knew we wanted to go big, and really take advantage of the opportunity to tell this story. But, we needed to make sure listeners could easily follow along. Instead of including a lyrics sheet like we did with American Scrap, we decided to include a comic. And with that, I knew Danny White was the perfect artist for the job. We are very grateful to Danny for lending us his talents on this project!
The Razors Edge: It’s an album that really needs to be listened to in full from beginning to end. How do market such an album when the spotify culture encourages shuffle play and the dip in and out style of listening to music?
Kirill: It’s really up to the listener, shuffle on services like Spotify, ultimately helps recognize emerging bands, so it's difficult to hate on it. Everyone is going to do what they want to do, we understood in the beginning stages of Mandala of Fear that attention spans are a factor. We get that people don’t have 85 minutes to kill every time they put on our record, but we feel the accompanying graphic novel may entice the listener to take the time and follow along. I feel the music business cycle is based off of singles, we release them most bands release them, but something about hearing the whole thing (to me) is beautiful.
The Razors Edge: Aimee was a guest on your last album, American Scrap, but she’s now a fully-fledged member of the band. What was the collective thought process behind expanding the line-up permanently?
Aimee: My joining the band happened very organically. After recording Mandala of Fear, and performing at every show I’ve been able, the transition really just made sense. The term ”guest vocalist” didn’t feel accurate anymore, as we’ve become a weird, dumb family over the years. I’ll be honest, I was a bit hesitant at first. I struggle with Bipolar II Disorder and Depression, and was worried that my needing special accommodations would be a liability. But these dudes are the most understanding group of musicians I’ve ever worked with. And I’m so happy to be an official part of the band!
The Razors Edge: How does having Amiee on board add to the writing process? Does she bring anything different from the way you’ve worked before?
Kirill: Aimee has a way of arranging songs and vocal melodies that none of us have thought of doing. Having her around really adds to the soft, yet, very real and gritty feel of each album that none of us would otherwise be able to achieve. It was maybe towards the end of Mandala of Fear recording that we realized this is something that should just be a part of us. Her love for folk/country rock really brings something that adds to the beauty and intricacy of our songs.
The Razors Edge: So now you take this album out on the road, how do you take music that’s intended as a full story and deliver it in a live show?
Kirill: Carefully! Obviously it would be difficult to play 85 minute sets, but we want to make sure we cover the general idea of the album. We have a nice set planned out that gives a good variate of songs, including some oldies. Later this year we are hoping to hold a special concert at which we’ll play the full album straight, so keep an eye out for that.
The Razors Edge: Do you feel the story telling aspect works as well live as it does on record?
Kirill: Yes, I think it does. The audience can now see the emotions we put into each song, of course live you can lose some of the lyrical content, which is a big factor on our records, but how we play the songs still tells a story. People seem to be connecting with it.
The Razors Edge: How do you expect the fans to react to this work – both on record and when performed live?
Kirill: From the feedback we’ve been receiving, the album seems to be doing great, so hopefully that carries on when the album is out. Live, I think, we’ve always shined thanks to us carrying over the vocal harmonies and general sounds that we use on our albums. We’re much more intense and MUCH louder, but our love for dynamics shines through, which calls back to the albums production very well.
The Razors Edge: What’s next for the band, once the album is released and the tours under your belt. Where do you go from here?
Kirill: To continue to bend the rules as to what “metal” means. We're going to keep pushing Mandala of Fear, playing shows, and trying to conquer the world.