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Feature
An Interview with Lori Lewis
Operatic Singer for Therion and Aesma Daeva
by: DJ Azrael

Lori Lewis is the lead operatic singer for the metal bands Therion and Aesma Daeva. DJ Azrael had the pleasure of interviewing her on October 16, 2007, outside The Galaxy Theater in Santa Ana. It was the last interview he did at that venue before they closed it down recently to turn it into a night club.

KUCI: So I was curious for the required question every time – how’s the tour been going so far?

LL: Well umm, depends on which tour you’re asking about, I’ve been on tour with Therion now since January. So it’s been long but it’s been really great. We’ve seen so many places and been in venues that fit as little as, you know, 300 people and venues up to, you know, well Wacken which was 27,000 people that we sang for. So it’s been a kind of a roller coaster a bit with Therion cause as you can imagine its pretty…I think it’s a kind of a niche within – even within the metal genre – so not everybody is into it. But the people who are, are really into it. So the first three rows, three or four rows of every concert, people are like screaming and jumping up and down and singing along to every single word. And then you have like the in-between mosh pit group, and then in the back you have everybody who is like, “Okay, I’m just here to hear the music and enjoy it.” But it’s been really good. Our last tour was just South America, and it went very, very well I think. We had a wonderful time, especially in Chile, it was just such a cool venue that we played in. It was gorgeous, but for Aesma Daeva last night was our first show…

KUCI: Oh, okay. Wow.

LL: …in San Francisco for Therion. It was interesting. The stage was a little bit small, because we of course have to set up our drums in front of the other drums ‘cause you know you don’t want to move them once they are set. That’s a nightmare, and it takes a million hours then to reset the stage.

KUCI: Sure.

LL: So there was about a foot between the front of the stage and the drums. I was on the side, and we were basically in a flying “V” formation. It was very nice. But I think technically the show went really well. A few little things we are gonna hammer out tonight hopefully and improve on, ‘cause we are doing the same set tonight, again, just so we can get a little bit of dust on our heels. But um…yeah, I’m looking forward to doing more shows for sure. It’s been a bit exhausting. Last night we got maybe four hours of sleep, my guys, or A.D. guys they drove all night, they got here at 7am and they slept for like maybe three hours today so we are all kind of in the same sleepy boat right now. Tomorrow hopefully we’ll all be able to sleep in a bit more and relax, because we only have to go to L.A.

KUCI: Oh that’s good.

LL: Yeah. And then Aesma Daeva has a few days off while Therion runs away to Japan for like five days.

KUCI: Awesome!

LL: Yeah!

KUCI: Very cool. Is Aesma Daeva going to go to Mexico soon, ‘cause I heard some rumors about that. And then maybe some licensing issues and other stuff for the making of the DVD?

LL: Well, it’s most likely that we will be licensed for the new album. Um…the new CD, Dawn of the New Athens, that will be licensed…um…I’m not sure who by yet, so I’m not going to make any announcements about that. The DVD we ended up just releasing it privately on YouTube.

KUCI: Okay.

LL: Because there were some licensing issues there, and we didn’t want to step on anyone’s toes and…um…just wanted to be as P.C. as possible about it. But we also wanted to get it out there. So it’s a private way to do it, and, you know, as far as I know it’s very difficult to download stuff off of YouTube, so people can’t illegally download very easily. I’m sure you can disable that, and John is very conscientious about that. John of Aesma Daeva, of course. The composer extraordinaire!

KUCI: Well I guess since this is only your second tour date it’s not necessarily a fully mature question, but has it been taxing at least for the last show to sing in both acts, or to perform both acts?

LL: You know honestly, this is kind of weird, I know, but for me its almost like, I feel like Aesma Daeva’s music is so different that it really doesn’t make a big effect. I feel that it kind of warms me up actually for Therion.

KUCI: Nice.

LL: Cause often times with Therion’s music, I mean I’m singing stratospheric soprano stuff 99.9% of the time so it really demands more of a floating technique. Warm up for that for me in the dressing room is typically about half an hour, ‘cause I really want to make sure – cause I have to sing all the way to a high C sharp, and I want to be able to do it clean and clear. But last night [was] the first time we did both sets. The first set I was a little bit kind of. you know, still warming up a bit, and had flown as well so I was a little tired. Yeah, you know, the usual traveling musician story, but I felt that the set actually did a really good job of getting me ready for doing what I had to do with Therion. So I don’t think it’s going to be a problem, and I sing with proper technique ‘cause I’ve been classically trained to study for seven years and studied with a really, really great teacher [the] last couple [years] during graduate school. She was amazing and…um…I’m a little tired right now because I haven’t eaten all day, except for energy drinks. Bad idea people!

KUCI: Is there any kind of conditioning that you decided to try to put your self through so that you can perform?

LL: Yeah. Well, a couple of things. I switched to a vegetarian diet. I don’t eat any meat, except the occasional fish when I’m feeling protein deficient. And then I also started doing yoga regularly. I do Pilates. So I do more kinds of physical things to get myself ready for it, because I think that’s one of the most important things you could do. [T]hat’s the thing that Christopher Johnsson from Therion told me, and I’m so glad he did. He said, “make sure you’re in shape for this,” and I definitely feel that I’m in the best shape I’ve been since…you know…years, right now, because of doing the shows and being active so much. It’s really nice.

KUCI: That’s cool.

LL: Yeah.

KUCI: Can you give me any details on how you got involved with Aesma Daeva originally after Melissa [Ferlaak’s] departure?

LL: Yeah, it’s pretty simple, actually. My friend Chris Keltsman. She got an email from John, because John had…um…our bass player and Aesma Daeva. [The bassist’s] name is Chriss Quinn, and he owns a violin making shop. And Chriss knows the guy who used to be the boyfriend of Chris Keltsman. Yeah, it’s really confusing. But anyway, the whole story is that she got contacted. She said would be interested in this maybe. She saw the music, and she is actually a low alto and it was all really high soprano stuff. And she was like, “I don’t think I could do this, but I might know somebody who you’d be interested in, or who would be interested in it as well.” Like, “I think you’d mutually hit it off.” And she sent the information to me, he sent me the scores, and I was intrigued because I used to be a really big metal fan when I was younger. Like when I was in high school, and then I kind of went away ‘cause I was studying classical music and really got into jazz. And you know, basically ran the gamut of my interests. But yeah, so it was funny. He emailed me “would you be interested,” and I said, “ yeah.” I sang back up with a couple bands in town, and I really love metal. Some of my favorite metal bands right now are Opeth, for example. I also like really experimental music like Porcupine Tree and stuff like that, which they actually toured together I think a few years ago…

KUCI: Yes, I believe they did.

LL: …which I missed, and I wish I hadn’t.

KUCI: Opeth and Dream Theater are touring!

LL: I know that’s what I heard! That’s great! That’s going to be an interesting show.

KUCI: Definitely. That’s what I’m looking forward to. Um ,when did you learn to play…the bawu…I believe?

LL: John gave me the bawu and said, “hey you wanna try?” and I said, “okay,” and we just practice. So I’m still learning. I’m amateur. You know, the lips, how you hold the lips, it’s so important how you hold them, and if you have any tension at all in your lips your tone is just crap. It sounds terrible. I’m still learning, but I’ve been playing it ever since I started with Aesma Daeva. Pretty much ever since our first show.

KUCI: How’s that been? How was your experience working with producer Neil Kernon [recently]?

LL: Well, mine was peripheral; I actually never met Neil in person. I saw a couple of emails from him, but that’s pretty much it. We ended up at the last four or five months. I was brought on quite late into the game. They’d already been working on this project for a good two years by the time I came along and started working and recording as well. So I ended up recording everything with John. And then everything was sent to Neil, and he mixed it and did his magic with it at that point. So I never met him face to face. I hope I get to meet him some day, ‘cause I think he did a pretty damn good job. The album sounds good I think. So peripheral for me, unfortunately, but I would like to meet him someday.

KUCI: Well I heard that John had to do a bit of rearranging after the vocalist swap between you and Melissa. Was that a fairly seamless process?

LL: Um, yes and no. I think it was more of an adjustment in mind, honestly, because Melissa and I have different voices but some similarities. So I mean we’re both sopranos, obviously. That’s the most obvious thing, but I have some strengths that she doesn’t have and she has some strengths that I don’t have. So we did kind of play with rearranging a few things, and I have a pretty strong middle range and we use quite a bit of that actually on the recording. And that’s something that was kind of new for John, I think, having somebody with a strong belt range. So yeah, instead of just a classical singer which is what he’s worked with 99% of the time.

KUCI: What originally got you interested in the heavier materials since you were classically trained, or was that something that you [were interested in] before you had even done any of the training?

LL: Um, you mean what got me interested in the symphonic metal?

KUCI: Uh huh.

LL: John. I’m not kidding. I mean, I really was in ??? doing classical music for about eight years. That’s all I was doing. Just classical music. And then I met John, and I’ve really…I’ve always wanted to be in a band, like since…since I can remember, but I’ve never really thought it would happen. I just thought, “how can a classical singer be in a band and be in a rocking band?” I don’t want to be in just like some happy folk song band or something. You know? I want to be in a band that rocks! So…um…this happened to be something that presented itself to me. And it’s like, “yeah, this is exactly what I want to be doing!” But before that, I really…I was pretty much ignorant to the entire symphonic metal genre that was happening with the female voice, so its very exciting for me to be a part of that.

KUCI: On that note, do you have any advice for any other classically trained vocalists who are interested in trying to get into the genre or something like that and aren’t really familiar with how to go about that?

LL: Well, it was so serendipitous for me, that I feel like, I think…I think the thing that is the most important thing to do as a musician and as a singer is keep your options open. Keep your mind open about doing certain things, and don’t limit yourself. Because that’s why I joined Aesma Daeva. It’s because my life had taken a very big change. I was no longer working at an office job at that point, and I just decided that I’m going to commit all of my career, all of my time to music. And as soon as I did that, I worked my ass off. I sang all the time. I had nothing but music in my life, but then I kept saying “yes” and then I found Aesma Daeva. And the thing is, expand your horizons. Make sure that you’re really familiar with all the different styles. Don’t be afraid to try jazz. Don’t be afraid to try classical. Don’t be afraid to try rock, but just do it in a way where it’s healthy. So you’re still singing with a technique that won’t kill your voice.

KUCI: Okay. As far as touring is concerned, what’s the strangest or most bizarre thing you’ve seen on tour with either band at this point?

LL: One of the most strangest or bizarre things I’ve seen…hmm…I’m trying to think. Well, you know, nothing special. It’s all things that to me were bizarre, but to any band it’s not bizarre. Like the other night. Where were we…I think we were in…Oh! It was in Mexico City! Some girl took off her bra and threw it up on stage and gave it to my chorus mate, Thomas. I was like, “oh that’s pretty; okay it’s really padded.” But it was a pretty bra! (laughs) Now that was kind of funny. Honestly, I think it’s been…I’m sure there are lots of good stories that I could tell you If I had eaten today. (laughs)

KUCI: (laughs) It’s okay. What’s been your best tour experience that you’ve had?

LL: Oh, well, just in terms of excitement level and doing something that was beyond the pale, was Wacken by far. Singing and playing for 27,000 people is such a rush. It’s awesome, and I love performing. So for me, that was it. That is the pinnacle, and I had a great time. We had kind of a wild set, because it was Tom’s first show with us. So he was quite nervous but he did a great job. And I thought we were great. I had a great time. I was really charged about that. For me, that was probably the most exciting show we’ve done yet. But we haven’t. We’re going to Japan in a few days, so I might have a different story in a week!

KUCI: You would definitely be interested in doing Wacken again though if you had the opportunity?

LL: Yeah in a heart beat. I don’t care…put me on the tiny little, itty, bitty stage. I don’t care. I want to be there, because I want to actually see the acts. We didn’t really have much time for watching the other bands play. I only saw Amorphis. That was it. And so I got to watch them from behind the stage. That was awesome!

KUCI: What’s the next album going to sound like? I heard that John wasn’t planning on composing or putting together much or really any doom material at all for the next one. That it was going to be more up beat.

LL: Uh, it’s pretty aggressive sounding. It’s much more…I don’t know how to describe it. It’s got more of a militaristic slant almost, because of the subject matter being 1984. George Orwell’s 1984. So it’s really dealing with being kind of a prisoner of a military state of sorts. A state where no one has any personal say anymore or any personal freedoms, and so there’s much more of a kind of driving beat to it. But there’s also some moments where it’s really beautiful, lush moments. Like where [the character] Winston realizes that he is…he’s really alone. And what makes him realize that is after his wife has left, he goes to a prostitute and he is just…it’s like this sense of lassitude kind of takes over him, and that’s when he begins to start falling apart and then starts writing in the journal. And his death is imminent, and he knows it. He’s like…I write…he writes, “I am dead.” So…

KUCI: Sounds like an intense album.

LL: Yeah, it’s going to be quite intense, and I think it will be more of a theatrical show, actually. We won’t do a typical [show]. You know, [when you] come to the rock club and you’ll all just stand around. It’s going to be actually staged. More of a staged cut type of thing.

KUCI: Okay. Any idea who may be producer on the album, ‘cause I’ve heard Neil’s name thrown around. I heard James Murphy thrown around as a possibility. I was curious.

Lori Lewis: I’m not really familiar yet, because we haven’t had a band meeting about the new album yet. We haven’t had a production meeting together as a group. John’s pretty much been doing that on his own I think for now. But, of course, we’ll eventually get together, because we need to talk about it…because we have to talk about, you know, how we’re going to stage it. And the music is done.

KUCI: Okay, well, that just about wraps up what I was thinking. And do you have anything…any parting words for the KUCI listeners and other people in the Irvine and SoCal area?

LL: Yes! Stay Metal. And stay symphonic and listen to Aesma Daeva everyday. Like vitamins! Vitamins for your soul!

KUCI: Thank you. Thank you very much!

LL: Thank you

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