With their inimitable brand of funky, dynamic and chaotic progressive metal, TesseracT are in the midst of setting themselves apart from their ‘djent’ contemporaries. The U.K.’s answer to Washington, D.C.-based trendsetters Periphery, the band insists on uniting soul and emotion with a polyrhythmic approach to all that is heavy.
One, released earlier this year, is the band’s first full-length offering through Century Media Records. Entirely free of the coarse self-indulgence of which metal is so often guilty, One flows through a spectrum of sounds from light to heavy, expansive to suffocating, with astonishing cohesion, mechanical accuracy and human passion. Just like the universe it is meant to reflect, One is a complex and ongoing deliberation.
As one of the group’s architects, bassist Amos Williams, explains in his professorial brogue, it’s all about feeling the groove.
Something that struck me on the first few listens to One was your bass playing. You use the bass in a very different way from other bands of your ilk. You’ve really explored the instrument in a tasteful fashion.
Yeah, I’ve got a very different approach from a lot of metal bass players. They’re kind of forced into feeling that they have to support everybody and be the bedrock almost. There are some amazing bass players in metal that I really respect. There’s a band in the U.K. called Alias, their bass player is phenomenal. Protest The Hero, from Canada. Their bass player is incredible too. But they tend to step out from the shadows, they’re an extra instrument and not just filling out the sound that the guitar makes.
I’ve got a very strong jazz and funk history. I grew up playing a lot of funk and jazz standards when I was a kid, and that’s kind of crept through. I don’t just want to sit there and plod along. I want to make the rhythm snap a little, I want to make things move a little. But also, I think it stems from how I used to play drums; I’m actually a classically-trained orchestra percussionist. So, quite a lot of what I do on bass is probably me playing the drums on bass; hitting the things and slapping it and making very percussive sounds. It’s not only a melodic instrument to me. It’s got so much power and so much attack that I think it’s almost like having a drum kit that I play with two hands, basically.
Did bringing that style to TesseracT come naturally?
Very naturally. It’s why I chose to be a part of the band, actually. The songs Acle [Kahney], our guitarist and main songwriter, [writes]—he’s got quite a groove-based mentality, so there’s a lot of space where you can play with the groove. You can push it and you can pull it here and there, which is something that a lot of bass players seem to ignore that they have the power to do. They have quite a lot of power over the way the music is felt. They can make if feel fast or slow simply by the length of the notes that they play. So there’s a lot of room for that in the grooves that Acle writes. I find it quite natural to make it even funkier.
You are going to release an instrumental version of One. How did you come to that decision?
When we mastered the album originally, we also mastered an instrumental version because we had it in mind that a lot of our fans from the very early stages of TesseracT were very interested in instrumental music. A lot of the forums that the band sprouted from on the internet are quite technical based forums; they’re about guitars, they’re for guitarists and drummers. It’s always been an idea that we would release it. We just didn’t know when the right time was. And we thought, well, now that we’ve just changed singers, let’s release this instrumental album now because it’s better to do it within the same album cycle than when album two hits. It’s something that we’d always planned to do.
You didn’t announce before your first show with Elliot [Coleman] that you had changed singers, you just went onstage and played. Was that intentional?
We knew that it was going to be a very tough time for Elliot. The internet being the way it is, people have free speech and there are a lot of people out there who really liked Dan [Tompkins], and they still do, and they don’t really understand why Dan decided to leave the band.
It took quite a while, once we had announced, for people to finally accept it. So we thought it’s going to be a lot of pressure on somebody. Let’s just let Elliot do his thing—be on tour, practice with us in private. Doing a first gig is stressful enough without a weight of expectation on you, so we thought it would be better to just get up and do it and see how the crowd reacted.
It was funny because it was a home crowd, a local crowd, and they kind of all knew it, but they were all very supportive. It was a very cool gig to do.
How do you approach writing and performing the odd meter and polyrhythmic material in TesseracT? Does that come naturally or do you kind of sit down and work those parts out?
The cool thing about TesseracT, as opposed to other bands that play this style, like Meshuggah, as far as I’m aware, they make things fit into a sort of mathematical idea and they stay strictly within that concept. TesseracT, we forget about the numbers, we forget about what’s actually going on and we just listen and we go, “Okay, perhaps, if there’s an extra beat or one less beat here, the groove will have more of a bounce to it or more of a vibe to it and it might be a bit more energetic or a bit slacker,” without actually looking at the theory behind it and instead asking, “Does this make us move? Does it give us an emotional feeling?”
So quite often when we’re tracking a song eventually or doing some tablature or trying to explain it to somebody else, that will be the first point where we look at the theory behind the track. It’s very much a deep, intuitive thing. It’s all based on groove and emotion.
How did you come to progressive metal from your jazz and classical background?
My formative years were like the late ‘90s, at the end of grunge and the beginning of nü-metal, so it wasn’t a particularly great time for heavy music. But I had always been into bands like the [Red Hot Chili Peppers], who kind of had a hard rock and funk thing going on. They sort of—even listening to bands like Pink Floyd as a kid and bands like Pantera, there was always this bluesy, soulful, rocky edge. And I kind of started enjoying the rock edge as much as the funky and groovy edge.
The way I look at it, there are two types of rock and metal musicians: The ones who are onstage for themselves and there are the ones who are there as part of a band and sharing with the audience what they do. I always try to be the second type and be up there having fun with everybody that I’m with. There’s something about when everybody’s all rocking out to this same heavy groove that’s just fantastic. I find it wonderful. It’s euphoric in some ways.
As a kid playing with other musicians who were into rock and metal, I started to do more and more of that. It’s not so easy to get out there and do funk and jazz when you’re no longer in a school situation, for example. So I started doing more and more metal and managed to quite fortunately bump into the guy who started TesseracT, which was Acle. And then, the rest is history. Six years later we’re combining our melting pot of styles and creating the chaos that TesseracT can be sometimes.
The guitar tones are very atypical for a metal band. It’s not a super-saturated distortion. It’s a very crunchy, dynamic sound that you’ve achieved.
It’s quite funny. If you think of what distortion is, it’s a smearing of the sound to give it a broader frequency content. Now, that’s cool, but it also takes away the attack and the edge. So we actually rolled back our distortion, the gain, and found that it gave it more of a rhythmical attack and that there was more of a note there, a body there. We realize that often when we turn up to gigs, we’ve got less gain going on in our signal path than other bands, but it seems to work very well because it means that we can have more of a dynamic range and more of a bouncy sound as well.
You’re about to go on tour with Between The Buried And Me and Animals As Leaders.
Yeah, it’s going to be one of those tours where we’re just going to have to be so totally on it every night to keep up with them. It’s going to be fun because we love being pushed and raising our game.
Do you find it inspiring to watch other bands perform?
Definitely. We did a tour with Devin Townsend and his music is just so inspirational on CD but when you get to see it live, it takes on a whole different aspect. I’m hoping that that sort of wonderful energy that I, as a musician, was getting from Devin, I’ll get from Between The Buried And Me and Animals As Leaders. And we’re spending seven weeks with them, like 40 shows, it’ll be so much more fun if they inspire us to want to watch them every night.
TesseracT will play Northern Lights in Clifton Park, NY, on Dec. 9; Theatre Of Living Arts in Philly on Dec. 10 and Best Buy Theater on Dec. 11. For more info, go to tesseractband.co.uk.