You may recall how impressed and taken I was with the Shadow Kingdom debut album from US rockers Corsair, and as it came so out of the blue to me I was intrigued as to who these classy upstarts were who so casually kicked down my door and forced me to grin so much. So emails were sent and one of their two guitarists, Marie Landragin, agreed to spend a little time answering my questions. Read on, because this was a thoughtful and interested response and one which I think shows what music means to those talented enough to create it.
AN: Hi Marie, thank you for taking the time to do this interview, we do appreciate it.
As usual I offer congratulations on your debut album, but in the case of Corsair it comes with added praise: I am lucky enough to get to listen to a lot of debut albums, and there are quite a few who manage to not just impress with the undoubted musicianship but their song writing as well. Now Corsair do that with flair but you also have what I have only heard in two or three other debut full lengths in the last ten years in that there is truly a real cohesion and sense of vision to the album as a whole. Is this just the case of traditional hard work with endless rehearsals and the benefit of the two earlier EPs experience and as much live work as you can manage, or is there any other magic ingredients on the list?
Marie Landragin: Well, as it happens, I do like to think some ethereal mystical magic plays a part in our writing and our playing music together. I’d say it was because of the way we see the songs themselves; like a musical journey that we are on together, the songs become sort of personified, we get in there and live them from the inside out. We don’t practice like maniacs or play very much live. For the S/T recording we pulled in the material we had after the Ghosts of Proxima Centauri EP and combined them with a couple of odds and ends that we finished out in the studio. The S/T was more of a document for our own record of musical achievements rather than a cohesive plotted out album with intended purpose. Though, I will not deny that by the end of the whole process, the music, lyrics and art design worked out in a way that I tend to think we subconsciously had some particular intention running in the background.
AN: One thing I didn’t quite get from the PR or your own site is how close you all live together. Is it close or do rehearsals involve a lot of logistical headaches?
Marie: We all currently live in and about Charlottesville. Funnily enough, Jordan and I did move to Marseille, France last September (right around when Shadow Kingdom Records approached us with signing interest). We returned to Virginia this past January to spend time on writing new material, record a new album and possibly getting in some serious tour time later this Spring.
AN: You must feel very at home on Shadow Kingdom records, rubbing shoulders with Manilla Road and the rest of their roster. Who approached who?
Marie: We got an email from Tim, the man behind SKR, in September last year asking about the possibility of teaming up with Corsair. We talked a little while on the phone, he sent us a contract and we signed up right thereafter. I remember it being days before heading off to Marseille and feeling mildly elated but also torn; why would I move to France when this killer label wants to support us! I think Tim was kinda surprised too but it’s all working itself out as things progress.
AN: Do any of you make a living from music in any respect at the moment whether in or out side of the band. If you don’t, how do you balance the work life you have to have? It’s just there seems to be so much passion to Corsair that it would torment me having to do the nine to five.
Marie: Well, let’s see. Paul Sebring (lead guitar, vocals) gets his meat and mead as a mighty hard-working construction man. He’s also doing this one-off gig in June for a hair metal cover band but I’m not sure if he’s making any cash on that. Aaron Lipscombe (drums) is a waiter at an uppity country club restaurant. Jordan Brunk (bass, vocals) is a pizza slinger by day, sound man by night and a cover band (The Lone Rangers) bass player by occasional weekend. I am an under paid graphic designer and screen-printer but I don’t mind it too much because at least I’m my own boss. Poor, but still, my own boss, doing cool stuff like designing cd artwork/layouts, t-shirts or posters for friends and their bands. So I think that we’re about much less than 50% music income and the rest 9 – 5, so it’s not the best but it’s also not the worst. I think we’re all rather content to float both boats, work and music, at this point. At least until the cash rolls in and then we’ll work our asses off touring or learning how to fly Boeing 757’s.
AN: I mean this as no criticism but the style of music that Corsair play, with its roots in the 70s while still sounding fresh is hardly something that will crash mainstream music, but also is still a relatively small section of the rock and metal spectrum. With all the uphill struggle that it involves, what is it that keeps Corsair going? Internal urges needing to be expressed or external feedback, what?
Marie: I reckon it is the internal urges of wanting to give that euphoric feeling you get when you hear a wicked Scorpions solo or Maiden riff… maybe that sounds weird. I think of all the times the hair has raised on my arm hearing some new music (today or from the past) and freaking out and rewinding a part and playing it over and over, or grabbing a guitar in hopes of quickly learning a part of a solo. It’s what we love to hear so then it’s something that we try to recreate for ourselves, our friends and our fans.
Marie: Sure, we’d love to, of course, Europe is one of my favourite continents, I’ve spent a lot of time there. We have been invited to play in Germany next year, so technically, we have tons of time to save up and prepare for a tour of Europe. It is, in fact, one of our goals. Logistically, it could get tricky so we’d rather prefer to have some help booking but we’ll see what we can pull off.
AN: Do you feel part of a scene? I’m thinking bands like Valkyrie, Slough Feg and the Hammers Of Misfortune seem to have a certain musical kinship but just the sheer size of the US seems to naturally break things down into smaller pockets.
Marie: I think that unless you are touring a lot the scene remains pretty spread out, as you said, due to distance. We know Valkyrie (they are based out of Harrisonburg, about one hour north west of Charlottesville) and we have shared the stage with them but apart from that, there is no real metal or hard rock scene hang outs or barbeques or anything like that. I wish there were.
AN: Apologies if I missed the credits but who writes the lyrics?
Marie: No apologies necessary, we all take on vocal duty so it may be a little murky as to who is doing what. Lyrically it is based on who is singing, however, Jordan does sing lyrics I wrote (“Chaemera”) and lyrics we wrote together (“Falconer”). Paul wrote the lyrics for “Gryphon Wing”, “Path of the Chosen Arrow”, “Of Kings and Cowards”. I wrote “The Desert” lyrics. So, yeah, pretty much based on who sings it.
AN: They seem mostly wrapped in science fiction and fantasy realms: Is this simply because it is fun, or does the daily grind need a pure outlet of escape? Or like many authors do you use them as a way of being the outsider looking in?
Marie: The lyrical inspiration comes from both Paul and I being enthusiastic mythology/fantasy fans. Paul knows more about mythology/Ray Bradbury than I do and I lean a little more on the George R.R. Martin/ J.R.R. Tolkein side. The stories we are inspired by have elements that reflect in our daily lives, dealing with issues somewhat similar to those ancient soap operas; loss, death, love, isolation etc though in vastly different environments. It’s a way of analyzing their experiences and emotions and projecting aspirations for our alter-reality future. Not to mention, we can become a lot more creative with our lyrics when there are golden arrows and volcanoes on the scene!
AN: The reason I bring up the outsider looking in is that from your own bio, and an article about women in the state rock scene linked to on your site I gather you were born in Australia with French and Armenian heritage and now live in the US. That on the surface looks like a lot of layers that others might use to hold you back before we even think about the continued underrepresentation of women in rock and metal. I like to think that none of it should matter one spot, but reality often differs. Is it hard to feel a sense of belonging or does the music make all that stuff drift away? Or alternatively does it offer the twin benefits of being inside something but still being able to take a step back and have a slightly different perspective and do you think any of this comes through in your music?
Marie: Sure, having a diverse cultural heritage has affected how I perceive the world. Living in Australia we were considered “Frenchies”, moving to the U.S. made us “Aussies” and in France we lean on being Armenian (Mum’s family) though my Dad’s family are the real Frenchie French so it gets tricky. I have never really felt either one or the other until recently when I was living in Marseille and I felt pretty damn French. It has always been very confusing and difficult to decipher but I reckon I’m used to having a diverse background and can’t really imagine my life without all the colour being a mutt brings. Being that, I picked up on heavy rock and metal as my safe haven when we moved from Australia to the U.S. in the early 1990’s. A friend gave me a Black Sabbath S/T cassette tape and I immediately felt understood in a shared experience of alienation. Shortly thereafter came the guitar lessons and playing which helped with expressing emotions that had no real outlet for me as a teenager. The music is what helped keep me anchored through a lot of turmoil and difficulty throughout and has kept on being an artistic outlet that allows me to reflect and project ideas, mental imagery and emotions without any hitches. It’s pretty great, actually.
AN: I also noticed that the article your site links to used a line about you ‘playing like a man’ as a compliment. That struck me as a kind of an odd thing to say, implying that either that there is something wrong with playing like a woman or that, indeed, there is a gender difference to be heard there anyway, but having said that I am no musician. I was wondering what your take on that line is?
Marie: Yeah, that line got a lot of dispute when the article came out. I do want to say, yes, I am a woman and am by no means anti-feminist or the best guitar player by any standard but I do think there is a difference between women and men as far as guitar playing. If you spend a little time on YouTube you’ll find a slew of 12 – 18 year old girls shredding a Van Halen solo to bits (far better than I could) but in my opinion it still is not as fluid as what I’ve heard men play. I used to think it was a finger thing, like my bones and tendons function differently. I recently came across The Iron Maidens, an Iron Maiden tribute band video and saw that the two women guitar player shred the solos (not exactly a la Maiden, but pretty damn good) but that their bodies looked jerky, like their brains were stuck between playing and moving their bodies around. This might be controversial, you may be thinking I’m talking trash, but I could see what I often feel when I play; how is it Paul can basically be a theater actor doing backflips whilst killing it with a solo and I can barely headbang in time to the music while I play power chords? As a woman I don’t understand why there is a difference but I feel its’ presence. I wrote a letter to Jimmy Page once, years ago, asking if he thought there was a female guitar player he could cut heads with that would leave him in the dust. I never got a reply letter back.
AN: I was watching a video clip of you online (the one where “Falconer” appears to still be the centre of some discussion on stage as to its title!) and there was such a relaxed, easy going atmosphere between you guys. Despite the passion that comes across in your songs, ‘laid back’ appears to be in the band’s genes. Is the writing process like that too or do you keep baseball bats handy?
Marie: Yes, we are pretty laid back and relatively light-hearted. Paul is a wonderful jokester and is really good at doing accents and making up characters, like Murray, my future son to be born in Australia. Murray has a terribly heavy Aussie accent, always talking about his Mum, Marie, member of the mighty Corsair, guitar player extraordinaire. It’s so ridiculous it’s funny. We have never taken ourselves (too) seriously and we’ve always been as honest as we can with our audiences. I think it helps people connect, to see we are just like anyone else, like to have fun while dealing with all the mishmash life dishes out at you.
AN: Can you tell me a little about the collected musical influences of Corsair and who brings what to the table? For example I hear Thin Lizzy and Wishbone Ash influences and touches of a more prog style. Is it a case of working back from new bands you hear and wondering about their roots or were various parents music collections raided as children?
Marie: Well, I believe our musical roots and reflections lie rather heavily in our early teenage years. For myself, it was Black Sabbath, Metallica, The Doors, Yes, Moody Blues and so on. My parents rocked a nice classical music obsession so that was all I heard until my friends supplied me with an arsenal of classic heavy rock and metal on cassette. I think I was so blown away by the electric guitar and the melodies I heard that I was forever set on trying to achieve writing songs like that. I think Paul got his first Metallica cassette out while thrifting with his Dad, he was maybe fourteen or something like that? Paul’s Dad really digs Steely Dan but Paul can’t stand it, it makes him crazy. Jordan is the jazz man; Miles Davis, Shuggie Otis in addition to a lot of The Beatles. He studied music at the University of Virginia so he can get deep into music theories and heavy stuff I don’t try to understand. Aaron likes Tool, QOTSA and Zeppelin. So we all have different angles on music which I think helps keep our material diverse.
AN: I was also very taken by the distinctive voices/vocal styles the band have available particularly I admit, those soft, almost conversational tones on “Chamaera” and “Falconer” which reminded me so much of Phil Lynott without an Irish accent. Vocals are though used in a very restrained fashion compared to the twin leads and instrumental breaks and the glorious way your bass and drums breathe life into the space when the guitars take off. Are Corsair more comfortable talking through instruments?
Marie: Well, instruments are our preferred choice. As a musician I have always thought of the lyrics/vocals as second to the music. I am terrible at remembering lyrics to any song, old or new, even ones I’ve heard a million times but I can sing/hum you a solo from tons of songs. I think it’s in part wanting to focus on playing but feeling the pressures of an “audience” wanting vocals to focus on, to sync up with. Not everyone who listens to music only cares about solos like I do! So yeah, the vocals come last in our writing procedure and often it’s whoever feels it first or writes the words first that’ll sing the song. In the case of “Chaemera”, I wrote the lyrics and had a hard time singing it the way I wanted so I asked Jordan to sing it and it turned out he does a killer job of it.
AN: Just listening to the album my brain just wondered at how much improv goes on onstage, there being such a spontaneous feel to the songs. What can a Corsair audience expect live?
Marie: Some improv but our tendency is to play as we wrote the material. We do enjoy being with the crowd, getting them amped with riffs and very much involved with us. Paul is great on stage and he’s got a mean knack for engaging the crowd with his soloing antics.
Marie: The future is now! We are currently writing new material for a new album which we hope will be recorded this late Spring. May/June has some North Eastern U.S. touring in the works and we would like to plan to go to Europe next winter so we’ll see where and how but we are definitely working on getting out and about.
AN: Once again, thank you for your time. Best wishes. The debut really is a fantastic, warm piece of music that deserves a huge audience.
Marie: Thank you so much, we have been overjoyed and humbled by the overwhelming amount of encouragement and positive reception from the hard rock and metal communities both in the U.S. and abroad. We really appreciate it, cheers!
So there it is: Genuine, considered thoughts and an overwhelming sense of enthusiasm and enjoyment which, if you haven’t yet caught up with Corsair, is exactly what the band breathe into their music. My thanks again to Marie for her generous time. And, you lot out there? If you like classic hard rock, prog flourishes or just plain classy heads down metal rockers get out and buy the Corsair debut: It will keep you warm even in the snow.
Questions put by Gizmo