PiercingMetal Talks with Alissa White-Gluz of The Agonist

Logo - The Agonist

I had caught The Agonist for the very first time when they opened up a show for Epica back in September of 2007 and I was immediately impressed with the way that singer Alissa White-Gluz does her thing. She is a kick ass straight-edge Metal chick with a number of interesting aspects to her life which made setting up an interview something that would generate a lot of interest for our readers. Of course, the girls absolutely hectic and insane schedule led to our exchanging emails and doing it via that medium. Having met a few times at the clubs you will find that we managed to hold our internet conversation just as if we had done it face to face. The Agonist is among the hot new signings to Century Media Records and a band that delivers up the Melodic Metalcore with crushing abandon. The four piece group is led and fronted by Alissa White-Gluz who is a young woman of talent, strong conviction and incredible focus on her reasons for doing things. We met up with Alissa backstage at one of the shows in NYC to talk about all things The Agonist but the often hectic nature of appearances led us to having this done via email. Read on to find out what makes this beautiful young lady tick and how she plans on keeping the audience thrilled as the band continues to rise.

PiercingMetal: It’s nice to get a few moments of your time Alissa based on the bands apparently rigorous touring schedule. Before we talk about the group let’s go back to your own beginnings as a performer first because I am wondering how you even got your start as a musician. Care to enlighten me?

Alissa White-Gluz: Thanks Ken! I actually really just got started in my first metal band because I happen to be friends with a lot of bands seeking singers. To help out I told them I would search around for freelancing vocalists. After not really finding any, and not wanting to let my friends down, I decided maybe I would suffice! My house has always been full of musical influence, my mother being a great appreciator of good music. My older sister also has a band, called Badflirt (very different from the Agonist!). So basically, music was never a foreign concept to me, but I also never really thought I would be playing it to this level.

PiercingMetal: I like your voice a lot. You terrify with the Death growls and then light up the sky with your clean melodies. How hard is it to do the both styles numerous times across the course of a song and album? Do you realize it sounds as if two different people are singing for the band?

Alissa: Haha! Thank you so much! Actually it is extremely challenging to sing the way I do. I mean, I have to manage my breathing so that I have enough to scream while the singing takes a break and enough to reach the notes when I’m breaking from screaming, as well as keeping enough air in my lungs to tear around the stage. I spend every hour of the day managing everything from my speaking volume to what I eat to how much I work out to minimize wear and tear on my vocal chords. And I do realize too, that I sound schizophrenic! Often people write in asking which guy does the screaming… it’s really annoying! But at the same time I can’t blame someone for not knowing. I think the funniest incident was when someone wrote in asking how Chris does “those amazing brutal screams” at the end of Business Suits and Combat Boots… and I had to tell him that it was actually me doing it on the recording! Chris just mouthed the screams for the video because I had layered vocals there, and I was singing clean at that point. I love challenging myself though, and would never want to sacrifice an idea in songwriting just because it may be difficult to pull off. I purposefully write my songs to be challenging, because that is what makes them fun.

PiercingMetal: Moving on to how the band came to forming, what’s the inside scoop on what led to the creation of The Agonist. Did it start from scratch or did another band lead up to this and become the group we can enjoy today.

Alissa: Danny and Chris were in another band with the former Agonist drummer when I joined up with them. I had quit my other band just as they had dismissed their original singer. We changed the name to The Tempest and started gigging and recording non stop. We welcomed Simon into the band and changed the name to The Agonist shortly after signing with Century Media. We are still developping and growing in our identities, and I don’t expect to ever stop.

PiercingMetal: You strike me as a very interesting individual and on the occasions we have spoken I found you to be all about certain beliefs and principles. How do you feel about sharing some of these ideals with the readers so more are aware of what makes Alissa White-Gluz the unique woman and performer that she is. I know you are Vegan, but what else is most important to you in life that you want people to know about and perhaps even learn for their own sake.

Alissa: Wow! I could write a novel here. The main thing I want people to know about me, is that all of my messages are positive. I never tell people what they can’t or shouldn’t do, I merely suggest things that they can do to improve their lives and the lives of others. Often, people don’t bother to actually read anything I write and just automatically assume I’m some radical trying to brainwash them. That is so far from the truth I can’t even explain how insulting it is… because I am actively trying to make people notice that kind of activity and steer clear of it. Being accused of the sort of propaganda I denounce is very frustrating, especially considering the amount of time and precision I pour into every word I say. I am vegan, and I care so much about animals and the Earth it hurts! I just can’t help but have this profound sympathy for the beautiful creatures roaming this planet that fall victim to the consequences of humanity’s crimes against the Earth. I have to question how someone could be opposed to something as righteous as veganism, except for the fact that people feel threatened by righteousness. They assume that someone devoting themself to a positive cause must be elitist or closed-minded. It’s funny, I have been accused of that even in blogs where the first sentence is something along the lines of “Being vegan is not about being part of some elitist club or being perfect”. The way I see it, I am simply refraining from doing anything that might be even potentially harmful to anyone else. Whether people think animals have feeling or not, a life is a life, and I don’t think I have the right to take a life for any reason. This applies to animals and humans alike. I am straight edge, but that is a personal choice and I don’t judge others on whether or not they are. I personally do not want to poison my body, and substance use carries with it the danger of addiction.

PiercingMetal: Are you worried about the naysayers feeling that you are on the soapbox too much and that they don’t need you to tell them whats good for them?

Alissa: Not at all, because that is a clear indication that they haven’t ever listened to a word I said or wrote anyways. I CLEARLY indicate in every interview and every blog that I am expressing my personal opinions and hope to give insight to the other side of the coin. I NEVER tell anyone what to do or claim to know or be better than anyone. Some people feel threatened by strong convictions, instead of taking them as an opportunity to learn from an expert. I can understand their point, because “radicals” are in fact threatening. But, I am not a radical, all I ever do is present information that anyone can take or leave. Anyone who has had a conversation/debate with me about my convictions at the merch table or over the internet can attest. So, the people that immediately get defensive before even listening to the information presented, based solely on the fact that they assume they will be attacked, are in fact the ones thinking they know best; I’m not threatened by hypocrisy, I laugh at it.

PiercingMetal: While this might sound like an earlier question, its not really. When the band was working its goals out, was it always the idea to mix the level of aggressive Metal into the Melodic side or did it start out entirely different. Are you pleased with how it ended up.

Alissa: Well, we never really set out to sound one way or another. I think the constant tug of war between Danny and I makes for the schizophrenic aspect of the music. I am always trying to push us heavier and he is always pushing us to go more melodic. We are happy with the result, but also want to constantly evolve. Stagnating is the worst fate for an artist, in my opinion.

PiercingMetal: Excuse the term but “Chicks In Metal” is now no longer something that’s new or uncommon. As a result you are joining some very elite women in the world of a truly powerful musical form. I wondered which of the performers of note had you finding the most inspiration to your own development.

Alissa: I never found myself looking up to anyone in particular, and also never wanted to be a “chick in metal” (so thank you for your reluctance to use the term!) In hindsight, the performers I always found to be particularly outstanding were Freddie Mercury, Gwen Stefani, Jeff Buckley, Courtney Love, Kurt Cobain, Angela Gossow and very few others. I’m a huge fan of classical music, old Disney movies and almost all musical theatre (with the exception of Grease and The Sound of Music). Recently, because of their friendship and personal guidance, certain artists I really respect such as Angela Gossow, Gus G. and Doc Coyle have really inspired me.

PiercingMetal: Do they, or she, know about this influence they had in you?

Alissa: The ones I talk to on a regular basis do. I thank them for their advice. Some of the ones I mentioned are no longer with us, so, obviously, in that case the answer would be no! This is an interesting question by the way!

PiercingMetal: I also really like the style that you have in your stage wear and the cool blue hair. What went into building your performance persona?

Alissa: Honestly, I have looked like this since grade 8! I’m just myself on stage, I like color, I like weird eccentric clothing, and I like experimenting with different styles of aesthetics. I have always been fascinated with the concept of beauty; how certain combinations of shapes and color can appear appealing to some and repulsive to others. Having been drawing and painting since I was about 2 or 3, I find it very interesting how much power physical beauty has over the human mind and heart. For some reason, when things please our eyes, we crave them… like tasty food! For that reason I like to push the limits of how I can look and use the subtleties of color and clothing to accentuate different features depending on my mood.

PiercingMetal: How did the group end up securing the deal with Century Media Records and from there lets talk a little about the recording process of the debut. Was it everything you envisioned in terms of work required and maintaining focus.

Alissa: We recorded Once Only Imagined as a demo, which some long-term fans from Montreal still have. We were done recording and our engineer, Chris Donaldson (Cryptopsy) was mixing the tracks while on the road. Century Media Germany A&R Leif Jensen overheard the tracks and took interest. We ended up signing with the label several months later. I find it is easy to maintain focus, but certain aspects are extremely challenging physically, emotionally and mentally. Touring is the most trying experience of my life. But, studio is the most fun part of being in a band for me.

PiercingMetal: Congratulations on the success of your first video “Business Suits and Combat Boots” by filmmaker Dave Brodsky. I’m sure this is quite the feather in the bands cap after only being a signed band for a few months. Tell us a little about the video in terms of what went into it and how it all worked out together to be the end product you got.

Alissa: Dave and I brainstormed together and independently for weeks. I am really happy with the result. We wanted to represent the song and all the lyrics properly, but also present the band appropriately for those who would be only just discovering us through the video. I told Dave about how I wanted to have snippets of video describing different hypocrisies that go unnoticed in our society, presented in such a way that they may STILL go unnoticed. That’s why some of the vignettes may appear random or nonsensical until you actually consider what is going on. For example, the woman with the cat who appears right before the last chorus: we didn’t just want a cute cat in the video (although I do love cats!), the woman was being affectionate with her cat while wearing fur. I encounter this kind of ignorance or lack of compassion all the time. I hear “I am a vegetarian but I’ll eat chickens because they are ugly” or people who think killing a bunny for food is wrong while they scarf down a burger. As for the end result, we were all very pleased and surprised at what Dave and Allie were able to do for us. I’m really glad and honored that people recognized our efforts.

PiercingMetal: Do you see yourself working with this team once again, and what are the plans for some sort of live video release. Even though its early in the bands career, it might make for cool bonus footage on the next album.

Alissa: We are in fact working with them for video #2. We are hoping to put together a DVD soon, because we have done a lot and filmed a lot of it!

PiercingMetal: The touring schedule you seem to be on is rather grueling and along the way you have seen both good and bad experiences. Are there any interesting stories to divulge about life on the road in the good and bad sense.

Alissa: Honestly, life on the road is only understandable once you have done it. It really changes you. I have experienced both extremes. There are tons of stories, but that will be saved for the DVD!

PiercingMetal: The Agonist seems very on par with a group like Century Media Records own Arch Enemy in terms of aggressive Metal with a female vocalist, but with your being also on the melodic side. Has this helped or hindered you, and I mean do you get any fans of Arch Enemy over to your side based on some similar grooves?

Alissa: I think because our music is not as straight-forward and traditional as some other metal bands, we are sometimes pigeon-holed and wrongly categorized. We do get lots of Arch Enemy fans, and I am a huge fan myself! Century Media has always been good for supporting women in metal. I always say, at the end of the day, music is music and I’m making it for myself and those who like it. I don’t care about those who don’t.

PiercingMetal: You have also toured with some interesting groups so I am going to put you on the spot and ask you who were some of your favorites to perform along side or even open up for and what made them so special.

Alissa: I must say, I really found all the musicians we toured with really inspiring and friendly. I think the Enslaved tour was the most fun in terms of tour company. Arsis, The Faceless and Enslaved themselves were really funny people. Bobby from Overkill was really helpful to me too, seen as I was completely sick while touring with them. I have kept in touch with Gus G. from Firewind and Sander from After Forever. I think meeting all these great people was my favorite part of touring.

PiercingMetal: You probably wont tell me but are there any groups who made it really hard on the band?

Alissa: Actually no, all the other bands were very welcoming to us.

PiercingMetal: Name the top five bands that The Agonist wants to tour with.

Alissa: That’s a tough one! In terms of target audience I would have to say: Arch Enemy, Children of Bodom, Bleeding Through, Walls of Jericho, & As I Lay Dying

PiercingMetal: I’ve seen you perform a few times with Power Metal bands so I wondered how much you liked that experience since The Agonist while melodic is not a Power Metal group. Sometimes the audience can be rough on an opener if its drastically different from the headlinger so I ask how you handle that. Do you ever find yourself winning them over in the end?.

Alissa: Very true. Actually, the power metal crowd was much more accepting than the black metal crowd. I find we usually had at least a few converts to the “puke-singing” every show when playing with Sonata Arctica. As for crowds that don’t accept us, well, that is just an error in promotion, no big deal. We try to keep in mind that bands that we personally love don’t necessarily have fans that will love us. So we are making it a goal to tour with appropriate bands.

PiercingMetal: So now with the album “Only Once Imagined” out for almost six months, how has the overall reception been to it?

Alissa: Pretty good! I think we cause a strong reaction in most people, whether positive or negative, and the fans we have are very loyal and amazing.

PiercingMetal: Tell me about the artwork on the cover, what does it mean, and represent. Who’s idea was it?

Alissa: I’m not going to go into too much detail because I want the listener to be able to read into the album art in their own way. Natalie Shau is the artist behind it, and I discussed with her my lyrics and the band’s sound to inspire her to create this.

PiercingMetal: Would it be safe to say that you are already working on material for your follow up release? Tell me about some of the ideas that are being mapped out, and how hard or easy is this coming to you.

Alissa: Actually, we are recording the new album right now. It is extremely stressful and difficult, but we are thinking that this album will be really great in the end.

PiercingMetal: Tell me a little about the rest of the guys in the band for those who are sitting at home scratching their heads saying “The Agonist eh???..”

Alissa: Haha.. well.. for those who are sitting around like that..just log onto MySpace or something and you can find out all about us! The guys are just your usual musicians…
(well.. they may be a bit more responsible than your typical musicians!) and we all have different tastes in music, which makes for good songs, but a lot of fighting!

PiercingMetal: With “Only Once Imagined” do you think you will wake anybody up to some important causes that you believe in? Do you think your next recording will maintain a course for this kind of songwriting view?

Alissa: I am maintaining the same passion in my lyrics on this new album, different subjects but still attacking world issues. I KNOW that I reached people with this album, and that is very rewarding. Feedback from fans is what keeps me going!

PiercingMetal: I used to ask the artists what CDs were in their changers since most have five on those turntable ones but with the digital music players being so popular now I have changed this question to what’s on your music player. Of course I imagine most of your CD collection, so you cannot say everything. Instead what are the top five things you find yourself listening to on it.

Alissa: Arch Enemy, Classical Music compilations, Strapping Young Lad, Muse and random local bands.

PiercingMetal: What hobbies do you have, if you even have time for anything like that.

Alissa: All of my hobbies become jobs! I love painting, drawing, working out, cooking, styling hair, learning school subjects, videography, photography, public speaking, fashion, animals, teaching, sports, and of course music.. The list goes on…

PiercingMetal: Any recommending reading or musical purchase for the world at large to give a shot to.

Alissa: Hmm. That is a very tough question…I’ll just take this opportunity to give a shout out to some great Montreal bands like Mythosis, The Plasmarifle and Synastry!

PiercingMetal: What do you want to see happen for The Agonist in 2008?

Alissa: Oh, we have big plans. The number one goal is to reach the people that don’t know us yet, and to grow with the people that do.

PiercingMetal: Any closing thoughts or stuff we left out that you wanted to bring up?

Alissa: Not that I can think of… I’m sorry I couldn’t give more detail in some answers.. I am totally swamped with work! Thanks for coming out to our shows Ken! NYC is a stressful place, it’s always more fun to have someone to laugh along with!

PiercingMetal: Thanks so much for your time, we wish you nothing but incredible success.

As Alissa mentioned during the discussion; the new album is currently being recorded and should be available for public consumption later in the year. Another video with the My Good Eye people is in the works along with a performance DVD and plenty of heavy touring. Make sure you keep your eyes peeled for some or all of this stuff and lend some support to a very hard working band that strives to not only entertain, but also to inform and make you aware of your choices.

Official Website: https://www.facebook.com/TheAgonistOfficial

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