The Contortionist Guitarist Robby Baca Gives An Update On The Band's Next Album
Tearing onto the scene in 2010 with “Exoplanet,” The Contortionist impressed many with their aggressive brand of progressive metal. They were unfairly handed down the “deathcore” tag by many, and though there were some sonic comparisons to that style, the band was far more than that generic label. The band were at their best with varying tempos and calmer, ambient sections on songs like the three-part title track and “Flourish.” Currently working on their second album, scheduled to be released in late spring/early summer, I got the opportunity to speak to guitarist Robby Baca about how the album is coming along so far.
The band is in the studio right now working on their second album. As of right now, in early March, how far along is the band in getting the second album done?
Pretty much all of the guitar, bass, and drums are finished. There are a few guitar parts that we’re finishing up in the next couple of weeks. Jon (Jonathan Carpenter, vocalist/keyboardist) and I are actually the only ones here until the end. We’re just finishing up some guitars and doing vocals. Other than that, all the actual bare-bones of the songs are together.
Now that the songs are coming together, and the final touches are coming down on them, is it exactly how you envisioned these songs would come out when you first started working on them?
We’re not really into the stages of just doing final touches. There’s still quite a bit of tracking that still has to happen. So far, everything I’ve heard has passed my expectations. There’s still a lot to record. We’ll also be changing up some of the tones. Certain tones that we used to track are not necessarily going to end up being used on the record themselves. Everything I’ve heard so far has sounded phenomenal.
Do you see this new material as an evolution for the band or a logical step forward after “Exoplanet”?
It’s hard to say if anything is a logical change, but we’ve definitely have all grown as musicians. There’s positive change that is there and I wouldn’t say it’s logical; it’s a natural progression.
Some would say the band has been unfairly lumped in with deathcore. Do you think this material moves away from being able to label you guys like that?
I definitely think we’ll still be appreciated for all the same elements that we were as far as being associated with deathcore, I guess. It’s certainly not going to be a deathcore album, by any means. There’s a lot of new sounds that we’re trying out. You’ll see (laughs).
Out of the new sounds that the band is working with, is there anything in particular that you’re personally excited about? Maybe some more progressive, electronic, or ambient stuff?
What I’m stoked on is the actual songwriting. For me, it was a really intense process, but I feel like our songwriting really improved. I’m stoked for people to hear just how we’ve gotten better as musicians and gotten better at playing music. I guess that’s what I would be stoked for.
How was the songwriting for this material different when you guys sat down and started to write songs for “Exoplanet”?
“Exoplanet” was written over the course of two years. We wrote the first half a couple of years ago. A lot of that music was just rehashed music from an older EP. We needed the music, so we just had to take some old stuff. We had like four months to write the next half of the album. With the way we did it this time around, we had no time at all to write a full-length album. We had zero minutes of music and we had four months before we were in the studio. So we kind of had to figure out a new way to write music and we did. We incorporated using just computers a lot more than we did for “Exoplanet.” Everybody was writing stuff on their own and it wasn’t just us coming together and jamming stuff out. We actually all spent our own personal time on it away from each other. There’s a lot more thought that goes into it than just trying to jam it out.
Having such a tight deadline imposed upon yourselves, did that bring out something from each band member that maybe hadn’t been heard or seen before?
Definitely. There were a couple of songs that just came out of it. There’s one for each of us. Cameron (Maynard, guitarist) had a song where one day he just came up with all of this stuff instantly and everything was perfect. I had a song like that and Chris (Tilley, bassist) had some stuff like that. I think that being under pressure and being under a time budget forced us to think differently and do things in a different way than we were used to. It ended up improving the music.
As a guitarist, how much progression have you seen yourself make between the time when “Exoplanet” was being recorded and the present day?
Honestly, I haven’t gotten much better as a guitar player. Like I said before, I feel like I have a stronger sense of songwriting now.
Being out on the road and touring alongside other bands, did that change you at all as a songwriter and/or a musician?
Definitely. I feel like a lot of the bands we have toured with have rubbed off on us. We picked up things from bands we like that we’ve toured with. Just actually being out on tour and being at places you wouldn’t normally be gives you a perspective.
There seems to be a building anticipation for this new record that wasn’t really heard when “Exoplanet” came out. Are you surprised at the response “Exoplanet” got?
Yeah, definitely. When we did that record, I wasn’t sure what was going to happen at all. It’s been really cool to see the growth of the band.
Did the fact that there is anticipation for this record affect the band at all? Did you guys think about when writing this stuff or being in the studio, putting the basic tracks together?
You definitely want the people who are listening to your music see a notable improvement. That was definitely in our thoughts when we were working on the new music.
Are you guys concerned that if this album isn’t received the way you want it to be, that it will change the course of the band?
That’s certainly something that I think about a lot; ‘What are people going to think?’ When we were writing the music, we definitely wanted to keep things that we knew people liked about the old stuff, but still improve it and have new ideas. Keep what’s good about the whole, and make it better somehow; we certainly kept that in mind. I’m sort of confident that if someone liked “Exoplanet,” that they would like the next record for sure.
Do you think this album could have an appeal beyond the fan base generated after the release of “Exoplanet”?
Yeah, I feel that this would be a better album to give to a progressive metal fan than “Exoplanet” was.
Since you say a progressive metal fan could be into the new material, are there more dynamics to it that you guys may have been hesitant to use on “Exoplanet”?
As far as dynamics go, for the first record, the time and actual money budget was a lot smaller than this. There was a lot of stuff we wanted to do with dynamics and tones that we couldn’t do because of time and money. This time, we had a little bit more freedom. Now that it’s just me and Jon here, I have a lot of time with Eyal (Levi) that we can sit down and we can make dynamics actually happen in the music, because I can sit there and tell him what’s going on with the song. When we were recording “Exoplanet,” everything happened so fast that there was no time to test out what we wanted to do with songs. Now I feel like we can and I think you can definitely notice that.
Are you the type of musician who enjoys being in the studio, or would you rather be out performing live for the fans?
I don’t dislike being in the studio, but everything that is involved with being in the studio is very stressful at times. By now, I’ve been here for over a month, so I’m getting kind of stir-crazy (laughs). After a while, it gets kind of monotonous, but it’s definitely fun. We try to keep it fun just because the best way to work is to have fun and the best way to be creative is to enjoy what you’re doing. If you’re not enjoying it, then it’s work.
Does the band ever make a conscious effort to have new songs suitable not only for a studio environment, but for a live setting as well?
I would say that the studio environment was definitely taken into consideration, but because of the lack of time, there’s still a lot of the live element that we still have to work out with this music. Some of these songs we haven’t actually played together and we’re planning on playing them on this tour that’s starting in three weeks. When I get home, we’ll have about a week to figure out how to make the songs sound live like how they will sound on the record. It shouldn’t be hard. It’s not all the songs we haven’t played. Some of the songs we have played in entirely with each other. There were a couple that were written at the end that we were trying to finish up real quick, and we didn’t have time to play through.
Can you tell me a bit about the tour that the band is heading out on shortly?
In three weeks, we’re going out on tour with All Shall Perish, Carnifex, Conducting From The Grave, and Fleshgod Apocalypse. We’re starting it in California. It’ll be about a month long.
How many songs is the band looking to play live from the new album?
We actually have not discussed that yet. I’m not sure, but we’re going to squeeze in as many as we can. Obviously, we’re still going to be playing stuff from “Exoplanet.” I feel like we know which tracks people want to hear, and we’ll still be playing those.
Will the band use this month of playing live to tweak the songs depending on how the audience responds to them?
No drastic changes will be made, but definitely playing new songs live every day on tour, you start to figure out what can be improved. There will be a lot of tweaking for sure.
If you could tour with one band, past or present, who would it be and why?
I realize how little this tour would make sense in reality, but I think it would be sick to tour with Rush. I think they are one of the most important bands, to me at least. That would be sick, but I know in reality it would be ridiculous (laughs).
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