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more... ArtistsGuitaristsMetalProgAnimals as LeadersFebruary 2012

Animals as Leaders: A Different Breed

Animals as Leaders: A Different Breed

The calm but deadly Reyes catches a groove at NYC’s Best Buy Theater. Photo by Sam Charupakorn

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?
: 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?
: 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?
: 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?
: 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?
: 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.

Abasi tearing up “An Infinite Regression” with one of his custom Ibanez 8-strings. Photo by Sam Charupakorn

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?
: 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?
: I take ideas from classical guitarists like Agust’n 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.
: 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?
: 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.

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