, lead guitarist with the Canadian metal band, Martyr
, is some type of strange musical creature. He plays his instrument like some enchanted wizard, the notes dripping from the strings like wax from a candle, like raindrops down a windowpane. In fact, he describes his tone as a flowing river that he alone controls so this image is not too far afield. The band's new album, Feeding The Abscess
, has the unabashedly brutal elements of thrashing metal. But these rhythms and pulses and textures oftentimes are funneled through very prog-like changes. And while his guitar does embody a sort of liquid quality, it also gets churned up to white-water levels on soloes that race up and down the neck in frantic fury.
In this email interview, the talented Mr. Mongrain
took especial care in opening himself up to these questions. He thinks like an artist, painting his words in delicate patterns. His knowledge of music (he has multiple degrees) is astounding and when he gets down to the nitty gritty of actually explaining about Martyr
's harmonic elements, it's all you can do to hold on for the ride.
The language has been left pretty much intact. Some of the syntax and spellings have been cleaned up but for the most part, this is precisely the document that was sent to Ultimate-Guitar. In this more organic state, it gives the reader a closer and better understanding of the guitarist and his esoteric ideas.
UG: How would you characterize the difference between the Canadian metal scene and the European metal scene?
I think the Canadian metal scene is a mix of basically three different cultures musically and lyrically. First of all, our own culture; I'm talking here more about the Quebec Culture which is the French part of Canada (East) and which is a very strong and a very distinct culture from the rest of Canada. This very culture is also influenced by two major cultures: The European scene and the American Scene (USA). I think we in Quebec have our own identity, our own sound which is by the way, in general, a research of uniqueness, authenticity, and a mix of those three cultures. That makes every Quebec band very different from each other 'cause the main goal is to be unique and finds its own way of doing things. Some bands sound more European and some more American but in the end there is always that Quebec uniqueness signature where nobody here wants to be a clone of another band. And since we have a lot of bands versus the small population (audience), we need (the bands) to be very different from one another.
There is some truly extraordinary playing on the new album. Perpetual Healing (Infinite Pain) - some of the whammy bar in the solo reminds me of Adrian Belew - is this correct?
It is not on purpose, but I agree that it may sound like it. I love King Crimson; it sure is an influence for but more in composition than guitar playing. And also, we (humans) always compare things with what we know, so some may say it sounds like King Crimson and some may say it sounds like Sabbath 'cause it's the only metal band they heard so to speak. But I will certainly take that comment/question as a great compliment since I just admire players like Adrian Belew; he is truly amazing.
Lost In Sanity - are there acoustic guitars plucking on notes - has an amazing guitar solo/tone - please describe?
Thanx! Actually, there is no acoustic guitar but a couple samples from Star Wars(A New Hope) music (we're fans since childhood), doubled with guitars and violin (Antoine Bareil); it just came naturally I just heard that Star Wars part (0:39 to 0:43) and (2:31 to 2:37) during a jam with the band and put it into the songs and then we found the samples and edited the tempo and key so it fit the song. It is our tribute to John Williams and its two very unknown musical parts in the movie; it's not one of its epic themes or anything. As for the solo, I used a Mesa Boogie Mark III Combo into a Marshall 4x12 cab. I plugged my Liberatore custom shop guitar (made in Montreal) through a Bad Horsie wah (Morley) and that was it. Not much effect. I really liked the tone so I used basically the same set up for solos for the whole album minus the wah pedal. At 2:04 there's a bass part which could sound like acoustic guitar, very mid and a lot of attack.
Feast Of Vermin has an amazing intro - could you walk me through the chord changes?
For this album, we approached harmony on different levels. Lots of non-functional harmony (harmony with no relation/no tendency to resolve chords); tonal Harmony (all chords in relation to a key in a section); and modal harmony (each chord is a micro universe and is enhanced by a melody which uses the mode corresponding to the chord).
The intro of Feast of Vermin is pretty tonal but with little twists here and there which distract ears or leads it to another place than what you expect. The chords are basically power chords but the arpeggio motifs determine the quality of each chord which enhance the harmony of the section.
It gives us C#minMaj9/G#min7add(b6)/Fmin which turns to Ebminadd(b6)/F/AminMaj7/Ebminadd(b6)/Cmin/G#min/Eminadd9 from 0 to 0:09.And then the next section of the intro (Gmin/Abmin/Cb/Emin/G/FminMaj7). But to be honest, I had to analyse it for this interview since we compose with our guts and ears.
It's just things we hear in our head and we translate it through our instrumentation. But I have knowledge now to explain it to you afterwards.
Describe how you wrote that section?
My brother (bass) wrote this intro. I think it sounds majestic and horrifying at the same time. I really like those kind of mixed feels in music. It twists my mind, it creates tension. I like tension; it reflects our society.
At about 1:45, it goes into that great section led by the guitar with that sort of repeating riff - can you describe this? Can you describe how it's played? Where it came from?
My bro wrote most of this song. The section you are referring to is a simple 4/4 beat with shifting accents so it sounds pretty odd but you can count 1,2,3,4 on it. The main riff is based on a minor 6th motif played by sliding the first notes of the interval while the rhythm part is pounding very odd accents at strategic places as a complement to the main riff. Both parts are pretty simple but when you put them together, it's kinda cool 'cause you get lost. But as soon as the back-beat enters, you can just go with the groove and prevent your head to implode due to too much odd stuff. Again, tension/release(well not completely though).
It has another terrific solo - describe tone/scales? The solo is sort of laid out in stabs and thrusts like from a sword - a riff here, followed by a counter riff that almost answers the first.
This solo was played by our ex-guitar player who was a guest on this album. I've always loved the way he plays and we wrote the solo together. It is based on one scale really: the diminished scale, since the riff under it is based on the same scale. But instead of playing those very popular diminished arpeggios or scale exercises, we approached the whole thing more like a story: introduction,development,conclusion and repeated motifs with different notes. At the 2nd section of the solo (2:49 to 2:51), we literally ripped off the motif from the intro of the song (0:10 to 0:13) but with different notes in a different context. We do that a lot in our compositions; it brings a unity to the songs, a coherence where you (the listener) might think there is not. I think most of the people don't realize that but that's not our goal. The goal, the boss, is the song itself and when the same ingredients are used in different places or sections, the song, the music, is just more coherent. Listeners don't necessarily need to get that but they hear it consciously or not. And the only reason we do that is because we hear it. We feel it; its not calculated in advance, it's part of the creating process, the magic.
Talk about your approach to soloes - hard to believe this stuff is first take and improvised? You must be thinking carefully about the solo before recording it?
I was more writing my solos in advance on the first two albums. But for this album (Feeding the Abscess) I had a different approach. I chose the scales and sometimes I had to create scales by putting together different tetra chords or even invent a scale out of the harmony, 'cause the harmony in our songs is sometimes pretty complex; it changes a lot in no time.
That was the case for Nameless, Faceless, Neverborn (some part of the solo) and Felony. The way I approached the solos after choosing and analyzing scales was to improvise over the sections over and over again until an idea, a motif, a story or a magical moment got out of it. So it was much more of reorganized improvisations than writing a solo from beginning to the end. I think that way you keep the spontaneity of improvisation and, this spontaneity leads you to your final goal. I would improvise live too but in metal the fans always prefer to hear what they heard on the record. This is a more classical way of listening. They want to hear the performance as much as a Paganini Caprice and they want to hear each and every note they know. In general, its part of the aesthetic of metal music. But live, the phrasing may be a bit different every night, when it comes to interpretations of those notes. I keep that liberty.
Interlude - Desolate Ruins is a brief instrumental segue. Very cool. The bass playing here is terrific. Is your brother playing a fretless bass?
I agree; he is an amazing player and very humble about it. No, he is not playing a fretless but a 6 string bass. The weird thing is he now (and on the album) uses those banjo metal picks (the ones you put on your fingers) so he can have a better attack than his own fingers (right hand) and it helps a lot for the bass sound to cut through the mix and to have a better definition since the music of Martyr is pretty dense.
The instrumental part of music must intrigue you - would you like to do an instrumental record?
We thought about it, but our music has a lot of instrumental parts so we are ok with that. We'd like to do maybe a couple instrumental songs but I don't know about a whole record. I love instrumental music, but Martyr has never been a medium for that.
The music is unbelievably complex/highly arranged - is it difficult working in solos and non-rhythm parts without cluttering a track? (I call them noodling tracks where you might just be playing some single note riffs around soloes, et al).
Actually, we always plan space for soloes in advance so it would not compromise the music under it. Our music is dense but I think it works all together 'cause we know how to imbricate every piece of the puzzle so all the parts are complementary to each other. It's the only way it can work 'cause if we weren't capable of such things, it would really be a mess, a noise, a chaos. But when you listen to Martyr, as dense as it can be, it always sounds organized. And consequently it's a big challenge sometimes though to finish the puzzle but it's the only way to express what we want. Complexity here is not a goal, it's a medium of expression of what we are, what we live. It's just a reflection of our perception of life as we live it, as we witness it. It took more than a year to finish Perpetual Healing/Infinite Pain and Silent Science; the rest was done in a year and a half (part time of course).
Do you think you've more fully developed this ability - to orchestrate guitar parts - since Martyr's first album? Have you become a better organizer/composer?
"The main goal is to be unique and finds its own way of doing things."
Of course, we're better at it than 10 years ago. I had also the chance to study jazz harmony, arrangements and orchestration since then; it helped me understand a bunch of things regarding the instrumentation, the frequencies, tone, motifs, complementarity, etcAnd I play a lot of different music; I've played in about 70 different bands: pop, jazz, reggae, hip-hop, country, blues, Latin.I love music when it's well done; I've nothing to say against it. I have my own tastes but I respect everything that is well done and that make me feel something, surprises me. I like originality; I like imperfection. Every kind of music has its own aesthetic and is unique because of that. Its a never-ending journey of learning and appreciating and that is often frustrating to know that I'll not be able to play or create everything I want in one life. There's so many things I want to do.
Can you talk about your involvement with:
Voivod - started working with them in 2008? How did that happen? How is it different working with Voivod than with Martyr?
I know Blacky (former bass player) since 2002; we did a show together with other musicians (Flo Mounier on drums [Cryptopsy], Pierre Remillard on 2nd guitar (he mixed Feeding the Abscess),Pat Mireault (Ghoulunatics) and Marc Vaillancourt (Barf, Les Ecorchs) to celebrate the 20th anniversary of metal in Quebec. Then me and Blacky became friends. Afterwards, we decided to do a Voivod cover song on the album (that was before Piggy was sick or at least before we knew it) and invited Blacky to play the bass part on it.
Then we got informed that Piggy was sick so we stuck to the plan of doing the cover. By that time Piggy passed away; Blacky had time to see him before he died.
He came to play bass at our album launching in Montreal. That was our tribute to Piggy and Voivod. One year later (2007), we worked on a Voivod medley for a Voivod tribute in Montreal. It was a short performance - 12minutes - but Away (drums) and Snake (vocals) were in the house during that tribute. And I wrote to Away to say to him that if Voivod ever plan to do a tribute show or whatever, I would be honored to play for/with them since I'm a Voivod fan since forever (first show I went to/first metal album I bought and so on).
He called me and Blacky a few months later and told us they wanted to play again, to pay tribute to their Captain. I was speechless. Of course I said yes and it's been amazing since then to play those songs with those guys. I'm honored and privileged to play with them.
And it's a great way to honor Piggy's music.
You played with Jason Newstedt? How was Jason's approach to bass different than your brother's playing in Martyr?
I didn't play with him since Blacky was called to reform the band with original members (but me). But Jason couldn't at that time 'cause he injured himself bad trying to catch a bass amp falling off the stage. I would have love to play with Jasonic but the Voivod original sound came from Blacky first and it's great to play with the Blower Bass Sound and Former voivod members!
Cryptopsy - worked with them live in 2004-2005 - What was that like? What was it like working with a second guitarist (Alex Auburn)?
I'm used to playing with a 2nd guitar player 'cause its been the same with Martyr since the beginning. Playing with Cryptopsy was pretty intense. I did a U.S tour with them and a bunch of shows in Canada. A good experience but to be honest, Cryptopsy is not my favorite kind of music. I was talking about arrangement earlier and I think Cryptopsy's music is brutal, technical and very dense but the parts are not always complementary to each other and it sounds sometimes like a mess. I had a lot of fun with Alex and Lord Worm. Alex is a very good guitar player and very serious musician. He is very dedicated to his band and to music. I was supposed to record the next album but I left the band for professional and personal reasons. Flo is a great performer but he has a strange conception of time and tempo, and is a bit unpredictable from one night to another. I guess it's part of his style. I didn't work a lot with Alex apart from learning the songs and playing them live, but I respect him for his talent and his musicianship and for the reason why he plays and writes music.
How was that different than working with Martin Carbonneau (Martyr second guitarist)?
Martin is very talented, always working hard and giving ideas; very dedicated. We wrote most of the guitar parts together; he was always there to try things and confirm doubts in composition. It's very important to have a second opinion when you compose 'cause sometimes you get completely lost. It's hard after a while to look at things from another angle. Martin was a great help for that. He is solid and a great soloist. I'll play with him as long as life wants to.
What is the musical relationship like with your brother, Francois? Is there a deeper connection with him as a brother (ala the Van Halen Brothers maybe)?
My bro is a kind of genius of the details. He's got amazing hearing and he always comes with these out of nowhere bass parts, which change the whole harmonies of the riffs.
It's amazing how he can bring an idea elsewhere just by changing the roots or making inversions of chords. His bass lines always improved from an album to another and I think he is now very mature musically, very aware of his musical environment when he writes his bass parts. He locks in with the drums while complementing the harmony and guitar parts. Very chanting bass lines for that kind of complex music. He is a real bass player, not a guitar player who plays the bass. He knoww his role and assumes it.
Are the fights more brutal?
Definitelybut we grow up; it's good to get older for those kinds of things.
Music on Feeding the Abscess is very complex - where do those arrangements/harmonic approaches come from?
From everything: movies, music, fishing, karate, love, hate, food; everything is music.
Language is an important part of it. We speak French and we're surrounded by English.
French in Quebec is not the same French in France; we got our own accent and expression. We understand French from France perfectly but they don't understand us until they get used to it. So it's all about the mixed culture I was talking about earlier.
Also, we try with our music to reflect how we feel in this world. It's a scream from the heart, it hurts, and it's pure emotion you may like or not like. Those emotions we are expressing through our music but it is art. It is a medium; we try not to compromise it. It got to be purest possible towards our perception. It's what we hear, where we come from as human beings, our suffering, and our questioning.
The harmonic approaches are just instinct from what we are. It's not a music theory course, but we have the knowledge to explain it after we compose it. But we never base our composition on knowledge.
Were you a fan of prog bands? If so, who?
I still am: King Crimson, Voivod, Genesis, Yes, U.K, Mr.Bungle, The Dillinger Escape Plan, Meshuggah, Devin Townsend, Sting, Peter Gabriel, Danny Elfman, John Williams, Emerson Lake and Palmer, Cynic, Weather Report, Allan Holdsworth, Igor Stravinski, Shostakovitch, Penderecki, Bla Bartok,etcits all prog to my ears.
Havoc is a crazy track - could you describe how you put this track together? What is the process like of orchestrating all those guitar parts?
Searching for different textures in different section of the songs. Odd time signatures; sometimes the guitars are very parallel and some other parts very contrapuntal.
Sometimes distorted, sometimes overdriven; muted, open. It was a challenge to arrange that one. The structure of the songs was difficult to establish at first. The soloes are very rhythmic not very melodic. One hard track to play live, but we manage to do it properly.
Who plays violin on this track?
Antoine Bareil; he is a violin virtuoso often on tour in Europe to play 1st violin in symphonic orchestra and a fan of Martyr since the beginning. He is a friend of Martin Carbonneau (guitar) and was happy to play different stuff than he's used to. He did an amazing job!
Could you provide a brief description of:
Hopeless Hopes (1997) - How would you characterize your playing on this first album?
Sounds a lot like our influences at that time (Death, Cynic, Obliveon). We were like 17-19 years old. I'm very proud of that album. We did it with $2000 by ourselves and it sounds pretty good. More conventional harmony and time signatures with twists here and there. More square playing, less expression, more written solos. But the album is well written, I think. I played pretty good for an 18 year old kid hehe.
Warp Zone (2000)
Performance, speed, shredding. Too fast, too much. Intense, more dissonance, more harmonic research. Better phrasing, maturity against performance. Too much money for how it sounds but very proud of it. Especially Endless Vortex Towards Erasing Destiny and Realms of Reverie which is a song made with the main riffs of every other song on the album but rearranged, reharmonised etcvery proud of that one. We still play a lot of those songs live.
Those two albums are being re-released? Has there been a renewed interest in the band to warrant the re-release?
We were independent and Galy Records offered us to take care of our back catalogue. We ran out of CDs so timing was perfect. We have our small fan base. We have fans all over the world but we don't have support from a big label; we don't tour often, It is very difficult to keep it alive. But we still do it 'cause we like to do it. The DVD renewed interest in the band and I was encouraged by that but we are pretty realistic about what we are in this industry. We don't play easy music to listen to, even in metal music, so our audience is very narrow.
Did you already have the Martyr concept in place way back in the day? Or has it slowly developed (the merging of very arranged sections with brutal elements)?
Everything evolves; we may like it or not but we can't fight it. I think we had a good Idea of what we wanted to do at the time. Martyr: One who makes great sacrifices in order to further a belief, cause, or principle. - A Cruel sadness. A constant physical or moral sufferer. Suffering to make music we like with no money and no recognition, to fight against the matrix so to speak. To be free thinkers and not compromised by money, power, work or anything. To believe in a utopia which is utopic. Humans are complexLike we always said, Complexity is not a goal but a vehicle to express some emotions that we can't express in another way. We hear things in our head then we play. I think our music reflects how society works today, how the human mind is complex, how technology is evolving so fast, the noises of machines, engines, robots, alarm, cell phone. Music in history has always been the reflection of an era, a society. The blues, for example, comes from Afro-Americans who were slaves at the end of the 19th century in New Orleans; they were singing their pain, their sadness while working in cotton fields. I think we lived in a fucked up era, maybe that's why our music is complex but it's never been a goal to reach or a way to show off our musical skills. It's a way to express what we feel.
You recorded the live album, Extracting the Core, in 2001 but you haven't recorded since then. Why? Did you want to wait until the right time? Were you working on music?
It was very difficult in our personal lives at that time. Family, work, school, line up changes and we were kinda discouraged after our 2nd album 'cause we didn't have the attention we wanted from labels etcThen we decided to do another album 'cause we went back to the first reason of playing: creating music. To express ourselves, to have fun and to play together; the rest is secondary.
The breakdown on Nameless Faceless Neverborn at about 2:35 is beautiful. Your brother plays that great little bass lick there. Then you come in with that ridiculous solo - was that done on multiple tracks? One solo is answered by another?
Thanx. Actually it's two different guitar parts as we play it live but we recorded a rhythm track to support the rhythm section. I see it more as an interlude than a solo, a motif answered by the other guitar. I'm music like in dialogue, There is always a concept of question and answer, of tension and release; harmonically, rhythmically and melodically. It's the motor of communication, of creation.
Can you talk about some of your techniques?
I don't really think about it. I've learned a bunch of techniques so I can do pretty much what I want when I want, in my own way. Again, technique is just a tool, not a goal.
Whammy bar (please describe in detail - your whammy bar work is brilliant); you do a lot of that fluttering effect with vibrato bar - where did that come from?
Thanx. I've listened to a a lot of different guitar players who used a lot the whammy bar and some who don't at all. Vai, Holdsworth, Jason Becker, Marty Friedman, ,Scott Henderson, Pat Martino, Satriani. But I try to use it with parsimony when I feel it will sound good, I use it often for slight vibrato or for effects, pre-bends, or rarely drastic fx. I like how Vai and Holdsworth approach it, but I kinda don't realize what I do 'cause it became a second nature to me. I would have to analyze my playing a bit to answer that. As a musician at a certain point, playing is like talking -we develop our own vocabulary and expression without knowing it. It becomes a part of who you are.
I play a lot more legato than I used to. It sounds more fluid, but when I need to sound more staccato, I pick every note; it's just a matter of taste and what the music tells me to do.
What types of scales/modes/shapes do you work from?
Every scale I need to play which is dictated by the harmony of a song or the progression of a section. I kinda like all modes of the melodic minor scale, and hybrid customscales derived from a non-functional harmony progression. I like the dominant diminished scale too, but again, the chords are the boss.
What was it like working with Matt Heaffy and Jason Suecof (producer) from Trivium? Do you like working with a second guitarist?
"I love instrumental music, but Martyr has never been a medium for that."
Matt was a rookie at the time; he had one demo/album done with Trivium and was and is still a huge Martyr fan. So I was kind of giving him advice and tips about guitar playing. He is a very good student, always ready to learn something. Very good guy. Whenever he comes to Montreal, I go see Trivium and have a chat with him in the tour bus. It sucks that we stay so far from each other. Working with him was great; he got an incredible voice. Jason is so talented; great guitar player; great producer; great composer. And totally cool guy. I miss him a lot. We keep in touch but again, Florida is far from Montreal. I wish we could do another Capharnaum album.
I always like to play with a 2nd guitar player; I think it gives a lot more possibilities of orchestration than just one guitar. Harmony can be richer and I definitely like to trade soloes with another guitarist.
You play with various pop artists in Canada. How does that satisfy your musical appetite differently than Martyr?
I like music, all kinds. I'm not a metal guitar player; I'm a guitar player. I come from metal but I've always liked any well written/executed music. I could not only play metal; to me it would be like eating spaghetti every day. After a while you get bored or institutionalized. I keep my mind wide open. I like to play and listen to pop, country, jazz, prog, etcand it definitely influences me. To me, it's like traveling from one country to another. Why stay at home while you can travel the whole world? I gig with seven bands/artists now. Hip-hop, reggae, blues, pop, metal, classic rock. And our fans respect that; actually they are proud to have a rep. of the metal community in those other styles.
It is really a different approach; its challenging. My playing, sound, gear must be different from one gig to another. It's like being an actor. Some are good in comedy only, some for drama. And some can do all styles of acting. I aspire to become a versatile musician.
'Cause I love music, any kind, as long as it's done with style, originality and respect.
You're also going for a bachelor degree in Jazz Interpretation. I heard one solo on the Abscess record and I could tell instantly that you were a monster player.
Thanx, well, I got my degree now. I'm also teaching in Cegep (I don't know the equivalent in the U.S but it is in Quebec a pre-university school). Students from 17 to let's say 25 years old. I teach guitar, jazz theory, combos and harmony. I'm pretty proud to have completed it. It was very difficult going on tour, and playing in many bands at the same time, and going to university full time. I've done itwhat a relief. I'm very proud of that.
Does having a jazz degree or playing with pop artists in any way take away from this Martyr rock guitar player monster person? Do you know what I mean?
I don't think so. I think it makes me a better musician. The more I play, the more I get better. I've never been anybody but myself. Perception is another thing. Some people may not like that I like many kinds of musicwell,I didn't ask for a permission. I just do what I want, what I feel. It never took away my passion for metal or Martyr. It made it stronger.
When I play with a metal band, it's like going home, It always feels good, but sometimes you have to go out and discover other things; if not, you're going nuts.
Does your image in Martyr as this brutal soloist and riff master get tarnished because you have these jazz chops and/or play with non-metal acts?
Not at all; I feel respect from the metal community, maybe some people won't like it but I really don't care. It's my life. I do what I feel is right for me to be happy. People still comes to the Martyr shows and most of the time they tell me,Hey, I saw you on TV playing with that pop artist. Super cool! I never heard anything bad about it but again, it would not be a problem anyways since I don't feel I have to justify myself about that.
In other words, can you be a brutal metal player and still want to play on soft pop tunes?!
Of course; definitely. You become the music you play. You become the role you act (so to speak).It's a part of my personality. It's the greatest thing about music. And I still have my identity in every style I play but I let the music dictate to me how to play and how to approach it musically and emotionally. It's very exciting and challenging. It's just what I want to do. Play music and making a living out of it. And Martyr is not enough. But even if Martyr was the biggest band in the world, I think I would have done pretty much the same thing.
Dead Horizon is a piece in four parts - did you think that might be too much for your fans to wade through?
I think our fans are looking for that kind of stuff. It's one of my favorite songs of Martyr. It's very progressive, very mind-boggling. Again, it fits with the concept of the album. It has that post-nuclear kind of vibe; it's tearing my mind apart. It devastates my emotions. I twist my soul. Too much? Never too much. Too much is a limit. Limits put your creativity on hold. I don't expect people to understand, just to listen and feel the vibe. A feeling is not always good; we are not looking to make people feel good but just make them feel what we felt in/through/by writing those songs.
It has a King Crimson vibe for sure.
I won't say no; again we always compare to what we know. The closest reference for you may obviously be King Crimson and it;s fine with me, being compared with King CrimsonI really don't have a problem with that. It's very flatteringsay it again please!!:)
What was it about King Crimson you dug? Were you a true fan of Robert Fripp? What made Fripp's playing so unique?
I like his compositions. The organized chaos side of King Crimson; the continuous tension in their music; the sarcasm; the craziness. He developed his imaginary world throughout his compositions. He got his own language. Nobody sounds like him or King Crimson. I'm a fan but I don't have all the albums, so that'not making me a true fan. I respect and admire the genius of his music and just love those strange feelings I get when I listen to it. It makes me travel in another dimension.
Do you think at all about the complexity of a piece - and how a listener will respond to it - when you write?
NO!I just write/play what's in my head, and if it get complexso be it. No compromise. But if it;s simplesame thing. Music is the boss.
In other words, will you scale a song back to make it more listenable/palatable to the common fan?
The solo in Dead Horizon, Part 2: Romancing Ghouls is terrific - whammy bar and harmonics?
Thanx. Martin is a great soloist. We worked together on that solo; he came out with most of the idea and I coached him here and there. I love the final result.
Are there acoustic guitars at the intro to Stasis Field? Do you like the acoustic?
Yes, there is; I like acoustic. I play acoustic a lot when I play pop gigs. I like The orchestral side of acoustic guitar. Players like Raoul Middon, Antoine Dufour, Sylvain Luc, Andy Mckee are great at it.
Part of me thinks that you are not that interested in becoming the Next Big Thing. I have a feeling that it is more important to you to develop your guitar/compositional skills than turn Martyr into a Metallica or some huge metal band.
Is that observation correct?
Not completely. Martyr will never be big; we all know that. It would be great if it does but let's be realistic - we are the margin of the margin. A metal band for a very specific metal crowd. That make our target public pretty narrow. But we're not interested to make compromises. A compromised art is not an art anymore. It's not pure anymore. It's not more important to develop our skills, it's more important to respect ourselves in our creativity process. Give me 20 million dollars and I'll make Martyr big. But for how long? People don't want to hear that kind of music. It's too hard to listen to. Like it's too hard to hear by example don't eat too much or you're gonna get fat or you shouldn't smoke, its not good for you. There are some feelings we (the mass) don't want to feel. Our music reflects our feelings toward life and it's not very happy; it's not music for the masses. It's music for ourselves but anyone is welcome to like itor not. If the goal was to be rich and famous, we would have chosen Another style of music. And I would have lost 50 pounds at least.
Would you like for Martyr to gain a worldwide audience?
Of course, but we're realistic about that. It would be great to tour everywhere and make a living out of it for a time. I mean, we have a worldwide audience, but not many people know us in each country. We don't have the money or the push to be everywhere or to put ads in Rolling Stone magazine. So it's all a matter of money and also a matter of doing business calls and e-mails on a daily basis while working and playing and writing and composing and arranging and living which is almost impossible to do ourselves. We don't come from rich families; we can't afford that. We only got ourselves and our passion. And we can't afford to work on the band as a fulltime job.And even if we could, it's way too much extreme music to make it big like Metallica.
How do you describe your tonality (if you can - most guitar players find it difficult to sum up their own sounds)? You have a truly unique sound.
Thanx a lot. I've always thought sound come from your playing. Take two different players in the same amp with the same guitar, it won't sound the same 'cause they play differently. I try to have a sound with a certain range of dynamics (which is hard to get with a hi percentage of distortion) and I like it a bit warm and fluid. I like a sound which I can model the way I like. I like a sound with which I can get aggressive and crazy or soft and eerie in a second. .A slight delay or/and reverb; less distortion than you would think (to keep the dynamic range and the warmness of the tone) And a whammy bar (in metal) is a must for me since I use it a lot for subtle vibrato or inflections. I use for dives as well but rarely. I think it is overused. But sometimes it just fits the music. I would describe my sound like: A river flowing that I can control, making it gentle or out of control as I wish.
A brief rundown of guitars/amps/effects.
Nothing special: a Liberatore custom guitar (Montreal), an amp (anything that sounds good to my ear) and a cab (nthing too harsh) and a couple fx (delay,reverb).
You are an astounding guitarist (praise I rarely give out). You've been making records for some years with Martyr and yet the band has yet to make it really big (this is not meant as an insult whatsoever - simply an observation).
Do you sometimes think, What do I have to do to make people aware of Martyr?
Does it make you angry/disillusioned in any way that Martyr are not more well known?
Angry? No. Disillusioned? Yes. Realistic? Maybe the best word.
(This goes back to my comment earlier about you (perhaps) not caring that much about making it as a huge rockstar).
Which is why I think you pursue other avenues: teaching; scoring; working with non-metal projects. I believe this might feed your guitar playing soul. Yes/no?
Of couse, but first of all I do it 'cause I like it. I wouldn't be able to do the same thing over and over again. I need challenges. But hey, don't get me wrong, I would tour and write for Martyr full time for a while if I had the opportunity to do so.
You cite players like Steve Vai; Jason Becker; Marty Friedman; Allan Holdsworth as influences - what about players like Jeff Beck; Dave Gilmour?
I like Beck; Gilmour is great but I never been into Pink Floyd that much and I can't say why. It's great and I've tried many times to get into it butnot my cup of tea, I guess. I must say, I think they are a great band and great musicians and composers and true artists. I'll give it another try for sure, Maybe my mind/heart is not ready yet for Pink Floyd.
Do the bluesier guitarists interest you at all?
I really like Robben Ford, John Mayer, John Scofield, Scott Henderson, Brent Mason, Danny Gatton, Muddy Waters, Clapton, Vaughn, Albert Lee, B.B King, Allman Brothers, Johnny Winter, John Lee hooker and many more
You mentioned Meshuggah as one of your influences - are there guitar players who you look at as the architects of this metal style?
"It's just things we hear in our head and we translate it through our instrumentation."
Meshuggah came up with this polyrhythmic style that was never heard before in metal. They developed it and after a while I got bored 'cause it was pretty much the same song playing from an album to another (my opinion) But I love their Destroy,Erase,Improve album. I think it was logical that a metal band would have that kind of sound at a certain point. It is the sound of our era, a mix of nature, industry, mechanical sequence, computers, binary language, codes etcI think it reflects a part of our time. I think they influenced a lots of bands directly or indirectly. Fear Factory at some point were doing something similar but more catchy.
I don't even know if I believe that there is really someone behind all that. It's just the logical evolution of metal music towards the era we live in.
If you had to name two or three players who really set the tone for this style of music, who would they be? Why did they have so much influence?
Hard to tell; there are so many. I think we would have end up pretty much at the same place if it were others. I really can't tell it is so subjective:.Dimebag Darrel, Piggy, Frederick Thordendal.
Dimebag (Pantera),(very metal, loud, clear, accurate, but with bluesy and country in it); Piggy (Voivod) (dissonance, progressive, composer, psychedelic, odd)' Frederick (Meshuggah) (polyrhythm, precision, fusion, odd).
Was there a line drawn where this brutal music developed? Or was it a gradual metamorphosis?
Definitely metamorphosis, evolution. Now that metal is here since the late 60s, we got enough audio and video material to prove it. There were some highlights since the beginning for sure, bands that started a wave in metal: Sabbath, Motorhead, Judas Priest, Maiden, Holocaust, Metallica, Voivod, Kreator, Cannibal Corpse, Death, and so on but it is a long evolution of sound and styles. Like any other kind of music or art.
And since those played you mentioned sort of defined the style, have there been other players to take it to the next step? Name two or three and the same question - Why do you think they were the sort of second generation of player? What makes them so important?
I think it's too early to tell. I'm not the best judge for that.
How important are the lyrics in the whole scheme of Martyr? Is there as much time spent on lyrics on Feeding the Abscess as the music?
The lyrics in Martyr are a complement to the music. We spent time on it, maybe not as much as the music but a bunch. Now,we are French Canadians (from province of Quebec).We used to write our lyrics in French and then get help to translate it. But for this album, we wrote all the texts in French and then gave it to one of our friends (old friend of the band) who spoke very good French and English and is a writer. We asked him to read the songs in French, then discuss with him about each song, then we asked him to write songs in English from the themes of the songs in French but without translating them. Just taking the concept of each song to create new texts in English for each concept. I think it worked pretty good (my opinion) but I would prefer to write them myself in English but since it's not my main language, I can't. I mean I can but it would not mean exactly what I would like it to mean. We tried this approach and thought it was a good and original way of doing it.
Lyrics concept of the album:
"It's about deconstruction and reconstruction of a being that grows from a state of void to a state of fullness. But to reach that state, he tends to "feed" too much and then he boils over and explodes. It's an endless, voracious cycle. (From the author, Phillippe Papirakis).
(My personal observation) - Most of the lyrics in this type of brutal metal tend to be similar. They are always dark, always vivid. The language tends to be super over-the-top. Example: Acerbic truth spawns/Liposcelis corrodens from Silent Silence.
That is pretty heavy, no?
"Acerbic truth spawns liposcelis corrodens worming through the cerebrum" is just a tricky way to say, "Bitter truth generates bookworms eating the part of your brain that manages the motor functions, sensitivity, communication, learning and memory" but it just sounds more wicked... and shorter. "Growing fat on dormant neurons" means that these "worms" which represent useless knowledge, eats the parts not yet used in your brain that could have been used for more important things. Of course, all of this is in the figurative sense and don't try to find scientific explanations about our lyrics because there are none whatsoever!
I rarely understand the lyrics in this type of music - but maybe I'm just stupid and slow. The language tends to be very high-brow and a lot of big words are used.
My question: Is it that the shape/format/arrangement of the music doesn't allow for more conventional lyric writing? In other words, A/B/A/B rhyme schemes? Or am I completely missing the point?
We try to create images with lyrics instead of writing something very specific. Like I said, for Martyr, lyrics are a complement to a song. That's why before each song in the booklet, there is a text which explains what the song is all about. But again, it's more an image of the song. We like for people who can interpret their own way. We suggest a way but we don't impose it. It's more like modern poetry than a simple song like when I woke up this morningetc
The Silent Silence track is amazing. And yet (this is my opinion, Dan, so please don't be angry), the lyric seems kind of superfluous, an after-thought. The images seem thrown together and nowhere near as cohesive or passionate or brilliantly constructed when compared to the guitar parts and the rhythm section.
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"Much too easy to learn
The rules of the game
To rule their domain
In Silent Science, the idea was to show that the thirst for knowledge and science in an extreme way becomes meaningless and useless, and that to learn new tricks like a savant dog is one thing, and mostly everyone can do that in a certain extent, but to learn how to use them wisely is another.
The world is deceived by technology, modernism, science, but people tend to forget about the essential stuff in their life. Anyway, our lyrics can be interpreted in many ways and that's the interesting part of it. Let say we try to juggle with words as we do with music notes. It's just part of our process to do music and have fun doing it!
I want to be able to come away from a track being able to remember a great lyric line or some memorable vocal melody. But I never do (with any of the bands playing this type of music - again, they all write the same style of lyric).
I don't agree that bands write all the same style, but I understand what you mean about the great lyric line. It is just not the same aesthetic as a rock song. Like I said, we are looking for images that express an emotion which will complement the music. And we want it to be interpretable in any way. But we write songs with a specific subject always. It is just hard to know that when you read the lyrics.
Your guitar playing has reached an extraordinarily high level of technique, tonality, and expression. If I was giving it a grade, it would be A+.
Thanx a lot.
However, if I were grading the lyrics/vocal melodies, I'd give them a C.
Well, that's better than what I would give.
Do you understand? You are the composer, you can write anything you want. I just don't feel the lyrics/vocals are at the same supremely high level as your instrumental talents.
Would you comment on what I've just talked about in these previous lines?
If I'm wrong, please tell me. I want to learn.
Like you said, I'm more of a musician than a vocalist. In the early years, we used to sing la Megadeth or Metallica; more melodic yet raucous voice. But then the death metal scene exploded and at first we didn't like those kind of guttural or screamed voices. I really started to like it when I saw a band live. You could not attain more agressivity out of a voice than that. It fitted the music and the emotion that was going with it. So we started to do it our own way. Me screaming mid-hi and my bro more guttural. I never wanted to be the singer or screamer but we needed someone to do it; nobody wanted so I said Ok then I'll do it. In pop gigs, I sing backing vocals and I know I can sing pretty good, but when it comes to screaming, I try to do my best and scream my guts out. It always been our weakness in Martyr but I assume it. And I don't know any singer capable of singing on such complex rhythmic and forms in a very precise way like I do. 'Cause I play my guitar at the same time which is very difficult but at the same time, I know exactly where I am in the song and in the time when I sing. So It would take a very skilled musician/singer to do it but just singing and we're kind of reticent of hiring another member. We'll work more on the next one, I guess.
Can you talk a bit about your vocals - what is it like playing these riffs/grooves and having to sing over it?
I have to practice a lot but when it's down, it never goes away. It's all about finding which word I have to sing over which note rhythmically. For this album (Feeding), I had to work a lot 'cause I didn't want to be influenced by my guitar to find the melodies/rhythm of the lyrics. so I had to learn them over my playing after the recording was done. Some parts were very hard to learn.
Most of the vocals are in that intense/screamo style - do you have any desire to do vocals in a cleaner voice? Does that appeal to you?
Yes, we did that in the past; we may try to do it again in the future.
It has been a couple of years since Feeding the Abscess was released. Have you been working on any new music?
Yes, bits and pieces, but we'll work more seriously from January 2009.
Could you be fulfilled as a musician making an album that was more straightforward? In other words, songs in 4/4 for the most part; straight-up verse/B section/chorus type arrangements? More melodic rock oriented (Foo Fighters or something like that)?
Sure, and I write more pop stuff too, but not with Martyr. It's not the concept. It's not what we want to express, at least not for now. Well, never say never.
Thanx a lot for this interview. It was a pleasure answering your relevant questions.
Interview by Steven Rosen