Singer Raine Hilai – Midnight Eternal
Interviewed by: Anders Sandvall
Thanks to Emil Westerdahl at Inner Wound Recordings for setting up the interview.
Thanks to Inner Wound Recordings for the promo pictures of the band.
Midnight Eternal is the name of a new band from New York and is the brainchild of Operatika members Richard Fischer and Boris Zaks. The band’s self-titled debut album was unleashed in April and ought to appeal to fans of symphonic metal. Singer Raine Hilai and I hooked up and we had a talk about the album, which has taken the band 2 years to finish, the fact the band has become high profiled in the NY area with only their demo and their support shows to Doro, The Agonist and Quiet Riot amongst others. The album was mixed by the famous Tommy Hansen with art work by Jan Yrlund and is jammed with epic songs perfect for fans of Delain, Nightwish and Kamelot.
Hello Raine, are you ready to kick off the interview? First of all I have to say that I love the new album, great work!!
Hello Anders, I’m ready!! Thank you so much, I am so very happy to hear that 🙂
The band’s debut album MIDNIGHT ETERNAL landed in stores at the end of April, when did the band start to work on the album?
We began working on the album demo at the end of 2014 and had the pre-production completed by the fall of 2015. By late summer we started preparing for the recording of the album, and went into the studio in November of 2015. We finished it pretty quickly, we were so excited to release it and get it out there!
Who writes the music and lyrics and what are the lyrics about?
Boris writes the music, with Rich contributing on some of the songs as well, and both Boris and myself write the lyrics. They can really be about anything, whatever inspires us, but on this album we found ourselves exploring some dark lyrical themes dealing with death, insanity, obsession, passion and unrequited love.
Where do you find inspiration to write lyrics, how much have you participated in the song writing processes?
Boris and I shared the lyrics about 50/50 on this album. On the next album I will probably write more. Boris says that inspiration comes naturally to him and he finds it pretty easy to write lyrics. For me, it’s a bit harder, but once I figure out where the song is going it usually writes itself. Most of the time I write lyrics along to a melody, and in that case I will listen to it over and over again, figure out how/what it makes me feel and what story the melody is telling. Once I figure that out I write it very quickly and then spend some time going back and changing things or making things sound better. In rarer cases, I find myself inspired by something, usually something that’s happening in my life, and then I write the lyrics first and send them over to Boris.
What’s it like to sing lyrics written by someone else? Is it hard to make the words your own?
It can be sometimes. If I get a song and I don’t connect to the lyrics, I will change them or re-write the song. That happened with a few of the tracks on this album, with some great results! Collaborating on writing can be a very cool process.
Who in the band decides which songs are going to be featured on the album?
All important decisions are made by the entire group, collectively. Luckily, we all agree about 95% of the time 🙂 The rest of the time, it usually comes down to a majority, but we’re a very democratic group and if anyone feels very strongly about something for some reason, we usually go with that.
One of the songs on the album was also featured on the two track demo the band released prior to the album, did you make any adjustments to the song or did you add it as the demo version?
That would be “When Love and Faith Collide”. It was remixed and remastered to fit the rest of the album, otherwise it would probably sound pretty strange 🙂
Were all of the songs mainly written for the album or did you use any of your older songs?
We’ve only been writing and performing together for a short period of time (a little over 2 years), so pretty much all of the songs that were written by the time we got to the studio made it onto this album. Most our material is brand new, with the exception of the first two demo songs, one of which made it onto the album, and the second, “Masquerade of Lies”, which is the Japanese bonus track. There were a couple that were recorded for the demo that we ended up cutting from the album, they may make a future appearance at some point.
How was the lyric video to “First Time Thrill” greeted by the fans?
It was an overwhelmingly positive reaction! People seemed to really enjoy the song and the video. We felt like it was a bit of a risk choosing our longest song to be the lyric video, but we really wanted it to be featured in a major way and I think that people really like it and connect to it.
First Time Thrill [OFFICIAL LYRIC VIDEO]
How did you chose the name MIDNIGHT ETERNAL for the album?
We felt it was a good introduction! We wanted to really get our name out there and imprint it into people’s minds! There is also a track on the album named “Midnight Eternal” (track 7), and we liked the idea of it being a self-titled album.
What do you think of the cover art? I read that it’s made by the well known designer Jan Yrlund, are you happy with it?
I love it! I think he did an amazing job capturing the essence of the music on this album, and the whole “feel” of it.
Was Yrlund given any direction how you wanted the cover art work to be like or was he given free hands?
We did not give him many guidelines to follow, we really wanted to see what he would come up with, and the results as you can see are fantastic! All we did was send him the lyrics for the title track “Midnight Eternal” for inspiration. The rest was all him. He’s extremely talented and we are thrilled with the results!
How would you describe the kind of music the band plays? The bio states that you’re playing symphonic metal, do you think that is a good description?
I think it’s a pretty good description, yes 🙂
In my opinion you play power metal with some symphonic touches, what do you think of that?
That’s a very good description as well! You nailed it. I think there’s still a debate on whether “Symphonic Metal” is actually a genre onto itself or whether it is a sub-genre of Power Metal. At this point, there have been so many bands that have either placed themselves or have been placed into the “Symphonic” territory that I find it hard to believe that people still deny its existence as a genre onto itself. Yes, traditionally Symphonic Metal hails its primary origins from Power Metal, but also from Gothic Metal, and at this point it’s evolved so much that it’s become its own genre. However, Midnight Eternal may fall more into the Symphonic Power Metal category 🙂
Have many people watched your studio updates on youtube?
As of now there are about 2,500 views altogether for the studio updates. We thought it would be a fun thing to do and for fans to watch, and I had some fun editing those 🙂
Was it your intention of making a long album? MIDNIGHT ETERNAL clocks in on about 50-minutes and that’s quite long.
It was. We actually ended up cutting a couple of tracks. With this first album, we really wanted to show everyone what we can do and to leave a strong impression. We had to be convinced to cut it down a bit 🙂
What are the longest song “First Time Thrill” (9.03) and the shortest one with vocals “Believe In Forever” (2.49) about?
The lyrics for both were written by Boris, and they are both like short, dark fairy tales. The concept for “Believe in Forever” is be careful what you wish for, and “First Time Thrill” is a dark, sad story about a young deaf girl who falls in love with a fantasy and pays for it with her life.
Greg does the growling vocals on “Shadow Falls” and Rich sings clean vocals on “The Lantern”. Greg sings clean vocals on some tracks as well, for instance on “Signs of Fire”. And Rich also performs some growling vocals live, and could possibly record some in the future, so it will probably stay a bit confusing 🙂
The demo song “Masquerade Of Lies” was re-recorded and featured on the Japan version of the album but have you recorded anything other as a bonus treat for singles etc?
Originally the instrumental track “Pilgrim and the Last Voyage” was going to be included as a bonus on a single release, but it ended up going on the album. We will probably be recording some bonus tracks for future releases 🙂
Are you happy with the other members efforts on the album?
I think that everyone did an amazing job on this album! We all put our hearts and souls into making this recording the best that it can be, and the results are fantastic. My bandmates are all phenomenal musicians and I am thrilled with the way the album turned out.
Have you read any review of the album yet? Does the band care about what critics have to say?
I have probably read all the reviews the album has received, even the foreign language ones (at least the ones I was able to find online). I was very curious to see the responses the album had and to see what people had to say about it. Most of the responses were very favorable, but of course you can’t please everyone, it’s a matter of taste. All I can say is, we are very proud of what we’ve accomplished, and it doesn’t bother us that not everyone loves it.
What response have you gotten from fans regarding the album?
We have gotten some amazing responses from fans about the album, it seems like they are very happy with it! People have written to us saying they can’t stop listening to it, requesting lyrics for songs or asking questions about them. So it seems like our fans are definitely enjoying it.
Do you think fans of Fischer and Zak’s other band Operatika Element can enjoy Midnight Eternal?
I think everyone who is a fan of this genre can enjoy our music. And of course Boris is an amazing songwriter, obviously people who appreciate his writing and Rich’s playing in Opertika Element would probably enjoy our music as well.
Are there any differences in how the band is treated by native and foreign media?
I can’t say that I’ve noticed any really distinct differences yet. Some foreign media have been saying that our sound is very European influenced and expressing their surprise that we are US based. There are definitely a lot less bands of our genre over here, and I have seen and heard many US based media say and write that they are proud to have us represent the US in the Symphonic Metal genre 🙂
It’s said that fans of Delain, Nightwish and Kamelot are going to like the music of Midnight Eternal, do you think the band’s got musical similarities with them?
For sure, those bands have been influences on our sound and I do think we share some similarities with their music. And Kamelot is another US based band, which a lot of people tend to forget.
Studio, production, mix
Where was the album recorded and how long did it take?
The album was recorded at Trax East Studio, altogether it took about two months.
Where are the studios located?
Trax East Studio is located in South River, NJ, about an hour’s drive from New York City.
Is it right that the band produced the album? Which one of the members took on the main responsibility?
It was once again a joint effort. We’re very democratic that way!
How come you guys wanted to do it on your own?
It was a combination of factors, but mainly it was important for us to have control over this first release.
Isn’t it hard to stay objective when it comes to produce your own material?
We didn’t really find it so, and we were generally all in agreement about most things.
How was it to work with legendary producer Tommy Hansen who did the mastering and mixing? Was any of the members parts of those processes?
It was great to work with him! He is really a pro, and immediately nailed the sound that we were going for. It was an amazing experience. We were all a part of the process but unfortunately this time we could not be there in person.
What did you think of my neighbor country Denmark?
I would love to visit one day!
Where did Hansen do his part of the job? In Denmark?
He did his work at Jailhouse Studios in Denmark.
Do you think you’re going to work with Hansen in the future?
We would love to work with him again, and we will see how things go for the second album and for future releases 🙂
Label and management
Was it hard for the band to land a record deal?
It was a lot of work, as it should be, but I wouldn’t say it was really hard for us, and we were extremely lucky in that. We were really hoping to be able to land one for our debut album, and obviously we were successful in that. We were also very lucky to have our management on board to help with contracts, negotiations and so forth.
How come you chose to sign on for Swedish label Inner Wound Recordings? Were there other labels that showed interest in the band?
We felt that they were the best fit for us. They had shown an interest early on, and it was obvious that they really believed in the band and our music. We are also signed with Marquee/Avalon Records in Japan.
We are very, very happy with the work they put in. They were and are involved in every single aspect of what we do, and they do an amazing job.
Do you see any problems in the fact the label is based in Sweden and the band in America?
Not at all! Everything has worked out really well so far. They have been able to really help us break into the European market, and that is so important in this genre.
Who releases/distributes the album in Asia, South America and the rest of the world?
Asia is handled by Marquee/Avalon and North America/Europe is Inner Wound Recordings.
Is MIDNIGHT ETERNAL available at ITunes, Spotify etc?
Yes, it is. Also on additional streaming services like Tidal and Groove Music, as well as Amazon, Bandcamp and at most major retailers! I even saw a bunch of copies floating around on eBay 🙂 We also have signed copies available for sale on our website.
Any plans on releasing the album on vinyl?
Not at the moment. Hopefully in the future, that would be very cool!!
In July last year you signed with the Danish booking agency Intromental Worldwide, are you happy with the co-operation?
We are very, very happy with Intromental, they have done an amazing job for us so far! They have delivered everything that was promised and have helped and advised us on every step of the way. I really think that signing with them was one of the best decisions we have made.
I don’t think the industry is necessarily dead, but it does mean that artists and bands need to get creative. There is still money in touring and merchandise, of course. And social media has done a lot to help bands promote themselves. It’s an interesting era, and I hope things get better rather than worse. One thing that I think is amazing about metal fans is that they are extremely loyal. They’re some of the only fans who would still prefer to buy music rather than downloading it, they buy merchandise, they will buy vinyl, they donate to crowdfunding campaigns, they are collectors. They appreciate the bands and the music, the hard work and dedication in a way that many other fans (of other genres) do not, or don’t care to. And we as musicians really appreciate them and everything that they do! It would be impossible to achieve anything without them.
When and where was the band founded?
The band was founded by Boris Zaks in New Jersey, USA in March of 2014. He had an idea to write and record a couple of songs for a side project, and he asked Richard Fischer to be involved as well.
Why did they want to form a band?
It wasn’t originally a band, it was just something for them to do in some of their spare time.
Was it easy to find members to the band and who was the first ones to join?
Boris and Rich were the first, as I said before. They invited Dan (whom Boris knew through Rivera Bomma) and Mike LePond (whom they both knew through Operatika as well as Rivera Bomma). So it was pretty easy to form, as they all knew each other already. Greg joined later on once it became a full-time band, he and Dan were acquainted through Spider Rockets.
How did you end up in the band? Have you been involved in bands before Midnight Eternal?
I was acquainted with Dan, we had met about 6 years previously while working on another project. Singing in a symphonic metal band had always been a dream of mine, but after graduating from college I was more occupied and had more success in doing theatre work; with Midnight Eternal I finally found the right group of musicians to work with and we all shared the same drive and ambition to make it happen.
Is it correct the band was a project until after the demo releases?
Yes, that is correct. Originally Boris just asked me to sing on the two songs that we released. After we heard the final product and saw the amazing responses we were getting, we decided we had to make it a full-time thing.
How come LePond left the band?
Mike is a very busy guy and we really needed people who could commit to this project 100% of the time. We absolutely loved working with him and really appreciated all his efforts with us, he is an amazing person and musician.
Does everyone in the band come from the city of New York?
I’m actually the only one who lives in New York City, the guys all live in New Jersey, but they are very close to the city as well. We rehearse in New Jersey.
Where does the band name come from?
We thought it was an interesting combination of words that really encompassed the feel of the band and the music.
The band performed live quite a lot during 2014-15; was it the demo that landed you so many gigs?
Yes it was! This is what I mean by the kind of responses that we were getting for the demo. If we were able to land so many great gigs with just those two songs, we knew that it would be even better if when we had an album.
How was it to be opening acts for Doro, The Agonist and Quiet Riot on their single shows in New York?
Those were all great shows, the crowd responses were awesome, the venues were great and the bands were all super cool and friendly! Definitely great experiences.
What did their fans think of Midnight Eternal?
We got some really great crowd responses at their shows, and quite a few people came out to buy merch afterwards and meet us. It was a great way to get our name out there and find new fans.
How was it to perform at the Women Of Metal Fest in Pittsburgh back in 2014?
That was a really fun weekend! It was only our second show and we had a great time driving up there and spending some time getting to know Pittsburgh (it was my first time there). Great city and nightlife! We also got to meet and spend time with the other bands performing, everyone was super cool and it was really great to meet them.
Has the band done a lot of touring or shows outside New York?
Not really, besides New York City we have only performed in New Jersey and Pittsburgh, now with our first upcoming tour we will be playing a lot of shows all over the US!
Where in the world do you think the band got its biggest fanbase?
That’s hard to say, probably here in the US for now because a lot of our fans discovered us by seeing us live opening for acts like Sonata Arctica, Delain or Kamelot. But it seems like we are building some great fanbases in Europe as well as Japan!
The band have managed to create quite a huge success during only a few years, how does that feel? Are you proud of the band?
Very proud, of course! We have worked really hard, and it feels really amazing to see that work pay off in such a big way.
Do you see any problems or difficulties in the fact that the some of the other members are involved in other bands?
Not at all, this is a pretty normal thing for bands. The important thing is that for everyone in the band Midnight Eternal is the number one priority, and that is definitely the case.
Personal with Raine Hilai
When did you began to sing? Who inspired you to sing?
I have been singing my whole life, since I was very young (between 3-5 years of age). It seems that singing comes naturally to me, but as far as who inspired me to sing – I come from a musical family, both my parents sing, and they would sing to me and encourage me to sing as well.
I read that you’re classically trained soprano, for how many years have you studied?
Forever!! 15+ years.
Can you play any instruments?
I can play some piano and some guitar, but not very well 🙂 I sometimes wish I had studied these instruments more diligently but I was busy studying dance, drama and of course singing.
Growing up, I knew bands like Queen, The Beatles, Deep Purple, Genesis, Led Zeppelin and Pink Floyd so I was pretty familiar with rock music. I don’t recall hearing or listening to anything much heavier or more modern until early in high school (I think I was 14) when a friend introduced me to bands like Guns N’ Roses, the Scorpions, Metallica, Iron Maiden, Black Sabbath, Pantera, Judas Priest, Dream Theater etc. I already knew this was the kind of music I wanted to sing and when I heard Nightwish for the first time I knew I wanted to do symphonic metal.
Besides singing in Midnight Eternal you have been up to a lot of other stuff, could you tell us what you have been doing besides doing metal music?
Mostly performing in musicals and theater productions, singing, acting and dancing. I’ve also worked in film and TV, both as an actress as well as behind the camera as a producer and casting director.
I read you have been competing in international competitions, tell us more about that?
During high school I toured with several dance companies and participated in competitions both at home and abroad, I also participated in singing events and competitions.
For how long did you study at American Musical and Dramatic Academy?
I studied Musical Theatre at AMDA for two years. It is a conservatory, so I studied acting, singing and dance as well as classes like Music Theory and Theatre History.
Did you knew the rest of the members before you joined the band?
I had met Dan about 6 years before I joined the band while working on another project. I was familiar with Operatika and of course Symphony X but I didn’t know any of the other guys personally.
What’s it like to be the only female in the band?
No complaints so far. We’re all getting along very well 🙂
Are you involved in other acts besides Midnight Eternal?
Not at the moment. I’ve been asked to participate in several studio projects, but honestly I am so busy with Midnight Eternal that I’m not sure I could find the time for that, never mind for another full-time band.
Are you a solid member in Midnight Eternal?
What do you think of the music Fischer and Zaks do in Operatika Element?
I think that everything that Boris writes is amazing and Rich is a phenomenal guitar player. I am a fan of all of their work, both current and previous 🙂
Now and then
Are there any plans on heading out on tour or do some shows soon?
We are going to be joining Queensryche and Armored Saint for a US tour this fall! We’re very excited to finally be able to announce it.
Do you have any shows booked for the summer?
Nothing yet for the summer.
Is America your main priority at the moment or do you have any plans on heading over to Europe and perform?
We would love to make it out to Europe, we are working on it. Fingers crossed!
Have the Japanese market showed any interest in the band?
We are signed with Marquee/Avalon in Japan, and there definitely seems to be some interest from from the fans! I would LOVE to play some shows in Japan, it is a dream of mine to travel there.
If Midnight Eternal are heading out on tour or do live shows do you think there are going to be problems getting the rest of the members free from the other bands they are involved in?
No, like I said Midnight Eternal is everyone’s top priority at the moment.
What can you tell us about the first video to “Signs Of Fire”?
Great video, lots of fun to shoot, and it seems to be going over well! I really enjoyed working on it.
Signs Of Fire [OFFICIAL MUSIC VIDEO]
The video’s got more than 114,000 views, congratulations! How does that feel?
It feels amazing!!! As of today, it is over 213,000.
Any plans on shooting videos to any of the other songs?
We would love to, and hope to get the chance to do it.
The band’s website is really nice, who runs it? Are you active on the other social forums? What’s the most common questions you get from fans in the internet?
Thank you, I’m the one who runs the website! 🙂 I’m not really active on any social forums. The most common question we tend to get is regarding any shows or touring plans, it’s really great that people want to come out and see us live.
What are the plans for the band during the rest of the year?
We have our second album already in the works, and we are preparing to hit the road with Queensryche and Armored Saint starting in November!
What would you like to say to the ones who haven’t discovered the music of Midnight Eternal yet?
Could you give them three reasons why they should buy MIDNIGHT ETERNAL?
I’m not really one to toot my own horn, it’s so much nicer when other people do it!! 🙂 But I think this album really has some amazing songwriting and amazing performances, and we were all very dedicated to making this the best album it can be. So it’s worth checking out!
Well, do you have any words of wisdom to share with readers and fans? Thanks for taking the time to do this interview, I wish you and the band all the best.
I don’t have anything particularly wise to say! It’s been a great ride so far and I can’t wait to see where things go from here. And of course I invite everyone to buy our album and watch our videos, check out our website, follow us on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram etc. and to please come out and see us this fall on tour supporting the mighty Queensryche and Armored Saint!
Thank you so much for having me and for the kind words, I look forward to speaking again soon!