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Interview: Adestria - Young, Hungry, and Taking Chances

Adestria guitarists Russell Klein and Brian Stump reveal the serendipity that led to forming their 6-piece metalcore outfit—which in four short years has hammered out a stunningly brutal sound full of intricate layers, time signatures, and catchy melodies.

“If I didn’t do this, I’d regret it for the rest of my life,” says Russell Klein, as he discusses the difficult decision he made when he dropped out of UC San Diego’s chemical engineering program in 2010 to tour with metalcore sensation Adestria as lead guitarist. It was a serious gamble to risk a lucrative career prospect that offered financial security for a life potentially filled with Taco Bell combo dinners as a road warrior. And while many others who’ve made similar bets in pursuit of their dreams live in some sort of limbo waiting for their day to come, it appears that Klein’s risky move is starting to pay off. In the four short years since the band’s inception, Adestria has accomplished what most bands spend their whole careers trying to achieve, and their success story is, in many ways, the stuff music dreams are made of.

Adestria got its start serendipitously at a party when singer Matt Anderson met up with people who shared similar musical tastes. Over drinks, the initial talks began and a casual jam session was arranged. But no one had major expectations. “I don’t think we had any idea we were going to get as serious as we have,” says rhythm guitarist Brian Stump. But it happened, and it happened fast. In 2010 the band recorded an EP, Oh the Places You’ll Go, which generated a ton of buzz almost immediately upon its release and resulted in Alternative Press magazine naming them the No. 5 unsigned band. This led to a deal with Artery Recordings in late 2011, and they recently released their full-length debut, Chapters.

Adestria’s brutal breakdowns and virtuosic, effortless-sounding fretwork might give the impression that these players were child prodigies, but that’s hardly the case. Keyboardist Mikey Colasardo first picked up his instrument upon joining the band, and it has taken Adestria—whose members are largely self-taught—quite some time to develop their finesse. “We all weren’t that great in the beginning,” says Klein. “It took a lot of hard work and practice together to reach a point where we were all at a mutual ability that was good enough. Our older music wasn’t nearly as technical.” Stump echoes that: “The musicianship has come a long way since we started, and it’s still getting better and better the more and more we play.” Currently on the road with the SoundRink Tour, Klein and Stump discuss their band’s evolving chemistry and the art of keeping order in a young six-piece band.

Chapters is like an epic odyssey— there are so many layers and parts that come out of nowhere. What’s your typical writing process like?
Russell Klein:
It always starts off with some sort of riff for the guitar, then we add drums, and from there we add keyboards and additional layers. We modify it as we go, section by section, and work on the parts to make sure it’s not too long, or we’ll move a part from one place to another, or change a note here or there. Lately, we’ve been doing a lot of writing on the computer.

Brian Stump: We’ll build a foundation, then tweak from there. Everyone’s opinion definitely comes into effect.

With so many people in the band, do each of you have to make a lot of compromises?
Yeah, it makes the writing process a little difficult at times, but nothing good ever comes easy. I don’t mind taking the hard route.

How do you communicate the riffs to each other—do you write them out in tab or give each other mp3s?
Brian and I just teach each other how to play the parts. Generally, we all write together as a group. We practiced four days a week, so we were all together during the writing process.

Stump: I also tab-out riffs using a program called Guitar Pro. It’s an incredible app that I’ve got it on my iPhone. When we’re on tour, even if I don’t have my guitar handy, I can sit and bust out a couple of riffs. I can do it over and over, because god knows I’ve got plenty of time on the road.

With two guitarists, a bassist, and a keyboard player, it must be easy to clutter things up, sonically. How do you arrange things so that everyone has their own space?
There’s a lot to contribute, and sometimes someone obviously has to take a backseat. Our keyboard player holds a lot of rhythm notes down and then accentuates a lot of the lead notes. For the most part, we haven’t run into too many problems there, because we have things designated as “when we [the guitarists] do stuff” and “when the other person is taking the lead.”

Stump: Basically, Russell takes the leads and we use our keys as less of an in-your-face, techno, secondary lead instrument and more for creating atmospheric textures.

But there are several moments on Chapters, like in “More Than You Know” and “1984,” where the piano is the featured instrument.
Piano’s great over breakdowns for certain parts. That’s kind of where we give Mikey his moment to shine, and I’ll keep a solid rhythm and harmonize certain lines in these spots. None of us are overly zealous to be in the spotlight all the time. It’s nice that we can kind of balance it between us.

On songs like “1984” and “Compromised,” the guitar parts under the vocals are almost like a shred etude, with nonstop 16th- or 32nd-notes. Did you do that to differentiate the parts?
Yeah, we definitely try to keep ourselves busy. It’s nice to have your part in a song and just kind of hand the torch over—keep it rotating around.

Klein: It’s just our style, I guess. We don’t really plan that much ahead between the vocals and the guitar. We kind of write the guitar parts, write the music, and then patch the vocals on top. It’s kind of trial and error. There’s no real specific reason for any of that.

So it’s not because, if Brian’s playing chords and Mikey’s adding stuff on the keyboards, then playing fast, perpetual motion lines is one of the only other textures left?
Yeah, that’s pretty much the reason behind it. We just want to make sure that the parts are interesting even without the vocals and other stuff. We want to make sure that there’s always something going on.

In the breakdown in “Compromised,” you play a series of arpeggios that are executed with some tricky rhythms. Where does that rhythmic chicanery come from?
That idea came from our producer Nick Sampson, who plays a lot of styles like that. He likes those “off” timings. We shot some ideas back and forth. We wanted to do a breakdown, but we also wanted to have a lead over it. It was something we’d never done before, and it turned out pretty sweet. When you get another mind in there helping you write stuff, you get stuff you wouldn’t necessarily come up with on your own. Nick’s band, I Am Abomination, was a huge influence on us.

What other bands or players have influenced your music?
A major influence when we first started playing was As I Lay Dying—you can hear it in our music, for sure. August Burns Red and the Devil Wears Prada are other huge influences. We try to do a mix of the heaviness and style of Devil Wears Prada, but get a little more technical and add guitar riffs and little things like that.

Stump: Yeah, we’ve been compared to the Devil Wears Prada before. I guess the melodic breakdowns are where people make the connection. I also like jamming on my acoustic guitar and really like Andy McKee. He’s pretty mellow. If I’m lying down and I want to relax, I listen to that.

Would you ever try to incorporate some of Andy McKee’s influence into your writing? If taken from the right angle, it could probably work with your music.
Definitely, with a lot of the tapping. It would be awesome to somehow incorporate that in.

Did you do anything deliberate during the Chapters songwriting process to differentiate yourselves from your influences?
Yes—we didn’t want to do the usual heavy-metal riffs nonstop, and then breakdown, and then break down the breakdown. We wanted to add a lot more musicianship to it, so it’s not necessarily just heavy breakdowns. We’ll have a part where we have a lot of guitar work, and then a lot of drums—a lot of cymbal hits between a lot of fills—and then we’d have a part with the piano. At our shows, we do have heavy breakdowns— and we like it heavy here and there—but we don’t want it to be only that. We wanted to show that we’re not just any hardcore band. We wanted to be taken seriously as musicians.

Was it hard in the beginning to find like-minded people who also had a similarly high level of technical ability? Because your music’s not easy …
In the beginning, it was definitely a lot less technical. The skill level has definitely grown majorly in the last four years. We’ve all kind of done it together. We all worked on our songwriting together to develop this style that we all liked, because we all are into slightly different styles and we tried to get it to mesh together. Russell has also kind of taken me under his wing.

Did you take lessons or are you self-taught?
I started real young, playing trumpet, and then played drums in a punk band. I moved to guitar when I was 18. I’ve mostly been self-taught, but I’m definitely open to getting lessons. Learning on my own is awesome, but it’s getting to the point where it helps to have that different brain.

Klein: I took lessons for about a year when I was in elementary school, and then I actually stopped playing guitar for about five years. When I picked it up again in high school, I taught myself from that point on. I read a lot of Wikipedia articles trying to figure out theories, and I also talk to a lot of other guitar players. In San Diego, there are lots of really talented musicians and they’ll be like, “Have you ever tried doing something like this?” or “It helps me remember different chords by doing it this way.”

Although it seems like it’s worked out very well for you guys, one of the tricky things about teaching yourself is that if you learn something wrong, there’s no one there to help you fix it—and it could lead to bad habits.
A lot of people have a lot of bad habits. I have a couple of bad habits, and it took me a while to teach myself to not do that same thing over and over again.

Like what?
Some people hold the pick with the side of their index finger and put their thumb on top of it, whereas some people hold it with their fingertips, using the index, middle finger, and thumb together. The first is the standard way, and the other isn’t.

Is there a disadvantage to one way or the other?
Yeah, with one you use more finger movement, and the other you use more wrist. When you move your wrist, that’s the proper way to do it and you can get more control. But Brian uses more of a fingertip style, which works for him. It’s just two different styles of guitar playing.

Is it true that Mikey couldn’t really play keyboards when he first joined? If so, that’s pretty remarkable. Even though he’s not playing a lot of virtuosic runs, it still takes a great deal of musicianship to keep it together and not get lost.
That’s right. He first picked up keyboards when we started the band. But he also took a couple of classes at the college where we went when he started out, and he started getting a lot of practice there. He got on the ball with learning how to play really quickly.

Let’s talk about gear. What guitars do you use?
Right now Brian and I both use ESP LTDs. I’ve got an LTD Viper 1000. They’re not quite the custom ones, but they’re a little over a $1,000 brand new. We’re working on getting an endorsement from a couple of different guitar companies, something a little more high-end.

Stump: Mine has a Les Paullike body and is flat black, with EMG pickups. The EMGs are like butter—they pick stuff up a lot better. I’ve never really messed around with a whole lot outside of EMGs. I just picked it up and loved it from the beginning. I don’t feel like I need to change anything.

Yeah, EMGs do pick up a lot of details.
When we were recording, the EMGs picked up so much from the open strings that we had to tape those strings off.

Do you do that live, too?
No, not live—it’s pretty much indistinguishable live.

How about amps?
Right now, I have a Peavey JSX with a 5150 cab.

Stump: I use an EVH 5150 III. It’s got 6L6 power tubes, which give it an incredible tone.

Do you guys EQ your amps differently to differentiate your parts, or do you set them similarly to create one big wall of sound?
My amps usually are set with a little more low end. But, in general, our tones are pretty close. We don’t want it sounding off balance and lopsided.

How about the oft-overlooked components of tone, like strings and picks?
My favorite picks are 1.14 mm Snarling Dogs Brain Picks. They’re really thick and have a special grip on them, which I like because I get pretty sweaty when I play and lose traction sometimes. And we’re both using Dean Markley Blue Steels strings, .011–.052.

Stump: We’re looking into thickening the gauge, though, just to give it a little more beef. But right now it’s kind of like, “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.” As far as picks, I don’t know why but I can’t play on anything except those grippy nylons. I guess I’m just spoiled because I started from day one with them. Anything else just kind of strains my fingers. I like the nylon .88s—they have a little bit of flex, but aren’t too flimsy.

Russell Klein's Gear

ESP LTD Deluxe Viper 1000

Peavey JSX head, Peavey 5150 4x12 cab, Mesa/Boogie 4x12 cab

Boss DD-20 Giga Delay

Strings, Picks, and Accessories
Dean Markley Blue Steel .011– .052 sets, 1.14mm Snarling Dogs Brain Picks, Mogami cables, Line 6 Relay G50 wireless, DiMarzio ClipLock straps

Brian Stump's Gear

ESP LTD EC-1000 Eclipse Deluxe

EVH 5150 III head, Mesa/ Boogie Dual Rectifier head, Marshall JCM900 4x12 cab

Ibanez TS9 Tube Screamer

Strings, Picks, and Accessories
Dean Markley Blue Steel .011–.052 sets, .88mm Snarling Dogs Brain Picks, ISP Decimator noise-reduction pedal, Boss TU-3 tuner, Monster cables, Line 6 Relay G50 wireless, DiMarzio ClipLock straps

Russell, a lot of shredders like light-gauge strings to facilitate speedy lines. Are you still able to easily shred with the .011s on top?
Yeah. A lot of people use even thicker strings than that. This is actually a thin gauge for our style of music. I know a lot of people use .012–.056.

Judging by some of your promo videos—where you’re downing a lot of shots—you guys party pretty hard. How do you keep it together playing music this difficult with alcohol-impaired motor skills?
We’re pretty strict about not partying before we play, and we’re really good at not doing too much beforehand. After we play, we go absolutely nuts, but beforehand we might do a drink or two together just to ease the nerves.

Rule number one for me is: Keep your head straight until after you play. You’ll play a better show. Everyone’s on the same page about that. We enjoy partying, but we don’t want to project that image ... maybe our videos are doing a pretty poor job. We don’t want to project an overly party-band image, because a lot of kids come out to our shows and I don’t want to be coming up to them smelling like booze, totally trashed, and making an idiot of myself. We do party, but we try to keep it at a level—at least at shows— where it’s very controlled.

I’ve played shows where I’ve partied a little bit beforehand and I wasn’t happy with my performance. We’ve all done the same thing but, if we’re not in the right state of mind, we’re just not happy with ourselves—because we’re our own worst critics.

YouTube It
Watch Russell Klein and Brian Stump lead Adestria’s live aural assault.

Adestria kicks off this August 2011 gig at the Bottom Lounge in Chicago with a ruckus, maintaining a totally pro and upbeat performance despite the stunning lethargy from the small crowd—which was clearly made up of a lot of kids waiting for the headlining act.

Klein nails blistering arpeggios starting at 0:30, just before the vocals begin.

Several songs into the same Bottom Lounge set, Adestria fi nally breaks through to the shy, reserved kids in attendance. Singer Matt Anderson beseeches them all to get moving, and Stump actually reaches out and pushes a couple of kids in the front row—prompting a bona fi de mosh.