Progressive metal ensemble Animals As Leaders have just put out their most up-to-date full-length album, The Joy Of Motion, this spring. Currently with Sumerian Records, this is the group’s third release to date since 2009. The band is in the middle of a tour supporting the record, and one of their stops is at New Jersey’s Skate And Surf Festival in Asbury Park. Their experimental nature makes for shock value with every album drop. Despite musical evolution and a natural maturity to their sound, Animals As Leaders have remained the riff-driven outfit that they were from the start.
With hard-hitting, seven- and eight-string guitars, the Washington, D.C. natives continue to cause a ripple effect within this subgenre with their spine-tingling playing. Taking time to sit down to chat with me in the middle of this busy festival season, guitarist Javier Reyes answered a few of my more poignant questions on everything Animals As Leaders. The transcription is below:
The Joy Of Motion has been on shelves for a month. How have long-time listeners taken to the most recent full-length?
I think the overall response is good, you know. It’s hard for me to know everybody’s taste, but everything I’ve been reading as far as comments and reviews that people have about the album, it’s been pretty good, pretty solid. I haven’t actually read a bad review. There’s always comments in there; there was comments for Weightless . Obviously, we are not going to appease everybody. I think the fanbase that we have has accepted the album. We’re pretty happy, we think this is some of our best material. Overall, the response has been exactly that.
You guys are about to begin a spring-into-summer tour session, including a set at New Jersey’s Skate And Surf Festival. How did you guys get involved with that event?
I think they just asked us to do it. Between promoters and our booking agency, at this point, we have agents that seek out gigs and promoters get in contact with them. That’s pretty much how that happened. It lined up perfectly with our tour and we are also playing Bonnaroo.
Speaking of, is this going to be your first Bonnaroo experience?
Yeah, yeah, I’ve never even been [to Bonnaroo]. I’m stoked that the first time I get to go, I’m performing at the same time.
Any artists in particular that you are looking forward to seeing?
Um, Elton John (laughs). I never thought I would be able to go see Elton John. If he’s going to be there, why not? Yeah, that’s pretty epic. I’m excited to see James Blake. I’m a fan. Meshuggah, as well.
Tell me a little bit about your signature instruments.
Tosin [Abasi, guitarist] is endorsed with Ibanez, and I am endorsed with Carvin Guitars. We both play eight-string.
Are there a particular few that you will be bringing with you on tour?
Of the guitars, we usually bring a good handful—two or three of our normal eight-strings. We also have an even further extension of instruments. We use them for one of the new songs called “Physical Education.”
How do you feel that this record is the next evolutionary phase for you guys?
I feel good. I think it’s the most representative of who we are as players and fans of music as well. I think it’s what we kind of originally wanted with the sound. This is pretty much closer to what has been in our heads for the longest time. I think it’s really cool, it brings up characteristics from the second album. I think it’s more defining of who we are. It’s actually great that we have real drums, with Matt [Garstka] joining the band.
Where do you see your sound going next?
We’re constantly looking for new influences. Whether it’s new guitar players, any other instrumentalist, new genres of music, we’re quick to absorb those. To try to appreciate those styles of music, it’s hard to say how those things are going to influence us; sometimes it’s directly, sometimes it’s indirectly. I think taking little bits and pieces and meshing it all together is what we’ve done so far. So, it’s the same approach that we take, considering that we’re going to be listening to new music, touring with new bands. The idea is to always evolve and push the envelope even further.
Any new artists that you’ve been into recently?
I recently discovered this band from the UK called Arcane Roots. There’s another one from Norway called 22 that I think is really cool. There’s this guy from Australia that is kind of representing of James Blake. His name is Oliver Tank, I believe. I got into this band that is kind of old and also broken up called Motion Signs, also from the UK.
Those are all over the place.
Yeah, it’s hard for me to listen to just metal or any one genre. I have a pretty broad taste; I like songwriting, I like music that is extremely emotive. Metal generally emotes one type of, or one spectrum of, emotions. I try to explore different avenues, if you will.
If you weren’t in a metal band, what kind of band do you think you’d be in?
I definitely would be working with vocalists. Before I was in the band, I was producing hip-hop. I was in a hip-hop band and I was also playing in a tango duo (laughs). So, it’s all over the place. I definitely like working with vocalists and I think obviously, what the band has become is extremely different. If I had to choose something separate, in the vein of Animals, just maybe not so metal.
Where did the super inventive cover art idea come from?
The cover came from our friend Jason [Wynne]. He has done all of the artwork for all three albums. He also did the CGI for the “CAFO” video. He’s done all of the visuals that we use live as well. He’s kind of the brains behind our visual side. We try to always have a clean, abstract, spacey type of aesthetic, but he is definitely the visionary when it comes to that. It’s actually a photograph, I believe. They took a lens that has extreme zoom and they were mixing all sorts of liquids together, and they took a picture and that’s what came out.
What motivates you to improve as a musician?
I think the fact that we’ve gotten this far. In a way, our dreams have come true. We have signature guitars, we get to tour. Growing up as a guitar player, there’s always a little bit of self-doubt. Now that we’ve sort of made it, okay, cool, how do we embrace it, go further, and just keep getting better?
Can you remember the last show that you’ve been to aside from one of your own?
Yeah, it was my friend’s band, Intronaut, Cloudkicker and TesseracT. That was a cool show.
What are your short- and long-term career goals?
Short-term career goal is to complete a world tour. See as many countries as possible. Long-term career goal is to have completed at least 15 world tours.
Animals As Leaders will play at the Revolution Bar in Amityville, NY on May 16, and the Skate And Surf Festival in Asbury Park on May 18. Their new album, The Joy Of Motion, is available now. For more information, go to facebook.com/animalsasleaders.