Ending your month-long headline tour in your hometown is always a treat for any artist. Toronto’s Intervals performed an exciting hour-long set, building upon song after song with technical perfection in a well curated setlist of tracks new and old. Ending the performance with an encore consisting of an improvised jam session between your fellow tour-mates and friends is certainly one way to memorably bow out. Before the said show, we sat down with Intervals’ mastermind and lead guitarist Aaron Marshall to discuss their headlining tour, putting together unique tour lineups, being an independent artist, and the state of music sales and streaming services. The audio file is included above if you’d like to listen via Soundcloud.
It’s Friday, February 23rd. I’m here with Aaron Marshall, the mastermind behind Intervals, at the Opera House in Toronto. Thanks for doing this interview.
Aaron Marshall: No problem, dude, how are you?
Pretty good, and yourself?
Marshall: I’m good! Happy to be home.
You played here last summer with Northlane, and I remember you said during your set how surreal it was for you to be playing in front of the hometown crowd…
Marshall: Oh yeah, always is.
Definitely! That journey of you, starting out in the local scene in Toronto, going from that to tonight, closing out your headline tour right here in the Opera House. Can you tell us a bit about that journey?
Marshall: It’s kinda crazy, bit of a blur I’d say. Feels good to come home and be able to do a show at the venue where I’ve pretty much seen all my favorite bands play at some capacity, over the last decade plus. I’m born and raised here, Opera House is kind of that place. Played here numerous times, but this is the first time that I’m headlining a show here, and we are approaching a sell-out which is crazy. Having my mind blown a little bit, feels good.
We’ve been on tour since January 19th, in support of the latest record The Way Forward. Started in Chicago, and we rode our way down to Anaheim for the NAMM (National Association of Music Merchants) convention, and we had a few days off down there to do some brand-affiliated type-stuff and then the tour picked up. We’ve been all over North America since, and super tired, but very much looking forward to tonight’s show, and it’s gonna be a good one. Lots of friends and family [in attendance] and all that.
Cover artwork for The Way Forward, the latest release from Intervals.
That’s great to hear. It’s probably a perfect way to end the tour.
Marshall: Yeah, if I ever have the ability to influence the routing on these things, I typically ask for the tour to end at home. It’s probably the easiest for numerous reasons.
Yeah, just drive your gear down the road and there you are!
Marshall: And the bus will just pull up back at my parent’s place in Scarborough, drop all the gear off, and then everyone can be on their way. Then I get some time off which is good, looking forward to that.
That’s good. With the tour starting last month, and you said you did this whole routing [around the NAMM convention], has there been any new grounds that you guys have played? New favorite cities? And just the experience of a headline tour, how’s that been?
Marshall: So, this is my second major market North American headliner, the first one was in support of The Shape of Colour in Spring 2016. These are all markets that I’ve been growing in, whether it’s support tour or headline tour, in the last 4-5 years, maybe more than that. Some new places of course, but a lot of the A-markets are typically a repeat, just better experiences, growth in general. I guess highlights are the ones you’d expect: Chicago, LA, Portland, Vancouver, Seattle, Denver, all the Texas shows are always great, Florida was awesome, Atlanta’s always great. New York City couple nights ago, Boston was amazing, everything’s good.
Check out Intervals play through video for their song “Touch and Go”.
This tour package that you’ve put together with Intervals, Jason Richardson, Nick Johnston, and Night Verses. It’s very unique in a way that it’s an instrumental tour, it kinda reminds me of those guitar virtuoso tours, how did this tour come together? And would you be open to doing another instrumental package tour in the future?
Marshall: For sure, this is the second one actually. So “The Shape of Colour” tour was also an all instrumental bill. It was Intervals, Plini, Angel Vivaldi, and Save Us From The Archon. We really had a great time with bringing an all-instrumental experience to every city and I think that was right at an opportune time, this music has been growing, and I think like these bills are, the attendance is high, fans are really enjoying variety in the show.
It brings in a really diverse crowd, because you have the musos who are here specifically just to watch you do the thing, or maybe miss a note here and there, or whatever’s going in their head. And then you have fans of music in general. You can have really appreciative, very polite crowds, you can have super rowdy crowds, on the ceiling, everyone’s going nuts, those are the ones I prefer. Everything’s been really good. We decided we wanted to do round 2 of an all-instrumental bill for the headliner because there’s just a lot of great instrumental music and if I have the opportunity to bring new acts to these cities, not only are they my friends, but we want to champion the music like that, and break the door down for, not that its not acceptable, but make it more common for these types of bills.
So, when we were putting this one together, it was about making sure the right amount of variety. Nick [Johnston] just supported me on a headliner that I just had over in Europe, it was Intervals, Polyphia, and Nick Johnston, that was my first European headliner, we just wrapped that up. I thought it was a great opportunity have Nick out again, he’s also from Guelph, Ontario, he’s a really good buddy, I’m a huge fan, he’s so great! So that made a lot of sense.
From there we had to figure out who do we want for direct support? Who do we want to open the show? Jason [Richardson] has been doing this for… the solo stuff is fairly newish for him, but with [his guitarist role in] Chelsea Grin, Born of Osiris, All Shall Perish, all the things he’s been doing. He’s been that guy for a long time, I’m a fan of how deadly and insane his playing. So that’s a really good look to have him and [drummer] Luke Holland on tour would be great, would be super fun for the fans as well.
Night Verses are a band that I toured with in 2014, on a Protest the Hero tour, and it’s funny because we both had a vocal contingent at the time, and this is their debut tour as an instrumental trio. So, what they’re experiencing now in their journey is near and dear to me. We’ve kept in touch since then, there’s some of the best people I know. Really wanted to have the show open with a unique experience, because fans of this music tend to get comfortable with the household names that they know, and they don’t explore new stuff so much unless it’s put right in front of them, and they’re the kind of the band that’ll just blow your head off when you walk in the venue, you have no idea what you’re about to experience.
I love watching them every night because they turn the crowd immediately, because they’re so unique, very different band. That was the thought process behind putting together a really diverse bill, and its worked because the tour has been great!
This is the The Way Forward deluxe guitar book bundle.
You talk as if there’s a brotherhood in this scene, that extends to not just the bands on this package. There’s more and more bands getting on tours that are purely instrumental…
Marshall: Oh yeah, one hundred percent! You’ll see a lot more of it too, hopefully it doesn’t get worn out. But you’ll continue to see it because it’s going great. People are consuming this music more than they ever have, so might as well make hay when the sun shines.
Definitely. Speaking of fans consuming the music, this [The Way Forward] is your third album as an independent artist and it broke a million streams on Spotify in the first month. I’m sure it does reaffirm your decision all the way back when you [may have] said “I wanna stick it through as an independent artist, I don’t want any labels”. So how was the thought process behind going independent early on? What have you learned along the way?
Marshall: That’s a dense one. The landscape is constantly changing. Breaking a million streams in the first month of our release right now, while it’s definitely a milestone, a million anything is a milestone, the landscape is so different for how music is consumed right now. The album is actually on its way to 2 million right now, which is crazy.
Streaming is at an all time high, the consumption of traditional units is lower, that was something I had to get my head around. So while the streaming is definitely validation because of the sheer amount of consumption and how many unique listeners you have per month, and that’s only one platform, that’s only Spotify, that also doesn’t speak for Apple Music, and all the other ones.
Things are definitely different. Yesterday I launched the release of the transcription for the album, for people who don’t know, its guitar tablatures, so you can learn how to play along, play all the parts to the songs in general. This time we did something new where we remixed the album without my main lead parts, and we released backing tracks, or jam tracks which I think is a more suitable title on a USB card that accompanies the book, and then you get some custom guitar picks and stuff like that.
We were having a laugh today that transcription of the book can actually generate more… everything than the music itself. You have to laugh at that. And that just speaks to the state of how music is consumed. Derivatives of the music are still a hot commodity, merch, transcriptions, vinyls, these types of things, collectible type things, but the music itself… its like the chicken and egg type thing. Can you have one without the other? It’s the one that’s consumed the least because digital file format, we haven’t really figured out how to lock that up, I don’t think we ever will. People pay into streaming at least one streaming platform of their choice because its good karma I guess? You pay your ten or twelve bucks and you get access to all the music, but the way that shakes down in the end for the artist is still really difficult.
Just to tie in the independent part, I couldn’t even have this discussion right now with you if I had signed to a label because I wouldn’t have… I mean, I might know about accounting and some of the numbers but it wouldn’t affect or impact my ability to invest into the production, or to hire the people that I like. I work with a really good team, between myself and management we’ve put together, through trial and error, and also just choosing the right people to work around us, whether it’s the musicians that play with me on stage, or the crew that makes the show go on. I don’t actually believe that it would be possible to do what I’m doing at the level I’m doing now if there was a third party involved because there is no middleman here, its just me, the music, and the people who care to consume it, which has constantly been paying that forward, putting it back into the production, being able to come out and do these ventures like, last year we played in South Africa. I’ve just done my third venture in Europe, which was also my first headline tour, they’re major, major financial risks, but they would absolutely exceed what you would consider to be tour support for an act at “my level” (in quotations) because we control budget, and we control what’s coming in, and there’s nobody else involved. We’re able to continuously reinvest that and pay that forward to bring it to life and for it to be the means to my end personally, as the guy who slaves over it, creates the music, is the visionary, all those things.
In a traditional situation I don’t think it would work properly. I think that the easiest thing, well the hardest thing to do when the deals come in is to say no. But the easiest thing to do, in the long run, and the best thing for you, if you’re confident in what you’re doing and your music is being consumed. I do also believe that acts with potential that don’t have the financial backing to execute the things that they want to do, a label situation can be fruitful and it just depends on what the goals are for everyone involved in that situation, but for the way this stuff works, myself, Jason, Nick, it just makes sense. The three of us share a similar model and we’re all able to do this for a living because there’s nobody else involved. You sleep a lot less and you stress a lot more, but I don’t think the traditional model works for guys like us, and its better this way.
More musical wizardry with “Impulsively Responsible” play through.
You did Europe last year, you also played South Africa for the first time, and now you just finished your first headline tour [in support of The Way Forward]. What’s next for Intervals in 2018? I know you guys just got announced for Heavy MTL in Montreal.
Marshall: Yup! Just putting together the rest of the year now, there’s a bunch of stuff that’s… there’s a thousand spinning plates, we’ll see which one stops first. We’ve got our sights set on some international stuff. Sony Japan is about to put the record out, this will be my first major focus on the Japanese market. There’s already been traction there. I believe its called Red Room Project (Red Project Room), is the subsidiary of Sony Japan, they are very excited about this record and this cycle and want to break Intervals in Japan. So that’s coming up. I’d like to ideally tack on Australia round 2, and explore more of Asia while we’re over there. We have a bunch of support stuff that we’re sorting out for other locs, mid to post summer, early fall, North America and Europe.
I haven’t stopped at all since 2016, I’m about to have my first little stint of a few months off starting tomorrow, which is wonderful. In the mean time, there’s some other things to handle. With it being independent, there’s still some marketing things I’d like to focus on to continue pushing the record, some content I’d like to continue pursuing. Vinyl release for the album, the transcription launched yesterday, I want to make sure that gets out to everyone properly. Take some time to be me for a minute, and hang out and stuff, and fill in the rest of the year. Somewhere in there I’ll continue to, or I’ll begin to explore writing new music and we’ll just keep moving forward.
That’s about it from my end. Are there any shout-outs or bands you want to give a shout-out to before we wrap this up?
Marshall: Shout-outs! Not a lot of guys in my word tend to do that. Yeah, I’d like to! There’s a lot of great music out there, a lot of geographically-challenged friends who make awesome music, who everyone need to know about. Everyone should check out Owane, he’s a composer, guitar player, keyboard player, multi-instrumentalist-savant from Norway. He played keyboards on my new record and did the entire sound design component of the album. He’s really talented, everyone should check him out if you guys like fusiony type stuff.
Who else is really cool? Check out Night Verses. They’re about to release their debut instrumental album on Equal Vision. They have an EP out right now, and it’s phenomenal. They blow me away every night, they’re some of the best people I know. Really moody. I describe it as if Tool and Circa Survive were an instrumental punk rock band, that doesn’t make a lot of sense, but it will when you listen to it. Super cool.
That’s pretty much it for that. The only thing I’ll add is a shameless plug. Check out The Way Forward, it just came out in December, it’s available on all streaming platforms, other places where you can purchase digital/traditional music. It’s available on Bandcamp too if you like lossless quality WAV and FLAC for the audiophiles. It’s about to come out on vinyl if you guys collect those types of things. Everything is centralized to my socials, you can find me on, the best place is Instagram @aaronintervals. That’s pretty much it, keep an eye out, there’s going to be some major tours that’ll bring me through wherever you are for the rest of the year. A lot more coming. Just getting started.