Oklahoma’s progressive metal outfit Vangough returned in 2013 with their third studio installment Between the Madness, an album that is being hailed as one of the best progressive records of the year. With constant progressing between the records, the band approached Between the Madness from a different perspective, what resulted in the most profound recording they released to this date.
Having featured a real string section helped shaping the album into what is likely to be one of the band’s pillars for the future endeavors.
Prog Sphere conducted an interview with the band’s founder, guitarist and vocalist Clay Withrow. Read it after the break.
Describe how Between the Madness album came together.
I started writing songs for the next album a little after Kingdom of Ruin, our second album, release. So that would have been fall of 2011. I actually ended up with something like 20 different songs that we eventually narrowed down to just ten or so. And keep in mind these were all just ideas on paper, not recorded in anyway. We spent the next spring recording the actual demos before going in to record the drums.
Where was the album recorded?
We recorded most of the album in my home studio here in Oklahoma City. The only exception was Sterling Winfield drove up to record the drums at a studio here called Bell Labs. And then later we tracked a few additional guitar parts at his place in Texas.
Between the Madness is your third studio offering. How do you see this new album comparing to the first two records in terms of progress you achieved with it?
The biggest area of progress is we unified our sound and matured our arrangements. I can tell you that both Kyle and Jeren played a more prominent role in the arrangement process, which helped as well. And I had this notion of a specific sound before we even started. Flourishes of a dark almost jazz-inspired approach that eventually developed into a very unique sound.
New album is definitely different than previous two yet it can be traced to what you did on Manikin Parade and Kingdom of Rain. Have you followed any predefined patterns with the new record, aiming to reach something that you mapped out prior the recording process?
There were a few approaches I set out to accomplish. First, I wanted to back off of the keyboard sound that is so prominent in progressive metal. I was trying to move us into a direction where we could play the shows with just three members. Now with Kingdom of Ruin I think there was just too much happening- lots of keyboard parts, a very dichotomous sound in terms of going from one style to a completely different style that almost sounded like a different band. I love that album because it has some of my favorite Vangough songs, but I remember looking back on it and thinking it just didn’t have the attitude that it should have. I felt we needed to refocus our efforts on what we do best- and that’s making manic dark music. I believe we were successful in that regard.
Is there something specific you went after for the album’s production? You worked with Sterling Winfield who mixed some of Pantera’s records in the past. How did he influence the final shapre of the record?
I wanted this album to just sound huge and destroy speakers. I don’t think we actually quite got to that point because my speaker is still intact, but I’m very satisfied with the results. Sterling just did what he did best. He recorded the drums at Bell Labs and captured the exact sound of the kit in a very honest and natural way- no triggered hits or sound replacements. You actually don’t get that on records today since all the drums sound the exact same. Every metal record has that shitty overly compressed snare that doesn’t sound anything like a real snare. Does it sound like that live? Hell no!
In the album’s press release it’s said that with Between the Madness you stepped out of the shadows of your influences and delivered something emotionally outstanding and heartfelt. What in your opinion helped you in making that step?
The more time I spent reflecting on Kingdom of Ruin, the more a realized that just wasn’t my voice. By that I meant, it was mean enough. That particular album was the result of many of my early progressive rock influences- The Flower Kings, ACT, Spock’s Beard, filtering in. So after we spent some time working on the Between the Madness demos, I discovered a more natural and sincere approach to writing, which was surprisingly going back to my roots. Playing music for the fun of it. And that is precisely what we got here.
There is a real string section on the new album. Was the new material written for this particular segment or it came later, so you realized that the album with string arrangements would make a difference and make it more complete?
Originally I had intended for this album to have a full string arrangement throughout. And truth be told, all of the early demos had big prominent string parts. But as we went on we began realizing that it was too much so we stripped much of it out.
How will it look like on stage? Will you be using backing tracks?
Yes. For the songs that have string intros and such, we run backing tracks.
The album comes with a very interesting artwork designed by Rainer Kalwitz. What does it symbolize?
That’s a good question! And I remember Rainer and I talked about that at some length early on. I’m sure you can figure out much of the symbolism. Three members, three moths. A sunflower, which is a reference to the painter van Gogh. And a single eye staring at you is quite maddening.
You offer Between the Madness on your Bandcamp page in different formats, including digital-only version, 6-panel digipack version + download and CD + t-shirt bundle which I have to say looks amazing. Oh, and I almost forgot about ‘the signature combo’ package which includes signed digipack CD, digital download, two posters and t-shirt. You offer some good deals in here, aren’t you?
Thanks and yes! I’m always a fan of variety. Plus, they always have the option of streaming the album via Spotify or iTunes, which as a listener, is great.
The album received very good reviews from the media all around the world. Personally, it’s one of my favorite albums released in 2013. Are you satisfied with its reception?
Thank you for that! I’m super happy with the reception because as I mentioned earlier this is the most honest we’ve been musically. So it is comforting to see that many are agreeing with us!
Looking back on Between the Madness, is there something that you wish you did differently? Is it too early for this question?
Another good question! It might be too early perhaps but I might have us spend even more time playing the songs live before going into the studio.
You recorded video for the song Separation. Why this song and when can we expect to see the video?
We’re putting the finishing touches on that one right now! I hope it comes out soon but it’s one of those things where we actually had it ready to go but other members of the band felt it might need a few changes at the last minute so we pulled it.
Tell us about the gear you use both in studio and live.
The gear I used in the studio is the same that I use live, which is a Mesa Boogie Road King Series II and my 77′ Ibanez Destroyer guitar, which can be seen in the video.
Though you are relatively young band, have you ever experienced bursts of creativity? How did you go about overcoming it?
Sometimes there are bursts of creativity, yes. But I’ve found that it works better to sit down and force the creativity to come out. It’s like going to work. You put your work pants and get to writing. Plus, what tends to happen is I come into the rehearsal space with a riff or idea and both Kyle and I will work on it for a while until it develops, which is great fun.
What does the progress in music entail in your opinion?
I’ve always felt it’s necessary to evolve our sound from album to album. It’s a sign of our personal maturation as a band and as human beings. I wouldn’t intentional force us to write in a particular style because it may not be relevant to where we are as individuals. That’s why it’s important for the songwriter to be sincere and deliver an honest piece of themselves in the music.
What’s in the Vangough’s pipeline for 2014?
Our one and only goal this year is to get on a tour! It’s been a longtime coming and trust me we’ve tried many times to get onto tours in the past. But we really want to just play live for the time being.
Buy Between the Madness album from Bandcamp.
Vangough on the web: