Ten Questions, Ten Minutes with Oryad
Progressive, doom-laden at times and both intriguing and beguiling in equal measures Oryad’s debut album ‘Sacred And Profane’ is a welcome addition to the ranks of this year’s truly great albums. The duo behind the American symphonic metal outfit – Moira Murphy and Matt Gotlin-Sheehan – are driven and focused individuals: “we’re already writing new material and filming cool videos to share that relate to ‘Sacred and Profane’, so there’s a ton of art to share, and we’re also looking into creative ways to make performances happen again,” replied Moira when asked what they were currently up to. So, let’s put them in the hot seat for Ten Questions, Ten Minutes...
Q1. Can you give me a quick history of the band, please, and how did you come by the name?
MOIRA: “Back in 2017, I initially wanted to start a symphonic metal project that arranged classical pieces for a metal band as a way to veer away from the career path – traditional opera – that I was on. However, I discovered I really liked writing music, even though it was new territory for me. By 2018, I’d met Luca Grieman, a Denver guitarist, and we started writing songs together, putting the band together, and playing local shows. In 2019, we brought on Matt, and there were four of us: Me, Luca, Matt, and Adam Sanders. We were tracking songs for an amorphous recording concept, looking at booking shows after rewriting all our material – and then COVID hit. I spent most of the COVID lockdown taking the existing stems, booking individual recording sessions and tracking stuff at home to finish our first EP by 2021. It was educational, eye-opening, door-opening... So, we played a few shows while writing new material in a new direction until I moved east back home to Appalachia. Since I moved, we’ve transitioned into a duo that’s focused on the evolution into doom prog /gothic prog / mystic prog (whatever you want to call it); working hard on promoting the new album, writing new songs, producing tons of cool video content, and continuing to think of ways to be creative and share our music.
“As for Oryad, I’m an avid hiker. Nature in general, but mountain forests specifically, hold a special spiritual place for me. The Oread are the mountain nymphs that followed the goddess Diana in Greek mythology– I loved the imagery of all these beings running through the trees at night on the hunt, so I chose to turn that into Oryad as a nod to the influence of nature, ritual, and myth on my outlook and poetry.”
Q2. What did you set out to achieve when you wrote and recorded ‘Sacred & Profane’? And do you think you achieved it?
MOIRA: “It’s ironic – for someone who is intentional and overly-planned to a fault, the only real goal was to create a cohesive and thoughtful album. I feel we’ve got a lot of opportunities for growth, but I do think that our thoughtfulness does come through and that we achieved a way to hone in on a musical direction. “We are,” she adds, “extremely proud of this album, but even more proud that it is really resonating with others.”
Q3. And is there a story behind the album title? I do admire the seeming contradiction behind it.
MOIRA: “The title comes from a similarly named book, ‘The Sacred and The Profane: The Nature of Religion’ by Mircea Eliade. It was a groundbreaking work at the time in the study of world religions and their rituals. In the book, Eliade details what constitutes a sacred space and how modern humans exist in a world where they must fully imbed themselves in whichever delineated sphere (the sacred or the profane) in order to complete certain rituals as part of the life cycle. I am very interested in studying religions and have always been attracted to the tension between these two spaces. I realized that all my poetry in these songs carry similar themes calling back to life events that fall within the liminal space before something is either sanctified…or not.”
Q4. This is your second major release, following on from 2021’s ‘Hymns Of Exile & Decay’. I shall apologise in advance for not having heard the EP, but how does your new album compare to its predecessors, do you think?
MOIRA: “No apologies necessary! I’m still pretty shocked when I listen to songs from the EP after listening to the new album. The EP was a learning experience for all of us, in terms of songwriting, recording, learning the cadence of independent releasing and marketing, etc. It was really special, though, to be able to hold something that sounded cool and say, ‘I made this!’
“Not to mention, the EP was an attempt to (mostly) stick to the symphonic metal genre. But when we sat down with new songs and shared music we liked….it wasn’t really symphonic metal. There are definitely more robust orchestrals in the new pieces, as a result of me diving in and learning orchestral arranging, but I wanted to use the orchestra in a way that worked for the guitar tones we liked, for the grooves we wanted to put over passages. I love Richard Strauss and classic film scores from composers like Bernard Herrmann and wanted to evoke some of that heaviness in thick textures and tension. So I would say the album is definitely a testament to all our individual growth journeys as musicians, but also a more cohesive collaboration in terms of creating a distinct sound.”
Q5. And is there a song or songs which in your opinion sum up the essence of the band?
MOIRA: “At the moment, I would say no. To me, all the songs are part of the same whole and represent different chambers of the same heart. However, if I had to choose: ‘Eve’, ‘Lilith’, ‘Slice of Time’.
MATT: “‘Slice of Time’ has a little bit of everything that we’re trying to do - the big, sweeping chorus, the orchestral arrangements, the progressive structure with some big heavy riffs… If our band had a movie this song would be in the trailer.”
Q6. What are your strengths as a band? And how would you describe each other in a handful of words...
MOIRA: “Strengths: voracious interest in the multivariate music world, a desire to always make something better, and our collective years of performing experience. How would I describe Matt? He’s very good at being succinct and task-oriented when I go off on a verbose flight of fancy – like now,” she laughs – “sardonic, very creative.”
MATT: “Rich parents, a never-ending web of industry connections, endless financial backing… Just kidding. We’re passionate, we’re creative (sometimes to a fault when we’re in the same room), we’re determined to make this project into something we’re proud of despite the challenges of the line-up, our geography, and the minefield that is the present music industry. Moira is a driven creator with endless inspiration and is fiercely determined to put her entire soul into her art.”
Q7. What album (or albums) made you think “I want to be a musician; I want to do that”?
MOIRA: “I’ve been aiming for a musical life, in some form or fashion, since I was a kid and started piano when I was nine. It’s been a circuitous path for sure. Here’s a non-exhaustive list of music that made an early impression on me and made me want to do it, too: the 1940 movie ‘Fantasia’, the song ‘In the Air Tonight’ by Phil Collins, and Harry Connick, Jr. and all his singing/playing/arranging.”
MATT: “It was probably Dream Theater’s ‘Train Of Thought’ that rocked my world the most at a young age and made me completely rethink what music is or could be, and it really opened my eyes to what heavy music was and how clever musicianship could create something really raw and powerful. ‘Colors’ by Between The Buried & Me is another big one, for all the same reasons.”
Q8. Are you a dog person or a cat person, and why?
MOIRA: “Cat, because I’m basically a cat already. I’m nocturnal, picky about my humans, require adoration on my terms, and am a carnivore. My cat Katana is my entire world and is a pretty decent assistant marketing director and studio assistant.”
MATT: “I was a dog person until I got a cat, now I’m a full blown ‘cat videos on YouTube before bed’ guy. I like their independence and how you can’t take them too seriously, no matter how much they insist you do.”
Q9. What film do you think ‘Sacred And Profane’ could be the soundtrack to?
MOIRA: “I see the album being the soundtrack for a limited series or mini-series rather than a movie. Vignettes and moments of time that delineate an overall character’s arc. Something that touches on the history of the Scots Irish people on the Isles, from Pre-Christian times to the Clans romanticised by Sir Walter Scott. Like, hey, if [American film maker] Mike Flanagan is looking to do something that touches a bit more on his Celtic heritage, his people can call my people.
MATT: “Some of the imagery Moira is into really reminds me a lot of the woodsy, folksy, culty elements of the Hårga in [2019 folk horror film] ‘Midsommar’ – the ominous occult practices, the connection to nature, a spiritual connection that either predates or outwardly rejects the Abrahamic monotheistic convention… The most recent video we’re dropping is also basically the end of ‘Carrie’.”
Q10. If you drove an ice cream van, what tune would it play?
MOIRA: “Something inappropriate and creepy...”.
MATT: Scriabin’s ‘Vers La Flamme’. Keep your kids away from my ice cream!”
‘Scorched Earth’ – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rIsM81o1bSY
‘Inflammatus’ (from ‘Hymns Of Exile And Decay’ EP) – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JeEq0Oh5PJM
© John Tucker May 2023