Interview | Maggy Luyten – vocalist The PRIZE
I spoke with powerhouse singer Maggy Luyten about her amazing new band The PRIZE. It turned out to be the most relaxed interview you could get because she had four days without anything in her agenda. It translated into a pure and pleasant conversation about her, the band and the debut album `The Prize’.
Maggy, first of all congratulations on the release of a wonderfully varied `The Prize’ album. Can you tell the readers of HBLS how the band came about?
,,Short or long version?? (Obviously the Long version) Well, it started in 2018 with a solo concert that I played. I called it Maggy & friends. We actually played acoustic versions from Nightmare songs, opening for a Kip Winger gig. I love him and his music and although I had no idea what to do, I agreed. At that time, I was still in Nightmare so I decided to play some songs of that band acoustical. Unfortunately, the two guitar players of the band were not available, so I only had the bass player and drummer to join me. It started out only with Steven Segarra, who is the guitar player from Wedingoth because of the good vibe I had with him. Since he already knew the songs a bit, I asked him to join for this project. Then I contacted Francois Brisk, who used to be the drummer in Virus IV, my band from like 15 years ago, who happens to live in Lyon, very close by for me and he also was available.’’
You said LONG story!
,,Since I had a guitar player, a percussionist and the drummer, plus the bassist from Nightmare, I thought, let’s see if Christophe Godin is available. Just to play a little solo here and there. He is so good in improvisation that he probably won’t need a rehearsal and can just join in. So, I called him and he answered that he was intending to go to that Kip Winger gig anyway as an attendee. He did not know I would play there as well and he agreed to join me. It’s like the magical universe thing, you know? So, he joined and I had a whole team of amazing people around me to do this one gig. At that time, we were trying to work on a new Nightmare album. I had a hard time doing it, because I just realized through this gig, that acoustic music is really what I love to do. I started to doubt what I was actually doing in Nightmare and I was trying too hard to fit in and live up to the image of the band. I felt that I could do so much more, not in a pretentious way, but that was just how I felt. I was so much more than just the singer of Nightmare and I couldn’t go for it anymore. It happened that after this gig Christophe and me got together after years of not seeing each other. Back in 2011 we were both involved in a Prog Rock, Heavy Metal project called Epysode ‘Obsessions’. In that project I also happened to meet Kelly Sundown, who is also a singer and now my husband, which is amazing. Kelly joined that special gig as well as a guest singer. So can you imagine the team I had up there on stage was great.’’
,,After the gig Christophe asked if I would be interested in playing a few acoustic songs with him, just for fun. He had a contact with a little bar where we could play. We checked cover songs that we both knew and we did the gig without rehearsing. From that moment on Akoustic Thrill was born. We did a tribute to the greatest songs we love and, in the meantime, I also decided to leave Nightmare because I felt like I was stuck there and blocked their progression. When you can’t make each other happy on a musical level you should leave, although they are great guys, so I left. Akoustic Thrill gave me back the pleasure instead of trying so hard. This was just pure fun. Of course, at some point we were like, hey, don’t we need more? We started to compose and shared the ideas we had. After a while Christophe told me he knew some guys that would be awesome for a band.
They were Ivan Rougny and Aurel Ouzoulias of Mörglbl [the instrumental prog jazz metal band pronounced as MOR-GUL-BUL]. It is their trio band, together with Christophe, which already exists for over 20 years. They know each other inside out when it comes to music and being friends. The combo for sure was solid and the question was if I would fit in. What Christophe and the other guys always wanted was a band with a singer. They only never really found the right singer for what they had in mind. Christophe loves to sing as well, but he pretends that he is not good enough to be the lead singer. I think he is too modest, because he sings really well and is still improving. That’s how The PRIZE started. We started to compose and from there on it all went really fast.’’
That is also what you hear on the album, the tightness of the instrumentation. A solid machine already, because of the fact that these three guys work and play together for more than 20 years. And from what I see on your socials there is also a personal connection as well.
,,Well yes, we can actually talk about more than just music. More than drinking beer, talking girls you know. That is fine, that is also rock ‘n roll, but with these guys we can actually talk about life, the news, other passions or whatever. Since I started singing, I wanted to be in a band, that always has been my quest. With The PRIZE I honestly found back what I lost after Virus IV. We were a real band, we were friends, we would hang out all the time. I had this vibe for a moment with Beyond The Bridge, when I toured with them. Now I have this band and I am like a child at Christmas. It’s a present, it’s really the result of all the things I have done in the past. It’s the first time that I really feel that there is nothing in my way, that I don’t have to worry about anything.’’
Is that also why the band is called The PRIZE, because it is the prize?
,,I remember we brainstormed a lot and one morning I woke up thinking this band was such a ‘recompance’. The French word for a reward or a price and I thought how do you say that in English. I looked it up and thought wow that’s cool but it is probably already taken! It turned out it wasn’t and I was like, wow that is also a price, so maybe it is for us. This name means a lot to us. We’re not trying to be big with this name, we really cherish it in our guts. We are so grateful to play together.’’
SOUL OR RAP
It’s a bit like Christmas evening. You can pick this and that present, not restricted by a genre.
,,Yes, I love the way you talk about the music, you could be in the band (laughing). I mean, you nailed it. That’s really it. We don’t want to get stuck in a specific genre. If I’d ask the guys if we could try that one JAZZ song I have in mind, I know they would be like, REALLY?!?! Mag, maybe that is the one style we would not want to go for, but still if it makes sense, we will do it. If it makes sense with my lyrics or whatever, why not? Or soul or rap for that matter.’’
Why should you restrain and stick with one genre or influence, because the main theme still is rock music?
,,Indeed, and who decided that anyway?’’
Was it a conscious choice of the band to release the album independently?
,,Absolutely. To make the right choice you have to check your options first. We did and discovered that some labels showed interest but not enough to sign us. Forget it! We understand, we are a new band, have hardly followers only a drive. While if we release it independently you produce yourself, you do everything yourself and it’s a good way to keep control on the artistic side of it. First we want to prove ourself, secure a solid base and then, maybe at some point, talk with a record label. I think it is a good thing in 2022 to just go for that option. Especially with all the experience that we have. I always had my albums released through labels and if you are not pushing them, you barely get anything out of it. You have to be behind their ass all the time, so I might as well be behind my own ass to get things going.’’
You don’t have a distribution deal either?
,,No, not yet. What we decided on this one was to print a limited amount of CDs, start touring and play as much as possible and do it ourselves. See how it goes and then we can talk. That’s another thing I love about this band. We do things step by step and we are not thinking too far ahead. We take what can be taken on the moment and then we move on.’’
The PRIZE was founded in 2020, what was the process of writing music like and did you soon have an idea of the direction it should go, or maybe even no limits and just see what comes out of the pen?
,,Well I start by saying that the whole band was involved in writing, because the end result is the sum of the whole band. The PRIZE is a real band where everyone brings in their ideas, because we all have our own instruments, so we do our thing. The main writers are Christophe and me, which might even evolve in the future, but for this album it was mainly the both of us, because we already had so many compositions and ideas. What I really liked is that we are sparring partners, trying ideas back and forth and in the end reaching a result. It is like fighting but for your ideas but in a good way. We work like that all the time, keeping that open mind about what the other might bring in.
When it comes to music I compose mainly with the piano and the challenge for me is to say it’s not a ballad! Put your translator on, put some easy drums on it, just for you to not think it is a ballad, because that is not what I hear and so Christophe has the ability to translate my ideas. He has those skills and I am very lucky to play with someone like that. Also, Ivan and me really love New Wave and when I compose stuff it’s a lot of bass in the main theme and he actually saved some of my songs, because he was inspired by my ideas and brought something in that inspired Christophe again to get it done. The same way it worked with Aurel thinking, this is a weird rhythm. I like that and then he would be like let’s do it this or that way. That was when the dynamics started to happen and it all made sense again. In the end it is a real band effort.’’
The album sounds very refreshing, because most bands/projects are like, this is what I have in mind, play it and please do not come with ideas of your own.
,,Yes, for instance ,,Where Rivers Flow, prt 2’’, was completely composed on the piano. When I send it to Christophe, he send me ideas and I was like noooo, I do not like it, it’s not what I hear and he did it several times and then I said, you know what, let’s just not do this one, I’ll just keep it for something else or maybe later. He disagreed, tried it again and came up with the part that I actually played on the piano and he transferred that to be a guitar part. That was so cool and it doesn’t sound anything like the original idea anymore, but it is totally what I envisioned.’’
Where was the album recorded and who produced it?
,,We all have the luxury of having our own home studios, so we all recorded in our studio, but very important, we got it mixed by the right guy. I mean, if you can record good clean tracks, the big thing is the mix and the mastering and when it comes to, for example the guitar sounds, Christophe works already on his sounds and there is hardly anything that needs to be done for the mixing guy. It is just a matter of levels, but Christophe knows his sounds.’’
I listened to the band with the unpronounceable name [Mörglbl] and there was a lot of that sound also in The PRIZE. Especially on their latest work from 2019.
,,Yes, and the sound has evolved since Mörglbl and he is actually making it richer, fat and more metal, because that is what Christophe wants, when it comes to the big riffs, to have a nice metal sound. That is also the reason why I love metal. For the gut sound.
Aurel our drummer, has his own studio and he knows how to record. He is a very good session drummer for many years already. Ivan is very good at this as well, he is an effect freak, he plays with effects, he can compensate for the guitars when Christophe goes into a solo, so you don’t feel that there suddenly is no rhythm guitar anymore. He has such a rich sound. When we play live, we try to come as close to the album sound as possible. It sounds even more organic because there is a bit less production behind it. Also, because the album is not overproduced we can make the transition to the live stage without having to use samples. Our drummer said he would rather have no samples and be rock and roll in the attitude and everyone in the band agrees. If we can avoid samples, we do it. Only maybe for an intro or something, but we want to be able to be free on stage.’’
How are the reactions to the record so far?
,,The first reactions are really great. People seem to love it and those who don’t like it just don’t say it and I like that. If I don’t like a band, I don’t say it and I move on. If I like it, I want to say it and that is obviously our kind of audience which is very nice. Maybe we are waiting for a little more critics, so we can maybe.. you know they always say that success goes hand in hand with critics. No, I’m kidding, if we can avoid it, it is always nice. If people don’t like it, it’s not that I don’t care but I’m unaffected, because I love it.’’
You’ve done everything in-house so far, it’s definitely important to The PRIZE. Could it just be that in the future, there will be a management or live promoter involved, or do you want to keep that side also close to the chest?
,,If we can delegate it is absolutely yeah time. But it has to be the right person or persons. We are not into the bullshit side of the business. We know what we don’t want anymore and that’s why we prefer to take our time and find the right people. We will find them, or better, they will find us.’’
It might help the band, because not everybody in our team was familiar with The PRIZE when I suggested to do a review of your album.
,,Yeah, I know what you mean and it helps a lot. You know, we have support from magazines already through Christophe’s network, like Guitar Extreme and Rock Hard France. Right now it is really up to us to use our networks. We have built so many contacts through the years, but it is a lot of work. To do it yourself and send out mails, get out there. We will do it, and we do it right now, but one step at the time. I think it’s important if you’re going to go all the way. I did that before and then suddenly you have a burn out and you don’t enjoy your project anymore. You associate your band with the way you feel. It’s not cool, I don’t want to associate The PRIZE with having a burn out or being tired. I really go all the way and then chill, all the way and chill again. That works for me.’’
Your music will be great live, how are the first reactions to your live performances, because I saw you played in Poland recently? Poland?
,,The gig was great, it was actually organized by Akademia Rocka. The place where I teach metal vocals, as a coach. I have been there seven times for workshops. We talked about this, a long time ago, how nice it would be to organize something with this new project. Marchec, the director of that school, is a super dynamic guy, music lover and guitarist. He organized the gig for us and it made us go outside of France for the first time. It was really great to play for the Polish audience, they are so awesome and enthusiastic. Lately we also played in Germany and some in France as well. But the closest yet to Belgium or the Netherlands was Paris.’’
Is it is safe to say your home base is France?
,,Yes and Belgium, but obviously the band is really from France. It’s where we do everything, where we rehearse, it’s all there.’’
You have some gigs planned in the near future, which also include Greece. How did that happen?
,,We do these master classes and workshops, outside of our own countries, and so Poland was through my coaching network and for Christophe it’s through his guitar master classes. He is doing all these big festivals and also there is this whole network from Mörglbl, that can be used for The PRIZE. Now they can contact all these people and offer the band with the same members but with a singer and making different music. It’s exciting, so there is a network that already follows us around. Even me through the projects I’ve been doing, like Ayreon. We don’t feel isolated, we feel like there is a big connection network going on and that’s maybe why we can chill and we feel confident. But not overconfident, because there are a lot of people out there, who support us.’’
HAVE A GOOD TIME
The most important mission for the band is to bring the music to a live audience. Why is that so important for you?
,,It’s the main reason why we do music. To play music, to perform and we want to be in front of people to share a moment. When I rehearse in my workshop here on my own, by default I don’t sound that awesome but when I play live, I sound and feel great. Let’s put it this way and then you can like it or not. I don’t feel the same magical thing when I am just rehearsing, but when I sing for other people something happens and you rise above yourself. It’s hard to explain. It’s that magical thing that happens. Nothing better than see people smile during a concert and for the people who don’t smile you push it even a little harder. Everybody should have a good time.’’
The PRIZE is obviously the main band for you right now. Are the others going for this one as well or do they keep other projects going?
,,The four of us are very prioritizing this project. It is really our thing. By default and naturally that’s what happens.’’
When can we see and hear the band in the Benelux live?
,,I don’t know yet, but we are definitely on it and we have several contacts, so it will be just a matter of time. But right now a lot of places are fully booked. We have some options for next year, but for this year it is a little bit like fishing for gig opportunities and maybe catch a spot when bands cancel. It is not that easy right now but we are working on it.’’
Maybe you can throw in some acoustic gigs?
,,We already did one acoustic gig and that went really well. We have the intention to do that again, because it also opens up so many doors. In smaller places or maybe to smaller budgets. Where we can’t have the entire backline and the songs sound so great. It’s awesome. We are actually on it, the drums are already recorded on two songs for acoustic versions and we started to work on a second album as well, so we keep going.’’
Is there something you want to say to our readers?
,,First of all, I think it’s a very famous one, but we’re really into not taking ourselves to seriously and have fun. Also, to keep your ears open for the good stuff. Because there is a lot of great music going on. If you don’t fish for it, you’ll only hear shit. Of course, some big fishes deserve to be big fishes, but I think there is a lot of shit fishes that are too big and they are just thrown in our faces. I think music lovers, and that’s why the metal scene is so great, spend time on researching what is good and I hope that The PRIZE can be in there with the good things that metal people like. Or even rock people or music lovers. I hope we can be in there, in the small section of the good stuff.’’
The PRIZE is: Maggy Luyten (Vocals, Ayreon, Beautiful Sin, ex Nightmare, Virus IV), and Christophe Godin (Guitar, ex Gnô), Ivan Rougny (Bass) and Aurel Ouzoulias (Drums, Satan Jokers) from prog jazz metal trio Mörglbl.