2019 was a pretty big year for symphonic death metal act Gone in April. Along with the release of their incredible new album, “Shards of Light,” the band also took part in a major North American tour with folk metal acts Eluveitie and Korpiklaani. I spoke with vocalist Julie Bélanger Roy on what that experience has been like, as well as what the band’s plans are for 2020 and beyond.
As we approach a new year, can you tell us a little bit about what 2019 has been like for you and the band?
What a year it has been! We started 2019 in full force filming three music videos in four different states. With a team of 15 people, we left home on January 6th and came back ten days later, 1450 miles later. We had previously scouted locations for months before finding the six locations we filmed at: An abandoned church in Detroit, MI, the ruins of a 19th century cotton mill in Atlanta, GA, a huge cavern in Kentucky, a 18th century mansion in Knoxville, TN, and 2 different farms!
After filming the videos, we continued the composition work on Shards of Light, finished writing lyrics, choir and string arrangements. Yanic and I own a recording studio, WaveTransform Studios, so we also assume the role of sound engineers. We went in the studio, recorded and edited almost every instrument between December 2018 & July 2019, were joined by Tom Morris for him to mix the album. We then started the mastering process with Yannick St-Amand from Northern Studios.
The video editing was completed for 2 of the 3 songs by Shady Shades. We released the first video before the album release, released Shards of Light on September 6th along with the second video, and a few days later, left for our 4-week North American tour with Eluveitie and Korpiklaani.
The year definitely flew by!
There are always a few years in between your studio album, while many artists these days try to release music at the speed of light. Do you feel like having some distance between albums helps you come up with new ideas and set the bar higher?
Having a few years in between releases definitely helps us find fresh ideas, but I believe it is mostly a result of our very busy lives. In the music business, one often needs to do more than one thing, or more than one project. On my side, I play with symphony orchestras, sing with opera companies, teach about 25 students, and work as a session musician.
Yanic works as a physicist, and is part of a team that designs nuclear medicine scanners. He is also a sound engineer in our studio, and is a session musician for other bands as well. Steve is crazy busy touring with Testament and playing in many projects, Marc-André teaches guitar in college and performs a lot as well. Simon is a massage therapist and Aaron works full time in construction.
Yanic and I produce Gone in April’s albums and videos. For each album, we take a leading role in the composition, string and choir arrangements, lyrics and, as mentioned, we record, edit, and, most of the time, mix the album. When it is time to film music videos, we scout locations, find actors and coach them, create costumes, rent filming equipment, hire our filming team and manage all the necessary accommodations.
Since we are in charge of so many aspects of the production, making an album and associated videos take a little bit more time. On the other hand, we definitely feel quite invested in the songs, and we can spend all the time we believe is needed to achieve the quality we are looking for without cutting corners.
You recently mentioned that you don’t make a record trying to replicate your past, nor to deliberately stray from it. Rather, you like to follow what inspires you at the moment: are you ever thinking about creating a thread connecting your releases – or is each album to be considered a completely stand-alone experience?
There are, of course, a few similarities between our albums. Our first album told the story of a crusader, our second album was about survival, and our latest album, Shards of Light, is about finding light amidst darkness. All our songs tell stories and mirror the human experience.
In terms of music composition, we always like to wander and to blend different styles, from medieval music to technical death metal. The balance changes a little bit on every album, but it still remains a pretty wide blend of styles. Although, I believe one can always recognize the Gone in April style of writing.
By have a background in classical music: how did it influence your composition on Shards of Light, and your music in general?
I always found classical music to be extremely powerful. Obviously, the use of operatic vocals is derived from my classical background. Opera is not so far from metal growls or from screaming when you think about it. You create a very loud sound that resonates through your entire body and that can pierce through an orchestra of 70 musicians. How powerful is that?
One of the most classical song on the album is “If You Join Me”. For many years, I wanted to write a solo violin piece inspired from the Baroque era and transform it into a metal song. For Shards of Light, I finally had the chance to do so. If you listen carefully, you can recognize some Bach, Vivaldi and Corelli influences in there.
Finally, the choirs and string arrangements on the songs, notably on Empire of Loss, Paix and Epilogue, they are all composed following the classical tradition.
Shards Of Light is really well-executed and masterfully produced. Can you tell us a little more about how the concept came about?
Thank you for your kind words!
The concept slowly came to us as we were looking for venues for the music videos, when we were still in the composition phase. Somehow, we were drawn to ruins and abandoned places. We felt the need to speak about the passage of time and how it marks both earth and human life. We also realized that a lot of what we had to say pertained to contemporary concerns such as oppression, destruction, and pollution to name only a few.
As we hear about animals going extinct, the air becoming toxic as well as discrimination and hate spreading, it is hard to keep looking forward to tomorrow. When writing Shards of Light, we challenged ourselves to finding the light in every situation, even if it seems ridiculously small at times. After all, when something ends, something new is born. Even if we take ourselves out of the equation, as hinted by the song Epilogue, life will still continue to flourish without us, creating beauty.
How many of the new songs have you worked into your live sets?
We performed Empire of Loss, If You Join Me, A Torch in the Night, Reign, Haven & Soldiers of the Dawn.
And speaking of your live sets, as you mentioned, you recently took part in the “Wanderers Towards Rebirth” tour with Eluveitie and Korpiklaani, what was that like?
It was absolutely amazing. We met so many wonderful fans in every city, some of which have been following the band for some time, and some of which were new, who had never heard of Gone in April. We already look forward to going back! Everybody in the Eluveitie and in the Korpiklaani team was fantastic and we had much fun together!
I also had the honor of playing violin with Eluveitie on the first 8 concerts of the tour while Nicole was spending some time with her children. They are crazy talented musicians and welcomed me like family. I always loved their music, so having the chance to join them on stage was definitely one of the highlights of my career.
Being based partly in Nashville, which is notorious for its country and folk scene with so many iconic venues, and bands, are there any metal bands in the scene there that you think more people should know about, or any in Montréal?
Wow, so many awesome bands to mention here. We are based in Montreal, Quebec (Canada), and in Knoxville, TN (USA), as most of our musicians reside in those cities. Some of the musicians who have been a part of Gone in April over the years also play or have played in other bands such as (for example) Quo Vadis, Beyond Creation, Märchenbilder. We have shared the stage with awesome bands such as Karkaos, Fractal Cypher, Trollwar, and have worked with bands such as Summoner’s Circle. That’s just to name a few.
Earlier, you talked about what 2019 was like for you, now looking into the future, what are your plans for 2020?
We are working on the next tours for 2020. The 2019 North American tour with Eluveitie and Korpiklaani was awesome, and we look forward to being back on the road in support of our new album. We also plan to begin composition on the next album by mid 2020.
Sounds awesome! Thanks again for speaking with me, is there anything else you’d like to say to our readers?
Thanks to you, Jeff, for your time! To the readers: Thank you so much! Thank you for your passion for metal and for supporting the bands you love. Not only do you keep metal alive and well, you also fuel the work of the musicians. We received so many kind words, so many smiles, handshakes and hugs in the last months from people who just discovered Gone in April, as well as from long-time fans.
It means the world to us and makes all the very short nights in the studio worth it! We look forward to seeing you on the road!