[Photos by Jeremy Saffer]

The year 2011 was a fantastic year for music, with many excellent debut albums coming out across the metal spectrum. One breakout act of 2011 is Portland, Maine’s Last Chance To Reason, whose album Level 2 absolutely blew us away. They’re wrapping up a tour alongside Scale The Summit and Protest the Hero at the moment, where I caught up with vocalist Michael Lessard and drummer Evan Sammons in Knoxville, TN to talk about Level 2, their lineup change, Michael’s rugged good looks, and more.

So, first off, I was told by Chris [Disinformasiya] at Heavy Blog to ask why [Michael is] so pretty.

Evan Sammons: [laughs]
Michael Lessard: Why I’m so pretty? I guess I’d have to thank my parents for that one. Just got a fairly decent genetic mix-up.
ES: That’s like asking why Ellen DeGeneres is so pretty, right?
ML: Yeah, I don’t know. It’s one of the mysteries of the world, I guess. [laughs]

It’s been a pretty good year for you guys. You’ve been pretty busy, you’ve been on the road a lot. I guess it had a lot of ups and downs, but let’s start with the ups right now. The reception for Level 2 was pretty good. How’s that treating you guys?

ES: We’re really pumped… it got a really good response on the internet.
ML: And the live shows…
ES: Like, people give a shit about it, which is a new thing for this band.
ML: Yeah [laughs] It’s cool to work hard and people dig it.
ES: There’s a lot of really good albums by our favorite bands that came out this year…

It was a great year!

ES: Yeah, and to have people say that our album was one of their favorites from this year is just like, mindblowing. Probably like a good 70% of my favorite bands—at least—put out a record this year, so to even be included amongst any of them is pretty shocking, you know? It’s just awesome.

Yeah, I think I have you guys on my top 20 for this year.

ES: Sweet, man.

It’s going up next week. I can’t remember the exact placement, but you’re definitely on the top 20.

ES: That’s nice, dude. Thank you.

So, you’ve been on the road a lot this year, more than ever, right?

ML: Yeah [laughs]
ES: Oh yeah.

But you’ve had a lineup change earlier. What happened?

ES: It’s like a couple of the guys just didn’t want to do that much touring, I guess is what it came down to.
ML: Yeah, yeah…
ES: And you can’t really blame ’em for it. It’s not a lifestyle that’s for everyone. We got a new guitarist now, Mike Abdow, who just shreds face…

Where did you find him at?

ES: We played with his band…
ML: With Iron Thrones, actually.
ES: Yeah, on the Iron Thrones tour we did with his band Frozen, and Chris [Corey, bass] bought his solo album that he did which is just, like, ridiculous. Like shredding in this Steve Vai style.
ML: Virtuoso…
ES: Virtuoso guitar playing kinda shit. So Chris ended up contacting him because he was just a fan of his playing in general and stuff. Yeah, he learned all the stuff before we had to go back out on the road and he’s been killing it. He gets along with everybody, he’s chill. He keeps us in line.
ML: [laughs]
ES: We need somebody like that. None of us are all that responsible [laughs].

Photo by Jeremy Saffer

You haven’t found a keyboard player. How are you handling that right now?

ES: We got the ol’ Roland SPDS sampling unit as the keyboard player right now. [laughs]

Are you guys actively searching, or…?

ES: Well, if we find the right person we’ll go for it. I hope we find somebody before the next record.

Have you started writing the next record?

ES: Yeah, a little bit.

There was a remarkable difference in sound between Level 1 and Level 2. What brought about that sort of change?

ES: …I dunno. [laughs]
ML: New members. I mean, I joined partway through the process of Level 2 being started, and I’ve known the guys forever. It’s just a style they’ve always wanted to play but never really had the means to be able to play it.
ES: Yeah, we knew we needed somebody who could really sing when we started writing the stuff for Level 2 that was a lot different. We were more just like, okay, let’s write something that’s really like what we want to be as a band and not really try to limit ourselves, and try to just go full board and try to make the best album possible… like albums we’ve always liked. Not only that, but stuff that we haven’t necessarily heard other bands do that we want to hear, you know? You just play the music you want to hear.
ML: Yeah. That and I think everybody just matured as musicians too, with age.
ES: Yeah, yeah. We wrote stuff that really challenged us, whereas on Level 1 it was almost like… I knew for me on the drums, I was nervous for me to go into that recording situation with Jamie King, so I kinda didn’t want to do stuff that was really pushing my limits on that album. I wanted to be really confident that I could just go in there and throw all the drums down in just a few hours and plow through it. This time I was like, Jamie’s such a fucking sweetheart, I can just go in there and take my time and really challenge myself, and if I’ve got an idea, I can try it, and things like that. So working with him a second time kind of made us all more comfortable—that we could ourselves, you know?

Yeah, and since Jamie’s kind of responsible for the production of Between the Buried and Me’s discography, and I could imagine you guys being huge fans of them…

ES: Yeah.

I could see why you’d go in wanting to be super confident.

ES: And he’s a drummer himself. So yeah, he knows his shit.

Level 2 is a concept album. What exactly is the story going on and what was the inspiration behind that?

ES: I guess it started off with some ideas and some short stories I was writing that were about looking at virtual worlds and video game worlds through more of a philosophical lense and try to… you know, it’s been a big part of our culture for the last thirty, forty years now? So these little pieces of art—which they are art; I don’t think there’s even an argument that they’re not. You know, once all the old people die, we’ll be like “oh, this is art; the medium of our generation.” Film wasn’t art at a point. Comic books weren’t art. People were even against books for a long time; there’s still book burnings and things like that, so I just wanted to kinda look at that and see what it says about human nature and those big universal themes. The actual lyric writing process was pretty quick.
ML: Yeah, Evan basically had a big book full of lyrics, like “here ya go.” We kinda sectioned off areas that we wanted to flow a certain way, kinda went through, tried ideas, switch lyrics around, just minor stuff. What I did to the lyrics was minor. It was just like, “let’s phrase that like this, maybe a little bit just for the sake of the vocals”, stuff like that. Yeah… it’s [about] getting lost in that digital realm, losing grip on reality.
ES: Yeah, a lot of things that people say that’s like—and I can’t really blame them for saying it—but they’re like “ah, it’s nothing but a bunch of computer jargon. It’s not really a song,” but if you take just one step back, and all this computer jargon is just a metaphor for the human condition. It’s all pretty obvious, I think. I almost felt like I was beating people over the head with it in the lyrics to a large extent. I don’t know how many goddamned times we say “erase” on this album [laughs].


ES: But it’s all good, it’s fun. It’s metal, you know? It’s video game progressive metal; there’s definitely an element of silliness to it [laughs].


Speaking of video games, you guys were supposed to have a game ready by launch, I think?

ES: Yeah, but it’s just up to that one level. [laughs]
ML: [laughs]

[laughs] Yeah, we got the one level, and something might have happened—I haven’t heard anything else about it at least. What’s the deal with the game right now?

ES: Right now, there’s a level for “Coded To Fail” and “Taking Control” together and the programming for that is basically done. It’s just the art that needs to be done and it needs to be kind of polished and we’ll release that next. So it’s kinda more like an episodic thing, or like releasing a music video or something like that. It’s just hard to make a video game as no one’s giving us any money. So if someone wants to give us a bunch of money to make that video game—and I don’t know, like six months time—we could probably do it. We just have to work full time on it, you know? It’s just like, impossible right now.
ML: Yeah, especially with the tour schedule and we have to start thinking about writing for the next album right now. It’s crazy.

You guys are pretty outspoken as being pretty big nerds as far as… or would you rather use geek as the proper nomenclature?

ML: Eh, nerd, geek…
ES: Either way [laughs]. They’re all the same.
ML: Yeah.
ES: A dork is a whale penis.

[laughs] That sounds like it would be the proper name for a whale penis!

ES: It is, yeah!

You guys are on the road a lot, so I’d imagine that makes it pretty hard to stay up on the video games. The big game right now is Skyrim. Have you guys been playing that?

ES: No, not us.
ML: Uh, no. We got to watch it. Moe [Carlson, drums] in Protest [the Hero] is playing it, so we got to watch that. And then, when we stayed in San Antonio, our buddy the sound guy at the local venue was playing it, so we got to sit there for two days and watch him play, which was not quite as fun as playing, but it’s quite enjoyable in itself, so…

[My friend Stephen]: That makes me feel like a dick. I’ve already logged 120 hours…

ML: Damn…

Yeah, he beat it the other day.

ES: Oh shit.

[Stephen]: I’ve got 1000/1000 Gamerscore on it

ML: Fuck yeah! [laughs]
ES: Wow. I’m gonna play the new Zelda when I get home, it seems like a nice holiday kinda thing…

That was like the first game in like forever to get a 10/10 score in some magazine…

ES: Oh really?

I don’t remember which magazine it was. [To Stephen:] Do you know which one it was?

[Stephen]: It might have been Game Informer, I don’t know.

ES: Everything I’ve read about it sounds like it’s the kind of Zelda game I’d like, you know?
ML: I’m gonna go with Skyrim. I know Chris is going with Battlefield now, since Moe’s playing Battlefield on the bus last night and gave everybody a glimpse.
ES: Yeah, that was really cool.
ML: AJ [Harvey, guitar] is gonna stick with Tetris, I think. AJ’s been on Tetris for the last couple of years.
ES: Batman for NES.
ML: Yeah!

I would imagine that, as touring musicians, music doesn’t pay all of the bills or anything like that. How do you guys make money when you’re not touring? I think I read that [Evan] is a substitute teacher?

ES: Yeah.
ML: Yeah, I actually work on a lobster boat when I’m home.

Oh yeah, you guys are from Maine, aren’t you? [laughs]

ES: [laughs]
ML: Yeah, I work on a lobster boat, and before that I actually just worked retail for two years, working at Old Navy. Sellin’ them clothes, yep.

[laughs] You don’t hear a lot of metal bands coming out of Maine. Are there any smaller bands from Maine that you’d like to have known?

ML: Let’s see here… one band that disbanded but is a fucking amazing, amazing rock band, was a band called The Cambiata.
ES: Oh yeah, yeah.
ML: A couple of the guys actually went to the same jazz school as AJ did. Yeah, phenomenal, phenomenal band. They ended up breaking up, but yeah. Harmonically and rhythmically very interesting band.
ES: And if you trace their roots back, they were actually a band called Barium that was a technical metal band that was really, really good.
ML: Yeah, ahead of its time, back in the day.
ES: Yeah, if you can track down any of the stuff that they did as Barium, it’s really cool. They did some demos. You know that producer Zeus? They did some demos with him that are like, really legit. They sound like… I dunno, a groovier Between the Buried and Me or something like that. Yeah, they were really cool.
ML: And other than that…
ES: Kinda like, metalcore bands, like European metal influenced bands like Terrible Old Man and Absence of the Sun.
ML [simultaneously]: Absence of the Sun, yeah.
ES: They’re both more like, you know, At The Gates influenced bands, but they’re good. They’re good at that style.

So the tour’s just about over. You’ve only got a couple of more shows and then you’re back home, right?

Both: Yeah.

You’re home in time for Christmas and all that. What are your plans for Christmas?

ES: Spending time with our girlfriends and working and playing Zelda.
ML: Yeah…
ES: That’s it.
ML: Pretty much. Work, video games…
ES: We got a couple of shows.
ML: Well these guys are spending time with their girlfriends, but I’m actually single. So hit me up.
ES: The Bad Boy of Prog Mike Lessard, single. I’m lovin’ it. [laughs]
ML: Bad Boy of Prog. Facebook: M-I-C-H-A-E-L L-E-S-S-A-R-D.

Yeah, I know you have Chris’ seal of approval, cause he’s obsessed with you!

ML: Yeah, I guess! I’m flattered, honestly [laughs].

Photo by Jess Harvey

Be sure to keep up with Last Chance To Reason on Facebook to get up to date information on their whereabouts. If you have the opportunity to see them live, do not pass it up. Ladies, be sure to look up Michael Lessard if you’re down with some prog nerd lovin’.

– JR

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