After what has been seven years in the making, Nairobi’s metalcore group Last Year’s Tragedy finally announced that they would release their first full-length album in 2021. Following from their 2013 EP, the new album dubbed Amongst Lions is an 11 track mammoth that seeks to galvanize fans of their older material while still forging new ground. I first heard inklings of album plans in frontman David Mburu’s Kiserian studio back in 2015 and it has been variously reported both on Metal4Africa and AudioInferno that the group was planning on a release. Since then it has been more of a notion than substance until a few weeks ago when the band officially announced that the rumors were true. Being just as curious as any of their fans Yvonne and I interviewed the band to uncover some insights into the making of Amongst Lions.
1a. What does it feel like to be one of the bands that have survived 3 general elections?
LYT: Hahaha we are just happy to be still here doing what we love, to be honest, but damn this makes us feel old. There are so many ways this country can *literally* kill you and it just makes us glad to be able to make music at this stage of our lives.
1b. How was the whole experience like?
LYT: Surreal. It goes way deeper than just trying to complete a recording in the middle of a pandemic but also trying to tick all the boxes we set out to achieve at the very start. We literally rarely talk about band stuff when we are together, so this album is sort of our own personal catharsis at points. But we honestly started enjoying the process more when we stopped trying to think about what people will think and just jamming stuff that felt right to us. It’s our whole mantra now- Do what’s right for the song.
2. What has changed in your approach to creating and releasing this album that is different from when you released your EP in 2013?
LYT: The record picks up right where the Challenge Accepted Ep ended, thematically. So, you know we are going to talk about furtive politics, our personal struggles and failures, poor coping mechanisms, grief, and mental health. Finding solace in art about the darker parts of our lived experiences in the last 7 years or so. There is a lot to unpack here. We are not exactly known for brandishing a sense of open-wound honesty in our music, cause Ted and Chizi’s style of writing has always heavily relied on allegory, metaphors, and symbolism. And we like it that way. Leaves them more open for interpretation. But on here there is a good mix of songs that include messages that are quite in your face. Also, Dee plays a much bigger role in songwriting (and singing, gasp!) and this makes the album very fresh from start to finish.
3. How long did it take before you arrived at an album that you were satisfied with, from conception to completion?
LYT: Frankly, we don’t think we’ll ever be completely satisfied with anything we put out and we’ve made our peace with it. We know the album has taken forever, and maybe when we do finally drop it will be perceived differently than our previous material, and we question whether people are going to like it and question what we have done. It’s a lot more Genre-fluid. But all that matters to us now is the journey we have been on. This has been more than 2 years in the making but it feels way way longer.
4. After being together for so long what are some of the things you could say keeps the band going?
6. How different is “Amongst Lions” compared to the Challenge Accepted EP? I hear lots of the same things as the dominant keys, the intensity, and captivating choruses, are we seeing a more mature LYT or did you pick other things along the way?
LYT: I think we’d describe it as “stacked and diverse”. There is such a mix of styles that reflect literally 10 years of growth and guys who have been listening to us for a minute will appreciate our return to our roots while newer fans can appreciate the direction some of our songs go in. We realize we can’t be all things to all people, but we strongly feel that there’s a little bit of everything in here to make it worthy of a listen, even to people who aren’t ordinarily fans of more aggressive forms of self-expression. Genre fluid, I think the cool kids call it haha.
7. The album track list has some interesting names, who comes up with such names?
LYT: So, this is kind of a funny thing- We mostly come up with names of the songs even before we have them written down (Dee does this A LOT), or when we are jamming and fooling around. Usually, it depends on who brings the initial idea of a song to practice, and after we mess around with it, we all blurt out suggestions (most of which are truly ridiculous) When we get to the recording stage some of these names get dropped to align with the content matter of the song, or theme.
This is why ‘Matiangi’s revenge’ eventually became In Medias Res, (which Mahia came up with) and ‘March 2’ became Pounds for Flesh.
And that kids, is what working with an amazing artist is like haha you always gotta step your game up.
8. Does the track 47 have anything to do with the 47 counties in Kenya or country number 47: the capital city?
LYT: We really wanted to leave this up to the listener, and to be honest it can be whatever the listener wants it to be.
47 is a special number, apparently. Something about it being mathematically significant. Anyway, we often try to interweave subtle nuances of the current political environment into our songs. But on this we went all out. There wasn’t room for political correctness. We decided to use Judas’s betrayal in the bible as a euphemism for how our government continuously screws us over, and how their choices cost us our lives. 47 is the atomic number of Silver. (Thirty pieces of silver was the price for which Judas betrayed Jesus) A bit convoluted, but you get the idea.
9. How can you describe the working relationship with Andromeda music, how far back does it go and how much influence has Stan had on the album
LYT: At this point, it really feels like Nick (Head producer/Co-owner at Andromeda) is part of the band. When you work with him you need to understand that he’s gonna push you to create music outside of your comfort zone. Being the competent musician that he is, he has a keen eye for stuff that works and stuff that doesn’t and isn’t afraid of letting you know. This is how we managed to stray more from the conventional formula of verse, chorus, verse, chorus, solo bridge breakdown in many of our songs. It also helps that we’ve known each other for AGES, his brother Stan being our original drummer and all.
10. You served us all sorts of cuisine on that album, which one(s) did you enjoy working on?
LYT: – Haha are we allowed to even have a favorite? They’re all so different and special in their own way. But we’ll let you in on a secret – Threat Level Midnight wasn’t even meant to even be on the album, would you believe. It was supposed to be for a ‘Kenya Rocks’ compilation CD project that fell through because of the Pandemic. But it all worked out in the end, and quite frankly it’s one of the most honest songs we have ever written.
11. If you were to award yourselves for the best metal song, which one would you pick?
LYT: Is there a metal song on this album? 😊
Seriously though, that’s for you guys to decide.
12. Every perfect record comes with challenges (fyi this record is perfect to us), what are some of the challenges that you guys faced while working on the record?
LYT: How much time do you got? hahahaha.
Seriously though, we don’t have to tell you how crazy it was to get anything done in 2020. We had set a pretty high bar for ourselves right at the beginning of the year, planning to drop the album before the third quarter, then BOOM! COVID 19 happened.
The county lockdown meant that we couldn’t travel to Machakos, where Andromeda is situated, which was a bloody nightmare because this pushed the album forward by months.
Also at the very beginning, a lot of the songs we brought to the studio just didn’t translate well when we recorded them. They straight up sounded flat and passé. This was disappointing as hell man cause we’d poured ourselves into making something different and it didn’t seem to reflect when we listened back to it. Thank God Nick was there to help us think differently about how we were approaching the songs and we rewrote SO MUCH in the studio.
And just like everyone else, we all had to go through the hardships of living in the middle of a pandemic. Whether emotionally or financially, everyone in this band definitely had their own share of crosses to carry and this put quite a strain on the band.
13. How did you guys overcome the challenges?
LYT: Man, when all is said and done, we just had to put in the work. We learnt our lessons the hard way a long time ago- Everybody has it tough, the hardships you face don’t make you special till you do something about it. Once the county lockdown was lifted, we went back to the studio and rewrote large portions of the album, on songs we already liked, which felt like killing your favorite child.
When given the opportunity to make music (like we have) there was no way we were gonna half-ass it. So yeah, we somehow managed to pull this off.
14. You have influenced a number of bands and artists, what would advise them especially those that have just embarked on this journey
LYT: Advice? I don’t really know if we’re in a position to do that just yet lol. But we will say this, (which I’m sure we picked up from a tweet or whatever)
If you’re gonna start, start.
Don’t worry about sucking. It’s kind of a rite of passage till you get better.