Moira Murphy (vocals)
Matt Gotlin-Sheehan (drums)
We reviewed the album from these US-based “progressive doom operatic” performers recently (link here), and the positive vibe coming back to us led us to reach out to the band to say hello. The resulting interview with Moira Murphy is here, and we hope to do justice to one of music’s newest and most visually expressive vocalists. The song videos we include at the end give some indication of what this band is about, but hearing the album is a bit of a must. They are intensely visual, pagan, and have elements of visual horror.
Greek and Norse mythology, the writings of Jung, Campbell, Eliade, and Camus, the poetry of Edna St. Vincent Millay, Stephen Crane, and Charles Baudelaire, as well as Moira’s Appalachian heritage, all served as inspiration for Oryad’s songs about grief, metaphysics, and the workings of nature. However, given that today’s interviewer, Mark, has a theological background, the part we chose to open with was the mid album point with the songs “Lilith” and “Eve.”
Firstly, “Lilith” was really liked by our reviewer, Stevie, who said of it, “Lilith,” in the Bible, dwells in waste places; in Jewish mythology, ( לִילִית) she is the first wife of Adam, the she-demon. As a song, this was the best on the album, in the view of this magazine. The vocals are amazing, the music sours, and the whole piece holds together superbly. Lyrically, Lilith is here seeking a place for her soul to dream. The album delves into old mythology and delivers a belter of operatic rock theatre. So we wanted to hear Moria’s take on the track and its very deliberate album placement before “Eve.”
Moira- I find the mythology of Lilith fascinating. This is because, like a lot of mythological figures that we have, their history comes from the synchronicity of so many different texts, partially lost through time and put together or passed along by word-of-mouth. In the image of Lilith, we see her painted in so many ways. She is the mother of demons; she is the first wife of Adam. The root word of Lilit in some languages also translates to “screech owl,” and in some texts she can fly. There were early Hebrew texts written about her that some scholars thought were real, but later it was discovered they were satires about her relationship with Adam. But, again, this begs the question of who it is. In early Jewish mythology, there is this female figure that evokes a strong painting that is not necessarily flattering. It depends on who you ask. How women are presented is important, however. Look at Eve; she becomes the villain of the story. She is the one who brings sin to man, and in the legend, she was supposed to be the perfect wife to Adam, but Lilith proved that she was too headstrong.
So Eve was the mother, supposedly. They seemed to be two sides of the same coin, which fascinated me. What does feminine nature mean for both men and women in terms of the soul? What I like about Lilith is that she has her own agency; she chooses to fly away or speak up, and I think that should be celebrated rather than vilified. Also, the figure is very popular in certain circles. In the “Sabrina” reboot on Netflix, she is all dark (known as Madam Satan) and has these evil plots, but I think all she ever wants is to have her own mind. She can be used as a vehicle toward soul discovery, and to give her a softer edge, give her a string quartet, some ambient guitar; nothing heavy or chuggy. She is not going to be evil or menacing, she just wants to be free. She just wants to fly. So the track has this light airiness and contrasts with “Eve,” whom we see as being the mother of creation, but also the root of strife and sin. We give her this floaty classical voice on top, and beneath her is this black metal influence, the heavy guitar, and the really low riff; I feel this is where we are as humanity. There is a power to the song, and I want to give her agency as well. So the roles and the aesthetic assumptions we have about those figures, I flip over. By extension, it shows how we view the female section of ourselves in society.
So those two songs form the central core of the album, and we wondered if Moira saw it as a concept album as a whole.
Moira- The answer is both yes, and no! When we were deciding to put everything together as an album, there was no conscious thought that we were putting together a concept album, or even that we wanted to. But, when I looked at the poetry and songs that spoke to me the most, there was a theme that ran through everything. It was undeniable. When I was going through these songs, I was going through some life changes myself, so it made the most sense that when I put things together in the album, they formed a life cycle; it has its own heroine’s journey that draws on ideas about the nature of time and free will. But the parts of the journey all went together, they fit naturally. So I made a path, closing and opening, so that you are in this life circle. It makes it important as a movement toward self-discovery.
You certainly gain massively from listening to the album as a whole, as opposed to just jumping in and out with a single or two. The album benefits from hearing it as it is constructed. The album, taken as a whole, is a complete listening experience.
Moira- Early on, when we did the EP, I thought a lot about singles, purely from a marketing standpoint. Look at how bands such as Sleep Token set about feeding their album to the public, you want more touch data for the streams. But, beyond that, when I was looking at these songs, it was more important for me as an artist to present them as an album. There are certain songs that stand alone as singles, but I feel that some songs have sisters.
It is impossible to hear the album without knowing that these vocals are amazing, surely Moira has to be an opera singer? We wondered at the matching of opera and metal (of course Freddie Mercury famously collaborated with Montserrat Caballé), did Moira have a childhood of opera and then discover Black Sabbath?
Moira- I am an opera singer. I still do some work here and there. There are parallels between the genres and the song forms, actually. I have taken piano lessons my whole life and started singing when I was sixteen. I grew up in the south and was singing at church, when someone heard me and told me I really should take lessons. So I got a teacher, and she taught me all the classical techniques. Then I went to college and went to undergraduate and graduate school for voice. The undergraduate is for voice and piano. So my teacher heard me sing and basically took me toward opera, and I had little choice. I was fifteen to sixteen, and I agreed and learned the arias, and I felt powerful. You know, the whole point of operatic singing is to be as loud as you can! It is power; there is nuance, feeling, and emotion, but you want that person in the back row to hear you clearly.
So much of metal is really over-the-top of course; there is drama and image alongside the music.
Moira- There is a thematic desire for over-the-top dramatics in opera and metal. Song structure is pretty similar when you break it down, and I studied it; my life was in it, and I wanted to be one of those thousands of sopranos auditioning. But in the US, it is all extremely rigged toward being extremely expensive for decades, and there are these age limits, and it grinds you down. No matter how much you may love to get up there and sing those arias, the financial feasibility of being able to do it eventually catches up with you. So I was feeling a bit discouraged. I had done some festivals, gone to grad school, and had brushes with fame when I got that close, but maybe I messed up an agent’s audition. So it was told to me I should consider some operatic metal, and originally I was a bit confused as most pop I knew was more of Chicago, America, and The Beatles. I knew the classics that I grew up on. At first, I thought I would cover classical music for metal bands, which led to us doing Rossini’s soprano aria. But the more I got to listen to and begin to write my material, we started to engage with sub-genres of metal, and dramatically, I knew I could still sing however I wanted to. I feel like those techniques—we mentioned Freddie Mercury before and Bruce Dickinson—these guys have an amazing technique. They use a classic technique. It is powerful.
Rock singers, of course, are also powerful performers. Ozzy, for example, is a total showman, Gene Simmons is another. And John Lennon was often insecure on his vocals, so they would double track his vocals.
Moira- Yes, and when I first discovered metal and got into a lot of heavier prog, like Oceans of Slumber and Cellar Darling, for example, and all these other bands in branches of metal, I saw power and freedom. I knew I could use all those years of training and practise, and I knew it was the stage presence, the meaning of the lyrics, and the delivery of the words. I was really attracted, as a creator, to doing the same.
One of the key elements of rock/metal music is the image. From Kiss to Slipknot to Ghost, metal has brought out some of the strongest visual bands in music. Oryad are very much in that mix, a strong visual image, the blood, pagan rites, and the videos all provide more for the fans. We also noted that Oryad were a duo but presumably used more outside musicians for the album.
Moira- We have people who have been with us and who have recorded with us, but Matt and I are the band. Matt, let me take the lead on the visual side of things! I have a lot of visions in my head when I write something. When I write, I can see it, or imagine the person who is singing the song, what era they live in, and so forth, I see the colours around them. Cross-disciplinary art has always been my thing, even in my classical life, where I do a lot of avant-garde cross disciplinary stuff. Film noir, I love classic movies and art house films. It gave me an avenue to offer something else as a piece of artistic narrative. I use the video as a canvas rather than a necessary marketing tool, and I love putting these things together. Matt will say, “Just do it!” In two of the videos, we worked with the crew in Denver, and Hannah Maddox, the director, who is an awesome singer too, led it through. Hannah would say, “Look at this in black and white” and storyboard the shot list, so when we do videos ourselves, I storyboard the video, and then we just go for it.
And to finish with, we wondered what Oryad were planning on in 2023! For those following the band, what’s happening?
Moira- We are busy planning at the moment. There will be a series of shows in the fall. I live in East Tennessee, and Matt is in Denver, so I moved east for some family, and then it’s a 22 hour drive to Denver. It is a distance, so I have to plan three trips plus to Denver yearly, and I still have the classical shows and gigs, But in the fall, we are planning a tour to promote the album stateside. It will be great to connect with some friends and bands we know from the past. I am also working on a fun cinematic dreamscape for the album, and I am enjoying that. Of course, a lot of our fanbase isn’t in the States, and I want to find a way to connect through the creative video medium. Maybe we will look at another live studio concert too at the back end of the year and sort it for YouTube, I am thinking of that. I am also looking at possible festival appearances in 2024. It is all about building momentum. Previously, the experience we had was more local around Denver, now we are looking more globally.
And now we present a couple of those videos, and suggest you listen to the whole of that album! One thing we love here is introducing readers to new bands and sounds, and we just know that these guys are making one hell of a splash!
The link to the band website for merchandise, news, etc. is here
By Mark C. Chambers
Benny (the Ball) Benson
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