Fireworks Magazine Online 40 - Nova Orbis

Nova Orbis are a gothic progressive metal band from Colombia who have, with their debut album Imago, managed to blend styles and influences that encompass traditional Colombian instruments, choirs and some killer gothically tinged heavy progressive themes, that when they all come together add up to a scintillating listen. Steven Reid caught up with guitarist Jose David Barajas, before also being joined Jose’s sister and the bands lead singer Ana Barajas, to find out more.

Hi Jose, when did the band come together?

We started as Nova Orbis in 2005, but the idea of the band was born in 2000 when David Martinez and myself first met. We both were studying engineering and had a common interest in music and particularly symphonic metal. We first started playing acoustic versions of bands like Kamelot, Yngwie Malmsteen and Dream Theater. After playing live, at last, in 2004, we decided to make a serious music project. So we invited my sister Ana and David’s cousin José Fernando to join the band. Over the next few months we were searching for another guitar player. In that moment, David and I were alternating between the guitar and keyboard while looking for a bass player and another guitar player. The band found Jorge Gutierrez and Rodolfo Caliz, respectively, the right guys to do the job. The rest, as they say, is history.

It took you three years between recording your first demos to releasing the excellent debut album ‘Imago’ at the tail end of last year, what has the band been up to in those three years and why did you wait so long to put out your first CD?

Well, during these years we were working really hard on the composition to make things better than in our first recording effort. We composed about 23 songs before we decided which ones would be recorded. Also some of us were finishing our studies, while others were working and also saving some money for the recording and production of the album. Actually, we started the whole pre-production process in early 2008. We recorded the early version, a home version, of the songs during the weekends that year and also we began to look for the right producer.

I think that time was well spent as the results on ‘Imago’ are a surprisingly mature and eclectic mix of songs and styles, was it always the band’s vision to push boundaries and to avoid falling into the stereotypical progressive metal clichés?

Thank you for your comments Steven. Well, that has always been the idea, try to find our own sound, our own voice, it’s a long process and we’re just getting started. I think that you will find some new ideas in ‘Imago’, and also some common places, of course, but the idea as you just said is to avoid the clichés. I think that the fact that we’re all working on the writing process also brings different sounds to the final result. Some of us are really into progressive rock, while others love soundtrack music, classical music, extreme metal as well as world music.

I was interested in how that works with all six members of the band have input into the writing of the songs. Do the songs come together through live jamming session, or do you all bring ideas that are already close to being completed songs?

Usually someone comes up with an idea of, riffs and bridges, or even a whole instrumental song and creates a midi file from that. Then all of us get together to work on the lyrics, voice lines and arrangements and try to complete the idea until we find something that works for all of us. Other times we kind of work in teams on each song, it depends on how each member feels about the song. If anyone thinks that they can contribute something, then they work on that idea, however sometimes you don’t feel up to working on certain songs so you ask someone else to work on that. After we complete the song, we record a home version to listen to it with actual instruments, sometimes in midi version a song sounds incredible and then you record it and it sounds like shit! (laughs) Then we re-work the songs if it’s necessary. Jamming isn't a strength of ours, I think that’s because we have limited time in the rehearsal room.

There are so many styles and genres covered on the album that I’m interested to find out what music you all listen to and where the slightly more unusual ideas spark from, as you said the whole band is involved, so who brings which influences to the writing?

Our influences are very diverse, but I think that happens inside of every band. Our common influences are bands like Kamelot, Dream Theater, Nightwish and Ayreon. But Ana, for example, listens to a lot of jazz, such as Ella Fitzgerald, Billy Holiday, Louis Armstrong and Diana Krall and she’s really into the whole classical arias repertoire like Bellini, Mozart, Donizetti, Verdi and so on. David Martinez is more into soundtracks by composers like Hans Zimmer, John Williams, Tan Dun and especially anime soundtracks from Yoko Kanno, Joe Hisaishi, Hajime Mizoguchi. Jorge likes more progressive rock bands like Porcupine Tree, Magic Pie, Opeth and Tomorrow’s Eve. But he also loves bands like Three Doors Down and Cold. Rodolfo loves the technical bands: Symphony X, Liquid Tension Experiment and like Jorge he also listens to Opeth. Jose Fernando, our drummer, loves progressive and extreme metal like Xerath, Death, Dimmu Borgir, Alight, Guilt Machine, Circus Maximus, and like the other guys he also listens to Opeth. As for me, I am a big fan of Iron Maiden, Counting Crows, Ben Harper and John Mayer. But I also likes traditional music from all over the world like Yasmin Levy, Cholo Valderrama, Ali Farka Toure and Andy Palacio, among others, so it is a very eclectic mix.

The album includes a wide range of traditional Colombian instruments, as well as ambitious choir sections, how long did it take to arrange the music and make these disparate ideas gel into extremely cohesive songs?

Actually the whole process has been pretty organic. We had the idea of including choirs in certain songs from the very beginning. When we were rehearsing them, we could all feel that the choirs, in that particular moment were needed. We are no experts in choir arrangement, so a friend of ours helped us with that. In the case of the the tiple and bandola, used in the song “Change”, it was an obvious choice because the song is actually a guabina, which is a traditional rhythm from the central region of Colombia. Diego Saboya, who plays in Palos y Cuerdas, a band of traditional Colombian music, was really helpful. He heard the songs a few weeks before he went to record his part and was very excited about working on it. He did an excellent job with the instruments and gave us a very inspired bandola solo.

‘Imago’ was co-produced by the band and Juan David Garcia who has previously produced genres as diverse as country, jazz and rock. How much influence did he have on the band’s sound and what made you decide he was the right person to help shape the music?

Working with a producer is always quite an experience. You learn a lot. When you write a song, you think of it like your child. So when the producer tells you “this song isn't working, maybe you should make this bridge shorter”, well, it’s hard to give up on that because you think your song is perfect. The truth is that many times long repetitive passages are boring for the listener, and that’s the kind of vision you usually don’t have while you’re playing. Since the beginning, Juan David told us, “the idea is not being a 'Dictating producer' and to make things my way. It's better to find a comfortable zone where we all feel that the song works”. In that moment we decided he was the right person to work with. Of course, he influenced our sound, but in a good way, respecting our vision of the sound and trying to bring out the best of each song. He also helped us to really understand the concept of an album, not just a group of songs with nothing in common. This is the way a band makes a statement of who they are.

(At this stage David’s sister Ana joins us) Hi Ana, I was just about to ask how the advent of the internet has made it possible for bands from less well known musical markets to get international recognition, what sort of scene exists in Colombia for the style of music that Nova Orbis play?

Ana: The underground scene in Colombia has been growing in the last ten to fifteen years. I would say there are two big streams, the bands that are pretty tied to singing in Spanish and moving in the local or regional scene, and the bands that decided to take the path of English and try to push the boundaries of language and look for a wider audience that includes non-Spanish speaking countries. In general, there are many circuits and movement in different cities which helps to built a real scene, improve the quality of the bands and, of course, the quality of the music. So I’m pretty sure, in the future, you will hear much more about metal and rock bands from Colombia and South America than in the past. But, of course, getting international recognition is still something difficult if you are a band from this part of the world. And in our case, the internet has been a great help for spreading the word about our music, not only to Colombia or South America, but further. Having our album available on also means the internet will hopefully help us to reach a wider audience.

How easy is it to play live in Colombia and do you go further afield into other South American countries?

Ana: One of the main problems that we have in South America, in general, with underground music is that bars and places to play, most of the times, are not big enough and you just have to deal with it as a band. Sometimes stages are not big enough for the whole band, especially in our situation since there are six of us and often the audience is packed into small places. However, there is something good, at least in Colombia, which is that the government supports a lot of independent music through free festivals where you have the best sound quality and huge stages which is great.  
With respect to South America, ever since we released ‘Imago’ in October 2009 we began a strong promotional campaign in the neighboring countries and even in the south of the continent. Actually, right now we have plans for touring in Chile and Argentina by the end of May. Touring in South America as an independent band is not easy due to the really long distances between countries. you can’t just take a train or rent a van. It’s gonna take a lot of time. That’s why we’re planning on doing it first in Argentina and Chile and later in Ecuador and Peru.

I was interested to read that Nova Orbis are part of the Bogota Gothic Alliance with six other bands, how does this Gothic Alliance work and how do the bands benefit from it?

Ana: As we mentioned before, the metal scene in Colombia is something relatively new. The best way that we have found to keep growing, being completely independent, is working in a supportive network and that’s exactly what the Bogota Gothic Alliance is. There are seven bands working together in promotion, organizing gigs, sharing contacts and having a strong relationship with fans, local media, etc. We have gained important recognition in the national scene and we’re currently creating new networks with bands in other cities in Colombia and South America.

That’s great that you are building up this network and the government supports music, however I was reading some of the blog posts on the band’s myspace page and noticed that guitarist Jose David Barajas and singer Ana Barajas were currently in Buenos Aires in Argentina to try and further their journey as musicians, will the band have to eventually move away from Bogota to expand and grow musically?

JD: We need to grow a lot as musicians, persons and performers and naturally there’s a lot of things that can be learned through experiences in foreign countries. The internet opens doors to a lot of knowledge and information that was impossible to get just a few years ago, however there are certain things that you can only learn from these types of experiences and not from a computer screen.

It’s not unusual for bands to release albums without a record deal these days, are you hoping to be signed before starting on a follow up?

JD: It would be really nice, but we can’t depend on that. We are trying to make the band as visible as we can by obtaining contacts all around the world to help us spread the word because in these days record companies are trying to minimize their risks and they only want to sign bands that already have a fan base big enough to justify their investment. So we need to grow as much as we can using our own means. With or without a record deal, we’re gonna record a follow up. That’s for sure.

With those plans to grow your audience, do you have any plans to take the Nova Orbis sound out of South America and play some shows either in Europe or the UK?

JD: That would be great! Our idea is to take our sound everywhere we can. Playing in Europe and the UK would be an excellent test for us because these are the places where most of our influences come from and Metal has a really strong tradition there. We are newcomers, which is a good and also a bad thing. The good thing is that you can bring something new to the table. The bad thing is that you typically have to walk a long road before they take you seriously. So, to be clear, if we have offers, then we would really love to play overseas!

Thanks for taking the time to answer these questions, do you have a message for your fans?

JD: Thanks for listening and enjoying our music and rocking with us. Hope we can meet you all on the road!




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