Welcome to the metal circus of CASSANDRA SYNSDROME

The history of CASSANDRA SYNDROME goes back to 2005, when some American musicians get together to form a band. Their music has got an unique sound, which contains some adventurous sidesteps at times. Among these exciting musical soundscapes floats the voice of Irene Jericho like a magical, misty cloud, that simply asks for your attention. Next to being the voice of CASSANDRA SYNDROME, Irene has got a lot more upon her sleeve, which she will unveil in this interview. All the more reason to stay tuned for an introduction to this Maryland based operatic metal band. If you already know the band a bit longer, but you still haven’t figured out the link with this circus-like image on their newest release “Satire X”, then I’d also suggest to read on. Highly honored audience, we’d like to introduce to you: CASSANDRA SYNDROME.

When did you start CASSANDRA SYNDROME and how did you actually meet eachother?
Irene Jericho: “CASSANDRA SYNDROME was born in 2005. There are a few storylines, that converged at that point. Jay (Zendrum) and I met in Okinawa, Japan, in 1999. When we moved back to the States, we formed REVEL MOON, a folk project, with my dad. Right when REVEL MOON was winding down, Joe (bass) came back into my life. He and I went to high school together and have been friends for a long time. Jay, Joe and I decided to form CASSANDRA SYNDROME with two other musicians, who had been in REVEL MOON. Chris (lead guitar) joined the band in 2006 after reading online, that we were looking for a lead guitarist. Jen (rhythm guitar) joined most recently in 2010. Jay found a listing for her looking for a band to join on Craigslist”.

Did any of the members play in other bands before they joined CASSANDRA SYNDROME, and if yes, in which bands did they play? Did they record anything with these former bands?
Irene: “Yes, Jay and I were in REVEL MOON. We released one self-titled LP. Joe played bass with a thrash band in the late 90’s, Chris has also been in a few different musical projects and Jen Tonon has been in several bands, scored the music for some musicals and video games and released an independent disc, titled “Love Is A Psychopath”. Out of all of us, I think she’s the most ‘published’.”

Who is the biggest influence of CASSANDRA SYNDROME and maybe you can name some of the influences of each band member individually here as well?
Irene: “We’re a little bit unusual in that everyone in the band is into very different music. I love classical music, early goth and dark wave and hard rock. Chris listens to a pretty wide variety of metal, but comes from a background of traditional US-style metal. Joe loves the hard stuff— the more screaming, the better. Jen comes to us from a punk background. Jay’s tastes run to the unusual and technically challenging. As a result of that wide variety of influences, there isn’t one band that influences us most. The amazing part of CASSANDRA SYNDROME is that somehow, when we all sit down together, we create music that we love. Even with the varied backgrounds, we know how we want to sound as a group and somehow all stay on the same page in terms of direction. That synergy is one of the things in my life that I’m most grateful for.”

It’s hard to describe your music in one or two words, without referring to gothic metal, but maybe you can give it a try yourself?
Irene: “Hmm. The two things we hear the most about ourselves from outside voices are about how passionate we are and how dark the sound is. So, ‘passionate darkness’ or ‘dark passion’, I guess.”

What’s the response been like towards your debut album “Of Patriots And Tyrants”? And did it live up to your expectations?
Irene: “I’m still really proud of “Patriots….”. It was our debut album, our first sojourn into studio together for such a long period of time. For what it was, it’s quite remarkable. The reviews and response on it were great. It was pretty much a solid ‘B’ across the board on reviews and it helped us gain a foothold in a lot of new areas of music. We wouldn’t be where we are now without “Patriots And Tyrants”.”

You recently released a new album, called “Satire X”. What can you tell us about that one and what’s the response been like so far?
Irene: “ “Satire X was just released on August 1st. We're so excited to share this one with everyone and we feel it's our most polished and developed album by far. Over our time together, we've figured out where our strong points are and what we do best. We've also explored some new territory that simply wasn't possible for us a few years back. Everyone has grown musically during our time as a band and “Satire X” is a wonderful product of that development. On top of that, our recording process has gotten a lot more streamlined and effective. We recorded and mixed this album ourselves, so our level of artistic control was much greater than with previous releases. As a result, we're really happy with how accurately “Satire X” reflects our sound. The advance reviews on it have been excellent, which is always a nice thing to see as a musician. A lot more went into this one in terms of supporting it, too. We have a new music video out, our very first 'studio' video, a special edition package, a behind-the-scenes documentary...all sorts of good stuff. It's available right now. People can download the album or order a hardcopy through our website.”

What’s your favorite song on the album and why?
Irene: “As the lyricist, that’s a tough one to answer. Each of the songs stands out to me for different reasons. I’ve cut it down to my top three, but it was really tough.
*“No More Peace Forever” for its epic quality. I also love the historical references on that one. In United States history, when the south seceded prior to the Civil War, James Louis Petigru of Charleston asked if there was a fire. Told not, he insisted: “I tell you there is a fire. They have set a burning torch to the temple of constitutional liberty, and please God, we shall have no more peace forever.” That quote is where the refrain and title of the song come from. We chose to begin “No More Peace Forever” with the Oppenheimer quote (he was quoting, respectively, from The Bhagavad Gita), 'Now I am become death, the destroyer of worlds."
*“The Magus” for its song structure. We get a huge response from this one, when we play it live. For many of our fans, its their favorite song. The bridge on “The Magus” is so much fun to play!
*“Pestilence” for its message and unusual musical structure. I wrote the lyrics for “Pestilence” during that awful wave of anti-Muslim sentiment that swept the country this past year. Musically, we were trying to create the sonic equivalent of a heart attack--building tension until a fatal crisis. The country had the feel of it at the time: a cabbie stabbing a Muslim man purely because of his religion, fundamentalist whackjobs threatening to burn holy texts, inflammatory racial rhetoric from some of the most vehemently conservative voices about a community center in New York... it was a social disaster. The aftershocks linger today.”

We also want to know about the live reputation of the band. Do you play many shows and what was the most important gig for you until now and maybe you can name the biggest gig as well here?
Irene: “We’re a high-energy band on stage. Jen (rhythm guitar) and Joe (bass) tend to thrash around and run all over the place. I have a background in theater and I think it definitely translates to my own performances. As we perform a song, I try to convey the message of the music with my face and body. My stage attire and makeup is usually quite theatrical and over-the-top as well. Although we love playing out, we try to play no more than two shows a month. It allows us to focus on making each show unique. We try to find a way to make shows different from the ones before — to have something happen in that environment that doesn’t occur anywhere else. It keeps things interesting both for us and for the people, who come see us. Thus far, our biggest gig was playing Ram’s Head Live in Baltimore, MD, for “A Sound of Thunder’s” CD release party in early spring. Ram's Head Live is Baltimore's biggest and best rock club. It's a huge stage, a great sound system and a fantastic venue. The memory of performing on that stage still gives me chills. The audience that night was amazing. We’re very fortunate in that we’re headed back to Ram’s Head Live for our CD release on August 20th, this time as the headliner. It’s an incredible opportunity and blessing. I’ve spent my life watching bands that I look up to headline that stage. To think it’s somehow our turn is almost beyond belief.”

What can people expect, when they come to see a CASSANDRA SYNDROME live show? Do you use any show effects or gimmicks or is it just about the music?
Irene: “They can expect to see a very high-energy show. We really throw ourselves into our performances. A show isn’t worth doing, unless we’re giving everything we’ve got. We try not to sacrifice sound for theatrics, though. Everyone works very hard to make their live performances both engaging and technically accurate. We don’t have any gimmicks or themes at this point.”

With which other bands did you share the stage already?
Irene: “We’ve been together for six years now, so that list is pretty long. RIVER RUNS SCARLET, A SOUND OF THUNDER, OPERARIKA, SUHGARIM, RED THIS EVER, THE DREAMSCAPES PROJECT, BLACK TAPE FOR A BLUE GIRL, I:SCINTILLA, MACHINES OF LIVING DEATH, WHITE SHADOW, EPHEMERAL SUN, DIVISION, IRIS DIVINE... so many great bands. I could write you a huge list, but those are some of our favorites.”

Are there any interesting or important gigs on the agenda for CASSANDRA SYNDROME at the moment?
Irene: “Absolutely. The next show is our CD Release party for “Satire X” at Ram’s Head Live in Baltimore, MD. We’re so excited to share our new baby with the world and to do so on the best stage we’ve ever played. There are some other really exciting shows in the works, but I can’t talk about them yet. Keep an eye on our website for updates on those.”

Did you ever play live outside US or do you have plans to come to Europe in the near future?
Irene: “We have not yet had that opportunity, but it’s definitely on the band’s ‘bucket list’. The symphonic metal scene in Europe looks amazing and we’d love to experience that environment as a band. One of our dreams is to play one of the big female-fronted metal festivals overseas.”

If you could go on tour with any band or artist of your choice, who would you pick and why?
Irene: “That’s a tough question! There are so many bands doing so many amazing styles of metal these days! For tours in our own country, I’d love to tour with DISTURBED or SYSTEM OF A DOWN. The messages in their music have a lot in common with our own. I really admire Karnivool’s performance ethic. I think we could learn a lot from touring with them. Then there are the titans of the symphonic/operatic scene. Touring with WITHIN TEMPTATION, EPICA or NIGHTWISH would be a dream come true.”

I can imagine, that there are some funny stories to tell about life on the road or about hilarious situations happening on stage. Maybe you want to share one or two with our readers?
Irene: “My two favorite ‘mishap’ stories center around our lead guitarist, Chris. Chris joined the band back in 2006. His first show with us was at Brigid’s Faire, a midwinter music festival in Leesburg, VA. The stage there was really small, so we were packed in pretty tightly. It was also the first show where I was wearing some of the huge boots, that I’m now known for. I wasn’t as steady on them then - adding four inches of height takes some getting used to. In the early part of our set, right as Chris was about to launch into his lead ride, I stepped back a little too far and accidentally unplugged his pedal with my heel! Fortunately, Chris is really well-balanced and didn’t freak on stage. He sort of calmly figured out what was going on and fixed it before the end of the song. I felt so bad afterward! The joke now is that out of everyone who has joined the band, Chris was hazed the worst.
My second favorite mishap occurred at a little rock club in a very old, very rickety building with rather bad wiring. I noticed during our set that for some reason, Chris wasn’t changing effects very much. I sort of mentally wrote it off and didn’t worry about it at the time. When I talked to him after the show, I found out that every time he put his foot on his pedal board, he completed a circuit and was being mildly ELECTROCUTED. He decided to just do the show without his effects patches rather than raise a fuss. It is kind of funny, though, to have that as a basis of comparison. Sometimes the setup for a show is challenging. We’ve played many places where it’s been tough to hear all the instruments well. Every time that happens now, though, I just think, Well, at least I’m not being electrocuted.”

Our webzine is completely focused on female musicians in the hard rock and heavy metal scene. Do you think that the female rockers still need our attention or do you feel that they already get the credit and attention that they deserve?
Irene: “I wish I could say the metal scene was post-feminist. We’re closer than we’ve ever been, but the simple fact is that it isn’t yet. Although we’ve been received well overall, there have been several instances where we’ve been turned away or ignored due to my gender. We’ve been told several times that we’re not a metal band because of my voice. I think culturally, on some level, we are still uncomfortable with the idea of women who are angry or aggressive. Thing is, the genders share that depth of feeling. We have so much of what makes us human in common. And people are beginning to come around, to relate to a concept they used to fear or mistrust. The passion and dynamics that women bring to metal can only make metal that much more beautiful, complex and cathartic.”

Metal Maidens is based in The Netherlands (or Holland, if you like). What else do you know about our country, except that we have beautiful windmills and colorful tulips over here?
Irene: “I know that the government and culture of Holland is highly admirable. I pay a lot of attention to the politics and cultural changes of the world. It’s where the ideas for my lyrics come from. So when the Netherlands took the top place as the happiest country in the world in 2011, it got my attention. The focus on government stability, achieving broad consensus and maintaining a strong economy seem to be working. It’s also wonderful to see a multi-party system succeed in administrating without needing a majority in parliament to get work done. In my personal opinion, the two-party system in the United States simply does not work anymore. I also love the work of Vermeer and M. C. Escher, so those names both pop into my mind when I hear the Netherlands referenced.”

Can you tell us a bit more about the artwork on “Satire X”, which seems to be inspired on the circus. Do you feel you have something in common with those travelling people and did you ever visit the circus yourself as a kid?
Irene: “ “Satire X takes its name from a the tenth Satire (Satire X) written by first-century Satirist Juvenal. In his Satire, he uses the phrase 'panem et circenses'. It means 'bread and circuses' or 'bread and games.' He was using it to describe the political practice of gaining approval by meeting the shallow, immediate requirements of a people rather than by governing well. The culture of the United States suffers from the practice rather a lot. We push consumption of goods, services, entertainment, from a very young age. Our culture fosters an idea that the more stuff you have, the more entertainment you pursue, the happier you are. In my opinion, we are now so oriented toward that next fix of distraction that we don't even really notice what's happening anymore. Multiple wars? Natural disasters? A greater percentage of the population below the poverty line? No one notices these things. Instead, we notice the latest gadget, the newest TV show, the latest toy, the newest car. During band practices, we talk about what we call The Great American Freak Show. That concept of a demented carnival - a circus of the absurd, the destructive, tied in with Juvenal's theme very well, and is echoed in the album artwork.”

Do you have any hobbies or interests next to playing in a band?
Irene: “I'm an avid gardener and grow a lot of my own food. I also love to cook. I'm very physically active as well. I practice yoga, hike, go to the gym... When I have the time for it, I love to paint. I work primarily in acrylics.”

Irene, we noticed that you have been working as a model (gothic / dark style) for quite a while. Is it still possible to combine both – singing and modeling – and what do you prefer doing most? Or is this a hard question for you?
Irene: “Music definitely comes first for me, and it is my preference. I actually haven’t done a shoot in months due to the rather crazy schedule all the activities and responsibilities of releasing an album entail. Modeling is a lot of fun, though. I never outgrew the enjoyment of playing dress-up and acting out a character. As an artist it’s also an enjoyable reversal. In music, I am part of the creation process. I hold the paintbrush, if you will. In modeling, I am the paint.”

Did you take any singing lessons to develop your soprano voice?
Irene: “Yes, I did and do study voice with a private coach, Jennifer Waters. I can’t say enough good things about Jennifer. She is an incredible opera singer and a fantastic teacher. She’s currently wrapping up her tenure as a Young Artist with Washington Opera under the direction of Placido Domingo.”

Do you have any additions or an update to this interview? Something we forgot to mention and which is really essential for the story of CASSANDRA SYNDROME?
Irene: “I would say that although this interview is with me as an individual, CASSANDRA SYNDROME’s greatest strength is the teamwork and cooperation of its members. I may write the lyrics, but we write the music as a group. That collaborative process is what fuels the best moments of CASSANDRA SYNDROME. We get a lot of work done at practice, but there’s a lot of laughter, too. We genuinely enjoy working together. When you’re looking at our band, you’re seeing the artistic result of a group effort regardless of which band member happens to be standing in the spotlight at that exact moment.”

Do you have any personal messages for our readers?
Irene: “Thank you so much for reading this interview! If you like what you read, or are curious, please come check us out. We’re online in all the usual places. We really appreciate your support of indie music!”

The well-known ‘last words’ in this interview are for CASSANDRA SYNDROME……
Irene: “We can be bribed with cookies and comic books.”

copyright: METAL MAIDENS
interview by: Toine van Poorten, Metal Maidens 'zine / August 2011.

Visit CASSANDRA SYNDROME's official website at: www.cassandrasyndrome.com/
or on My Space: www.myspace.com/cassandrasyndrome