Zora Cock of Blackbriar
Metal Maven: The first written interview for Metal Maven features the elusive Zora Cock, lead singer and lyricist of Dutch Gothic Metal band, Blackbriar. Thank you so much Zora for answering my questions today, I really appreciate it!
Zora Cock: Thank you so much for having me, it is a true honor!
Metal Maven: You’re welcome! You began formal training when you were 16 years old, studying both music and sound design. You’ve experimented with a variety of genres, including Classical, Jazz, Blues, Pop, and Rock. How did you end up thriving in the Metal world?
Zora Cock: Yes, that is correct! I’ve been experimenting with all kinds of genres right up until we started Blackbriar in 2012. Right before Blackbriar was founded, I was writing music that I would describe as Dark Pop, with influences ranging from Kate Bush to Lana Del Rey, that never left me. Back in 2012, I went to a Slash concert at the Heineken Music Hall in Amsterdam and the support act was Halestorm. I was so impressed by Lzzy Hale that I instantly knew I wanted to do something similar to that as well!
Metal Maven: Could you tell me about your work with Rhealine, a Poptronic project? So far, four songs have been released. Is this a continuous project for you? Are there any others or do you currently find yourself fully dedicated to Blackbriar?
Zora Cock: I was listed as a songwriter and vocalist on a platform called SoundBetter. Rhealine was searching that platform for a vocalist to work with on a song he had composed and got in touch with me. Soon after the introduction, he sent me the song and I started recording my ideas. We both felt like there was a very effective musical connection, so one song quickly turned into a collaboration of four original songs! Shortly after finishing vocal recordings, he invited me to Chicago in the United States to film music videos for those songs. Traveling to the US was such an amazing experience for me, especially because I was able to work with amazing people.
However, I am currently fully committed to Blackbriar and will most likely not be doing any collaborations on such intense projects any time soon.
Metal Maven: It seems creating music is your natural gift – what is it about singing and writing that makes music the chosen conduit for your creative endeavors?
Zora Cock: I just can’t imagine myself doing anything other than singing and creating music. This mindset has always been there for as long as I can remember, there’s no Plan B for me!
Metal Maven: You have defined yourself as a very introverted individual. Do you see this personality type as a passageway to deeper creativity as you play more freely within your own mind? When do you feel most creative and inspired?
Zora Cock: I absolutely think that it’s a passageway to deeper creativity! Speaking in public, talking on the phone, or even answering questions regarding my own music has always been difficult for me because I can’t seem to quickly find the right words when I need to. Singing and writing is something that I can give my all to and I don’t have to feel shy or think too much about what I’m about to say or write down.
I always work and record my melodies and ideas alone, being in my own little bubble. Finding inspiration can still be a struggle sometimes though – getting stuck, staring at a blank page waiting for something to come… yet most of the time, inspiration arrives when I’m not striving for it at all.
Metal Maven: Fairytales and dark, romantic themes are primary sources of inspiration for your lyrics. For the tale, “Snow White and Rose Red” most people may misinterpret these characters for the Disney variants, but they are from a German fairytale, collected by the Brothers Grimm, about two sisters, Snow White and Rose Red, who live in the forest with their mother, befriend a bear that is more than what he seems, and deal with an ungrateful dwarf. In the original story, the sisters are inseparable and happy… your version, which the band released this past May, has a more ominous tone to it and perhaps implies a different relationship altogether. Could you add more insight into the lyrics?
And you know that people fear what they don’t quite understand
— “Snow White and Rose Red” —
Zora Cock: At the time, I really wanted to make a duet and I immediately thought of Ulli Perhonen of Snow White Blood. I met her at a venue where both our bands played that evening and have had several joint concerts since then. I listened to their EP a lot and I love her voice. The idea of “Snow White and Rose Red” came to me after I knew I was going to ask Ulli to be the guest singer of this track. So you can pretty much say that Ulli gave me the first inspiration for this concept. I knew about this fairytale and I envisioned us looking like Snow White and Rose Red mostly because of her blonde locks and my red hair, but that’s the only inspiration from the fairytale – the names and looks. As you said, I created more of my own story than following the tale of the Brothers Grimm. That’s also why the lyrics start with, “You used to call me Rose Red…” It implies what we used to call each other, like nicknames. And therefore, the bond Snow White and Rose Red have with each other isn’t specifically a sisterly bond but can also be about two lovers or friends. I want the listener to have their own interpretation of this as well.
Metal Maven: The band’s name refers to a dark, thorny rose – both beautiful and dangerous. A black rose is not naturally occurring but is made through manipulating the original flower, similar to your method of retelling stories. Why was the name, “Blackbriar” chosen? Was it meant to be an alternative Briar Rose that sleeps in an eternal nightmare?
Zora Cock: I came up with “Blackbriar” after searching forever for a good name! However, it wasn’t because of Skyrim, Jason Bourne, or because of Briar Rose, which is actually a cool link! I was looking for a name that would describe our style and was both beautiful and dangerous. After a long search, I found the name “Blackbriar” and was instantly in love, it fits our music perfectly!
Metal Maven: Have you ever read, “How to Fracture a Fairy Tale” by Jane Yolen? Her re-imagining of fairytales and narrative paradigms is similar to your approach when creating Blackbriar tales. Who are the master storytellers that inspire your process?
Zora Cock: I haven’t heard of it but I will definitely look it up! The old, original versions of fairytales that we all know are very inspiring and quite dark and fractured as well, and very interesting. I find inspiration in books a lot, such as the Brontë Sisters or other old novels, The Fallen Series by Lauren Kate, and Hex by Thomas Olde Heuvelt. Television series like Outlander and Alias Grace have inspired me as well.
Metal Maven: With each Blackbriar song, are you creating your own realm? Is each one a collected story for the dark fairytale book called Blackbriar?
Zora Cock: Yes, I like to think that it is! Although all the songs stand apart from each other, the idea of making a concept album feels intriguing to me as well. I like to imagine myself being somewhere else, a fantasy world, in a far distant land or a far distant past. I love history, myths, and folklore.
Metal Maven: In regards to renown, Blackbriar has had some amazing shows this year. This past October, the band joined Epica as official support during their Design Your Universe 10th Anniversary Tour for the Oberhausen, Utrecht (sold out), and Paris (sold out) performances. How was this experience for you and the band?
Zora Cock: It has been an unforgettable experience for me. I feel so grateful and honored that Epica put their faith in us to open the shows and warm up their amazing fans. I can be very “dreamy” – basically in deep thought – when things that I have been looking forward to for so long are happening. For example, this tour we did with Epica seemed like everything was flashing by so fast. I really needed to open my eyes and remind myself to take in those moments so that I could enjoy everything to the fullest, and I did! Playing for such a huge and heartwarming crowd felt incredible. Also watching Epica perform has always been so inspiring to me, they are incredible!
Metal Maven: Blackbriar was also invited to play the aftershow for Halestorm and In This Moment at AFAS Live in Amsterdam this past November. I know Halestorm is a huge source of inspiration for you, so what was it like to be part of that night? It must have felt amazing!
Zora Cock: Yes, Halestorm is the reason Blackbriar came to life, so being able to play their aftershow at the same venue where I saw them for the first time felt amazing indeed. Coming full circle like that was a huge milestone for us!
Metal Maven: Moving onto your most recent music – Our Mortal Remains was released on December 18th – congratulations are in order! It’s a wonderful evolution of the band’s sound and dives deeper into the mystery and darkness of your stories. I really love both music videos, but the visuals for “Mortal Remains” adds so much more emotional depth to the song. For Blackbriar music videos, how involved are you in the process? Is what we’re seeing your vision for how the songs should be brought to life?
Zora Cock: I am fully involved in creating our music videos and I really enjoy working on them! I always envision my lyrics being brought to life through film as soon as I write them down. Being able to translate my lyrics to film feels like I can express my creativity to the fullest.
I usually write down the storyline of what I believe is the best interpretation of my lyrics, shot by shot, and after that, we (the band) try to think of ways to actually realize those shots. This is a lot of fun! For “Mortal Remains” we needed tombstones and all the band members made one for the music video. We had so much fun doing this “crafty” stuff.
Most of our videos, including “Mortal Remains,” are produced by us, going from pre-production to the final edit.
Metal Maven: Your album artwork is also quite stunning and is just as important to the look of the band as stage production, outfits, and music videos – it’s another added level of detail to the work. Who is the artist you work with and how did the band determine that this style fit the music best?
Zora Cock: When we founded the band, we quickly felt like we needed a logo. We found a website where we could post a job describing what we needed and preset a payment amount, and illustrators competed over who would make the nicest design. The cool thing about this was that we got around one hundred Blackbriar logos and could pick our favorites very easily. In the end, an amazing artist from Indonesia called Alip made the winning design and we have been working closely together ever since. Alip has done all of our illustrations to date, from the original logo to the artwork on our albums and merchandise.
Metal Maven: I like to analyze and interpret song lyrics, especially in regards to the overall theme of the band, so below are my musings for each of the new EP songs. I would love to hear your thoughts!
It’s said that the crowing of a rooster at daybreak diminishes the power of dark entities. The song eludes to a dance with the Devil, such as a succubus or incubus. In Hungarian folklore, there is a Lidérc, a creature that can assume many forms, but to its victims usually appears as a dead lover. It’s powerful and can’t be outrun, haunts burial grounds, and must recede at the first rooster’s crow of dawn. The lyrics speak to one night per year, so my guess would be Samhain. What was going through your mind when writing this song?
Zora Cock: The first spark of inspiration for “The Rooster’s Crow” actually came from a certain scent. When it comes to sense of smell, I tend to feel a lot of emotions. I had ordered some perfume samples and one was described to smell like roses and dirt – as if you were strolling around a graveyard. So it all began with the smell of roses and dirt and the story came to me while wearing the perfume. The Lidérc sounds amazing and actually fits the meaning of “The Rooster’s Crow” perfectly, but I personally found inspiration in the Danse Macabre and the symphonic poem by Camille Saint-Saëns which, according to legend, tells the story of Death appearing at Midnight every year on Halloween. Death calls forth the dead from their graves to dance for him while he plays his fiddle. His skeletons dance for him until the rooster crows at dawn, after which they must return to their graves until the next year. I started imagining a man grieving for his lost love and he would go back to her grave at night once a year so he could dance with her during the Danse Macabre until the rooster crows and she must return to her grave.
When listening, I don’t associate it with a specific story, but as a metaphor for the immense grief and trauma that accompanies loss. For me, it takes me back to laying at a relative’s grave upset and angry that they could not return to me. Was there anything, internal or external, that triggered the creation of this song?
Zora Cock: The lyrics for “Mortal Remains” were written a couple of years ago and this time I finally got to use it. I came up with several different melodies and song ideas because I always felt strongly about it but it never worked out until now. “Mortal Remains” is pretty straight forward when it comes to the lyrics. I am describing someone who is digging into the “cold and wet earth” with her bare hands. She is digging deeper and deeper, trying to reach her lover’s coffin. A desperate undertaking, her last resort, she is not concerned with disturbing the death because she feels mad her lover died and took her soul with him. She reaches his coffin and opens it, only to realize that what she finds in the coffin is nothing more than his mortal remains. She does not feel his presence. It’s indeed morbid, but I think love and grief can make you do the most desperate things.
My inspiration for this one came to me after reading the novel Wuthering Heights by Emily Brontë. A particular scene where the character Heathcliff opens Catherine’s coffin made a big impact on me and gave me the inspiration for this song.
You called me a magical bouquet – With opium, poppy, and wolfsbane
— “Beautiful Delirium” from Our Mortal Remains —
This song is lyrically my favorite as it has so many layers. I view the use of poisonous and narcotic plants as an allegory for a toxic relationship. The lyrics are past tense and the main character appears quite broken and vulnerable. It seems someone came along who understood the beauty in their darkness, or found a darkness matching their own, but their time together was destined to end tragically, as consuming this bouquet results in death. Is there an overall theme or insight you can provide as to why these four songs were chosen for the new EP? Were there other songs that didn’t make the cut?
Zora Cock: That’s such a beautiful interpretation! We had indeed other songs that did not make the cut but “Beautiful Delirium” was determined to be on the new EP, even when it was far from finished. The songs don’t really have an overall theme but we did feel like they all paired well. The songs that did not make the cut were songs we felt did not fit together, but that doesn’t mean they won’t be on our next release.
From the book, Jane Eyre and told from the perspective of Bertha Mason, Edward Rochester’s first wife that he keeps locked away on the third story of Thornfield Hall. The pace is symptomatic, a warning for what she is about to do. Bertha ultimately does burn down Thornfield and is consumed in the fire as well.
She is quite a tormented character and has this unspoken pain as we never really get her side of the story. We only know that her family has a history of violent mental illness. What appealed to you in regards to interpreting her inner monologue, her story, into a song? Also, who is the madwoman in the basement? Or is it an “as above, so below” interpretation warning Jane to not become her counterpart?
Zora Cock: Yes, the madwoman in the attic is referring to Bertha Mason. It was years after reading the book and seeing the movie when I started to think about the “madwoman in the attic” called Bertha and how weird it actually was. She had no voice in the book at all and therefore you only get to hear the story from one side, Mr. Rochester himself, the one who locked her in the attic. The more you think about it the stranger it gets. With these lyrics, I tried to look through Bertha’s eyes and tell her story. In the book, when you have yet to find out about the woman locked in the attic, there are a couple of weird events during the night such as Bertha tearing down Jane’s veil and setting Rochester’s bed on fire. In the book, it seems to be that she’s angry and crazy. Later on, I was thinking it might have been a warning for Jane not to marry Mr. Rochester, for fear of being locked up inside the basement as the attic was already taken.
Metal Maven: My last question for you Zora is… what is your ideal fairytale ending for Blackbriar? What dreams would you like to see come true for yourself and for the band in 2020?
Zora Cock: I hope we will be able to keep doing what we love most, creating new music, videos, and content for our fans. It’s also a personal dream of mine to tour around the world with Blackbriar and meet all of our fans!
For more information and to purchase Blackbriar’s new album, Our Mortal Remains, visit blackbriarmusic.com.
Show your support and join Zora on Patreon for early access to Blackbriar merchandise, watch concert live streams, and receive behind-the-scenes exclusives of her music projects. Head over to patreon.com/zoracock now!