Some months after the release of their acclaimed debut album A Dream in Static, and again in April 2017, composer and guitarist of newcomer cinematic rock band Earthside, Jamie van Dyck took time from his somewhat hectic schedule to answer, in depth, some questions regarding a myriad of topics, ranging from the band’s formation, to hiring and working with an orchestra, to the very heartfelt story behind one of their most dramatic almost anthemic songs, “Mob Mentality”.
And if you’ve not yet had the pleasure, Connecticut-based quartet Earthside is, in a technical sense, an instrumental outfit; however half of the 8 tracks on A Dream in Static feature some very talented pipes, belonging to Lajon Witherpoon (Sevendust) and Bjorn Strid (Soilwork), to name a couple. Not to mention production duties handled by David Castillo (Katatonia, Bloodbath, Opeth), as well as mixing and mastering by engineer Jens Bogren (Opeth, Soilwork, The Ocean, Devin Townsend).
Having returned from their 3rd tour the fall of 2016, vastly talented troublemakers Jamie van Dyck (guitars), Ben Shanbrom (drums, percussion, backing vocals), Frank Sacramone (grand piano, keyboards, programming) and newest band member, Ryan Griffin (bass) are slowly tackling writing for their sophomore release! So without further ado, onto the questions!
How did the band come about?
van Dyck: Frank, Ben, and I had played together in a previous incarnation of the band called Bushwhack dating back to high school. While we wrote some impressive music relative to our age and accomplished some things we could be proud of, there was a level that we felt that the songs and the business structure weren’t representative of who we are so much as us succumbing to pressures and imperfect advice from people around us.
Bushwhack was a name that had worn out its welcome with us. It became symbolic of times of being a restricted local band in our high school and college days — a band coming up short of our dreams and the quality of music we wanted to create. Earthside represents a fresh start and our first enterprise as young adults who know what we want to express and how we want to express ourselves. We’re doing things on our own terms rather than someone else’s and going for what we want with a balance of tenacity and patience, and largely getting it.
And the name Earthside has a subtlety and an elegance that we feel fits our aesthetic and our aspirations to make beautiful, emotional music that has real weight and honesty to it. Earthside’s bass player Ryan came into the fold just as the other three of us were making this transition, and he has since continued to grow with us and helped shape what the ethos of Earthside would be on our debut album.
With Earthside, we wanted the freedom to write both instrumental and vocal music. With Bushwhack we were an instrumental band, but then we spent years looking for a vocalist and never finding one. As Earthside, we embraced who we are as an instrumental band, and then found the voices we wanted to convey our vision on each of the songs where we imagined that component as part of the song’s fabric. We wanted to work with an orchestra, and we did. We wanted to work with producers who would push us and educate us about the production process when done at its highest level, and we did. Most of all, we wanted to make an album we would forever be proud of and we’d ultimately have no regrets about. Mission accomplished.
What genres and/or bands did you grow up with? Which ones were influences on your own sound?
van Dyck: Most of what I grew up with early on was classical music. I was taking Suzuki lessons, and my parents exposed me mostly to Beethoven, Mozart, and Tchaikovsky as a kid. Beethoven symphonies were a staple. As far as rock music, I didn’t really have any guidance there. It’s not like my parents raised me on King Crimson or Rush records like many prog reviewers expect to hear was the case. My foray into the rock world was through the pop music of my late childhood — like the most embarrassing stuff the late 90s had to offer. Okay, I still like some of those songs. But that very soon improved to the better pop/rock bands of that era.
My gateway into alternative rock was actually the band Garbage whom I still admire to this day. There was a little-known band of that era called Splender who never really broke out as I thought they deserved to who was a huge influence on me growing up and inspired me to play around with interesting chord-voicings on the guitar as a 12-year old. In middle school, I got into heavier records like Sevendust’s Animosity and Metallica’s orchestral album S&M, which bridged my classical childhood and the rock music I was now passionate about. I also really enjoyed the delay lead guitar parts of Johnny Buckland from Coldplay, not having been exposed to Radiohead yet, so “diet Radiohead” would suffice for the time being.
The band that really opened everything up for me musically in high school and really challenged me cerebrally was Porcupine Tree. Between Steven Wilson and Clint Lowery from Sevendust, the two of them were a huge influence on me as far as my approach as a songwriter on guitar. In college I was then exposed to more challenging classical composers such as Stravinsky, Messaien, Poulenc, John Adams, and many others. This academic musical atmosphere that I was immersed in along with everything leading up to that led me to undertaking the challenge of composing and orchestrating all of “Mob Mentality” as my final project to complete the music major.
I would also say that my bandmates were huge musical influences on me growing up. Frank and I grew up together sharing records and jamming together and writing together as elementary schoolers. We were a huge part of each other’s musical upbringing. Our drummer Ben came into the fold in high school about 11 years ago and his fascination with complex rhythms put my focus there as I wanted the things I wrote to impress him! I grew up with other musicians who were my friends and mates in other bands and many of them had an impact in exposing me to music and pushing me to improve and try things as well. The influence of peers and teachers is often not given its proper due, but it’s so pivotal in our development and encouragement in our formative years as to how we go about realizing our dreams as young adults and even what those dreams are.
Do any band members practice any other forms of art? Do any of you play additional instruments than those you each used on the album?
van Dyck: While I think we’re all artistic and wide-ranging in our interests, music is certainly the foremost artistic passion for each of us.
Ryan [Griffin, our bassist] immerses himself in fantasy worlds through video games and other such things that could be said to be an art.
Frank [Sacramone, our keyboardist] and I each play chess, which could be said to be artful, but only when played at an extremely high level is there that artful beauty to it, which he and I are not at.
Ben [Shanbrom, our drummer] is a writer, though a lot of his writing has more of a journalistic quality to it rather than creative writing. That said, working on our debut album and debut music video certainly was a growing experience across many disciplines within the arts. We worked with phenomenal professionals and gave very thought-out input in realizing our creative vision in graphic design, photography, film, and dance/choreography.
I sat in on the editing session for our “Mob Mentality” music video. Frank sat in on the editing session for our “A Dream In Static” video and also partook in one of the coloring sessions for another video project. We had phone calls with each of our respective videos’ directors for hours and hours brainstorming and making creative decisions. I spoke with the two dancers and the choreographers at length about the spirit of “Mob Mentality” and what I wanted these two characters to each embody and convey with their movements, their faces, etc. Ben and Frank hatched the main video concept and many of the plot details for “A Dream In Static”.
In branding the band, we have been very conscious of our look in terms of the aesthetics of the graphics and the photography as well as our own fashion choices in our music video and press photos. I always have considered myself an auditory creature far more than a visual one, but I’ve noticed that I’ve become far more discerning and observant visually since working on all these projects for Earthside.
I see this growth in all of us as very important, especially with our ambitions as a cinematic band to create multimedia content and score full-length films and video games. As for additional instruments, Ben also sings quite well and dabbles a bit on guitar though not very well just yet. Frank began learning music on violin though his next best instrument after keyboards is probably drums and all sorts of percussion, followed by guitar. Ryan is also a major multi-instrumentalist who is very strong on flute and also plays saxophone, clarinet, and trombone as well as having drummed in some cover bands. Ryan also sang in an a cappella group in college. And then I play guitar in Earthside, but I started out on piano and probably write more at the piano than I do on guitar, especially with the more orchestral/cinematic stuff. I am the only member of the band who absolutely cannot play drums (I’m horrifically bad at them), but I can sing okay and sang in the Yale Glee Club in college. I can get by on the bass and mandolin, and I played a teeny bit of French horn at the beginning of high school, though not at all well. I would love to learn how to play the orchestral harp!
Can you explain the concept behind the album art (Travis Smith)?
van Dyck: When we first began working on the art for the record, we hadn’t even gone into the studio yet. We had demoed all the songs and knew roughly which ones were going to make the record. What we knew was the ethos and feel we wanted to capture, and once we realized Travis Smith was available to do it and had a few back-and-forths with him and saw the caliber of guy he was to work with in addition to his talent, it was a no-brainer.
As we are not experienced visual artists and had never really been through this process before, at first he was asking us what we wanted, and we were asking him “what does our music make you feel? You’re the professional here” and we were really deferring to his sensibilities. He came back at us and really encouraged us to participate actively in creating what would be the visual accompaniment to our art. He made us take ownership of it and brainstorm and express ideas that would express the meaning of the songs and the record as a whole for us.
A consistent theme we felt while writing this record was one of personal, internal struggle. Questions of one’s legacy and self-doubt and a sense of purpose permeate this record. We wanted our album to visually capture the journey through one’s mind, encompassing our greatest dreams and lofty aspirations as well as our fears of none of these things ever coming true in reality and the things we do to self-sabotage due to our own doubts, weaknesses, and insecurities. Travis captured these abstract ideas with sophisticated, yet subtle, imagery that ultimately is textural, thoughtful, and most of all beautiful. We think he did a tremendous job! We are so grateful for all the work he did over many, many months spanning two years on the art for this record. It’s clear that he felt and “got” the music and gave his all to the project.
Had you always wanted to be involved in music as a career? If you had to choose, what would be another career choice?
van Dyck: I’ve certainly wanted to be a musician for a long time. I’d say it started when I was about 10 years old in the late 90s. Then I more wanted to be a rockstar as the guitarist of a pop/rock band akin to Third Eye Blind or Everclear. That dream evolved to become far more about loving the music and feeling inspired to write and much less about the fame and the popularity that may come with it. My 10-year old self-thought that it was the way I would finally be “cool” and have the girls I wanted like me. I do think it was crucial in middle school and high school that I had music and specifically songwriting as my personal therapy and also a source of identity that allowed me to feel secure in myself and not need those superficial indicators of success and false happiness as much.
Before music, in my single-digit years, I wanted to be an ornithologist. I’m still fascinated with birds of prey and go on boating trips on the Connecticut River in hopes of seeing nesting bald eagles. Usually, it’s more likely that we’ll see a lot of osprey.
I think if I weren’t a musician in a band, I would be teaching music as a career, which I am doing as a job anyway. As I said, songwriting was so important to me in my formative years, and I love helping kids and teens express themselves and develop their point of view and their confidence in composing original music. If Earthside wasn’t my primary focus, I might try to get a formal lecture position at a university and teach applied rock music theory & composition. If I wasn’t doing music at all professionally, I think I could enjoy teaching high school math, statistics, physics, chemistry, or even French. The hardest part for me would be waking up at 6 AM every day again. I don’t envy those kids!
I don’t want to speak for the other guys, but I think Frank would be a producer and solo EDM artist if not in Earthside. Frank has also recently become very interested in politics and marketing, and he’s fascinated by studying and analyzing certain trends in humanity. I think Ben would do some session drumming and also be focused as a writer with his freelance journalism background. And Ryan would likely find a different outlet to perform musically, while also gaming (WOW and League are his main games), perhaps pursuing streaming, though he’d probably prefer to keep gaming and his career separate rather than making a career out of his passion for gaming.
Check out the video fo “Crater” featuring Björn Strid of Soilwork
For your first tour in 2015, were there any fears or insecurities? What were you particularly looking forward to?
van Dyck: I would say what was particularly remarkable about this situation was that we were added mid-tour, and officially added only a day before we joined it. We were also added by the co-headliner rather than the headliner. This made it so we kind of had to go in with a certain amount of faith that things would work out as we were not able to plan certain things or negotiate advantageous terms for ourselves in advance. We feared that certain promoters wouldn’t put us on stage as we were a replacement for Decapitated on the package that they agreed to. We feared that when we did get to play, it might not be for more than a 20-minute set, which in some cases it wasn’t. We were afraid that when we were the first band, nobody would be there to see us. And I was a bit nervous that this very metal crowd would find us a bit too “unmetal” for their tastes.
We learned to roll with the punches, and it ended up being a wonderful experience for us. We generally played to enthusiastic crowds who seemed to really enjoy that we were very different from the other bands (Soulfly, Soilwork, and Shattered Sun) on the tour package. Every night, I grew to embrace the challenge of winning over this crowd of people who’d never heard of us and then hanging out with these people afterwards and enjoying the other bands’ sets with the fans. I also really enjoyed living with Soilwork and definitely looked forward to the fact that we’d be getting to know them more and learn the ropes from such battle-tested and respected road warriors as those guys and Soulfly.
The biggest thing of all that we looked forward to was this great opportunity to prove that our music could translate to a live setting. Labels, booking agents, managers, fans, press — you name it — many people have been skeptical that we can be captivating as a live band given our instrumental makeup with the guest vocalists and instrumentalists on the record. Now that this first tour was a success, we’re starting to get more tour offers as well as some of the other professional pieces in place that had previously been hesitant to commit to getting involved. We’ve embraced the challenge, as our model has had doubters from the beginning. That doubt has fueled us to make sure that we put on the most emotional and intense performance that we possibly can. As more fans check us out on the road, we’ll let their experiences of our shows speak for themselves.
You have a classical musical background and training—was this a factor in hiring an orchestra? Do you think this type of instrumentation will be recurring on future albums? Do your other bandmates have any type of formal training?
van Dyck: Yes. More than any formal training, orchestral music was what I was raised on listening-wise and what I heard most during my critical period. As far as formal training, it was more classical music theory rather than classical training on any instrument for me. This musical upbringing was certainly a factor in my lifelong goal to compose something for orchestra. Hiring a real orchestra with real players felt right as far as introducing our aesthetic and presenting our music as human and real rather than synthetic like many of our current counterparts.
Obviously, between the hours and hours of work as well as the money spent, there is a real cost and sacrifice to doing it that way, but we care enough about our art and were fortunate enough to have such an opportunity that it was well worth it! Real orchestra with real players adds such richness and dynamics to the music.
It’s too early to say what we will do on future albums as far as full orchestra, but I think future records will continue our spirit of collaboration with different vocalists, instrumentalists, and ensembles. These collaborations will naturally span different cultures, continents, and genres depending on what the songs cry out for and what artistic curiosities of ours need satiating at that time. We certainly have some specific artists and ensembles on our future wish list should everything work out and the songs be right for them.
Our keyboardist Frank also grew up with classical music and began on violin and then classical piano. He, too, can certainly arrange instrumentally dense music, though I think he approaches orchestration as a producer, with timbre as his primary strength as a composer, whereas for me it’s more harmony and voicings. I think that makes us a great complement to one another! Our bassist Ryan is also formally trained, but as a performer rather than as a theorist or composer. His classical flute background certainly further gives us breadth; and who knows, someday we may feature him playing winds!
Just to clarify for people…as far as “critical period”, you mean before your teens? What do you define that as? And as far as “voicings”, do you mean of everything (instruments and vocals) or do you mean vocals?
van Dyck: Yes, important clarifications. By “critical period,” I mean the time in one’s early life during which your brain is developing its grasp of formal systems and kind of identifying the universe and world we live in and adapting to it. I don’t have enough of a cognitive science background to properly define it, but I imagine that pre-teens or early teens are roughly when that period would end for most people. Regardless, it was music that was very much a part of my understanding of the world and I was immersed in.
And by voicing I meant full compositional arrangement, and voicings of chords (inversions, suspensions, other color tones, etc.) as well as voice-leading between chords and melody and all that. The whole kit and caboodle!
Was it a goal to have your chosen producer (David Castillo)? Was it even a thought to produce yourselves? And on that subject, how were you able to get the vocalists/other musicians and producers you wanted, being such a new band? Was it difficult?
van Dyck: Our primary objective was to make a record that we would look back on and be proud of, which for us is a difficult task because we’re so perfectionistic and self-critical. I would say that this goal was threefold: 1) make an awesome album that is undeniable within our genre and positions us for future buzz and success; 2) do everything we can to make it a memorable, meaningful experience; 3) come away enriched and more knowledgeable from said experience.
Earthside is good at being honest with ourselves and each other about what our strengths are and what our weaknesses are, both individually and collectively as a band. To make our goals come to fruition, we wanted to bring our strengths to the table while finding collaborators who filled in our areas of need. The four members of Earthside bring compositional and instrumental talent, a natural ear for melody/harmony/rhythm, emotional openness and earnestness, loads of ambition, and a grand vision for the project. We knew that we lacked the vocal talent to realize the vocal parts we imagined being performed at the level that our songs demanded. We knew that while our keyboardist Frank is a natural at production and mixing, he lacked the experience of having been the producer of an album of this scope before. With Frank’s abilities, I felt that he absorbed so much from working with David, Jens, Johan, and other engineers and producers who were smaller parts of the process that he could now produce such a record himself in the future.
I know that each of us learned a ton making this record that will be essential in making our sophomore album. David Castillo did a phenomenal job producing A Dream in Static, but he has also been a mentor of sorts and has become a great friend, both of which are also very valuable and major parts of why we are so fortunate to have worked with him. As for attracting the collaborators on the album, each was a different story.
Overall though, in each situation, we had an A-list of 3-5 people or ensembles whom we had in mind for a specific song or for the role as producer on the album. Sometimes the hardest part was just figuring out how to reach the person with whom we wanted to work as their contact information was – perhaps intentionally – not easily accessible. In other cases, the contact dropped right in our lap, with the artist working with one of our producers, or a mutual Facebook friend, or an email that they gave very publicly and responded to regularly.
We definitely were ignored by some people and their managers just because they’d never heard of us so for sure, being an unknown new band was an obstacle for such a model. For each of them, we sent demos of the song(s) that we’d recorded and programmed on our laptops. The people who came aboard the project were the ones who genuinely loved what we were doing and wanted to be a part of it.
Only a couple months before we set out to record our album, we had 0 of the 4 spots filled vocally and still weren’t entirely confident that our production team was set in place, so there’s no doubt about it that having such a collaborative, multi-continental project depending on so many people and moving pieces was nerve-wracking! But it was also fulfilling and has given us what I believe will be lifelong relationships with great artists and people.
What is the songwriting process for you? Is it more of a team effort, e.g. jamming together, or do you discuss first, then go your separate ways and each write your own contributions? And anything else regarding this you’d like to expand on? (Is songwriting split evenly?)
van Dyck: Every song is a different process with a different story behind its creation. In general, on our debut album each song was written in either one of two ways:
For “The Closest I’ve Come”, “Skyline”, “A Dream in Static”, and “The Ungrounding” the songs developed from jam sessions in rehearsal and tended to have equal creative contributions among all our band members; the other four songs were creations primarily of an individual band member. Frank wrote, “Contemplation of the Beautiful” for this album. He also wrote “Entering the Light” nearly a decade ago with all synth instruments in the music software Reason, and we re-arranged it for a real orchestra and a hammered dulcimer for this album. “Mob Mentality” began as my senior thesis for the Yale University undergraduate music major and was both my main source of pride and the bane of my existence for the next four years. “Crater” was Ben’s first real attempt at songwriting, and boy was it a damn good one! I helped him with some of the arrangements, chord progressions, and realizing his vision in pre-production, but the melodies, rhythms, lyrics, drum beats, and form were all him.
A trend that we’ve noticed is that the songs which were conceived with us all together in rehearsal tended to become instrumentals as we filled out the arrangements with the means we had available to the four of us with the exception of the album’s title track, which left some room for vocals in spite of that. And for most of the songs that were individually imagined, they were imagined with subject matter and a vocal melody in mind and became the songs on which we featured guest vocalists.
We’ll see on our next record if this dualistic approach to songwriting continues or if we end up favoring one over the other or taking a different approach altogether. We’ll also see if Ryan ends up writing a song of his own for this record—though he’s definitely already more involved in the creative process in our down-time writing for the next record that we’ve done so far from him having been through it once before. I think he’s learned and absorbed a ton from being around us.
Your video for “Mob Mentality” (with vocalist Lajon Witherspoon) is quite dramatic and emotional; can you tell us the story behind the lyrics and also, the video?
van Dyck: I think because the song was such an undertaking for me from the get-go and was what I envisioned as my personal opus as a composer, working on it had me thinking of grander themes such as one’s legacy and the purpose of one’s life and to have all that be consistent with what one’s spirit yearns for. For me personally, I felt the pressure of either accomplishing all that or failing to do so in composing this song and that anxiety and race against time came through in the lyrics I wrote in engaging the above themes.
Then late in the process of composing the piece, my dear friend Ugonna Igweatu passed away suddenly of an asthma attack less than 12 hours after having spent the weekend recording his original music, the final piece of his creative legacy, at my house. His death immediately resonated with the themes I was taking on in “Mob Mentality”, and finishing the composition and lyrics became a refuge from how heartbroken I was about his passing. The song came to be dedicated to him.
The title ‘Mob Mentality’ relates to the societal pressures and incentives that distract us from what we each want to be a force for over the course of our lives. We may not lose sight of it as a long-term goal, but the reward system is such that on any given day there is a more immediate priority seducing away from that cause or calling.
The idea to have balletic dance in our music video was introduced to us by our director, which we thought was a great idea. I then took that idea and pushed for the dance to be a bit grittier and fuse more modern elements with classical ballet. Our director was able to find the very talented NYC-based dance company Ballet Inc, and we soon learned of Kyla Ernst-Alper’s aerial/contortion talents. We scrambled within a couple weeks of the video’s shoot date to make it work such that we could accommodate her aerialism as a signature component of our video. I wanted Kyla to depict the fire that we feel imbued with when we have that command of our life to pursue our dream fearlessly. She descends down the silk from her domain (the air) to the ground where our equally talented male dancer from Ballet Inc Wade A. Watson embodies vulnerability and fear. She gives him strength and in a glorious duet they are united. But as this feeling of fearlessness is fleeting, she re-ascends the silk at the end as he desperately clings to her and tries to prevent her from leaving.
I often find that my determination is interrupted with long periods of self-doubt, and I have to harness those moments in which I feel that I am in control of my life’s narrative and milk them for all they’re worth. I see myself in each of these characters, and I felt that this was a subtle and beautiful way to depict a big part of what the song means to me.
Have each of your families been supportive in your career choice?
van Dyck: Absolutely, and then some. Not only have they approved of our risky and unorthodox career path, but they’ve gone above and beyond to promote our success and happiness in whatever ways they can. I love my family dearly and am so fortunate to have the parents and sister that I have. They’re my rock, and I am able to rock because of their love and support.
Our families have helped with some of the planning and funding and when needed have served some of the functions of a record label and management company as our whole operation on this debut record has been ambitious for even most signed artists let alone an unsigned artist such as ourselves. Many of our parents have passions within the arts, but went elsewhere with their careers, so I think they live that part of their own personal dream vicariously through us a bit.
My parents’ careers are in the research/medical fields as is my sister’s so I get to live my scientific/mathematical side through them, and they get to live their musical/creative sides through me.
Going forward, as Earthside likely will seek management and a label for our sophomore album release, our families will continue to root from the sidelines, but I doubt that we’ll need them to be actively involved as much as far as it being a family business to the extent that it was on our first record.
Are there any musicians on your radar to work with in the future? Are there any plans for a permanent vocalist, or do you prefer to remain (in a general sense) an “instrumental” band?
van Dyck: There absolutely are! I don’t know if divulging the names will give away some of the surprise as far as names we actually think we’ll have a shot to work with, but perhaps I can name some of the more seemingly unattainable ones.
One thing that was lacking on our debut was a woman vocal presence, and I think collaboration with someone like Björk could be really cool. Going back to the guys, Chino from Deftones is someone whose name we’ve thrown out there if we ever had the right song for his voice. I also think Gotye would be really interesting as he could collaborate as a singer, producer, and multi-instrumentalist, and I think he would be a surprising choice for something heavier after his “Somebody That I Used to Know” pop fame – he’s immensely talented though.
And then also some different instrumental soloists and ensembles from what we did on our debut record to go beyond the familiar western symphony orchestra and try our hand at other, perhaps more rare sounds. The Celtic hammered dulcimer on “Entering the Light” was a bit of a taste of that, but I think we can take that element of our sound further in our composing. Currently there are no plans to attain a permanent vocalist. We like the freedom to compose for different voices and to compose instrumental music where the sounds, melodies, and harmonies themselves convey our emotions rather than the spoken language. We could change our mind at some point as many in the music industry have recommended that we do, but at this juncture, we like the way we have in mind to do things, and we don’t feel compelled to conform to the more typical constitution of a rock band unless the music that we are inspired to compose calls for that.
In previous interviews, it was said that you prefer not to be pigeonholed into a specific genre; do you think your future course will adhere to this? Are there genres or subgenres you would like to explore (either for the first time or in more depth)?
van Dyck: Early on in Earthside’s existence, I think we were weary of the word “Prog” as a genre moniker. It’s not that we aren’t progressive. But I think the word led people to infer things about our genesis as a band that just weren’t the case. We started getting comparisons to bands like Spocks Beard whom we sound nothing alike. Critics would suggest that they could pinpoint our undeniable influences of Rush, King Crimson, and Yes who – while all of those are great bands – played very little role as a direct musical influence in any of our musical upbringings.
With the new wave of more modern alternative rock-influenced progressive bands such as Karnivool, Leprous, and TesseracT having success, the word “prog” connotes something that we’re a bit more comfortable with than we were before as it’s more accurate in describing our lineage.
Now the dirty word we live in fear of is “djent,” which we think we have very little semblance of in our music other than that we like complex meters, syncopation, and heavy riffs. Ultimately it’s up to the fans to call us whatever they want genre-wise, and whatever each person heard in our music, that’s a personal decision for them in their listening experience.
It’s hard to say what direction we will go, but film score, twentieth/twenty-first century classical, and the stupidly broad term of world music all have potential to be explored more in a melodic rock context that we’re excited to see what we may come up with. We won’t write something for the sake of writing it though; whatever direction we go will come from genuine emotion and curiosity that we feel both individually and collectively in that moment in time so who knows!
What bands are you currently listening to? Is there any one (or more) in particular whose sound could work its way into your next musical effort?
van Dyck: Leprous was actually a somewhat recent discovery for us despite their latest being their 4th major release. ‘The Congregation’ was the 2015 Album of the year for most of us within the band, and the fact that we’ve now gotten to tour with them twice since, it’s really cool to form an alliance of sorts with a band for whom we have that much respect as we try to build a movement of emotional, honest music. They’ve quickly become one of our favorite bands. Many people will find this funny, but Ice T’s metal band Body Count has been a huge staple for us recently, both with “Talk Shit, Get Shot” off the previous record and now especially the socially conscious and relevant “No Lives Matter” off the new record being perhaps our favorite song for 2017 so far. I also really like the new band Our Oceans that a certain person interviewing me right now recommended to me so thank you for that! When I rattled off a few dream collaborators for our next record, Björk came up, and I’ve been on a huge kick of listening to her music recently and discovering what I missed out on when I was a kid and she was releasing classic albums that I’d never heard till this past year. Ben has been enjoying the harmonically adventurous stylings of a fairly new metal outfit called Once Human.
Outside of the progressive/rock/metal worlds, I occasionally pop on the local classical music FM station and sometimes it has a nice surprise of something lush and beautiful that I’ve never heard before. I don’t think any of these will be consciously drawn from as far as influencing our next album. But no doubt, what you’re listening to and find yourself attracted to musically works its way into your writing unconsciously.
As we’re entering the throes of writing our second album, I’m generally avoiding listening to any bands within our genre and creating in a sort of selective vacuum. I’ve intentionally limited my recent musical exposure primarily to styles way outside our genre that could be cool if through total immersion happen to influence me in some way.
You have toured in the US again as well as Europe since we first spoke in 2015. I was fortunate enough to attend one show and noticed some interesting video visuals that I believe have been added since the last tour, at least for the US. I briefly spoke with Ben about this, and he mentioned it was an approach you agreed on years ago, as well as wanting to eventually create full video sets with a narrative or multiple vignettes that run throughout the show with the music. Could you describe these, and explain how those ideas came about? Any other differences regarding the tour you’d like to point out? What are your thoughts about how and what visuals will possibly be used in upcoming tours? What do you hope to achieve with this?
van Dyck: On our first tour, we had these visuals ready, but because we jumped onto the tour mid-stream, the headliners weren’t equipped for the tour to accommodate our visual setup. On future tours, we’ve had the opportunity to negotiate what our needs are and where we’re able to be flexible/helpful in return in a way that has allowed us to showcase those visuals on our European tour as well as our more recent US tour (both with Leprous). To this point, we have trailers/interludes between some of the songs as well as backing videos to show the collaborators on our vocal songs (and the orchestra on “Mob Mentality”).
As Ben alluded to, ideally, we would like to have a cinematic accompaniment to our instrumental songs as well to help make the show more fully cohesive and heighten the sensory immersive experience of our instrumentals in a way that the video feels that it is scoring the music (like how a film soundtrack scores a movie, only vice versa).
Watch Earthside’s drum playthrough video for “Mob Mentality”
Any song ‘rejects’ or musical scraps from the first album you’re revisiting?
van Dyck: Not quite, but there’s a song that we started writing just a hair too late to seriously consider it for the first album even though it was before we started recording it. That song is a likely candidate for the next album and probably sounds the most like something off A Dream In Static of anything we’ve written for this upcoming sophomore release.
You’ve mentioned your future work will encompass various genres depending on what you’re feeling at the time. Would you say the writing is currently taking shape in this way?
van Dyck: The writing for this album so far hasn’t led to a full-fledged genre departure, but I would say the mood and the instruments we add to our rock band sound project to be different. The songs feel a bit darker in reaction to the current state of the world and humanity.
I know it’s quite early, but is the writing process similar to last time, i.e., some separately, some together in a jam session?
van Dyck: Yes, this so far has been how we’ve generated the bulk of the content we’re considering for the record. We may also do a couple songs as writing pairs where it’s kind of in between those two main models. We shall see.
You mentioned earlier how important family is to your attempt at success. If you didn’t have this, do you personally think you could go on making music? Do you think you would find a way? Is there any advice you might give to other starting artists who are not so lucky, knowing what you know?
van Dyck: Man, it’s really hard to say. I doubt that I’d be the same person without my family’s support in raising and encouraging me to pursue music so without that, it’s difficult to project where I’d be musically and how strong my belief in myself would be. I don’t think that I could give general advice to starting musicians that’s useful across the board. Each musician has a unique set of talents, circumstances, obstacles, and dreams so it’s hard to come up with a cure-all piece of advice other than to make sure that you keep loving what you’re doing.
Are you still in the mindset of being predominantly instrumental, w/possible guest vocalists?
van Dyck: I think that this next record is likely to follow the same model as the first as far as about half the songs being all-instrumental and the other half featuring guest vocalists. We’ve only written vocal parts for one song that’s likely going to be on the record so far so it’s possible that the ratio could swing one way or the other, depending on which songs we’re most enthusiastic about and what we think serves those songs each the best.
Do you tend to get musical ideas within solitude, away from a lot of social interaction and media? Are there certain things that cue an idea, as in something you read, a recent event, a dream, etc?
van Dyck: Great question. I do think that competing stimulus can be a real creativity dampener. Social media and hours spent in front of a computer or TV or phone in general can be a creativity killer for me. I tend to be far more creative when I’m walking outside or traveling somewhere new. Novelty is a major catalyst for creativity for me whether it be a new place or a new guitar/new keyboard or new piece of musical technology like an effects pedal/processor. Sometimes, I’ll just tune my guitar to a tuning I’ve never used before so that it feels like I’m dealing with a whole new instrument where the old shapes/patterns don’t apply, and I create solving this new puzzle.