CYHRA – Up From The Ashes
November 13, 2017, a year ago
Back in March, BraveWords broke the news that former Amaranthe vocalist Jake E. had formed a new band with his guitar hero and ex-In Flames axe-slinger, Jesper Strömblad. Dubbed CyHra, the band also features former In Flames bassist Peter Iwers, making for plenty of speculation and buzz about the debut album harkening back to the classic In Flames sound. Folks have learned that's not the case, although the CyHra debut Letters To Myself does indeed have moments that recall the greatness of albums like Colony, Clayman or Whoracle. It is by no means a trip down memory lane, as Jesper and Jake aren't looking back, but it's quite obvious that the guy playing guitar was responsible for the signature In Flames sound way back when.
Jesper: "I'm really flattered and thankful for that because I've been away for a long time, but it seems I'm still kind of relevant. It seems that people were waiting for some kind of return and that makes me really happy. It's really cool knowing that I have a certain tone that people recognize, but we're not comparing ourselves with In Flames and there's no power struggle with them. The only thing we have in common is that two of the members of CyHra used to be in In Flames, and I think you can hear the old spirit of In Flames in some of the new music."
BraveWords: You guys decided to form the band after talking about guesting on each other's respective planned solo albums. What was the creative process like? Relatively easy or did you have to search for a common ground the deeper you got into the songwriting?
Jesper: "It's funny you mention that. We had two.... and I wouldn't even call them arguments... let's call them minor disagreements. One of them was over the placement of a kick drum in one of the songs (laughs). Jake wanted it one note later than I wanted it and we both fought for it, but five minutes later we came to a decision and moved on. The chemistry between the two of us is amazing because songwriting is the least of our problems. I'll hear him just playing around on the keyboard, I'll grab my guitar, and we come up with a song. Or, Jake will hear me playing something and sing over it, and that might turn into a chorus or a bridge. We've never left the studio with writer's block, we've always been creative."
Jake: "Not to downgrade Amaranthe, because I'm very proud of what we accomplished especially with the first two albums, but I had complete creative control over the CyHra album and it sounds exactly how I wanted it to sound. Me and Jesper were completely in line with each other with the exception of the disagreement over that drum loop."
BraveWords: Is all the material on Letters To Myself brand new, or is some of it left over from your former bands? I understand that "Holding Your Breath" was originally written for Amaranthe.
Jesper: "There is one riff on the album, an acoustic part that I started writing for Lisa Miskovsky, who sang on 'Dead End' on the In Flames album Come Clarity. I call that the Lisa Riff (laughs), and just to brag a little bit I came up with it on a catamaran in the Pacific part of Panama (laughs). It was like I was in heaven. I came up with this riff and it's been in my pocket for so long. It ended up on the song 'Closure'. Everything else on the album is brand new."
Jake: "I wrote 'Holding Your Breath' intentionally for the Maximalism album, and either Elize (Ryd) or Olof (Mörck) didn't think it fit so I kept the song for myself. All those really high fucking notes were meant for Elize but I really love the song so I had to put it on the CyHra album. When I was recording it I realized I had a potential as a singer that I never really explored before. I pushed myself to the limit on that song, and there are so many people who have heard it that have asked me 'Who's the girl singing on that song?' It might have been a stupid decision, though, because in Amaranthe I could relax a little on stage. I had time to catch my breath but now I have to sing the whole time and every note (laughs)."
Jesper: "The high vocals for that song were supposed to be for a woman but she bailed, so Jake decided to do it all himself. I remember when he did the take in the studio and he was in the booth screaming to the point that his head was exploding (laughs). To have that vocal range.... I'm proud to be in the same band with him. Jake's vocals are amazing. He has never sung as good in the past as he does on the CyHra album. I was blown away when we did the demos; I had ideas for his vocals here and there, and he nailed everything in one take. He also has a really good stage presence and he's the nicest guy, and I think the combination of all these things makes the new album really good."
BraveWords: Some people are quite naturally bitching and moaning because there are no extreme vocals on the album at all...
Jake: "I totally respect the fact that In Flames fans want to hear growls on this album, but on the other hand people should know by now that I've never had a growling part in a song anywhere ever. When you see CyHra has me on vocals you should be able to figure out that this is a Bon Jovi type of singer, not a growler."
Jesper:"It's a matter of taste, but I don't know why people are so hung up on melodic metal with growling vocals. It's been done a million times already. There are some bands out there that still do it really well, like Dark Tranquillity or Killswitch Engage, but mostly it's boring to me. I think CyHra is fresh. We're not afraid of using synthesizers if they fit the song and make it bigger, but a lot of metal fans will say 'Fuck you...' to using synthesizers figuring we're committing heresy. But that's the way metal fans are; very committed to what they believe in, and they have strong opinions. What I'm really proud of is that I could more or less listen objectively to Letters To Myself after a couple weeks, and I think we are on the way to creating our own sound. It never gets boring because the songs are very diverse."
BraveWords: You're never going to get away from the In Flames comparison.
Jake: "Exactly. You can totally hear it in the music, but we never had any discussion about not trying to sound like In Flames, or Amaranthe for that matter. When we decided that we were going to write an album together we never talked about what the music should sound like. We just puzzled the pieces together every day in the studio, and when we had the songs done we went back and rearranged some of them to glue them all together."
"I've heard some people say that they can hear the Amaranthe influences in the songs, but it actually has nothing to do with Amaranthe. What they're hearing or recalling is the way that I write songs; me and Olof working together created that Amaranthe sound, just like me and Jesper working together has created the CyHra sound."
BraveWords: In spite of not having extreme vocals, the lyrics for the songs are dark and well suited to that sort of presentation. It's an interesting contrast if you're into song lyrics sand stack them up against the music.
Jake: "The lyrics are dark and very personal to me and Jesper, so writing these songs it was almost like therapy sessions. We discussed so many things, like how we felt when we were going through certain things, and that helped me when I started writing everything because I had all these notes. I connected to my own emotions and it became a mixture of what Jesper went through combined with my own feelings over what I've gone through in my life. So even though I got a lot of inspiration from Jesper there were things I could relate to myself. There were a lot of things that came to the surface that I didn't want to think about, but it all came back and making this album actually helped me to cope with and work with all these things I'd pushed away."
BraveWords: You're in the process of making tour plans. Have you considered the possibility of performing an In Flames or an Amaranthe song as part of your set?
Jesper: "We talked about that and from the very beginning I've said 'No way.' I don't want to live off old glories, but then again it might be something to do because we have someone who can actually sing. We were talking about playing one In Flames song but we scrapped the idea because we want to disconnect ourselves as much as possible from our old bands. Not that we have anything against In Flames or Amaranthe, but when we released 'Karma' a lot of people talked about it to me comparing it to 'Deliver Us' or 'Rusted Nail' and that's not necessary because we aren't In Flames or Amaranthe, we're CyHra."
BraveWords: Jake, what is it like working with Jesper considering you grew up as an In Flames fan?
Jake: "It was a weird feeling. Me and Jesper have been friends for seven or eight years but when I was 17, I took the last money I had to travel to Gothenburg to see In Flames play at a venue that held 150 people (laughs). For me it was one of the biggest things I'd ever seen, and if I was able to talk to my 17 year-old self and say 'Hey Jake, in 15 or 20 years you're going to have a band with two of the guys from In Flames..." I never would have believed it."