Yesterday I reviewed Dust Settles on the Odontophobes – the debut EP from progressive instrumental act The Universe Divide. Since I’ve had a million and seven (yes, it was a million and seven – I counted) requests for my interviews on the blog, I got Chris and Gaël from The Universe Divide to talk about their juxtaposition, the joy of instrumental music and who they would play with if they could resurrect any band from the dead.
First of all, tell us a little about who you are and what you do:
Chris: I am an Electrician and currently working at a new power plant that is being constructed. I am also the guitarist for The Universe Divide.
Gaël: I’m a project manager for 50 hours a week and bassist for The Universe Divide during the rest. There’s some overlap there.
I understand The Universe Divide was conceived a few years back, but not brought to fruition until now? Why the delay, and did this have anything to do with the breakup of Canvas Solaris?
Chris: Gaël and I played in another band here in Atlanta for a couple of years. We weren’t one hundred percent happy with the direction the music was headed so we began bringing in more complex material with much broader influences. The other members had trouble keeping up and had no real desire to play the songs. Ultimately, the new material broke up the band. We had high hopes of finding a full time drummer but after a few months we called the search off and let the project go dormant. This was around 2007.
We were still writing material and recording demos in our time off from Canvas Solaris but we weren’t actively looking for a drummer. In late 2009, Gaël posted another drummer ad and that is when we met Jason. We knew from the first rehearsal that he was the guy that we had been looking for but it was sort of ill timing because he was working an opposite schedule from us and it made it very hard to actually line up rehearsals. So we spent most of late 2009 and early 2010 learning the songs with Jason and preparing to record a proper E.P. but it was a slow process because we went through periods of rehearsing quite a bit and then not playing for one or two months.
Canvas disbanding wasn’t something Gaël and I were really aware of prior to it happening. We knew we were taking an extended break but Hunter (drums) and Nathan (guitar) were the ones who made the decision to “end” the band.
Gaël: The Universe Divide existed while Chris and I played in Canvas Solaris. It became our focus when Jason joined and Canvas Solaris disbanded, but was never meant to serve as an alternative to or a continuation of Canvas Solaris. I am still one of Canvas Solaris’s biggest fans and rank those guys among some of my favorite human beings/musicians, but I hope that people will find the two endeavors dissimilar enough.
How long did the album take from conception to finished product? What was the recording process like compared to your other records?
Chris: We recorded the drum tracks in April of 2010 so roughly fourteen months from that first studio session till the E.P’s release but we weren’t constantly recording. We worked on things as time would permit.
The process was a little different in the respect that we Tracked/edited everything except the drumkit here in my home studio.
Your debut release is called the Dust Settles on the Odontophobes, Odonotophobia is the fear of teeth, if I’m correct? What’s the significance of the album title, and did you have a concept in mind when you wrote the songs?
Gaël: The title is a symbol of the abandonment of inhibiting instincts for better or worse whether they arise from exterior or interior sources. Progression is a by-product of memory loss and selfishness, both of which are pillars of this type of music. Positivity juxtaposed with terms deemed undesirable. This is certainly a bold statement, but I felt that this would be an appropriate and broad introduction to The Universe Divide.
The songs were written over such a large period that a concise concept for the album would have been difficult and unconvincing. The song titles are reflections on life with nods at some of our interests (mathematics, Objectivism, Bruno Schulz, The Brothers Quay). The following album will certainly contain a similar amount of abstraction but with a much more evident theme.
How does your songwriting process work?
Chris: Initially Gael and I typically pass ideas back and forth through email with Powertab notation software. Gael is a very solid guitarist though he probably won’t admit to it, and we both play/program keyboards/drums so there is always something brewing. Once we have enough material to start forming a song we get together and try out ideas and transitions. Eventually we end up with a shell of a song and that is usually when we bring Jason in and start learning what we have written and this is where Jason starts to bring in his ideas of rhythmic and metric modulations. As we rehearse, tempos/time signatures etc … are usually modified to fit what everyone agrees feels the best.
Gaël: It’s usually hard to find the initial catalyst for a song, but once it emerges, the song writing is extremely fast (sometimes in the span of an afternoon). Chris and I have some very different approaches to song writing. Chris’s tunes tend to be melodic and mine more dissonant. Somehow, we’re always satisfied with the unlikely synthesis of the two styles mixed with Jason’s parts.
What made you decide to stick with instrumental arrangements? Do you find the lack of vocals a limiting factor or does it give you more freedom?
Chris: We didn’t really set out to be instrumental but our inability to find a solid vocalist has pushed us more in that direction. We all have different ideas of what we would like to hear vocally and the fact that we cover a lot of ground stylistically makes it a very difficult sell. We haven’t 100% ruled out a vocalist but we haven’t really come across anyone who would bring something new to the table. We don’t want someone to sing over our music, we want someone who adds something that makes it a truly unique listening experience and compliments the music.
It is limiting in the respect that it is a lot harder to get venues/general music listeners to take you seriously. Though there is a much larger instrumental scene now than back when say Canvas first released Spatial Design.
There is more freedom in the sense that you can convincingly cover more stylistic ground than you can with one type of singer or the other.
How do you find the audience reaction differs from a vocally-driven band when you play live?
Chris: The shows we have been able to land for whatever reason have been mostly with Power Metal/Traditional American Metal acts. One would expect a more polarizing effect but we have gotten pretty positive feedback at most shows. Usually the other bands we are playing with end up digging us more than their fans do.
You released the first Universe Divide album independently. How are you finding promoting your music without a label? Are you looking for label representation again? (I understand you were with Sensory in Canvas Solaris).
Chris: We have been fortunate that a few people have been sounding off about us on some fairly large music websites. Album sales have been unexpectedly good for the first three months. The hardest part about not having a label has been trying to get some solid live dates lined up and trying to find ways to keep momentum promoting the E.P’s release.
We are actively seeking label representation but we haven’t received any offers that peaked our interest as of yet. Sensory is currently distributing our E.P.
The major criticism of most progressive music is that it puts intricate musicianship (read: guitar wank) over writing catchy songs. This is particularly lobbed at instrumental acts since the vocal melody often provides the “hook” of a song. How do you balance the “hook” of a song with the more progressive elements?
Chris: I tend to only write things that I can hum when I am working out melodies. I think of guitar as more of a vocal line than say a solo instrument. There is a lot happening on our album but you can almost always strip a section down to the core of three instruments (how we play live) and it is a very basic theme that other things are built off of. I think a lot of instrumental acts fall into the pitfall of showcasing one instrument like guitar or trying to show how technical they can be and it just turns into this terrible guitar CD. We don’t ever sit down and go “let’s write something really technical”, we just play whatever comes out. If we have a very basic riff and it sounds good …”Let’s use it”, if we have a really twisted rhythmic idea and it sounds completely retarded “Let’s use it”. Our boundaries in that respect are pretty broad.
Nathan Sapp has just done some reimixes of “Dust Settles on the Odontophobes”. How did the idea of remixing your songs come about? Do you like the idea of other musicians reinterpreting your songs?
Chris: We have been trying to convince Nathan for a while now to move to Atlanta and join us on guitar full time. We have a great working relationship with him and he is one of our best friends. It really makes sense to us but we haven’t been able to convince him that he should move from the country into the city, despite all of our offers and efforts.
We passed some of the guitar tabs on to him so he could start learning the songs. Instead of learning the songs he scored a remix album.
If you could play a show with three other bands – any other bands in the world – who would they be?
Chris: Thats a tough one … Tool, Extol, or Cynic.
Gaël: Since Chris covered Cynic: Bohren & Der Club of Gore, Shining (Norway), Gorguts.
If reunion tours are an option: Mr. Bungle, Sleepytime Gorilla Museum, and Canvas Solaris (Sublimation line up).
What’s next for The Universe Divide?
Chris: We are currently working on material for a full length and we definitely would like to do more live shows.
My review of Dust Settles on the Odontophobes is here. if you want to hear some more from this amazing instrumental band, you can pick up Dust Settles on the Odontophobes from Sensory records, and visit the Universe Divide website.