“The only thing I would say to everyone is be nice to each other and listen to metal”

MANORA released their debut album a couple of months ago and it’s understandably receiving rave reviews from fans and critics alike. Rock Out Stand Out’s Lotty Whittingham spoke to guitarist Ivo Visser and keyboardist Arthur Stok about how the pandemic impacted their recording, the album and mental health.

For those who haven’t heard Manora before, how would you describe your sound?

Ivo:  Catchy, it’s metal but not so metal. I need to explain that to those who don’t listen to metal. We are a symphonic metal group and some are afraid of the word metal. There’s clean vocals, it’s catchy and if you have heard of Within Temptation, that’s the comparison we usually make. Nightwish as well. We have our own sound.

Who are influenced by as a band and musicians?

Ivo:  I’m not really listening to symphonic metal anymore. What they call symphonic metal these days isn’t so much symphonic, it’s more melodic metal with those elements. For me, I like the first symphonic metal bands such as Within Temptation, Nightwish and Delain. I listen to a lot of different styles of metal. I get my ideas and inspiration from everywhere.

Arthur:  For the band, there is a lot of different influences. For example our drummer Tijn [Scholtze] is into death metal, thrash metal…

Ivo:  Anything with core in it.

Arthur:  Yes anything with core in it. Our bass player Tomasz [Kisielewicz] is more into hard rock and there are a lot of influences that come from piano based music. We get a mixture of influences. I grew up with Within Temptation and Nightwish, so I am pretty sure that influenced me along with Sonata Arctica. These days we listen to so many different styles and we try to bring it all together in our sound as Manora.

Have you had gained influences from watching a TV series/film, reading a book or from anything similar?

Artur:  With Mirte [van der Ham]’s lyrics, that’s exactly how it works. Anything from movies she watches or anything she hears on the news, that’s where she gets her lyrical inspiration from. The music side, Ivo is the main song writer so he comes up with the initial ideas.

Ivo:  There have been many strange moments and so many things in my head. I’m not reading books or watching television. I don’t like series, I’m not a gamer; I lead a very boring life I think [laughs]. Most of the time I am here in my attic, it’s now my working place so I am here for sixteen hours a day. Normally I am spending my time on the computer making music or doing other stuff for the band like making the posters when we can gig again. So that keeps me busy. We have a lockdown impending so we may not be playing for a while.

For inspiration; sometimes it’s when the mind is good and I am relaxed, the inspiration comes more naturally. When I’m really stressed, it’s not so busy with music.

What are the COVID restrictions like in The Netherlands? Did it impact the recording of the album?

Ivo:  It impacted the drumming recordings, that was a difficulty. For the rest, I have a home studio where we recorded the rest of the instruments so bass, guitars and vocals. This album had been planned for quite a while and there was songs that were finished already. Then this COVID situation came and we all had to get used to it, at the end of the day we used this time very well to record the album. We could focus completely on this as there were no gigs, normally you need to rehearse for those for a few weeks. We could also finish some extra songs. We put some extra time into the songs, to add the finishing touches and did some additional things to it. We took our time.

Artur:  There were instances where COVID troubled us, particularly when it came to booking concerts and our release show. It was very difficult to get in touch with venues to book a show, luckily we were able to do it in between the lockdowns as it turns out. Our second concert got cancelled, it was at a festival. Before that when we released the music video for Wired To Obey, we recorded the video right after the first lockdown where it was still very strict. 

Ivo:  Not being able to do the photoshoots slowed down the album art. The picture of Mirte for the album art was taken in a garage in between lockdowns and the photoshoot for the rest of the band took a long time. The original plan was to release the album during the summer but because we couldn’t do this photoshoot, it was slowing everything down. At the end, we had to rush a bit to get things finished. October wasn’t the best time as there were lots of releases after the summer and you want that attention for your album. We were sending out lots of emails to magazines and reviewers but they were busy with other releases that had come out so we learnt from that. At the end of the day, there wasn’t much we could do.

I can imagine releasing a debut album in normal circumstances is challenging but releasing one during a pandemic.

Artur:  I think we got lucky in the end with how it all turned out. We had it all planned out already and then COVID came along which meant no more concerts but focusing fully on the album and recordings. In that sense we were lucky, we know bands that released albums before COVID and you can’t do any concerts to show off your work.

Ivo:  I know bands who have quit because of COVID. They didn’t survive. We were playing a concert with a German band right before lockdown, they had just released their album and there were lots of nice concerts coming for them. We had also planned to play in Germany with them which was the first one to be cancelled due to rumours of a lockdown. After that, we hadn’t played for about a year and a half. For them this was a killer, they had many great shows planned but nothing happened for them. If we had done this release before lockdown, I’m not sure if we would have survived.

Talking about your album Brave The Storm, I noticed there were some songs from Dreamscapes that made it onto the album. What process did you go through to decide which songs to choose?

Ivo:  It was a puzzle. We had some songs that weren’t finished completely, we didn’t have the time to complete them. We decided we have enough songs already so we dropped one or two and those from the EP, I mixed and mastered myself. When we made the CD, we wanted a professional to mix and master those two songs. We also found they fit in really nicely within in the new songs. When I look at the number of plays on Spotify, it’s the songs that have been listened to the most. It’s sort of a re-release but people didn’t know us from the EP. We are a new band to a lot of people.

Do you have a favourite song from Brave The Storm?

Ivo:  I think Beautiful Tragedy, for me it’s the most special song from the album. It was written quite quickly but then how it grows to what it is. It’s quite a long song, the whole process was really nice as we were adding bits and pieces then a storyteller comes in. I really like how it went at end.

Artur:  It’s a difficult one, I really like Pull The Strings and I love playing that one live. When I play that one, I really get into it. 

What’s general awareness around mental health like in The Netherlands?

Artur:  There is more attention for it these days and there are organisations that are understaffed but let’s not get into those details. I believe in Mirte’s lyrics, there’s something that describes her own feelings of anxiety and we play our part in trying to bring it to life as well.

What song is that in out of curiosity?

Artur:  I think System Shutdown, she used to suffer with anxiety.

What do you think we could do more of so people feel comfortable talking about mental health?

Artur:  I think it’s tough but talking about it is the most important part. Keeping it to yourself isn’t going to help you. Knowing you’re not alone is always helpful and people are realising they are not alone. Particularly in lockdown where people are by themselves and social distancing.

Ivo:  I am not the best person to speak about these things, I have had a few mental breakdowns that I won’t go into. Some of my colleagues searched for help, I was in a meeting one day around this time last year and they said we really need to talk to someone. My work are offering help so we can talk to someone. I am calling my colleagues quite often. 

What do you like to do to help calm down?

Ivo:  For me what helps is that I have a family with two kids, it can be really busy and noisy. For me it helps to sit here and listen to some music to try and relax. That’s the thing that helps the most.

Artur:  For me it’s bouldering, I go three times a week. It allows me to get out of my head and really focus on that. That’s all I need to keep me sane.

Where did your band name come from?

Ivo:  That’s an easy one. We made a list of names, particularly ones that didn’t exist like Manora. It’s difficult to find a band name that hasn’t existed in the past. We made a list and then a shortlist, at the end Manora was picked. We looked it up, it doesn’t mean anything but we found out it’s a beach or an island. It was catchy and short.

What message do you have for your fans?

Ivo:  In this pandemic, you have many different groups of people with different thoughts on what the government is doing. The only thing I would say to everyone is be nice to each other and listen to metal.

Artur:  I don’t think I can top that but I do want to thank all the people that are supporting us and especially during the crowdfunding campaign. These people trust us to deliver this album and it means a lot to us. So thank you to those who support us.

Thank you for talking with Rock Out Stand Out.

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