INTERVIEW: Lena Scissorhands of Infected Rain

In Eastern Europe, nestled between Ukraine and Romania, lies the small country of Moldova. Most probably know little of this nation that once was part of the Soviet Union, but an increasing number of metalheads can identify it as the birthplace of Infected Rain. Formed in 2008 in Chișinău, the Moldovan capital, the band was an independent act, releasing an EP and three full-length albums, before signing a worldwide deal with Napalm Records in 2019. October of that year saw the release of album number four, “Endorphin,” and with it the band’s stock has continued to rise around the globe. Fronted by the dynamic Elena Cataraga, aka Lena Scissorhands, the band mixes elements of nu-metal, metalcore, death metal and electronics in an infectious sound that seems to be attracting more and more fans by the day. Live Metal’s Greg Maki recently caught up with Lena to discuss the latest album, how she’s faring in quarantine during the coronavirus pandemic and more.

LIVE METAL: I’ve become a big fan of your band, sort of recently. I heard the latest album through Napalm last year, and then lately I have had more time and I’ve gone back through the previous albums, and I’ve really been enjoying what I’ve been hearing. So that’s one good thing that’s come out of this, I guess, for me anyway. So how are you making out during this whole situation here?

LENA SCISSORHANDS: I’m taking it day by day. That’s all we can do, literally. Some days are easier, some days are harder to accept, and the hard part to accept is that every day is so familiar. And also, it’s hard to accept that whatever you do, you do pretty much inside your house, and the days tend to look very similar. What helps me a lot is I’m trying my best to keep myself very occupied, and that definitely helps. Some days, I’m just very creative with either making something handmade or writing more lyrics or doing something online. Or other days, I’m trying to be more active physically, and I’m cleaning the house or working out or doing some stuff like that. I’ve been changing the furniture in the house a thousand times. (laughs) It’s pretty funny, but it’s refreshing. So I try to stay positive, and in order to stay positive, the only thing that helps, at least to me, is to be constantly occupied with something.

You live in Vegas now, is that right?

Yes.

That city is usually so bustling with people everywhere, so what is that like now? Is it kind of eerie?

No, a lot of people have this idea, but it’s not really true. One thing is to visit Las Vegas, and it definitely gives you that vibe of a toy or play city, if that makes sense. There’s a lot of tourists and so much going on for them. It’s a city that never sleeps—usually—and so much going on. But if you choose to live here, you’re not really that much in contact with that lifestyle, unless that’s part of your job. If your job is to be a bartender or entertainer or part of some of the shows that are going on or maybe a dealer in a casino, then yes, you kind of live that lifestyle at work. But living in Las Vegas is pretty quiet actually, believe it or not. It’s pretty remote, and it’s very hot weather. We have palm trees, and it gives you the vibe of a vacation house somehow, at least for me. I come from a totally different part of the planet, so for me, it really is kind of nice and quiet here. I love it.

Is that why you chose it? Had you lived anywhere else in the U.S. before this?

No, I didn’t. I only visited other states. I did live in other countries of the world, yes, but I never lived in other states, no. It kind of happened that way that my life just evolved here, I had some friends, and I just stopped here. To be honest with you, it’s not really expensive to live here in comparison to other states. When we go into detail about some payments that we have to do daily, like a mortgage or something like that, it’s way cheaper here—probably because of how hot it can get here, and not many people want to live here. For me, it’s only a positive thing—not a negative. So I really like it.

It’s interesting that you live here, but the band hasn’t done a U.S. tour yet.

Correct. Our first U.S. tour was supposed to be now—April and May—and that was canceled obviously. Actually, it was rescheduled for next year, and we will tour with Swallow the Sun next year in March/April instead. But fingers crossed, our upcoming United States tour that is booked for September/October with Eluveitie and Insomnium, we really hope that is going to happen, and it’s going to be our first appearance here.

I’m sure you’ve got a lot of fans here who are really excited to see the band. They’ve been waiting years, in some cases.

Yeah, thanks to the internet, we really do have a big, big following here, which makes me super happy.

For the first 10 years or so of the band, you were an independent band, and at least part of that time was by choice. You could’ve signed earlier, right?

Yes, we had our very first offer almost five years ago now.

Why didn’t you do it then, and what made it the right time to sign with Napalm to release this album?

Many factors just were not right at the moment. I believe when we had our very first offer, we were on tour, and I guess we didn’t take it very serious, and we were like, “Ah, we’re very busy now. We can’t think about this at the moment.” And the things that were offered to us at the time didn’t really appeal much, I guess. We always had this fear of bringing somebody on board that is not going to accept or see us the way we are. We were way younger, and we had certain fixed ideas about what we want to do.

Little by little, those ideas were and are still there, but we accept the world a little bit different. So we see them from different perspectives and most importantly from a perspective of musicians with more experience, because at the time, we only started touring a lot in Europe, and now we arrived to the point where we did a minimum of three tours every year, and we have that baggage of knowledge that we didn’t have at the time. So it was important.

Then, little by little, we had other offers from smaller labels or bigger labels, and we played at some festivals where certain members of certain labels actually approached us to talk to us, and it was nice to hear their point of view and what everybody has to say. Even managers, people who wanted to just manage us, approached us—even huge names that I’m not gonna name obviously. But it was a big honor to us to have them talk to us. We were so excited.

But still, even then we were not fully comfortable with what was offered to us, and I’m not talking money-wise—trust me. This was never the goal, because we come from a very poor country, and we know what it takes to be where you are, to have every show and every tour. It was more of the idea and the concept of the band. So little by little, having those conversations with other people and point of views and emails and actual meetings, we kind of had our ideas more in order, if that makes sense

When Napalm came out with another offer—because that probably was their offer number three, actually. To their credit, they were very insisting, which is probably why we actually decided to stick with them, because they were very clear about them wanting us, and they were very clear about them believing in us, and they were very clear about them never wanting to change us, which is the goal of every band and is the fear of every band and every fan of the band. The fans are always afraid that after signing with a newer label or with just a label, the band is gonna change in a way or another.

So yeah, that’s why we did it, and we are very happy that we did it. Everybody that is on board with Napalm was very friendly and hardworking and very helpful so far. It’s not that we started doing less. We just finally started doing what we used to do but with other people together. That’s what makes it so good.

The latest album came out last year in October. When you started writing and going through the recording, did you have any clear goals of things you wanted to accomplish with this album?

No. I think that with every album, the only thing that we always want to accomplish is we want to make sure that we stay very genuine and true. We want to make sure that we record things the way we want and the way we see them, because at the end of the day, you have to love your product yourself first, because if you don’t appreciate and if you don’t have pleasure from listening to your own songs, then how do the other people accept you then? Basically, that’s always the goal, to be able to deliver it properly. Especially me as the vocalist, I always have this goal: If I have goosebumps from my own vocals, from my own band’s sound, it means we did it. We have to be satisfied with what we’re doing.

This album is very, very unique because it’s a very personal album for me. Every album is, but this specific one is a little bit deeper because I’ve been through a pretty difficult year and a half, basically before starting recording and while recording this album, and everything I write about is basically my feelings and frustration of that specific time in my life. For me, it was super challenging to sometimes face it and take it out and sing about it, scream about it. But other than that, I don’t think this album had a specific different goal than any others.

How did you come up with the album title, “Endorphin”? Was it a reaction to the things you went through?

Yes. I’ll be honest with you: The initial idea, before we signed with the label—and this is not information we ever gave to anybody—but the initial idea of this album was to maybe for the first time do something different and release an album that has two parts. And that would give us more songs. So part one and part two, and both of them had to have the names of the hormone of happiness. So one was “Endorphin,” and the other was “Dopamine.” That was initially. And why the hormones of happiness? Basically, based on so many emotions and sadness that this album carries within the lyrics. The idea came from our guitar player, Vidick, and when we signed with the label, we decided that with the first album with the label especially, we have to come up with just a classic format of an album. So we chose “Endorphin” from the two titles, and obviously the goal is for our music to be a happy, fresh air, basically, breathed in everybody’s lungs directly.

Were there a lot more songs written, thinking it was going to be two albums?

Yes. We had initially way more tracks that possibly we will use for the next album. Some of them we really, really love and we’re gonna keep, and the others, maybe we’re gonna work more on. But yeah, initially, we had 14 or 15 songs.

I wanted to ask about a few of the songs specifically. The first song, “Earth Mantra,” is one of my favorites. It’s got a pretty strong message—”we are parasites.” Do you consider yourself an environmentalist?

Not really, but I consider myself a sensitive person. I’m very aware of what is happening around me. Especially for the past five years of my life, I try to be more aware of the people that surround me, their feelings, their behavior or body language. I’m trying to be sensitive about the nature. That includes weather or animals or plants. I feel like people that are a little bit more awake and more aware of their surroundings are more sensitive people, and they are more interesting people to be around with. That’s why it’s something that I’ve been working on, and trust me, even people that are very aware and very awake sometimes forget and start sleepwalking, I guess is the correct way to describe that.

I wouldn’t use such strong words or titles as environmental warrior or whatever. I’m not ever trying to protest about anything, but in my own little way, I try to show people, especially people that follow me through my videos or my YouTube episodes or any social media, I try to show what I do in my everyday life in order to be a little bit better with being smarter about using less plastic or the way I recycle or the way I save water or the way I eat—things like that—without ever, ever, ever pushing anybody to change their lifestyle. You know how when you have a kid and you’re saying, “Hey, you can’t have candy” or “Hey, you can’t play there”? Automatically, that is what the kid is gonna want to do. So I feel that this is not the correct way to ever fight with any problems in our society. So that’s how I’m trying to do it.

And some people do see that and they change their lifestyle. I do have a lot of letters and messages from fans—or friends even—that write to me and they’re very thankful that just by taking an example and trying it for a short period of time, they understood that this is not as difficult, and they want to continue like that.

You’ve got this platform that you’ve created for yourself. Do you feel a responsibility to have a positive impact on people?

I wouldn’t say so, but I do realize that I’m more under the spotlight now than before. When I decided to have my own YouTube channel and I saw that the band is becoming more known around the world and people are curious about me as a person, I made myself one promise, and I’m just trying to stick with that, and that’s it. It’s just I’m always going to be myself, and if people are not gonna like what they see or what they hear, it’s not in my power to change anybody’s mind, and I will never try to do that. I’m just trying to be me, and I know a lot of people don’t agree with my lifestyle or my vegan diet or me screaming on the stage—or whatever. There’s always gonna be somebody that is not gonna like what you do, so we can’t please everybody. So in order to avoid all this stress, I’m just being myself. That’s it.

It’s all you can do, right?

It’s all you can do. It’s very simple, but under the pressure of social media and under the pressure of internet and all these lights turned to you and cameras, some people forget about that, and they try to be somebody else, somebody that they think in their mind is better than themselves. For a while, it will work, but sooner or later, your fans and supporters, they will notice that you’re not being honest with yourself.

I had to look up the meaning of “Taphephobia,” and I found that it’s the fear of being buried alive. I’m guessing you’re using that as a metaphor in that song, so what is that song about?

That song is mainly touching on topics of depression, anxiety, darkness, loneliness—things like that, things that I’m sure everybody can relate to. It doesn’t matter how famous you are. It doesn’t matter how old or young you are. Nothing matters, because we are all human beings, and we are all familiar in a way or another with those feelings. As I mentioned before, my past year, year and a half were pretty tricky for me and pretty depressing, too, and I really wanted to sing and scream about it. In fact, I think “Taphephobia” is probably the most dark and emotional song I ever wrote in my career, honestly. It is very dark. It is very melancholic as a song, but it’s not really a fully depressed and hopeless song really, if you think about it. At least for me, it gives you that light feeling in the end, like you went through all this darkness and it’s OK, because sometimes it’s OK not to be OK. That’s what we have to understand really.

Does singing and screaming about these dark times in your life serve as a form of therapy for you?

Yeah, absolutely. I don’t know what I would do without the band. I think that’s what made it so addicting. That was what hooked me on this feeling to be on the stage. There’s nothing better. Yes, in the rehearsal room it’s awesome, in the recording room it’s awesome—it’s very cool—but then on the stage there’s nothing like that. It’s definitely my type of drug. I need it so much. It became very addicting, because it’s like my therapy. It’s almost like a catharsis. It’s like you’re facing your own fears, and you’re facing your own problems over and over again.

One other song I wanted to ask about is the closing song, “Storm,” which is a big departure from the rest of it. How did that come about?

Well, we experimented with some electronic parts before in certain songs, and we do have a fully electronic song on another album. We do love to experiment with electronic sounds very much. Working on “Storm,” I remember Vidick sending me this idea, and he was like, “Listen, I don’t know if this song is ever gonna be part of Infected Rain. Maybe I’ll do something else with it. I just wanted to share this with you because this is a very emotional melody, and I wanted to hear your opinion about it.” Instantly, I said, “This is Infected Rain, because this is what we are.” We are emotions. We don’t really apply many rules while we write music. We like to experiment a lot, so I insisted in it being part of Infected Rain.

We put it in the end of the album like a closure, like an outro, but we don’t consider or treat that song as just a closure of the album. It’s just after all these emotions that we went through with “Endorphin,” each song, each different topic and each different pain, in the end is this light, floating kind of state of mind.

Now that the album has been out for six months or so and you toured some at the end of last year playing the songs, do the songs grow and change over time for you? Do the meanings change once you see how people are reacting to them?

No, they don’t, because I just write too close to reality. I write so close to what I’m feeling or so close to what I’m going through that they never can change. They are only reminding me about that over and over again. But certain songs, though, while playing live become either easier emotional-wise for me, so I don’t have to go through this roller coaster of emotions anymore, or vice versa, they become stronger because certain songs become very good live songs. It’s one thing when you listen to the songs in your car or in your earphones, and another is when you’re listening to it live. Certain songs are made to be played live. They are, and in fact, it’s very difficult to take them out of the set list whenever we have newer songs to bring to people. So that’s the only change that can happen over time, for sure.

In doing my research to get ready for this, I learned that you speak four languages (Russian, Romanian, English and Italian), which is very impressive. All of your lyrics are in English. Do you write them in English, or is there some translating?

I write directly in English, because English became very natural for me in time. I started writing in English when I was in the university, so way before I was in a band. I actually started writing lyrics in Russian when I was a teenager at the age of 14. I still have 30 or more of those little poems that I used to write being younger, but then I started writing in English. I do not do translation, no, but I know a lot of people are asking me if I will ever write or sing in another language. It’s possible. I feel like I don’t want anybody to be upset about me choosing one of the other three. So I will probably have to compromise and do all of them. So when I’m ready to do that, then we’re gonna have it, because I don’t want to choose just one language. It’s not that I like a language more than another.

I’m very proud to speak all these four languages, and unfortunately I used to speak another language fluently. When I was a child, I used to live in Armenia, and I used to know Armenian like I know English—very, very well. I lived there for many years. But unfortunately, because of different life changing and living in different countries, and I was not in touch with my father because my parents separated and stuff like that, so I didn’t really use it. And a language, you lose it when you don’t use it. I do understand a little bit, and I can say a few things, but that’s it. So I don’t even consider that.

Also, you’re really into horror movies. What are some of your favorites, and have there been any new ones you’ve discovered while quarantined?

Funny thing, actually, while quarantined I decided to go through a little bit older, so-called vintage horror movies, and some of them are from the ‘70s and ‘80s. I’ve been watching some classics so far and some underrated ones, as well. My favorite type of horror movies are the thrillers, so I’m still very big into that. Obviously, I grew up with the tales of Dracula, so I love every vampire movie ever made. It doesn’t matter, lower budget or not, I just love it. Even comedies about vampires make me smile.

But I don’t know how to even choose. Like I said, thrillers are my favorite. But I’ve been watching lately a lot of zombie movies. I’ve been through all the “Halloween” movies and “Friday the 13th”—I watched them all, because I never watched them before. So now my goal is to watch all the “Nightmare” movies and all the “Resident Evil” movies, because I believe I only saw part of them. So that’s my goal while quarantined. Maybe I will start today actually.

It’s funny you mentioned vampire comedies. Have you watched “What We Do in the Shadows,” the movie and the series?

Yes! And I think everybody should watch it. It’s so raw. I love it. Very funny.

Is there anything else you’d like to say right now?

I just want to add please be smart in this time of crisis that we are all going through. Please stay home and be safe. Don’t take for granted what we are given. Don’t think that if you’re not sick, then nobody is going to be sick. Just be a little bit smarter, at least because of all the people that are risking their lives and they still go to work to save our lives or to be in grocery stores or whatever. I don’t really mean to talk about sad things, but I just ask everybody to be smart and safe.

LINKS:
www.infectedrain.com
www.facebook.com/infectedrain
www.twitter.com/infectedrain
www.instagram.com/infectedrain_official
www.youtube.com/infectedrain
www.facebook.com/lenainfectedrain
www.twitter.com/lenascissorhand
www.instagram.com/lenascissorhands
Lena’s YouTube channel
www.patreon.com/lenascissorhands

Photos by Victoria Wonka

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