Though their previous releases, 2006's The Silvery Image and 2007's A Great Divide, were stellar examples of melodic and technical progressive metal, US act Suspyre really captured the attention of the prog faithful after signing with Sensory Records and delivering the intense When Time Fades... here in 2008. Sea of Tranquility Publisher Pete Pardo caught up with both Gregg Rossetti and Clay Barton to discuss the new album, their unique style of prog-metal, live plans, and all things that are relevant in the world of Suspyre!
SoT: As solid as A Great Divide is, the band has really outdone themselves with When Times Fades. Was it just a matter of your writing and musicianship maturing, or did you really try to step up with this
Gregg Rossetti (guitarist/composer/saxophone): It just happened by accident. The ironic thing is, a chunk of the material on "When Time Fades…" was actually written before we even recorded our first album, "The Silvery Image." So compositionally, it was more about, "Hey, let's actually finish the leftovers from years ago." The logical improvement on this album was the production; as we get more used to recording, engineering, and mixing, we can improve the overall sound of the album. But, with the material that was written the most recently for this album, we tried to weed out the parts that were not fresh sounding. We never want to make the same song, let alone album, twice.
Clay Barton (vocals): When we started putting together the new album we knew it was going to be heading in a different direction. I knew the kind of lyrics I was writing and I knew the kind of music that was being planned for it, therefore, the heaviness and darkness of the album didn't surprise me once it was done. Even though we've put out three albums we're still learning things about each other. Now, with a new keyboardist the fourth album will most likely feature things that we couldn't do before so expect a fourth album that still sounds different from the rest.
SoT: The CD has now been out for a few months-how has reaction been from both the metal and prog communities, as well as the critics?
Gregg: I've seen mixed reactions, but mostly positive ones. It's interesting that all the rave reviews I've read have been very well written; the author would say why he/she likes the album and brings up specific sections. As for the poor ones, they usually just say "1/5" or something, but with no reasoning. This is why we need some sort of Review Electoral College in order to weigh the reviews appropriately. That's a pet peeve of mine; if you're going to review something, say why you feel that way instead of just tacking an arbitrary number next to the name of the album.
Clay: We hope to hear some more since the European reviews have just been coming in recently, but we've been pretty happy with what we've seen. It seems like people who like prog rock and prog metal like what we're doing so we plan to keep doing it.
SoT: Can you tell us how you hooked up with Ken Golden & Sensory?
Gregg: I've always liked the bands on his label, and I've frequently ordered from his store, so when it turned out our manager knew him, it was a logical decision to present him our new material.
Clay: A couple years back we got the chance to play a few shows with Zero Hour when they toured the east coast. Ken was just a nice guy who seemed to really know what he was doing. When the time came to figure out what to do with the new CD, he expressed some interest and we liked what he was saying. There wasn't much more to it than two sides having the same ideas.
SoT:It's quite unusual for progressive metal bands to include sax in their music-when did you first decide to inject sax into the Suspyre repertoire?
Gregg: Instrumentation should only be limited by your imagination and what you have available; it should not be constrained by genre paradigms. I've been playing saxophone longer than guitar; I started music with saxophone, so I feel it would be unfair not to include it in my compositions. It's a more expressive instrument in many cases, but the fact that it's monophonic really restrains its uses, so it can't be my only instrument.
Clay: Saxophone has always been a part of the band, mainly because it is Gregg's main instrument. If he had his way he'd be playing sax all the time instead of guitar. I've always loved the instrument, but I do agree it's strange for metal music to have it. The difference for me is that Gregg is able to write it into our music so well that it would seem wrong not having it there. Some of my favorite musical parts throughout the albums have included saxophone and whether people like it or not, it's not leaving our music.
SoT: How was it working with Charlie Zeleny, and do you have plans to work with him again in the future?
Gregg: It was cool to hire a session guy to work on our album, but given the situation and deadlines, it made it a little more stressful than we would have liked. We hope to find a full-time drummer as soon as possible, but I would not rule out using Charlie on any of my personal projects on which I am working.
Clay: Working with Charlie was interesting. I didn't even get the chance to meet him until a week before the CD was released. He's an amazing drummer, which everyone knows, and we're glad that we got the chance to play a couple shows with him. However, we're really looking for a permanent member who wants to be a part of the band so there are no plans to be working with Charlie in the future [for Suspyre]. We certainly wish him the best, though.
SoT: The music on When Time Fades is very complex at times, yet always melodic. How hard is it to marry melody and complexity so it sounds in harmony together?
Gegg: You just have to balance out the sections and listen to the music objectively as well as subjectively. Whenever I'm working on a complex section, I have to sit back and listen to when it feels like it's too much, and then make the appropriate changes. I'll do the same with the more straightforward sections; once I start to get bored, I have to change something, be it a new progression, an instrumental break, or a new meter. Transitions are always the hardest; if you're not mathematically working out tempo changes and metric modulations, they sound so random and disjointed.
Clay: Gregg works so hard at making everything be in perfect harmony with itself. Suspyre is different than anything else I have ever done especially in the way the music is created. All songs will be written out in full score even down to the vocal melodies. Of course that makes my job easier and harder at the same time because I don't have to come up with the melodies, but I do have to sing the crazy stuff Gregg's mind creates. Needless to say though, a lot of thought goes into making every note on every instrument at every moment be aligned perfectly with each other.
SoT: What are some of Suspyre's favorite bands, both historically and current acts?
Gregg: I'm into a little bit of everything. My first CD ever was Metallica's self-titled album, which my parents bought for me in fourth grade because I got a good report card. The progression from then had some twists and turns, but I've almost always listened to some sort of metal. I started listening to some prog rock like Rush and other bands my dad was into when I was around 11, but for the next few years it was only classical and concert band music (I was a band geek and only played saxophone, clarinet, and piano for years). I got into Nirvana, Marilyn Manson, and some other more alternative stuff in eighth grade, when I began to teach myself guitar again (based on a few lessons I had years prior).
High school is when things got more metal – I was totally into Iron Maiden, and then the power/melodic death metal phase with Blind Guardian, Rhapsody (and all those other fantasy metal bands that sound exactly the same), In Flames, Children of Bodom, etc. When I was doing my undergrad I listened to progressive music and more modern classical – Stravinsky, Debussy, Mahler, Bartok, and eventually avant-garde stuff like Crumb and Penderecki. I got very much into jazz and fusion during this time too, along with Renaissance music, since I played a lot of those genres. By the time I was in grad school I was only into the most avant-garde possible (school does that to you!); microtonality and Harry Partch was my thing, and if it was in 4/4 I would instantly be bored. Now, I've been listening to a lot of funk and fusion. I recently only listen to metal for nostalgic purposes, and am constantly being overwhelmed with the amount of new guitar virtuosos that I've been discovering by listening to instrumental fusion/funk/rock stuff.
Clay: All of us in the band have some common favorites like Angra, Opeth, and Dream Theater. I tend to listen to listen to more metal like Pantera and Symphony X. However, I have my oddballs too since one of favorite artists, Allison Krauss and Union Station is a country act. Basically I listen to anything that excites me so I can start the day with Dave Matthews Band and end it with Decapitated.
SoT: Has there been any talk of touring, and do you get out to do live gigs often?
Gregg: We've talked about it, but it's very difficult to accommodate as of now.
Clay: There's always talk about touring, but it's easier to talk about than actually do. The plan right now is to get a solid line up that will be ready if the right opportunity presents itself. We plan to play some local shows in the north east, some festivals throughout the year, and wait for the right bands to figure out a tour.
SoT: There's plenty of hot tunes on the new CD, "Possession/The Negative", "The Light of the Fire", "Siren", and "Apparitions" being my personal favorites, as they combine all sorts of metal styles with plenty of prog, jazz, and classical leanings. What are some of your favorite tracks, and why?
Gregg: It's all equal to me. If I wound up liking a certain track more or less than the others, I would make changes to them until they were the same. Some songs I like more on some days, some songs I prefer on others. Each track has something special in it that can give it the "favorite song" status.
Clay: "A World With No Measures" is my personal favorite because of the main guitar riff and the lyrics of the song. I'm a little biased when I talk about lyrics I guess, but I really enjoy that one because it's about a long relationship I went through. There's a lot of personal things in that song and it's good therapy for me to hear it on the record. A couple of my other favorites are, "Lighted Endrhyme" and "Evolutions" but what's good to see is that you have your own favorites that are different than mine. We're always happy when people find something in our songs that really grabs them because that's the whole reason we're making the albums in the first place.
SoT: Topping this record should prove to be a challenging experience-have you started writing again for the follow-up?
Gregg: I've thought about what is going to be done differently, but I have to wait for Clay's lyrics before I begin. I have too many musical ideas that I have to narrow down so it doesn't sound unfocused.
Clay: It is already in the works, but who knows what the fourth album's going to be like. Gregg and I decided that it's going to be all new music this time instead of songs that he had in the archives, so at this point he's waiting on lyrics. I've started a few songs and plan to really dive into them in December and January. I don't think the next album will be quite as dark as the last one, but if I have my way it will be just as heavy.
SoT: What is your opinion of the current state of progressive rock and metal?
Gregg: Honestly, a lot of it just sounds the same to me. There are a handful of bands in the genre that I've been listening to for years, and still haven't discovered anyone new that sounds like they're pioneering. If I want to listen to that genre, I'll still spin Dream Theater, Pain of Salvation, and Opeth. I've heard a lot of new contemporary metal bands from my students and I can't remember anything but a lot of heavily compressed guitars, crispy programmed drums going at 200bpm the whole song, and lots of arpeggios. The playing is amazing and very intricate and precise, but it just makes me nervous, then tired.
Clay: I think our genre is the best genre in the world. Progressive music has the most loyal fans on the planet and they really have a passion for the music. There are new bands coming out everyday that fuse styles so ingeniously that I can't wait to see what happens next. We just hope the in the next few years to keep putting out the music that we love.
SoT: Any advice you can give up and coming prog-metal bands as far as staying their course and looking to perhaps sign with a label and gain new fans?
Gregg: Do something original and use emotion in your music. When you find yourself just copying someone else, take another approach. You'll be amazed with what you can create.
Clay: Be true to yourself is so cliché and so true. You have to create music that makes you happy and I think when you find that labels tend to notice it. We haven't been around very long so we're lucky to be where we are now. Find people that you like making music with and keep playing. Happy metal everyone and thanks for giving us the opportunity to have more people hear us.
(Click here to read our review of When Time Fades)