Suspyre Guitarist Gregg Rossetti Interviewed
Band Photo: Suspyre (?)
Forward-thinking fans of metal should have Suspyre on their musical radar. The New Jersey outfit specializes in the kind of tech-heavy sounds bands like Spiral Architect and Watchtower helped put on the map. After releasing two critically acclaimed full-length albums, Suspyre is about to unveil "When Time Fades..." on prog-metal powerhouse, Sensory Records. Lead singer, Clay Barton has one of the most powerful yet tuneful voices in metal going today, so even though the band's arrangements fly all over the place, there are enough melodic hooks to keep you reeled in. Metal Underground's Carlos Ramirez had a chance to talk to guitarist Gregg Rossetti about their new material, their intricate songwriting, and his favorite prog-metal albums of all time.
Carlos: First off, the band definitely has a lot in common with the tech-y bands coming out of Europe. Sure, we have a rich tradition of bands like Fates Warning, Watchtower, and Zero Hour but it seems like this kind of stuff really thrives overseas. Has it been tough finding a fanbase in New Jersey?
Gregg Rossetti: This brings up the age-old question: why does music like ours do better everywhere but America? We have some regulars that attend our concerts, but yes, it's definitely hard to find new fans if they aren't already into similar music. Our music is very different from the pop music that is on the airwaves and MySpace pages today, and it seems people pre-judge music and then categorize it based on genres. I'm not making any new points when I'm stating that Americans in general are very concerned with image, which has been a prevailing atrocity to the art in music since the 1980s. With advents like MTV, people have been judging music by the personalities of the musicians rather than the quality of the music. As a guitar teacher, I find it very interesting that the songs my students want to learn are all the same that I learned when I first started; classic rock is still prevailing while nothing new has really been created in the American mainstream in years.
It has nothing to do with the music; it's just the way things are here. From what I know, the culture overseas is more tolerant and open-minded for new things. I've only been to England once, but I will really see first hand what the lifestyle is like when I visit this autumn when Suspyre plays the ProgPower festival in The Netherlands.
Carlos: Where do most of your older records sell better?
Gregg: We actually sell most of our CDs in America, just because that's where we've had the best distribution. Once the new one is released overseas, we'll more accurately be able to confirm the fact that our music will be better received in the rest of the world.
Carlos: Your material is really energetic, with a lot of tempo shifts and intricate guitar parts, but there is always a powerful sense of melody woven in. How hard is it to construct the songs and keep the vocal sections as catchy as they are?
Gregg: Thanks - glad you could still hear melodies with all the other nonsense going on, haha! It's all about balance and transitions. Thinking of a good melody is actually pretty easy (just pick notes in the same key), but good melodies can get old quickly, so you have to balance it with something contrasting, then find a way to blend the two conflicting parts together. If the melody is straightforward and tonal, it's nice to throw in some odd-metered rhythmic atonal guitar stuff to tip the scale the other way. The hardest part is to make the two opposing forces not act against each other.
Carlos: You had Charlie Zeleny (Behold...The Arctopus, Blotted Science) play drums on "When Time Fades..." but he's not listed as a full-time member. Did he just do it as a session sort of thing? Is it a challenge finding drummers good enough to anchor material as trying as yours?
Gregg: Yeah, Charlie was just a session musician on this album. He was originally hired to play our ProgPower Europe gig, but when we needed a drummer to record the album, we asked him to do that as well. It has been proven to be very difficult to find a permanent drummer. The problem is we need someone with the speed and precision of a metal drummer but with the creativity and finesse of a jazz drummer. It's very hard to find someone that can master the dichotomy between these two different musical techniques. The parts have to be tight but not robotic, musical but not unconvincing.
Carlos: The album was produced and mixed by the band. How hard was it approaching the recordings with a fresh ear? With the band's profile rising, can you see yourselves bringing in an outside producer next time out?
Gregg: It's very hard to approach things with a fresh ear, but I think the fault in that is my own, not the fact that we record it ourselves. I'm very shy about sharing my music; I usually won't play anything for anyone until it's done. We're all our worst critics, so we're hearing things very objectively (Was that note in tune? Was that sixteenth note a little late?). Working at a different studio doesn't seem likely because Rich and I own this studio, so it just makes sense both financially and personally to record everything ourselves. We learn so much about music and recording techniques from recording Suspyre albums. We also can have more fun with everything; we can experiment with our own equipment on our own time instead of having to work on someone else's time.
Carlos: The new album has a bit of a harder edge than your other output. Was this a conscious move or did it just happen more organically?
Gregg: I just write what I feel needs to be written and never pre-determine what a song or album is going to sound like. The heavier sections just came out of our need to hear something more avant-garde, something more dissonant and rhythmically complex. We love our other two albums, but we don't just want to re-create them.
One thing we do pre-determine is consistency with quality of sound and style of composition. A handful of the songs on "When Time Fades..." were actually written before "The Silvery Image" (their first album) was recorded, but just didn't quite fit the style of the album, so we put them on the backburner. We think these songs fit better on this album, which is defined by its experimental song structures and intricate rhythms. The fact that "When Time Fades..." has more of a hard edge has to do a lot with the production. There is more groove in this album, along with lots of time changes that only sound convincing if they are right in the pocket. A crisp, forward drum sound was the way we accomplished this, along with a more "airy" and full guitar tone so it's not too harsh.
Carlos: With forward-thinking bands like Opeth and Three starting to do so well, can you see yourselves trying to do the band full-time anytime soon?
Gregg: We look forward to this opportunity, and hope we can snatch it up when it comes.
Carlos: For some of our younger readers who are just not getting into prog-metal, what are 5 records that you think they should definitely have in their collection?
Gregg: Everyone has a different opinion on what decides "prog-metal," but I'll narrow it down to these...
Angra - Rebirth: The cool thing about Angra is the fact that they have amazingly well-written melodies but don't sound trite or old-fashioned. Their use of Brazilian influences really sets them apart. The production on this disc is phenomenal, as well is the performance among all the musicians.
Blind Guardian - Nightfall in Middle Earth: This is the band that got me to start researching more obscure bands. This CD just flows like butter throughout its entirety. Most people pigeonhole them into a "power metal" genre because of all the fantasy references, but the listener has to look over that, because that's not a musical element. Their song structure keeps the listener's interest at its highest point throughout, every guitar phrase is perfectly and meticulously placed, and Hansi's voice is out of this world.
Dream Theater - Awake: Virtuoso, period. Their album Images and Words is just as perfect, but this one is more "metal." There are odd-times galore without sounding forced, along with amazing guitar work, which surpasses the idea of genre.
Pain of Salvation - Remedy Lane: No one sounds like Pain of Salvation, and pretty much any of their CDs are worthy of this list (but the production on their older stuff doesn't do the music justice and may turn people off). The emotion in their music is so sincere; the listener can really feel what they're playing. It sounds like they're creating new musical art rather than just organizing sound. The way this album flows is what gives it its status, and its use of dynamics from mellow and sweet to heavy and aggressive is unbelievable.
Opeth - Ghost Reveries: Opeth is another band that uses dynamics to their advantage, but in the most extreme way. They can go from a very atmospheric Debussy-ian passage to a fast death metal idea in a split second, and it doesn't sound out of place. The production is amazing as well; everything is well balanced and isn't overly crushed to the point that it distorts and tires the ears. The songs are long, but maintain interest because of the way they develop their melodies. They know how to use repetition to their advantage, but changing textures frequently and how to add contrast at just the right moment.
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