Interview: Event HorizonMar 09
An Interview with Los Angeles Prog Metal Band Event Horizon
If you listen to the AMP podcast it’s easy to get the impression that my music diet consists solely of gritty death and black metal, but to be honest I spend a lot more of my personal listening time on the proggier side of metal, with the likes of Opeth, Steven Wilson, Soen, Symphony X, and Nevermore. I like having a lot to chew through when I’m absorbing music, and the ever-changing song structures and dynamic in prog give the biggest bang for the buck in that area. One such band recently is California’s Event Horizon, who you may remember from Episode 44. They have a new EP out called ‘A Nightmare of Semmetry’, and composer/band leader Max Sindermann took a few moments to talk about it.
What’s the history of the band? How did it come together?
Back in the late 2000s I was fronting a death metal band called Norazzah. We were getting some pretty good feedback in the local scene, but we were also dealing with personal and financial issues. I had been getting into progressive music at the time but really lacked the self-confidence to think I was capable of writing music up to that level.
Once the project fell apart I was sort of trying to regroup. I had been slowly incorporating some of my classical guitar playing into Norazzah while it was still together, but never really fully fleshed it out. I was in music school at the time and stuck doing harmonization homework for my theory classes. I got this idea that instead of sitting around and writing metal riffs, I could apply all these harmonization techniques into my music and start creating metal that was more based in classical-influenced harmonic structure. The experiment led me to write our first song, “A Lapse of Sanity,” which was on our first EP, The Emancipation of Dissonance. I was really proud of it at the time, and all I could think of from there was, “Can I take this concept any further?”
So I gathered up all my metal influences and started applying all my knowledge of classical music to start tying new ideas together. A lot of times when metal bands do classical, it tends to be old stuff from the early Classical and Baroque periods. I was super into Romantic and 20th Century music. I loved how dark and experimental it could be. That was really where I took a lot of influence from. Then slowly, my classical guitar playing started bleeding more and more into the music. Eventually I was fusing my right-hand finger-picking techniques into more than just the acoustic sections. I had to start figuring out new techniques in order to play some of the shit I was writing. I could see I really had an idea taking shape, and I just kept running with it.
I recorded The Emancipation of Dissonance in 2013 with a vocalist from Belgium I met online named Brandon Polaris. He was a killer vocalist and it came out pretty good, but it was tough to get it any traction. I started working on some of the new music that came out on A Nightmare of Symmetry in 2014, but there were a ton of roadblocks along the way and it wasn’t until now that I was able to get it all out. In that timeframe though, I met the amazingly talented group of musicians that I play with now.
What are some of the common influences between the band members that led you to your sound?
There’s definitely a common love for metal and progressive music in the band, but what makes it interesting is the major differences between everyone. Jacob, our drummer, has these very strong foundations in death metal and progressive rock. He’s equal parts Rush and Cannibal Corpse. It gives him a really dynamic playing style that works very well with the music.
Vincent, our bass player, actually doesn’t have much of a background in metal at all. He’s a jazz and classical guy. He knew a little metal coming into the project, but he was mostly just into the progressive aspects of the music. I saw his intense passion from the first day I met him and I knew he was the right guy. He’s a monster on his 6-string fretless bass, and he really brings a whole new dimension to the rhythm section that wasn’t there on that first EP.
Our other guitarist, David, is probably most similar to myself in terms of influences. We both love metal and classical music. He’s a big Opeth fan like myself, and so we hit it off right away. He’s got a lot of experience not just as a player, but as a composer. He’s got some more years on me, so he brings a lot of ideas and perspective to the table that really help solidify the compositions.
Event Horizon definitely sounds like a studio version of mad scientist’s chemistry experiment, but is any of the music born in a rehearsal room with everyone jamming?
Actually not so much. I tend to do my best writing when I’m locked away in my studio, grinding out ideas and fleshing them all out on paper. I’ve certainly had some good ideas over the years when I’ve jammed things out with people, but I’m definitely a pen-and-paper kind of dude. I need to see it all laid out in front of me so I can take a small idea and then build up on it. I like when music is laid out like a big blueprint upon which I can build up my ideas.
You’re classically trained in music, which definitely comes across in the music, and you obviously like to mix elements and cross genre boundaries, but do you have to consciously reel yourself back in when you’re writing to stop from going down too many rabbit holes? In progressive music it’s easy to lose your way and not see the forest for the trees, so to speak.
Yeah, that tends to be a huge issue in the writing process. Overthinking a good idea usually tends to be the first mistake I make. I’ll be sitting down with a good musical idea and trying to flesh it out, and my first instinct is to think, “How can I make this something that’s more complex?” Of course, the first questions I should really be asking are, “Is this captivating? Will it resonate with the audience? Does it connect with people?” Sometimes there’s this desire to want to nerd out and go big with every idea, but then you start making things overly convoluted. When you’re writing progressive music you get so caught up in being a music geek that you can bury a good idea in too many layers. The most important thing in the end of the day is that you’re taking a feeling or idea born out of your heart and communicating that with the audience. Obviously I want the audience to be as excited about all the nerdy shit as I am, but most of the time they’re not listening to the music and focussing on all the rhythmic/harmonic complexity, they’re just looking to feel something. What I hope most for the listener is that the music moves them.
Tell us about the recording process of the EP; who’d you work with and where did you lay everything down?
Working through the EP was definitely a nightmarish process. I started working out the ideas back in 2014 and laying down some tracks back then. It was originally going to be just a bedroom project, like our first EP was, but everything kept going wrong. I lost our original vocalist, and that put the project on a long hiatus. It was shortly after that I met Jacob Alves, our drummer, in a dive bar out in Koreatown. He approached me because I was wearing a Dying Fetus shirt and he had been looking for other people to jam with. I meet a lot of musicians that are pretty flakey though. I had quite a few drinks that night and honestly wasn’t sure I’d hear from him again. But I underestimated how passionate he was, and within a couple of weeks we were in the rehearsal room together.
Jacob is a highly motivated guy, so the two of us really start pushing things in the right direction. We got our bassist, Vincent Medina, who is a real beast on the instrument. He’s got a strong background in classical and jazz, and so I decided to really utilize the bass more on the songs. I even started letting him improvise his own lines and really put his own feeling into the music. Then we got David Cortes on guitar, and he had a really strong classical background as well. He was actually responsible for all the orchestration on the opening track “Asymmetrical.” So now we had another classically-trained member who had a lot of his own composition experience and perspective to bring to the table. Once we all got together I just decided to take up the vocal mantle myself. I had to take lessons for quite a while before I was really ready to lay the tracks down.
We actually wrote an entire album’s worth of music, but so many things went wrong along the way. When you’re doing a DIY project, you tend to make a lot of dumb mistakes. I don’t even know how many times I had to record and re-record the guitar tracks. But the team really came together throughout the process. I’m really fortunate to be working with a group of guys who are not only talented, but also incredibly dedicated and hard-working. We spent just one weekend laying down all the drum tracks in a small studio, and worked Jacob to death. I did most of the guitars and vocals right in my project studio. When we saw how long things were taking, we shortened the record down to an EP, because we were more concerned with getting the music out. The mixing and mastering was down at Perdido Studios in Spain, and they did a really killer job on it. We were super proud of the final product.
What are the plans for the immediate future? Is there a full album in the works?
I certainly hope so! Right now our biggest goal is to get out and do some more shows around Los Angeles, and continue growing our fanbase. We get a lot of great feedback from people online, and we’re hoping we can keep expanding that.
Personally I really want to go back and re-record The Emancipation of Dissonance. I feel like the band has grown so much since I did that EP out of my bedroom, and I’ve noticed a huge change in the music after getting everyone to play those songs together in the practice room. Putting everyone’s talents on the table has really brought some of that music to life, and I think we could benefit from getting the whole band involved and re-releasing it. I also have a strong emotional attachment to some of the music on that EP, as it really set the foundations in place for everything I’ve done since then. There’s still also some unreleased material sitting on my hard drive, and I think people will get really excited about some of the ideas floating around in there. Who knows? Maybe we could extend it into a full-length!
Of course, it’s always tough to say what we’re going to do in the future. One thing I’ve learned doing music professionally is that nothing ever goes how you expect it to. Plans always change and ideas always evolve. But with constant persistence, you work through all the roadblocks and end up coming out with something better than you expected. So whatever ends up happening, I have high hopes for it!