Dee Theodorou (voice), George Papantonis (guitar) and Costas Koulis (drums) talk about the upcoming Illusory album: CRIMSON WREATH
Interview by Cristóbal Torres
Illusory is a band from Athens, Greece born in 2012. Their beginnings go back 20 years ago, when they started with the name The Ivory Tower, however, a legal oversight stripped them of the name and they had to change their image.
The band offers very melodic heavy metal that can easily reach listeners more related to heavy rock. It will be in the month of May 2021 when the group releases its third full-length titled: CRIMSON WREATH, through Rockshots Records.
We reached out to Dee Theodorou (voice), George Papantonis (guitar) and Costas Koulis (drums), to tell us about their history, the name change, their creative process and the making of CRIMSON WREATH. This is what they told us.
Why did you decide to change your name from The Ivory Tower to Illusory?
Dee: First of all, we would like to thank you for the hospitality and the support. Well, the story is —more or less— known by now. Back in 1992, when I discovered the name “Ivory Tower”, I never thought that my band was going to last for life!
After all those years, with this specific name, it was very hard for the band and especially for me, to let it go, but there was no other way. You see, back then I never thought of registering the name and that was just wrong; now I know.
A couple of years after our formation, another band released an album under the “Ivory Tower” name and that was it. So, after all these years and with a label contract in our hands, we simply had to change our name, we simply had to move on. Illusory was an idea amongst other ideas for a new name.
It sounded as the best choice for us and still does! Illusory has almost the same meaning as the “Ivory Tower” had, with the same approach; it fits in our shoes and our music style.
Why did you decide to re-record the album “The Ivory Tower” under the name Illusory, were you not satisfied with the sound?
Dee: Basically, the 2006 album was a promo. It was a self-financed release, recorded at my home studio and the idea back then was to use it just for our local fan base and mostly for promotional reasons.
We always had the plan to re-record it in a professional studio, under a full production procedure. We finally did it when the right time came. When we had a new name and a label contract in our hands.
By the way, the structure of the songs is not the same. Even some lyrics and melodies are different between those two releases.
What did the band do after releasing POLYSYLLABIC and why did five years go by without releasing another album?
Dee: Well, it is a long time indeed. Not exactly five years because POLYSYLLABIC came out at the end of 2016, but still… We had a plan of releasing CRIMSON WREATH two years after POLYSYLLABIC; after all, we had almost all the songs in a pre-production status.
Some things really slowed down the procedure for us. First of all, we had to face some really sad family matters from the side of our guitarist George, who unfortunately lost both his parents. After that, we had to search for a new keyboardist, because George Konstantakelos quit the band due to some serious personal issues.
Keyboardists in Metal are really hard to find! Not only are they just a few, most of them are also playing with a number of bands at the same time. We really needed to have someone fully focused in our band and that took us more than a year. On top of all that, the Covid-19 pandemic hit the world and that was the final blow to our engines.
You know, we had the album half mixed, and then we had to wait for over a year to complete it. And there was nothing we could do. Imagine that we practically took the decision to complete the mix and master via the internet and that was a brave decision we had to take. It was our big bet and I’d say it came down to it really fantastic!
You guys have had very few lineup changes and have maintained a solid foundation since 2012, how have you managed to stay together for almost a decade?
George: Dee and I have been close friends since childhood. We have been playing music together since 1995! I have also met Costas back in 2005 and since 2007 he is a member of the band. Our former keyboardist was also in the band from 2005 until 2019, when he quit for personal reasons.
I suppose that it’s easy to maintain a solid line-up when at least half of the band is playing together for so many years. The main reason for this is that we have become close friends and we can say that Illusory is our second family!
At what point did you start working on CRIMSON WREATH and how different was the writing process compared to your previous albums?
George: We have done almost the same thing as we had with POLYSYLLABIC, our sophomore album. After the release of the abovementioned album, we started the pre-production of new songs. By the summer of 2017 we decided that we had written a good number of songs, to start the recording procedure and the drums tracking began immediately.
One of the differences is that on CRIMSON WREATH Greg recorded first his guitar parts, and then I wrote mine. Usually we do the opposite. The main reason was the loss of my mother and the support I had to give to my father that period. Unfortunately, he followed her and passed away a year and a half later.
Then the serious case of Covid-19 came. We were ready to do the mixing, but the lockdown made that almost impossible. Our producer, Yiannis Petroyiannis, did his best efforts, and he, along with Dee, mixed half of the album via Skype! When last year’s lockdown ended, we decided to push back the release, to be as close as we can to the end of the pandemic.
That’s the main reason we came to a decision with the guys at Rockshots Records and the release date is set for May 21.
To what extent has stability in your lineup been a factor in the evolution of Illusory sound?
George: This is a great question. We have found our personal sound, each and every one of us. This led to the stability of the way we perform. On the other hand, we grow up to be more mature in the way of composing and become better performers.
This happens mainly because we rehearse every week for 2-3 hours (under normal conditions) and it is quite helpful for all of us. In the mix section, the main responsibility for the sound comes to Yiannis, our producer, who did an excellent job, once again. Of course, he always takes our opinions into account and does the best he can!
Greg Bakos and MakisVandoros make their debut on this new album, how has been their adaptation and how has been their contribution to the sound of the band?
Costas: Actually, this is the second album with Greg being part of the lineup. Greg has also recorded for our sophomore album, POLYSYLLABIC and Makis is debuting as one of us on this album, CRIMSON WREATH.
Greg is the youngest of the members; he’s into modern Heavy Metal as well, maybe a bit more than the rest of the members and his influences are elegantly inserted, concerning the whole composing motif. His riffing ideas are more aggressive, more Thrashy and I’m delighted to say that his enthusiasm has had a very positive impact on all of us.
Greg is an amazing guitarist and he totally matches with George, who’s also an excellent musician. Makis has not performed on this album as he’s joined us a few months after the conclusion of recording sessions.
He’s a true professional, a very easy-going character and he really likes the band and the material. We just can’t wait to be recording and sharing the stage with Makis!
I understand that you recorded at the iCave studio and at The Matrix studios, the same ones where you recorded POLYSYLLABIC, does the studio belong to someone from the band or how did you decide to repeat the studio?
Dee: We are more than happy to own the iCave studio. Besides the fact that I am a professional sound engineer, I do all the tracking in our studio and also everything that has to do regarding editing.
We also have the best collaboration with the Matrix Recording Studio, where we do the vocal recordings, some additional tracking and procedures and of course the mixing and mastering. Our producer, Yiannis Petroyiannis, is also a great sound engineer and a very good friend of ours. I feel very comfortable working with Yiannis and sharing the production responsibility.
Despite being the same studio, how different was the experience of recording CRIMSON WREATH, compared to your previous album?
Dee: We actually followed, more or less, the same recording pattern as we did on our previous album, POLYSYLLABIC. We were very satisfied with the recording sessions and the whole tracking part in our previews production.
There are some different things we did for CRIMSON WREATH though. First of all, we recorded an extra rhythm guitar, placed in the middle of the stereo field, which gave us a punchier and even richer sound.
Secondly, we recorded some acoustic organs such as acoustic and classic guitars, a balalaika, some percussion and of course a piano.
How was the contact with Rockshots Records and what advantages has it meant for the band to release their new album with them?
Costas: We have nothing but positive thoughts and comments about our label so far. They have been there for us since minute one. Before Rockshots Records, we were signed to German label 7hard and we thought it was only right to go window-shopping before sealing any deal for our third album.
We sent a few emails and waited a bit. They reverted with an offer we simply couldn’t say no to. RockshotsRecords is a hard-working label, probably the most hard-working in Europe. They are very precise, they organize the entire calendar in a very specific and professional manner and they do like what we do.
Collaborating with RockshotsRecords has opened a considerable number of doors for us, for our music to be internationally heard.
How was the process of recording your “Besetting Sins” video, did you deal with the restrictions of the pandemic when you did it?
George: We recorded the video for “Besetting Sins” in October 2020. It was only a few days later we had a second lockdown in Greece. We managed to do it in a few hours, but we were all with masks and sanitizers, in order to be protected as much as we could.
Fortunately, the recordings of each member were separate and we were in the room with the director only, John Kaimakamis. It was a strange experience for all of us.
The album cover is devastating, I really liked it, in what way are the songs on this album a reflection of that cover?
Costas: Thank you so much! I’m honored to say that almost everybody in the band is writing lyrics and contributing with ideas in terms of artistic expressions and thematic orientations. We happened to write a few songs featuring anti-war subjects and “Crimson Wreath” is one of them.
When we decided to give that title to our album, we brainstormed about the art cover. After exchanging ideas and meeting up with Panagiotis “Hammer” Sfiris, who truly is an exceptional artist and has done all Illusory album covers, we agreed on the cover you have seen.
We do thank you for the kind words, we think it’s a great cover, too, totally capturing the essence of war and its awful repercussions.
What are the first two songs that someone who hasn’t listened to CRIMSON WREATH yet should listen to?
Costas: Naturally they should go for our two first singles and videos, “Besetting Sins” and the title track. The rest of the material is yet to be released, thus by listening to those two, one might be intrigued to pursue and obtain the album, in order to hear the entire tracklist and discover what we’ve done in this album as well as our previous ones. Which, I might add, is really interesting and can be fulfilling to every Heavy Rock and Metal listener and follower today.
Will there be a new video in the future or what are your plans as soon as the album comes out?
George: Of course, and not just one only. On March 12, the 2nd Single/Visualizer Release came out. It is the title track of the album. Soon we will release some videos, but you’d have to wait a little bit for those.
Thank you very much for your time and your responses, any final words for Latin American readers?
Costas: Thank you so much for your time and support! We hope you like our new album, CRIMSON WREATH and we expect to return to normality soon, in order to be able to present live what we have recorded and released. We wish you and all your readers to stay safe and healthy and give our album a spin.
Take care, Shine On!