INTERVIEW: Valentina Reptile & Sam Butterfield – Hieroglyph

The expansive world of progressive metal is blessed with exciting and emerging talent who are pushing the boundaries and sound of the genre to new and exciting places and HIEROGLYPH are certainly one such band. Last year’s concept record on the first 11 Tarot cards, Ouroboros, was an ambitious concept in itself and it is such ambition that is helping HIEROGLYPH cement their place in the progressive metal world. After a storming set at this year’s UK Tech-Fest (read our review of their set here) we caught up with vocalist Valentina Reptile and guitarist Sam Butterfield to talk about the band’s approach to song-writing, their style and willing to experiment and how the appeal of catered festivals like UK Tech-Fest is essential for bands like HIEROGLYPH to grow and develop.

So HIEROGLYPH played UK Tech-Fest earlier today, how was that performance for you guys?

Sam: It was really good! I had a lot of fun

Valentina: Yeah, it was great.

I was really impressed! Being on so early in the day, were you a bit worried about how many people you were going to draw in?

Sam: Not really, we played early the last time we were here and we’ve always seemed to draw a pretty big crowd.

Valentina: Yeah, last time we actually had an earlier set and there was a big crowd and we were on the main stage! I don’t know, I was a bit worried this morning but then I thought okay whatever, there’s so many people anyway because people here are so nice and they come here to chat with the bands so it ended up being really cool.

Sam: The turnout for everyone has been really great this year, it’s usually good, but it is especially good this year. There are so many people turning up for everyone.

UK Tech-Fest is a catered festival for the progressive scene, how do you feel UK Tech-Fest compares to other festivals in the UK market? Do you feel catered festivals are better for bands like HIEROGLYPH?

Sam: Honestly, I’ve never been to a festival that isn’t Tech-Fest! Apart from Euroblast.

Valentina: I’ve been to other festivals and I think that it is really good to have this kind of festivals that are niche so that they focus on a specific genre. But, on the other side I know that Tech-Fest is expanding now, just look at this year’s lineup! It’s good because obviously you start like that with a small group of people but then you have to expand a little bit if you want to become bigger. It’s a good thing to start here because if we come to play here again we’ll have more people showing up and discovering us.

I feel like niche festivals, especially for more expansive bands like HIEROGLYPH, you can thrive more…

Valentina: Yeah for sure, if you come to play here, at least some people are going to like you.

Sam: You can’t really bomb here, someone is always going to give you a chance.

The performance at UK Tech-Fest comes off the back of the release of Ouroboros last year. How have you found the reception for that record?

Sam: It’s been pretty good, we’ve been getting a lot of good feedback for it and we’re proud of it as well. It took us a long time to put it together.

Valentina: A year!

Sam: Yeah, some of the songs are older than the songs on the EP but it’s been really good. We haven’t been gigging as much behind it as I’d like but it seems to be building up a good bit of momentum regardless of that.

Like you just said, it took a long time to write it. Is that always your approach to writing songs?

Sam: Honestly, I usually write stuff really quickly but I’ve been having a horrible creative block when we were getting the album done and I had a huge maybe pile of like 40 different demos. Some of them complete, some of them incomplete and in the end I just threw them out to everyone else and said help me pick the best ones and arrange them.

Valentina: He’s the writing machine! And there’s a huge list and we’re like I like this one, I like this one but for example with Ouroboros it was weird because we started with a pile of 10-13 songs and we ended up scrapping all of them! Sam ended up writing whole new songs.

Sam: I think with the first draft of the album, 70% is now gone.

Valentina: I think it’s going to be the same thing with the next album, he keeps on writing and then we start trying stuff and sometimes nothing happens and then sometimes something happens.

So this leftover material, could it eventually be an album in itself?

Sam: Maybe, but the thing is I’m sure a million other guitarists and musicians in general will sympathise, you have a maybe pile that is the size of a mountain. When you start writing and you get really gassed about writing something new and when you can’t finish it, it just gets left in the maybe pile and then you just end up with harddrives of full of like July 22nds with 30 seconds of riffs there. I think I need to get committed to the maybe pile but it might not ever get revisited.

Valentina: I only write on full songs so usually before I write lyrics or vocal melodies I ask him to write a full song and if I don’t like the song, I’m like nope, I’m not going to do that sorry! We do that until we pick the best songs really.

Sam: I tweak the songs around the vocal arrangements as well.

The dual vocal approach of HIEROGLYPH, is that a core element behind your sound when you are writing?

Valentina: Well actually, we build it around Sam‘s guitars firstly. Then, there has been some cases with Ouroboros where I’ve said to Sam you have to write three songs for me, as I need space for my vocals. So for example Sapphire and Starlight, they were mostly for me. With Mark [Howes, vocals], for Ouroboros he came up with the concept and we worked together on lyrics and because it was feminine and masculine for Ouroboros, it was divided into a feminine part and a masculine part, we worked in our areas and then finished the rest together. And now, we’re writing a new song and I’m writing my version and he’s writing his version and then we will just see what will happen! Obviously living far away isn’t easy, I live in London and the guys live in Leeds so we try to Skype but sometimes it doesn’t happen that often, we need to do what we can.

Sam: Sometimes you need a bit of prodding in the right direction, like all the vocal arrangements on Samsara where there is a lot of trade off, I had written scratch vocals for it and then said these bits are all yours, these bits are all Mark’s. It’s a bit more frantic because I don’t think that style occurs naturally so much.

Valentina: Yeah, I think you agree to construct it and divide a song and blend it together, especially as it is two people.

The theme for Ourboros being based around the first 11 Tarot cards, it’s quite an ambitious concept. Is that something HIEROGLYPH are looking to continue with your next record?

Sam: I think we will do something different, we don’t want to get too hung up on things. It’s good to do different things, variety is fucking cool isn’t it? It’s the best thing, play with new ideas. I was a bit iffy on the concept to begin with but I realised we can base the tone of the song on each card rather than just the lyrics, so it could direct the song and that was cool. But, we’ve done that, it worked, but we should try something else.

So in terms of the next album, what are the early stages?

Sam: We’ve started piecing a few things together. We’ve got one track that is very electronic driven but it is very groovy. It’s got a bit more technicality to it and Richard, our new guitar player has written half of it as well, it’s got some interesting stuff.

Valentina: Hopefully we will be releasing it in like two or three months.

Sam: We’re writing some jazzier stuff as well.

Do you feel like on the back of this album as HIEROGLYPH have started to establish yourselves, you can start to experiment more?

Sam: I would hope so yeah. That’s the dream.

Valentina: I think already we did with this album, if you listen to it all the way through it’s not really djent. Obviously the tones are there but there are sections that have some different influences and I actually like that because there are so many bands in this djent/progressive scene and most of them are amazing, especially in how they play!

Sam: I don’t like all these bands who have clearly grown up in this scene and say djent is stupid, we’re not djent. Clearly you are a bit, it’s okay to accept your influences even if they are directly in this scene.

Valentina: Yeah, I’m just saying that having the influences differentiates you, it’s actually a good thing.

Sam: I think we mix it up a bit, there is a lot of weird stuff going on.

Valentina: I would also like to do something that isn’t purely tech metal, that would be different!

And I guess by having that variety you can appeal to more people?

Sam: Yeah, it’s just fun to experiment and try different stuff out.

Valentina: As long as we like what we are writing then we are happy!

And really, just to close off, now that Tech-Fest is done what’s next for HIEROGLYPH?

Sam: We’ve got a few gigs in the summer but really, summer is pretty quiet so I’m just get a write on. Euroblast is our next big thing so I think I’m just going to spend the summer writing with a few gigs peppered about but nothing heavy duty.

Valentina: Well hopefully after Tech-Fest we’re going to try and get some tours…

Sam: Yeah, we’ve got things lined up.

Valentina: But we will see.

Awesome, best of luck for the future and thanks for talking to Distorted Sound!

Valentina & Sam: Thank you!

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