On June 30th, “dream thrash” genre creators Astronoid finished their ten-day headline tour across the country at Brighton’s Great Scott, supported by the ambient glowstick-rock band Infinity Shred.
SoundFiction’s Fitzgerald Pucci sat down with the feel-good thrashers before the show to get a deep glimpse at Astronoid’s past, present, and future.
Brett Boland– Guitar / Vocals
Dan Schwartz– Bass
Matt St. Jean– Drums
Casey Aylward– Guitar
Fitzgerald Pucci, SoundFiction.net: “If we lived in a bizarro universe where the phrase ‘dream thrash’ had never been coined, how would Astronoid describe their music?”
Brett: I think if you boiled it all down, we’d be a progressive rock band. It’s the easiest way to describe it.
Casey: “It depends on who you’re talking to. Sometimes I say “we’re metal without screaming, so you can listen to it.” Sometimes it’s, “Oh yeah, we’re prog rock with ethereal parts, lots of guitars, generally happy metal.”
How did you get to the point where [ethereal and metal] could exist together?
We like bands like Mew, bands like Metallica and Slayer. We like death metal.
Casey: “But no screaming.”
Right, no screaming. How does the absence of unclean vocals allow Astronoid to explore the process of making an album?
“We don’t need this to be heavy in order for it to be want we want it to be.”
Brett: November had screaming on it, but it was something we just kind of weaned off. Our friend screamed on that album, on the song Astronoid. There’s a little screaming on Stargazer, but after Stargazer we thought ‘We don’t need this to be heavy in order for it to be what we want to be.’ After that, we had no reason to scream.”
Casey: We initially thought [screaming] was what set us apart.
Astronoid has previously mentioned the idea of “letting the song breathe”. Are there any bands that influenced how you let your music breathe?
Brett: A lot of Mew, and bands like Pink Floyd. While we were working on the newer album, I was listening to a LOT of Visuals. I like that record a lot- it’s not their most popular, but I really like the songwriting and direction of the album.
You never get the same thing from Mew, and I like that. They push the envelope, and I feel like in Visuals they streamlined their writing process. I thought it was important for us as a band to trim the fat and write things in a more focused fashion.
Casey: And in [Mew’s] discography, it still sounds distinctly Mew, you know?
Let’s talk tours. You’ve toured with bands like Tesseract, Between the Buried and Me, and others. Has Astronoid had a favorite tour so far?
Casey: There aren’t any favorites, cause I’m such a fan of each tour! Every trip is like, “Oh! Another sick band!” Every band we’ve toured with has been [full of] great people, so it’s really hard to make that decision when we get along with everyone. So we end up having a great time, and that makes it harder to pick one. They’re just great memories and experiences on every tour.
Brett: And they just feel so easy. Sometimes, touring can be very monotonous and boring. When you’re there at the venue, and you’re there all day, (cause we get there several hours before anyone else does!) having nice people who also want to good job and treat people right is important. Every tour we’ve done has been that, so no complaints.”
What tour has challenged Astronoid’s versatility the most?
“It’s like taking two hundred dogs and putting them together.”
Brett & Casey: Zeal and Ardor.
Brett: We had to pull out some old stuff with that one.
Casey: They’re such a unique band. It’s not that we don’t fit in with them, we didn’t have a handle on what their crowd would be like. When you have bands like Tesseract and Plini- I feel like that’s our camp, I feel like I’m in my zone [playing with them]. With Zeal and Ardor, we were like, “What is this zone?” And they probably asked the same thing about us!
Brett: It was just two bands that don’t fall in together that ABSOLUTELY make sense together. I feel like we’re kindred spirits in trying something that’s just completely whacky.
Casey: Yeah, it’s like taking two hundred dogs and putting them together.
Brett: We pulled out Stargazer and did the whole thing. Probably the last time we’re going to do that in a really long time.
Casey: The older material just doesn’t flow with the newer stuff. It’s just a different headspace. Sticking it in the set just make sense. Closing with it doesn’t make sense, because it’s too old. Opening with it doesn’t make sense, because it’s too old. It’s the whole Mordecai- Between the Buried and Me fight.
Brett: It’s something the internet wanted and then didn’t show up for.
Casey: You could see it- when we ended the EP and started Incandescent from Air the whole crowd completely just… *bugs eyes out*
Brett: And we did it! And it’s done.
I’m impressed by how deliberate Astronoid is at being thoroughly professional. For a group in this niche, the idea of professionalism can feel contradictory to the essence of the group. How can a band be both thoroughly professional and keep track of their core artistic integrity?
“…For a band that’s starting out and wants to be professional- get your stuff off stage as fast as humanly possible, and don’t be an asshole. It’s literally that simple.”
Brett: I think it’s two completely different things. That’s how you have to treat it. When you’re out on the road- we’re lucky to get great tours, great bands, great crews. Every tour, we try to pick up something new as a next goal. We say, “we want to conduct ourselves like this band.”
I mean, we’ve seen bands that aren’t professional. We’ve seen bands crash and burn.
“Reinvest in yourselves, and pinch pennies wherever possible.”
I’d say the most important thing for a band that’s starting out and wants to be professional- get your stuff off stage as fast as humanly possible, and don’t be an asshole. It’s literally that simple. Practice getting offstage. Know who’s doing what, who’s packing what, and just don’t be a dickhead. Don’t complain. Sometimes sh*t sucks, you’ve just gotta roll with it.
Casey: In terms of business, we can’t do this if we don’t sustain ourselves. We need to make sure that the money coming into Astronoid is paying for Astronoid, and that we can grow as a band. You can’t see us a hundred times where we don’t grow as a show, either. We’ll get More lights, more shit, need to sound better.
I’ve got a drum question for Matt! How does your energy contribute to the balance between the frenetic and the ethereal? How does your vibe contribute?
Matt: I try to have some semblance of controlled chaos. The thrash aspect has got to be as on it as possible. The energy has to stay up, but then when everything shifts, it also has to keep that going. It’s more mental than it is anything. There’s a physical end of being able to play the parts, but then there’s the mental end of having the ability to have that energy shift, to go from that aggressiveness to the ethereal, euphoric end of it.
To be able to mentally do that, and do it consistently, that’s the big thing. When you’re on stage, everyone’s faces are forward- but to still be able to project that vibe with everyone else and have everyone on the same page- but that goes both ways. These dudes have a LOT to do with that vibe as well. I feed off of them, and I think that goes both ways.
Casey: “Yeah, like if you [mess] up the show goes south!:
Hey! In Matt’s defense, some of the most euphoric moments on Astronoid come directly from that mental switch. I couldn’t agree more.
Matt: The credit has to go to Brett, it’s his brainchild. He’s got the reigns on that. It’s Brett’s work really that does that.
Brett: Drums are really important to the writing process. I’m a drummer at heart. Drums are so integral for feeling for me, and I was taught at a very young age that drums don’t have to only be a rhythmic instrument. They can act as a melodic instrument! After getting that pounded into my brain, after doing a lot of things I didn’t like as a drummer, I finally understood it. I took it into the writing process. I Dream in Lines started with the drum beat.
It’s very melodic to me, the upward and downward motion on the toms. It started the whole emotional train of what that song was. It’s just so integral to me. Guitars can influence drum parts, and drum parts can be like, “oh, that’s what the chorus can be like because the drums were there!” and then I come up with a guitar lick. It’s all cyclical. I literally have a little station in my apartment where I pick up my guitar, jump on the electric kit, and send it to these guys. It all starts off as the idea, then I throw it in the pot, and then we all tear it apart!
You’ve opened yourselves up, allowed more room for a really strong reflection of the journey. Coming into what the future may look like, what can you imagine Astronoid doing next?
Brett: Who knows? I think the great thing about the new record is, we didn’t close ourselves off to anything. We still have Air. Everything we do still has people that like it. If people don’t like the new stuff, they can go back to the old stuff and that’s fine! There are many stylistic changes we’ve made on this record. Anywhere could go anywhere. If someone hears something heavier, they’re not going to be surprised. If anyone hears something more technical, or poppier or softer, they’re not going to be surprised.
We could go faster, and people would be like, “Oh! A throwback to Air!”
I think something very important to us with this record is not to follow a path. People said, “are ya gonna name the next one Water? No, it’s Astronoid! Cut ties with any possible theme. This is Astronoid, this is who we are. We’re going to do what we feel like, cause this is who we are going forward.
Who knows? That’s the whole point. Just pull experiences from our lives, and keep going with what we want to do. As soon as we lose focus of what we want to do, that’s when Astronoid makes no sense anymore. That’s the whole point of it.
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