Intronaut refuse to compromise their creativity

The story of Intronaut would be enough to discourage any musician willing to try and make a living with his passion. Just imagine: you can open for Tool, Meshuggah, and Mastodon on their American tours, play sold-out venues every night, release critically-acclaimed albums, and still not make enough money to survive. That’s the harsh reality of today’s musical industry. But it won’t deter a band like Intronaut, who put free artistic creation before mercenary considerations.

Firmly rooted in jazz, with a few flirty jaunts towards Indian or African percussions, Intronaut’s musical statement is rather broad and doesn’t restrict itself to post-core/sludge, far too narrow an environment for these musicians. One of the band’s two vocalists/guitarists, Dave Timnick – also a member of V.T. Void, Justin Chancellor’s (Tool) other band – talked to us about Intronaut’s composition process, a passion for jazz so strong it transpires in their work, as well as their latest album, Habitual Levitations, which places the bar slightly higher than its predecessor, Valley Of Smoke (2010), especially vocally.

« We constantly challenge each other, and it’s not always pretty, but it’s very rewarding. »

Radio Metal: Last year Intronaut toured with Tool, this year with Meshuggah, two big names of rock/metal. Does it mean Intronaut has moved up to a higher level in people’s mind?

Dave Timnick (guitar and vocals): Well, I don’t really know how we are perceived by other people, but those tours certainly have given us a lot of exposure that we probably would never have had. To tour with bands like Tool, Meshuggah, Mastodon, etc., is not only a dream come true, but also a great honor and privilege for us.

Was Justin Chancellor from Tool the reason why you were asked to do the tour with them, considering the fact that he was invited on Valley Of Smoke and that you play with him in M.T. Void?

Yeah, I’m sure that was part of it. Justin and I have been friends for several years, and we play a lot of music together, which is how he ended up on Valley Of Smoke. I’ve also known Danny Carey for a while now, because we have the same tabla teacher.

From a stylistic point of view, how would you describe this new record?

We’re really trying to improve as songwriters, and I’d say that this is our most cohesive musical statement so far.

Could you tell us more about the writing process in Intronaut? From which instrument does the writing process begin? Is the bass line or the guitar chords written first, for example, or a general musical theme with all members bringing their own thing?

All of us are fully involved in the writing process. Sometimes songs start with a guitar riff. Sometimes a bassline. Sometimes a drum beat. We always try to develop a theme or some kind of musical idea, and then we begin to expand on that.

Since all members are involved in the writing process, does that lead sometimes to tensions because of diverging visions of how a song should end up sounding or being shaped?

Yeah, all the time! But I think that’s an important part of the writing process for us. We constantly challenge each other, and it’s not always pretty, but it’s very rewarding.

Habitual Levitations doesn’t contain as much African, Indian or Latino-American influences as in the previous records, or at least it is less visible. Is there any explanation to that?

That’s an excellent observation! I don’t really know why those elements are less prevalent on this album than on some of the previous ones, but I guess it’s true. We usually don’t start writing music with any pre-set plan, so I guess the songs we were writing just didn’t necessarily call for those styles. But we’re already talking about our next album, and we’ve decided that it’s gonna be heavily percussive and rhythmically dense. We’ve already started writing new material.

On the contrary, Jazz remains predominant in a lot of songs parts. We know you’ve been listening together to some jazz influences while writing this album, does it become now a major influence of Intronaut sound?

Jazz has always had a role in our music. Joe and I both come from jazz backgrounds, and Joe’s understanding of music theory is especially useful for developing complex and interesting chord arrangements.

« After the « Prehistoricisms » record, we were just tired of screaming all the time. […] If we were going to continue to have vocals at all, we needed to take a step forward and start treating the vocals like an instrument. »

Who are your jazz references in general and in this album specifically?

Miles Davis, Wayne Shorter, Charles Mingus, Jaco Pastorius, Herbie Hancock, Bill Evans, Art Blakey, Dizzy Gillespie, John Coltrane, Thelonious Monk, Mahavishnu Orchestra, Shakti, David Sanchez, Roy Hargrove, Brad Mehldau, Nik Bartsch… to name a few.

For the production part, why did you choose to work with both John Haddad and Derek Donley? How did the two share the work and how would you measure their contribution to the record?

We recorded drums with John Haddad because we’ve known him for a while, and he knows how to get good drum sounds. He has a cool home studio about an hour from where we live, so we just spent a few days there, taking our time and making sure we got good drum takes. We recorded everything else with Derek, who is also a good friend of the band. He has a cool studio, and we wanted to do more of the recording ourselves this time around. Derek made it easy for us to get the sounds we wanted.

How from producing your previous album Valley Of Smoke did John Newell end up mixing the new album?

We love Josh. He really knows his shit. Like I said before, we wanted to do more of the actual recording ourselves for this album, so we decided to just have Josh mix it, and he did a great job.

The work done with vocals has gone a step further in this record, going deeper in variations and melodies that become softer. Did your approach on vocals evolved since the beginning of Intronaut? And if so, how would you explain and describe this evolution?

When Intronaut started, we really only focused on the instrumental music, and very little time or attention was spent on vocals. As we began to evolve as a band, we wanted the vocals to be a bit more interesting. After the « Prehistoricisms » record, we were just tired of screaming all the time. It really didn’t always fit the music, and so we decided that if we were going to continue to have vocals at all, we needed to take a step forward and start treating the vocals like an instrument. That meant melody and harmony. We were pretty happy with the vocals on Valley Of Smoke, but we were still a bit apprehensive about singing, so it is still a bit restrained at times on that album. On Habitual Levitations, Sacha and I have really started developing our own styles as vocalists. We have different sounding voices, and different ideas about vocal arrangements, so we’re taking more chances and trying to make the most of our differences and strengths.

There’s a 3 minutes part at the end of the song « The Way Down ». We first thought it was recorded using backward masking technique, but playing it reverse didn’t seem to give it much more sense! Could you help us understand what was the idea beneath?

Ha! No real idea behind that. We just went wild with some delay and modulation effects while recording the song, and we thought it sounded really cool, so we kept it on the record.

« We have full creative control over our music at all times. We always have, and we always will, no matter what. »

You’re all playing in Intronaut and have some musical side projects, but some of you keep jobs outside of the band. How do find enough time to lead all those things together? Do you plan to fully focus on music someday, maybe soon?

There’s nothing that would make us happier! Unfortunately, we don’t really make any money with the music, so we have to work all kinds of jobs while writing music, and in between tours, just to be able to pay our bills. It isn’t easy, and it can be extremely stressful, but we all love making music, so this is what we’re going to do.

Talking more specifically about your side projects (Murder Construct, M.T. Void, Bereft…), how do you measure the contribution of those projects to the work done in Intronaut? Does it have any influence on it, even if you play different styles in those bands?

Inspiration and influence come from everywhere. Playing in other bands, other styles of music, even different instruments, are all great ways to expand your horizons as a musician. Staying involved in different kinds of music is what makes Intronaut what it is.

In interviews, you talk more about your influences in jazz or other styles, but not a lot of what you like in metal, whereas Intronaut remains a metal band… Are there some metal bands influencing Intronaut?

Yeah, a few. Meshuggah (of course!), Opeth, Cannibal Corpse, Neurosis, Gojira, Yob, Suffocation, Gorguts, Incantation, Death, and probably a few more that I’m forgetting.

Does Intronaut’s label, Century Media Records, guarantee in a way your freedom of creation? Do you think you would have more style and creative constraints if you would be in a larger structure like a Major label?

Century Media has been very good to us. We have full creative control over our music at all times. We always have, and we always will, no matter what. We would never sign with anyone or do anything if it meant giving up any creative freedom. Fuck that.

You’ll be touring Europe in April for some dates, including three in France. Will you also play some European festivals this summer?

We’re playing at the Roadburn festival, which we’re very excited about! As far as I know, that’s the only festival we’ve got booked so far, but that could change.

Interview conducted by e-mail in April, 2013.

Intronaut’s official website: intronautofficial.com

Album Habitual Levitations, out since March 18th, 2013 via Century Media

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