By Adrien Begrand
It’s been a slow, gradual evolution for Milton Keynes, England band TesseracT, especially when you consider their fanbase was primarily an online community for a long time. After developing their sound under the constant scrutiny and support of progressive metal enthusiasts who took to naming the Meshuggah-derived style “djent” (after a term coined by Meshuggah guitarist Fredrik Thordendal describing the distinct palm-muted Messhugah rhythm riff), the band took to the road across Europe, Asia, and North America, smartly building an even wider fanbase the old-fashioned way. During last fall’s North American tour with the Devin Townsend Project, the tour-only Concealing Fate EP turned heads everywhere with its surprisingly refined, mature approach to progressive metal. This year’s proper debut, the ambitious One, fleshes out that idea even more, bolstered by tracks like “Nascent” and “Eden”, which, like Thordendal, offset punishing rhythm riffs with moments of true delicacy. Rather than being a rather ordinary Meshuggah rip-off, however (hello, Periphery), TesseracT arrives with a true identity of their own, and while One already ranks as one of the year’s best metal albums, the mind boggles when you stop to consider just how much potential these youngsters have.
I caught up with the band back in January, a couple months before the release of One and prior to their cross-Canada tour with Protest the Hero. Portions of this interview also appear in the May issue of Decibel magazine, and they’ve been reprinted here with their kind permission.
I’ll get an obvious question out of the way first. You’ve emerged from an online scene that calls itself “djent”…is that something the fans call it, or do you actually consider yourselves a djent band?
Amos Williams (bass): There is a big divide, not just between the fans but also between the bands on the scene as to whether or not the word ‘djent’ is a good or a bad thing. Some love it and embrace it, whereas others vehemently despise it. For us it’s just a name. I’m sure that when the buzz around this genre fizzles out it will return to being progressive metal. I mean who cares what people call you, just so long as it’s not ‘shit’.
What other new djent bands should we be keeping our eyes open for?
Williams: There are a few of us out there at the moment riding the wave of ‘Djent’, most notably: Chimp Spanner and Animals As Leaders are the standard by which all instrumental metal should be judged. They are both so creative and fantastically talented. Then there’s Periphery. Acle [Kahney, guitar] (TesseracT) and Misha [Mansoor} (Periphery) have been prominent figures on the scene for 5 or 6 years now, after Meshuggah it could be argued that they’re to blame for this scene!
Jay Postones (drums): Chimp Spanner aka, Paul Ortiz. Awesome musician from Essex, UK. Mixes a kind of 80’s sound with ‘Djent’ riffery. Monuments are cool and good friends of ours so go check them out too.
Of course the Meshuggah and Textures influences are clear in TesseracT’s music, but what other music do you draw inspiration from?
Williams: We’re not massive metal fans anymore. Don’t get me wrong there is nothing better than getting your groove on to Mesh, and getting lost in the majesty of Textures soundscapes. Especially after having supported both bands, they have both raised the bar very high. But, for us, we have an affinity with music with depth and subtlety. Pink Floyd are an influence. The dark stage they create and layers of sound that fleet in and out of view upon that stage is what TesseracT is all about. We each bring such different approaches to the music though. I suppose that’s what keeps it fresh for us, although we have our sound, it has enough subtlety and detail to keep us interested.
Postones: We all listen to very different music and in fact, if you were to pick up any of our MP3 players, you’d probably ask where the metal is. I listen to quite a lot of electronica and some classical music – stuff I can listen and chill out to as a lot of the time, my listening life is focused on learning new TesseracT material. So by the end of the day, I’m about done with metal bands, haha. Acle listens to a lot of Pink Floyd and bands like the Doors, Led Zep when he’s not writing. The other guys in the band are a mixed bag too.
Why did you name your band TesseracT? Are you interested in mathematics? Did you read the Alex Garland novel? Does the name just sound cool?
Williams: Now, although we are all collectively really into popular science, cosmology and physics, none of us (except maybe James [Monteith, guitar] who has a MSC in Engineering) are smart enough to really get a grip upon the mathematics behind such things as string theory, holographic and multi-dimensional reality. So, the truth is Acle saw a movie called Cube2: Hypercube – and well TesseracT is a far better name than Hypercube, isn’t it? Fuck I couldn’t live with myself if I was in a band called Hypercube…I’ve never thought of the name being particularly ‘cool’…haha, how times change if it is.
Postones: Unfortunately, the reason we chose the band name isn’t as clever as people seem to think. Acle started the project back in 2003 and simply named the band TesseracT after watching a rubbish film. It’s only after watching Carl Sagan’s explanation of the 4th dimension, in which he explains what a Tesseract is (look it up on YouTube!) that we realised what we’d gotten ourselves into. I guess our music is quite mathematical if you really dig down as there’s various cross rhythms and polyrhythms in a lot of the songs, but to be honest, we don’t pay too much attention to that. If a song grooves, makes us move physically or mentally then it’s worth developing.
I found it interesting how the Concealing Fate EP is actually part of the One album as well. Whose idea was it to put out the EP late last year?
Williams: Having been around for quite some time upon the scene and having been working on the album One for quite some time too, our fans were crying out for a release. Now we realized that we just couldn’t do a proper release, one that did the amount of time and effort we had put into this release the justice it deserved. We got quite a lot of online abuse when people found out that the release date for One had jumped from 2010 to 2011. We were then offered a spot on the Devin Townsend Project’s North American tour last year and realised to make the best of the opportunity we had to have something to promote, and so the Concealing Fate EP was born. Its quite funny because we had originally intended to release Concealing Fate as an EP as far back as 2009, but realised it would work better for us as part of an album. Anyway, the EP was a limited edition, supposedly US exclusive release that has appeared to have been acquired either legally or illegally by far more people than we and the label expected. By which time it really was way too late to write and record a new set of songs which would have just put the album back even further.
Do you worry that fans who bought the EP will be disappointed they’re only hearing five new songs on the full-length?
Williams: We know already that some are pissed. But far more don’t seem to care. I guess because most people downloaded it anyway, haha! Yes, of course this was a major concern for us, which is why we are doing all we can to make the album a worth while purchase for our fans. We have recorded and filmed a live DVD featuring the live versions of Concealing Fate how we perform them on stage, which are slightly different to the album version. As well as this we realised that it being a DVD, it could be in 5.1 surround sound. As an audio engineer this is such a great feature, as TesseracT’s music has so many layers and a certain depth to it that translates so well to surround sound. We really hope to more of this in the future and have some very wild plans to make these releases unique and special in a way that we feel a lot of other music has stopped trying to be. I’m looking to get a 56 piece orchestra, backing singers, a harp and maybe a tambourine involved!
Postones: Believe me, it’s been discussed at length and very recently we’ve been involved in several discussions in online forums, discussing this very thing. We’ve always been honest though and never hid the fact that Concealing Fate was to be part of One. We have pulled out all the stops on this album though and have also managed to record a DVD which will come free with the album (in most territories).
Were the EP tracks re-recorded for the album?
Williams: No, we did not re-record the EP tracks for the album. We felt if we were to do so we would destroy the vibe of the album as a whole. We look at the album as a complete piece. Almost as if it is one song, the tracks are ordered around the centre-piece of Concealing Fate and are all of a similar tone and depth. Each one complimentary to the last or to the next.
Postones: Yes and no – Concealing Fate on the album is the same recording as the tracks on the EP. We have also recorded all 6 tracks again in 5.1 surround sound for the DVD which comes free with the album. This is something that we’ve really wanted to do for a long time and it’s great to re-visit the tracks after we’ve toured so much as they’ve definitely evolved since we first recorded them back in 2009.
As someone who was never provided with the lyrics, what links Concealing Fate’s five tracks thematically?
Postones: The titles say it all, they’re extremely literal. Each part of Concealing Fate tells a different story. All of the lyrics for the songs are inspired subconsciously – what the hell does this mean –
Dan Tompkins (vocals): I listen to the instrumental demos as I’m drifting off to sleep and at this point the songs provoke images in my head, which inspire vivid concepts and lyrics as well as vocal melodies.
Do the other songs on One connect to the Concealing Fate tracks at all, or do they just stand on their own?
Postones: Musically, the rest of the songs one One are standalone tracks. It’s a mixture of older and re-vamped Tesseract songs that people will recognise and a couple of new ones which people won’t have heard. We’ve literally just finished recording a new track which will be available to anyone who pre-orders the album.
Much has been and will be made of the progressive tendencies of the riffs and drumming, but the clinching factor for many will be the vocals. How important was it for you to find a singer who could prove to be as versatile as Dan Tompkins has been so far?
Williams: As a producer I have always tried to make everything I’m working with have the strongest possible vocal performance. The reason is simple. To fully appreciate and ‘feel’ a guitar line/awesome drum beat/bad ass bass line, you kind of have some understanding of the instrument. The human voice can make a far wider audience feel a certain way. Be it through the words spoken or the melody sung, the voice does things that no other instrument can. Finding Dan was like finding a piece of the puzzle we didn’t know we were missing, he added another dimension to our sound and elevated the band. It was quite interesting to hear that as soon as we announced Dan joining a few other bands went in the same direction simultaneously…I guess we all felt the same way about growling screaming vocals. That they were all good as part of your arsenal but not the entirety.
Postones: We knew exactly what we wanted in a vocalist and honestly, we got very lucky. We’d heard Dan sing before approaching him and when we asked if he’d be interested, we made a unanimous decision based on a 20 second demo he sent through. The versatility in Dan’s vocal abilities still manage to surprise us now – just wait till you hear some of the material for album two!
His vocal delivery is a little different, often coming from more of a progressive rock and post-hardcore direction (I won’t say emo!) rather than metal’s more authoritative style of singing. Was that his idea, or yours?
Williams: With the exception of bouncing ideas off us and from a producer’s role as Acle and myself have taken on this album, we have left Dan up to his own devices. What he does is great and compliments the band perfectly.
Tompkins: It wasn’t a conscious decision, it was a natural response to the music.
Postones: We were literally looking for Dan to join the band – someone who could take the music and inject melody, atmosphere and meaningful lyrics. We felt the whole ‘scream in your face’ thing has been done to death. Fair enough, some parts of our music are vocally aggressive but only when it feels right and not just for the idle sake of having something written quickly to fit a tough piece of music. I know from our writing process that Dan takes his time and works on each idea until we all agree it’s great. Lucky for us he hits the nail on the head just about every time!
How did your first North American tour go last year?
Williams: WOW…I mean what a gloriously painful and pleasurable experience. For us in the UK a long drive is 500 miles…in the US its more like 1500! I mean we drove from LA to Vancouver back down to LA across through Nebraska, St. Louis and over to the East Coast, up to Quebec, through Ontario, and back down to Chicago. LONG! But every show was a genuine surprise, just such a buzz to meet so many people who not only liked what we did but also knew the words to our songs. We’ve been so lucky this year to travel to many, many places. But the US and Canada were just amazing and we’re really looking forward to returning many more times. It was kind of like a massive road trip/tourist trip and every night we got to play a gig…you couldn’t ask for better.
Postones: It was great for so many reasons! Firstly, just to get over and tour the States, as I’m sure everyone can appreciate, is a real big thing for a band. Especially as we’re from the UK, to a lot of people and bands, America is considered THE place to tour. We were so blown away by everyone’s kindness and generosity and how cool and welcoming The Devin Townsend Project were. We felt a great connection with all those guys and can’t wait to hook up again in the future.
It’s obviously so much different than touring in the UK and Europe…was there anything about that whole experience that really caught you guys by surprise?
Williams: How familiar everything looked. I guess we see so much of North America in films and on TV that it felt quite normal. Until we got to Arizona, Utah and Colorado. Man, Utah looks like fucking Mars…I swear I freaked out whilst drifting in and out of sleep on the road, not knowing if I was still dreaming or not. And Colorado…you hit one vista and say: “This is sooooo big…” 2 minutes later you follow and bend and it bigger…it just keeps on getting more and more epic. If ever there was a scenery to accompany our music it’s a road trip through Arizona, Utah and Colorado.
Postones: The one thing we did struggle with in the States was the food!! Man, I don’t know how American bands survive on diners, burgers and energy drinks as that’s all we could ever find on the road. The main obvious difference is the massive journeys between the shows. The UK is tiny and you can be anywhere in less than a day – most places in a couple of hours. I remember setting up the sat-nav one day on the US tour and when it had finished working out the route, the first instruction was ‘in 300 miles, turn left’…. that’s ridiculous! You’d struggle to go in one direction for 50 miles in the UK!
With your huge tour with Protest the Hero, it looks like Century Media is going to really be pushing TesseracT on this continent. Is that something you’re striving towards? Is building a North American fanbase more important to you right now than playing on the other side of the Atlantic?
Williams: Building a fan base wherever we can is our goal right now. We’ve been to Russia, Europe, North America and India…as far as were concerned we’ve got a long list of countries we’d like to play in and we’re only a few down the list so far.
Postones: We love America and in truth, would love to spend as much time over there as possible. I think we’re all aware that America is the place to be and definitely the place to break if you’re a band and we can’t wait to get back there in March! As for playing shows elsewhere, I wouldn’t class it as a matter of importance really, more of a case that we want to play everywhere possible and hopefully introduce our music to new people every night in as many places around the world as we can get to. We’ve just (today) got back from our 2nd trip to India in less than a month which even to us seems both incredible and ridiculous. India might be the last place you’d think would have a metal scene, but there is a really cool scene growing and the crowds are just wild! Maybe we’ll be the first band to play on the Moon!
One is out now on Century Media Records.