Pythia Interview with Emily Ovenden

//Pythia Interview with Emily Ovenden

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Pythia recently had a record release gig at London’s Borderline for new album The Serpent’s Curse and you can check out the review of that here.

Prior to the gig Emily took time out to catch up with our scribe Nick.

Interview – Emily Ovenden of Pythia

by Nicholas Holmes


Bill Shankly, the legendary Liverpool FC manager, once claimed football is not a matter of life or death, it’s more important than that. Maybe the same applies to heavy metal. 


The release of “The Serpent’s Curse” is something of a triumph against the odds for Pythia. Released through their own label with no help from big record companies, they are determinedly flying the flag for British metal on their own terms – and refusing to be dismissed as just another  “femme metal” band – whatever that is. 


They also had to contend with the brother of drummer, Marc Dyos, passing away from pancreatitis and guitarist Tim Neale contracting the same life-threatening illness. After being in a coma, thankfully he pulled through. Added to all that, singer Emily Ovenden gave birth to her first child – so it has been a time of lows and highs.


In the build up to the launch event for their second album at London’s Borderline, Emily talks about band identity, boobs and Brian Blessed’s bad language!


How is new album different from the first one, “Beneath The Veiled Embrace”?


It’s quite a big progression for us as a band. With the debut, it was our first attempt at making an album. And although we are very proud of that album, I think “The Serpent’s Curse” has come on a lot since then. I think Pythia as a band has really established its identity, a little bit stronger on making this second album. 


What is that identity?


I think basically we are a very British metal band. I think we have separated ourselves a little bit from the female-fronted sort of metal scene that’s very strong in Europe. I think one thing that is very obvious to me as one of the writers of the album is that it’s a quintessential English album…a British album coming from a British band. And the album is certainly a lot heavier, a lot faster. I think it’s stronger in every way.


Were you a teenage metalhead?


I was probably more Goth than metal, really. But for me there’s a difference between the words Goth and gothic. I’ve got some very strong gothic roots. From an early age I had a very big interest in gothic literature, particularly Victorian literature. And I grew up in a gothic house as well, it was a mock gothic house that my Dad designed and built in Cornwall. So I’ve got some pretty strong gothic elements to my upbringing. I think metal and classical music are very similar in lots of ways. There’s a certain virtuosity that’s required in both of them, and I think that they sort of go hand in hand. If Mozart was composing today, what sort of music would he be making? Perhaps he would actually be making heavy metal! (laughs)


How did you discover metal music?


As a teenager, and as a child, I really mainly listened to classical music and 1950s musicals. “My Fair Lady” and things like that. I really got into it at quite a late stage actually. I was 17 when I started listening to heavy metal. A friend of the family introduced me to Iron Maiden, and that’s how I got into listening to it. Saxon was another big band that I was really into. At the same time I was really into Kate Bush and P J Harvey as well. Very strong creative female singers who were really forging their own way as vocalists and as writers. So I’ve always had a very eclectic music taste. I wouldn’t say that I was totally into heavy metal and that’s all I listened to. I actually listen to all kinds of music. 


Why is metal important to you?


I have a real love affair with it. I think it’s because there’s none of this kind of pretending to be cool about it, like going with the times or going with the fashion. For me, fashion is a bit of a horror. I don’t like it. This idea that all of a sudden that one kind of hat is fashionable, or one kind of shoe. Music tends to go hand in hand with fashion, or at least popular music. I find that very off-putting. It’s just not like that with heavy metal. It’s like a rock that just stays there the whole time and it doesn’t fucking matter what is fashionable at the time. It’s still there chugging away. Music dates, if you are too fashionable-inclined musically, particularly with certain production techniques and things like that. Heavy metal appeals to me because I don’t see myself as being a particularly cool person! (laughs)


Do you read what is written about you and the band?


With reviews, I choose to believe the good ones and that whoever wrote the bad ones is a wanker! (laughs) So I don’t really let them affect me, because you can’t. One person’s going to listen to something and think it’s absolutely brilliant, and one person is going to listen to it’s just not going to be their cup of tea. If you take onboard every single thing the reviewers say, you just wouldn’t make music because you’d be so confused. I choose to believe the good ones and I choose to disregard the bad ones.


Why do you make the effort to release special formats like picture discs and box sets of your music?


I think in this day and age music has become quite devalued, by the internet, by people being able to download the album for free. The easier something is to obtain, the more people don’t recognise it as being something of value. If you can hold a beautiful picture disc vinyl in your hand, and it also sounds good, then it’s giving value to your music again. So we have made a real effort, particularly with this new album, to have it available on different formats for people. So you’ve still got a treasure in your hand, and it isn’t just something nicked off the internet. 


Do you love the old school formats yourself? Do you own many records?


With vinyl and stuff there’s always a “Wow!” factor. The whole ritual of taking it out the sleeve, putting it on, getting the needle in place…oh…there’s a little scratch there which sort of adds to the music. There’s always a kind of “Wow!” factor. Music is my life, and I still find it incredibly magical and exciting. I actually own a very unique collection of original format vinyl that I inherited from my father, which contains some of the first records ever made. So there’s about 250,000 of those records, and they are kept in a very safe place! (laughs)


What kind of people are your fans?


I think because we started as an underground band…we’ve got our own label, we haven’t got any backing from any major record companies, we’ve been very lucky to build up a very loyal pro-active fan-base. From the first album, people have enjoyed getting involved with what we’re doing. They’re kind of all ages…girls, boys, men, women. 




Do you think people make stereotypes about women in metal?


It’s a difficult one. I don’t see why a band should be put into a genre just because you’ve got a female singer, rather than the fact of the kind of music you make. Particularly in this country the female singers of the bands, we all tend to get lumped together and our music tends to get compared with certain bands purely because of my sex – because I am a woman rather than a man. 


Metal used to be seen as very male-dominated – is that changing?


I think it’s still very difficult for women. Quite often we’ll get reviews where they’ll mention the size of my breasts rather than our music. At the moment I am breastfeeding a baby, so I find it quite offensive actually! (laughs) But I don’t think they mean it to be offensive. I think they think it’s funny and it’s a bit of a laddish culture. But then I’m a bit of a “lad” anyway! (laughs) I don’t think the boys in Pythia see me as being female, I think they just see me as one of the guys. It’s tricky, because as a woman in heavy metal, you can use it to your advantage. Maybe it’s easier to get press attention because there are so few women involved in the scene. But that then stigmatizes you as a band. So it’s tricky, but I think in the end it comes down to making really great music and I think that’s what we do. Pythia makes really good music, and that’s what we want to be recognized for. Not for the fact that I’ve got a big pair of…! (laughs)


Where does the inspiration for your songs come from?


I just write from my heart. When I sit down and write a song, I just write it. I don’t really know where it comes from, it’s just kind of embedded in my soul. Sometimes I think a lot of musicians and composers and writers feel a little bit like channeling something, and it just sort of pulls out. Every single song has a personal sentiment behind it.


Is Pythia an opportunity to let certain feelings out that maybe you can’t in your other projects?


All of my music projects play a different role in my life. With Celtic Legend, I write the lyrics, whereas Medieval Baebes is more about setting poetry that already exists from the medieval periods. But Pythia is definitely my project where I can really, really let loose with lyrics.


You famously recruited actor Brian Blessed to contribute to your song “Army of the Damned” on your first album. How did that come about?


I wanted to include the Siegfried Sassoon poem (“Suicide In The Trenches”) in the song because I love his poetry. I’m interested in the war poets, so I wanted to include it. And we were just like “Who? Dream…pick one, pick anybody, to read this poem…who would it be?” and we were like, “It’s got to be Brian Blessed!” So we tried a few different avenues. I wrote to him and didn’t get any luck. Eventually we phoned up his agent and said, “How much would it cost us?” That was when the message got through to him, because the agent went, “We got this job for you, Brian.” Then he decided he really wanted to it. It was well worth it. 


What was he like to work with?


He’s everything you’d want him to be. He’s hilarious and clever and charming and very, very rude! And quite sexy – for an old man! (laughs) Brian Blessed swears more than anybody I think I’ve ever met. He just kept saying “Cunt!” over and over again! (laughs) It’s hilarious, because it’s so posh as well. Posh people and vicars. When vicars swear it’s funny as well! (laughs)



Who else is on your dream list to work with?


There are so many people I’d love to work with, an endless list. We kept it a bit more in-house on this album, got a few friends to do some bits and pieces for us. I recently did backing vocals for Dragonforce’s new album, which I really enjoyed doing. Hugely fun, just hanging out with them and singing. I’d love to sing with Bruce Dickinson – that would be amazing. Ronnie James Dio…if you could bring someone back from the dead. I am gutted that I never got to meet him. I’ve been a massive Rainbow fan ever since…ever. 


What’s next for the band?


We’ve got a new video we’re working on that should be out in about a month, which I’m really excited about because it’s a bit more high budget than we normally do! (laughs) That’s really exciting. It’s one of the songs that’s really close to my heart – one of my favourites on the album. I’m really excited about that. 


Today – 29th February – is the Leap Day. What is the biggest leap you have taken in your life?


That is a really difficult question, but I had a baby recently. For a long time I thought that I would never be a mum and that I wasn’t the kind of person that would be lucky enough. I’ve always been a bit of a free-ranger, quite an independent person and things have changed for me dramatically. I’ve had a baby, I’m engaged and I’m taking that huge leap to believe that I can stay in a relationship for the rest of my life. I think that is probably the biggest leap of faith that somebody like me can take, because career-wise you have to be fearless. You have to at least feel the fear and do it anyway, but what’s more frightening is to take those kind of personal leaps. 


Next gigs:


Supporting Serenity

Saturday 24th March @ Bogiez, Cardiff 

Sunday 25th March @ The Underworld, London 


Find out more:


“Betray My Heart” video:


Read Nicholas’ review of their recent live show at the Borderline here.

By |2012-03-09T00:00:00+01:00March 9th, 2012|Featured Bands|0 Comments

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