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Great Dark North: An Interview With Dylan Gowan of Iomair

In the latest edition of GREAT DARK NORTH, we caught up with Dylan Gowan of the new progressive folk metal project Iomair. Is progressive folk metal even a thing? Let’s find out!

Iomair have been stirring things up in the Northern Realms, bringing in talent from all across the Canadian metal spectrum. The band, which originally sprang from Canadian melodeathers Vesperia, now includes members of Astaroth Incarnate. Their first single “Cast Away” spent one week comfortably soaring on the iTunes metal charts, ahead of the full length’s release next month.

Dylan Gowan, Iomair’s vocalist/mastermind, spoke with Indy Metal Vault this week:

Indy Metal Vault: Hey Dylan! So happy to speak with you about Iomair. Is that how you say it? Kind of like Eomer in Lord of the Rings?

Dylan Gowan: Exactly. Nailed it

IMV: Perfect. So, in your own words, what is Iomair? What’s it all about?

DG: Well, Iomair is a project I started in early 2017. I didn’t tell anyone about it, it was kind of my own secret project. But when I had enough songs to make a record, I decided I would show my friends the parts I’d written. The guitars, the orchestration, all of it.

I’m not the strongest guitar player, I must admit, so when I wrote this some of my friends helped me out. I’ve always wanted to do this, be my own songwriter and challenge myself, write crazy progressive music, so Iomair was basically born from that.

IMV: So Iomair is the first project you’ve done songwriting for, is that it?

DG: Yeah. I mean, all the projects I’ve been in I’ve been the drummer. I’ve never been the writer. But they showed me this program called GuitarPro, and since I knew a little bit of piano it was easy to write out all these melodies that were in my head. Lot of late nights, up till 4 in the morning, just trying to get it all out. So there would be times where I would be teaching the next day and I’d go in an hour after I finished with this project. That’s kind of how it goes, isn’t it? You are so determined to get everything correct and make sure it flows, that it isn’t choppy.

IMV: You kind of have to, don’t you? It’s the artist’s conundrum, how to bring out all the music and art that’s in your head. You don’t really have a choice. Now, I heard you say teach?

DG: Yeah, definitely. I’m an independent drum teacher. Sometimes I’ll do clinics with BPM Music in Scarborough. Sometimes they’ll invite me to show students some of the techniques I use while playing, and I just have a blast doing it, y’know? On top of that, I work with Banger Films.

IMV: With Sam Dunn?

DG: Yeah, as a reviewer for Overkill. I interned there earlier this year and they decided to put me on camera. I’ve got two reviews under my belt and I can’t wait to do more.

IMV: Awesome. That’s the beautiful thing about the metal underground. It’s just a big web of friends. So, back to Iomair, you said you’d been writing enough songs to show other people. How many is that? What should we expect for the upcoming album?

DG: Well, it’s funny. I originally had this whole concept in mind, but I was wondering if these stories would appeal to people outside of metal. I talked to my cousin, like ‘does this story work, does that story work’ kind of thing. After a while it felt like that South Park episode ‘Simpsons Did It.’ You find, essentially, that it’s all been done.

Originally, the island where the story took place was called Iomair. But eventually, in 2017, there were some very big changes in my life. Some were rough, so I wanted Iomair to be my way of escaping all that, to create something positive out of the negative.

IMV: Kind of therapeutic then?

DG: Oh yes, a thousand percent this record is therapeutic. It was just a way to escape. A lot of the songs are based off self-reflection acceptance, the fall of relationships, basically coping. As I kept writing, this whole elaborate story ended up being so personal. The whole writing process, with friends involved, was nothing but awesome for keeping my mind off it.

IMV: Music can be so good in that sense. Especially with friends. Less pressure, more hanging out.

DG: Being able to tell them about what’s been going on in the studio, these guys just brought it out. It wasn’t a session thing at all. It was more ‘what are you trying to convey?’ And they nailed it. Took the songs to places I never would have thought of, as well as just being there as friends for me during a rough time.

IMV: Well, it sounds like this was a very personal project. On “Cast Away,” it doesn’t sound watered down at all. You kept those emotional parts, especially in the violin. Whimsical, is that the word?

DG: Totally. The funny thing about the lineup is that I wanted every musician I knew in it. That was the goal in mind. But everyone is so busy, like being at a crossroads. But those who ended up there did a phenomenal job. Sam (Astaroth) was my first choice, as was Gabriel Bateman from Hallows Die. Both shared vocals. I know Gabriel well, we’ve been on the road for many years.

IMV: Did you know everyone? Any newcomers?

DG: Well, some I’d always wanted to jam with. Laura Bates from Völur, the girl on violin, she was my first choice. I’ve always thought if I wasn’t a drummer I’d be a violinist. Then there was Tyler from Sludgehammer, who did the bass parts. He’s also mixing and mastering, and he’s kicked ass at it. Great guy. I highly recommend him to anyone. Nothing but great. Never a bad day in that studio.

We also had Nathan from The Silence Factory play on the entire record. His band has played with Our Lady Peace, Finger Eleven, and Three Days Grace. He’s more of a rock guy than a metal guy, which is why I wanted to throw him a curveball with all the progressive stuff. See how he did with it, y’know? He knocked it out of the park though. Took the ideas and ran with them.

This is the great thing about the project. These guys are so hard-working it barely felt like work. Their perseverance level is off the charts.

IMV: So how many is that in total now? Five?

DG: I think it’s about seven! Full prog ensemble. Live we might swap people out, as schedules dictate. That’s the thing about being in charge, I can give out the gigs. If someone misses one, there’s no problem. They’ll be at the next one.

IMV: Oh, so there’ll be a lot of next ones? Planning to take this on the road?

DG: Well, when we released ‘Cast Away,” we immediately got booked on Inertia’s Cellar Darling show. We’re just grateful to Noel at Inertia for the opportunity to do our live debut at the Garrison. Cellar Darling have always been so great.

All this negativity that happened throughout the year, it made me secluded and just writing. But all of a sudden, some of my friends who wanted to help out just stepped up. It was like, ‘what was I upset about again?” That’s so special, in the company of friends. All these crazy things happen. We charted on iTunes within a day!

IMV: Sounds like you’re already making an impact. Speaking of impact, what about those influences? Lots of prog? Any specific bands you were listening to during recording?

DG: There were a few, but my influences have changed drastically. I was barely listening to metal music during this record. Lots of Lights, Aurora, that stuff. But being with Vesperia and Hallows Die, you can’t really escape metal. So, of course, you had Cynic, Coheed and Cambria, Opeth, Porcupine Tree.

IMV: King Crimson? All that violin?

DG: Actually, the violin came from world music. Celtic especially. I’ve been fascinated with musicology and subcultures. And it would be so awesome to bring those influences into this crazy prog band. We’ve been experimenting with all these different sounds. Pop, metal, world music. Iomair is all about the melding. It keeps things fresh. As much as I like metal, I have so many other influences as well. I’ve played jazz and rock, and eventually you fall into the groove. You kind of want to put it in your own music. It’s good to have a variety.

IMV: I imagine the growling can limit the crossover potential though.

DG: Well, it is a metal thing. Kind of niche. But people are picking their own entertainment now. I wanted growling, as well as other kinds of singing. It’s the light and dark paradigm, both are included. Get away from the restrictions around it. I like jazz, metal, pop, funk, death metal. That’s how music grows.

IMV: Great approach to take. Extreme music can dig itself down into a rut, and it can almost be a point of pride. But with this, you can bring in so many more listeners, not just the die-hard crowd.

Which brings me to my last question, how far are you ready to take Iomair? If you had the chance, would you go on a world tour? Or is this just a therapeutic thing?

DG: Oh, I want to take this forever. If we could sell out the ACC, that would be sweet. Maybe that’s only a dream, but that’s how far I want to take it. Festivals where metal bands don’t usually play could be another thing. Just this year I played with Birds of Bellwood as Osheaga. It was crazy, because I got to be exposed to all these different styles of music. I thought it would be so crazy to bring a metal band to this kind of festival.

But then again, I’d love to play Wacken again…

IMV: Again? You played Wacken?

DG: Yep. With Vesperia in 2015. But I’d take Iomair to Bonaroo if they’d let us. I know it’s kind of sacrilege as a metal guy, but I’d love to see Lights and Septicflesh play in the same day. And I hope that Iomair attracts both.

Iomair’s self-titled debut is out September 21st via Infamous Butcher Records. Listen here on Bandcamp.

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