UNIVERSAL MIND PROJECT (English Version - 2016) - Elina Laivera (Vocals)

It is a great pleasure to make this interview with Elina, one of the singers of Universal Mind Project whose realising their first album The Jaguar Priest.

Hello Elina, first of all thank you for this interview and I hope you’re doing well.

Hi Lionel, all is well over here. Thank you for having me on Seigneurs Du Metal.

So to start this interview, can you please introduce yourself to our readers.

I am a singer and composer, writer, performer. I come from Greece and the last couple of years I live in Germany, studying and working on music. In 2013 I released my first record with my former band, Seduce The Heaven which was released in Europe, USA and Japan. Two and a half years later I am back in the prog metal scene with UMP and our debut album ''The Jaguar Priest''! I also have a solo record as well as a number of other projects in the making.

Let’s talk about the Universal Mind Project which is kind of an all-star band with hips of guest, but different than the metal operas. Can you give us more information on how this project was created, and why did you choose to create this all star prog power album?!

Exactly, UMP is nothing like a metal opera, it is a band with solid nucleus, me and Michael Alexander, vocalist Henrik Bäth and drummer Alex Landenburg. We started as a project, back in 2011 actually, when Michael was starting on his own, inviting a number of guests to frame his work and then I came over in 2012 also as a guest and we were only supposed to do one song but then the chemistry we had lead us to composing a whole record. Henrik Bäth was also there before I arrived. In the end really it was our label, Inner Wound Recordings that encouraged us to turn the whole thing into a solid thing, a band with however lots of amazing guests on our debut album.

An interesting fact is that Alex Landenburg is announced as the main drummer but he’s playing on half of the songs. What happened?

Yes, Alex was at first only a guest, he did two songs, The Jaguar Priest part 1 and part 2 as we used to call it, which is the single ''The Force of Our Creation''. Then he did some more tracks I think he did ''7'' and ''Xibalba'' and in the end, when the talks with the label also started and we started putting together the solid line up, Alex came as our first choice. Alex is a fantastic, super versatile drummer and a really great person to work with so we all wanted to work with him further and he also was interested when we told him, so he ended up being our main drummer but after the whole record was recorded with tracks being shared between him and guest drummer Alessandro Bissa of Labyrinth.

“The Jaguar Priest” is the title of the album, but none of you (Henrik and yourself) are singing on that song. It’s a great song in the Dream Theater’s vein (with Charlie Dominici as guest singer) but the choice is really interesting. Why so?!

The name of the album is following a concept that was conceived back in 2011 by Michael Alexander and Charlie Dominici who wrote lyrics on this track also. It was the first song ever created for UMP and back then I was not there. But Henrik actually is singing on this particular song! He is sharing parts with Dominici and especially on the outro you only hear Henrik for example. So anyways, they had this title in mind for the album, ''The Jaguar Priest'' I suppose and they wrote this first song naming it like that as well. When I came in for example, I was given specific guidelines as to what the record was going to be about, I knew my job was to further develop the original idea they had about this jaguar priest. So yeah, it all had this direction. And this song also is the only song where the Priest is introducing himself in his own words, he tells his story, he explains his origins and stuff.

As I said earlier, the album got hips of guests, not to say big ones. How did you choose them? Are they friends of yours? I mean some of them are logical like Nils K Rue for “Bargains Of Lost Souls” which is in the Pagan’s Mind vein (and one of my favorite song), as well as “The Jaguar Priest”.

Michael Alexander did the whole contact thing. He either had some connections in some cases or in some cases he was even brave to push hard enough haha, I do not know exactly. But it is indeed a wonderful thing that we had the chance to have such beautiful people along the journey with us. It is interesting that many of them were actually fascinated by the material so they said ''Yes'' almost right away, which makes us very happy and it honors us, you know, to be trusted like that by people who, because of their already good reputation they have to be super careful with professional moves they make. I must say that in some cases we had a song ready and we visualized what kind of a voice would fit so then we went for a secific guest but also in some cases like with the ''Bargain of Losts Souls'' song, I was first called by Michael and he told me ''listen, we have Nils on board, I want you to write the most fantastic lines for him''. I knew Nils could sing incredible high, long notes, coloring them with little runs here and there and then his phrasing sounds epic also on shorter stuff, with this super cool light roughness on his voice so I made a mix of all he is good at and I think the song really is shinning with Nils on it. With Mark Jansen, I gave him some guidelines I made for growls but he also made little changes here and there, added some stuff, on the bridge of ''Truth'' for example. It was important to also let the guests bring in their own personality and beauty.

How was the songwriting process? Did you wrote the songs thinking of the guests or was it in the other way?!

Michael was creating his backing tracks and then sending them to me. I would then write vocal lines and lyrics. Some times as I said before, I would know already who this song is for so I would dig into a singer's work with his band and I was trying to always write something that people could identify with this specific singer but also bring a new character out of each singer. The biggest joy on this record was writing parts for my fellow singer, Henrik Bäth because the guy is simply amazing. Anything I would write, he could execute it perfectly, so naturally taking a part and making it his own. His backing vocals have this soothing quality, filling any gap musically. He was my musical tool wherever my songwriting was not cool enough, you know, when something didn't sound as I had imagined, I would say ''OK, put Henrik over there, let him do a little fill in''! One singer I had never heard of before and I was so thrilled to work with, was Diego Valdez from Argentina. I wrote the song ''7'' with a ''Russel Allen style'' voice in my head. I wanted to hear these lines by someone with the right amount of roughness in their voice but not too much, you know. And then it happened that around these very days I was finishing the song, Diego came in our cards and we felt like he was the right person to do this. It was a bit like the song found its singer on its own, luck brought it this way. I think Diego combines this rough vocal attitude with a clean touch of a Dio approach in the way he handles the voice. This song also sounds epic. On this record I also wrote a song on my own, with my piano, the ballad ''World That Burns''. Then we gave it to Emanuele Casali of DGM and he scored the piano in a more ''Casali'' manner and it turned out perfect, as well.

And what are the things and stuff that drove you to create the music, and also the lyrics (‘coz you wrote all of them)?!

Well, emotions obviously that are generated daily from situations you go through in life. I chose to write about that stuff in a very symbolic way, of course, you know, through the whole little story of the Jaguar Priest and his journey in and out of Xibalba, the Mayan underworld. Yes, I wrote all lyrics apart from the ones on the song ''The Jaguar Priest'', the lyrics of which were written by Charlie Dominici. The lyrics on the song ''7'' were team work. Michael said one day on Skype ''hey, I have some lines for this song'' and it was actually, the first half of the first couplet. And then I took it from there and continued it.

The second song of the album “Truth” is picked up to be your first single and video clip to promote the album. Are you excited to film that one with all those musicians, and even with Mark Jansen?!

I am mostly excited! Actually these days we are shooting and it is a wonderful experience. It felt a bit surreal to tell the truth to be standing there with the whole UMP team, you know, looking right and seeing Henrik and Michael and then on the left you see Mark Jansen. I had to control myself a lot not to get tears in my eyes or something. It is very touching and emotional when you also come together finally with people you have been working with for the past 4 years, always on crazy hours in the middle of the night because Europe where I live and Mexico where Michael lives have this weird time difference. And always on Skype or on Whatsapp, on the phone, or sending things via post each time you want to share something or send a gift or whatever. And then boom, we are all together in Germany, shooting our first video clip, having the incredible honor to have Mark Jansen with us, being so kind to appear in our clip. He is a very humble person and a professional who respects himself. I have the impression he would never do something unless he believed in it, you know this is something you cannot buy with money but with trust. If I am correct, he does not appear on too much stuff apart from EPICA and MaYan, like for real, on a video clip etc. So it also brings a lot of responsibility for UMP, to make sure that the final result will be something special, something that he will also be happy he did it and he will remember it with joy in his heart. I am deeply grateful for all of this.

Don’t you think that people will say you’re doing stuff like Amaranthe when you’re putting three singers (female / clear and growl) on the songs?!

Oh man, I thought people were over such stuff. I remember people comparing my former band, Seduce The Heaven, already with Amaranthe which was also stupid because both bands came out at the same time and doing something completely different musically. Anyways, it is not my business to be honest, to care about what people will say. Surely nor me nor UMP is trying to immitate anyone. Our business is to make music, the way we perceive it in our heads. Our music is so much different from what Amaranthe is doing. They got big and that is great but people should not compare bands that have no connection juse because one of them is more popular and that is all they know. It is like back when Evanescence got big or Nightwish and then immediately, any band with a lady fronting it was ''like Evanescence or Nightwish''. No matter the style they were playing. By the way, I really love Amaranthe. I find what they do really innovative and I believe they have one of the most wonderful frontwomen of all times in this scene. Finally a girl that can sing and looks great at the same time, without the second overshadowing the first.

What does the song “A world that burns” means to you?

Oh, it is a song I hold very dear, really. I sometimes feel really lonely, like I do not belong into this world, you know, that maybe I am a bit too different in some terms and it causes a bit of frustration to see how I view things differently than the majority of people that surround me. Aa simple example; I am all in for unity, for people getting together and working their way up, i believe in the power of people, I believe that there is some energy around us. And I somehow feel a bit like I came from somewhere far away, as the song says, when I see how superficial many things are in our times. People work each for themselves and not together, there is a lot of greed, people do not look into the future, they like to grab whatever they can in this present moment not caring about consiquences. It is a world on fire if you want my opinion. And this is not the bad thing. The bad thing is that people do not understand that we have the power. We allow things to go to Hell, each one in our respective ways. This is what the song is really talking about but disguised under the album's concept, like as if talking about people that might have come from somewhere else... maybe aliens? Haha no idea!

Is there some guests you were expecting to get and you were not able to?

Well... yes but I hope we get them on the next record. Some things did not match very well also timewise. You know, some people we wanted were on tour at that specific moment or they were busy recording other stuff, so... let's see.

As a big project as it is, do you expect some gigs with the band?

Well there has been interest from some promoters in various very interesting places. And we of course want to go out and finally meet the people that have been standing by our side all this time, waiting patiently for the album. Let's see if in the near future I can tell you more...

Let’s talk a little bit of the artwork which is really impressive. How was it created?!

It is indeed amazing, I love it so much. Yan Yrlund created it. He has created artworks for KAMELOT, Apocalyptica and others but namedropping is not what does the job here. Looking at the actual artworks is what shows the awesomeness of the guy. I think we managed to capture the very essence of the album with Yan. Michael was in tight contact with him, about this and that, giving some guidelines. The final result is so rewarding.

I know it’s a bit earlier for that, but can we expect a second album?

Hehe, that was fast indeed! Well... we obviously need a little break from songwriting for UMP. You know, we were in it for 4 years now, every day almost. Even when you take a day off or a week, you know, your mind is still there. You are thinking about this riff or that chorus, it is a part of you. So we need to disconnect a bit from it and also do some other projects that each of us has in the making. I have a solo album to finish, a book as well, some other instrumental projects, Michael also has something he is preparing, Alex is touring very actively lately with Luca Turilli's Rhapsody and Henrik is on his own stuff as well, with Darkwater and all. We have singles to release and a video clip to release, we have shows to play hopefully so this whole process is going to give us the time to recharge our batteries and fill our heads with fresh ideas.

We’re reaching the end of the interview. Thanks again.

Thank you very much, too. I wish you all the very best!

Some words for our readers?

Well, thank you for being curious enough to read this interview. If you would like to get to know our music with UMP, we have a new lyric video out for the single ''The Force Of Our Creation'' and our official video clip is also coming soon so keep your eyes open and if you like what you hear anyways and you would like to contribute to the whole thing, we have a campaign on Indiegogo running for some days still, so head over there and pre-order your own signed copy of the album! A big hug to all!
Critique : Lionel
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