Q&A: Animals as Leaders

Animals as LeadersAnimals as Leaders: s/t (Prosthetic Records, 4/28/09)

Animals as Leaders: “Tempting Time”

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Begun as a solo project that highlighted guitarist Tosin Abasi‘s unmistakable shredding, Animals as Leaders released its debut album via Prosthetic Records in April of 2009, emitting progressive instrumentals with tasteful ambient and electronic undertones.  The project has since evolved into a trio, now including drummer Navene Koperweis and guitarist Javier Reyes after Abasi received recording help from programming engineer Misha Mansoor.

Whether in the studio or on stage, the group dazzles onlookers with intricate eight-string riffs and complex compositions — never losing its head-banging potential.  Here Abasi discusses his approach to music, his transition to the eight-string guitar, and the new beginnings of a band that pushes the limits of progressive metal.

How would you describe your approach to music in general? Can you give a little background behind the making of Animals As Leaders and the debut album?

Animals As Leaders is a progressive / instrumental metal band. My most fundamental approach to writing would be expressing individuality through the guitar. The first album was the result of a few years of song ideas building up. Misha Mansoor (the producer) was integral in gluing everything together to create some well-thought-out songs.

What about Javier and Navene interested you to include them in your project?

Navene is a savage drummer and Javier may actually be an animal….

How has your experiences with other artists such as Reflux or Born of Osiris helped you mature as a musician?  In what ways did taking college courses modify your music?

Basically we’ve all been part of other touring bands and all of that previous experience has definitely served us now. Animals As Leaders is playing shows of a caliber that I’ve always wished to attain in my other bands. I’m very grateful. Learning general music theory was extremely valuable because I gained a more structured approach to my creativity. You have to know the rules to artfully break them.

You’re obviously very talented with an eight-string guitar and seem to have a natural understanding of the instrument; can you describe how the transition expanded your compositional process?

Going from seven to eight strings was basically the same feeling as going from six to seven a few years earlier. My favorite part of it was the influx of creativity that came by simply adding a string to the same instrument I’d already been playing for years. A lot of the eight-string material that was written on the album came within the first few weeks of owning my first eight string.

Aside from live drum tracking on the next album, what differences can fans expect when compared to your debut?

The next album will be different because I’m in a slightly different space creatively and we’ll be writing as a full band this time. I’m excited basically because I feel like we’ve just truly become a band.

Though instrumental, your songs seem to have a lyrical quality to them. What kind of message or story do you convey in AAL’s tracks?  In other words, how do you transfer your opinions and beliefs into AAL’s instrumentals?

Any ideas or beliefs I have are represented in Animals as Leaders only as abstraction. Without lyrics you can really only convey mood, which is one of the reasons I really enjoy instrumental music with depth and complexity. I’d hope to give the listener feelings or emotions they may not exactly understand or have the words to convey.

“Animals As Leaders” was apparently derived from the book Ishmel where the author critiques human culture by using a telepathic gorilla. How does this decision reflect your approach to music, or maybe people in general?

I was reading that book at the time that I named the band, but I didn’t exactly want to have people consider that book the sole inspiration behind AAL. We’re not a concept band, but I do think a lot about the concepts and ideas present in that book, as well as a host of other books, movies, and other music.

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