Ephel Duath has undergone a major retooling over the last couple of years. Now based in the U.S., guitarist and composer Davide Tiso is the sole remaining member. Prior to preparing the band's new EP On Death and Cosmos, Tiso assembled a new all-star lineup made up of bassist Steve DiGiorgio (Death, Testament, Sadus, Iced Earth, Obscura), drummer Marco Minnemann (Paul Gilbert, Tony McAlpine, Kreator, Necrophagist) and vocalist Karyn Crisis (Crisis), who is also Tiso's wife.
The EP is a stellar piece of work with Tiso's guitars weaving a meaty aural blanket while we're treated to the mighty roar of the incredible Karyn Crisis after a long absence from the music scene. It was a pleasure to speak to Karyn recently and since Davide was hard at work in the studio on a follow-up full-length release, he answered some questions by email.
antiMusic: I guess to begin with, can you back-up and tell us after years off the musical radar, how you ended up as vocalist for your husband's band?
Karyn: I'll try to make a long story short but I left the LA area and my former band at the end of 2005. I moved to the Bay area at that time. And I really wanted the space alone to answer all sorts of questions I had been asking since I was very young. A lot of these questions had to do with the fact that I am a natural born medium. So I was always seeing spirits, having premonitions, all sorts of what you would call psychic experiences. But some of them were medium-istic experiences where all types of spirits were involved.
That was something I relied on throughout my years. And I was sure that there was a different way to live than suffering. And by suffering, I mean, my own suffering that had gone on in my world. The music certainly, up to that point, had helped me channel in a stronger self of mine through the writing process. Through the stage performance and I was able to shake loose my own darkness for that time period and be a better person. But still in life, I was a very dysfunctional person who kind of isolated herself. And at the end of 2005, I just kind of felt like I had to get rid of this stuff around me and figure out who I am without anything. Without any belongings. Without any career. Without any persona that I've built. A place where nobody knows who I am and kind of get to the root of who I am.
So long story short, in that period of time all sorts of wonderful things happened that opened up to me, in terms of learning all sorts of code modalities we should say. Which took me to a point, a couple of years later, of wanting to make music again…wanting to connect with people again. And I contacted a friend of mine over in Europe who, at that time, had always said he'd be there to help me make a record when I was ready. And that person brought Davide into the picture. Because he was very familiar with Ephel Duath's music and Crisis' music. And Davide was brought into the project to contribute guitars.
What happened was, Davide and I had this instant connection over emails, sort of discussing what direction I wanted to go in musically and how to make that happen. And there was a time period that I was going to arrive in Italy and stay for three months to record and mix what was to be my solo album. And in the time period leading up to that, which was a good handful of months…maybe eight months, we became really, really close and had all sorts of experiences that we thought maybe some supernatural forces were bringing us together for a lot of reasons.
And so we ended up meeting in Italy and had a falling out with our common friend. He and I didn't see eye to eye together musically so the project fell out of the way. But Davide and I ended up falling in love and we toured around Italy for the month and then came back to the U.S. with the intention of finishing my solo album. But I was going through so many changes at that time period that I wasn't sure how I wanted to express it musically. I was sure before and I was just going through so many internal changes that the idea of mine was changing.
Then when we were in the U.S., my landscape changed, in terms of people I knew. Musicians kind of moved into different places. So we were kind of on our own musical island here in the U.S.. After a lot of time had passed and after we had time to write a lot of songs for my solo work, I told Davide that it was really time to write Ephel Duath music again. And he was resisting for a lot of the same reasons I was resisting getting into music before, which was having that emotional association with your music with all of the things that can go wrong, all the stresses of being in a band like band member changes. In fact, I think almost everybody in his band had quit before he came to the U.S. But just the struggles that all bands face, business and all those related things.
So I really encouraged him to get writing again. I really had the feeling that instead of writing for me, he needed to write what he would instinctually write for him. And that my reactionary forces, to what he would write for himself, was where the power would be. So he began writing and it was a very easy process for him. The songs were just pouring out of him. And my deal with him was that I really wanted to sing and was really honored to do that, however I really respected the relationship that he had as the songwriter for his band. He wasn't just writing the guitar parts but also the vocal parts and the lyrics. And I really didn't want to disturb that relationship that was there all those years.
And knowing that I'm a very odd singer to begin with and getting into a song can be a real struggle for me, I wanted to…for one, I wanted to experience music in a different way, like interpreting someone else's vision. Because his style of music, particularly regarding vocals and lyrics was very much like something that was coming out of me. So it didn't feel like I was having to assimilate someone else's style and rhythm. At the same time, it was a challenging experience in a very powerful and exciting way. That was my deal. (laughs)
It was like, you continue writing things the way you were writing them. I'll give you a supportive environment if I can. If I feel that I need to give you some feedback like perhaps making a sentence stronger or tweaking a vocal deliver, I'll do that. But I really wanted it to come from him and my power would come in the actual bringing it to life.
antiMusic: How familiar were you with the band before you were introduced to Davide?
Karyn: I knew about Ephel Duath and had heard a few songs here and there. I didn't own the albums but I started to listen to his music as we were getting to know each other on line. So I really sensed his personality. He had sent me "Through My Dog's Eyes" through the mail, which was just coming out at that time. And it was such a good album. I listened to it daily and I knew it was very different from his previous albums. But I already noticed particular notes and patterns that were very much his unique voice. I really felt a connection to that.
antiMusic: Davide is, of course, the main songwriter of the band. At what point did you come into the process? Did you write any lyrics or vocal lines?
Karyn: No, I was lucky enough to observe it. He plants the seeds or…..the seeds will plant themselves. He would his put his fingers on his guitar and go into a room and write this song in an unbelievably quick fashion. Parts would come out. More parts would come out. Then he'd put them together and then refine them in such a minute way that it's almost hard for me to hear sometimes. But I get to watch him go through that process. I get to listen to that. I'll actually get to know that song while he's working on it. But I have nothing to do with the creative process, other than once in a very short while I may say, "I'm not really liking that note. It doesn't fit in with the other ones for some reason." But I don't feel that it's my business to have a play in his creative process. But there are times there because the way that I know him intimately and musically, I hear that the note is just "trying" not "being". And he'll change that note and everything is as it should be.
And he also goes off on his own to write the lyrics. He goes off into the forest or the beach or some cityscape all alone and kind of goes on his own journey to find the lyrics. And with the EP, they were very personal for him due to a personal tragedy he had gone through so that lyrical process was him getting through it. The new songs, however, he said that he's really keeping me in mind and he's a fan of my lyrics. And he knows pretty much what I go through as a person and so he said he's really keeping that in mind as he's writing those lyrics. He's using a lot of imagery that is very similar to me. But he's very much the sole songwriter and I just have a very small part to contribute to this.
antiMusic: After working with Crisis for so long, was it strange working with other musicians in the studio?
Karyn: It wasn't strange working with Davide but the in-between process when I was trying to get my solo project together…that was strange because the common friend that we had was just not gelling in the process. It wasn't meant to be, I guess. It definitely felt like, "This is not gelling. This is not something that I can sing over. This is a very different language." Whereas Davide's music feels very instinctual in me and the way I described it to him is, I feel this summoning of energy moving through me. Like I'm not someone who is really interested in singing and getting involved in all sorts of projects so that I can keep singing. I'm not interested in doing it if I don't feel that energy moving through me. But his music really moves me….and not the other way around. And when I started to sing these songs, there was a bit of "I haven't sung this way in a long time. I hope I can do these songs justice." And again, there was that connection. I didn't even really have to plug into the socket. And I told him that I haven't felt anything like that since I was singing in Crisis.
antiMusic: You're no stranger to off-kilter songs. But there are so many weird song structures, and time changes on the EP, was it a challenge to fit the vocal lines around them? I would think that breathing is a problem in much of "Black Prism".
Karyn: Yeah, that's a great observation (laughs). Again, he wrote the lyrics on his own but then when it came time to let me hear the vocals, he, in his own way, sang them in front of me, so I could hear placement. There were a few things that I tweaked but they were very minimal. And it definitely was a challenge singing them because he is a guitar player and he has a very distinctive way of writing vocals and guitar parts and there is some very different breath work involved. As you can hear, there is a LOT of singing going on….or growling or whatever you would like to refer to it as. But yes, it was a challenge. I really had to get my cardio going to do that. It's very vigorous. And I love that kind of a challenge. But it was definitely different. It felt, rhythmically, very natural. It didn't seem like I had to work very hard to remember where things went…where they came in and out of. I told Davide the difference was what I loved about his vocal parts is that they tended to jump in on the down beat whereas if I was writing my own stuff, I tended to want to be the guitar and drums at times. So I would come in at very different places. For me, it was very enjoyable to sing the way he's written the songs because I'm coming in on different parts of the beat that I normally would. At the same, it feels very natural and instinctual.
antiMusic: How many vocal tracks were there on each track? Did you record a track for each pitch or were there additions from stuff being manipulated in the studio?
Karyn: There were two or three.
antiMusic: I can hear two distinct ones. Where does the third one go?
Karyn: I think the only one we had the third one on,,,,I'm trying to think. Actually I think it was "Stardust Rain". I think Eric had kept the third one there. He really liked the performance and wanted to tweak that one a bit.
antiMusic: You were teasing us with a hint of the Karyn Crisis Band. What is the status with that project? Is it on hold indefinitely?
Karyn: It's definitely not on hold indefinitely (laughs) and it's definitely not sounding like it was before. We wrote so many songs that I've actually got a few now but I wanted to change the direction and really do a lot more of the songwriting on my own. But it took me getting to very different place to do that. And I have a very different understanding of myself and the way I work now. And I think it was a destiny of timing that I do Ephel Duath first, in terms of even just what people were wanting to hear on their own, sort of vibrational place, which was Karyn doing heavy vocals. My own self, vocally, has always had a very different intention. So it will be very, very different. So I can't give you a timeline for that as I'm just delving into that right now and hopefully I'll find someone who's interested in putting it out. We'll see.
antiMusic: What did you discover about yourself when you started to tackle the vocals again? Was there any kind of realization about how much you had missed this or was it just more of a matter that the material was speaking to you rather than your voice.
Karyn: Well, for many years I didn't think that I wanted to be involved with heavy music. Even when I had my intention of making my solo album, it was not going to be heavy. I didn't want to have anything to do with it. I guess part of it was all the business and daily stresses mixed up with that. But I rediscovered through doing Ephel Duath that I have such a very similar feeling the way the energy and the music moves through me. Again it's funny to me that part of me is doing these very unexpected vocals through this very long, tiny little body (laughs).
And it is a very important part of who I was born as, as a medium. It's very much a channeling process…the whole writing lyrics, whether it's for my solo album or singing Davide's which is very different. It's different in that I never thought I would sing anybody else's lyrics. But it's a very important part of this natural process, the energy and the sort of…connection moving through me and….literally moving me to move, moving me to sing in ways that are really different than ways I would normally think about during the day.
As a person, in my daily things and all the things I'm obsessed with studying, don't necessarily feel obsessed to scream at the world. I don't necessarily LIKE the world. And I still do hide out from it a lot but I am not surrounded by my own pain and darkness the way that I used to be. It doesn't have control over me. I've learned how to control those things and learn from them. So I'm still very much in touch with my darkness but I'm not consumed by it. So I thought that it would leave no need for me to scream and growl. But this project taught me a whole new appreciation for my own singing process which is very much a process. And also about letting go my own ideas about how it should be and just trusting who I am to come through.
So it was almost like this time singing was me observing myself. And I really learned to appreciate my process for doing things and my vocals for what they were. Instead of trying to make them a certain way, I was mostly focused on dong something appropriate for Davide's music. And at the same time so much emotion was coming through and me and pushing me and really guiding me, it was effortless. And again, it was like being an observer in my own body of my own process. It really brought me to love parts of myself that maybe I was trying to reject or not want to deal with anymore. I mean, I know I'm a weirdo. I have a very strange singing style but it was a really beautiful reconnection for me.
antiMusic: Can you update us also with your artwork? Any shows or special projects planned?
Karyn: Yes indeed. I've done a few drawings for Ephel Duath's projects. We released a special edition of the EP along with some drawings that I did. And I'm also working on many paintings. I have a group show in San Francisco at a really great gallery called Modern Eden in mid-July. And that's one piece based on a myth that I chose. Then I have another gallery show starting in September, in San Francisco at another gallery called Articulated Gallery. It's a solo show and so the theme is going to be mediums, witches and healers. There's going to be a little bit of sculpture in there. But I'm doing something new for these shows which is I'm going to be painting on wooden panels and having them framed. And I've never sold framed art. I've always worked on canvas before. So that's going to be a different thing and I'm very excited about doing this. I'm going to be painting a little bit smaller. Framed work with a little bit of installation sculpture for that show too.
antiMusic: What most fans want to know right after the release of the EP is when will you be touring?
Karyn: We actually want to do that right away but we both feel like the way the schedule is going with Davide wanting to get the full-length album done as soon as possible, it doesn't make sense to tour with just three new songs. So that will happen as soon as the full-length is finished. Whether that happens before it comes out, I'm not sure. Things have really been working themselves out in a very smooth way. So we've been thinking that when touring is meant to happen, the same thing will happen. But I've been dreaming about those days so I can't wait for that to happen. (laughs)
antiMusic: Anything else about the EP you want to mention that I didn't ask you?
Karyn: I don't think so. Just I really appreciate your support. Thank you so much.
Davide Tiso interview:
antiMusic: The EP is called On Death and Cosmos. Is there a theme to it?
Davide: The main concept of On Death and Cosmos rotates around the idea of feeling rootless. The creative process this time started from a personal loss: that event marked me so deep not just because I've lost a person I felt very close to but because together with his disappearance I feel I broke the bond with the place I'm coming from. At this point in my life I think I could live pretty much everywhere without feeling homesick. I have a "cosmos" of opportunity opening up in front of my eyes, and while this can be considered a positive thing for a human being, the lyrics in the EP dig in the painful process of detachment from 30 plus years that I felt were my roots.
Leaving in SF I'm lucky enough to be surrounded by people who mostly finished here from elsewhere: it's not that common to meet SF born and raise people in SF. This is one of aspect of the city I live in that I probably like the most. People are here because for a reason or another they choose to be here. Like me. Here, I feel I have at least this thing in common with most people.
antiMusic: Can you tell us what "Black Prism" is all about?
Davide: Writing lyrics is a very deep and demanding process for me, I love to do that, but it is consuming to me as the same time: like puking for minutes straight. I put poetic images into very personal thoughts, I try to put my fears out: I get as naked as possible with my words. On Death and Cosmos holds together some of the lyrics I'm most attached to. These words erupted from me, and all three songs are lyrically tied together by the theme of Death and mourning, and the escape represented by the Cosmos.
After the personal loss I mentioned before, I felt in a terrible depression and returning to compose for Ephel Duath was the way out from that paralyzing state. Some days I was feeling so bad that I felt my mind getting taken over by the spirit of my dead beloved, who was not accepting his death and wanted to keep living through me: the opening song "Black Prism" pictures the hopeless search of oneself in the splitting process of spirit attachment.
"I lie between layers of perception
I'm neither here or there
Twice but still nothing
My image multiplies
While my sight plays dead and regress"
antiMusic: What about "Raqia"?
Davide: The song "Raqia", the ancient Hebrew word for the English word "firmament", marks the pain caused by abandonment and the excruciating consequences of letting go.
"You may be as lonely as I feel
But the emptiness around you is cosmic
Mine tastes just like flesh"
Composing the lyrics of On Death and Cosmos I spent a great deal of time out at night, listening music, smoking cigarettes and looking at the sky. Considering the turmoil my life was in at that moment, writing new lyrics I was literally pushing my sight and my mind as distant as possible from that mess I was in. I wrote this way every time I got the chance and I started to feel a pretty strong comforting sensation while immersing my head and thoughts into the sky/firmament/Raqia entity. I read that warming feeling like the confirmation that my healing process was supposed to pass through that stage to get to the core of my pain and I kept going.
antiMusic: And "Stardust Rain"?
Davide: The closing track "Stardust Rain" is an ode to self-purification through inner death of senses.
"I am the black coat
Where stars hide in
I protect each of them
One by one
They keep shining to live
I let them burning to live
To my slow death I aim to"
This is probably the song I feel closest to. Everything in life has a positive and a negative power. I think that bad situations are the one that teach us the most: loss gives us the chance to readjust or even reshape ourselves during and after the mourning process. This positive chance offered by such traumatic experience is blurred out by the big dose of pain involved but I'm confident that each of us while suffering, in the long run, have the chance to know how much they are changing and self-transforming day after day.
I changed for better while mourning: I was an unfocused and worse person before my grandfather died. His death brought some good to me, I had the chance to find myself again, and as I wrote inside the booklet of On Death and Cosmos: "It took one's death to give life back to another".
antiMusic: The guitars are front and center on the EP. How did you go about constructing the framework for these songs?
Davide: I wanted to bring ED to a more adventurous place to what we achieved with our 2009 "Through My Dog's Eyes" album, starting from the non-structured songs approach we developed in 2005 with the Pain Necessary to Know album. This time I wanted to work with longer and slower songs trying to give them as much intensity as possible. I wanted to release a very rich EP that needs various listening to be fully appreciated, something that grows with the time but still impose itself at the first spin. I wanted these three songs also to reveal the direction we will take in the next future and I'm thrilled by the fact this new challenge is being so artistically rewarding: I feel more inspired than ever these days.
antiMusic: Is there a timeline for the release of the full-length?
Davide: While we are promoting On Death and Cosmos I'm working full-time on composing a new album. I just started the guitars pre-production, so far I have composed 6 songs and wrote 5 lyrics: I'm ahead of my plans. Erik Rutan will produce the new album at his Mana Recording Studios in Florida. I hope we will be able to release the album before summer 2013.
Morley and antiMusic thank Davide and Karyn for taking the time to do this interview,
Preview and purchase the EP here.
Visit the official Facebook page here.