Sometimes it’s really fascinating how fast things are happening. Towards the end of the last month of 2018, the digital version of Sabïre’s debut mini album was published on Bandcamp. Since then, the band has established contact with labels who will make sure the musis is also available on all physical formats. A slot at this year’s edition of the prestigous Keep It True-festival was secured just a matter of days after the music was out there, and only a couple of days after this interview was done, further gigs in both Sweden and the UK were announced. Metal Squadron got in contact with Scarlett Monastyrski to get more information on the band.Please introduce yourself. Who are you, what have you done musically prior to Sabïre? How did you hook up with your drummer Paul?
– I am Scarlett Monastyrski, the Raven in Rags, King of Acid and Pain. The last band I seriously played with before starting Sabïre was an anarcho-punk band called Protect and Survive. A bit before that, I played in a black metal group called Guillotine Prophecy. Prior to that I played in another punk band called The Kidney Stones, and even further back yet another punk band called UNO 32 and then my first band, a synth and drums band called NS-19, then became NSN-19. With all these bands, I was doing half the songwriting at the least. During Sabïre’s existence I briefly wrote and rehearsed with a Sydney band, Saint Routine who were comprised of the two main guys from eighties Sydney metal band, Lotus. Paul and I have been friends for about six years now, and he has been drumming in the Sydney bands Devine Electric and Grim. I asked him to help me out and play drums on a recording of three songs as a demo to shop around. He agreed and we began rehearsing, and then finally recorded. I then decided to scrap the demo, and record three more songs as a proper studio mini album. So we rehearsed and recorded again.
When was the idea for Sabïre born? In what period of time was the material on the mini album written and recorded?
-The idea came to me like a lightning strike in December 2010 when I was playing along to Tank’s “That’s What Dreams Are Made Of” in my bedroom. It hit me then that the song I was playing along to was so undeniably natural, and I thought to myself, “you know, I do this too. I write little natural progressions and riffs but I keep them at home. That does it, I’m going to make a band where I play only what comes naturally when I pick up an instrument. It’s going to be personal (this kind of playing is very personal because it is totally unforced and fluid), and it’s going to be called ‘Sabïre’ (also extremely personal). The material written for that record ranged from early 2011 (“Black Widow”, half the bulk of “Daemons Calling”) to 2017 (the completion of “Slave to the Whip”) and even 2018 if you are counting “Helheim (Intro)” We recorded drums at the end of 2016, and mid 2017. We recorded guitars, bass and vocals on two tracks in early 2017, the two latter were scrapped. I had the beginnings of my own studio coming together at the mid end of 2017 and had begun recording vocals and guitar. Bass was recorded in 2018 and the vocals scrapped and re-recorded again for the almost-third time. On top of that, the record got mixed twice overall (to keep the story short) and had to tailor the drum mix to sound the same despite two different mic setups.To say that recording and mixing “Gates Ajar” was a nightmare is a gross understatement. There was one day that was such hell it inspired the name for the first track off the following full-length.
“Pure concentrated acid metal” is a description used on your Bandcamp-page. So how does a tag or a description like this come along? From someone within the band or from the outside?
-From inside. I saw that what we were doing, from our sound, production standpoint, aesthetic and overall approach, we could not just lump it in with everyone else, we needed a name for what Sabïre creates and there was no question that it was to be named “Acid Metal.” The “Pure Concentrated” thing is just a fancy and zealous way of saying the genre, ie “True Norwegian Black Metal.”
You are performing everything apart from the drums on your own. Do you feel most comfortable with the guitar, when you sing or when you play bass? Was it important for you to have a real drummer, and not only programmed drums, which quite a few seem to use nowadays?
-I’m comfortable with all three of those, to be truthful. I just adore creating listenable sounds, and those are my tools. There was no option but to have a real drummer. We had no drum program or anything. Every drum sound you hear on “Gates Ajar” is Paul’s playing. There are no samples, and no programming. The percussion on “Helheim” I did, but stumbled upon them by complete accident. I was working out the synth on it and had my rough (and slightly broken) cardioid mic in my hands thinking about vocals. I don’t know why I had my reverb set so high, but I kept dropping the mic into my palms and I noticed it made this fantastic drum sound. I then fully smacked the mic square into my open palm rhythmically and because of the bracelets I had on, the deep pounding had a slight “chain” sound to it. Like chains rattling on an ancient wooden gate if there was an attempt to break it open from the other side.
Is Paul, the drummer involved in creating the music in any way, or is all the songwriting done by yourself alone?
-While it’s true that I do write everything for Sabïre, Paul does contribute ideas for drumming and we come up with “enhancements” to songs together, when need be.
How would you describe the whole philiosophy behind Sabïre, reflected in everything from the music, the lyrics, the recording, the artwork and to your stage show?
-Honesty. Honesty is our philosophy. The idea of Sabïre was formed on playing the music that naturally came out, and developing the confidence to say “this is my music, this is what I play. Not what anyone else plays.” That same feeling is carried on with how we present ourselves in photos, what we say in lyrics, and what we want to depict in music videos and artwork. It’s all coming from a honest and personal place. There is no desire to be anything else but Sabïre.
The feedback on your songs so far have been overwhelmingly positive. What has been the best thing that has been said or written about the material, in your opinion?
-That’s good to hear. I think that the best thing I have heard came from a fan writing to me saying how amazing it was discovering the different layers in the music after listening to it more and more. Similarly, a reviewer mentioned about the bass’ hooks becoming more and more apparent, with another reviewer saying how well the instrumentation melds together. Another great thing I read was a fan from India saying how much he loved the music for its “zero pretense and totally natural songwriting.” All of those mean a great deal to me because all of them touch on what I was intending to do and give to the listener. It’s satisfying to hear someone even remark on it. Sabïre’s music is fairly straightforward, but a straight running river does not have to be shallow, and believe me this river is as deep as it gets.
Since there is not a title song on the mini album, please explain why you have chosen to name the it “Gates Ajar”? It seems symbolic, being the first offering from Sabïre?
– The mini album had a few working titles that I was not totally fond of, but all said the same thing. “Open Wide the Door,” “Door to the Beyond,” “Genesis,” and “Showcase” were all different ideas. They just didn’t work. I even tried those titles in different languages. I was determined to find a way of expressing that this is just the beginning. That this is a sampler of the wider scope of what’s been created. Suddenly, I remembered a name, a place that always frightened me as a child: Gates Ajar. It was perfect. Once again, an intensely personal name, fitting in metaphor, and just as eerie and ominous as I remember. Sabïre is a larger beast than people think, and it’s been trapped beneath the earth for a very long time and now that the gate’s ajar, so to speak, it’s coming.
What I, and many with me, really enjoy about the EP is how it goes in many different directions, something you also point out that is important for you. Do you set any restrictions at all on what to write and not write for this record?
– Sabïre has no restrictions besides, “don’t sound stupid.” The overwhelming majority of music that I write is for Sabïre. Every once in a while I come up with something that just does not fit with Sabïre and would be better suited for a solo record. So that being said, there is very little that does not sound appropriate. Regarding the material for “Gates Ajar,” not a single song was written for it, with the exception of “Helheim (Intro).” All the songs were simply chosen as best examples of what to say we are about if this were to be our only ever release. The material stretches over many years; two of the songs are from back in 2011, and only one, which is “Helheim (Intro)” is from 2018.
A full length release should offer even more options to include diverse songs, but at the same time it’s probably necessary to have a red thread running through. How do you think and work trying to get this balance right?
– Once again, it’s not a drama. All our material sounds like Sabïre so there is no need to reel anything in. The whole point of “Gates Ajar” was to show who we are, and to display some core facets. With following albums, we may have most songs focused on one facect, and four tracks that display others because it fits with the overall vision. The sky’s the limit. Now that “Gates Ajar” has made its point, we can now freely do what we want without worrying that we are not showing ourselves accurately. My method of picking the tracks for each album, and I work well in advance, is just knowing what is going to represent the overall thought behind the record. The way it will sound in the chosen production, the lyrics, the colour even, are all major factors in the selection.
One thing I really like, is the fact that you seem to blend hard rock and metal. In today’s scene it seems like you should be either one or another, and particularly within heavy metal circles there is a tendency to keep the sound as free from other impulses as possible. What do you think about this way of thinking in general?
– That kind of thinking is what had Sabïre lying dormant for so long. No one wanted to play it! Look, I don’t think like that, but that’s me. If it works for you to stay in your chosen lane, so to speak, then go for it. More power to you.
What kind of production and sound were you looking for for this record? To me the whole thing sounds very eighties-like, and maybe done in a home studio. With the material being so diverse, does that make it even more difficult deciding what is a fitting sound for the songs?
-Short story: I had an idea for how it should sound and I made it happen. Long story: I had an idea on how it should sound and had to go through two (more like eight) different mixes and the process was very painful. But, no pain, no gain. I had to keep telling myself that “Gates Ajar” would be the most difficult record I would ever do because it really was. It’s the first record I’ve ever put out publicly and it was, and has been, a steep learning curve because every single thing I did in production was the first time I had done it. Obviously things were going to go pear-shaped, but when that happened, I just had to start again and keep going til I got it right. I am very proud of how it turned out, and the remaster we did for the physical versions sounds even better. No, it was easy to get the right approach production-wise to the material. As you put it, the material sounds diverse, but it all sounds like Sabïre; it’s just a matter of what do you want this to sound like? The mindset going into “Gates Ajar” was this: if this is the only thing Sabïre will ever release, the sound (and the song choices) must be representative of the idea of Sabïre as a whole. We could not afford to try something one-off, like we will in future albums, we had to make the core essence of Sabïre the number 1 priority.
Who would you name as your inspirations when it comes to your vocals? Both here as well as in the music in for example “Rise To The Top” its easy to hear influences from American hard rock/metal shining through.
– Inspiration wise, there’s really too many to name. I really love and get inspired by vocals that have a tinge of sadness, and maybe a tragic aire. Regarding “Rise to the Top,” I actually had Rob Halford in mind when I was writing the lyrics. You might be able to hear what I was thinking in the first line of the first verse of the song. With the backing vocals I just thought it would be nice to have a light backing harmony. Some of my favourite singers that really strike a chord with me would be people like Wanda Jackson, Noddy Holder, Blackie Lawless, Doro Pesch, that sort of thing. I’ve said it before, I can’t really sing like anybody, so I just try to be confident with my own voice and let nature take its course.
What kind of function do the lyrics fill in the expression of Sabïre? Are they secondary to the music in any way?
-Absolutely and unequivocally not. The lyrics are more than important. Even when writing a thematic song, one has to put immense caution into the writing process to ensure nothing regrettable is written. When I say this I mean, I would never put something out that I would think would sound lame if sung by another band. There are too many poor lyrics out there, and there really is no reason for it. If it means not finishing a song for four years than so be it. Do not put it out until you get it right.
Listening to your mini album it strikes me that the music and the lyrics might have been made primarly to entertain the listener. W.A. S. P. was/is also a band that entertained people, and when looking at the promo pictures on your Facebook page, there is really no denying that you have to be influenced by Blackie and W.A.S.P in a way.
– Regarding entertaining the listener: Our music is made primarily to enrich the lives of the listeners on whatever level it reaches them on. If being entertained is the sole level that a listener feels enriched by, then so be it. We have four primary influences for four very distinct reasons. W.A.S.P. is listed as our third. Blackie is an artist that I identify with on many levels, but Quorthon of Bathory is the first and most strongest influence on me. W.A.S.P.’s influence in Sabïre is that of lyrical intention. I was watching an interview with Blackie around the “Headless Children” era and he spoke about writing about what he was really thinking and feeling. It clicked to me then, that if Sabïre is composing music from that real place, the lyrics need to have that same confidence to say what I’m really feeling and thinking about. W.A.S.P.’s influence on me personally was in reassurance more than anything. When I first listened to W.A.S.P. I was blown away by what I was actually listening to musically. Hearing the song, “B.A.D.” made me reassured with what I was wanting to do with Sabïre. It gave me the confidence that it is ok, and more importantly, good to be entirely yourself musically and nobody else.
Tell us how you felt when you were contacted by Oliver from Keep It True with an offer to play at the festival? What did you know about Keep It True from before?
-It felt pretty exciting to say the least. You have to understand, we had only put the record out on the 20th of December, then I think on the 23rd we put it up on Bandcamp. January 3rd was the day Oliver emailed us. That is an astonishingly short timeframe, and we were already bombarded with emails and messages of all sorts; fans, labels, and interviews. I’ll say it again, it was very exciting. I had seen a clip of a band called Stallion playing at a festival a few years back, and now of course I recognise that festival as Keep It True. I really know next to nothing about the European music scene in general, let alone the metal scene. All of this is new to me.
How many liveshows will you have under your belt before Keep it True? Will the band continue as a duo when recording and perhaps as a quartet for live shows?
-Sabïre will have two live shows completed before Keep It True. We’ve done one show as a three-piece, same with the next one coming as of the time of this interview, and we will be in Europe with an additional touring guitarist. As for recording, we’ll be a three-piece unless stated otherwise.
You are currently working with a few different labels. Skol will do the CD-version, while Ropes and Bones will release it on tape. What about vinyl? Will you try to get involved with a label for the longer term, or will you continue doing stuff on your own and then shopping for a deal?
–No Remorse will be doing the vinyl of “Gates Ajar.” I suppose we would consider working with a label for a longer period of time if the right one came along. With the way things currently are in the Sabïre camp, we have to keep to ourselves and continue to work on putting together the next few releases and meet our own set deadlines. I will not say at all that we don’t want to work with a label, because that is not true, but we do have the means to get our work done the way we like, and we have a very chaotic schedule at the moment.
How much material do you have ready at the moment? Are there plans to start recording a full length anytime soon? What can you tell us about the new material?
-Ok, so Sabïre has 75+ songs in its arsenal. There is eight years of material there, and counting! I can say that there are plans for a full length. In fact, pre-production began in the last few months of last year. The new album is called, “Jätt.” There is an overall thought behind and encompassing this album. I will share an excerpt from the album’s accompanying epistle to shed some light on it:
“December 11th 2018
Jätt: the Streckish word for Hell. Apptly fitting for this album’s title. The songs in collection here express in general, a feeling of discomfort, some more severe than others. Discomfort at its extreme is hell. Hell is more than a location, it is a state of mind, an emotion, and in some cases, a way of life.”