We know PHOENIX REIGN for a few years now, but their debut album “Destination Unknown” really took us by surprise! It's definitely one of the best albums in the epic power metal genre. We prepared ourselves very well before going into battle with guitarist Billy Chrissochos and female vocalist Theresa Gaffney. We polished our best armour and fired some sharp questions at this new metal sensation from ‘the big apple’. Find out the destination of this band, previously called ‘unknown’, in the interview below. We raise our swords for PHOENIX REIGN!!
When did PHOENIX REIGN started out as a band?
Billy Chrissochos: “The band started off in 1998, when we were travelling in Greece. Both Chris and myself starting writing ideas for music, and then came upon our future other guitarist Kostas, and our first singer, Eugene. Back in the States, we recruited Wayne for the drums, because he was the most excellent skin basher that we knew. In 2002, we parted ways with Eugene and held tryouts, where Theresa ended up being the obvious choice for us. The best part of it all was, that she was already a friend of the band!”
Who came up with the name PHOENIX REIGN and why did you choose this name?
Billy: “It was after a brainstorming session in the car on the way back from a gig. We had a lot of ideas for expanding on the name PHOENIX and PHOENIX REIGN seemed the most catchy and logical. It has a real mythological and regal tone to it.”
Your original name was PHOENIX, why did you decide to change it into PHOENIX REIGN?
Billy: “Well, there were already a few bands with the name PHOENIX, so we didn’t want to have to deal with any problems in that regard. Besides we ended up thinking of something better.
How did you actually meet each other?
Billy: “I’ve known Chris ever since I was a kid, when I first moved to the US at nine years old. So we’ve been best friends for a long time. We also think in sync, when it comes to music and that also helped us a lot in the creative process and the vision of the band to be able to do some cool historical, folk epics.”
Who was the original singer of PHOENIX REIGN?
Billy: “The first singer, as we mentioned, was Eugene Souzios.”
Why and when did he leave the band?
Billy: “For personal reasons. He wanted to pursue his own craft.”
How did you find Theresa and what was it like for the band to have a female front lady from that moment on?
Billy: “We were doing auditions and a lot of girls were coming around, which was surprising at the time. There were more girls getting into metal, but not necessarily what we were doing. For that we were pretty lucky to have come upon Theresa, who was a friend and actually knew our songs. She impressed us a lot and we knew we had our new front lady.”
Theresa, what made you decide to join a metal band and did you play in other bands, before you joined PHOENIX REIGN?
Theresa Gaffney: “I played music ever since I was a kid, and I got bitten by the metal bug when I was in junior high. Sometime in high school I really said to myself that I wanted to be in a metal band. So I started playing guitar, and I figured I would do something like MEGADETH, where I’d sing and play guitar. So I did, with a few friends, but it didn’t work out. I was recommended by a friend to just sing for PHOENIX REIGN, because they thought I’d fit in and that I wasn’t paying enough attention to my vocal abilities.”
How and when did you find out that you had an excellent singing voice?
Theresa: “Well, I sang in my school’s church choir a bit, when I was young, but I didn’t really pursue it much further than that, because I focused on the piano for a while. However, I think having learned a classical instrument like that helped my singing in the long run. I took some singing lessons in college to help my range a bit, but mostly to just learn how to keep my vocal chords in shape.”
Who writes the lyrics for PHOENIX REIGN, and what are they about?
Theresa: “It’s a joint effort. Billy writes a lot of the historical lyrics and I’ll contribute to the others. We generally like to think we’re a pretty well-rounded band in terms of concept, but we’re probably most comfortable with historical themes and songs about facing struggle. We can also crank out the occasional love or bitter/broken love song, too - hahaha.”
Who can we see as your influences as a band and maybe you can name the influences of each band member individually as well?
Theresa: “Billy really likes IRON MAIDEN, MANOWAR, SCORPIONS, MOTLEY CRUE and YNGWIE MALMSTEEN. I listen to the same stuff and on top of it some progressive metal acts, like PAIN OF SALVATION, DREAM THEATER, EVERGREY and KAMELOT. OVERKILL and KREATOR are some of Kostas fave picks, while Chris and Wayne also like JUDAS PRIEST, DEF LEPPARD, KISS and HELLOWEEN. We all have our own peculiar tastes, but we definitely all agree on the basic metal gods!”
Do you also play cover songs live or do you stick to your own penned material alone? If yes, which covers do you play?
Theresa: “We mostly do our own stuff, but I can remember some of the covers we’ve done over the years: BILLY IDOL’s “Rebel Yell”, PANTERA’s “Cemetery Gates”, IRON MAIDEN’s “The Trooper”, “The Evil That Men Do” and “Wrathchild”, BLACK SABBATH’s “Heaven & Hell”, JUDAS PRIEST’s “Heading Out To The Highway” and “Living After Midnight”, DEEP PURPLE’s, “Smoke On The Water” and “Black Night”, HELLOWEEN’s “I Want Out”, as well as THE CULT’s “Firewoman”, BON JOVI’s “Bad Medicine”, GUNS ‘N ROSES’s “Paradise City”, SCORPIONS’ “Rock You Like A Hurricane”, AC/DC’s “Highway To Hell” and VAN HALEN’s “Ain’t Talking About Love”.”
Do you also use any show elements during your live shows?
Theresa: “We try our best to move and run around on stage. Billy makes love to his guitar and swings it really high, while Chris does his thing running around getting into the groove of the songs. I try to get the crowd excited and involved by interacting with them and usually all three guitarists do some cool stuff together.”
What can people expect, when they come to a PHOENIX REIGN show?
Theresa: “To be blown away and say that we sound even better than our excellent CD! More energy and speed is expelled during the live shows, which can never be captured in a recording.
What has been your biggest gig so far?
Theresa: “The DIMEBAG DARELL tribute show at Don Hills, and Athens Square Park’s first ever metal night in our hometown of Astoria, Queens, New York. Both were really electric nights.”
Did you ever play outside the US and when was that?
Theresa: “Not yet. Soon!”
I can imagine that you will have some hilarious, funny stories about life on the road. Maybe you want to share some of these stories with our readers?
Theresa: “Well, we haven’t gotten too far past our tri-state area (NY, NJ & Connecticut) yet, but one funny story is how Chris, Wayne and their company one night after a particular gig from the world famous Continental club in Manhattan ended up bumping into another girl’s car by accident (it was a small, small fender bender, so the guys say). The girl happened to be more frazzled that she could not get a live rock act for a big fundraiser/concert she was promoting, than worried about the scratches in her bumper. ‘Smooth talking’ Chris told her, they were rock musicians and that we could be her headlining act. The girl peaked at his SUV’s trunk and saw drum kits, amps guitar, and of course the PHOENIX REIGN t-shirts they were all wearing. In the end, she and her committee liked our music and we got the gig to headline (first time ever for a metal band!) the American Cancer Society’s “Relay For Life” fundraiser in our hometown of Astoria. And no one was sued over the lil’ accident (lol).“
How many gigs do you play in a year (average)?
Theresa: “Approx. about eight to ten gigs.”
You even played at the world famous CBGB's club. What was that experience like?
Theresa: “It was pretty exciting playing in the same building, that the RAMONES, BLONDIE, BRUCE SPRINGSTEEN and the likes at one time or another performed and made it their home. Just knowing you played there once means something now that it’s gone (apparently it’s going to be a high end fashion boutique, go figure).”
What’s the metal scene like in New York these days? Are there many clubs where you can play live?
Theresa: “Not many unfortunately. They are few and far between as they say now.”
Which other interesting bands come from your area?
Theresa: “As mentioned, there’s ZANDELLE, GOTHIC KNIGHTS and there’s also TWILIGHT ODYSSEY - another female-fronted metal act I believe, you’re familiar with.”
What are they about? Please give a few examples here....
Theresa: “Let’s see. “Run Now” is about an escaped convict, that’s reflecting on his life and trying to make a new start; “Destination Unknown” is about what we joke is a bunch of bikers heading out on the road doing things their way on that long highway of life; “Another Night Alone” is our epic heartbreak love song; “Masquerade Angel” has a sort of a less gothic more power “Phantom Of The Opera” twist to it and revolves around the character of Christine. “Transcendent” and “Moving On” are about overcoming obstacles and empowerment. “Constantinople 1453” is our epic, that recalls the last day of a Varangian Rus bodyguard of the last emperor of Constantinople, Constantine Palaiologos, as he fights with a small number of Christians until the end until succumbing to the Ottoman hordes coming through.”
What can you tell us about the writing process of the band? Do you start with the music first or the lyrics or perhaps another way? Please tell us how a new song is ‘born’?
Theresa: “It could go either way, but a lot of times Billy comes up with a main riff and the band builds the structure of the song from there. Kosta will come up with some otherworldly intricate parts and Chris will fuse their ideas. Sometimes, being a guitarist myself, I will come back with a structure and show the idea to the guys where they would expand on it. Wayne comes with the rhythm and if he does not like how something goes, he will suggest ideas to make them fit. In a picture perfect world that scenario might happen that smoothly (lol), but we do have a system of checks and balances, where we won’t rest until the song can be as good as we can make it. No solo, rogue notes or chorus lyrics are left unscathed. As lyrics go, I like to prepare it as the music is created and Billy likes to write the lyrics first and adjust them later. Then there are always the odd examples like “Masquerade Angel”, which I pretty much wrote in my basement as an eighteen year old kid and was able to let it come to light fully, when I joined the band.”
What are the reactions of the press like towards “Destination Unknown”?
Billy: “I must say they are very positive. Even when journalists or writers are covering us especially in our local scene and are not into heavy metal but hip hop or such, they find our ethnic touches and melodies appealing. The metal/rock crowd find our classic metal riffs, female vocals and ethnic Mediterranean/Greek vibe a refreshing brew to the alternate ‘cookie’ monster vocals and emo rock out there. You might say we have a ‘Byzantine edge’ over the competition. The artwork is also outstanding and both the cover and inner art pieces are done by the Greek master, Iannis Nikou, who we are blessed to have collaborated with. See http://www.Iannisnikou.gr for a sample of his art, that is in par with Eugene Delacroix and Boris Valejo.”
Did you also get any negative response and how do you deal with negative reviews in general? Do you try to learn from criticism, or do you rather try to forget about it as quickly as possible?
Theresa: “We do not have much negative response. Only in countries where death/black metal might be more popular we won’t get that high a review, but they would still be curious in us or the artwork. Constructive criticism is just that. But if the journalist is just giving his own opinions based on a preset mould or bias of things he likes, then we kind of ignore it. In the end, everybody has an opinion about something and we would love feedback on how to fix problems, if there are any.”
What’s your favourite PHOENIX REIGN song and why?
Billy: “Destination Unknown”/”Constantinople 1453” tie. Oh well, “Another Night Alone”, too.”
Theresa: “Transcendent”, “Run Now”, “Masquerade Angel” and “Constantinople 1453”. It’s hard to choose! I like those in particular, because I think they reflect our strongest musical points, and hint at where we could be going in the future.”
Are there also plans to shoot a video clip for one of the songs on “Destination Unknown”, and if yes, which song will that be?
Billy: “There are plans on the way and we are very excited about this. We are filming the first video of the album on October 27th and it will be “Masquerade Angel”. The video will be off my and Chris’ independent, action-adventure-comedy, called “Attila Attacks”. The movie and video are directed by our “Destination Unknown” photographer, George Selinsky. For more info check out the site: http://www.Attilaattacks.com. The music video will consist of film footage from the film, that revolves around the evil, yet bungling terrorist, Attila, and his miscreants, who are hiding out in NYC planning a revolution back in their homeland of Turkey and the Caucasus. I play double roles with Chris, while Theresa has assisted on and behind the scenes. Kosta plays the local roving Greek bouzouki player, while Wayne’s back profile also makes a cameo. Like Waldo, try to spot him!”
Why did you rename the song “Power” from your previous demo to “Open Your Eyes”, which is to be heard on this album?
Theresa: “Some of the lyrics were changed and as we came up with some better melodies and hooks the meaning of the song changed slightly and we felt that title best represented the song best.”
Did the IRON MAIDEN song “Alexander The Great” inspire you to write “The Battle Of Arbella”? And if yes, what attracts you so much in this song?
Billy: “Wow, you bring back some cool memories! Yes, it did, being that Alexander the Great is my hero and an individual admired by the band. Me and Kosta felt an instrumental was the way for us to pay tribute to the great Greek philosopher king from Macedonia and that specific battle was a turning point in world history. Hopefully, we will feature that song in a feature album and play it more live, too. What can I say? IRON MAIDEN rules!! And the song “Alexander the Great” off “Somewhere in Time” was phenomenal and inspirational.
Did the release of “Destination Unknown” also result into more clubs offering the band a gig?
Billy: “Yes, but as we said there still not that many choices out there. Although, we are working on it.”
Are there any tours planned already? As headliners or are you going to support a bigger name?
Theresa: “When the tour is announced, you will be the first to know.”
Any plans to play in Europe in the (near) future?
Theresa: “Hopefully some European festivals and club dates next summer.”
Have the Greek members of PHOENIX REIGN never thought about moving back to Greece, while the metal culture is so much more alive than the US?
Billy: “To move permanently would be hard, but to be able to live there half a year and in the US half would be ideal.”
How did you come to introduce the bouzouki into the sound of PHOENIX REIGN?
Billy: “It was natural. Kosta, who is extremely talented, plays the instrument professionally. In “Constantinople 1453” though, he uses more specifically a cousin of the bouzouki, called the tzoura. Both instruments were popular in Byzantine (Greek medieval) times to the present. Because of his bouzouki playing naturally melodies and licks find their way into the song structures, that give it that exotic, Mediterranean flavour.”
Will the instrument be used on your next album, too?
Billy: “Of course and hopefully others like the Kanonaki (Kanun), which we used that the equally talented Mike Gostanian plays in “Constantinople 1453”.”
Theresa, Metal Maidens is an on line ‘zine, that is totally dedicated to the female musicians in the (hard)rock and (heavy)metal scene. Do women still need the support that we give them, or do you think that female musicians already get all the recognition, that they deserve so much?
Theresa: “That’s an interesting question. Right now, some people feel that women are being overexposed in the metal scene, but I really don’t think so. In proportion to the ‘male’ bands, the ‘female’ bands are still a smaller percentage. So yeah, I think that women in metal still need firm backing from great sites like yours, because it shows that we can rock out just as hard as the guys, yet contribute something wholly original to the mix.”
We are based in the Netherlands. What else do you know about our country besides the fact that we have very colourful tulips and beautiful windmills?
Theresa: “Haha. Well, actually I was reading about William the Silent and the Dutch revolt against the Spanish the other day, if that counts! Also, after Hurricane Katrina here in the US in 2005, there was a lot a curiosity as to the dam system in the Netherlands and its upkeep in the light of climate change and other natural disasters that could happen.”
Billy, your acting in “Attila Attacks!!” was that a one off thing, or are you planning on doing more acting in the near future?
Billy: “If the right script comes about perhaps. I really enjoyed playing the devilish character of Attila too much though. If we get picked up, maybe we’ll make some sort of sitcom, whereas there would be a lot of metal in it (lol).”
Do you have any interesting hobbies or interests besides playing in a heavy metal band?
Theresa: “I draw and when I can, I like travelling. I’ve been to Russia, Turkey, Serbia, Mexico, the Caribbean. There are plenty of interesting stories there and a lot of run ins with corrupt local authorities and the like.”
What are the future plans of PHOENIX REIGN?
Theresa: “To get more people to know our name and respect what we’re doing in metal. We’re definitely planning to come to Europe sometime to do shows, and aim for a record deal that would allow us to continue doing that. We are constantly writing new material and I feel that it is getting even more incredible each time we get a new song done.”
Do you have any personal messages for our readers?
Theresa: “I just want to thank everyone, who’s taken the time out to listen to “Destination Unknown”, buy the CD and promote it to their friends in the Netherlands and beyond. It means a lot to us, honestly. If there’s anything we can tell you, it’s that the respect of the European market is extremely important to us. Thank you!!”
Is there anything you’d like to add to this interview? Maybe there is something we forgot to mention here, which would be essential for the story of PHOENIX REIGN?
Theresa: “I think you covered a lot of it!”
The last words of this interview are for PHOENIX REIGN....
Theresa: “Last words? To keep the metal flame burning, no matter what style you listen to, because it’s a community that is so special and needs to be promoted! Don’t forget to pass along the word of PHOENIX REIGN and watch out for a lot more to come from our camp!” \m/\m/
Visit their website at: www.phoenixreign.com