Interviewed by Bridget Taylor
Today, we are interviewing Empress, a band consisting of members Barbara Blackthorne (lead vocals), Vlad Khavin (guitar), Mark Stainthorpe (drums), Joseph Muir (guitar), and Nicholas Bonsanto (bass). They just released their first single “Black Arcana” January 23, 2019 and are quickly catching the ears and eyes of people everywhere! We sat down for a quick introduction interview for this symphonic/power metal band.
Hello, and thanks for taking time out for this interview, it’s appreciated! Without another second, let’s get right into it. You seem to be a relatively new band with a quick hit following. First week alone, your single “Black Arcana” hit over 1,000 likes! How in the world did you manage that accomplishment?
Nick: “First, we’d like to take this time to thank you for interviewing us, every single person who has shown interest at all means a lot to us, we
honestly didn’t expect this much buzz right away! It’s pretty amazing, ya know?
We’ve worked on the music privately for many months and we really believe in this stuff so when we finally decided to announce the band to the world we told all of our friends, families and coworkers then of course shared everything we had extensively across social media and its been a lot of fun, sort of stressful, like sending your child to their first day of school but ultimately it’s been rewarding and beyond expectation.”
Barbara: “I feel like to one degree or another, each one of us has a little
following from past things we’ve worked on, so I feel that it definitely helped. Then the video got shared a ton by people and that helped spread it
around. We’ve been pretty thrilled to watch the numbers climb higher &
higher and see people respond so positively.”
Mark: “We’ve all been active musicians and fans of the local music around the Philly area so our initial audience was healthy from the start. Being able to share a quality recording and lyric video from the get-go has also helped us gain credibility in our work.”
It’s always great to see members telling a little about themselves, ie the bios shared on social media. How did y’all come together?
Vlad: “Well, the short answer is it was Mark’s fault. He and I ran into each other at a show. He saw me play in Infernal Opera, and I saw him a few weeks later with Percussor. Chat messages went back and forth and it turned out we listened to a bunch of the same stuff. At one point he put out a call on Facebook for people to jam with, and both Joe and I said we were interested. I didn’t know Joe at the time, but we got together in Mark’s basement one night, and so it began. I had some material I was working on at the time so we started working on that together. Black Arcana was actually the first original tune we jammed.
We went through a few auditions for vocalists. It was a diverse group of people with varied styles. To be perfectly honest, we were getting a little discouraged because even though the folks we tried out were good, they were not the voice we were looking for. We did meet some really cool people though! And then, in came Barbara. I think we knew she was it the moment she started singing. All we needed was a bass player… Nick was tried out on bass the next week, and so a year after that first jam, Empress was born.”
Mark: “I initially posted on social media that I was seeking members to start a new band. The replies were generous…having already seen Vlad and Joe rock at local venues with Infernal Opera and Seeds of Perdition, no audition was required! We began writing together and auditioned a few vocalists along the way before Barbara. We were blown away with her audition performance and offered her the gig on the same night. Nick had come along with Barbara to check out the band she was auditioning for. He liked it so much he wanted to come back and audition for bass the following week. Barbara, now a member got to decide unanimously with the group to invite Nick into the band.”
For the guys (I don’t see band history for Barbara), how is this band different from previous ones you’ve played in? Lots of years of experience here!
Nick: “This band is different for me mostly due to the symphonic elements like our click track and the strings and orchestration happening but beyond that, playing with such an incredible vocalist is really what makes this band shine for me. I came from a thrash and progressive background so I feel comfortable with this yet excited by a whole side of metal I have hardly explored.”
Vlad: “It’s, to me, an evolution. I’ve never done anything with symphonic elements before but I had wanted to for years now. It’s not always easy to find a group of likeminded people though! We definitely have elements of the progressive metal that I had played in the past and the thrashier stuff I’ve done more recently. With Empress, the style is grander and far more expansive than anything I’ve ever done before, and also technically and technologically challenging.”
Joe: “I am very new to playing metal when compared to everyone else in the band. My first metal band was Seeds of Perdition, a death metal group. Seeds was a very different breed of death metal, focusing more on catchy riffs and songwriting. It was a very good introduction to the genre. Empress is a similar idea, heavy, technical riffs that come together to make something epic and catchy. Empress differs a lot for me because it’s a sound I am not too familiar with, and one that I am always learning more about.”
Mark: “My previous experiences included rock bands, black and death metal bands. This band has allowed me to expand past the typical extreme metal styles and try out some more progressive chops.”
Speaking of the bios, it seems as though “Video games” is a common hobby. Do you think that was a major influence in your music? (Anyone who says games don’t have good soundtracks is indubitably wrong.)
Vlad: “Oh yes! Beyond any doubt. Video games are a huge inspiration to me. Their soundtracks are often full of gems, but also just the lore is a
great source of inspiration.”
Joe: “When not listening to Leonard Cohen, Frank Zappa, or Captain Beefheart, I am blasting video game soundtracks. Anyone who says games don’t have good soundtracks is wrong and should feel bad (just listen to DOOM 2016’s soundtrack and tell me it doesn’t make you want to rip and tear). We want Empress to be the soundtrack to life! It definitely makes an impact. I’m always sending the guys songs from games.”
Mark: “I love PC games and MMORPG’s and they usually have awesome music that inspires me.”
Barbara: “Video games and general geekery are almost always a huge influence on anything I do. When you play a game, you’re listening to the music from that soundtrack for countless hours and if you love it, it’s impossible that it doesn’t stay with you in some way, I think. There’s one song in particular we have that’s video game inspired, actually, but that’s all I’ll say on that for now ;).”
Nick: “I have always loved video games and their music. Zelda has always been especially dear to my heart, even when I was a kid I dreamt of either making games or music, one of those did not pan out but I can still combine my favorite passions today. Soundtracks to games and movies will always be an inspiration to what I’ve done musically.”
“Black Arcana”, as mentioned above, has become quite popular. What else should we look forward to in terms of future music?
Barbara: “Variety. One of the things that I’m most proud of with this band is the spin we’re doing on the genre. Every song has its own unique character while remaining undeniably Empress. We all come from different backgrounds and bring our own set of skills & influences to the table, and it comes together to create something that I feel is very special. I am incredibly excited to unveil more of what we have to offer.”
Nick: “We hope people are enjoying Black Arcana! It was our first song we
performed together and we felt it was fitting as the first song to release as it captures the essence of the band with a strong chorus to sing along to but I am personally very excited to show everyone what else we have been working on. The only way to hear the rest is to see us live which everyone will have a chance soon!
We are planning our second single release sooner than you think and it’s a lot of fun to play, faster paced for sure. Each song we currently have has a unique identity and I think expresses a different side of Empress. There is a faster power metal edge to us, then there is definitely a progressive side that we love exploring and then there’s the symphonic elements throughout as well as something equally important to us, which is writing great hooks and melodic songs that feel like anthems you can sing along with. We don’t want to compromise anywhere, we very much want to live up to our name, Empress and rule the stage.”
Any plans for touring just yet? I see you are coming near my area, Delaware, with the mighty A Sound of Thunder (DC hometown heroes) and MasterSword. Can we expect more stops with the people, because my little nerd heart is so happy – I am NOT missing this show! 🙂
Nick: “It will be great to meet you in person if you come out to the show in Delaware, we are so very excited to play with A Sound of Thunder and Master Sword, two bands we love and truly it will be an epic night for front women of metal! We have no current plans to tour but we are looking to book a couple shows before that one on June 29th. Some local dates around Philly and NJ area.”
Mark: “Glad to hear you’ll be attending! We will be booking ourselves for the foreseeable future. There are a couple dates and venues that have been offered in our first week so that’s awesome! Our plan is to get around our Northeast area this year.”
Barbara: “I’m looking forward to meeting you then! That show is going to be all sorts of awesome and I can’t wait to share the stage with A Sound of Thunder & Master Sword. As of right now, there’s no plans for a tour in 2019 as we’re focusing on releasing more content and playing shows in the
greater Philly area.”
Finally, anything else you’d want to tell us? Social media-wise, a joke, ending words?
Nick: “I would like to say thanks again for having us, we look forward to seeing everyone at upcoming shows and until then rocking out to our songs online, there will be more info and things happening on our page so just keep an eye out for all the announcements, we have only just begun!”
Barbara: “Thank you very much for the interview! And thank you to everyone who has been liking, sharing, and spreading the word about us. Our legion is growing and we hope that you’re just as excited as we are to take this journey with us.”
Joe: “All Hail Empress!”
You can find Empress on all social medias and their website (if you act now, you can also get a free download link to Black Arcana). Individual bios are also found on their social medias and websites, respectively.