I just had a chance to talk with Chris Letchford, the man behind Scale the Summit. Chris told us all about the band’s songwriting process, his take on genre semantics, and what it was like touring with Dream Theater: AND THAT’S ALL! Just kidding, there’s a lot more stuff in the interview.
Dan: Hi there Chris, thanks for agreeing to this interview. Would you mind introducing yourself and the rest of the band?
Chris Letchford: I’m Chris, I play guitar and handle most of the songwriting for the band. Travis Levrier is the other guitar player, Pat Skeffington on drums, and Jordan Eberhardt on bass.
Dan: How did you guys go about forming Scale the Summit?
Chris Letchford: Me and Travis actually grew up in the same neighborhood, but for some reason never jammed together. It took until 18 years old for us to finally get together and play. We started a metal band in Houston and played a few shows. We had trouble finding a solid drummer and bass player for that band for about a year. I was currently set up to start at Musicians Institute in the fall about a year after we started the band. Travis decided to go with me out there. We wanted to attend music school to get better, but our main goals were to find those 2 guys we needed to complete our band. After being out there only a few months we found them. I still think to this day that it was just meant to be, as moving out to Los Angeles didn’t guarantee anything. I think we all just crossed paths at the perfect time. Our sound also took a drastic turn. We were playing just normal technical metal music in Houston with a singer. When me and Travis made it to LA, we started writing again, but the material we were writing sounded complete as is, so we decided to stay instrumental and that was that. Wanted Scale The Summit to be about the music, and only that.
Dan: There isn’t really a radical difference in the music (from what I can hear) on the two albums you guys have made so far, so I’ll just ask what it was like recording both of them. What is the process like: do you guys just jam, do you perform based on a rigid structure?
Chris Letchford: I think there is definitely a difference in the two. Granted we are an instrumental band so it seems as those people like to jump the gun and say its all the same, just because of the lack of words, which is pretty ignorant. “Monument” was self funded by us 4. So we definitely didn’t get the quality recording that wanted, but it was our first full length, which is usually how it works. Songs are a lot more up tempo and in my opinion a lot less organized, due to lack of writing experience. “Carving Desert Canyons” came out a lot more organized than “Monument” on the song writing end, plus with now being signed to Prosthetic Records, we had lost of help with funding so the production on that album came out great as well.
Song writing is handled mostly by me. I write all of the music and then give it to the guys to learn, where they will then go in and write their own parts, which I usually help with as well. I personally like this approach as it doesn’t waste time and songs come together a lot more organized… instead of just compiling riff after riff. It allows me to write actual songs that progress.
Dan: Carving Desert Canyons has gotten some pretty great (and well-deserved) reviews. Why do YOU guys think that is?
Chris Letchford: Well we are very proud of Carving, so I’m really excited that people have been really loving this album. I can’t say really, its always a hard question to answer because you can’t say “well… because we’re badass”, haha. We just write music that we all love to listen to and play every night and hope that people enjoy it, so it looks like we are off to a great start haha.
Dan: Who does the album art? It’s very beautiful. You guys are a fan of sweeping landscapes, which always drives into my mind the fact that you’re from the American West.
Chris Letchford: We actually had a local photographer from Houston supply us with photos. I told him the name of the album, and he send me a bunch of pictures, and not digital ones, actually photographs. The “Carving Desert Canyons” cover was the very first photo when I opened the box, I said “thats the one”. Loved it that very second. We then had to get a high density scan of the negative as it was a real photograph so that we could edit and add fonts to the image for the cover. Our web guy, David Hopper handles all of our digital artwork needs. I basically send him the image and tell him what I was thinking for the fonts, text layout and poster ideas and he does it. I randomly found that guy but we share the exact same vision for final products so we work well together, he does great work. He made all of our websites as well, including the band page, myspace layouts and my personal website www.chrisletchford.com
Dan: Your song titles, in general, seem to be as sweeping and adventurous as your music and album art. I think it works well to set the mood. Is this intentional, or do you guys just throw random names on, based on what sounds cool (sort of the Liquid Tension method, hehe).
Chris Letchford: Its intentional for sure. We write the songs first, then we sit back and talk about what we see in our head when we listen to it or what types of moods we get out of it. We spend a lot of time on it actually to pick the perfect names for each song. Just a minute ago we were all discussing names for some of our newest songs, for our next full length.
Dan: I really think this fits really well with your music, listening to it feels like an adventurous thrill ride through “purple mountain majesties” and stuff like that. Would you guys say this is the intention?
Chris Letchford: Yes, definitely. All of the music we are writing is went to have the adventurous/epic/emotional feel to it. Thats why we call it “Adventure Metal”.
Dan: A lot of people like to throw genre labels around when describing Scale the Summit’s music, but what do you guys see it as? Personally, a simple “progressive metal” or “metal fusion” works for me.
Chris Letchford: Those two definitely work, but sadly they are over used now so when you hear it, to many people will take it different ways. We like to use the term “Progressive” for the actually definitely of “forever changing”, which is how our music is. Its so over used now that people say they are a progressive band, when its not at all what they are. We started “Adventure Metal” for our sound and we have “Their Strings Are Voices” as our trademark as well.
Dan: What sort of music are you guys into, what influences you all? Don’t spare us any details!
Chris Letchford: Bands and artists that I’m really liking right now are, Guthrie Govan, Bireli Lagrene, Dream Theater, Liquid Tension, Necrophagist, Sights & Sounds, Passion Pit (which may seem to be an odd ball here, haha), Monte Montgomery, Opeth, and Eric Johnson.
Dan: How did Mike Portnoy contact you guys to invite you to ProgNation?
Chris Letchford: He had his manager call our label. I got that call from our label randomly on a Friday watching tv at home, being bummed that we weren’t touring that summer. I
couldn’t believe, I didn’t even know he had a copy of our album. It was the best news I have ever got. They asked “do you guys want to do it?”. I was sitting there going “hell yeah”, hang up on me and call them back. Haha!
Dan: I must admit I was hugely disappointed that Beardfish and Pain of Salvation had to drop out of the tour, because they are two of my favorite bands, but after I bought Scale the Summit’s two albums I started to feel a lot better, because I knew that THIS was what was replacing them! Eventually I was just sad that you guys only had about a half hour to play, but I suppose there were some big time constraints, with four bands playing. Anyway, what was it like for YOU GUYS to play on the same stage with Dream Theater?
Chris Letchford: Not only to play with them every night, but getting to know all of those guys and the guys in the Zappa band was awesome. All very nice and super talented people. It was the best tour to date for us and will probably be for a very long time. Not only were the shows awesome, but having Prog Nation catered everyday was a highlight for sure. We show up at the venue, someone else unloads our gear while we go inside and eat off rows and rows of food haha. As for the set times, yes, very strict 30 minute sets for both of the first two bands. We just went out to the DT/Iron Maiden show in Houston to see them. It was awesome seeing them again and hanging with them like friends, instead of just fans. Having them asking us how we are doing and what we’re up to made us all feel important haha. It was interesting seeing them play in the daylight, opening for a bigger band, as they have been headlining for 20 years and that was the spot we were in just last year.
Dan: What were some personal highlights of the tour? Also, what was your favorite venue, so far? I was at the Asbury Park show, by the way.
Chris Letchford: Haha, Ashbury Park was probably the worst show on the tour, not that we played bad but that place is not a venue, so the sound was just terrible. My favorite show on that tour was at Bell Centre Arena in Montreal. Not only did I think I played my best that day but that place was huge and the crowd was insane. First time in Montreal for us and wow they made us feel welcome. Pretty much all of the cities made us feel amazing though, we received standing ovations at 99% of all of the venues. It felt great, not at all what I expected when the tour started.
Dan: It seems like ProgNation was a pretty big door-opener for Scale the Summit, as you guys recently finished a tour with Cynic, Devin Townsend, and Between the Buried and Me. Unfortunately I wasn’t able to get a ride to see you guys this time. How was that tour? I would definitely have loved to see Scale the Summit and Cynic!
Chris Letchford: That tour was awesome as well. 20 of the 25 shows were sold out in advance. The crowds on those shows were just as awesome and made us feel great. Plus, we were sharing a tour bus on that tour with BTBAM, so not having to drive was awesome as we just slept all night while on the way to the next venue. Very spoiling.
Dan: Does Scale the Summit have a new album planned for the future? I’m sure a lot of people are hoping for new material (me included!)
Chris Letchford: You bet we do! Im almost finished with all of the writing, think I only have one more solo to write. We are planning to enter the studio this October with an early 2011 release date. Thats about all I can say on that.
Dan: What does the future look like in general for the band? Any more big tours with big names?
Chris Letchford: Nothing right now, we are just home writing. We have a short tour starting while I write this as we make our way out to Make Music Pasadena festival in southern Cali. Other than that we are just concentrating on the new album, but there will be lots of touring starting early next year and possibly this winter.
Dan: What sort of equipment do you guys use to play live and in the studio?
Chris Letchford: We use the same equipment that we play with live, in the studio, for the most part. I play my Sherman 7 and 8 string guitars, Travis uses the Pertrucci signature 7 strings, Jordan plays a Peavey Cirrus 6 string, and Pat will be using his new custom Tama kit, Vic Firth sticks, and TRX cymbals. Me and Travis are both using Mesa Boogie Mark V’s and Mesa cabs… and in about a week we’ll be starting to work on our Fractal Axe EFX Ultra’s.
Dan: I think I’m about done with my questions: is there anything you guys would like to add?
Chris Letchford: To make sure and check us out on the road and stay tuned for our next album, due out early 2011!
Dan: To conclude, I must ask: is Scale the Summit a fan of dogs?
Chris Letchford: We are. I’m actually raising a brindle Great Dane right now, he is about 4 months old and weighs 37 freaking pounds, he is going to be a monster!
Dan: Thanks again for agreeing to do the interview!
Chris Letchford: Thanks for having me!