Few bands have left me struggling to find a way to describe their musical texture, but such artists do come around ever-so-often. When it happens, I usually buy way too much of the band’s merch and keep their album in the rotation until the next one is released. Although I haven’t bought an Azusa shirt or vinyl (yet), their most recent album, Loop of Yesterdays, is on repeat. As weird as it feels, I can’t really say, “Azusa reminds me of (insert band here)” without second-guessing myself. They’re the best kind of different: the way the tempo rises and falls with no particular pattern, the way the driving force comes and goes throughout each song like when ocean waves keep hitting you, the way you lose track of where you are as you disappear into the music. When it’s all done, you’re beaten and battered, but, standing on the shore, your body demands you do it again. Although Azusa has not yet become a metal heavyweight in terms of popularity, their musical aptitude rivals anyone in the genre today. Consider them the best band you haven’t streamed yet, but let that change. Get back in the ocean.
I spoke with Azusa’s vocalist, Eleni Zafiriadou, to discuss their newly released album, as well as other fun things, such as life in quarantine.
HM: It’s such a pleasure to connect with you, Eleni! Before we get started, let me say how much I love your vocals and what you bring to the metal scene. This may seem like an odd comparison, but you remind me of Kate Bush with a lot of edge.
Hello Andrew! Likewise.
I feel flattered. Thank you. Kate Bush has been a great inspiration to me, as for so many other people. She was ahead of her time, and she had a clear vision of her music. She was the first performer using a wireless headset microphone on stage. Nineteen-year-old Kate stood up to her label boss who didn’t want “Wuthering Heights” to be her first single. Her voice is otherworldly, and she created a cosmos that has fascinated so many people over the years. Compared to her, I’m pretty average. Now that I fangirled her we can start the interview on eye level (laughs).
You and your band, Azusa, released your newest album, Loop of Yesterdays, in early April. How exciting has it been for you all to release your second studio album?
We started recording LOY before Heavy Yoke was even released. The second album is always the toughest, they say. In our case, the music was already half-written. We just picked up where we left off: returning to David’s (David Husvik, drummer) studio in Oslo and continuing the recording process. In hindsight, it was pretty liberating. There was no feedback, no reviews on HY out there. So while recording, we didn’t wrack our brains if the world wanted a second Azusa album. We didn’t even know if people would dig our debut.
What affected the recording process, though, was the fact that a couple of months before HY had dropped, I went through a period of loss and grief that also accompanied me during the releases of HY and LOY. Nevertheless, releasing LOY also felt like a triumph.
When you compare Loop of Yesterdays with your first album, do you feel like you experimented more or, to say it simply, evolved as a band?
We recorded LOY pretty fast. We had warmed up with Heavy Yoke, so LOY felt like a smooth transition. We isolated ourselves in the studio bubble for ten hours a day, like we did with HY in several sessions. I think LOY is way more direct and raw. It’s up to the listener to decide if we evolved as a band. I just can say that it felt more like being in a band than in a project because we spent so much time with all those late-night talks in David’s kitchen, getting to know each other better.
Releasing a new album is often accompanied by a tour and the development of a band’s fanbase, as well as continuing to deepen the relationship with your already existing supporters. How has this pandemic changed how you are connecting with new fans and sharing this new album in ways that are unconventional?
Well, we haven’t done anything unconventional so far. I’d rather be patient and wait until live performances are possible again. As a performer, I prefer to connect with a real audience. Not thrilled about the idea of strangers seeing my apartment.
You’re originally from Greece, right? Where are you currently calling “home,” and do you still have family in Greece?
Both of my parents are from Greece. Their parents came to Germany as Gastarbeiter during the 1960s, ’70s. (Editor’s Note: A common phrase in Germany referring to a person with temporary permission to work in another country.) I was born and raised in Germany, so I carry two worlds within me. I attended German school in the mornings and Greek school in the afternoon, speaking Greek at home and German outside.
I feel incomplete when I don’t manage to go to Greece at least once a year. I miss the perspective to swim in the sea. I lived in Greece in 2017-2018, going back and forth to Germany. I moved to Berlin last October. My closest friends live here, so it pretty much feels like home. My grandparents are not alive anymore, but I have aunts, uncles, and cousins in Greece I visit once-in-a-while.
It always seemed odd to me that people have the urge to label everything. What’s the point? I never really get it.
What musical artists and bands have most influenced you as an artist?
On a subconscious level, I’m influenced more by other things than artists or bands, for that matter. It can be a movie, a dream, or a book I read in my 20s, you name it. My approach to music was always a very intuitive one, coming from the dilettante side as an autodidact not able to read music, especially when it comes to singing. It was always more about capturing a certain feeling or mood than trying to sound like a specific singer, I guess.
I’m fascinated by artists who stand on their own, have their own signature, timbered their own genre. Take Renate Knaup-Krötenschwanz, singer of Amon Düül II, for example. You listen to a track like “Jalousie” where she sounds like a little girl, and then there are songs you would think there is another person on the mic.
I think I can relate to that. Singing is similar to acting. You slip into different roles. That’s what I like about it. Kate Bush’s songs are like movies. Multi-layered and with a changing cast even though it’s always Kate. There are other singers who just sound pretty much alike through their complete work. But if that voice is doing something with me, I can listen to music repeatedly. Vashti Bunyan is almost whispering. It’s a very delicate way of singing I really like. Lisa Gerrard is very intense in a completely different way, almost dramatic, and by not using real words but some sort of fantasy language.
In a genre that is often male-dominant, you are breaking down walls as a female vocalist who has more metal in you than most men I’ve ever met. What does metal mean to you, and do you hope to continue to reshape the landscape of the genre?
I’ll take it as a compliment, thank you.
To be honest I’m not into metal music so much. Whatever falls under that category. I was screaming in my first band, Jumbo Jet, a noisy band that had some punk/hardcore elements, as some music journalists would say. I think I never really cared about genres or genders that much. It always seemed odd to me that people have the urge to label everything. What’s the point? I never really get it.
I grew up making music with guys only but never had the feeling that I’m the only girl in a band (which, in fact, I was). I just realized that when I joined Azusa (who, by the way, were initially looking for a male singer). I didn’t know the guys from when I was little like the guys I started doing music with. So, all of a sudden, me being female became a topic. Especially after releasing HY, the “female-fronted” label occurred quite often. It’s like, wow, look at her, she can keep up with the guys. As if that would be some sort of achievement. But it isn’t really. At least it shouldn’t be.
What I really care about most is expression. I like to try out different stuff. That keeps me truly alive, and I want to continue that. I mean, if I would be an actress, I also would avoid playing the same role over and over again. You naturally want to explore uncharted waters.
I really believe that a lot of people, male or female, are capable of screaming or singing. Especially screaming. Listen to the babies around you. We have it in us. But we learn to filter certain feelings or even ban them, and not everybody wants to show a certain side of themselves, which is fine. And if we talk about genders, there might be a tendency that – especially women – (people) want to appear pleasing, and a deformed face resulting from screaming doesn’t fit into that image.
Singing or screaming, in general, is about letting down your defenses. That’s not always very pleasant. It can be painful at times. I’m not even talking about hurting yourself by not following the right technique. It’s about making yourself vulnerable, and it’s about being unashamed. A lot of people can take their clothes off without getting naked, whereas a few can get naked without taking their clothes off.
Sorry, Andrew. I got a little off-topic here. I hope you don’t mind (laughs).
While writing Loop of Yesterdays, was there a driving mindset behind the words, the music, and the creative process for this specific album? Every artist speaks into their work from their soul. What was your soul saying in this album?
As stated above, I went through an unpleasant and life-changing experience. I had lost many things from one day to the next. My life fell into pieces. I was mainly busy with picking up those pieces and taping the broken parts together. That sounds dramatic, but that’s how I experienced it back then. The loss of control concomitant with the complete inability to act had pulled the rug out from under my feet. I had to deal with a great amount of anger.
In a way, the songs on LOY are snapshots of that crisis. The word “crisis” is derived from the Greek word krisis, which means “decision” or “turning point.” From krinein: to separate, to decide, to judge. Also: to fight, to argue, to vie. Those are the recurring themes LOY deals with.
My personal turning point was initiated by a dream I had that also inspired the lyrics of the title track. In my dream, I saw a house in the dark. I walked around the same house over and over again, trapped in some sort of continuous loop. After every round, I stand in front of the gate, holding the key in my shaky hand that can’t manage to put it in the lock of the door. I try to enter the house but fail with every attempt. A primal fear comes over me. I’m afraid like a child is afraid of the night, ready to swallow it. The line “cannot lose myself in a loop of yesterdays” became a daily reminder ever since.
Yes, I had to deal with grief. I had lost many things that left me in a state of shock. Above all, I had lost myself. But the important thing I kept telling myself was that I still had the keys in my hand to find my way back home. That was a comforting thought.
I’d be remiss to not bring up your other project, Sea + Air. Are you still planning on releasing new music under that umbrella?
We broke up Sea + Air due to irreconcilable differences by the end of 2018.
How are you and Christer (Espevoll, guitarist), Liam (Wilson, bassist), and David staying in touch during quarantine?
We communicate on our Azusa WhatsApp thread quite often, like we did before. And we celebrated our release via Zoom, which was very nice. But I can’t wait to see the guys in person again.
Anything fun you’re doing while stuck at home?
Usually, I’m outdoors cycling, playing badminton or ping-pong with a friend. I also enjoy lying on the grass in a park and watching the clouds go by. Brings back childhood memories. Indoors, I do things I also did in pre-Corona times. Reading or painting.
Outside of music, what are you most passionate about?
Museums and galleries will reopen in Berlin tomorrow. (Editor’s Note: They’ve reopened.) I’m looking forward to that. I love going to the theater and I enjoy a good dance performance. I recall seeing a dancer a couple of years ago. What she was able to express with her body touched me on a very deep level. I had to cry throughout the whole performance.
As fans of Azusa, how can we best support you? Every band and artist is getting hit hard with tours being canceled, as I know that’s where every musical artist makes their livelihood. What’s the best way we can show you love right now?
Keep buying our albums. And buy them for your friends and enemies.
Azusa was posted on May 6, 2020 for HM Magazine and authored by Andrew Voigt.