Interview: Vicky Psarakis (The Agonist) “Writing this album was the smoothest for everyone in the band.”

Time they say flies when you’re having fun and it’s been a lightning quick half decade for Vicky Psarakis in The Agonist. The band has recently landed their sixth studio album Orphans which has won serious critical acclaim. Gary Trueman chatted with Vicky about the latest release, fan acceptance and the importance of being herself.

It’s already been five years since you joined The Agonist. That’s gone awfully quickly hasn’t it?

“Yes, it’s hard to even believe it’s been five years. It feels more like a year or two.”

You’ve really stamped your style on the band and a lot of people have said they’ve noticed a maturing of the band naturally too. You’ve done three albums with the band now, the same as the previous vocalist, so you’ve more than just got your feet under the table. Have you found that to The Agonist fans you are their singer now?

“I think so. There were people who accepted it from day one and there were others where it took them some time. There are some who will never ever accept it. So you get a little bit of everything in the mix. From the day I started singing professionally I told myself that I would do things my way. I do have my own influences and singers that I look up to but I never really liked people that sounded like other people. Like there’s one Bruce Dickinson, we don’t need another one. So when I joined this band, and as a singer generally, I always told myself always try to sound like you and do things your way. I did that with The Agonist and some people liked it and some didn’t. I feel with this new album people are more on board and that feels really good.”

The Take Me To Church cover and video that went with it was quite a statement, it was as you have said showing you doing things your way. It was a great showcase for your range of vocals too.

“We’d been talking about doing a cover for a time and it’s always really hard to choose a cover. With that one we just rolled with it. We were already in the studio recording an album and we thought a lot of the song so we thought let’s just go for it. I do agree it does showcase a little bit more of my singing I guess. I think the cover was able to showcase my singing because of the lack of screaming in it. It was cool that we did it and maybe we’ll do another cover in the future. It did open a door in terms of random people on the internet that don’t even listen to metal that clicked on it.”

It’s a good point. Do you think that metal itself gets misunderstood because of a lot of the screaming and that people don’t appreciate that it’s a difficult thing to do safely and also maybe don’t get how the recording process works?

“I think so. It’s a very different approach behind the scenes and then hearing the final product.  When we record an album it starts with the demo stages all the way to going into the studio and mixing it, and then mastering and hearing the final result. With this album a lot of people have been saying that the vocals do seem very technical and question if I can do it live. It’s funny because they do come across that way but I chose to do things that I’m more comfortable doing, so even though they may sound difficult they’re not difficult for me. Whereas something that may sound easy can be very difficult for me. Everyone is different.”

Orphans, the new album is musically broader than anything the band have done before. Do you think that and the more technical sound has come from people within the band naturally maturing as musicians?

Yes, absolutely. I think that because everyone in this band does enjoy a variety of different genres, in the past you would get a mixed chaos, like teenagers writing music just trying to make sense of it. After six albums though it makes sense and it’s like I like this riff but maybe it shouldn’t go here. I think there’s a lot of that, that maturity in the song writing. And as for my vocals coming in afterwards I just did what felt natural to me. So I have some power metal influences from when I was a teenager but I didn’t put that in The Agonist because I felt it didn’t fit. But here I found some riffs where it fits so I did it. There was a lot of embracing what feels right and just go with the flow.”

The album is very heavy and also quite dark. It’s also tight and it sounds like the band behind it are a happy crew even with that style of music. Is that true?

“Yes. It’s funny that you could get that just by hearing the music but it is totally true. Writing this album was the smoothest for everyone in the band. Everything just rolled really well.”

What are your best and worst traits?

“Best, I guess I’m a very friendly person. I’m very introverted so I don’t open up too much with people but I have no problem saying hello. I’m sociable but it’s hard to crack that underneath. I like spreading happiness into the world because what you put out there will come back to you. Worst trait, I don’t know I have a lot haha. I think a lot of my worst traits could be considered my best traits too. I’m a perfectionist which can blow both ways. I can be extremely annoying if things are not the way I want them to be but then at the end it does pay off. I think my worst trait though is that it’s very hard for me to say no.  I guess that comes from me friendly. Sometimes I don’t feel like drinking but people are like hey want another beer…. And I have another beer.”

So has that friendly disposition led to any funny or just weird moments with fans of the band?

“Yes it does happen. After every show we like to go to the merch table and say hello to our fans and take photos and sign stuff. Sometimes you’ll get drunk fans who want a photo and they’ll put their hand around your waist and then it’ll slide down. I’m like whoa! Don’t do that. I’m not afraid to put my foot down when it comes to stuff like that. I like to try to give people the benefit of the doubt, maybe you’re not an asshole and you’re just drunk. But at the end of the day you want people following you for your music. The guys in the band are always there though so if I give them a look they’ll take care of it.”

You live in Chicago but the band are Canadian essentially. Are there any other Canadian bands out there that we ought to know about?

“There’s a bunch. We’re good friends with Cryptopsy who are from Montreal. Our producer is their guitar player. Kataklysm are from Montreal too.”

Who would you most like to hang out with and talk to that is no longer with us?

“I recently did a cover from Queen, The Show Must Go On, so because that’s fresh in my head then Freddie Mercury. That would be a very interesting sit down and chat.”

Interview by Gary Trueman