Tetrafusion's Absolute Zero is a great instrumental album that weaves the hallmarks of progressive rock and fusion without turning the songs into showboating. Sea of Tranquility Staff Writer Murat Batmaz talked to bassist Mark Michell about how Tetrafusion was formed, the creative process of their debut album, and progressive music.
SoT: Could you please talk about how Tetrafusion was formed?
Mark: Well, going way back, we've all known each other since we were literally in elementary school and stuff, which I personally find to be pretty amazing considering we're at this point now. Growing up together played a huge role in it, and by the time we got to high school, we were already in all sorts of musically-involved groups and stuff, whether it be school-related or not. Gary and I performed in coffee shops when we were like fifteen and stuff playing nothing but jazz and blues, so him and I had a really early start at it. As time went by, you know, we just continued jamming with each other, and it was just sort of a light bulb moment when looking to complete the line-up when we started the band, as we both knew two close friends who played drums and guitar.
SoT: Tell us about the band members.
Mark: You know, they're all really great guys, and we get along great. Definitely a strong chemistry, which again, was really developed from growing up playing music so early on. The other three guys are all music majors in college, so they're really on top of their game in that aspect, and definitely take the craft seriously. We're all great friends outside of the band too, which I consider to be an extremely important factor in how a band runs. I see a lot of bands who just get together when they have to and don't really know each other too well, and after awhile it just becomes really stale and uncomfortable for them.
SoT: How long has this lineup been together?
Mark: At first, it was just the three of us who started Tetrafusion (Gary, JC, and myself) back in late 2006, and we were looking to do some instrumental jazz trio sort of stuff to expand on that coffee shop gig scene I was talking about...we even wanted to get like a saxophonist and stuff. I guess after awhile we just began writing music that was a complete left turn from that, and got Brooks on board as the guitarist as a result. Long story short, he joined about two or three weeks after the band 'officially' started.
SoT: You released a demo before Absolute Zero. How many of those songs made it onto the album? Were any changes applied?
Mark: We mainly did this because our studio time was so spread out (over the course of about eight months), and we wanted to have some sort of "product" that people could buy at our shows, so we just took five out of the eight songs and pre-released it as an EP. As far as material changes, all we did was add a piano/cello intro to "Dark Matter". Most of the changes were simply re-mastering the songs slightly to give the album a consistent mix after everything was recorded. Basically we released this because we were pretty anxious to get our music out, instead of having to wait all that time.
SoT: Talk about the creative process of your debut release. How long did it take to compose the material?
Mark: Basically, since day one. As I said earlier, we ditched the jazz trio thing because we were writing stuff that was so out of the ballpark at the time. At our first rehearsal, Gary comes in with some riffs that are now a part of "Inertia", and that song formed pretty quickly. From that day until early 2008, we were slowly but surely writing the album's material. No one was waiting around for our debut album, so we weren't in any hurry. As far as writing, we use music/tablature programs to write things out, mainly so that we don't forget them, and we can bounce them back and forth via email and quickly develop ideas. Brooks (guitar) did most of the writing on Absolute Zero, and he was constantly emailing us riffs, developing them into parts, and then he'd show up to rehearsal with almost a full song done. From then it was just a matter of tweaking the arrangements. There were plenty of times where we stayed up all night until the crack of dawn writing music. Also, we had a concept to go with this CD, so we always kept that in mind while writing it.
SoT: Did you produce the record yourself?
Mark: Definitely! No platinum producers here...self-produced all the way. Our studio engineer served as an outside ear a lot of the time and definitely offered some great input while recording, but nothing too major. Our upcoming album at the moment is the same way. There are plenty of producer horror stories out there, so if we do use one in the future, it will be in a very minimalist fashion.
SoT: What are some instrumental bands you guys are fond of?
Mark: Any of the jazz groups out there, both old and new. Jazz is really what sparked the desire to be instrumental for us at first. Today, there are some extremely talented instrumental groups out there, who are doing QUITE well I might add. We're good friends with the guys in Scale the Summit, who are currently on a North American tour with Dream Theater, which is a ridiculous opportunity for them. A few others that come to mind are Animals As Leaders, Pelican, Canvas Solaris, which are all very unique groups in their own way. I highly recommend all of these. We played a show on our tour this past summer with an instrumental group named After Time Has Passed, which I thought were absolutely OUTSTANDING musicians, although the group only consists of a guitarist and a drummer. And, of course, all of the veteran bands who really coined instrumental music or instrumental sections in music such as Liquid Tension Experiment, King Crimson, ELP, Frank Zappa, Spyro Gyra, etc...the list goes on forever.
SoT: What do you think about progressive metal with vocals? Are you fans of bands like Dream Theater, Opeth, Pain of Salvation, etc.?
Mark: Haha, well of course. We actually have vocals in our music too, as of now, on our upcoming record that we're currently recording. We just put out a debut record that was instrumental to really force listeners to focus their attention on the music, where it should ultimately be focused. Now that we're adding vocals, the music is still going to remain as the primary focus...the vocals will just be another instrument in the formula, per se. There are so many bands out there who are just so driven by the lyrics and vocals, which, I enjoy and listen to plenty of that, but we feel the musical aspect is what we excel at best. We all grew up on and still listen to those groups like Dream Theater, Opeth, Rush, which are actually a bigger inspiration and influence than the instrumental bands I listed earlier.
SoT: What 2009 records have you guys been digging so far?
Mark: I'm sure the other guys have plenty of their own, but I'll just list mine:
I will for sure be digging "The Great Misdirect" by Between The Buried And Me, which isn't even out yet but I know it will be fantastic.
"Black Clouds & Silver Linings" (Dream Theater)
"Carving Desert Canyons" (Scale The Summit)
"Wrath" (Lamb of God)
"No Line On The Horizon" (U2)
"Crack The Skye" (Mastodon)
Still wanting to check out the new Mars Volta stuff, the Fray, Killswitch Engage, Imogen Heap, and lots more, but so far those are the only ones I've really listened to.
SoT:Are there any plans to tour for Absolute Zero? Any dates set?
Mark: We did a small tour throughout the south this past June, and a few dates back at home, but nothing too major, as we really needed to spend time writing for our new album, and then time to record it (which we're doing now) -- however, we had a blast at the few shows we did, and definitely earned a lot of new fans who took home our merch and albums. We'll do a few dates throughout the winter and spring, maybe a small tour during the holidays, but next summer it's going to be nuts with the touring, as we'll have released a new album. Hopefully we can land something big...I'm crossing my fingers.
SoT: Is there anything else you'd like to add?
Mark: Truly appreciate everyone reading this, and for the support...thanks so much for listening to us, and everyone around the world who has been purchasing our albums, and showing it to their friends, who have done the same. We hope to keep growing as a band as the months go by, and all of the new fans we're attaining is only going to expedite the process...my biggest thanks to everyone. Thanks to Sea of Tranquility for having me as well!
(Click here to read our review of Absolute Zero)