Universal Mind Project, a big unknown to many, could you please introduce the band and yourself and tell a bit about your background?
Elina Laivera – The project started back in 2011 I think, when Mike Alexander, guitarist and main composer made the first song, ”The Jaguar Priest” with Henrik Bäth and Charlie Dominici inviting more guests around him as well. There were plans for an EP at first but then around 2012 I came over as a guest at first for only one song and then I stayed for the entire process of writing a full length album with Mike. We invited wonderful guests musicians around us for the making of first album and finally in 2015 we figured out it had to be a real band, not a project and for that we would need to have a solid line up so, Mike, Henrik and myself remained in the plan and drummer Alex Landenburg of Luca Turilli’s RHAPSODY came in. We did a few songs with him on the album so we knew how he works. And so, here we are today, UMP being the 4 of us. We were blessed to have Inner Wound Recordings taking up our debut album ”The Jaguar Priest”, releasing it in Europe and North America in April. Regarding myself, I am a singer/songwriter, I was born and raised in Athens, in Hellas. The last 2 years I have relocated in Germany where I followed my passion for music; working and studying on it. I have had classical singing lessons but modern singing had always had my heart and I had the opportunity to do some things in the metal scene since an early age; I hit the studio to record my first metal record with a band called Seduce The Heaven, back when I was 17. The album, ”Field Of Dreams” was released in 2013 and took us to some nice places, including the Metal Female Voices Festival in Belgium, playing with EPICA, Lacuna Coil, Arch Enemy and others. The album was also released in Japan and generally it put me in the map as metal frontwoman, composer and lyricist.
What kind of hopes and expectations do you have for “The Jaguar Priest”?
Elina Laivera – Well, I am over being the super excited kid with the unrealistic expectations, so I prefer to take it day by day. Surely, I would like to see UMP going places but i’d take it step by step today; touring would be mostly welcome, going to as many places as possible, to connect with our supporters most importantly. Then more good music hopefully, good inspiration, better opportunities appearing each time and so on. Well, at some point you must make it somehow, if these things keep coming with a regular pace.
If you were to single out one song from the album that is a favourite which one would it be and why?
Elina Laivera – It would be ”Truth”, the single we put out a couple of weeks ago, hehe! We really went through discussions all together before we decided which song would be the first single, also with our label and luckily we all had the same vision so now I am perfectly happy with the single choice. For a second single, I would choose ”World That Burns”.
How does the final result compare to the idea you had before you began recording the album?
Elina Laivera – Well… to tell the truth, I was imagining it very much like what it is right now…you know, very atmospheric but also proggy but not so much that it gets you tired. I do not know how this is with Mike, because he started it way back in 2011 and apparently he had a vision about it already, but I think he is even happier with the result. We put a lot of work in this record, took us 3 years, so you can be sure that we saw the material transforming many times. Every time we’d change a little something here and there and boom, you have something different suddenly. And then of course, the mixing process plays a huge role in the production of an album, you know, you let certain things be heard more or less prominently in the music and that changes the way something sounds. You can make the same song sound atmospheric but also with a different mix it can sound totally rock and roll. I’d say a lot has changed quality-wise but without straying too much from the original idea. Simone Mularoni, the guy who did the mix and mastering, had to play a huge role in this.
What do you want to express with the artwork?
Elina Laivera – The spirituality enclosed in the record. There is a lot about the Jaguar Priest as a figure, that represents lots of different sides of us as human beings but most of all as spiritual beings having a human body, having a human experience on this Earth. There is a lot of symbolism in the lyrics about this and that and we tried to reflect this on the artwork as well. We wanted that the album is an overall audiovisual experience for the fans. We worked with Yan Yrlund who has done covers for Kamelot, Apocalyptica and others and it was really great, how smoothly it all got expressed in the end on the album’s artwork.
Universal Mind Project, any cool story behind your choice for the band’s name?
Elina Laivera – Well, I believe Mike started it with the idea of inviting as many people as possible in the project and prove that many people can work as a unit and produce something memorable, something spiritual, if I may say, as music. You know, the idea, that a universal mind is a collective consciousness that is able of creating something when focused on it. Like a micrography of our world…or better, what we should be doing as humanity. We should be united, connected with each other and create our reality with the power of our mind. We both believe with Mike that one’s mind has the power to shape realities. We have some very similar views on spirituality and the divine nature of humankind, so it is all reflected also in the band name and the music, as well.
Universal Mind Project – is this a one off project, a real band or…? And can we expect more releases in the future?
Elina Laivera – Absolutely you can. Just not tomorrow morning, certainly! We need a little break to recharge and also be occupied with some other projects we run, but we shall surely get together and create new music when the right time comes. This started as a project but we ended up being a band. We developed a certain bond with each other through time. Our label dropped the idea of a solid band and we actually liked it, I do not know why we had not thought about it before. So we are a band, just with many guests on our debut album. I think other bands also started out like this…one my most favorite bands, for example, DELAIN from the Netherlands. They also started as a project and look where they are today, 10 years later they played Wembley Arena in the UK if I am not mistaken. So… anything could happen!
What does the term progressive metal mean to you?
Elina Laivera – Hehe, I hope I do not get misunderstood, but apart from Dream Theater in their early days especially, and some other very few bands, I am not a huge fan of progressive metal. I love symphonic music, music with atmosphere, I adore pop music, I compose a lot of it, as well. I love it when something sounds very technical but I need some melody to it, as well. You know, little breaks in between that your brain can relax. That is why ”Images & Words” is probably my all time favorite album, it has exactly this balance. I mean, you see, I am not a crazy prog fan but my all time favorite album is a prog album. Does that make any sense?
Name five albums that have made a big impact on today’s scene and you personally…
Elina Laivera – Well, starting with the one mentioned just before, #1 Dream Theater – Images & Words, #2 Evanescence – Fallen, #3 Symphony X- Underworld, I simply LOVE their new one, #4 Nightwish – Once, #5 Aghora – Formless. Oh man, now this is crazy because I realize we have 3 prog albums out of 5 in those that impacted me deeply… well, I might be a prog fan after all, hahaha!
Universal Mind Project isn’t taking all of your time (I assume), what other projects/things are you spending your time on?
Elina Laivera – Well, I compose, a lot. For totally different stuff. I have been working on a solo album, ”Kaleidoscope” since 2014 but things are moving really slow with this one because I have other things in the making all the time. I am preparing a poetry collection, a singer-songwriter album, just voice and piano; I recorded recently for the Vivaldi Metal Project with fantastic people like Fabio Lione, Victor Smolski and others and some other projects that is not the time to talk about yet. And of course I love teaching, I work as a vocal coach and my students take a lot of my love and time. You know, some years ago, I was very stuck on working too hard on too many things and music somehow had lost its magic, a bit. I had to kick away many things that were not necessary and were causing me a lot of stress. So after many years, I feel that the projects I am working on are for the first time truly reflecting my desires and my motivation and my artistic substance. So my time is spent in a balance of working for projects but still finding some time for myself; I enjoy nature very much, reading, meditating. It is important so that you never dry out of inspiration, you know?
Thank you very much for answering my questions. Do you have any last rants for our readers?
Elina Laivera– Thank you so very much for having me, I wish you all the very best and to the lovely readers, thank you for taking interest in UMP, reading this interview; I hope you enjoy our album, take care of yourselves and I hope to see you soon out on the road, somewhere.