Interview by Cristóbal Torres
Anthea is a symphonic metal band from Los Angeles, California. It was formed by Diego Valadez back in 2015 in a somewhat spontaneous way; he had no idea what his personal project would become. The band will release its debut album ILLUSION by the end of October through Rockshots Records. In this interview Diego talks to Metal-Rules.com about this upcoming album and the story behind making this band.
Thanks to Jon Asher for setting up the interview.
ANTHEA – Moirai (OFFICIAL LYRIC VIDEO) feat. Chiara Tricarico
How did you and Peter Vasquez meet?
Diego: Peter and I go way back, we’ve actually been jamming together since high school! It was back in the Myspace days. I had a music page where I posted some keyboard shredding instrumental tracks inspired by Warmen and Bob Katsionis, although it was nowhere near that level of quality (laughs).
What I really liked about Myspace was that it was so easy to discover local bands in those days.
One in particular that caught my attention was a local melodic thrash band called Ice Storm. I ran into the guitar player of that band at a Sonata Arctica concert in 2007, we talked a bit, and I found out that he was familiar with my songs.
He told me that he was planning on getting a new singer and adding keyboards to turn Ice Storm into more of a Power Metal band with Thrash elements. John asked me to audition, so the following week I showed up to one of their rehearsals and met the band.
One band member, on drums, was none other than Peter Vasquez. We all became great friends and made a ton of great memories together! To this day, we all still catch up and hang out from time to time, some are playing in other bands now, but Peter and I never stopped jamming and playing in various projects together!
I’m honestly really glad that we’ve been able to keep this up and that we now get to make the music that we always talked about with Anthea.
What does Anthea mean and why did you decide to call the band that way?
I never knew that Anthea would become what it is today. In fact, this was never really going to be a real band at all! Like I said Peter and I had been wanting to make something like this for years but eventually we each started doing our own thing musically.
I got busy playing in the power metal Cellador, and Peter played in various projects. The symphonic metal was always in the back of my mind though, so I eventually just started writing some songs for fun. After I had 4 that I liked, I decided it would be cool to record them so I called Peter along with some other musician friends of ours.
We got together in a studio and recorded the 4 songs as an EP/Demo. This was intended to be a one-time thing so I didn’t think too much about what to call it. I knew that I didn’t want to use my own name by calling it “The Diego Band” or something like that so I came up with a fake band name.
I had been playing a lot of God of War at the time which is based on Greek mythology so the name Athena came to mind. But I felt like that was too on the nose, so instead, I switched it up and went with Anthea instead.
How difficult was it to find the musicians to complete the lineup; there aren’t many musicians in your scene?
Actually it all came together pretty quickly. Back in the high school “Ice Storm” days, there was a huge underground metal scene in Los Angeles. One of the other bands that we would often play with was this Melodic Black Metal group called Harpokrate.
The two guitar players in that band were Juan Pina and Marcos Mejia. After Peter and I decided to turn Anthea into an actual band, we ran into Juan at a local gig. We asked if he would be interested in joining our symphonic project on guitar and guttural vocals. He was immediately into the idea and soon brought along his old bandmate, Marcos.
The two have always been an impressive duo so it’s great to have them involved! We had brought along another bassist for a brief period but things just weren’t working out so we made a “Bassist Wanted” ad on Facebook. Eric Guerrero was one of the first to respond, and looking at his influences, we thought he might fit the bill so we invited him to audition.
He was a phenomenal bass player, but what we didn’t expect was just how naturally he fit in with the rest of the group personality wise! It feels like we’ve all known each other for years, including Eric, the newest member in our circle!
Symphonic metal is not a very common genre in the United States and less so in Los Angeles, has this not been a kind of disadvantage for you to get spaces to present your music or even develop as a band?
Well it has definitely been interesting. You’re right, this kind of music is not very common around here at all so even now we end up playing gigs with thrash and death metal bands.
Surprisingly however, I think this might be a bit of an advantage as we tend to stand out at every show! I was worried at first that we might be too different for the crowd at these gigs, but for the most part, people really seem to respond pretty positively!
I think we’re bringing something unique here in the LA area, and ultimately I think that’s what people are looking for.
Was the compositional process of this one shared or did it fall to a particular member?
So typically I write all of the music with the exception of the song “The Expedition” which was a collaborative effort between me and Marcos.
Usually, the way it works is that I’ll get an idea for a song and record a full demo with guitar, bass, programmed drums, and keyboards but with no orchestrations, vocals, or solos yet. I then send that along to the rest of the band where they can fine-tune their parts.
Maybe adding a guitar lick here and there, writing solos, or making the bass and drums more interesting. While they do that, I spend that time writing the lyrics and working on the vocals and orchestral arrangements. Once everything is in place and we’ve rehearsed, we’re ready to go into the studio!
Are the songs from this debut album part of the band’s early years or some are relatively new compositions?
It’s a combination of both. Our original self titled EP actually contained rougher versions of “Reflections” and “The Light Divine”, both of which have been completely re-worked for this new album.
Also, I had originally written “Discovery” for my previous band but it was never completed so when we needed to add more songs to turn ILLUSION into a full-length album, I decided to finish and revamp it to fit the Anthea style.
Everything else was written specifically with this album in mind while evolving the older material to blend seamlessly with the feel and sound of this debut record.
How was the process to compose the orchestral parts; did any of you study composition for orchestras?
Yeah, actually I got my associate’s degree in music with a focus on orchestral composition. Usually, when I write a song, I’ll make a demo version first with guitar, bass, drums, and a string ensemble patch on keyboards to give myself a basic idea of what to aim for.
When I feel like the song is ready from start to finish, that’s when I go in and really get into the details of the orchestrations. One thing that I always keep in mind however is to make sure that the orchestra doesn’t interfere with the guitar, drums, or bass. I want the songs to feel cinematic, sure, but I also don’t want the metal sound to be lost. It’s a tricky balancing act.
How did you record the orchestral parts?
Unfortunately we couldn’t get an actual orchestra as we had a very low budget making this album ourselves. We didn’t sign with Rockshots until just after the album was completed. So instead, I used a lot of really impressive sound libraries that I could record on keyboards.
I think the biggest hurdle to get over when you do something like that, is to try to not let it sound like you’re playing violins or trumpets, etc. on keys or performing them in a way that the actual instruments would not be able to do in real life.
Otherwise, it just ends up sounding fake. What I did instead was I wrote and performed every orchestral element as if I were composing for an actual live orchestra, keeping each individual instrument’s strengths and weaknesses in mind. I do hope to one day have an actual orchestra involved in future recordings, but I’m really happy with the end result!
Why did you decide to include guttural voices in your songs?
Well we’re fans of all different sub-genres of metal. The throaty vocals are used sparingly but sometimes the music calls for it. It’s really just a matter of feeling what a song needs for different moments.
Admittedly, I can also sometimes be a bit scatterbrained so having that kind of variety I feel keeps my attention and hopefully that of the listener as well.
How did you contact Chiara Tricarico and Eric Meyers to participate in this album?
Eric Meyers and I actually played in a power metal band together called Cellador and we’re still very good friends today. One day, we were talking and I mentioned that I was working on an album for Anthea.
He told me that if I wanted a guest guitar solo, to let him know. When I started working on the album version of “Light Divine” I realized that his style of guitar playing would fit really well at a specific part of the song so I gave him a call. He stayed true to his word and nailed that solo!
As for Chiara, I actually met her while we were on tour. Her band at the time, Temperance, and my band Cellador played a few shows together in Japan. We just really hit it off and have remained good friends ever since that tour.
I had heard their most recent album at the time and really enjoyed it but I was blown away by her live performance! I knew that if I ever needed female vocals on a song, she would be the first person that I would contact.
When I was writing “Moirai”, before I even had the lyrics, I knew that the basic idea of the song would be about how we’re all connected. When I started writing the lyrics, I got the idea that it would be interesting to make the song a duet with a second singer recording from another part of the world which would tie into the theme of the song.
When I contacted Chiara, she was very enthusiastic about it and recorded a phenomenal performance! I feel like she really understood exactly what we were going for with that song!
Did you ever think to release this debut album independently or why did you decide to release it with Rockshots Records?
Well, we originally planned on this being a 5 song EP that we would release independently. Our idea was to release the ILLUSION EP to bring some attention to the band while we worked on our first full-length album that we would then shop to labels.
However, things ended up working out a lot faster than we had anticipated. We released a couple of demo songs as singles and ended up getting a lot more attention than we expected. When we announced that we were working on a 5 song EP, we were quickly contacted by Rockshots Records.
They asked us if we could make a full-length album instead of an EP. If we did, they would offer us a contract. So instead of a short independent EP, ILLUSION is now a complete album with full label support. Rockshots have already done so much for us and we’re honored to be a part of this label!
What are you planning to promote this release keeping in mind that it is not yet possible to play live?
It sucks not being able to play live, I’ll be honest, but I just keep reminding myself that this isn’t forever. One day, we’ll be able to take Anthea on the road but for now, we’re just staying active on social media.
We have talked about possibly doing some sort of live-streamed event, but we haven’t been able to go into our rehearsal studio since it’s such a closed space and we don’t want to risk getting each other sick. So I guess that will have to wait.
The good news however is that we’ve still been releasing singles leading up to the album, and we’ve been getting some air time on the radio internationally so we’re still present, even if we’re not on stage.
What are (or used to be) your live performances like; could you sound the same way you propose on the album?
Oh, there are a lot of layers in our recordings for sure! As much as I would love to have a full orchestra on stage with us, and hopefully, someday we can, for now, we use backing tracks to bring the full orchestral sound to the stage!
However, everything else (guitar, bass, drums, vocals, keys) are all performed 100% live! As the keyboardist and the singer, I had to find a way to be able to do both on stage so I now sing while playing a keytar live. We bring a high energy show to the stage with a massive sound!
If you want a glimpse of what that looks like or what it will look like when we can perform again, you can watch the music video for our title track “Illusion.” That video was made using footage from a couple of our live gigs, including our only performance of 2020 back in January.
With which song would you like the fan who is reading this interview listens to so could meet you for the first time?
I think “Reach” is a good introduction to the band. It has all of the elements that make up the Anthea sound including orchestrations, synth and guitar leads, and both melodic and guttural vocals. While we have some high-speed shred songs, some softer prettier music, and some heavier more brutal songs, I feel like “Reach” is a good mid-tempo song to get you started and to know what we’re all about.
Thank you very much for your time! Any final words for the readers?
Thanks for having us! I know times are tough around the world right now. I keep hearing from people that they feel pressure to do something productive during this time so the best advice I can give is to not stress about using this time to read a million books, learn 20 languages, and master a new instrument. If you do manage to do any of that, that’s great! But that’s all extracurricular.
I think the most important thing to do right now is to keep in contact with your loved ones. For me, being able to video chat with friends and family around the world has been a great experience and it makes me wonder why I never did this sooner. We’re all apart right now, but that doesn’t mean that we have to feel apart. You might be surprised how cathartic of an experience it can really be. And most importantly, I know it may not feel like it sometimes but the pandemic will be over in time. Stay safe out there.