Q&A: Animals as Leaders

Animals as Leaders: WeightlessAnimals as Leaders: Weightless (Prosthetic, 11/8/11)

Animals as Leaders: “Odessa”

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In 2009, Animals as Leaders was a one-man prog-metal band that showcased guitar virtuoso Tosin Abasi’s prowess with an eight-string. Its self-titled debut challenged metal with its unique fusion of progressive, electronic, ambient, and jazz influences to contrast its heavy, djent-style riffs. This year, its sophomore album, Weightless, continues to expand this brand of metal — only now Abasi has help.

Initially recruited as the live band, guitarist Javier Reyes and drummer Navene Koperweis have proven capable of keeping up with Abasi’s maniacal shredding. On tracks such as “An Infinite Regression” and “To Lead You to an Overwhelming Question,” Reyes’ ample rhythms and Koperweis’ polyrhythmic drumming play off of and provide pacing for Abasi’s wilder and seemingly limitless riffs. For both new members, Weightless is their studio debut, and their presence on the album marks the unmistakable difference between man and drum machine.

Abasi took a few moments from his busy touring schedule to speak with ALARM about the new album and the trio’s experiences in transitioning to a full band.

Tosin, you were self-taught up until a rather late point in your career. What motivated you to go to school for music? How has it changed the way that you think about and write music?

I decided to attend school because I felt that, although I had developed quite a bit of advanced technique on my own, I still had a lot of holes in my knowledge of the fretboard and general music theory as well. I was only in school for a year, but it was very valuable!

Why did you decide to make AAL a full band? How did the new dynamic affect the writing and recording experiences?

AAL became a full band by default from performing and touring together. The dynamic was great with writing the album. It’s nice to have your ideas expanded upon during the creative process. Usually, the result is beyond your initial conception.

Weightless carries a deeper, heavier sound than your previous release. What was different about the material or the recording process that led the music in this direction?

I’d say it’s a combination of Navene’s background in extreme metal and simply some of the musical choices we decided to make with the material.

Navene and Javier made recording debuts with this album and were respectively involved in the production and mixing. How much did you have to learn on the fly?

Ha ha! I didn’t do much in the way of production on this one. I definitely had input and learned a lot from watching.

How do the two guitarists’ playing styles complement each other on this album?

We basically just tried to arrange the guitar parts to complement the material — nothing too crazy.

In what ways were you able to explore the eight-string guitar on this album that you hadn’t before?

I’d say that there is quite a bit more “thumping” or slapping technique going on in this release. I’m also using some harmony not found on the first release.

How are these songs reproduced when played live? How prevalent is looping and laptop usage and/or backing tracks?

We use a laptop to play anything that wasn’t produced by an acoustic instrument. I oftentimes use a phrase sample to record myself onstage. This allows for three guitar parts to be utilized live.

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