“you definitely want to get a feel of the original, particularly the structure of the song”

Power/Symphonic unit RAVENLIGHT released their EP Intermission as a bridge way between their 2020 debut and their upcoming second album. Rock Out Stand Out’s Lotty Whittingham speaks to guitarist/keyboardist John Connor and drummer Mike Bugajski about their EP, mental health and who would headline their dream festival.

For those who haven’t heard of Ravenlight before, how would you describe yourselves in terms of sound and influences? Where did the name come from?

John:  The sound is definitely a mix of power and symphonic metal, definitely more towards the symphonic metal side. It’s interesting as a lot of the time, some people will describe some of our songs as symphonic but there isn’t any symphonic elements at all. It’s entirely keyboards and guitars, sometimes barely any keyboards. The name Ravenlight comes from the Kamelot song of the same title.

You’ve released your EP Intermission which is brilliant. When it came to deciding what songs to cover, did you have a specific process?

John:  I think Rebecca [Feeney] chose most of them. I personally like the Ghost song Zenith, before we decided to cover it I had never heard the song before. She said we should cover the song, I listened to the original and had a feel for it. We then recorded a demo version of it, after our demos I decided not to listen to the originals again. If we listened to the originals, it would have influenced out direction too much. So it’s easier for me to write a chord progression here and a keyboard line there. 

With Black Diamond, it’s a song that every power metal fan knows. It’s got quite a reputation, that song has four minutes worth of solos in the middle. It was one of the hardest things I have ever recorded was those. I have watched quite a few videos of that song and in each live video, there is a different rendition of the solo. It made me think if they can modify it then I can.

Do you think listening to those originals once or twice helped you get that balance of getting the best of the originals whilst adding your own twist?

John:  Yes, I mean you definitely want to get a feel of the original, particularly the structure of the song. But I think if we listen to the original one too much, we would be thinking we were going to heavy or too light but we want to do what feels right for us.

Is there any other songs you would like to have a go at covering?

Mike:  I had one that I started working on ages ago that was supposed to be on the EP. It was Lazurus by Porcupine Tree. Generally when I approach covers, I have one or two mindsets; that’s either we try and make it sound similar or as close to the the original as we can. 

Intermission is the bridge between Project Genesis and your upcoming album, can you tell us more about the upcoming album or is it hush hush?

John:  It’s still a bit hush hush, we would be further along but we sent Project Genesis to get manufactured in March 2020 ready for distribution for the last weekend of June 2020 as we thought the pandemic might be over by then. We are working on it though and we have about eight songs demoed ready for the next album. We didn’t want to put too much into it and burnout because if we did, we would be in the same situation as last year as in waiting to announce it, release it and promote it.

Would you consider doing a virtual concert if restrictions tighten again?

John:  We actually talked about it last year. I think we probably could do it but when it comes to things like that we’re perfectionists. We wouldn’t want to put a camera in a room and do a very basic concert so we would go and find a venue that would be willing to host. Some of the venues here have done a couple of virtual concerts for a while but none of them set up a permanent infrastructure for us. It’s always one or two bands getting called to do a virtual concert and they take down the entire set up. 

We have looked at doing one from the practice room but we couldn’t find a way. You also had to consider bringing people in to film the concert but couldn’t do that under Covid restrictions. The production for that was the Blinding Lights video was done entirely by green screen and whenever we’re planning anything, that’s where my head goes.

During when Covid restrictions were really tight (i.e. only go to work if you can’t work from home, stay at home), what were you doing?

Mike:  If I remember correctly, I was wrapping up recording the drums literally the day before the first lockdown. We had wrapped up recordings on the album as the lockdown started. 

John:  If I remember rightly, I think we did the photoshoot the day before lockdown. So we were very lucky.

Mike:  After the photoshoot, I went back to the studio to finish that one song off.

John:  So Mike had finished the drums the same day we finished the photoshoot and then when the albums were printed, I remember driving over to Mike’s and standing on the doorstep to deliver the album. For us, it didn’t really effect us too much as we don’t tend to write as a group or anything, I will demo guitars and send them over whilst Mike has his drum kit set up in the practice room. We have an innovative writing process so the fact we couldn’t meet up wasn’t a huge issue. We only meet up in the practice room to rehearse for live shows.

Covid has had a huge impact on people’s mental health, what’s mental health awareness like in Northern Ireland?

John:  We have a group here called Metal For Life that has a presence at a lot of gigs. They are a metal mental health group so they will come to gigs and provide support services and therapy. There’s definitely an awareness of it here but I don’t know what traditional support network. 

Is there anything you both think we can do so people feel more comfortable talking about their mental health?

Mike:  I think talking about it more is the main thing. Seeing other people coming out and talking about these issues normalises it.

John:  Weirdly I think Covid helped. I think it’s because it became a lot more acceptable in the last year to mention if they were feeling like *hit today. Before, people would have been very reluctant but now everybody is in the same boat. There’s a mutual understanding and shared experience, at the moment everyone has the reason to feel down so they are more open to talking about it.

Is there anything you both like to do when you feel overwhelmed that helps you calm down?

Mike:  An album I like to turn to is one by The NYChillharmonic. They called themselves big band indie rock and it’s jazz band playing indie rock music. It’s very soothing actually.

John:  I think for myself, I understand a lot of people turn to heavier music when they feel angry about things. I like listening to more ambient sounds to help me calm down. 

Live music is starting to come back slowly, particularly festivals. Which three bands would headline your dream festival?

Mike:   Porcupine Tree is definitely a big one for me, with Gavin Harrison on the drums. I am a huge fan of The Artistocrats so would love to see them. To top it off, I would have Dream Theatre or Opeth; classic prog metal.

John:  I think probably Dream Theatre, Sonata Arctica and Kamelot.

Do you have a message for your fans and our readers?

John:  Check out our EP, even if you see the tracklist and think ‘I don’t like The Weekend’ but you will have a good time.

Mike:  I agree there. Some of the songs stay faithful to the original but some of them we put our own twist on.

Thank you for talking with Rock Out Stand Out today and best of the luck with the EP release.

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