By Carl Begai
One thing Blood Stain Child guitarist Ryu can never be accused of is a lack of creativity. Just like his constantly evolving image – one needs only to glance through promo pictures from the past eleven years for proof – Ryu’s musical vision continues to widen with each album. For the band’s fifth record, Epsilon, he did what nobody expected and added a female lead vocalist to Blood Stain Child’s ranks; his two-part replacement for the departed Sadew. Bassist and original vocalist Ryo is back up front as well, but the present focus is ultimately on Greek singer Sophia, who plays the melodic contrast to his death metal growls. This has added a completely new dimension to the band’s recognizable trance metal sound, raising eyebrows and dropping some jaws as Epsilon continues to circulate. As expected, not everyone has accepted the change with good graces and Sophia has quite naturally been singled out as the cause of the so-called “problem.” She sees no reason to be concerned, however, as her new bandmates would have left her recordings on the cutting room floor had she proven to be incapable of carrying the songs.
“I guess you thought much deeper than I did,” Sophia remarks. “Don’t forget I’m a typical Sagittarian, looking for adventure and new experiences. Also initially, Ryu asked me to ‘sing on a few songs,’ so I basically considered it a participation rather than becoming an actual band member. A couple of months later, though, while I had already started working on the songs he’d given me, Sadew left, so the band had no lead singer anymore. That’s when Ryu simply asked me ‘Do you wanna be the lead singer?’ I was like… (pulls a shocked expression). Before I could even answer firmly, he told me ‘Welcome to the band, everybody’s waiting for you in Osaka (laughs).”
“Of course, I knew that the fans who disliked this major change in Blood Stain Child would blame me. I’m pretty used to this kind of situations and I know how to handle those feelings, so I wasn’t afraid. Living up to the band’s standards was much harder, actually. Also, despite the fact that I’m very shy as a performer, I believe in the quality of the work I produce. If I chose something and worked on it with all my might, it’s gonna be good, I will make it work. End of story.”
Sadew’s departure in 2010 after only one album – Mozaiq in 2007 – was perplexing for most fans, but there’s no drama to accompany the story. In fact, he’s a vocal and visible supporter of the new Blood Stain Child, and Sophia.
“Sadew left on friendly terms, seeking new adventures,” Sophia reveals. “He plays in another band nowadays called Karmachain. He always supports me when he’s around, dancing in front of the stage and stuff. Sometimes he’s so funny that I can’t keep a straight face. I laugh so much when I see him dancing to ‘Stargazer’ and ‘Electricity’ that I can’t sing (laughs). Ryo feels good being back up front, but he finds it hard to play the bass, headbang and sing at the same time. The fans love him though, so I think he’ll manage (laughs).”
It’s also worth noting that original drummer Violator left the band for personal reasons prior to the recordings for Epsilon. He was replaced by former Youthquake skinbasher Gami, but like Sadew, Violator parted ways on good terms and has a song on the new album quite literally dedicated to him as a send-off.
Epsilon wasn’t expected to appeal to every long term Blood Stain Child fan, but reactions have been remarkably positive given the album’s bombastic melodic streaks and pop nuances. Get beyond the usual ass-kissing that goes on in the media when a new album hits the market – some hacks needs to “earn” their free music, after all – and the popular opinion is that Epsilon is Blood Stain Child’s strongest work to date.
“I love your expressions (laughs). The usual ass-kissing… not very fond of that. I’d rather hear people’s honest opinions, as long as they’re not rude. One can get their point across in many ways. The reaction to the album is amazing, by the way. I believe what we did is good, but I had no contact or previous experience with the scene or how things work with the fans, so I didn’t know what to expect. I just did my best at all times.”
And while Sophia is prepared to shoulder any blame that comes her way regarding the band’s latest metamorphosis, it’s Ryu that’s still responsible for Blood Stain Child’s direction, right down to the lyrics and who-sings-what vocal arrangements.
“Ryu is very much in control of those kinds of things,” Sophia confirms, “and he even gave me directions regarding the theme of the lyrics in most songs. I guess he had a specific thing in mind and he didn’t want me to stray from it. The good thing was that we shared the same feelings and thoughts on it, so I wouldn’t write much differently even if he hadn’t said anything to me. Save for the tiny bit of love lyrics here and there; that was Ryu’s intervention. I don’t write love lyrics (laughs).”
“As far as the music goes, Aki (keys / programming) and Ryu do most of the work. They’re very demanding and strict on the sound, so they don’t leave much space for negotiations. However, I suggested stuff regarding my vocal lines to Ryu and he thought they were good ideas.”
Epsilon is the logical follow-up to Mozaiq, pushing the trance elements that have become a Blood Stain Child trademark even deeper into the spotlight. There’s plenty of full-on metal and shred to be had but there’s no mistaking the pop influences, making for a dangerous balancing act that could have sunk Epsilon like the Titanic if the band’s judgement had been off the mark.
“Well, for me pop is not a threat or a kind of desecration that demands public decapitation, as long as it’s done in a way that kicks everybody’s ass,” says Sophia. “All music is good, as long as there’s someone to do it right and pull those specific strings that end up creating a song that you can’t get out of your head. I know many fans might give us a grumpy face for sounding less *metawwwl* and more – God forbid – pop, but I suggest you give the album a good listen before putting a band on the cross and blaming it for selling out.”
Unfortunately, in this day and age pop music isn’t associated with melody alone; auto-tuned vocals play a large part in making mainstream hits what they are. Blood Stain Child clearly weren’t aiming to break Ke$ha’s bank or cop her image, but some of Sophia’s vocals have been tweaked. Given the cybernetic nature of the music on Epsilon the auto-tuning can be easily accepted (and overlooked), but Sophia’s natural, deeper range that make a much bigger impact.
“I have to agree with you on this,” says Sophia. “I’m not a fan of auto-tune abuse, I prefer my natural voice, whatever that is. Overdosing on effects gives people the impression that you’re hiding behind a computer. I am who I am, I have nothing to hide. However, you should keep in mind that Ryu is a huge fan of vocaloids – Hatsune Miku and such – and sometimes he thinks I’m a vocaloid, too. Therefore, in some songs – ‘Electricity’ for example – he didn’t leave any space to breathe between the lyrics. Sorry to break the bubble, Ryu, but I too need some air (laughs).”
Sophia has been getting plenty of practice utilizing her breathing-while-singing skills thanks to what’s turning out to be a rigorous tour itinerary. Following scattered dates in Japan prior to Epsilon’s release, Blood Stain Child committed themselves to an official month long tour across the country, and recently booked a few weeks on the road in Europe.
“The tour is finally over and I can honestly say it was a huge success,” Sophia says of the Japanese tour. “Our merchandise sold out in the first weeks, so we struggled to find things to sell in our final concert in Tokyo on September 24th. We did lots of old songs, like ‘Freedom’, ‘Truth’, ‘Another Dimension’, ‘Ez Do Dance’, ‘Hypersonic’, ‘Void’, ‘Metropolice’, and of course ‘Final Sky’. The fans get crazy over the new version of ‘Freedom’, actually, and we often get asked to re-record all the old songs we play at concerts.”
The band has also made a mark in the United States, having performed at the A-KON convention in Dallas back in June, considered the country’s largest Japanese cultural event. With luck, it was Blood Stain Child’s foot in the door to more live engagements in North America.
“A-KON was a dream! Everything about that trip was simply perfect. Babel Entertainment, all the staff, the audience, the hospitality, the food, the food, the food! And of course D, which has always been one of my top favourite Visual Kei bands. The guys are awesome, we had lots of fun. We’re deeply grateful that we were given the chance to have such an emotional experience.”
It’s worth noting that Blood Stain Child – Sophia in particular – caused a bit of a sensation prior to Epsilon’s release by appearing on the Princess Ghibli project, Imaginary Flying Machines. Launched by Disarmonia Mundi’s Ettore Rigotti, it features metal covers of famous Japanese anime theme songs; Blood Stain Child appears on two songs, with Sophia providing vocals on three additional tracks. Imaginary Flying Machines was released before Epsilon, making it her official recording debut as a member of the band. Certainly an odd way to go about making an introduction…
“(Laughs) Well, the people that have always been around me know that I can’t be happy with just one thing. I can’t restrict myself to just one kind of activity, one kind of hobby, one kind of music, one clothing style, one type of food (laughs). I need variety, alternatives, plenty of space, and this is something I inherited from my family. All five of us are notorious multi-taskers (laughs). In short, sometimes I’m like an octopus. I also enjoy talking a lot with lots of people about lots of things, so even if I forget talking about something, this something might open a door leading to somewhere else and then somewhere else… like Alice in Wonderland. Mystery, suspense and endless riddles. Have I ever told you that I’m obsessed with locks and keys? I collect them with religious devotion. ”
“In short, this multiple release attack was not some carefully planned marketing campaign, but the Sophia-octopus in motion (laughs). It just happened! Ettore liked my work on the Blood Stain Child album, so he asked me and the band to participate on the album. In this case, the band was the jump off point.”
And to top it off, Sophia appeared in a video from Visual Kei act DEATHBIE before the release of an official Blood Stain Child clip for Epsilon, which was still in production at press time.
“I know Intetsu, DEATHBIE’s bassist, who is full of good impulses and brilliant ideas,” Sophia explains. “So, a couple of days before the shoot (for ‘Senketsu no Mariya’), he called me and asked me to appear in the video. I was hesitant and nervous at first, because the guys have a pretty long musical history with AYABIE, but it turned out to be fun. They wanted me to wear my original Blood Stain Child costume and play the expressionless, vampiric Alice in DEATHBIE-land. I’m not singing on the song; I just make a rather creepy cameo appearance in the video.”
For an exclusive interview with Sophia about the Visual Kei phenomenon, click here.