Sylencer Vocalist/Guitarist Markus Johansson Talks About The Band's New Album "A Lethal Dose Of Truth"
Sylencer is the brainchild of vocalist/lead guitarist Markus Johansson, who spent almost six years working on the band’s debut album, “A Lethal Dose Of Truth.” Some of that time was spent gathering an enormous list of guest appearances, including the likes of Jordan Rudess (Dream Theater), Gene Hoglan (Dark Angel, Strapping Young Lad, Fear Factory), and Sean Reinert (Cynic, Death). All together, there are over a dozen recognizable musicians who guest throughout the 16 songs on “A Lethal Dose Of Truth.”
However, there’s much more to the album than just stacked-up guest spots. The music goes everywhere from power metal to progressive metal, not sticking to one style for a long period. Though the names will bring in interest, the music will keep people around after the names are mentioned. I had the opportunity to speak to Johansson about getting all these noteworthy musicians involved, and translating this album to a live setting.
Where did the origins of the Sylencer project come from?
The project started around late 2005/early 2006. Johnny Rox, our bass player, and myself had been working together with a couple of different projects. We decided to really push forward and we wanted to set out to make a record. We were tired of half-assing around with different things. We really wanted to actively pursue making a record. John had been in a band a few years ago with drummer Kevin Talley. So we reached out to him and see if he wanted to play drums on our album. We did a very similar thing, as a friend of ours knew Larry Tarnowski from Iced Earth. We just reached out and wanted to fill out the lineup for the album, as all the material was already there, and we wanted to get really intense personnel to help us achieve a goal that we had set out for.
When did the decision come in to bring in all these special guest musicians into the record?
The first instance of this was sort of just a twist of fate. We ran into Gene Hoglan in a recording studio. He was in town, giving someone drum lessons at the time. We knew people that knew him, and we were able to set up a meeting with him. We pitched it to him; we were like, ‘Wow, wouldn’t it be great working with Gene in any capacity and having Gene and Kevin on one record?’ We took it from there with him. We were able to record with him and did the track (“Get It Up”).
Speaking with Gene shortly after, as we were progressing along with things, he was just finishing the first Dethklok record with Brendon Small. On the phone with him, we were like, ‘Hey, would Brandon want to do the guitar solo on the track that we did with you?’ 20 minutes later, I get another phone call back and he said, ‘Sure.’ That was the first instance of us looking at each other and going, ‘Well, since we aren’t on a timeline, we have no necessary budget or label restrictions, let’s see what else we can do and if anybody else would want to play on it.’ From the initial stage, it wasn’t like, ‘Let’s try to get everybody in the world to play on this,’ as a lot of people seem to assume. At the end of the day, I can see where they are coming from, but it was a natural progression of the accumulation of artists.
How much of the material was actually done before you brought in all these guest appearances?
As far as the material being written - and in some facets, already recorded - 12 songs were hammered out and essentially in their bare-bones form by the time we started working with anyone. The original album was the 12 songs, but with Gene, we did a Van Halen cover with him that added a track to the pile. Recently, towards the end of the recording process here, with the album completed, bumping into people and going, ‘If we can work with people like Marco Minnemann and Sean Reinert, I’m going to put together some more material so we can put this all together.’ A good three-fourth of it was done before anybody was even reached out to. On a rare occasion, as we saw the release was pending and working out with some labels for Europe, we then saw that we were adding a few to the pile last-minute. It’s sort of like bonus tracks and stuff like that, everything being encompassed into one record.
Once you started working with other musicians, did that affect the way the songs progressed? Were any of the songs already pretty much done changed because of a certain musician’s involvement?
Yes and no. The track was already set, and if we weren’t working with someone in person, the wonders of the Internet and technology allowed us to send files, so that they could work on it in their own studios. Realistically speaking, most of the guests, we just sent them the track from point A to point B and didn’t tell them what we expected. We didn’t tell someone, ‘Hey, we want you to melt our face’ or ‘Hey, play something bluesy.’ It was just, ‘From here to here, that is where you go. Knock yourself out.’ We always got it back and we always were left with a smile on our face. Everybody managed to do perfect work as far as I’m concerned. We never got anything back where we went like, ‘Oh, what’s that?’ or ‘We’re not really happy with that.’
It may have affected the overall shape of the song, but we never went back in and made adjustments after the fact. They just continually enhanced, so wherever the track ends up today, it’s a happy accident, where you go, ‘Wow, that really worked. That really tied it all together nice.’ It’s all very cohesive from start to finish. For as many different people as there are on there stylistically and even tone-wise...so far since we’ve been streaming it and people have been able to hear it, the most frequently asked question is, ‘Who is playing what where?’ In my opinion, that’s a pretty good testament to how well everyone did.
Were there any musicians brought in that you were surprised helped you with the album?
I’d be lying if I didn’t say pretty much all of them. People always ask, ‘What was it like to work with this guy?’, and I would go as far as saying that 99% of the time, we were well aware of who they were, what they were doing, and already had a stack of their previous work in the car. Reaching out to Jordan Rudess was like a, ‘Wouldn’t that be amazing?’, type of thing for me. We’ve been fans of these guys for years, so to be able to work with these guys continuously...we get an email or phone call back and then I’d be on the phone to Johnny going, ‘You’re not going to believe this one.’
We feel really blessed to be able to work with so many people that we ultimately have the utmost respect for. There’s a reason why they have our respect, after you hear what some of these guys did. Steve DiGiorgio pulling off a fretless bass solo with a small chord progression; it’s still one of the most beautiful things I’ve ever heard. He’s a guy responsible for the bass in some of the most brutal bands, like Death. It’s very unique what they were able to do and we are just beyond honor to have their contributions to this.
The album took a little bit of time to come out, with all the guest musicians being involved. It took almost six years to be released. Was there ever a point where you wondered if it would ever come out?
Oh absolutely. Every once in a while, there would be somebody who would yell the words “Chinese Democracy” at us. You just shake your fist at them and go, ‘Oh you bastard.’ What we set out to do when we started it, I don’t think anybody ever thinks it’s going to take that long. Then again, we never knew what it was going to do, as far as it was going to take a life of its own. You asked before how much of it was prepared, a lot of it was really done long ago in some manner. A lot of stuff has been gone over a little bit and polished up a bit for the release, as all albums get that kind of treatment. At any point in time, for a lot of years, we could have called it done and finished. We were kind of going, ‘What good would that be?’
We went through a lot of hard times at the same time. This wasn’t like we were going about our business and leaving this alone. There was never a day that went by that we weren’t thinking about what we could do to try to get this moved faster or completed or in the hands of the label. We never wanted it to be done for the sake of being done and calling it done. We wanted to make sure that after a certain point, we had to make sure it gets all the necessary treatment it needs and deserves and be the best possible record we could make on our own. As time started picking up and we started to recover from bad economic things and life in general, we were like, ‘Let’s make this number one before anything else. We’ll get it all up and squared as we could.’
Do you think people’s expectations of the album will be too high because of the caliber of the musicians involved?
I can understand that. If anybody has a high expectation for this album, it’s not going to be because of anything that I have said or because anything anybody read on our website or blogs. I don’t think we’ve ever uttered the words, ‘This is going to be the greatest album you’ve ever heard,’ or ‘You’re going to have your mind blown.’ All we ever talked about is that each guest will live up to your expectation of that guest. If you think, ‘Oh, Steve DiGiorgio is a phenomenal bass player. Jordan Rudess is an amazing keyboard player and virtuoso,’ that’s when I would say that, ‘If you’re expecting good things from them, that’s all we’ve ever said.’ All our posts and statuses have been, ‘This guy did an amazing job.’ Whether or not you like the album, that’s a matter of taste.
It’s not like we’ve been actively working on this for six years. We’re not Guns N’ Roses. It hasn’t been 13 years and 14 million dollars, where you go, ‘I expect fireworks when I open the CD.’ I guess it’s a double-edged sword. People will have very specific expectations, especially if they haven’t heard any kind of pieces as we posted snippets here and there. A lot of these guys come from very extreme sides of the metal coin. Some of these guys are from really hardcore death metal bands and extreme metal; some come from more power metal bands. The roster does give a heavier twinge than what most people might expect because of some of the personnel.
With any album, bands are always the first ones to line up and tell you that it’s the greatest or the best. Ultimately, we’re just happy that it’s done, that it’s getting out there, and people can hear it. We’re really happy that we were able to get so many people on one album. Some are reuniting from previous lineups in different bands. From a nostalgic standpoint and a fan standpoint, we’re very happy, but I’m sure that there’s going to be some unrealistic expectations to go along with this. For two guys with no record label that’s doing this basically out of our houses, I think we did okay.
If you wanted to work on a second album, would you go through the whole process of getting more guest musicians involved?
It’s possible. It’s not the number one thing on my list to do. If we’re fortunate enough to be in a position to make another record, we don’t need to do that. We could if we want to. I think if we did it again, people would think it’s a gimmicky type of thing. If we don’t do it again, someone may say that the next album is going to be weaker because it doesn’t have the same personnel on it. It’s a thought, but maybe some repeat guys coming back, maybe some new people. A few people have actually reached to me about the second one, and that wasn’t even my intention. Having written everything, it’s all still coming from one source. It’s far less a collaborative effort than some people think. They see all the names and they assume it’s like a Roadrunner United or something, where everybody was in one room and jammed out something. It was much more individual, with little additions here and there. If I can get some of these guys and different guys who want to do it on another one, I guess I would be crazy not to (laughs).
Where do you draw the line between the musicians being beneficial to the music and it turning into a gimmick?
I can sit here and tell you that I don’t think it’s a gimmick in the sense that this was not the set-out intention. That wasn’t the goal from day one, to go, ‘Okay, how many people can we get involved?’ If there is a gimmick, the gimmick could be considered excellent musicianship, I guess. I feel that there’s a tremendous amount of extremely respected people on here, and I’m very humble to have been able to work with them. In some cases, I guess the lines could be it’s more of a gimmick if it’s five people on one track, and the rest of the album is weak in comparison. Each track has a fairly unique lineup. If it’s a gimmick, it’s a gimmick. We’re not wearing make-up; we’re not dressing a specific way. We just did everything from a natural standpoint, and like you said before, the expectation is going to high and if people are going to think if it’s better or worse.
In this day and age, for one thing, if it’s a gimmick, it’s not like too many record labels are kicking down our door and going, ‘Oh, all these guys worked with you. Let’s do this.’ It’s been a lukewarm reception. It’s not even really the music, it’s been more of a negative reaction, where people see that and they think, ‘Okay, there’s no way in hell this can be good because there’s so many people involved.’ At the very least, most of this music is already six years old, so I don’t know if that qualifies as a gimmick. It’s not like anyway shape or form an attempt to jump on a bandwagon or a trend or a new musical thing. It is what it is. I’m sure there are people who can make comparisons one way or the other, and there’s enough people involved that you can sit down and analyze everything.
Have you thought about going out on the road and doing these songs live? Is that a possibility at all?
Oh yeah, absolutely. We’ve already spoken with a number of people. Recently, with the album being released, Kevin Talley, drummer on 13 of the 16 songs on the record, is actually a permanent member. Right now, he’s in Six Feet Under as well, and he’s just one of the busiest studio guys that I’ve had the pleasure of knowing recently. He’s picking up the throne and he wants in, so now we’re at three out of four for what would be our touring lineup. We’ve already spoken with a number of potential second lead guitar players to jump in and fill out the lineup. Some are on the album, some aren’t on the album, but are at the level of the people that are. A lot of people were like, ‘Oh, why aren’t you playing live?’ Well, with this album and with all these people, if it was just four people you never heard of, would people really have cared? They are like, ‘Oh, you got all these people playing on your record, but when I went to see you live, none of them were there.’
Obviously, we can’t logistically pull all of these guys onto one tour. The Death To All Tour had quite a few people on that run, and that was like a logistical thing that needed to be worked out, and it’s harder the more people you are trying to get involved. Ideally, that would be great to do one live gig with everybody, and do it for a DVD, where everybody comes out and does their part. That’s a pile of money that we don’t have, and the means to do that. As far as taking it out on the road, a couple of booking people are interested in booking the band and putting us out with another band in particular that I was just speaking with recently that has a new record coming out. I don’t want to say who, because I don’t want to lock anything in or jump ahead of myself. It’s definitely on the minds of a lot of people in our camp. It’s definitely something that I hope all things go well and we can be out on the road hopefully by the end of the year, but definitely next year.
What’s interesting about this album is that it could be replicated by just a four-piece band. When you were getting these songs together, were you thinking in the back of your mind, ‘We got all these guys here, but let’s make sure this can be translated beyond a studio setting?’
Absolutely. Going all the way back to the origins of the project, we could have just pulled in a drummer and have me record all the leads. We’re more of an old-school, kind of trading type of thing, where it’s always better when it’s cut up, where half the solos go to one guy and half go to another. That was originally where Larry Tarnowski played a role. The solos are pretty split 50/50 across the board. So we need one guy that plays one, and one guy that plays the other.
As we progressed with bringing all these people in, it’s still in a traditional more or less like a band that plays two harmony leads, or one guy drops out and plays one solo and the other one plays the riff. It’s all very easily done with a four-piece. The only real snag I can name off the top of my head is Jordan Rudess’s keyboard solos. We would need somebody else to come in and do those, and that’s probably a short list (laughs) of capable hands there. Other than that, we could take four people out and do the record. It’s not like we’re in a position where we’ll need to bring in three, four or five guys; we could do it with the straight-up four-piece.
If you could tour with one band, past or present, who would it be and why?
I’m going to go out and say that it would be Megadeth, “Rust In Peace” era; Marty Friedman, Nick Menza, with both Daves. “Tornado Of Souls” is where it starts and ends with me (laughs). That was a great era for the band, “Rust In Peace” and “Countdown To Extinction.” Right around that point in time, that’s one of my favorite band lineup as far as that is concerned.
A very honorable mention for another iconic lineup like that for me would be Death's lineup for “Individual Thought Patterns.” We have three-fourths of that lineup on our record already, and we’re big Death fans. That album, for me, with the musicians involved, that’s another very special lineup to me.
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