Interview by Jessica Plum
Atashi Tada – Vocals
Jon Sick – Guitar
Michael O’Neill – Drums
Troy Michael Wicks – Bass Guitar
James McGrenery – Guitar
You formed in early 2016. How did you guys all meet?
Jon had initially responded to an advert for a guitarist. However, it seemed very evident that there was not a lot of direction and things seemed quite haphazard. Atashi was recruited very quickly afterwards and we tried to make music like that. But with no drummer and no real definable direction due to people wanting different things, that project didn’t stay together very long. In the end, on Jon and Atashi were left and thus we continued to make music together and this is what Elysian Divide is right now. We have had some line-up changes in order to get where we are today. Troy was recruited literally outside the rehearsal studio in a complete but happy coincidence. He was walking past where we were sitting with a cup of tea and Jon just asked him if he played bass. Despite neither of us having ever met, he was up for an audition and nailed it! Michael and James were recruited as they are regulars on the local Hertfordshire scene. So while we have known them for a long time, it was only through various twists of fate that they were free enough for playing with Elysian Divide.
Have any you been in bands previously?
We all have previous bands and side projects. Jon has been doing bands since he was 16 and at the moment has the side project Grind Bastard which is pretty brand new. Atashi has been involved in numerous groups including Dice People. Michael currently works with Phleffonyaar and Alter The Sky, while James also has his side project called The Graven Sign.
You’re releasing a new music video for the track ‘Loser’ which is taken from your last EP ‘Beast’. Luckily it was shot before the COVID-19 lockdown, but where did you shoot this video and how do you go about choosing a location?
We were lucky in choosing locations. We discussed the video with Gary Durham who filmed and edited the video. The theatre we managed to borrow which was arranged by our guitarist, James. The outside shots were done in a rather cool tunnel somewhere in Stevenage; the pub scenes we again managed to borrow thanks to our bassist Troy and the house scenes were shot in guitarist Jon Sick’s house. We were very lucky in getting everything filmed before the lockdown.
It looked like it was a lot of fun filming, what was your favourite part of the video?
I think our favourite part was filming at the theatre. It’s where we did the full band shots. During filming, we managed to blow the PA for the theatre while playing back the sync track. After an hour or so of trying to rectify the situation, we realised that we had popped speakers and it almost doomed the day’s filming. But Jon had provided most of the guitar amplifiers and cabinets you see in the shot so we hooked up a CD Player to them in order to playback the sync track. After the shoot, it was discovered we had managed to blow both the amp heads too! It was a little stressful at the time, but at least now we have an awesome story about the video and how problems can arise at any time. We luckily managed to film the shoot, leaving Jon to go and procure an output transformer and some new tubes.
Who had the idea of filming this video and where do you draw your visual inspiration from?
Both of the videos we have done so far contain a playful and quirky element. The ideas we generate for the videos concentrate on that and it’s an important aspect for us to show off. While the songs we write may deal with certain personal topics or make some sort of statement, I think the world is tired of music videos of people bending over themselves to look as hard and heavy as possible, or bullshit wanky stories where some girl is looking wistfully at a night sky while some dude with a beard sings some tripe. We wanted playful, we don’t mind if certain things leave your head-scratching and even better if you’re questioning what the hell you just saw. The quirkiness is what we wanted and what we want to deliver from the world. If it makes you smile, then we are happy!
But the core idea is that the track is called ‘Loser’, we wanted to have a few stories of people feeling like losers and generally being assholes, such as Michael sitting around with porno mags while swiping on tinder and then meeting up with a man-girl, or Troy trying to read his ‘Become a millionaire’ book, beating up a homeless girl and then not having enough money for his pint… all of these were just ideas we spitballed and went with because we felt we could get the most humour out of them. Some may identify with the situations, some maybe not, but who knows. Maybe it will arouse a feeling or maybe it won’t!
What was it like working with Gary Durham shooting your video?
We had met with Gary prior to recording the video to discuss ideas and how the stories should go together. Gary was not only pleasant and friendly but the professionalism of the guy just exuded at every point. We wouldn’t hesitate to work with him again! I think the best part was that despite how crazy our suggestions sounded, he was up for it and brought his A-Game for the long days of shooting!
What was the meaning/concept behind your last EP ‘Beast’?
The title track, Beast, was one that had been hanging around in the back catalogue for a while. We were playing it but for one reason or another, the track was incompatible with ED at the time.
There was a point where the band was forced to go through a big line up change. Our bassist and drummer simultaneously found themselves in life situations which meant continuing in a band was going to be difficult. It was really unfortunate but life happens. While this was going on, Atashi and Jon decided to just get the EP written as we had a few songs hanging around and as we had the services of a dep drummer and bassist to fulfil gig commitments, we figured we would get it done.
While the songs themselves all have their own nuances, demonstration of musical styles and flair, the EP itself sort of holds a footnote in the band’s history where it marks the statement of the band musically. We have all heard bands say those words, “it’s like nothing you have ever heard before”. In a way, Beast sort of says that but if you know how to listen to it, you can probably point out our various influences in a way that comes together to make Beast what it is where it does actually sound familiar. It’s the first chapter in our long history! And given our new line up, it’s a comfortable starter for ten!
What is the procedure of producing new material, do you have a set way of doing things?
There is no real set way of doing things. Jon is the primary songwriter in the group. “I generally come from a very varied metal background. I love everything from Skid Row to Belphegor, Biohazard to Emperor. So invariably a lot of those styles somehow come out. It’s my first time working in a band with a non-growling vocalist so I have to consider that there will be a melodic vocal going on here. Generally, I’ll write a demo track, let it sit for a few days, come back to it, change it up, let it sit for another while and rinse/repeat until I feel it’s good enough. I’m not afraid to just dump entire tracks and I tend to put a lot of effort into making a song as good as I can get it before I go showing it to the band. If it’s not good enough though, it gets dumped without a second thought. I’ll generally send any demos to Atashi first as I want to know that she can sing over it or if a vocal melody comes to mind. If that’s a no-go then it will either get modified or again possibly dumped. Basically a track has to go through a lot of hoops before it’s considered Elysian Divide material. I like to take the time though, it pays off in the end.”
After a demo track is there, Atashi will generally spend the time to come up with vocals and a vocal line. She will work on harmonies for later recording, she’ll know where she will want growly vocals here and there and gradually it gets built into a new track.
What is the meaning behind the band name ‘Elysian Divide?
Elysian refers to paradise or even an idea of some sort of heaven. Divide is a separation of that. Hence I think you can take what meaning you want from it. But overall we always said that as music fans, we’re sort of tired of the same old repeated formulas. Music is now nothing more than a soundtrack for advertisement and is thoroughly predictable, songs pretty much only featuring things like the millennial whoop, the same hooks dressed up as new, simple basic lyrics I think we just want to take something pleasurable, such as music, and sit there right in the middle of all of that to fuck shit up. And it’s really not difficult to do – modern music is fucking terrible.
I don’t think we thought of this when the name was incarnated. But I don’t think it’s ever been more fitting!
When did you first start getting into music and know you wanted to join a band?
I think all of us started at a young age. Troy is the baby of the group as the youngest and he has awesome youth energy and approach to playing music. Atashi was 6 when she started with classical piano, Jon was 8 or so. While Atashi moved into performance and vocals, Jon moved onto guitars.
How would you describe your music to someone who has never heard it?
Musical genre names have certainly blurred in the decades since the 80s and 90s. In the 90s, someone could say Black Metal and they would know what they’re getting. These days it usually has to be prefixed with things like “Atmospheric” or “Operatic” or what have you. In a sense, Elysian Divide has a lot of Groove Metal elements taken from Pantera, the vocals are very similar to In This Moment and Guano Apes, Guitar harmonies are very akin to Insomnium or early In Flames… so I guess really the only way to describe it is to name-drop other bands and hope nobody gets offended or think we’re big-headed. Or we could make it up… How about, “Skydancing Melodic Hope Metal”
Is there anyone you’d like to collaborate with, be it an artist/photographer or producer in the future?
I think we all have our heroes as artists and people we would like to work with. As you can guess, every member of Elysian Divide has a pretty unique musical background. So anyone of us would name a bunch of people we would love to work with. But there are names like Benji from Skindred looks like he’d be fun to work with, maybe one day ending up in a studio with Slipknot? Who knows. But ultimately, recording and producing Elysian Divide is all handled in-house and we like how that is. We have our process ironed out and it runs like a smooth ship. We are very independent that way and I think we are very privileged to be able to do this on our own. Jon produced and engineered the album and the Beast EP and we like where it’s landed.
It has been a difficult time during this time in lockdown, have you learned a new skill or inspired to write new material for the future?
Sadly most of the band has had to continue working throughout lockdown so the working days have not allowed the gaining of massive new skillsets. But James has done more work on his other project for The Graven Sign and writing for the next Elysian Divide album is very much well underway. Depending on when lockdown finishes, we are looking at mid-2021 to start making noises about it once the plan and things get firmed up. It will be a big project for Elysian Divide but one we’re really looking forward to.
What’s the first thing you will do when locked down is finished?
I think most of us would like to get some amps in a room, smack some drums about and get a microphone or two in our hands. I think we are all itching to get back into a rehearsal room and get some of our new material on the go as a full band.
What is the music scene like where you are based in Hertfordshire & London?
It’s very vibrant. There are a lot of metal bands and the music range is extremely diverse. There’s everything from doom to thrash knocking around and the one thing that’s really cool about all of it is that everybody knows each other and is very inclusive. It’s a really great scene. I often wonder if, in decades to come, scenes like ours will be written about like CBGBs or the LA Strip of the 1980s. I’ve lived in a fair few places, but there’s nothing like the Herts scene.
Is there anyone or anywhere you would like to play and haven’t yet?
Before the lockdown, we were really looking to spread our wings throughout the UK a lot more. We have had our eyes on Bristol and the West for some time as well as places North of us like Birmingham, Leeds, etc. I have played Oop North with previous bands and the audiences there are usually nice and crazy!
What genres of music do you like to listen to personally? Any new bands that have caught your attention recently?
Atashi mainly listens to The Slot and Marilyn Manson. James is currently a big fan of My Dying Bride and Agalloch. Jon likes to go old and new, listening to Dissection and Pantera but recently discovered Hellbomb from Russia, Maat from Germany and Regarde Les Hommes Tomber from France. Troy is currently rocking out Rage Against the Machine and Muse.
What advice would you give someone wanting to start a band out?
Starting the right band is difficult. There are a lot of musicians out there and a lot of flakes. Finding the right person who is willing to take themselves and the project seriously and that are compatible with the project is the first big hurdle. A lot of musicians find this is where things end. But the core thing is not to give up. Even if you go it alone and record alone, by making music in the first place, you will eventually find players. Sometimes joining someone else’s project even if it’s not totally right for you is a good thing to do. It gets you gigging, gets you out of your “only my music” comfort zone and it helps to introduce yourself to a whole world of musicians and having fun in the process of doing it.
The other takeaway is that treating bands like a democracy where everyone has to agree on every little minute thing is a quick route to internal fighting and problems. Someone has to take a lead in certain aspects and occasionally sometimes a dominant overall lead. That doesn’t mean you need to run things like a fascist dictatorship where only your ideas are done as again that’s a quick route to kill interest for anyone else. It’s a give and take but also play your strengths.
For example, recording and production is usually down to Jon. If photo sessions, video shoots or art happens it’s usually because of Atashi. Troy, Michael and James are relative newcomers to the Elysian Divide camp but they are each carving out their main roles. James is very much engaged with helping with songwriting too and Troy has really taken a handle on social media and how/where to push. Everyone has to play to strengths and there are times that even if you don’t like a certain idea, someone has to give. The project is the end goal, not the person!
What are the pro’s/cons of being in a band?
There are a lot of people to manage, logistics, sometimes carving out responsibilities and also making sure members learn the material in time. But it’s all in the name of what we love to do. We wouldn’t do it if we didn’t like it! We love playing shows. And yes, we even love all the stuff that comes with it!
What do you like to do outside of music? Any hobbies?
Atashi reports that she is becoming quite the video editor and enjoys taking photos of her cat. Who knows, maybe the two things will combine and she will produce the epic travels of Hugo The Cat where he goes on crazy adventures and solves mysteries. James is a fan of gaming but also lists running and sleeping – I presume not at the same time unless he’s stumbled on some amazing workout routine that makes him a millionaire.
Troy is usually found doing something sporty and watching TV. In fact the other day, Troy was running around the park with a 36” CRT telly strapped to his chest. The guy is dedicated!
What are your plans for the rest of the year?
At the moment, we are getting a few things underway. First is the video which was released on 10th July. We are really engaged in people seeing it and seeing their reactions. We think it will be rather fun! We also have had a few artists remix some of the songs on the Beast EP and produce some really wild versions. We are in the process of putting that together for a digital release later this year. It’s really cool what some of these artists have come up with. And it’s kind of a throwback to what bands used to do on their B-Sides. Apart from that, we are writing for the album next year and generally hoping this COVID-19 thing will kindly go away and never come back.
Thank you for your time, is there anything you’d like to say to our readers?
Rock ‘ard, Rock ‘eavy, Rock ANIMAL!