With an übercool name as it is, inspired by Daniel Quinn’s novel Ishmael, Animal as Leaders was predetermined for big things since the band’s inception back in 2007. Originally a solo project by guitarist Tosin Abasi, Animals as Leaders released the self-titled debut in 2009, with Tosin handling all the guitars and basses and Periphery‘s Misha Mansoor who programmed all the drums and various synthesized effects, and who was also enlisted as a co-writer.
Two years later, Abasi joined by another 8-string guitarist Javier Reyes and drummer Navene Koperweis, released Weightless on Prosthetic Records, an album that emphasized the employment of electronic effects even more and release that saw the band debuting on Billboard’s 200 chart at #92.
Navene Koperweis left the band in 2012 and was replaced by Matt Gartska, with whom the Abasi-Reyes duo went on recording their third Animals as Leaders record named The Joy of Motion. Misha Mansoor, along with his Periphery fellow Adam “Nolly” Getgood and Volumes‘ Diego Faries, provided support as a co-writer and producer. The Joy of Motion is the first album the band put out through Sumerian Records and was released in March 2014, debuting on Billboard’s 200 chart at #23.
Over the course of time, Animals as Leaders toured with likes such Decapitated, The Faceless, Veil of Maya, Dredg, Intronaut, Between the Buried and Me, Periphery, Thrice, list goes on. In February 2014, the band was a part of the prog event of the millennium – Progressive Nation at Sea cruise festival hosted by former Dream Theater drummer Mike Portnoy.
Prog Sphere talked with Javier Reyes about The Joy of Motion, touring, progressive music and future. Animals as Leaders are gearing up for the continuation of their North American tour in suport of the new album.
Prog Sphere: The Joy of Motion feels a bit different in the sense as it seems that there is a bit more cohesion between the three of you compared with the previous album Weightless. What can you tell me about the creative process that informed The Joy of Motion album?
Javier Reyes: The process was slightly different for this album – one, we took our time and wrote it with some stuff from both Misha [Mansoor, Periphery] and then with Diego Farias from Volumes and then some stuff on our own. Also some of the riffs actually spun off from stuff that Matt had created. As far as the cohesion that you hear a little bit more I feel has to do a lot more with the music and having the drums and having a real drummer and the feel of the drummer makes it feel like a band and having the drums made it add to that sort of vibe.
Is the dynamic flow of the pieces carefully structured or did it just happen that way naturally and through writing together?
We certainly tried to do songs that were more cohesive and more fluid – it was definitely a deliberate move.
We still used the Axe-Fx primarily for the guitars. It was a direct signal and we actually tone-mapped our real cab to have our actual live sound. We didn’t use the studio for the guitars. For the drums we did actually go into the studio and that was about the most actual studio stuff we did. The rest was in our homes. We had Adam “Nolly” Getgood from Periphery as the recording engineer for the final takes and everything.
Matt Gartska joined the band in 2012. How did he, in particular, contribute to The Joy of Motion‘s inception? The way I see it as a listener, is that he opened space for you and Tosin to push your creative envelope into new explorations.
Yeah – he definitely contributed – he wanted to have ‘feel’ and ‘touch’ and some of the songs were stemmed off his parts. He would literally play a riff during a rehearsal one day and we would start jamming and that was riff one or riff two of song. But overall, the process of the song creation are relatively the same where everything stems off a guitar riff. A guitar riff first starts with Tosin and myself and then we add the drum parts but having Matt definitely influenced as far as having some direction – we wanted to have a more organic feel – we wanted to have his sound on the album but the approach still stems very much from the guitars.
As you mentioned, Periphery’s Misha Mansoor and Adam Getgood, as well as Volumes’ Diego Farias provided support by working with you on album’s production, but they are also enlisted as co-writers. How did their creative input shape the album’s direction and its final structure?
They were literally co-writers so with the 7 songs which Misha wrote – Tosin went to DC to work on the songs with Misha so it was similar to the first album where it was just those two gluing the songs together and gluing the parts together. That was one of Misha’s particular challenges and he’s just a great arranger and a great composer. We wanted to add more stuff which is why we wanted to work with Diego – he had a different type of approach to his grooves than Misha has and we wanted to incorporate that as well. ‘Physical Education’ is a prime example of a new thing but still keeping it Animals – the way we recorded it was the same as every other song but he worked with Diego on that song and ended up doing something completely different – that’s where slow songs that we have don’t give the listener a shredding solo, so he definitely assisted with how the album came out and how we wanted it to come out. But overall we wanted to work with them as they have an aesthetic and a sound that we wanted to incorporate in Animals.
The Joy of Motion puts a lot of emphasis on clean and acoustic guitar tones, but still it feels like your heaviest recording to date. While most of new bands fail in blending these two together, the way you did it on the new album is really astonishing. What’s your formula?
We wanted to do more or less a typical Animals As Leaders song as far as the electronics and drums is concerned but we wanted to include the acoustic guitars considering that I have a strong background in nylon strung guitars so we wanted to bring that as well to the table. That was just what we did – we added the electronic parts and approached the same way as we would have with any other song but just didn’t use a guitar. That was the approach – just treating it as any other song, but it almost didn’t make the cut as the mix was so different but once we added the electronics and hearing it in context where it’s placed in the album, I think it worked out really well.
How does the album title complement the material on The Joy of Motion?
The album title refers to – you know, we listen to music because it moves us in some way or other; we want to dance, we want to jump, or scream or learn how to play guitar. One way or another we want to move, so we do it because we enjoy it so for us we like playing music which is fun for us to play.
What about song titles? How do you go about naming your tracks, in general? Is there any visual segment in your minds while writing that you can relate music with?
I think that the vibe that the song gives us helps us go where we want to go – ‘Tooth & Claw’ is one of the more aggressive songs on the album made us think about a single object that’s aggressive which is a tooth, a claw– something like that. ‘Physical Education’ just makes you want to move – kind of dainty and playful. ‘Para Mexer’ had a Latin vibe, salsa-esque feel that makes you wanna dance – it means ‘to move’ so we named the song the same. There are no words so you can name the songs whatever you want, so any vibe that the song gives us; I don’t think of a song title before I write a song, I do it afterwards.
The new album cracked the Billboard’s 200 chart debuting at the 23rd position. Although it’s been less than three weeks since the album was released, both fans and media agree that this album is the band’s career-defining release. How do you see that?
I think I would agree! This album is the closest to what we want to sound like. I think it’s some of the greatest work we’ve done. Obviously there are great songs in some of the other material but I think overall as an album this is the most musical and the most representing of the band.
Is there something in the band’s chemistry that allows this music to emerge. Is there something specific that you are going after when writing a new piece?
It’s hard to say – Tosin and I have been friends a long time and have been playing guitars together for a long time and influenced each other for a long time so we expect a lot from each other – and we just get along! We don’t really have to think about it too hard.
It’s kind of obvious that with every new album, Animals as Leaders incorporate more new music elements related to your influences and inspiration. Where does it come from?
Just from being fans of music – we’re fans of our instruments you know, we love playing guitar and we want to get better at it. We know we want to keep doing it for the rest of our lives so we still have to keep it interesting. We’ve been fans of conventional music in time, we listen to hip hop, we listen to dance music. If anything I listen to more conventions of music than I do metal so this is a way of blending those two worlds – how do I make music that’s technical, that’s complicated and educated but at the same time keep a palette that is still acceptable to most people. If I have to think about it too hard I become bored with it and it becomes an educational song rather than something to enjoy. We try to make music that’s fun to listen to and catchy to listen to but at the same time keeping it interesting for us to play.
You played on this year’s Progressive Nation at Sea cruise. If I’m not wrong you played inside the ship, but anyway how was it performing your technically demanding music while being on the ocean?
It was amazing – a dream come true. We were in the Bahamas hanging out with friends and performing. I would do it again.
Speaking of playing live, you finished recently first leg of the North American tour in support for the new album. I noticed that there are no any new dates announced (except the show in Washington on the 17th of May). Are you planning on new dates?
Yeah – actually we just announced some more dates – a full US tour. The DC show is the first date of the tour so it starts May 17th up to June 21st.
What about Europe?
We have plans on going down there in the Autumn.
If you are asked to define the mission of Animals of Leaders, how would you go about putting it?
To convince girls to come to metal shows! [laughs] That’s our goal!
How do you perceive the term “progressive” as a musician coming from a band that is largely relying on this music style?
I think progressive music is awesome. Ironically it’s also a bit hypocritical in that you have to play in a certain way; you have to use odd meters and so on, and you get thousands of bands that sound the same way and haven’t really progressed so the name in itself is kind of weird – if it’s really progressive it should be constantly changing and sounding different in my opinion. I’m definitely on the side that likes change – I like new music, technology and new production.
Tosin was asked recently to pick ten essential guitar albums. So, what are your favourite guitar albums that inspired and influenced you as a guitarist?
Probably Al Di Meola, John McLaughlin and Paco de Lucia’s the live album (ed. 1981′s Friday Night in San Francisco). There’s an album by a Brazilian guitarist called Yamandu Costa and Hamilton de Yolanda – they are amazing. So back in the days, all those Rising Force Yngwie Malmsteen albums. I remember when I first heard the first Dream Theater album, the magic one – the album that had Ytse Jam or whatever. That album was extremely inspiring. And even guys like George Lynch back in the days, Joe Satriani… Surfing with the Alien. I mean, it was the only instrumental music I remember being on the radio.
I finished my review of Animals as Leaders’ The Joy of Motion album with hopes that we will not wait for so long to hear some new music both from the band or solo. Have you thought about pursuing any solo projects? I know that you are already involved with T.R.A.M. and Mestis, but have you thought of releasing something under your own name?
No – just because there’s actually a good number of Javier Reyes – a guy who’s a director from the Philippines, I think maybe two baseball players – just a lot of them, it’s a very basic common name and I kind of like having the idea of a band name. I don’t like being the centre of attention so if I were to tour I’d want to do a band as well.
How do you see Animals as Leaders evolving in the future?
It’s going to evolve in how we change as players and as musicians with the influences that we get. From this album and what we’ve learned from touring with bands and from live sound aesthetic and recorded aesthetic and an internet presence I think that we’ve learned a lot. Both myself and Tosin and Matt like new products – we like new sounds and new vibes so I’m sure that there will be something new still in the name of Animals As Leaders but we just want to keep progressing literally as people and as musicians.