Javier Reyes asks a
soundperson to crank
up his Ibanez RGA
in the mix. Photo by
Do you use notation or charts to communicate
the band’s music?
Abasi: I read at a very basic level, but it’s
kind of de-motivating so I avoid it. We
don’t use charts or notation—everyone
basically plays by ear. A lot of the stuff
is very technique oriented, so I’ll have to
physically show Javier what I’m doing.
We record the music first, so the song
basically exists before we learn it as a
band. Then we go and learn our individual
parts. After the riff is tracked, Javier
will listen to it and either learn it by ear,
or if he had any questions, I’d clarify.
Reyes: For my own personal practice, a
lot of times I’ll play along to the song.
I’ll take sections and analyze them, count
them out if I need to, and make my own
little cheat sheet with the counting—but
not necessarily in staff form. I’d just write
[something like], “There’s three beats
here, then a two-beat rest, then Navene’s
going to do a two-beat roll.” I rely on a
lot of muscle memory and intuition.
Abasi: We’re really heavy on phrase
memorization. I don’t want to make any
riffs that are so counter-intuitive that you
have to count seven 16th-notes. We use
the meters as a guideline, like, “Dude,
you’re playing an extra beat because this
is in 9/8.” We’ll do stuff like that, but at
the end of the day it’s about internalizing
the phrase of the musical line. I think
that’s the best way to approach this stuff.
You guys play a lot more counterpoint
than many of your peers.
Abasi: Yeah, I’m an intermediate classical
guitarist—if I can even call myself that—
so it’s kind of a by-product of knowing a
bit of classical and then trying to utilize
its strengths. On an 8-string guitar, if you
drop the pick and use your open right hand,
you can play multiple lines at one time, basically
like playing classical guitar.
Reyes: I’ve been doing the classical and counterpoint
stuff for a while, so learning Tosin’s
stuff didn’t seem like a big deal. It’s allowed
me to learn all this stuff.
In some ways, you guys are like an electric
version of the Assad Brothers classicalguitar
Reyes: Yeah, Tosin and I actually saw them
a while ago. I got introduced to the Assad
Brothers through my teachers back in D.C.
Abasi: Their harmonic approach is a bit
more varied and adventurous than most
traditional classical music. They’re technically
proficient, too, which is obviously
really nice. So, yeah, there are some parallels.
Seeing them live was, like, “I didn’t
know you could play at that speed with
that amount of dynamics and detail!” It
AAL is guitarists Javier Reyes
(left), Tosin Abasi (right), and
drummer Navene Koperweis.
Photo by Jonathan Weiner
Do you guys still woodshed for hours
Reyes: Tosin is definitely more of a speed
shredder, doing all this crazy technique
stuff. I’m kind of just playing the parts that
need to be played.
Abasi: On tour, there’s a lot of song maintenance,
and then I do general things that
keep me limber. I’ve got a hybrid-picking
book [that I study], which is basically
chicken-pickin’, but it’s not about country
music. The book has lots of permutations
of left-hand fingerings. It’s all chromatic,
four-frets-in-a-row stuff, but they’re dispersed
in these sort of mathematical
Is the book you’re referring to Hybrid
Picking for Guitar by Gustavo
Abasi: Yeah, it’s a good book. I got his first
hybrid-picking book when I was in music
school, and two Animals as Leaders songs are
inspired from those exercises. That stuff is useful,
even if you’re just writing lines. The first
half of it is just these atonal permutations,
which is nice because you can turn them into
whatever scales or modes you want to use.
In songs like “Somnarium,” among others,
it sounds like you’re drawing from
the modes of the melodic minor scale.
Abasi: Yeah, that’s exactly right.
In metal, you sometimes hear harmonic minor
and diatonic modes, but not
too many people in the genre explore
melodic-minor modes—which are more
common in jazz-fusion—to the extent
you guys do.
Abasi: When I was in music school, we
covered all the modes—major and minor
scales—but then we went into harmonic
minor and melodic minor. That’s where
my ear started to peak, because you get
the intersection of a major seventh and a
minor third in the same arpeggio, which is
pretty cool. We have all these colors available.
Most tonalities are pretty directly
uplifting or diminishing, but with some of
the modes of these obscure scales it’s definitely
like a sweet-and-sour situation. I’m
kind of obsessed with these tonalities that
kind of blur the lines.