A Chat With Christian Mistress Vocalist Christine Davis
Who can forget when heavy metal was arguably at its peak in the late '70s and early '80s? You had bands like Judas Priest and Iron Maiden revolutionizing the sound, while movements the NWOBHM redefined what heavy metal could represent. While the essence of heavy metal has been teared apart and stripped into dozens of genres, there are still modern bands like Christian Mistress who are repping that early heavy metal mentality.
Whether it’s on purpose or not, Christian Mistress has really honed into what makes heavy metal so timeless on their new record, “Possession.” With dueling guitars and dominating female vocals, this album has its heart firmly set in the old-school. I had a chance to speak to vocalist Christine Davis about “Possession,” being labeled a “NWOBHM”-like band, and how their raw production values are unintentional.
What did the band have in mind for “Possession” when they were writing the material?
We didn’t sit down and make a plan. Some of the songs we had written, or had parts of, starting going even when “Agony & Opium,” our first LP, was coming out. We never made a conscious plan. Actually, the vibe of the record is cohesive because we all have played together for a good period of time now. “All Abandon” is the last song on the record, but it was the first song that we wrote for the record, so it kind of shaped the vibe of all the other songs.
Do you think the time the band has spent together over the past few years has helped with the chemistry when it comes to the songwriting?
Yeah, definitely. For example, Oscar (Sparbel, guitarist) definitely writes most of his riffs for Christian Mistress with my voice in mind, when before, he was building on a lot of things he had written earlier before the band got together, before I was singing. We keep each other in mind and understand how we work together.
Do you see “Possession” as the next logical step for the band after “Agony & Opium”?
I guess so. If we had been feeling differently in our lives as a whole, it could have been a totally different album. For where we all were at the time, it seems to make sense. It’s not like we had planned on doing a next step forward for the band. We just usually write from our guts. So in that respect, I’m sure that it is the next logical step.
Did you find that these songs came together easy or harder than the ones on “Agony & Opium”?
Easier maybe, because we had more time to play the songs live. Some of them we took on the U.S. tour in late 2010. The songs came together just as easily as before, but this time, we had more of a chance to refine what we were doing. For example, we had the time to do a pre-recording, where we recorded all these songs just on a basic 4-track and were able to listen back to them and think about whether all the songs sounded good together. We did have more time to put it together, in general. It was a luxury that we hadn’t given ourselves before with “Agony & Opium.”
How much time did the band actually have to get “Agony & Opium” together?
I don’t really remember. It wasn’t like we set out saying, ‘Okay, with this amount of time, we’re going to make a record.’ We just had a group of songs that we wanted to make a recording out of. We had no idea at the time that 20 Buck Spin was going to put it out. We were just a band having a lot of fun writing songs together. I guess perhaps a year for those songs, but it happened pretty fast.
The band has been compared to traditional heavy metal and the NWOBHM. Do you find those comparisons to that style of music to be fair or accurate to your sound?
I think those terms are a cop-out. I definitely think we do identify with the true heavy metal and the true punk of those times. There are elements of that in what we play, and there’s a lot of other elements compositionally that didn’t exist in that type of music. I think we use elements of that, but we also use elements of Southern blues and classical music. We don’t use the typical verse-chorus-verse format. We don’t write songs about necessarily narrative stories. We definitely have our own direction that’s very much just the Christian Mistress sound.
I find it interesting that you think it’s a cop-out to label the band like that. Do you think that those types of labels are unnecessary to understand what the band is really about?
I just think they’re not very descriptive. It’s just tiresome to hear people belittle themselves and not being able to describe accurately what they’re hearing.
If you were giving this album to a listener who had never heard of the band before, how would you yourself describe this album as a whole?
I wouldn’t describe it. I would tell them to listen to it and decide for themselves, but if they asked me to describe it, I might say it might sound like a cyclone in the mind’s eye. That’s how I feel when I hear the guitar solos and the guitars doing twin stuff together. I just think it’s an extreme kind of exuberance that makes you want to be alive and there’s nothing better than that feeling of hearing music like that and getting to be a part of it. The listener should be a part of it. They shouldn’t push it away from themselves and say, ‘This A, B, or C category.’ They should get to absorb it and be fully immersed. I think people are being unfair to themselves by putting heavy metal in categories. They should just listen to it and enjoy it.
A lot of metal nowadays is very polished and overproduced, but this album seems to be just right. When the band was recording “Possession,” was it the band’s attention to bring back that sound that wasn’t overly polished?
No, actually, with the studio we went to and the equipment we had to work with, we did it the absolute best, to our knowledge, to get the best sound that we could. We’ve never tried to make things sound old or distorted. For example, with our first record, we only had $500 to record it. People have said, ‘Oh, they’re trying to make an old, crappy-sounding record.’ No, we actually just didn’t have a budget and we were just trying to make a record to get our songs on record. As in, recorded in time; as in, not forgotten (laughs). As record of time and what we did...there’s this huge sense of relief after recording a record, like, ‘Okay, these songs are not going to be lost forever, hopefully.’ You play this music and it goes out into the air, and if you don’t get a chance to record it, then it’s gone.
We were just totally thrilled to have a chance to record at Louder Studios. It’s not really a high-cost, polished studio. The room sound is fine. It’s not a kind of room that most big-budget bands record in, where they get a really killer drum sound. It captures the raw exuberance that Christian Mistress has, and I think that’s why to us, the recording sounds good. We are just really happy with it.
If the band had a big budget to use to record any album in the future, would you see it sounding different than this album or “Agony & Opium” does?
Yeah, I think so. We would probably still use analog equipment. We definitely don’t do the whole Pro Tools thing ever or moving tracks around. If we had a bigger budget, we would definitely spend more time on production and I think we would have a lot of fun adding cool organ parts or a lot more vocal harmonies and getting wild with it and taking more time. I think we could do something totally different if we had a bigger budget.
As a vocalist, were you satisfied with how “Agony & Opium” came out? Did you want to take a different approach or tweaks thing on “Possession”?
The only different with “Possession” is that my voice is stronger now. I’ve been singing with this band for a couple of years since “Agony & Opium” came out. The different approach vocally was just that we had a little bit more time to do vocal harmonies. We didn’t have any kind of production like that on “Agony & Opium.” My voice is just something I use as a personal catharsis. I try to make it a part of the band as an instrument would be. I’m totally happy with everything on both records. They are very much stamps of the time that they were made in.
How did the band land a deal with Relapse Records for this album?
We were in the process of deciding between a lot of different record labels that were giving us some pretty cool offers. Things started to get really confusing and overwhelming for us, because we were trying to focus on writing songs and playing shows, and we didn’t want to deal with the whole business aspect. Relapse swooped in and were really calm and peaceful and said, ‘Hey, we’ll put out this record. Here is what we can offer you. We like your band. Let’s just do this,’ and we were like, ‘Okay, that seems pretty normal. Let’s do that.’ (laughs).
Even with the current state of the music industry, do you see more advantages in signing to a label instead of going independent?
We wouldn’t have been able to put out a record ourselves. We don’t have the money to do that. We were really fortunate that “Agony & Opium” was put out by Dave from 20 Buck Spin. He saw us play live and offered to put it out. That was just a huge thing for us. I think there’s definitely value in having other people help you with your art. I don’t think that’s a very bad thing.
What kind of touring is the band looking to take on in support of “Possession”?
Yeah, we’re heading over to Europe in April. We’re playing Roadburn and tour for part of the month with Hammers of Misfortune and part of the month with Black Breath. After that, we’ll be touring around the U.S. at some point.
Which of the songs from "Possession" are you stoked to be playing live?
I love to play “Pentagram and Crucifix.” It has just a raw, heavy feel that is like a supercharge to the show. We love to play “All Abandon” also. It’s one of our favorite songs to play live. “Haunted Hunted” we’ve never played live. I don’t think we ever will; not really sure why (laughs). We like all the songs. There are just some that seem like more show songs than others.
How do these songs come across live, compared to in the studio?
The first thing I would think of to answer that is just the physicality of playing a show. When you’re on stage, you’re revved up and there’s space to move around. When you’re recording, if you’re going to be head banging while performing in the studio, it would make a lot of weird noise. You’ll be hitting your head against the microphone or you’ll be kicking something over and the recording won’t happen. The obvious difference between the two is the physicality difference.
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