Ravenheart Music: Interviews
INTERVIEW WITH MAGGIE-BETH SAND AND MARK POWELL OF SERPENTYNE (Facebook link here)
Can we be introduced to the members of your awesome band?
MAGGIE-BETH: The band consists of, lead vocal (that’s me) Maggie-Beth Sand, Mark Powell, hurdy-gurdy and guitar, Mark Jenkins, keyboards, Matthew Damian, guitar, Nigel Middleton, bass guitar and backing vocal, plus occasional lead vocal, and John Haithwaite, drums and backing vocal.
And how long have you been together, and how did you get together to form Serpentyne in the first place?
MAGGIE-BETH: Mark Powell and I formed the band in 2010, after working together for a few years on another project. I’ve always been fascinated by visiting medieval castles, the mystical sounds of that time, fire dancers, and choirs, which is why we decided to form a band inspired by medieval and traditional themes.
Are any band members involved in any other musical projects?
MARK: I also write for various broadcast production music libraries.
I understand that this is your third album. Can you tell us about your previous releases and how you evolved your sound into what it is on your new album?
MAGGIE-BETH Yes, the first album, “Stella Splendens,” was based on mediaeval songs and tunes, and, although it was not purist mediaeval music it was in large part acoustic. By the time we’d recorded the second, “Myths and Muses,” we had added a drummer, and the sound had gone in a more up-tempo/dance direction, whilst still keeping the mediaeval-world music theme, though we also included some original songs. For the latest album, “The Serpent’s Kiss,” we moved into the heavier rock area, with the addition of Matthew Damian’s guitar. We still kept the mediaeval-world sound though, as Mark’s hurdy-gurdy is a prominent part of many of the songs, and we also stuck to the mythical-historic theme, with songs like Jeanne d’ Arc (Joan of Arc) and the title track, “The Serpent’s Kiss” which is based on the story of Anthony and Cleopatra.
And can you explain the style of your music to those who have not heard your band?
MARK: One magazine editor described us as “Tarja meets Solstice,” which is a fairly good summation; a mix of Nightwish-style orchestrations with progressive rock. Although we’ve progressed from acoustic mediaeval band to rock, there is a world-mediaeval-fantasy thread running through everything that we’ve done.
And the current album 'The Serpents Kiss' - can you tell us about the record, the concept and what the recording experience was like?
MAGGIE-BETH: The previous album, “Myths and Muses” was themed mainly around historical and mythical figures; Boudicca and the Valkyries, for instance. This one continues the legends and fantasy route, around Helen Of Troy, Jeanne D’Arc, Brigantia, the mythical; figure of the Morrighan for example - all powerful female figures. But it’s more loosely themed - one song, for example, “Spirits of the Desert” is about lost ghostly souls wandering the desert, while another, “The Dark Queen” is based on a Howard Pyle short story.
MARK: The recording experience was good- it was quite a revelation at times to hear the songs coming together with the new sound.
MAGGIE-BETH: It was quite a complex production because of the combination of traditional acoustic instruments like hurdy-gurdy, pipes, nyckelharpa and flutes with heavy guitars, symphonic keyboard sounds and multi-layered voices creating choirs, plus drums and bass, which resulted in a very challenging mixing experience.
Have you as yet had any media reaction to the new record?
MARK: It’s too early for us to have had lots of reviews so far, though there are some due out soon, and the German magazine Orkus is running a feature on us in its next issue. The reviews that we’ve had to date have been very encouraging though- we had a particularly nice one from Progression magazine in the USA; as well as yours, of course!
You certainly have a tsunami of mediaeval instruments as well as conventional guitar, drums, bass etc, and I certainly love the sound that these instruments produce on your album. In a live scenario, is the sound as good and how does it go down with the 'crowd'?
MAGGIE-BETH: We try to reproduce the album sound as much as possibly for the live gigs, though we feature various guests on the albums, so can’t always do that- it would mean going out with about twelve musicians!. (MARK- That would sound fantastic though!) Instruments like the hurdy-gurdy and nyckelharpa always attract attention!
If you had to sell your new album to a complete stranger, how would you sell it?
MARK: If you like a mix of progressive rock, metal, world and mediaeval music, you might like to give this a try! If you can’t imagine what that sounds like… well, here’s your chance to find out!
The album title 'The Serpent’s Kiss', can you explain the meaning?
MARK: It was Maggie’s idea. She had the notion of writing a song based on the story of Anthony and Cleopatra, in which she killed herself with a poisonous snake when she thought Anthony was dead - so I downloaded the entire script of Shakespeare’s play, and set about condensing it into three verses and a chorus! The instrumental bits are two traditional Macedonian tunes that have no relation to the story- I just love them… and they work!
And the band name, how did you arrive at Serpentyne?, as I myself love it :)
MAGGIE-BETH: We wanted a name that sounded mediaeval, but also somehow conveyed the notion of strength and power. We thought of “Serpent,” inspired by the medieval instrument the serpent which is a very long brass tube……but that had already been taken. Mark suggested “Serpentine,” like the lake in Hyde Park, so I then said, “Yes, but let’s spell it with a “y” making it sound more medieval as in the old word for time; tyme. We both liked it, so we went with that.
Maggie-Beth, when and where did you start to sing and how do you keep your voice in fine shape?
MAGGIE-BETH I was very lucky to have a mother who is an operatic singer and from a very early age I was influenced by classical music and then later on by pop and rock music. I try to vocalise and warm up every day whether I’m recording and performing or not.
And if you were not singing, what would you be doing?
MAGGIE-BETH I was always interested in painting, and though I didn’t follow that course I now do a lot of the video editing and computer graphics for the band.
Regarding the tracks on the CD, do any of you have any favourites and why?
MAGGIE-BETH …I like all of them but I’d choose “Jeanne D’Arc” because the story is about a brave woman who went to fight for her people, and I think musically it’s a very strong theme.
MARK It’s hard to pick one. I love “Saltarello,” as it’s one of my favourite mediaeval tunes, but I also like “The Dark Queen” for the story. There again… no, I can’t say that I have a favourite; I like all of them.
Musically, where do you seek your inspirations from?
MAGGIE-BETH All sorts of sources - films, books, poems, paintings, or places we visit. We’ve played festivals in a lot of castles and mediaeval settings and they’re often very inspiring.
MARK Many places. Often I’ll hear a traditional tune, or be playing one myself for practice when I think; “Hmm, I could make a good song out of this.” Lyrically, a lot of my ideas come from plays or stories, like “The Dark Queen” and “The Serpent’s Kiss.” A track on “Myths and Muses,” “Alexandria,” was inspired by Homer’s Iliad. The reason we chose that as a theme was that after writing the tune, Maggie said “The chorus needs to be the name of a place or person with five syllables.” That was the only one that I could think of, but as it happened, the story goes perfectly with the song, which is based around a traditional tune from that part of the world. Our songwriting is always a joint effort- often Maggie will suggest an idea to me, I’ll write a tune, then she’ll come up with some ideas on how to improve it, so the end result may be quite different from how it started off. Or she’ll write something which gives me ideas. Looking back at all the songs, it’s impossible sometimes, to remember which one of us wrote which bits of each.
If you could tour or hang out with any particular band or artist, who would they be?
MARK Does it have to be someone who’s alive? My first answer would be Johann Sebastian Bach, as I admire his approach to composition, as well as loving his work. If it’s a living person, I’ve always loved the guitar playing of David Gilmour; an afternoon in his company would be very rewarding. MAGGIE-BETH I would love to be touring with Within Temptation, or from the past maybe spend some time with Debussy, Ravel or some of the other impressionist classical composers.
Are there any further tour dates in the pipeline and could there be an album number four?
MAGGIE-BETH There are some exciting plans for 2017, including many dates that we’re really looking forward to. All will be unveiled on the website (www.serpentyne.com) as the dates are confirmed. We are already working on tracks for the next album, and will be recording that this year as well.
If you were to play another genre of music, what would that be?
MAGGIE-BETH I like classical, world music, rock and mediaeval, but they’ve all been incorporated into Serpentyne’s music at one point or another.
MARK For pleasure I play all sorts of stuff- traditional and mediaeval ‘gurdy tunes, and classical and jazz piano; not that I’m as good a jazz player as I’d like to be.
And if there is a certain style of music that you cannot stand, what style of music would that be?
BOTH - RAP!
MAGGIE-BETH: And…Country & Western
MARK I’m open to music of any genre, and I wouldn’t like to condemn even rap so dismissively; I appreciate that much of it deals very sincerely with social issues, and it actually often works well as poetry if you just read the lyrics. I just can’t stand listening to it! In general, I can appreciate any music of any genre, as long as it comes from the heart. I hate the bland, formulaic nature of just about all modern pop music, or anything that’s written just to cash in on a trend.
And apart from your music, do you have any hobbies?
MAGGIE-BETH I like ski-ing and ice skating.
MARK: Since I was a child, I’ve always been a bit of a science nerd; physics and cosmology, to be specific. My bookshelf is full of books on these subjects, and I follow quite a few science websites. I also like playing golf and badminton, though “playing at it” is a better way of describing my ability!
Thanks for your time and good luck in all your future endeavours. Finally, is there anything you would like to say to anybody across the world wide web via this website?
MAGGIE-BETH Thanks to Ravenheart Music for giving us the opportunity to be presented to all the readers, and we’re always happy to hear from anyone who enjoys Serpentyne’s music.
MARK Thanks to all who have supported us over the years by coming to our gigs and buying our CDs. Without you, there’d be no point in doing it! Anytime anyone wants to come backstage to say hello after a gig… please do!
Dave Smith (Feb 2, 2017)