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GWENDYDD's Viktoria Stoichkova: “We wanted to make things happen during the pandemic, to show people our music, and to do things, because staying at home will not do anything.”

Interview with Viktoria Stoichkova from GWNEDYDD
by Thomas Kumke at 05 September 2021, 4:20 AM

GWENDYDD, hailing from Bulgaria, is an Extreme Metal band. Formed in 2018, they released their debut album “Human Nature” in 2020 and came just back from their first shows in Belgium. A good reason for Metal Temple writer Thomas Kumke to talk to GWENDYDD about the band’s history so far, their debut album, the live tour, their inspirations, and their future plans.

Hello GWENDYDD, it is a real pleasure and I am really grateful to perform an interview with you for Metal Temple magazine. First of all I hope you and all your families are coming through this difficult year safe and well. How did GWENDYDD come through the pandemic so far?

Vicky: We are fine. We just had a rehearsal actually, so we are pretty good. Fortunately, everyone came through the pandemic well.

GWENDYDD is a female dominated melodic Death Metal/melodic Metalcore/extreme Metal band…

Vicky: The extreme Metal band label is the best one, because we do not really think that we are that much on the melodic Death Metal side. So, extreme Metal is perfect.

GWENDYDD was formed in 2018. Let us talk first about the history of the band. How did it all start and what was the idea behind this project?

Vicky: The idea came from our drummer Bambi. He wanted to establish an all-female Metal band, because at the time it did not really exist here in Bulgaria. So, it was going to be something very new and interesting. As things developed, we ended up with Bambi behind the drums which was the best thing that could have happened in our opinion, because without Bambi GWENDYDD would not have been the same band. It all came from him, he found us either via social media or via friends. We started playing together, we became friends, and the magic happened.

You are playing extreme Metal. What was the idea behind going into this direction?

Bambi: The idea to go into extreme Metal came because pretty much almost all of the bands with female vocals, especially here, are either Heavy Metal or symphonic Metal bands. There was not any band which is as groovy and heavy as we are. That is why we chose to go into extreme Metal.

As you mentioned, GWENDYDD was planned as all-female Metal band, but now Bambi is behind the drum kit. Are there no female drummers in Bulgaria?

Bambi: Actually, we have some female drummers here and we tried two of them, but they had different ideas. Maybe this was the right decision for us.

Vicky: In addition to what Bambi said, maybe this was also the right decision for him to start playing.

What does the name GWENDYDD actually mean?

Vicky: We chose this name because it comes from an old Celtic story in which Gwendydd is the sister or, in some stories, the lover of the magician Merlin. Before he dies, he gives her all his power and then she becomes almighty. We really like the idea of a female figure that is extremely powerful. In addition, it also looks good visually.

Let us go through the band member`s history. Irena and Radostina, when did you start playing guitar?

Irena: I started playing guitar when I was 12 years old. I think I got my first acoustic guitar and I actually got into Metal by playing the guitar. I did not play that type of music before, but I discovered it when I wanted to play more difficult things and I just fell in love with it and I still am, so that is good. GWENDYDD is my very first band.

Radostina: Actually, I started to listen Metal music when I was 14 years old, because my friends were into Metal. Because of this, I started playing the guitar when I was 15 years old. I also wanted to be able to play the music of one of my idols John Petrucci of DREAM THEATER. The first songs I started playing were his songs. They sounded awful, but I was trying very hard.

Sonya when did you start playing bass and how did you come to Metal?

Sonya: I started to listen to heavy music when I was very young. My parents took my first photo when I was six months old with DEEP PURPLE clothes. I started to listen to some heavier music maybe when I was 14 years old and then I started to play bass, because there was a female band in my hometown and they did not have a bass player. So, I started to play bass, but I wanted to be a drummer at the beginning. GWENDYDD is my second band which is female dominated.

Bambi, what about you?

Bambi: I started playing drums in 1992 when I was 11 years old with a small drum kit. I started to play some songs of METALLICA and SLAYER. After this, I upgraded my drum teachers and I started to play songs of CANNIBAL CORPSE, NAPALM DEATH, and then SOULFLY and SEPULTURA. I started playing in 1992 and I never stopped. I played in maybe four or five bands in my hometown and then I moved here to Sofia and continued with one of my bands. When every of the bands was finished actually, then we decided to start GWENDYDD.

Bambi, besides being the drummer, you are also producer of GWENDYDD?

Bambi: Well, a little bit. This is maybe exaggerated, but okay, I am caring for the most things here, let us say it like this.

Vicky, when did you start with your career as a vocalist?

Vicky: I actually got into Metal because of my big brother. He plays guitar and he played for me songs from SLIPKNOT, LINKIN PARK, and LIMP BIZKIT when I was at the age of six. Something of which I am proud of is when I was six years old, I actually learned the whole lyrics of “People=Shit” by SLIPKNOT. This was fun. I started playing the guitar when I was 11 years old, but let us say that I did not like it as much. So, at the age of 14 or 15, I started learning how to sing, to growl, and to scream. I think that I have always liked Metal and the vocals just came a bit later.

Vicky, you do clean singing and growling. How did you learn growling vocals and why?

Vicky: Well, actually I learned it from YouTube tutorials. I started when I was at the sixth grade, I believe. I do not know why, but I wanted to learn how to do that. It felt really nice being able to do such vocals. I started with the YouTube tutorials and continued by imitating my favorite vocalists and their songs.

You also had performances in The Voice of Bulgaria. How did this come and how was the response to that?

Vicky: I actually did not want to win or anything, I just decided to give it a try: let us see what is going to happen and I did well in my opinion. It was actually pretty amazing. I mean, there were some people here in Sofia who, after the TV show aired, stopped me and were like: oh my God, you are Vicky from The Voices. That was awesome. It was very nice and actually a very interesting thing. If I had not gone to the Voice of Bulgaria, Bambi would not have found me. I mean, it led to me being discovered, so it was very good decision I made and I am proud of it.

Okay let me summarize this: a drummer who is playing SLAYER, CANNIBAL CORPSE, and NAPALM DEATH watches The Voice of Bulgaria…

Bambi: Of course! Actually, there is a lot of talent. I appreciate the talents and I love to watch some talented people. So yes, I watch this format.

”Human Nature” is the debut album of GWENDYDD and it was released in 2020. How was the response to the album?

Vicky: The response was pretty good. There is one interesting fact, we did a crowdfunding campaign for our album and it was a success, which was really, and I am going to say it again, interesting. That was awesome and the people really liked it. We still have a lot of positive feedback from many people. We also did get some constructional criticism which is always good to have, because we learn from it whenever we hear it. Generally, it is mostly really good feedback. The reviews were positive, some of them had a bit of constructive criticism, but mostly positive.

Bambi: Yeah, there was just once a review from a Greek magazine and they thought Sonya is our vocalist.

Vicky: This was from a Greek magazine or website or something. I do not really remember what magazine it was, but it was a negative review and they wrote that Sonya was the vocalist.

The sound of the album is a mixture of different genre elements, a bit Death Metal, a bit Nu Metal, a bit melodic Metalcore. How do you describe the GWENDYDD sound?

Irena: I do not think that we can describe it precisely, because we try not to stick to any sort of box, we just write. So, we do not stick to genres like Nu Metal or Death Metal or whatever. We just write things where we think it sounds good and that could be any genre whatsoever. If it is Metal, we like it and if it sounds good, it sounds good.

How does the song writing work at GWENDYDD?

Vicky: Bambi does most of the songwriting, almost all of it. The basic ideas are his and then he teams up with Irena, our guitarist, and they make the whole songs. They send it then to me and I write the lyrics and the vocals to it. If the others have other ideas, or maybe are not okay with something, or have an idea to change a certain part of the song which will sound better, then we do it.

Irena: Bambi comes up with a lot of really cool riffs and both of us sit down and make them even cooler. I think we work together pretty well. The process and things happen really quickly when we sit down and try to figure out what to write.

Some of the lyrics, for example the title song, are very dark. Where do you draw your inspirations from when writing the lyrics?

Vicky: I draw my inspirations from everywhere in life. I mean, the world is not actually a pretty place and it is not all like roses and flowers everywhere. It is pretty damn bad to be honest.

Sonya: We just live in Bulgaria this might explain many things…

Vicky: I also actually dream a lot and many of the lyrics are inspired by my nightmares. I mean, I have a lot of inspirations, so it is all good and I am happy.

My favorite tracks are “21st Century Ignorance“ and “Human Nature”. What are yours?

Bambi: Actually, I love all the songs, because they are pretty much almost mine.

Vicky: It is a bit difficult to choose only one song since we have created them and we love them, because they are ours.

Sonya: “Lapse Of Infinity” because of this drum and bass part.

Vicky: Well, I am not sure but maybe because of the lyrics it would be “Vinoven” (Guilty), our song in Bulgarian. I feel a little bit closer to that one, because it is in our language and it feels a bit different. I do not know, but I like all of them.

You released “Human Nature” and “Suicide” as official videos. How does the video production work from the idea to the release?

Irena: It is really different from song to song, every single video has quite a different process. The only consistent thing is that we are trying to do better every single time when we do something new. So, it is really different and it really depends on the ideas. It is a really creative process, we sit down and talk about what we can do, how we can make it happen. Fortunately, we have really cool people surrounding us who are willing to help and film everything, or to help with the organization of everything. It is really a cool process, but it is really different from video to video. We do not hire anybody for the videos. For “Human Nature”, we actually made a post on Facebook that we were looking for people to be in one of our videos. A lot of people responded and actually came. This was really cool, because the video was not shot in Sofia, it was a bit outside of the city. They had to spend the whole day in the middle of basically nowhere in the heat, which is not really pleasant. It was a really fun day and it was a really cool experience. A lot of people came that were not paid, they just liked what we do and wanted to support it.

Vicky: Most of the people were either our friends or friends of our friends and this was nice.

You recently released a new song “We Are The New Order” as official video…

Vicky: This video is for our new single and it was released just a few weeks ago. It has a bit more of a subliminal storyline and again, it was very, very different. We actually went through many ideas beforehand. I personally was a bit worried whether it would come out the way we imagined it, but it came out even better. And the story is left for interpretation…

Although you could not properly support the album with touring due to the pandemic, you released a few quarantine/pandemic edition videos and GWENDYDD performed a live stream. How was the response to the live stream?

Vicky: Here is a bit of story time. The first dates of our promo tour, which we had already booked here in Bulgaria started on the first day of the pandemic, it was the first day of the lockdown. It was really bad and we actually did have a lot of shows planned up to the middle of the year, and they all got canceled. This was a bit painful. We wanted to make things happen during the pandemic, to show people our music, and to do things, because staying at home will not do anything. That is why we decided to do the live stream and the quarantine video for “21st Century Ignorance”. Actually, that was also the year when we did the “Human Nature” video. It was just in September. I mean, we did not want to stop in any way. As for the live stream: we actually had two live streams. There was the original live stream we did, people really liked it and a lot of people watched it. It was again better than nothing. The other live stream was part of a Romanian online festival. This was an amazing opportunity for us. Overall, everything we did during the lockdown was perceived very well by people and we gained quite some new fans by doing this.

How is playing a live show and nobody is in the crowd?

Vicky: It was weird to be honest, it is not the same energy, but it had to be done. We had to do something, we could not just sit in our rehearsal room. It needed to be done. It was a bit strange, but it had a good outcome.

You recently just came back from a mini European tour through Belgium where you were part of the Female Metal League Fest. It was your first tour outside Bulgaria. What were your impressions from this tour?

Vicky: It was actually very, very nice. We did learn a lot of things, because it is one thing just to travel in Bulgaria for shows and another thing to go outside of Bulgaria. You meet new people, you go to different countries, and things are pretty much different. We did learn a lot of stuff. The experience was amazing and we actually got a lot closer as a band and as people. I mean, eight hours a day in a Van for nine days gets you a lot closer.

How was GWENDYDD perceived by the fans during the tour?

Vicky: The concerts in Belgium were extremely nice, in our opinion, and the people liked it. We did get new fans, which was amazing. We also met some people who had already been our fans before, but they lived in Germany, so we could not really meet them face to face. They went to both of the shows in Belgium, which was really cool. We also did get new fans in the crowd which was amazing. It is a bit different from the shows in Bulgaria, but it was crazy.

Bambi: There was also one guy who came all the way from Switzerland. That was whoa!

That is awesome! I include a little fun part into my interviews. Let us see how it works with all of you at the same time. First, a hypothetical scenario: Every one of you has his/her birthday at some day in the year. All other band members will get him/her their top three favorite records of their most favorite artists. Which one would that be? Let us start with Bambi…

Sonya: We will get Bambi CDs from KORN, SEPULTURA, and PRIMUS.

Vicky: We give him the GWENDYDD CD as a bonus gift.

Do not forget to sign the GWENDYDD CD for Bambi. Which album of SEPULTURA would you get him?

Vicky: A difficult question… It would be “Arise”.

Bambi: “Beneath The Remains” would also be a nice one. A crazy album.

Oh definitely. Who is next one? Irena?

Irena: My birthday is actually the sixth of June which is the International SLAYER Day. I just wanted to mention that!

Vicky and Sonya: WHILE SHE SLEEPS…

Irena: They have really no idea what I listen to. I listen to so many different things and they really have no idea about it.

Irena, have you been on the European tour with your bandmates or not?

Irena: I really listen to a lot of different things. The only thing that they can come up with is WHILE SHE SLEEPS, which is a band that I really love, but they are so confused. This is fun.

Maybe present Irena three WHILE SHE SLEEPS albums…

Irena: I love them, I would not mind at all…

Vicky: Okay, Irena would get three albums of WHILE SHE SLEEPS.

And no bonus gift for Irena…What would you buy for Radostina?

Irena: I have an answer. I think DREAM THEATER is one for sure. Something by them, but I have no idea what their albums are. So DREAM THEATER would be one and then Richard Cheese, whoever fuck that is. She really likes him. I think THE BEATLES is another one. Yeah, it is a weird combination, I know, but it makes sense for her.

Radostina: Actually, they presented me for my last year’s birthday a BEATLES album.

Irena: I listen to a lot of different things as well. I listen to a lot of Jazz things, Pop things, and I have a lot of classical music too. I have so many different things that I listen to, that I am not surprised that the other ones do that as well. You have a lot more things to draw inspirations from, which is really cool.

Yeah, I also listen to a lot of different styles of music too. What would you get for Sonya’s birthday?

Irena: Okay, we have three bands and one of them is actually Bambi's previous band. It is a Bulgarian band.

Bambi: Sonya is one of the biggest fans…

Irena: The name is O.H. and Sonya was a huge fan. It makes sense for her to have one of their CDs even though that I think she has them in some form. The other band that we thought of is O’FUNK’ILLO, because it is just a fun band and Sonya likes them. Then it would be RED HOT CHILY PEPPERS, because she is a bassist and a huge fan of them. With all our love!

What about Vicky?

Irena: SLIPKNOT definitely. Then I think it would be INSOMNIUM. The last one may shock you, but for me it makes sense. It is BLACK VEIL BRIDES. We really hate her for this, but she is a fan.

Vicky: I can see the pain on your face, I can feel it.

I am fine…still…but I have another hypothetical scenario for you. If I would give you as a band the choice to go to three different festivals. Which ones would that be?

Vicky: We would love to go to Nova Rock Festival, to Brutal Assault, and to Wacken Open Air.

The topic I want to talk about with you is inspirations. How do your inspirations affect your music, songwriting, and stage performance? How do THE BEATLES inspire you?

Radostina: I think that THE BEATLES started everything. I have read many autobiographical books from musicians and bands, and many of them say that it all started with THE BEATLES and they have been inspired by them. Their music was very interesting considering the 60s and they were really ahead of their time.

Vicky: I think that we all have many different tastes in music and every one of us draws inspiration not only from music and other bands, but also from life experience or movies, and other things. The interesting thing, which works very well for us, is that we are all different, we have different inspirations and likings, but when we combine it all together, it becomes something unique in my opinion. That is something we like and we see this great combination paying off. I think that this is a nice way how our inspirations work.

Bambi: That is why we get a lot of different parts in our songs.

So, all your different tastes and influences have created a big pot from which your very diverse music comes out….I have a second topic. Recently the Olympic Games just finished. Let us assume there is an Olympics for Metal and we pick three disciplines: traditional Heavy Metal, Thrash Metal, and extreme Metal. Who would represent Bulgaria and who would win the gold medals?

Irena: It is a really difficult question because in Bulgaria, while there are a few bands, not a lot of them are really active, to be honest. In those genres that you mentioned, I cannot even think of a Thrash Metal Bulgarian band. I can think of one, but I do not think they are playing anymore. It is really difficult, because most bands are either really old and they have been around for 20 years or they are new and are not doing very much. So, if Bulgaria was to participate in Metal Olympic Games, we would win nothing.

Okay, the aim of Olympic Games is to be there, it is not so much about winning. Who is the most well-known Bulgarian Heavy Metal band?

Irena: Well, I suppose this could be AXAT and KONKURENT, but I do not think that those would be a good representation.

Who do we think would win the Olympic gold medal in traditional Heavy Metal?

Vicky: We should just say that everyone is winning, because music is not a competition on everything.

How does it look like with Thrash Metal bands in Bulgaria?

Irena: There are no Thrash Metal bands that we know, at least I do not think so, which is kind of sad.

Vicky: There is a Thrash Metal band called EXECUTOR in Bulgarian language.

Okay, so let us send them to the Olympic Games and everyone wins. What about the extreme Metal? Who would represent Bulgaria?

Vicky: GWENDYDD!

And who would win?

Irena: GWENDYDD…We are dreaming.

We are in the middle of our topic: Metal in Bulgaria. In 2010, the big four of Thrash Metal played in Bulgaria. Apart from that, there are very few festivals with international bands. In the Metal archives, I found only around 500 Bulgarian Metal bands, many of them are inactive as you said. How important is Metal in Bulgaria?

Bambi: If we are talking about the Bulgarian bands, it is a different story, especially for the big bands. Metal means a lot for the Heavy Metal fans, but not for the Bulgarian bands.

Vicky: We actually have a very loyal Metal underground community. I mean, the Metal fans are really into Metal. Many of them go to almost all of the concerts, but for the bands it is a different story. The Metal fans are great as a scene.

Bambi: I was on this Big Four concert here and it was amazing. I have been working on festivals here with the big bands and that was awesome, but if we if we speak about Bulgarian bands it is not the same.

Vicky: We have quite a lot of venues for bands to play. Not all of them are okay for Metal, but there are enough of them which are okay for Metal.

How does it affect a young and aspiring band like GWENDYDD?

Vicky: We feel a lot more determined to do more and to go and play around the world pretty much. We do not want to stop only up to Belgium, we want to go everywhere and play everywhere. I think that this gives us a lot more determination.

Bambi: Let us say, Bulgaria is our rehearsal room, our training ground.

As many bands, you used the time during the pandemic to create new music. Recently you released the new single “We Are The New Order” and you are working on the second album. What can we expect from the new album and when is it going to be released?

Bambi: Actually, the second album is almost done. It is finished as a demo version and now we are thinking about the next single, we just have to figure it out. We want to release the album in the next year, maybe during the first half of next year.

Vicky: Perhaps in spring, but we will see. It is going to be released next year, you are going to hear it.

Bambi: You can expect some new stuff. It might get a bit harder.

Vicky: Be prepared to be a bit shocked.

Irena: It is a surprise. We do not want to ruin it by telling you.

Planning during these times is still challenging. Do you have any touring plans during the upcoming months? When do we see GWENDYDD on the roads through Europe?

Vicky: In Bulgaria, we have quite a few shows. As for going outside of Bulgaria again, we are working on it. That is all I can say for this right now.

Is there anything you would like to tell to your fans or the readers of Metal Temple magazine?

Vicky: Thank you for reading this interview and continue listening to our music and of course, stay safe. Wait for us, we are going to come to you.

Thank you so much for that amazing interview, I really enjoyed it and I am looking forward to see GWENDYDD live in Germany soon.

Vicky: Thank you for this interview.

Bambi: GWENDYDD and out!



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Edited 18 September 2021
 

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