Before hitting the road, Marshall adopts an intense practice regimen for all the techniques he’ll need to cover. “My right hand gets really dialed when it’s tour time.” Photo by Wyatt Clough
Cardi B’s “WAP” may have ruled the airwaves for the last few months, but that hasn’t stopped a massive scene of technically advanced, guitar-centric rock from “quietly” enjoying astounding worldwide popularity, too. And Aaron Marshall, the mastermind behind prog heavyweights Intervals, is among those at its forefront. But keeping a band and the genre—which also includes Animals As Leaders, Covet, Polyphia, Chon, and other bands—moving forward is a full-time job. So, in the online-music era, artists have to adapt and become as proficient at business and production as they are at their instruments.
Marshall is a template for this breed of renaissance musician. He is a business owner, composer, producer, and a social-media marketing guru, and he releases his own music without a record label. Plus, he’s a mind-blowing guitarist. Even during COVID-related lockdowns and unrest, these skills keep Marshall, his band, and his business busy. While some bands are hunkering down and waiting it out, Intervals is pushing forward with its just-released album, Circadian.
“We decided to move full steam ahead,” Marshall says. “Give [the fans] some new music, and we’ll see how things progress from there. We’re glad we can provide for fans of the music, and we feel that we made the right choice.”
This commitment to both fan base and craft is why Intervals has risen to the cream of the boundary-expanding prog-guitar crop in the nine years since Marshall formed the Toronto-based band. It’s also evident in the compositional and fretboard theatrics found throughout Circadian’s 35 minutes.
To make the album, Marshall and producer Sam Guaiana locked themselves away, exploring and expanding Intervals’ trademark rhythmic complexity and harmonic interplay. Factor Guaiana’s pop production techniques in with Marshall’s low-tuned, aggressive riffing on songs like “Vantablack” and “String Theory,” and Circadian takes the band to a very different place than earlier albums.
Also, fleet-fingered guests Marco Sfogli (of Dream Theater singer James LaBrie’s band) and Joshua De La Victoria elevate a couple of Marshall’s compositions beyond what he thought was possible. You’ll even find an inspiring saxophone solo on “D.O.S.E.,” as well as the powerhouse rhythms of bandmembers Josh Umansky on bass and drummer Nathan Bulla. Yet even with all of these ingredients, Circadian never comes off as disjointed. According to Marshall, that’s because it’s all about “this constant striving for balance. It’s things that I’m passionate about, conveyed through the music.”
Over the last three albums, Intervals has developed a signature sound that’s soaring, majestic, and full of rich dynamics, tempo changes, and varied instrumental colors. How do you balance all that while still growing as an artist?
I try to write based on intuition. With each body of work, I’m a different person. I’m always into new things. Perhaps my pencil would be a little sharper if I was constantly composing. But I’ve never had the luxury. Since the beginning of this journey, it’s been a freight train. There’s always been deadlines and things.That’s what’s pretty exciting about right now, honestly: the fact that I have time to compose. I’ve got the bug to continue writing, and I’m feeling really good about it.
Circadian has some heavier moments. Did you set out to bring more metal to this album?
I did, actually. I’m dipping a toe on taking Intervals back in that direction. I wanted to bring the 7-string back a little bit. One of the 7-string songs is in drop A, and then there’s another, “String Theory,” that’s drop D with a low A. But I didn’t want to go, “Okay. Here’s a fucking full-tilt 7-string record.” I still had things I wanted to say with 6-string. But I think it’s a sign of things to come. Part of me is eyeing an 8-string and going, “Maybe that’s going to be a vibe at some point.” Who knows?
How else did Circadian help you grow?
I’m continuing to grow as a composer, in terms of my attention to detail and arrangement. I’m exploring new production tricks, new ways that we can utilize the guitar. Something I love about vocal production is wide, stereo background vocals. And Sam, the producer and engineer that I worked with, primarily works in the pop-punk world. So he was good at applying those vocal techniques [to guitars]. That’s something I’m really, really excited about.Also, we doubled all my guitar harmonies—even if it was a third above, a third below, octaves, or a combination of those. Then we could say, “I want this to have that stereo background vocal vibe.” We could pan them harder away from each other, maybe even compress them more, or do something like adding some chorus. It’s painstaking—we would have to really scrutinize takes to get them really tight with each other. But I’m excited about what we achieved.
The collaborations with Marco Sfogli and Joshua De La Victoria are impressive.
I’m in love with Josh’s project called Victoria, which has Matt Garstka, the drummer from Animals As Leaders. He’s like 22 or 23. It’s kind of scary, he’s so good, and I really love providing a platform to show him off. I was sending him bounces and asked what he thought. Usually, a [guest-artist] feature is within the context of the solo section. But we tossed some ideas back and forth, and I was like, “Oh, this is money.” That’s why that song ended up being called “Lock & Key.” It’s synergistic. One [player’s part] completes the other.
As far as Marco on “String Theory,” he is probably my favorite guitar player of all time. I’ve been stealing his approach to melodic, top-line guitar for years. I had a solo spot open up, and I figured I’d shoot my shot. He got back to me and said that he’d be really excited to do it, and 48 hours later I had a completely finished solo in my inbox. I was like, “Dude, are you kidding me?!” I completely lost my shit. I told my parents because they know how much of a fan I am. I was telling everybody I know! The part has my jaw on the floor every time I hear it.
Despite being recorded during the pandemic, tracking for the new album “didn’t feel too far from what I’m used to,” says Marshall. It’s “largely dependent on guitars. So we don’t usually have anyone else around anyway.”
During 2015’s The Shape of Color, you were with PRS. With The Way Forward, in 2017, you played a lot of Suhr and Aristides guitars. Now, you’re using Mayones. What inspired these changes?
Really, at the end of the day, it’s about listening to my intuition. And it’s about exploring and finding what speaks to me, what works, and feeling that I’m in the correct company.It’s never about being unhappy with the guitars. It also has nothing to do with the end goal of slapping my name on an instrument. Sometimes people think that can be the case, but I can assure you it’s not.The Mayones guys have always been very kind to me. The opportunity was there to spend some time in Gdańsk, at their shop in Poland, and check everything out. I had a blast. I was very impressed by the guitars and the operation.Then they sent some instruments to try to see if they suit my tastes. Those first two Mayones Regius Core models are amazing—they’re absolutely phenomenal, road-worthy instruments. They sound great, and they’re all over the record. Those are the guitars that I showed on our Rig Rundown with you guys. That was my first tour with them. Now we’re playing around with some ideas and experimenting with stuff. People like to take guesses at what those things are, because they see guitars and they go, “Oh, this must be it” ... “That must be it.” I can assure everybody that I’m going to throw a curveball with what we’re working on. I’m really excited about it.
So there’s going to be an Aaron Marshall signature Mayones guitar?
Well, I’m being very cryptic. But we are working on an instrument that doesn’t exist in the catalog. It has specs that are extremely particular to me. If that’s not being explicit, then I don't know what is [laughs].
What other guitars did you play on the album?
I used a Martin that was borrowed from a good buddy, Rob Cappelletto. He’s faculty at York University (in Toronto), for the jazz program. He’s also my tech, a guru, and somebody that I really look up to. I can’t remember exactly what model it was.The meat-and-potatoes 6-strings were my Tele and the jade-green Regius Core from Mayones with Bare Knuckle Silos. We also used my gunmetal Suhr Custom Modern with the roasted neck, the reversed headstock, and a Floyd for some overdubs. The 7-string stuff is probably equal parts my Abasi J Larada 7, with a wenge neck, and my Regius Core 7 from Mayones. It’s the purple one with the ash body. That one has Silos in it, as well. We really liked how that guitar sounds, because it has a Schaller Hannes bridge on it, which is a very particular sound.