INTERVIEW WITH ADRIENNE COWAN BY KELLEY SIMMS
Formed in 2013 in Boston, symphonic/power/black/melodic death metal band Seven Spires’ members met while attending the renowned Berklee College of Music. Featuring frontwoman Adrienne Cowan, guitarist Jack Kosto, bassist Peter de Reyna, and drummer Chris Dovas, the band has just released its sophomore affair, Emerald Seas, through Frontiers Music.
On its 13 tracks, the band’s amalgamation of symphonic black metal and melodic rock/metal elements creates a perfect blend of melody and aggression. By collaborating with veteran musician guitarist/producer Sasha Paeth (Avantasia, Kamelot), Seven Spires has gained some valuable experience.
Speaking with Cowan, she tells us about her college experience, living abroad, being a vocal coach, and her band’s future endeavors.
How did you become involved in music? What were your aspirations while growing up?
I wanted to be onstage. I knew that early on. I was taking piano lessons and singing in choirs and performing in school musicals. My father was a DJ in the 80s, and he always had music playing in the house. He taught me how to use a digital audio recorder to record my own stuff. At some point I realized I didn’t really like acting and I’m not very good at dancing, but I sure liked singing really big powerful songs. And eventually that led me to metal.
What was your major at Berklee, and what did you get out of graduating from the music college?
I got there in fall 2013 and I ended up getting a degree in pro music, which is you can choose up to three different majors and take classes from them because they don’t have a symphonic metal class there. I wanted to learn how to write symphonies and brush up on my music business and songwriting skills. So, those were the three things that I studied there. I met Jack in my first week buying textbooks at the bookstore. and he knew Peter, the bass player from a previous band where they met when they were like 14 or something. Chris is four years younger than me, and I met him when he was 15. But we all ended up going to Berklee. Chris is in his last semester now, and we will have all graduated. I had to finish online because I was working on albums and I was in Italy working. And then I think I finally got the email saying, “Congratulations, you graduated,” when I got home from my first US tour with Winds of Plague. And that was an amazing feeling because I was so frustrated after the whole college experience. Being a metal musician there, especially in the competition department, was a lot of not being taken seriously and some frustrating teachers.
You’ve lived in a few different countries. What types of life experiences did you gain?
I learned how to make friends quickly. Unfortunately, it also means that I lost a lot of people along the way. I think that fed directly into who I became as an adult, and it became pretty hard for me to make lasting friendships. My circle is pretty small, and it’s mostly my bandmates and a few close friends. I think it’s really a blessing also because I got to see so much of Europe while I lived there. We were able to see a lot of places that would have been so much harder for us to get to if we had just stayed in Texas, and also being exposed to so many different types of cultures and backgrounds. I went to international schools when I lived overseas.
“WE’VE ALL OPENED OUR EYES TO BE ABLE TO APPRECIATE A LOT OF DIFFERENT THINGS.”
How well do you think all the band members gel together to be able to create this type of music?
Jack and I do most of the writing, and then we send the songs to Pete and Chris to write their parts. We all had our own backgrounds, and then we started to overlap more and more in our case. And now we have all said our interests to each other, and I think we’ve all opened our eyes to be able to appreciate a lot of different things. For example, Chris is probably the most death metal one of all of us. He also plays with Vital Remains, and Pete does gypsy jazz gigs when he’s not playing metal gigs. Jack really likes the death metal scene, and I like Dimmu Borgir.
You’re also a vocal coach while not on tour. What is the most rewarding part about teaching students how to sing properly?
As a singer, I really hate the idea of being limited in my profession just because my body won’t let me do it. So, I wanted to learn how to scream. A big part of it was because I was so angry, but there’s only so much that you can do to express certain things that have that exact catharsis. So, I love to empower other vocalists, helping them find the tools within themselves to say everything that they want to say musically. And probably the most rewarding thing is, every time I get a new student that wants to learn how to scream, especially younger students or other women who are typically soft spoken, and then they let out that first wild demonic sound and they get this “Oh my God, is that me?” expression is absolutely wonderful.
“WE ALL PUSH OURSELVES TO GROW WITHIN OUR CRAFT AS MUCH AS POSSIBLE.”
Compared to the debut album, how do you think you as a vocalist, as well as the band, has developed?
I think that we all push ourselves to grow within our craft as much as possible. I would say that vocally, my lows are lower and my tone is cleaner. And that’s what I was trying to do on this record. The story of the album is the prequel to our first album, Solveig. But we did Solveig before we had Chris. So, Emerald Seas will be the first time that we have Chris on drums, which is really cool. It made such an enormous difference, and I think Pete’s playing is even more musical. We have a few more moments where we incorporated some elements of world music and more space for him to really shine in that way. And Jack’s just the best guitar player I know, so I can’t even say anything about that.
On both Seven Spires’ albums, you collaborated with Sasha Paeth. How has it been working and getting to know a seasoned musician like him?
When I was 18 or 19, I emailed him asking him to work on our first EP, which is no longer in print. I knew that he had worked on almost all the albums that I loved, like most of Kamelot’s discography and all the giants within the European power metal scene. And probably my favorite vocalist of all-time is Roy Kahn, and I thought, “If that guy can make his voice sound amazing, then maybe I can sound even a fraction of that.” So, we had been working together for quite some time over the internet, and I only had met him for the first time in 2015 briefly in New York and briefly in Germany to work on the recording. But I really only got to know him more as I was working on his album at the end of 2018. He’s become such a wonderful, cherished friend and really more like family. It was scary at first to work with him one-on-one, because I’m like a fan girl! But he treated me as an equal and with a lot of respect and guided me to be able to sing whatever it is that he wanted. It was just a really good experience, and I was very happy to also be able to tour with him on the Avantasia tour.
Sasha Paeth’s Masters of Ceremony’s Signs of Wings was also recently released. How different is the writing process for that band compared to Seven Spires?
It was definitely different. There are some parallels in that he wrote a lot of the stuff and then would give me a song here and there to work on, which is sometimes how we work in Seven Spires. But I’m usually the one doing a lot of the crazed madman song drafting and then sending it out. So, it was interesting to be on the other end of that. And a lot of it was written in one month, which is maybe the fastest that I’ve ever written before. It was mostly his compositions with a little bit of my input. It was definitely different and nice to not have so much of the pressure on me creatively.
The first single “Drowner of Worlds” is so ominous and musically diverse. It’s one of the heaviest tracks on Emerald Seas. How did this song come about?
I think this was during a pretty unhappy time. I definitely wrote it towards the end of my college years, and I thought about scenes from Pirates of the Caribbean. I think the second one, where Jack Sparrow is standing on the ship and watching the kraken about to eat him in slow motion. And I thought about the idea of accepting death with this eerie calm and knowing there’s no way around it. And at this point, like in any album story, the characters are just so exhausted. The idea is the further along you get, the harder it is and the more and more you want to give up. And then as soon as you’re ready to give up, the beast will rise into that world.
“I THOUGHT ABOUT THE IDEA OF ACCEPTING DEATH WITH THIS EERIE CALM AND KNOWING THERE’S NO WAY AROUND IT.”
How has Frontiers Music been treating you, and what made you decide to sign with them?
Sasha’s project and another guy’s project, who is also on Frontiers, we’re looking for a singer and I had been recommended independently for both of them. Actually, Sasha chose me. And then a friend of mine recommended me to his friends. So, they told me to pick one of these projects and also asked if I had my own band. And I said, “Yes.” So, I joined Sasha’s band. It meant that we had more of our foot in the door, I guess. We had more connections. It really helped because we had a little bit more money to work with for making videos, and it took some of the financial strain off of us temporarily. To be able to pay for the printing of the album is a big thing and stuff like that. Every young musician’s dream is to get signed, and we really built the band from the ground up. So, it was extremely rewarding in that regard. It’s just rewarding because it’s like our child. It’s not like we just joined something that was pre-established. We really worked for it, so it feels good now to be recognized.
What do you hope to accomplish next, including tour dates, and are you working on material for a new Seven Spires album or a new Sasha Paeth record?
This year we have two US tours. Starting in March, we will go out with Insomnium and Omnium Gatherum for five weeks or something. And I have a few festivals with Avantasia in the summer. Maybe we’ll work on some more stuff for another Sasha album, and then in the fall, Spires will do another US tour with Amaranthe and Battle Beast. Probably at some point in the year we’ll finish writing this third album—it’s very close to being done. I like to work ahead as much as possible because some things take longer than others, and we’d like to be prepared. We’ve already done pre-production rehearsals and stuff. We’re kind of like overachievers!