We recently caught up with New Jersey’s rising stars of progressive metal, East of the Wall. The band released their latest LP, The Apologist in October of 2011, which saw rave reviews from critics at NPR, MetalSucks, Decibel, and Metal Reviews, to name just a few. East of the Wall incorporate a dense 4-piece string section complete with three guitarist while simultaneously fusing tech-metal with elements of jazz, rock, progressive, and more niches of metal than you can shake a stick at. Through persistent touring combined with a prolific outpouring of material since their inception in 2007, East of the Wall has started a groundswell of notoriety over the past few years with 2012 shaping up to be one their biggest yet.
We recently caught up with guitarist/vocalist Kevin Conway, guitarist/vocalist Chris Alfano, and guitarist Matt Lupo, for an in-depth interview where we delve into the full-story behind The Apologist, including recording techniques, art, and equipment picks. We also discuss the history of the band, plans for 2012, and their many side-projects budding in the New Jersey area with members from varying prominent bands. This is certainly a band to keep an eye on in 2012 and we are excited to offer Blow The Scene readers this in-depth interview.
Without further ado..
Interview by Joshua T. Cohen.
Joshua BTS: Greetings. Thank you for taking time with Blow The Scene readers from around the world today. Let’s begin by having you introduce yourselves and declare your weapons of choice with New Jersey’s boundary expanding practitioners of progressive metal- East Of The Wall.
Kevin: I’m Kevin. I do guitar and vocals.
Chris: How’s it going? My name is Chris and I play guitar and do some vocalizing.
Matt: Weapon of choice would be drums, but since we already have a guy doing that, I play guitar.
Joshua BTS: You recently released your latest and full-length, The Apologist, on Translation Loss Records for the CD and digital release, and on Antithetic Records for the vinyl release. Give us the skinny on this record, I understand you recorded at Translator Audio in Brooklyn, New York with Andrew Schneider, renowned for his work with Cave In, Pelican, Keelhaul, Unsane, Rosetta.. What was it like working with Andrew?
Kevin: Working with Andrew was great because he pushed all of us outside of our comfort zones. I think when you spend as much time on crafting your music as we do, you tend to end up with your head pretty far up your own ass. It was important to have Andrew’s voice in the recording process to give us that outside perspective that we so desperately needed. He was active in every phase of the recording, but it still always felt like we were making “our” record with our vision.
Matt: Andrew is the best I’ve worked with. Within the first hour of working with him I knew that I trusted him…his ear, his instinct, and his judgment. And it wasn’t until that point that I realized how important that is. When someone is going to have so much influence over the end result, you need to be able to trust him like he’s a member of your band. Andrew consistently made suggestions and decisions that made the songs sound better.
Chris: Andrew was great. We knew we wanted to go for a more natural sound on The Apologist. Part of it was just that I wanted to buck the trend of very polished, processed albums. There’s nothing wrong with that but I’ve started to miss the sound of air, room tones, natural reverberation. So many records nowadays sound like you have your ear an inch away from every instrument, and you’re surrounded by blankets on all sides. So I just wanted to hear something different. Plus Andrew is the type of producer I like: he rides you hard and won’t accept a sloppy performance.
Joshua BTS: With such a far reaching amalgamation of sounds, I would imagine you guys incorporate some pretty gnarly rigs when recording and traveling. I always like to throw one in for the gear nerds. What are some of the pieces of equipment you are implementing with your setups that you feel are pivotal in capturing the overall sound of the band? Anything is fair game- pedals, mics, gits, strings, pre-amps, heads etc..
Kevin: I’m going to leave my pedal board out of the equation because I’m about to completely re-tool it anyway. But the basis of my sound is pretty simple. I play a Parker Nitefly Mojo into a Mesa Boogie Lonestar Head and a VHT Deliverance 4×12 cabinet.
Chris: Well we can’t capture every tone from the record: we used a lot of analog delay on our clean tones for example, but a lot of it is pretty stock as far as effects go. Really, I could get by with a delay and an octave pedal (plus distortion of course). My live rig is a Schecter USA Custom 7-string into a VHT Sig:X into a Mesa/Boogie Stiletto 412 cabinet (it’s very similar to the Rectifier cabinets but not quite as tall). My main effects are a Boss DD-20 delay and Electro-Harmonix Micro-Pog octave, which can be used on my clean or distortion channels, and an Electro Harmonix Holy Grail reverb and Tone Freak Abunai 2 overdrive which I only use on my clean channel (the Abunai is great for when I want a dirtier clean). I also have a phaser that I use occasional and a tremolo that I use rarely. That’s it for effects really besides utility pedals like a noise gate and tuner. My channel and pedal switching is handled by Liquid Foot Jr midi controller, Axess Electronics GRX4 router, and RJM Amp Gizmo channel switcher.
Matt: I had been using the Electro Harmonix HOG for a while. I mainly used it for pitch shifting, and employed the expression pedal for whammy-style bends and dives. The thing also had some great filter tones, and the expression pedal was great for turning those into really outrageous sweeps. Unfortunately it’s just too big to keep on a pedalboard (2 large pedals, only 6 presets), and when you have 4 dudes standing in front of the drummer, you need all the room you can get. EHX needs to make a smaller version. Filter, pitchshift, expression pedal, 10 presets please!
Joshua BTS: For our readers just tuning into East of the Wall– Please get us up to speed on the formation of the band. How did you all come to start making music together?
Kevin: The short answer to that is that most of the guys in the band started out playing together in a band called the Postman Syndrome. That band existed for a few years and put out a well-received record called Terraforming. All of the guys in that band spent several years quitting and joining a variety of similar bands until we all ended up back together in East of the Wall.
Chris: We’ve all been in various bands with the same people for years. I’ve been in bands with Brett and Matt since the mid 90’s, when everyone was still in high school. The New
Jersey music scene is pretty incestuous so everyone’s had a band with someone at one time or another. Except for the people we weren’t in bands with, but probably will be some day.
Matt: We try not to subject anyone to this overly complicated and ultimately boring history. The main things are that some of us have been playing together since 1995, and I can’t think of 4 musicians I’d rather shred with.
Joshua BTS: What does the actual writing process look like for the band? Are there any added challenges that you face because of the expanded string section with three guitarists? Do you have set roles within this context? Does one guitarist generally stick within a relative framework or do you all approach each new segment from scratch? Is there a captain on this ship steering the direction? Or is more of an anarchist framework?
Kevin: Our writing process is pretty exhaustive. We leave no stone unturned. Just when you think a song is finished, we’re back knee-deep in it making both macro and micro level changes. Having 3 guitars is especially challenging because we try to avoid having all 3 of us playing the same thing, but we want each individual part to contribute something and have room to breathe in the larger context of the song. The composition of every song ends up being a little bit different from the last. There really are no pre-determined roles. All 5 of us get equal say, and sometimes that can make the process painful. But the fact that there’s not one guy in the room dictating to the rest of the band is what ultimately makes our music what it is.
Chris: A big old anarchist free-for-all. Usually someone will come in with a couple riffs and then we’ll hash it out in the room, add a lot more stuff, take recordings home, work
on a little at home, then bring it back into the room and work on it some more.
Matt: Anything is fair game when it comes to writing. If you analyzed the songs enough (which I’m sure Chris does), maybe you’ll find that the guitars tend to fall into certain roles, but that’s not intentional. With 3 guitars there is a tremendous potential for muck and confusion. So we try to concentrate on the real focal point of a riff and build off of that, instead of running wild with all of the lovely possibilities running through our heads. Sometimes that means I’ll just double Kevin, Brett, or Chris instead of writing a counterpoint. That’s something we figure out as we write, not before-hand.
Joshua BTS: You just wrapped up an impressive month-long string of US dates in November. How did the tour treat the band? Any particular moments that stick out in your mind that range from the good, the bad, or the ugly?
Kevin: This was by far the best US tour we’ve done so far. It’s starting to feel like all the time we spent on the road in 2010 is paying off. We also brought the wonderful and talented Ray Suhy on tour with us for the first time to fill in for Matt. It was an absolute joy to have him on board. People are coming back to shows in cities we’ve been to already and we’re getting really positive responses in places we are hitting for the first time. Highlights for me were the times we spent with friends and family all across the country, getting to see the Oskar Blues Brewery finally and eating at their amazing restaurant, seeing Hull in L.A., the incredible food and hospitality at Marilyn’s Place in Shrevport, LA, and getting to share the stage with incredible bands like Tidal Arms, Iron Thrones, Baring Teeth, Meek Is Murder, Mr. Invisible and too many more to name.
Chris: In Waffle House a waitress laughed at me when I ordered cereal.
Joshua BTS: How does touring in the US compare to your European tours? Do you see a noticeable difference as to how progressive music is appreciated overseas?
Kevin: I think music is just valued differently in Europe. I’m pretty sure we have more fans in the US at this point, but there are typically more people at our shows in Europe. I think that’s because people just go to shows there because music is important to them. I met people on our European tour last fall that flew from Portugal to Germany to see us play. In the US, people don’t feel like driving to the opposite side of town to see a show. We’re very lucky because we have really great and dedicated fans, both in the US and other countries, but it’s not hard to see that Europeans treat live music a little differently than Americans do.
Chris: You’re certainly fed better. The hospitality is off the charts there. It’s not like in the US where a lot of club owners treat you like you’re lucky to be playing there. But
then again we play plenty of really cool spots in the US, especially the non-club/bar venues. But the difference is the free food and booze, really. After a US tour I usually lose a few pounds. I think I came back from Europe heavier. But that could just be that the conversion was off when I went back to standard from metric.
Joshua BTS: Who amongst you has the oddest touring habits? Any urine bottle collectors or adrenaline junkies to make those long drives a little more interesting?
Kevin: We all have our little quirks, but on the whole we’re a pretty unassuming group of dudes. I think most people would be bored to tears if they had to sit in a van with us for 10 hours a day for a month straight. But we somehow manage to enjoy ourselves. I wish I had a more fun answer, but we’re all old and boring.
Chris: I like to ask for cereal in Waffle House
Joshua BTS: Is there any political significance or other meanings behind the band name?
Kevin: There’s no direct political significance to the name, although it could certainly be construed that way and has been in the past. I think the name was originally a reference to the different ways people live their lives, or at least that’s how it was explained to me when I first joined the band. The real original meaning has probably been lost to the ether, so at this point it’s probably safe to just apply your own meaning to the name.
Joshua BTS: With so much happening in the World of political unrest both here and abroad- Are there any grassroots movements or current happenings that have your attention? Any grassroots movements that have your support?
Kevin: I do my best to keep abreast of what’s going on in the world, as overwhelming and upsetting as that can be at times. I don’t consider myself to be an activist by any stretch, and I also don’t pretend to always know what the right course of action is when it comes to these large scale debates that our country are constantly embroiled in. All that being said, I can’t help but shake my head at the level of discord we’re experiencing at the moment. I don’t believe politicians are going to save us. I don’t believe Occupy Wall Street is going to save us. Until we overcome our human nature and start interacting on a civilized level, I don’t believe anything noteworthy will be accomplished. I do, however, greatly anticipate the day when gay people in this country have the full complement of civil rights that they have been denied to this point. That’ll sure be a step in the right direction.
Chris: No one in the band is incredibly political. I tend to follow the battles for marriage rights in the various states (looks like Minnesota and North Carolina are the 2012 battlegrounds) and some of the major hot button issues but I’d be lying if I said I spent a lot of time actively campaigning for civil rights. That said, take a minute and write your congressperson if you don’t want SOPA to pass. Don’t sign an online petition: No one pays attention to those. Write an actual letter.
Matt: This whole SOPA thing is very interesting. I can’t say that I understand it well enough to enter a
statement into the record…
Joshua BTS: Can you share some insight behind the artwork and themes for The Apologist? Who was the artist responsible and how does this album cover relate to the music itself?
Kevin: The Apologist artwork, like all of our other albums, was done by the incomparable Eric Nyffeler of Doe Eyed Design. We’ve been working with Eric since the very beginnings of the band and he really is a kind of unofficial member. Every record we’ve done, we’ve given him a very vague concept and he’s taken it and brought to life in a way that was far beyond what we could have anticipated.
Matt: Nyffeler has been doing our designs since the beginning. He’s another guy that I trust completely. We basically send him the record and say “go”. I believe The Apologist artwork is a depiction of his dream home!
Chris: Mainly it deals with world views and how we express them: how it can be more like a battle than a conversation really. I’ve heard that the same part of your brain that’s excited when discussing politics is the same part that’s active for religion. It’s an emotional response, really. Not a logical one.
Joshua BTS: When you are not busy with East of The Wall– What do your daily lives look like?
Kevin: I work for my parents’ business. That keeps me pretty busy 9-5 and keeps enough money in my pocket to pay rent, which is pretty crucial since this band is a festering suckhole for money. I usually get about an hour or 2 between work and rehearsal to eat, watch whatever sports I can, read and talk to my girlfriend. That’s my life Monday through Thursday. I spend the weekend with the lady. I don’t get a whole lot of time to myself, but I get to spend my time doing things I’m passionate about and spending time with people who are important to me. There are sacrifices involved but it’s a worthwhile trade for me.
Chris: Work, band, significant other, food, beer, internet, video game, scratch ass, walk dog, can’t stand up because cat is on lap, fall asleep.
Matt: I’m sure you don’t want to hear about our dayjobs. I do as much writing and recording of my own stuff at home as possible. I am also probably the least involved in the business end of the band…I’ve never considered myself to be good at making business decisions. I think that requires a certain instinct, a feel for what moves are going to make the most sense and pay off. There’s no set way to do things in this industry, you need to forge your own path.
Joshua BTS: I know some of the members in East of The Wall have varying side projects. Anything in the works that you care to discuss and bring us up to speed on?
Kevin: Seth (EOTW drummer) and I have another band called El Drugstore. We’ll hopefully be recording our full length debut in 2012. I also have a new project I’m working on called Hush Money with members of A Fucking Elephant and Bangladeafy, as well as some guest musicians hopefully. That project should see the light of day next year as well. In addition to those projects, I run a small record label called Nefarious Industries. In 2011 we released music from El Drugstore, A Fucking Elephant and the DRX. We have 2012 releases lined up for So Is The Tongue and Mount Gomery, as well as a slew of other really exciting stuff that we’ll be announcing soon. So people should definitely get hip on that. Since he didn’t take part in this interview, it also warrants mentioning that Brett has a new band called Argonauts with members of Dillinger Escape Plan, Municipal Waste and Burnt By The Sun. They’re fucking awesome and you should be really excited to hear them.
Chris: I just started a new project where I’m playing bass in a band with a couple of the guys from Hot Cross, but it’ll be a while before anyone hears anything from us. We only have two songs so far.
Matt: I am working on a solo EP that deviates drastically from the EotW sound. Not sure when I will be able to complete it, but hopefully by spring. I also have a few songs that I’ve enlisted Chris and Seth to complete. We’ll see when those guys have a few spare minutes…life is busy.
Joshua BTS: With 2012 upon us in less than a week- What can we expect from East of the Wall in the New Year?
Kevin: We’ll be at South By Southwest in March and playing some shows to and from Austin as a result. We will hopefully have a pretty major US tour announcement for the spring coming soon. We’re planning on getting back to Europe before the end of the year. And if all that wasn’t enough, we have a fairly substantial chunk of the next record written already and I’m hoping we’ll be ready to record by the end of the year. Long story short, you’re all going to be very sick of us by the end of 2012.
Matt: Looks like 2012 is shaping up to be a big touring year. Additionally, we’ve already written our first song since The Apologist, and it clocks in at ten minutes. And there is a whole host of material that we are all dying to bring to the table for our next song. We are very excited for the new stuff.
Chris: We’ll be at least one year older. Perhaps two. I don’t know how the math works,but there’s leap years involved I think.
Joshua BTS: Thank you for taking time with Blow The Scene readers from around the world today as we look forward to keeping up with your future endeavors. Any final thoughts before we close the curtain?
Kevin: It’s our pleasure. Thanks for paying attention to our stupid band. My final thought is that as of this writing, Syracuse basketball is #1 in the nation. That is all.
Chris: Does a burger count as a sandwich? How about a hot dog? A gyro? You have to draw the line somewhere.
Matt: The Hobbit is gonna be sick…
More Info at Eastofthewall.com
East Of The Wall – “Whiskey Sipper” – Taken from the album The Apologist
[youtube width=”420″ height=”315″]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nvjIaPj2dAY[/youtube]
East of the Wall – “Fleshmaker” – Taken from the album Ressentiment
[youtube width=”420″ height=”315″]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zJXII_PxwjU[/youtube]
East of the Wall – Meat Pendulum/Winter Breath 2010
[youtube width=”560″ height=”315″]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7ZQIcZmHpBY[/youtube]