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Seven Sisters' Kyle McNeill: "I don’t think you’d ever guess from listening to the album that it was recorded predominantly in a tiny bedroom by some dude in his dressing gown.…"

Interview with Kyle McNeill from Seven Sisters
by Lior "Steinmetal" Stein at 08 October 2021, 11:42 AM

Outer space experience, a futuristic view, a version of time that is crossing the imagination faster than the speed of light. It can also serve as a plate for inner deliberation, personal struggles to be rendered as metaphors in a conflict that is somewhere in the back of a person's mind out there in space. The British Heavy Metallers Seven Sisters return with another epos, and this time they aimed for a longer story, straying over two parts. “Shadow Of A Falling Star Pt. 1" is their first served dish for this year, with an opening for a second part. Steinmetal had a great chat with founder Kyle McNeill about the new story, his experience of producing, vocals and more…

Hello Kyle, it is great to have you for this conversation for Metal Temple online Magazine, how has everything going on your end mate?

Hi! Thanks for having me. Things are going well on my end. I’ve just moved to Spain with my partner (she’s Spanish) so I’ve had a hectic couple of weeks – months actually -  moving and dealing with everything that entails.

I have heard that the situation in the UK at the moment with this darn pandemic is rather complicated. No doubt that the UK was brave enough to open everything, even with high numbers of infected. Was that a necessary risk in your opinion? Where do you think that the country is headed next with this virus?

Complicated is certainly the word. I’m in no way qualified to say whether any of the risks taken have been necessary or not – there are experts that have tried to guide the world’s governments through this fairly unprecedented situation. Some choices have been better than others. In specific regards to the UK; has the British Government dealt with things well? I don’t think so. Lack of clarity has been a common theme throughout this entire pandemic. We’ll be feeling the effects of this pandemic for the rest of our lives. Too many loved ones have passed and an awful lot of lives have been completely turned upside down, mine included. I’m sure the British history books will tell a slightly different story, as they often do, but what I’ve witnessed during this time is a government absolutely failing its people to devastating effect.

On a more positive note – I’m extremely happy to see venues opening up again and people claiming back some form of “normality”. We have some shows coming up in October and it’s going to be a very emotional experience getting back on stage and seeing many familiar, friendly faces again!

One of the major issues with this pandemic is the stability of bands that have been quite stage conquerors, and I know that Seven Sisters had their fair share earlier on before everything started heating up. Would you say that the recent line-up change that took place within your ranks was due to that reason or mainly differences and sorts?

I suppose you could say that every line up change we’ve had has been due to the person not being able to commit to our increasingly busy schedule. It takes a lot of mental (and physical) commitment to be in a gigging band and it’s absolutely understandable when people need to back down to focus on themselves and their lives. We’ve never parted with anyone in a negative way and I’m very grateful for that. We have a totally new rhythm section on our upcoming album and that sounds really dramatic but it happened over a few years. It doesn’t feel like such a huge shift to me. Of course it is, but these processes take such a long time that it’s not like some sudden change.

In every instance we’ve managed to find the right person almost right away. Most of the time we find one guy that just happens to slot in to place. We’ve never done the arduous auditioning process going through the motions with a bunch of people that don’t really fit for us. This has helped the transitions to feel smooth – most importantly we’ve never lost any momentum due to member changes. As you mentioned, that can be a real killer for a lot of bands. Again, I’m really grateful we haven’t fallen victim to that!

In context to the previous question, how did you keep yourself motivated to push forward, and I mean by mentally?

You’ve asked a really important question and I’m glad you’ve brought it up, so thank you. For me, it’s a daily battle. As I mentioned in my previous answer, being in a band takes a lot of mental commitment. I’ve been committed to Seven Sisters from day one and for the past 5 or 6 years I’ve devoted more and more of myself to the growth and progression of the band. At this point it basically consumes my life. I’m quite content with that, I want Seven Sisters to be my full time job and in a lot of ways it already is. However, it certainly isn’t easy. I think a lot of creative, self-employed people go through very similar emotions of crippling self-doubt and anxiety over what comes next. Some days I feel incredible. Like I’m going to conquer the world.

On the flip side, which is more often than not, I feel ultra-low and full of doubt. I feel lucky to have a committed band to share my dreams with, and also an incredible partner who is so supportive of what I do. I guess to answer your question;  I keep moving forward because I feel like if I stopped I would lose everything I’ve worked for. Some days I remember to look back and feel proud. Other days I just have my head down and take solace in the fact that I’ve chosen this life. Not everybody has the luxury of that choice.

At least I was glad to find out that Seven Sisters has been keeping busy with various kinds of releases, yet probably only a so-called prequel to the next in line album. And then came the epos to like, “Shadow Of A Falling Star Pt. 1”. It is mentioned that the story behind the album actually started years ago with a title called “The Crystal Temple”, it was featured in a split with Haunt wasn’t it?

That’s right! At that point the concept for our upcoming album was in the very early stages of its life. Trevor and I struck up a friendship online and when he suggested doing a split together I went away and wrote the music for The Crystal Temple that day. I had this image in my head of a place I wanted the story to be centred around and I thought it’d be cool to link the single to whatever music we released after it. In present day we’re about to release the first half of a two-part concept, so it’s rather grown in scale! It’s very cool to have that single tie in with everything though. I love it when bands create their own little universes and it’s something I’ve always wanted to do with Seven Sisters.

As for the story, overall, what can you tell about it? It sounded to me as if you reached beyond the stars, getting in touch with the spacey fantasy side of the table

The story is set in the future and it centres around a planet called The Great Library. This library/planet hybrid was built by humans that left Earth in search of a new home. On their pilgrimage they discover an alien consciousness trapped in a crystal (which is what The Crystal Temple single focuses on) and with its guidance they travel to the Andromeda galaxy and build the Great Library. Many years later our main character is about to inherit her position as a Librarian of The Great Library when she is contacted by the alien consciousness, long since forgotten in the centre of the planet, and the events that follow are what our next two albums will be about! It’s a goofy story I’m writing by myself. I’m having lots of fun with it but it’s a long process because I’m not a practiced wordsmith. I certainly don’t like to make things easy for myself…

Other than an inspiration from the past, would you say that there is a relation between our dreary present to the happenings on the album or is it rather your means of escaping the commotion, letting your imagination run berserk?

It’s a little bit of both. Both our previous albums are also concept albums. I find that having a theme to write to helps me creatively – I like to work that way. Lyrically I’ve always gone entirely for fantasy escapism because I’ve never felt like I’ve had anything worth saying. However, on this new record I did challenge myself and try to put some of my own feelings and thoughts in there. I hope to make the lyrics more emotive and possibly create a stronger connection between the listener and the song. Of course that is up to the listener to decide! Some of the words reflect on self-doubt and losing all faith in a system you thought was in place to help people (sound familiar?). If anybody reading this is thinking we’ve gone fully soppy talking about feelings-and-stuff they need not worry. It’s still very much a fantasy-based album with loads of twiddle twin-lead parts and such, ha!

Although I have no idea, as I am merely guessing here, what made you come to the point where this epos had to be divided into more than a single chapter? Are we expected to a wider universe of surprises and sorts?

Well it came about while I was writing up the basic concept of the story to show to the rest of the band. At one point we all agreed that it’s too much to squeeze in to one album. I’m super happy to be in a band where the thought of doing a two-album concept arc is a really exciting prospect. I wasn’t even the one to suggest it! So yeah, it just kind of happened like that over Facebook chat. Like most things do with us these days.

I found the previous “The Cauldron and the Cross” to be an extraordinary album of the might of British Metal of the present, tightening the roots of NWOBHM. Nonetheless, “Shadow Of A Falling Star Pt. 1” showed the beyond of Seven Sisters, applying late 70s kind of Progressive Rock harmonies, in the area of Uriah Heep even, while protecting its British Metal core. What can you tell about your musical development on this release?

That’s very kind of you to say, thank you! I would say in a roundabout way you’ve summed up our approach on “Shadow Of A Fallen Star Pt.1”. We don’t want to confuse people by taking a totally different approach each album so we’ve made a conscious effort to take the core of what we do and “flavour” it with other influences and textures. The term “Heavy Metal” is so broad we may as well have some fun with it. That’s all it really comes down to; we just want to entertain ourselves and keep furthering our abilities as musicians, so we try new things.

Was it mainly because it was a concept that you felt that a kick start for the band is needed musically? How do you think that this musical change on “Shadow Of A Falling Star Pt. 1” reflected on Seven Sisters’ image as a kind of a revival NWOBHM band?

We wanted to reflect the theme of the album(s) sonically. When you’re singing about cyber monks and crystal aliens you totally want some sci-fi sounding ideas in there! It would be a waste of a good opportunity otherwise. We don’t really concern ourselves with how we fit in to people’s definitions of “NWOBHM” or “NWOTHM” - whatever you want to call it. If you are writing just to please other people it very quickly becomes a disingenuous process. We’re simply staying true to ourselves and writing music that we like. If other people like it – it’s a very welcome bonus!

Songwriting wise, you entrusted yourselves with more than the golden hooks but with a kind of complexity that is soothing, comprehensible and I might even add to the point. There are the riffs, yet also your vocals received much more attention than earlier. What is your take on this? Is this your guiding light for the next chapter of this story?

If I could say that one thing was remarkably improved on this album, it’s my vocals. It’s well documented that I never intended to be the vocalist for this band, or a vocalist at all for that matter, so it’s really pleasing to read that you can hear an improvement in some way! I definitely did focus a lot more on vocals this time around. I’ve also done a lot of live shows since the release of ‘Cauldron and through trial and error I have found what works for me. Subsequently I’ve developed a tone which is my own. Songwriting wise I wanted to achieve what you’ve just said; complex, yet to the point and full of hooks!

With a connection to the previous question, after two albums as a songwriter, how do you feel that “Shadow Of A Falling Star Pt. 1” continued your development as a songwriter, your perception towards the construct of a song and approach towards melodies?

My approach has basically stayed the same but over the years I have honed in on my abilities. I’ve also gained confidence in them. For example, having the confidence to try ideas that might raise an eyebrow or two but still in some way remain true to your sound is something that I think comes with experience – possibly even with age. Being a slightly (who am I kidding, VERY) jaded 28 year-old my world view has shifted compared to what it was in my early twenties. My songwriting has definitely been affected by that. I’ve also learned the benefits of re-writing. Now when I write a song it goes through 4 or 5 stages of refining. I’m not somebody who can immediately pull a “complex yet catchy” song out of thin air. It takes me a lot of work. I get the raw, uncut gem of an idea and chisel away until it reaches its full potential. That might all sound a little pompous – I am in no way trying to convince anyone that I’m some sort of master artist at work. It’s just the way I try to approach my songwriting. To paraphrase I-have-absolutely-no-idea, “Aim for the sun and you might hit the moon”.

You already mentioned it, but I am doing so now. When it comes to the vocal performance, I found several identities of the same person, coldness alongside utter passion and craving. What can you tell of the vocal production and the writing of the singing melodies? Did this effort take you beyond your expectations?

Again, that’s very kind of you to say! When it comes to vocals, regardless of genre, the right kind of delivery is paramount. I’ll be the first to admit that in our earlier recordings my vocals aren’t up to scratch. All I could worry about in those early days was hitting the notes – I had no room left to focus on the finesse and delivery of those notes. Now that I’m more comfortable with my own abilities, I have the control to be able to take a step back and try different things to achieve the most musical outcome. I produced "SOAFSpt1" myself so I had all the time I needed to run through each song and refine my vocals before committing to recording them. I also recorded everything except the drums and mixed the album myself. Again, that afforded me a lot of flexibility and – importantly – time to take the care needed to get the best results.

Earlier on you welcome two new members to Seven Sisters, how would you describe their contribution to the fighting efforts to complete “Shadow Of A Falling Star Pt. 1”?

Their efforts cannot be understated. As I mentioned in an earlier answer; we seem to find the right person at the right time (in this case the right people). Having the drumming abilities of Sam to rely on when in the songwriting stages of the album played a huge part in what ideas I could put forward confidently. Steve (our first drummer) and Sam are, to my ears, very different in terms of approach and drumming style. Sam has more technical precision to draw on when needed whereas Steve is very organic. I should say that neither approach is better or worse, these are just my observations of the two. Both are extremely musical and inventive which I value above everything else! Gaz is an incredible asset to the band. He brings so much positivity and inspiration to everything he does. The parts that he wrote for the album are superb and really inventive. I couldn’t ask for more.

What can you tell about your endeavours to write and record “Shadow Of A Falling Star Pt. 1”? I can only imagine the headache that it cost out of all of you due to the lockdowns

It wasn’t as difficult as you might think! It certainly wasn’t helped by the pandemic and lockdown restrictions. However, I handle most of the writing and recording duties so I could get on with things relatively unhindered. I would send updates to the guys along the way and they would give me their feedback. Sam recorded the drums with a chap called Tim Kramer of Signal House Studios. Once they finished that up I got sent the stems and I proceeded with my parts at home. When it came to Graeme and Gaz’s turn they came up to my grandparent’s house in the north of England (rock and roll!) for a couple of days and we recorded in the garage. I mixed everything in my bedroom (even more rock and roll) and then I sent the mixes off to Miro Rodenberg of Gate Studio fame (Sascha Paeth’s studio) for mastering. It’s crazy what you can accomplish with recording equipment these days! I don’t think you’d ever guess from listening to the album that it was recorded predominantly in a tiny bedroom by some dude in his dressing gown.

I think that the album’s chief artistic flavour is “The Artifice”, where I found the concoction of a measure of British heaviness, strong emotions, harmony and generally, an amazing atmosphere. What can you tell about this song and its impact on the record?

Quite a few people I’ve shown the album to have said that is their favourite song. It’s surprising to me because I was worried the chorus might be a bit too… Pop? It totally isn’t a “Heavy Metal” melody, but if it works who cares? That was actually the first song I wrote for the album and it broke a horrific bout of writers block for me. It’ll always have a special place in my heart just for that reason.

Going through a traditional phase right there, there is “Shadow of A Falling Star”, retaining a memory of the early 80s, but with a modern sound. You knew exactly how to blend past and present together so nicely, the melodies killed me. What can you tell in regards to this song’s creation process?

It’s probably the first time I sat down and made a conscious effort to write a single. One of the main goals I set myself going in to the record was to really focus on the chorus melodies. I admire Tobi Sammet’s ability to conjure up these epic chorus melodies from a seemingly endless supply. Every one of his songs has a very clearly defined big moment. That was an area I felt we were lacking in. The single, “Shadow of a Fallen Star”, is a good example of how I approached every song on the album – have a big chorus and then fuck around with some ideas around it. I’m very pleased with that song from a writing point of view. Three key changes, several tempo changes, twin lead sections, two solos, three choruses all within 4 minutes and it doesn’t feel forced at all. It’s probably the best song I’ve ever written from a technical point of view.

Since you are the storyteller, how was it to listen to your own story as you isolated yourself with the album, simply listening from top to bottom? What did it make you feel? Where were you while listening?

It’s a very cool experience. To step back and take it in for the first time in its completed form. I will say; even though the album has a concept running through it the songs don’t suffer when you take them out of context. They’re all strong in their own right. It is a very rewarding experience to listen to the whole thing start to finish though. It’s a journey (well, half of one) and it feels that way when you’re listening. I really hope listeners feel the same way!

What does the future hold for Seven Sisters this coming year, and I do mean by 2022? Have you started planning?

We started planning for 2022 quite a few months ago. Our booking agent, Stu (Redback Promotions) has been working hard to put together some great tour packages for UK/Europe. We also have plans to go further afield in October 2022 but we can’t say much about that just yet. Rest assured that we are planning a very busy year!

Kyle, I wish to thank you a lot for the time and your effort for this talk. Thank you also for delivering a mighty album that left quite a taste for the next tale. All the best

Not a problem at all. Thank you for the interesting questions and your kind words! It’s been a pleasure.


 



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