(Mental Health Conversations):  BRITTNEY SLAYES of UNLEASH THE ARCHERS

(Mental Health Conversations): BRITTNEY SLAYES of UNLEASH THE ARCHERS

Editor’s Note:  Canadian melodic metal quartet Unleash The Archers recently released their critically acclaimed album “Abyss” via Napalm Records.  First of all, Madness To Creation has a confession to make.  We are a little late to the party on this one.  I can hear the record suddenly coming to a halt and everyone looking at me.  “Abyss” was the first chance that I’ve gotten to listen to this album.  That said, I about fell out of my dadgum chair hearing Brittney Slayes just wail in the songs, and the musicianship sounding so air tight and just how it told a story.  The music of Unleash The Archers certainly tells a story.  In this mental health conversation with Madness To Creation, Holly Royle(who is in Disconnected Souls check out her music) joins us in this interview with Brittney Slayes of Unleash The Archers to discuss the album and it led to a wonderful discussion on musicals and the arts, and coping with the Covid-19 pandemic.  Fans can find Unleash The Archers at the following locations:

www.facebook.com/UnleashTheArchers

www.unleashthearchers.com

Madness To Creation:  You guys have done a virtual album release show for “Abyss”, how have you been coping with the Covid-19 pandemic?

Brittney:  Well, you just do the best that you can, when no one can tour or do any of the fun stuff, we’re basically just hanging out on Twitch for the most part and Discord and just try to stay in touch with our fans and posting as much as we can about the new release, and just hoping for the best.  It hasn’t been too bad in B.C. where we live, we kind of put the lid on things pretty quickly, so there’s not too much in terms of the lockdown or any restrictions or anything, so we just wear our masks and social distance and listen to a lot of music, and watch movies and play video games.

Madness To Creation:  I’m curious, in Canada, is there a return to normalcy, or phased reopenings?

Brittney:  Definitely not real life again, lots of social distancing, there’s a maximum amount of people that are allowed inside in stores in terms of occupancies, everyone has the arrows on the floor telling you where to stand and which directions to go so there’s not a lot of built-up traffic, especially in large grocery stores, a lot of places have mandatory mask wearing, so we just make sure that we always have a mask on, especially when we do go inside, especially when they ask you to, and you can just throw one on before you go in.  A lot of things still aren’t open, especially no music venues are open, so no shows, no ballet, no theater, and no opera, it’s so frustrating.  Everyone in the entertainment industry is being really hurt by this, with that being said, it’s better here than it is a lot of other places.  Three of us, Grant, Scott, and myself all live in Vancouver and Andrew lives in Victoria, which is about four hours away and it’s even less crazy in Victoria, they’re doing really well with it over there, I don’t think they’ve had a new case, they’re on an island so they’re special, but I don’t think they’ve had a new case in weeks.

Madness To Creation:  Do you guys have any Unleash The Archers masks available?

Brittney:  No, but I keep thinking about it, I’m in charge of the merch store and I’ll decide what we go with and stuff, the boys have a really big input on it as well, I just haven’t really had a lot of time to look into it and the boys are like, “eh, it’s not really super important or anything”, but if this keeps going on, I’ve heard rumors that mask wearing is something that we might have to do for the next year, it might be something that we have to do until the whole thing is eradicated, could be three, four, five years from now, so it might be something that we’ll look into later, but right now we’re focusing on “Abyss” and all of the merch that we got going on with that.

Madness To Creation:  I admit I’m late to the party, but I’ve been digging into “Abyss” and about fell out of my chair when I heard the song “Soulbound”, how in the world do you train the power in your vocals whether in the studio or when you perform live?

Brittney:  It’s something that I’m not prepared for all the time, to be able to belt like that, it’s about a good six weeks of lead up before I can do that comfortably, you gotta have a thick diaphragm, that’s where all the power comes from and you gotta have all your vocal cords stretched out.  It’s just like any other muscle, it’s going to hurt the first time if you haven’t been doing it in awhile, so like I said, I’m not warmed up like that all of the time, if we don’t have something coming up, I’m just singing pop music in my car, so that’s very very different, so I start easy, then I start ramping it up to what I call the “Hetfield vocals”, that kind of thing.  I just take it easy at first and really focus on the diaphragm with a lot of staccato runs and things like that and intervals, staccato intervals are really good for that as well, and you can just physically lay down, put a five pound weight on your diaphragm and lift it physically with your breath, that really helps as well.  Your jaw hurts if you haven’t done it in a little while, just because you’re using so many muscles in your mouth and your tongue and everything like that, so you gotta go easy there as well, it’s like a whole process.

Madness To Creation:  I know that you mentioned opera earlier and how much you love the arts, did classical music and opera music inspire your singing, I can feel the influence there.

Brittney:  It’s just something that I’ve always done, I’ve been singing since before I can really remember, and it was always classical, back in the day, I did a lot of musical theater, which is way I also like to do the belting vocal too, so it was this mix of classical training and musical theater background voice that I have, which has made what it is today, so it could sound very different if I only did classical music or if I’ve only done theater, probably something would be missing, so opera is so much fun, I love going, if I could afford season tickets I would go, but I’ve got to be pretty selective about which ones I see, but it’s definitely inspiring for sure, and it’s so epic, but I love theater in general, it’s always been a part of who I am as a performer and what we do as a band.

Madness To Creation:  What are your favorite productions?

Brittney:  Phantom of the Opera, no questions, I’ll buy tickets to that if it comes to town, pretty much anything Andrew Lloyd Webber has done is amazing, like Les Miserables and all of them are my favorites, I really enjoyed Rent when that was around back in the day, I haven’t seen Hamilton yet, but I definitely will, they were supposed to be coming to Canada, but hopefully next year.  I really like seeing the classics as well when it comes to opera, Madam Butterfly, all of those classics, I just get what I can when I have the time, which was hard when we were touring, I had a chance to see Faust last year and had tickets then we booked the tour, I was like, “eh okay, too bad”. (laughs)

Madness To Creation:  Let’s say in the contract, Unleash The Archers had to pick one musical to cover, what would it be?

Brittney:  Probably Les Miserables, it’s more of the “metal” ones, I feel like Phantom of the Opera has been done you could say, I think we can metal up Les Miserables pretty well.

Madness To Creation:  In terms of creating the “Abyss” album, what were some moments in the studio where you saw growth in the band and what were some elements of the album that inspired you?

Brittney:  Well, we took 2019 off from doing any shows or anything like that, we just did one festival in January, and we didn’t do anything music wise for about six months, we didn’t jam, we didn’t really talk to each other, just kind of taking a breather, and we really wanted to step away from everything that we have done before, so we can put a bit of space between us and the last record.  We didn’t want to write the same record over and over again.  We broadened our horizons, we listened to new music, we brought in some new inspiration, we listened to a lot of synthwave, and then we came back together in July and August of that year to sit down and write “Abyss”.  

The way we did it is that I had all of the songs mapped out in a track by track headline that also explained the story underneath the record, chapter by chapter, so basically it was like “track one, aka chapter one, this is where he wakes up out in space, and this is what it should sound like and this is what I want the listener to feel”, and here’s a song that we can use as inspiration, and things like that.  Then, I gave that to Andrew and he just went nuts and started writing riffs, and like constant non-stop, throwing new ideas for riffs, and throwing them up there and saying, “what do you think of this one”, “I was thinking this for this song”, “this one isn’t quite right, help me out here”, that kind of thing and we just went back and forth on it and worked really hard on it, like every second of every song.  

Where the big change was was where we had that time, and we gave ourselves that time to really dissect everything and it’s all so calculated, whereas before it was like, “oh crap, we’re in the studio for two weeks, that part is just going to have to stay the way it is” kind of thing and even writing things on the fly, and that’s totally cool, that’s a great way to write, but we really wanted to focus on this record to still be in the style of Unleash The Archers so we wouldn’t alienate any of our fans but just kind of a new perspective I guess.

Madness To Creation:  How did that six month breather help with your mental health?  We focus on mental health in our interviews as well.

Brittney:  That’s absolutely great!  We were so hungry for it by the time we came back, you just miss it, I mean music is such an outlet for us, I mean it’s so important, it’s part of our day.  When I’m having a crappy day, there’s nothing that I want to do less than go to the jam spot, but when I’m there, it fixes everything and I feel so much better, and I just think, “why did I not want to come here”, when you get so tired, it just completely reinvigorates you, so I just think that we just had this renewed energy for it, and we were just so excited to write every little riff, and so excited to dive into the story and to create something new for our fans as opposed to “Apex”, our last record and they were just anticipating this album so much, and we were really thinking of them when we were writing, we just wanted to make it the best that it can be for them.

Madness To Creation:  What’s a go to song or album that you go to when things are a little bit tough at the time?

Brittney:  Well for me, I would go to Edguy.  I just love those guys, they don’t write about anything super serious and Toby in the band is a great singer/songwriter.  I definitely love their album “Rocket Ride”.  If you just need a little pick me up or if you had a crappy day at work, I would definitely pick that album up.  Also, “While You Where Shouting At The Devil” by Zimmers Hole, that’s a really good one if you’re angry, if I just need to yell or just feel that aggression.

Holly Royle:  I was curious about the album, what influence did Dungeons & Dragons play in the album and in your songwriting?

Brittney:  That’s a good question because we do have a lot of DnD fans that are our fans, I don’t know how to say that really, but they are constantly messaging me and reaching out to me and just saying, “hey, we listen to your album while we play, or I’ll respond to a DM and they’re talking about this villain while they’re doing a campaign and they ask for a backstory, or just asking for details or little things about the record and the story because they want to use it in DnD, so I just thought that was the coolest thing ever, so I wanted to do something special for all of them, so I just started to write an adventure guide, which is a mini-campaign, and you can do it in just one night or maybe a weekend, and I was going to base it all on the new album, kind of like have a little adventure that DnD’ers can do that’s totally themed to “Abyss” from my point of view and include maybe some cool new things and backstories and monsters and things that I see in the world of the immortal and of the whole story, so I was telling Napalm about how I was working on that and our PR at Napalm was like, “no way, that’s so cool”, and we have to do a contest for all of the pre-orders, and we decided if you pre-ordered the record from Napalm, you get entered to win automatically and once I finish the adventure guide, we’ll have a whole DnD session and maybe stream it on Twitch or something so that people can join in and five lucky people we get to do that and hang out with us and I want to take part and play just like everybody else.

Holly Royle:  What I really like about the album is how the first track and end track link back together, what inspired that in particular in the storyline?

Brittney:  Yeah, we just wanted to bookend it a little bit, the first track is him dreaming, cause dreams are very important to the immortal, it’s really the only time that he’s free and when he’s awake, he’s always a servant to someone, they’re kind of a really important part of his life, so the first track is him dreaming but it’s almost a nightmare because he can see the light, but he can’t reach it.  It’s just very reminiscent of his life in servitude, the last track is him free from his curse, so it’s the exact opposite of the blackness that he’s dwelling in at the beginning, so we really wanted to bring it back together, not just to bookend the record sonically, but also to remind the listener of the feeling at the beginning, but put a lighter and happier spin to show the story arch of the immortal and how his situation has changed so much, so we wrote them basically in tandem, we wrote “Afterlife” quite a bit from it, and we took one of the riffs from “Afterlife” and made the intro “Waking Dream” and I wrote the chorus in “Afterlife” and made sure that it worked in that riff and in “Waking Dream”, we just worked it out to where that same vocal melody would work in both moments.

Holly Royle:  How do you go about writing the lyrics then?

Brittney:  Because this story was the underlying foundation of everything, all of the guitar melodies and riffs were written around the story, just so that they have the right emotional tone and everything, but the lyrics aren’t actually there yet, it’s all kind of just like, “in this one part, make sure it’s really sad cause the immortals are in this really dark place right now”, so when all of that was done, I made sure to grab demos from Andrew, and wrote the lyrics over the demos that he had made, and that’s when I really got to apply the story and it’s mostly about the melody and I was starting out with the melody, I was making sure that it worked with the song, and I would work the words in there based on what I needed to say and also what vowel sounds sounded the best, I mean you didn’t really want to hit a high note on E, you just kind of finesse it as much as you can, I mean you try to be as articulate as possible but also keep it open to interpretation for the listener so they can apply their own meaning as well. 

Holly Royle:  Would you actually write down the whole story in like a graphic novel or something?

Brittney:  Yeah, I actually wrote the whole story in an earbook, it was actually one of the merch items, normally it’s just an art book, that’s got photos and lyrics and artwork from the record, but I really wanted it to be special, so I actually did do a really short story version of it, and basically what it is is every time that you had the lyrics, on the next page, I did basically a one page story on what is happening in that chapter, but I am working on a graphic novel for “Apex” and “Abyss” right now, it’s just taking some time, so it’s kind of a really in-depth thing, that isn’t going to be out anytime soon, but it is definitely in the works.

Holly Royle:  Do you have any future ideas for these narratives or stories that will end up in the music eventually?

Brittney:  Yeah, there’s a lot of ideas, I left it kind of open-ended, so there’s a lot of options, we could do a prequel, we can also do where the immortal is now, or we could do whatever happened in that 50 years between “Apex” and “Abyss”, there’s really kind of no limit to it, I think at least in my head, it’s a huge universe, so there’s no end to the ideas yet.

Madness To Creation:  What else would you like to add?

Brittney:  Come hang out with us on Twitch, we need to hang out there more often and have a bigger presence there.  Unleash The Archers has their own channel, I have my own channel and Andrew has his own channel, we got a couple of new music videos coming out as well, and if you can I strongly suggest listening to the record with eyes closed, headphones on, and try to give it your full attention because we really wrote this record to be heard that way.  I know that singles and playlists are kind of the way to do things now, but we really wrote this one old school as a complete record

Check out their latest music video entitled “Faster Than Light” below:

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