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Riley McShane (Allegaeon)

Interview with Riley McShane from Allegaeon
by Anton Sanatov at 02 March 2019, 9:15 AM

ALLEGAEON are a not a simple band - their music screams complexity and their essence permeates erudition – and with the upcoming release of their fifth full-length studio album “Apoptosis” (Out 19th of April via Metal Blade Records) things are not looking to change; but they are looking to move forward. Recently, Metal Temple writer Anton Sanatov had the opportunity to catch up with ALLEGAEON vocalist Riley McShane before the band’s London show to have a chat about new sound, technicalities, emotions, and of course the band’s new record. Here is how it went.

Hi Riley, thank you for doing this. Sorry about the weather. (It was raining relentlessly the entire day.) I guess you’re getting the full British treatment.

Yes, I think that it was raining the last we were here too.

So, lets talk about the new record “Apoptosis”, which is due to hit the shelves in April.

Sure.

I must admit that I had to Google that name.

(Chuckles) Yeah…

So could you tell us a little bit about the concept behind it and why you chose that particular thematic tone for this record?

Well, the record is themed around the idea of death leading to new better life, and apoptosis is the process through which that happens within the human body; in the cellular structure. The human body will systematically kill off cells to create room for new cells, to replace those old and dying ones, and that idea can be applied, I feel, not only scientifically – which is explored on the record with our new song “Stellar disruption”, which is all about stars being sucked into black holes, broken apart and then spat out on the other side, resulting in multiple different astrobodies, and there’s also a song about forest fires burning down a massive forest but it enriches the soil, and a new, brighter, bigger forest grows back; but it’s applicable not only in science, as is the theme for ALLEGAEON, but also in social ideologies – there’s a couple of songs on there about organised religion and other social infrastructures, and how it’s beneficial to leave outdated methods of thinking behind and move forward into a brighter future; so that is where the concept loosely lies. However, what really inspired the name was that I feel that as musicians we’ve gone through a lot of line-up changes, and we’ve had a lot of ups and downs throughout ALLEGAEON’s career, but I fell like at this point we are our best possible version. There are no weak links at this point anymore, and I feel like it took loosing those members and going through those trials and tribulations to get to the point where we are now, so I felt like ‘apoptosis’ was an apt name for not only the ideas behind the album but where we are as musicians.

In the press release for the album it is said that the band were more open to new ideas and new sonic directions; could you perhaps specify what some of these were?

Yeah, so as the press release suggests - when Michael (Stancel) is quoted - he would write a song and instead of being like ‘oh this song isn’t ALLEGAEON-y enough’, he would just go with the idea based off its merit musically, rather than trying to fit it into a notch that we’ve kind of carved for ourselves sound wise. Of course that core ALLEGAEON sound is definitely still there, and we structure our songs, similarly to the way we’ve always had, but we’ve experimented with a few more moody things on this record. There are a few pretty atmospheric Black Metal-sounding parts; there are much faster more aggressive drum parts than we’ve had in the past; some of the solos reach up into these major keys and kind of compliment the dissonance of the backing rhythm; with my vocals there’s much more low, guttural stuff, but on the other side there is also some more melodic clean singing and pitch screaming kind of stuff. You know, we just made an album that we wanted to make, rather than trying to continue to pigeonhole ourselves into this sound that we’ve established for ourselves. We’ve kept that sound in mind so as not to alienate fans, but also expanded on it as we felt like we could and should at this point in our musical journey.

You’re talking about the album, and the different directions that you take when creating music; do you ever take into the account the accessibility of your music from a technical, lyrical, and thematic perspective?

Yeah…I mean, the lyrics are often a lot to chew through. I pride myself on my vocabulary and the ability to mix words together, create a cool story, and make something that’s fun to read. I’ve had people in the past approach me and ask “what is this word, what does it mean?” (Laughs) So, I think that it is accessible to a wide enough spectrum. Obviously it’s not like mainstream Rock ‘n’ Roll, it’s still Death Metal, and it still has blast beats and a million notes in a song, and the aggressive scream/growl vocals, and stuff like that. So it’s definitely not quite in the mainstream, but as far as Metal goes, I feel like we focus our efforts a lot on writing memorable choruses and catchy hooks, and really taking the time with our guitar solos, to make sure that what we do put out there is memorable and latches onto people, whether it’s an emotional attachment to music or just a mental connection like an “earworm” kind of thing. And I think that art is getting perfected as we move along and further into our career. We’re definitely making larger strides to capture that essence of having something that’s memorable and catchy while still being technically and musically proficient.

And do you think that it is harder to pursue emotional aspects within technical music?

No. I think that it is actually almost easier because you can provide that contrast. You know what I mean? You can play something that’s just pure tech, like I mentioned, like a million notes, blast beats everywhere, super low guttural screaming, really heavy stuff, and having that as a backdrop when you do switch gears to a slower pace and something a little bit more emotional, it’s almost more emotionally impacting because it kind of hits you out of nowhere. I don’t think that it’s necessarily a challenge, but it is definitely a different approach than in most other emotionally-based types of music.

When writing, do you make it an objective to be as technical as possible and try to outdo yourself, or is it just the way that you hear things in your mind?

Yes and no. I don’t think that we try to make things particularly technical, but I do think that we do go out of our way to try to better ourselves as we continue to write songs. So it’s a yes and no. Like I said, I don’t think that it’s a matter of technicality, but sometimes it just comes out that way. Yet it is always viewed as a method to better ourselves.

What is your philosophy when it comes to making music?

I don’t think that music should be adulterated by the way that you expect it to be perceived. I think that music is a form of artistic expression that I believe should always be pure to the person expressing it. Sometimes you have to take some things into consideration - like what the other people in your band or the artists that you are working with are going to be thinking, about how they’re creating this kind of stuff - so there is always a bit of a cognitive connection that you have to make with other people, but I think that you should be true to thine own self; that is definitely an idiom that can be attached to music throughout the writing and creative process. You should do what you do. If people like it, great. If they don’t, you shouldn’t compromise what you feel represents your artistic integrity to appease anyone other than yourself.

What is the hardest part about making an ALLEGAEON album?

I think that being so far away from each other. None of us live in the same city, so with having that long distance, the writing process can be quite difficult. You know, it always gets hashed out, we critique and comment, and give each other feedback on each other’s parts, but it’s just easier sometimes to be in the same room as someone during that process, to get that feedback. So I would say that’s probably the biggest challenge; coming up with an idea knowing that it might not stick because of what someone else might have in mind for the song, and how they’ve written it - but generally we are given pretty free reign over our creative liberties to write our own parts. But the distance thing is definitely the hardest part.

What part of music/being a musician do you still find intimidating?

Um…just looking into the future. In any aspect of life the future is uncertain; you never know what can happen. And while we’ve made steps to make sure that our future’s pretty well planned-out for the next several years, or at least for the next several album cycles, you never know how things are going to be received or how things are going to change in the music industry. What’s going to become popular or what’s going to become de-popularised. And just having that kind of looming uncertainty can be quite intimidating if you let yourself get lost in that train of thought. But you know, keep your eyes on the road and just kind of move forward and don’t let those dark thoughts settle in. (Laughs.)

And what is the most personal aspect of this particular record for you?

I think it’s what I’ve mentioned before with the ideas behind the record being to us personally. As I’ve said, everything that it took to get to this point and all the sacrifices that we’ve had to make – whether it be with ALLEGAEON or in prior projects - just each individual musician’s journey that has kind of culminated to this point. That is very special to us. I’m sure that if you were to go up to any us ten years ago and explain where we’d be right now and what we’d be doing, we would’ve been like “yeah…sure”. (Laughs.) So having put this much effort in on a personal level, individually, and as a group is very special to us and we’re glad to see it culminate up to this point with Apoptosis.

What does music/being a musician mean to you?

Oh man, everything; it’s the only thing I’m good at. (Laughs heartily.) But yeah, you know, it’s what we’ve all chosen to do with our lives, and it’s a rough but very rewarding business. It’s definitely a lifestyle, and it’s something that isn’t easily accommodated by our loved ones or our significant others, whoever it might be. But we’re all just beyond amazed to be where we are today, and you know, I think that knowing that it’s built on the foundation of music and our love for music, makes it even more exciting. Music is pretty much our whole life. (Laughs.)

Many musicians and writers suffer from occasional writing blocks. Do you have any go-to sources of inspiration that always help when you’re in a tough spot creatively?

The DSM-5 (Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders), for me personally; particularly with ALLEGAEON. Looking up different medical or psychological conditions and things like that. Whether or not I end up writing on that particular topic, or that particular condition, it will often spur me onto researching in other directions where I would stumble upon other things, find myself in the rabbit hole of the internet, and from there be inspired enough to branch out on my own.

Yeah, I always wanted to own a copy, but it’s quite a price book isn’t it?

Yes it is. I don’t own a physical copy of it personally, but I have Googled a PDF of it many times. (Laughs.)

Are there any particularly surprising influences on this album?

Um…I don’t think there’s anything that you can really hear(it) very much on the album, but I know that Michael (Stancel) and I in particularly have been listening to a lot of not Metal stuff; like a lot of lo-fi electronic kind of stuff. And I guess that those influences can be heard if you’re really listening for them as far as how we layer the guitar parts in the recording and how we try to create atmosphere and build dynamics. I think that definitely had some influence coming from that more melodic, electronic focus that we had in our listening time. But as far as anything coming out of left field musically for ALLEGAEON, I don’t think that there is anything like that on this new record. There definitely more aggressive parts and more melodic parts if you look at it as being the next logical step for ALLEGAEON. I think that it all falls in line and makes sense.

What would be the best scientific term to describe you guys as a band?

Apoptosis. (Laughs.) I’d say. (Laughs.)

Alright. Last question. Are there any records – besides your own of course – that you are really looking forward to this year?

Oh yeah, I mean, I’m really excited for the new VITRIOL; the new EQUIPOISE record, I’m also really looking forward to that - well, I’ve heard it already because I’m friends with a couple of the guys in the band, but I’ve been seeing a lot of hype for it, seeing it catch on, and it’s really cool seeing them get that recognition, seeing them grow as a band; so I’m excited to see it received by the public, because so far it’s been awesome for them. The new VIRVUM album, if that comes out this year, I’m super excited for that; “Illuminance” was one of my favourites when it came out. And the new CATTLE DECAPITATION as well. I don’t know if they’re actually planning on releasing this year, but I know that they’ve been in the studio, and their next album is all written, and I think they’ve either just finished recording or just started recording; one of the two. But I’m excited to hear that; because Travis (Ryan)and I go way back, and I’m always to excited to see what new things he does vocally, he’s a big inspiration. Yeah, there are all kinds of good Metal coming out; but those are the ones that come off the top of my head.

Thank you very much for your time Riley. Have a great show.



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