March 8th, 2020. Belgrade. If someone told me that this would be my last concert before the Covis siege, and that I would wait a long time for the next one, I would not believe. That night, Symphonity supported Rhapsody of Fire on The Eight Mountain Tour. In this interview, Tomáš Sklenář, Symphonity’s bass guitar player evokes memories and speaks on many other topics with a little help from Libor Křivák, band’s guitar player.
Hi! I hope everyone is well and safe. How is the situation in Czech Republic these days considering the pandemic?
Hi Ivona, it’s great to talk to you again after some time! We are all doing well, thank you for asking. I hope you are also safe and healthy!
First of all, I do not like to use the word “pandemic”. According to the numbers, there’s no pandemic situation. I do not like when people forget the past which I see a lot around myself these days.
The disease is a problem, of course, no discussion about it. But what I see is that the inefficiency and the arrogance of the government’s restrictions makes things much worse than it’s necessary. These restrictions become to do more damage than the disease itself and it will be even worse if we won’t stop it.
Current Czech government is the worst in Europe in the struggle with this epidemic, that’s how I see it.
Due to the pandemic or however you see it, many tours and festivals are cancelled or postponed. How did that affect Symphonity?
You’ve got the point, it’s a real disaster for all the bands who want to play live. The part of our European tour was cancelled last year as well as many big festivals in 2020 and also 2021. We would like to plan another European tour but the situation is still uncertain, so many promoters still wait.
The band went through a big personal transformation during 2018-2019 and it took a lot of work to get us to play live regularly. It all began to seem promisingly, I mean we had our first European tour and great festivals, but then it was stopped by force.
You can be sure, we make maximum to continue where we ended last year, once it will be possible.
Actually, the last show I have been, was one where you played with Rhapsody of Fire and Tales of Evening in Belgrade, March 8th, in the year when Covid messed up the world. As I remember, that tour had to be cancelled before its official ending?
I remember this show well, it was one of the best shows during this tour and it was 3 days before the rest of the tour was cancelled, so we did not play in Switzerland, Slovakia, Germany, France and Italy.
We discussed the possibility of cancellation for more than a week before it happened. We knew that it could happen each day, but we all hoped that the situation will enable us to play for the last few days of the tour. Unfortunately, it did not happen. After the show in Belgrade, we played two more shows in Croatia, where it all ended.
I always like to ask musicians who were in my country, how do you remember or do you even remember the show in Belgrade? Did you have some free time to explore the city?
Yes, as I said, I remember the show well and we all enjoyed it a lot. Unfortunately, we had not enough time to explore the city and I hope we will make up for it the next time. The day before, we played in Bucharest, then we traveled the whole night to Belgrade. I remember, I woke up about noon in the tour bus and we were just in place and began to prepare the show. I really like the venue where we played here, it was Dom Omladine, if I remember well. I also remember it was very pleasant to spend here the whole afternoon and evening because all the people were kind, the locker room was quite big and comfortable which is not the necessity everywhere.
Symphonity has a long history behind, but as you came to the band in 2018, I will ask you first how did you join the band?
It was quite simple. One day, I got an email from Libor about joining Symphonity. I listened to both albums and was amazed about how the music sounds great, so it does not take a lot of time to say “yes” to this offer.
Can you tell me something more about your musical background?
I started to play bass at the age of 16. At the time, I was a big fan of Iron Maiden and I was very influenced by Steve Harris’s style. First, I learnt to play on my own by playing many Maiden songs. After a couple of years, I found a music teacher, who helped me to get much deeper into playing bass. During my twenties, I tried to establish my own band many times, but it always ended because of the irresponsibility of musicians I found. I also joined a few local bands, but the problem was still the same. Many people perceive being in a band as just a lot of fun, a lot of drinking and things like that. But once they realized that it’s also hard work, it becomes a problem. One day after another unsuccessful attempt, I decided not to establish my own band anymore, but to work on myself musically in order to be able to play with musicians on a higher level. After some time, Libor sent me an email I mentioned above…
What did you know about the band before you joined it and what was the main reason you became a part of the band?
To be honest, I was very surprised about this offer when I first read it. I approached Symphonity as the best Czech power metal band which is known also in Europe and even in Japan. And now I get the possibility to play with them. So I did my best to prepare for the first rehearsal, after which guys accepted me officially in the band. From that time I make my best to help Symphonity grow.
Besides you, in the same year, Antonio Abate (Peresus) on vocals and Radim Vecera (Dream Patrol) joined Symphonity. When you joined the band, how did it work?
It works in a similar way now as it did back in 2018. As we are an international band, so we do not see each other personally each week or so. The band´s life exists mainly online, so we discuss many things from our homes. Except for live shows, we see each other during rehearsals or some other special occasions just a few times per year. We work this way now and it was all the same in 2018 when I joined the band.
What does the creative process look like? Is Libor a strict boss?
Libor is a boss, but I would not say he is strict. In fact, when I joined the band in 2018, Libor already had an idea about the conceptual album, which we are working on now. So we did not discuss it a lot and agreed with this idea. As the whole concept of the new album is Libor’s idea and since he is the founding member, it is not surprising that he has the final word. But in general, the creative process is the team work. Everyone can contribute in writing new songs.
As I said, you joined the band in 2018, so may I ask you for a little help from the band members, to be precise, already mentioned, Libor Křivák, to answer the questions from the period before you came to the band?
I will try to answer these questions at my best with a little Libor’s help.
Just in the short lines, can you tell us something more about the band′s previous names Otter and Nemesis?
Otter is related not to the English meaning of this word, but to German “Der Otter”, which is similar to “Viper”. After “Otter” comes “Nemesis” probably just because it sounded good to us.
Just a few more words, why the name Nemesis changed into Symphonity.
Libor: We have to go back in time to the year 2007, I think it was when we joined the Limb Music family, and they advised us to change the band-name Nemesis because there were a lot of bands all around the world using this name. We were sitting in a pub with the former members and voting for a new band name. We couldn’t find common ground for a longer time, mainly because of the feeling that all good names had been already used in the past. Finally, a few beers later, we chose Symphonity which is a combination of two words, surprisingly Symphony and Eternity. I know, it’s a little bit cheesy but who cares.
Since 2006, the band has existed as Symphonity and the only one original member is actually Libor. What was the main cause of so many line-up changes?
I would not say it was so many line up changes. There was one big change in 2018-2019 and some other tiny changes. From the release of the debut album “Voice from the Silence” in 2008, the band had the same line-up for almost ten years, just Herbie Langhans joined during this period.
After the release of a second album “King Of Persia” in 2016, the band was not able to play live due to personal reasons of many members, which was not congruent with the functioning of the band. Therefore Libor decided to change the line up and to find musicians who can help him to get the band to the next level. This time, I joined the band.
During 2020 Antonio and Radim were replaced so we went into the current form which is very good and I hope that we do not have to make changes for a long time, but you know, we can’t see in people’s minds, so everything is possible.
Many well known names in the metal world were part of Symphonity, directly or indirectly, for example Olaf Hayer, Martin Škaroupka, Herbie Langhans, Sascha Paeth… Blessing or a curse?
Many people compare Olaf Hayer with our current singers, of course. There will always be people who will accept Symphonity just with Olaf. I am ok with this, it’s their opinion. But we as a band can’t think of this. Olaf is the past. We need to focus on our actual work. The only way we can show people the quality of our current line up is in a new album, so that’s our goal for now.
For me, the cooperation with those famous names is a blessing, not a curse. Even if we do not cooperate with those names directly at this moment, we still have very good relationships with all of them. We found more than a good for Martin Škaroupka in Josef Cigánek, who’s the top quality Czech drummer, he is able to play literally everything. Herbie Langhans still helps us with backing vocals for our new songs, so we still cooperate on this level. Sascha Paeth did a great work on our previous albums, that’s why they sound so great. Even if he won’t cooperate with us on our next album, we have another great partner in Finnvox Studios. So we still surround ourselves with quality people, I think it’s part of the success.
How did the death of Tomaš Čelekovskỳ affected the band?
We are often asked why the second release “King of Persia” came after 8 long years from the very succreplacement essful debut album. There were more reasons why it happened. One of them was the sudden death of Tomáš, which paralyzed the band for some time.
Hayer also left the band due to health issues and after he left the band was back with the concept album “King of Persia” with Herbie Langhans on vocals. At some point he also decided not to continue. Another punch but the band always finds a solution to move on.
We have the vision and we want to push things forward, so we still have to find solutions.
Olaf had health issues during the recording process for “King Of Persia”. That was another serious reason why this release took so long. So he recorded just some of the songs for the album, while the rest of them were recorded by Herbie. Unfortunately, Olaf’s health issues do not allow him to continue at this moment. And Herbie is a very busy musician, he joined Avantasia and he is engaged in many other projects. So as you said, we had to find solutions.
Looking back through the band’s history I might say what doesn’t kill you just makes you stronger might be the right motto of the band. What is your personal life motto?
You got it right about the band’s motto. It’s all about focusing on opportunities, not on obstacles. For me, it’s the same in my personal life as in the band. Complaining does not solve problems.
“Marco Polo” and “King of Persia” included some ethnic instruments. How much research do you need until you decide which adequate instruments to bring fans closer to the era your album is focused on?
We will use even more of these ethnic instruments in our new album while describing the pilgrimage of Marco Polo. Each song will be dedicated to some important part of his life and journey, and we want to express it not just by lyrics but also by music. And you know, he traveled a lot, so there will be space to use this kind of instruments. The research for the adequate instruments was one part of the overall research which we did during this writing process.
What this Covid break brought to the band, how did you involve, changed, what have you learned?
I always try to find at least something positive on negative things, but it’s hard for me to do it with this issue specifically. We are working on a new album (which we would do anyway). We find live opportunities, but the situation about playing live is still uncertain. We can’t do what we want to do and we are angry about it. On the other hand, it forces us to think about possible solutions of what we can do.
Many bands decided to try with online shows. What is your personal opinion about that? Can anything replace the direct contact with fans?
I am not a fan of online shows. For me, personal contact is something which cannot be replaced by this. When you play live, you give some energy to fans and they give their energy back to us on the stage. Streaming online shows miss this important element. Watching online shows is for comfortable people, but I will always rather endure discomfort and enjoy the personal experience.
What will you appreciate more once you come back on the stage again?
Playing itself and contact with fans. Playing live in front of people has been an indispensable part of my life from my teen age. It’s hard to describe how much I miss it these days.
Now, the band has two singers, Mayo Petranin and Konstantin Naumenko. Different but very compatible vocalists. Naumenko was presented through the single “Dreaming of Home” which was released in 2020. The video that followed that song is very interesting. Tell me something more about its filming.
As we live in three different countries, it was not possible to meet each other due to close borders. So the video was filmed in three different locations. Libor on guitar, Josef on drums, myself and Martin as a guest for piano were recorded in Czech Republic in beautiful Boskovice Castle. Mayo recorded a video in Smolenice Castle in Slovakia and finally Konstantin made a video in the film studio in Kyiv. Then all three videos were cut into one and you can see the result.
I have heard the rumors you are working on the new album, so can you reveal any details, for example, will it be a concept album, continuation of the Marco Polo saga?
Yes, I already mentioned it above. We are working (mostly finishing) on a new album. This album will be conceptual and it will be some sort of metal soundtrack about the life of Marco Polo. Both our singles “Crimson Silk” and “Dreaming Of Home” will be the part of this album.
From all the songs, if I should pick my favorite, it would be “Flying”. Luckily, I have heard it live. Can you tell me something more about the song?
This song has 80’s vibes with a lot of hard’n’heavy elements covered in power metal coat. We enjoy playing this song live and it seems that fans love it too. Lyrics were written by Olaf, they are simple but fit great to the music, I think the melody of the chorus quickly digs into your mind.
It’s interesting that Libor was originally not sure if this song would be on the album, he seriously thought about not putting it in the playlist. Fortunately, after the listening of the final version it became clear that this song certainly will be on the album and that it will be one of the most commercially successful songs we have.
I don’t like labeling the bands, but if anyone who never heard Symphonity would ask which kind of music do you play, what would you say? Again, if I should define it I would say power metal flirts with classical music.
It’s hard to say. I also do not like labeling the bands. If I had to define Symphonity, then it will be in the way you said. The core is power metal with classical and symphonic elements, but sometimes you can hear rock vibes, such as in the song “Flying” you mentioned. It’s hard to define because both previous albums and also the new album, all of them are quite different, which is the result of natural development of our song writing process. Moreover, when we compose a song, we do not say “let’s make a power metal song” or “let’s make more heavy song” or things like that. We compose songs in the way we like, and the result can be always different.
You have a very interesting cover, “Anyplace, Anywhere, Anytime”. Why Nena?
Libor: This song was quite popular in Czech Republic. It’s a big hit in German speaking countries. I always thought that the initial riff should sound good on guitar, so we spontaneously decided to make a cover of this song. Honestly, when guys sent me their vocal lines, I was totally amazed. I think we trump the pop female vocals version of this song by our metal version with Olaf and Herbie.
Under your personal opinion, what is the most important for the cover songs?
The most important is to make the cover in a different way than the original version. As we did with “Nena”, when we covered pop version into metal. Another good example is Helloween’s “I’m Alive”, which was covered by Luca Turilli on his solo album. He added great orchestrations to the original song and Olaf´s phenomenal voice underlines the great impression. So it’s the different version of the song.
I do not like covers, where the band just simply plays all the same like in the original with no invention. It’s often boring and it sounds like a worse copy of the original, so I am not sure if it is worth doing.
To be honest, before Symphonity, I do not believe I have ever heard any Czech metal band. Only Krabathor and Hypnos. Can you tell me something more about the scene there?
It’s fine that we are your first band in our genre from Czech Republic. To be honest, it’s not a big surprise for me. There are a lot of very good musicians in Czech Republic, but for some reason, almost all of them focus just on playing inland and not abroad. There are many commercial rock bands who are very famous in Czech republic, but they are unknown just a few kilometres behind the borders.
There are some great Czech musicians who play in world known bands, such as Marthus and Ashok from Cradle of Filth. They are good proof that there are very good musicians here.
Brutal Assault and Obscene Extreme are worldwide known festivals from your country. As a fan and as a musician, what do you prefer: small club gigs, big arena or stadium shows or the festivals?
I am impressed that you know these festivals, they are really big ones. Those two are mainly for a harder musical style than we play, even if Brutal Assault is trying to be for more genres in recent years. I have to mention another big festival, Masters of Rock, we were supposed to play last year, but it´s postponed as almost all of the festivals.
About my preferences, I think each of those you mentioned have its pros and cons. Club gigs are more about direct contact with fans, festivals and stadium shows offer the opportunity to play in front of a huge amount of people.
As I know from our previous conversations you are working as a music teacher. So, how is the situation in your country speaking of education? Are the schools open or are you working online?
You remember it well. I have my own guitar school, where I teach kids and also adults. I was forced to teach online during the last months but I opened the school recently. I do not agree with restrictions in education, which are here in Czech Republic the hardest ones (and dumbest ones) in Europe.
At the end, if I missed anything important from the band’s history feel free to mention. If I was going in detail this interview would last forever.
I think this interview was very detailed and I really appreciate that you take your time to think about all of these questions.
I don’t know what you miss the most, but I miss concerts and travelling. So if I ever come back again to your country, and I was there for the last time in 2013 I believe, what would you recommend me to see?
I miss it too. About your question, it depends on what you would like to see. There are many beautiful historical cities, such as Prague, Český Krumlov, Olomouc, Kroměříž and many more. If you rather go to nature, there are also many different locations which are worth visiting, especially in border regions. You should definitely visit some of our metal festivals we talked about. And you should certainly try Czech beer.
I did! So, Tomáš, thank you so much for your time, I wish you all the best and have to say I am looking forward to hearing the new album. All the best!
Ivona, thank you so much for your questions. Greetings to all the readers of Abaddon Magazine. All the best to all of you!
I hope we will finish the new album soon and I am looking forward that we will introduce it live in your beautiful country!