I think most of our readers won’t be familiar with Equipoise (yet). For those that have never heard of you before, can you tell us a little bit about the band?
Of course! Thank you for taking the time to interview by the way Patrick, it really is insane to know people are willing to take their time to interview us. Much respect for what you do! Anyways, Equipoise is my brainchild and baby that started to come to form in the summer of 2015. It all began when fellow member Zach Hohn and I would meet up and jam in the summer. The first thing I ever wrote for this project will appear on the full length that is due out tentatively early 2018. Aside from that, I managed to write the song you may know to be called ‘Birthing Homunculi Part II: Sigil Insidious’. From there, I started to write about one and a half minutes of the song you may know to be called ‘A Suit of My Flesh’.
Towards the end of my summer and towards the start of my final year of engineering school, I decided to start learning Guitar Pro; I simply wanted to see how it helps with learning music. On a whim, I decided I wanted to write drums for ‘Sigil Insidious’, and I felt very accomplished once I managed to do it, especially since I’m not even a drummer. I very archaically played the drums in the background while playing the song on guitar, and I found that I was interested in hearing this with guitars and bass tabbed. Since I love fretless bass, I knew I had to have that, so I added that in, and I slowly managed to write my first full song in Guitar Pro. Out of thin air, I continued to write song after song; I ended up with 8 songs by mid-October, which has become the material for the Equipoise Full Length and EP. I couldn’t believe how good the songs turned out, so much so that I decided I needed to record them and put them out. Almost two years later, I am absolutely floored by the support and love this project has received. I would have not once in a million years ever imagined this to become anything other than some simple bedroom project, and I am forever grateful for that. My fans are my friends, and my band is my family, and I am joyful each and every day knowing I’ve been given such a wonderful opportunity.
You started Equipoise more or less after a session of writing riffs with Zach Hohn. Throughout time it evolved into a band, with seven members. Besides craftsmanship the new members have also brought their personality. What is it that these seven make the perfect combination to form Equipoise?
Honestly, one could argue that I’ve enlisted these reputable members as a way to gain recognition as a band, but it’s a lot more than just that to me. I do consider that to be a benefit, I will admit that, but the reason I’ve brought titans from such bands as First Fragment, Beyond Creation, Vale of Pnath, and Hannes Grossman is because I know that these are bands that tech death fans tend to collectively love, including myself. While the plan for this project never was to enlist recognized musicians, it just became the natural order of things as soon as I started to hear the compositions come to form and realized that I had some solid material.
So I said to myself: “Nick, what are some of your favourite bands in tech death, and what members from what bands could bring the most personality to this project?” I obviously had Zach on board, who I still to this day thank for motivating me to even start writing for this project; if it wasn’t for him and I jamming, this may have not been a thing. So I first reached out to Stevie, who I loved as a vocalist because I love Vale of Pnath. I always tell him this, but I don’t think I could ever do this without him, that man is now a crucial element to the sound, and I always joke about how he’s stuck with me forever! Secondly, I knew I needed a fretless bassist, and I needed one capable of playing rapid-fire melodies. Having seen Hugo play live with Beyond Creation, I knew I wanted to get in contact with him; so I did, and he naturally joined! It wasn’t until a few months before the release that I discovered Jimmy was the missing element I never knew I needed. If you would have told me I was going to add keyboards and ambience to the mix when this started, I would have laughed at you. Lastly, I took a largely unconventional step and added Phil Tougas to the roster as a third guitarist. If you’ve heard the 2016 masterpiece ‘Dasein’ by First Fragment, you’d instantly recognize Phil’s virtuosity. We have one more member in the form of a drummer that we’re not quite ready to reveal, but I can assure you that he is absolutely world class, and people will be elated. I still am humbled by the fact that not only these musicians have given me the time of day, but they are willing to work with me and feel truly passionate about the music I’ve created. No feeling quite compares to working with those you look up to musically.
Can we consider Equipoise to be a band, with playing live shows and all or should we see upon it as a studio project?
You know man, it’s hard to say right now! Due to our location and my massive college debt, it’s quite impractical for me to consider live shows and touring right now. On the other hand, I do know some incredibly talented individuals fairly local to me that I have considered picking up for live shows, so we could at the very least play some shows in Chicago and the surrounding area. Maybe I’ll hit the lottery or something, or maybe I’ll just take a leap of faith one day and try and tour, but until then, it seems like a distant reality.
How does Equipoise compose a song? How do you determine whether a track is good enough for you/fully after your liking? You use a lot of different influences on the album; where does the interest in these different styles come from?
To be honest with you, it’s not a very formalized process. It usually begins with me humming some sort of melody, taking that melody, writing it in Guitar Pro, then continuing from there. I happen to be a very fast writer (I wrote the core songs of the full-length in about two months!), and I honestly don’t try to dwell too much on what I write, which arguably is a bad thing. My attitude is that music is a learning experience, and it’s okay if you don’t write the perfect album your first time around, and you shouldn’t get so caught up in perfecting every facet of it so that it may take years to produce. Now of course, I have gone through and modified parts and keys to songs, but other than that, there are very minor alterations or hesitations in my writing. As for the various influences in my music, I can’t say I put much thought into it! Really it’s just a culmination of melodies I devise in my own head that sound good to me. I think the fact that what we play is very melodic and technical makes it easy for me to write, because I often don’t have to fill in the gaps in my mind musically; I hear full melodies that give me a full picture of what I’m looking to hear, so that I always have new ideas coming to me.
You make usage of Flamenco a lot. Where does your interest for this come from? What made you decide to combine it with death metal?
In short, my interest stems from being a fan of Al Di Meola and Paco De Lucia. When I had first heard ‘Mediterranean Sundance’ by them, I was absolutely blown away. It was such a beautiful, yet technically proficient performance that I instantly fell in love with the style. My implementation was further reinforced because of my love for Gorod’s ‘Transcendence’. The song ‘Blackout - Renewed Souls’ was so catchy to me that I just felt so inspired to incorporate interludes into the mix, having already written nylon guitars into ‘Alchemic Web of Deceit’. As for the incorporation into death metal, I can’t say there was much else that made me want to do it. I thought flamenco sounded awesome, and since our music is very melodic, it seemed like a natural implementation. I’m definitely happy with the results.
What is ‘Birthing Homunculi’ about? Is it comprised of individual tales? How is it tied to your personal lives? Where do you draw the inspiration for your lyrics? From personal life? From books, movies, nature, politics…?
Birthing Homunculi is a concept based off of the anime/manga series, ‘Full Metal Alchemist: Brotherhood’. Our vocalist Stevie is a big anime fan, and upon his joining, when we were discussing lyrical concepts, he mentioned the series to me, as we knew we wanted to do a concept of sorts. I checked out the series, and I immediately fell in love! Stevie is a bad influence. Anyways, I don’t want to go into the overall album story too much, but due in part to Stevie’s competence as a lyricist, expect some amazing lyricist at play.
The album sounds, partly due to the variation in tracks, as a composition in itself. How do you experience that? Is the order of the tracks on an album important for you or, given the current generation that hardly listens to full albums and prefers to listen to single tracks, does it not matter? Why?
I most definitely think the order of tracks is important! While writing, I don’t consider it much individually, but as a whole; I feel it’s very important to have a definitive opening track, a definitive closing track, and appropriate and logical transitions. For example, although I know they weren’t necessarily everyone’s favourite, I added the interludes (‘Birthing Homunculi Part I’ and ‘Birthing Homunculi Part III’) to the EP because I felt they helped bridge a gap between the tracks. One thing I do think is relatively important is how you end a song; that can be done by an abrupt stop (‘A Suit of My Flesh’ and ‘Sigil Insidious’), a longer, more sustained outro (‘Alchemic Web of Deceit’), or a fade out (‘Birthing Homunculi Part I’). A reason I added those interludes is because I found ‘A Suit of My Flesh’ and ‘Sigil Insidious’ to have to similar endings, and I didn’t like to have that back to back; I felt the interludes would help establish a nice dynamic between the songs, and help create a nice calm before the storm. It was with this that I decided I would ultimately write interludes for the whole album, which was not my initial plan. It’s funny, because I wasn’t always the biggest fan of interludes, but I now understand their function. There are definitely albums that I can deal with listening to a song here and there, but I know for my full length, I would like it to be listened as a whole. While every track on the album for the most part is very intense in its delivery, I chose to add interludes so that the songs can maintain that level of intensity without compromise, while creating and album that does in fact allow for some breathing room.
In these days there is an overload of good music available for people. With Bandcamp, Spotify and so on it is almost impossible to keep up as a listener. It also makes it very difficult for a band to stand out. What do you do to have Equipoise gain some extra attention?
I know the struggle man! Several years ago when I was into all things old school death metal and the older school tech death scene, I was on a conquest to finding ANYTHING I could that would pique my interests. I found it to be overwhelming at times, and I felt it might have lessened the impact and meaningfulness behind each album I checked out. These days, I find myself only listening to 10-20 new albums each year, mainly because my focus is on writing my own music, so it’s a lot tougher to designate my time accordingly. As for gaining extra attention, I know there are a lot of dissenters out there, but I cannot stress enough how much I love Facebook for what it is! I know a lot of people groan over it, but Facebook is a goldmine for promotion and target marketing. Nonetheless, this is never how I personally view it; I have made friends with a lot of like-minded people that have similar musical tastes in various tech-death groups, and it’s been such a rewarding experience. These are people that I love to just joke around with and talk to, and a lot of them happen to like Equipoise, which has been an after-effect. On top of that, a lot of the people will promote and share our music around, which I’m not only incredibly appreciative of, but it’s definitely helpful in expanding our fan base. I argue that the people that turn their nose to Facebook promoting aren’t doing it right, because it’s truly a marketer’s dream.
All money made from selling ‘Birthing Homunculi’ go to the Jason Becker Foundation, and all the money made from merch goes to your friend Chris, who is dealing with some nasty cancer. What is your motivation to do so?
I guess it’s really just because I enjoy helping people! Don’t get me wrong, I enjoy buying a nice guitar every now and then, but there are not too many other things I care about for myself otherwise. I do, however, enjoy doing good by others, so I can experience that “warm and fuzzy” feeling every time hahaha. My thought behind it as well is that rather than split the money with the band, where we wouldn’t see a significant return on investment as individuals that we each just donate whatever we would make and put it towards something of greater value. I’m hoping to see this become a trend with bands, and that if it even impacts one person to do so, then I’ll feel satisfied knowing we made a difference.
I assume (correct me if I’m wrong) Equipoise is not enough to make a living out of it (yet). What do you do next to the band?
I don’t imagine us making a living from it ever! It’s never been about the money for me anyhow, I just really like writing and playing music that people enjoy. My day job is a Production Analyst/Mechanical Engineer at Ferrara Candy Company out in Chicago, IL. I’m responsible for analyzing production lines that produce candy (lots and lots of candy!), and making the necessary adjustments to improve the quality of production. Naturally as a tech head, I had to pick a field that relies upon math and science.
What do you do to keep working in music (and the music itself) fresh? Will you pursue alternative genres to avoid your new material resembling old stuff? Or will you strive to keep to what you know while renovating your style to stay true to your original sound and fresh?
When I write, I find I all but unapologetically borrow influence from bands I listen to. For the EP, you can hear the obvious influences of Necrophagist, Gorod, and Al Di Meola/Paco De Lucia. My biggest downfall on that EP, however, was a lack of key changes, which I’ve come to realize left the music a lot more predictable than it should be. As a future fix for the LP, I’ve gone through every song and began to adjust keys and melodies so the music keeps you on your feet a bit more.
As far as keeping it fresh, I like to determine a direction I want to start shifting towards musically, and I relentlessly listen to bands or music of a similar style so I can truly grasp the sound I’m working towards. This may be done by borrowing a style from one of the LP tracks and shifting my focus more towards that. For example, for the second LP, I believe I’m already looking to slow the songs down about 10 percent, have a lot more triumphant key usages, and implement more atmosphere, while still having a focus on grooves and flamenco. At the same time, I may decide to just continue the same route I did with the first album and ultimately wait for a third album before making a dramatic change. Regardless, I think a crucial component to a band staying fresh and relevant is to have a signature sound that you can hear, no matter what change in direction they take, and constantly changing it so that it gives your audience something new, yet familiar.
Thank you for taking the time to go through these questions. Let’s come to a closure; if there is anything left that you’d like to mention, feel free to do so…
Nope, nothing else! I talked so much; I can’t really say all that much more hahaha. I just wanted to say thank you so much for taking the time to interview me, it really means a lot that you’d consider my band worth interviewing, and it’s been really cool getting to know you Patrick!