Welcome back to our interview with Flesh of the Stars! For those just seeing this for the first time, we ran the first part, which focused on their new record Anhilla, on Friday. This time around, we’re gonna be discussing Matt’s obsession with synthesizers and electric pianos, and the band’s thoughts on the current revival of classic metal.
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So how particular are you about the synths? Do you spend a lot of time on the synths?
[All three of them laugh]
I mean, if you’re listing off all the synths you used on Anhilla, like, “we used this, this, this, and this,” there’s clearly a reason for that.
Mike: It was really, really deliberate.
Matt (Ciani, synths/guitars/vocals/percussion): I mean, there’s a reason there are multiple in this room. [There are several synths in the room we’re all sitting in.] If I thought I could get it done with just one, and I thought it would sound good, I would. That’s just how synthesizers are. I used to consider myself primarily a guitar player, but these days I’m definitely a synth player. I’ve just been stocking up on them so I can get the most sounds possible.
Mike (Fox, guitars/vocals/synths): Any time Matt works with synths, it’s an incredibly meticulous and beautiful process to watch of narrowing down the sound until he has exactly what he wants over a period of two or three weeks.
Matt: The thing about synths is that as a recording engineer, and a mixing engineer, you can take – okay, so you have, like, guitar, bass, drums, vocals, and one overdubbed thing, right? And it’s all sitting there, and it’s great, you have a mix and it’s pretty good, but you hear it and there’s definitely a frequency missing. It doesn’t sound full. With a synth, you can just pull it out, play a melodic line that fits the exact frequency you need to make the mix sound right, and bam! Done! You’ve fixed the mix without having to do any work. Or, well, you’ve done fun work, instead of boring work.
Is it actually around two or three weeks that you spend really honing the synth sounds? Or is that an exaggeration?
Mike: Well, it’s an exaggeration a little bit, but we spent a lot of time working on synth stuff.
Matt: There’s a pad sound on every song on Anhilla except for “Part III”. I spent two or three weeks figuring out what that should sound like, but that’s on just about every track, so it had to be perfect. But not every synth part is done that way. Some of it is completely spontaneous. I have a thing over there [Matt points to one of the synthesizers in the room] that has a low-pass filter that works based on light. A light cell shines on it and how much light is on it determines how open the filter is. Which is really cool. Normally how it works is that it has this LED that blinks on it, and that works as a low-frequency oscillator, but we figured out that if you take the sleeve off, you can hold it up to a light and it goes fucking insane. Not only does it open up the filter all the way, but it also drives the filter really hard, and there’s a really noisy part on “Part III” where we were just holding it up to the light and moving it back and forth.
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Like the light equivalent of a theremin or something.
Matt: Yeah, exactly.
But you’re not usually that unconventional with how you approach stuff?
Matt: Well, it depends. If we just need a pad sound somewhere, and I know what I’m gonna use and what I want to do, then I’m just gonna go with it. With synth leads, like in “Part IV” with the “Ashes to Ashes” thing, I just knew what it had to be, because it had to be one synth. There was only one where I could get the sound I wanted. But with “Part III” or something, where there’s a lot of repetition, I tend to think, “how can I fill all this space?” and that’s when you start trying to make totally fucked-up sounds. I never want to get to the point where it becomes power electronics or harsh noise, but there is something very cool about seeing how hard you can drive the filter and how weird you can make it sound.
Mike: Like, when he got the MS-2, we immediately spent a couple hours just figuring out how to get horrible, disgusting sounds out of it.
Matt: Yeah, that can have this really gross, nasty sound, that almost sounds like wet flesh smacking against other wet flesh, that happens when you set the resonance filter really high. So when that goes it on, it’s the grossest sound you’ve ever heard in your life. We heard it and decided it needed to make it on a record. People don’t do that enough! When you hear synths in metal records, especially doom metal records, they’re really tame. There’s a bunch of melodic stuff, which is great, and we do that all the time too, but like, also, there’s a reason every song on our first two records just devolves into synth noise at the end. Like, literally, the mastering guy faded it out. We sent him mixes that had a bunch of ridiculous noise at the end of every track.
Travis (Marmon, bass/vocals): We’re proud to be carrying a flag for synths in a metal band too, because it’s usually associated just with Dream Theater-type prog metal and European power metal stuff, and I feel like it’s a big part of what makes us a unique band more than anything else. Especially on the first two records where we kinda did a pastiche of various doom subgenres. On both HIDE and Hosana there’s songs that sound like Electric Wizard, songs that sound like Saint Vitus, et cetera, but there’s always these super creepy-ass synths that come in and it’s what helps us separate ourselves from the pack.
So, speaking of these other doom bands that are doing more throwback-oriented sounds, bands you’re using the synths to differentiate yourselves from in a way, how do you guys feel about this new revival of traditional doom stuff?
Travis: For me, it’s just another thing that’s happening in metal. I love pretty much every style of metal out there, except for power metal – and even there there’s some stuff I like – so it’s just kind of another thing happening within the genre.
Matt: Power metal is fun as hell.
Travis: It just doesn’t really speak to me for the most part. Except for Blind Guardian, who are one of the best bands ever. I digress. I listen to pretty much everything under the metal umbrella, so for me, as far as this whole thing goes, I’m a big fan of Pallbearer but I tend to lean closer to sludge on the slower end of things. I love the Iron Monkey and Eyehategod type stuff, my favorite metal record from last year was Cobalt‘s Slow Forever, so the trad doom stuff I’m not super into.
Matt: But it’s bringing people into the fold and I know personally that there are a lot of people who are using these bands as an entry point back into metal. I kinda grew out of metal for a while and started listening to a lot more songwriter stuff and things like that, and the more accessible stuff was definitely what got me back into the genre as a whole. It reminded me how much of a rich tradition metal really is, partially because of the revival and partially because of remasters of older stuff.
Travis: It also brings a lot of new people into the fold, which I know a lot of people are against, and that’s dumb. Bands like Pallbearer get knocked a lot for being “hipster metal,” or whatever, but they just sound like Warning. It’s just that the vocalist doesn’t scream at all so if that’s something people aren’t into they can use stuff like this to get more familiar with the genre. Just because the band works hard and has a good publicist, and is able to get attention from publications that don’t normally write stuff about metal, and then you have people who don’t like metal but like this stuff a lot, you have people that will get really pissed about it.
Matt: When you go to those shows it’s really obvious that people don’t typically know how to behave at a metal show. When I saw Pallbearer live, almost nobody was headbanging and it was really weird to see. I go to these shows and it’s all the same people I see around town at indie rock shows.
Travis: Yeah, it’s the same at Deafheaven shows. It’s totally fine, of course, but it’s just funny to see. When they played a show here with Carcass as a Chicago Open Air afterparty, I thought it would be a bunch of Carcass fans that would be pissed they had to sit through Deafheaven to see who they came for, but it ended up being a lot of Deafheaven fans who had clearly never heard of Carcass – which is fine – but you could tell they were really surprised by them. They were into it for the most part but they had no idea what they were getting into.
Matt: I’m not a huge fan of their records but I like how they’re using their position as the “hip” metal band to bring more purist metal out with them.
Travis: They will play with literally anyone. Like, every tour they’re on is just bizarre. But yeah, with hipster metal, we all listen to a lot of stuff outside of metal, and it would definitely be really easy to categorize Flesh of the Stars as a hipster band. I’m always really wary of that elitism in the scene and those people that are afraid to look outside of the genre. Like, it’s a really diverse genre so saying you just listen to metal could mean any number of things and get a huge variety, but sometimes you just gotta listen to Danny Brown or something. And for all I know he would totally listen to a record like this too. Dude’s eclectic as fuck.
Mike: Side note – was anybody else as charmed by his photo with Jack White as I was? He looks so fucking stoked in that photo and the caption is like, “just met my hero.”
Matt: What a guy.
Alright, well, I’ve got one more question for you guys, and this one’s the big one. How do you guys like your eggs?
Travis: I don’t eat eggs. I like things with eggs in them, but I don’t eat eggs. Like, I like french toast, and egg bagels, and stuff like that, but I don’t eat eggs.
Matt: When I’m eating eggs, I like them poached and on toast, usually, with some hot sauce.
Mike: Egg in a basket. Cut a hole in some toast and cook an egg in it. It’s the best. I have them at least twice a week.
Excellent answers. Thanks so much for joining me, guys.