An Interview With The Members Of Progressive Metal Band Suspyre
Band Photo: Suspyre (?)
New Jersey progressive metallers Suspyre saw the release of their third full-length album "When Time Fades..." in September of 2008. Since then the band has gone through some line-up changes and have begun working on their upcoming fourth opus, in addition to gearing up for their appearance at this year's Prog Power festival. Suspyre's guitarist Gregg Rossetti, vocalist Clay Barton, and drummer Gabe Marshall shared their thoughts with me on the latest album and what the band has in store in the future.
xFiruath: Suspyre has gone through some line-up changes recently. What prompted those and what is the current state of the band as far as ability to play live and continue on with a full crew?
Clay: I hate lineup changes, but sometimes they’re necessary. The drummer situation has been a revolving door since Sam left a couple years ago. We’ve had a few guys that were very good, but either they weren’t the style we needed for long term or just didn’t fit with the band mentality. Inviting Gabe to join the band was the easiest decision we’ve made in a long time, but the 45 seconds of full lineup bliss ended when Rich (former guitarist) decided to leave. It was hard to think of the band without Rich at that time, but at the same time no one was looking to run out the door. I knew Andrew was a great guitar player too, but he’s really stepped it up in Rich’s absence. Right now the bass is not official because we like to torment new people in the band, which I’m sure April (keyboardist) can attest to, but everything’s looking really good for the first time in awhile. I’m looking forward to Progpower and I believe there will be a lot of heads turned when we take the stage.
Gabe: The band has had some changes in the recent past, but we’re good to go now. We have about 45 to 60 minutes of music prepared. The vibe is great, we’re really starting to gel, and the groove is starting to sit comfortably. I’m looking forward to booking more gigs and showing people what we can do.
Gregg : Each line-up change was prompted by a different catalyst. My conjectures are as follows: Sam Paulicelli’s departure was due to the fact that he wanted to use his extreme double-bass metal talents in a band that needed extreme double-bass metal drumming, i.e. an extreme death or black metal band. Last I heard, that’s what he’s doing. Rich Skibinsky left because he wants to pursue his solo music career. However, I don’t know what he’s done regarding that. The other line-up change was the addition of April Sese, the keyboardist. We played with a keyboardist once in the past, the other times being with backing tracks, or my plying of the required orchestral/non-guitar melodic parts on guitar, guitar-synth, or EWI, and we enjoyed the sound it gave us. It allowed me to just concentrate on guitar and gave all of us the freedom to not have to play with backing tracks, which really kills the live vibe.
xFiruath: Tell me a bit about the recording process for “When Time Fades…” Where did you record and did you work with a producer?
Gregg: We recorded the album in my personal studio, which at the time, I shared with Rich. I did most of the producing and arranging, but Rich did the mixing. The mastering was done by Alan Douches. It’s always best to master albums at a different location with a great sounding room. We always record over a MIDI of the song. When the songs are written, every pitch, rhythm, and drum is notated in MIDI, which allows us to know all of the meter and tempo changes. When I record my guitar parts, it’s almost like playing Guitar Hero the video game. I watch the notes go by and play them on the guitar at the appropriate time. Then I edit it and my obsessive-compulsive editing does not help when I want to get something done on a timely fashion.
xFiruath: How has your music changed on “When Time Fades…” from previous albums?
Gregg: Each song on “When Time Fades…” has a different story. Some of them were written no differently than the previous albums, some were written before, and some were written in a very different approach. Excuse my insipid and predictable adjective, but the music is more “progressive” on our most recent release. The structures of the pieces are not predictable, the harmonies are not all consonant, and most songs drift between many different keys, with many sections being freely atonal.
Gabe: I’m still pretty new, so I wasn’t around when they recorded any of the existing three CDs. However, from having to learn a lot of the repertoire on top of getting to know the guys, the overall maturity of the group has improved. It’s easy to hear that the complexity of the songs has increased, but the attitude of each individual member is what impresses me. These guys are up for trying anything with the music. We’ve been playing around with influences from all sorts of genres. We usually resolve back to a rock/metal feel, but a few interesting ideas have stuck. I think that’s pretty representative of the direction from “The Silvery Image” to “When Time Fades…”
Clay: Gregg’s brain is always learning new things and it usually shows in his writing. The first album was very power metal, while the second had a strong prog influence. “When Time Fades…” is a gloomy album, both in lyrics and in music, but I think the best way to describe it is that it is the perfect snapshot of that moment in time for Suspyre. There were a lot of things that happened to all of us between “A Great Divide” and “When Time Fades…” and I think we tried to express every emotion that we had been feeling. I look back now and realize that it was the album that needed to be made, but I don’t plan on ever writing an album that gloomy again.
xFiruath: How do you go about putting your songs together? There are a lot of different elements not only in each song but also between the different songs. Do you start with a basic idea and build on it or have everyone just write their own stuff and then put it together?
Gregg: I write about 99% of the parts. Every song has a different story, but as I’ve grown as a composer I’ve been trying to utilize the “think of an idea and run with it” trick. A song like “Possession” is a great example of that. Most of the riffs in that song are generated from a Japanese pentatonic scale, which was derived from a Cmaj7#11 chord, a sound that nearly every musically cognizant regards as being one of the most beautiful sonorities, and others came from the equally enigmatic octatonic, or diminished scale. For those of you who didn’t study music theory, its two sounds the whole song that I twisted and turned so it didn’t get boring. For all the songs, I create a score, which I send to all the band members. They then learn their parts on their own time and make suggestions on what to change, if need be. A lot of times I like to leave the vocal melody open so Clay can just sing what he thinks feels right for the song, as I find it disappointing when great lyrics are shadowed by an uninspired and trite vocal line. Also, the drummers always put their spin on the parts, as long as the accent patterns are discernable. I can not write good drum fills, especially in MIDI.
xFiruath: Is there an overall theme to the album or a continuity between the lyrics on the songs? What do the lyrics generally deal with and how much important do you place on the lyrics in comparison to the other instruments?
Gregg: Clay writes the lyrics, so he can give you their real meanings, but I try to get certain images from them. When I read his words, I see certain musical colors emitted from his texts that inspire a certain sound. Usually he will give me a basic style on how the music should be to help narrow down my options, but then I go from there. I think the lyrics are just important and the music, as lyrics and vocals are what grab many people at first, because they can easily relate to it. Most normal people will not understand our mixed meter breakdowns, but if there is a lyric that reaches out and touches them, the communication has been made.
Clay: I place a great deal of importance on the lyrics, but I’m probably a little biased. No one has ever really complained about the way I write, but I’m always open to suggestions. The lyrics on “When Time Fades…” are very personal, and I’d say all but two or three of the songs on it were written about things in my life that were happening or did happen. Writing tends to be a kind of therapy for me, and a creative place for me to let it all out.
xFiruath: Now that “When Time Fades…” is out, what’s on the horizon for Suspyre?
Gregg: I am almost finished writing another album, which I hope to get recording by the end of the year. I personality have so much going on that it’s going to be hard to make time for this, but since this is currently my main creative project, it can take priority. I don’t think it’s a secret that I prefer writing and recording to playing live. I have always preferred projects over one-time things. And it doesn’t help that I have terrible anxiety in crowded places!
Gabe: I love festivals and am really looking forward to ProgPower USA. I hope we can get some more gigs like this to promote the album.
xFiruath: Any chance you guys are going to be on the next incarnation of the Prog Nation tour with Dream Theater? Suspyre seems like the perfect fit for that sort of tour.
Gregg: Yeah, I just went out for sushi with John Petrucci and he wants me to give him guitar lessons before every show. Heh, in all seriousness, that’ll be awesome, but I doubt Dream Theater have even heard of this Suspyre band.
Clay: If Dream Theater contacted us we would be there. Hands down.
xFiruath: Tell me about your personal history in music. What other bands have you been involved with and what first got you started in music?
Gregg: My bio at might shine some light on my history for those who care and have time to read. Basically, I started music for real when I was in 5th grade, playing the saxophone in school band. Everything went from there, currently culminating in a Masters Degree in composition. I really want to go for a doctorate, but time and funds are preventing that. As for bands with which I’ve been involved, Suspyre is the only one as of now that has its material released. I have played in some jazz combos in college, which would play fundraisers, weddings, and concerts in excess of two hours that consisted of six tunes, at the most. Currently, I’m producing a number of independent artists, but as for bands, I am currently finishing mixing an album where I, Clay, and Andrew appear. Also, if we finally get around to it, I’m doing guitars, bass, saxophones, and maybe some other things for The Nice Marmots, an “indie” rock band.
Clay: Sam Bhoot and I were in a band in high school together and in college I was in a band called Human Fuse. Suspyre was the first opportunity that presented itself when I left college and it’s been amazing. I recently worked with Jonah Weingarten on a project called Structure of Inhumanity that should probably be available soon. I’ve always been a singer and always wanted to be center stage screaming in someone’s face.
Gabe: I’ve been a drummer since I was 12 years old. I began with concert band and have a lot of background in orchestral and marching percussion, but the first time I played a drum set behind a rock band was in junior high with a punk rock band. We played talent shows, birthday parties, and backyard BBQs. We had a blast/ This was when I knew I’d have to pursue music. From this point, I’ve played anything I can get my hands on. I love playing anything with a solid groove.
xFiruath: Outside of Suspyre what bands do you dig the most and what do you like about them?
Gregg: Of all time, my favorites have been Dream Theater, Pain of Salvation, Blind Guardian, Igor Stravinsky, and Edgard Varèse. As many know, bands aren’t my main influence in music, and my current tastes change constantly. Lately, I’ve been spinning Guthrie Govan. “Erotic Cake”s may be the best guitarist ever, Fionia Apple, “Tidal” and “When the Pawn…” have amazing production and groove, and Nine Inch Nails. “The Fragile” is so creative, so well-produced, so diverse. Another CD I can’t get enough of is MVP’s “Centrifugal Funk.” The shredding gets way too out of control at times, but the first track on that has the best groove and display of musicians knowing their roles. Since the question specifically asks what bands I am into, I can safely say that Dream Theater is the perfect blend between talent, creativity, and emotion. I agree with many people that some of their output is weaker than others, given that I do put them on a pedestal, there are some tracks that I find quite lackluster and boring, but this proves that they are just human. However, since they have proven to me that they know what they are doing, I forgive them for anything that I personally do not like, and I write it off as a personal taste issue, rather than musical ignorance and lack of ability. I can almost say the same about Pain of Salvation, yet they lean more towards the emotional/creative field and less towards the technical did-their-eight-hours-a-day-of-practicing side of things. They are the band that has the most emotional effect on me. I feel as if they really mean what they are playing rather than just being a group of people organizing vibrations in sync with each other.
Clay: I am a very big fan of Symphony X and Blind Guardian. If the vocals don’t grab my attention the band as a whole usually doesn’t make much of an impression on me. Russell and Hansi are my two favorite singers and if it wasn’t for them I probably wouldn’t really know what progressive metal is. I like a range of music that is certainly not limited to metal. I am a huge fan of Alison Krauss because I can only assume that when I hear angels sing it will sound like her. I love Devin Townsend because you’ll never hear him put out the same thing twice.
Gabe: Man… there are tons of bands I dig. I grew up listening to Earth, Wind & Fire, Michael Jackson, P-Funk, James Brown, Jimi Hendrix, Steppenwolf, any of Clapton’s bands, the list goes on and on. I still love and listen to all of these groups. I really owe my parents for my musical tastes because we were always listening to music. My own taste in music started to develop when I picked up my first Soundgarden CD. I was 12 when “Down on the Upside” came out and it’s really the first CD I can remember my parents letting me buy on my own. Of course, I had the obligatory ”Please Hammer, Don’t Hurt ‘Em” and “Too Legit To Quit,” which my folks had nothing to do with, but the ‘90s Grunge scene sparked my interest in rock. I discovered metal when I picked up “Life is Peachy” by KoRn. Pantera, Fear Factory, Tool and eventually Meshuggah were soon to follow. This is strictly metal and rock we’re talking about, though. I love groups from hip hop, Afro Cuban, fusion, funk, pop, Brazilian… pretty much anything with a working groove. The only thing I’m really not that into is straight-ahead jazz. It just never grabbed me.
xFiruath: Any thoughts you’d care to share on the state of metal or even music in general today? Anything you like or would like to see changed?
Gregg: Well…since you asked. I highly dislike image and stereotypes. I don’t know why “metal” people have to be angry, loud, wear black, and head bang. I have long hair because I frankly wouldn’t know what to do with short hair, not because I want to be a “tough metal guy.” Also, on a side note, long hair and beards are a sign of peace. Members of the armed forces cut theirs in respect to a tradition that disallows enemies from grabbing their locks to facilitate an attack. Image is a necessary evil that doesn’t have to be necessary if people would open their minds. It is there to cater to the common-folk whose opinions and life-sentiments are driven by the mainstream musical media. They want their decisions made for them so when they see a band that looks a certain way, they can pre-judge if they will like them or not. Honestly, it bores me when I go see a band and every member wears the same cargo shorts and black t-shirt with some unreadable band name on it. Are they doing it because they like it or because they feel it’s necessary? A band that looks like a normal group of people gains my respect much quicker than image conformists.
I also dislike the business aspect of it all. Music is art and ones’ creative output should not be stymied by a business proposition. The day that happens is the day the music dies. If I wanted to be a business man I would have made that choice in college. In fact, I entered as a business major, with hopes to take over my family’s sign supply company. I obviously changed my mind in respect to the creation, expression, and open-endedness of art. Musicians need to be acknowledged by the objective quality of their work, and personality judged by one’s own subjections. Just because you have a wealthy father that pays for your band to go on tour doesn’t mean you are a better musician.
Anyway, that said, I like how many young artists are emerging and how hard the talented ones are trying. I teach many students a week and I see these kids do things I never even attempted to do at their age. The few that have the right attitude and understand what music is will go far, and I act as mentor to those. The ones that think of music as a financial conquest and contest get a lecture!
Gabe: I love that metal is pushing the envelope. I feel that metal musicians today have to be really on the ball with their technique and musicality. The precision it takes to play the current style is absurd. The genre has broken a lot of ground and continues to do so. However, I feel that with all the technique, speed, and precision that is flying around the metal genre right now, groove is sometimes overlooked. Bands like Pantera, Slayer, and Iron Maiden seemed to write tunes with the purpose of making you throw your fist in the air and bang your head. That music, in my opinion, is the best. It feels so damn good. For example, the end of “Domination” by Pantera is probably my favorite section of any metal song. It’s just crushing. And, it’s so simple. Rex and Dime play a pretty basic 16th note pattern while Vinnie plays big, fat quarter notes. They put every ounce of energy they had into the music and it came across with authority. It’s brilliant. I miss that aspect of metal. I gotta say, though, that Meshuggah has combined the two qualities perfectly. They play complex music with a pocket so wide you could drive a truck through it.
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