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Shadowland's Tanya Finder: "I’m someone who has relied on escapism through books and music my whole life, often because I find so much about the ways we have to live unpalatable"

Interview with Tanya Finder from Shadowland
by Lior "Steinmetal" Stein at 15 November 2021, 11:21 PM

Living up with the attitude, to strive for glory while not really giving a rats about others do. Making it natural, true to one's self that is probably the best way to go. There are values that each person sets, and when it comes to music, the band can set the tone without looking sideways for references. The US Heavy Metal band Shadowland are a picture of NWOBHM, and one of its versions of how it is played out in the present. The folks might be old school, yet they are also quite colourful. Steinmetal had a great talk with the band's vocalist, about the new album, her perception towards the album and its themes and more…

Hello Tanya, it is great to have you for this interview for Metal Temple online Magazine, how are things on your end? 

Hey there! Thanks for the invitation, I’m doing well. I just locked the lads away in the dungeon for the night, so I’ve got the castle to myself.

It appears, slowly and easy, that things start to look up when the pandemic is concerned. Culture is coming back in baby steps, while in some places even in giant steps. How do you summarize this last year and half? How have you been coping with the situation?

For me, there was some disappointment in the way reopening happened. The pandemic exposed and exacerbated issues that we knew were there, and yet we have no social services, no public healthcare, and the vaccines which taxpayers paid for are being kept secret from countries who desperately need them for private profit, ensuring that this pandemic will continue longer than it must.

As much as I love playing music with the band, I think that personal goals were put into perspective by the events and uprisings in the past year. That being said, it also demonstrated how important it is to pursue things you love with people you love, and I’m grateful for my bandmates.

In the midst of the pandemic, your band, Shadowland, has been slowly establishing its position as a kind of re-enactment of what was once a glorious US Metal scene back in the 80s. What can you tell about what started the band? Was it simply out of passion or because it was hard to fathom that everything around is turning modern?

I actually don’t see Shadowland as a nostalgia project. We don’t hate modern music, but we do share a love of NWOBHM and old school heavy metal.  So when we get together we are just playing the music we want to hear.  We didn’t sit down with an agenda to sound old, and we don’t limit ourselves to that, but clearly that’s where our hearts are. I think you can often tell when a band is trying to recreate a perfect 80’s sound and to be honest, I don't think the product is going to be memorable when you set out to make something that curated. We let ourselves do whatever we like, and our sound has developed naturally.

I checked out some of the band photos, and it was as if I was looking at earlier photos of Hellion or Bitch. An out of focus kind of question, since I assume that your band image isn’t simply a tribute to the old days, but a matter of belief, what is your input of the 21st century Rock N’ Roll lifestyle, does it still exist?  

I suppose our band image is based on wanting to get dressed up in leather and chain mail and to play with swords. We look pretty similar in daily life, just more comfortable. We’ve all been punks since we were young, all started in bands young, and I don’t think any of us work too well under authority.  I think we all try to live as freely as possible. We are very DIY.  We HATE wearing shirts. I’m a tattoo artist and have tattooed all the lads, and Jeff makes leather gear, so a lot of our look is made by us, or by friends.

Latest photoshoot was done by our friend Rob Menzer at Saint Vitus, where Jeff works as the sound guy. I wanted it overexposed, glammy, and sleazy.  I don’t know what the definition of the rock n’ roll lifestyle is, we haven't ever defenestrated a TV in a hotel room on a cocaine fuelled bender, but if someone wanted to bankroll it we might be able to pull that off!  We would probably need a long nap afterward though.

Back to the issue at hand, after providing the public a small token of your abilities as a band, with earlier demos and singles, you rose to the challenge to bring the first big fish with your debut, "The Necromancers Castle". Signing with the Greek old school household of No Remorse Records was no less than a wise decision. How do you find this signing with your first label? What are the goals that you posed for both parties going forward?

We love the No Remorse line-up, and it's a very chill contract. We didn’t want to sign away the rights to our music or name, or to be under strict requirements for what we make, so we appreciate the freedom we have with No Remorse.  Our goals are to get to play some great shows, hopefully tour, and to put out music that people will enjoy for a long time to come.

It appears that "The Necromancers Castle" doesn’t really have a concept to cling to, but it is rather a collection of tracks. Nevertheless, I believe that there is always a fine line between the tunes to actually call it a whole record. In your perception, what are those mutual narrative elements between the tunes? What unifies them?

I think of the album like an old comics horror anthology.  A collection of weird tales. I think of myself as the narrator (in the vein of THE OLD WITCH from E.C comics). As the lyricist, I let the song dictate what it’s about.  I want the tone to fit the lyrics. I’ve always consumed a lot of science fiction, fantasy, weird fiction, and horror, in books, comics, music, and film. I pepper the lyrics with references from anything from Lewis Carrol to Shirley Jackson.

A lot of our songs are directly inspired by writers like William Hope Hodgeson or Michael Moorecock.  Some are my own invention, and have a lot of different references thrown in. Some are just about wanting to break out of the quotidian grind, and some songs are political.  It's not meant to form one narrative like, say BOC’s Imaginos was, but I do think it makes sense as a collection that comes out of a lifetime love of horror films, weird fiction, comics, sci fi, and fantasy.

Heavy Metal music in general was always a means to escape harsh reality, yet also conveys messages that relate to problems that are preferred to be ignored. Are there issues raised throughout "The Necromancers Castle"? If there are, do you also offer ways out, sort of solutions for the listener to grasp?

I agree. I love the fantasy element of heavy metal.  I’m someone who has relied on escapism through books and music my whole life, often because I find so much about the ways we have to live unpalatable.  However, fantasy is often a great medium to explore the issues we find in real life.  My favorite fiction writers are often thinking about real issues in the most profound ways. Take Ursula Leguin or Michael Moorecock for example.  Some of the songs on The Necromancer's Castle are more purely fun, like the title track.  But a song like Remains, which follows one of the last human survivors after earth has become a ruin of environmental devastation, is a way of processing reality through fantasy.  A song like Rising Tide is a little more oblique, basically a rallying cry for the masses to overthrow the ruling class and reclaim the fruits of our labor. Eating the decadent rich is always a favorite theme for me, I’ll shout out Satan’s 1982 “Heads will roll”, an all-time personal favorite.

It became rapidly obvious where your musical heart lies, and that is firstly with old school British Metal, or NWOBHM. Nevertheless, vintage US Metal aspects are also there along with a slight swagger and attitude that might suggest a Punkish angry face. In overall, how do you find the musical vision of Shadowland?

NWOBHM has always incorporated the rawness of punk so I don't see us as a deviation from that, but we all came out of the punk scene and that influences us. We didn't set out with a concrete vision but let ourselves evolve.  We take influence from a wide variety of music and let ourselves change.  One song might be BOC inspired, and the next one might have some deathrock elements. My first band was anarchic goth and I still love that as much as heavy metal. We send each other songs often.  While we are always playing in the vein of NWOBHM, I think the openness keeps things fresh. Not every experiment works, but nothing is off the table, and I’m never afraid to bring an idea to the band. Truly the most fun group of people to make music with.

A little tough one, since there has been a revival of old school Heavy Metal, or what is called the New Wave Of Traditional Metal, along with that, a sea of bands playing the qualities that have been serving the genre for decades. What makes Shadowland, and "The Necromancers Castle" in particular, as a sort of an uncanny entity within this vast sea?

I think the openness I mentioned in the last question helps a lot.  I think that bands can often set out to emulate a certain genre and can end up backing themselves into a corner creatively.  We have an old school sound but I think it's important not to be too derivative. Why rewrite a record that someone else already made? We are pretty fearless and not too concerned with being cool, and I personally think that's what I enjoy about our music.  We aren't afraid of being goofy, of going over the top, or trying something new. We might write a song with heavy gothy synths, or a gushy ballad in the vein of Ozzy.  I honestly laugh out loud when I listen to the spoken word part of the song Necromancer’s Castle. We let ourselves have fun and invite the audience to join in, and I think that comes across in the music. I’ve had several friends tell me that their kids love Shadowland, and that’s been our best review so far.

Shadowland has been out there for more than 3 years, which also means perfecting one’s style of songwriting, along with taking into account the level of execution. Therefore, I ask, what did the experience of "The Necromancers Castle" teach you as a songwriter? 

Songwriting is a very collaborative effort for us.  Jeff is our powerhouse, he brings the riffs to the table, and will often record an entire song in his room.  He’s exceptionally generous, when he brings in a song, it becomes all of ours, and he is totally open to changing, rearranging, changing tempo, etc.  Not every song makes the cut and he is never salty about that either.  I love that I can send him a song I love and he will incorporate that influence into the music.

I’m also very lucky that everyone in the band is patient and trusting with me.  I write all the vocal melodies and the lyrics, and sometimes I have to listen to a song hundreds of times before I know what it will be. Often, I ask to rearrange the music a bit as I go.  As a songwriter, I’m thinking about the feeling of the music and the theme of the lyrics. I think about the melody but also the words that will sound good phonetically. I think a lot about delivery as well. Vocals completely make or break music for me, and I really do think about every word, both in meaning, melody, and delivery.  Attitude is everything, and when we are recording, I want every single syllable to have the right delivery. I think that in this round of recording this is really what I focused on and realized as a songwriter and vocalist.

The Necromancer’s Castle has been the culmination of several years of collaboration and growth as we write songs together, and I feel very lucky to get to be a part of a creative crew like Shadowland.

Those who have been suffocated by the production values of the modernized sounds might not agree with me, but I think that the album’s sound is natural, as if sending the listener on a trip back in time. Who engineered your sound? What is your appreciation of how the band sounds on the record? 

A lot of reviewers don't like this.  They don’t seem to understand that this was a conscious decision.  We aren’t trying to sound like we recorded this 40 years ago, we use a blend of analogue and digital recording techniques, but we really are just not into the sound of most mainstream metal.  It sounds pretty soulless and flat to us. This doesn’t mean we don't put effort into the production.  There are layers of guitars, vintage synths, keys, vocals, and effects in the recording.  Our engineer is Sasha Stroud, who is an incredible recording artist but who also deserves a production credit for her ideas, expertise, and her coaching.  Recording vocals with her was a game changer for me, and we are very happy with the product.

When “Walking In The Shadows” grasped my attention for the first time, I was hooked by its main riff that is a true 80s Heavy Metal shot. Nevertheless, the vocal line along with the song’s structure also made an impact on my appreciation. What can you tell about this song and how it was created?

Like all our songs, Jeff brought it in, and I listened to it maybe 200 times before sitting down and writing the vocals.  I love the collaboration we have; it takes a lot of trust for him to write a song and essentially hand it off to me to be finished.  I base everything off the energy I get from the song, and make sure the vocals fit in with the music hand in glove. This one felt very creepy and also very horny (like a lot of 80’s ballads), hence, it’s written from the perspective of an oversexed and very hungry vampire.  After the vocals, we might mess with the structure a bit more, experiment with it, then during recording, we get to go all in on the atmosphere and add synths, effects, etc.

The emotive “Remains” shares a variety of vibes as a melodic piece of music, converging in the tight border between Hard Rock and Heavy Metal, but with a blasting lead guitar line backed up by a Dokken styled rhythm guitar flame. What is your appreciation of this particular song and the dynamics of the band throughout it?

Remains might be the song we are most proud of on the record. We were heavily influenced by mid 80’s Ozzy.  I really made the lads wait for the vocals on this one, and in fact performed the vocals the first time while recording the LP demo, and nearly did it in a single take. I think I had the band a little worried at that point, so they were very stoked to hear it for the first time in the studio. We wanted it to sound as big as possible, like it was echoing across a barren wasteland.  It was a lot of fun to record, we could really make the dynamics between the different parts huge, ranging from acoustics to full on blasting harmonies, and it felt extremely gratifying once we got it all down, definitely the most fun for me to record.

Once you had the record all done and ready, you sat down to listen to it in full, what did it make you feel? Did you find yourself mentally in someplace else?

Actually it did, which surprised me. After recording something I often do not want to listen to it at all, having already listened to it till my ears were bleeding. This album was rough to complete, we all had one of the hardest years of our lives and putting the LP out amidst that, after a pandemic, quarantine, and massive uprising, felt very hard.  I'm an illustrator, and the artwork also took a big effort on this one, and when it was finally done, I felt the same way. It might come off as conceited but listening to it did take me on a fantasy trip, and that’s exactly what I was hoping the audience would get.  I’m very proud of everyone in Shadowland, and very proud of all of us pulling together on this one.

What are the plans for Shadowland when it comes to some live action? Have you also targeted Europe as a potential fan base? 

Again, it’s a strange time to be alive. We have a lot of fun playing live, dressing up, and blasting fog. We have a lot of fun with the audience as well, and our first show back I was really blown away by the response. We would love to be able to take it on the road, but again, we have been very cautious about trying to do this in the safest way, and we will have to see what’s possible in the future. Our main goal would be to tour and play some festivals in Europe! I lived there for a time, and I really miss it, it would be great to see it with Shadowland.

Tanya, plenty of thanks for your time for this interview. Thank you for releasing a piece of nostalgia that with hopes will never die. All the best.

Thanks so much, I enjoyed it! The band sends their regards from the oubliette.



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