Since revitalizing the landscape of instrumental music with their self-titled debut in 2009, Animals As Leaders‘ Tosin Abasi and his bandmates have been busy refining and expanding their unique brand of progressive metal. Fellow guitarist Javier Reyes has added his compositional savvy since band’s second release, Weightless, and drummer Matt Garstka, who’s been wowing audiences since joining in 2012, can be heard on record for the first time on the band’s latest effort, The Joy of Motion.
When we first spoke with Tosin back in 2010, he gave us some fascinating insights into his technique, his influences, and his perspective on the music business. Recently, amidst the chaos of the NAMM 2014 floor, we caught up with the 8-string virtuoso to talk about his new signature Ibanez TAM10 guitar, and his band’s new album The Joy of Motion.
IC: So you’ve got a brand new guitar coming out this year. Tell us a little bit about the premise of this one.
TA: This is the TAM10. Basically, this guitar was born out of a custom shop Ibanez that I designed a few years ago, and there was a lot of interest in that guitar, which kind of spawned the TAM100. But that looked dramatically different than this guitar, so they wanted to kind of issue something similar to that guitar and that’s what this is. It’s similar and different in a lot of ways; it has a maple neck as opposed to the wenge/bubinga neck, and it’s a basswood body like the TAM100.
Obviously it’s got a white finish. It’s got a Gibraltar fixed bridge, which is going to be nice for guys who prefer that feel – it doesn’t have the Floyd profile, so it’s a bit lower. What I think is best about it is the fact that it still has my pickup configuration, the [DiMarzio] Ionizers. It has the same control layout, so you can split the humbuckers, or you can include this single coil if you’re in parallel settings.
IC: How often do you use all the configurations? Are you utilizing all of them, or are there a couple go-to settings that you usually default to?
TA: Anything rhythm and lead, that’s going to be full bridge or full neck, but a lot of the more glassy cleans I default to the second to last setting, which is this outer coil here and the inner single-coil here [see video]. It really gives a thick single-coil sort of sound with a really sparkly high end. I use that for slapping, too; slapping and tapping, because the attack is pronounced. It’s kind of scooped in that out-of-phase sort of way, but it doesn’t lose output in the same way. I really like this setting, and I think that’s really what makes this guitar sound unique [compared] to all the other 8-strings that I’ve tried. So that’s kind of my signature sound.
IC: So Animals As Leaders’ third album is ready. How does this one differentiate itself from the first two sonically?
TA: Well, I guess the differences would be… we recorded Matt Garstka for the first time; his playing, his phrasing, as well as his actual drum kit. We actually went and tracked real drums for the first time. And sonically, I was kind of hesitant because it’s a really involved process, you know? It’s time intensive as well as cost, but it was actually really worth it. We have a unique sounding, just really cool sounding recording because of it.
And we worked with Nolly [Adam Getgood] from Periphery on the production, so I think the mix sounds super organic, but really, really big – very dynamic, as well. So that’s really cool. And then I guess what’s similar is that we went back to working with Misha Mansoor of Periphery. He produced around six or seven songs with me, and this is parallel to the way I did the first Animals As Leaders album, where I had a bunch of sketches, loose ideas, and I needed someone to help me just glue it all together.
And Misha’s been a friend for a long time – I really respect his work and I think he’s an excellent producer. We share a lot of the same musical ideas, so it’s a very seamless collaboration. So on Weightless we worked as a band, and on this third one I just really wanted to work with Misha again to reclaim some of that original dynamic. And then we also worked with Diego Farias who plays guitar in a band called Volumes. And he is pretty young, but he’s super talented, and honestly it was refreshing to work with someone new. So that’s kind of different than any of the other two albums.
IC: What would you say he brought to the table that was different?
TA: If you’ve heard Volumes, they groove super hard – it’s probably the primary element of what they’re doing. So some of the songs we worked on with him, they just have that driving, moderate-to-slow tempo, heavy sort of groove, which was really cool. And his production is actually really cool – he helped with a lot of the electronic stuff. The demos we did with him we were really stoked with. All of this was done – I mean the demos I did with Misha were, like, January of last year. So this stuff has been kind of gestating for a while, but it’s cool that it’s finally done and fans get to hear it.
IC: Was Misha’s production as hands-on as he usually is about it, even to the point of playing some of the parts?
TA: I feel like Misha took more of a balanced role. The first Animals As Leaders he played guitar parts and he’d be, like, ‘Dude, let me see the guitar!’ and he would come up with entire riffs. And that was cool, because there was no definition on what he was, he was just a guy who made music and I was a guitarist. I think on this current one it was more of a producer’s role, where he was hands-on, but not necessarily hands on the guitar per se, but he really helped to just define the sequences of the songs. He sketched out all the drums, the bass lines, all the supplementary chords with pads and stuff like that, strings. I mean, he’s super talented. So he filled all the spaces that weren’t just me playing guitar. So I don’t know if it was that different, honestly.
IC: What’s the name of the new album?
TA: It’s called The Joy of Motion.
IC: What are you working on right now, in terms of your own guitar playing and writing?
TA: I’m working on improvisation, and I’m listening to a lot of other guitar players outside of my normal comfort zone. There’s this guy named Isaiah Sharkey; he plays R&B, neo soul, gospel stuff. But it’s a super highly stylized style of playing – I’m just obsessed with it lately. [laughs] I’ve been just working on double stops, and I don’t know…. Anyway, that’s kind of what I’m doing.
To find out more about Tosin’s new signature Ibanez TAM10 guitar, as well as the new signature guitars for Angra’s Kiko Loureiro and Periphery’s Jake Bowen, check out our coverage of Ibanez at NAMM 2014 here!
[Special thanks to Chris Dingman and Alexander Pierce for their fantastic video work, and Chris’ additional editing assistance!]