Interview: Sarah Jezebel Deva, Dan Abela and Damjan Stefanovic [20th May 2012]

I was fortunate enough to be able to catch an interview with former Cradle of Filth backing vocalist Sarah Jezebel Deva and a couple of her band mates at Yardbirds in Grimsby, where we chatted about music, the tour, mythology and ctaching flights to and from Endor on a goose’s back.

Nico: You alright guys? Right, my first question is the most generic question, and one I’m so sick to death of asking bands but how’s the tour gone so far?

Dan: Yeah. It’s gone great, actually. We’ve had three gigs so far, so it’s going alright.

Sarah: One cancelled.

Dan: Yeah, one cancelled.

Sarah: Because of the promoter, being a… Well, you know. All the promoters we’ve had so far have taken chances on us and been so lovely to us, they’ve helped us, they know the situation, they know how hard it is for all the bands out there, people taking chances, people not taking chances and some of the promoters have had us back like Rob from here [Yardbirds, Grimsby] and Sal from Whiplash Productions in Liverpool. They’ve had us before, it didn’t go successful before, but they loved it and seem to believe in us and that’s what we’re happy with. And the fans, they believe in us, they’ve supported us and what more could you ask for? Of course, being anally screwed everyday isn’t good but if it wasn’t for the niceness of the fans and the promoters.

Dan: Don’t stay at Travel Lodge. Use Premier Inn.

Sarah: Oh no, some of the Travel Lodges have been really, really nice.

Nico: Eh, moving on, your new EP Malediction is due for release at the end of the month [28th May], what would you say are the biggest influences behind it?

Sarah: Madonna. Prince. Boyzone. Serbian rap artist that I can’t pronounce the name of. Our influences? If I could answer this before you [Dan] say something stupid like Nightwish and…

Dan: I was gonna say Lacuna Coil.

Sarah: I actually don’t think our influences shine majorly through our music. We are predominantly into extreme metal. Apart from him over there who likes Beatles and Chas and Dave but we are predominantly a band that are into extreme metal and we try to let that shine through. We do not want to be the typical female fronted band. We try to make sure it’s not the typical female-fronted band. We don’t sing about dragons, butterflies, getting a flight from Endor on a goose’s back.

Nico: You’ve just pretty much described Nightwish’s lyrics there.

Dan: Over the hills and very far away.

Sarah: So, if I was going to say what our influences are on this album, mostly me and Dan wrote the EP but I would say our influences are just extreme metal and we don’t try to copy anyone. Though there’s going to be loads of people, because we’ve had Dani Filth on one track, "oh, it’s Cradle of Filth!" – No, it’s not. It’s SJD. Having Björn Strid [Soilwork] on one of the songs, it doesn’t sound like Soilwork but people are still gonna label you so, yeah, our influences are basically whatever happens happens.

Dan: I like black metal and I know you do too, Sarah, but I mean that’s the thing. It’s a funny old one, I would say it is predominantly like the old black and death metal scene.

Damjan: I think it depends on who writes the riffs, like the song with Björn on it, Dan basically wrote all the riffs for that.

Sarah: Actually that’s not completely true.

Damjan: Dan wrote of the riffs for that. Anyway, from my point of view on the drums, I’m not as into death metal as these guys are, so when I heard the riffs and stuff, it was more about listening to them and thinking "How am I going to make this feel and sound the best it could be? How am I going to make sure it’s not a repetitive thing over and over again? And when it changes section, how do I make sure each section stands out without having to over play it or over complicate it?".

Sarah: As he [Damjan] says, he’s not into the same type of stuff as us which is great because you have the diversity.

Damjan: There’s a bit of crossover but not as much. So for me, it’s just about writing stuff that’s going to sound memorable that I’d wanna listen to again and I think we managed that.

Sarah: And we’ve got to give the bassist, Ablaz, some credit as well. He predominately wrote When It Catches Up With You. Dan just made it sound better. No, not like that. Obviously when I come up with a song, like Silence Please and The Eyes That Lie, I present them to Dan and he changes a few bits, just like Damjan has produced a song, for the next album but we’ll change little bits to suit his playing and the way I sing and the way the others play. So we all contribute but up until recently, it’s been predominately me and Dan.

Damjan: I think that’s really to do with the line-up and it changing as much as it has.

Sarah: Yeah, the line-up has changed but as a band, and I know we’re totally straying away from the question now, but as a band we have totally gelled together. We just need to get Damjan into some good music.

Nico: Going back to what you’ve just been saying about the song writing, since you and Dan are the main songwriters, how does a song writing session go between you two? Do you go off into separate rooms and do your own thing or do you get together and jam?

Sarah: We write really well together. It’s a bit hard for me sometimes because I don’t play guitar. But when I’ve got a riff, I sing it to him and he spends a week working it out but me and him gel and it’s hard to break away from that when we know other people wanna get involved. It’s funny because we’ve had the argument before that no one gets involved and now they’re all wanting to get involved. It’s always relaxed, really, isn’t it?

Dan: Basically, all we do is go into the studio and start working. We always go in with the intention of writing a new song, it’s never one of those things where people say "oh yeah, phoned them in the middle of the night and told them I have an amazing riff". We always go in there and get our ideas together and present. We always do it in the studio, which I find helps because obviously I run it, so we just set up and get going.

Sarah: Legacy London Studios.

Dan: And that’s what good because we always put it from the point of view that we are going to play these songs live as well. We’re not one of those bands goes "let’s go do something that’s completely…" and then you can’t do it live. It’s what I hate, especially when you see certain bands and hear their albums and you think "Fuck me, that’s incredible!" but you know you’ll never hear it.

Nico: That’s true. Going back to what I was about influences earlier, where do you find the influence for your lyrics?

Sarah: Life, people, shit people, good people. I find it easier to write about shit people than good people because they’re really boring. All the shit experiences I’ve had in life, situations, circumstances, situations that have affected the people close to me. I’ve done a few kind of mythological songs, like Sirens and Silence Please. Silence Please is about a banshee, but you know, the evil banshee.

Nico: I thought banshees were always evil. If you look into the Irish mythology…

Sarah: Well, you’ve got the sirens of the sea, which are theoretically banshees as well, since they signify death.

Nico: I always thought the sirens were different to the banshees, with one being Greek and the other being Irish, unless I’ve got something mixed up.

Dan: Yeah, they invented the euro.

Sarah: Sirens lead sailors to the rocks, they use their beauty to lead them to their deaths. But yeah, there’s a few other songs I’ve written about mythology and fantasy. I’m Calling by Angtoria for example, I know this isn’t Angtoria but I’m Calling is about when I used to go into the bathroom and roleplay.

Dan: [suppressed laughter]

Sarah: Don’t laugh! You know like kids have imaginary friends, well I had an imaginary boyfriend who would whisk – Okay, this is what happened. Basically, instead of washing, I would have this thing in my head of this evil man feeding me evil pills and then this prince would ride up and save me from the evil guy. They were little fizzy kinda pills, could have been sterogen for false teeth, I don’t know but I swallowed. That’s what it’s about, just fantasising as a kid. But as I was saying, most of my lyrics are based on shit people, shit in life, bad things. I just cannot sing about good things, I find it very, very difficult. And I can’t sing about things I know nothing about either, like even, Silence Please – My bed use to be near the window and you know foxes make that – beautiful as they are are – make that horrible sound and it’s a scary fucking sound. And I read about banshees once and I was convinced that sound outside my window was a banshee. Used to scare the shit out of me. So, that’s what that’s based on, a nightmare and such. But yeah, I just write about things I know about. As I said, I can’t write about dragons and fucking Endor and…

Nico: So, basically you can’t do the whole Nightwish lyrical concept?

Sarah: I just can’t.

Damjan: I personally have never been into that, so I prefer this kind of thing.

Sarah: I just think you need to sing about what you know, I’m not saying I’ll never expand.

Damjan: I find as a musical listener, that’s the kind of thing you relate to more.

Sarah: And I’ve been very lucky, the fan connection has been phenomenal. The amount of people that come to me and who can relate to my lyrics. I’m glad I can do that. I’m glad I’ve lowered the suicide rate.

Azz: Going back to what you said about lyrics and singing about things you know about, I don’t see how anyone can put emotion and energy into anything that’s bullshit fantasy stuff anyway.

Sarah: Exactly, exactly. I think you need to connect with your audience and you know, a lot of my lyrics are depressing. Like, This Is My Curse is about the fur industry. And I was saying to Dan when I was writing the lyrics, I didn’t want it forced into people’s faces. Most people won’t know it’s about the fur industry, until you read it and see what Dani Filth contributed lyrically. These animals are raised and are treated like absolute shit and then skinned alive for fur, for fashion. And I would loved to have said that in a song but it doesn’t come across and it would have sounded crap. So, you have to find a poetic way to get your message across. And as I said, you gotta have feeling for that audience to believe what you’re singing about, that you have passion about your music. You have to really feel and know to get that message across and I think we do. I know these guys don’t write my lyrics but they know that I am quite a big person but take A Matter Of Convenience, that’s based on people who like to shag around.

Nico: Sounds like the population of Brid to be truthful… Anyway, moving on, you guys have been confirmed to tour with Tristania in Europe later this year. How are you feeling about it? Like going from headline tours of the UK to support act in Europe?

Sarah: Azz isn’t doing the Europe tour and it’s a bit of a sour subject, so he’s sitting out for this one but he will be doing everything else over here over us, which is as equally important but it’s a brilliant step for us because it goes up.

Dan: We’ve met them a few times before as well and we get on really well with them. So, that’s going to be on the things that’s cool about it is the fact that it won’t be strangers walking into the same room together.

Sarah: We just hope this is a step up for us. We’ve got some stuff going on in December and obviously the Female Metal Voices Festival in Belgium as well. We’ve had some amazing things go on this year but the last three weeks has obviously knocked some of us down. Me and Dan mostly, because we’ve put so much into it, that’s not to say no one else but because me and Dan predominately run as much as we can because other people have got other stuff going on. So, it’s affected us more, so hopefully what’s going on the end of this year will set us up for next year.

Dan: And you’re definitely going to see a big change for the next album.

Nico: Sounds good, sounds good. Right, this next question is for you, Sarah. Back in December, you announced you would be featuring on the new Cradle album: Midnight in the Labyrinth, which obviously came as a shock to a lot of us. How did that come about? Because obviously for a while you’ve said you wouldn’t be working again with Cradle of Filth.

Sarah: Nostalgia. I love the old Cradle albums, love the old Cradle songs. To be able to sing those songs again and because I knew it would make a lot of older Cradle fans happy. I thought it would be good for us. I think that me and Dani go well together, vocally.

Nico: Well, to be honest, in my opinion, I think Cradle’s sound, in the female vocals, has drastically gone down hill since you department. No disrespect to your replacement.

Sarah: There’s been a few.

Nico: Really? Why doesn’t anyone tell me these things?

Sarah: Well because it’s band lies. Like when we fire Damjan, it will be due to unforeseen circumstances but really, I don’t think any band really do tell the truth, I don’t think many bands tell the truth. I think some bands find it unprofessional to tell the truth but we try to always tell the truth because in the end you need a fucking good memory to lie. It’s lovely that a lot of people do think that but there’s probably are the same number of people who think I’m shit. But in my defense and I’ve said this in loads of interviews, when you’re just a backing singer in a band, you don’t have any rights and you can’t control how you sound and no one takes you seriously. I’m sure if you flick through YouTube, you’ll find lots of videos taken from mobile phones and other footage of me sounding like I’ve got my head up a cow’s arse. Some of it is atrocious, it’s because if you can’t hear yourself, you can’t pitch and that’s one of the reasons why I was glad to not be with Cradle of Filth any more because I’m a singer. It’s my life and I’ve spent fourteen years doing oohs and aahs and now I can prove I actually have a voice. Going back to do the Cradle album is no big deal and I enjoyed. I said nostalgia but there’s a lot of rumours going around that I’m going to join them. Would I go back? I’ve had this question with Dan, as in Dan Abela. If the circumstances were right, I would do some stuff. But at the end of the day, they also have to want me back. It’s got to be a mutual thing and for the right reasons.

Nico: Speaking of the rumours, I’ve had several e-mails from my readers and your fans, basically asking if there’s ever going to be the possibility of you doing  a tour or a one-off live show with Cradle sometime in the future. doing tracks from the albums you’ve featured on?

Sarah: I can’t answer that. Whatever will be, will be. Under the impression that they 100% don’t have a female singer and they’ve got Wacken coming up. I’ve said to Dani, if you want help, I will step in. Let’s see what holds. But this band comes first! I will not sacrifice anything for this band. This band comes first.

Nico: Going back to what you’ve been saying about Cradle, at the same time you announced that you’d be featuring on the next Cradle album, you said you’d be going back to work with Angtoria at some point in the future, so, what is happening with Angtoria at the moment? When can we expect something from Angtoria?

Sarah: I think again it’s a case of when it happens, it happens. Chris has a studio and he’s so busy working for other bands. We did try put a timeline of May on it but it’s just not gonna happen. It’s gonna be when it happens. I hope we have something by the end of this year. It will happen because me and Chris are close, we get on well and we’re on the same page. It’s the same kind of relationship as me and Dan. It’s really just a case of when it happens and I hope it does.

Nico: Well, I know a lot of your fans, my brother included, want it to happen. So obviously, there’s a lot of people looking forward to any news about Angtoria – Well, any good news about Angtoria. My next question is for you, Dan. Now, obviously you run your own studio, Legacy London, as a studio proprietor, producer and sound guy, how do you feel that home recording is affecting the face of music, compared to studio recording?

Dan: It’s a very hard question because in terms of people doing their own recording, I think there’s nothing wrong with that. I think it’s a good thing that people are embracing technology and I think they’re getting better as song writers but a lot of the time I think they’re getting lazier as players, being brutally honest with you. But I don’t think that people realise the amount of time it takes for a band to a good album and this is what you see a lot of these days and people that go into a good studio and spend a good amount of time working on a professional album. You can always tell when a band has a good album and when they’ve half arsed it. Even with bigger bands. You see a lot of bigger bands these days: "Yeah, we decided to self-produce it" and they’ve done a massive record before and funnily enough that massive record before sounds amazing and the next one sounds shite. Fucking shite. The guy who runs the studio with me, Joe, me and him literally spend the best part of the whole day, every day, working with bands and you need that other person’s input, you really do. You need someone else to tell you what’s right, what’s wrong, even like, I’m in my own band and I’m recording it, you lose sight, always. You always lose the goal, you need someone whose got that extra set of ears to tell you where you’re going wrong and where you’re going right and obviously Joe does that for us. But bands need that.

Damjan: I think that really depends on the specific band or person you’re thinking about because one of my other bands, we recorded the drums with Dan and the rest at home but we still had that input from Dan and we’ve been recording with him for years, like EPs and stuff. But I think it depends on what you want out of music and your own personal music and for some people, it’s a money issue as well. It depends what direction you wanna take it.

Nico: Alright, next questions. What would you say is the most challenging thing about being a musician?

Sarah: Most challenging thing? As long as we communicate with each other, there’s nothing that is challenging, as long as we’re honest with each other. We’re not always going to agree with one another, I’m not always going to like his riff and he’s not always gonna like my melody, we’ve just got to make sure we don’t lie to each other and that we communicate with each other and I think a lot of bands have lost that. Now, I do know that the bigger the band gets, the more politics are involved, money, managers. The bigger the bands get, the greedier people get. The more people want a cut of what you do. It’s all us that put in the fucking hard work and as long as we don’t lose sight and are all open minded. I wouldn’t say this is challenging, I’m just saying that we all have to pull our shit together and make it work.

Nico: Last couple of questions now. Where would you like to see the band in five years time?

Dan: I don’t mind where we end up, so long as it’s a natural progression. It’s like I think we have the potential to carry on for another five years but we’ll just see where it ends up really. Maybe in a bin. Hopefully next year, you’ll see a few progressions in the tours and maybe some festivals and another album as well. It should just carry on as it is.

Nico: Alright, before we finish up, do you guys have anything to say to the readers?

Dan: Thank you for your support.

Sarah: Just give us a chance, whether you’re a fan or not. Whoever’s reading, you’ve got to give new bands a chance. So, forget what you think you know. If you’re judging someone on their image, or a bit of footage on YouTube that’s been filmed on a mobile phone, make up your own mind by actually leaving your house and checking these bands out because you could be missing a real gem.

Dan: Put it this way, any band you name, be it In Flames, Soilwork, Cradle of Filth, Dimmu Borgir, they all started off playing in a pub somewhere. Go support local bands because if you want your next Metallicas and your next Iron Maidens, they’re always going to start in these small venues, so go down and support local metal.

Sarah: Yeah, you have to because all these bands started somewhere with a chance and I know that people don’t have the money and sadly you do have to pay to see a band but nothing’s free. Just because you’re payign a ticket of £6 doesn’t mean the band is getting that money and then off down to the pub later. It’s that ticket price which is helping the bands to play your local area. Without the support and open mindedness of the listener, the scene is going to die and after the conversations with certain good promoters, who are struggling, who are not going to be promoting, the good promoters leave and the little kid promoters come in thinking "Ah, I can make some money from this band" and the moment when that’s what you’ve got in every city, goodbye to the scene, I’m telling ya. We’ve dealt with that, a few kids, even on the first tour with The Dead Lay Waiting, a kid thinking "I’ll charge £9 on the door, this and that, gonna do really well", he lost shit loads of money because he got greedy and cancelled the next show, fucking over the people that were gonna go to that show. I know it costs to do these gigs but it’s not about money, if you believe in the scene, you’ve got to take chances. Don’t read rumours, make up your own mind, you know? Even album reviews, it takes a year…

Dan: He reviews albums…

Nico: Don’t worry about it.

Sarah: What I mean is that it takes us, as a band, a year to write an album, to produce it, to mix it, to master it, to sit down. It takes a reviewer less than five minutes to rip it apart. There’s good productive journalism and there’s fucking lazy journalism that goes "sounds like this band, sounds like that band". Again, there’s a large amount of journalists who want their five minutes of fame. Reviewers need to remember that they have the capability of influencing thousands of people with their opinion and it’s your opinion if you think we’re shit or not. It’s up to the listener to think "This review thinks it’s shit but you know what, I’m going to go check it out". I think we’re losing that ability to think for ourselves and allowing ourselves to be dictated by magazines and adverts.

Nico: Very true. Well, thanks for that, guys and have a great show tonight.

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