Interview with Persona – For us, it was very important to have a lot of variety on the new album

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With the release of their new and refreshing album, Animal,” I had to check in with PERSONA… not just to get the inside scoop on their latest release, but also to discuss their relocation to Germany and what it means to be an independent band. Check out the interview below…  

Hello and thank you for doing this interview with me! How have you been doing in these crazy times? 

Persona: Hi Andrea! Thanks for inviting us! We’re doing great and have been pretty busy with the new album production. Of course, we were missing playing our scheduled shows for 2020, but we quickly started focusing on our new album, “Animal.”

I know the band relocated to Germany from Tunisia in 2019. What prompted this move? Was it personal issues, professional reasons, or a mixture of both?

Melik: It was actually related to my work: I am a medical doctor that has always been interested in research. Germany, in this regard, offers much more possibilities than Tunisia, so this was what prompted the move. From the band perspective, it also made sense since the metal scene is much bigger in Germany than in Tunisia.  

How do you find the German metal scene as compared to the Tunisian scene? Have you managed to find your own spot there?

Melik: The passion for metal music is comparable, I would say. The difference is that the organization and the structures are better in Germany: there are many venues where metal bands get to play and metal gigs happen all the time. In Tunisia, metal events sadly don’t happen that often.

PERSONA released a new album in October, and this one presents a far heavier and aggressive side of the band. I don’t remember “Metamorphosis” being this relentless and raw. Should we consider “Animal” as the beginning of a new chapter in your catalog?

Melik: Yes, I think you can see it that way. With new band members and with the relocation to Germany many things changed, including our approach to music, hence the more modern approach to metal.

How would you describe your current style in a few keywords? And are there any contemporary bands that you find particularly influential towards the band’s current sound?

Simon: Modern, cinematic, dynamic, and catchy – those words were used pretty often during the songwriting process. For us it was very important to have a lot of variety on the new album – every song works very differently and has a unique atmosphere and style to it. When it comes to influences, sound-wise we were influenced by modern metal bands like JINJER and alternative metal acts like the DEFTONES. “Shout Out Loud“ is even inspired by numetal and alternative acts from the early 2000s.

What was the main reason for heading in a new direction? Were there any discussions within the band about the music you guys were writing for “Animal”?

Simon: Actually yeah, it wasn’t like having arguments about it, everyone was pretty much on the same page. I thought it would be cool to have the best of both worlds, the catchiness of “Elusive Reflections“ and the raw energy from “Metamorphosis“ – combining both worlds with fresh paint and a lot of variety resulted in “Animal.“

Photo by Pascal Röttger Photodesign 

Jelena, you are doing a lot of harsh vocals on this record. When and how did you learn to scream like that?

Jelena: I started learning while composing stuff for “Metamorphosis” – darker and heavier music (comparing to our debut “Elusive Reflections”) just asked for some extreme vocals. I did a lot of research about harsh vocals and put that together with my experience and knowledge about the “regular” vocal technique. The experimenting and getting used to it took some time, and once things clicked into place it was just practice, practice, practice.

Do you take any special avenues as far as your vocals are concerned when you start to prepare for an album? Are there any goals that you have in mind on how you want to sound on a specific record?

Jelena: This record was special because we worked together with a producer [Marco Meyer] for the first time. He had a lot of creative input in everything, which was refreshing and opened my mind to new ideas and directions. He encouraged me to try things I’ve never tried before and this required a lot of practice and experimenting, but it was extremely rewarding. The goal was to be as dynamic and authentic as possible while performing the vocals and to manage to express all the different moods and roles each song asked for. But contrary to what I’ve done in the previous records (prepared every tiny detail of my performance in advance), I entered the recording studio leaving some space for input and inspiration concerning my performance, so that my expression can be as fresh and unique as possible.

Can you tell us a little bit about the songwriting process that went behind “Animal”? How do you usually write songs?

Simon: This was a totally new experience, also due to the new line-up of the band. Every song was created differently – “Shadows“ is the result of Jelena working out melodies on the piano, Marco, Jelena, and me combining the best ideas and arranging everything on the computer. Many songs were created with guitar riffs by producer Marco Meyer, his input on this album was essential.

Jelena: Yeah, it was much different than the previous two albums but in a good way, because the new members brought new energy and influences into the mix. Simon and I wrote lots of lyrics and created many singing tunes together, often working closely with Marco as well. It was new to me because before I used to work on the lyrics and melodies exclusively by myself, but I really enjoyed the process.

Select two songs from “Animal” and tell us what inspired the lyrics.

Simon: I’ll describe the process for “Oracle“ as an example: The music was inspired by the singing alien in the movie The Fifth Element with Bruce Willis and Milla Jovovich. When writing the lyrics, we knew that it would be about something sci-fi that fits the music, and I remembered an interview with an astronaut from Apollo 13  describing his trip to the moon and back. Somewhere in this interview, he said something like: “Watching the Earth from a faraway point in space can really change your mind about the way we live – it can broaden your mind basically. Suddenly all the warmongering going on in our world gets ridiculous..“ a very inspiring train of thought in my opinion. So we decided to write about this superior entity that is observing humanity from a faraway place in space. For most of the songs it happened this way – we had the music first and came up with the lyrics that fit the mood afterward.  

Jelena: The idea behind the lyrics for “Beyond,” for example, is to depict the meditative state – quieting the noise of the mind, being mindful in the body, and then ultimately connecting with the inner peace we all possess.

There’s one song that really stands out to me, and that is “Shadows.” Tell me how did you approach this song? How did it come together?

Jelena: We decided we needed one ballad on the album. I wanted to write it on the piano but it also had to fit with the rest of the songs because we already had some material written and it was sounding much more modern than our previous albums. As always, we experimented a lot, Simon, Marco (our producer), and I did a lot of creative work together on the song structure and soundscapes. The way the vocals are treated in this song is also unique and has lots of variety in sound, minimal to no sound compression to convey a maximum of emotion and expression to the listeners.

Shout Out Loud” is another interesting track on this album, especially because of those operatic vocals. What can you tell me about this one? What made you decide to do the chorus that way?

Jelena: Our producer Marco Meyer and I were just experimenting, trying out a variety of unusual things because this song turned out to be very new to our style and definitely a new kind of challenge for me as a vocalist. In the end, we just went crazy and mixed lots of different vocal styles only in the chorus itself, where every phrase starts with these half-operatic vocals but then turns into raspy singing and then further into shouts and growls and lots of different stuff. We thought that such dynamic and in a way bold vocals fit the song well. I can’t wait to perform this song live – I’m sure it will be extremely fun!

This is another album that was crowdfunded by your fans. How did everything go this time around? Were people as receptive as they were before?

Jelena: Concerning the amount of money we raised and the number of people who participated – it was as successful as the previous one. But this time we needed a much bigger budget because we significantly stepped up our production so unfortunately, we haven’t achieved our goal. Of course, that didn’t stop us from finalizing this album and also making two music videos to promote it better.

I know Gustavo Sazes from the artwork he has done for DYNAZTY, AMARANTHE, and CYHRA. How did you come to work with him? And did you give him any indications or guidelines for the artwork?

Jelena: I discovered Gustavo while looking for the artwork artist for my solo project, HELENIUM. We worked together on the artwork for HELENIUM’s EP and since I was very happy with the result and working with him in general, we asked him to do the artwork for the new PERSONA album. He’s very creative and has a great feel for music, so sending him the lyrics and the songs was practically enough to get to the perfect result.

PERSONA has been an independent band since its inception if memory serves. What are some of the perks and detriments of not being signed to a label?

Yosri: First and foremost: independence. Surely it is beneficial to have a label that believes in your band, but as well the freedom over all decisions that inflict the band is very valuable too. This, of course, brings way more office-work to the band as [compared] with a label deal, but like written before – to be your own boss also has its pretty good side.

Do you wish to continue as an independent band, or do you see PERSONA on a label’s roaster one day? And if so, which label?

Yosri: It would still be very cool if we could find a good offer for our productions in the future. In my personal opinion, Napalm Records does awesome work for metal bands, especially JINJER, and it would be a good fit for us because I think we’ve got the same style and ambiance.

I know you guys had been rehearsing. Do you have any touring/live streaming plans once the album is released, apart from your appearance at Hannover Metalfest? Are there any details can you share with us?

Eike: Right after the Hannover Metalfest we had the luck to also play at the 11. Bremer Metal Festival, which was a great gig! The next show is scheduled for the 15th of January in Hanover at the club LUX with CHAOSBAY from Berlin. From that spot on, our next shows will take place at some festivals here in Germany. But for now, the corona-crisis has tightened its grip again in Germany, which ultimately leads to the whole scene walking on tiptoes when it comes to future concerts planning. Of course, we will find a way to play our concerts, but unfortunately, only time can tell if it’s going to be live or streamed.

Did you learn anything new about yourself while making this album?

Persona: True power lies beyond the comfort zone. One needs to dig deep to get to the good stuff.

Do you have any last thoughts you want to share with our fans and our readers?

Persona: We’re hoping for many concerts in 2022 and will be awesome to see you there!