Animals As Leaders guitarist Tosin Abasi comes to us over the phone from Canda where the progressive instrumental trio are currently touring, and despite sounding very worn out he is nonetheless down to chat. And so we speak about the themes and the heaviness factor of their monstrous new album, ‘The Madness Of Many’, their live shows, touring Australia in 2017 with our very own Plini and Canada’s Nick Johnston, among other various topics of in-depth discussion.
With ‘The Madness Of Many’ and your albums in general, like many bands, they simply represent where you as individuals and as a complete unit is at in a particular point in time. Yet this record feels like a really strong continuation of the sounds and ideas from ‘The Joy Of Motion’, just in the best way possible. I’m not sure if that’s how you see it or if the idea of comparison maybe belittles ‘The Madness Of Many’?
I think it’s actually what you say about it being a representation of where we are right now. That there is continuity between previous works is a good thing, as we are conscious of what we think works well. Obviously, that’s all built towards our current musical state, and all that we’ve done before, and on us just being creative.
For sure, man. One thing that I really like about this new album is that it’s arguably the least heaviest Animals As Leaders release thus far, but yet it’s still pretty heavy! I find it kinda funny actually.
Yeah, I get what you’re saying. Animals As Leaders was conceived as “anti-metal” project, as I was in a metalcore band called Reflux and I was really into jazz, cinematic orchestra, and bands like Aphex Twin. I wanted something that didn’t have any distorted guitar in it, basically. Misha [Mansoor, Periphery] added his own production to what I had and “metalised” the self-titled album. With Weightless, we worked with Navene [Koperweis, drums/programming/engineering], who came from a more death metal context hence why it was heavier. Then we had Adam “Nolly” Getgood and Misha again on The Joy Of Motion. So we’ve always had outside influences to help up the ante of the heaviness on our records, even though the three of us all still enjoy heavy music. With The Madness Of Many, no one outside of the band had any input, so yes, it is less heavy but it’s balanced and still aggressive music; just not the obvious means of getting heaviness by palm muting over distorted chords.
And I think that’s for the better. I think songs like ‘Arithmophobia‘, ‘Inner Assassin’s’, and ‘Ectogenesis’ are still very aggressive and also very percussive. Even though there’s no open string chugging over a breakdown for five minutes.
Which I think is still effective, and I do still love that stuff, but we’re more interested in creating our own space as far as guitar, bass, and drums are concerned. We’re trying to establish a sound that isn’t so directly linked to a genre, but more something that just sounds like the three of us as people.
Well said. On the title and theme of the record, the supposed madness or insanity of others, I like how the first and final tracks both represent phobias, and there’s a strong mental element to the record with song titles like ‘The Brain Dance’, ‘Inner Assassin’s, ‘Cognitive Contortions’ and so on. So there seems to be a stronger sense of the thematic concept here as opposed to your past records.
Yeah! Basically, in North America, the UK, and mainland Europe, there’s a lot of civil unrest, spanning from theocracy to economy and disease, so there’s a lot going on. I started being fixated on the idea of ideas being the primer and impetus behind how we treat and view other people. It’s really interesting considering that ideas are vacuous, they’re abstract and they don’t have any form, but some ideas are the hardest thing to change and can endure for generations. Some ideas are responsible for the most consequential things that people have done to others and to the planet. The Madness Of Many is speaking from where we are right now globally. I looked up the phenomenon of ‘collective insanity’. So, imagine a population all losing it at the same time and no one could identify the cause for it. I found this French word for it – folie à plusieurs – or the madness of many. I thought it was a very cool observation and also a good metaphor for the band, as our music is quite mental as we’re challenging ideas rhythmically and harmonically [laughs]. So it has a dual definition.
That’s really interesting actually, and with all of the insane shit happening in the world, I think the best way to approach it is to open up a discussion. Which is funny, as to have a verbal discussion you need to have words and Animals As Leaders is a solely instrumental band…
[Laughs] yeah! I think that we do plant the seeds with our song titles that then give you the context and the direction, and the music is just the soundtrack for all of that.
Oh, it’s a journey, for sure, man!
Now, the reason for these interviews is, of course, the Australian tour you guys are doing next February with Plini and Nick Johnston, and with your US shows, you have a very strong visual element present, from the LEDs and a pretty crazy and varied light show. But when you played the Melbourne Soundwave last year, it was the middle of the day on the festival’s smallest stage. As that was my first time seeing you guys play live, I couldn’t help but think that that wasn’t the… right setting for your music. So would you say that a dark, medium-sized club with a strong light show is what best represents that sound, that “proper” Animals As Leaders experience if you will?
Absolutely. In the realm of our performances, we’re not running around, doing jumps and split kicks. We really want the music to be the sole focal point of the show, so if we’re playing at three or four in the afternoon outside, then yeah, it’s less than ideal. But even when we have played club gigs in Australia, we can’t really fly the full production out there as it’s quite cost prohibitive. I think it is more impactful at an indoor show that has visuals as curated as the music is. But who knows, maybe we can work some middle-ground out for this Australian tour…
I hope so too! With this tour and with the two supports, there’s obviously a lot of bands that perform this instrumental sound, and with it being so popular nowadays, which is in no short part to your own band, do you try to keep up with all of it?
Well, the Internet really helps with music unintentionally getting in your spheres and the way that online algorithms work. Plini, for instance, was someone I was aware for a while but had never had checked out for quite a long time. But it made sense logistically and musically to have him support, and not just him as a person, but his whole band are all really cool dudes as well. So it’s our pleasure to have him on tour with us.
Yes, I do think he’s on the up with an album like ‘Handmade Cities’, and I take it that the same goes for Nick, as well?
Yeah! He’s a crazy good guitarist. I’ve known him for a while just on a mutual level of respect for guitar and he’s really trying to get out there from the studio to the stages. And we do enjoy helping people get their name out there.
Right on. Finally, I do feel that over the past couple years the music term for ‘prog’ or ‘progressive’ has changed a lot and can now be used to describe bands that just simply use 8-string guitars, 6-string basses, and who mainly adhere to 4/4. Do you have any thoughts on the definitions for this style or is just a matter of more and more people getting into the style and adapting the term and the sound?
I think that progressive music is a genre that was defined by bands like King Crimson, Rush, Yes and Genesis and you then had a lot of copy cat bands, who would copy right down to the gear used in that era, so for instance, early analogue synths and their distinct aesthetic approaches. But then you have ‘prog’ bands that are emulating those who started the genre and then you have ‘progressive’ as an actual concept of forward thinking, which is antithetical to what sounds came before. So for us, we’re trying to sound like… new expressions of music and we don’t really worry about what Dream Theater was doing before. So we’re not ‘prog’ but I do think that we are ‘progressive’.
That’s an interesting distinction to make there, and I’m not sure how familiar you are with Steven Wilson but in an interview that we ran with him a few months back, he was very…picky about the terms.
Oh, right. Well, I think that he for one does make ‘prog’ music, for instance, but also music that I think fits neatly within the parameters of a defined genre. And that’s what I mean by ‘prog’; it’s never super heavy, it just has a vibe of having specific criteria. Then there are other bands that just have a progressive approach to music, which means sounding nothing like the bands from the 70’s. So both are true, I think.
And as you say, Animals As Leaders are about creating new sounds or new ideas. So I expect the next album to be a 7.1 release or one of those solely VR releases.
[Laughs] you know, we almost did VR but it didn’t work out sadly.
Oh right! Well, that’s maybe for the best, honestly. Thank you so much for your time today, Tosin. I really do love the new album and best of luck on the tour you guys are doing right now.
Cool, thank you very much, man!
Animals As Leaders are touring nationally in February 2017 with our very own Plini and Nick Jonhston. Dates below, tickets here.
SATURDAY FEBRUARY 25 – THE TRIFFID, BRISBANE
SUNDAY FEBRUARY 26 – THE METRO, SYDNEY
TUESDAY FEBRUARY 28 – 170 RUSSELL, MELBOURNE
WEDNESDAY MARCH 1 – THE GOV, ADELAIDE
THURSDAY MARCH 2 – CAPITOL, PERTH