Interview with vocalist Zaher Zorgati (additional comments by keyboardist Kévin Codfert)
Interview conducted by Luxi Lahtinen
Date online: May 8, 2023
Interview pictures by Terhi Lahtinen
Live pictures by Luxi Lahtinen
Special thanks to Kasper Kautonen of Playground Music for setting up the interview and Zaher for offering me a tasty beer (and for doing all the cleaning work when my beer started acting strangely, all of a sudden - ha!)
Tunisian progressive symphonic metallers Myrath have managed to make a name for themselves over the past several years by touring hard and, of course, offering the kind of eye-catching live show to their fans - with dancers, fire-eaters and magicians - that are part of the successful recipe for a Myrath show. Let's not forget the band's high-quality music that truly has its own different spices.
All this was noticed by the staff of Germany's earMUSIC, which snapped them up for their roster and released the band fifth studio album, Shehili, in May 2019. Then COVID hit the world with full force, killing gigging activities for a long time.
During the pandemic, instead of standing still, the Myrath camp focused on writing new stuff and are, in fact, now ready to release their next as-yet-untitled studio album in the latter half of 2023.
The Metal Crypt caught up with the polite and good-natured vocalist Zaher Zorgati on the band's tour bus in Helsinki, Finland, on March 29, 2023, when the band was touring Europe with Kamelot, Eleine and League of Distortion. In this chat we covered quite a few things, from the ongoing tour in Europe to the band's new material to the metal culture (or lack of it) in Tunisia, among other things...
Well, first off, welcome to this Nordic country called Finland, sir.
Zaher: Thank you so much.
What's your first impression of Finland? Cold, dark and miserable, eh?
Zaher: Haha! I think of all Scandinavians, and I don't mean this is bad or good, but I've felt like you are the most sociable.
Thank you. That's very cool to hear.
Zaher: That gives me such a positive vibe to kick your ass tonight.
[*laughs*] We are ready for that I can tell you.
Zaher: Yes, we're going to rock the stage and have fun. I'm already having fun. I'm really ready.
You played in Malmö, Sweden, two days ago. How was it? Did you get a good crowd there?
Zaher: Yes, we got a crowded audience there, but compared to Stockholm and Oslo, it was a really tiny bar, but really packed. People at this gig in particular were really, really hard to get to rock with us, but somehow, I managed to do so. The first two rows, they were into it, but all the rest, well it was a Monday. Heavy drinks on Saturdays and maybe even on Sundays and Mondays may work for some. Honestly, everybody was a little bit lazy in Malmö, but with our three final songs, I managed to keep them awake. I think they were one of the hardest audiences that I have met on this tour.
The fans were just a little bit more reserved?
Zaher: Indeed, a little bit more reserved, yes. Apparently, Malmö is not a metal city. If I compare it to Stockholm or Gothenburg, we should have started in Malmö, then done Stockholm and Gothenburg after that. I think that would be really nice. The last gig we did in Sweden was Malmö, though, and Malmö was just not a metal city, so people over there were a little bit reserved like you said.
How would you say the Scandinavian audiences differ from other nations in what they are like when they come to see you guys? Do we have more reversed audiences over here or would you say we have similar audiences in Northern Europe compared to some other places in the world?
Zaher: I will compare them a little bit with Spanish or Tunisian audiences. They're into the thing. They're really receptive. It depends on the cities, of course, and the countries. I heard the Finnish are the most receptive audience. That's what they told me. Oslo was good. Gothenburg was really nice. Stockholm was nice, but little less. Malmö, they were good. I would not say the worst because as I said, it was Monday, so obviously they're just a little bit tired perhaps. I can understand that. I'm looking forward to tonight for real. I compare the Finns and Scandinavian to the Spanish because they are really into it right off the bat. It makes you feel like you are in a stadium when people are chanting together, "Ole ole ole ole..." and that kind of stuff, and we love it. As Tunisians, we have this same enthusiasm.
WEIRD THINGS HAPPEN IN GOTHENBURG, SWEDEN
How would you sum up your tour with Kamelot so far? Has it been a good tour for you guys?
Zaher: Kamelot have their own tour bus and we are in the same bus with the other bands. At first, we feared the worst, but it's different. The reality is everybody's cool, everybody's organized. Of course, we have had our ups and downs but in general, it's a nice tour. The camera crew was really nice to me, and to everybody else as well. They are not arrogant at all, but really sociable. I have a short story as I posted on my Facebook.
When we were in Gothenburg, our bus dropped us off in the city. After doing some after-show partying, I went to the spot where the bus was, but I didn't find it. I found only Kamelot's bus and they were laughing at me and everybody was mocking and teasing me. I said, "What's going on?" They said, "You're going to stay in the venue, you going to sleep in the street or what's the plan?" I was like, "Guys, I don't know." I just said, "Fuck, yes. Come on, man." You have your couch here. This is your couch. They were really nice, adorable. This is what metal is about, friendship and brotherhood.
Like a big family.
Zaher: Like a big family, yes. They won't let you down.
A NEW ALBUM IS COMING – ARE YOU READY FOR IT?
You've been playing at least one new song live during this tour, called "Child of Prophecy," right?
Zaher: Yes, "Child of Prophecy." That will be the seventh song on the set list. The first song is also a new song and it's called "To the Stars."
Will those two songs be included on your new album?
Zaher: Yes, they will both be on our forthcoming album. We have 11 songs and these two are among them. The album will be released sometime later this year, hopefully.
How would you describe the new stuff that you've come up with so far? Does it follow the same successful recipe as your previous album, Shehili, or does your new material have something totally new in it?
Zaher: I am confident this new stuff will surprise the fans. Maybe it will disappoint some of them. Why? Because they are used to the very oriental side of the band. I shouldn't say "oriental," but very ethnic side of the music we play. People are used to that. What is coming is different and, on the other hand, not different. In a way it's cheesier, in a very good way, more accessible in a good way, if I may say that. For example, you could hear a song from the '80s with the spice of Myrath in it. You would not say, "Ah, they are copying some other bands or Whitesnake or whatever." No. It's 100% authentic.
Max, our label CEO from earMUSIC, when I told him we were starting to compose new songs, and I was afraid, said, "... and for what reason we are afraid?" I told him because it's totally different from what we've done before. The songs don't sound alike on this new album. Every song has its own character and its own authenticity. He said, "What's the problem?" I told him, "People are used to more North African stuff, and we are doing that less and going into the mainstream, not the shitty mainstream, but the good mainstream instead." It is coming from the heart.
He said to me, "That's the point. If it's coming from the heart, if it's authentic, it must be authentic." What does authentic mean? That means it comes from the heart, it comes from you. You're not copying. Of course, there are influences because I'm very influenced by '80s hard rock music. I love hard rock music. Automatically, if I will compose a hard rock song, I will be influenced by Van Halen, Whitesnake, all these guys.
Like being influenced by many of your childhood heroes.
Zaher: Yes, exactly, my childhood inspirations. All this stuff. Of course, I will do something with my own sauce, my own spices. That's the most important thing. He told us, "Even if you do jazz, if it's authentic, if it comes from the heart, people will love it even if it's jazz. So do whatever you want from the heart."
Sounds like advice from a wise man. Plus, I believe you don't want to repeat your past too much even if you might have the most successful recipe on your hands, you still don't want to re-use it over and over again so to speak?
Zaher: Yes, exactly. That's what we want to do, and that's what we feel because all our albums are a little bit different. For me, they sound a little bit similar because of the sound of Myrath, of course. The blueprint of Myrath.
I spoke with Kevin, and I told him, "Listen, I want to do something different." He told me that it's risky because the fans are used to desert blazing metal stuff. I told him, "I don't give a shit. I want to do something different, but it comes from me. It comes from the heart, from my mind, from whatever. It's authentic, but I want to do something different. I don't want the same sound." I want to discover other domains, other universes. I don't want to stay in [*sings*]. I'm fucked up with that. It's good to have some of it in some songs, but there are millions, thousands of scales and modes in music. I don't want to stay only in oriental minor scale or minor mode. That's why some of the other band members told me, "Yes, but there are thousands of bands. They do this kind of hard rock or metal like..." Oh, sorry. It's okay. "German metal stuff," and I told them, "Yes."
I told them, "Yes, it's true that there are thousands of bands. They do this kind of western metal or hard rock, but we're going to do the same, but in a different way. In our way. We're going to do a hard rock in our way. We're going to do mid-tempo stuff in our way."
Who were the main composers of your new album? I believe, of course, you were one of them, but who else was involved with the songwriting process?
Zaher: The main composers are Kévin and me, let's say, 50% us and 50% the other guys. On this album, we have a friend of ours who is a guitar player and plays with Morgan in his other project, Khadija. He's called Pierre. We collaborated with him to have different aspects to our compositions. We stayed together, we sent files to each other and tried to tweak and rebuild them. It was fun. You have to discover other universes and music and modes and stuff. We did this collaboration with him and some solos and some riffs, and all the guys are participating in the compositions.
Sometimes the guitar player will come with a bass riff or even drum-like patterns.
Many bands went through some rough times 2020-2021 because of COVID when playing live became impossible due to all of the restrictions around the globe. Did Myrath write new music during this quiet period when playing live was not possible?
Zaher: Yes, we were writing for nearly two and a half years. We had too many ideas and we had to narrow it down to 11 songs for this album, and we still have like 10 or 12 other songs left for our next album.
Zaher: Yes, we have some ideas for the next album ready to be recorded. We are ready to record, and the ideas are there.
Wow, that's really cool to hear that you haven't rested on your laurels. earMUSIC is a very big label with some well-known artists on their roster, from Alice Cooper to Def Leppard to Hollywood Vampires and so on. How does it feel to share the same label with some of the biggest rock and metal bands in the scene these days?
Zaher: It's good, but it depends on how you look at it. It's kind of a double-edged sword because as a small band, like Myrath, that has signed to a big label, like earMUSIC undoubtedly is, there are two sides or possibilities. The first is that they will treat you as a family member and accept you and help you and push you.
The second is they sign you, they sell your CDs, and then don't give a fuck about you. We hope for the first possibility because they really like our music, and it's not only about the money or selling thousands of copies of our music. They genuinely really, really like our band.
Do you feel they have done enough to promote Myrath to the best of their abilities and resources?
Zaher: Yes, I think so. We feel the connection between the band and the label. When the label gives you a glimpse of light, you feel comfortable and you feel motivated to write more, to do more, to tour more, to perform more. It goes on and on until we get bigger. That's teamwork. That's what's called teamwork.
LACK OF RESOURCES AND INTEREST
Myrath is the first Tunisian band to sign to a big international label, and it already seems you are becoming a household name for many metal fans all around the world. Do you think the band's success has worked as an inspiration for other Tunisian musicians to start their own bands and believing in what they are doing?
Zaher: Great question! Sure, I absolutely believe that we have shown bands from our country that anything's possible if you work for your goal hard enough and do everything for it, great things can happen. The problem is that in Tunisia, the government doesn't help small bands. People in our government don't support them in a cultural way. As Kévin can confirm, you have pop music, folklore music, oriental music, rap music, and at least a venue to perform your music, being it rock or jazz or whatever. There are some really good bands in Tunisia, representing various of styles of music like rock, hard rock, metal, jazz, blues, but they are not put into the media...
...on a bigger scale?
Zaher: Yes, on a bigger scale. That's the problem. Before the revolution, we had many concerts. We have two of the big festivals on the North African side. Back then, the government was also helping the promoters to improve things for smaller bands.
We came from a garage. We can't forget this. We came from a garage, got our chance to play at a smaller venue, then at a bigger venue and finally a chance to perform at a festival for the very first time. Kévin discovered us while we were opening for Robert Plant in Tunisia in 2006.
OF XTAZY BECOMING MYRATH
Kévin: Exactly. It was with my previous band, Adagio, a French band. I discovered Xtazy in Tunisia and what hit me the most was that I heard what I would call "oriental metal" for the first time but done the right way. For example, Symphony X is an awesome band, and you can hear some oriental influences in their music, too, but they were on a whole different level in Xtazy. They sounded real.
That's the main reason I decided to work with them right away, right after changing the name to Myrath and releasing their first album, Hope, in 2006. I told Malek's father (R.I.P.), who was the band's previous manager, that I wanted to work with the band. He passed away a few years ago. Unfortunately, it has been a tragedy because he was like the true godfather for all of us in the band.
Zaher: Without him, we would be nothing. We would not be sitting here talking to you right now.
So, you are saying he's doing everything in favor of the band...?
Zaher: Yes. He's like a blessing. A real blessing.
Kévin: Exactly. The first thing I told Ahmed, who was Malek's father, is you should change the band's name and hire a singer right away. Otherwise, it will not work. It all started this way for me.
"I WANT TO CONTINUE AS A SINGER INSTEAD OF DOING SOME FINE ARTS"
When did you join Myrath, Zaher?
Zaher: I was watching them at the same festival in Amphitheater Carthage in Tunisia. I saw Xtazy (ex-Myrath), Adagio with Kévin, and then Robert Plant. I didn't know anybody there. After that, Kévin and co., spoke together backstage but I wasn't there as I was in the crowd with my friends hanging out and drinking beer. [*laughs*] That's the story in a nutshell of how I joined the band.
Then one day, I got a call from Ahmed, Malek's father. He told me, "Listen, we want to talk with you." I'm in a city on the east side of the sea in Tunisia, Sousse. They were living in the capital, Tünis. He called me and said, "Hey, here's Ahmed, the manager of Myrath, we would love to talk with you about the possibility of you joining the band because we saw you with your previous band, and we thought that you are a good singer, blah, blah, blah, blah."
I told him, "Yes, I quit the band because I'm going to Dubai. I'm going to stay with my aunt and continue my studies in the fine arts." He said, "Okay, but we are already on the highway coming to you. We are already on the road. We will be there in 30 minutes." They came and they spoke to me. We had a couple of beers and then I quit the idea of going to Dubai. I went back home and I told my father and my mother, I will stay here and continue fine arts in Sousse, in my hometown. They were like, "Why? It's okay, but why?" I told them that because I was joining a new band. They said, "What the fuck are you talking about?" You could go there and study for free because my aunt and uncle will pay for me because it's really expensive there.
After that, they were crazy, but they don't regret it after seeing me on stage. Every time I go abroad, I'm performing in different countries and have sung on six albums thus far. It's nice.
Cool. Seems like you are on your highway to stardom. Okay, as my time seems to be up, I think I'm going to just stop this interview here. Thank you so much. I wish you all the best for your first ever show here in Helsinki, Finland. I am positive you'll be facing some crazy and supportive fans in the crowd...
Zaher: I'm hoping so, too. Thank you so much and hopefully you are going to enjoy our concert at least a little bit.
|Other information about Myrath on this site|
|Review: Desert Call|
|Review: Tales Of The Sands|
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