Interview with Poem — “There’s a certain beauty in melancholy that appeals to all of us.”
Hailing from Athens, POEM is a four-piece progressive metal act formed in 2006. Their latest studio effort “Unique” was released in 2018. We had the pleasure to chat with guitarist Laurence Bergström about their music, the band’s history, the Greek metal scene, and much more. Read the complete interview below.
Hey, thank you for taking the time to answer my questions today. Could you please introduce yourself and POEM to our readers?
Hello everyone, I’m Laurence the lead guitarist in the band. The rest of the guys are George on vocals and guitar, Stavros on drums, and Takis on the bass. We’re a progressive/alternative metal band from Athens, Greece (and also part Swedish because of me hah!), formed back in 2006 and have released three albums so far (“The Great Secret Show,” “Skein Syndrome,” and “Unique.”)
Your debut album “The Great Secret Show” from 2009 is an interesting mix of styles, but very different from the two following releases. How did things develop after this first output?
The band has gone through a lot of lineup changes. Actually, the only member left from the debut album era is George! So, as you can imagine, everyone has their own influences, musical background, and style that shape the music that’s being made. There’s also a general mentality in the band to experiment and jam, so things constantly change and evolve into something else. That’s what we all love about being together in POEM actually.
Can you tell us a bit about these musical influences, please?
I wouldn’t want to speak for the guys, but we do have a lot of different influences and musical backgrounds going in the band. It’s not an easy question, but I’d say I feel as much influenced by BACH, SCHOENBERG, MILES DAVIS, PINK FLOYD, E.S.T. as I do by MESHUGGAH and PERIPHERY. George is more of a CORNELL, grunge, and also modern metal kind of guy. Stavros has a lot of 60s-70s prog era influences, but is also into a lot of other stuff ranging from OPETH to SNARKY PUPPY and whatever. Takis is into RnB and lots of djent.
Your second album “Skein Syndrome” was released in 2016. It’s brilliant and, for me, it feels as though POEM became a strong unit over the seven years since the first effort. Is there an overall idea behind this album?
Thank you for your kind words! I didn’t have the pleasure to be part of the composing process since I joined in 2014 when the album was already finished. George Anagnostou, the previous guitarist, had to leave for personal reasons, so I joined the band kind of in the last moment when the rest of the guys were in the process of laying down the tracks. I did have the pleasure to re-record almost all of the guitar tracks though, as the previous recordings had audio issues, and realized myself that this then-new material showed a lot of maturity and a very interesting new direction for the band.
Lyrically, “Skein Syndrome” is a loosely based concept album centered around existence and how we as individuals enter this world tied up in beliefs, a pre-destined reality, and ultimately even if it’s close to the end, realize that we’ve spent our short time here being prisoners in ourselves.
A certain melancholy can be felt in all of your songs. How did you come up with this? Was it a conscious decision or part of the development?
Well, we’re four sad Greek guys (laughs). On a more serious note though, I think there’s a certain beauty in melancholy that appeals to all of us and intrigues us. I wouldn’t say it’s a conscious decision. It’s what happens when we get together and write songs.
Oh yes, I absolutely agree with that “beauty in melancholy,” which mesmerizes me every time I listen to your music. I’d like to pick two examples from “Skein Syndrome”: “Passive Observer” is such an intense song and the video for it is heartbreaking. How much can happen to a poor little guy in only 6 minutes?
Haha yeah, poor little guy indeed. That little guy is the passive observer. He passively observes events unfold in front of his eyes, but decides not to take action or maybe he just can’t. He slowly realizes that being inert does not mean the world is being apathetic towards him, so his journey ends in loneliness.
And “Weakness” (a fan favorite, isn’t it?) with a video that got some well-deserved attention.
It seems to be a fan favorite indeed. Most likely because of its straightforwardness and approachable harmony, so to say. We do like it as well and the beautiful lyrics – as the storyline of the video clip – were actually written by our long-time manager Stavros’ wife, Ria. “Weakness” deals with loss in its physical and emotional form. That is also the story behind the video.
Your current album, “Unique” (2018), became an all-time favorite here, as it has the same vibes as its predecessor but is a bit heavier. Could you please sum up the concept behind it?
Thanks again for the nice words. “Unique” is like its predecessor, a loosely based concept album, this time centered around the thoughts and struggles of a person with a different mental state, one that our society would call fragile or problematic. It’s about how we strive for uniqueness, but at the same time find ourselves adhering to collective norms and fail to embrace anyone with a different view of reality. “Unique” and “real” can be subjective and our protagonist struggles with his own reality and how it is perceived by those around him.
It’s outstanding! And the struggles can be felt in every song. Let’s talk about your cover artworks. The great “Unique” cover caught my attention back then, but “Skein Syndrome” is an amazing piece of art as well. Can you explain the ideas behind them?
Thanks! The “Skein Syndrome” cover art was created by Stavros. The artwork is a representation of what goes on conceptually in the album. The skein, as in the title, symbolizes the individual’s entanglement and as the album progresses it is slowly unraveled.
“Unique” was created by Jor Art in collaboration with Stavros and is basically a surrealistic depiction of the reality of the protagonist
What can you tell us about your writing process?
We all take part in the writing process. Usually, someone brings an idea that we all listen to. It could be a groove, riff, vocal line, or maybe a combination of those. Basically, we sit down and start dissecting it and try to see where it takes us. We almost always want an idea to make us feel something, some kind of emotion. If we agree on that, we try to build around that idea. We work on it until we reach a basic form. Then we try to take that form into the studio and play around with it to get a general feel. New ideas usually form that way, so after a few jams, we get back to add or remove things that didn’t feel good. When we reach the point of having a complete “musical story,” we settle on that. Then we record it, release it, listen to it and say, “Shit, we should’ve done that there instead of that…”
Greece is famous for many things, but not necessarily as epicenter for metal. But taking a closer look, there are many great bands around. Is there something special about the Greek metal scene? Could you notice differences to other countries while being on tour?
There’s indeed a very active and vibrant scene here. Greece has been through a lot of social turbulence for the past decades and artists have struggled mentally and financially to keep doing what they love. There are so many great bands here that I’ve lost count and they are too many to mention in a few lines. I don’t want to imply that musicians around the world have it much easier, but bands here really have to sacrifice a lot to be able to tour even for 1-2 weeks. Still, the past few years there are many new Greek bands touring Europe, the States, and other countries, so I think it’s a matter of time until we become a force to be reckoned with!
I know that George is the vocalist for MOTHER OF MILLIONS as well, another great musical discovery for me. Are you guys involved in other bands/musical projects?
Yes, MOTHER OF MILLIONS is a great band indeed and we are almost like family. I really hope they will get the recognition they deserve. As for other projects, I’ve been playing in cover bands locally in Athens for many years. I really enjoy it and feel it keeps my mind fresh musically. Stavros’ has some similar stuff going on as well and Takis is an active session musician.
You had to postpone some shows due to the pandemic. Many bands that were forced to change their plans are doing live streams or quarantine videos now. Have you thought about that too? How do you deal with the situation?
Ah, it’s such a tragedy on a global scale. Postponing shows was necessary and frankly, it’s an extremely insignificant setback compared to what others are going through the last few months. We are privileged to be safe and should do everything we can to keep others safe as well. Right now, we don’t have immediate plans for live streams, but it’s definitely something we consider.
What are your current plans? Can we look forward to new music?
Of course! New songs are slowly starting to reach their final shape. There are still things to be done and then we have the whole recording process, producing, mixing, artwork, etc. as well, but at the pace we are going right now, looks like we’ll be done in the next couple of months.
Awesome, can’t wait to hear it! Is there anything else you’d like to add?
Thank you for the nice questions, and hope we’ll see you and everyone on the road to share music and a beer when all this is over!