A Very Fruitful Partnership
Although the debut album ‘Satellites’ by Silent Skies doesn’t immediately scream rock or metal it is interesting enough to be featured on HeadBangers LifeStyle. Especially if you know that it is a collaboration between Evergrey singer Tom Englund and Redemption keyboardist Vikram Shankar. ‘Satellites’ was already written and recorded in 2017/2018 so it has been shelved for a while so enough to talk about with the very talented and modest Shankar.
Shankar is no stranger to Evergrey material as on his YouTube channel he covered ,,Forever Outside’’, and on ‘Satellites’ there is a remake of ,,Distance’’. What makes them so interesting to cover?
,,For me, I am drawn to them for many years and why working with Tom was a dream come true is that Evergrey does something in the progressive world that is special. They are uncompromisingly heavy at times but very cinematic and emotional all at once, for me that is special. If you strip away the heavy guitars, drums and modern metal production you have very beautiful, emotional songs and I like exposing that on the piano.’’
The quality of a good song is that it stays strong even when stripped down.
,,I’m a huge fan of intricate production but if you take that away you should still be left with something strong. Look at Devin Townsend who put layer upon layer in the arrangement but if you listen to him playing it acoustically it is just as strong. That is what I admire in him. He is totally authentic and an example for me.’’
Who’s idea was it to come up with Silent Skies?
,,It was initially Tom’s idea. He reached out to me in January 2017 out of the blue with the idea he and I could make this piano driven music with vocals, with very cinematic influences. He wanted to make, as he called it, visions for the inner eye, like when you put on headphones and you have this film that plays out in your head.’’
Your instruments of choice are piano and keyboards. What makes these so perfect for you?
,,I started playing the piano when I was around 5 years old and I studied vigorously classical piano and I studied piano through conservatory so I was schooled in piano playing. But when I was an early teenager I picked up the guitar and drums. I love those instruments as writing tools. Sit down with the guitar and come up with a riff and maybe turn it into a piano part. I love the piano for the dynamic ranges, high octave, low octave, and voicing things 3 or 4 parts at the same time. The easiest way to sounding like an entire ensemble. For me piano suited to that and I was always drawn to that.’’
What sparked your interest in music?
,,I was interested in and playing music as long as I can remember. I was four years old when my parents identified that I had perfect pitch. You hear a note and know what it is. I was never trained to do this, but I could play along with all the stuff I heard, so they put me in music instruction because of that and there was no looking back. I wouldn’t know what to do without music, this is how I communicate, how I am at peace. Fortunately, from that moment on I was allowed to commit myself to that life.’’
Who are your influences as a musician?
,,I’d say I have different influences for the different styles that I do. In classical music I was always inspired by Franz Liszt, Béla Bartók and Igor Strawinski, in rock music first by Keith Emerson and then by Jordan Ruddess of Dream Theater who was a massive influence. Alongside that Herbie Hancock from the jazz world as well as McCoy Tyner who played in the John Coltrane Quartet, plus the more modern composers as Ólafur Arnalds and Max Richter. As far as my piano playing concerns I am influenced mainly by progressive, classical, and jazz. All of this comes together to make what I do.’’
,,My heart lies in music and I don’t see these things as different alien worlds of each other. I was first exposed to the music of Bartók and Strawinski and I already listened to the music of Rush and Dream Theater and heard resonances of jazz in prog and I love how all these things cross-pollinated and that is what I try to do in my music. I have another band, Lux Terminus, a prog rock trio driven by piano and during that album we have film score, electronic dance bits, jazz bits; I try not to hold myself back, there’s not much use in that, I’d rather just be who I am.’’
You mentioned Lux Terminus and in that band there is a Dutch connection: singer Anneke van Giersbergen and guitarist Timo Somers. How did that happen?
,,Both are people I look up to immensely. Anneke is probably my favourite singer if I had to pick one. I reached out to her just asking if she would do me the honour to sing on this song [,,Epilogue: Fly (IV)’’], and she did an exquisite performance. She took my song and turned it into something that gives me shivers, it is so impressive what she did, I cannot say enough positive things about her. And Timo is someone who I admire very much, and I think he is one of the most underestimated guitar players in music today. Delain was a great band but in their music you did not really hear for the most part what he is capable of doing. He is a virtuoso guitar player. I wanted to give him a chance to reach fresh ears in the progressive community. I had him do this climactic solo at the end of the album and that’s definitely one of the highlights of my musical career, to hear him soar on that bit.’’
‘Satellites’ was finished two years ago. Are you already thinking of or working on a new album?
,,Funny, we always had the ambition to do more than one album. Silent Skies is not a one-off project. We had actually written two albums. In 2018 I went to Gothenburg to record the piano for ‘Satellites’ and there are ten songs on the album, but I tracked nineteen. So we do have these songs and they are fantastic songs but not necessary ready for public consumption yet. Future albums are not only something that we are going to do, but people are going to be happy with how quickly we do them.’’
What audience are you aiming for with Silent Skies?
,,It is targeted to different audiences, certainly there’s a bunch of Evergrey fans who’d love it and we appreciate that. They are having a deep connection to the music. People who appreciate the softer side, maybe Anathema fans but also the world outside metal and rock, the cinematic, classical or the more artistic site of pop music. Our strength is that the melodies are very accessible and appeal beyond metal, even if it is a small percentage.’’
There is no chance to play live at the moment, and Evergrey is also releasing a new album. Did you ever plan to perform live with Silent Skies?
,,Absolutely, we’ve actually talked about what it would mean for Silent Skies performing and of course there’s the logistics of the fact that I’m based in the USA and Tom in Sweden. Even before Covid-19 it was not the easiest thing in the world to get us into the same place to perform, but we’ve always been interested in performing live and I can promise that at one point, Silent Skies will be taking the stage. How that will be look like I’m not sure yet, but it will be cool.’’
What does the fact that you can’t go out for touring do to your creativity?