First published on 11.08.2015: http://chaostheorymusic.co.uk/sumer-interview/
Post-prog and the punk ethic: an interview with Sumer
On 17th July 2015, CT writer Gem Caley ventured into deepest darkest Islington to see post-proggers Sumer play, and to badger the band about their upcoming gig with Opensight and Tacoma Narrows Bridge Disaster. The following article is based on a delightfully meandering conversation held in the children’s playground opposite the venue.
As with the other bands due to play the September 4th Facemelter, Sumer’s sound doesn’t sit comfortably in any one genre, but instead straddles several, like a long-legged man at a bar trying to take up all the stools. Their sound – part metal, part “modern prog”, according to drummer Toby – could more accurately be described as ‘intense’ than ‘heavy’. There is something Mars Volta-meets-Queens Of The Stone Age about the vocal interplay of dual frontmen Tim and Ian, with possibly a touch of later System Of A Down in the mellifluous melody lines.
I can hear the oft-touted influence of Tool and Radiohead, too, but Sumer are far from being a Tool simulacrum. Their sound is very definitely their own, and one so mesmerising that it’s damn near impossible to stop listening. In fact, the last time I listened to their music at home, I completely forgot that the oven was on. You owe me a lemon meringue pie, Sumer.
The bar-venue the band is due to play in tonight has a sprawling layout out front, with tables and chairs spilling on to the street, and all doors thrown wide this evening to let in the cool evening air. Its small function room, however, is dark and breathless, and I am reminded that attending any gig in July is akin to being gently boiled to death in a pot of other people’s sweat.
The reason for the lack of light is that the venue is hosting the fifth Indie Noir this evening, and the organisers have gone all out to create a suitably gothy vibe. Advertised as “a night of femme fatales and bands from the dark side of indie”, it isn’t the first place I’d expect to see a band like Sumer; but, as they explain later, not quite fitting in anywhere means they can play some pretty varied line-ups.
So how did they get this gig?
“I actually have no idea,” says Tim, though following a prompt from bassist Taria, he adds that one of the organisers, singer-songwriter Mishkin Fitzgerald, is a big fan of heavy metal, “so I guess she heard our stuff from… somewhere…”
Is it a common occurrence for Sumer to play gigs without being quite sure how they came to be on the bill? Apparently so, but no one sees it as a bad thing.
“It’s nice to get to play nights like Indie Noir,” says Ian. “It’s more mixed.”
“We play a lot of metal gigs because some bits of our music are quite metal, but I wouldn’t necessarily say I feel like we fit in to the metal genre,” adds Toby, to general assent from the others.
Neither do they see themselves as prog, despite often being labelled as such and having strong links to the prog scene: they played the Prog Magazine stage at DesertFest earlier this year and have been nominated in the Limelight category of the 2015 Progressive Music Awards. The tag ‘post-prog’ in particular seems to have stuck. However, Sumer aren’t keen on being pigeonholed and don’t see themselves as belonging to any one scene.
“We all have diverse musical tastes, we come from diverse musical backgrounds,” says Tim. “Me and Ian are pretty close in terms of what we want to do musically, and the kind of stuff that we appreciate. Jim is much more heavy-oriented, so we kind of balance each other out.”
Sumer, for anyone who doesn’t know, are a three-guitarist band, and it’s clear from their recordings that Jim, Ian and Tim are adept at interweaving their guitar lines to create a full, complex sound that is intense without being overwhelming or muddy. Unfortunately Jim missed today’s gig due to illness, and although the band covered his absence very well, there were definitely third-guitarist-shaped holes here and there if you knew where to look. Such obvious crafting of sound makes one wonder how easy it is to incorporate three guitarists during songwriting.
“It’s harder to jam it,” Toby reckons. “Everyone’s got their own idea of where they want to take something, and when there’s more people trying to take it in different directions it’s harder to jam stuff… It takes a little bit longer, I’d say, as opposed to just having two guitarists.”
Tim isn’t so sure – in their pre-Sumer days, he was in a band with only two guitarists “and it was an even bigger pain in the arse to write.” Having two out of three guitarists also singing means that the main vocalist in a song will tend to play a simpler guitar part, giving the other two guitarists a bit more space. However, arranging each song takes time, and the band’s precision approach is one of the reasons that it took them so long to release their debut album, “The Animal You Are”. Were there any other factors?
“We’re lazy,” jokes Taria. “No – we had to get there when we felt we were ready.”
Unlike a lot of bands, who might write twice as many songs as needed and then pick and choose what to put on the album, Sumer are very disciplined from the start.
“We judge straight away if a riff is worthy or if a little melody line isn’t and we’re very quick to dismiss stuff,” Tim explains. “But we’d not written any more songs when we released the album. I think we’d written one extra instrumental, which will be on the next album, but aside from that track we didn’t write any other tracks; they all went on the album.”
“The Animal You Are” was launched at a Chaos Theory event in November 2014 with support from Tacoma Narrows Bridge Disaster, so there’s something neat about Sumer supporting TNBD for their album launch on September 4th. As it turns out, Sumer also have close links to Opensight (who are launching their EP on the 4th), with two of the band members, Ivan and Genia, appearing in Sumer’s first music video (due for release around the end of September).
“Interesting fact about the video,” says Tim. “The main protagonist is this guy called Bruno Aleph [that’s Bruno Wizard to you and me]. He’s an old punk and he used to play around with The Ramones and he’s a bit of an underground legend.” Bruno, who was recently the subject of a documentary looking at the 1970s punk scene, notably rejected a number of record deals, even going so far as to change the name of his band to The Homosexuals in a bid to ward off the A&R vultures. “And it worked,” adds Taria, “they never got anywhere.” Which, in the punk world at least, is a definite victory.
But back to the Facemelter gig. What are Sumer most looking forward to? Everything, it seems.
“It’s just nice to play with all of those guys,” says Tim. “They’re all fucking lovely. Tacoma are very well respected.”
“And Opensight have written a whole bunch of new stuff, going in a slightly different direction,” adds Taria. “So yeah, it should be pretty good.”
Sumer have high praise for the organiser as well as the other bands. In London’s notoriously mercenary music scene, it’s rare to find supportive promoters who, to quote Tim, “actually give a shit about the music and care about the people”, but Chaos Theory is on Sumer’s short list of the good guys, and has been so for a number of years.
There is a familial attitude obvious when Sumer talk about the September 4th gig – as there is within the band itself, as evidenced by the jovial trading of insults and general titting about that has been going on throughout this interview. When I ask her what it’s like to be the only woman in the band, Taria is candid.
“I do feel like one of the guys, I guess, which I prefer. I’ve known these idiots for so long now – I was in a band with Tim and Toby for three years before Sumer started, so, 8 or 9 years I’ve known all of them, and it’s literally like having four brothers. As fucking cheesy as it sounds, it’s a little family.”
Words and photos by Gem Caley
‘Brutal and despairing’ – Tacoma Narrows Bridge Disaster’s drummer talks about their comeback album
The history of Tacoma Narrows Bridge Disaster is a bit of a mixed bag. Since their inception back in 2008 they’ve released two stonking albums and supported a string of post-rock legends including Latitudes and Pelican. However, with the sudden departure of Tom (the band’s original bassist) and singer Dylan mere months after the release of Exegesis, TNBD’s creative output seemed to falter, and they struggled to finish writing material for their third album. As new members came and went, and the shape of the band stretched, bulged and twisted in its attempts to accommodate the changes, it was obvious that something was missing. As it turned out, that thing was Tom. With the original line-up together again, songwriting quickly got back up to speed and their latest album “Wires/Dream\Wires” will be officially launched at The Facemelter on 4th September 2015.
A few weeks ago the band released a teaser track, ‘Consume’, which was well received by fans. Add to that the fantastic album artwork (looking like the distillation of every childhood nightmare and manmade disaster, thrown by the hand of despair across a canvas stained with the blood of the forgotten), and you can imagine how anxious I was to interview TNBD. However, the pressures of getting the album polished in time for the launch meant that it wasn’t possible to get everyone together for a chat, so instead I emailed my questions to drummer Alex, which he kindly took time out to answer.
With the return of Tom last autumn, TNBD is back to its four original members and focusing on instrumental music again. Has much changed – did you come back together older and wiser, or is it just like the old days?
I think the writing dynamic is very much where we left it actually, which is something we struggled with in the two years of Tom’s absence. To be honest if we hadn’t gotten Tom back it would have been next to impossible to write this album. Tom’s style is just part of the Tacoma sound, and that’s that. Is it just like the old days? I think we have moved on a lot as people and as a group both personally and artistically, so probably not, but that is really just a reflection of how life goes.
Exegesis was themed around the writings of Philip K Dick – does the new album have a theme? How does it compare to your previous albums?
The material on this album has largely come from jamming and a few individual efforts, but none centred around a theme really. I think the music is darker, less uplifting and ultimately a reflection of much of the frustration we have all felt over the last three years trying to piece together something from the shambles that was the near breakup of the band unit after Exegesis. The result is, in my opinion, a brutal and sometimes despairing vision of a band dealing with various levels of tragedy, as well as the tedium of an extended series of recruitment drives.
There are vocals on one of the tracks, provided by Drew for the first time, but this is very much an instrumental album, stylistically somewhere between the raw simplicity of Collapse and the emotive complexity of Exegesis, with elements of something completely new that it is hard to describe in words. One obvious but unintentional change is song lengths. With only one exception, there are no songs longer than about eight minutes on this album.I think we stuck to central themes within songs a little more with this material – exploring one idea rather than the more epic multi-movement song structures we had before.
On a personal note, my drumming has taken a turn for the tribal – a catharsis of repetitive skin bashing with occasional nods towards the likes of Abe Cunningham [Deftones] and of course Danny Carey [Tool].
How’ve you all found the process of recording an album this time? Having DIY’d the previous two, has it been easier to record this one, or have you run into new challenges?
We set ourselves what it turned out was a ridiculous deadline of taking the album from recording to release in under six months. That has not made things easy or stress-free. We are DIY’ing it all again with Drew at the helm (along with the help of a friend of Drew’s who took on a lot of the grunt work during the recording and editing stage), which has meant some serious hours have gone into getting the album this far.
If you have the skills then DIY gives you total creative control, but you pay for that in terms of personal clashes and stress. In a traditional recording setup the band is generally able to rally together as a unit to push its creative take on the music against the will of the producer or record company schlubs, but DIY turns all of that disagreement in on the band itself, which can be dangerous. We have had some blazing arguments about the tonality of the snare track, for example. But I think overall the album we are now seeing emerge from the mixes is pretty bloody sweet and well worth the effort.
You played your first major festival recently, opening the main stage at ArcTanGent. How did it go and what were the band’s favourite moments from the weekend?
ArcTanGent was amazing, quite simply. The response to us was fantastic and we couldn’t have hoped for a better audience. Across the weekend there were so many highlights – in terms of bands, obe and PSOTY were personal favourites of mine. I was gutted to miss Sonance and Helms Alee (I was exhausted after our set and a night without sleep and nodded off!). Seeing so many familiar faces from the scene whilst at the same time getting to meet a lot of like-minded people and bands from across the world just made the whole thing a great experience.
What are your plans following the launch of the album?
We are looking to tour in October and November, which we’re still sorting out, though we have a couple of dates confirmed. Slow going actually, so if anyone fancies playing with us somewhere then give us a shout. Beyond that we’ll just be trying to get as many gigs as possible around the place over the next few months, and rediscovering what it is to play in front of other people after six months in the studio.
Written by Gem Caley
Interview: Ivan and Genia of Opensight on Italian cinema and hidden influences
Opensight have established themselves as stalwarts of London’s progressive music scene. Having played in the Metal 2 The Masses competition on several occasions, and with numerous studio recordings under their collective belt, these accomplished musicians create a sophisticated blend of rock, metal and a hefty dose of the cinematic.
Their latest EP represents something of a departure from previous recordings, though it retains the theatrical flourishes and classic metal undertones that fans will recognise as signatures of the band. ‘Ulterior Motives’ also has the rather dubious accolade of being the only music that doesn’t cause my cat to leave the living-room. High praise indeed.
In the run-up to the launch date, the band has released a series of teaser trailers, which serve to enhance the cinematic themes of their music, as well as being a fun and imaginative way to garner public interest. One of the trailers has also outed yours truly as being a member of The League Of Chaos. There goes my secret identity, dammit. I contacted Opensight to demand an explanation (under the subtle guise of discussing ‘Ulterior Motives’).
What inspired you to write ‘the soundtrack to a fake movie’? Is there a secret screenwriter amongst you? Can we expect to see ‘the movie of the soundtrack’ at some point in the future?
Ivan: We weren’t really thinking of ‘Ulterior Motives’ as a movie while writing the songs or anything. We really like when there is a connection between music and other languages like film, motion graphics, games, books and so on. Film music is a big influence, so it was natural to give that sort of narrative to the record and adopt a film language to go along with the music. I love getting involved in the non-musical facets of the band as well, so the illustrations for this record have a vintage movie feel, and we also have short trailers as opening credits of movies that don’t exist. But we did that not only for ‘Ulterior Motives’ as a record, but also for the first two singles from it. So, ‘Ulterior Motives’ could be a movie, but the songs “Alibi” and “The Chase” were presented as movies too, with their own opening credits teasers. The video for “Alibi” has a spy/thriller vibe and the one for “The Chase” is more of a police/crime drama.
Genia: Yeah, the “soundtrack to a movie” thing is not all that structured, in the sense that there isn’t a detailed narrative that we planned out beforehand or anything (we weren’t aiming to make a concept album). It’s just something that is always in the back of our minds when we write. The music was always going to have a soundtrack atmosphere to it, and we hope will always evoke the feeling that the songs could accompany scenes in a film (a character intro, a chase scene, a climatic finale, etc). That said, I’ve personally started to associate the whole EP with a certain character’s story arc, the origin of which will be featured in another release in the very near future, I hope. It’s not really a canonic thing, but it’s fun and quite useful to visualise it like that for me.
You’re a very international band, with members from all over the world. Have your different backgrounds influenced your songs very much, or is your music the product of mutual influences e.g. a love of metal?
Ivan: The rock and metal background is definitely the main connection between us as musicians. Having different cultural backgrounds is also great, since we share things with each other constantly regarding musical tastes, films and so on. For me it’s been a constant learning experience to be in this band and to share it with friends who have different cultural backgrounds. We started calling our bass player Danni “The Godfather” because of him being Italian and also a fan of “The Godfather” movies, like me… Some of my favourite films are connected to Italy somehow, like their genre films, operatic westerns, giallo thrillers, and also films featuring music composed by Italians – Morricone, Fabio Frizzi, Goblin and so on.
Our individual influences were there before we started working together and I really don’t know how our different backgrounds have affected our dynamic, but I would like to believe there’s been a significant effect because we are quite conscious of (and also curious about) each other’s origins. Some people have approached me saying that some moments in the songs have a South American feel to them as a result of me being from Colombia, but it never crossed my mind because that was never part of my list of influences. However, it’s great to find that your culture and origins creep into the music somehow, in a spontaneous way. It’s natural.
Genia: I don’t know if our different backgrounds have a particular conscious influence on what we produce, but it probably does creep in there, as Ivan said. Since living in the UK I’ve been exposed to a whole world’s worth of music and art. The wonder of this is overshadowed only by how effectively I ignored all of it in favour of writing Tool-inspired instrumental prog. Until Opensight, anyway.
Tell me a bit about your approach to songwriting – is there a principal songwriter in the band or do you just start jamming and see what happens?
Ivan: Both, actually. For ‘Ulterior Motives’ I had some songs demoed that we arranged and tweaked together, but some other songs and sections came from jamming sessions that we recorded and laid down afterwards. It’s always cool to have some level of freedom and allow ourselves to come up with things while jamming together, which adds to the versatility and spontaneity of the music.
Genia: To be fair to him, Ivan was definitely the main driver in the sound and direction of the EP, but there was still a very pleasing amount on the record that came from the entire band jamming out entirely new sections, or just putting an idea through the band grinder in rehearsal and coming out with something far better at the other end. This is definitely the way I prefer to work, and the results are invariably more interesting.
You’re launching your EP, ‘Ulterior Motives’, at The Facemelter on 4th September. What are your plans following this gig?
Ivan: We have some more songs in the works but we would like to play live as often as possible. We have a cool show with Jackknife Seizure and Wychhound at The Unicorn at the end of September, we would like to do a Halloween gig, and we have a couple of surprises for the next few months, so stay tuned!
Genia: Aside from another small release we’re almost done with, and some amazing gigs coming up, I’m actually really keen to get back to writing – but there’s also so many ideas I want to try out that build on what we’ve done on ‘Ulterior Motives’, that I’m finding it hard to decide which to work on first. I am very much in favour of smaller, more regular, and more varied releases for the foreseeable future. Also touring. Touring would be great. Basically I want to do more of everything.
Written by Gem Caley