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Unleash The Archers – Interview met Brittney Slayes (vocals)

Brittney Slayes: “A lot of what is posted on social media is not real and that is my opinion on social media in general: everyone just posts the good parts. It is not a true reflection of what is going on in their lives or what is going on in life in general. So we have huge issues with self-esteem and confidence and being able to interact in a real world.”

Voor het zesde album ‘Phantoma’ schreef het Canadese Unleash The Archers een conceptverhaal over AI. Protagonist in het verhaal is Phantoma, een computer gestuurde entiteit die in de nabije toekomst haar best doet om wat nog rest van de mensheid te behagen. Maar dat loopt mis op een bepaald moment. Dit verhaal is de pennenvrucht van onze gesprekspartner zangeres Brittney Slayes, muzikaal kunnen we genieten van stevige, maar soms ook poppy heavy/power metal waar de band een patent op heeft. Klaar om er terug volop tegenaan te gaan, treffen we Brittney aan in Vancouver waar ze haar mening uit over de voor- en nadelen van AI.
Vera Matthijssens Ι 22 mei 2024

How are you doing?
It could be better. I woke up with a cold, but besides that I am feeling okay.

The previous albums ‘Abyss’ and ‘Apex’ appeared to be your breakthrough albums. How did you slowly but surely experience that you became more popular?
It did not feel like there was this moment or accession when all of a sudden more people were listening to us. It was very gradual and more and more people started to discover us and say: ‘Oh I have found your album ‘Apex’’ or ‘I found ‘Abyss’ … I cannot believe that I haven’t heard from you before.’ There were a lot of messages like that coming in, so we were just thinking: ‘oh nice, a new fan’, that is always exciting. We play shows in bigger and bigger venues. We started to sell venues out. It was just kind of this day by day process and that was really nice actually. It has been awesome to see the growth and seeing more and more people enjoying the records and share it on social media and these kinds of things. It has been great.

You decided to write another concept album and you have chosen for AI. How did you come to that decision of choosing AI?
It was about my love for science fiction. I have always been a huge film fan and of comic books and video games. Those things have science fiction stories to tell and I know that the story of AI, becoming smart and conscious and turning against humanity is not a new one, but I just wanted to take that idea and put my own stamp on it. I am inspired by my favourite movies – these are ‘Aliens’, ‘Star Wars’ and ‘Prometheus’. Aliens are always portrayed as these beings in the underground. Is it programmed that way and are they acting for our best interest? Especially David from my favourite series, his motivations are extremely interesting. He is kind of almost uncaring in his curiosity and doesn’t care what happens to humans really. I thought this was really interesting. I wanted to tell my own android story. Everything that we know about AI today, Chat GPT and so on, it didn’t even exist when I started writing. We started working on this album when I wrote the story. It was all classic science fiction films and comic books influenced.

AI goes faster and faster these days. If it is in the hands of a good man, it is okay, but what will happen when it comes in the hands of the bad guys?
Exactly, but that is the exact clarification that needs to be made, that AI in itself, isn’t the issue. It is AI in the hands of humanity that is the terrifying thing, because AI will not do anything itself. It is trained. It is moulded into the way that it is or the way that it works by us. So I am not saying that AI doesn’t cause risks – of course it does – but it is the implementation of the humans behind it that is the risky part. If people are worried for their jobs, don’t blame AI, blame the corporations that are choosing the computers first and the people will be unemployed. There needs to be a discussion about more than one thing at some point.

What do you think of AI’s influence at schools, when young people do not learn to think for themselves anymore, because it is easier using AI’s programmed stuff?
That is so true. Think about a medical student for example, doing all those files with AI. Do you want to see that doctor? I am sure it is going to absorb intuition and a part of learning is kind of summarizing, what you have learned in your test, in your thesis or whatever. Young people do not do that anymore. I cannot even imagine what their spelling is going to be like. It is already going backwards for a decade.

On the record there should also be a kind of social commentary on the social media. What do you like on social media and whet is not that good in your opinion?
Yes, it is one of the underlying themes on the album, because Phantoma, when the story begins, she is AI that runs a computer in a warehouse. Basically what she does, is that she keeps the aeons where the humans live, stocked with everything what they ever need and so she has to be able to anticipate things before they are required. She is very good at it. She watches humans from afar by the computer and she has learned to love them, because of what they post on their social media account and what they share with the world. Travelling is impossible, because you cannot leave your bio. So they just kind of see the world by their metaverse and this is all what she is exposed to. She thinks that humans are cultured and kind and fascinating, but when she meets them in person, she realized that it is just not the truth. A lot of what is posted is not real and that is my opinion on social media in general: everyone just posts the good parts. It is not a true reflection of what is going on in their lives or what is going on in life in general. I just see all these young people, that are inspired by all these Influencers. It is not about just posting a cool photo every day, there is so much that goes into building this atmosphere of perfection around you. I don’t think this is what you think it is and also when you see what other people have, they post it on the Internet so quickly and it makes those young people jealous or envious. They think that they are not successful until they can live in a luxury house in LA. This is not what life is! When they don’t reach that, they blame themselves. So we have huge issues with self-esteem and confidence and being able to interact in a real world, it is just slowly been torn away from them and I am just not a fan. When I am on social media, I try to be as real as possible. I am not going to put up make-up because when you meet me in person, that is not who I am and that is not what I am going to be. I am not going to pretend something that I am not. I just feel that I am at a point of: why do we hide behind these fake personas? It is causing damage.

I have heard that you have a baby daughter now… congratulations!
Thank you.

If you reflect all this on the world of your baby, there will be a whole new world by the time she gets older…
You cannot help it. Becoming a mother or a father, it changes things. I am already worried that she will spend too much time on Instagram and see things that aren’t real. There is not so much you can do though, you cannot protect them from everything.

Indeed, they have to go through every segment of life themselves. But isn’t it difficult to combine it with the band?
Oh yes. We are learning slowly day by day, how to make it work. We are figuring out how to tour and everything. It is tough. Things have definitely changed and we cannot just go on the road forever and ever, just like we used to do before. We are going to do shorter tours and more often and trying to make things work as best as we can.

Going back to the album; the last three songs should be even more connected to each other than the rest. How do you see that?
Yes, in the story, Phantoma finally escapes from being a computer and becomes human, as she always wanted to be, but they kind of laugh at her and they reject her. She finds her own kind as well in the collective and they also reject her, because of her love for the human kind. Her hope for the future of living life among the humans and machine-kind of sorts is destroyed basically. It sends her into a downward spiral where the first 2/3 of the record is very hopeful and the ballad we have, the seventh song, is kind of the moment when she realises that she must help herself if she wants to move forward in the future and when she comes back, with ‘Ghosts In The Mist’, ‘Seeking Vengeance’ and ‘Blood Empress’, this is her taking revenge on the humans and on the collective that have destroyed her hopes of living this utopia kind of life. She completely switches from being this hopeful person that wants to save humanity and show them how to live among the robots and tread them equally, to an evil one, thinking: ‘well, if you are not going to live with my views, I am going to erase you’.

Another disappointment, but ‘The Collective’ seems to be a very important song I think, isn’t it?
It is the moment when Phantoma meets her kind and then realizes that they don’t want her to be an individual. They want her to be a part of their higher aim. She rejects it and says: ‘no, we fought so hard for our consciousness, why do you want to give up like that?’ and she doesn’t really understand, but I really like that song. It has got a kind of urgency I think that tells the story really well.

Even the recording of this album was partly done by the band members I think?
That was Andrew, our guitar player. It was actually the first time that he did the engineering of everything, so he was the one behind the board the whole time. Before we recorded with Jacob Hansen over in Denmark, but this time we just recorded ourselves and then sent it to him for the mix and mastering. It was a real experience, that’s for sure. It is a lot harder than it seems. It was quite a wake up call for us and we ended up having to book more studio time in Vancouver, because we weren’t able to completely finish Andy’s parts because he was so busy recording everybody else, so it was difficult. I think that we’ll probably let Andrew being more a producer next time and then we’ll have someone to do the actual recordings.

For the artwork you turned to someone else…
Yes the artwork was done by Dusty Peterson. He actually did our ‘Explorers’ EP, the cover for that one and we loved what he did. We have been looking forward to be able to work with him again in the future, so he was the first one that we approached for doing artwork for this album. We had a very specific idea and he was very understandable about that. He did a great job in making our vision come to life.

The colours are very nice and exceptional for a metal band…
Yes, it is definitely something different, but we just kind of wanted to portray the moment when anyone – not even just Phantoma – sees the bio for the first time.

In the meantime you also have a new bass player. Not really new, because he is there already a few years and I think he has been your session bass player for a while too…
Yes. We hired him for playing live with us for a few tours before. Finally we brought him into the band. We hired him in 2018 for ‘Apex’ touring and he was great. We really worked well together and he has this crazy positive attitude which is just unstoppable. He is a brilliant bass player and guitar player and he is just a nice person. So we were very excited when he accepted our suggestion to join the band full time. It is just nice to know that the issue is covered by someone who is such a wonderful person.

You have even experimented yourself with AI for a video clip. What about that experience?
Yeah we used AI to basically paint green screen footage appropriate to our style. So we played the whole video before a green screen. The characters that you see, the humans and the androids in the video for ‘Green & Glass’, they are all us. It is done with a voice from the studio, they built all the backgrounds in Unreal Engine 5 and that took months to do, because they just basically built it all up from the ground. It was definitely not that easy if people might think that it was just programmed. It still demands a lot of work from the humans behind it all.

To occlude we ask your plans for the near future…
We are playing a lot of festivals this Summer in Europe. We are playing in Wacken, Bloodstock in the UK and Leyendas del Rock in Spain, a few others in Finland, Sweden, Romania. We are really excited about that. We are going to spend quite some time in Europe this Summer. Then we are also in the middle of booking a headlining tour for 2025. So hopefully we can do even more places in Europe than we did before. We will come for a few weeks in early 2025. We are really excited about that.

What are, until now, your memories on Belgium?
Well, we played Alcatraz festival in 2021 I think it was and we actually stayed there for quite a while and visited some tour destinations and we went to Bruges and hang around. It was a great time! We had a wonderful time in Belgium and the fact that Alcatraz was the first festival that we played after the pandemic, that was awesome. It was such a great time! Great to hang out with everyone after the festival afterwards and we definitely had a little bit too much fun, because the hangovers the next day were huge (laughs). Yeah, we love Belgium, we had a great time when we were there.

We will welcome you again next year…
Hopefully soon, yes.