Let’s be real: one of the hardest things about instrumental guitar is that shredding without melody can be exhausting and boring. Thankfully, Canadian-born guitarist Aaron Marshall AKA Intervals understands this and has a real knack for blowing audiences away, whilst also capturing hooky, melodic beauty through his instrumental soundscapes. Ahead of his September headlining run alongside Polyphia, the man behind Intervals himself talked us through why he’d rather listen to someone play five good notes rather 500, and why BADBADNOTGOOD are influencing more than just jazz fans.
So what have you been up too lately, Aaron?
Not heaps to be honest, which is nice for the first time in a long time. Been gyming, playing lots of guitar, and eating good food; remembering what life at home is like.
Awesome! When you’re at home, how do you still make time to practice and learn new things? Does that happen when you’re on the road?
The pursuit of learning new things and learning riveting and interesting compositions, I find them organically. Whether it be what I’m listening too, what friends are doing – I tend to reach for new things then. I might be watching some sweet drum videos and that makes me inspired to apply some rhythmic ideas to stuff that I’m doing; I don’t actively pursue new things on purpose or techniques in a way that’s regimented like I used too, or what you’re John Petrucci types do with dividing their practice into thirds and all. I’m more interested in writing cool songs. Composing is intuitive to me. It can be an uphill battle sometimes, so it’s like flexing a muscle so you can get it strong over time when you do it. But for me, the exploration of new techniques is more rooted in chasing down the ideas in my head and I’m always more enticed to find ways to say what I’m thinking musically as opposed to looking for new words. It’s hippy to say, but I let the music take me where it wants to go.
There’s the independent business component to this as well, and why that might sound boring, I’m still the sole visionary for this thing so I need to keep composing music. When I start making records though, that’s when the new things come. I’m not to stressed with guitar Olympics or whatever. I’ve never seen myself as a virtuoso because I feel like I’ve got the techniques to say what I want to say, but if I can’t say what I want to say with the tools that I have then I’ll do some exploring to find what I want to do.
The entire bedroom virtuoso explosion can be really inspiring, but do you think there is too much focus on note crunching still?
Steve Vai is both melodic and virtuosic because he’s a great song-writer but boy is he flashy! I think that sometimes there’s too much stock in that for sure. Striving to be sick is not a bad thing, I just think that sometimes there’s a poisonous mentality from putting too much stock in technique. It’s cliché to talk about musos that go to school as to clinical, but if you start to think about that type of approach it can dilute intuition in a way that’s unattractive. It thought about going to school but I’m glad I didn’t because as a musician real-world experience in the school of hard knocks is what makes you unique. I don’t think there’s anything wrong with it, I just think there is too much stock in the facility. I’ll listen to a guy who plays five notes well over a dude who plays 500 any day of the week because there is more to me for a guy who plays thoughtfully rather than a guy who just wants to shred. It doesn’t do anything for me. I love a good flashy guitar player, and I have moments, but I like to do things that hint at that but it’s not what I’m into it for.
At the same time, there is too much facility focused on expensive equipment. At the end of the day, a lot of kids who put heaps of stock on that stuff, if they found out what some of the cheap gear their idols are using to make dope shit, they might feel bad. Some of these originals, like the first releases, are made on a Barringer V amp, or recorded using free, torrented software. You don’t have to have to make dope shit to make dope shit. ‘The Space Between’ is iconic for Intervals because it’s how I got my start, but when I think to all of the mistakes that I made in the production and some of the tricks that we had to do in the mix to save my fumble of an attempt, I was cutting my teeth and there are so many mistakes.
Did that experience make you enjoy doing the new records more? Are you more perfectionistic?
It’s painstaking. Therefore I do eight-tracks. Production is so crucial to me. I feel like we are getting better at it; I work with Cam McClennan who works with Protest The Hero, and he and I have a really good relationship in the studio. That shit is funny to me, and we tend to perfect our approach as we go by being in a room 8-10 hours a day, every day. Me trying to nail stuff and him in the corner chanting ‘he does it to himself’. I’ve worked with Simon who plays bass for Plini, and he and I had three sleepless nights in NYC with a laptop painstakingly dialling in reverb on snares. Wack shit, because it had to be that perfect.
It’s cool reading back, and you mention how much you collaborate with people, as well as working with BADBADNOTGGOOD. There’s such a bigger world of instrumental music out there, like Bill Lawrence and Snarky Puppy, etc. Do you think your stuff could move further in that direction?
I think that there is a space for guitar instrumental music that has always been there, but there is more of a glass ceiling now than it was before. The advent of instrumental EDM for example, that tends to trickle and run off into the day to day, and then people realise that they like sick instrumental guitar music as well. I think the sky is the limit, but cross over into that world? Yeah, I think we’re a little different with ‘metal’ roots, but honestly, it’s not far-fetched. I have the same booking agent as BADBADNOTGOOD, and they make sick stuff. We’ve talked about doing a tour. We couldn’t line it up, but I think stuff like that is on the horizon.
What makes the most sense to me is touring with the same associated acts, but you might see Intervals open for, say, pop-punk stuff sometimes. I think the high energy of it fits into that world. I don’t know if they know yet, e.g. if you say New Found Glory and say Intervals open, I don’t think you’d be turned off cos it’s high energy, I just talk when the songs are over is all. That’s where I see it being more relatable. This music is super malleable – you can do whatever with it, there’s really no rules. I get to make sick art, travel the world and there’s no diva egos or rock-star worship. It’s just music.
Very true. To finish up, I love speculating about collaborations. Who in the non-heavy world would you jump in with straight away if they called?
I’d love to work with this guy called Low File who was a producer and performing DJ in a band called Issues. He and I are good mates, the last I saw him he came to see me play with Animals As Leaders in London. He’s got an amazing musical mind, I’d love to work with him. I’d love to work with David Maxim Micic, and we’ve played on each other’s records, and I believe he’s coming out the week after we’re there. I’ve collaborated with Polyphia as well. Anything outside of that, I had Leland from BADBADNOTGOOD on saxophone on my last record, there’s always ideas kicking around. I try not to force it, though.
Catch Intervals playing with Polyphia in Australia later this year on the following dates:
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