Interview: Alina Gavrilenko aka Snowmaiden (classical/metal)

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Alina Gavrilenko (aka “Snowmaiden”)

What most of the world doesn’t know yet is that in Canada lives a Russian-born, classically-trained singer with a voice that causes angels to take notice.  At first glance they might mistake her for one of their own.  Moreover, people aren’t simply “born” with voices like this.

Alina Gavrilenko came to us by proxy thanks to the demo submission from Nachtmuse.  The interview you are about to read is the result of the curiosity that was sparked after being blown away by one of the tracks on this demo.

With one foot in the classical realm and one foot in metal, this “Snowmaiden” as she is known has worked and continues to work in a number of projects.  Currently she is working on a full-length album under the Snowmaiden name.

Whatever tiny part I can play in getting her name out there… so be it.  We thank Alina for taking time out of her very busy schedule to so fruitfully answer some of our questions.

So, the name “Snowmaiden” – is this a reference to the suite by Rimsky Korsakov?Why did you choose that?

A:  That’s right, there is an opera Snow Maiden written by Rimsky-Korsakov, and indeed it has a big input to why I’ve chosen this name, however it is not just that. I could talk a lot about the meaningfulness of this name because there are quite a few things alining to make sense particularly for me to use this name. First off even before the opera, the character of Snowmaiden is found in strong ties with Russian culture to this day and is a key character for the festivities held to celebrate the New Year’s Eve. Being in Canada, and surrounded by so many fascinating cultures, I wanted to be a distinguished representation of my home and culture, and this name seemed perfect to fulfill the role. Moreover, the place I come from is the very North of Eastern Russia where winter is long and snow never melts completely from the summits of the mountains.

Kamchatka Peninsula is full of volcanoes, wildlife and deep forests surrounded by the cold Pacific Ocean. As certain geographers say, : “ it is a place where Fire and Ice unites”. Thus, the idea of the traditional Russian female character, who was born of ice, however ended up melting down from the rays of Sun was exceptionally appropriate to associate myself with. And in regards to the opera, I had a successful classical music path aligning for me each time I auditioned with the arias from it. It has become my lucky talisman in a way. Interesting enough, I started singing solo classical music starting with this work as well.

Why the migration to Canada and how old were you at the time? Do you frequently return? Has culture of either location played a part in your influence or inspiration?

 A: Canada is a country of endless opportunities! My parents always loved to travel and they wanted to become citizens of the World. Luckily, Canadian Passport gives you such opportunity to travel almost anywhere in the World without visas and have a safe home to return to. I am endlessly thankful to them for making the decision to move here, because I would not be able to develop in music as much as I had here. I was only 15 when I moved in here, and at first I was mad, because I already had my metal squad established back home. Leaving it was hard, however I found myself rediscovering the metal crowd in Toronto and I never felt any happier. We have such a supportive community here and are very lucky to have each other.

Your bandmix.ca page states that you are currently in the process of recording your debut album.  I’m assuming this is under the “Snowmaiden” name?  And is this to be more of a metal or classical release?  What is your role as far as composition, lyrics etc.?

A: Yes, even though the story of Snowmaiden has begun under a band name search, it has grown so much into my personality that it is impossible to part it from myself making it strictly a band. It almost feels like I’ve always had the traits to be a Snowmaiden without even realizing it. Now, it is both my solo nickname and my band project. I understand that it is confusing at first, but I think once the album is ready it would clarify things. It will be definitely a more metal release oriented mainly to the metal crowd, however not without some classical elements, there are a few guest musicians planned with some classical orchestral instruments. I don’t want to give away all the details yet, but I definitely love the idea of collaboration and would love to bring quite a few instruments that are more typical for the Classical setting.

For this album, I am in charge of the concept, lyrics and melodies. Orchestrations and mixing is made by a drummer of Borealis ,Sean Dowell and my major co-writer on this album is Lucas McArthur -the guitarist of Solarus, whom I am so grateful to have on board. His composition skills are extraordinary and he is ridiculously amazing at guitar. I encourage you to check out his debut album “Reunion” if you’d like to get a glimpse of what kind of guitar work can be expected on out joint release.

Can you recall your earliest classical and metal influences?  Do you have a favorite classical or metal piece?  

A: Oh, absolutely. Just like many other female singers in metal today, I was not an exception and Tarja Turunen was the one to start it all for me. I was in music school since the age of 6 majoring in piano for the next 7 years and I remember listening to the opera recordings at my music history lessons and thinking, : “Wow they sound like super humans. I could never see myself doing the same”.  And here I am today, 15 years later, doing the exact same thing. The irony of life.

My Classical influences in the early years were mainly Russian mezzos, such as Elena Obraztsova and Tamara Sinyavskaya. However, lately I am very inspired by my favourite sopranos such as Anna Netrebko, Joyce DiDonato and Diana Damrau. Partially it has to do with the switching of my fach, since I transitioned into the Soprano repertoire during the passed few years.

What might we find to be the biggest surprise regarding your influences?  That is, aside from metal and classical.

A: As a vocal nerd, I have been always fascinated with all kinds of vocal techniques trying to adopt them into my sound. For example, I absolutely love ethno folklore singing and I listen to a lot of folk artists, such as Eivør Pálsdóttir, as she applies throat singing which I desperately want to learn. It is not only a traditional singing style to Sami people but for the natives of Russia as well. Also, I really like Uutai, she plays jaw harp and is extraordinary at mimicking the sounds of the animals. I like shamanic music and I love ambient, for the passed few years those 8 hours long Native american flute zen tracks on loop have become my daily way of relaxation from the intense music world that I am a part of. 

And out of the more common artists, I particularly enjoy belt voices, such as Christina Aguilera, and a rock band from Ukraine The Hardkiss. They are a very experimental alternative band that has elements of pop, electro, dance, rock, metal and jazz all at once. Their vocalist Julia is a strong alto and her voice has been very influential to me. I have a few Hardkiss covers planned for my YT channel for 2018.

I read that you have received an education and classical training.  I’m guessing this is graduate/master’s level or have you passed that?

A: That’s true. I am graduating this year with a Bachelor of Music Performance specializing in classical voice from University of Western Ontario. Also, I am planing to audition to do my Masters in opera at UofT this year, however I have second thoughts now because I would love to focus on metal first, as I am fully developed as a vocalist for that genre and statistically successful opera careers start for us only around the age of 30 when our voices fully develop.

On your Youtube channel, you have a number of recital pieces in different languages.  Aside from singing, how many can you speak fluently?

A: Unfortunately, I can only speak English and Russian fluently. However I understand Ukrainian and can definitely have a conversation understanding what’s going on.

So other than the full-length release, what plans do you have for the rest of 2017 and into 2018?

A: I have almost too many plans to put to life in 2018.  At first I will have to decide if I do indeed want to proceed to study opera at a Master level right now or if I’d like to come back to it later. However, my next goal is to step up my game on youtube and get some recognition for the metal covers and the collaborations with the musicians from all around the world. I found such stunning people on YouTube, who have also become my friends. At the end, it is such a great way of connecting with likeminded people and building the network. I think it is very important in our field. Moreover,

I’ve become a singer of a Russian cover band in Toronto Casual Encounters passed summer, and we are doing many festivals and shows in US and Canada this summer. Our next show is on 29th of December in Lee’s Palace, Toronto if there are anybody who’s interested. Interesting enough, I do very different kind of vocals in this band, I use my chest voice and belt a lot, and it is a rather different sound form me. I am super excited for that gig, we are expecting around 700 people to come out.

Situation:

You’re sitting around the house when all of a sudden you get three calls in the same hour.  One is an offer to star in Andrew Lloyd Weber’s “Phantom of the Opera.”  Another is the management of a band like Epica or Nightwish etc. to join the band.  The last call is an offer to be on faculty as a department Chair for classical voice.  Who do you call back?

A: Wow, That’s a good one! I would ideally love to do both, as that has been my entire life struggle, as I equally love the career of a Classical singer and a metal performer and would love to join these worlds. But in this particular case, I would definitely choose the metal path. I find that life style and connections you get to build with like minded musicians in the metal field are a foundation of a much happier life because there is so much support and friendship going on. I feel like I can truly be my raw self without any filters and still be accepted with just as much love. Moreover the metal fans, are the most phenomenal crowd I’ve even performed in front of ; so wild and passionate, they are all in for music and good times, and let me tell you, that really projects on you.

As an artist, I find it to be my priority to be this channel for the music to reach the crowd and that is such a vulnerable place, we artists, put ourselves into. Receiving this energy back is the most amazing feeling on Earth. Classical world unfortunately, is not as sincere, and I feel it is much more restrained in its expressions as an audience. I feel those energy shifts in my core,  and it is that much harder to open up for the public like that. So yes, if the management of Epica wants to give me a call, I’d drop out of my masters and be all in. 🙂 ( laughs)

Many many years down the road, a distant relative locates a box in an attic of an old house.  Inside the box is a CD labeled “Snowmaiden” and something to play it on.  What would you like this person to know about the mark you left on the world simply by listening to this music?

A: I’ve noticed, you are very good with coming up with creative question.A+ to you.

Well, I think all artists out there want to leave a mark of their existence through their artistry on this planet. I personally always pursued the melody and musicality over the context. I want it to pull the strings of human soul and to sound soothing to the heart, completely surrounding my listeners with atmosphere of this ethereal mood I am going for. I want my music to evoke strong feelings and a response to it varying on each person. It definitely would not be the music for bars but for the individual or concert listenings primarily. I want to make the best music I can to the best of my abilities, that I will be proud of many years after. It doesn’t have to be anything global in its concepts, but I want people to feel an essence of a beauty in winter, appreciation of nature and musical excellence. I understand that the music I am making would not be for everybody, but it is my conscious choice to make music that would rather appeal to less people but would be the most accurate version of what I am truly all about.

Check out Alina via the social media links below.  As noted in the piece, you can see her and her cover band Casual Encounters on December 29 in Toronto.  Do yourselves a favor and spend some time going through her Youtube channel and you’ll find a variety of styles.

https://www.facebook.com/alina.gavrilenko.1

https://www.youtube.com/channel/UC5je3pi7e_7u_PJOT45OZBQ

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