Interview: Melissa Moore (Sonja)

It’s no exaggeration to say that Sonja are one of the bands of the moment in our scene. Just yesterday, the trio from Philadelphia was confirmed for the next warm-up show at the legendary Up the Hammers festival. Reason enough to talk to Melissa Moore about her band and all kinds of other things. We hope you enjoy reading it.

André: First of all, Melissa, thank you for taking the time to talk to me, you must be very busy at the moment… 

Melissa: Hi! Well I’d either be talking about music with you here or I’d be talking about music with someone else at a gig, a bar or wherever.  So it’s all the same!

Just yesterday I wrote my review for Loud Arriver. In my opinion, the album title is very fitting. But maybe you can tell our readers how you came up with it.

Besides the fact that it is a debut album where we are making a loud statement… I can say that anytime I show up somewhere it’s a ‘moment’ whether I want it or not. Good or bad, my presence is a factor, as much as I’d prefer to have a relaxed and chill evening. It’s always something, so I better make the loudness serve me. Also we conjure heavy metal in any situation so when we show up that’s what’s going to happen. Some people tell me I should relax and just play music, but that’s just not possible we’re gonna set this whole place on fire.

I’m always glad to see album covers that stand out from the crowd. You certainly succeeded in doing that in a positive sense. Were there several designs to choose from or was it clear from the beginning that you wanted to visually stage your debut in exactly this way?

There were a lot of options, but due to the fact that my life is probably very different from anyone else in the world we decided to try to re-create a moment from it in photo form. The album cover is from a band photoshoot we did which was inspired by the lyrics from “Nylon Nights“. As with all things related to the band both musically and visually we insist on uniqueness while avoiding being too avant garde.

Is the public presentation of Sonja generally very important to you? 

It is in the sense that I want it to be honest and authentic. The challenge of Sonja is for me to be willing to tell everything without any secrets. I’m exposing my vulnerability and I’ve barely scratched the surface so far. Bad things are definitely gonna come of this but I just don’t care anymore. It’s equally terrifying and liberating.

Let’s get to the music: Loud Arriver blew me away after the first listen. So I would like to take this opportunity to thank you very much for this album! A good mate and I have had tears in our eyes several times… Was it clear to you after the first recordings that you have created something very special with which you will touch a lot of people quite intensively?

It was clear that we met our vision once we had the FINAL recordings but with this it was a matter of reaching that over a very involved process. I can’t stress enough that we’ve had incredibly talented people from all fields work with us to get there whether in the recording studio, the photos, layouts etc.  Everyone respected our intense direction when we pushed to always take it further to reach the final result.  

How would you classify yourselves stylistically? In my review I wrote about a mixture of dark (hard) rock and classic metal. Does that fit for you? Or is there an element missing that is important to you personally?

Those aren’t wrong descriptions but maybe not comprehensive. Our drummer does a lot of disco beats while we are playing notes that sound like melancholic doom all held together with the strength of heavy metal. If you wanna call us classic that’s ok but we aren’t retro in any way. We also aren’t modern. Maybe we do take from some modern artists but not modern metal artists.

When were the first songs for Loud Arriver written? And how did the songwriting process work? 

Actually the first thing we wrote was “Moans From The Chapel“. I had completely different lyrics that were more on the fantasy side of things but it didn’t click for us so I rewrote them with a more haunting Mercyful Fate style. Lyrically, that’s maybe the only song that has no personal connection to me besides just being cool. The next song we wrote was “Fuck, Then Die“ which is a title that popped in my head when an ex-lover and I were walking around the streets of Nashville shopping for cowgirl boots. These two plus “Daughter Of The Morning Star“ and a different version of “When The Candle Burns Low“ were all on a self-released 4 song cassette demo we did in 2016. 

Even though the whole band does a superb job, it’s the guitar work that excites me the most. Is there a riff or harmony that you particularly like yourself?

Two of the best guitar moments on the album were things that happened well after I thought I was done tracking all musical elements. Grzesiek in his producer mindset made me reluctantly go back in the studio and track a lead in “Nylon Nights“ right before the bridge vocals. I resisted so much because I didn’t think it was necessary but it ended up being the best part so I gotta hand it to him. Also the ghostly lead guitar over the classical guitar section and final chorus in the song “Loud Arriver“ was a last minute addition that seems absolutely crucial in retrospect. We were trying to rip off the fading-in bridge from the Manowar song “King“ with that section but all of the guitar elements gave ours a distinct identity.

I kept thinking of Selim Lemouchi when listening to your record, who is my all-time favourite musician along with David Gilmour. I know that you have already been asked about this point in other interviews. So I’ll try it another way: Which guitarists would you classify as sources of inspiration for Sonja‘s sound?

I’m a rhythm guitarist. I try to play even a single note on an unplugged guitar and somehow make that sound like something. Jimi Hendrix, Uli Jon Roth, Ace Frehley are some that I get affected by. I’m mostly annoyed at guitar solos because I think they usually interrupt the parts I like. Sonja is a band intentionally without solos, we just have riffs. Or sometimes “leads“.

Have you actually listened to To Hell To Zion by Gott, with Farida Lemouchi on the microphone, yet? I currently listen to Sonja and Gott regularly in rotation and think that there are many listeners who will enjoy both releases equally.

From your suggestion I just did and it’s very cool. The music and vibe is killer. Knowing that there was this other dark rock band The Devil’s Blood was something we acknowledged, but also our whole sound is pretty different. Our way of respecting ourselves and other recent bands is to intentionally distance our sound and approach from them. They have their things covered and need no help. We must open a pathway from a different part of the veil and we rely on our own particular craft.

I believe that true art is only created when the artist has walked through deep valleys and experienced the darkness. Would you say that this is also the case with Sonja? This intensity that characterises Loud Arriver, this emotional force that you unleash, speak for that…

Yes for sure. I find myself at the precipice of one dark ordeal after another and though my body screams to flee I allow the experience to take over me. I want the understanding. The serpent of knowledge tempts me easily despite my reluctance.  

A completely different topic: Next to No Remorse RecordsCruz del Sur is my favourite label – basically, they only have excellent bands in their catalogue. How did the contact to Cruz del Sur come about? 

We got a message from them right before we were about to enter the studio in Oct 2019. We asked around and everyone who had dealt with them only had positives to say. Talks continued and we had a licensing deal in 2020, though covid slowed down our progress on the album side. Hopefully we will play Europe soon so we can finally meet face to face.

Are you planning to go on tour in the future and possibly visit Germany? I would be very happy to see you live in the near future…

Yes, it’s a bit non-traditional that this band hasn’t played live much in the past and focused on the album and writing, but our intent is to now play everywhere. I want to live my life on tour. We are a vampire, you just need to invite us in.

Which concert or festival did you attend last as a fan?

I just saw this post punk band called Deep Tissue in West Philly.  I think it may have been their last show.  Before that I saw The Spits twice in a row

Last question: I have the impression that there is a very vibrant, creative rock/metal scene in Philadelphia. Do you experience that as well? And do you have any special tips for us? Are there any bands we should definitely check out?

Well the obvious thing that I hope you’ve heard is the new Sumerlands record.  When I was recording vocals on our album I’d come in the studio and Arthur was there with a guitar working on it before I loudly arrived. The bits I heard were mind-blowing, but the final product is even beyond whatever high expectations I had for it. I can’t get their songs out of my head and I don’t want to.

In conclusion, thank you, Melissa, once again for this interview! The Epic Metal Blog wishes you all the best for the future. As I wrote in my review: The world needs bands like Sonja. The world needs artists like Melissa.

Sonja on Bandcamp.

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