A Sense of Gravity


A Sense of Gravity - Travail - Et tungt arbeid til ende!

Intervju - 11.07.2014 - Skrevet av: Reinås
(Scroll down for full interview in English after the ingress)

Amerikanske A Sense of Gravity har stått for en av vårens mest positive lytteopplevelser, med sin debutskive “Travail”. En imponerende, og eklektisk miks av prog, jazz, teknisk death, fusion og en masse andre stilarter.

Jeg slo av en prat med gjengen, og de var mer enn villige til å svare i detalj på spørsmål rundt bandet, skiva og fremtiden.

Hello guys, and welcome to this interview with Metal-norge. I'm guessing A Sense of Gravity will be a new acquaintance to most of our readers, so would you please introduce the band, and its members?

C.J.: We’re A Sense of Gravity, an American progressive metal band from Seattle, WA. We draw our inspiration from an eclectic pool of influences ranging for technical death metal to jazz fusion. We just released our debut album Travail. I’m C.J. Jenkins, and I do vocals.
Brendon: I’m Brendon Williams, one of the guitarists for A Sense of Gravity. I started the band with David McDaniel. The two of us write almost all of the music, and I also do the arrangements and mixing.
Brandon: I'm Brandon Morris, the keyboardist/guitarist in A Sense of Gravity. I met Brendon while we were both studying at college, and I joined the band shortly after they released the demo back in 2011.

I also wanted to congratulate on your debut! The reviews seem to be flooding in, and most of them very positive! What is your impression of the reception “Travail” has gotten, now that it has been out for a while?

C.J.: Thanks! We’ve been extremely pleased with the great reactions we’ve been getting. We poured everything we wanted to hear into Travail, and it is very exciting to see that people are liking what we like! Fortunately, even after being out for a little while, people still seem to be enjoying it a lot. We felt that we filled the album with a lot of different elements for listeners to sink their teeth into, and it seems folks agree it is worthy of multiple listens.
Brendon: Thank you! We first and foremost wanted to make an album that was something any of us would love to listen to if we hadn’t heard of the band, and we’re all big fans of prog metal. We knew that we had made an album that we felt met our personal goals, so we were all very pleasantly surprised to find that so many other people enjoyed so much! We love writing and playing this music, so we’d be doing it regardless, but it’s a huge plus to have so many other people enjoy it too!

A Sense of Gravity’s music are very diverse and varied, and seem to draw influence from lots of different sources. Some parts are more traditional prog-metal, while other parts are more “djenty”. Still other parts seem to take inspiration from technical and brutal death metal, jazz-fusion, or more modern metal. What can you say about your influences, and what inspires you as songwriters.

C.J.: I won’t make this too exhaustive, but from the perspective of vocals, and depending on the style I’m going for, some of my influences are:
Lower Growls: Cannibal Corpse, Suffocation, Deicide, etc.
Higher Screams: Enslaved, Dissection, Arch Enemy, Carcass, At The Gates, etc.
Lower Clean: Dan Swano, Opeth, Nevermore, Alice in Chains, etc.
Higher Clean: Galneryus, Angra, Dream Theater, Candlemass, Symphony X, etc.
High Toned Screams: Iced Earth, Control Denied, early Pantera, Judas Priest, etc.
Gritty Clean: Megadeth, Metallica, Nirvana, Annihilator, Alice in Chains, Dio, etc.
My entire repertoire has been built on singing along to bands like these virtually every day for years in my car. What inspires me as a songwriter could be an awesomely brutal riff or powerful melody with a couple “money notes” in it that just begs to have a song written around it to justify its existence. My favorite songs are those filled with those moments that just slap a huge grin on your face and almost make you start laughing because of how good it sounds. My goal is to put as many of those moments into my contributions as possible, while balancing their distribution to keep each one powerful and memorable.
Brendon: I’m highly influenced by a lot of different styles of music, and I’m most inspired by music that stimulates me both emotionally and intellectually. I think that oftentimes music can be thought of as made up of four elements: melodic, harmonic, rhythmic, and sonic. Depending on the artist and the genre, some music may be very advanced and interesting one or two of these categories, but not as much in others. To me, the very best music not only just gives me that feeling of “wow, this is great,” but it also has is interesting in most or even all of these categories. I like to listen both listen to and create music that is complex and unusual but also memorable and enjoyable. Some of my biggest influences are Tigran Hamasyan, Extol, Panzerballett, Martyr, Enslaved, Leprous, Ralph Towner, Eberhard Weber, Hermeto Pascoal, John Williams, and Bernard Hermann. I also really enjoy modern virtuoso rock and fusion guitarists/keyboardists such as Alessandro Benvenuti, Per Nilsson, Alex Argento, Nguyen Le, Tom Quayle, Dan Mongrain etc.

The technical and progressive metal scene just seems to be growing and encompassing new styles. What is your thought on the current scene, and where do you think it is heading? The recent addition of “djent” into the genre seems to create some division. What are your thought on this issue?

C.J.: Technical and progressive music is certainly growing, which is great to see. However, and this could just be my lack of interest in the recent waves of djent bands because of them all sounding the same, but I feel like “djent” is already starting to go away. I think elements of the “djent” sound will certainly stay with metal for decades to come, just like other prolific genres, but those elements will remain to serve musicians as just another tool set they can use to express richer songs and styles rather than the tools being the style. That said, we do seem to fit in conveniently with many of the up-and-comers in the “djent” scene and it allows for more media outlets to serve our content to a receptive audience.
Brendon: I think the technical and progressive scene is going in a million different directions at the same time, thanks to the huge number of people on this planet, and the existence of the internet. And although it’s overwhelming, I think this is a good thing! While there are certainly fad-like qualities to some elements of the djent scene, overall it’s definitely been good for the prog scene as a whole – there seem to be more people than ever willing to listen to forward-thinking, modern progressive metal than ever before. And I don’t see why some people bother to be upset about the whole scene. Just listen to different music if you don’t like it! Although there are some bands who follow a cookie-cutter “djent’ pattern, most of the bands associated with the movement only borrow certain elements from the sound.

What is it like to be an up-and-coming band? Does the plethora of social media create opportunities for a band like A Sense of Gravity, or does the good stuff drown? Are there other up-and-coming bands or artist that you feel deserve more recognition, and therefore want to mention?

C.J.: Being a newer band is definitely an uphill climb, but it is very rewarding. There are so many little victories each step of the way, all fresh and exciting, that it makes it easy to strive for each new achievement. Social media doesn’t necessarily create opportunities on its own. I think hard work and serving up quality music is the key to moving upward (outside of luck and gimmicks). What social media does allow is for more chances to get noticed and for the effort- and quality-driven opportunities to flourish more rapidly. If an entity with a valuable proposition gets a hold of your music and likes you, getting in contact with you costs very little time or effort for that person. It further breaks down the barriers between musicians, the media, and fans.
Brandon: It’s interesting and pretty exciting to be referred to as up-and-coming. We work extremely hard and in many ways we treat the band like a small business. Social media outlets have definitely given us an advantage in spreading the word about us, but our fans are scattered around the globe, which makes it difficult to decide if/where people are aware of us. We have been given some interesting opportunities recently that we have been unable to take advantage of because of location and cost. As for other artists that deserve more recognition: David Maxim Micic, Leprous, Corelia, and Alex Argento to name a few.

Definitely, especially Corelia and David M. Micic is fantastic stuff that do not seem to get the recognition it deserves!

What about your local scene, are there any opportunities for a band to get out and play live Especially seeing as your style is quite eclectic?

C.J.: The Seattle metal scene is pretty small, and it is a hodgepodge of different sub-genres. What’s nice about our eclecticism is that we can fit on almost any bill. The bad part is that there isn’t (yet) a large group of metal fans in Seattle as open to variety as we might prefer. However, we’ll keep doing what we’re doing, and over time, we’ll either help expand people’s palates or get those online metal connoisseurs off their computers and out to our shows.
Brendon: Although I know the audience for prog metal exists in Seattle, we’ve honestly had a hard time finding our place in the local scene so far. We’ve definitely had some fun shows with positive reactions to our music, but the audiences have usually been small.

The vocals on “Travail” are both varied and impressive. What musical background do you have C.J. And for the others; what does it mean for the band to have such a capable vocalist?

C.J.: I appreciate the kind words! In terms of my background, I sang a lot in choirs and musicals as a kid (pre-puberty), so I had a basic sense for the craft, but I never did anything so intricate where I needed to consider singing techniques other than “project your voice.” After doing the “typical kid piano lessons thing” for about four years, I started playing guitar when I was 12, and I basically focused on that up until joining ASOG at the end of 2011, actually. I was of course big into metal. I played lots of Death, Megadeth, Slayer, etc. I also started writing songs in college and was the guitarist and vocalist for a metal band that kind of sounded like Amon Amarth but with predominantly melodic vocals when I was 18-19. The vocals I only did because it’s hard enough finding competent metal musicians in Seattle, let alone vocalists, so after much searching, I became “the guy.” Prior to this, when I was 16 and starting college, I had about a 30 minute drive to and from school every day, and for whatever reason, I decided to start trying to do death metal vocals for fun. I cut my teeth on Barnes-era Cannibal Corpse and Gossow-era Arch Enemy. Then I started expanding to things like Death, Enslaved, and so on, and over the years I began to feel pretty capable as a growler and screamer. The previously mentioned band I was in was the first time I had started to take clean vocals more seriously, though my range was pretty limited. I was practicing mainly to vocalists with more manageable ranges, like Warrel Dane (Nevermore) and eventually Dan Swanø. Fortunately, over time I’ve started to open up my higher registers, which is finally allowing me to sing the stuff that I’ve always wanted to.
Brendon: We all took searching for a strong vocalist very seriously in the early days of the band. David and I knew from the start that we wanted a vocalist with very powerful harsh vocals and strong cleans as well. We were also pretty specific in the style of each that we were looking for – we wanted the harsh vocals to be more on the death metal/brutal side of the scale, and we knew we wanted cleans that had more in common with artists such as Devin Townsend, Dan Swano, and Opeth than bands like Periphery, Tesseract, Issues, etc. We knew when we found C.J. that he was exactly what we were looking for! Because he’s so versatile, that means that we can have him do a lot of different things without ever feeling that we’re settling – we can have the most ferocious growls you’ve ever heard and then have a beautiful, soaring melody in the same song, coming from the same person. I love it! There are a lot of bands out there where the vocalist is clearly better at one style than the other, which can distract from the music a bit.

How do the songwriting process work for A Sense of Gravity, are some band members more active than others in the creation of the bands music?

C.J.: I do most of the lyrics and vocal melodies/rhythms, but the majority of the rest of the songwriting has come from David and Brendon. However, solos and other more “personal” parts often come from the person playing them.
Brendon: For us, the songwriting tends to be more of a personal process – we don’t tend to write any of the music at rehearsals or by jamming. As C.J. said, David and I each write about half of the music, but C.J. often writes his own vocal parts (depending on the song), and the other band members contribute certain elements to their parts as well. Usually I do all the arrangements for our music, which means that when the main structure has already been composed by either David or myself, I then go through and work out the details – writing individual parts (bass, drums, keys, other guitar parts), adding or finessing the transitions between sections, intros and/or outros, and other detail-oriented work. David writes a lot of the more fast and technical riffs/songs, and I tend to write more of the fusion-influenced, polyrhythmic, and angular stuff, but we both write a lot of different kinds of things.

A track such as my favorite, Trichotillomania, can not be easy to write, or perform, how does the band take on such a challenge? Also what about the title of the song (which I believe is a disorder of some kind), how did that come about?

Brendon: Thank you! Trichotillomania is one of our favorites as well. Trichotillomania was completely written by me while I was studying for my bachelor’s degree in music composition. I actually wrote it for jazz orchestra originally, and I had no intention of having A Sense of Gravity ever play it. You can hear the original version here on my Soundcloud here: https://soundcloud.com/brendonmcwilliams/trichotillomania. Or you can watch a live clip of it being performed here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LZxBJGfSxyE. At one point after completing the original composition, it occurred to me that it might actually work for A Sense of Gravity too, so I put a lot of time into making an effective rearrangement of it. Now that the album has been out for a while, Trichotillomania has turned out to be quite a few people’s favorite track from the album, so I guess it was a successful experiment! I named it Trichotillomania (which is a disorder that causes people to compulsively pull out their hair) because I wrote it during an overwhelming, stressful time (the last months of college), and the title seemed to represent how I was feeling.

Seeing as A Sense of Gravity has a quite diverse musical style, what would be the perfect line-up for a tour if you were to support or co-headline with a couple of other bands. Give me your dream line-up for such a tour?

C.J.: I think supporting for Dream Theater would both be amazing and appropriate. Between the Buried and Me and Periphery would also likely be good matches.
Brendon: Hmm… That’s a hard one, because there are so many great bands out there! While it’s tempting to say some of the biggest bands that would draw the most people, my dream lineup would probably be a more unusual collective of bands. I’m going to say Extol, Leprous, Panzerballett, and Tigran Hamasyan.
Brandon: I’d love to go on tour with Pagan’s Mind, DGM, and Scar Symmetry. That would be absolutely epic.

The album is already sold out from your bandcamp (but digital copies are of course still available), Please tell us a bit about what sort of promotion you did for the album? Also did you expect to sell out, and are there plans for a second pressing of the CD (or even better, a vinyl pressing)??

C.J.: We actually did not expect them to sell out at all! We did our first pressing mainly as a way to fill out our merch table at shows. We thought we may sell a couple online, but not all of them! We’ve actually just restocked the “ASOG warehouse” with fresh CDs, so go grab one if you’ve been holding out! Vinyl would be amazing to release, but we’ll need to make sure we have enough demand since it is still a relatively niche market. In terms of promotion, it has mainly just been a combination of social media (Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube primarily) and, fortunately for us, all the positive reviews and feedback we’ve been getting. The latter is probably the most important for bands like us. You have to win a lot of credibility in order to stand out in such a saturated market, with such particular and sometimes jaded metal fans.
Brendon: As C.J. said, we really haven’t done much in the way of promotion other than a combination of social media. But what really has done the most for us has been what other people/publications have voluntarily done for us – It Djents almost doubled our fanbase by premiering our single Stormborn before the album’s release, No Clean Singing did an exclusive pre-release streaming of our album, and we’ve been getting a constant, steady flow of reviews from all over the world, in a variety of languages! These reviews have done a lot for us, especially the ones that have a reputation for solid, accurate reviews. So we’re extremely thankful to you and all the other people who have put the time and effort into writing great things about us!

The album was mastered by Jens Bogren, who has worked with bands like Soilwork and Katatonia. Why did you want him to do the job, and what was the experience like.
C.J.: Jens is one of the top names in the industry and he has worked with so many bands we admire, and to such great effect, that he was the natural first choice for being the guy to bring out the best in our mix (and without going clip-happy with the limiter).
Brendon: Since I mixed the album, and it was my first time ever mixing a full album, we all thought it would be important to have a true veteran of metal production lend his ears and skills to enhance our sound. The great part about self-mixing was that everyone in the band was able to contribute their opinions on things every step of the way so that we could release something we would all be fully happy with. But having Jens Bogren contributing the final touch to our sound through the mastering took our album to another level; it gave us exactly what we needed to have a truly professional sound.

You decided to release “Travail” yourself. Tell us a little bit about the process leading up to this. Were you in contact with any labels before the release, and have anything changed on this front now that the album has been out for a while, and received such great acclaim?

C.J.: We had been contacted by some smaller labels before release, but in this day and age, labels big or small don’t tend to be offering contracts that make a lot of sense for bands our size. We’d love to get with a label (or other organization) someday, mainly to enhance our distribution and marketing capabilities and to get on bigger tours, but in the meantime we are pretty content being able to create and release our music ourselves since it allows for so much creative freedom, scheduling flexibility, and profitability to be honest.

When can we hope to hear more from A Sense of Gravity? Are you currently working on new material, and if so, how do you feel this compares to the music featured on “Travail”?

C.J.: We have started writing for the next record. We don’t have a definitive release timeframe in mind, but now that the groundwork for the band has been laid and we are more experienced, it should be quicker to complete than Travail. We have some new material which has a technical death metal vibe along the lines of Stormborn and we actually have a lot of seeds of songs that were from the pre-Travail era that are pretty unique and we are excited to finish. We’ve tooled around with the idea of incorporating more symphonic elements as well. We love the writing process because we have such a large and varied pallet of ideas, and we’re all finally in a band capable of realizing them. It’s like growing up, finding out Willy Wonka’s chocolate factory is real, and getting hired as attraction designers.
Brendon: At this point we’ve only written a bit of new material, but we’ve thought a lot about where to go next stylistically. So far it sounds like we’re all pretty interested in branching out and incorporating a larger variety of styles/approaches into our music while retaining the core elements that appealed to us (and other people) on Travail. We know we want to have moments of stronger fusion influence, more emphasis on melody, and more brutal, heavy stuff, and more polyrhythms. For the last year, I’ve been focusing on getting my master’s degree in film scoring, so I’m also very interested in working on at least a few symphonic prog compositions.

What future plans do the band have now, any upcoming gigs or festivals during the summer?

C.J.: We’ve been playing small shows in and around Seattle, but we’re hoping to get on board with some larger touring acts coming through town this summer.
Brendon: At the moment, we only have one show planned – we’re playing at the Mirkwood and Shire Café in Arlington, Washington on August 29th. As far as other plans, we’re hoping to start writing for album #2 as soon as possible (all of us have extremely busy personal lives).

That’s it! Thank you guys very much for doing this interview and answering my questions so thoughtfully, any final word for our readers?

C.J.: Thank you very much! To all our current fans and for those of you just discovering us, we greatly appreciate your support, and hopefully we’ll see you all live sometime soon!
Brendon: Thank you to everyone who has listened to and spread the word about our music! We hope to continue growing as a band, and it’s only possible because of the fantastic support we’ve received!

Så sånn er det!
Om du har sansen for spennende og progressiv metal sjekker du selvsagt ut A Sense of Gravity, og som guttene fortalte er nytrykken av “Travail” nå tilgjengelig via bandets bandcampsider, så løp og kjøp!