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Interview: Alex Roumanidakis

Alex Roumanidakis, new vocalist for The Antarctican, took a few minutes to sit down with Quadrivalent Records and discuss music and his role in the band.  The freshest addition to the QRV lineup, the band has crafted a positive reputation in their local scene, stomping stages in New York’s capital region since February 2021.  The addition of Alex’s versatile vocal technique and charismatic stage persona positions them to undertake a bright future.

QRVYou have joined The Antarctican, a band from the capital region of New York with only a single released so far.  What sort of potential are you hoping to reap with the group and individually?

AR:  Well I’d say on an individual level, my main goal right now is to fine-tune a voice that I can stand behind that fits the style of the band, and to get back into the swing of performing live. I’d like to really get comfortable with the material to the point that I can put more focus into stage presence and audience engagement. As a group, I’d say I’d like to see us work towards more collaboration, build up our internal chemistry more as I see a lot of potential there, and to really leverage all the talent and sound we’ve got to make some truly original tracks moving forward.

QRV:  The Antarctican‘s bio compares the project to “a primordial cross-section of unfathomable extra-terrestrial sophistication, mutagenic radioactive reptile droppings, and limitless volcanoes of molten mental magma”.  Is this what listeners have to look forward to, and did your addition address this in some way?

AR:  I mean, regardless of The Antarctican‘s activities I think we can all look forward to this collection of calamitous conceits. Lyrically I’ve lately been on more of a ‘focus on interpersonal, or societal commentary’ kick. That said, I like to make it not as cringey by burying the lead usually by framing it with a science fiction tie-in or vague apocalyptic mumbo-jumbo. So in not as many words, yeah you can expect more radioactive alien volcanos.

QRVLooks like The Antarctican has a few shows lined up this year, including supporting some well-respected acts.  You have been with the group only a few months; are you having to fast-track your composition process to be ready in time?

AR:  No, not really, thankfully have been able to work at a comfortable pace. I always have a lot of projects burning so I’m used to working with a tight schedule. I’m doing my best to pace myself and to make sure I give each song the time and effort it deserves. Usually writing the melody/lyrics requires 3-5 one hour sessions. So I can usually turn around a song in a week or two. A few songs have required a couple rounds of revisions to get right, and I’ve been trying my best to encourage and incorporate feedback from the rest of the group to make sure my contributions fit nicely with the vibe. Thankfully I have some well-produced instrumentals to work with, and that makes finding inspiration for lyrics and melodies a lot easier.

QRVLet’s talk about your personal musicianship.  What artists are your most prominent influences as a singer, performer, and lyricist?  Are any of them informing your work with The Antarctican more?

AR:  There are a lot, I listen to a wide variety of musical styles so a lot of it blends together. I’d say vocally, and those informing work with The Antarctican is a shorter list. Definitely a lot of Russell Allen (Symphony X), his gritty cleans are a big inspiration. Devin Townsend has inspired a lot of my musicianship, but vocally I’d say I spent a lot of time trying to find pitched harshes based on his work. Daniel Gildenlow (Pain of Salvation) inspires my approach to dynamics, I like how he handles softer sections and his deliberate use of vibrato/scoops. As a lyricist I’d say I’m more inspired by singer songwriters lately, Danny Schmidt, Elliot Smith, Phoebe Bridgers as examples. I like lyrics that tell a story, bury the lead, and creatively employ metaphor. I still think that aspect is my weakest in terms of vocal skills, but I put a lot of time into working on it.

QRVYou have said that in your musical work, you try to “serve the song”.  What do you think is the best way to apply this philosophy when working in an ensemble?

AR:  To generally leave ego at the door (something I’ve had to work on quite a bit) and be honest with yourself about what a song really needs to work. Being willing to be the person to question stuff that distracts or detracts from the song as well, and to do it in a genuinely curious way. Ultimately a song is not about any one element, and the best ones tend to highlight the different members of the ensemble at different timestamps. From a singer’s perspective, this comes down to sensing good times to rest and allow an instrumental passage, or how to structure a melody to take advantage of big moments in the song. Also writing your melody so it spends as much time as possible in the sweet spot of your range and limiting high notes so they have more impact. Writing lyrics that fit a vibe, or that imply or match a consistent theme also helps out with serving the song.

QRV:  If only everyone could match that energy.  You perform harsh vocals, cleans, and a range between with intentional nuance.  How do you tackle the physical challenge of performing the wide range your vocals demand?

AR:  I’d say you pegged me there, I do it with quite a bit of intention. My range is on the higher end of the baritone range (baritenor might be a good description), and so the higher mix or rock falsetto vocals of metal can be a bit demanding from a stamina perspective. Generally, it always starts with my diet on performance days. I try to limit caffeine, sugar, and food/drink that is very hot or cold. All of those tend to hurt your voice a bit. I was fortunate enough to take singing lessons for a couple years and learned to properly plan breath, vowel choice, and throat/mouth configuration to minimize exertion. Finally, to build stamina I sing a bit every day and look for opportunities to improve my technique. 90% of that work happens before I hit the stage. While singing I try to always pay attention to tension, minimize anxiety, and always have a backup plan for difficult passages.

QRVTell us about the eponymous material you’ve released in recent years.  Do pieces like “Magic Vertigo”, “Circles”, and “Control” represent a culmination of your musical journey so far, or are they more experimental?

AR:  I’d say they’re more on the experimental side. These tracks are more of a chance to focus on songwriting, production, mixing, and style. Most of my previous projects I put all of my effort into attempted-virtuosity on guitar, trying to write something big and impressive (and usually above my skill level). And ultimately, the fundamentals suffered as a result. These are more a purposeful step back to try and focus on those fundamentals. I have a batch of songs written from a few years back that I’m moving onto now that was, at the time, ambitious and above my skill level. These I consider to be a ‘final exam’ for this period of releases. After that, I think I’ll have a strong enough workflow to be ready to push a bit further.

QRVFor every goal reached, another pops up.  Speaking of lofty goals, you composed a musical, is that right?

AR:  I did, I cowrote Fireside with my friend Bill Hennings. It had two limited runs a couple years back. Main concept was a group of friends from high school returning to a fire every year after they moved away, and the audience watched their relationships fracture as they became different people. Might have been one of the most challenging creative projects I’ve worked on, just a lot of details that all had to come together at once. Might one day do additional runs, or record improved recordings of the soundtrack, but right now no plans are in the works.

QRVHow did it feel to apply the chops and creative tools you built as a musician oriented around playing with bands to that format?  What would you say to other musicians interested in undertaking that same kind of transition?

AR:  It was a lot of fun, as said before though I underestimated how many additional skills were needed to make that transition work. I was also acting in the show, which if I had to give advice I’d say to not do that (as fun as that was, just was too much to juggle). We were also very lucky to have a committed cast who stuck with us for months as we got it off the ground, make sure you have some great people in your corner before taking the plunge. I’d also say do a lot of revisions and really take the time to storyboard it. Don’t schedule a show until you’ve got everything figured out, really be conservative about it. We were able to pull it together but it was down to the wire, and I would have enjoyed it more if that stress wasn’t as big a part of the process.

QRVOn the subject of creative stress, the pandemic had a dramatic and often negative effect on music scenes everywhere.  What was the worst of it for you, and did you find a way to use it to any positive ends?

AR:  The worst of it had to be not playing with other people. As an introvert, it feels weird to say, but jamming with others really makes you a better player (And well, it’s fun too). You try to pick up riffs in the room, you push yourself more, and you have to cling to life (can’t just pause a jam track or recording when it gets dicey like you can at home). I used that extra time to practice, write, and record a lot more. I learned a lot of technical bits and really became comfortable with production and mixing.

QRVWhat are you and the other Antarcticans focusing on right now?  Any goals on the horizon?

AR:  Right now we’re getting into ship shape for our slate of summer shows. Big goals I’d say are to get fully up to speed on the backlog, start recording some new singles, and to get some new promotions together. I think we’re in a pretty good place and looking forward to our next show July 8th.

QRVWhere can listeners find your other work?

AR:  The best option is to sign up for my mailing list. I announce all of my work and shows there as well as provide it prior to the release date. Second to that, my Bandcamp is the best place, as that has my full solo backlog. You can also search for my name on most streaming services. You can also find other projects I’m affiliated with, Seaspan (my previous prog metal band), or Shadow Crafter (a new lo-fi metal/hiphop project I am producing) on all major streaming platforms. I’m currently also wrapping up work on a global collaborative cover of Porcupine Tree’s album In Absentia. The release has yet to be announced, but search YouTube in the coming months to catch that. Finally, I’m going to be releasing my next solo album single by single over the next year or two. Look for the first track of that in the coming months.

QRVAlex’s mailing list, Bandcamp, and other goodies can be found at AlexRoumanidakis.com.

Thanks for sharing with us, Alex!

AR:  Thanks for having me.

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