Vass/Katsionis, the project of Billy Vass and Bob Katsionis, has returned with a new album, “Cynical Silence”, and all fans of progressive metal are excited. Because “Cynical Silence” is not simply a record, it is a real progressive metal seminar, a great manifest of true progressive metal art. All we in Myth of Rock can’t get the melodies of “Cynical Silence” out of our head and felt that an interview with Vass and Katsionis was more than obligatory! Both of them answered all our questions and helped us understand the phenomenon of Vass/Katsionis!
by Dimitris Zacharopoulos
How did the idea for the formation of Vass/Katsionis come up? Give us the full story of the project, until now.
(Billy) I would like to start off by thanking you for taking the time for this interview. When my band, Terra 1nc0gnita was done touring for our 2nd release "Fragments of a Ruined Mind", (Symmetric Records), I was presented with a dilemma. Was I to work on a 3rd album with the band, or was I to do what I always wanted: to record and produce a progressive metal album???It's obvious what I chose to do. I put the band on "ice", and I approached Bob with my vision.
Vass/Katsionis’ sophomore album was released almost a month ago. How do you feel that this new album is out now? Which are your ambitions for Vass/Katsionis?(Billy) I feel very positive about this album. It makes me feel accomplished as an artist and songwriter to put out such high-quality progressive metal that comes straight from the heart. I'm very proud of this record, not only because I poured my soul into it, but because I can hear it over and over without tiring. I'm always finding new "things" as I listen to it.
(Bob) When I started writing and recording music I was making it mostly to create what I wanted to hear. So the V/K “mobile” can help me travel in some other worlds that I couldn’t travel with any of my other bands or musical projects in the past. And that’s what I’m planning to do.
“Ethical Dilemma” was a great debut album! Where would you trace the differences between “Ethical Dilemma” and “Cynical Silence”? How much have you progressed?
(Billy) With “Ethical Dilemma”, our goal was definitely geared towards getting that 90's FW, quality progressive metal songwriting factor, out to the public. That, yes, there are still musicians that can write and produce that kind of music. With “Cynical Silence”, that factor is still very evident, but the songs were not "trapped" in that box. We wanted to prove that although we are heavily influenced by what resulted in “Ethical Dilemma”, that we are not one dimensional. We didn't want to produce “Ethical Dilemma” - part 2.Cynical Silence is an album with a much more in-depth, personal, haunting, dreary, sound.
(Bob) This time I can say I was more “free” to explore the thing I call “Grey Progressive” (!) you know, bands like Fates Warning, Pain Of Salvation, etc. So I think I moved towards a more “esoteric” approach, it’s a bit darker, I can say that it means more to me this way. And thankfully Billy felt exactly the same and that’s why he came up with such great melodies and lyrics. And of course, when it comes to the technical aspect… I went 100% prog this time, no holds barred!
Describe the recording sessions, the production process, the mixing and the mastering of the new album, please.
(Bob) I won’t say that this time it took me more than in the debut, once again, I wrote all the music in like 2 weeks’ time, I can’t help it, haha! You know when inspiration knocks on your door, you have to be there to answer this call otherwise is gone. But once again Billy was on the same page with me; every night that I sent him a new track, on the next morning in my email there was a demo of that tune with lyrics and vocals, ready to be recorded! Also this time we had the help of Ross Lagos, an ex-drummer of Bill’s previous band Terra Incognita who helped a lot with the drumming. And to get into more technical details (since you asked) I replaced his drums with the Krimh Drums by Bogren Digital, and my God, I love how they sound! The guitars are all recorded with my 6505 and then the mix was summed in analog mode in my studio. Then the mastering was taken care by my trusty mastering engineer Nasos Nomikos, how never ceases to surprise me! It’s so loud and crystal clear I couldn’t believe my ears!
How were the songs of “Cynical Silence” composed? How do you work, as far as the songwriting is concerned? When do you know, when a song of Vass/Katsionis is ready?
(Billy) Basically, Bob composes the music, sends it to me, I write lyrics and melodies, and the end result is a Vass/Katsionis song. Our atomic songwriting approach, syncs well when we collaborate. It's evident in both albums. I know that a song of ours is ready to be recorded when I hear the demo, and I smile. That's when it's complete for me.
Vass/Katsionis play in a progressive metal style. Which do you think are the music trademarks of Vass/Katsionis? Which bands have mostly influenced Vass/Katsionis?
(Billy) Trademarks would be, 90's style progressive metal in the realm of Fates Warning, Queensryche and Dream Theater. We have incorporated some "brush strokes" from bands like, Pain of Salvation, Conception, and Leprous.
How do you see the worldwide progressive metal scene in the year 2023? Do you believe that the glory days are over? Is there a hope for the future of the progressive metal genre?
(Billy) Progressive metal wouldn't be exactly that, if it didn't evolve. Prog metal nowadays, is its own "thing" in my eyes. I believe that Tool first broke the standard mold that prog bands had to sound a certain way, to be considered progressive. As did bands of the 80's, when they didn't follow the exact "recipe" that the 70's prog-rock bands had layed down. So, yea, progressive metal must evolve, in order for it to be considered progressive. Vass/Katsionis fans have expressed to us that they truly appreciate our "pioneering" of the glory days in our albums. A shine of hope, if you will.
(Bob) I agree with Bill and I have to add that I’m happy that bands like Leprous, Pain Of Salvation, Taken, Voyager etc. are breaking the stereotypes of that “mould” Billy mentioned.
As far as the sound production is concerned, did you try to reproduce the sound of the 80s/90s or did you try to avoid that? Why?
(Bob) Well, I couldn’t do it even if I wanted to! I’m listening to a lot of new music and I like how the new albums sound nowadays. But at the same time, I think I’m developing my own sound when it comes to mixing, I have a more direct and punchy attitude, a bit like “in your face” approach. If I want to mimic a production, then it’s when I work on the Stray Gods albums, haha!
You manage to encapsulate your complex, technical music in songs, which aren’t overly long in duration. How do you manage to do that?
(Bob): I don’t think I’m good in writing long songs. I mean, it’s the easiest thing to but it’s not my cup of tea, except if we’re talking about masterpieces like “A Change Of Seasons” or “The Ivory Gates of Dreams” by Fates Warning. I think that you can say what you want to say in 4-5 minutes, and nowadays people have so little time to focus on your music, you have to be precise and meaningful.
One of my favorites of “Cynical Silence” is “A Day Without Loss”. I think that this one is more of a music theme than an ordinary song. Can you tell me the story behind it?
(Billy) "A Day without Loss" is originally from Terra 1ncognita's 2nd album, "Fragments of a Ruined Mind". I was going through a very dark period in my life while I was composing lyrics for Cynical Silence. The exact expression for what I was feeling was not coming across, the way I wanted, in the lyrics I was writing. In a sudden moment, as I took a break from writing, A Day without Loss started playing in my head, nonstop, constantly. I took this as a sign, that what I was trying to create, I had already created, years ago. The song just fit perfectly with what I was trying to convey.
Where do the lyrics of Vass/Katsionis refer to? What does inspire you to write lyrics? Why did you name the album “Cynical Silence”? Your songs are very emotional, evocative and atmospheric. Which emotions of yours do you try to express through your songs? How would you describe the atmosphere of your songs?
(Billy) My lyrics are very spherical. They can be extremely personal, or very general in a sense. I gather motivation to write my lyrics from everything in everyday life and living. The world we live in, personal defeat, coming of age, silence, loss, angry thoughts, maturing, searching, seeking, etc, etc. These are only a few of my contents when I concentrate on creating a story or wanting to express something for the listener. Overall, my concepts for the lyrical part of a song can stem from the music, or I can ft my stories to specific musical patterns. The album title declares exactly what I believe. In our desperate and cruel days, I feel that all around us, there is a "numbness". Society is going through a "CYNICAL SILENCE ". It was chosen, for the album title because we liked the way it "sounded". I had written the lyrics, for the title track, and when Bob read it, he declared in a very confident voice: "That's it!!! That's the name of the album!!! It's fuckin awesome!!!" I couldn't argue with that!!! I actually had something very different for the album title, but Bob won that argument........... obviously.
I like the cover artwork of “Cynical Silence” very much. Can you give me all the details about it?
(Billy) The album cover artwork was created by placing all the lyrics of the album, into OpenGPT and then using these prompts in Midjourney to make the cover art. The result is great looking, and does reflect the nature of the album, we believe. I was hesitant at first, to use AI, but I came around when I saw the end result.
(Bob) I’m glad you feel this way, and truth is that everybody liked it, even if it was done using this newly found and highly controversial AI “text-to-image” technique. To me is just a timestamp that this album was made in 2023 and a beautiful artwork to dress our music, without spending tons of money that we -unfortunately- do not have, haha!
Is there a possibility of a Vass/Katsionis live concert or is it a studio-only project, and why? Which are your future plans?
(Billy) Vass/Katsionis is in fact, at this point, a project. With that said, we never say never. If we get the right kind of opportunity/agreement, for us to play our material, live, we will most definitely consider it.
Send a message to the fans!
(Billy) We personally thank each and every one of our fans, for supporting our efforts in keeping the 90's progressive metal sound, alive. In Prog we progress!!!!!
(Bob) Let’s help on keeping the Prog Metal, progressing!