Interview with Los Angeles based Armenian Prog Metal band Stryfe

As a Los Angeles, California based webzine, we’re always on the lookout for local progressive metal talent and we’ve recently found out about the local band Stryfe.  Well local may be a stretch, cause even though they reside in LA, they’re originally all the way from Armenia!  The band is led by guitarist Kay Khurshudyan and features an aggressive two-guitar attack, accessible yet sophisticated compositions that feature the subtle use of the band’s musical heritage. They’ve also now fronted by a new female vocalist. Nicole Bouffard who’s powerful vocals really complement Stryfe’s music in a very compelling way.  I had the chance to meet up with Kay and bassist Karo Troysyan to talk about the band’s music, what brought them to the U.S. and how they plan on using their music to promote peace and harmony.  After the interview, you can check out the song Speak To Dream fromStryfe‘s debut EP Beyond Reality as well as pick up a copy of it from the link, also below.

I’m here with the guys from Stryfe, guitarist Kay Khurshudyan and bassist Karo Torosyan. How are you guys doing?
Great! Thanks for the interview.

To get started, who are your main musical influences?
Kay: I like all kinds of music actually, not only progressive bands

Karo: Yeah, I’m definitely not just like a straight metal guy. I’m actually more into stuff that’s not metal than metal. Everybody has their rock influences like The Beatles, Zeppelin, Sabbath, all of those guys but I also listen to a lot of fusion, a lot of jazz, classical music and a lot of just like 70s rock for me is the main thing because as a bass player I think it’s a good idea to venture out because, especially in metal, most of the time you’re basically a third guitar player. It doesn’t give you too much movement and if you get too used to that when you do need to move and supplement the guitar part with the bass as its own thing rather than just a third guitar you could get lost pretty easily so it’s important to listen to other things I think.

Kay: We all like Dream Theater, Opeth, maybe Nightwish, I like Symphony X, Black Sabbath, Led Zepellin.

Karo: Metallica, Black Sabbath. I’m just a huge Geezer Butler fan!

Kay: Pantera, Deep Purple. There are just so many bands, I can’t list ‘em all!

So how does a group of Armenian guys end up in California?
Kay: It’s a long story! We actually started the band in Armenia. It was in 2003 with a totally different lineup. Out of the founding members now it’s just me and Kore (Bobikyan), the drummer. There have been a lot of changes in the lineup. We played a lot of festivals and shows there. We even organized a couple of international festivals. We found some grants, I mean some organizations gave us some funds for organizing the international festivals we did there. The biggest one was Rock The Borders. I don’t know if you know the band Sadist from Italy?

For sure!
Kay: Yeah we invited them and a couple of bands from Russia and surrounding areas. It was a very nice festival, just a lot of fun. Then in 2010 I moved to California and the interesting part is that our drummer also moved to California at the same time and we decided to continue our musical journey here. Then we met Karo and we actually had another lineup before this one. We had a male singer then, but there were some changes after that and then we found Nicole.

How did you find her?
Kay: You know what, we were looking for a singer for a long time and one who can fit, I mean a good one because with progressive music, it’s…

Karo: Very demanding vocally.

Kay: Demanding yeah. You should definitely have a strong vocalist to do this music well and so we were searching online on many different websites, even the university ones. I don’t remember where actually but my wife found Nicole online. Then we met up with her and we decided to work together.

Getting to the music of Stryfe, is your lineup now pretty stable?
Kay: Definitely! In January, 2015, we found a second guitarist—JD McGibney and now we are working with the full force.

That’s great. And you’re doing shows now?
Kay: Yeah, we’re planning to have some shows. The first one I think is in May but it’s not going to be in LA, San Bernardino and the first one in LA is going to be June 12th at the famous Whiskey.

Getting to your music, what do you think is your uniqueness? I know you have a great singer now and I know your album wasn’t focused on overt technicality but more on just an emotional connection with the listener.
Kay: I really think our uniqueness is our Armenian heritage and influence in the music overall. It’s like these metal influences mixed with Armenian traditional and classical music is what really sets us apart.

Karo: It’s mostly that for sure. It’s the culture that makes it a little bit different and it’s not done in the traditional way that Armenians like to mix our cultural music in the metal. Kay does it a little differently I got to be honest, like you’ll listen to System of a Down for example and they have a lot of that too…

Karo: Our music is actually very different from that style but it does have a lot of that, the music that we grew up listening to. It’s like you can’t help but end up putting it in your music, just the way your brain kind of works and it does provide for a unique sound. I experienced it mostly when I was learning the songs when I first joined the band and I kept noticing this weird scale so I’m like what is it? It’s almost like a harmonic minor but then it’ll blend into natural minor and it does like a lot of these really weird things that you don’t learn in other songs because they’re not using those types of scales. I really enjoyed it, it’s a bit different and I think it sounds fantastic!

Kay: Yeah, we’ve also been working on our overall sound for a long time and it’s very hard to just have a guitar and bass with no keyboards and get a really good sound, which we really think we have now, especially with two guitars.

Yeah personally I gravitate towards that a lot. Like I love a lot of Middle Eastern bands that bring in those melodies sounds and rhythms and I think that’s really an exciting way to present the music of that culture.
Kay: The thing is I think that a lot of bands often focus too much on those Middle Eastern scales and melodies. If you listen to Stryfe, I think the uniqueness in our music, the unique part is that when you’re listening to it you don’t …

Karo: It’s not too overt.

Kay: Yeah it’s not too up front. There is a balance of Middle Eastern, Armenian, metal and all these influences together. I think that’s the real uniqueness of our music.

Personally I think I heard a little of that in some of the vocals, the vocal melodies but not as much elsewhere.
Karo: Yeah that’s the thing. That’s what I was saying. It’s very subtle but it’s there so without realizing it you notice that the music is a little different.

Yeah I think in this day and age there are so many great bands. If you have something that’s really especially yours then I think that’s really the key to standing out from the crowd. I was also reading your bio and I know you guys have a really strong ethos of promoting harmony and peace, can you talk about that a little bit?
Kay: Well, when we started the band the goal was definitely to bring people together. We had a message like you can’t just go and talk to all the people right? The music was like the tool for communication with people.

That’s really great. Anything else you’d like to add?
Kay: Well, just one more thing. I want to add a couple of words about our message. STRYFE comes from the word “strife” which means struggle – mainly struggle against human evil, hatred and treachery. Most of the songs are about the anxiety of the inner world of the human, desperately searching for harmony and purity. Stryfe’s utmost focus is to bring people together and create a sense of unity. Thanks for the opportunity to share our music and the message with your readers and we hope to see you at one of our upcoming shows!

interview by Jeff Stevens

Read the full story here