Let's start at the very beginning: the band was founded in 2007 by drummer Mathijs Westra, keyboard player Maikel Pang Atjok and former guitarist Jornt Wagenaar. How did they get together and what was the game plan that they had in mind when forming Lyonite?
Before Lyonite Mathijs, Jornt en I played together with a few other musicians in our local school band. We mostly played covers and were balancing between pop and rock oriented songs. After a year or so we decided to disband the school band and, because of our shared interests in metal music, the three of us started Lyonite. Our goal was and still is to make awesome melodic metal with a certain form of depth, musically as well as lyrically.
What was the musical background of the founding members and in what bands have they been active before forming Lyonite, if any?
As mentioned before, there was the school band we played in together. Before that I played in another band called Mind Break Melodies together with Wolf, Claudia and my brother Joey. It was merely a project that never really got off the ground because we couldn't find a suitable drummer. Funny thing is that I knew Wolf and Claudia, and actually played with them too, long before they joined Lyonite.
Where did you get the band name Lyonite from? Any special story behind this?
After rehearsing a couple of times, we decided that we needed a name. This was about the time that our bass player Ale Strooisma had joined our ranks. There were a few conditions that needed to be met before all of us could be satisfied. We wanted it to be a name that didn't have a very obvious meaning or "feel" to it. Mostly because we wanted the band and the music to give meaning to the name instead of the other way around. This was our initial idea, and we ended up with a word that does mean something, but probably only to us. We actually combined a few words together and gave it a twist. We chose the words Lion, Unite and Dynamite and formed them to Lyonite. It roughly stands for majestic pride, unity and explosive music.
Later on bass player Ale Strooisma and female vocalist Claudia Edwards Van Muijen joined the band. How did you get them involved and what band experience did they have before joining Lyonite?
Ale was brought on board by Mathijs. They both live in the same town and knew each other partly because of their musical interests. The guy only played bass for three months or so before he joined the band, but he impressed us with his potential. The fact that he still is our bass player speaks for itself. Claudia was already a good friend of mine by the time Lyonite was formed, and so it didn't take that long before I introduced her to the rest.
Was it the original intention to get a female vocalist onboard or was this just a coincidence?
It was neither our intention nor really a coincidence. We just wanted good vocals and looked at the possibilities. We never really discussed over the fact if that vocalist would be a front man or a front woman as long as it was someone who would amaze us with his or her voice. In hindsight I for one am happy we decided to go for a front woman. The dynamic in both our music and the group itself is great this way. Of course I don't really have much to compare it with, but I have no regrets.
Weren't you afraid that you would be seen as the next gothic metal band from the Netherlands when having a female vocalist in the band?
Not really. We knew people would compare us with gothic bands but because of that prejudice we have the opportunity to prove people wrong. The music we make sometimes has gothic influences but we mostly steer more towards a more progressive, symphonic, melodic and sometimes a bit power metal feel.
Which songs were written in the original line-up and were any of those songs recorded as demos?
The only song that was recorded in the "original" line-up is our very first demo 'The Spirit And The Runner'. We wrote this song in the period that we had six members. Wolf had already joined but Jornt was also still playing with us. The rest of the songs written before that were scrapped from our set list after we parted ways with Jornt.
In 2009 founding guitar player Jornt Wagenaar left the band. What was the exact reason for his departure?
It was sort of a mutual decision. We played with six members for a while and at some point it became clear that Jornt's priorities didn't really lie with Lyonite anymore. It was about that time that he wanted to travel to Ghana for six months, and being in a band basically held him back from doing that. The gap in style of playing between Wolf and Jornt started becoming more clear and so we decided to sit and talk about it. After that the decision was made.
His replacement was found in current guitar player Wolf van Weezel. How did he get teamed up and what was his musical background before joining?
Wolf didn't really replace Jornt. We played with both of them for a few gigs before Jornt left. Wolf, Claudia and I go way back and as mentioned earlier we had already played together once before. Before he officially joined the band he would often come to our rehearsals with Claudia. At some point we discovered that he could play along with every song we had at that time, and seeing how skillful he was, it seemed the right thing to have him join our band.
The band line-up has been together now for about four years, so there must be a good chemistry between the different band members. What makes this special bond between the people in the band?
Well.. besides the fact that we have a common taste in music, we are also pretty close outside of the rehearsal room. This is partially because most of us know each other from before we started the band. You know what they say, good friends go way back!
In 2010 the first four-track EP entitled 'Lyonite' was released. What was the intention that you had with this release?
Basically a quick look into what Lyonite was all about. We wanted and needed something of decent quality to act as sort of a "musical business card". As a starting band you need to be able to present yourself in a good way, and thanks to the guys at Double Impact Studios we could.
Can 'Lyonite' be seen as your first official release or was it more of a very well packaged demo?
I'd say it was the latter. A well packaged demo sounds more accurate, although "The Last Day" gave us a lot of good credits.
The EP starts with an intro entitled 'Fates Deceit'. Why did you decide to do this as this means that there were only three real songs to be found on 'Lyonite'?
We didn't really think of that at the time. I personally really like bands that use intros and interludes and the three songs on the EP create a pretty good image of what we were capable of as a band at that time. Within that image an intro just felt right. How else to introduce yourself than with a kick ass intro?
The remaining three tracks 'The Last Day', 'Deluded Masquerade' and 'City Lost' clearly showed the great potential that Lyonite had back in those days already. What activities did you undertake towards record companies and what was the feedback that you got from those companies?
We didn't really create the EP to approach record companies. We just wanted to record something "of our own" basically to be able to show people and other bands and venues who we were. After the release of the EP we were already busy with writing new material for 'Disguised In Darkness'.
What do you think about the 'Lyonite' release yourself looking back at it now?
I think it served a great purpose. The reviews we got from it were great, the gigs we played were mostly thanks to that release and as you already mentioned, it is a good representation of what we did back then. Personally I like how it shows how we've grown in comparison to 'Disguised in Darkness'.
What did your first EP do for the band both from an artistic as well as considering name branding?
It simply shifted us from completely unknown band to almost unknown female-fronted metal band. I don't think it did much in terms of name branding, besides the fact that it created a noticeable starting point. Artistically it gave us the opportunity to clearly listen to ourselves and get a taste of what critics had to say about us at that time. We definitely used and profited from that essential part of feedback.
The EP sounds and looks very professional, which makes the band really stand out from the crowd. How important is this nowadays with the many releases that are thrown on the market on a monthly basis?
Exactly because so many new bands have their releases it is important to stand out. Your goal with a release is that people listen to your music. Making sure your product looks high quality is half the work. I'd like to believe that many people saw our EP and thought: well this looks interesting! I wonder what this is!
In September of 2012 Lyonite was featured on the compilation vinyl album 'Frisian Metal Massacre Volume 2'. How did you get involved in this and which Lyonite songs are featured on it?
We were asked by Tamme Oosterhof, a pioneer of Frisian metal bands. Together with Metalisation he had that LP compilation initiative going and they were looking for Frisian metal bands to attend to their second edition. We were still in the middle of writing for our album at that time, so we had to go with 'Fates Deceit' and 'The Last Day' from our EP. We figured this would still show people what we were all about. Of course we would've wanted to put some "new" music on there but we saw no possibility to do so.
Now, early 2013, your first full-length 'Disguised In Darkness' sees the light of day. When did you start with the actual song writing for this full-length and did the process differ in any way from the 'Lyonite' sessions?
The writing for 'Disguised In Darkness' started right after the release of our EP and the process was very much different from the 'Lyonite' sessions. We spent much more time on writing and perfecting the songs for this album and we had feedback from the EP to work with. This was, as opposed to writing music for your first recording session, an entirely different game. There was no real pressure of 'having to release something' because we now had the EP for that. The chemistry between the band members had improved a lot too. That also affected the process greatly.
'Disguised In Darkness' is an independent release, which is quite surprising in my opinion as the material is really great. Wasn't there any record company interested in signing Lyonite or didn't you put any real effort in scoring a proper deal?
We did think about that, but seeing as we were already halfway through writing the material for the album at that time we just wanted to record it. It is also true that there is a only a small chance of scoring a proper deal with just an EP, instead of with a full length album.
From the nine songs featured on the new album, two ('Mythical Interlude' and 'Celestial Interlude') are short instrumentals. Why are these so important within the band concept?
The interludes are a part of our music. They bring about some of the symphonic tendencies and for us they just give off an epic feel. It warms you up for the music that is to come and it gives you sort of a diversity break. I think the interludes really contribute to the generic feel of the album.
The other seven songs featured are all truly great progressive metal tracks with symphonic influences. How do you look back on the end result yourself and what are in your opinion the biggest differences and/or improvements when comparing the new material to the EP?
Well thank you! We are over all very pleased with the results. It shows our own progress to ourselves too. The built-up off the songs, the better developed lyrics and more progressive edges are things that come to mind. We all feel that this is a good representation of where we are now and a good preview of where we are taking our music.
I really like the variety in the material and the fact that the songs grow on you, but if you had to pick one track that represents Lyonite best, which one would that be and why?
That would be 'Darkness Ends', the last track on the album. Obviously because of its length it serves as a good representation, but also the way the song flows and the way it was developed make it a great song for us. I personally really like the vocal melodies of this particular song. I speak for all of us when I say that 'Darkness Ends' really is the top of our game right now.
Did you write/record more material than what is featured on 'Disguised In Darkness' and if so, which are these and what's going to happen with them?
Sadly not. We do have a lot of cool ideas in store, but nothing fully worked out or otherwise representable. Like I said, we spent a lot of time on perfecting the songs we had written for 'Disguised In Darkness'.
The new album really radiates professionalism all over, from the song writing, the musicianship, the production to the artwork. What are the expectations that you have yourself of this full-length?
I don't really dare to expect anything, but it would be very nice if this album would take us places. And again, thank you very much for the compliment!
I already mentioned the beautiful artwork, which is courtesy of Pieter Hoekstra. How did you get him involved and what was the assignment that you gave him for the artwork of the album?
That guy is simply awesome. Mathijs got in contact with him. We had all seen some of his work and we certainly were impressed. We didn't really give him much to go on for our artwork really. He actually pitched an idea he had with examples and the idea he pitched immediately felt right.
Is the artwork in any way connected to the lyrical content of (any of) the songs and if so, in which way?
Basically the feather that reoccurs in the artwork is connected to some of the songs on the album and to some of the ideas we're still working on. I can't really say more than that as I don't want to spoil too much now.
Speaking about lyrics, who is responsible for them and what are typical subjects that you write about?
I am mostly responsible for the lyrics, together with Claudia and Ale. We try to always create a sort of fictional story versus real emotions. This way our songs can be interpreted in different ways. The three of us come up with ideas of what our next song should be about. I personally like to write stories and relay the emotion of that story within the music. I'm really glad Claudia has the talent to voice those emotions in her vocal lines. She often asks me what I mean by certain parts of the lyrics, we talk about it and she creates a certain "feel" to sing the words in. Ale has a slightly different style of writing, but his idea behind writing lyrics is practically the same.
What are the next steps that the bands is going to take in the next three to six months?
We are planning on playing a lot of live shows the coming months, and of course we are still busy with working out new ideas for new material.
What are your plans concerning the promotion of the album in a live setting? Do you have any concrete gigs planned yet and how important is playing live for Lyonite?
We just had our album release party here in Leeuwarden, and a gig after that in Drachtster Compagnie. We have a few concrete gigs planned in March, the first of March in It Badhus, Zwaagwesteinde and the 7th of March in Iduna, Drachten. We hope to make that a lot more. Presenting yourself with live shows is the most important thing for a band, plus it is very enjoyable to see firsthand what people think of your music.
Are you already working on new material and if so, in which direction do you see the band evolving in the (near) future?
We most certainly are working on new material, but just like with 'Disguised In Darkness' we are going to take our time in writing and constructing good material. Which direction we are going is kind of hard to say, a lot of ideas have come to mind, but it'll definitely be more progressive if you ask me!
How committed are the band members to bring Lyonite to a certain level within the music business?
First and foremost we play for ourselves, as a hobby. We are all students having part-time jobs in our daily lives, and we are well aware of our futures. But if the opportunity would arise and we would get a chance we would certainly take it!
To what level do you think that Lyonite will be able to go and what is necessary to get there?
I personally think Lyonite can really become a great band, maybe even known worldwide. That would certainly be awesome. I believe we have that potential, but it all depends on how we progress and with whom we will come in to contact with in this day and age. Don't get me wrong, I'm not expecting anything yet, but I do think that, if we continue to grow and if we get through to the right people, we could make something happen. Of course we still have a long way to go before that.
Okay Maikel, thanks for your willingness to answer my questions. Is there anything that we didn't cover that you would still like to mention to our readers?
We actually covered more than I expected, and I expected a lot! So thank you very much for this extensive interview. Let's end it with a great cliché. Readers of Lords of Metal, we hope to see you all on the road!!