This week’s featured Meet The Band artist is the southern California symphonic metal band Levinia, who recently released the EP Liberation. Vocalist Court Henson, guitarist John Pinon, bassist Casey Artus and drummer Dylan Suierveld introduce us to their band.
Chad Bowar: Give us a brief history of Levinia.
Levinia was founded in 2015 by former Aerius band-mates John Pinon and Dylan Suierveld. After Aerius’ mutual disbandment, Pinon and Suierveld decided to take a break from the Los Angeles power metal scene, and start a new melodic metal project named Lavinium. After recording the instrumental tracks to their demo EP, the guitarist and drummer decided that they needed to bring on a lead vocalist. After a few promising but disappointing attempts, they finally decided to bring on former FifthLaw vocalist and solo artist, Court Melissa, to fill the spot.
After Court finished writing the vocal melodies and lyrics for the demo, the trio immediately went into the studio to complete recording of their demo EP, Alluring Fear. After the successful release of their demo EP in January of 2018, the band brought on Guttural Riot guitarist Casey Artus to be their bass player. Finally, Levinia was complete. The band immediately began writing and planning for their official debut EP release. They decided to record and work with known LA producer, Charles Kallaghan Massabo.
After the recording and writing process was done, the band’s sound had changed so drastically, they decided to change the name from Lavinium to Levinia, to match the sound of their official release. The band is beginning to realize that they are on the cusp of creating a revolutionary hybrid genre of music, one that hasn’t been heard before. They decided to use heavy and groovy sounding guitar riffs normally found in metalcore and modern metal. That style of guitar playing infused with classical vocals and choirs helped Levinia create such a unique sound which has never been heard in the European and American metal scene.
Describe the songwriting and recording process for Liberation.
John Pinon: We came together with demos which we all wrote on our own. We then took a look at the bigger picture. It helped us write riffs and backing instrumentals, as well as vocal melodies. Catchy melodies are mostly what we aim to write. We tend to view every other instrument as secondary with the vocals being the main point of attraction.
What will you remember most about the recording of the album?
Court Henson: Personally, I will remember the amount of hard work and dedication I put into my vocals and melody writing. I know that the writing process for Liberation was extremely challenging at times, and sometimes discouraging, especially since we were evolving our sound into something unique! We put a lot of pressure on ourselves to create the most unique sound in metal!
What lyrical topics do you tackle?
Court: Personally, I chose from a variety of topics. Two of our songs are about mental health (“Prayers” and “The Fall”). I wrote “Push and Pull” about one of my favorite pieces of Gothic literature, The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. I read a lot of classic literature and I really find a lot of my lyrical inspiration from the pages of these works of art. “Liberation” was based on a movement from a Requiem mass written by Gabriel Faure. I fell in love with this piece of music, and thought the lyrics were so full of hope. However, you had to dig deep for that spark of light within a sea of darkness found within the topical lyrics!
I am a huge fan of lyrics with a deeper meaning. Finally, “Promise and Pride” is about a person, (whether it be family or friend), who promises to stand by you and protect you no matter what, but ends up stabbing you in the back. This song really hit home for me. It was important for me to write about, because I know some of our fans were probably experiencing the same things I was. It’s a tough experience to have to deal with, and I wanted our listeners to know that they were not along. Same thing with “The Fall” and “Prayers.”
What led you to go the independent route for the release?
Court: Going independent has its pros and cons. Any band can relate to this. We felt that it was important for an independent release, because we could control our own path, experience the various markets in the United States and in Europe, and even figure out how we could market our new releases in a unique form.
What has the response been like so far?
Court: We have had a lot of positive responses! We have gained a lot more followers than we originally did with our demo release, and we have even found many exciting upcoming opportunities! It’s been great!
How much of a power/symphonic metal scene is there in southern California?
Court: There are a lot of music fans, radio stations, media outlets or even musicians here in the United States who would never give us the time of day. All because we sound different than an artist who’s extremely similar to what’s heard on the radio. We have fewer opportunities than a lot of European bands. However, we have found success in the American underground music scene. A lot of online and hard rock stations have been more than willing to play our music, which is so amazing!
Talk about the recent awards Court won.
Court: I recently won two awards, Best Symphonic Vocalist and Best Vocalist for the 2018 FemmMetal Awards. I was very shocked about the results. I was up against so many women I looked up to. I couldn’t believe that I won! It was a dream come true! It’s always an honor to be nominated for something you’ve worked so hard for. I have spent 22 years studying my craft, and the fact that I could be nominated for something I am exceptionally passionate about, is just mind blowing!
What has been your most memorable Levinia live show?
Court: When we played the House of Blues in San Diego. It was our first gig. We were so excited about this opportunity, and were so deeply honored to play a show there. We played an amazing show, our audience responded so positively to our music, and they were really into our performance. It meant so much to us!
What are your upcoming show/tour plans?
Court: We are looking forward to playing a lot more local shows in the Southern California area. We have a great opportunity which has arisen in the Netherlands, and we cannot wait to perform there as well!
How did you get started in music?
Court: I began singing at an early age. I am a classical vocalist, who’s been studying singing for close to 22 years. I began at the age of 6. For many years, I was a competitive classical vocalist, and competed all over Orange County, Ca. As I grew older, I really didn’t appreciate my classical and operatic training. In fact, I hated it, especially, when I was in high school. I didn’t like the fact that my fellow classmates didn’t understand the hard work and dedication that went into my craft. I was known as the girl who could sing, but I didn’t feel special. I felt like an outsider in a way. It wasn’t until my senior year that my attitude changed for the better.
First, I gained a new choir teacher. He was so supportive of my voice, and my capabilities. Plus, he was always exceptionally complementary and genuine. For the first time in my life, I had found someone, (outside of my family), who wanted to see me succeed in the music world. His attitude towards my voice really boosted my confidence. It was a breath of fresh air! I really enjoyed working with him back then, and I think of him as the best choir director I have ever worked with! I am pleased to say that I still work with him. I am currently singing in a church choir where he is the Choral Director. I am so grateful to have him as a mentor and musical confidant!
Another way I began to appreciate my classical voice was after I heard Simone Simons of Epica sing for the first time. When I was 16, I had a boyfriend who was really into symphonic metal. I remember hearing Kamelot’s “The Haunting (Somewhere In Time)” for the first time, and falling in love with this sub-genre of metal. I remember hearing Simone’s vocal performance, and thinking to myself, “Wow, I can still sing classically, but still sound so hardcore?!…SIGN ME UP!” I was so intrigued with this notion that I could sing classically in a genre of music where I could simultaneously sound mysterious. I could finally sound cool! The rest is history!
Who were your early influences and inspirations?
Court: Musically, I am inspired by the following bands: Epica, Lacuna Coil, Evanescence, Amaranthe, Kamelot, Nightwish, Arch Enemy, Celtic Woman, Joan Jett, and Alice Cooper. Lyrically, I am most inspired by include literature, (particularly, Gothic Romance/Victorian, horror and Shakespeare), travel, different cultures, horror, emotions, and mental health.
John: I am musically inspired by Elvenking, Alter Bridge, Insomnium, Bullet For My Valentine, Kamelot, Slipknot, Nightwish, Iron Maiden, Lacrimosa, Rata Blanca, Arkona, and Amaranthe.
Dylan Suirveld: I am inspired musically by bands like Gojira, Bullet For My Valentine, Sabaton, Amon Amarth, Keep of Kallessin, Behemoth, Dimmu Borgir, Kalmah.
Casey Artus: Musically I like Trivium, Underoath and Norma Jean.
What was the first rock/metal concert you attended?
Court: I actually do not remember! I grew up in a house where rock music was celebrated. I think it might have been The Eagles.
Seen any good movies/DVDs lately?
Court: I did see The Upside. It was a very heartwarming movie!
What’s currently in your heavy musical rotation?
Court: Anything from Lacuna Coil, Epica, Kamelot, to some weird metal covers of Mozart sonatas.
(interview published February 16, 2019)