|| Print ||
|Written by Kevin Johns|
|Friday, 24 July 2009 00:00|
Montreal-based Samsara formed with the intention of playing technical death metal, but that soon changed. "We got over playing metal pretty fast" says bassist Joel Blanchfield. "There was a much better response when we were playing the lighter melodic stuff." The band quickly evolved, incorporating programmed orchestra, keyboards and complex drum rhythms to produce powerful songs that bridge the gap between classical compositions, heavy metal, and everything in between. With a self-titled four-song E.P. under their belts and a growing fan base, Samsara are poised to break even more new ground with their startlingly powerful instrumental works. Guitarist/keyboardist and programmer Adam I., along with Blanchfield, talked with (Cult)ure about Samsara's music.
(Cult)ure: Montreal is known for its vibrant metal scene. Is there the same level of support for what you are doing now?
Adam: We have a strong metal scene, but we also have bands like Godspeed to You Black Emperor. So there is some crowd for it, although not as large as the metal scene.
Joel: When it comes to indie and post-rock bands, there is a pretty decent crowd for that stuff. It just becomes about borrowing fans from all the different styles. If a band like Explosions In the Sky comes to town, you'll see some of the same people there as you see at the local metal shows. There'll be hipsters too, and just your average person. Anyone can listen to this kind of music, which is cool. Metal is probably a bit stronger scene here than any other underground music, but people are getting tired of seeing metal bands.
Adam: There are only so many different ways you can make a breakdown.
Joel: It's getting stale. People want something new, they're starting to expand their musical tastes, and that's where we fit in. There is a transition going on and we are in the middle of it. It will be interesting to see where it takes us. There isn't a niche for us yet. Anyone who wants to show up can. We think that's cool.
The term "samsara" is used by multiple religions. Is there a spiritual element to the band?
Joel: There was never a spiritual element to the band, as far as any kind of religion or belief system. It was just a cool name with a cool concept.
Adam: Our old drummer, Lee, was Buddhist, and he introduced us to this concept, samsara. We checked it out and thought it was pretty cool. Then it became a part of our history and our transition in musical styles.
Joel: It got people asking questions. If they weren't asking about our music, they were asking about our name. We kept the name even after we parted ways with Lee because it came to mean so much to us. In a way, it reflected what was going on with the band in terms of changes in our members and our musical style. The band's music is a reincarnation of what it was before, just in a different form.
I was struck by the power of your songs. There is a real epic sense to them. Is that something you consciously aim for in their composition?
Joel: We are huge nerds for soundtrack music. I'll sit down and watch movies like Pirates of the Caribbean, Lord of the Rings, and Star Wars just for the soundtrack. In the same vein, we definitely try to make our music epic and powerful, if only because we don't have vocals. We try to paint a picture and tell a story in music without having to rely on someone speaking words. That's one of the reasons we go for as powerful and epic a feel as we can with the music.
How do you go about composing songs?
Adam: Recently, we have been having a lot more jamming going on, and other people bringing in stuff, but a lot of the time I will write something on piano, bring it in, and we will work on it. Peter, our drummer, will put a beat to it, and we'll try out different ideas. I'll take it back home, program it, and then plug my keyboard into the computer. I have this fancy orchestra thing, and I will play orchestra to what we've got because I'm really, really in love with orchestra. I program it, save it, bring it back to practice, and see how that works. It's kind of back and forth until we get something solid.
Joel: It can be a really slow process, sometimes, because Adam will have something with an orchestra line or a piano part and it could work as a song by itself, but then we have to try and dissect it, take it apart, and assign it in different places. Ninety-nine percent of the time we have a certain idea in our heads of how the drums are going to feel and how the song is going to flow, and then we'll play it with Peter and he'll flip it backwards, upside down, and on its head. It'll be completely different from what we expected, and we're like, "Oh. Damn!" He incorporates different time signatures. We have a pretty standard flow of head-bopping straight-forward 4/4, but then he'll play the drums totally off-beat to counteract that, yet somehow make it come back and flow to the 4/4 beat. It's really cool how he does it. As soon as we hear his beat, we're like, "We've got to redo everything!" Adam takes it home and reprograms it with the new drums in mind and everything starts to fall into place. It can be a long process. We don't come up with a song every three days like most metal and punk bands, but it ends up working out in our favour because we have these super well-structured songs where every element is taken care of.
Your music bridges metal with classical. Are you concerned about audiences' ability to make the transition from one side of the musical spectrum to the other?
Joel: We know that we're definitely stretching a little bit. You can tell there is still a metal influence to what we do. We can get pretty heavy at times. We play five-string bass and seven-string guitar, down-tuned. We still have an influence from heavier bands, but we try to cover everything we enjoy, and then put it together in a package that sounds consistent within itself. Some people don't get it. Some people are used to listening to their standard metal song, punk song, pop song... their ears aren't tuned to anything outside of that. We narrow ourselves a little bit, but I think everyone has the capability of thinking outside the box. People aren't completely brain dead, and I don't think we're a hard band to figure out. If it takes a while for people to start to accept the kind of music we're making, then it takes time. Personally, I think there's a nice groovy beat to it and it's easy to get into. We're not a band like Dillinger Escape Plan, where you don't understand what's going on and it's pure chaos. We're on the other side of that. We incorporate a lot, but we deliver it in a way that is pretty acceptable.
Do you see a relationship, then, between your music and mainstream music?
Adam: We like Coldplay (laughs). There is definitely a relationship between us and some pop.
Joel: We don't want to call ourselves an "art band" or anything like that. I think the only thing preventing us and others of our kind from being considered mainstream is our lack of vocals and the fact that most of the songs are more than five minutes long. Apart from that, I don't see any reason why these songs and bands like this couldn't be played on the radio. There are tons of bands who play music along the same lines as what we are doing. It's rock based. I don't think we're completely divorced from pop music. We're still drums, guitar, and bass like most bands out there.
Are you trying to get onto soundtracks?
Joel: Yeah. A lot of the bands we are interested in have been in film soundtracks, TV shows, video games... One of our biggest influences is Sigur-Ros, and they've been in how many mainstream movies? What was that one?
Adam: Planet Earth.
Joel: The trailer for Planet Earth is Sigur-Ros' "Hoppípolla"; one of our favourite songs.
Adam: Explosions In the Sky did the entire soundtrack for Friday Night Lights.
Joel: And they are basically featured in every other episode of One Tree Hill. There are episodes named after songs. There is definitely a place out there for our kind of music, and it's something we would love to have happen.
Is there any frustration that movies are one of the few outlets for instrumental music?We don't necessarily have a message to convey... so much as a feeling.
Adam: We don't necessarily have a message to convey... so much as a feeling. Because of that, we do get discriminated against sometimes. Some people are like, "Where's the singer? Where are the vocals?" But it's what we do and we enjoy doing it. Sometimes it does hamper what shows we can get on, but there are a lot of other huge bands who don't have a vocalist, so I think we have a fair shot.
Joel: We still like performing our music, despite what anyone has said about needing a singer or anything like that. Right now we are just concentrating on performing everything that we have written as well as we can. If soundtrack stuff comes in the future, that's awesome, we would love that, but our main goal right now is to perform our music for people. Some people would never imagine going to see a completely instrumental band live, they just don't get it, but I've gone to see instrumental bands before, and I love it. There are people out there who love it too. It's just about finding them. Hopefully we can bring new people into it as well.
What's next for Samsara?
Adam: Right now we are in the middle of writing some new stuff. We have two songs in the works, and we are hoping to get three or four done by the fall. We're going to record a full-length, sixty-minute-long album, probably using a few songs from the E.P. A lot of times you go and buy a CD for 15 or 20 dollars, and it's only half an hour long. I feel cheated when that happens, so we want to give people as much music as possible. We're also in the middle of getting some out-of-town shows, including Ottawa -- since it's so close -- as well as Toronto and a couple of the other big cities along the way in Ontario and Quebec. We're trying to get that together for August, since the best way to get music to people is to bring it to them and bring people out to shows. Hopefully everything works out, and people start taking an interest in what we do. We'll go from there.