Votum is polish progressive metal act that, at least, I hadn’t heard until I got their amazing debut album TIME MUST HAVE A STOP was sent to me. I hooked up with keyboard player Zbigniew Szatkowski to hear what he had to say about the band and the new album and what he thought is the essence of Votum’s music.
Interviewed by Anders Sandvall
Promo pictures provided by the band
Hi Zbigniew, it’s really good to talk to you. I hope everything is alright with you all, are you ready for a close-up interview with metal-rules.com?
Absolutely – always ready.
Well, let’s start off the interview with talking about your debut album TIME MUST HAVE A STOP that you recently released. Tell us a little bit about the album, from what I have understood it’s a concept album, what is it about?
TIME MUST HAVE A STOP is a sort of breaking point in the history of Votum. It’s the beginning of a completely different era for the band. Before this album, Votum was a strictly heavy metal band, but the line-up changed. I joined in, bringing keyboard sounds, we found a new bass-man and shortly after recording the drum tracks we also found a new drummer.
How did TIME MUST HAVE A STOP become a concept album?
The whole concept of the album and its story was one of the first things we decided to work on. One of the first tracks we composed was “Passing Scars”, which we assumed at that moment, was to merely be a part of a trilogy. Soon after that, we started to think that the story behind this track was so astonishingly cinematic and intriguing that we decided to blow it up to much bigger proportions – and wrap the whole album around it.
Who writes the music and the lyrics?
Well, composition-wise – we always work as a team and despite our frequent quarrels about the future sound of Votum, what we value the most is the possibility to work together and to bounce our ideas off each other. Up until now, the lyrics have been written exclusively by Maciej Kosiński – our lead singer.
Do you think you’re gonna release more concept albums in the future?
Most probably, yes. It’s part of our idea for music – to bundle it up in concepts, to make it all really meaningful –both in terms of lyrics and music – spicing them up with graphics and visualizations to make it a multi-sensual trip inside your head – a sort of layer cake of art.
Why did you give the album the title TIME MUST HAVE A STOP? Is there any hidden meaning behind the title?
The title comes from Shakespeare’s ‘Henry IV’ and Huxley’s “Time must have a stop” and it’s the introduction to the story. The whole album is an 8 piece concept story, dealing with emotions and obsessions of two people tangled in a very dangerous game. It’s a story of misunderstandings, bad intentions and self-consuming madness.
Who has done the cover art-work? And what do you think of it?
The cover art was designed by the members of the Mindfield group, a group of artist from the Polish Academy of Fine Arts.
You have recorded the album in DBX Studio, where is the studio located?
In Warsaw, Poland – and quite fortunately, close to our rehearsal room, which I must say is fairly convenient when you have loads of gear to transport just before recordings.
The person that has produced/mixed and mastered is Jacek Melnicki, who is he? And have you worked with him before?
Jacek Melnicki is a keyboardist (ex-member of a well-known Polish band called Riverside, for that matter) and a brilliant producer with loads of ideas to help you out during the production process. Early Votum (in its heavy metal stage) recorded the first demos there. The guys had known Jacek for some time and liked his approach to work.
Did any of the members in Votum participate in the mixing/mastering process?
Everyone did. We were pretty sure what we wanted to squeeze out of the tracks, so we were almost constantly present at the mixing stage of the recordings. Taking into consideration the quality of the studio recording gear, it’s safe to say Jacek and we have done some good work.
Do you think that you’re gonna work with Melnicki on you next album as well?
As a matter of fact we are. The studio is already booked and we plan to start recording on the first of July. Right now, we are gradually beginning work on our second piece – an album even darker and more vibrant than the previous one.
This album was recorded in 2007, but why wasn’t it released until now?
Well, it was recorded by the end of 2007, our first release by Insanity Records took place in the beginning of 2008 and then, by ProgRock Records in the beginning of 2009. The way we see it, it all happened pretty fast, he he.
How would you like to describe what kind of music Votum plays? In my ears it sounds like progressive metal that inhabits a lot of passion and nerve.
We try not to describe it. In a way we are musical agnostics, he he. In the beginning, just before our first concert with the “time must have a stop” tracks, we wanted to explain and sort out the “genre problem” – back then, we decided on ‘experimental metal’ – being too atmospheric for ‘just’ metal, while remaining too aggressive and not technical enough for prog. However, soon after those first gigs there were numerous attempts on the part of others to categorize our music, which mostly ended up with tagging our music as Progressive Metal or The New Wave Of Polish Prog – not entirely the correct choice, both of them, but perhaps close enough.
You have said “Our main concern is not playing any particular style of music, but the atmosphere pouring out of it”, what do you mean with that statement?
Well, when we started writing TIME MUST HAVE A STOP we didn’t want to fit any pre-picked genre. We just wanted to go along with some of the ideas we had and create music with atmosphere – dark, but energetic with a lot of air and ambience in it.
Have you read any reviews of the album yet?
Some of them, yes. It’s difficult to keep track, but we try to have a look at everything that comes up. It’s always important to know what kind of reception we’re getting. For some time we thought that we keep track of every review, which is published, up until a couple of days ago when ProgRock Records sent us some of the new ones. We were quite surprised to miss out on more than 80 pages of reviews we didn’t find, he he.
Your drummer Piotr Uminski left the band, when and why?
Piotr left the band soon after the recording of the drums for the TIME MUST HAVE A STOP album. The decision was well thought through – we decided to part ways as he wanted to start his own band developing his own ideas. We wish him all the best in his pursuit of the perfect sound.
Are you still friends with Uminski today?
Absolutely, he’s a great instrumentalist and a good mate. Our bass player still plays concerts in Uminski’s new band as a freelance musician. They get along quite well.
Your new drummer is Adam Lukaszek, how did he end up in Votum?
No-one really knows. In a way he’s always been somewhere around, ha ha. We’ve conducted a series of trials to find a suitable drummer and Adam Łukaszek was by far the best we came across and exactly what we wanted at that time: amazing technique, proper groove and a hardworking musician with a mind set on the same goals.
You have recorded a video to the song “Time Must Have A Stop”, has it been shown on any TV-channels?
Yes, it had its five minutes on Polish MTV, VIVA, Polish Public Television TVP1 and OTV. Unfortunately, mostly after midnight as in Poland any ‘rock-metal’ band is doomed to be pushed into the music underground and ‘after-hours media mainstream’.
And you have also recorded videos for the songs “The Pun” and “The Hunt Is On” which one of the videos did you record first and was it fun to record them?
We only recorded a video to “The Pun”, but on the internet you can find parts of the visualizations prepared for “The Hunt Is On” – we decided to throw in a sneak preview of the visualizations on the net to show a bit of the things you might expect going to our live-show.
You are from Poland, is Votum a big band in Poland?
We try to be. As I see it, we are slowly progressing, gradually convincing our future fans, one step at a time, but it’s definitely going to take some more time to reach a proper ‘big’ level. The genre we decided to go along with (or be categorized as) isn’t the most popular type of music and it’s difficult to make it in it – especially in Poland – a country well known for its empty concert halls and rather poor gig show-ups regardless of the music style (of course except for a bunch of pop-mainstream stars and starlets)
Do you have any plans on taking on the US/Canadian market any time soon?
We consequently daydream about it. A good way to do so would be to hit the States/Canada with a hell-waking tour. With a little bit of help from our friends and fans it might just happen.
For how long were you without a record deal?
Not for long. After the final mixes of the ‘time must have a stop’ album we spent some time researching the possible options and after a month or two we found a label willing to sign a deal with us. At that time polish prog label Insanity Records seemed like a perfect deal. Unfortunately, small labels have rather limited power. In addition, constant problems with the label’s owner (hooked mostly on making money off bands rather than promoting them) ranging from not supplying stores with our CDs, through hiding invoices, to e.g. not providing us with CDs for our own use or PR and breaking parts of our agreement made the cooperation a huge problem. Then, after less than a year we signed another contract with a well-established label with traditions in the genre. ProgRock Records treats us far more seriously and our cooperation is going really well.
You signed on for ProgRock Records, what’s the best thing with being signed to that label?
Some proper promotion for starters and a decent way of dealing with sales, providing us with all the necessary information.
Are you happy with the work the label have put into the album?
Up until now – yes, but we still expect to do a lot more with the album and we hope our label will help us out during the process – judging by the reviews and the concerts there’s a lot more to be squeezed out of it, he he.
On the backside of the cover of the album it says it’s released by Insanity records, SPV, Mindfield and ProgRock Records, why so many different labels?
Mindfield is a group of artist who supplied us with the concert visualizations we use during our live performances. We are pretty much into making music an experience for the senses. In the beginning of the album creation we decided that it was going to be a concept album, with both the lyrics and music creating a story. Then we started thinking about other possible ways to pass our story on to the fans. As we were pleased with the results, we also asked them to design the cover-art for our CDs.
The remaining names are in fact our two labels, as well as an additional distributor.
In what territories is the album released so far?
Europe (ProgRock, with the exception of Poland – Insanity), USA (ProgRock)
Are you gonna release it worldwide?
Hopefully, the sooner the better.
Do you see any problems in the fact that ProgRock Records is based in USA and not in Europe?
Not really. Up until now, our contact with ProgRock Records was brilliant and even better than with Insanity Records (situated less then 200km from us)
Were there many labels that were interested in closing a deal with you?
Not many. There were many reasons for that: firstly, progressive rock is not the best selling genre on the Polish market (any market?). Secondly we tend to perform the ‘more forceful’ kind, which also scares away many labels – at the same time we are not ‘forceful enough’ for labels dealing with more brutal and ‘straight-forward’ kinds of metal (like Vader or Behemoth). ‘Time must have a stop’ was also a debut album so some labels (mostly major) told us to ‘come back when we’re famous’, because they were not too keen on investing money in a band without proper traditions and lots of fans. Of course, that didn’t bring us down. The most important thing is to believe in your music and look for ways to promote it no matter what. Almost in a ‘listen to us or we will force you’ kind of way, he he.
Votum was formed in Poland in 2003, what can you tell us about the band?
Formally Votum was formed in 2003 – as a strictly heavy metal band, but as far as the changes went Votum as we see (and hear) it now started in 2007 after some line-up changes with the creation of the material for the TIME MUST HAVE A STOP album – the first sign of the ‘more progressive sound’ of the band.
Have any of the members been involved in any other acts before joining Votum?
Yes, most of us have played in other bands before – sometimes completely different than what we do with Votum. I used to play in bands of different styles, ranging from jazz or blues to symphonic black metal. Bartek, our bass-man still participates in classical-electronic acts. Our guitarists, for example, take pleasure in playing some sea chants on the side. Such a diverse background gives us more possibilities and keeps our eyes (or perhaps ears) open to different potential options.
In 2006 you released a CDS called “Jestem” that was featured in a metal magazine and what magazine was that, and what was the respond on the CDS?
"Jestem" was released with the ‘Heavy Metal Pages’ magazine and gained a lot of attention. Regardless of that, we now consider it a part of a different era. It was a phase of searching, browsing the possibilities, after which a lot has changed including most of Votum’s line-up. We evolved from one of the most promising heavy metal bands in Poland into a new, different version of ourselves. Votum 2.0, one may say.
In 2006 the band went through some line-up changes, what happened?
The release of “Jestem” had closed the ‘heavy metal stage’ for Votum, we changed the way we wanted to play music and we altered the genre we wanted to perform. Massive changes included a new bass man, drummer, keyboardist and a brand new mindset. We now sound like a band evolving and everything we do from now on will be the signs of it.
Which members aren’t original members now?
The bass-man: Bartek Turkowski, the drummer – Adam Łukaszek, and I.
At the same time you also changed musical direction, why? And what kind of music did you play earlier?
If one concentrates too much on fitting a specific, pre-picked genre, quite soon it will pin one down to the ground. We try to consider ‘genre’ a tool to pass the story we want to tell to our listeners. We want our music to be expressive, emotional and atmospheric while still with a proper metal kick. The fact we didn’t want to stay inside the heavy metal frames of music is the outcome of that.
Where does the name Votum comes from and does it mean anything?
In this case Votum can be understood as an oath or a promise. There is no particular background; we decided that the name of the band will neither be a word in English nor in Polish. We’ve chosen Latin instead. You can think about it as a promise to bring you all the best quality music in the world and to be absolutely amazed during concerts. That’s what we do, he he.
Are there any common artist or bands that have inspired the Votum to start playing progressive metal?
No. Our inspirations are extremely wide and diverse. We listen to all sorts of music from pop, rock, all kinds of metal to e.g. drum and bass, funk or classical music.
Reviewers tend to say that some of our tracks sound a little bit like Opeth (on the powerful side) or Porcupine Tree or Riverside (on the soft and atmospheric side), but most of us didn’t know the music of those bands when we started creating the ‘time must have a stop’ album. (And I absolutely can’t find a proper reason why some of the reviewers say we sound ‘a lot like Dream Theater’, he he)
Have you done shows outside Poland? If so when and in which countries?
Not yet. We tried to check the reaction of our ‘fellow citizens’ before taking over the world, he he, but I must admit we consider the future music of Votum (along with the ‘time must have a stop’ album) a product for the international market.
With thought of that there are a lot of brutal/extreme metal bands that comes from Poland how’s the climate for progressive music over there?
It’s completely and utterly terrible, he he, as any, but getting better. In Poland, as I said, live shows are not getting a lot of attention – regardless of the genre – and even the well-established progressive bands gather relatively poor audience, but we try to break the vicious cycle with our live shows being both lyrical and energetic with additional ‘something’ for the mind
I know you have a MySpace site, what do you think of MySpace?
True– we use our MySpace site (www.myspace.com/votumband) primarily for the promotional issues – an amazing equivalent for the ‘classical website’ idea – our MySpace is the primary source of up-to-date information about Votum, our shows etc. It provides artists with wonderful exposure not possible any other way.
I have been visiting your website but unfortunate there aren’t much stuff added on the English version of the site, are there gonna come more stuff on the English version of the site?
Absolutely, recently we have had lots of work and the website hasn’t been updated as quickly as we wished. It’s partly because of the upcoming CD and partly because the gargantuan amount of work we put in the promotion of the ‘Time must have a stop’ album.
Are you receiving a lot of mail from your fans? And what’s the most common question you get from fans?
Most questions concern our up-coming shows, and we are always happy to write back!
When do you think you’re coming over to Europe or Scandinavia to play live?
The sooner the better!
Do you have any festival shows booked so far now when it is soon summer?
Since we plan to record our new album this summer/autumn we decided to concentrate on the composing and quit playing live for some time – just till we finish the new material. After all the work is done, we’ll begin playing live again.
I see you will play one Festival soon are you going to do more show’s then that one this year do you think?
We will certainly play some more gigs soon. Right now, we have a couple of shows booked (including Hunterfest 2009 one of the largest metal festivals in Poland). We try to limit the number of shows before the recording session.
When can we expect the next Votum album to be out in stores?
The studio session starts in the beginning of July, after the final mixes we expect to release the album somewhere around the autumn-winter period and start touring around that time.
I totally love TIME MUST HAVE A STOP and have to thank you for releasing such an amazing album, give the readers three reasons why they should buy the debut album by Votum?
I’m sure that there are more than three reasons to do that. TIME MUST HAVE A STOP is sort of a love story noir – passionate, atmospheric and full of soul-piercing emotions at the same time being full of powerful riffs and mind-shattering guitars. The mixture carefully brewed for the taste of even the most sophisticated listeners (and not only for fans of progressive tunes)
And what do they get when they have bought TIME MUST HAVE A STOP?
An introduction to a band evolving and most importantly a CD tailored for the curious listeners: a deep, multi-surfaced story with intriguing plot to remember.
More info about the band: