Since their inception in 2004, Chicago’s Veil Of Maya have established themselves as one of the premier bands in today’s modern metal scene. With the release of Eclipse, their third full-length album and most concise offering to date, the group has further broadened their explosive brand of progressive metal.
In our November 2010 interview between Veil Of Maya’s own Marc Okubo and Periphery’s Misha Mansoor, the two axe-slingers had set a goal of working on a musical collaboration in the near future. The notion was realized on Eclipse, with Misha joining forces as producer and adding his own touch to Veil Of Maya’s signature twist of jarring riffs and captivating melodic hooks. I met up with Marc in Worcester, MA, during his recent tour with In Flames, Trivium, and Kyng:
IC: This tour features a very diverse lineup. Veil Of Maya stands out as the more modern sounding band on the bill. What’s that like for you guys?
MO: It’s actually working out really well, because In Flames and Trivium have very open-minded fans that are just coming out to have a good time and experience a metal show. Kyng and us are both very different bands so we’re pretty much just making new fans every night. It’s been awesome.
IC: Have you been playing any of the new material from Eclipse?
MO: We’ve been playing a new intro and a new song called ‘Punisher’ on this tour. We’re planning on that one being the crowd-pleaser.
IC: Speaking of ‘Punisher,’ the song’s last riff is introduced by ‘All they have is just bao-nuh, bao-duh-nuh-nao, we-neh-nuh-nah-nuh-neh-no.’ How did that bit come about?
MO: Before we went to record, my friends posted this video of some kid trying to make fun of Periphery and just saying all the stuff that didn’t make any sense… like he’s talking about something called ‘duh-jent’ music. When he’s making fun of Periphery he says ‘All they have is just bao-duh… ,’ and I was like ‘Oh my god. He just posted that online. So awesome. I’m taking it.’
IC: Throughout your previous album, [id], there was an underlying theme. Was there a concept behind Eclipse?
MO: Well, the album title was inspired by a girl that I met in Italy who was blind half her life. She wandered off and accidentally stared at an eclipse and gained her eyesight. She could see to the point where she could drive me around. It was pretty awesome. She told me that and it just kind of blew my mind, you know? I can’t even imagine what it would be like, to get used to living a certain way and just be granted a whole other sense. So I had that in the back of my head when I was writing the music. Her story inspired the music.
But lyrically, it’s all Brandon. His lyrics are mostly open to interpretation. You know, some of them are a bit more personal than others, but we like to make it so that the lyrics can mean something for everyone, not just for him.
IC: Wow! Did this story inspire the album artwork, as well? Who designed the artwork?
MO: Yup, the artwork and everything. Daniel McBride, Sumerian’s artist.
IC: When did the material for Eclipse start coming together?
MO: We took the summer off from touring, so that we could write and record with Misha. We were originally planning on doing Summer Slaughter 2011, but we decided to do the album instead and I think we made a good decision.
IC: At which point did Misha come into the equation?
MO: We had always expressed interest in working together on something, whether it be for Veil Of Maya or not. We were already in talks, so we just set the plan around his touring schedule and our touring schedule. Michael Keene [producer of VoM’s previous two LPs and guitarist for The Faceless] was obviously working on the new Faceless album, so we just wanted to let him do that.
We did a sample track with Misha right before we played The Bamboozle [annual New Jersey festival], which turned out really well and became ‘Divided Paths.’ People that have a really keen ear might be able to tell a slight difference in guitar tone because we used the [Fractal Audio] Axe-Fx Ultra on that song and the T. Smith guitar, and then we used the Axe-Fx II on the rest of the songs.
IC: Is that your live rig right now, the Axe-Fx?
MO: Yeah, the Ultra.
IC: Are you running it through a power amp?
MO: Yeah, I’m running the [Randall] V2 as a power amp.
IC: Eclipse features a number of synth textures and melodies. How do you incorporate those into the live show? Do you have tracks and a click playing with you?
MO: This is the album where we’re gonna start trying to play to a click and have everything all synced up and just focus on putting on the show. We’re even talking about having a MacBook sync up with the Axe-Fx to do my effects changes for me, so I’m not constantly tap dancing like I usually am. That’s the goal. I still haven’t been able to fully program all that yet. We’re going to see which songs we’re gonna play live, that we would need to do it on first. That’s one of our ideas for playing the new stuff.
IC: You’re known for using a looper to help out with some of those layered guitar parts. Are you now using the looper within the Axe-Fx?
MO: I actually don’t use the Axe-Fx effects at this point. I just use it for my tone and then I use the same pedals that I’ve always used. I’m still looping live at this point and turning on and off harmonies with my effects pedals. Hopefully, in the future we can still have some loops, but the rest of the effects will be set up by a computer going into the Axe-Fx or something.
IC: What was your mindset going into this album? Was there a particular goal that you were looking to accomplish?
MO: Well, we just wanted it to be over the top. We wanted it to be our most focused, straight-to-the-point album, epic and progressive and aggressive. Did I say progressive? [laughs]
IC: When you were discussing labels like ‘Djent’ and ‘Sumeriancore’ during our previous interview with you and Misha, I think you guys settled on ‘progressive aggressive’ as the most appropriate title for what you do…
MO: Yeah, that’s definitely what this album is. It’s definitely got both of those elements and having Misha work with me on it was really awesome. I think that he’s a genius and anything that he could do to help us is always welcome.
IC: How much did he change the album or add to the album? What parts of it are very ‘Misha’ versus very ‘Marc’?
MO: We wanted it to be somewhat of a collaboration. With the demo track [‘Divide Paths’] that we did together, I didn’t really have a full song written at that point. I had most of the song done, and I was just like ‘let’s mess around with it and see what happens.’ He was always just able to suck ideas out of my brain. We could just talk about something and he would know exactly how to just suck it right out and be able to play it on first try. We were just on the same level with what we wanted for the CD.
I wrote a different riff or set of riffs every day and just made a riff bank. Then I brought all these little clips to Misha and we just turned them into songs. He definitely helped write parts too, you know? Misha wrote parts and played guitar on it, and we just wrote it together. It all was based off my riffs and then I would have the final say, you know? I would be like ‘this part needs to be a thrash beat with a mathy part, and then we need to have synths doubling this’ and he would just be on it and it’d be done instantly. So it was really fun.
IC: Speaking of the synths doubling lines, I noticed that that’s something that is more pronounced on this album. The Final Fantasy soundtrack comes to mind at some of those moments. Was that an influence at all?
MO: Oh yeah, definitely! We made mocking titles for all the songs first and ‘Eclipse’ was called ‘The Last Reverie,’ which is a synonym for Final Fantasy. We were like ‘that’s totally the Final Fantasy song! We’re gonna leave it instrumental, it’s gonna be super epic!’
IC: That’s awesome. What were some other influences for Eclipse?
MO: When I was writing, I didn’t really listen to very much music, because I was just trying to force as many ideas out of my brain as I could, you know? With your first album you have infinite amount of time pretty much, and then every album after that it’s just shorter. Your fans have a shorter attention span. They want something better than you’ve ever written and they want it right now. So I was just kind of destroying my brain trying to make as much music as I could.
But what I listened to when I wasn’t trying to write would be bands like The Reign of Kindo, The Dear Hunter, which I like a lot, and of course all my friends’ bands, all the Sumerian [Records] bands…
I also like movie soundtracks a lot, like the E.T. soundtrack. I think I watched like every Marvel Comics movie ever made, while I was trying to think of ideas. You know that piano part in ‘Vicious Circles’? I was totally watching the part in Spiderman 3 when Peter Parker’s friend dies. It’s like ‘oh man, I’m totally making that a part!’ That’s honestly the kind of stuff that would be going through my head when I was writing those parts.
IC: Can you tell us a little more about the actual recording process at Misha’s place?
MO: We would start working with the guitars and then we would try different ideas out with drums and bass through MIDI. Then we’d just retrack everything after we were happy with it, and make it sound like a real band playing.
IC: Were the drums tracked with a live kit or were they triggered from an electronic kit?
MO: It’s like a combination of things I’d say. We definitely did utilize Superior Drummer [Toontrack percussion VST] but Sam [Applebaum, drummer] was right there for all of it. We would change things as a band and then track it afterwards. Originally, we did all the songs with keyboard bass, just because we were writing it so quickly, and then we would do all of it with the real deal to make it sound legit.
IC: Were the vocals tracked at Misha’s as well?
MO: Michael Keene actually tracked the vocals and helped Brandon [Butler, singer] with the patterns and stuff like that.
IC: I think the vocals have come quite a long way from previous records. It’s a real step up on this album.
MO: Yeah, that’s not the mixing, that’s actually Brandon improving as a vocalist throughout the years, getting a lot of experience. He stepped it up for sure.
IC: Who mixed and mastered the album?
MO: Misha did both. Keene produced the vocals and gave his final mix of the vocals to Misha and then Misha placed them on the master and mixed it all.
IC: What’s something you anticipated that you might get asked about the new record, but so far you haven’t?
MO: Well, the one that a lot of people are most upset about is the length of the CD. I mean I have been asked about that, but I just want to clear it up that we are aware of how long our CD is, and so is Misha. We just wrote and recorded an album to the point where we thought it was complete. So we were happy with the length of it. We didn’t feel it was necessary to put a bunch of instrumental dubstep songs in between every track to make our album forty-five minutes long.
We just wanted it to be a straight, to-the-point Veil Of Maya album and I think that’s what is. So if you’re actually not paying attention to the length of the CD, you’ll get a full album experience I think. That’s one of the things I’m going to have to explain a lot, I guess. But also we plan on writing as soon as possible, so we are not going to just stop with this album.
IC: What are your plans for the rest of the year?
MO: I, personally, would like to be able to put out another EP before the year is over, but I don’t know how realistic that is. I’m going to try my best! I think our fans have ADD and they always need something new. I want to stay on top of that, because I also have ADD.
IC: Any closing words for Veil Of Maya fans everywhere?
MO: If you torrent our CD, you should at least check out the real copy and see what it looks like. Show it to your friends and be like ‘man, that’s pretty cool looking!’ A lot of people put a lot of work into it and not just the band, but everyone involved deserves for you to experience the entire package.
Stay tuned for Guitar Messenger’s review of ECLIPSE, featuring a detailed track-by-track commentary from Marc!
[Special thanks to Tine Colle & Kaley Nelson for their wonderful photography!]