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Adrienne Cowan - Seven Spires

Interview with Adrienne Cowan from Seven Spires
by Kira Schlechter at 07 February 2020, 6:43 AM

When is a follow-up not a follow-up? When it’s a prequel. Semantics aside, it takes a very disciplined, ambitious band to do not only one concept album as a debut, but to follow it up with another. But it’s a logical course of action for Boston-based SEVEN SPIRES. More on the concept of that second album, “Emerald Seas” (Frontiers Music srl), later. Considering the band lists one of their influences as film scores, and since singer-keyboardist Adrienne Cowan is a trained composer, that’s a natural – they are always thinking conceptually as they did on their first release, “Solveig.” Metal Temple writer Kira Schlechter recently caught up with Adrienne to talk about the new album, and other topics.

“Sometimes Adrienne will start out with just a lyric and a piano line, or a melody or a chord progression, and we think, oh, we need to fill a hole in this story of this particular concept at this point in the album – let’s write something for that,” guitarist Jack Kosto said in a joint phone interview with Adrienne from Houston. “So it very much depends on how far we are in the writing process or what direction the wind is blowing on Tuesday.”

Another very apparent influence on Adrienne is musical theater. Listening to both albums, you can visualize the action happening most clearly on a stage, especially since one facet of Adrienne’s expansive and eminently versatile voice is her very clean, non-metal rang, with its precise diction and fluid phrasing.

“Oh, you got me!” she exclaimed. “One of my biggest vocal inspirations is (QUEEN’s) Adam Lambert, who has a very strong musical theater background. Before I wanted to be a metal singer – I was in London at the time – I really wanted to be on the West End.

“I loved all the standard stuff, like ‘Phantom of the Opera,’ ‘Wicked,’ all the crazy big songs that bring down the house at the end of Act I. Those are my favorite ones to sing, and I guess I’ll never really grow out of those roots. I love to tell stories and I love the drama of theater, but not the personal drama.

“And I don’t like dancing. And i’m not very good at acting. So let’s stick to music!” she laughed.

Another influence on Adrienne as a writer is a surprising one – painters of the Romantic period.

“Two in particular – (the German) Caspar David Friedrich and (the Russian) Ivan Aivazovsky,” she said. “Aivazovsky (was known for) marine landscapes, and Friedrich has ‘Wanderer Above the Sea of Fog,’ which is a little bit of an inspiration for the album cover.”

Composers of that period also inspire her.

“I’m also a big fan of (the English composer) Edward Elgar – he does this piece called ‘Sospiri Op. 70,’ which is the most beautiful thing, it sounds like the pain of falling in love. It was something I listened to a lot when we were writing this record. And of course, Chopin.

“It’s mostly these composers and painters – poets, I guess, but it’s mainly music and visual art,” she said.

Adrienne and Jack met as students at the Berklee College of Music in Boston – Jack graduated with a degree in performance, about a year and a half before Adrienne started (her degree is in musical composition). Bassist Peter Albert de Reyna came next, and drummer Chris Dovas is currently finishing his last semester there, Jack explained.

“Jack and I met in a bookstore and I was wearing a NIGHTWISH shirt and looking for bandmates,” Adrienne said of how the two got together. “We just saw each other and knew,” she said with a laugh.

“He knew Pete from a band from years ago and I knew Chris through a mutual friend, and things kind of fell into place. The first time the four of us all jammed together, it was kind of magic and we all exchanged looks. It was another one of those we-just-knew moments,” she added.

“Emerald Seas” may follow “Solveig” in the band’s canon, but its story actually precedes the one told in “Solveig.”

In the first song, “Ghost of a Dream,” we meet Our Hero – “a semi-ambiguous character so that whoever is listening can put whatever twists they want (on it),” Jack said. Ready to set off on yet another journey, OH is longing for someone from the past and driven by “this lifelong quest for eternal life,” Adrienne said. OH is a further exploration of the main character in “Solveig,” who in that album is tempted by a demon to spend eternity in his domain.

“The hero is captain of a ship called the Great Divide, and the (ship) is navigated by the hero’s greatest desires,” Adrienne explained. “At this point, the hero is out in the middle of the ocean trying to get to the island where the Fountain of Youth is. But because they’re distracted by these memories, they’re just going in circles and they don’t even realize it because there’s no land around.”

Themes of the sea are dear to Adrienne’s heart.

“I have this special feeling about the ocean,” she said. “It stands for endless possibilities – you could go anywhere, anything could happen, you could make anything happen for yourself. It’s so enormous and can be so dangerous, but it’s also extremely peaceful for me.

“Also, I was in such a huge phase of depression and burnout, so a lot of that fed into this as well, the idea of wandering on this endless emerald sea. One of my favorite cities in the world is Venice, and I guess because of all the stuff that’s in the water, the water there is green.

“(And) my grandparents are based in Galveston, and when I was a little girl, I was there a lot. They live like a three-minute walk from the water’s edge, so I spent a lot of time there, and it does kind of feel like home. And in Boston, even, just to escape from the city a little bit and stare out across the water just made me feel better,” she added.

As the story opens, OH has met a love interest from the past and tries to get them to join their quest in the form of the thrilling track, “Every Crest.” Both it and the album’s first single – the impossibly exhilarating adrenaline rush that is “Succumb” – are rooted in a similar musical treatment, pairing double-kick drumming with a heady, soaring guitar melody that echoes the unforgettable chorus.

“‘Every Crest’ has this feel of adventure,” Jack said. “These two characters (think) all the world could be ours, looking out at the sea and wondering if we can do all of these things together. So when I think of that, I think of driving tempos and soaring melodies and big, open sorts of things…

“Also, non-diatonic chords, to give this feeling of, not otherworldliness, but again, endless possibilities,” Adrienne chimed in.

“Maybe we don’t necessarily think about it as intentional, but it comes out that way, because that’s what the feeling of the song needs to be,” Jack said. “And ‘Succumb’ is probably similar in a way, that even though it’s a different point in the story, the feeling is similar – this exhilaration and this shining brightness and soaring emotional content.”

It’s not just the sound of “Succumb” that makes it irresistible – it’s Adrienne’s poetic writing (like the wry personification in the opening line, “Destiny’s a funny girl, she took me by surprise”) and her knack for creating vivid imagery (the “cinnamon, sweat, and rum” of the chorus) in a track that brings OH and the love interest passionately together.

“I don’t really remember writing it – it just WAS, suddenly,” she said. “I remember I wanted to write something about this ‘cinnamon, sweat, and rum,’ because it’s very evocative – you know there’s a little something going on.”

Like any good storyteller, Adrienne uses literary device – in this case, foreshadowing, in the form of her spectacularly evil black metal vocals – in the final line of “Ghost of a Dream,” when she warns of a time “When the weariness takes its toll.”

“This story is the backstory to the demon of ‘Solveig,’ so any time there’s a hint of this demon character, that’s going to be a screamed line,” Adrienne said. “So this demon aspect of this character is everything that’s dark, sad, maybe having given up, indulging too much – there’s this terrible thing coming and ‘OH NO, what if it comes and gets me?’ And maybe I kind of want that.”

In a track like “Unmapped Darkness,” she explores the full range of her voice, from the theatrical to the metal wail to the guttural.

“I usually will figure (a vocal treatment) out when I’m doing piano and vocals, before we flesh out the arrangements,” Adrienne said. “But when it’s time to actually record the vocals, sometimes Jack will give me some pointers of like, try to deliver it in this particular emotional way, or try changing the shape of your mouth to get a different screamed sound.”

“It’s never really to do something different than what she’s already come up with – it’s usually just to get more, or a more precise and powerful version of what’s already there,” Jack said. “It’s never really ‘maybe you should sing this line instead of screaming.’”

Jack’s solos throughout always have the song’s melody at their hearts.

“I feel like my job writing solos is to tell not my own side of the story, but my own musical interpretation of the story without lyrics and in a shorter amount of time,” he said. “So I feel like I have to write a small song within the song that goes along with it – not necessarily like an intermezzo, but similarly thought out.”

The pivotal point in the story, “Drowner of Worlds,” is done entirely in the guttural style, and fittingly so. OH has surrendered to death, to being swallowed by the beast – deeply troubled, he asks, “Am I in the belly of the beast, or is the beast in me?”

“It’s a little about how terrible this character thinks people are, and maybe how terrible this character thinks they themselves are,” Adrienne said.

While in the belly of the giant kraken, his life ebbing away, OH reminisces about the love interest again in the stunning “Silvery Moon,” rich with more of that imagery – “I’m moondrunk and I’m tasting stars.” Those memories continue in “Bury You.”

“Their body knows they’re dying and their brain keeps trying to quickly process the last things that trouble them in life so they can move on peacefully,” Adrienne said. “‘Silvery Moon’ is the last happy moment they had, and ‘Bury You’ is making peace with that and saying goodbyes.”

Death comes at last in “Fearless,” but OH checks back in in the hymn-like “With Love from the Other Side.”

“This was definitely inspired by the artistry of Edward Elgar,” Adrienne said. “I wanted to have this peace at the end of the horror of ‘Fearless.’”

And by the end, OH really does achieve his goal. But it’s not a completely happy ending.

“Yeah, well, we’re not really good at those,” Adrienne cracked.

Adrienne is involved with two other projects, Sascha Paeth’s MASTERS OF CEREMONY (for which she is the singer) and as a member of AVANTASIA (with whom she just finished a tour).

“We’re looking for some more live opportunities with MASTERS, but it’s quite hard – we keep getting offers and we keep having to turn them down for stupid reasons that are unavoidable.

“With AVANTASIA, there are some festivals this summer and I will join them for that,” she added.

But this year is mostly SEVEN SPIRES. They tour this spring with INSOMNIUM and OMNIUM GATHERUM and this summer with AMARANTHE and BATTLE BEAST.

“They actually came about via a booking agent who worked on some of the AVANTASIA U.S. dates,” Jack said. “I believe he came to one of the shows in New York, and basically it just turned into a business relationship.”

“He was there with us after the show and he was like, well I enjoyed your performance – what do you do when you’re not with AVANTASIA?” Adrienne said. “And I was like, well, I’m going to go home and work on SEVEN SPIRES, my band.

“I got back to my hotel room and in the SEVEN SPIRES email, there was like, ‘would you like to tour with AMARANTHE next year?’ He saw me yell at people and then he was like, would you like more opportunities to yell at people with your band?”

They plan to adjust their setlists for each tour accordingly.

“I think it’s actually really cool for us to have different bills that we fit into,” Jack said. “For the INSOMNIUM tour, we’ll probably be doing more extreme vocal songs – heavier, faster death metal stuff. And then with the AMARANTHE tour, we’ll be busting out more melodic cuts to some degree.

“Those bands were on our list of potential touring mates when we thought about finishing up ‘Emerald Seas.’ We’re all goals-oriented people and we were making lists of, it would be good to tour with this band. And some of these things actually manifested, which is really cool,” he added.


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