Interview – Chris Thompson (Sovereign Council)

While “the moose” takes a summer vacation to tame Eastern Europe, have some excellent beer and, of course, praise Iron Maiden, please enjoy this very interesting interview with guitarist Chris Thompson, from Canadian Symphonic Metal band Sovereign Council, conducted by Brazilian journalist Renata Santos for the website Portal do Inferno. See you guys in July!

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Sovereign Council (photo by Vertigo Productions)

Portal do Inferno: Hello, Chris! Thank you very much for the interview. It is a pleasure having Sovereign Council at Portal do Inferno. First of all, how would you describe the band to the Brazilian audience that don’t know you yet? What are your main influences and in which way have those influences contributed with your songs?

Chris Thompson: Thanks for having us; we’re honoured to be here. That’s a tough question, and one that we get asked quite often. We often find people comparing us to bands like Lacuna Coil, Kamelot, Nightwish, Within Temptation, etc etc. I agree that we do share certain aspects of our sound with these bands, but we’re certainly very different at the same time. All of these bands have influenced us in some way, but we also draw influences from a lot of places people would not necessarily expect. I think our love of heavier music – Meshuggah, Lamb of God, In Flames, and Gojira, to name a few, – is what gives our music more edge in the guitar and drum lines compared to some of the more traditional symphonic metal bands.

That being said, we also draw a lot of our influences from hip-hop, rap, classical, and rock. A lot of our lyrical influence comes from philosophical texts as well as personal life experiences.

P.I.: Symphonic metal is a really well-developed style in Europe, with bands like Delain, Epica, Nightwish, among others, but we cannot find many representatives in North America. How is this style seen especially by the Canadian public?

Chris: I think there is a real niche for this sound here. We’ve noticed a trend with reviews from abroad; everyone in Europe, South America, and even the USA is shocked when they learn that we’re Canadian. Here in Canada it is a little bit difficult for us. We end up being the odd band out in a lot of the shows we play simply because there aren’t enough symphonic bands in the area. Most metal bands around here are hardcore, progressive, or thrash metal. Overall however, our music and our performances are always very well received.

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Chris Thompson (photo by Orest Dorosh/Front Row Pics)

P.I.: The band’s debut album, New Reign (2013), was released with no record label. Here in Brazil it is very difficult, expensive and demanding for a band to release their own material without the support of a record label. What about Canada? How is it to be an independent artist?

Chris: It was a lot of hard work, but at the same time I wouldn’t say that it was overly difficult – certainly not beyond the reach of any really committed artist anyway. In some ways, unless you get offered a really great deal, it’s actually beneficial to remain independent. I think that so long as you work hard you will have success as an independent artist in the Canadian scene. There are different levels of success. We are certainly seeking support from labels and management organizations, but we aren’t about to sell ourselves short either. When the right deal comes along we’ll definitely jump at the opportunity to further our career.

P.I.: Tell me a little bit about New Reign in regards to the composition and recording process. What inspired you to record this album from a lyrical and musical standpoint?

Chris: New Reign was a project in the making for quite a while. Each song began as one or two guitar lines and built up from there. Generally speaking, I come to Alex with a guitar line that I feel has potential and he takes it and adds bass, drums, string sections, etc. For the most part we let the music write itself, if that makes sense. Certain songs, New Reign for example, took several months before it was completed, but others such as Down The Rabbit Hole, were completely written in one sitting. We just make sure that we’re never forcing anything; the music needs to feel organic and flow naturally.

We almost always have the music written before the lyrics are even thought about. We really listen to what the music is conveying emotionally and then base our lyrics around that feeling and atmosphere.

Much of the album was inspired by our own life experiences, both musically and lyrically speaking. I think we’ve succeeded in telling a story with our music, and most people seem to really connect with the theatrical story-telling on an emotional level; that is to say that many people can relate to these common human experiences.

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Alexander MacWilliam (photo by Orest Dorosh/Front Row Pics)

P.I.: Listening to the tracks from New Reing, we can notice many melodic and vocal variations. The songs go from clean to guttural vocals and the beautiful and delicate vocals by Lisa Thompson, who makes great duets with vocalist Alexander MacWilliam. The comparison with bands that have female and male vocals is inevitable. Names such as Lacuna Coil, Kamelot, Nightwish, among many others end up being mentioned. Does that bother you? How do Sovereign Council differentiate yourselves from those bands in this aspect?

Chris: This is a great question. It certainly doesn’t bother us. It’s almost always a good thing to be likened to any of those bands; and I wouldn’t say that we actually try to separate from or associate with those bands. Our sound is very different and yet, in some aspects such as vocals, similar. One thing that does separate us is our theatrical storytelling and live performance. Moreover, Alex’s growls and screams also help to separate us even further. I do feel personally however, that our biggest difference lay in the guitar lines and drum lines. Our guitar lines are very complex in their composition; at times our guitars carry a melody and a counter melody together and leave the rhythm to the bass and keys.

P.I.: In the beginning of May you had the opportunity to be one of the opening acts for German Heavy Metal band Primal Fear in Toronto. How was that experience for the band? The music by Sovereign Council is very different from what Primal Fear do, so how did the audience react to your performance?

Chris: The show with Primal Fear was an amazing experience. Primal Fear is an extremely talented band and it was an honour to open for them and to meet them. The audience reaction was not too unlike our usual experience with new crowds. A lot of people look very confused through the first half of the first song, but it doesn’t take too long for us to win a crowd over. The uniqueness of our sound always throws new listeners for a bit of a loop, but it almost always wins them over quite quickly. By the start of our second song in the set we had won the crowd over, especially once Lisa began to sing. We like to think of her as our ‘secret weapon’ – in our standard set she isn’t in the first song so when she appears in Sweet Poison she really blows people away.

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Lisa Thompson (photo by Orest Dorosh/Front Row Pics)

P.I.: In 2013, you played several concerts in Canada with Brazilian band Santuarium, from Rio de Janeiro. How did you get to know each other and how did that opportunity to tour together come up?

Chris: We actually met them by chance. Their manager at the time was looking for supporting acts for their Canadian tour. She found us on Facebook and asked us if we wanted to join the tour. After meeting with her on Skype and listening to Santuarium’s music we decided that we would love to work with them. So from there, her and I worked together to set up several shows with our two bands. We got the opportunity to play some football with them in Toronto before a show, which of course was a lot of fun! We played a friendly match of Sovereign Council vs. Santuarium; which effectively worked out to Canada vs. Brazil. Needless to say, Brazil won the match, but it was a close game! Later on, in November, we hooked up with Santuarium for two more shows, which was great.

P.I.: What do you know about the Brazilian Heavy Metal scene and what’s your opinion about the musicality of our bands?

Chris: I actually know very little about the Brazilian scene and the only Brazilian band I’ve had the opportunity to work with is Santuarium. That being said they are incredibly professional and talented.

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Sovereign Council (photo by Orest Dorosh/Front Row Pics)

P.I.: Can we expect a switch in the future, this time with Sovereign Council touring Brazil together with Santuarium?

Chris: We have actually discussed this, and it very well could happen. There are no solid plans in place just yet. I am traveling to Rio de Janeiro to meet with some of the members of Santuarium in July this year so who knows what plans will develop for the future.

P.I.: What are the plans for the future of Sovereign Council? Are you already working on any new material?

Chris: Our future is a very bright one in my opinion. We’re a young, hard-working, talented, and focused band. We’re constantly working hard to improve as individual musicians and as a group and our live shows keep getting better and better as a result. We are starting to reach out to various groups for assistance and we’re hoping to begin touring outside of Canada in the near future.

As for new material, I can’t give away too much information, but our second full-length album is well underway. It’s definitely got a heavier feel, but it stays true to the Sovereign Council sound that has been so well received on New Reign.

P.I.: Thanks again for the interview, we appreciate that. Feel free to send a message to all the readers from Portal do Inferno.

Chris: Obrigado Renata! Esperamos ver você e seus leitores quando fizermos uma turnê no Brasil!

Check out the original interview at Portal do Inferno in Brazilian Portuguese and English by clicking HERE.

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