Montreal has an amazing history of iconic bands originating from the area: Despised Icon, Beneath the Massacre, and Cryptopsy are just a few of the notable acts. It’s safe to say we can now add The Agonist to that list. Since their formation in 2004, they have blazed a trail across the world and won legions of fans. With their fifth album, appropriately titled Five on the horizon, I had a chat with guitarist Danny Marino about the latest plans for The Agonist.
Jack: Hi guys, thanks for taking time out of your day to answer my questions. How are you doing?
Danny Marino (Guitar): Doing great! We’re very busy, which is a good thing!
Jack: You’re a band from Montreal which is also home to Despised Icon, Beneath the Massacre and Cryptopsy. What makes Montreal so special for bands?
Danny: There has always been a scene for underground music in Montreal. I think it is the blend of the Quebecois culture and the North American that makes for an open minded look at underground music of all genres. It’s not American and not European. It is a blend of both and some of its own thing as well.
Jack: Has being from Montreal influenced your sound?
Danny: To a degree yes. However the bands that Montreal is most known for tend to be very extreme like the ones you have listed. Our band doesn’t quite fit in with that genre but we have definitely blasted those bands in our van/headphones from time to time so who knows! They could be having a subconscious influence.
Jack: This is your second album with new singer Vicky Psarakis. What does she bring to the band?
Danny: Vicky brings her excellent diverse voice to the band but there’s more than that. Vicky isn’t just a singer she is a musician and composer. The writing dynamic has changed and the songs are much more connected now. We work together on music and lyrics to get to a song that has more of an emotional impact because the music and lyrics are on the same wavelength.
Jack: How did Vicky end up joining?
Danny: We found her on YouTube. After realising that no one we knew personally or professionally really fit the band we began looking for undiscovered talent. Lucky for us, in the times we live in, this is a possibility. After seeing some of her videos online, I knew she had a lot of natural ability. We began talking and we had her audition for us by singing some of our material as well as composing vocals to a new song we had already written music for. She blew us away on both fronts so we offered her the job.
Jack: You’re about to release your new album Five. Are you excited to see the reaction or a bit nervous?
Danny: A bit of both. It’s the same every time really. Can’t help but feel nervous about public reaction. Even when an artist says I don’t care what anyone thinks they all do on some level. We always try to challenge ourselves and our fans as much as we can. We aren’t happy to put out albums that sound the same. we want each one to have its own character. We hope the fans can hear this too!
Jack: Even though this is your fifth album. Why did you decide to name it Five?
Danny: The Five title was partially due to it being the 5th album and the five members. On a deeper level it lines up with the symbol we adopted on the last record which is inspired by the quintessence or “fifth element” That which is the aether or intangible. Throughout history many spiritual and scientific definitions have come for this same thing under different names. I am just fascinated by this and feel like for me and many other music is one of the best doorways to open your mind to this. Others have through meditation disciplines or help from psychoactive substances. If you truly lose yourself in a song and become immersed I find you can find a deeper connection to yourself and the universe around you.
Jack: What was it like working with Mike Plotnikoff on the album?
Danny: Mike was awesome. He really wanted the best of us and for us. He worked really hard with us and went above and beyond what would normally be expected of him because he believed in the music. There were times where he really challenged us and there were some head butting moments. But it was for the best. Sometimes we went along with his suggestions. Sometimes we didn’t. we always found a way to bend to each other for the best result.
Jack: What has working with Napalm Records been like?
Danny: It’s been great so far and it’s only just begun. Their job is really starting now as the record is being put out.
Jack: Five has been described as your most diverse album yet and I think it is a lot more melodic than your previous albums. What prompted these changes?
Danny: It was just our natural progression of what we were feeling at this point in writing. Both Vicky and I live for melodies first and foremost. A well crafted melody that can make you feel something is the most important thing to us. So we tried to make that a focal point of the songs we wrote. Like I said there is more of a link in lyric and music now and we wanted the mood to match.
Jack: Why do all your songs begin with ‘The’?
Danny: It was not something that happened on purpose from the beginning. We never finalize a title until the song is complete. So we have working titles that are usually joke names just for fun. However, as all the lyrics began coming together for the record we realized that almost all of them happened to be written like short stories. So we decided why don’t we roll with this idea and it will help outline that theme? It is like a collection of short stories. Some of which tie in together but I would not say it is a concept record as a whole.
Jack: Is your song ‘The Man Who Fell to Earth’ inspired by David Bowie at all?
Danny: It is and good on you for noticing. When Bowie died, it hit me hard as a fan and so did his final album Blackstar. I had this song done musically which to me was a dark moody song that definitely had a death or funeral-like theme to it. I decided to write the lyrics to it in that vein. Sort of like a eulogy being read at his funeral. I also chose to use a method which Bowie used sometimes for writing lyrics called “cut ups” It is finding a book or magazine related to the topic you are writing about and cutting out all the words that hit you and rearrange them until they start to tell a story. All the lyrics in this song were cut out of reviews of the album Blackstar before it was known Bowie was dead. I then gave these lyrics to Vicky and she turned it into the vocal melodies you hear.
Jack: Why did you choose to cover Hozier’s ‘Take Me to Church’?
Danny: Napalm had suggested us doing a cover. It took a long time to nail down a song that felt right for us and wasn’t over done. We chose this one because we wanted to do something different and because Hozier is one of the few platinum pop artists out there producing songs with heart and meaning. I think any artist that is able to break the mainstream while still creating something with substance and meaning is very special.
Jack: You’re touring with Epica, Fleshgod Apocalypse, and Arkona later this year. Are you excited for the tour and will you be playing mainly new material or a mixture?
Danny: It will be a mix for sure. We want to show the new stuff but we know some fans want to hear a variety of our work.
Jack: Finally, what plans do you have for 2017? Will we see a return to Europe and the UK at all?
Danny: We will be hitting part of Europe this Fall but we are working on coming back for more of a a full EU and UK tour in 2017 sometime. Can’t say specifically when at this point.