Emphasis is a female fronted progressive metal act from Estonia formed in 2010 by bassist Katya Gritskova and guitarist Pavel Korotaev. Today beside them Emphasis are: Anna Ganina on vocals, Maxim Spiridonov on guitars, Stas Lint on drums and Vsevolod Tselepis on keys. 
They see themselves not only as a family, but as a structured organization as well where everyone has a role in. So far the band released one EP, full length in 2015, and this March second conceptual album "Soul Transfer" that was initial reason for this interview.  Also, I don't believe we had Estonian band in our web-zine so far. So we used the opportunity to present you not only Emphasis but life in Estonia and region as well. We've talked to Katya, Pavel, Anna and Maxim so let's dive in...

I think you are the first band from Estonia we had a chance to talk to. So I would like to start this interview with some questions about your country that will help us understand you better. So, how is it living in Estonia?

Katya Gritskova (bass):
Basically, like everywhere :) We were born here, that’s why we feel so comfortable. It’s a small cozy country with a lot of see sights, beautiful nature and capricious weather. Usually, we joke that we have a summer only three days and all those three days we should be at work.  We don’t have mega cities, that’s why life here is proceeding smoothly and pleasantly. There’re not so many people, everyone knows each other, and it's not so good if you want to keep your life private.  The distances between the cities are very close. If you want to go on tour with your band or just to travel, it will take only 1-3 hours to get to other town.  Estonia is very cool tourist destination. We have a good ferry, bus and air service to explore this region more. Visit Estonia. This country will positively surprise you, I promise! :) 

Maxim Spiridonov (guitars): Distinctive feature of Estonia is the lack of sun. Therefore, this is quite... impossible to play samba or reggae being in a super positive mood. But someone is trying, you know :) Estonian rock and metal music is quite depressive. The second feature in the geographical location, we are between Finland, Sweden, Russia and Latvia. Scandinavian metal scene influence us a lot.

What is it like being a metal musician/band and fan in your country? What is the scene like and is metal supported well?

Anna Ganina (vocals):
  Estonia is small country in every meaning :)  It's quite difficult to be likable for all, especially when you're playing progressive metal. So, we get used that people from our homeland don't understand our complex music that much. They like how we play the live shows, sharing the energy, but our music needs more efforts to be understood. Unfortunately, people don't like to strain, you know :). So, our music' target is the music itself, not a commerce. In terms of heavy metal scene, I must say that mass here is too lazy to go to the concerts and support local underground.

Katya Gritskova (bass): We live in difficult times for metal music. However, we still have some enthusiasts who do their best to keep this scene alive. Those people organize underground gigs, do the big shows and festivals, supporting the local bands and giving them a chance to warm-up the big star (not selling the slots, if you know what I mean). Those people are musicians who still play, hope and rock the stage for a while. Those people are small (unfortunately!) audience who comes to the shows and slam with us. And yes… Anna already said everything, Estonia is too small and Emphasis is too niche to find the large audience here.

How are Estonian bands connected with Baltic countries, Russia and Finland?

Katya Gritskova (bass):
Well, Emphasis like a regular Estonian band has strong connections with Latvian music community. We have a lot of friends there. We support each other, play the gigs and tour together. We also have some joint-projects, like mine :) (my second band plays death metal and  we have a vocalist from Riga, Latvia). There’s not that much, but we practice it.  Lithuania is a little bit far away, that’s why we don’t have strong connections with them, but we’d like to! We also have some good friends in Finland and Russia (mostly, from Saint-Petersburg). Time to time we have a pleasure to share the stage!

Maxim Spiridonov (guitars): Yes, we’ve met  lot of really good bands from Russia, Finland and Baltics. We also do our best and keep in touch with them. There’s a lot of space for self-development. We always try to learn the best from other musicians and people.

Emphasis was founded in 2010. by Katya and Pavel. What challenges as a band you had at the beginning and so far (line-up changes, etc)?

Pavel Korotaev (guitars):  At the beginning, we didn’t have any ambitious plans. The goal was to record and release one song. Now this song is known as “Running man” from the first full-length album “Revival”.  For that time, it was a completely different band with a different name. We participated in a local music contest and won a record-session in professional studio headed by one of the best Estonian sound engineers Toomas Paidra (ZORG). This experience was invaluable for us. Much water has flown under the bridge since that time. Today, only me, Katya (bass) and Vsevolod (keys) are the guys from the original line-up.  

Katya Gritskova (bass): We can be proud, because we had just only two line-up changes starting from the beginning until now, which is 8 years almost…  Anna joined us in 2013. Previous front-lady Anet Vaikmaa left the band to focus on her pop projects. And drummer Sergey Struts was replaced by Stas Lint in February 2016. Any parting is not easy. Both of them contributed to band history and we are grateful for each note and every minute spent together on the stage. Emphasis is like a family. Like every family, every day we face challenges, overcome the crises, quarrel, reconcile and just take this life as it is! It's so human and so normal!

So far you’ve released EP “Into Infinity” and albums “Revival” and “Soul Transfer”. Can you compare those releases and how the band envolved during these years? I think “Revival” was more sypmhonic and “Soul Transfer” is more progressive with some avant-guarde and jazz influence.

Pavel Korotaev (guitars): 
Well, we released our first studio album and finished the first chapter of our musical story. Actually, 3 songs for “Revival” were  taken from our first EP, which was released with our previous vocalist Anet Vaikmaa.  The goal of “Revival” was just to record all the songs that were ever made and played in the format of full-length album to share this experience with the maximum number of people over the world. The second album was born in agony. In the end, we got a concept album, thought out to the smallest detail, and not just tons of complex combinations of notes and rhythms. It differs by 100%.

Maxim Spiridonov (guitars): We always tried to follow our own path, trying to do not copy ourselves and others, making it in a different  way. The difference between those two “babies” is quite simple: our music has become more mature and complex. This album definitely has a lot jazz influences. We have many well-skilled guest-musicians on this record. Their contribution definitely brought the new colors to this work.  The “Soul Transfer” is full of the intertwining.  The main advantage is that all this is conceptually developed throughout the whole album. After shows we used to get very different feedback from the audience. Many of them are surprised by the complexity of forms and ideas, others are looking for simplicity and are reluctant to perceive more complex music. But every opinion is valuable, so we are also changing. But the truth remains the thing, today the music of Emphasis is completely non-static and grows up with us.

Anna Ganina (vocals): I think “Soul Transfer” is very versatile. We mixed so many styles, combining jazz and opera with heavy metal sound. I think every person can find something special in this record. It may sound very self-confident, but I have never heard something like this before. For me as for a singer, it’s a new level. I  wrote all the vocal arrangements by myself for the really first time in my life. It was one of the biggest challenges, actually! I’m very proud of the result and I can say with the confidence - this album made me a better singer for sure.

“Soul Transfer” is conceptual album. Was “Revival” conceptual as well? One more interesting thing about “Soul Transfer” is that the track names include percents. Can you tell us more about the whole concept?

Maxim Spiridonov (guitars):
In contrast to the “Revival”, “Soul Transfer” is a completely concept album, an entire story where the order of the compositions arranged in a certain meaningful sequence. You should listen to the album from start until finish in one session to get clearly what’s happening. Lyrically,  it covers three main lines and topics which are closely intertwined: the inner world of feelings and memories of the character, the world of virtual reality created by a super computer, and the real material non-industrial world and its society, manipulated by gadgets and social media.

Katya Gritskova (bass):  This is a story of a man, his fate and desire to live forever in terms of the future and global digitalization. In short, this story is about a rich man who decided to extend his life, transferring his soul into virtual space. As the percent rate increases, the end of the story is getting closer. 

Moments ago I’ve mentioned about jazz touch that album has. Trumpet and saxophone are to be “blamed” for that. Unusuall move for a metal band but the impressions of the audience and journalists are good. What do you think, did you had any doubts since you’ve experimented a lot?

Pavel Korotaev (guitars):
  An idea to record some saxophones and trumpets came suddenly.  The album was at the final stage... there were a lot of instrumental parties, but one evening I went to the shower and standing under the hot water I thought: damn! I want to add something else, why not the jazz sounds? After two beers I opened my computer, sketched out my ideas, and messaged my schoolmate.  In the morning I got a negative and I was really mad! I decided to take a last effort and…. wrote a message to one of the best musicians in Estonia - my former harmony teacher and tenor saxophonist Mr. Raul Sööt. Next morning he answered that he’s interested to record some saxophones for metal album. Then I started to think about trumpets… I messaged to my old friend Mr. Allan Järve. He quickly came to my studio and we recorded a trumpet for two tracks in an hour. “The Metaphysics of Love” was the last song we composed and recorded. From the very beginning, we clearly knew that we wanted to have a violin and a cello on this track. These parties are performed by my colleague Julia Mets and my student Alex Smirnov. Well, as for the guest solo on the track "Demon Friend" ... it’s played by my friend from Moscow - Mr. Oleg Lyutskevich. We often jammed at my studio. 

First album was released by Italian “Underground Symphony Records” and the second one by Japanese “Red Rivet Records”. How did you decided to sign Japanese label?

Katya Gritskova (bass):
  To be honest, we’re not surprised at anything. We are used to having some deals with record labels from abroad. With the help of the Internet, everything is possible. We were really happy (not surprised) to receive an offer from our Japanese label Red Rivet Records.  In general, it is always amazing and pleasant to get any messages from people interested in our music from distant countries from over the world.

After the releasing an album usualy bands start touring to promote the release. Where can we see you in a next couple of months?

Katya Gritskova (bass):
Yes, you’re right! Tour activity works as the best promotion, it's a fact. The stage is the most honest place where the band appears to the audience just the way it is.  Auto-tuning and other “improve-tools” don’t work here. This is also a great process of the energy exchange. Unfortunately, live shows played by no-name bands into the “black hole” (when the clubs are empty) don’t work as a promotional tool. We have some gig activities for the autumn, but they’re not so ambitious. We decided to focus more on making new videos and tracks! Let’s see!

Anna Ganina (vocals): On stage we feel like one organism and play better than ever. You can’t imagine, what a pleasure to play with these guys! So, our “master plan” is to try get to Europe with concerts someday and my personal dream is to have an European tour. Wacken open air is the biggest dream. I mean, the nighttime, when the kicking ass atmosphere blows your mind! 

A lot of attention you pay to band promotion and merch. You have a mailing list, you provide zines/websites with full promo package with covers, album video teaser, full cover with lyrics etc. You don’t see this very often so I always want to publicly point that out. Also you have postcards, shirts etc. I see you take this very seriously.

Katya Gritskova (bass): 
We don’t have PR manager as well as big budgets for advertising. That’s why we use every single chance to promote our music just... somewhere. We’re trying to be active in social media.  We’re quite talkative and open minded, that’s why it’s quite easy to interview us. We’re also happy to get any reviews to our music. That’s why we have all this stuff you’ve mentioned! :) If you don’t promote yourself, your band just doesn’t exist.

Maxim Spiridonov (guitars):  Emphasis works not only like a family, it’s a structured organization! :) everyone here has a role, you know. In addition to guitars, my main task was to create a general concept for the “Soul Transfer”, I also manage all finances and make the videos. Pavel is responsible for the sound of the band, he’s our music producer, sound-engineer and songwriter.  Katya is engaged in advertising, design and band management as a whole. The other guys also have other tasks. Reasonable distribution of the responsibilities is the only option to survive!

We’ve reached to the end of this interview. I must admit it was interesting finding out this things about you since as a band (both musically and geographically) you are a bit exotic to our readers here in Balkans. Is there anything you would like to add you think it’s important about your band, and please send message to our readers…

Katya Gritskova (bass):
We want to greet all metal brothers & sisters from Balkans! Support the the local underground scene. Hopefully, we’ll have a chance to visit your wonderful region in future! Long live rock’n’roll!