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Interview

Imonolith Drummer Speaks About New Album "Progressions," His Time With Devin Townsend And More

As devastating as the pandemic has been generally, it must have had that extra bitterness to bands who released their debut albums just before it kicked off. Finally realising your dream of putting out your first record together only to be unable to perform it to people could only have been a metaphorical kick in the balls. Such was the case for Imonolith, the band featuring former Devin Townsend Project members Ryan van Porderooyen and Brian Wadell, whose debut full length "State Of Being" was released at the end of March 2020, just as things got really bad the world over.

Two years later and the band are gearing up to release their sophomore album, "Progressions," which had a small scope to begin with, but gradually grew to become it's own beast and in a way, a compilation of everything Imonolith is all about. Before it hits the shelves on May 20th, Metal Underground caught up with van Porderooyen to discuss the record, the importance of including demos, covering Bjork and more. You can watch the interview in full below.

Diamond Oz: The new album, "Progressions" is set to be released on May 20th. It's obviously a fitting title given that it's moved on from the debut, "State Of Being." In what way do you feel that Imonolith has progressed since the first album?

Ryan van Porderooyen: Well the thing is, just the songwriting, Brian Waddell and I wrote all of "State Of Being," or the majority of it, between 2015 and 2018, so it was an ongoing process while we were playing with the Devin Townsend Project, we were writing music. It's no secret that when Devin starts something, whether it be Strapping Young Lad or Devin Townsend Project, it always has a bit of a shelf life. It's never going to be an ongoing thing, so we were surprised how long the Devin Townsend Project lasted, which was pretty much a good ten years, which is the longest thing he's ever done and the biggest, most successful thing he's ever done and he's doing great now. So we were kind of expecting it so around 2015 we said, "Let's write just in case this goes." I didn't really have any interest in joining another band or being a hired gun, I'd rather take a shot at something that was our own.

So with that precursor, we wrote all this music that was "State Of Being," but it was during the time that we were with Devin so we kept it on the side until 2018 when the inevitable happened. It was all good, Devin's awesome, I'm still friends with him and there's no hard feelings whatsoever, it's just now we can move on and do this. So that was the start of Imonolith and the writing back then, but it progressed so much getting Jon Howard in the band. Brian Waddell isn't in the band anymore, basically he never liked touring with Devin Townsend Project either and he just wanted to stop doing it altogether. So Jon Howard and I took over the writing process from when Beav and I were doing it.

When Jon came in, the whole of "State Of Being" was already written. He contributed to "We Never Forget" and "Instinct" but other than that, it was Beav and I. So that progression alone was huge because how Jon and I write is definitely more progressive and heavier, I'd say. I love the "State Of Being" record to this day but it's just a natural progression and there's a little more samples, more keyboards, the production's different, it's more progressive even in song writing. So that's how the band has progressed and the other guys will put in riffs too, it's just that Jon and I are the head guys that take everything, mold it and create the music.

Oz: Very good. I think that's an interesting origin that you knew at some point it was going to become the main band. As for the album itself, it was originally announced as an EP, then you look at the tracklisting and there are seven songs, including the Bjork cover and three demo tracks. Do you feel the demos are an important part of the album?

Ryan: A hundred per cent. Maybe the most important part because new music's new music. You're going to listen to it, especially the people that have supported us and be like, "Woah. This has evolved." It still sounds like Imonolith; Jon singing, my drumming and all these different things but it's evolved. I think the reason why those three demo tracks were so important was that they were written in 2018 and it really does show a progression from not only then to now, but it shows a progression even from the demos to "State Of Being."

If you listen to those demos and then listen to "State Of Being," they're radically different, especially, "Instinct," which is all double bass and has way more crazy drumming on it. So that's why we thought it was important and also lots of people love that, like whenever I got an album, when I was younger, I was always curious and always wanted to get my hands on the demo versions just to see how different it was and sometimes I liked the demos more. So it's cool to be in a position to do that for people who listen to your band.

The reason it jumped from an EP to an album, this is very important, originally we just wanted to release singles, so it wasn't even going to be an EP. We recorded "Angevil," a couple of covers and "The Lesson" and we were like, "Let's just spread those out over a year to keep our supporters happy, then go on tour," which we should be on right now but it's been rescheduled again. We decided to do that but as we got closer to the tour, we realised that it's not going to happen and thought that we better put something out and decided to do an EP, but then for an EP, all we really had were five/six songs and we thought, "We're going to be releasing four of these songs, including 'The Rain' remix, nobody's going to be interested in an EP if they've already heard 80% of it."

So we decided to make it a whole album. I came up with the name, "Progressions," I said to Jon, "Let's call it 'Progressions,' just to show where the band started, all the way to where we are now, throw in a couple of covers to show that 'Army Of Me' is not a typical metal song." But it sounds badass. Ever since I heard it for the first time in '95, I always thought it was an awesome song and imagined doing that heavier. So it was really important for it to become an album because then we could throw in the demo tracks, people are going to hear a bunch of stuff now that they haven't heard. So far the response has been awesome, some reviews have been coming in and it's just great.

Oz: It's quite interesting that you took that approach when it comes to releasing it as an EP because I recently spoke with another Canadian band called Sicksense who just released a five song EP, with three of the songs already out. Their reasoning was that if you look at Spotify and things like that, the more familiar the audience was with the songs, the more likely it was that they'd listen to the whole thing.

Ryan: That's it and that's another approach that you can take and it's very justified, they're correct in saying that. But you know what, for us it wasn't about Spotify plays or this and that, it's solely for our audience. We could focus on plays, which are very important and I get that but you know what the most important thing is though? One thing. It's called touring. You get out there and you tour, you're on bills and you're playing in front of new people, you get on other bills and open for people, that's when you really see your Spotify plays go up. I saw it every time Devin Townsend would release a record with the Devin Townsend Project. We'd go out on tour and bam, the Spotify plays would go through the roof. We weren't always headlining either but it's amazing what that new audience would do to the numbers.

So our approach here was, obviously we want to build that, we're still a new band, we still want to get ourselves out there, we haven't even technically toured, we just did a small West Coast thing in BC, but we wanted to give our audience something they could really bite into. The message of the album is really important to us because we do want to show that progression. We're very proud of "State Of Being" and everything on that record but after two albums and COVID and how it just messed up everything, we do want to show that progression. So it was better to do it the way we did with an album, versus an EP.

Oz: As you said, you've released a few songs from the album so far, the most recent one being "The Lesson," which you did the music video for. What was it about this song that you felt warranted the music video treatment?

Ryan: It's funny. I know and Jon knows a ton of people; big management, booking agents, respectable people in the music industry and what we did was send out a few songs. We sent out "Angevil," "Army Of Me" and "The Lesson," months and months ago to all these people and asked what they thought and what struck them as *the* song. Initially we always thought that "The Lesson" would be the song but we weren't sure but when everyone came back to us, A&R reps, radio people in the States, overwhelmingly "The Lesson" was the song. They were like, "This is perhaps the best song you guys have written." We heard that over and over.

It has everything. It's heavy, it's super catchy, there's emotion behind it, the lyrics are super deep and it was just in line with what we thought, so once we saw that, we knew it was the song and we'd release it right before the record and shoot a music video for it. That was the first time we kind of did that, because the past songs we knew instinctively were the ones to push but this time we really wanted some feedback because this album is important for us. We released an album on March 27th 2020, literally when COVID blew up and when that happens, we're just like, "OK. What can you do?"

Oz: It must be very gratifying as well because it used to be that bands were really pushed to release covers as singles, so if everyone from radio to A&R are saying that "The Lesson" is the one, over a really recognisable and classic song like "Army Of Me," it shows how far you've come as songwriters.

Ryan: It's funny you mention that because we were scared including "Army Of Me." The other originals on the album are really leftfield, I can tell you that right now, it's a surprise and then the album title will make even more sense when you hear it. With "Army Of Me," we included it just because we really love how it turned out and releasing it is all good but we were kind of scared that people would be like, "'Army Of Me' was already a big song, it can blow you up!" but it was crazy, they all just said, "'The Lesson,' that's the song. It's you guys too. Push you and not the cover."

It's funny because lots of bands do a cover and they can blow up from it or whatever but usually there's a curse attached, you know what I mean? I was even scared about putting two covers on the record, which we did, but again, we just wanted to show the progression of the band and that we could do this, we can do originals, let's show us what we sounded like four years ago vs now. So yeah, it was very gratifying to get that feedback from really big management companies, PR, a whole bunch of different, credible people in the industry.

Oz: It's good and having a tracklist which comprises of so many different things and aspects, it's almost like a best of Imonolith, which is a weird to say about a second album but it showcases so much diversity from the band itself.

Ryan: You're nailing it. That's exactly what it is. You nailed it when you said that because really that's what it is. We have these things called "Imonolith Chronicles," which are videos that we put out and with it, this is kind of our "Imonolith Chronicles" musically speaking. In a sense it kind of is the best of. "Breathe," "Instinct" and "The Rain" are the three demos that we released, all three songs did really well for us, so we put those on there to represent "State Of Being" but just the demo versions, then we put out these new songs which we felt was the best of the new material and we do a couple of covers too.

Oz: Just finally then, as you mentioned, you do have tour dates scheduled, I believe the tour in Europe kicks off in January next year. Are there any plans to tour before then in Canada or America?

Ryan: Right now we're looking into a few options in North America for 2022. Originally the plan was to kick off in Europe and the UK with a headlining tour in March 2020 but that got rescheduled three or four times, which is just a nightmare. Things have opened in North America a ton. I just saw Slipknot in a packed arena in Vancouver and no one was wearing masks, so it's time. Our North American booking agent is on stuff and we're looking at a whole bunch of different possibilities. We're really trying to jump on something because it's booking up fast and it's hard to even get venues if you want to headline, but then other tours that are being put together, it's hard to jump on those just because a lot of the time they've already chosen bands. We do have some options and we're looking at it, so fingers crossed we'll be touring North America in 2022, then Europe and then we'll take it from there.

Oz: I really do hope that you're able to get out there and promote the songs and elevate Imonolith. The songs by themselves are special so you know that the album itself is going to be something unique.

Ryan: Yeah, that's the plan. The live show is going to rip your head off. We aren't librarians up there. I think even when you watch the video for "The Lesson," which is more of a performance video than it was in terms of having any concept and we could have gone deep, because the lyrics to "The Lesson" are deep and you could have made a concept video very easily, but we were like, "You know what, we've already done that a couple of times, let's just perform. Let's give people a taste of what we'll look like now."

And that was it, we went into the nicest studio in Vancouver which has recorded AC/DC, Van Halen, just massive bands. So we decided to just go there and record a performance video. To get out there and to tour is going to be really what pushes our streaming and gets us a bigger following. We're already doing great. Our following, having never toured and just putting out records, we're very happy with it but we know it can be fifty times bigger, we've just got to tour. So it was important to do a performance video so people get a sense of what we're going to look like live.

Oz: I think the other bonus to that is that having such deep lyrics, a performance video doesn't give too much away in terms of their meaning or anything like that and people can bring their own interpretations as to what the song means to them.

Ryan: That's it and the song, "The Lesson," I wrote the lyrics to that and it's about empathy, it's about being overly empathetic to a fault, which has happened in my life a few times where I've just been overly empathetic and it just ended up messing with my life. Their feelings become your feelings and shit goes wrong. It was interesting because one of our supporters, I use the word "supporters" because "fans" sound derogatory to me, anyway, one of them said that the lyrics really apply to what's going on today. He said, "When I read those lyrics to 'The Lesson', I think it really applies to what the world is going through" and it's funny because I never thought about that while I was writing those lyrics but it's 100% applicable to that.

So leaving it open ended like that, it's a beautiful thing and I do write lyrics like that. I avoid "her" or "he" or anything that labels someone, I'd rather leave it open ended because you can be overly empathetic to the state of the world today and when I re-read the lyrics with that in mind, it's like, "Holy shit. This totally fits. What a different approach to it." A video can either zoom in on the lyrics and you know exactly what that is or it can be left open ended which I think is really cool and the listener can interpret it anyway that they want.

Diamond Oz's avatar

Ollie Hynes has been a writer for Metal Underground.com since 2007 and a metal fan since 2001, going as far as to travel to other countries and continents for metal gigs.

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