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Phantom Spell's Kyle McNeill: "The groups emerging in the 70’s seemed to have a child-like curiosity and really pushed the boundaries of what a rock band could achieve"

Interview with Kyle McNeill from Phantom Spell
by Lior "Steinmetal" Stein at 28 September 2022, 10:47 PM

And there is more to it, it doesn't stop there. Being a dreamer, and a curious in nature, helps a lot to achieve what most people fear from, spending much time on something that might fall down the drain. Not in the case of Seven Sisters' Kyle McNeill, who formed his own baby, Phantom Spell. Taking on the proto-Metal years of the 70s, finding the favourites in progression, the "Immortal's Requiem" was created and released. Steinmetal had the pleasure to talk again with McNeill about the new project, the future and the personal journey. 

Hello Kyle, it is a pleasure to have you again for a conversation with Metal Temple online Magazine, how are things going on your end?

Hello! It’s a pleasure to be back. Thank you for having me. Things are going well for me, thank you. I’m currently on tour in the US with Seven Sisters right now. I’m typing these answers in the back of a smelly van full of tired long-hairs. A familiar environment for me!

Last time we talked it was with the release of Seven Sisters’ latest album, but with all the glory of your main band, I didn’t know that lurking in the shadows, there was Phantom Spell, a new musical entity forged. A kind of entity that has the potential to become a legacy on its own. Was your main motivation to start Phantom Spell was mainly due to your love for Progressive Rock, or are there more reasons yet unfolded?

It's something I’ve wanted to do for a long while. With the time given to me by the lockdowns of the pandemic I finally had the freedom to bring the project to life. I am a huge fan of the classic-era Prog Rock and there are certain musical areas I just can’t cover with Seven Sisters, so this is another outlet for me and my songwriting urges.

The musical closeness between what is referred to as classic Progressive Rock, and NWOBHM, which has been part of Seven Sisters, is quite substantial. I wonder, what do you find in Progressive Rock, and I could only guess that it is the classics of the 70s and early 80s, that makes you feel different, a kind of a power source that draws you in at will?

Like you say, there is a lot of crossover between the two genres. They are both very broad terms, and the bands that fall under each genre can vary wildly in sound. For a long time, I’ve been captured by the inventiveness of Prog Rock. The groups emerging in the 70’s seemed to have a child-like curiosity and really pushed the boundaries of what a rock band could achieve. From the production, to the songwriting, it’s a genre of music that continues to inspire me.

I couldn’t find any references to who is part of this new project / band, I know that you are the integral part on vocals, and guitars, yet whom did you recruit in order to become part of what you started?

Everything you hear on the record was played, programmed, and recorded by me. This is a solo studio project in the very sense of the term. DIY recording at my home studio and just one nerd making funny noises by himself!

As complex as the music, there is the debut album, and its title, “Immortal’s Requiem”. Frankly, kind of an oxymoron, what makes this immortal wizard that he wrote his own requiem, or did he? What can you share about this immortal individual and his swansong?

It came from an idea I kept coming back to about an immortal of some sort who’s mind slowly unravels over the years. The title refers to the beginning of the “story” where the wizard tries to take his own life in a last ditch attempt to regain control over the power that keeps him alive.

Since the album was written in one of the toughest periods of the Covid-19 pandemic, there is an apparent influence on the themes of the songs, and the general mindset. How would you say that this record helped you upon surviving this period of time?

During the height of pandemic my main focus was writing and recording the latest Seven Sisters record. Phantom Spell was born during the pandemic but “Immortal’s Requiem” wasn’t recorded while the world was in lockdown. That being said, the idea of pursuing Phantom Spell gave me something to strive towards and is now actually helping me survive life post-pandemic. My life, like so many others, changed drastically because of the pandemic. Phantom Spell has given me a new outlet and also a means of supporting myself.

You talk about insecurities, or should I also refer to them as fears, of the protagonist, the immortal wizard. Let me ask you this, is this wizard by any chance, or a form of yourself in another life or plainly a vision of a person that you knew?

There are certainly a lot of my own fears and feelings in the wizard character. Some are more obvious than others. It’s a personal album but also leaves enough unsaid for others to interpret the songs in their own way. Of course, the themes are wrapped in a fantasy setting, but it’s all very real.

Not entirely facing the twists and turns of our reality, “Immortal’s Requiem” shares the escapism value, letting the listener slide into a different world, a different realm of the mind. How do you find this form of escapism from your reality? Why is it convenient to just fade away or look from above on the troubles that have been part of our very existence?

The world is a pretty bleak place. The inside of my head is a pretty bleak place most of the time, too. Escapism is an essential part of art. It can offer us respite from realities we don’t quite have the strength to face. It can give us hope. It can even offer us a fresh perspective on our reality by giving us the chance to, “look from above”, as you say. I want to be somebody that adds value to the universe. So many things have no value or extract from our lives. I create to help myself but I hope that what I create can help someone else when they need it, too.

After being used to the heavier notes of Seven Sisters, this is a stage of Metal music that will take one back to the early days, proto-Metal in its best, with a fine fusion, or perhaps even more than that, of the vintage years of Progressive Rock. Musically, other than being a fan of the sub-genre of Rock, what can you tell about this project’s musical development?

Well, you summed it up pretty well yourself! My hope was to combine my favourite parts of Prog Rock and proto-Metal into something that scratches all my musical itches, so to speak. I have so many things I want to try with Phantom Spell. The pallet I’m dealing with offers me lots of sounds and musical concepts for me to explore. I’m very excited to see what the future holds for Phantom Spell!

Catching up with what I found to be wonderful influences, ranging from the harmonic melodies of Uriah Heep, the haze of Genesis, to the magical inspiration of Yes, there is a lot of color here. What other influences, or musical directions, caught your mind as “Immortal’s Requiem” was slowly being forged?

Kansas are a huge influence on me and my songwriting. The theatre and pomp they achieved with their seminal records is so infectious. I love it. I also take a lot of inspiration from my “contemporaries”. I listen to a lot of Wytch Hazel, Hällas, and Iron Griffin. They influence me greatly. Another group worth mentioning is Camel. They are my favorite band from the classic-era Prog. Andy Latimer’s guitar playing is beautifully melodic and commanding. I try to channel some of that in my playing. Whether successfully, or not, is in the ears of the beholder!

The songs on the list differ from one another, yet sharing a quality that became integral to them all, the dramatic effect, the piercing of the listener’s heart due to an emotional state. What can you tell about the songwriting process of the songs? In your take, what is that dramatic effect that made the music convincing?

I tend to go through three or four revisions of a song before it’s “done”. I’ll come up with a basic framework and map out drums and then in the subsequent revisions I’ll add more decoration and vary transitions between sections. The ultimate goal is translating emotion. That you find the album emotional and dramatic is a big compliment. I’m very glad you feel that way about it! The human voice is a very expressive tool and in most cases it’s what people focus on first. All my favorite singers have an excellent emotional quality so I always try push that element of my voice and vocal delivery.

As a matter of comparison, what makes “Immortal’s Requiem” to be a sort of record that is uncanny, different from the variety of Progressive Rock albums going out nowadays?

I’m not sure I can answer that question earnestly! That sort of thing is down to the listener. To sort-of answer your question in another way; I tried to add all of my favorite bits about Prog to more conventional song structures. I’m just one person so I can’t really do extended “jam” songs or more free-flowing ideas that a band in a room could achieve. I need to play to my strengths. I opted for a Kansas-style approach where the songs are, more or less, bite size chunks but with some cool ideas thrown in!

Upon its melodic features, and crafty song structures, there is the connection that is to be found with lyrical end. In your perception, how were you able to find that cohesion between these two important elements?

With having the story of the Wizard in my mind during the writing of the music it helped me shape the songs towards the lyrical theme. At some point during the making of the album the ideas start to flow into one another. There’s always a turning point where these fragmented ideas start to take a life of their own and they finally start to form an album. It’s a big relief when that happens!

Adding vocals is a huge factor in having a “thread” connecting the songs together. Even if the feel of the songs varies, a single voice can tie them all together for the listener.

Working mainly by yourself on the record, what were your greatest challenges as you tried to fulfill the vision of the album? How were you able to stand against these hardships in order to reach the final goal of completing this journey?

Self-motivation is a big one. I think that might be the case for most self-employed people. I have no deadlines or a boss. I can stay in bed all day if I want (and that is what I want most days)! The onus is on me to get up and work. Ultimately I think that’s the “secret” to being a successful songwriter. Just be in the room and be working on things every day. Some days you’ll come up short and feel deflated, such is the nature of the game. You can’t catch the idea if you aren’t there and ready!

It is said that you engineered the entire album. No doubt that you maintained a sound pattern that would fit quite well with your personal admiration. How did it feel to be the person behind the controls? How do you find the end result, what could have been done better?

I really enjoy the recording and mixing process. It’s now become an integral part of my songwriting. Having no barrier between my initial ideas and the fully realized song is a really liberating way of working. I fully recommend any musician/songwriter to delve into the recording process. The more you understand the more embellished your ideas can become. It can also help you communicate with engineers so you can actually get your recordings to come out like you want! DIY is the best.

As for what I can do better; well, it’s an ever evolving journey. Every day is a school day! I hope to keep working and improving on every aspect of what I do. If money was no way object I would hire real people to record their parts in a lovely studio. That’s the dream!

The first song that captured my attention was “Seven Sided Mirror”, its chorus is top notch, and it was a little disappointing where it was only featured twice. Nonetheless, I got it right away that it shared more content and quality music than what the chorus stands for. What is your take on this track and its creative process?

It's to keep you coming back for more! I wanted that song to be full of twists and turns to reflect the madness trapped inside the magical mirror. The chorus is the anchor for that song. It allows me to mess around for the rest of the song, ha. I like the idea of taking listeners on a journey. I hope that people feel like they’ve been taken on one when they’ve finished that song.

The epic “Blood Becomes Sand” shares a beautiful intro, British Hard Rock meets the Far East, at least from what I could gather. This is a song that can fill the universe with its celestial nature. In your view, what makes this song different in your horizon?

Those are very kind words, thank you! I wanted to create an atmosphere and experiment with a song structure that keeps building into an epic crescendo. I hope I achieved that! I’m not sure that what I’ve done is any different to other people. All I can say is I put my heart into Phantom Spell and that is all I can do. That’s all we can do as creative people.

Is Phantom Spell a live band as well? If not, is there a plan to make it as one?

It isn’t at the moment but I have plans to make it one! I need to take the time to find the right people for it first. Until then it’ll stay a studio project. I’m in no particular rush.

Kyle, once again I thank you for this interview for your effort for this conversation. I wish you and your mates all the best, and it would great to listen to more of Phantom Spell, cheers,

Thank you for taking the time to come up with interesting questions! I had a great time answering these. There is certainly more Phantom Spell on the horizon. The journey has only just begun.


 



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