Interview with vocalist Zuberoa Aznárez | By Eric May
Unfortunately, Diabulus In Musica have fallen on tough times in the past few years following their sophomore release The Wanderer in 2012. Band members went their separate ways, leaving vocalist Zuberoa Aznárez and keyboardist Gorka Elso to shoulder the majority of the writing and recording process. Despite the negativity that loomed in the air, the two pressed on as they crafted an album that proves light (or Argia) can come from out of the darkness. Soon after, new musicians joined on the band for this next leg of their journey. The end result is phenomenal.
For those of us who aren’t aware of your band, please tell me a little a bit about how Diabulus in Musica began. How has the band progressed since your debut album Secrets?
Gorka and I founded the band in 2006. After winning some contests, we decided to record our first album Secrets, which was released by Metal Blade Records in 2010. It received many great reviews and we had the chance to play in big fests. Afterwards, we signed a new deal with Napalm Records to release our second album The Wanderer in 2012, and our third effort Argia was released by the same label on April 14, 2014.
Regarding our music, logically, it is more mature now. Our first album Secrets was made of the first songs that we had written, but it was the very first time that we had recorded with a choir and orchestral elements and we were still “finding” ourselves. We worked very hard and we learned many things that we had the chance to develop later on our second album, The Wanderer. For that album, we introduced new sounds and we changed our way of working. We first thought about a story and decided to create a concept album, so we had a very clear idea about what we wanted to achieve and the kind of songs we wanted to write. Everything was planned and I think it worked pretty cool. On the other hand, our latest album Argia is much more “honest.” It is the most personal album so far and comes directly from personal experiences that Gorka and I have lived through these last two years. I think the real essence of Diabulus in Musica is now more present than ever. Musically, the eclecticism and contrasts that define our music are now even more evident.
Tell me a little bit about the new album Argia. What is meant by the title and what is the concept behind the album if any?
Argia means “light” or “clear” in our regional language, Basque. This title somehow reflects how we feel now. Gorka and I had to start from scratch when the other band members left. It was very hard in the beginning, but we managed to write new songs by ourselves, find new band members and play some live shows in just one year. We saw the light in our path again and we had a clear view that we had to continue making music, just because we love it so much that we cannot live without it.
On the other hand, this situation and others I’ve also experienced made me wonder about some human behaviors and made me try to understand others and myself better. I’m not sure if I have things so “argi” (clear), but I’m trying!
Argia is not a concept album as The Wanderer was, but the lyrics are directly connected to what I’ve just discussed. All the lyrics come from personal experiences and feelings. Some of them refer to our new situation, while others are more critical and the rest are more introspective as they relate to some of my spiritual beliefs.
What was the writing and recording process like for the album? This disc seems to have more of a focus on the female vocal element than previous releases, yet it also has a much lighter approach in the vein of acts like Nightwish. What was the style that you were going for with the album?
To be honest, when I start to write a song, I’m generally more focused on the music than on the voice. I just record a very soft vocal line while I’m working with the orchestra, but when I have to record the final vocal lines; it is then that I realize that I sometimes write difficult things to sing! So it has been a challenging album vocally because of that. There is a lot of vocal work, also with the choir and backing vocal arrangements, and as this has been the most personal album so far, there is also a lot of emotion in the vocals too.
Regarding the style, honestly, we never think about that. Of course we know which elements are going to be present in our songs, because we come from the classical field and also the metal scene, so our clear way since we started was the mixing of those two elements. Nevertheless, we don’t like to create boundaries that classify our music into any particular genre. Our music is very eclectic and I think that’s the main feature of Diabulus in Musica. You can find anything from aggressive metal riffs to electronic and mystic sounds, sweet melodies, ancient instruments… We always try to search for new sound colors and contrasts that help us to express all of the emotions.
I like to conceive an album as a soundtrack. I mean, what I search for when I’m listening to music is that it takes me to a different dimension. I search for different emotions, different places, dreams, images… So I try to do the same when I write music. It has to make me dream and if I need to include other “styles” for that, then there’s no doubt that I will.
Tell me a bit about the recording process for Argia. Where did you record it and how long did it take? What was the atmosphere like in the studio? Did you have any trouble or did everything go smoothly?
I couldn’t tell exactly, but the whole process of composing, arranging and recording must have taken about a year. We record in our home studios, so that’s why we don’t have a very clear schedule. We sometimes record at the same time that we are arranging or composing other tracks. It was more work, as we had to do everything by ourselves (except mixing and mastering, that was done by Jacob Hansen), but it was a much more relaxing process than recording in a normal studio.
What was it like working with Ailyn from Sirenia on “Furia De Libertad” and what is the song about? Was this a song that she had chosen personally to add vocals to, or was it one that you worked together to create?
No, I worked alone on it. When I created this song I knew that the lyrics were going to be in Spanish as the song talks about the Spanish situation nowadays. The song is dedicated to all the victims of the political and economic crisis (and also crisis of values) in our country.
I immediately though about Ailyn to sing this song with me because we became friends and we both are from Spain. Besides, we have different voices that complement each other very well, so I asked her if she would like to take part in this song. She likes the band a lot, so she immediately accepted and I was very happy to have her beautiful voice in one of our tracks!
What was it like working with the amazingly talented Thomas Vikstrom of Therion on one of the album’s most epic tracks, “Encounter at Chronos Maze?”
It was amazing to have him as a guest! We needed a very special voice for this duet. We wanted a versatile singer who could give to the song a “music theatre” touch, even operatic. Thomas is an amazing singer. He has actually sung a wide variety of styles from classical to metal, so he was the perfect candidate. I contacted him and sent him a rough demo of the song. I was so excited when he accepted and he told me he really liked the song and my voice! It has been such an honor for me to sing with him!
Zuberoa, your vocals are nothing short of brilliant on this disc. Can you tell me how you first became acquainted with singing? Who were your inspirations?
Thanks a lot for the compliments! I started my music studies when I was eight and joined several choirs in my childhood. Afterwards, I started to learn classical singing and I still continue doing it nowadays, as I think that learning is a never-ending process. I always feel I have many things to improve!
There are a lot of singers I like from many different styles, but I wouldn’t say that I’m influenced by them. You have to learn to sing with a proper technique, but also with your own voice, sound, color and what is most important: your own feelings. Singing is above all art, and art is always subjective and should serve as a way of self-expression. It is true that one can learn a lot listening to others and can take small things from here and there, but always try to find and improve your own voice.
“Eternal Breeze” is simply wonderful. I’m reminded of classic Nightwish when I hear it. Tell me a little about this track.
Thank you so much, I’m very glad that you like it because this song is very special for me. I wrote it when I lost my grandma. It has a bittersweet flavor, because even if it talks about loss, it’s sung with a smile. I arrived to the hospital when she had just gone. It was very hard to see her leave, but when I saw her, I felt something really weird… As if I could see her soul leaving. I felt a deep sorrow, but also an immense peace. I think she made me understand some important things.
The track I’m most curious about is the interesting “Spoilt Vampire.” Not only is this song fantastic, it has an electronic metal atmosphere that shows you guys are open to experimenting. What exactly is the song about? Is this directed at one person?
You’re right. As I said before, we always want to experiment with music as long as it serves the purpose of self-expression and this song definitely needed those elements to create that special atmosphere.
Yes, it talks about someone specific. The song refers to so-called “emotional vampires.” These kinds of people have a very pleasant appearance and can show very attractive personalities at the beginning, but you should be careful with them because they are surely expecting something from you! They absorb all of your energy and it’s difficult to get rid of them. In my experience, each time it’s more difficult to rely on people. I’m a very transparent person and I really hate lies. Unfortunately I have felt disappointed by mean human attitudes many times, especially during these few last years, but I have to admit that this song was a real catharsis for me!
Where do you get inspiration for your lyrics?
My inspiration comes from the world itself above all, from my personal worries and thoughts about it (which are mostly related to nature, freedom, spirituality, and social problems), and personal experiences as well. I’m a nonconformist person and I always think a lot about every aspect in life. I sometimes have rare ideas rounding my messy brain (I suppose this is normal among artists?), although I rarely arrive at a clear conclusion.
What are you currently listening to? What kinds of artists would I find on your playlist or in your record collection? Would I find anything surprising?
It depends on if you are easily surprised or not [smiles]. You would find a lot of early music, fantasy/new age soundtracks, world music, classical, neo-classical, folk stuff… And a bit of metal too [winks].
What do you guys do when you’re not playing music? What kind of hobbies do you have and what do you enjoy? Are there any books, movies, games, or other sorts of media that you’re currently enjoying?
Fortunately, I find pleasure in every small daily thing. I’m crazy about nature and love to spend hours walking in the forest or climbing high mountains with my dogs. I also make natural soap and I like cooking (and much more eating!). I love reading and going to the cinema too, although I unfortunately don’t always have the time to enjoy all this, as music and my job take most of my time.
Let’s talk about touring. Tell me about some of your most memorable moments. Who did you meet or get to play with onstage? What kinds of things did you see? Did you have any trouble on the road, or any funny stories to share?
I would say that every time we play, something funny happens! Believe me, on tour you have to deal with many weird things and people. Every show is special, but I have very good memories from our show in Mexico City. The audience was so warm! I remember they started to shout a lot when we went onstage and I thought that something really bad was happening! But it was just the way that they enjoyed the show. I also have to mention MFVF [Metal Female Voices Fest]. We have been lucky to play there more than once. We shared many great moments with fans, organizers, and other bands. There is a very special atmosphere there and a very direct contact with the audience. We have also had the chance to share the stage with big names, but it has always been for no more than a couple of shows, so you don’t really have the time to meet them because of the strict schedule.
Finally, what do you think about the condition of our world right now? Is there a hope for “healing” our world, or are we destined for doomsday?
I am so angry about all the bad things that are happening! It seems that humanity has been driven totally crazy. I don’t know if we are really more rotten than before or if we are just more aware nowadays of all that is happening. I can think of many atrocities that humans have done throughout history. I have always thought that I didn’t fit anywhere, just because I have never been able to understand certain things about society nowadays. How is this possible if I’m also a part of it? If I’m supposed to be a person too? But on the other hand, I refuse to think that human beings are so mean! If I think like this, then probably other people do the same. Although I have lost faith in humans many times, I still refuse to agree with [political philosopher Thomas] Hobbes. We cannot be resigned to doomsday. We can do small things to restore the good karma in our everyday life.
We also need to be aware that the media is hardheaded in trying to anesthetize us towards all kinds of violence, so that we become nothing but puppets in their system. They never show us any good news, but I’m sure there is. I’m pretty sure there are still good people out there, maybe out in the shadows, but there are and some of them are working hard to change this world. If you are familiar with the New Age theory, you have heard that the next step of human evolution is close to arriving and my greatest wish is that this is true. Until this new era arrives (hopefully still on the Earth!), each one of us can at least try to make the world a little bit more beautiful.
Purchase Argia here: http://shop.napalmrecords.com/diabulus-in-musica-argia.html