The calm but
catches a groove
at NYC’s Best
Photo by Sam
Javier, when Tosin uses an unexpected
scale or plays sort of atonal, does that feel
natural to you or do you have to acclimate
your ear to it?
Reyes: A little bit of both. If the rhythm
and the progression aren’t too crazy, I can
find a melody somewhere in there. I like
to look for melodies that lead you somewhere
else—shifting around in modes and
things—but I’m not actually paying attention
to that sort of stuff. After the fact I can
say, “I guess I’m in Lydian” or whatever.
“David” has a great ethereal vibe and
some really nice interplay between the guitar
parts. Did you write that one together?
Abasi: No. I just used my ear and little bit
of theory to come up with the second part.
“David” is actually inspired by Gustavo’s
book as well. I was working on an exercise
and thought, “Wow this is really cool.” I
just changed some intervals, changed the
rhythm a bit, looped the main theme into
my Boomerang [Phrase Sampler pedal], and
then messed around with another part—I
think it was an inversion of the same chord.
Let’s talk about gear now. You guys are
Axe-Fx users, right?
Abasi: Yeah, we’re using the Fractal Audio
Systems Axe-Fx II, and that houses all the
effects, as well as our amp tones. It’s a simulator,
so we just go directly back into the PA.
Reyes: We have absolutely no amps onstage.
What about guitars?
Reyes: I use Ibanez RGA8s. One is stock,
and the other is a custom with a bubinga
top and an ash body, but with pretty much
the same specs as the stock one.
Abasi: I have quite a few custom Ibanez guitars—
all are 8-strings. I have a hollowbody
8-string that was made just for me, and it’s
unique because it’s actually a neck-through
design with hollow wings. It’s an [Ibanez] RG
shape with a slight arch to the top, but I cut
an f-hole in it so it looks like a semi-acoustic
instrument. I also have a handmade guitar
from a luthier named Ola Strandberg. It’s
very unique—the neck profile is actually an
asymmetrical trapezoid, so it’s thinner on the
treble side, and it expands on the bass. It’s a
fanned-fret guitar, too, so it’s multi-scalar.
What are the advantages of the fanned frets?
Abasi tearing up “An Infinite
Regression” with one of
his custom Ibanez 8-strings.
Photo by Sam Charupakorn
Abasi: Basically, there are certain pitches
that should exist within a certain scale
length. Once you start to go into bass territory,
you benefit from a longer neck just for
temperament or tension. So the multi-scale
[neck] combines a longer scale for your bass
notes and a shorter scale for your treble
notes, and what you get is a progressively
slanted sort of fretboard. That way, you
don’t have a neck that’s super long for your
treble strings—which makes the timbres
sound unnatural or the tension too high—
and you get enough tension for the lower
strings. You get the best of both worlds.
In addition to having fanned frets,
your Strandberg is also headless. Do you
think headless guitars will ever make
a comeback, or will they always be
a niche thing?
Abasi: It’s hard to tell, because I don’t
really think like a normal guitarist. There
are a lot of traditionalists who say they
wouldn’t ever play active pickups or
who think a guitar should only have six
strings. So a headless guitar is a turnoff
to someone who’s really into Fenders or
something. Beyond writing progressive
music, I’m pretty progressive minded in
general. I really like for things to evolve,
because that usually means the design is
being refined and actually making our job
easier. So I would love to see more builders
taking a completely objective approach
to guitar building as opposed to relying
on tradition 100 percent.
Speaking of being progressive, I’m guessing
that knowing what you’re listening to
now might hint at what’s to come in the
future. Who are your current influences?
Reyes: I take ideas from classical guitarists
like Agustín Barrios, as well as more modern
artists like Dirty Projectors and different
electronic DJs. I listen to their sound
design and how they produce.
Abasi: Jimmy Herring’s a recent discovery.
He gave master classes at the music school
I went to. He’s got a lot of hip, melodic
ideas that are totally taken from bebop
but he’s not playing straight-ahead jazz.
He’s got a great sort of blues element to
all of it. I’m also into jazz guitarists Kurt
Rosenwinkel and Adam Rogers, as well as
bass players like Matthew Garrison. I just
found a really old John Scofield master
class, and the playing on it is just phenomenal—
really cool ideas. So, apparently now
I’m a Scofield fan.
It’s interesting that you mention
Rosenwinkel and Rogers, because the
clean interlude at 1:41 in “Somnarium”
sounds like something Ben Monder,
another modern jazzer, might write.
Abasi: Ben Monder, yeah he’s very cool and
has a very bold sense of harmony. It’s cool
that you’re bringing up all these players,
because these are the guys that I’m listening
to who are really inspiring me to push the
melodic envelope. But when it arrives in
metal, it sounds even more striking because,
like you said, there are some decided tonalities
that are expected.
Would you ever go in a jazzier direction?
Abasi: Those guys have been influential in
terms of the chord voicings that I use and
the melodic blends I’m trying to create—it’s
just ending up in this sort of metal context.
Would I ever go that complete route? I’m
not the improvisational player that those
guys are, but I think that part of my brain
always wants to be part of that world to
some degree. The music is definitely really
compelling and stimulates my creativity,
but I’m not necessarily concerned with
straight-ahead jazz as a genre or post-bop or
whatever you want to call it.
Reyes: Just knowing Tosin’s personality, he’s
all about just writing whatever he wants to
hear. How we grow as musicians is how the
next album is going to progress. If it tends
to be jazzier [than the past], then that’s
what it is. If it tends to be more metal, then
that’s what it is.