Bill Visser of OPERATIKA
Interviewed by EvilG
Interview questions by EvilG and Lord of the Wasteland
If you count yourself amongst the legion of fans who follow female-fronted bands such as Nightwish, Epica, and After Forver (RIP), then Operatika is another band you likely (or should) have in your collection. Bill Visser is the lead guitarist of the band and unlike the other bands just mentioned, his playing is much more shred/speed orientated. I spoke to Bill about Operatika and the challenges the band faces as a US band playing a style of metal much more popular in other countries.
Good day Bill, What were some of the pre-Operatika bands you’ve played with? Did you record or do much live playing with these bands?
Hey how are you!? Thanks for the opportunity to do the interview. The bands I played in before Operatika never went anywhere. If you played locally it ended up being the same circle of musicians with the same problems. As far as recording I was doing home demo’s mainly instrumentals.
Both Yuri (drummer) and Slava (vocals) were in a band called Tzefa which formed in (I believe?) Russia and relocated to the USA to “make it”. What was their story regarding how they left that band and moved on to Operatika?
Well Yuri’s and Slava’s old band Tzefa actually started here in the USA. I met them at about the end of that band. As far as why they left Tzefa I really don’t know the story but they wanted to do more of a Power Metal style of music.
Slava played violin in Tzefa, does she still play it at all in Opertika?
No she doesn’t play the violin with us. I think because we have the keyboards doing a lot of string stuff, so I think she wants to concentrate on her vocals more.
At what point did you garner the attention of the Milano, Italy based Scarlet Records?
That happened after we recorded our demo (Dreamworld EP). We sent it out to a lot of companies, they took interest right away.
Were other labels interested in signing you?
They were a couple of labels interested with us. We had a couple of nice deals but with Scarlet they had really good distribution, so they could get our CD out to a lot of markets that others could not.
How many albums did you sign for?
We are currently signed to for a two record deal.
What does the album title THE CALLING refer to?
Now I am not 100% sure because I don’t write the lyrics but, I think it’s about a beauty and the beast type story.
How much of a reworking did the 3 songs taken from the DREAMWORLD E.P. get on THE CALLING or did you leave them as is?
We reworked the hell out of the songs. We added a lot of keyboards and changed a lot of the guitar and vocal parts. We also had Mike Lepond (Symphony X) playing bass on them. We asked him to do what ever he wants with the bass lines. He definitely blows away my original bass lines.
What topics inspire the lyrics of the band?
I think most are fantasy based, but also I think it depends on the song or mood or even life experiences.
As you mentioned, Michael LePond from Symphony X plays bass on the album. How did you hook that one up?
Well since we are always in need of a bass player and the recording of the record was underway, we needed some one right away. I didn’t want to do the bass lines so we needed a pro. Symphony X is from NJ and so are we so I e-mailed Mike. He met us at a rehearsal to hear us and after that he said he was on for the record. It’s funny because we only live a few miles apart. Who would have thought that?
Was it ever considered to have Michael LePond join the band on the tour to support the new album or was he too busy?
I would love to have Mike play on tour with us. He is such a professional and easy going guy you couldn’t ask for a better guy to play with. We actually played one show with him last August.
We have recently talked about doing some show or festivals and I think as long as it doesn’t conflict with his Symphony X schedule he’s cool with it.
The band has gone through four bass players (five counting session bassist Michael LePond) in seven years. Why do bassists keep jumping ship on you?
Well I think the bass players we have had in the past have trouble putting the effort in it like the rest of the band does, I think some wanted instant success. We are always pushing ourselves to get better and some of the guy’s we have had are happy where they are. Also we have had a lot of commitment issues. We just never found the right guy yet.
Why is there only one tour date listed for 2009 and that was back in February? Are there not that many chances to play live in your area or do you prefer to keep Operatika more of a recording band than a live performance one?
We want to play live but as you mentioned there’s not that many places to play here. We are currently looking to do some show’s this year . I can speak for everyone we are itching to get out there. Hopefully we can get out there and promote The Calling live this year. We need some kind of management or booking agency to get us to the next level.
Have you attempted to get the band to Europe?
We have just started to see what are our options are. We would love to go over to Europe. That been a dream of ours. I think our music would go over very well there. Hopefully our record company can get behind us and bring us over.
Do people assume the band is European since you are signed to an Italian label and because your music is so far removed from what the popular styles of metal are in the USA?
No, our band has European influence to it but, we are still an American band.
As Operatika currently resides in New Jersey; do you feel that you are perhaps missing the boat on a lot of opportunities as the genre of metal you perform is most successful in European countries or is your aim to be the first American band to bring this style to the masses?
We are missing a lot of opportunities being from New Jersey. It’s frustrating but what are you going to do? We would love to be the first American band to bring this style to the masses but we will see what happens we are only one record in our career. There is a lot of good bands out there so hopefully one day this music will be more successful here.
In Operatika’s so far brief existence you’ve graced the same stages as Yngwie J. Malmsteen, Helloween, Nightwish and Therion. For a band that only has one album under your belts and because you haven’t done extensive touring, do you ever get slightly overwhelmed or intimidated playing with such big acts or do you feel like you can hold your own with the best of them?
It is very intimidating playing with those bands. We are all fans of them. It’s hard because you get thrown up there with no sound check sometimes you end up feeling like a deer caught in the headlights. But when everything comes together I think we can hold our own well, we try at least.
(Controversial question time..heheh)
Do you think you deserve the opening slot for these huge bands when so many other bands have been slugging it out longer than you and playing gigs all across the country, traveling around in a van, living the rough life, paying dues whatever you want to call it….and they do not get such awesome opportunities to open for such huge names?!
I think we had been lucky to get some of those shows. We defiantly paid some hardcore dues and will still be paying them for sometime. Sometimes there’s that saying you know ‘right place right time’, but we all so busted our asses to get those shows. Nothing comes easy nor do we except it to.
There’s been a recent surge in female fronted metal bands over the last few years. As good as THE CALLING is, do you have any concerns about not being acknowledged for your own efforts and separating Operatika from the pack?
I think you always have those concerns about just being lumped in with all the other bands. I think we stick out a little because we are more guitar oriented than the other female fronted bands where they are more keyboards. Plus we are more on the Power Metal side also.
During the formation of the band, did you have a female voice in mind to front the band or was Slava just the best choice for the job?
Well, I had no vision of anything, I was just looking to start or form a band with some good players. A mutual friend of ours, Denis Gulby from Sentinal Steel Records, kinda introduced us. Basically, Yuri and Slava came together. After talking and one rehearsal it was like yeah this could work.
How collaborative is the writing process within the band? There’s a lot of layers in the music; how does it all come together?
I’ll come in with song pretty much done musically, and then we start to put everyone’s personality into it. Yuri will do something different with the drums and Anna will come up with some harmony’s on the keys, and then Slava with write the lyrics and her harmony’s so the arrangement builds.
When I first heard your band, your lead guitar playing was what stood out to me the most. It reminded me of Timo Tolkki with more speed and shredding. Is he one of your main influences? Who else has and continues to inspire you?
Thanks! Timo is a great player and songwriter. He wasn’t really a big influence with his guitar playing more so for his song writing ability. I get inspired by everyone. I’ll hear or see someone and I’m like “wow I gotta to learn that.” Right know my favourite guitar player is Rusty Cooley, this guy can shred but you can find me listing to most of the typical shredders out there.
I also hear some of the same style & influence in your guitar playing as I do in another modern shredder–Tim Roth from Into Eternity. Are you a fan of IE and Tim’s playing?
Tim Roth is a monster player I’m a big fan of Into Eternity. I remember the first time I saw them live my mouth was on the ground . There singer is insane, one of my favourites for sure.
Do you practice guitar every day? When you do play, is it more playing scales and runs or more writing riffs and songs?
I try to practice every day, I’m am obsessed with trying to get better. Usually I’ll practice some scales, I do a lot of arpeggios and runs. I will also try to find different ways to connect scales or runs together, or I’ll come up with some pattern groups of five or sevens. Also I have really gotten into string skipping.
In your bio, you write "My goal as a guitarist is to play extremely fast technical solos." Do you want to go for the insane speeds that DragonForce has or is that a little over the top for Operatika?
I want to push myself. I love solo’s that are fast and technical. I don’t think anything is over the top for our band. If we can do the insane speed of Dragonforce I am cool with that as long as it doesn’t become noise, and we can play it live.
Since a lot of music schools look down their noses at metal, did you find it discouraging when you attended A.I.G. or were they supportive of the genre?
I don’t think they really cared what kind of music you played. It wasn’t as formal of a school as Berkley, they were pretty relaxed about the styles. I really don’t care if someone looked down on Metal. I was just there to learn to be a better player. Some of the best musicians are in Metal.
You seem to be the only American-born member of the band. Does the Russian/Ukrainian background of the other three members bring any unique musical influences to Operatika’s sound?
Sometimes, I think when it comes to the keyboards and vocal lines. Their phrasing might be different or their approach is different than something that I would normally do.
What kind of training and background does vocalist Slava Popova have?
I know Slava has had some formal training with school and private lessons. She has a great ear and pitch, so I’m sure she has many years of training behind her.
Do you feel like you’ll be viewed as a more technical version of Nightwish because of the bands vocal style?
Yeah. I think we are more technical and straight forward compared to Nightwish.
Do you think its even fair that every band with a female vocalist is compared in some way to Nightwish?
No it’s not fair. If you have a female singer the first thing people say is Nightwish. I mean I’m glad we are compared to a band that is as good as Nightwish, but come on, not everyone sounds like them. You can have a male singer or band that sounds the same as ten other guys or band and that’s fine but as soon as you have a female singer it automatically Nightwish.
Do you ever get sick of being asked questions about Nightwish? Ha!
No, like I said it’s nice to be compared to a band as good as them.
Epica recently appeared at the International Opera Festival in Hungary. What do you all feel about that, and would you ever consider making an appearance at such a festival? Maybe you can organize a US version?
That’s cool for Epica, I’m sure their brand of music went over well there. We are pretty opened to anything right now. If we got an offer like that I’m sure we do it. I don’t know about organizing a US festival like that. I think over in Europe it’s more open to the different styles of music. I don’t know how that would go over here.
Have you begun writing new material for the next album? If so what can you tell us about how it’s shaping up?
Yes we been writing for a while now. We are about five songs in for the next record. This record is going to kill anything we have done before. The songs are heavier, faster, more technical with a little darker tone, but still has our sound. We have approached this record differently. We’ve been doing demo’s of the songs . We are also working in preproduction, a thing we didn’t do on the last record. We made a lot of mistakes with the last record that’s not going to happen again. I can’t wait for people to hear the new stuff. I think they will be suspired on how much we progressed.
What’s next for the band?
We are going to continue writing for the next record. We plan on going into the studio in January 2010 for a 2010 release. We are also looking to do some shows and possible tours. We really want to go over seas and play some festivals next year!
Cool, well good luck and all the best and thanks for your time!
Thanks for the interview and for taking the time out for us.