By Carl Begai
When asked about her short tenure with Japanese melodic death/trance metal outifit Blood Stain Child – two years and one album in total – Greek vocalist Sophia looks back on it as a bittersweet experience. The split was anything but amicable, with Sophia harbouring a certain amount of resentment with regards to how and why things fell apart. Rather than letting the bad taste left in her mouth poison her love for making music, Sophia did what any genuine artist does: she buckled down to create something bigger and better than her previous outing. Season Of Ghosts is her new lease on life, a labour of love that pushed Sophia’s creativity to an entirely new level for the debut album planned for later this year, The Human Paradox.
“It’s a pretty crazy mixture of everything and anything I represent and believe in,” says Sophia without missing a beat. “And my co-producer Zombie Sam was a great helping hand during the whole process because he has the classical knowledge to interpret my ideas exactly. I have classical knowledge of my own but I’m not very good with software yet and that’s what it came down to. I can program the basics, but going from what I know about programming to what I wanted to do for Season Of Ghosts, there was a huge gap. I gave Sam my piano scripts, music scores and an overwhelming bulk of notes, and I told him to use this piano sound, that instrument or the other to make it sound Frankenstein because that represents me (laughs). He tried it once, twice, and I was getting frustrated by about the 10th time, but once he got it right we worked from that point forward like a clock.”
Sophia is known first and foremost as a singer, but it’s important to establish the fact that she built the musical foundation for Season Of Ghosts herself. She didn’t hire a group of songwriters to create material according to a wishlist; the tracks started out as personal compositions that grew into full-blown songs over time.
“For this album I started with piano and guitar, and I just let myself go so that I was free to imagine what a certain song should sound like. I’d say 90% of the songs on the album started with the piano or guitar melody, and only 10% – really just one song – started with the vocal melody. I built the foundation and then I imagined the vocal parts.”
“I could perform the guitars and piano but I preferred to hire people to play those parts because I really need to brush up on my skills. I haven’t used them in forever. Actually, the transition after I left Blood Stain Child helped in the production of this album because I discovered skills I didn’t know I had. Composing songs and producing, I had no idea I could do those things. It took me some time to develop and unleash everything that was lying dormant inside me. So, if I was going to play guitar and piano on the album I would need some extra months to prepare. Timing is everything so I preferred to entrust the playing to the professionals.”
The collaboration with Zombie Sam was sparked by Sophia’s guest appearance on his Self Conscious Insanity album from 2013, a unique slice of Halloween-ish metal weirdness. Given Sophia’s own slant towards dressing up her music in whatever outfit strikes her fancy at a particular moment, the result of putting their heads together promises to be altogether original, and even a bit frightening. Their cover of ‘Come Little Children (Sarah’s Theme)’ from the Hocus Pocus movie soundtrack is only a tiny drop in a large bucket.
“It’s pretty scary, (laughs). You got it exactly because Zombie Sam is pretty much insane when he composes. He comes from a classical background, and he’s actually a maestro (orchestra conductor). He really had all the classical background I needed to express myself. I didn’t compose anything symphonic or overly classical, but there were some elements that I needed to create the cinematic atmosphere which I kind of trumpet around when I talk about my album (laughs). I even used a real Italian orchestra for some songs. ”
Overall, it sounds like The Human Paradox has very little in common with Sophia’s Blood Stain Child past. The question is, should the fans be prepared for something completely different?
“Yes and no,” Sophia says. “I took certain aspects of Blood Stain Child that were created by me and expanded on them. I didn’t want to stay on the same line as Blood Stain Child because I’m not the metalhead that listens to straightforward metal. I like very experimental stuff. You can still call the Season Of Ghosts album metal but it’s not 100%. It’s a strange mix of everything from classical to epic movie soundtrack to metal, gothic, industrial, Visual Kei and my general weirdness (laughs).”
“It’s even more strange because I did something unusual on this album,” she reveals. “Call it a personal challenge. I thought ‘Why not? Let’s experiment. It’s my effing album, I can do whatever I please…’ (laughs). So, on this album you can hear me growl. It was really funny because on the last day in the studio I said ‘Guys, I haven’t tried this in my life ever, so let’s dedicate a couple hours to an experiment.” I told them to play the music and push the red button, I started growling and they wondered what the heck I was doing (laughs). And then they said ‘Do it again… do it again…’ They kept all the first takes because apparently they liked them. Thanks to all the vocal and breath support exercises I’ve been doing as a melodic singer I can also have the volume I want in growling.”
On a personal note, as much as I enjoyed Blood Stain Child’s Epsilon album, the one thing that disturbed me were the effects on Sophia’s voice used through a large portion of the production. I still stand by the review done for BraveWords, but after hearing Sophia’s performance on ‘Arietty’s Song’ for the first Princess Ghibli compilation, Imaginary Flying Machines, I was floored by her gorgeous natural mid-range voice. The Epsilon recordings only hinted at what she’s capable of. The natural assumption going in is that Sophia’s voice won’t be obscured with an auto-tuned wax job this time out. Having received an advance listen to The Human Paradox, folks won’t be the least bit disappointed hearing the real Sophia live and loud.
“You’re always to the point, you make the best questions ever (laughs). I need to state that when I was in Blood Stain Child, I had very little say in what was going on. First of all I was the new band member, so they were just ordering me around saying ‘do this, do that.’ Plus, in Japan, people often don’t appreciate the female perspective, so maybe they didn’t trust me. The creative process was all Ryu (guitarist/founder) so nobody could say anything. he wanted me to sing high, then higher, and then even higher, and then he would auto-tune everything. I remember listening to the final mix of Epsilon and think ‘Uh-huh… great.’ At some point I sounded like a tacky house singer that can’t sing. People thought I couldn’t sing because I was auto-tuned so much, but that’s so completely wrong.”
“For the vocals on The Human Paradox, I tried to use my full vocal range, which is almost four-and-a-half octaves. You can hear me singing very low notes to very high notes, and since the Blood Stain Child album I’ve been practicing non-stop so my range grew even wider. So, all the mid-range voice fans are going to have a great time with this.”
Taking a moment to consider her past and where she’s going with Season Of Ghosts, Sophia sums up The Human Paradox in the best way possible:
“The Human Paradox is a very honest album. It’s a no-nonsense no bullshit album because I respect my audience.”
For information and updates on Season Of Ghosts go to the official homepage here.
Check out Sophia’s guest appearance on Zombie Sam’s ‘A Hallow Tale’ at this location. The song ‘Unlimited Alchemist’ from Blood Stain Child’s Epsilon album can be heard here.