I have met Stela Atanasova in the beginning of 2017. She was too kind to come to my hotel in Sofia where we had friendly conversation at the hotel lobby. She is one of the kindest persons I have ever met. Friendly, calm, eloquent, intelligent, respectful… Her band Metalwings released “For All Beyond” album in April last year, so now you can read what Stela has to say about it and lot more. I hope you will enjoy in this interview as much as I did.
Metalwings are back from the first interatonal tour. In March you have been playing in Romania and Austria. Tell me something more about your impressions?
This tour was a real pleasure and a test for us. I am very happy and satisfied that it happened because it is a very important step from the path of every band. We had the opportunity to meet and play with great bands and musicians. We met many of our fans from abroad who had traveled for us from other countries. For example, in Bucharest we were surprised by fans from Israel who had come to hear us live and in Vienna came our fans from Germany. I felt great all the time on the tour but the best moments were those we experienced on scenes where I could feel the energy of people and see the glitter in their eyes. It’s an incredible experience to be on a tour. I would make it permanent.
The band has been playing lots of concerts in Bulgaria. This was the first time the band played on international stages. Now, when it is over, can you tell me good and bad sides of touring?
Even though the tour was short, I got some idea of what to expect next time on a longer tour. You definitely do not have to go with great expectations. You have to take everything with a smile and calm because the tension is huge and people with a weaker psyche would not stand. The good sides are the fans – this is the most precious thing. Meet them, talk to them because it’s a dream come true for them to touch you. Also win new fans, meet new musicians. We also got experience from working with different teams on different scenes. We have seen how clubs working outside of Bulgaria and I can only say that I have not met such a professional attitude for a long time. If we can talk about bad sides- first, it’s the financial part. We faced conditions that would be tough for many of the bands that rely on their own resources, as it was with us. Every day we had to travel vast distances between the towns and immediately without any rest to unload all the equipment, to set it up, to perform concerts and then to load everything again. We slept every night after 2 in the morning and we had to get up at 6 to head to the next town to be there in time. But I can say boldly that it was worth every sleepless night and hardship because it all disappeared the moment we were on the stage. Maybe there are no good and bad sides. Everything is part of the game and who is strong enough and motivated to jump deep, must be ready to experience all this with good and bad. Besides, such a tour is a great test of the will for everyone. Not all of them were mentally prepared for the difficulties and this tour has helped me to find out who I can really count on in the band.
You have been playing with Imperial Age and one show with Rotting Christ. Two different genres. What have you learnt from both bands since they are more experienced?
Imperial Age are great musicians and people. I am very happy that we had the opportunity to make several concerts with them and after our last show in Sofia we promised to see and play again as soon as possible. It was very funny when we were trying to speak Bulgarian and Russian. We’ve had great moments together. As for Rotting Christ – unfortunately we were unable to get to the show with them because our van broke in the middle of the road and we had to go back to Bulgaria with a recovery car, but before that we were given the chance to make another show with the famous Romanian band Bucovina in Brasov and the show there was incredible. From this tour we learned how dedicated the bands are and how much they sacrifice to make such tours. Conditions are sometimes murderous, but nonetheless, these musicians go out on stage without any fatigue. These are real artists. Not everyone is for this way of life. You must really want it and be totally dedicated. The other would be just fun and adventure. I think that each band can learn more than colleagues from other bands. I even think that this is the key to things – to learn constantly from your fellow musicians, not to lock yourself in and think you have reached the maximum. We thank everyone who helped us to make this tour, as well as all the bands we had the pleasure of playing with.
A year ago, Metalwings released album ″For All Beyond″. Are you satisfied with the album promotion and feedback?
We are definitely pleased with the promotion and feedback we have received for our album “For All Beyond”. Even a year later we still receive reviews about it. The feedback is very positive, but we can feel it in the comments of our fans. I think we released a really great metal album. We are proud of what we have achieved, because that’s all our work and we only know how much time, energy, labor and resources we have put into our album, but it was all worth it. I can’t wait to start working on our new album.
Were there any personal changes in the meantime?
Not yet but you never know.
Despite great quality, Metalwings have no label behind. Why?
Perhaps we should ask the labels. I really do not know how this industry works. It’s never been our priority to have a label behind. I’d even say that I’m glad we still do not have a label behind. Yes, it is extremely difficult – it is absolutely impossible to exist because this industry is like an octopus and if you are not part of it, nobody cares about you – I mean the festivals, the booking agencies. It does not matter how good you are, how much people like you and how much you would give to this industry. If you’re not part of a label, nobody lets you go ahead. But in my opinion it is no longer a matter of pride to say that you signed up with a label. I have been astonished recently how many absurd bands are signing up with the big labels. Everyone can now sign with a big label. No logic, no level. The labels lost their identity. Looking for sensation and quick profit. Not looking for quality and style. Which is very sad, because at the moment there are so great new bands and nobody knows about them. I thought the label’s work is to found such bands and offering the best, because the label is a good quality criterion. But the reality is different. If it were not YouTube and the success of Crying of the Sun, we would probably have be known from very few people. Do you imagine how many other such bands create great music at the moment and nobody will know about it. This is a very vicious system. I keep saying there will be a time when the bands will not need the labels. I think there will come a day when most of the bands will choose to be independent and that will change the rules forever.
People compare Metalwings with Nightwish and Within Temptation. Does it bother you?
At first I enjoyed such comparisons because it is an admission by a Nightwish fan to tell you that your music is at their level. Over time, of course, this comparison is no longer fun, but rather annoying. So I often emphasize the fact that such comparisons can be made in any particular style in music simply because when you play in a similar style you use similar means of expressions. What matters to you is the details. The common frame is the same, but when you look at the details and if you have the sense and knowledge, you will immediately feel the difference. Each band is unique in itself and has the right to express itself through its music as well as to tell its story in the best way it can. Times change, new names, new bands come. You have to be ready for change. Nothing is everlasting, everything is transient. You need to be open to new people and their stories, otherwise you risk listening to the same stories all the time.
Tell me something more about the guests on the album: Sofia Session Orchestra, Max Morton…
Max Morton is a unique person, sound producer and vocalist. I’m very grateful that besides the mix and mastering engineer, he agreed to become a guest musician on our album because I like his voice a lot and I was sure the combination of our two voices would be great. He helped us a lot with priceless tips at the time we recorded the album. As for the Sofia Session Orchestra, this was another dream that became reality in November 2017 when we recorded the song “For All Beyond” with SSO. The sound of a real orchestra can’t be replaced by anything else. It was not a coincidence that I decided to add another track to the album with the orchestral version, which in itself sounds unique. I soon hope that we will have the chance to officially release a music video for the orchestral version of “For All Beyond”, with Sofia Session Orchestra.
How hard is to be a main composer, lyrics writer, producer?
Depends on the viewpoint. From my point of view this means freedom. The more independent I am, the more certain the band will survive. I have long understood that the less the future of the band depends on people’s inconsistency, the easier it will be to move forward. I’ve always loved writing music and lyrics. I know how my music should sound – so naturally I became a producer of our albums. I think about everything in the band, find the right people and pull the band ahead and hope when I turned back to see people who don’t travel for free. I just want to see people who truly believe in what we are doing together are ready to go this way with me. Of course, it’s hard to be all that stuff, but music makes sense of my life and everything I do for it makes sense. I can’t afford to leave my happiness in the hands of other people. They will always be able to destroy it.
Let′s talk about your videos… How do you choose locations?
“Crying Of The Sun” from previous EP “Fallen Angel In The Hell” was filmed in Belogradchik and “Fallen Angel In The Hell” in Prohodna (The Eyes Of God/God’s Eyes) Cave. Where was filmed “For All Beyond”?
“For All Beyond” was filmed in several locations. This time we changed the concept a bit, because we do not want to go into clichés and every time to rely on some natural landmark. But again we used beautiful places in Bulgaria to emphasize the meaning of the song. For example, at the beginning the video is shot down to a century-old tree, which is one of the last trees left by the Great Bulgarian Forest. The band was filmed in a military unit. The building was very beautiful, but unfortunately it is now ruined. The destroyed building embodies the past, the ruins we leave behind and the lost hopes. Towards the end of the song we shot the scenes over the Ropotamo River and the place where the Veleka River flows into the Black Sea. It was an epic film production and here is the time to thank the whole video production team who made this music video reality.
Do you have any interesting story from video making you could share with us?
With all these locations, the stories are endless. For example, our century-old tree cost us months before we can capture footage on it. Each time we went to film there, bad weather, thunder, strong wind and tree just did not allow us to shoot it. It was a real miracle that July day that we were able to shoot all the shots around the tree. For a while during the filming in the river, the boat with the crew would turn. It was a lot of fun while shooting the man in black along the seashore, a loving couple appeared, who quickly disappeared from the shore, seeing this black figure without a face. It was a real adventure to capture the video and we are already considering the shots for the next one.
You have PHD degree in Computer and Algorithmic music. Where is the connection between electronic music and heavy metal?
Music is the center of all this. It is the heart. Everything else is the techniques, the skills, the new knowledge I have gained over the years. Everything I learned over the years helping me a lot to be what I am now.
You started taking viola and piano lessons at the age of 8. How did you choose those instruments?
I did not choose them. The problem is that when you’re 8 years old it’s too late to start playing piano or violin if you want to study in a music school. The only teacher who agreed to take me and prepare me to enter the music school was the viola teacher. A year later I was admitted to the Music School and having recaptured the skills my other classmates had gained for years. Besides Viola, I started studying piano and later opera singing.
Your mother was your first teacher. The song “When I′m Without You” is dedicated to her. How did you feel when you were writing that song?
Thank you for this question. My mother was an outstanding musician and, as you said, my first teacher, who gave me the most precious lessons – both for life and for music. My mother was convinced that I was made to be a musician. For a long time I persisted and did not want to play because I loved my freedom and wanted to play all day with my friends on the street. But one day my mother put me on the piano, gave me a few tasks and just said – you have inherent talent. And from that moment on there was no turning back. She started giving me piano and solfeggio lessons. Then we found my Viola teacher as well, so my life turned 180 degrees. While my friends were playing outside for hours, I played at home. This has taught me discipline and purposefulness, and it taught me that dreams don’t come straight. You have to fight for them every day. As for my song – “When I’m Without You” – no one has ever asked me about this song, perhaps because it’s not part of Metalwings, but my other Astell project. This song is very special to me, written in a very difficult period of my life. But as always, the music helped me at that moment. This song is a message and a confession. It is one of my favorites and when I wrote it I decided it would be part of my other Astell project, which embodies the other part of me.
What is the next step for Metalwings?
Our next step is the release of our second studio album. I intend to be something unexpected. I want to open a new door in the world of symphonic metal. I hope to have the strength and the courage to achieve it, along with the others in the band.
Can you tell me something more about metal scene in Bulgaria?
Metal scene in Bulgaria is not so different from the others. The one of the biggest problems is there is simply not enough audiences here to support local bands. Bulgarian audiences like to listen to foreign bands and only then full stadiums and huge halls. But when it comes to a local band, things are quite different. That is why the metal and rock clubs have been drastically reduced. On the other hand, the number of big metal festivals in Bulgaria has grown significantly in recent years with the participation of big names in the metal scene. But again it is a matter of relationships and acquaintances that you have the opportunity to play on such a festival. Everywhere the same bands and names are invited. The same musicians have been present for 30 years. Few younger bands who have the chance to get into such scenes simply know the right people. The rest are off the board. Nobody cares if there are other good bands, just the same thing is offered to the audience. And then people ask us, where did you hide? I always respond to them – we are here all the time. But people can’t hear us because the festivals and the media are in the hands of the same people who define which bands will be listened to and who will be promoted. Another small octopus, but in a different form.
How would you define music? What does it mean to you?
As I said before, music makes sense of my life. It’s part of me. Wherever I go – Music is there and waiting for me. Music gives a lot and just wants to be heard. This is my mission. To reach as many people as possible to hear the beauty of music.
Where do you see yourself in next 10 years?
I can see myself on some lonely island with a huge recording studio 🙂
Thanks a lot. Hope to see you in Serbia soon.
I also thank for the incredible interview and I also hope to see you soon in Serbia.