When I got Votum's album Metafiction is was quite a surprise - and I wanted to learn more about the band. Keyboarder Zbigniew Szatkowski was so kind to answer my questions.
Outside your home country Poland many haven't heard about Votum, so please tell us a bit about the history of Votum!
Briefly said: the band started off as a heavy metal quintet and after a couple of years of collecting ideas and inspirations the guys decided they wanted to create something different - something eerie, mystical and beautiful, full of power and filled with melodies. The band added keyboards and a new bass-man. 8 months before Time Must Have A Stop Votum become a sextet. The album was released in 2007 by Insanity Records (which proved to be quite problematic) in Poland and after that by ProgRock Records world-wide (with a better outcome). The next 2 years we were touring, working on new things, trying to make the best out of the music and on the brink of 2010 we released our second album called Metafiction.
I guess you answered this question before, but I haven't found the answer... Why the band name Votum?
It is an expression of re-defining things. It is our 'no' to keeping things stagnant.
Votum is not just about music, your 'new' album Metafiction is now available everywhere. What else can fans expect? What do you expect to reach with Metafiction?
They can expect hexes and enchantment, because on Metafiction we deal in magic. This album is ice-cold, soul-piercing and heart-grasping. It's less aggressive than its predecessor, more subtle and melodious. Don't get me wrong, you will still find powerful riffs and forceful guitars there (ex. Stranger Than Fiction or December 20th), but we put the weight on something different. We wanted to evolve. To created something intriguing, mystical and different than we have done before. Even now I know this 'motto' will come up in future. We want to progress, to look for new means of expression and new possibilities.
Musically you combine melodies with heavy riffs, with atmospheric sounds... Some say you sound like your fellow countrymen Riverside... Others see something unique in Votum. Where do you see yourself?
We try to completely ignore any silly attempts to label our music. At first, before our earliest concerts, we had quite a discussion on how to call our style. Back then we settled for 'experimental metal' (too aggressive for rock and too subtle for metal), after that first concert we were instantly labelled: progressive rock / metal and when the first album was realized the 'new wave of Polish prog' term came to play. Too be honest, though, we don't give a damn about the genre. We use music and sound as a way of telling stories. We always try to look for some new means of expression. You never know what future holds for our music.
Metafiction has a lyrical concept, please tell us a bit more about the story? And who had the idea for the cover artwork which ties in perfectly?
Just a couple of words. We don't want to be giving away all the good stuff, so to keep the story short: It's a tale of writer, on the verge of creating a masterpiece. In one point in time, our hero to his surprise discovers that events described in his work are beginning to dangerously entwine with reality. The lyrics of Stranger Than Fiction describe the incident that makes him believe he is the one responsible for the death of his wife. Up from that point his world tumbles down. To stop the vicious cycle he decides to take his own life. Unfortunately for him, he fails to do so and ends up paralyzed, thus ending his journey from the total god-like control over the universe to being sentenced to powerless existence chained down to the hospital bed. It's a tale about the authors', the characters', the listeners' realities, about control and the inevitable fate. Of course it's far more complicated than that, but you'll have to closely listen to the CD to check it, hehe.
As you want to combine different arts, will we see some visualization of your music?
Absolutely. If you have a chance to see us live will fix you up with a nice multi-sensual experience. It's sort of an added value to our music.
Can you imagine writing a sound track one day? Or do you have some other ideas to melt music and art into one?
As far as I see it, every decision that we make brings us closer to the idea of composing movie soundtracks. We want to create something, both deeply emotional – and for ears as well as for the eyes. I have personally been working on some movie productions myself and quite recently prepared a soundtrack for 'A Couple of Poor, English-Speaking Poles', a screen play for Progress Theatre in Reading, England, but what I am really looking forward to is writing something for the silver screen or the gaming industry. We all are. During our live shows we use visualizations prepared by students of the Academy of Fine Arts in Warsaw. The animations describe the plot of our stories. Currently, we are preparing some additional live-show elements.
You mainly played in Poland, but also some shows in Latvia. Festival-wise ProgPower Europe would be perfect... Are there any plans for Votum to go West in 2010?
We could use some ProgPower Europe in our portfolio. I hope this issue will be sorted out in near future, hehe.
So far not too many bands have made themselves known outside Poland... Do you think it would be easier to get attention, if you would come from one of the metal hot spots?
Just name the hotspots and we're on it. (hehe)
It seems that musically you are influenced by different styles... Which band(s) / artist(s) make you want to become a musician? And what are you listening to these days?
Too many to tell. When you a kid and you listen to such legendary giants of rock like Pink Floyd, Led Zeppelin, ELP or Anathema you always picture yourself with a guitar and on the stage. Accidently, we play a show with Anathema soon, talk about dreams come true! Hehe...
You played with bands like Motörhead, Sabaton and RPWL, and with very different bands - even if the later is more fitting -, it's different audiences... So you took the challenge to win over an audience live, ever been afraid to fail?
Our music is quite diverse. We have both tracks of a slower paste – hauntingly atmospheric and full of melodies (Faces, Indifferent) as well as compositions that are aggressive and dark (Stranger Than Fiction, Look At Me Now). We can easily trim the set-list to fit almost every audience's expectations. It's still rock and metal, but enables us to share stages with bands even more than slightly different than ours. We used to share the stage (amongst others) with some serious black metal, rock'n'roll, gothic rock or even folk bands.
Some time ago we played a charity gig having 4 year olds as listeners. Now that's some tough audience!
Back to the album... How long did it take to realize Metafiction? Song writing? Recordings?
I'll start with the recordings. 2 words: Too long. We encountered so many technical difficulties and problems that it was a miracle that we managed to finish. I tell you, this album is cursed! (hehe)
Firstly, we had some problems with the amplifiers - they broke down 4 times during the first 2 weeks and then went down the guitars: 3 times in a row. Even the keyboard that I'm using – clearly not an analog device - went off-tune (as a result of giant storm that flooded my house and miraculously found its way to my gear and some twisted coincidence blocked the pitch-bend). After that it only got worse. The studio where we were recording had constant electricity deficiency, as a result of an argument over artistic differences and money we split our ways with our recording engineer and went in pursuit to find a new one, and a new studio, having just half of the album done. I could list the problems far longer, but the most important part is that we finally managed to finish and after the period of 2 months, most of which stressful and uneasy we reached our dead-line and the album went to the printing house the same night we finished the mastering process.
Don't get me wrong, I think we have done a pretty good job with the sound and everything, but one can't help, but wonder: would it be better if not for the problems.
Are you constantly writing songs? Or do you gather ideas and at a certain point starting to compose songs?
It depends. The first album was composed in the secure, secluded, fungus-infested surrounding of our rat-hole of rehearsal room. The second piece – Metafiction – was born mostly on tour. We even had to interrupt the recording session to play some gigs. Both options have their upsides and both have disadvantages. You just have to make the best out of them and keep up with the reality.
What inspires you? Books? Movies? Daily life?
Everything inspires us. I'm telling you: it's like there's too many things around us!
What can we expect from Votum in 2010?
A couple of new proper big gigs: with Anathema, Ozric Tentacles, Airbag and later with Korn, Opeth, Katatonia, Pain of Salvation, Riverside then a couple of small shows. We will be shooting a video and we plan to start working on a new album. It's gonna be a busy year.
Looks like we will hear a lot more from Votum in near future. And hopefully they can play more shows outside Poland soon!