INTERVIEW: Sam Wolstenholme (SERAPHIC)
A potent powder keg of intricate charm and compelling zeal, Brisbane symphonic metallers Seraphic forcefully embrace the celestial being their namesake embodies. Cleaving gothic elegance alongside celestial light and metal fervour, Seraphic spin a crisp take on the symphonic genre, with their grooves and burly textures offering a decadent counterpoint to the lush soprano vocals and piano-driven melodics soaring overhead.
With a huge couple of years in their wake, including their debut 2017 album Journey to Illumination and tours alongside Queensryche, Overkill and beyond, it seems delightfully fitting that the quintet's sophomore album comes at a significant time of transformation and change in the world; particularly when said album sports the title Chrysalis. From the palpitating might of Garden of Unearthly Delights to the sumptuous drama of Break, each passing track on Chrysalis draws you deeper through a sharp and profound journey; fragile in its beauty while defiantly ferocious in its valour. And with this divine new album officially finding its way into the world today, come crawl deeper into this powerful release with Seraphic frontwoman Sam Wolstenholme herself chatting creative expression, inspiration and why they can now officially say they're a symphonic metal band. Interview below.
TIANA SPETER: Hey Sam! Thanks so much for chatting today, it’s an especially exciting time in the Seraphic world with the release of your brand new album ‘Chrysalis’ right now. How does it feel to finally be able to unveil this gorgeous release to the world?
SAM WOLSTENHOLME: Hey Tiana, thanks so much for having me! Well, I can’t tell you how satisfying it feels to finally release this album that we’ve been working so hard on for such a long time. To be honest, there were quite a few moments there along the way when I thought we might never get there and this album might never see the light of day, because over the past three years since we started working on “Chrysalis”, all of us have had to overcome so many obstacles professionally and personally. It was touch-and-go there for a while, but we persevered even through the pandemic, and so now that the album is actually out in the world, it’s such a huge achievement for us. For me personally, anything after this is just an added bonus!
TIANA: With a name like ‘Chrysalis’ it seems particularly fitting, not just from the perspective that we are all starting to emerge from isolation and lockdown slowly but surely; but also being your sophomore album, it really showcases the band’s transition since‘Journey to Illumination’ back in 2017. What was it like going into round two album-wise, was there any shifts in the writing and/or recording processes this time round compared to your debut? Or did you perhaps stick to what worked the first time?
SAM: We have a tried-and-tested approach to songwriting in Seraphic, where I write the bare bones of each track on piano and vocals and sketch out the chord progression of the song, then I send that demo and chord chart to the guys to play along with at home and write their own parts. I’m not an expert on any of their instruments, so it’s always worked really well for me to encourage them to bring their own flavour and creativity to flesh out the initial demo. We’ll then write together at practices pretty organically, trying out different things to see what works and what doesn’t for each track. We more or less kept that same approach to writing the tracks for Chrysalis, and each of those tracks turned out much better than I envisioned when writing the demos, because each of the guys are amazing composers in their own right, and what they brought to this album completely transformed it for me. What we did do differently on Chrysalis when compared with our debut album is that we approached writing each track with a more modern, riff-driven mindset as far as guitar parts were concerned, and Dan (our drummer) matched that with a more versatile approach to writing drum parts. We also added harsh vocals to this album, provided by our very talented bassist Michael, and we’ve added lots of orchestrations to each track. After our first album was released, we were immediately considered to be a symphonic metal band even though there were no orchestrations on that album. Now we can finally say we’re actually a symphonic metal band!
TIANA: The whole album blends plenty of light and shade while dishing out some dazzling symphonic metal throughout. And while the riffs and big, sweeping moments are there, there’s also a significant sense of intimacy in a lot of the lyrical content. Can you talk me through a bit more about the themes bubbling away on ‘Chrysalis’? And how much of your own personal experience finds its way into a Seraphic song, generally speaking?
SAM: Well firstly, thank you so much! Dazzling is definitely what we were going for, haha. You are correct in saying that “Chrysalis” is a very personal album. Lyrically, it represents my battle with mental illness over the last few years and how I have transformed my life after fighting my way out of the depths of depression and ongoing anxiety. Music has always been a way for me to turn something ugly and painful in my life into something beautiful, and so writing this album was incredibly therapeutic for me. I’m on the right track now to living the life I want to live, and being the person I want to be, but I had to go through and lose quite a lot to get there. Each track on “Chrysalis” represents a different thread in that tapestry of intense emotions and life-changing experiences – there’s love, loss, heartbreak, rage, identity crises, all the things everyone experiences at one point or another in their lives, but art provides this incredible tool to express how that’s made you feel. “Chrysalis” is my soul laid bare for the world to see, and I felt that was really important given that the album delves into mental health issues. Because of the prevailing stigma around mental health, I wanted this album to convey an honest, authentic exploration of those struggles as I have experienced them. I wanted to give a voice to the taboo, to the silent battles we fight but may be too ashamed to talk about in detail. I am a massive mental health advocate, and my aim for this album was to illustrate in musical form a no-bullshit account of what it’s like to battle with your own mind that’s telling you you’re not enough, why would you bother, there’s no point. I’m on the other side now, and I can say that it’s worth it – and that’s what Chrysalis is about, and I hope anyone who is struggling and listens to the album can take comfort in that and feel understood and loved.
TIANA: In the lead-up to this release you’ve dished out a few singles to tantalise fans, as well as an appropriately fiery clip for ‘The Phoenix’. Do you enjoy that side of the creative process, bringing these songs to life visually?
SAM: Oh, massively! Symphonic metal is a particularly colourful and immersive style of metal, so we’ve really embraced music videos to visually represent the potent themes in our tracks. We’re really lucky in that we’ve found an amazing collaborative partner in Visul, the team who filmed and produced our first-ever music video that we made for “The Monster Within” single release back in 2018, and we worked with them again for “The Phoenix” video. Dez just has such a creative, innovative approach to fleshing out our vision for the track – I love storyboarding with him, no idea is too outlandish or grandiose! Like with Phoenix, I really wanted the video for that to make a powerful statement that viewers wouldn’t forget in a hurry, because it was to be the first single release for our album and the first new music we’d released in two years, so I really wanted that to go off with a bang. I had the vision in my head of a Game of Thrones, Khaleesi-style phoenix character literally rising from the ashes, stronger and braver than before, and so for the film narrative, that necessitated the use of quite a lot of fire. Dez was completely on board for that, and anything else really, which is how we managed to get so many bonfires in those performance shots! I honestly loved every minute of making that video; it’s a very significant track for me, as it ties in a lot of themes on “Chrysalis” about death, rebirth and transformation, and rising out of a dark place to be stronger in yourself. It was so much fun to challenge ourselves and see how fiery we could make the clip!
TIANA: And for many fans interstate or still in lockdown, catching glimpses of you all in a music video is the closest we can get to a “live” performance until gigging is totally back on the menu…but on that topic, Seraphic will be playing a special album launch show in November (which, side note, if the borders open I may be able to come up for, I have a flight booked to Bris on that very day!! But I digress..). What can everyone expect from this extra-special occasion, and how keen are you to bust out this brand new baby in front of a crowd?
SAM: Oh man, we have all missed playing gigs SO much this year, so we are unbelievably excited about our album launch show! Because of the restrictions, it’s going to be a seated show, but I’m actually really keen for that, because we will be playing the full album, from start to finish, live for the first time ever at this show. So it will feel like we’re kind of giving a special gift to all those in attendance, a world-first debut of this music we are so proud of to our beloved fans in a really intimate setting. I can’t wait to connect with our fans in this way. Might even bust out the LED candles for some extra mood lighting! We’ll also have Brisbane metal heavyweights Kaerulean and Devonian along for the ride, and they’re amazing at what they do, so it’s a stellar lineup in store for the night.
TIANA: Speaking of live shows, you’ve certainly played your fair share of gigs around the place…but is there a particular standout live performance memory for you? Whether it was amazing, terrible or just downright hilarious?
SAM: Honestly, I’ll never forget our album launch show for our debut album, “Journey to Illumination”. It was at the New Globe Theatre before that venue closed down (RIP), on my 24th birthday, and it was the most incredible night! We had an amazing crowd there, way more attendees than we were expecting, and they were cheering all through our set which culminated in a few circle pits during our last song. I can still feel the pure elation that was running through me as we played and connected with the crowd in such a special way – I genuinely felt like our music was bringing people together and resonating with them so strongly. That for me is what being a musician is all about – you can’t put a price on that feeling. That show will always be a huge highlight of my musical career, for sure.
TIANA: As a vocalist, you pull off some amazing operatic shenanigans mixed with heavier flair…but was there a singer back in the day who significantly inspired you to pursue a singing career? Was there a game-changing moment we have to thank for all this gorgeous music from you?
SAM: Thank you so much! I put that down to many years of training, as well as life-changing inspiration from my favourite bands at a formative age. When I was 15, I first heard Nightwish, and they were my first glimpse into the world of symphonic metal, and the wider world of heavy metal in general, and it changed my life. I’d been playing piano since I was 5 and singing since I was 8, so music was already a huge part of my life and my young identity, and even since a young age I’d found that I was particularly drawn to “sad” and darker, more intense styles of music. Then I found Nightwish, and metal, at 15, and I saw the possibilities of bringing classical vocals and orchestrations into metal, and it blew my mind. That’s when it clicked for me – I knew this was the music I myself had to create, and from then on, I started writing a lot more of my own music. In terms of vocal inspiration, the vocalist who actually inspired me the most is Simone Simons from Epica, because I found that she toes the line really well between a very dark, rich classical tone and what I call the “classical belt”, which is where classical technique is applied to produce a powerful but still vocally healthy belt that sounds more pop in style.
TIANA: And lastly to close us out today: in honour of the brand new Seraphic album ‘Chrysalis’, are there any other beautiful things on the horizon for the band as you emerge into this exciting next chapter for the band? Anything you can reveal? Or do we just have to wait and see…
SAM: We are looking forward to what 2021 has in store for us! Now that Chrysalis is released, the plan is to hopefully tour again nationally, restrictions permitting, as well as internationally! There may be one or two things in the works for next year, but I do have to be fairly tight-lipped on that ;) Overall, we’re just excited to see where this album takes us and how it sets us up for a bright future playing this music that means so much to us all.
SERAPHIC'S BRAND NEW ALBUM CHRYSALIS IS OUT WEAVING MAGIC IN THE WORLD RIGHT NOW. PLUS! IF YOU'RE IN BRISBANE NEXT MONTH, YOU CAN CATCH THE NEW ALBUM LIVE IN ACTION WITH A SPECIAL LAUNCH SHOW AT THE BRIGHTSIDE ON NOVEMBER 13. FOR MORE INFO, HEAD HERE.
BY TIANA SPETER