Exclusive Interview: Strei talk “The Artist”!

A musical journey through the melodramatic mind of the artist. Abstract at its core but relatable to anyone who’s embarked on any creative endeavor. Evoking the feelings of nostalgia, hope, doubt, self-reverence and self-despair” is how Ottawa, Ontario, Canadian trio Strei describe their debut EP “The Artist” which we reviewed earlier this week, a fine blend of death defying sub-genre leaps with a beating heart in the Progressive. But that’s not all. They have also released a few equally impressive stand alone singles including “The Dawn In Us All” so we figured it was about time we had a chat with them…

You’ve had your band name and logo down since day one, how long did you spend developing that and how many ideas ended up on the bonfire? How important was it to you to create an identity for this band? “Funny enough the band actually kinda went through two or three name changes before we released. We did want to make it a point though when we officially “launched” the band that our image and aesthetic was consistent and defined. We have enough experience to know that a disorganized band tends not to do well so we really wanted to come out strong. Jeremy is also an incredible artist and we wanted to use this band as a platform to be able to add a visual art component as well so it all kind of worked out. The name kind of came spontaneously. We were in studio recording “Decay” (I think…) and we stepped out for a bite to eat. Around the table we realized our name at the time was probably not great (at the time we decided “Fond Reverie” was the way to go) and we brainstormed a few names. I think it took all of 5 minutes and then we agreed Strei sounded pretty cool. So here we are. The logo was more or less just Jeremy taking that and designing something based on the name, and I love it so much that I want to slap it on everything we release. Keeps that branding consistent I suppose.”

You’ve mentioned being scene veterans having been in numerous other bands, but curiously haven’t name checked any of those acts. Can you shed some light on your reasons for that? “Well, Jeremy and I are both in Ottawa’s T-Rex Marathon, and Jeremy and Julien had played in a few bands, notably former band Eyes Like Winter. T-Rex Marathon is a post-hardcore / alt-rock band and since we’re a more proggy / metal project we didn’t want the association with our other project. They’re so different and we want this project to stand on the merit of the music and aesthetic alone. We don’t wanna be that band (think like Them Crooked Vultures or something) who’s only claim to fame is who’s in the band, and let that eclipse the music that we put A LOT of time and effort into.”

The music of Strei is complex and multi layered, taking inspiration from a wide range of music from Hip Hop through to Progressive Metal. Do you see yourselves as a band without boundaries or limitations? “Absolutely. I’ve never liked the idea of band purposely handicapping themselves to try and make sure they always sound like themselves. That’s always been bizarre to me. Even the idea of playing a specific genre has boggled my mind. I understand the need to classify music as a listener (you do need to know what mood you want), but as a creative, I don’t just want to write “metal” or “prog” because that’s what we do. It just happens to be the music we like and write well so that’s what we do. As you can hear on a song like “Short Shorts” though, no hecks are given with regards to genre and gosh darn it if I want a really bad hip-hop bridge in a song, it’s going to happen. Limits are for chumps.”

The emotions run high with songs like “The Artists Lament” with a real depth of lyrical content to match the complex nature of the soundscape that runs along side it. Have you ever found yourselves reigning in any ideas as being too deep or too emotional to be able to perform live in the future? “I don’t think we’ve ever found ourselves in a situation saying something was too deep or emotional. As a rule we try not to take ourselves too seriously and write what’s honest and authentic. “The Artists Lament” was an experiment to write a ballad and it’s the only song where I’m the only lyricist. For me, I don’t want to write about something tragic I know nothing about, but I do understand the malicious monologue that happens in the mind of any creative and said well, that’s sad so may as well put pen to paper on that. The biggest thing we reign ourselves in on is honesty. If we write a song, is it genuine? We have written a song or two in the past where after looking at everything we said it just didn’t feel real and decided not to continue. Generally though the lyrics are out of Jeremy’s twisted mind and are very good, but tend not to be super layered. Very open to interpretation and that’s a lot more fun for us and the listener. Anyone listening can make the songs about whatever they want and build their own mental image; and I think that’s beautiful”.

When it comes to writing the music of Strei, where do you start? Rhythm, riff or lyric? “The writing process has mostly become and assembly line at this point. It always starts with the music. Whether it be just a demo I record in my bedroom, or we may come up with an idea at rehearsal and I’ll take it and make it into a real big boy song. The lyrics are always the last step and Jeremy comes in and more or less arranges all the vocal parts. Music is me, vocals are him and it makes the song sound fuller and more comprehensive. I like to use this project as a way to test my compositional skills and work around ideas of whatever I like to listen to. If I’m on a Tool kick, there’s a high probability Strei will come out in 3 months with a single that sounds like it could be on 10000 Days. Typically I work with a rhythm guitar section first, add the rest of the rhythm section and add leads and atmosphere on top. I’m a little strict on instrumentation and have to stop myself from adding too much. I see the keys/VST’s as an atmospheric touch, with the guitar handling all the main leads. I guess I’m just obsessed with making sure every instrument and section is properly defined and occupies its own sonic space. The lyrics are a process for Jeremy and he comes back to me with a sheet of paper which we use to lay down the human voice.”

How do you choose which vocal parts are unclean and which aren’t? “That is the domain of Mr. Jeremy. He’s got a really great ear and talent for knowing who’s voice would fit where. Julien has a wicked scream and occupies some areas that Jeremy might struggle in so the two of them have this awesome back and forth often, and he tells me where the cleans are and I go from there. He has melodic ideas in mind often but I tend to make the ideas fit more with whatever the guitar is doing. Makes it easier when you’re playing to sync up the guitar and vox. I also tend to listen in studio whenever Jeremy is laying stuff down for parts that would work well to double clean and dirty vocals. I think one thing we do often, and do well, is how we layer cleans and dirty vocals a lot and makes for a really beauitful but angry sound that adds a really nice distinguishing factor to our stuff.”

What does the future hold for Strei? “If you had asked a year ago, would’ve said onwards and upwards, albums, shows, the whole shabang. Nowadays though, it’s really hard to say. One things that’ for sure is we’re not going to stop pumping out music. We really like the single release format and will probably stick with that. We’re also working on our live show to make it as amazing of a spectacle as we can. We’ll have to see with the virus, state of the world, all that jazz to know what exactly the future holds. However, we’re always writing, putting out music, and to any prospective record labels, seeking the right representation. Apart from that though it really is impossible to say. You never know; there could be a plague or something.”

The Artist” by Strei is out now and available over at bandcamp

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