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Celestial Ruin Interview

Celestial Ruin Interview
(via Skype)

Celestial Ruin 

Tie your bib, grab your fork, and get ready to tuck into a tasty musical offering, dished up by the Vancouver-based symphonic hard rock band, Celestial Ruin. Although the Pandora EP is five-tracks, it manages to be both diverse and satisfying, thanks to its artful combination of New World rock sensibilities and Old World symphonic elements. Bluesy belting, pulse-racing instrumentation, and lush orchestral passages are a recipe for metal goodness! Add to that some fine keyboard contributions by Ruben Wijga (The Theater Equation, ex-ReVamp) and Joost van den Broek producing the EP, and you have an album that will stand the test of time.

Sonic Cathedral’s Robin Stryker rounded up Larissa Dawn (vocals), Adam Todd (drums), and Mike “Dikk” Dagenais (bass) to get the low-down on Pandora. Dive in for a behind-the-scenes look at Celestial Ruin’s new album, the universality of suffering, adventures across the Canadian tundra, and much more!

Sonic Cathedral:  Larissa, Adam, and Mike, welcome to Sonic Cathedral! Pandora will be released soon, so what would you like to tell folks about your new EP?

Larissa:  For those who have heard Celestial Ruin before, Pandora is definitely a step in a different direction for us. We really worked hard on this album … not that we didn’t work hard on the first album. <laughs> But we really poured our hearts and souls into this one. We pulled out all the stops to make sure that it’s something that original CR fans would appreciate, but that people who have never heard us before could definitely gravitate towards, and hopefully win some new fans.

Sonic Cathedral:  You cut your teeth as a band with your 2012 debut album, The Awakening. What were you looking to do differently with Pandora?

Adam:  With The Awakening, we had a vision of what we wanted to do sound-wise, and we tried to stay true to what our initial vision for the band was. But being a debut album, we really hadn’t found the Celestial Ruin sound yet. With Pandora, it really is taking from all our individual influences, rather than going for a specific idea. So for us, Pandora is much more us, rather than just a concept.

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Sonic Cathedral:  One of the things that stood out for me is that Celestial Ruin brought in the renowned Dutch producer, Joost Van Den Broek (who is currently working on the upcoming Epica album), to produce Pandora. First, how did you get hooked up with him? Second, why did you decide to bring him over to Canada, instead of just working with him remotely?

Adam:  I had actually started networking with Joost 2 ½ or 3 years ago, whenever Epica’s Quantum Enigma album came out. We have always been a fan of the stuff he has done with Epica, Xandria, ReVamp, and After Forever. We started talking back and forth on Facebook. I sent him The Awakening, and he loved what we were doing.

He actually stated that Larissa’s bluesy growl is something that singers in Europe aren’t doing, and he was really excited to come on board and do something with us. So, we just put the wheels in motion that way. Once we got the crowd-sourcing funds in and pulled the rest of the money together, we flew him out here. We booked one of the top two recording studios here in Vancouver, and then spent a week with him in the studio.

Sonic Cathedral:  How is the recording experience different when you have a producer of Joost’s caliber on board, versus going into the studio on your own?

Mike:  For starters, it’s a lot more pressure for obvious reasons. At the same time, it’s different in the way that he knows how to bring what he wants out of different people. He treats each different person in a different way, as to how to get out what he is trying to get out of them. It was really interesting to see that unfold, and it worked really well!

Sonic Cathedral:  Larissa, from a recent review, I understand that many of the Pandora lyrics were written at a time that you could not talk at all after surgery. How long were you involuntarily silenced, and how did that affect your lyrics?

Larissa:  My talking was nothing above a whisper. I had my alarm set, so that I would sleep for an hour, wake up, drink water to make sure that I didn’t dehydrate because I couldn’t eat solid foods, and then go back to sleep again. I was on three different kinds of medication -- two different pain ones and one antibiotic to make sure I healed properly. So, it was about two weeks of very, very minimal whisper-talking, but only if I HAD to because it really hurt to talk. It was just over a month before I could even start getting back into rehearsal mode. We actually were scheduled to play a show, but I was just not healing fast enough. So unfortunately, we had to put that on hold as well. <rueful laugh> It was not a very pleasant experience.

But in the end, if I had to do it all over again, I would because it made me a better singer. My range increased, my belting got stronger, I had a higher upper register … everything shifted up almost half an octave. So, in the end, it was worth it, but going through it was not exactly the most pain-free situation. Eighty percent of the lyrics from Pandora came from that time, because I couldn’t speak or do anything else. I was literally lying in bed with a pen and a piece of paper, jotting down all this stuff that was going through my brain. In the end, I’d say it worked out for the best. I am much more satisfied with my writing on Pandora this time. I feel like it’s gotten more even more creative. I am hoping that it paints more of a picture this time.

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Sonic Cathedral:  That leads me to the question: Is art better when artists suffer?

Larissa:  Yes. <laughs> To be honest with you, I think when people are happy, art and music are nowhere near as good. Look at some of the biggest and best jazz musicians in the world. When they stopped doing drugs, that was it -- all the soul went out of their music. I think you get more creative when you are going through something more difficult. When you are happy, everything comes out a little more generic. At least to me.

Adam:  I really do think that a lot of lyrics that come from suffering speak to people. When people are happy, they don’t really have anything to vent. As Larissa was saying, it is the therapeutic aspect of venting out those painful and negative experiences that adds some soul to the art.

Sonic Cathedral:  Do you think that suffering is a universal experience, while happiness is an individual experience?

Larissa:  I think what people decide to write about in music, mostly yes. I’d say that being able to relate to the agony or the depression or some of the songs that are about being suicidal … like “Murder of Crows” is about suicide … I think more people relate to the negative thoughts. Take Rihanna for example. When she has happy songs, she’s singing about her jewelry, about how she is on an island, and how everything is so perfect. Not a lot of people are actually able to relate to that kind of happiness. <laughs> I think it all depends really on the artist. Some of Taylor Swift’s stuff (the stuff that’s not vengeful) is happy and about love and just being carefree, and I can relate to that. I just think people like the angry stuff. <all laugh>

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Sonic Cathedral:  If I were to grab your iPods, what is the most embarrassing album or artist that I’d find on it?

Larissa:  I think I know what Mike would say.

Mike:  For me, it’s ABBA.

Larissa:  Oooooo, you know, that’s a tough one. To be honest, I’m not really embarrassed by the music I have. If someone had a problem with it, I’d be like: “Kiss my butt!” <laughs> I guess if someone was just randomly listening to my iPod, I have three or four Cirque du Soleil albums. Some of their music is very odd because they rarely ever speak any English. If some random person just started hearing it, they’d be like: “What the heck is this tribal stuff that you have on your iPod?!?”

Adam: My son is a big fan of dance music, so probably the most embarrassing one would be Sorry for Party Rocking by LMFAO. But that’s on there mostly because he loves that song.

Larissa:  <laughs> I have that one on my iPod too!

Sonic Cathedral:  Oh sure, blame the little kid, Adam.

Adam: But that’s what he is there for!

Sonic Cathedral:  In 2015, Celestial Ruin probably did more live shows than ever before. Y’all embarked in your RV through the Canadian tundra during some pretty intense winter weather. What were some of your most noteworthy experiences on the road?

Mike:  Where do we start?!? We had everything from blown tires along the way to driving over an hour on the highway through the city of Edmonton before realizing that the hub on our trailer was completely gone. The only thing that was holding our wheel on was gravity. We did shows in certain cities that were full of people packing guns of certain descriptions.

Larissa:  Oh yeah, that was scary!

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Mike:  Also freezing our asses off in Rolla (British Columbia). There were a couple of frozen spots on the highway in Ontario that were pretty memorable, but overall, the driving was pretty good, surprisingly. There are stories of people giving us assorted things along the way that we had to give to other people because we don’t participate in that sort of thing.

Adam: Even though we don’t market ourselves as Straight Edge … we do occasionally have a drink here or there … we really aren’t the type of band that goes and parties. We aren’t the next Mötley Crüe in terms of lifestyle. We are pretty low-key. When we finish a show, we like to sit back and relax, rather than go and party.

Sonic Cathedral:  Larissa, you definitely had a thought when Mike was talking.

Larissa:  Oh yeah. <laughs> My experience was a little more traumatic than Mike’s. Both Adam and Mike have experienced extremely cold weather … like REAL Canadian weather … not the stuff we have here in Vancouver. For me, I do not do well at all with the cold. That is not just mentally, but physically too. When it is that cold, my body shuts down.

There was one night, where it was so freezing in the RV, that there were icicles actually growing inside Mike’s and my room. My legs were so cold that the muscles in my calves started to atrophy. Mike had to lie on my legs just to keep me from having a spaz attack. All I could say was: “I’m cold. I’m so cold. I wish I was dead. I am so cold.” <laughs> It was ROUGH, I’m not gonna lie. It was not a vacation, that’s for sure.

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Sonic Cathedral:  I take this to mean Celestial Ruin won’t be planning another December trip to Grande Prairie anytime soon?

Mike:  I’m ready to go tomorrow, whether it’s raining, sunny, or 40 below.

Adam: I agree; I’ll go. It doesn’t matter what time of year it is, I’ll go.

Sonic Cathedral:  Larissa, you and I can go hang out somewhere warmer.

Larissa:  I love that idea! Let’s do that. Adam and Mike can stay here.

Sonic Cathedral:  Celestial Ruin is known for its theatric live shows. Without revealing too much, do you have something special planned for the Pandora release show?

Larissa:  Yesssss, very much so! I’ve been working on the final details off and on for the past week or so, but Mike still has some extra work to do on it. It is definitely going to be something that anyone who has ever seen a CR show, they’ve never seen anything like it before. To be honest with you, I have actually never seen anything like it before going to concerts. So, it’s definitely going to something unique, and something we probably won’t do again for a while after that.

Mike:  We pride ourselves on always having to outdo what we’ve already done. It is becoming more difficult with the limited budget of an indie band. But yes, we feel that we always have to outdo what’s already been done. That’s what we go for!

Adam: I think these guys can actually agree with me on this: We’re spending more money on the stage show for the CD release party, than it actually cost us to press the CDs themselves.

Larissa:  <laughs> Yes.

Mike:  We quite often will be spending more than we’ll be making, but that’s normal.

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Sonic Cathedral:  When you put on a show that is more theatric, who does what? For example, Larissa has a lot of background in costuming.

Larissa:  It is usually me, Mike, and Adam who handle all of that stuff. Each of us has different connections to different things. So, it depends on what we are trying to do. For what is coming up for the CD release, I happened to have connections to one element of it, whereas Mike has to create a certain element to make my element work. It just depends on what we are hoping to try to do. But each of us usually has some kind of responsibility -- whether it is getting supplies, or booking additional lighting, or picking stuff up, or moving stuff across the stage to make sure it is not something I trip and fall on my face on. So, it’s usually us three. We usually figure out a way to balance it so that we can get it done as fast as possible.

Adam: Typically, our stage shows start off with a brainstorming session between the three of us. We will bounce a bunch of different ideas off each other, which usually leads to other ideas … and other ideas and other ideas. A lot of times, the final ideas that we come up with were things that were not even in discussion at the beginning of the meeting. Once we’ve decided what we want to do for the stage show, we look at how we can make it work logistically.

Mike:  By the time we get to a point where someone goes “we can’t do THAT”, that’s when we start actually working on it. <Larissa laughs> Then we go on with that idea, and we make it happen.

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Sonic Cathedral:  Larissa, do you have to dress the dudes in the band?

Larissa:  No, I don’t. But if I see that someone is wearing something that doesn’t fit the image … where I’m like: “No, there’s a difference between cool and cheesy. And that’s cheesy.” … I’ll say something. But it’s really up to them whether they say “okay, sure”, or they just flip me off. <laughs> I’ll definitely make a comment because I’m really a stickler on the image aspect. Especially now with having Asher [Media Relations] behind us and doing slightly different bigger shows and getting in front of more people, I want for us to look like a unit.

Adam: It really hasn’t been too much of an issue since we fixed the line-up of the band a little bit. We are now down to a four-piece, and we are more of a cohesive unit now. We have seen the end of the transitions of band members and whatnot.

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Sonic Cathedral:  For each of you, which of the Pandora songs are you most excited to perform at upcoming shows?

Larissa:  My favorite song from the new album to sing right now is “Firestorm”. There is something about that song that gives me a wicked amount of energy. But also “Nevermore”, I have a love-hate relationship with. I absolutely love, love the song. I think it’s actually the strongest song on the album, but it is also the most difficult vocal song that I have EVER written. So, if I’m not fully warmed up or I can’t hear in my monitors … if the conditions aren’t good, like when we were on tour when it was so cold, and I couldn’t get my throat to cooperate … it can be a nightmare song! But I do enjoy performing those two the most, even with all the trouble.

Mike:  Again, I think my favorite would probably be “Nevermore” just because, if you listen really closely to that song, there are points in that song where all of us are doing something completely different. There are so many layers to that song, and it’s really cool when it all comes together. And I really like playing “Sense of Exile” <A> too because that’s just complete out-and-out energy, the same as “Murder of Crows”. <laughs> I like them all! I know that sounds cliché, but I do. That was the whole purpose of this album -- we took the time, and did everything the way we wanted it. So, we’re all extremely happy with it.

Adam: In terms of playing live, “Sense of Exile” is probably my top one, just because it is so rhythm-section heavy. Not to say that there isn’t a lot going on with guitar and vocals, because there is; the same with the keys. But just with the thundering rhythm in behind it, I LOVE playing that song. Right from the first shots … as most of the people who have seen the video know, there are those opening shots … it’s just balls to the wall, and I love it!

Sonic Cathedral:  Will you be playing all the tracks from Pandora at your album release party?

Larissa:  Yes. In the set-list that created, I’ve made sure they hear the entire EP, crowd favorites from The Awakening, and a few of our fans’ favorite covers as well. They are going to get a nice well-rounded show with a little old, a lot of new, and some favorites.

Sonic Cathedral:  I saw some cryptic hints on your Facebook page that Celestial Ruin might be hitting the road again. What does 2016 look like for you guys?

Adam: Right now, 2016 is still kind of up in the air. We are trying to find a new booking agent who can put us on the road with the right exposure for what our standards are. The problem we’ve found right now … not to say that the people we had been working with are not very capable … but we have very high standards for ourselves and the people we work with. Because of that, we just have not found the right fit in terms of a booking agent yet. As soon as we do, we don’t just want to stick in Canada; we want to head down to the States and go over to Europe. Hopefully, we’ll have some news about international tours later this year. That’s the hope anyway.

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Sonic Cathedral:  What final words of wisdom do you have for your fans out there?

Larissa:  For the new fans, I would definitely say that if they are tired of hearing the same old music on the radio … what their versions of rock are here in North America … and are looking for an amazing live show … something that will make you go “wow” when you leave, and you’re actually going to remember what happened when you went to that show … give us a listen. You can buy Pandora on iTunes or order it from our website. Broaden your minds, and look beyond what the generic crap on the radio is right now. There is really great music out there. You’ve just got to look for it.

Adam:  If you really want to experience what Celestial Ruin is all about, it’s the live show. The CDs that we put out are just to help let you know kind of what we are about. But if you want to know what Celestial Ruin is, you’ve got to see us live.

Sonic Cathedral:  Thank you so much for talking with Sonic Cathedral tonight.

Celestial Ruin 

Read Sonic Cathedral’s review HERE.

Photo credit: Hammer Records Ltd.

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