THE SURREALIST: Elements of Nature, Philosophy and Literature

THE SURREALIST Premiere "Self Spiral" Single; "Naked Awareness" EP Out in September

Boston-based instrumental progressive trio The Surrealist, led by guitarist and composer Roopam Garg is about to launch a debut EP titled Naked Awareness. The Surrealist‘s music brings different approach, it’s simple and complex in the same time, it’s melodic but highly technical. Prog Sphere talked with Garg, who attends prestigious Berklee College of Music in Boston (as well as the other members of the band), and here is what he had to say about his work with The Surrealist.

Define the mission of The Surrealist.

The mission is to challenge the listener. We hope to embody elements of nature, philosophy and literature within our music in order to not just create mind-bending and perception-altering music but also to deliver a narrative of the human experience of life. We want people to feel different when listening to us.

Who initiated the idea about starting this new band?

Initially it was just me playing around with ideas on the guitar. I’ve always wanted to start something, whether a business or a project. Just that idea of having your own thing that do you’ve built up really drives me. So naturally I decided to start this band as music seemed to be my calling.

How did you come to an idea for the name The Surrealist? Pretty interesting name.

Thanks. Choosing a good band name is one of the hardest things ever. It was harder than practicing guitar for me. The name stems from surrealism itself, which is a form of art that explores blending together contrasting themes, often in a non-conventional format. A cool example of this is painting an ocean full of sea creatures encapsulated within a wine glass. I just find this concept of mixing seemingly unrelated ideas together really inspiring and thought it would be perfect to contextualize our music.

Naked Awareness album art

Naked Awareness album art

Tell me about the creative process that informed your upcoming debut EP Naked Awareness.

We rarely have any preconceived ideas whenever we sit down to record. The writing process happens alongside the recording and production process. This is because, to us, the actual sound of a particular idea is just as important as the idea itself. In fact we’d only get inspired if the tone sounded perfect.

To us, the production and the composition are just one thing. We see no difference between the way the riff sounds and the riff itself. I rarely ever sit down with just my guitar to write. The production process or a cool tone can really inspire the composition process, and vice versa. Often times I would record an idea, then splice it, reverse it, and resample it to see how it sounds then. This allows us to achieve pretty unthinkable ideas that would’ve been impossible to write with just the guitar in my hand.

The EP is out on September 17. Tell us, please, what can we expect?

Listeners can expect some pretty challenging material. Throughout the EP, there’s a lot of rhythmic and textural exploration that builds a strong psychedelic vibe. The music is also primarily guitar driven, with layers of intricate, minimalist guitar ideas that create a surreal landscape. In addition, this release has a strong nature theme to it. We wanted to produce very sonically abstract and compelling yet somehow related to elements you could find in nature. The intertwine between these two contrasting landscapes should hopefully fascinate listeners.

How did you document the music while it was being formulated?

We don’t really document our music. Usually the ideas just live in our heads or they come to life when we sit down and begin writing. Occasionally I might run into a really cool idea that causes me to write and record like half a song, but then I wouldn’t touch the music for another six months because it didn’t feel right to continue at the time.

Is the dynamic flow of the pieces carefully architected?

Definitely. All of the tracks share very similar characteristics yet are really different from each other. In fact, there were actually many ideas from each track served as the catalyst for other parts on the other tracks. We don’t write and finish songs consecutively. Instead, we going back and forth between finalizing each track to make sure the EP as a whole sounds great until we’re happy enough to declare all the tracks as being completed.

Describe the approach to recording the album.

All the compositions, recordings and mixing was done by me. I ran my guitar through an Axe-FX II XL into Logic Pro, and used Native Instrument’s Komplete 10 and Logic’s Alchemy for most synth sounds, and programmed the drums via Superior Drummer 2.0.

During the end of the process, I ran into major intonation issues with my guitar. I had to retune the guitar every time I was going to record a take in a different position. In some cases, the intonation problem actually rendered some pretty interesting microtonal effects, which can be heard on the record. Needless to say, that guitar will never see the light of day ever again.

I then sent off the drum mix to one of my good friend and former Berklee roommate Erik Huang, who produced the drum sounds that are on the record. The files were then sent for mastering to another friend who I met at Berklee, Steph Bayes.

How long was Naked Awareness in the making?

From the initiation of the band to the completion of the band, it was probably around four months. But some the tracks heard on Naked Awareness took two years to make, which is way too long. Hopefully in the future we’ll be able to be more efficient with our writing and production process. Looking back, I believe most of the time was spent just consciously finding flaws in the music, so now I’m practicing being more nonjudgmental when I write.

Which bands or artists influenced your work on the release?

As far as guitar goes, Allan Holdsworth, Tosin Abasi, Pat Metheny, Guthrie Govan and Meshuggah have had a huge impact on my playing and approach to the guitar. But I’ve been inspired a lot by movie and video game soundtracks, such as Seven Pounds, Christopher Nolan’s Batman trilogy, Sim City 4, Halo, and The Prestige. I also love Tabla Beat Science and Virgil Donati’s and Tigran Hamasyan’s works.

The cover art of the album is pretty interesting and I am sure it fits well with the music presented on this piece. Who made it?

It was done by Taos Whittaker, who’s one of my high school friends and an awesome Graphic Designer. I couldn’t be happier with the outcome of working with him. The design was heavily inspired by the rotating sculpture of Franz Kafka’s head in Prague by David Cerny. I just loved the imagery it evoked and its allusion to philosophies of self and zen, how we’re constantly changing and simply different extensions of one consciousness.

Are there any plans for a tour with The Surrealist?

We hope to start touring in early 2017. We’re currently trying to figure out way to put on an amazing and immersive live experience.

What is your view on technology in music?

Very liberating and inspiring. Technology allows one to design, synthesize and recreate sounds that would otherwise be impossible with conventional instrumentals and recording practices, and therefore has enriched the creative process and the listening experience.

As we approach the Virtual Reality era, we’re going to be able to experience music in a whole new light. I read this article online somewhere that asked whether we would even call it music anymore. Imagine being able to see, touch, and feel music in a way that we can’t even comprehend right now. That would be a great day.

Do you see your band as serving a purpose beyond music?

Definitely. I love exploring topics of meditation and philosophy and educating people how it can be applied to becoming a better musician and person, because it certainty has made me more present and creative.

What are your plans for the future?

Along with going on tour, we want to collaborate with a fashion designer or a fashion design company to produce an awesome line of clothing and merch. Instead of just splattering our cover art on a T-shirt, we’d love to produce a premium clothing line that evoked a unique fashion statement. We also look forward to collaborating with some other musicians too!

Naked Awareness is out on September 17th; pre-order it from Bandcamp. Make sure to follow The Surrealist on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter.

The Surrealist is:

Roopam Garg – guitar
John-Marc Degaard – drums
Beauman Edwards – bass

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