Mastermind Yannis Androulakakis – Royal Quest
Interviewed by: Anders Sandvall
Thanks to Birgitt Schwanke at GerMusica for setting up the interview.
Thanks to GerMusica for the promo pictuers
Yannis Androulakakis is a Greek guitarist and composer who has worked with metal, music for theater/musicals, and film soundtracks. In 1998 he and bass player Dennis Bekatoros formed the metal act Royal Quest and the work on a concept album began the year after. A lots of twists and turns ended up in Androulakakis making the album on his own, and it took him several years to finish off the album, but in 2014 the opus was finally ready to be unleashed. THE TALE OF MAN is the name of the album, and it’s a very ambitious work Androulakakis has unveiled to the masses. The album contains four different characters that bring the tale forward, and Androulakakis plays all the instruments on his own. In the interview Androulakakis speaks about the work he put into the album, work that began long before the legendary metal opera Avantasia was born, the past present and future of his career, and what he thinks of the Greek metal scene. Be sure to check out THE TALE OF MAN if you’re into metal operas like Avantasia, Genius etc.
Hi Yannis, thanks for taking the time for this interview with me and Metal-Rules.com, are you ready to begin?
Hi Anders! It’s my pleasure to meet you and… I believe I’m ready!
I have to say that it’s a really ambitious and grand album you have created, I’m really impressed! Lets start from the very beginning when you and bass player Dennis Bekatoros first founded the band back in 1998. When was the idea to form a band born and was it hard to find members?
Thank you very much!! My dream to form a band began in high school. We started a few progressive bands back then with more advanced musicians than me, but I wasn’t fully satisfied until I had the opportunity to fulfill my true desire: to play epic/power metal! That was when Dennis revealed to me that he had similar ambitions and ideas, completing mine in an almost perfect way. Founding Royal Quest after that was, to say, inevitable.
In 1999 Royal Quest released its first demo, at the time were you a duo or a band?
The band’s lineup was formed very quickly. I also love those low budget/vintage/terrible photos of the five of us in the demo! After the demo release, the only member that stayed with us was my brother Andreas (keyboards).
Is it correct that the band did several shows at underground festivals in Athens back then? How was the metal scene doing in Greece then? Was it hard to play live and book shows and gigs?
It did. The most known festival we played at was in Woodstock club (I think it’s closed now) with Sorrowful Winds as headliner. At that time the Greek metal scene already consisted of many decent known and unknown metal bands. And of course big ones like Rotting Christ and Septic Flesh. All basic metal genres were present, but I can’t recall hearing of someone playing symphonic or grindcore. To my knowledge this kind of genre mix and evolution occurred later. But I think that things were proportionally the same as today. It was harder to build a fan base due to the lack of digital social media, but the bands were also fewer than today.
Also, school-waves, new clubs, competitions and underground festivals offered good opportunities for exposure. It needed a harder push, but people would remember you afterwards more easily than today. I remember in another festival that we had to do a big part of the promotion ourselves and bring a certain number of people, or pay to play! I don’t think that there is any dramatic change in the situation for small bands in these days.
Who came up with the idea to make a concept album? I understand that you and Bekatoros have worked with the album for quite a while; when did you start to write material to the album?
Dennis made this proposition to me after the summer of ’99. As I mentioned before we had come to each other with a bunch of ideas, musical and lyrical, before the demo. Three songs of the demo that had my lyrics before were adjusted to the concept. Some basic themes, such as verses and chorus melody of “The Cave of the Dead” were brought by Dennis. The song’s individual story line also. So, I started writing music, arranging and filling the parts immediately; so did Dennis with the lyrics. The music was almost ready in 2003. But the “Last Scene” was separately composed somewhere in 2005.
In the bio it can be read that you and Bekatoros’ cooperation ended, what happened that made you two split up?
We split up two times. The first was after I had finished writing the whole music. Back then Dennis told me that he wasn’t into this musical style anymore. After two years he came with a proposition to finish the project. Two years after that, in 2010, he mentioned three reasons for another (obviously the final) split. One of them was that he couldn’t stand me. You know, as a person. I can’t remember the other two reasons, but you know what they say… the more hurtful something is, the easier to retrieve for memory. Also, this time, I was informed for the split by the drummer, as a representative. I never understood what this was all about, but soon I stopped caring. Anyway, the fact is that it was a lot easier to finish the album myself.
I’ve read that the album is inspired by something called “Eternal Champion” what’s that and in what way were you inspired?
Dennis was a big fan of Michael Moorcock, a famous English writer of fantasy novels. The Eternal Champion is the main hero of these novels, appearing as a different character/reincarnation in each of the stories. Sometimes these heroes cross each other’s paths, due to something like a parallel universe portal. The Eternal Champion is an anti-hero who doesn’t stick to a life purpose or religion, but changes his goals according to his desires. “Eternal” as he is doomed to fight and be tormented forever in all of his lives. Good and Evil are substituted by Law and Chaos and their Gods, but the moral value of the two elements is neutralized. The above is to the best of my knowledge, as I have only read the “Elric” series, the most known character-facet of the Eternal Champion.
The “Quest” was something more than a term for me and Dennis. It was a value, a journey to find out something, to achieve something that we yearned for, but didn’t know what it was exactly. Dennis had named his early project “Royal Assassin”, but in our band name discussion we realized that we aren’t exactly “Assassins”. Too violent. Royal Quest seemed a perfect match and it totally made sense. We enjoyed the role of someone with the power of a King, who doesn’t want to spend his time and resources ruling a kingdom, but to depart for a magical quest for knowledge, adventure and experiences.
Is Royal Quest a band or a project today?
I was afraid of this question for years and felt kind of confused, when I visualized myself answering it, but one should be honest in this kind of situation. Royal Quest is in a coma as a band. It was once a living organism, while their work is published today. Since (after all) no proper terminology can be found for this case, one can consider it as a project today.
The Tale of Man
Could you describe the essence of THE TALE OF MAN for the readers?
The Tale of Man is a power/progressive/epic/symphonic concept metal album, consisting of metal songs and orchestral intros. It combines these music styles with an epic fantasy, cosmic and theatrical background. Also, the story line includes four characters, which are represented by four singers, one female and three male.
Do you consider the disc as being a concept album or a metal opera?
Both, as “a metal opera” with a concept is already “a concept album” (sub-category of one). With the notice that it was designed to be a music album, not a stage play.
Do you think that people can listen to the album without taking part of the lyrics or do they miss out on the experience without reading the lyrics?
I think that one is missing an important portion of the experience without the lyrics. Unless he can absorb them real-time, only by listening. But, especially for this album, this seems very difficult to me. Also, there are background images in the booklet, which add a visual component to the experience.
How come you chose to call the album THE TALE OF MAN?
That was again Dennis’ choice. He wanted to restrict the main hero’s fictional characteristics and mirror him to the most famous existing creature, us. By that, he also intended to illustrate the vain side of the human nature.
That’s Lukasz Wiktorzak aka Drake1024, a young digital artist from Poland. I think he is very talented and I am proud of him, although that was not included in the question. 🙂 I wanted a representation of the frame, when Man has the (bunch of spoilers coming now!!) two stones in his possession. For me it’s the most liberating and touching moment of the play. We needed a Man, one stone of Chaos (blue) and one of Law (yellow). Next, a dystopian, but also medieval landscape, which in my mind is the ruined side of the Realm of Law, where he returns after he defeats the Hellions in the Realm of Chaos. There he confronts the two Gods in the last Scene.
An official promo trailer was released on YouTube, what did the fans think of it?
I am also a bit curious to know.
The Tale of Man (official promo trailer)
Is the album written in the way that it can be put up on a opera-stage with actors?
Although that was not the intention, theoretically it can and I find this idea interesting. As a director I wouldn’t choose it independently, because it is theatrically deficient next to the most known librettos. However, it could shine well as an interactive performance (gig, play and image projection). Even with the theatrical part as the main-axis.
Singers that appears on the album are Vasilis Axiotis, Angeliki Frangos and Basil, how did they end up on THE TALE OF MAN?
Vasilis is a well-known performer and singing teacher in Greece. He has participated in many musicals that took place in Athens, such as Rent, Fame and Annie. Also, he was the singer of the Greek metal band Phantom Lord. Vasilis was the the perfect choice for Man.
Angeliki Frangos. Well, I met this girl at a party, after listening to her singing. Although I was not the social type of musician back then, I couldn’t let this contact go away. When time came, I picked her for the narrator’s part!
Basil is also a composer. We met through a friend. After listening to his voice in his songs, I realized that he matched my expectations for the Lord of Law. Then our common friend became famous, for some other reasons. I just find it funny to mention.
You are also singing on the album, how was that?
What? To let others sing and miss all the fun? 😀
OK, seriously, I am not a professional singer, but my voice was always decent in the low octaves. I even was the vocalist in the demo of Royal Quest, which was in high octaves. And it sucked! Throughout the years I had noticed a slight improvement. Then I started singing in amateur theater plays and I really enjoyed it. When I went to the drama school, I realized that acting can reveal pretty new dimensions for the average singer. I have worked hard for auditions and the same applied for the Lord of Chaos. However, the result is to by judged by the listener and I am awaiting this.
You’re listed on guitar and programming, does that mean that you’ve used drum-machine?
Yes. And I know this can be a big turn-off for many.
Who plays the bass?
Speaking about turn-offs, same with previous question.
Kalliopi Mitropouli is listed as violinist on the album however I think it’s hard to hear violin in the music, does Mitropouli also play any other instruments?
Do you mean Mitropoul-ou? Hehe… No hard feelings! She plays the violin in Intro, in the Name of Man (bridge,chorus,interlude), Dark Ages (both interludes), Moonstone (both interludes).
How come you chose to do all of the music on your own without the help of anyone else?
That’s easy. It’s what I always did. With Royal Quest though it was more interactive. Although I was the music “supervisor” and main composer, some musical substances belong to other members. Like the main part of the Reign of Law belongs to Dennis. Or, speaking of interaction, how we created the “Encounter” together from the beginning. But it’s really not something I did as a concession. It was a dream to have a band that writes its music together. I just couldn’t stop writing and as far as I can remember nobody had a problem. Only this guy I had to shoot and throw him into the garbage… You know I’m joking, right? Seriously, to make this clear, I never argued with Dennis for composition issues. Regarding compositions themselves or who makes them.
It takes several listens before a listener can fully grasp the music and the story and that demands a little patience and responsibility from the listener. Did you ever just give up and thought of making a little more “easy listening” kind of metal music?
I really appreciate the way you approach this. Whether you made or not effort to get into the music, I totally respect someone who is open to a work, even if it demands a bit of an additional effort from his side. From my side, it was the writing style that expressed me when I composed for this album. Perhaps later, my compositions became more mature and not so chaotic. But as long as I have a tendency towards “advanced” music and that completes me, I find no reason to do the opposite. Except for writing on-demand, in which case the pleasure is still there.
I think that the album contains a mix of metal, opera and progressive rock. There’s a lot going on in the songs, was it your intention to mix all these kinds of elements in the music?
I had all these influences and they were brought either spontaneously, or more considered, every time a new part was to be created. In some tracks Dennis suggested the musical mood. The various styles were mixed gradually and this was not so planned from the very beginning. It was supposed to be a power metal album, but we eventually liked the form it took.
Were you inspired by any other metal opera like for example Avantasia when you wrote THE TALE OF MAN?
That’s a question for Dennis, again. The first metal opera of Avantasia was released later than he conceived the Tale of Man and I can’t recall any other metal opera influences that he had. Perhaps he didn’t realize that he was creating a “metal opera”. As for my part, writing the music, I can recall a very strong moment of influence. It was the entrance of Hansi Kursch in “Farewell” by Gamma Ray. The main part was sung by Kai Hansen. Those were my Gods back then. Those tunes sound divine to me even now.
TALE OF MAN contains 14 songs and one intro and clocks in on about 70 minutes, was it your intention to make a long album?
The intention was to create this concept album. We knew from the beginning that the duration would exceed the sixty minutes, because of the size and character of the concept.
Studio and production
You chose to produce THE TALE OF MAN on your own, why?
I thought it would be easier…
You also threw away a lot of old material, why? Were there a lot of material that you threw in the bin?
I through away drums one time, because they sucked and guitars nearly two times because they sucked. Basically recordings and sounds, not compositions, except a big part of “Umbralith”.
When did you start to record THE TALE OF MAN?
Old guitar and drum sounds in 2011, new sounds in 2014. Orchestrals and synths in 2008 and before. Any band stuff recorded before the final split was not used for reasons of discontinuation. For the history, band recordings (mainly drums) had started in 2008. Everything before that was incomplete, experimental or subject to change.
In which studio is the album recorded and did you record each singers parts separately or did they sing together at the same time?
It is mainly recorded in my home studio, except some guitars recorded in Esoteron Studio and Finalsound studio in Athens. Also, the vocals of Man were recorded in Planet Rec Studios, where we also did mixing auditions. The singers were recorded separately.
How long have you played guitar and was guitar your first instrument of choice?
I’ve been playing the electric guitar since the age of fourteen. It was my first instrument of choice.
You also play piano but do you handle any other instruments besides that?
Yes, nearly any kind of percussion, but without deep knowledge of the percussion philosophy.
Are there any guitarist that you are inspired by or look up to?
Yes. Tony Macalpine, Mike Romeo, Allan Holdsworth, Vinnie Moore, Paco De Lucia, Yngwie Malmsteen, Timo Tolkki and Luca Turilli.
Do you write songs for other artists and bands besides yourself?
Regarding heavy metal I am participating in the Vivaldimetalproject as an arranger. I always have in mind writing music for other projects, just haven’t focused on it much, ’till now.
From what I have read you have worked with theater, musicals, film-soundtrack and jazz. What do you like to work with the most?
I believe musicals. I haven’t written a complete score yet, but it is my dream. And to act in one. Then movies, video games, music for theater etc.
When did you began to sing?
In a summer camp contest, when I was ten.
Have you been part of any other metal acts before Royal Quest?
Just some small ones. It didn’t last, but they were interesting.
Where in Greece do you live and are you famous in Greece?
I live in Athens and I am not famous in Greece.
You’ve been chosen as one of the arrangers of the Vivaldi metal project, what’s that?
It is a project by the keyboardist Mistheria and the bassist Alberto Rigoni, in which the Four Seasons by Antonio Vivaldi have been rearranged into metal version and will be performed by top-class musicians from all the world. So, an album will be created and probably a live tour. Currently, it is in the recording stage. I have been chosen as an arranger for two of the movements through separate contests.
Is TALE OF MAN released world wide?
Yes, but physical CD’s are delivered via shipment from CD Baby and Bandcamp. I haven’t faced any area restriction problems yet.
You’re co-operating with the promotion agency GerMusica, are you happy with the work you do together?
Yes, I am very satisfied with GerMusica.
According to the bio the album is self-released, why haven’t you inked a deal with a record label? Wouldn’t that have been easier for you when it comes to releasing albums?
Let me put it this way. Nobody else than me did anything in the album process and even if I had a deal, most likely, the same would have happened. Nobody put a dime into this project except me and nobody believed in the music. A big label who was interested in the first place didn’t respond after I mentioned that I am on my own. Or after seeing my draft photos, I don’t remember.
When we had this big dream of Royal Quest back in our teens and presented a draft demo of Dark Ages to a Greek label they said to us that they couldn’t listen to it, because of the production. The worst production ever in my opinion, but music itself didn’t matter in any of these stages. So, we became producers, DIY. I don’t want any other guy to exploit my work, unless he has something fair to offer. Also, as a fan, I ignore every band that is writing uninspired and stylized stuff and playing them in concerts, to fit into the system. Easy to say on the other hand and it could apply for me also.
Is it possible to buy TALE OF MAN in record stores? Is it possible to buy it on the internet?
Bandcamp, CD Baby and some distributors like i-tunes are the sites to order a physical or a digital CD. It is not available in record stores, but it has already hit Japan. Buying records there should be possible in the near future. As for the rest of the world it’s hard, due to distribution problems. The cons of not having a label.
Are you going to search for a record deal or are you going to continuing to release albums on your own in the near future?
I really don’t know at the moment. Surely a record deal is not in my priorities. Maybe a live tour, but I don’t have the strength to organize it myself.
Besides Facebook and Youtube are you active on any other of the social forums?
Have you read any review of the album so far? What do the media and fans think of it?
I had some really good reviews, but many mediocre and bad ones. Independent social media groups and users are beginning to show interest and I receive mails from journalists wanting to promote/review the album. As for fans, they are growing steadily in my Facebook page, but I haven’t had the chance to communicate with them yet. Someone has to start breaking the ice first. I guess that should be me.
Are there any plans on taking THE TALE OF MAN to a live stage?
No, but somehow you ticked me in a previous question.
Do you have any plans on follow up THE TALE OF MAN?
Could you give the readers three reasons why they should buy THE TALE OF MAN?
1. It can be read as a story, listened as an album and all together. Lovers of epic metal and fantasy here you go!
2. Not being a master in moral philosophy myself, I believe it’s fair to buy something you like, instead of downloading it for free only.
3. It’s a home-made product of high quality. A big load of love, inspiration and sick perfectionism have been put into it.
Well, that was all for me and Metal-Rules.com for now. I wish you all the best in the future and hope to hear more from Royal Quest in the near future. Do you have any words of wisdom to share with fans and readers? 🙂
I must thank you for this substantial interview. It was kind of a redemption for me, as I had a chance to express myself in a big range of subjects. I wish everybody to stay true to themselves, enjoy the arts and keep dreaming!
More info about the Yannis Androulakakis