When you think about the preponderance of formulaic radio-friendly hits and the instant-gratification culture we’re fostering these days, things like skill and discipline can seem in short supply among up-and-coming performers. Some players may wonder why they should labor for hours, day in and day out, to become facile on their instrument and craft compelling songs when any 10-year-old with ADD can cut and paste GarageBand loops and become a YouTube sensation faster than your band can get tight on that tricky verse riff.
Technically oriented players love to pine for the good ol’ days when the art required major woodshedding. And the current reliance on Auto-Tune and other computer-generated audio tricks only fires that nostalgia.
Yet while the current musical landscape may seem bleak, all is not lost. Technology has made it easy to become lazy, but some of today’s bands are also churning out music that is taking complexity to levels never before reached. Take, Maine-based mathcore mavens Last Chance to Reason, whose recent release Level 2 is so dense and abstruse that it could give the guys in Dream Theater nightmares. Working from the band’s fully notated score, the concept album fuses Arnold Schoenberg’s 12-tone compositional theory with Meshuggah-like mayhem and superhuman guitar pyrotechnics. From beginning to end, with its relentlessly changing odd-meter sections and ultra-precise sixteenth-note sextuplets, the album is a virtuosic tour de force.
Last Chance to Reason was formed in 2003 at the University of Maine by guitarist A.J. Harvey and drummer Evan Sammons— both jazz and contemporary music majors— and bassist Chris Corey, who was in high school at the time. The band recorded an EP in 2005, and in 2007 a full-length album called Lvl. 1 followed. After several lineup changes over the years, guitarist Tom Waterhouse, a fellow University of Maine alumni, entered the fray prior to Level 2. Vocalist Mike Lessard and keyboardist Brian Palmer round out the band’s current lineup.
One of the more ironic things about LCTR is that they’re heavily influenced by an art form that might, at first, seem antithetical to their level of musicianship—video games. Their 2007 album Lvl. 1 was heavily influenced by the 1994 Nintendo game Super Metroid—which inspired the song titles “Escape from Brinstar,” “Kraid Ain’t Got Shit on Me,” and “Destroy Mother Brain.” Ever the overachievers, the band took the video game component of their own art a step further on this album—introducing a full-length video game that’s synchronized with Level 2’s underlying tracks.
We caught up with Harvey, Waterhouse, and Corey at their studio in the middle of one of their six-days-a-week marathon rehearsals as they prepare for their upcoming tour.
First off, what bands inspired you guys?
A.J. Harvey: Pretty standard stuff early on—Elvis, Aerosmith, Van Halen, and AC/ DC. When I started getting older, I got into heavier stuff.
Tom Waterhouse: Opeth, Dream Theater, Rush, Meshuggah, and Porcupine Tree.
Chris Corey: I really like a lot of old prog, like Yes, Genesis, and Rush.
And what about influences on your respective instruments?
Harvey: In the beginning, I liked Kirk Hammett and Dimebag [“Dimebag” Darrell Abbott, the late Pantera guitarist]. It evolved from there. I like Allan Holdsworth and Frank Gambale’s stuff with Chick Corea. I like John Coltrane, because he really shredded, for lack of a better word. I really like the caliber of lead playing or soloing that the jazz guys like Coltrane have—it’s ridiculous.
Waterhouse: Also Randy Rhoads. Those are probably our first influences.
Corey: On bass, my biggest influences would be John Myung [Dream Theater], Billy Sheehan, and Dan Briggs from Between the Buried and Me. Interestingly, probably the biggest influence—the guy who took bass to a new extreme when I was young—was Ryan Martinie from Mudvayne. He was the first guy I listened to where I heard the bass and was like, “Wow, that’s really, really awesome—I want to focus on this!” Before that, it was grunge and very simple stuff. Then I heard Dream Theater, and I just couldn’t believe it. I thought, “I want to play like that.” I played a 5-string at the time, and then I saw John Myung and he had a 6-string. So that’s what got me into playing the 6-string bass.