interview with Alchemy Chamber

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Have any of you played in other bands? Absolutely, all members participate in other projects. Anna Kuchkova is a member of  West Coast Symphony and New Westminster Symphony and fills in on cello for other local orchestras and projects. Julia Geaman plays drums in a thrash band Revenger. Kevin Arland, Capilano graduate, participates in multiple salsa and jazz projects, including South Van Big Band, and Ash Kazi has his own project called Mausiki.

How is it that you started playing music?

Anna: I started when I was 7. My parents sent me to music school...

Ash: Picked up a guitar. Played the shit out of it.

Kevin: Mom made me when I started grade 8.  No word of a lie.

Julia: I started playing guitar initially because I was listening to a lot of Death at the time and was a fan of Chuck Schuldiner but then the drumming on all the albums I was listening to started really sparking my curiosity. I walked to the closest music store which was about an hour and a half away and decided that if I could play some kind of beat, I would sign up for drum lessons. That was 12 years ago.

What are your names? / Who plays what? / How old are you?

Anna Kuchkova, 30, cello

Kevin Arland, 45, saxophone

Ashar Kazi, 30, guitar

Zenon Shandro, 30, bass

Julia Geaman, 28, drums

Have you had other previous members? Yes, originally we had Mehmet Turan on guitar and Marco Restagno on bass. We also have Rob Fenton as our go-to guitar sub for some shows.

Did you make music even when you were young?
Ash: Yes, since I was 9.

Anna: Yes, I took composition for the first time in music school when I was a kid.

Kevin: Nothing serious, although from an early age I was hooked on Chicago, although at the time I had no idea why.

Julia: It wasn’t until I started playing drums that I felt like I started becoming musical. I liked to dance more than make music and it wasn’t until I was in my twenties that I started playing around with composing.

Where are you from?

The band is located in Vancouver BC. Individual members, however, come from different parts of the world!
Ash: Karachi, Pakistan

Anna: Novosibirsk, Russia

Kevin: Surrey BC, Canada

Julia: Bucharest, Romania

Zenon: Edmonton AB, Canade

What year did the band form? December 2012

What's your style of genre? Neo-classical instrumental metal

What inspires you? Our favourite artists, music, books, personal life experiences, traveling, meeting new people, trying things outside of our comfort zone.

How often and where do you rehearse? It depends on the upcoming events. Twice a week if we have a show coming up. We, like most other bands in town, have a rehearsal spot in the industrial area of East Vancouver.

How have you developed since you started with the music? When we first started playing, we had a concept of what we wanted the band to sound like, but no idea how to make that happen. We knew we wanted it to be equally heavy and melodic as well as very precise and with clear progressive element, but getting the right balance was a huge learning curve. Our biggest advancement is knowing exactly what we need and having a consistent sound engineer who knows our music and can bring out the right parts at the right time. A huge improvement was getting an in-ear monitor system. It makes a world of a difference. Our sound has matured so much since we first jammed on tiny amps and an electric drum kit.

Do you have other interests of work outside the band? We all have very different jobs. Ash is a technology specialist and project manager and can wear a casual suit and tie pretty well. Anna is a busy mom of two, entrepreneur in the household service industry and a freelance cellist, steadily upgrading her music credentials. Julia is a drum teacher and clinician. She mostly spends her time, when not playing, learning about music history and business. Kevin is balancing busy gig nights with a managerial position at his textile company. Zenon is representing a high-end formal wear retailer.

Are you looking for a booking agency, and what are your thoughts around that? Locally, we book our shows ourselves or work with show promoters, and will continue to do so in the foreseeable future. For tours, we're planning to possibly hire a booking agent. Getting a booking agency means you have more time to focus on the music and other interests and less stress related to organizing and logistics.  

Are you looking for a label, and what are your thoughts around that? Not at the moment. Relationships between bands and labels can get very complicated. It would have to be the right opportunity... We are a difficult band to market, and we want to make sure we have our creative freedom. We are, however, looking for a good publicist to work with on regular basis.

What made you decide to make this music?

It started with Anna composing a few duets. The rest of us fell in place, and we all have a different reason for why this attracted us.

Julia: I remember listening to just a midi file of the compositions and feeling like I could have so much fun composing drum parts for it. It felt like there were no rules and I could do whatever I wanted.

Ash: Unconventional instrumentation.

Kevin: I love the fact that it's not vocal because the listener can feel whatever they will without being influenced by lyrics or titles.

Zenon played a New Year show with us 2 years ago as a sub, found he liked the music, and since then has been our semi-permanent bassist.

What are your songs about? They are definitely open for interpretation, but in a nutshell, they are about the dynamics of a heartfelt emotional experience, moods, ambiance.

Who does the composing? Mostly Anna. Kevin has written one piece, but we all contribute somewhat to the finished product. Julia composes all the drums, Kevin and Ash write their own solos. We also have a small number of semi-improvised fluid compositions where everyone contributes equally.

Do you compose in a certain environment? It usually starts with Anna at home on her piano or cello, writing a melody or a progression, developing the idea into a song and arranging it for the band; the rest of us receive the scores and listen to the midi on our own time. We then come to the rehearsal and play through to see if realization matches the intention, make sure the pace feels right, and it usually does. Sometimes someone comes in with an idea, a chord progression or melody line, and it gets incorporated into the song. Julia usually tries a few different ideas before settling on a drum part that suits the song the best.

Have you done any covers live? We played Apocalyptica’s “Path”.

What are the least and most people to attend one of your gigs? We have had full rooms as well as shows where hardly anyone showed up. 

What ages are most of your concert attendants? Anywhere from 19-50+ but probably mostly people in their 20’s and 30’s.

Do you always play the same songs live, or do you vary? We definitely have our favourite songs that we like to play almost every time, but we also always add something new at each show.

Do you have a regular place you play live often? No. We play some places more often than others, but we're always looking forward to play places we have never been to before the most.

What was your first gig like? It was in a friend's garage and it was a good experience. It was a great way to see how we could translate what we wanted to into a live show. There is no vocalist, so deciding who talks, or if we should talk between songs, was something we were trying to figure out.

What was your latest gig? The Wolf Bar in Maple Ridge BC, Nov. 25, 2018. The audience was really engaged and it felt like we played better than ever. It’s really cool to see people paying attention and enjoying your music.

Have you had to cancel a gig? The only time it happened was last summer. Two out of town shows had to be cancelled due to an unfortunate combination of a few factors: a family tragedy, unforeseen financial difficulties, forest fires and last minute venue changes. We really did try to make it work, but the circumstances were just working against us.

Where have you played live this year? Mainly lower mainland of BC.

Where do you plan to gig the coming year? This coming year we're planning to play in BC and Alberta, but eventually we would like to set out beyond Canada as well.

When did you start to sell merchandise, and what do you have for sale? Once we released our first EP. We have CDs, t-shirts, patches, stickers and shot glasses. 

Where can people buy your merchandise?

Currently, at our shows and order via email.

What do you think about people downloading music instead of buying records now a days? It is what it is. Instead of reminiscing about how things used to be, we need to adapt to changes and go with the flow. People who really enjoy a band will support them by buying an album or going to a concert - probably after discovering them by downloading, so it can work to the band's advantage. Though sometimes people only download tracks they like and miss out on the experience of listening to an album from start to finish, which is a shame.

How do you think the music industry have changed because of this? Because music nowadays is so easy to acquire, it's getting progressively more and more devalued. It's treated like something that has no importance - just another file one can download or erase as they need to make room for something else. The artists’ values, intentions and hard work get overlooked, and it simply becomes another item in our consumption culture - people are after what's convenient, what's accessible, and what's cheap. The money now is made not by selling music, but by developing platforms that give you those things - access to anything at any time for cheap/free.

What do you think of my work? It's great that you're reaching out to so many bands and making people aware of what they do! It shows true interest.

How do you think and know that this interview will help you in the music business? If it reaches one person in Sweden or anywhere else in the world and sparks their interest, that would be worth it.

Do you have any role models or idols? We all have different people we look up to whether it be our teachers, famous bands and players, smaller bands, other local musicians or classical composers. 

Why do you think that they exist? Inspiration.  Education.  Critical analysis.

Is it easier to find inspiration from older bands, or bands that are more active today? In terms of the approach, it’s easier to be inspired by current bands because so much has changed; a lot of what used to work before no longer applies. Musically though, any genre from any time period can be inspiring.

What have been your biggest obstacles? As a band, our biggest struggle has been live sound. It proved to be worth hiring our own sound person for each show who is familiar with our sound and has the skills to maintain the right balance with our odd instrumentation. Some members had to get over their performance anxiety.

What advice would you give other bands or artists? Keep practicing, take lessons, experiment and learn your theory. Learn a bit of business. Talk to promoters, make connections, figure out how the industry works, be available and have good relationships with everyone involved. That being said, never lose yourself and don't let anyone alter your creativity.

How do you get psyched for a gig? Clear focus is essential, so rather than getting hyped up, it's better to stay as calm as you can and not have too many drinks! We all usually find our spot where we practice and warm up, and we always do a sound check. Cello and sax can be difficult to mix live, so we have to make sure there aren’t any technical issues when we are ready to perform.

Do you have any new material? Lots of new material is coming up in 2018! A 10 song full length album, videos and more.

What are your web sites?

How can people reach you?

What are your plans for the future? Keep on making music, and keep extending our reach.

Do you have something to add? Thank you for the interview! We would love to send you a copy of our new album when it's ready and hear your opinion!

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