Animals As Leaders are coming to Australia for the first time this November. The instrumental math-rock/metal trio have created quite a buzz since forming, with their impressive guitar chops being a much-talked-about aspect of their performance.
Despite seemingly killing it with successful international tours, gear endorsements and being on every kid’s ‘best guitarist’ list for the past few years, the band haven’t had smooth sailing this year. First they had a much-publicised run-in with the Boston Police Department (check it here) and then they returned home battered and bruised from that tour to find their home had been ransacked and all of their equipment stolen (check it here).
Stuff like this can kill a band’s career and motivation – not to mention their financial stability – but the band have stayed on the road and are rebuilding steadily.
Tosin (guitar) spoke to me ahead of their Australian dates about a bunch of stuff – and yes, I did ask some of those silly questions you guys wanted to hear.
Prog Blog: So how are things going? Where are you at the moment? You guys are in the middle of a European tour right?
Tosin: Actually, we ended up cancelling that tour to work on our next album.
PB: Oh so how is the writing going?
T: Well we’re trying to break through some writer’s block at the moment. I’ve had a lot of ideas from a few months prior and we just need to work through them.
PB: So how did you come to the decision to cancel the tour and work on the album. Both touring and writing are very important parts of being in a band, so what lead you to that decision?
T: Well we just toured Europe and the US earlier this year and this tour was going to be a lot of the same rooms and cities this time. So we just felt we wanted to have new material the next time we went back to Europe and it would be more motivating if we were playing newer stuff rather than just revamping stuff before we headed back.
PB: This tour was meant to be with BTBAM; how did they feel about that?
T: Oh well, we had some headlining Euro dates, but we wanted next time to be a step up.
PB: Welcome to Australia! This is your first time touring here. What can Australian fans expect from an Animals as Leaders live show?
T: In the US we usually have a large visualisation component, so we have live visuals with 8 foot screens.
Down there we won’t be able to bring as much with us but we hope to give people who know the CDs something different. Our newest drummer brings a lot of fresh energy and improvisation to the tracks and we just like to execute the music tightly with more energy than you can bring to a record.
PB: So on that note, you’ve had some lineup changes recently, with a new drummer coming on board. How do you approach the process of integrating someone new into a band with such technical music?
T: Well we actually had a few options who were already able to play the songs. One of them was an Australian actually, who lives up on the Gold Coast, Troy Wright, who we discovered on YouTube already transcribing and playing the songs. Unfortunately, he wasn’t able to get a visa to play with us because we really wanted to work with him.
But with Matt (Gartska) it’s cool because he doesn’t have a metal background, so he brings elements of jazz fusion and gospel and fierce improvisational skills. He’s able to phrase over these crazy tech parts and we’ve been jamming and he’s a very distinct voice on the kit.
PB: The theft of your gear and the incident with the police in Boston have been well publicised. How do you recover from these things as a band?
T: It was pretty devastating. There were guitars with sentimental value, including a classical guitar that Javier had for 15yrs that his dad bought him… It was a seriously unexpected blow, so it was like definitely a shock. I remember not even really believing it was real, but it was a strange feeling, thinking about it daily, hoping to get a call from a detective. But we’re blessed that we have no shortage of instruments – companies helped replace some of it, so it doesn’t stop us making music.
It was a truckload of stuff – emotionally it’s hard to explain, I have to think about it to put in perspective what actually happened. But we still have what we need to keep doing what we need to do.
PB: So it sounds like it was more of an emotional impact than a financial one?
T: Well, yeah, it was very emotional. You know when you’re in a travelling band you have this idea of your home as a secure spot where you can keep all your stuff. It challenged the idea of the home as a safe place. Financially we work with companies who endorse us, so we have what we need. We did lose thousands of dollars if you think of it in liquid terms, but it really represented the growth and achievements of the band over the years, you know we collected this over a long period of time. So it was symbolic to have that stuff removed.
PB: You guys are well respected musicians and pretty well known within the metal scene, but is it difficult to make a living playing instrumental, technical music?
T: Yes it is difficult – for all the reasons stated, it’s fringe even for metal. Not having a vocalist, for some people is a deal-breaker. Inversely, the complexity of our music means we appeal to people outside of metal and not having a metal vocalist means we’ve been able to tour with non-metal bands. We’ve done nothing but great tours; there’s always enthusiastic people. As well, the musicianship allows us to be educators, so I can get paid to visit Australia, NZ, France, Italy etc. and do clinics and share the knowledge with people.
PB: On the topic of clinics, I put the word out to some AAL fans to see if they had any questions, and one of them wanted to know how you manage to keep calm at guitar clinics when some know-it-all kid constantly tries to prove his musical theory wrong and doesn’t give anyone a chance to ask a genuine question.
T: Haha – usually people are really respectful, but sometimes it almost becomes a discussion between you and one person and you just graciously try to bring it back to the room for people who might have questions of their own. Nor do you want to lose people who might still get value from the workshop, but who aren’t guitar players and who don’t want to hear in depth about chord phrasings and arpeggios. Sometimes it is funny seeing the different personalities present themselves!
PB: You’re coming out here with BTBAM; can you tell us a bit about them and how it came about.
T: I have known those guys for 10 years – I was a fan ten years ago, then when we released our first record and we wanted to go on the road, BTBAM was the first band who offered us a support. We were really thankful to be part of it – great dudes, we really get along with them…this will be our 4th tour with them.
PB: Do you guys have plans to come back and do headline shows?
T: We hope so – we hope this is a step towards establishing the band in Australia and participating in all the great events like Soundwave, Big Day Out.
PB: If you could be any animal you wanted, what would it be?
T: Something that could fly, like bald eagle. Or something agile. Maybe a blue whale.
PB: A blue whale isn’t the most agile of animals…
T: Oh well, I was thinking something agile like an otter then I decided I wanted to be huge!
PB: Did Tosin realise that his old YouTube name was foreshadowing his future career?
T: Haha – Good question – I think I recently changed it – actually, that username I made way before YouTube, it was my AOL messenger username. I had no idea really – it was my dream to be a guitar hero, but that was a different pipe dream of a name – at some point I started to realise and this name is strangely appropriate, because I am starting to get know for my guitar playing, so that was really nice.
PB: Well, I’m happy to wrap it up man; thanks again for your time and looking forward to the shows!
T: Thanks Mike!
Animals As Leaders Australian Tour:
Tuesday, 13th November
Amplifier Bar, Perth (18+)
Tickets: http://www.heatseeker.com.au, 78′s, Mills, Planet Video or Star Surf
Thursday, 15th November
The Zoo, Brisbane (18+)
Tickets: Oztix on 1300 762 545, http://www.destroyalllines.oztix.com.au, and Oztix Outlets
Friday, 16th November
The Corner Hotel, Melbourne (18+)
Tickets: Corner Box: 57 Swan St Richmond 10am-8pm Mon-Sat, 03 9427 9198 http://www.cornerhotel.com or Fist2Face (03) 9095 7911
Watch Animals As Leaders Live: