Interview by Cristóbal Torres
Lyonen is the project of Tato Rivas, a Venezuelan musician who took advantage of the confinement caused by the pandemic to finally crystallize the dream he has had since his early youth: to record an album with his own music. The result is THIS IS LYONEN (2020), a completely self-produced album featuring pieces of great heavy and power metal. In this interview for Metal-Rules.com, the guitarist tells us about the gestation of his dream, his first approach to heavy metal and the challenge involved in seeing his dream come true.
How do you remember your life in Venezuela and how did your first contact with heavy metal come about?
My life in Venezuela was beautiful. There I grew up, studied, got married and had my family; there I took my first steps as a musician. Professionally speaking, it was very rich in learning and experiences since I worked as a sound engineer in concerts, I traveled the world on tour with groups; I worked as a video producer as well and formed my first bands.
My first contact with heavy metal was around the year 89-90, when I first heard “The Duellist” by Iron Maiden, the fifth song on the POWERSLAVE album. I grew up in a traditional Latin family where Latin music reigned but, for some unknown reason, I never liked it, I never wanted to learn to dance and follow the traditions. When I first heard Bruce Dickinson and the sound of the guitar, I was shocked. I didn’t understand what I was hearing, I didn’t know what those sounds were, there was no internet to find out anything, all I knew is that I wanted to hear it over and over again.
Between 2015 and 2016, I obtained a job opportunity at the headquarters of the Inter-American Development Bank, located in Washington, DC. My days in Venezuela were already numbered by the political crisis that exists there, so, as soon as they confirmed that I got the job, everything went very quickly. They told me I had to report in 15 days, so I practically had to drop everything and fly to Washington. It was all part of a plan. I already had in mind the idea that I needed to get out, get a job to finish buying all the necessary equipment that would allow me to produce my own album. The adaptation process was quite fast actually, I had studied English years ago, and in my job I had to immediately integrate into American culture, since I was in the IT department, so I had to interact with local executives , vendors and colleagues from all over the world.
Where did you get the word “Lyonen” to name your project like that?
It’s very simple: I wanted a unique name for my project, I didn’t want something made up of existing words, so Lyonen was immediate because I really like the figure of the Lion and what it symbolizes: power, wisdom, courage, loyalty, justice, independence , among other. What followed was to make a pun that combined the word Lion with something that involved you. “En” means “in” in Spanish, it’s like being inside the lion’s strength. So I imagined it. Also I wanted something short to imagine the audience shouting the name at a concert (laughs)
Why did you decide to put together the project by yourself and didn’t put together a band?
When the name Lyonen came to mind, I was in London in 2014 completing some audio studies and video editing certifications. From that moment I knew that that was the name I wanted. Then I returned to Venezuela for a year and then came to the United States, so I didn’t feel like I was in a stable place to start a band. But I didn’t want to stop the plan to make music either, so I went on by myself. This does not mean that I don’t want to make a band, on the contrary, I am dying to play with other musicians! Also, due to past experiences, I preferred to have a production in hand and continue moving forward with the project.
What was it like to work with musicians from various parts of the world, do you think this could have a musical impact on the final result of your work?
Definitely yes!. The fact of meeting people from various latitudes and various styles greatly enriches your thinking when you are going to make a production. Obviously we always want to do the best that we can and that is within our reach, so interacting with other musicians and audio engineers is very rich in learning; those are experiences that you can later capture on your album.
How was the process of choosing Craig Cairns and having him perform your pieces; what did you look for in him and how did you meet him?
For this first album I was looking for something really classic. A heavy metal voice that allowed me to make the music I grew up with. I’ve been looking for heavy metal singers on YouTube for a few months. I heard various voices from different places like Italy, Russia and Brazil until I found Craig. They were all very good, but Craig was the voice I had in mind. I sent him a first track to test, “Revelation”. I immediately knew that he was the voice I wanted for this first album. Little by little I was sending him the rest of the tracks and I was shocked every time I heard a new song recorded by him.
You mentioned that this album represents a young version of yourself, when do the songs that appear on this album date?
In the album there is a mixture of years, for example, “Revelation” was composed around the year 2010; “Lyonen” in the year 2017; “2 Hours to Go” in 2020. I had an initial selection of 30 tracks to produce, but I only chose 15 which were then filtered until I chose 7. I composed 3 more to complete the selection of 10 plus the outro. The album cover is a representation of myself as since my teens I dreamed of doing this, so the album cover is depicting my child / adolescent self who had a dream of making music.
Do you have more compositions that didn’t make it on the album?
Definitely yes! I had to exclude several compositions that I will be producing in the next albums. Around 6 tracks were scrapped for this initial album.
Were there any major changes to the songs when you recorded them or are they full versions of when you wrote them?
The modifications I made were rather light. Things that I wanted to improve in terms of sound, some riff that varied a bit, in other cases adding 8 more bars of a section. But mostly they are exactly the same as they were created.
This question is very interesting. I had already planned to make the album. The pandemic was what prompted me to do this. Let me explain: in March I was very sensitive to seeing news of so many people dying around the world. So many people out of jobs, including myself, it was devastating. My work was seriously affected so, in the midst of the pressure I had, I thought that it was the best time to produce the first album for several reasons: I had the time to do it, I had the desire and I wanted to prove myself at once that I was capable of accomplishing something that I had postponed for so long. This album for me meant saying “Yes I can” and the fact of achieving it left me enormous satisfaction and of course left me thirsty to produce more. This album for me was a great teaching, believe in yourself, believe in whatever you want, achieve your dreams no matter what. That is why in the midst of the pandemic I tried to turn the bad into something positive. This is how THIS IS LYONEN was born.
We can see a huge melodic horizon in your compositions, “Nehme die Sünde” is amazing! How do you feed yourself musically speaking; what do you usually hear?
I really like melodic music in various genres. When I was a kid, before hearing heavy metal, I really liked listening to electronic music. Currently I consume a lot of metal in its various styles, I listen to bands like Primal Fear, I really like their sound. Avenged Sevenfold, Helloween, Ramstein, Armin Van Bureen, Vanessa Mae, Joe Satriani, Eric Jonhson, Symphony X, Yngwie Malmsteen, Rodrigo and Gabriela and many more.
How do you manage to combine different styles while still sounding heavy / power; has it been a natural process or is it the result of a musical and compositional analysis?
How interesting this! I like metal a lot, that’s for sure, but I also really like other musical genres. When we talked about the work on the album THIS IS LYONEN, for me it was something complex because I not only composed the tracks that are there. In addition to composing the guitar, I really like to analyze each composition from the point of view of production, song structures, how many bars each part is going to have, the overall sound of the album, what role each instrument is going to have, what is it the final message of the album. I wanted it to be a passage of emotions where the listener could feel a single uniform line of compositions within a variety of rhythms. Honestly was not easy, but neither was it impossible. It is a process that occurs after an analysis and what I feel when I play the guitar. For example, there are tracks that come out in a few hours; there are others that take a few weeks. Another important thing that happened to me a lot during this album is that I didn’t want to let the songs be very similar to each other because it could get boring; I wanted to vary them and that is what I plan to continue doing. I really liked the result and I have had good feedback. There are those who like the whole album; there are those who only like a group of subjects in particular; but it has always been very well accepted, that satisfies me and I really appreciate it.
With all the advantages that technology currently offers, to what extent do you think it is necessary to rethink the concept of “band” or “musical group? Because many musicians like you can already release an album without having a band.
I keep thinking about having a band. I want to make and form a band. The technology is there and it keeps doing crazy things over time. But I prefer things that are well crafted a bit in terms of composition. I love the idea of having multiple people coming up with ideas. For example, I no longer want to make drums this way. I really like drums, after guitar I would say it’s the instrument I like the most, that’s why I really enjoy hearing a real drummer play drums. That is unique, plus it is a bit boring to be alone. It’s always a lot of fun to play with other dudes. That time to make a band is approaching, but I also know that a band can be cumbersome when the members are not clear about what they want to do. I understand that music is a job like any other that requires a lot of effort and dedication. My dream would be to have a job proposal to start auditioning and give Lyonen a better shape.
Is the album currently only in physical format or have you already released a physical version of it?
The album is in digital format on online music platforms. I’ve put out a small run of copies on CD that I plan to use for reviews and send it to some labels that ask for that format. But in general I only have the digital format.
Is there any hope that we can hear your songs live or that you go on a tour?
By God, of course I do! I have several stages planned as part of a plan. I don’t know how long each one takes. What I have in mind initially is to publicize the project, to publicize the name of Lyonen; that listeners can listen to the music hoping they like it and make it part of their playlists with other artists. As for playing live and touring, of course I do want it very much, with my soul! Obviously, I don’t know many things about music business, so I am at that moment where I would need to find logistical support, like right now, to publicize the project. I would love to get a manager, an interested record label that allows me to start working 300% in music and leave my current job. I want to audition for future Lyonen musicians and start taking over the world with heavy metal.
Why did you decide to make a video for “Revelation”, why that specific song?
“Revelation” is one of my favorite songs along with the other 10 on the album (laughs). It was the first one I wrote, so it was the first one I made a video for. I really like it because, when I wrote it, I wanted to express freedom, to be yourself despite the social parameters and routine. I wanted to share this message with the listeners.
You recently released the video for “Lyonen” and it is very similar to the one for “Revelation”, were they made at the same time; how was the realization of both?
The “Lyonen” video was made weeks later. Those videos were made in approximately July, there you can see two excellent musicians next to me. I do not consider those are music videos as such, because I am somewhat far from a video clip because of the production and costs associated with a higher level production. But, despite not having the resources to make a video clip as it should be, I try as much as possible to make my home version of a video. I recorded these in my home studio using the equipment I have with cameras and lights. The process is very basic, since I do everything myself. I place a black background and a camera in front of me with a basic lighting set. I play the music and I play on it. At the time we were in the middle of the lockdown so that’s what I was able to do. Of course I’m not very happy with that result so for the third video, which will come in November, I plan to vary a bit. My next videos will be as a live recording from my studio. All this until I can make proper video clips.
Do you follow the Latin American heavy and power metal scene closely; do you know the bands that have been born from there in recent years?
I don’t really know much about recent metal made in Latin America. I know a band from Uruguay called Black Smoke that I like, but not beyond that. The truth is that I would like to hear a lot more bands but I don’t know where. And well, I also know artists like Kiko Loureiro, you know.
Timo Tolkki settled in Mexico last year and mentioned that he hopes to raise the level of production of local bands, with all your experience gained over the years and crystallized in your album, have you thought about doing something similar and returning to Venezuela or somewhere in Latin America to increase the production of local bands?
That kind of news is exciting. I had already read about Tolkki in Mexico. In fact, I’ve been a huge Stratovarius fan during the 90’s and early 2000’s. Hopefully he can work with many bands there and raise the presence of metal in the region. In my case, I don’t plan to work in production for now. But there is something I want to do. Latin America is very special to me. Because of my work as a video producer, I have traveled to several countries in Latin America and I love them. Each one has its charm, the people, the food, the culture is very rich. I also understand that in Latin America we have many social issues that sometimes alter our dreams. Yes, I have considered in the future, when consolidating a musical career, to work doing motivational lectures in Latin America to teach and share experiences with a large number of people to promote musical work. It is still missing for this but for several years I already have it in mind.
Congratulations on this great job and thank you very much for your time, any final words for Metal-Rules.com readers?
The truth is that I am very grateful and very surprised by this interview. The questions have seemed very interesting to me. It has been more than a pleasure to answer each of them. For the readers of Metal-Rules.com I say take a walk to hear Lyonen, surely you will find something that you like. Follow your dreams, whatever they are, don’t stop. I’m about to start producing my second album, I have in mind to release it next year. And with all my heart I want to consolidate this project to go to as many places as I can. Keep rocking!