Guitarist wizard Javier Reyes is an extroverted and introspective figure, a compelling paradox that is an enticing endorsement of his band, instrumental masters Animals As Leaders. Touring Oz in January in support of progressive heavyweights Periphery, the boys from the USA will be appeasing their salivating prog fans with a sample of fresh material.
Speaking from his “humble abode” in Los Angeles, Reyes makes it clear from the outset that the band’s upcoming album, which “should be released around March-April”, has been a key point of recent focus. Accompanied by drummer Matt Garstka and guitarist Tosin Abasi, Reyes says the creative process aimed to facilitate the organic production of new sounds and an exploration of what their trio means to them.
“I think it starts off as an idea, an aesthetic…that we want to try and achieve, an Animals As Leaders sound. It’s hard to say. I don’t think there is an overall goal. We try and write what sounds good to us, and what Animals As Leaders is to us, or just what we think it is.”
Engaging in such a natural process has worked so far. Formed in 2007, and followed two years later by the release of their debut self-titled album, the band have been likened to colossal acts such as Periphery, Tesseract, and Meshuggah. Weightless, their 2011 sophomore release, has been cited by esteemed Dream Theater speed-king guitarist John Petrucci as an influence. Success has been swift for a relatively young band – but not undeserved, and certainly not a psychological obstacle for their artistic growth.
“I don’t think we’re perfectionists. It may seem like we are but I don’t think so. When we first started, we were trying to read critic reviews a lot because it was exciting that people cared. But I’ve definitely stopped caring about what critics say. We’re just trying to do what we do. We’re stoked that we can keep doing it and we’ll keep doing it as much as we can.”“I was just stoked every day and being a fan girl watching Meshuggah”
The paradox of Reyes rears its head again, as he is at once laidback and calm but saddled with an underlying intensity. This is an artist first and foremost who is dedicated to a sub-genre of music that is alternative even by metal standards. The band may not feature vocalists, but that doesn’t mean they’re not humbled and awed by pioneers in the genre. Touring North America with Swedish metallers Meshuggah in early 2013 was one such experience.
“Those guys are just a well-oiled machine. They know how to put on a show, how to be tight, be precise and innovative, and their production as well – their light sequences. I learned a lot, and then I learned that they invented some of the heaviest music you could ever write, in 1996 or something,” he laughs.
“I was just stoked every day and being a fan girl watching Meshuggah. Pretty amazing.”
The Animals As Leaders brand appears crafted on a basis of other-worldly sound arenas and experiments in instrumental narratives. Tracks from Weightless, like five-minute energiser ‘Earth Departure’, are flavoured by kinetic sensibilities and the dexterity of the band’s technical abilities. But when conversing with Reyes, there is a sense that the band is limited by its members own conceptions of their output. The process may be natural, but the introspective guitarist emerges when discussing his various side projects such as Mestis, another Sumerian Records signing.
“It’s golden when you have some good time off. When I’m not doing Animals stuff I’m constantly writing music. Mestis has a little more of a Latin feel than would be acceptable in Animals. To me, Mestis is just me in my little room, with my laptop, and writing everything on my own. It is my own little project just getting out whatever is in my head as opposed to working with other people. It’s about writing stuff that wouldn’t necessarily fit the aesthetic of AAL, but it’s a shame to miss.”“Mestis has a little more of a Latin feel than would be acceptable in Animals”
Most artists express how cathartic music making is to their wellbeing. With Reyes, it is not merely therapeutic. The consumption and creation of music seems akin to breathing.
“I listen to other music a lot, especially during the writing process. I need to be listening to other music constantly. To be influenced, if you will, or inspired. I think if you get stuck listening only to what you do, or only the genre of music you’re in, you tend to write only in that style. So it’s pretty important to listen to other stuff.”
It is this truism of the progressive genre that supports fellow band member Abasi’s declaration that the new album would feature some ‘cool surprises’. Probing Reyes doesn’t reveal too much on this front, aside from a tease of possible acoustic material.
With an imminent album release, the three-piece are gearing up for a hectic touring season in 2014. It is their first time working with independent American label Sumerian Records, the home of heavyweight peers The Dillinger Escape Plan and Darkest Hour. The musician is confident the band is accurately represented and hopes they secure some headlining tours in 2014.
“We have a long history with Sumerian. We’re good buddies, so when we did sign we knew we were going to get taken care of properly.”
As for the long-term future of Animals As Leaders, it doesn’t seem as though this intensely passionate and complex trio of musicians will be departing the soundwaves any time soon. Touring may be taxing at times, but for Reyes, there is nothing he would rather do.
“I’m getting to do something that is a dream come true for me and something that millions and millions of people wish they could be doing. I feel blessed to be doing it, and I’ll be doing it for as long as I can.”
FRIDAY 31 JANUARY – BRISBANE, THE HI-FI – 18+
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