Progressive metal fans were in for a real treat in 2006 when the UK band To-Mera released their debut album Transcendental and really helped to reignite a now thriving UK progressive metal scene. The band was known for producing excellent symphonic progressive metal with strong elements of technical metal and jazz fusion and was fronted by the wonderfully evocative vocals of their Hungarian-born lead vocalist, Julie Kiss (whose strong interest in Egyptology helped infuse the band with a strong mystical vibe and also gave the band its unique name.) We really loved their third album, 2012’s Exile (you can read our review HERE) with its fantastic epic songs filled with joy and passion and looked forward to many more albums to come. Unfortunately it seems that the band’s been disbanded but it looks like Kiss and To-Mera founder (and now Kiss’ husband), guitarist Tom MacLean are embarking on new musical projects including Euphonia, a much more atmospheric and electronic-infused sound than they did with To-Mera. We were very fortunate to be able to interview Julie and find out about her musical history and how her new project is going. (after the interview you can check out a new Euphonia song as well as a full album stream from Spotify of To-Mera‘s Exile.)
Hi Julie, it’s a pleasure meeting you. Thanks for taking the time to answer a few questions for our readers.
Thanks Jeff, likewise and my pleasure.
Before we get into discussing your music, can you give us a bit about your background, where you’re from and how you ended up in the UK?
I grew up in Hungary and got involved in music and the local rock/metal scene quite early on. At 16 I joined a Hungarian prog metal band called Without Face that got signed to Earache Records. They were based in Nottingham and so we decided to get a bit closer to the ‘fire’ and relocated to the UK. This was great from a ‘musical career’ perspective and we ended up on lots of good tours around both the UK and Europe but it was also really tough and ultimately strained relationships within the band to the breaking point. It was after this split that I established To-Mera and somehow got stuck here in England.
We’re big fans of your band To-Mera and Exile (the band’s last album from 2012) was one of our favorite albums of that year. Is the band still together or are you now exclusively focusing on your new project, Euphonia?
To-Mera is currently ‘on ice’ so to speak. Honestly, I’m not sure what the future holds for it. It was a really hard decision but by Exile it felt like we were just swimming against the tide with all the members busy in various other projects. Euphonia was in a way borne out of the ‘trauma’ of leaving To-Mera behind but it was also a way to try something a bit new and different.
I know there’s a big connection with the band Haken, with Tom having recently left that band as well as To-Mera keyboardist Richard Henshall now playing guitar with Haken. Is there a rivalry between two such closely aligned bands or has it been more of a collaboration between them?
Hmm it’s an odd one. When Haken started out they played quite a few opening slots with To-Mera – they were just getting recognized and they all had lots of drive and ambition to move things forward. At the same time things with To-Mera were getting a bit complicated and frustrating – we felt we weren’t getting the right support from Candlelight Records and when we left the label, it felt like we left the whole of the music industry too (at least in the UK.) It was tough and it didn’t help that labels were going down left, right and center and we were never a straightforward act.. I also had lots going on in my personal life and eventually the band just started drifting apart. Hen’s focus was on Haken, our drummer Paul’s was on his other band Fen and bassist Mark joined Pythia. Tom was also playing bass for Haken, and even though To-Mera was his baby as much as mine, I think he often found the split in loyalties quite tricky. It’s a tough scene and you have to be really, 100% committed to make things work.
One of the things I love about To-Mera is how the music flows so effortlessly between picturesque soundscapes, dramatic progressive metal, upbeat progressive rock and tons of influences from jazz and fusion as well as your wonderful vocals. I really think that the band’s three albums stand up with the best progressive music since 2000. I really hope we haven’t heard the last of that band!
Thanks Jeff, that’s very kind. We have always tried to push the boundaries in some way and to do something a bit different with every album. Which is great from a creative perspective but it’s also a dangerous survival strategy because most people don’t like change! I miss To-Mera a lot, for so many reasons, not just the music but the people as well but I’m not sure if we will have the energy to re-start it all again. You never know though – never say never I guess! We haven’t committed ourselves either way and right now we’re just enjoying the creative process that is Euphonia – no pressure, no expectations, no complicated bands!!
Who are some of your major musical influences? Any current bands/musicians that are really knocking you out?
It’s quite a wide spectrum but my recent favourites are quirky things like Susanne Sundfor, Florence and the Machine, Chvrches and Anathema (Weather Systems and We’re Here Because We’re Here were both fantastic I thought.) I actually spent a few years hardly listening to any metal – I think I needed a break! I’m now back to my old favourites of Opeth, Dream Theater, Symphony X and Amon Amarth while trying to discover if there is anything new that excites me out there. I’ll keep you posted. On the other hand, Tom has only bought 3 albums this year – Distant Satellites by Anathema, Loopified by Dirty Loops and III by Xerath, all of which he loves.
But as for whether they were influential musically, I think an objective listener might be better able to pinpoint the influences of a composer than the music writer himself, since everything one listens to gets jumbled up over the years to the point where it can be difficult to identify the sources of an idea.
How has your interest in Egyptology influenced your music?
I’ve always been fascinated by ancient Egypt though if you wanted to draw a direct connection either lyrically or musically, you would be pretty hard pressed to find anything there. I found the To-Mera name in a book on ancient Egypt that talked about the connection between lost technology and magic in those ancient times, which really resonated with me, but that’s really where the connection stopped!
Let’s talk about your new project Euphonia. I’m really excited by the songs I’ve heard, and feel that it has a more cinematic quality to it than To-Mera. Is this a new direction for you guys?
Basically we wanted to experiment with a blank canvas and see what kind of sounds came out. When we started out with Euphonia we were in a position where we wanted to do anything but write prog metal and were more interested in creating evocative moods and atmospheres using relative simple harmonic and rhythmic structures and with the bare minimum of technical flamboyance. That led to the use of a lot of synths and samples, and as a result I think Euphonia has a much more delicate vibe to it than To-Mera.
What are your plans for the future? Will Euphonia be yours and Tom’s main focus? Do you see Euphonia having the potential for more mainstream acceptance outside of the (sometimes) insular world of progressive metal?
It’s hard to say, Tom is actually working on two other projects, an acoustic one and a melodic but quite heavy proggie instrumental one. I’ve only been involved in Euphonia recently. I had some requests from various bands to cooperate on this and that but I am pretty busy with my everyday work life at the moment, you know doing a bit of growing up and becoming a productive little cog in society. I am hoping to do something a bit more heavy again in the future though. Maybe even a new To-Mera album at some point, or something completely different – who knows!
Thanks again for your time Julie and letting us know what you’ve been up to recently. All our best wishes for your success with Euphonia and any other projects you decide to do!
Interview by Jeff Stevens
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