Jul 12, 2013

Animals As Leaders: a unison hammer kind of bashing on the crowd's head

I waited for two hours to interview ‘Animals As Leaders’, possibly the only band in the Bangalore Open Air line up that I really wanted to check out. I even managed to sneak out to Noon Wines for a few drinks, came back and there they were. 
Matt Garstka, Tosin Abasi, Javier Reyes

Here’s how the interview went down:

You’ve been out sightseeing all day. What do you think of Bangalore?
Tosin: We’ve been eating and shopping. We went to the Hare Krishna temple and chanted for a very long time and we’re just mesmerized because visually, it’s a very busy place. Sonically too. Everyone honks!

Did you find any inner peace? 
Matt: Yes, the people here are just kind, open and calm. There are not many people that are at a high frequency.

Tosin: In the US, large cities are very aggressive places. But there’s a strange sense of calmness here.

Interesting. Getting to your music, when can we expect the third album? 
Tosin: We’ve done pre-production. We were working with Diego (Farias) from Volumes and Misha Mansoor (of Periphery) We’ve completed ten songs as demos. We’re gonna book some drum sessions for late summer/early fall and just try to properly record the demos. We’ll try to have the album out by the end of the year.

Has it taken any new direction?
Tosin: I think a lot of the material’s more mellow. There’s new harmonic ideas. But it’s essentially Animals As Leaders. It’s the first Animals As Leaders album with Matt and with real drums. Sometimes, on an electronic kit, we would play parts. But primarily it was programmed. He has a distinct style too and that’s going to be added.

Matt, how’s the last year been for you since you came on board? You went from a gospel drummer to well, this?
Matt: I wouldn’t say I was a gospel drummer. I would say I was more of a fusion drummer but a lot of gospel guys get their style from fusion drummers. I was always kind of all over the place in terms of styles — I was playing the blues, rock, reggae, funk, R’n’B, Latin, jazz. I was playing metal for years since I was like, 15. So, it’s almost 10 years now. There’s no real transition period. But it’s fun to be aggressive and for that to be not only be deemed okay but encouraged.

Tosin: We keep him really busy.

Matt: the new guy on the block
Do you make a conscious effort to vary the songs? Being purely instrumental, is it more challenging without the burden of lyrics?
Tosin: It’s interesting. I’ve never made a conscious decision to steer a song in one direction before the song. It’s usually just inspired and I start playing something. But there are a lot of ideas that I don’t use. So I just try to pick the strongest ones. We were listening to Isahn’s set last night and the last song they played was very slow and very open. I realized that if I were to consciously choose to do a style, it would be something like that. We’ve never done a slow, dramatic song. That would be a conscious thing. But other that, the variation just occurs.

What’s the songwriting process like?
Tosin: It’s usually guitar-based ideas. I have three or four parts that I think work together and then we’ll put it into a recording programme like Pro Tools and then we’ll start to sequence the songs, compose the drums, that way. That’s been the way in the past two albums. It’s just the perspective of having it in the computer and allowing you to move parts around that’s really advantageous, you know. There are some things that we’ve just jammed out, like just single phrases. But to compose a full song that way on the level of composition that we’re doing doesn’t really…It’s a bit more coherent to just work inside of the computer. So that’s usually the process.

How’s it been going from a solo project to a band?
Tosin: The language can be really confusing around that because in a lot of ways because I don’t want to say it’s a solo project but my voice is probably the most prominent. I was approached to do Animals As Leaders not as a band but as a solo release. It was my idea to have musicians because I didn’t want it to be self-focussed. I wanted to include musicians who could make the sound bigger. It’s happening with Matt. It happened with Navene (Koperweis) almost not so much on drums but as much with electronic stuff and even guitar ideas. It’s been collaborative but also in a large percentage, also slightly like a solo thing.

Tosin playing the genius that it is the Ibanez TAM100 8-string guitar
Is there any chance of lyrics?
Tosin: (laughs seeing the hopeful expression on my face) I think we’re going to stay instrumental but we’ve toyed with the idea of using vocal samples. It could be cool. Maybe on the next one, I don’t know. Some sort of narrative or something.

What do you listen to individually? What kind of influences can we expect on this album? 
Tosin: I still listen to a lot of Bebop guitar players like Adam Rogers, Kurt Rosenwinkel; the Meshuggah influence is always going to be there. But I’m also listening to a lot of electronic music. Honestly, I like Siriousmo, Noisia; there’s a podcast called Neosignal with guys like Misanthrop and Phace. It’s really aggressive drum n bass.

Matt: I’ve been listening to Machinedrum, this rock group called Data, Deftones, Meshuggah. I should probably look at my phone.

Tosin: I know, I was about to do the same thing but my phone’s dead.

Does it go beyond the music or are you constantly playing/recording/listening?
Tosin: We’re very different. For me, I’ve a pretty active social life in Los Angeles. So I go out a lot and hear electronic music. There’s a party called Low End Theory. Flying Lotus has this residency and multiple times a week, I’m just hearing a DJ. I’m also into fashion and I actually like to go to flea markets and boutiques. I’m also into fitness. So, I do cross fit like five times a week. When we’re on tour, it’s 100% music. Off tour, I’m not really playing the guitar that much. I want my life to have balance.

Matt: For me, it’s like the part of the day that I look forward to. Without going and playing, it’s almost like a dark day. My life definitely reflects in my music that I come up with. I think that’s what I live for and it’s a part of me. It’s like eating. Without music everyday, I feel malnutritioned in a sense. But yeah, I like to go out and check out live performances. That’s very inspiring. I’m into fitness and eating healthy. I’m recently getting into fashion. Tosin’s helping me.

Tosin: Oh yeah? I gave him this shirt. He looks quite nice, doesn’t he? *they laugh*

*Javier walks into the interview*

Javier, how would you describe your relationship with the guitar?
Javier: I actually had an on and off relationship with the guitar. For a while, in my early 20s, I actually had a break from playing the guitar. So I spent two or three years without playing and just trying to discover the rest of my life — going back to school, working with the family business, stuff like that.

But it pulled you back?
Javier: Absolutely! Obviously! Probably when I was like 25, I started playing guitar again and it just came back to me. I felt that I was like a unique player and it just became something that I knew that I had to do. I had some people supporting the idea who were like ‘dude, you should always play guitar’.

Has it worked out well? 
I would think so. I’m in India and doing an interview, aren’t I?

Javier: the one who looks quiet but has quite a story to tell
How was Bangalore Open Air?
Javier: Last night was awesome. I was a little tired after the show.

Tosin: We messed up the performance! But the overall experience was cool. For us, the experience of playing in front of the Indian crowd was very positive. There was a lot of enthusiasm.

Did you come with any expectations?
Tosin: We have peers — Periphery, Tesseract — and they’ve all been like ‘dude, it’s crazy’. Before that, I didn’t know that there’s a metal community in India. On Facebook, we’ve been noticing a large amount of comments and stuff from Indian cities. So I kind of knew there was like some energy here for metal. But it doesn’t really prepare you for the experience of being in a large Indian city and playing.

How’s the chemistry between the three of you with Matt’s addition?
Javier: I think the chemistry’s been awesome. Having Matt in the band has kind of lit a new spark in Tosin and my creativity. We loved Navene but I think that what Matt offered for us is definitely a lot more what both of us were looking for from a drummer. I think having him in the band has definitely added a new chemistry. It’s actually fun for us to listen. We get to turn around and listen to him do some crazy thing and we’re like ‘Jesus Christ, you know’

Is it the same story in the studio?
Tosin: We haven’t done that yet. But the performance dynamic is much more organic. Whether he’s playing a part that he didn’t write or not, he has the freedom to interpret it. So that’s where we’re constantly surprised. But when we compose, it’s way more planned.

Matt: I try as much as I can to keep the integrity of the song and the feel and the phrasing. In most cases, it’s not that I’m going out on a limb. I’m actually playing closer to what they’re playing. It helps, especially live, to create more of this unison hammer kind of bashing on the crowd’s head.

Javier: For this style of music, I also think that live, you wouldn’t be able to change the leads or rhythm parts because it would become a whole new song. The leads, solos, act sometimes as the melody. People actually start memorizing them and singing along to them. With the drums, Matt has the liberty to change it up without sounding like it’s a new song.

What contribution do you think you have made to the instrumental metal sub-genre? 
Tosin: Animals As Leaders was never actually meant to be an aggressive thing. I was in a metalcore band and I wanted to make clean, intricate music that wasn’t aggressive. It was because I worked with Misha Mansoor that he started to metal-ize everything. But inadvertently, it created this synergy where the aggressive parts were balanced by the melody and texture of what used to be a non-aggressive song. I can play you demos of what the songs were before they became the final versions. It’s not metal. It sounds closer to electronic music. We’ve been responsible for, in some way, solidifying it as a genre in metal.

(At this point, the PR person comes and forces the interview to be stopped. I’ve long crossed my deadline of 10 minutes. I thank the band, check out the orange/black sari that Tosin’s bought (as a wall hanging) from their market, make them pose for the photograph and leave the hotel with the biggest grin on my face.)

The 500 word article version of this has been published in Metrolife, Deccan Herald on July 12, 2013. 

1 comment:

Akum said...

I heard the BOA was awesome. I had it all planned but lost my interest when Sodom cancelled.. Can you please post something more from the festival..