INTERVIEW WITH BRITTNEY SLAYES KELLEY SIMMS
Fist-pumping, sing-along choruses, tantalizing harmonized guitar leads, driving double bass patterns, and a singer who possesses a four octave mezzo-soprano range are all part of Unleash the Archers’ melodic power metal. On the Canadian band’s fifth full-length album, Abyss, released through Napalm Records, Unleash the Archers tackles a full-on sci-fi/fantasy laced concept album.
Featuring vocalist Brittney Slayes, drummer Scott Buchanan, and guitarists Grant Truesdell and Andrew Kingsley, Unleash the Archers creates an unforgettable listening experience. During a recent phone interview from her home in Vancouver, British Columbia, Ms. Slayes spoke with us about the band’s new album, the global pandemic, ice hockey, and what lies ahead for Unleash the Archers.
Being Canadian and hailing from Vancouver, are you glad the NHL is back from this Covid hiatus?
Well, I feel bad for the players. It must be so weird having to play without any audience at all—no fans cheering for you. No home games, it’s just weird. We were actually just talking about it the other day. We we’re wondering if the game play is going to change. Is it going to be less fights? Is it going to be maybe a little bit more technical or less hits? I don’t even know. What part of hockey do the boys do for us and what part do they do for themselves? It’s going to be interesting. But then we were watching the highlights, and it was like fights all over the place! So, maybe there’s zero credibility to that argument.
During this worldwide pandemic, which has greatly affected the entertainment industry, besides preparing for this new album, how have you been channeling your creativity since touring isn’t an option right now?
There’s a lot going on getting ready for the record. I honestly don’t have too much time, unfortunately. But I’ve been working on things here and there. When I have time, I’ve been Twitch streaming and just playing video games online with everyone and hanging out with the fans because we can’t hit the road. We can’t see everybody in person this year. So, I try to keep in contact as best I can on Twitch and Discord.
“I WROTE APEX AND ABYSS ALL AT ONCE, AND I WROTE THEM OUT IN A 20 CHAPTER DOCUMENT. THE FIRST 10 SONGS WERE APEX AND THE SECOND WERE ABYSS.”
On the new album, Abyss, which serves as the sequel to Apex, how did you come up with the concept?
When we got signed to Napalm, we already had the record concept still in hand and ready to go, and it was kind of like a loose concept record. Every song was about being an independent band in Canada and all the shit that you go through. It was really just a collection of songs all united by one idea. So, when we sat down to start on the next record for Napalm, I wanted to do a concept record. I wanted to do a full-on, beginning to end story, underneath everything, and the boys were all on board with that. So, I wrote the whole thing. I wrote Apex and Abyss all at once, and I wrote them out in a 20 chapter document. The first 10 songs were Apex and the second were Abyss. And in those chapters, it was like a track by track. Song one, “Awakening” —this is what’s happening in the story—is how the listener should feel, this is what I want the song to sound like. That is my influence, or what I’m thinking of when I’m writing this chapter. So, I wrote that all out, gave that to the boys, and we wrote Apex all together. Then we had a few riffs leftover that we used for Abyss, which we then sat down and wrote in 2019. For about five years now, this whole story has been our lives.
Since you wrote Apex and Abyss at the same time, the band took a breather after Apex and did the two song EP Explorers. Was that a teaser or an introduction to what was coming with Abyss?
We really just did that to tie the fans over. We originally recorded the A-side for that EP, “Northwest Passage,” as the bonus track for Apex back in 2016. And we heard the final product and we were just like, “Oh man, this song is cool.” We really like it. Stan Rogers is a Canadian hero who’s a really popular folk musician over here, so he means a lot to us. We all really love him and his music, and we wanted to do something special for him. So, we recorded “Queen of the Reich” instead, put that on as the bonus track, and held on to “Northwest Passage” until a lull. We weren’t touring and we had taken some time off to start writing the next record. So, we’re like, this might be the perfect time to put it out. Then we recorded “Heartless World” as the B-side as an accompanying track—another fellow Canadian, sort of 70s, hair metal band [Teaze]. I guess you could call them that, and put that out while we weren’t doing anything. We did take a break. We played one show in 2019 in January. We played the 70000Tons of Metal, took four or five months off from doing anything musically, and then sat down in the summer of 2019 and put everything into writing Abyss. Like I said, there was a few riffs left over, but we were in a very different place as musicians and songwriters than we were for Apex. Even though the story continues throughout, the two records are very different.
“WE WERE IN A VERY DIFFERENT PLACE AS MUSICIANS AND SONGWRITERS THAN WE WERE FOR APEX. EVEN THOUGH THE STORY CONTINUES THROUGHOUT, THE TWO RECORDS ARE VERY DIFFERENT.”
Unleash the Archers’ band name invokes medieval imagery. Have you always been into these types of movie genres and visuals?
The band name was really not an exciting story at all. We just could not agree on anything. Finally, someone after months of going back and forth just said, “What about Unleash the Archers?” We all didn’t hate it, and we stuck with it. So, it just kind of fit, and I don’t even remember really where it came from. But I liked it because I’m a history nerd and I’m all about that medieval stuff. It makes me think of the archer standing on the ramparts of the castle facing off against the oncoming hoard. That’s really what I thought of when the name was first suggested. I was like, “Yeah, that’s cool, that works for me.” It matches the urgency of our sound. I’m a big fantasy nerd like that. Willow is my favorite movie, top number one for all time.
How has the working relationship been with Napalm Records so far?
It’s great. Yeah, they’re really good. They know what they’re doing, that’s for sure. They’ve got all the systems set up and in place to promote and to distribute and get their records out there as best they can. So, we’re stoked. We were independent for a long time before they came knocking on our door. We were just giving away everything that we worked so hard for, but eventually we all decided that it was definitely the best choice and that they would be able to give us access to opportunities that we otherwise wouldn’t have. I think we made the right choice. We’ve been happy with them.
Were there any obstacles that you had to overcome while writing Abyss?
Well, the story was already written, so that part was set in stone. It changed a little bit here and there, but the riffs for Apex were all written back in 2016. Then there was a couple that the boys came to me with for songs, and I was like, “That’s definitely an Abyss riff. Let’s put that one aside and we’ll come back to that later,” because we wanted to focus on Apex at the time. We had originally hoped that we could put out a two-disc record, but we wanted to take our time with every song and make sure that it was the best it could be. We put the second album aside and just focused on Apex. Then when it came time to write Abyss, we had a couple things left over, but for the most part what we had was the story and the foundation that was going to inspire everything else on the record.
“WE WERE A LOT MORE EMOTIONALLY INVESTED IN IT THIS TIME, BECAUSE WE KNEW THERE WERE SO MANY FANS OUT THERE OF APEX AND THERE’S A LOT OF EXPECTATION.”
We had a really good time writing this second part, and we knew that people were stoked on this story. A lot of people were excited to hear what was coming next for our main characters. We were a lot more emotionally invested in it this time, because we knew there were so many fans out there of Apex and there’s a lot of expectation. It forced us to really take our time and write every single song to the best that it could be. We ripped every riff apart and made sure that everything was there for a reason. There’re no throwaway tracks or anything like that. Nothing was written in five minutes or off-the-cuff. It was all very calculated. It was a really good time, and I think you can hear the difference in the writing styles from Apex to Abyss. We’re more mature songwriters now, and the fact that we added a synthesizer to this record really helps with making it sound different as well.
The orchestration of album closer “Afterlife” sounds huge, majestic, and cinematic with a medieval feeling. How did you decide to add the orchestration and how does “Afterlife” tie into the whole concept?
The last track was all Andrew. He wrote the whole thing and then sent it to us. We were like, “Oh, okay, sweet.” He wrote all the orchestration and everything and did the whole symphonic thing. It’s so unexpected and perfect. We were looking for this triumphant end to the album, and he just hit it out of the park on that one. We knew that we wanted the intro and the closing track to bookend the record. We ended up taking one of the riffs from “Afterlife” and using it as the base riff for “Waking Dream,” just so that it would really tie the whole record together into one cohesive piece.
“IT’S SO UNEXPECTED AND PERFECT. WE WERE LOOKING FOR THIS TRIUMPHANT END TO THE ALBUM”
Who was involved in the album’s production, and what were you going for sound-wise?
Andrew wrote all of the foundational guitar riffs based on the story that I sent him. So, he’d come back to me and say, “I got this song, I got this riff, or I don’t know where you think that would fit.” And then we would all build it together. Then Scott would write his drum parts, and I’d sing over it. So, a lot of what I would call production was Andrew. Engineering, mixing, and mastering was all Jacob Hansen from Hansen studios in Denmark, and we used him on Apex as well. We just love his sound and the product that he creates. It’s very much his sound, and that’s why we went with them because we love what he does. He’s just incredible and very talented and has put out some of my favorite records of all time. We love the kind of sound that he creates, and it fits really well with what we do.
Given your status in North America, do you feel that you don’t receive more opportunities here than you do compared to other countries?
There’s always room to grow, for sure. There’s always people that don’t know about you or who you are or what music you play. Honestly, I feel like we have a better fan base in North America than we do in Europe, even though our music is more of what people would consider to be European style. We’ve got a huge fan base here because we’ve been playing in North America for so many years. We toured Canada right from the get-go—one side of the country to the other for years. Then we expanded into the States and toured the States three or four times while we were independent. We worked really hard to build up our name over here. In fact, it’s much harder to get noticed over there, especially when you’re from Canada. I mean, no one pays attention to Canada for heavy metal. They just don’t. So, you have to work like 50,000 times harder when you’re a Canadian band if you’re over in Europe and you’re playing the kind of music that we play. It has been a struggle, but you just take it as it comes and keep doing what we love and hope that people discover you.
Brittany, before I let you go, what do we have to look forward to once this pandemic dissipates?
Which, hopefully it will soon. We’re going to do an album release stream I think the weekend that the record comes out. We’ll be streaming on Twitch and stuff, hopefully over the summer and fall. Then in 2021, we’re gonna hit the road. If everything relaxes and this virus goes away, if we get a vaccine or whatever, if things start to open up again, we’ll be touring Europe and North America in the spring. And then hopefully South America, Australia, and Japan in the fall, and lots of festivals in the summer. We’re slowly getting rebooked for everything that was booked for this summer in 2021. So, hopefully that all works out.