Unleash The Archers Interview

Shimon Karmel

The Canadian power metal band Unleash The Archers recently released their latest album Phantoma. We caught up with vocalist Brittney Slayes, who fills us in on the record, A.I., touring and other topics.

How did your newest member Nick Miller come to join the band a few years back?
We first found him in 2016 when he was playing bass for our tour mates Crimson Shadows. He was hilarious and tons of fun so when we needed a bass player for our Apex US tour in 2018, we instantly thought of him. He fit in with the band perfectly, and after touring a ton with him in 2021 we knew he was our guy!

Was there anything unique about the songwriting process for Phantoma compared to your previous albums?
We have been writing albums the same way since Apex, and it seems to work for us so I am sure we will continue to write this way for a long time. I always send the boys a track-by-track overview of the story that explains each song as though it was a ‘chapter’ and describes what is going on in the story, how I want the song to make the listener feel, some suggestions on how I would like the song to sound and then sometimes I’ll include a link or clip to provide an example of what I was envisioning. The boys then use the overview as inspiration for the riffs, and they send me their demos and we decide which ones fit for which songs.

After the order of the songs/riffs is worked out we go through each track and do edits or add parts that are missing or tweak riffs that don’t quite feel right. Once that is done then drums and bass get written, then I write my vocal melodies, and lastly comes the lyrics. Usually, I wait to write the lyrics until we’re in the studio just in case something changes in the drum or guitar parts. Sometimes you hit the studio and things just don’t quite feel the same as when it was written so they change. This time it was super difficult for me though because I had my six-month-old daughter in the studio with me and was still doing long nights with her and just didn’t have the same time that I had before. The boys were really helpful with lyric ideas on this one, especially Nick, and I’m so lucky they were so understanding of the whole situation!

Did you write more songs than ended up on the album?
Never. We always write each song with the express purpose of taking a particular spot on the album. We don’t just write whatever comes to us and see if it will make it on, we write each song with the emotional tone of the record and the part of the story it needs to tell in mind at all times.

What will be your strongest memory of the recording of the album?
Probably having my daughter there with us. I had to take feeding breaks in the middle of the recording sessions which was hilarious, and it was so nice to come home to her after a long day. She defined this album for me!

Andrew has produced the last couple of albums. Are there any disadvantages to recording it yourselves?
Yes. (laughs) We learned a big lesson on this one. Andrew is a great producer, he knows how to make the record sound cohesive and how to make it flow, but he was also doing the engineering, and he had to record his parts as well. It was just too much for one person. We fell way behind, and I ended up having to record most of my harmonies and even some leads afterwards in a studio in Vancouver. Next time we will definitely have someone else working the board!

What was the biggest challenge in the album’s creation?
I think my daughter definitely threw a wrench into things. (laughs) She took up all of our time, so preparing for the record was very difficult for Scott and me. I also wasn’t fully physically recovered yet, so I was pushing my body much earlier than I should have been. Then in the studio someone needed to be watching her all day so I couldn’t take the time to write my lyrics like a usually do (as I said above, I like to write them after everything else is laid down in case something changes). It was all a challenge. But I knew it would be. I just didn’t want to be the type of person that gives up my entire life for my child, I knew it would be demanding of my time but I also knew I could do it, with help. Everyone stepped up, the whole band were her parents for those three weeks! (laughs)

How has your sound evolved from Abyss?
It is actually quite similar to Abyss, in that we used synth throughout again, and I tried to make sure each song had a catchy chorus that would stick with the listener long after the record had finished. We did try to push and experiment a little bit though. We gave a nod to our trad metal influences with the opening track, and embraced a bit more of an 80’s vibe on “Buried In Code” and “Give It Up…” We also tried to harness a bit more of a modern sound on “The Collective” and “Seeking Vengeance,” I think. We did our best to include some of the things that made Apex and Abyss great albums while also giving Phantoma a modern personality that is all its own. I feel like the synth was an adder on Abyss, whereas a lot of riffs started with the synth on this one.

What inspired you to make the album about A.I., and could you have predicted just how quickly the subject has come to the forefront, especially in the creative arts field, since you first developed the concept?
I honestly don’t remember when I first came up with the idea. I know I had it long before we started writing the record in early 2021. I’m a huge fan of science fiction in all its forms, so the inspiration for this record came from a lot of places. The Revelation Space trilogy from author Alastair Reynolds and the Tokyo Ghost comics are big ones, as are the Bladerunner movies, the Terminator films and the Star Wars universe. The Alien franchise is a huge one as well, I always loved Bishop’s character from Aliens, and of course David from Prometheus is just genius, truly the AI assistant we all deserve. (laughs) I also like Data’s character from Star Trek: TNG, so there is a bit of him in here as well. His internal struggle is very similar to what Phantoma goes through when she is rejected by both humankind and her own kind.

I’ve always loved the thought of androids living alongside us as they do in so many portrayals of the future. I think if you asked anyone to name one thing that would make the world around them more futuristic it would be the existence of robots doing mundane tasks in daily life. In early 2021 AI as we know it now just wasn’t around. I didn’t write the album about any of this ‘hot topic’ AI like Sora, etc. I wrote it about science fiction AI like you would recognize from Ex Machina or The Creator. I wrote about an AI that has yet to come. Honestly, I could care less about ChatGPT and so on, I do not use it on a daily basis as others do. It’s just here and it’s a tool for people and that’s about it. I’m not an expert on it nor do I want to be. I am coming from a place of love for the science fiction genre, not because I think AI needs positive press. (laughs)

What did you learn about A.I. from your use of it in the creation of the album?
That it totally sucks right now? I mean I know it has to start somewhere, but I just feel like all of these apps are so excited to get it out there that they don’t even test it before pushing the code! Look at the Google AI debacle, it is so absurd it’s hilarious. We thought it would be fun to write some lyrics with ChatGPT for the album so that we could say that ‘AI wrote a song about AI’ but it didn’t come up with anything too fantastic, nor did it expand my vocabulary or give me something I hadn’t seen before. It pumped out some pretty boring stuff, which I used here and there just so I could say that I did. I kept it open on my desktop when writing “Ghosts In The Mist” and “Seeking Vengeance” and would reference it if I was stuck on finding a word, but I don’t consider it to be any different than keeping thesaurus.com open as well. I used it in exactly the same way. I don’t know, maybe one day it will do good work but right now it’s not for me.

Were you surprised about the reaction to the use of A.I. in your “Green & Glass” video?
In short? Yes. We knew that the use of unlicensed artwork was an issue so that was why we licensed the art and only trained our models on artwork that was paid for, but it didn’t matter. Just the words Artificial Intelligence had people up in arms, but that’s ok. People are going to find something to hate about you, that’s just how people are.

You’re headed to Australia and New Zealand for the first time in June. What other places haven’t you played live that you’d still like to get to?
Come to Brazil! No but seriously, we’d love to get down to South America, one hundred percent. We also haven’t toured across Canada in about a decade so we thought that might be fun to do again too, and we’ve never played in Newfoundland so that would be top of our list!

With six albums now under your belt, how challenging is it to create a setlist?
VERY. Oh man, we have been writing and re-writing the setlist for weeks now. It’s too hard. I don’t like it. I am the kind of person that likes to hear my favorite songs every time a band I love comes through, but some of the boys want to play more new stuff than old, and then others just want to play the fun stuff. (laughs) It’s not going very well.

What’s your favorite way to spend downtime or an off day on tour?
Sightseeing, for sure. If we have any spare time, we are heading to the city centre to see the good stuff. Castles, ruins, churches, museums, fountains, statues, whatever it is we want to see it!

Who are your all-time top 5 Canadian bands/artists (of any genre)?
Well 3 Inches Of Blood is number one, for sure. Then probably Striker, Devin Townsend, Ex Deo and umm… Celine Dion?

When was the last time you were star struck?
This is going to sound dumb, but we went to a Star Wars event at the Science World in Vancouver because they were showcasing the original lightsabers and some other legit props and there was a Darth Vader cosplayer there that was INCREDIBLE. He was huge, and menacing, and just had the character down so perfectly, and I was actually nervous when it came to my turn to take a photo with him. I was downright giddy! (laughs)

What’s the best thing you’ve binge watched lately?
Shōgun and Fallout. We don’t have time to binge watch though, we watch one episode a night IF we’re lucky so I am looking forward to those long drives on tour when I can actually get some binge watching in!

What’s currently in your heavy musical rotation?
I am anxiously awaiting the new Dark Tranquillity record, so the singles are on repeat for me right now. Have also been listening to the new DOOL album and the Live At Masters Of Rock album by Bloodbound!

Anything else you’d like to mention or promote?
I just hope everyone is enjoying Phantoma and if you can please try to listen to it from beginning to end, it’s definitely the best way to take in the full story and feel the emotional roller coaster of it all.

(interview published June 1, 2024)

Watch Unleash The Archers – “Blood Empress” Video


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