Interview with Andrey V. Tollock of HAISSEM and SUNSET FORSAKEN
What made you found Haissem as a solo project in which you play all the instruments as well as doing the vocals? Does this give you more creative freedom to write and compose?
Answering the first part of the question, I can say the project appeared because of an accidental dispute between me and my friend, who was an absolute metalhead. The matter is that in 2012 (at the time of the dispute) I was a member of a pop-rock band. That time we’d been recording an album and my friend asked me to listen to the result. His reaction had been quite positive, however, the verdict was “this music is simple, no technical difficulties at all, it requires no skill, etc.” I told him that I could play cardinally opposite musical stuff which was closer to the music he preferred. The answer was: “That is not your cup of tea, Andrey! I make 100$ bet you’ll never play extreme music (though he knew that I was a member of a death-metal band in the later ’90s).” But he turned out to be totally wrong. I’ve composed, arranged and recorded the song “Fire Eternal” and that was the beginning of Haissem. Sunset Forsaken (my second doom/death-oriented project) appeared a little bit later. Then, I’d caught the wave of inspiration and continued to compose music, the thing that I do still to the present day. Nevertheless, I’ve never seen my 100$. That is the story so far.
As for the second part of the question, I cannot compare creative freedom in writing and composing music in a band to composing it myself, because I’ve never had any collaborations with a full band , only episodical participations and as a session musicians. I’d made an attempt to form the band, but my efforts weren’t successful. Therefore I am the only member of my projects.
How generally difficult is it for musicians to find a full band in your country? As far as you know, is there a greater number of one-man projects than bands these days?
It’s awfully difficult. First of all, there is a lack of people who are really devoted to extreme music on both sides, as musicians, and as fans. There is a certain amount of them and they do exist, but if you want to attract them into a band, you have to interest and motivate them. What are the ways of attraction/motivation? The most common are: 1) exclusive material and musical stuff; 2) financial perspective, a real possibility of development and promoting the band by investment. You don’t need to be Sherlock Holmes to guess that the second variant is more preferable, because qualified and experienced musicians require the guarantees and perspectives; enthusiasts are like endangered species nowadays. I’m not a millionaire and the second variant disappears like the vapour to the sky. That’s why, I think, there’s a growing tendency to start one-man bands these days. People such as I, simply cannot find associates, adherents or supporters. Herewith I wanna demonstrate my music to the fans and the one-man approach is really the way!
Tell the readers about the death metal band you were involved in during the late 1990s? How long was the band active, and did they release anything that is still available?
The band was called Devastation and we were active for a period of approximately one year, from autumn 1998 to August 1999. We had no idea about the existence of the American thrash metal band Devastation (from Corpus Christi, TX) at that time. We would release only one demo-song “Relentless” during the period. In 2019, Haissem released the “Demonotone” album (which was supposed to be a part of the 2017 “Hatavism” album by my original plan) that included approximately 70% of Devastation material. That was a show of respect from me to the band. I’m really proud of this album!
What format was “Relentless” released on, cassette or CD? How many copies were made of this demo when it came out, and how well do you remember it being received?
There was no release of this song either on cassette or CD. It was kinda a homemade version that was recorded at our rehearsal room in two takes. On the first take guitar, bass and drums were recorded, and the second take was vocals and additional guitar. Everything was done with the help of a Soviet (!) analog tape-recorder “Mayak” (“beacon” in English). That’s all. Later, with the appearance of advanced technology, I made a digital version and downloaded it for free access and listening. It’s a re-recorded version of “Relentless” and there are no changes in the music, structure or arrangements yet the lyrics are a little bit re-arranged.
What was the technology you used to re-record “Relentless”? In what ways does the remix compare to the original?
The new version was recorded and mixed at a professional studio (Vetkin Records Studio, Donetsk) by means of Pro Tools. The accumulation of material was rather standard: guitar rough draft, then drums, bass, guitars, samples/synths, and finally, vocals. The music, arrangements, lyrics, etc. are as same as in the original version. Both of the versions really don’t differ and are almost identical. The only significant difference is the sound; the re-recorded version sounds much better.
Were there any bands you worked with after Devastation disbanded, besides the pop-rock band you were in around 2012?
After Devastation, I played in different local bands and projects. Their names are totally unknown. The range in musical styles was also rather mixed. Some of those bands were RexStout (art-rock), Breed Jee (alternative/indie rock), The Rыба Fугу (“a pufferfish”) (rap-core), Ceber Kasala (“a bucket of lard”) (folk-punk) and so on. I was and am an active session musician and songwriter, and there have been a certain amount of songs and releases with my participation as a musician, composer, and lyricist.
How did those bands you worked in post-Devastation help you evolve as a musician? Can people hear any of those bands on streaming sites or purchase CDs from them?
My musical evolution was a gradual event and each band deserves to be a part of this process. All of them made the contribution and I truly appreciate it! As for streaming services and CD purchasing, it should be noted that there’s some video stuff loaded on YouTube, and as I know it’s still available. All the CD editions were strictly limited and are sold out now. The mp3 files are available mostly on social networks.
Was the album you were working on with your pop-rock band completed and officially released? How much notice did it receive?
The album by my former pop-rock band Simona Lee titled “Endorphin” was finished in autumn of 2012. A little bit later it was self-released on CD. That time there was a possibility to get a copy at our local shows and at gigs out of our native city. Now, the edition is sold out. I cannot tell about the great success of this release, but definite attention of the local press and fans was attracted and there was rather positive feedback from those who listened and bought this album. Throughout almost 10 years, we participated in a great number of gigs, shows, and fests either in our hometown or around the country. Simona Lee disbanded in 2014.
Name some of the fests where Simona Lee performed and some of the magazines and/or webzines that favorably reviewed “Endorphin”.
The Fests were mostly local and all Ukrainian. Some of them are Chervona Ruta, Ya Mayu Vlasnu Dumku, Kino Snachala, Moloda Hvulya, Eco Art and Kror U Rock. There were no actual reviews except for a pair of articles in local zines and newspapers (some of the newspaper clippings are in my Mom’s personal archive).
Is Sunset Forsaken also a one-man project or do you have musicians working with you?
Sunset Forsaken is also a one-man band. No collaborations with other musicians for a while, but I suppose it’s possible in the future. Sunset Forsaken has two albums: “Chameleon Waters” (2018, digitally released by Redefining Darkness Records, USA) and “85 Nerves” (2020, not released yet). There are some lyric videos out of Haissem and Sunset Forsaken. You can watch them on my YouTube channel and the Facebook communities of both projects.
Do you write the lyrics for both Haissem and Sunset Forsaken? How similar or different would you say the lyrical content of these bands is?
I write all the lyrics for both projects. The only thing that unites them is they are written in English but the themes and contents are rather distinguished. Haissem’s lyrics are provided by fantasy and based upon mysticism mixed with anti-religious concepts. Sunset Forsaken’s verses are mostly about inner senses and experiences, emotions and despair.
Describe some of the fantasy settings that are part of Haissem’s lyrics? How does mysticism fit into said lyrics? And how would you define the anti-religious concepts you write?
In “Maze Trilogy”, the last three tracks from the debut Haissem album “Maze Of Perverted Fantasies”, a crowd of people find themselves in a strange labyrinth where everything happens vice versa. In my attempt to make a kind of conceptual release, “Hatavism,” where hate (the main subject) appears in unusual forms and substances such as blood, seed, wind and human souls. That was an attempt to classify hatred in a way (as you know, hatred cannot be classified because it’s a human feature).
I mention religion as the root of all evil. Sometimes the lyrics transmit of a god who claims that he inspired all of us to erect cathedrals, and who gave us “Panacea For A Cursed Race” (I meant “death” in this case) and “the Earth is braided into Pralaya” by his will and so on. Please read some of the lyrics (it’s all in free access) and you can find references to anti-religious stuff.
What is the purpose of writing themes of inner senses and despair into Sunset Forsaken’s lyrics? Are you looking for an effect similar to bands like My Dying Bride and Mortiis, or something entirely different?
I’m not aiming to attract negative emotions and to be an epitome of death/doom titans such as My Dying Bride, Paradise Lost, October Tide etc. Unquestionably I’m a big fan of these bands and they definitely influenced me and still inspire. I think that doom/death as a genre supposes such lyrical themes as despair and loneliness. But there are also some fantasies taking place in Sunset’s verses.
Discuss some of the fantasy-oriented songs that appear on Sunset’s releases. In what ways do their fantasy settings incorporate themes similar to doom metal and death-doom metal?
In my case, they are stories and themes from my dreams. Not constantly, but sometimes it happens... Less often, I use the stories told to me by my friends as a basis for the lyrics. But this happens only if the story is really interesting, curious, intriguing and contains kind of mystic stuff. I could tell you a pair of occasions but, I’m afraid it’ll be too long to read and might seem contrived.
What other bands are you listening to of late? Are any of them inspirational enough for you to reflect them in your songwriting or lyricism?
I am a really huge fan of music. Furthermore, music of different genres. On my shelf of CDs at my home you can find Behemoth, Coldplay, System Of A Down, Led Zeppelin, The Prodigy, Suffocation, Dream Theater, Pantera, Breaking Benjamin, Maroon 5, Katatonia, Madonna, Black Sabbath, Antonio Vivaldi, Jimi Hendrix, Tool, Joe Satriani, Paradise Lost and many more... The music I like is quite contrasted and, of course, inspirational and motivating regardless of genre and style. And my latest discoveries in music are Soen, Deafheaven, Trees Of Eternity, Greta Van Fleet, Bent Knee and Vektor.
Will the new Sunset Forsaken album be released on the same label or are you seeking other labels?
There was no distribution of Sunset Forsaken by Redefining Darkness Records except in digital format. So due to these circumstances I’ve found another label to release “85 Nerves” but I cannot tell you about the details for a while, complying with the request of the label owner. By the way, Haissem’s albums “Hatavism” and “Panacea For A Cursed Race” were released on cassette via another American label, Winter Solace Productions (100 copies of each edition). And the brand new Haissem album “Kuhaghan Tyyn” (“evil spirit”) will be released via Satanath Records on March 22, 2020.
How prominent a label is Winter Solace Productions in the US? How much has their distribution of Haissem’s two albums boosted their exposure there?
I don’t know about the prominence and authority of Winter Solace in the US and any other things about it. As I know, recently it’s become a NSBM-oriented label and Haissem’s stuff turned out inappropriate for the label’s roster. That’s the reason why we’ve stopped collaboration.
How did you and Haissem get the distribution deal with Satanath Records for the release of “Kuhaghan Tyyn” this coming March?
Periodically I’ve been suggesting my music to the labels via correspondence. Once I’d sent my material to Satanath Records and a little bit later I got feedback from Alexei Korolyov, the owner of Satanath, with the proposal of an album release, which was accepted by me happily.
How many labels had you contacted before landing the release deal with Satanath Records?
The question is pretty difficult. Suppose it was approximately 500 labels of various caliber. But, my music doesn’t follow common trends, it’s totally unpopular among metalheads and it’s not in demand. Due to oversaturation of the music market, even small labels become picky and fastidious choosing the stuff for their roster. Besides, I like experimentation in music, yet labels prefer stability.
From your experience as a songwriter and musician, does innovation and experimentation in much make more of a lasting impression in the long haul?
Only when the experiment is listenable and “catchy”, you may consider it successful and impressive. Frequently, the author’s vision and the public’s reaction differs. I think that’s why some famous bands prefer to follow the beaten path which once led them to success and risks with no reluctance. In most cases, experimental material is a feature of unsigned/independent bands who are totally free in their creative work. Besides, the experiments are not always supported by labels, because there’s a definite financial risk. Only in the case of positive feedback from fans and metal society you may consider the innovations appropriate and relevant.
What direction has the market of underground music in Russia been taking in the last ten years or so? For example, are there more bands promoting their material independently as opposed to on labels? More webzines than print zines etc?
Fanzines, webzines and metal blogs exist, but I compare the quantity of fanzines ten years ago and nowadays. About the bands: as far as I know, everything depends upon such factors as the financial possibilities of the band and their capability to promote and sell their music; in other words, how effective the managers of the bands and the band’s members could be in perspective. Everyone chooses the path individually. Some bands flatly refuse to collaborate with labels in order to dispose their musical property on its own; some bands look for a label to promote their stuff; some bands combine the first and the second ways/methods. I think everything depends upon the band’s skill to create competitive material, the ambitions of the band/project, and, of course, fortune. And, finally, unique, advanced, professional bands such as Arkona, Shokran and Jinjer have contracts with major labels, so they are well-known worldwide.
Social media has made it easier for bands without the financial backing to promote their material and get their name around. Do you see this happening more in the future?
I suppose, in the near future, things will remain the same because free promotional stuff offered by networks is quite ineffectual. I mean, that all the same, for the better promotion the musicians will have to invest their music. By means of own budget or by means of a label, that’s a numbers game.
How much is social media giving fans who support the bands by streaming their music and buying their releases more of a voice?
The first and the main thing about it is that social media provides a possibility to get acquainted with the bands and its music, submitting their stuff for insight absolutely free.
Do Haissem and Sunset Forsaken have the financial backup to make a name for themselves at this point? All things considered, how will your music stand out in extreme music and inspire other musicians once you become better known?
I pay studio sessions, I compose music, write lyrics, make arrangements, record all instruments at the studio and also try to promote it as much as possible within my capacities. I’m still not a well-known musician to talk about my music standing in the future out. I have to work hard with commitment and devotion to offer fans the better stuff each time. That’s why there are no questions about the uniqueness and originality of both Haissem and Sunset Forsaken. It will take years or even decades to produce their own style and to deserve the love of the fans!
Are there any other projects in store for the coming year? How aggressively do you plan to promote it when it’s made available?
There will be only Haissem with “Kuhaghan Tyyn” (out March 22, 2020, via Satanath Records) and the second album by Sunset Forsaken “85 Nerves” (will be released in the end of 2020). Promotion is the prerogative of Satanath Records now, so we’ll see where it goes. I hope for the best result.
What kind of impact do you want your bands to have on the music industry? What is your definition of success?
I just want my music to be heard by the fans. The more, the better. It’s the main thing about it. For me personally, in the context of music, success is neither money, nor glory. It’s in the positive feedback from fans, the people for whom my music is created.