In a year where Steven Wilson can still claim a #1 album on the charts with a very proggy sound, it’s clear that the music industry still has plenty of time and love for the quirkiness, indulgence, and mystique that characterises progressive rock and metal. Thankfully, US sextet, The Contortionist, have peaked at just the right time, as they now sit on the verge of delivering their magnificently crafted new record, ‘The Clairvoyant’. (A record that I’ve been loving lately). Opting for a focus on melodic beauty over the brutality of their earlier, djentier work, keyboardist Eric Guenther spoke with us about the more intentional pop structure behind their record, as well as the non-musical influences that have played into the bands current sound.’The
So Eric, how are you and the band feeling now that the dreaded album recording process is complete?
There’s a lot of relief, to be honest. It’s exciting because it’s the most amount of energy we’ve put into a record, so I’m glad to be done with it.
It sounds like ‘The Clairvoyant’ may have been far more tedious than your other albums?
Dynamics wise, we wanted to focus more on accentuating what we could offer. With ‘Language’ we slowed everything down a little bit, focused on our softer side. We tried to hone in on more of that because we like writing in a space where we can go both heavy and soft. In a sense, we are keeping our options open for the future so we can stretch ourselves anywhere along that line. It was just difficult working out how the best way to go about that was here.
Did playing the heavier and more extreme stuff just become too stagnant for you guys? Was that what inspired the shift from the sound of ‘Language’ to that of ‘The Clairvoyant’?
Boring isn’t the right word, but it’s in the right ballpark. The other guys had been playing the stuff off ‘Exo-Planet’ for ten years now. Of course, your tastes are going to grow and that’s reflected in the shifts that we’ve had in all our albums.
The band has said on the record that there’s a more intentional pop structure this time around. Why did you guys resist that beforehand?
I guess in one way or another experimenting with the new poppy stuff led us to see songs from a new angle. It’s a fun challenge to build around something that’s a bit more melodic and a little less indulgent. We’ve enjoyed touring with that and seeing what kind of success we can have put together a song structure that different bands don’t do in our scene. We also love fucking around a bit and throwing weird things in the mix. It felt natural to focus more on the design of some of these songs because we found it easier to get more to the point melodically. There’s still three seven or eight-minute songs on the record, but there are some tighter moments here.
Was it a relief to really leave the tech-death element of the band behind?
To be honest, we’ve had different conversations about it and we have a big group of guys in the band that listen to anything and everything. We couldn’t come up with any reason not to move on and write music that plays to our strengths. There’s more room for showing our strengths and varying our style and exploring outside tech death. That tool will always be under our belt that we can bring back whenever we want because it’s almost like “well, we’ve covered this area and we can come back later.” I find that we play shows with all kinds of bands which increase the influence. Generally, we end up being either the heaviest band on a bill or the softest band. It’s kind of cool now that we can ride that line and fit into different situations because now we are writing music that’s more in tune with our strengths.
That influence really shows here I think. Even in the non-musical sense, there’s the Allan Watts quote at the end of the album which was a cool cross over of music and literature. What non-musical influences affected this record for you?
That’s an interesting idea because I know that what happens to me outside of music definitely has an effect, it just doesn’t always come to mind. What I do know is that after these sessions, the sounds came out way darker than we originally intended, so there was an interesting vibe there. There’s been a definite movement in our music though that has to be affected by our offstage lives. There’s this other element of beauty that’s very different from our past. These days we discuss way more philosophical and personal things with each other as we’ve grown closer so I think that does subconsciously show itself.
Finally, there’s always so much changing now in the musical landscape in terms of technology, more than ever for keys players like yourself. How did you construct your pads this time around and how often do you seek out new sounds given the crazy turnover rate of what’s available?
I guess it just becomes part of a 9-5, because the keys in a band like this sort of have to fit in and subtly complement what’s happening in the arrangement, so I have to dedicate a lot of time to be searching for new patches. Not only for the song in terms of musical context but also to make me happy, and to think “damn, that sounds nuts.” I experiment with lots of ideas that I’ve never looked at before, so truthfully, I spent a shit-tonne of time this time around looking for new sounds, in a way that I hadn’t dedicated myself previously. There is a tonne of transitions on the record that are just synth, so I did a lot of digging, plus there are tonnes of layers which is what I usually do.
‘The Clairvoyant’ is out September 15th via e-One Music/Good Fight Music.