Main composer and guitarist Ayman Mokdad – Venus Syndrome
Interviewed by: Anders Sandvall
Thanks to Roberto at Rockshots Records for setting up the interview.
Thanks to Rockshots Records for the promo pictures of the band.
Out of France comes progressive metal band Venus Syndrome, who released their second album CANNIBAL STAR, in late 2021. The first album, self-titled album arrived in 2020 but before the band got their start as a Dream Theater cover band (called MetroTheater)!
I had the pleasure to talk with main composer and guitarist Ayman Mokdad and we talked about the cover band days, how Venus Syndrome was born, work on the album, its concept, the new label, and many other things. If you are fans of bands like Dream Theater, Pagan’s Mind, or Symphony X, this is something for you. Read on to see what Mokdad has to say about things. Enjoy!
Hi Ayman and thanks for taking the time making the interview today, I hope you’re doing fine, are you ready to kick off this session?
Sure with pleasure! Thank you for proposing this interview.
First of all, what’s the status regarding the pandemic in France?
A disaster. There are a lot of cases even though 90% of the population is vaccinated. What’s happening is I think that we are learning to live with the disease.
Are there still restrictions and are people getting vaccinated?
Yes a lot of restrictions to go to gigs and concerts; there’s no stand-up concerts and all concert halls should use 50% of the total capacity.
Moving to the band, is it correct that the band started out as a Dream Theater cover act under the name Metro Theater? When was the cover band founded?
Yes we started as a Dream theater cover band in 2018. We covered a lot of great songs from their mostly first albums. Below is our set list:
“Pull Me Under”, “Take the Time”, “6:00”, “Erotomania (Instrumental)”, “Voices”, “The Mirror”, “Scene Two: I. Overture 1928”, “Scene Two: II. Strange Deja Vu”, “Scene Four: Beyond This Life”.
Did Metro Theater perform any live shows?
Absolutely we made several shows. On the link below you can find some links to some YouTube videos.
When did you get the idea to create and play your own material?
Actually, in parallel to MetroTheater, I was also in a band called Alien Encounters where I compose all the songs. I realized it was ridiculous to keep two bands, so I proposed the new songs I was intending for Alien Encounters to Emmanuelson, vocalist and leader of MetroTheater. This is how the adventure started. Now we focus on Venus Syndrome. Initially, Venus Syndrome should have been the name of the album by Alien Encounters, but we chose it for the band name instead.
Where in France does the band come from?
We’re both from Lyon and Grenoble; two cities around 100km away.
When did you start to work on the self-titled debut album?
We started during at the beginning of the pandemic; we self-produced our first album. After, I continued composing songs and eventually had enough for a new album. By the way, we’re already recording a third album, but we would like to take the time to promote our first two albums on stage.
What did media think and fans think of your debut record?
Actually, we didn’t even share it with the media and only promoted it on social media! It’s tough to promote music and costly. If you don’t have a label you can have hard time to get known. This is showing that sometime in the music industry every organization is here for a certain purpose. Self promotion is extremely difficult.
Why did you choose to release the album on your own?
Unfortunately whether you release on your own or through a record label, musicians are not able to make a living form music anymore. We didn’t believe in ourselves maybe? As I stated before self-promotion is very tough and costly.
Your keyboard player, Rodolfo Lima Sproesser, lives in Brazil. How does that work when it’s time to rehearse etc.?
We have a French keyboard player who covers for Rodolfo. He’s a piano teacher. I personally love the style of composition Rodolfo brings and I prefer to work with him in the studio. I’m more connected with him musically speaking. We have very similar influences but also it’s about the jazzy harmony and the groove. You know, musicians are like lovers. Sometimes you love someone and you don’t know why. It’s the same in music. Sometimes you are connected musically to someone and you don’t know why.
How did he end up in the band and how long has he been a part of the line-up?
Rodolfo has always been part of the band. I’ve known him for years. We have a common friend in Erich Martins, from the band Heretic. Erich played several years ago with Rodolfo and that’s how I met him and started our cooperation.
Has he performed live with the band or is he “only” playing on the albums?
He’s only playing on the albums. He makes a living out of music in Brazil! He gigs a lot and he has several bands, among them a Pink Floyd cover band and also Heretic.
Does he also play on the debut album?
Yes, he’s always been a part of the adventure. We enjoy working together and he’ll be on our third and upcoming album as well. As I stated before, when you start a project with a certain line up it’s very tough to change. The whole sound, style and groove might change. It’s better to change the band name in my opinion in that case.
Who came up with the band name Venus Syndrome and does it have any special meaning?
As I stated early on, I’m very sensitive to environmental topics. Like many of us, I believe that global warming is really bad for humanity! Millions of years ago Venus was a planet like earth and because of the global warming it mutated into what it is today. We call this the Venus Syndrome! If we don’t change our habits, aliens will call what happens to us the Earth Syndrome!
Has Metro Theater been put to rest now that you have Venus Syndrome to focus on?
Yes, absolutely. To be honest with you I lost the energy to spend hours learning their songs and prefer composing and working my guitar skills.
Who handled the keyboard work in MetroTheater?
A very young killer keyboard player who is also a music teacher. He was the youngest in the band! Since we stopped playing, I haven’t heard from him.
Would you consider Venus Syndrome a DIY kind of band?
Mostly yes for our first release, but not anymore with CANNIBAL STAR. We focus on composing the songs and then they are recorded, mixed, and mastered in a studio. I continue to record my guitar tracks. For the third album everything will be recorded and produced in a studio.
Has the band done a lot of touring or live shows so far? If so, where?
Absolutely not. Every time we scheduled a gig, a couple of months later it was canceled due to the pandemic new rules! We keep on rehearsing though.
All of the members are involved in other projects/bands besides Venus Syndrome. Do you see any problems or difficulties in that?
Yes they are. Thibaud Pontet (Eternal Flight and Metro Theater), me (Alien Encounters and Metro Theater as well Instrumental projects), keyboardist Rodolfo Lima Sproesser (Goiana, Tahra, Heretic, Floyd Rose cover Pink Floyd), bassist Florian Guidat (he play in a funk band) and vocalist Emmanuelson (Ellipsis, Rising Steel, Hydroflame), but we somehow make it work.
New album CANNIBAL STAR
When did the work on CANNIBAL STAR started?
Once again another link to the global warming and humanity’s consumption of ridiculous things…Today in the month of August we consume all of Earth’s resources and we need another planet to feed us! That’s where we the name came from. Cannibal Star or Cannibal Planet, but I prefer cannibal star. Humans stink so much that they can pollute the whole universe, haha. It’s about freedom and responsibility. People think because they are free they have no responsibilities! What a disaster.
Are you the main writer in the band? What do the rest of the guys contribute when it comes to the material?
I write the music and Emmanuelson writes the vocal melodies and lyrics. Then the entire band contributes to bring the songs to another level. Drum lines are the first to be designed once the songs are composed, then the bass, then my guitars, and finally keyboards and vocals are added. Solo tracks are left until the end.
The info sheet states that you wrote original material inspired by the concept of the Venus Syndrome. Is that correct and how did you come up with writing about that?
Yes absolutely. As I stated earlier, Venus Syndrome is a real phenomena. I think that global warming is a serious threat and we must do something about it. It’s in the hands of each person. Stop consuming meat, stop destroying forests, stop polluting the water, stop killing bees, etc. etc. etc.; enough is enough. It’s about our kids future, not our future.
Is CANNIBAL STAR a theme album?
Absolutely. We are consuming all earth resources and we need another planet to feed us; that’s where the idea came from. People are starving in some areas of the globe and others eat tons of bullshit and waste planet resources on futile things! What the hell is happening? Where is humanity on all of this? Are we humans or cannibals?
Can the songs stand on their own or does the listener have to experience them as part of the album?
Each song can be separated and has it’s own topic, in fact. With my previous band I was creating concept albums where you need to listen to the whole album to get the full story. But concept albums have their own limitations; you can’t make a single or promote one song separately form the others.
What’s the message behind the album? What do you want the listeners to learn and take with them after hearing CANNIBAL STAR?
Please think about your kids and their kids as well. Let’s prepare a bright future for them. It’s about sustainability of humanity. Together let’s be better humans, not better cannibals that are selfish and thinking about personal self interest.
Why did you choose to open and close the album with two instrumental pieces; “Ouverture 2040” and “Contaminate Me”?
“Ouverture” because of our Dream Theater influences and “2040” because it’s the date where most of the planet’s resources can fade away if we don’t do something about it. “Contaminate Me” because I wish that we can contaminate all people with our cause. Also, this song is about COVID; two years locked down and still not finished…who imagined that this could happen to us a few years back? Humans never anticipate and never listen to each other. Scientist talked about the phenomena a few years back…but you know, business comes first, so we never anticipate.
Were there any songs that didn’t make it on to the final edition of the album?
Yes, several songs which we’ll be improving for the next album. They’re called “An Alien” and “A Star”. Creating a song is a tough process. How to create an interesting topic, how to compose the riffs in line with the theme, how to structure the song, how to make interesting and not boring with a lot of repetitions, and how to avoid complexity. It’s thin line between success and failure.
What are the songs “Sideral Groove” (5.33) and “Sun Inside Me” (4.53) about?
Very simple: music is our life! We need music as a communication vector and a message. Even if life is tough there is sun inside of us that an unlimited source of energy and power to still believe that we can be a better humans.
Was Fabrice Valles given free hands to create the cover artwork or did you have any opinion on what you wanted the cover to look like?
The initial artwork was made by Razorimages, a great artist and a friend of mine who made the artwork for one of my favorite bands Pagan’s Mind. He made the initial artwork. Fabrice just adjusted it to make the album cover to the standard dimensions.
How would you like to describe the music Venus Syndrome plays?
We play Progressive Rock/Metal! Our music is not so complex to classify it as purely progressive. Let’s say we are progressive rock.
The info sheet say that fans of Dream Theater, Pagans Mind, Symphony X and King’s X are going to like your music. Can you agree with that?
Yes, I agree. I would say Pagan’s Mind are the closest to our influences. I’m a total fan of Pagan’s Mind, Symphony X, Dream Theater, and let’s not forget Sons of Apollo – a great band and a great influence. I love Derek Sherinian/Planet X music.
Which of the bands mentioned above would you say Venus Syndrome lies closest to music-wise?
Pagan’s Mind, Sons of Apollo, and Symphony X.
Has the pandemic changed anything in your way of writing music?
Tell the readers a little bit about the video to “Sun Inside Me”: when was it shot, and was it hard to shoot a video during the pandemic?
It was shot in the city of Grenoble in Lyon by our label KNT. We were not able to shoot where we wanted initially (in a famous tattoo studio), so the video was shot on the the roof of our label building KNT.
Sun Inside Me (OFFICIAL MUSIC VIDEO)
Any plans to shoot videos to any of the other songs on the album?
Not for now, but with our upcoming album for sure. Video clips are a good promotional tool, but they’re expensive as well.
Have you read any reviews of the album yet and do you and the band care about what critics have to say about your work?
Oh yes. It was a pleasure to see how much the album was appreciated. We do care about the critics and we want to improve and make our next album even better.
How has the response been from fans?
Absolutely great and unexpected! Most of the comments were about how we make powerful music that is progressive without losing the listener. THANK YOU ALL WHO LISTENED TO OUR ALBUM! WE LOVE YOU!
I read that you managed to carefully craft powerful melodies, intricate hard rocking rhythms and soaring vocals. Do you agree with that?
Yes absolutely. We wanted that and targeted that. For me there are several key components in a good song: the rhythm, the main riff, the chorus melody, the bridge, and obviously those groovy parts that make you head-bang.
If you compare CANNIBAL STAR with the debut album, has the band done anything different musically?
The production obviously has gone to another level. Simone Mularone from the band DGM has a studio called Domination Studio, which we used. He did a fabulous job.
Sideral Groove (OFFICIAL LYRIC VIDEO)
Your songs are actually pretty short for a progressive metal act. Was that a conscious move?
Absolutely. We wanted songs that you listened to several times and you keep in your mind rather than long songs where sometime you lose track of things. In fact, that is the positive thing we got in all reviews. We make progressive rock that doesn’t lose the listeners.
In retrospect are you happy with the outcome of CANNIBAL STAR?
Yes absolutely, but we can do better and we should to keep things interesting. A third album is a must to prove it and is a tough challenge as well.
Studio and production
In which studio was the album recorded?
In Simone Mularone (DGM) studio in Italy. Domination Studio.
You produced the album. How was it to produce your own bandmates, was it hard to stay objective?
Well, actually it was teamwork. I recorded the songs at home and then submit the full project to the band. We modified the songs until everyone was happy.
What did the rest of the band think of having you as a producer?
As I stated the second album was produced by Domination Studio. The first album was produced by me and the band totally agreed with it. The mastering was done in a real studio. I must admit I don’t have the skills and the gear to make over the top productions. So the our first release is a good but at the level it should be!
What’s your strongest feature as a producer?
Well, I guess giving a framework where all the other musicians of the band can express themselves.
Simone Mularoni took care of the mixing/mastering, was any of the band members also part of that?
No, not all. We gave him total freedom and we trusted him.
How long did it take to record the album overall?
Composing the songs took over a year and record took very short actually a couple of months to get all material to Simone.
The band has a Bandcamp page, Did many fans buy the album online?
No not really. No one goes on such a site today; music is streamed almost for free, so why buy?
How did the band got in touch with Rockshots Records and what made you ink a deal with them?
We were convinced that to promote ourselves, we needed a label. We sent the final songs by mail to several labels and we got and several answers. Rockshots made a very good proposal and were first interested in our music and style!
Were there other labels that showed interest in signing Venus Syndrome?
Yes a couple of others, but the guys at Rockshots know what they are doing and they have style!
Are you happy with the work the label put into the band and the album so far?
Absolutely and we thank them a lot. They did a great job. THANK YOU AGAIN AND AGAIN for believing in us.
Do you see any problems in the fact that the band is based in France and the label is based in Italy?
We are Latin 😉 I speak fluent Italian as well.
Is CANNIBAL STAR going to be featured on the Bandcamp site?
No. No need for it. Today almost everyone has an Apple music, Deezer or Spotify account and they can stream their favorite music.
Who own the legal rights to your debut album today?
Emmanuelson and me.
Any plans on releasing CANNIBAL STAR on vinyl? Are you or anyone in the band a fan of the vinyl format?
No. This requires some investments and again we need to grow more to be able to do that. Maybe on the third album.
Any plans on re-releasing the debut album anytime soon?
I’d like to remix and remaster the songs. They are good songs but not really valued due a not perfect mix. I must admit as stated earlier I have limited skills in this area and limited gear. Also I would like to focus on composing and writing songs.
What are the pros and cons with being signed to a minor label like RR?
Pros, they take care of us and promote us. Cons: how many people we can touch with our music. It’s about growing as a band.
Is RR releasing the album world wide or only in Europe?
Past present and future
The bands website doesn’t have much info; why is that?
We created a new website here. But in fact, we don’t have the time to keep up on updates. Each of us has a day job to make a living. Unfortunately that’s the story of musicians these days; we need to have a supplementary job.
Besides Bandcamp, YouTube and Facebook, is the band active on any other social forums and who runs your social media platforms?
No not really. As stated we unite to compose songs, rehearse and play gigs. The rest of the time we work to pay the music we want to release.
Do you think the release of CANNIBAL STAR will increase the amount of followers the band got on FB to more than 700?
Not sure really; people listen to music and don’t even focus on the band who released it.
Why is the info about the band on FB written in French? Doesn’t that limit the possibility for others to get info about the band?
For sure yes. I always try to put messages both in French and English. Promoting on social media is very important and requires time to do it. I think we lack time, as I stated. I don’t even post on Facebook from my personal account due to lack of time.
Do you get a lot of mail from fans and what’s the most common question they ask you?
Yes we do some time have people asking for autographs or signed copies and we do that.
Does the band have any plans on heading out on tour or do some shows in 2022?
ABSOLUTELY. We are eager to do that. We did a show on the 23rd of April and we are planned for a couple of festivals in September.
Dark Side Of The Sun (VISUALIZER)
The info sheet hinted about a live tour, writing that the band is thinking about how to best perform for a memorable live experience and the importance of its messaging for saving our planet and humanity… is that correct?
Yes absolutely. We designed our set list in that sense. First we start with “Ouverture 2040”, and then we play songs from the two albums and end the show with “Contaminate Me”; modified to add extended guitar and drum solos.
What’s the band’s main priority at the moment?
Compose a third album and hopefully grow in Europe. Also gigging as much as possible so we get known. This is more important actually than releasing the third album.
Are you currently working on material to a new album?
Yes, it’ll be called AN ALIEN AND A STAR.
What would you like to say to the ones who haven’t heard the music of Venus Syndrome yet?
Please give us a try, and THANK YOU to those that already listen to us. Please let’s stay in touch believe in us. We’ll make better next time.
Could you give the readers three reasons why they should buy CANNIBAL STAR?
Because we put our soul and spirit in it. We work hard to deliver the best music to you. We are humans that believe in the that fact humanity will save our planet.
Well that was all for me and Metal-Rules.com this time around. I wish you and the band all the best in the future. Stay safe and healthy! Do you have any final words of wisdom to share with fans and readers?
Thank you for interviewing us. Thank you all for listening to our albums. It’s thanks to people like you that we will continue our musical journey.