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Ryan Griffin (Earthside)

Interview with Ryan Griffin from Earthside
by Daniel Fox at 20 March 2016, 11:45 AM

EARTHSIDE are a cinematic, Progressive Metal band from Connecticut, US. They have recently come out with their debut album, titled "A Dream In Static"; a massive concept album, half consisting of instrumental songs, and the rest, fronted by various guest vocalists: Lajon Witherspoon, Björn Strid, Daniel Tompkins and Eric Zirlinger, and recorded in collaboration with the Moscow Studio Symphony Orchestra.

Daniel from Metal Temple had a back-and-forth with bassist Ryan Griffin about their plans for visually-epic live productions, why they sound like no other Prog band it what is becoming an oversaturated scene, and the new tour with LEPROUS and VOYAGER.

First off, a fat congratulations on your new release. Everyone in the prog world in 2015 (and then some) seems to be talking about “A Dream In Static”. From what I can tell, this is your first piece of commercially available material. How long were you sitting on it before you collectively decided “it’s alive!”?


Most of the album was written quite a few years before the release, and the record itself was finished a year and a half before we finally released it. We took our time with the recording because we really cared about it as a first impression and because we weren't under strict time constraints while we were trying to establish ourselves. We had label and distribution interest, and spent months talking to industry professionals about helping with the release of the album, but these relationships didn’t materialize into an opportunity that made sense for this, so we eventually decided it wasn't worth continuing to wait and released it ourselves—about three years after the recording process was finished.

Progheads are no strangers to sprawling, instrumental albums, which you guys have, sort of, half-done. However, you decided to include four guest vocalists for four tracks; Björn seems to be everywhere these days, but I certainly didn’t expect to hear Lajon. How did you decide on whom to approach?


When we were thinking about vocalists, we always had the aesthetic of the song in mind. “A Dream in Static” has a sort of ethereal sound that we felt Daniel Thompkins' voice could really match. Jamie envisioned Lajon's passion in the emotional sections of “Mob Mentality” while also having the power for other heavier parts. Of course the range of the singers is also an important factor that shouldn't be overlooked because giving someone a part that is simply bad for their range is just not going to end well. We wanted prioritize the strength of our vocal ideas and not compromise on their execution.

Creatively, and considering the band’s ‘genre’, what was behind the idea to have half-instrumental and half-vocal tracks?


When I joined the band we actually did a ton of searching for vocalists but we never found the right fit for us.  We had already been writing instrumental music so we just kept going on that front of course, however, some of our songwriting lead to “A Dream in Static” which, after discussion, was agreed to be a song that needed vocals. Also, the individually written songs were almost all written with vocals in mind, which I think was just a product of the individual's creative process which no one wanted to limit just because we didn't have a vocalist in our band. It was because of our songwriting that we decided we could do both. We figured that with the music we were writing we could try approaching other artists about singing on our tracks, and we came up with our live performance concept because of the way we wanted to feature guest vocals.


I find that a lot of bands, starting out with their first release, end up showing off their influences and to whom they’re paying metal homage, deliberately or not. However, you guys, right off the bat even, literally sound like no one else, because you kind of accidentally created your own genre in your first album. Given the oversaturation of prog and metal bands in general, I have to wonder how you managed that.



Thanks very much for that. There are probably a few things that feed into that. I personally don't like comparing bands. That probably sounds really silly and an impossible desire to accommodate but I just really don't like saying, “we're like 'this band' but with 'this band' thrown in”, and I think that is indicative of how I think about music when I'm listening or writing; I just don't think about music within the context of another group's style.  When we all come together to jam on new ideas and work creatively we are also very mindful of what the others are putting in. If we start by listening to Jamie on the guitar, we'll each somewhat leave our own tendencies to find something that fits with what he's playing, but because of our musical differences, we’ll each pull the song to a more central place between all of our ideas, and we rarely try to stop that. I think that is a big factor in why our songs are unique. As for individually written songs, it’s harder to say. I would imagine that a big part of those songs' singularity is the dedication the writers put into them. The process for all of those songs took an immense amount of time, which speaks to how fleshed out the arrangements are, how the ideas develop throughout the songs, and again, how distinct they are as compositions.

I believe that everyone in the band is an individual composer, and it’s clear you all have your own rich backgrounds. In (quick, if need be) summary, can you describe the musical backgrounds of your members?

I began as a classical flute player and flute was my instrument focus while I was at The Hartt School. I also play a few other wind instruments and I picked up bass in middle school which allowed me to play in bands with my friends up until college when the guys who would become Earthside found me.

Jamie studied music composition and theory at Yale University and teaches a number of students songwriting and music theory. He also studies orchestration and scored out the full orchestra arrangement for his song, “Mob Mentality.”

Frank studied music production and composition at Hampshire College. He has since released a really cool solo album under the name Burning Sideways, and has produced many projects in the area. He also frequently works on the production of viral video content with his friends in LA.

Ben did not actually study music in college, choosing to focus on the humanities (philosophy, literature, and journalism). Despite those areas not seeming immediately linked to music, it’s easy to see how these studies influenced his songwriting and personal resolve. He has done a lot of work in the PR/music journalism field and is also one of the most voracious learners in the band—almost all of his free time is devoted to practicing drums, studying notation, and honing his songwriting. He also aspires to be a session drummer.

You don’t come across as a shreddy, all-virtuoso band; that can be cool, but I think prog music is kind of oversaturated with that at the moment. In fact one of my favourite bands, Anubis Gate, favours layering and dynamics over the shreddy stuff. Do you think this is why your album seems to hit home with so many people? Everyone just kind of expects bands to rehash Periphery these days.

I definitely think you could make a strong case for this point. I do think that our emphasis on songwriting and being emotionally evocative in our music makes us stand out. It also feels like a lot of our fans are really passionate about our music which I think is another result of this difference; it really makes me excited about this whole endeavor.



How were songwriting duties divided up for the new album? Or was it much less of a closed system than this question sounds, and more like, I have no idea; a hivemind?

The album has three songs that were written by all of us in a big group, one written by Jamie, one by Ben, and two by Frank (one of which is an older composition that was remade for the album).  This wasn't really by design, I don't think. Writing songs together was always something we wanted to do and are going to continue to do because I think it results in really great creations. The other guys each had their own ideas that they wanted to work on of their own volition while I was freaking out about college still. Hopefully I'll have something for the next album… Maybe…



The album’s title somewhat refers to a ‘dream’ that feels unattainable, because one is ‘locked in static’ trying to experience it. Is this a concept for the sake of an album story, or was it directly fueled by very real emotions and experiences?

I think it came more from emotions and experiences. In working so hard to make this band possible we have fought through a ton of roadblocks and every time we feel like we've accomplished something it can quickly turn to feeling like we've simply found a new horde of problems. Not to say that this example is the absolute reason for the name, but that's my specific interpretation that is very relevant to me, although I think the concept can apply to nearly anyone.  



I imagine that bands such as yourself, that write these sprawling pieces of music, aren’t content with staying studio-bound year after the year; a fate that a few prog bands tend to either succumb to or embrace. How do you envisage “A Dream In Static” replicated in a live setting?

We have created a live show that involves projecting visuals that accompany our live performance. We have a screen and projector that is synced with us on stage so that the elements of our music that are impossible to bring along with us live can still have a presence. 



Obviously the band’s guest vocalists aren’t going to be able to be a part of every show, so moving forward with live shows, are you going to take on a permanent vocalist?

We have no plans to get a permanent vocalist as of now. The projection in our live shows will be helping us in this regard, showing performance videos of the vocalists on stage with us as we perform live. This is also extended to a lot of the orchestra that plays in our songs. We're not going to pretend that we aren't playing with some backing tracks, but we are using this unique form as an opportunity to showcase the many vocalists and musicians that have worked with us on this project.


You guys are set to tour Europe next month, with Leprous and Voyager, which runs until about April 9th. Do you have any live plans in the books after that?

We are really excited to have the opportunity to tour with Leprous and Voyager in Europe. We’re actually confirmed for another European stint in fall with Prog Power Europe. We’ll be booking a more comprehensive European tour around the festival and intend to tour the U.S. this fall or late summer, before shipping off again.

Oh, and in addition, before we join Leprous in Berlin, we’ll be playing a couple dates with VOLA (DK) and Port Noir (SE) in Stockholm and Copenhagen, which we’re very excited about as well. More information on these dates is available on our Facebook page and website.



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Edited 18 December 2017
 

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