Hello Thanasis! Welcome back in heavy metal land with your second album. In our past interviews we've talked a lot about the history of the band and your own life, so let's get down to business. Except for this one: For all those who still haven't heard about Dol Ammad before – and unfortunately enough: I think there's still a lot of ignorance out there, can you describe the band within fifty words, without using the words electronic, art, metal, Jean Michel Jarre, Therion and big boobies?
HAHA! I think it is impossible to describe Dol Ammad without those words mentioned, but I'll give it a try. The Dol Ammad music is an experiment into new fields of music that combine various elements and ingredients from countless genres. It is based on huge and epic sounding synthesized sounds into non-typical compositions and patterns that evolve and progress into adventurous audio experiences instead of regular “verse-chorus” songs. Our second biggest characteristic is the presence of a 14 member classical choir in the singers' chair. To conclude, epic – fantasy – sci-fi – energetic music with synthesized and operatic elements performed by numerous gorgeous women and handsome men.
The first album was released on Black Lotus, also from Greece. Last year you've made the choice to leave Black Lotus. That seemed to be the right choice, because shortly after you left the label went bankrupt. Your new album is released under your own flag. Is this due to frustration about record labels (nobody wanted Dol Ammad?), or do you really think this is the best way?
Yes, although I am grateful to Black Lotus for releasing our debut album “Star Tales”, they seem to have done some poor planning and eventually went bankrupt. I don't know many details regarding this situation but it happened in a really bad time for us, when we needed their support to finance the recordings of the new album. I had to take some difficult and serious decisions and for some time I was feeling awfully lost… In the end we financed the total production and then tried once again to find another record deal, a process that never was something that I enjoyed. It took months for some replies to arrive which were very poor contracts with vague terms and promises. In total we got about eight responses from independent labels but none from more “major” players in the field. Unfortunately not only they couldn't cover the big expenses that a Dol Ammad album requires but they also offered tiny percentages. I got frustrated since the album was ready and we lost six months just sitting and waiting for someone to show some real interest. That is why I took “plan-B” which was always in the back of my mind as the last resort. “Do it yourself just like everything else in your music”. “Create a personal record label that will release the works of Dol Ammad and all my other projects coming up in the future”. I can't wait half a year or more to release a work that is complete. Music must go on, whatever the cost. It is foolish to waste time waiting for someone to discover your “masterpiece”. Music will do its work in the end. So far I haven't looked back to my decision. It is hugely more work than I had imagined but since I am a control freak, I enjoy having everything done my way, from the cable of the hi-hat to the sticker on the digipack. And apart from that, having your own label has direct feedback and contact with our friends, which is a great experience.
But why doesn't record labels want you? Are you ahead of our time and will we start to like Dol Ammad after the band is dead an buried, are you a musical outcast, do you have bad management qualities, or... are you just not good enough?
I am not sure why major labels don't feel confident in signing Dol Ammad but I have some guesses. Maybe the word “electronica”, proudly displayed on our logo, our covers, our everything, is still a “no-no” in the metal business which, still attached to its clichés, fears that it will lose its trademarks by the bad-evil-unholy synths, beats, techno and other bleepy machine-generated sounds. Another factor should be that we are no typical four-member band, we don't have a lead singer and having 19 members should be very expensive for a tour. Regarding our compositions, sure they are not radio friendly or easy to whistle while walking on the street but since we receive so positive feedback from media people and fans, I don't want to believe that there aren't any labels out there still looking for experimental, fresh and adventurous music.
Your first album sounded like a clash between the synthesized new age of Jean Michel Jarre and the bombastic opera metal of Therion. A highly interesting sound-battle between two musical opponents that sometimes found each other in a Bal-Sagoth arena. With this new album you made one step further. Well, make it a giant leap. It's not a clash or a battle of different musical styles anymore, it's like new age and heavy metal have become one. It's like a dynamic symbiosis of two extremities. Like yin and yang. Do you understand what I mean and was this a conscious development?
Of course I understand and this was a conscious development. The concept of “electronica art metal” that started with 'Star Tales' is a work in progress and will keep evolving and progressing both with Dol Ammad and my future projects. I think with 'Ocean Dynamics' we came even closer to the symbiosis of these extremely different genres and one step closer to proving that music is one. It's true that our second album is more “new age-y” and hides a deeper and purer serenity than Star Tales's more raw impact space power. I will keep on pursuing my vision of this symbiosis and we'll see where this will get us!
Once again, the sound of the album is phenomenal. And this time the album is not so “overproduced” as the first album. Because in retrospect, the first album may sound a bit “too much” at moments and at least a bit hectic, whether or not this was done on purpose. This new album is way more balanced. It breaths more depth, it gives more room for dynamics and it's not constantly “crowded with sounds”. Do you agree?
Yes, I agree and we had a difficult time to reach this result. If you remember the last time we talked I revealed that I tend to remove sounds from the mix instead of adding more for a fuller sound. I have so many ideas and it is so difficult to tame them as it is to remove them! However we approached the new CD exactly with this purpose of giving more room to the dynamics. We let more space for each sound to breathe and reveal its harmonics. I fully justify the huge sound of 'Star Tales' however since it was our debut album and maybe we got a little carried away with the excitement.
With the production, some fellow named Argy Stream assisted you. Who is he, or is he only an alter ego for Thanasis to make it sound more interesting?
Haha! No, he is a real person and not my alter ego. He is like a hidden member of Dol Ammad helping the most in the production field. Argy is a good friend and we both run the studio together. It would be impossible to mix and master all these sounds only with one set of ears. Argy is a professional sound engineer and approaches sound with technical knowledge whereas I approach production based more on feeling and instinct. Together we make a great team! Oh and “Stream” is a nick name coming from the stream of sound I think…
I think your qualities as a producer and sound creator can compete with any producer out there. Do you have ambition to help out other bands, production-wise?
Thanks, that's great to hear! We are actually thinking of expanding our work to provide services to other bands as well. Up to now we worked with a few other projects but haven't made the step to make the studio fully commercial. It's a step we are considering for the future. I think I would enjoy providing music and sounds for films or video games. I have done some sounds for local theatre plays and that turned out great.
Do you allow ideas from other persons in Dol Ammad's music, or is it totally your baby and will you not use any other's input? If you have a diplomatic answer in your mind about being the band is a “social community and all”, don't forget: the greatest minds work on their own… ;-)
Haha! No, I won't be diplomatic. It is true that I am the dictator in the compositions of Dol Ammad and don't allow any other ideas. Of course all the people are free to express their objections to parts that are unsuitable for them to perform and to add small ideas here and there that will help the complete work. We are not a band that meets and jams, or hangs out drinking beers. We are like a group of performers working with a director for the production of a huge play.
The album starts with a suite in four pieces, which is called 'Thalassa Dominion', subtitled 'An Aquatic Space Opera in 4 Acts'. What is or where lies Thalassa and what's the idea behind this “aquatic space opera”?
“Thalassa” is the Greek work for the “sea”. I was working on this song at the time of 'Star Tales' and it was a cool song that enchanted me and made me keep adding ideas and sounds to it. It soon became a 10 minute song and kept expanding. In the end it ended into a 20-25 minute song that needed to be presented as a 4 part work a bit like some opera work.
You also incorporated a new musical style in Dol Ammad. The song 'Descent' is founded upon a layer of drum 'n' bass loops. Has your interests in “old electronic heroes” like Vangelis and J.M. Jarre moved towards more modern electronic artists? Does this have any influence in the future sound of Dol Ammad?
Yes, 'Descent' was an interesting interval in the middle of the album. It is certainly more electronic than the rest although I am not sure if you can classify it as d'n'b. I love drum 'n' bass music and keep discovering more and more genres into electronic music. The “electronic heroes” are the mentors and the pioneers of a new world of sound and I am sure they also follow and enjoy modern electronic music. I don't think that the song “Descent” represents something special in the future of the Dol Ammad sound since there are no choral or metal parts in it.
Speaking about 'Descent'. You have played the drums and loops yourself. Alex didn't want to be associated with drum 'n' bass-influenced music? ;-)
No, it has nothing to do with that, we had completed the recordings and hadn't planned to record drums in “Descent”. In the end however I decided that some live drum playing would spice up the song and performed them myself as I had done before in the Dol Ammad's demo in the past.
You wrote the lyrics together with one George Harisopolous. Who is he and, with all respect, was it really necessary to use his help? I mean, there isn't such a great amount of lyrics on this album. This interview takes already more words… ;-)
He is a good friend who wrote a short story about this aquatic dominion in distress seeking guidance from their ancestors in space. It is a cool story with what I felt as some ecological messages hidden beneath its “fantasy” world. It is true that lyrics are not the strongest part in Dol Ammad and I think that this is logical since I am not a person that enjoys lyrics in music. That is not to say that I only listen to instrumental music but that I just don't enjoy reading and investigating lyrics in music. I just close my eyes and listen…
The vocals on the album are done once again by a fourteen-piece choir. This time I see the name of Kortessa Tsifodimou also as the one who's doing solo voices and narration, as well as participating in the art direction. Her role is increasing and will be even more increasing in the future?
'Ocean Dynamics' needed more narrative parts and had a certain concept feel that demanded more solo voices so Kortessa came to the rescue. She is a great friend and amazing voice and I don't think her role in Dol Ammad will be increased in the future but we are going to listen more from her. I think now is a great time to reveal that she will be the main voice of the second project that we are working on.
Once again you hired Alex Holzwarth, of Rhapsody and Sieges Even fame, for bashing the drums. Did he write and play his own parts, or did he just do what you told him? Although I think the drums have improved, I still prefer in Dol Ammad a little more technical Sieges Even sound instead of Rhapsody galloping in the drum patterns.
Working with Alex was a great experience once again. I had sent him my ideas but he brought in lots of his parts and phrases that made the drumming more challenging. We had the privilege of time and space since we worked in my studio and had the chance to try lots of different styles and ideas together with some typical-massive-Greek-food! ;-P I understand what you say and I think that especially in songs like 'Lava' and 'Liquid Desert' we have very technical drum playing. I agree and I also enjoy Alex's drumming more in Sieges Even but I must confess that I am also a double-bass-speed sucker and really enjoy straight fast drumming. I think that the third Dol Ammad album will be the fastest one so far!
There's also another celebrity on this album. Singer DC Cooper (former vocalist of Royal Hunt and once almost the replacement for Rob Halford in Judas Priest) sang the only non-choir vocals of the album in the song 'Aquatic Majesty'. I must say I don't hear his name very often these days. What's he doing the last couple of years and how did you get in contact with this great singer?
Yes, it was a great honour to have met and worked with DC Cooper, his amazing performance in the two Royal Hunt albums made them two of my favourite albums in heavy metal. Through a good friend I managed to get in contact with him and present my project and proposal for cooperation. Thankfully DC replied positively explaining that he always wanted to work with a choir. So instead of just the planned performance in 'Aquatic Majesty' I decided to arrange another special cooperation with DC and the choir into another track that will appear in an upcoming Dol Ammad EP which will also feature the first Dol Ammad cover song among other surprises. Regarding DC's work after Royal Hunt, apart from his great solo CD he has been busy with his new band Silent Force and some other appearances and performances.
The first album was decorated by fractal artist Brian Exton. This time the artwork is done by Andrew Ostin, also a guy who's apparently very fond of fractal-like art. It looks like organic fractals from the very depths of the Mariana Trench. It emphasises the meaning of the album title. Where did you pick up this bloke?
Andrew Ostin is an Australian artist working with a fractal technique known as “flames”. It is indeed a more organic representation of the amazing world of fractals and I was very glad to have discovered him accidentally through the internet. I think fractals perfectly represent the chaotic sound structures of Dol Ammad and provide a great visual trip to the listener.
Already during the release of your first album, you were already mentioning ideas about a second and third album. So, what can you tell me about the next Dol Ammad release?
Indeed, the third album has already been conceived in my mind. As I mentioned earlier it will be a very fast, powerful and explosive album with a very intriguing theme, which will be unveiled in the future. It will probably become the favourite Dol Ammad album and I can't wait to start working on it, although the EP will come first!
And what did I hear about another Electronic Art Metal project you just mentioned? Or is this not for publication either?
Oh yes, the second project of “my vision”! Well, I have already revealed that it will include Kortessa from Dol Ammad in the vocals. I can also disclose that it will be a more atmospheric and dreamy project with some psychedelic elements. I think it will be a mixture of Porcupine Tree, Massive Attack, Ozric Tentacles with Dol Ammad, of course in a special prism that will result in something that you've also never heard before! It will be the second face of “electronica art metal”. We will soon reveal the name and more details!
There's only one disadvantage with your music: it always gonna be a studio project, isn't it? But it screams to be played live! But I think it's always gonna be a daydream, especially since you're living your days in the army now…
I am afraid the budget required for a Dol Ammad live show is currently unavailable. I have so many ideas and requests for live shows that this issue has become a real headache. I am afraid I have to keep Dol Ammad a studio band for now. We will try to make the other projects of “electronica art metal” more live friendly. However I am sure that someday I will make a big Dol Ammad show a reality. For now I will focus on releasing all the music that is crammed in my head. Regarding the army, it is true that in Greece you are obliged to join the army for one year and I am now in the half of my time. It hasn't been such a drawback for me since it gave me the time to clear my head from the huge work that 'Ocean Dynamics' required and do something completely different. It's like a vacation for me.
Any amusing stories to tell to spice up the interview?
The most amusing story is that I had to be in an island far away from home for three months and since I can't live away from my music for long, I had set up a small studio using a laptop, a pda and a small two-octave synthesizer. I was an assistant in the security office and had setup all this technology in a small corner of the office and at the same time I did my duties for the office, I had my projects running all the time! Thankfully my supervisors were very supportive and were very interested in what I was doing when they could have just forbid all this non-army activity. I used to be very negative with this Greek obligation but in the end it turns out better than I had thought, not only because of the time off my regular life but also for the opportunity to make lots of new friends.
To conclude: this album is dedicated to two persons. I've vaguely heard about that fellow named Bas Smit, but who the hell is this Heidi Krueger? Your new girlfriend?
Hehe no, she and Bas are two great friends whose amazing support meant the most in keeping up the hard work especially through critical times. I have never met them in person but they are and will always be in my heart!