Festivalphoto spoke with Lahannya before her show at the Underworld in London on 8th October 2011.
Festivalphoto: Your new album, Dystopia is due out sometime this month.
Lahannya: Yes I kept it a little vague. It's out now.
Festivalphoto: Can you tell us a little bit about the album?
Lahannya: Well Dystopia is a continuation from the last album, Defiance, and again it picks up a story. The story is set in a futuristic version of Britain, particularly London for Dystopia, where the country and the city have become so much surveillance societies, so due to the rise in crime, violence, terror etc and the politics of fear that have resulted from that, basically the population was asking for more safety, more security, and that's what happened, and so a lot of people who didn't quite fit the general kind of idea of the good citizen were sidelined and kind of put into ghettos so to speak and there's a number of people who did not want to be part of that either because they'd fall into that category or it doesn't agree with their principles and they have withdrawn into London Underground tunnels and fight back. So Dystopia continues this. Defiance was the first time these rebels fought back against the system, but there was a big betrayal from within and so a big defeat at the end, so Dystopia picks up from that defeat with them trying to understand what's left and picking up the pieces and taking difficult decisions about how to move forward, whether to live with the new system or whether to continue fighting back, potentially against some of their own principles.
In terms of the music and the sound, obviously its a very dark setting and its full of like moral complexities and dichotomies where difficult decisions have to be taken and there's a lot of doubt and anger in there, so the music has to reflect that. It's a bit more aggressive than Defiance already was, the lyrics are quite dark and we've dramatised it, we've used lots of kind of symphonic orchestral elements in it, not really in the way that some other bands do, just a little bit to kind of increase that dramatic factor.
Festivalphoto: The surveillance society is something you've included in lyrics going right back to "Welcome to the underground" isn't it?
Lahannya: Yes that's right.
Festivalphoto: What's the writing process in the band - individual or group?
Lahannya: It all started at the very beginning with me doing everything, I wrote the music and the lyrics, so for the first EP, "Drowning" I wrote everything, and for our first album "Shotgun reality" I did 50% of the music and all of the lyrics. Since "Welcome to the underground" when I started working with Lutz Demmler who's our producer but also the bass player and my co-songwriter, he became such a great collaborator and he can really fantastically interpret musically what I have in mind when I write the lyrics that we've pretty much split up the work and he does the composing and I write the lyrics. Obviously we work very closely together, I bring in my ideas, "ok it needs to be in this vein, it needs to be fast, it needs to be aggressive, it needs to have a moody intro", so I participate in shaping the songs but he actually writes all the instrumentations pretty much. Then we have Luca and Chris on drums and guitar respectively, and they come in when the recording process starts so they then add extra touches and little bits, but the basic songs are written between me and Lutz.
Festivalphoto: Some of your songs sound quite Angry (Our war) and dark (welcome to the underground), where do you take your inspiration from? Is it current events?
Lahannya: The inspiration, especially for Defiance and Dystopia, I take from all around me, so for example this summer we had the riots in London, and we actually filmed our video in the middle of the riots which meant we had to finish early, we couldn't go into certain areas, so you very much felt that atmosphere. So all of that, and we had the terror attacks a few years ago on the 7th July and we had all the fear that resulted afterwards, you know everyone would eye foreign looking people with backpacks suspiciously on the underground, so all of that, that generates an atmosphere and those are the things that inspire me, it's real life. What I then do however is I take that and package it in the concept of the album, so its a mixture of what's happening around me as well as the feelings that I experience in my own personal situation.
Festivalphoto: How would you describe your music to anyone who hasn't heard you yet?
Lahannya: You know I've given up on trying to describe it, because I did that for the first album and I did that for the Welcome to the underground EP, and every time I've put out an opinion of what I think it's like, people say "it definitely doesn't sound anything like that, it's not metal, it's not rock, or it is metal its industrial, it's not industrial, its gothic, it's not gothic", so I have given up trying to define it. In the grand scheme of things it's rock music, I think that's the category it falls in, and I think we all have quite different ideas of what constitutes metal, industrial, gothic and so on, and its difficult because we tend to pick a lot of elements from different genres, we've put in electronic, we've put in heavy riffs you might know from metal music, a lot of the darkness from Gothic, so it's like a melting pot and I'm not trying to be pretentious here to say we're reinventing something but to put us in a neat little drawer is tricky. I think if people are open minded and like their rock music dark with a bit of electronic and heavy guitars they should check us out because there's a good chance they'll like us.
Festivalphoto: There is often too much tendency to try and find a nice neat pigeonhole to describe a band but a lot of bands cross genre boundaries and aren't easily categorised.
Lahannya: That's right, and that's one thing I like about themed events like the Metal Female Voice Fest, because it's not a genre, having a female singer is not a genre of music per se, but the people who tend to like female singers are a bit more flexible about the genre of music, so for example tomorrow in Birmingham and last week in Sheffield, we have Dyonisis on the bill, they don't do rock, they don't have a live drummer, they do really beautiful ethereal music with two female vocalists and it's really lovely, and most of our fans really like them even though if you had to put them into a genre then it would be a very different genre to us.
Festivalphoto: Last year your long time drummer Belle left the band and was replaced by Luca Mazzucconi. How has he settled in?
Lahannya: Luca and Belle are so completely different, but each one of them brings something quite unique into the band. Belle is the hardest hitting drummer you can possibly imagine and Luca is very much into the granular kind of details, he loves playing with ten thousand different cymbals. We kind of had high hopes for him because he's Italian, we thought we might get some beautiful pasta meals on the tour bus, maybe the occasional homemade pizza, but unfortunately as a cook I think he's pretty hopeless. As a drummer he's fantastic and generally having him as part of the team, he really contributes and became a part of the band instantly which is fantastic.
Festivalphoto: You're very hands on and organise everything yourself. How do you decide what venues to play and who to have as support bands?
Lahannya: Well it depends a bit. If we play a tour and we are the support band, a lot of the organisation is done by somebody else. The next tour that we're doing, we're going on tour with ASP so there I don't have to take that many decisions. When we're doing a headlining tour which so far we've done in the UK and Germany predominantly, then I try to identify the cities where we have an active fan base and then I basically try to find venues that are the right size, appeal to the right people, and have an attitude that is compatible with our own, so someone who likes the alternative scene, likes to support new artists. Once I've done that I try to find at least one local support band, so someone from the area and sometimes I'll take them to other places so they get to play in front of other audiences, and I tend to give a preference to female fronted bands simply because we've found that our fan base tends to like female fronted bands and it has in the past got a better reception when we've got one of those bands. So that's really how it works, I try to include one or two venues per tour that we haven't played in before, but mostly we build up on the cities we started going to, so Sheffield and London are always on the itinerary, and in Germany we always have Hamburg and Berlin and there's a few others that are becoming more a part of the general itinerary.
Festivalphoto: How did you find the time to organise everything for a tour while finishing off the album recording and preparing it for release?
Lahannya: I've stopped sleeping - it was the only way. I'm looking forwards to December because I'm going to do nothing but sleep, then have a nice Christmas dinner before going back to sleep
Festivalphoto: I see you're still travelling in your ancient tour bus Mathilda?
Lahannya: I wouldn't call her ancient, she doesn't take kindly to that sort of behaviour. She's only 40 years, a very young lady still. Yes she's parked outside the Underworld tonight.
Festivalphoto: You've played various festivals around Europe including MFVF in 2009. How did you enjoy that?
Lahannya: It was one of my favourite festivals of all really because the audience....Belgium is not a country we'd played before and so we were playing in front of a lot of people who didn't know us and would never have seen us before, and the reaction we got was absolutely incredible, because from an audience that doesn't know you, I didn't expect there to be so much singing along, so many hands in the air, so much applause at the end of a number, and also afterwards we did the signing session Lutz was saying "we're going to be sitting there on our own, nobody knows us in Belgium, its going to be really embarrassing", and we actually had this massive queue, and after an hour we were shooed away by the promoter because we were holding things up, which was amazing. There were Belgian magazines there that did something like a six page interview, so it was an absolutely amazing reaction in a country that we were playing for the first time. So for me that was fantastic, and I think it has something to do with the fact that people were there because they like female voices and they are very open minded. I know the organisers Phil and Val also put on some random strange Japanese J Rock band on..
Festivalphoto: Pinky Doodle Poodle
Lahannya: Absolutely and I love that attitude and I think the people that go there love that attitude so they're very open minded. So any time in the future...in fact we're talking to them at the moment about another potential appearance in the future. [NOTE: Lahannya have since been announced as appearing at MFVF in 2012)
Festivalphoto: Your MFVF performance was filmed and released on your Scavenger EP last year. Is that still available and if so where can fans order it from?
Lahannya: Scavenger is our special fan edition. In 2009 we released our album Defiance, in 2011 we've just released Dystopia, and Scavenger was a little fan edition to make the wait between 2009 and 2011 not too long for the people that like us. So it's part audio CD with two tracks from the new album, a few live tracks, recorded in Germany, and as you said, the live performance from MFVF in Belgium. We didn't make it a proper release available in the shops because it is for the fans, so it is available amongst other places from the website, www.lahannya.com and of course at live shows.
Festivalphoto: Thank you very much for your time
Lahannya: A pleasure.