Bands all over the world have had the ‘what if…’ conversations about a host of topics. For talented Cleveland, Ohio-based symphonic metal band Elantris, their hypothetical question of days past has become a reality, as the band is set to join a month-long tour of North America as the opening act for some of their musical heroes.
Starting Aug. 31 and running through to Sept. 29, the quartet will share the stage with Insomnium, Lacuna Coil and Epica. The tour begins in Boston and ends back in New York City, with three stops so far booked for Canada: Friday, Sept. 1, at Metropolis in Montreal, the next night at the Imperial Theatre in Quebec City, and Sept. 3, at the Opera House in Toronto.
For Elantris, besides having the opportunity to be on the same bill as some of the top metal acts on the circuit, those three Canadian shows are the first three the band has performed outside of the U.S. since they formed in 2014.
“We thought we had an opportunity to get up there last year when we were set to tour with Xandria, but that tour got cancelled so, unfortunately we haven’t been able to make it up there, but we’re pretty excited to come up there for this tour. The fans up there are really into the kind of music we and the other bands on the tour do already, so that should make for pretty fired up crowds,” said keyboardist Mark Liber, who is joined in the band by his brother Erik on drums, vocalists Tom Ullom and Lindsay Ketchum, bassist John Dobrosh and guitarist Garrett Chetock.
Liber said he and the rest of the members of Elantris are stoked to have a chance to play on such a big tour, seeing it as a huge career opportunity.
“It’s one of those things that we’ve kind of jokingly talked about happening for a while. We actually specifically talked about how cool it would be to tour with Epica and Lacuna Coil and Insomnium. And we just put those names out there like a bucket list, not thinking it was something that could actually occur. And then when it was confirmed it was like having a dream all of a sudden come true; there’s not much of a better feeling than that. Epica was the first band that we really got into when we put this band together and decided to play this style of music,” he said.
“I think this tour is going to provide us with the opportunity to play in front of a whole mess of people who have never heard of us before, that’s the main thing. We know we’re going to be going on stage first and that we’re not going to be on for a long time, so we don’t expect to be in front of full houses, but for those who do see us, we hope they get pleasantly surprised. That’s the best you can hope for with something like this. So we just appreciate the opportunity to be in front of that many people.”
Many of the members of what would become Elantris have been playing together in more straightforward hard rock and metal bands in the Cleveland area for nearly 15 years. A couple of years after a previous band broke up and the members went their separate ways, Ullom approached the Liber brothers about starting up another band, but this time veering more towards the burgeoning symphonic metal genre.
“I was actually a guitar player right up until that time, but since we were thinking of going the symphonic metal route, which is known for having pretty big and pretty lush keyboards, I decided to try keyboards and see what happens. But really, my rationale was that I was good with computers. And it’s around the same time that I started listening to a lot of Dream Theater and I thought since I was good with computers, I must be good at synths, and I kind of went from there and it turns out I was right,” Liber said with a laugh.
“And then we found our guitar player and the bass player from our previous band, John, decided to join as well and we toured and it was just a bunch of fun guys to hang out with. But we needed a female vocalist if we were going to really move into this genre. Lindsay had never really had any previous band experience. She had been in musicals in high school and community theatre and stuff like that, so she had a great voice and knew how to be comfortable on a stage. Garrett knew her from back in high school. She was a few years younger than him but he knew about her and knew she could sing. We were trying some people out and, frankly, there weren’t that many female vocalists around here who could sing in that sort of powerful, lyrical operative style and she nailed it.”
As the primary songwriter in the band, Liber said the change in genre and his picking up a new instrument has expanded the creative songwriting horizons for Elantris, as evidenced by their powerful debut album, This Sacrifice, which came out in mid-2016.
“It was definitely the intent to try something different when we relaunched in 2014. I know personally I enjoyed playing the other music, but I never felt completely satisfied with the writing process and what we were coming up with. I felt like we were kind of in a box a little bit. Once I got a handle on keyboards and starting playing around with the string sounds and started getting the inspiration from other bands. I think everybody immediately felt comfortable with this new direction – it really felt natural and it just seemed more exciting to play this kind of music,” he said, adding that the dramatic appeal of the genre has helped inform his lyrics.
“What I kind of try to do with the lyrics is make them two-pronged, where you could hear a stand-alone song that tells a story on its own and a lot of times it’s about a person going crazy or dealing with a relationship that’s bad. There are some that touch on a person being possessed and things like that. The point is that you can just listen to that song on its own and hear, ‘okay, this person is dealing with something and he’s going crazy for whatever reason,’ and it’s compelling and interesting in its own right. But if you take the album as a whole, there are places where you can really dig deep and find a common story thread that’s running through it. Every song is really about the same people, and the title track is very story driven and gives a bit of the overall picture.
“I have always enjoyed songs or movies or videos where there are little surprise nuggets in there, Easter eggs – and that’s what I tried to accomplish with the stories and lyrics on this album. But, at the same time, I didn’t want to alienate people who didn’t want to necessarily feel they needed to listen to it that deep, or who maybe only wanted to head a couple of tracks.”
Liber said although he does the lyrics, and tends to come up with some of the initial musical ideas, the songwriting process is becoming more collaborative as the band gets its creative legs under it.
“With some of the older material it was more of a group effort, and then once we kind of honed in on what we were trying to do thematically and style-wise, I took over all of the lyric writing. With the newer stiff, I would then kind of come up with the framework of the song on the keyboard and take that to practice and then from there the process was very fluid. I would have the skeleton of a song and we would fill in all the gaps with everybody else jamming ideas until we all felt good about the finished product,” he said.
“I never liked the idea of just sitting down and writing it all out beforehand, it just didn’t feel as natural that way. So I just sort of get the ball rolling, put the idea out there and where it goes from there.”
For more information on Elantris, and their upcoming tour dates, visit www.elantris-music.com.
- Jim Barber is a veteran award-winning journalist and author based in Napanee, ON, who has been writing about music and musicians for a quarter of a century. Besides his journalistic endeavours, he now works as a communications and marketing specialist. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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