“We thought of ending the band hundreds of times.” – Interview with Marina La Torraca of Phantom Elite

Back in January, after months and months of battles and hopelessness, Phantom Elite made their grandiose return with their sophomore studio album “Titanium”. What preceded its release and how the theme of the album came together? What was the perfect motivation to finish the album? How was the shooting of the music video for “Diamonds And Dark”? We sat down with Phantom Elite’s vocalist Marina La Torraca to answer this and some more personal questions, such as social media, her acting career, hiding tattoos and prejudice in musical theatre environment. Read our inspirational talk with Marina below.

MG: What have the reactions to your new album been so far? Are you satisfied with the results and the responses from fans and media so far or is there anything you are  not satisfied with?

Marina: No, we are super happy with all the reactions so far. Actually, it has succeeded our expectations. Everybody has been saying just really good stuff about it. We were mindblown. 

MG: So you didn’t expect the reactions you got?

Marina: Not really, no. You know, we got many reactions from people telling us „This could be the album of the year!“ and stuff like that and we are really happy about that. 

MG: Compared to Phantom Elite’s debut „Wasteland“ „Titanium“ is more mature, modern, darker and heavier. What lead you in this direction?

Marina:  This is actually the direction we wanted to take after „Wasteland“. The new members and me – we really needed and wanted to make something more modern, because that’s what we like without really leaving prog metal behind. So there’s still some elements about that, you know?. But I really think we made it more in the direction of what we like to listen to, you know?

MG: If I am not wrong, you wrote „Titanium“ in just about 2 months. What was your main fuel during this process?

Marina: Oh, yes! The deadline of the label. We started really just 1 year before we delivered. So we really had a rough and slow start. And we thought of ending the band hundreds of times. There were almost no fans and no “Titanium”, no nothing. Because of some things we were going through with ex-bandmembers and you know…. There is always some stuff like money, you know…. Complications every band is going through. Then we got this motivation from Frontiers and we thought like „It is now or never!“. We really wanted to do it. It just flew. It is not that we had to work fast and then we did whatever! It was just a good flow from there on. But I think the biggest fuel for this album was… to just fucking make it! You know? We were so eager to put something out that we believed we could do. That is why the album has the name “Titanium” and that is also why so many songs on it have that underlying theme of resilience and going forward and moving on.

MG: You mentioned that you bumped into financial and several other issues before you started. But then Frontier Records came with an offer at the right moment. What do you think? In case they didn’t come with this offer to your rescue, would Phantom Elite still exist to this day?

Marina: It’s tough to say. I think…… maybe (laughs). I can’t say for sure that we would have moved on. Because I think the best thing that Frontiers gave us when I mentioned the perfect timing, is the motivation. Not only the financial support. It was more like…. a reason to go on. It was more in that sense. We have someone who believes in us, we have all the kind of support from the label, helping us all the time. With the first album, we did it independently. And everybody, every small band is kind of…. punching each other around for record deals and everybody knows that it is tough to get there with the big gamers and everything unless you have good connections. And so we were really like a little bit… unmotivated and also songwriting-wise we were like… fighting our way through this, finding our way to this new music that we wanted to create. We were all down and you know group dynamics, how it works. When there is nothing that comes in like „Guys, there is a show, let’s prepare for that!“, there is nothing coming, you know? It is just like „Oh, let’s finish these songs someday.“. And then it’s not working. And suddenly the contact with Frontiers came and it was like „Oh, ok, let’s just do it!“. So that is basically what happened. 

MG: The drop that made the glass overflow, as we say in German.

Marina: Exactly!

MG: The first time I heard „Diamonds And Dark“ – by the way: my most favourite song so far on the album – I was blown away. Not only music-wise but also visually. The music video was one of the best for me and I was hoping the concept would continue in some way and wanted to see more. More of the story, more of your acting. Who came up with the storyline for the video?

Marina: Cool. First of all: thanks! It would be cool to make a continuation of that. I think the first idea came from Max, our guitarist, and then we just built on that. We actually had the idea of having an actor doing that. And at the last moment, he just jumped out. And then I was like „Oh, let me do it.“. And you know what? That’s actually better. (laughs) Because we know our scene. I think most people are interested in watching the singer perform. 

MG: And at the end of the video we see you opening up some kind of a luminous portal. Where does it lead? What does it stand for? 

Marina: Yeah, it stands for… that’s kind of the same symbol we used for the cover of “Titanium”. It’s that half circle, that portal thing. That is actually a symbol for your inner strength. Just finding the answers and finding your path. That’s what it is. 

MG: Like finding the gate to your inner self, right?

Marina: Exactly! Just knowing your path. That’s what I have been looking for. 

MG: Another amazing video you shot is for your track „Glass Crown“, a song criticising social media. I am curious to hear how much time you spend on social media a day? You obviously need these platforms to promote your band. But in your personal life: do you struggle to put your phone away? Is it also a personal problem or just an observation of your surroundings?

Marina: No, it’s horrible! But I have to say I do not have this big problem. I actually think that I should be doing more on social media, because of my career and promotion. But I am horrible at it. I forced myself to keep up. Love talking to people. I love that. But I hate the shameless self-promo all the time. I hate it so much, so I really have to push myself to do it. And in my free time, I do not use Facebook. I do not have the app installed. I hate it, I personally hate it. I just use my personal profile to have my page. If I were e.g. a doctor or I just had a private life, I would not use social media at all! The only stuff I like to see on social media is inspiring stuff. Arts. I feel that it’s just too much pressure, you know? When you are the whole time confronted with people doing stuff. You fall into that trap, it is compelling yourself. And you know that everybody shows just their best on social media. It can really lead to a lot of shit. 

MG: Going a little back in history. Your first album has a song on it that is called „Lockdown“. 

Marina: (laughs)

MG:  You were kind of visionary back then, right? Did you find an activity that kept you occupied during the current lockdown period? 

Marina: Oh yes! First of all, I think it is amazing how I could foresee the future. I had no clue that the lyrics would fit so perfect. And I wrote it just about a fictional story in my head. Actually, it was about mental illness. That is what „Lockdown“ is about. A metaphor. But no, during lockdown I have been just…. Finding ways to make money. I’m just like… hassling all day. I have been touring with Musical Theatre until late 2019. I am basically working more now. Spending the whole day either working or looking for stuff to do. It is an endless hassle, but I partially enjoy it.  

MG: Let’s hope for better times ahead. 

Marina: Absolutely!

MG: Not all fans know that you are also a musical theatre actress. Performing for two completely different types of audience. What do you like most about each and maybe what would you like to see the one take over or borrow from the other?

Marina: Very good question! They are so different. When performing at a theatre people are just sitting there. Totally different audience. They just want to be entertained somehow. I love that I can be just in my own bubble. And if I feel not very communicative…. You don’t interact with the audience. But this can also be bad. There is no energy coming back from the audience. And sometimes you look at people’s faces. Sometimes they have… a shitface on…. (laughs) You think it’s because of you. And you’re suddenly out of it because you looked at someone with a shitface in the audience. That’s not much fun. The good thing is also the bad thing about the theatre performance. And performing with bands – when I say bands, it is actually metal, because I do not perform with other types of bands – I love the fact that I can just do what I want and I can be myself. When I am performing a theatre piece, it’s also cool to be a character. Again, there are two sides to the coin. But then I find it really relieving to just perform… be Marina and just do whatever I want. No one is watching, no one is complaining. I am my own boss. So that’s the cool thing. And also the energy you get from the audience is very nice, very satisfying. 

MG: I know what you mean. I saw you live at Wacken 2018 with Exit Eden. I was there, in front of the stage. 

Marina: Cool! Awesome!

MG: I already asked the following question Emmanuelle Zoldan from Sirenia. As you may know, she is also an opera singer in France. And now I am interested in your point of view. What is the reaction of your theatre colleagues like when they find out you are also a metal singer? 

Marina: (laughs) That’s funny. In musical theatre, they are all a bit shocked. But not really because I have a huge tattoo on my arm. And this is already the first shock for them. I really need to hide it every time I am performing. I have to do all sorts of makeup. Sometimes put a layer of latex on top. And that is really annoying. I had to do some Disney shows and that is absolutely a no-go, so I had to hide it every day… (laughs). Usually, they are not really so shocked. They find it funny, you know? Actually what I don’t like when they find out is that they think of me less as a musical performer because of that. The musical community is NOT very friendly. They are NOT very nice. And they are NOT very welcoming. I am sorry… imagine one of them is gonna read this…(laughs)… I  don’t care! I think the opera world must be even worse. I don’t know what she told you. But I think there is a lot of prejudice going on.

MG: You just confirmed what Emmanuelle told me. She even went so far as to tell me that many people in classic music, be it audience or artists, cannot accept that you are doing this kind of „impure“ music. 

Marina: Yeah, that’s true! And I also used to not put it into my resumé when I went to an audition for something that is not a rock musical. Because they just look at you funny. I went for example to an audition for Sister Act for Sister Mary Roberts in Hamburg and the first thing they did, they looked into my resumé and they were like „Oh, you’re a rock singer? Oh, how about that? (shows metal horns) Cool! What you doin‘?“. They are already obviously not taking you seriously! They find it „cool“. But it is also at the same time like they judge you, they put you into… like „oh, she is a rock singer, so she is only going to do rock musicals“ box. Which is actually true. Like the role on that one rock musical. In that situation, it worked in my favour. But it is mostly not an advantage. 

MG: One certain word comes to my mind: bigotry.

Marina: Yes!

MG: As an actress, you dive into several characters. One can really see this in the way you perform in music videos and on stage. Your facial expressions, your passion you put in and everything. Have you ever thought of connecting both of these careers? Perhaps a bombastic concept album with Phantom Elite? 

Marina: Absolutely! Someone just asked me the other day the same question and my answer was like: I think about it every day! And it’s true! I really think „Oh my god! I need to do it!“. I have hundreds of ideas and it is definitely something I want to do. And I am always a little bit concerned it is not the right timing. Be it budget-wise or be it capability-wise, because I am sure I can perform, but writing… I would need help. It’s like „Let me write a fucking rock opera masterpiece“. It’s kind of a thing! It’s a big pressure point. So, I really wanna do it but I wanna do it well!

MG: The struggles of perfectionism…

Marina: Absolutely, I am like that! Hopeless perfectionist. Sometimes I’d rather not do something than do something half-assed. 

MG: If you had the chance to choose one musical theatre and transform it into a metal version: which one would you choose?

Marina: There are a few musicals that I love. But I wouldn’t transform them into metal. There is one that I think would work really well, or at least two come to my mind. One of them is „Jekyll and Hyde“. It’s already dark enough and it’s dramatic enough. It would be cool. And also there is a German musical that is called „Rebecca“. You must have heard of it, I think. 

MG: Maybe I know some of the songs without knowing, recognizing it. But I have never heard of it before.

Marina: There is a song in it that I always want to make a version of. I used to perform in a kind of a highlight / best of musical show and there was a lady who sang it every night. And every time, I heard the guitars in the background and I thought „This would be such a cool metal song!“. Maybe there is something I can do… (laughs) 

MG: Well, I had one musical coming to my mind . “Phantom of the Opera”, but that was too obvious, right? 

Marina: Cool! Yeah, needless to say.

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