Pythia – Vocalist Emily Ovenden Interview by Ollie Thomas
Formed in London in 2007, Pythia are a female-fronted power metal band taking influences from classic and heavy metal.
The sextet is fronted by Emily Ovenden (also a part of the classical group Mediaeval Baebes), Tim Neil and Ross White on guitars, Mark Harrington on bass, Richard Holland on the keys and lastly Marc Dyos on drums.
Their debut release Beneath the Veiled Embrace features no other than Brian Blessed as a guest reading the poem “Suicide in the Trenches” by Siegfried Sassoon. The album received great reception from the music media, with the band appearing on Bruce Dickinson’s BBC 6 Music radio show.
In November 2011 Pythia announced their second album ‘The Serpent’s Curse’ would be released on the 27th of February 2012, and they have released one single from the album – ‘Betray My Heart’, as well as making two further tracks ‘Just a Lie’ and ‘Heartless’ which are available as downloads.
Pythia were selected as the only support act for DragonForce’s intimate show at London’s famous 100 club, and we were lucky enough to catch up with Emily before sound checking and have a bit of a chat…
Your new album’s coming out soon, would you like to tell us about it?
The album’s called The Serpent’s Curse, it’s coming out the 27th of this month.
Is there much difference on this album, or is it the same sort of thing as the first album?
I would say it’s a lot heavier than the last album. With the debut it was our first attempt at making an album, so naturally this album’s I think a lot stronger.
It’s moved forward quite a lot you know? It’s a lot heavier and I think it’s got a stronger identity of a Pythia album than anything else.
How about the name? Where did that come from?
Well we looked at the themes of all of all the songs on the album and there’s a lot of stuff on Darwinism vs Creationism (struggles to say “creationism”) oh god my brain’s gone, I’ve got a baby at the moment so I only get about two hours sleep!
So those two things versing each other, and we sort of sat down and looked at all the lyrics, all the themes of the songs and it was actually our drummer who came up with the idea for The Serpent’s Curse and we all thought it fitted really well.
You’ve supported some quite massive bands, what that been like for you as a band?
Well you know, it’s been quite exciting, quite nerve wracking. Obviously I’m in another project as well that’s very successful, it’s called the Mediaeval Baebes, so I’m quite used to playing in front of large crowds and stuff you know?
So it’s quite nice to take my own project and put it in those big arenas, but actually I enjoy playing small shows more because you get more of a vibe off the crowd.
When you’re on a very large stage and there’s sort of 20 meters between you and the front row, it becomes a very different experience; you feel you’re being watched rather than people being involved in what you’re doing. So playing small shows like tonight, they’re actually a bit more fun.
Who would you say were your biggest influences?
My influences come across the board really from all sorts of classical singers like Maria Callas, Conchita Supervia, some old school opera singers.
Then a lot of writers, I’m very inspired by Gothic literature particularly the Victorian period, Edgar Allan Poe, that sort of thing as a writer.
Then, you know, I really love bands like Saxon and Iron Maiden as well, sort of classic British power metal bands, and I love Blind Guardian.
Some of those influences do show quite clearly in your music, I think…
I hope so, I think there’s something very British about Pythia. Most of the female-fronted metal bands are from Europe and there is something very European about them, whereas in Pythia we do sound very British.
So are you looking forward to tonight’s show?
I’m really looking forward to it!
As I said I’ve had a baby recently, so we’ve only done a handful of gigs since I’ve been back off maternity leave, because the album is now nearly out, it’s the end of a really long road of 3 years work to make that album from the beginning of the writing process to the end when you actually release it.
So actually this gig and then our launch party on the 29th at the Borderline are our celebrations that we finally achieved getting this album out, you know?
Something that not many singers have to cope with, how will you manage touring and parenthood?
Well you know, I think when there’s a will there’s a way.
I’ve already taken Saxon on two tours, a mini Pythia tour and a Mediaeval Baebes tour.
It makes things more complicated and it’s a bit more tiring, a bit more difficult but I think if you really, really want to have a career in music nothing’s gonna stop you.
It’s very, very hard anyway without a baby. It’s extremely hard having a career in music, especially with the way things are, the climate with music and the way that the music industry is changing so if you wanna pursue a career in music you’ve gotta be really hardcore anyway.
So throwing a baby in the mix is just another thing to have to cope with and deal with.
So are you going to start him off on the good stuff? Saxon, Maiden, etc.?
Well, he’s actually called Saxon. At the moment his ears are a bit sensitive for too much hard rock but the time is coming. He’ll probably hate music, won’t he? He’ll probably get into some sort of awful trance music or something.
So for someone who loves Iron Maiden, what was it like being on Bruce Dickinson’s radio show?
It was quite exciting actually, but because I don’t tend to become a fan of people I’m a fan of music.
So for me I got on really well with him, we clicked in quite a few different areas of interest and had some really interesting conversations.
I think it might have been a bit more overwhelming for the boys, Marc’s a massive Iron Maiden fan and he only said one thing in the interview.
I really enjoyed meeting him because he’s a very interesting person, very intelligent, very articulate.
He has a very childlike enthusiasm for music, which you don’t often meet musicians who have had that length of career to still have that enthusiasm.
It would be an absolute dream for Pythia to get a gig or tour with them.
So if you took one tour or show with Pythia that was your absolute favourite, what would it be?
Oh gosh, I don’t know really.
I really enjoyed playing a festival in Belgium called Power Prog and Metal festival where Scorpions were headlining.
I think it was the first time we played a really massive stage; it was like one of those aircraft hangar gigs.
The stage was so large you could almost not see the other members of the band, I really enjoyed that, it was really good fun because it was the first time we did something epic.
I’ve also really enjoyed playing at the Underworld, London there’s a couple of gigs I’ve really enjoyed there.
The thing about being a professional singer is you have good work days and you have bad work days, you can never really second guess which it’s gonna be until after the show so maybe tonight could be the best gig.
Is there anything you HAVE to have with you on tour, a good luck charm or something?
I have a goblet, I have it on stage with all my bands.
You know you like to have a cup of water on stage when you’re singing, well I have wine.
I thought it’s crap having a cup or a plastic bottle.
I’ve played this renaissance festival with Mediaeval Baebes a few times in America in Maryland and they always give us these clay goblets and I started using this one I’d been given on stage.
Then I started to realise I didn’t want to do a gig unless I had my gobet, so then it’s become a kind of lucky charm.
I’ve played the festival quite a few times, so I’ve got a collection of about 25 goblets now, so I just choose which one is my favourite for that night.
What’s the most annoying habit for someone else to have when you’re on tour?
The most annoying habit? erm… one of the things that quite annoys me is trying to discuss the show immediately after you come off stage because you’ve got a lot of adrenaline pumping through your system.
If anyone says something negative about your performance it’s very easy to get into a big argument, I’ve had a few run ins with Ross in particular, “Oh you shouldn’t have said that…” I’ll blow, so that’s a bit of an annoying trait.
As a singer when you’re on tour you have to be careful with your voice, you can’t really party too hard.
The rest of the band can get really drunk and have a really good time, and it’s really annoying because you’re not because you’re on voice rest.
What have you got planned for 2012, anything exciting?
We’ve got some really exciting stuff sort of happening at the moment, but music industry-wise you never know if something’s going to come off until it does.
I’m looking forward to seeing the rest of the reviews for the album, so far the reviews have been really positive but I’m looking forward to seeing some of the reviews from bigger magazines, see what people think of the album.
I’m looking forward to trying to get some really good touring on the go in Europe, we just love playing in Europe.
The British heavy metal scene is very difficult for women actually, in Europe they’re much more accepting of it.
It’s been really nice to be asked to do this show, it’s exciting.
You had a single off the album out recently, do you check the feedback online?
Yeah I do. I’ve got this philosophy about people’s response to my music – I choose to believe the people who like it and are really enthusiastic, and I choose to believe the people who don’t are idiots. With the internet, you’re a faceless critic so people will be quite harsh and rude about your music so I just choose to believe they don’t know what they’re talking about.
Will Pythia be a long term thing for you guys?
We’re definitely going to make a third album, we agreed we wanted to make a trilogy of music.
I really enjoy it and I know the rest of the band do.
We have this attitude of what the fuck else are you going to do with your life that’s more fun than being in a band?
Keep doing it while it’s fun, that’s the main thing.
With your wide range of influences, how does the writing process go with you and the band?
The way it works is Ross comes up with some riffs, and pieces together a piece of music, then Mark does the drums and they send it over to me.
I look at it and choose bits that I like and I write my lyrics and vocal melodies over the top of what is presented.
Then Tim does his lead guitars and the bass player does their bass parts. Tim actually did the bass on this album, because we were without a bass player. It’s very much a group effort.
How do you think you’ll go down with a DragonForce crowd tonight?
I don’t know haha, no idea.
We’ve played with some great bands whose crowds absolutely hated us and there’s some bands where it’s a bit more fitting. I think with DragonForce it’s a bit more fitting, I hope they like it!