Assyrian: Thriving On Innovation
July 28, 2011
A recent find that is unlike most of the music coming out of the metal scene in Mexico, Assyrian has a very distinctive sound. It was a pleasure conducting an interview with these guys and learning more about the state of music in that part of the world. So take a moment to allow yourselves to be whisked away into their realm and I hope that you enjoy the ride.
One of the first things that I've noticed about you guys is your band name. I couldn't find any references to it in the Latin speaking world so what inspired it?
Josué: I chose the name mainly for aesthetic purposes. It looks nice written and sounds good, but there's an explanation and this is it. According to biblical prophecy in regard to the Assyrian Empire, god would destroy the Assyrians, but before, he would use them to conquer some lands and make some god's task; so god didn't care if they were nice or evil. Anyway, they were doomed to be destroyed by god's sword. The lesson here is that it doesn't matter what you do, you'll end up as dust like everybody else. To me, life doesn't have a meaning, it's just a way to death and, as such, we should take advantage of every second and of every situation. Every emotion and situation enriches us 'cause this life is the only thing we have. As you can see on our bio, the essential feature of our music is to show plenty of emotion, not only anger, sadness and violence but the pleasant emotions too; happiness, love and more complex emotions that cannot be described in words but only into the music, to describe life and how to enjoy it.
I read that you're from Puebla, a place with a long history and rich culture. It's also home to several universities, how does that atmosphere influence your music?
Josué: Puebla is a beautiful city, it is one of the most important of the country. We have really tasty food, great folk music and beautiful architecture. Although, above all, despite it being the home to several universities as you say, the art education level is very very poor; plus Puebla is a very religious city so the people here are close-minded and old fashioned for a lot of things, it is kind of hard to get the motivation, the opportunities and some good local musical influences. Anyway, our lives have been influenced in a good way because every step has led us into making this music.
Mexico is pretty well-known abroad for producing a lot of black, death and thrash metal, but we hardly hear of progressive bands. How well received is your music within your local scene?
Adrián: Aside from a few people, nobody cares about progressive/avant-garde/doom-death or whatever you’d like to call it.
Josué: To be honest, not so well.
Ernesto: There are a lot of progressive bands or more complex than progressive just like the jazz scene, if you think metal is underground you gotta be kidding, since metal has already become a pop genre in some way. I think that the true musician or artist does not necessarily search to be famous or rich. There are a lot of great musicians but the vast majority just keep in the shadows since they know that just very few people achieve transcendence in music. Not seen as a business, as many try to do, but as branch of human expression (even knowledge). I don't care for my local scene since we have tools like the internet. I know there are tons of dudes in different cities of the world trying to "make it" with their band. I think that at the beginning, everyone has done that but after some time you realize that this globalized world works in a different way. I just feel great to know that there's people that have already listened something I play but do not like the idea to categorize music in genres. At the end, if we rationalize the creative process we finally end into a culture complex, where expression is forgotten and we all search for the "technique". And a typical situation in our country is that we haven't been completely involved in the whole process for a new genre in metal, I think at the end we all fail if you play death, black, doom, or whatever you want to. The problem is not the lack of bands, the problem is the lack of new paradigms in music. In the end, I guess most of music is trapped into music theory that we must learn. I think that's old, we must improve the creative process, just like very few have done.
I gather a lot of personal material from your lyrics. Which one of you is responsible for writing them and what motivates you? Why decide to write in English instead of Spanish?
Josué: I write some lyrics and my brother (he’s not a member of the band) wrote some more, this is, as you say, a very personal album. I am not a very talented writer, I like to spend all my time composing music so when I want to say something and I don't feel myself able, I come to my brother (a much better writer) with a specific idea and he develops it in an aesthetic way. I chose English because I think it sounds better when singing, maybe it's just a metal cliche.
How does the creative process usually go for you guys when writing new material?
Josué: This is a good question, I'll try to share my experience with my limited English. Currently, I am working on defining my own creative process. Although in the end, the result was a whole and coherent piece, the composition process on "Self-portrait" was very chaotic and disordered. I composed "The Gray" in 2008 and "Colour me" in 2009, so when Assyrian was born in 2009, I already had composed and arranged two songs and the "Impromptu" idea. When I started to compose "Quiet," Adrian had joined the band, so as you can hear on that song, the guitar solos joined too. I always write thinking of our individual abilities and in this case Adrian is a nice songwriter and an awesome guitar player. In fact, this song was born from another failed song, I kept the part of the tune that sounded nice for me and made a completely new song from that.
"Impromptu," as the name says, is an improvisation, the intention was to make a chaotic and dark song with free rhythm and relative tonal center. So, as you can see, the creative process always was a different one for each song and it seems it will keep that way. Sometimes a melody comes to my mind, sometimes it´s a rhythm or a chord progression, sometimes it’s a whole song but when I put it on paper it turns into something different. I develop the main idea as soon as I can when it's flowing and I take a break when the thing isn't working good, because almost every time I write for Assyrian I have a kind of identity problem which stops me. When I am creating, I try to relax myself, I listen to a lot of music and analyze it, I sing a lot and try to embrace some images, colours and feelings to put them in the music. These are the only things that repeat every time I sit to write new material.
Adrián: When I compose a solo, for example, I check the underlying harmony in order to have a set of modes, scales, licks and arpeggios to use. After that I have two choices: improvising and playing what the music says to me but still taking heavily in account the harmony or writing on paper what I want to hear. Most of the time I use both to have a balance between brain and passion.
Any band members have side-projects or other creative interests that they dedicate their time to aside from Assyrian?
Josué: Currently, I have a solo side-project called Mar Negro. In 2009, an underground Chilean label called Funerart released a split album which includes other two projects besides mine. The production was pretty awful so I'm thinking of re-recording this material.
Adrián: Nope, I have a couple of things in mind but nothing for now.
Ernesto: Yes, I've already had other projects besides Assyrian. They've been many but the most important to me was my very first band with original composition: Crime At The Morgue Street. We were some death/grind trio making some fast noise!! There's plenty of material on this one, I really enjoyed this band 'cause we met a lot of people and got mature in our instruments. There have been others but the majority run in the death metal genre.
Sergio: Not right now.
What was the motivation for each of you to join a band and create music?
Josué: I took my first guitar lesson in a Christian church. I think that the huge importance given to music in that place incited me to love music. Since those times I've been attracted to composing music. At my age, I am still fascinated by the fact that man is able to create and I try to keep myself occupied with creating new ideas all the time. Now that I am conscious about creating music, I focus on the spiritual food that art can be and that out there are some people who are able to decode the vibrations that we emit through the music.
Adrián: I think every musician has the ambition to create new and unique music, to express his persona on those little black dots which conform a tiny melody or a gigantic symphony. That’s why I joined a band, in this case Assyrian, because I wanted to interact with different points of view about music and from that clash of opinions make something as fresh and unique as possible.
Ernesto: The whole thing began since I was a child, I enjoyed all the music I used to listen to and got specially interested in drums. When I didn't have a drum-kit, I had to imagine I had one while I was "trying" to play something in the air. Then at age 14 came my very first drum-kit and the need to create music came along when I felt a little more free at playing... but it required some years after playing with a lot of people. I think that the creative process comes faster to you when you jam along with others since you force yourself to understand each other musically.
Sergio: My interest grew as I listened to bands and began to understand and to analyze what I heard. In some way, that motivated me to participate in an active way in music and to try as far I can go.
How long have you been playing your respective instruments and what made you choose that particular one?
Josué: I've been playing guitar for 4 or 5 years. I chose guitar because I used to have that dream of being a rock star; that dream coming directly from TV and movies, later I grew up but I still love guitar.
Adrián: I’ve been playing for 6 and a half years. I can’t remember exactly why I chose guitar but I guess it was because I was attracted to the wide spectrum of emotions a guitar is able convey; from those bone-crushing riffs to a breathtaking solo.
Ernesto: Theoretically, I should have been playing for 8 years since I got my very first drum-kit, but I haven't been playing the whole 8 years since college's been my first duty during these years. So I left the kit when I was 19 years old (I'm 22) and only came to it once again since I met these guys in 2010, but I haven't been constant since then. It's really hard to create a career on music in a country like Mexico, there are not a lot of opportunities and there are no spaces or people interested in the "underground". So I just prefer to keep playing in my mind. [smile]
Sergio: I've been playing bass for approximately 4 year. Although I am not as good as I'd like, I hope to keep getting better. From the beginning, I felt very attracted by the sound and versatility of the electric bass.
There's been a lot of distress in Mexico within the past few decades due to the Cartels regulating the government as the Italian mob once did in the US. Does this bleed into the music scene over there in any way?
Adrián: It affects everybody here for sure but we don’t want to let it change our music and how we feel about it. Those things have happened in the past and will continue to happen.
Josué: The norteña and banda music is in its highest point right now, even these musicians release praise songs for the “narcos,” and sometimes get murdered too. But well, I’m into rock, we hope to be into it for a long time (rock doesn’t guarantee safety though).
What is the current plan for Assyrian's future and any last thoughts you would like to share with our readers?
Adrián: Compose a new batch of songs, each one with a unique personality trying to incorporate sounds, elements, texture and emotions not often heard in metal.
Josué: Our plan is to continue being ourselves and to keep releasing nice music. Thank you for your attention, don’t forget to tell people to support your local bands.