GHOST SHIP OCTAVIUS – interview
Interview with ADON FANION – Vocals/Guitar/Bass/Violin/Keys for Chost Ship Octavius
After having had discovered Ghost Ship Octavius on the 70000Tons of metal cruise in 2018 and enjoyed their performances, it was a lucky coincidence that I was offered a chance to have a chat with Adon Fanion, the band’s vocalist (and more). The band has re-released in Europe their latest album, DELIRIUM, on 22nd of February and the interview took place two days before that. The really nice with Adon offers boths insights related to the album and its creation process, but also into the band’s stage show and touring experience so far. You can read a transcribed version below or listen to the audio recording done via Skyp, therefore being a bit odd a times. But hopefully the mix of audio and text will make it an experience at least as enjoyable as it was for us to perform the interview
Me: Ghost Ship Octavius is a relatively new band, yet you’ve been quite successful in the short amount of time that the band existed. What would be the main factor for your success so far?
A.F.: We did a lot of things right from the beginning. When we got together we had a lot of members in the band who people knew and recognised and we played on that a little bit. All in all we had a fresh project with people that were recognisable, strong music behind it and we made some funny videos that went viral at the time.
Me: How did you guys got to start this project?
A.F.: It started between Chris(topher) Amott, Matthew Wicklund and Van Williams when they played a show together in Japan, I think. They considered making a project together and they were looking for a vocalist and a friend of mine turned me on to this add that they posted. So then I flew out to Philadelphia, did some recording with Chris and Chris ended up leaving the project eventually, so he wasn’t involved with either of the records. But Van and Matthew and I carried on.
Me: What tickled your interest when you got to meet the guys, when you got to sing at the auditions, what is it that caught your attention the most?
A.F.: When I was a teenager, I found out about Nevermore and I thought they were the coolest band. I listened to them a lot and the chance to be involved in that scene, it was surreal at the time. I worked with them since I was seventeen, but still it was pretty surreal when this happened and I was happy to be there. Both the guys had a lot of experience and I was just happy to be able to learn from them.
Me: Did you find it very challenging, musically?
A.F.: What do you mean by challenging?
Me: Did you get scared at the beginning, thought ‘this is something that I’ll never be able to do’…or?
A.F.: I felt pretty comfortable doing it. It was a good opportunity to exercise inside the boundaries that the project has because there is a certain sound and a certain expectation. Especially when it first started, there were expectations of what everything would kinda fit into. To be able to exercise what I could do vocally inside of that room, it wasn’t too challenging but I tried to make it as challenging as I could and go outside of the box as much as possible. Obviously, we’re still trying to do so and we’re continuing to do so. We did more with the second album and did go more outside the box. So I would say that’s where the challenge is – in making inside the box, outside the box if it’s possible
Me: Do you yourself participate in the creating process?
A.F.: We all do. Everyone has a lot of really good ideas and everyone in this band is really creative so there’s certain parts where we’d all contribute to something. There’s some songs where I start the writing for, some where Matthew does that, some songs where I came up with the bass line for or the keyboard part, some songs where Matthew did so. There’s some parts where Van might have a vocal melody idea, but the majority of it Matthew and I split the song writing. At least on the last record. I write most of vocal melodies, like 90% of them, and the lyrics as well.
Me: As far as I notice, you’re quite the multi instrumentalist. Is that helping you or does it make the writing process more annoying because you are able to look at all the instruments and have a saying about everything?
A.F.: It’s only annoying in the sense that the more you understand about music, the more things can be done better. So at least to a constant perfectionism. But I don’t think it hurts in any way to learn more instruments. I always encourage my students to learn as many instruments as possible, because the understanding that you get from learning one instrument can only benefit to the understanding that you have of music as a whole. For instance, if someone just sings and they’re just the vocalist, and they’ve never played any other instrument, they might have skipped some fundamental understanding in music, such as having a strong sense of rhythm or having an understanding of harmony or chord theory or harmonic structure. Things that a drummer or someone who plays keyboards or guitar might develop. All these instruments are helping people to develop their own skills and perspectives on what music is. The more that you broaden you understanding about music, the more it helps the process.
Me: When reading about the band and reviews that people have written, there’s a lot of talk about the shows that you guys deliver. That leaves quite an impression on the audience. What was the motivation for putting together this show, what is the concept?
A.F.: We have a name that is kinda theatrical. So in a way we have to go in a theatrical direction with it so we think about what that looks like. If you look at the music that’s popular nowadays, the bar is constantly raising and raising. All of the most popular acts have really big shows and really big productions, people are flying around, there’s fire, explosions. It’s like a movie. And then people wanna go to a show and be entertained so we try to encompass that in our show as much as we can at this stage. We’re still getting off the ground as a band, so it’s all DIY, we don’t have a sound guy, we don’t have roadies, we don’t have techs. It’s just us making it happen. So we really have to put our minds to it. The last tour that we did we saw a serious upgrade in terms of what we’re capable of. This is when we were on the road with Týr by the way. Not only did we grow our skills more as musicians, playing together, but we upped our show a little bit. The lights and the fog are now synced with the music, we have snow that falls on the audience at certain points in the set. Of course, the complication is that when you’re an opener and you have few minutes to get on stage, set everything up, set everything down. We’re doing it ourselves and it’s quite a process.
Me: I guess you have to do it already dressed in the outfits?
A.F.: Yea, or do as much before hand as possible.
Me: Speaking of this previous tour, you’ve been together with two acts that have a lot of road experience: Orphaned Land and Týr. I guess you got to learn a lot from them during this time. What are the lessons for a touring bang at the beginning, what do you think was very important to learn and to start applying from now on.
A.F.: I would say there’s an element, especially at our level, that it’s kinda like survival. I would say there’s lessons to be learned in that too. When you are DIY and on a tight budget, you have to figure out how you’re gonna sleep, eat and make the show go tomorrow. I would say that the biggest thing for me is the headspace that you’re in when you are on the road. It always has to be focused on the mission of the concert for the next day and what it takes to get there. There are some really bad nights, not sleeping at all, the crappy food at American gas stations at whatever unglamorous life would be on the road. But it’s too easy for that stuff to get to you. So you have to stay focused on the missing and the performance. After a while you accept that it’s not gonna get any better, we’re gonna be suffering and suffering is worth it because we’re on a mission. And so it flips from being a position of pain or suffering to the best thing in the world. What I learned from the other musicians in particular about performing, especially the guys in Orphaned Land, because they’re just the nicest people in the world. And they’re so cool and so good at what they do. I would say that you can be as genuine as they are and still be that rockstar, have that rockstar energy that they exhibit on stage. You get nothing but love from those guys, that’s what they are, they are just these really nice and great people and when they are on stage they are rockstars.
Me: I do perceive their performance as a humble one in a way, I mean rockstars but down to earth. So I am glad to hear it’s not just on stage, but also in real life.
Me: What about the 70000Tons of Metal experience? Does that compare to anything you experienced on your tours?
A.F.: That was crazy. There’s nothing like it. It’s like a dream world. If you have a dream where everything is heavy metal but you’re on a ship and all of a sudden you’re in the Caribbean and you’re just eating pizza all day and listening to heavy metal with a bunch of metalheads and everyone is dressed up like Mad Max or something. It is really crazy. It was a very surreal experience and it didn’t even really feel like performing. It felt like a big heavy metal party. Twice we were performing, but they just went by in the blink of an eye and I am back at trying to see as many cool metal bands as I can. There’s so many of them, it would be cool to see them all.
Me: Did you keep your outfit on for the last day when people have this carnival going on?
A.F.: I kept it on for a while I don’t remember if I kept it on the whole day.
Me: Let’s talk about this new album that you guys are releasing now on Friday (February 22nd) but it has already been released. Can you explain that to me?
A.F.: We’re DIY, we did it ourselves on this record too.
Me: Sorry to interrupt. So you did everything from, besides composition, the recording and the release?
A.F.: The recording we did in Seattle with Aaron Smith as producer, but Van recorded the drums at his home this time around. We released it and pressed it and manufactured it on our own. We initially released it right when we had it done and released it digitally in the US but we didn’t have overseas distribution. It is very difficult for us to send CDs, a ten dollar CD might cost twenty dollars in shipping and you end up paying thirty dollars for a ten dollars CD. So we ended up partnering with Mighty Music who was fond of us and so far they’ve been great to us. So they are now distributing the record and re-releasing it in Europe on Friday the 22nd of February. So the record is basically being rereleased and it’s going to be easier for everyone overseas to access it. And hopefully we’ll be touring over there soon. We’re working on that too.
Photo by BRIGHT MUSIC PHOTOGRAPHY
Me: Let’s talk a bit more about the album. Is it made of completely fresh compositions, you guys sat down and said ‘Ok, we need to make a new album’, or you had like leftovers from the previous one and just picked up on those?
A.F.: Let me think. I don’t think any of the songs are left over from the last one. We do have some left overs from the last one but I don’t think we did anything with them. These are all pretty much fresh and it took us a few years to write and put them all together. They all came from a different place and at a different time than the previous record.
Me: You already mentioned to me that everyone is involved in the composition process. But how do you guys work since you don’t live in the same city? I guess everything is done online more or less or do you ever meet, sit down and jam?
A.F.: Pretty much we just share our ideas back and forth online. We develop them over a long period of time. That can be both a good thing and a bad thing. Sometimes people just bring up a song and it’s perfect. Other times we write a song and keep looking at it over a long period of time to see if it has everything it needs. That could be a good way to refine things as well.
Me: So you said you went to a studio in Seattle for the recording…
A.F.: Correct. The recording and the mixing was done there. Some of the recording was done in other places. I did a lot of the vocals there, in the studio. It was actually where I lived at the time, as I lived in Seattle for like two years. But I did some of the recording in my bedroom too, for the solos. Matthew did some of his solos on his own, or maybe not, I don’t remember. We did some of the bass on our own. Most of the vocals I tracked on my own, which is how I prefer to do it, because I need to get into the zone and I am very used to recording myself. I’ve been recording since I was a little kid. I am very used to that process. Aaron helped us with a lot of guitar parts engineering, some of the vocal parts, he did a lot with the drums and mixing everything and getting it to sound good.
Me: My question was kinda aimed at, when knowing that you do things yourselves and you don’t have this fixed time in the studio and it’s easy to get overboard and extend the time that you use for the songs, so when did you decide that ‘Ok, no we’re done, we going into the studio’
A.F.: Once we had all the songs about 80% finished and we knew that we can go in and have them 100% finished, that’s when we pressed the button.
Me: When you perform live and there’s certain parts that you have composed and are to be played by somebody else. Are you very strict, demanding them to perform in a certain way or you let them improvise and make it their own piece when live?
A.F.: It really depends. Some parts can sound better live if they are simplified. But there are certain parts that are definitely really important to bring a song out and if the notes are wrong, then the notes are wrong. I have been in bands before, not serious ones, but I played with musicians who want to constantly improvise but simply don’t know how to do it correctly as maybe they’re too attached to their own idea and composition. They improvise, but they’re just doing it wrong, playing the wrong note or the wrong key and it sounds bad. So that’s not good. But if it’s a really good musician and they’re playing the parts and adding a bit of their own flavor, then it’s all great. Depends on the context
Me: I’ve seen that so far you got quite good reviews for Delirium. People seem to like it. If you were to sell it to somebody yourself, right now, what words would you chose to present this album.
A.F.: First of all I would say it’s rock’n’roll before I’d say it’s metal, because if you tell people here in the US that it’s metal, they would definitely not be interested. There’s kind of a connotation with metal here, making it very unpopular in the US. If you tell people that it’s metal, it can give them a reaction when they’re instantly offended in a way, they think about screaming, really aggressive brutal music, made to offend your eardrums. But I would tell them that it’s rock’n’roll and that’s kind of ambiguous and it can be anything from Chuck Berry to well, Ghost Ship Octavius I guess. But telling people that makes them at least open their minds to the possibility that it can be lighter, which it definitely is. We covered a whole dynamic spectrum on the record. So I would tell them that’s it’s rock’n’roll, really dynamic and that it’s melodic. And that there’s something for everyone.
Me: What would you see as the album’s strongest features?
A.F.: I think there’s a lot of strong features. We’re all good musicians, we have our own style and flavors and such, so there’s something for guitar players to like, something for drummers to like, hopefully there’s something for vocalists to like. I think anybody can find something to like on the record.
Photo by Charlene Tupper/Metaltitans
Me: I forgot to ask a bit earlier, when you compose the songs, how much do you consider how would they sound live, or do you only figure that out once you decide that a song is going on the next your’s playlist?
A.F.: In some songs I think about it a lot. But in some of them I’m so much just thinking about the emotion behind it, that this doesn’t even cross my mind. Once it comes to actually playing it live and working it out, that’s when we sit down and think about what parts should be changed. I like to think about the lights and how they can be programmed in order to make the music hit the hardest. That’s a big thing when you see a band, lights.
Me: What were the challenges when making this album?
A.F. The time was a big one, because we wanted to have it out a lot earlier. Instead, we ended up getting kinda delayed and that was nerve wrecking on all of us.
Me: Was that because of you guys having to redo the songs and having new ideas, or was it outside factors out of your control?
A.F. Outside factors and got us to be really stressed out. On top of that, because we got delayed, I got sucked into working quite a bit too, which made it more difficult. Initially I had like three weeks or so, but that ended up delaying it. Another challenge was the distance. Van had to figure out how to do drums on his own in his house. Getting everything perfect and doing justice to the demos was another thing too. Sometimes you’re in a certain emotional headspace when you write a song and then it comes around to redoing it again when you’re not in the same headspace. You have to figure out how to get back there.
Me: Since I work with this magazine, I get a lot of mails saying ‘here’s the first song of this upcoming album, here’s a demo, here’s this and that’. Do you think it really makes a difference if you give people a taste of what’s to come or is doesn’t make any difference if you just release it all at once?
A.F.: I don’t know nowadays, things are really weird. It could make a difference, but it seems like nowadays someone sees something on the phone, and then they just keep scrolling until they find the next cat picture or so. I think in general we’re trying to stay in people’s faces as much as possible and we’re focusing on it and then we hope that helps us with the whole reach thing as well. A lot of social media platforms are tweaking with people’s reach obviously, they want you to pay to reach your fans. That makes it less powerful than it was. It’s harder to show them things. Even if they subscribed to see what you want them to see or to see what’s going on, it’s now harder to reach them and give them that.
Me: Do you think the music videos still have an impact as they used to in the old age of MTV let’s say?
A.F.: No, I don’t think so. I think people are suffering from overstimulation. It keeps us from appreciating things as much as we could. Even little things, music videos, music itself. People would put out playlists with thousands of songs and would just skip through the songs they don’t like because they don’t have the attention for them. They only want to hear that one thing that keeps their attention. And it’s kind of a tricky thing, because the more we do that and the more we allow ourselves to be constantly shifting from one thing to another, the harder it becomes to focus on one thing and be content with that. I think the majority of people (surely not everyone) are probably suffering from a kind of overstimulation from their devices and they cannot be entertained by a regular music video. So the things have to be stepped up. Soon it will probably be virtual reality videos, like 360 degree videos. Videos that are funny do really well now, as that’s always entertaining, but they definitely do not have the impact that they used to.
Me: Yet, you’re still making videos. Is that something you guys vote for, are you pushed to make those videos?
A.F.: We want to make them. We make them happen and we have to make them happen. People are overstimulated and their attention is stripped, but odds are that if they are staring at something and listening something, they’re more likely to keep watching than if they would only be listening to it. So the more effort that they have to put in, the harder it is for them to enjoy it. So that’s the thing about the music videos. Now, an element of imagination is taken away because we’ve already imagined it and we made it into this visual element that you can absorb and see for yourself. It can help someone immerse more into the vision that we created so that they can enjoy it more. Some people might have problems in focusing on certain things, it’s not futile to make videos of art or anything artistic. I am hopeful that this is a temporary thing, cause like I said, it’s not everyone. It just seems to be a lot of people.
Me: Speaking of art and concepts. Is there an idea behind the album? Are the songs following a theme of any sort?
A.F.: They are. It’s not completely linear or chronological anyway, and the last minute I feel like we mixed around the songs. So it works pretty good in a shuffle mode if you listen to the album. But there is a concept and there are themes that re-occur throughout the album. There might not be a central concept, but everything is created in a sort of fictional universe, as it is in the first record. ‘Burn this ladder’ is this big climatic ending of the record and on the surface, what the song is about, is someone searching for their lost loved one and they’re deciding to cut the ties because they are lost, dead, deceased or frozen. Metaphorically, this can apply to cutting ties with someone because they are lost in a number of ways. There’s a similar theme that’s re-occurring throughout the album. ‘Far Below’ – literally the lyrics are about diving into the waters to claim the remains of this lost person.
Me: What about the cover art. It’s quite psychedelic.
A.F.: Yeah, it’s awesome. Van did the cover art actually on a drumhead. He painted that on one of his drumheads and then digitally manipulated it, added the logo and such. But it turned out really cool because the whole Delirium vibe and this kind of induced insanity from loss, or grieve or sorrow or whatever it kinda ends up looking like a Rorschach test where you can see a lot. And you can see a lot in that image.
Me: Speaking of drums, I saw that you are selling some artsy cymbals on your website. Is it the same guy who makes them?
A.F.: Yeah, it’s Van.
Me: How did he end up doing that?
A.F.: Van is just super creative. You can hear it in his drumming, his drum parts are crazy. And you can see it in everything he does. He paints his drumheads and draws really cool images on his cymbals. He also does things like he builds bird houses that look like guitars. And he sells those, paints them. It’s called Rockstar birdhouse. He does all sort of these things. He’s just a really creative guy, the creativity is just flowing out of him.
Me: How much did he have to say in the choice of your stage outfits? Or who’s guilty for those?
A.F.: He was less involved in that. I think he still tries to find his. I am, for sure, still trying to find mine. We looked at what we could do and we settled on a Victorian kind of look, but an old school, something that you might see on the Octavius ship itself. Or in the period when it sailed.
Me: How much has your knowledge about ghostships increased since you started in this band?
A.F.: I’ve only read one or two wikipedia articles thus far, so not very much. But I still like the universe of these things.
Me: I am quite done. Anything else that you would like to talk about in relation to this album?
A.F.: I can’t think of anything else to say, but I hope people will really enjoy the record since we worked really hard on it. And it has something for everybody. The next record is gonna be better, but this record, right now, it’s the best we’ve done. I hope everyone likes it and it’s coming out in two days.
Me: Are you the kind of band who stays in touch with fans on social medias? Do you answer to people’s messages and comments?
A.F.: yea, I think we respond to everything. We have like a 100% response rate. People can reach me directly if they need to, via social media or my website