October 11, 2019 Interview – Vicky Psarakis of The Agonist
Fifteen years into their career of brutal, dynamic Metal, Canadian-born band The Agonist has undergone some staggering change. Their exploration through countless aspects of all things heavy is marked through their career, beginning with 2007’s Once Only Imagined, carrying over to their release of four more albums over the next nine years – ranging from 2009’s Lullabies for the Dormant Mind to 2016’s Five.
Whether it be the ability to overcome the lose of original Lead Vocalist Alissa White-Gluz, the acquisition and addition of the phenomenal Vicky Psarakis, or the massive undertaking that is releasing album after album of hard-hitting Heavy Metal, it’s impossible to deny the power of such an unstoppable group.
With such a talented and riveting frontwoman at their helm, it’s no surprise that their most recent release, Orphans, kicks major ass. Still riding the wave of success and excitement, Vocalist Psarakis sat down to discuss everything from the development of The Agonist over the years to some of her favorite musical releases of this year.
Cryptic Rock – You have been in Rock/Metal professionally for nearly a decade, and you have been a member of The Agonist for five years now and a part of three albums. Overall, how has your time been like in The Agonist?
Vicky Psarakis – Honestly, it’s been pretty crazy. Joining this band was a huge step up from anything I’d done before. I had to move to the other side of the world and immerse myself completely into music. We always set tasks and deadlines for ourselves and try to keep busy as much as possible. It’s all very awesome though, I wouldn’t have it any other way!
Cryptic Rock – Taking over as a lead in any established band is a challenge, but you’ve managed it quite well. Did you immediately feel at home with The Agonist, and how would you describe the chemistry of the band?
Vicky Psarakis – Yes, I suppose it is. For myself, the biggest challenge was learning the old material; it was definitely outside of my comfort zone. Internally, I’d say everyone in the band wanted to make me feel comfortable and at home. I can only imagine what they were going through at the time, and I think they dealt with the situation as best as they possibly could have. We definitely got along as individuals right off the bat and that bond has only increased throughout the years.
Cryptic Rock –Well the cohesion and bond between yourself and the band really comes through on the new album. Speaking of, your vocal performance on Orphans is astounding and unstoppable. Is there anything that you’ve learned over time or been inspired by that helped shape your vocals on this album?
Vicky Psarakis – Thank you! I would say the vocals on Orphans are a combination of experimenting with new techniques and going back to my roots as a musician. I felt that this was the album where I could truly embrace the diversity in my voice to highlight every different aspect in the music. I didn’t overthink it, I just went along with what the music was telling me to do. In a lot of ways, I’ve always felt that singing is very similar to voice-acting: you not only want to portray a certain emotion in the lyrics, you also want it to reflect in the way that you’re singing.
Cryptic Rock – That’s a very interesting comparison, and your expression through lyrics is almost tangible in some moments. The opening track of your new album is called “In Vertigo,” and it’s built with many aspects of Alice in Wonderland; it plays with perspective, and has an almost back and forth struggle of sorts. When you take the lyrical content of a song into territory like that, how do you compile it all together?
Vicky Psarakis – The number one thing I tell myself when writing lyrics is that you need to have a good story; you need a strong subject and it needs to have a beginning, middle, and end. I felt very inspired to use the story of Through the Looking Glass, because of the strong references to peer pressure. The challenges that Alice faces, and the imagery through that is very intense and symbolic, and I felt like it was the perfect story for the emotion I wanted to emanate from the vocals. Also, at the very end of the song, I wanted to write about our own personal struggles with feeling pressured on how we should sound as a band, and how we decided to not let it affect us for this album. Every time I hear that part of the song, I get very emotional.
Cryptic Rock – Many people cannot begin to imagine the stress and struggles that come with being in a band, and dealing with all of that really does sound like falling down a rabbit hole. Obviously, over the last few years The Agonist has released three albums and an EP with you as their front-woman. How did recording Orphans now compare to recording then?
Vicky Psarakis – Since joining the band, we’ve had a similar formula as far as the songwriting goes: I would receive the instrumentals and write lyrics/vocals on them. Occasionally, I’ll get some lyrics from Danny or Simon and utilize them, as well. After the vocals are done, we like to revisit the song and see if we can make any structural changes to make it even better.
I think the main difference between Orphans and previous albums is that everyone felt at home. The music sounds 100% like us, and that showed in how easy it was to write and record the album; we were all ahead of schedule in the studio. We actually just played half the album at our release shows last week and fans told us that the new material sounded better live than the older songs. So, that’s obviously great to hear!
Cryptic Rock – That’s such positive feedback and really goes to show how much The Agonist has grown and evolved as a band. As you previously stated, feeling at home with your craft can make a world of difference, allowing you to explore new areas. Even preceding you joining The Agonist, your YouTube covers delved into a myriad of genres and that translated quite clearly into the spectrum of music in Orphans. What have been some of your favorite genres or experimental aspects to explore on the record?
Vicky Psarakis – Ah, thank you! I’ve always been fascinated with vocal techniques and many different genres in music, so it’s something that I did explore a lot while doing covers, but continued working on even more after joining The Agonist. Like I said earlier, with Orphans I felt like I could bring in some elements closer to my roots that for some reason didn’t seem to fit as much on previous albums. A big example are the Power Metal-style vocals on a couple songs, or the bluesy/Pop-influenced lines in “Orphans” and “Mr. Cold.” Of course, the section where I’m singing in Greek on “Blood As My Guide” is also very special to me.
Cryptic Rock – Hearing you sing in Greek was a very beautiful and surprising moment – it was quite unique. To step outside of the album for a moment, there are many younger bands that struggle with making a name for themselves and getting their music out there. As someone who eventually garnered the opportunity to front a successful Metal band, and in some aspects revamped its image, what advice do you have for younger or struggling bands?
Vicky Psarakis – The world isn’t fair and I’ve heard a lot of people say that the music industry is the worst business to be in. There’s a lot of phenomenal musicians out there that don’t have half the recognition they deserve. Unfortunately, being amazing at your craft isn’t the sole indicator for success. The only piece of advice that I can give to anyone is to work as hard as they possibly can. Keep practicing, keep putting yourself out there, keep making sacrifices and keep trying to get better and better at what you do. Don’t be afraid to take chances and when an opportunity arises, even if it’s not 100% what your heart desires, don’t be afraid to take it. Hard and consistent work will get you much further than talent alone ever can.
Cryptic Rock – Dedication and hard work is such an important key to success, though there will always be people ready to watch someone choke. Metal is such a cutthroat world, especially for female musicians who are only just beginning to receive the recognition that they deserve. As fans, and the media especially, seem to love drama and tragedy, do you ever feel as though you and other female Metal musicians are pitted against one another?
Vicky Psarakis – Maybe yes, maybe no. I don’t really know to be honest. I think it all depends on the energy that you put out in the world. I have noticed that fans love comparing female vocalists, in general. There’s always a part in the comment section of any “female-fronted” band talking about who the best female Metal vocalist is. But at the end of the day, that’s all really subjective. There’s a lot of amazing female musicians out there, it just depends whose voice and music speaks to you the most.
Cryptic Rock – That’s a very refreshing take, there’s always so much music out in the stratosphere that comparison is hard to avoid. Now, it’s been an incredibly full and exciting year for music in 2019 with Tool finally releasing Fear Inoculum, Melanie Martinez coming out with her sophomore release K-12, and so much more. What have been some of your favorite songs or albums released this year thus far, or are there any upcoming albums you’re excited to hear?
Vicky Psarakis – Hmmm. From this year’s releases, so far I’d have to say my favorites have been Whitechapel’s The Valley and Periphery’s Hail Stan. Shaped By Fire from As I Lay Dying was pretty good too. I’m also looking forward to the upcoming albums from Opeth, Leprous and Jinjer.
Cryptic Rock – Agreed, The Valley was a very intimate and well-crafted release that hit home for a lot of listeners, but it will be very exciting to see what Jinjer unleashes. Okay, last question. Beyond music, Cryptic Rock also covers movies, particularly the Horror and Sci-Fi genres. If you are a fan of these genres, do you have any favorites and why?
Vicky Psarakis – Yes, absolutely. I’m a movie fanatic in general. I love Stephen King: It (2017), The Shining (1980), Carrie (1976). A lot of other classic Horror movies that shook me were Psycho (1960), The Exorcist (1973), Halloween (1978), The Silence of the Lambs (1991). Not a lot of good Horror movies recently, but I enjoyed Us (2019), Get Out (2017) and A Quiet Place (2018). For Sci-Fi: Star Wars (1977), Back to the Future (1985), Blade Runner (1982), Interstellar (2014), E.T. (1982), Terminator (1984), The Matrix (1999), and so many more.