INTERVIEW: Raouf Araji (SERAPHIC)
Back in the day, classical musos were the rockstars of their craft, and Brisbane symphonic metal collective Seraphic have firmly grasped the splendour of the classical with the roaring might of the heavier world, emerging triumphantly with a theatrical and beguiling sonic conclusion.
Born in 2015, the female-fronted Seraphic have already previously embarked onstage alongside groups such as Queensryche, Wednesday 13 and Overkill, and last year released their debut album 'Journey to Illumination'. But never ones to tread water too long, Seraphic have recently returned with new material and some rougher edges to their sprawling, moody metal - and to chat new tunes, evolution and the current Aussie metal world, The Soundcheck stole a few moments with rhythm guitarist Raouf Araji. Interview below.
TIANA SPETER: Hey Raouf, great to be speaking with you today. Now - the most exciting and recent news I'd love to chat to you about first is the release of Seraphic's recent single 'The Monster Within'. It's pretty spectacular, but I've also read and heard that it does mark a new sound for you guys as a band. Can you talk me through the change with this track, was it something you deliberately set out to evolve from your previous work?
RAOUF ARAJI: Yeah, it as somewhat of a deliberate decision. Sam (Sam Wolstenholme - Vocals & Keyboards, Seraphic) will usually write the songs on piano, with just her voice and piano and we then come together with our respective parts. But with this song in particular it was obviously quite dark to us immediately. So we thought "ok, this would be a really good song to maybe experiment with some harsh vocals". We'd been talking about it for the last album (2017's 'Journey to Illumination') and it nearly happened on the last one, but we thought we'd just wait and see how it goes for album two! This song was sort of that perfect opportunity to not only experiment with harsh vocals, but I guess to just see what we could do to be a little bit heavier and tighter as a whole. So for me, one of the things that I wanted to do more of was to really connect the rhythm guitars with the drums; for me that was really a big goal to make it sound tight, punchy, heavy, modern...and I think that just really translated to a better production overall. We learnt a lot from album one, so I suppose it was somewhat a deliberate decision but also part of it is just naturally evolving as well...and that part we can't really explain!
TIANA: I personally think that sometimes the things you can't explain are often the best, especially when it comes to creativity...
RAOUF: For sure! Like with album one, our drummer (Daniel Langdon - drums) sort of came in halfway through that process, and I came in with one and a half songs left to finish. So this is the first time all of us have sort of started the songwriting cycle from the very beginning. And we're all really good friends, so we get along really well, and that helps us communicate better in the band room as well. And I think this is just a result of also just getting to know each other, and getting to know each other's styles a little bit more and just working more productively!
TIANA: It definitely comes across as a well oiled machine, and the new stuff certainly packs a punch, and particularly on those rhythmics! And as if the new track wasn't enough, Seraphic also gifted us all with the accompanying music video for 'The Monster Within', and it does mark a pretty solid representation of the themes kicking around on the track...but with the video what was the process like, did you all collaborate on a concept and it evolved from there?
RAOUF: This was the first music video we ever did, so for us it was a really new concept. I'd worked on a music video for my previous band but with this one it was definitely unique. We sort of had a few ideas, the song's lyrics sort of stemmed from when you go through a hard time and sometimes you battle your inner demons, and sometimes you do struggle between the dark and lighter thoughts that go on in your head. So there was always that sort of dichotomy that we wanted to explore...or duality is maybe a better word that we wanted to explore visually. So Sam sort of took the reigns once again of that concept. We all had a chat about what we saw as the light, we talked through with SilentDez Productions and their crew just to see what ideas they had. We went through a few ideas and we ended up with this! They suggested the idea of having interpretive dancers, one representing the shadow and one representing the light, and we fell in love with that concept...and honestly, once we got the main core concept down, and the rest just fell into place.
'THE MONSTER WITHIN' (SERAPHIC)
TIANA: Well hopefully it's the first of many for Seraphic! And rounding out the trifecta of a new song and the music video is the launch! You'll officially launch 'The Monster Within' in October in Brisbane. What can fans expect from this launch show, have you got anything extra special planned?
RAOUF: We're gonna go in there and just try to perform the best show we can, we will be playing a longer set than usual. And we will be premiering another song, so we'll be playing 'The Monster Within' as a single launch, but we'll also be premiering a new song! And we're just gonna go in and try to up our production value as well, so we'll probably have a few more lights...we really want to make it a much more theatrical stage performance!
TIANA: Exciting times ahead for Seraphic then by the sounds of it! And in terms of your live shows and your music in general, you've got a very interesting mix, you've got the symphonic, the melodic and the heavier stuff coming through as well. But for someone involved in particularly niche genre, what kind of music did you personally grow up with? Was it always stuff of a heavier persuasion, or did you just evolve into it like so many of us seem to have done?
RAOUF: Yeah definitely, I think I'm no different to most people, I definitely went through evolutionary phases (laughs). Growing up when I was really young I liked a lot of just what my parents listened to. One artist in particular I was always attached to and whose music I still love is Michael Jackson, funnily enough. Absolutely love MJ. And then, I listened to a bit of rock, so Linkin Park and Evanescence, that kind of stuff. And then slowly that turned into Metallica and Guns N' Roses, which (laughs) turned into Megadeth and Slayer, that turned into Arch Enemy, that turned into Cannibal Corpse...and then it got extremely heavy at that point (laughs). But then I sort of brought it back a little bit, I actually discovered bands like Nightwish, Epic, Dream Theater, Opeth...I mean, Opeth can be really heavy as well but a little bit more melodic and progressive. So these days I listen to a lot of prog metal, but those were sort of my "phases" (laughs). And the music that sort of shaped me as a musician was definitely that phase of Megadeth and Arch Enemy, those bands taught me how to play guitar and were a big influence on me growing up.
TIANA: Sounds like the exact same slippery musical slope I had, so it's nice to know other people had that same experience! Although for yourself, was it always the guitar? Did you dabble in any other instruments when you were younger?
RAOUF: No, I pretty much went straight for the guitar, and I was a bit of a late bloomer. I didn't pick up the guitar until I was about 17. (laughs) It was actually my 17th birthday present! And about six months before I was thinking about getting a guitar. I wasn't quite sure, so I got Guitar Hero instead, thinking that was gonna fill the void a little bit (laughs). But I quickly got bored of that, and I wanted to play real guitar. A lot of my friends were playing guitar, and I wanted to as well. At first it was just kind of to join in and just to learn cool little tricks. And eventually I just practiced so much that I ended up just falling in love with the instrument!
TIANA: Well you did better than me, I got given a guitar for my 16th birthday and I still can't play! At least you made good on your present! Now fast forward back to the present day and Seraphic have played alongside some pretty insane bands already, and I know you've got some live shows lined up in the near future...and you've already listed some of the bands that have impacted on you personally, but do you guys as a band have any bucket list artists or bands you'd love to share the stage with down the track?
RAOUF: Yeah, I've got plenty! I think for me, so I was in a symphonic metal band before Seraphic called Dark Symphonica, and even though bands like Nightwish and Epica weren't necessarily massive early influences for me, they're such an important representation of that genre. And that would be just an incredible goal! We're playing with Kamelot at the end of this year and I feel like that's incredible in itself, and that's very, very close to the top of that! But Nightwish and Epica specifically, I'd love that. And I don't think it's too unrealistic so my hopes are still there! And also personally, I'd love to play with bands like Opeth and Megadeth (laughs). But I'm not sure how realistic those are.
TIANA: Hey, I say never say never! And the rate everyone keeps touring, we should definitely watch this space, you never know what might happen!
RAOUF: (laughs) Yeah for sure! I'd love to get on a festival bill with a whole range of those bands! And that way I get to meet ALL of them!
TIANA: Yes, kill all the birds with one stone!
RAOUF: Exactly! And then die happy (laughs).
TIANA: In terms of the genre(s) that Seraphic exists in...from an outsider's perspective it's obviously always very different, but what's your take on the Aussie metal world inside the industry, do you find it's supportive and collaborative? Or do you guys still feel like you're sort of still finding your way amongst it?
RAOUF: That's a good question, I think it's probably as strong as it every has been, maybe even stronger! I think it's a really solid community. But I think were still trying to find our place a little bit. You know, there is definitely a place for a lot of the heavier bands than us. And then there's a place for prog, prog has an especially strong scene in Australia. But we sit somewhere between both - which is not a bad thing, we end up playing with death metal bands and then next weekend we could be playing with a melodic and progressive rock band. Which is good, but it is hard to sort of find that slot and find other similar bands to us. We find that there aren't too many bands within this melodic metal umbrella that we can play shows with...so we do end up playing with lots of different bands. But I wouldn't say it's a hostile environment or anything like that, there are people willing to help. And I think we're finally starting to find our feet a little bit, and we're just hopeful that momentum continues into the future!
TIANA: It's awesome, Seraphic are metal chameleons! Well, it'll be awesome to see what unfolds next for Seraphic, and I can't wait to hear more in the near future!
RAOUF: Awesome, thank you so much!
SERAPHIC'S NEW TRACK 'THE MONSTER WITHIN' IS OUT NOW, PLUS YOU CAN CATCH THEIR SINGLE LAUNCH SHOW UP IN BRISSIE ON THE 12TH OF OCTOBER. FOR MORE INFO, HEAD TO:
BY TIANA SPETER