Interview with Kyros

L-R: Peter Episcopo (bass, vox), Joey Frevola (guitar, vox), Shelby Warne (keys, vox), Robin Johnson (drums, percussion)

Kyros is truly a band to know. With massive. atmospheric production, hooks that stick around in your brain for days, and a sound that simultaneously pays tribute to prog of yesteryear, and builds upon it with modern sounds, they have been making waves in progressive and alternative music since the release of their debut album Synesthesia in 2014. Their music is unabashedly progressive, but is also heavily infused with pop sensibilities, with influences ranging from Porcupine Tree to Duran Duran.

Kyros released their latest album, Celexa Dreams, earlier this year, to wide acclaim. Just this week, Kyros surprised us with an EP titled Four of Fear (available for pre-order here). The band stopped by Proglodytes to talk about their history as a group, their discography, their unique sound, major influences, and more.

Tell us about the history of the band. How did you all meet? Where did the name ‘Kyros’ come from?

Shelby: When it came to transitioning from being a semi-solo studio project of mine to becoming a fully fledged band, it felt appropriate to change our name, especially due to the confusion with the Synaesthesia side project from The Thrillseekers. We wanted something that was representative of our ‘right here, right now’ spirit. So we went with Kyros, an alternative spelling of the greek word ‘Kairos’ which means almost exactly that. The right moment. An opportune moment.
As for how we met, the simple answer is ‘via the internet’. I met Robin via the online forum for the band, IQ, Peter through Rob Aubrey who engineered our first album, and Joey via an online audition. 

How would you describe each album to a new listener?

Shelby: Our debut album, Synaesthesia has a much more straight-up neo-prog inspired sound, taking a lot of cues from IQ, Marillion, Arena etc. Our second album, Vox Humana expands on the prog metal sensibilities. With the welcoming of Joey into the band, we now had another primary writer beyond just myself, and that comes through much more on this album with the inspiration branching out to include bands like Dream Theater, Porcupine Tree, Muse and Rush. Our latest album, Celexa Dreams follows more in the direction of what we’ve been jamming over the last couple years as well as the desire to experiment with yet another direction of production. Celexa Dreams was a chance for us to flex our production and arrangement skills, so expect a little more intricacy and nuance…A mix of modern pop production, eighties inspired sound choices and a lot more hooks and denseness. 

Robin: Synaesthesia is unashamedly a prog rock album. Vox Humana expanded on that definition bringing in a much wider variety of styles than the debut. And with Celexa Dreams, we went a step further to the point where the contrast between the different styles becomes a focus point. Thinking in terms of colours, I tend to think of Synaesthesia as using quite a narrow colour palette effectively, Vox Humana as being a very multi-coloured album and Celexa Dreams having deliberately contrasting colours.

Joey: Synaesthesia always came across to me as a very mellow and calm sort of album. It rocks out, but in a very pleasant and inoffensive way that’s very appealing. Vox Humana is much more in your face. Everything hits harder is generally more experimental while still ticking a lot of your typical double concept album boxes. Celexa Dreams is a bit of a lateral move, focusing on more distinct songs and a more poppy palette in general. It still retains VH’s heaviness when it needs to, but it also goes softer than either of the previous albums. 

Your music is a blend of contemporary and retro influences. What would you say are your primarily influences, musically and stylistically?

Shelby: We all have such different sets of influence with a couple of bands that meet in the middle in our venn diagram of different inspirations across each member of the band. Some of those bands include Rush, Dream Theater and Porcupine Tree. But I’m not afraid to pull out my Duran Duran and Frankie Goes to Hollywood influences and Joey certainly isn’t afraid of bringing out the Cardiacs, The Dear Hunter and Devin Townsend influences.

Robin: Our influences can potentially be anything that at least 1 of the 4 of us is into. We’re always striving to make music that we want to hear and of course the four of us don’t always have the same vision, as is the case with all bands. I think that’s exactly what makes band written music so interesting. Inevitably, it’s always going to be a compromise between what the four of us want to hear. And I wouldn’t have it any other way, because the result is unlike anything any of us would come up with by ourselves. 

Joey: It’s definitely hard to narrow down a succinct list of our collective influences. Honestly, I think there might not be a single album in the universe that’s super important to all 4 of us, but we each have overlap with each other. Milliontown by Frost* might be the absolute closest to an album the band can all agree on, though I don’t know if Peter loves it as much as the rest of us.

How has the band’s sound developed over time?

Robin: It’s certainly gotten more diverse. I think that’s the result of two things. The most obvious being that there’s more of us in the band now than when it was just Shelby and Nikolas writing the first album. The other [thing] is that over the last few years I think we’ve been making a conscious effort to try and get away from some of the clichés associated with prog rock. Of course, considering we’re all big fans of that kind of music, it’s very difficult to get away from some of the expected things entirely. But we do our best to combine the typically proggy moments with other less expected features, whether it’s a dubstep groove, 80s pop production, Ghibli-esque chords. Most of these elements have come along on the 2 newer albums and I like to think we’ll keep on experimenting with different styles. To us, it doesn’t matter what people are expecting. If something sounds good sonically and feels right in whatever context it’s in, then we’ll do it.

Tell us about your latest album, Celexa Dreams.

Shelby: Some of it’s loud and some of it’s quiet. And some of it’s in the middle. And some of it’s in the middles, created by the middle. And so on and so forth… Its heavily inspired by 80’s rock and synth pop, with influences from bands such as Rush to Muse and Porcupine Tree. The album comes in the form of a selection of ‘short stories’, each working on some sort of thought-provoking lyrical concept. Topics shift from the emotional weight of working in a job you hate to commentary on the dangers of toxic internet culture and anonymity. Very topical and real-life experiences provide the fuel for the fire. 

I love the production on Celexa Dreams- the big synth sounds, electronic percussion, the space and atmosphere. What informed that sound choice, and how did you achieve it from an engineering standpoint?

Shelby: The sheer desire to try something new and see where it goes. Vox Humana has it’s dense moments, but the sound choices lead to that album having a pretty distinct sound, at least to our ears. We didn’t want to simply repeat that. Especially the production, songwriting and arrangement knowledge we had picked up over the last few years. I think people tend to not realize that most of Vox Humana was written as far back as 2014, so we’ve all changed quite a fair bit as people, gained new skills and our writing setup has evolved a fair bit. As circumstances changed over the years, it forced us into having to rethink our workflow time and time again.
For me, having such an infatuation with eighties production lead to me wanting to try and replicate this. Vox Humana touches on it in subtle ways from time to time, but otherwise I didn’t quite know how to convincingly go the whole hog without it just sounding like another retrowave pastiche. That’s not at all what we wanted as it’s such a done-to-death sound these days. 

What are some of the lyrical themes on the new album?

Shelby: The album mainly centers around the topic of mental health and life-defining experiences that shape us to be the people we are. For instance, “In Motion” is about not knowing when to stop working and finding yourself burning out badly. “In Vantablack” is about coming to terms with your neurodivergence and mental health issues and learning to live with them. “Two Frames of Panic” is about the vivid, incredibly lucid dreams that are experienced when under certain types of antidepressants. 

Progressive rock, as a genre label, can be pretty ironic, as so much of it can end up sounding the same. Tell me about what you think makes music ‘progressive’.

Shelby: I’ve always maintained that being progressive is much more of a mentality and a choice of actions to reflect the writing of that individual’s desire to progress beyond what they’ve done in the past. It really does annoy me how this word ends up being used as an umbrella term to describe bands and artists who do exactly that as well as those who desire to simply pastiche and rehash 1973’s progressive wave without at least trying to infuse something new into the mix. 

Joey: Genres inevitably become associated with a ‘sound’ rather than the original ideology they embodied. Progressive rock is no different. Most bands these get into writing prog because they like that sound and want to do it for themselves, and there’s nothing wrong with that. For us, sticking to any genre is just not a priority. If we like it, we’ll use it. It’s really that simple. I think it’s this mentality of not taking from any specific box that frees us up to experiment and make crazy left turns with our sound like we do. 

What is new in KYROS world? How are you handling the craziness? How are you keeping in touch with fans?

Shelby: Over this year we’ve been doing our Celexa Streams: Isolation Gigs series to keep our fans going through these times of isolation and uncertainty. Anything we can do to put a smile on people’s faces really does go a long way so these livestreams felt like the best thing to do. Especially as we weren’t able to tour the album. Beyond that, we’ve also started a new community Discord server to be able to stay in contact directly with our fans. It’s a place for people to feel like they can simply hang out with us and other Kyros fans. It’s been great seeing the community grow, especially as we do regular watch parties, multiplayer gaming sessions, as well as share memes, discuss music, gear and gaming and more. For anyone who hasn’t yet joined – you can join via this invite link:

Joey: Our discord has definitely been a godsend in terms of staying connected with our community. As far as the band itself, we’ve been working away behind the scenes on several things. More to be revealed s o o n. 

Bonus questions:

Favorite modern non-prog bands?

Shelby: Prizm, Half Alive, Everything Everything and Kero Kero Bonito to name a few

Robin: London Grammar, Vukovi, The 1975, Hiatus Kaiyote, Disclosure. 

Joey: Imogen Heap, Jacob Collier, Hiatus Kaiyote, igorrr, AKMU, Anomalie, Son Lux, Sakuzyo, Paramore, The Decemberists, Tennyson, etc. Also, this is not a band or modern, but Stephen Sondheim’s works have probably transformed my songwriting more than anyone else in the last year. 

Peter: Sleep Token, Loathe, Polyphia. They have prog elements, but wouldn’t consider them that.

What 4 character fictional team would best describe your band?

Peter: The hobbits that leave The Shire in LOTR. We have naively embarked on a trippy quest and little did we know the madness that would ensue, the directions we would take.

Preorder Kyros’s latest EP, Four of Fear, here. Check out their last full length album, Celexa Dreams, here. Join their Discord, find them on social media, FOLLOW THIS BAND! You won’t regret checking out this unique blend of fantastic, synth-laden, dreamy space prog and “euro pop trash”.

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