TITAN Sweet Dreams Review and Interview with Kris D’Agostino
Sweet Dreams is available October 12, 2010 via Relapse Records
By Andy McNeil, Staff Writer
The gods of metal have stepped down from Mount Othrus and stomped their way to Brooklyn. No longer will the masses of stoner rock be forced to remain moored in a bog of droning riffs and mucky tones. TITAN has arrived – and this band is ready to rip – synth-style.
The New York act will be releasing their new album Sweet Dreams on Tuesday, October 12th on Relapse Records. TITAN, who have previously released material on Paradigms and Tee Pee Records, bring a crisp keyboard-laden approach to experimental metal. It’s fast, hard and plays out like the soundtrack to a furious spaceship battle.
Sweet Dreams’ blend of stone-age distortion and futuristic synth lines was engineered by Bredan Tobin of the band Red Sparowes at his studio, Translator Audio, in Brooklyn.
TITAN’s guitarist Josh Anzano described the album on Relapse’s Web site accordingly: “Sweet Dreams has been the culmination of major urges welling up inside all of us to be a bit faster, a bit harder, a bit trippier and generally more aggro in our approach to writing, jamming out, and conceptualizing the songs and record as a whole. It’s a lot tighter, but it’s also a lot looser.”
The album weaves Anzano’s contrasting ideas into a heavy storm of guitar thunder and synthesized lightning. Sweet Dreams possesses a fluidity that comes across as orchestral without being stuffy or over produced. It remains complex in an organic sense – shedding the ho-hum mathematically calculated noise that other experimental acts embrace all too quickly. This has real harmony.
Tracks such as “Wooded Alter Beyond The Wander” and “Maximum Soberdrive” soar as the guitar and keyboard combine forces in a meta-stoner effort that will transport listeners born before the ‘90s back to the era of rocking 8-bit video games while riding a caffeine buzz to victory. Others like “Synthasaurs” are a different beast – building from a slow intro that tips its hat to the John Carpenter horror film influences often cited by bass player Steve Moore.
TITAN has created something synth-fully interesting and different without forcing Sweet Dreams to be synthetically experimental.
Keyboard player Kris D’Agostino took a New York minute to answer some questions through the miracle of cyberspace to discuss how the band got together, being a synth geek and who he’d turn to score a cannibal zombie film.
Andy McNeil BTS: After digitally roaming the vast plains of the Internet looking for a full bio on TITAN – I’ve come back a defeated man. The underground music blogsphere has been buzzing about the fact that NYC-via-PGH transplant Steve Moore (Zombi) is now playing bass for the band, but that’s it. Who are these other Brooklynites and how was TITAN formed?
Kris D’Agostino: How the four of us [Dave Liebowitz, Josh Anzano, Kris D’Agostino and Steve Moore] came together is a pretty long, circuitous story. I’m not even sure at this point that I remember all the details. I moved to NYC in 2003 and was looking to play keyboard in a hardcore band. I had posted a craigslist ad saying something lame like “keyboard player wants to start art-punk screamo band.”
Looking back on that just makes me laugh – I was like 24 or something at the time. Josh [Anzano] wrote me and said he used to do hardcore but was moving on to do more prog-ed out stuff. I had put bands like Yes and The Boredoms as reference points in the ad and I guess he felt like I might fit in well with what he was looking to do. So, Josh and I started playing music with various other people. We were both in La Otracina when they first formed. Eventually, we started jamming as what would be the first incarnation of TITAN.
The line-up at that point was me on synths, Josh on guitar, Dan Bates on bass and Dave Liebowitz (who I had known from my college days) on drums. Dan left the band maybe three years ago and we were super lucky in getting Steve Moore to step in on bass duties. We worked together in this new combination for 90% of the writing of Sweet Dreams. Steve lives up in Nyack with his wife and baby, so he comes down when he can for practice. But his input and contributions have been invaluable. In my opinion, the guy is a genius. He outputs amazing stuff pretty much constantly.
I don’t know what else I can offer in the way of bios. We all live pretty normal lives in Brooklyn at this point and have our hands in lots of different stuff. Dave is married, has a baby on the way. Josh and I work square jobs to pay rent. Josh does a lot of amazing solo techno-y stuff on the side. I just wrote a novel that’s being published next year. Steve works at a library and does Zombi and Lovelock and lots of other music projects. If I ever make a horror movie about cannibal zombies, I’m going to ask Steve to score it.
Andy BTS: Your former label (Tee Pee Records) described TITAN as “the band that is single-handedly saving the muddy mess of ‘stoner rock’ from itself.” This seems to be predicated on the fact that your sound is heavily keyboard driven – but heavy none-the-less. What made you break from the bomb-string laden traditional stoner sound and experiment with shredding the ivory?
Kris D’Agostino: I guess it’s easiest for me to answer that, since I play keys in the band. I think the major reason, obviously, is that I suck as a guitar player. I literally have no idea how the instrument works. I can play some chords and have a basic knowledge of the thing, but when it comes to shredding or constructing a heavy sound or anything preconceived, I’m lost. On synthesizer, I’m better. Also, I think between me, Josh and Steve, there is a heavy love of synth music in general.
All of us are synth geeks. We love keyboard-driven prog and there is certainly a common interest shared there. And add to that the fact that Josh had a very concrete idea of what sound he was looking for when he and I first started making music together. And that idea was innately reliant on keyboards being a prominent component.
Andy BTS: Do you find that remaining an instrumental-only group allows you to experiment more than if you would enlist a vocalist?
Kris D’Agostino: I don’t know that we ever really thought about vocals in that way. We initially just skewed vocals because we all feel like vocals are really hard to do well. I think people are so hardwired to expect vocals to accompany music that they settle for really boring, mediocre crap. I take vocals very seriously and lyrics, too. One of my favorite things about music is lyrics, actually. Which seems to fly in the face of the fact that I play in a largely vocal-less band. But I think that speaks to this notion of vocals/lyrics being very hard to get right.
We’ve been experimenting more with adding vocals to our music recently. Sweet Dreams has our first ever song with vocals on it. And the new jam we are working on has vocals throughout. I’d like to see us using more vocals in the future and heading in that direction. As long as we keep our aesthetic and don’t start just throwing bullshit down. Josh got a pretty rad new pedal—the Electro-Harmonix Voice Box—which lets him use vocoder effects that get harmonized to whatever he’s playing on the guitar. It’s gnarly.
Andy BTS: Your first show was in 2005 with Zombi. Things seem to have things come full circle now you’ve recruited Moore into the mix. Has this brought any new conceptual or experimental ideas to TITAN’s writing process?
Kris D’Agostino: Yeah, it’s pretty funny that Steve is in the band now. We all couldn’t be more psyched about it. That show we played with Zombi was years ago. I think it was 2005. That was actually the first time I met Steve. I’ve been a fan of Zombi forever. When Steve mentioned to us that he was interested in getting involved, we all basically agreed immediately.
His presence adds a lot to the writing process. Josh, Dave and me will jam out ideas at practice, flesh out some basic song structures and then Steve will come down from Nyack and add the bass parts and the songs will just really start evolving rapidly at that point. He has a built in sense of theory and song structure that borders on scary-good. He was responsible for the haunting mellotron stuff we added to “Maximum Soberdrive,” which, on the record, sounds amazing. Or, I think it sounds amazing.
Andy BTS: TITAN has toured with Saviours and played with the likes of Boris and former labelmates Witch. What are your plans for future excursions on the road?
Kris D’Agostino: We all have weird work schedules that don’t allow us to drop everything and hit the road whenever we feel like it, so we have to work at touring. Dave and I teach and are really only off in the summer. Steve has a family. Dave’s got a baby on the way. Add to that the fact that three out of four of us live in a super expensive city where you need to work all the time just to pay your rent and it makes touring for large chunks of time very difficult.
Usually, we like to hit the road in the summer months. We are all obsessed with California and have had really great experiences playing shows out there. I think right now, the goal is to get back out to the west coast as soon as we can. We want to hit up Europe soon, too. Most of the people who write to us and geek out tend to be from France or Italy. It’s pretty funny.
TITAN – UPCOMING SHOWS
October 22nd @ Kung Fu Necktie Philadelphia, PA w/ Royal Thunder, Serpent Throne, Snake Sustain
October 24th @ Union Pool Brooklyn, NY w/ Royal Thunder, Dark Vibes
DOWNLOAD: Titan – “Wooded Altar Beyond The Wander” (MP3) – Wooded Altar Beyond The Wander (MP3) by TITAN – click to play
More Info: TITAN’s Official Myspace Profile