If you’re new to the world of instrumental metal music, you may not have heard of DC’s Animals As Leaders, a reference to Daniel Quinn’s Ishmael. And if you’re new and near a device like most people are, you might soon find yourself, jaw dropped, seeing this trio of progressive musicians with advanced playing techniques unfurled, slicing through fast tempo and augmented tonality alike. Extended-range guitarists Tosin Abasi and Javier Reyes together blow minds alongside drummer Matt Gartska, and something could easily be said about how primary the concept of progressiveness seems to be with the band, fronted by two 8-string guitars.
And if your words come up short, and you’d like some, I’ve amassed a passionate few on the subject here.
In anticipation of the upcoming show at The Broadberry, RVAMag recently had the pleasure of talking to Javier, and we spoke a bit about touring and, because it’s inescapable in the current climate, the effects of politics.
Their instrumental M.O. – a strictly vocal-less/lyricless approach – winds up being a favourable buffer from the sometimes-inescapably grim nature of news at this place in America’s history, both from the side of the band’s creative focus and from their audiences as well. Aside from the occasional conversation abroad with Asian Fan X or Australian Concertgoer Y inquiring as to the state of things back at home for the band, Javier tells me that by-and-large, the political element of life manages to stay away.
Obviously as a band without lyrics or a singer, the state of US affairs can barely if at all be evidently impactful to their music. But as an artist myself, who has been recently struggling with the potential of a seemingly spreading futility in artistic necessity, during these recently unsettled and increasingly dire times, I asked Javier if this sort of thing worried him.
“As far as traveling to certain countries, I would say so,” Reyes admits. “A couple years ago, when there was that shooting in France, we were on a tour of Europe so we were like ‘Okay, it was at a metal show, so anything can happen.’ But like anything at home, at some point it doesn’t stop you from what you still have to be doing. You try to be cautious, you try to make smart decisions, but at the end of the day, you can only do so much.”
And although he does enjoy touring, particularly to the countries that they’ve only just begun to play such as China and Japan, he’s observed that fans feel the same. “It’s the first time they get to see us, so it’s pretty exciting for them. The shows are a lot smaller there than they are at home, so I think the dynamic of the show is pretty different”,
Like many musicians, Reyes prefers the arena of studio work and the writing process to the rigors of being on the road.
“[Touring] can definitely be taxing,” he said. “I just like writing; working on new material.”
In a hugely welcome addition to available AAL merchandise for guitar-playing fans of the band, there will soon be a guitar songbook for their stellar latest album, The Madness of Many. As a fan of their music and as an 8-string guitar player myself, I couldn’t help but ask about why there hadn’t been tablature songbooks done for the older three albums.
“Actually, we started on The Joy of Motion right around the same time that we started working on The Madness of Many album,” he said. “So we were shifting focus to TMOM, let’s get this book done and then we’re going to backtrack one album at a time.”
For those of us who want to get to know their compositions inside and out, not only so that we might have the fun of replicating their music ourselves, but to get a technical depiction of their writing style, reading is essential to get to know them as artists. It is expected, more or less, that through exploring their writing, fans can glean fragments of or even whole personality, elements directly or indirectly. The level and manner of the evincing are what draws us to them through their art.
Transparent sincerity becomes a cornerstone in art’s myriad forms, which is reflected in how Reyes sees their process.
“For us, as we expand as musicians, I think that’s what’s happening to us, as people and players, so I think it’s natural for it to go through, into the music. And at the same time, considering that we are instrumental, we never really try to repeat ourselves too much. We know we have a sound, and there’s some retaining that we have to do, but at the end of the day we like experimenting, and we like our music to be a product of who we are at that moment. And if it means we write more clean guitars, or more acoustic guitars or put more electronics [in], that’s what will happen at that time…we just like writing what we are at that point.”
When asked which currently performing musical groups would be on his dream bill alongside Animals As Leaders – as either openers or following acts- Reyes didn’t hesitate. “I’d love to go on tour with Dream Theater at some point. Somebody like Slipknot would be pretty rad. Snarky Puppy, Tigran Hamasyan, The Bad Plus…kinda weird, but yeah. Thundercat.”
The mention of Tigran, who is astoundingly fresh is my opinion, makes sense in terms of musical style rather than in new-to-the-scene-ness. Tosin’s Instagram account has featured Tigran Hamasyan with several videos of him playing over Hamasyan. The logical next question concerned what Reyes had on heavy rotation recently.
“I’ve been listening to the new Dirty Projectors, which is quite different than their previous stuff, but I love it. Pretty creative and unique group. I also discovered a gospel group called The Red Hand. It’s pretty much gospel, but I just like the heavy R&B influence on it. As well as Anderson .Paak,” he admits, chuckling. “A lot of Anderson .Paak.”
I can’t be the only music fan who appreciates hearing about who my favorite artists like, and Reyes’ disclosure leaves me with some welcome listening homework. What I find in exploring these people’s preferences can sometimes surprise me, but always enlighten. The thing to remember is that they pull creativity and influence from somewhere too, and it is a small world. Finding overlap in your own path with theirs is inspirational and satisfying
How else to get to know a band’s personalities? In the case of honest enough artists such as AAL, by seeing them live. And given the stresses of today’s social climate, perhaps we could do with a break from it all. It’s Reyes’ experience and observation that fans leave the weight of pessimism at home and come simply to enjoy their shows.
“Most fans are just there to see guitar,” he’s the first to acknowledge. There’s a fantastically simple beauty in that statement.
Local music lovers will be in for a treat should they choose to welcome Reyes with Animals As Leaders, alongside contemporaries Veil of Maya and Alluvium, to The Broadberry, May 23rd, once again for a dazzling display of just that. You can snag tickets here!