INTERVIEW: Dan Tompkins (TESSERACT)
Pioneer is a word rarely bandied about these days, particularly in the whacky world of music. But every now and then a band surfaces to challenge and expand the status quo, and one such band is none other than Brit prog veterans TesseracT.
Dubbed the godfathers of djent alongside the likes of Meshuggah and SikTh, this thunderous quintet started life in the early 2000s and have since evolved into a sincere force to be reckoned with, thanks largely to their beautifully complex and aggressively ambient tones (and they aren't shy with their infamously brutal polyrhythms either).
Fast forward to 2018 and we find TesseracT on the brink of their fourth studio album 'Sonder', as well as some hot-off-the-presses news that they'll be whipping us Aussies into a temporal frenzy in September with some huge shows down under. And off the back of today's tour announcement, frontman Dan Tompkins had a chat to The Soundcheck about live shows, fave Aussie bands and why we might have Michael Jackson to partially thank for inspiring one of the greatest progressive bands of all time. Interview below.
TIANA SPETER: Hey Dan! How's it going?
DAN TOMPKINS: Hello! Good afternoon, or good evening, whatever it is for you (laughs).
TIANA: It is evening! What time is it for you right now?
DAN: It's 9 in the morning!
TIANA: Aha! I'm nearly half a day ahead! Thanks so much for your time today, I'm not-so-secretly quite a large fan so this is a real treat for me.
DAN: Oh, brilliant. That's great!
TIANA: So I suppose to get straight to the point, there's some pretty exciting stuff to talk about, obviously kicking off later this month we'll finally have your fourth studio album 'Sonder' coming out...how does it feel to be finally unleashing this one into the big bad world?
DAN: You kinda get to the point where you've released quite a few albums (laughs). And you kinda know what to expect from people, I'll be quite honest. I am excited in some ways but in others I'm quite relaxed about it all because I think you get to a point when, you know, you just become very complacent with how the business works and you know what to expect really. But yeah, I think there will be a mixed reaction initially, some people will hate it, some people will love it, some people will have mixed opinions - but I guarantee that within a few months it will turn heads and people will be saying this is the best thing they've ever heard. We see it so often, it's just the nature of what we do - we change our sound, we evolve...it just takes people time to adjust to it. And the fans that we have, they need time to adjust to it as well. So, yeah, I think people will really enjoy it!
TIANA: I've been quite lucky to have a bit of a sneak peek, but you guys have already released 'Luminary' and 'King' which have already been making waves...and with those tracks there seems to be a little hint of every kind of dark and light facet from your earlier works peeking through these new tracks...but with a little bit of a twist too. You guys have never been known for being stale, was it a deliberate push into slightly different waters this time round?
DAN: Yeah, yeah I guess it was. We don't like to repeat the process, I think it keeps the creative juices flowing to mix things up and follow a different formula, try new tones and new approaches. I personally did want to bring back a few screams, I kinda felt like it was the right time. I didn't want to force it, and I think that's probably one of the most noticeable changes from the vocal perspective, there's some harshness developing again. But not too much of it! I always said that it would happen organically and naturally if it did, and I feel like those places where I've put the screams in are appropriate. In terms of the music, we did want to kind of touch upon every past album, because we appreciate that every album we've put out...we have almost a different fanbase for each album. It's crazy because we've changed so much, and everyone's got a favourite song from one album or the other...so we kind of, not necessarily wanted to "appease" the audience, but we wanted to do something that would potentially cause a bit of interest really. And also to give us a platform to kind of develop into a new territory as well, which I kind of feel we are doing. How I personally feel about the album myself...I don't feel like it's the best we've got to offer just yet. I think the best is yet to come, but I do really like the album. I would've liked more time on the mixing process, as I'm sure a lot of artists will say. But the reason I say that is unlike many other bands, we were very pushed in terms of deadlines. We had a lot of opportunities that arose through the past 18 months that have kind of disrupted the songwriting process, and because we did it all ourselves, it's all DIY, we kind of have to get ourselves in the right frame of mind...for example, we settled down in our studios and began to write, and then we had an opportunity to go on tour with Megadeth. So, that's something you don't turn down, and obviously it was going to benefit our career, so we did it! And there were multiple things that happened, some were quite negative, some were positive, but yeah...it was a frantic business putting this album together! But I feel like we have a good product.
TIANA: Well, you've already answered my next question, you guys are quite known for producing, mixing and mastering your own albums, so this was obviously the case this time round again...I believe as well you guys are producing a binaural version of 'Sonder'...I have to admit, I'm pretty keen to hear some of these in that context...
DAN: Yeah, it's gonna be interesting because it's something we've never done before! I don't believe many other people have as well. I don't think it will be a drastic difference to a lot of people. I think it's something that you have you have to experience with headphones, you couldn't just listen to it on a car stereo for example. It's this whole idea that you'll put your headphones on and increase the perception that you're hearing things in different areas, so maybe you might hear a vocal right in front of you, and some riff behind you or guitars in the left and right. So, yeah, it's an interesting approach.
TIANA: Definitely. And the other exciting news obviously is that we officially get to have you guys out here back in Australia in September!
DAN: That's right, we'll be there indeed. We're looking forward to coming back!
TIANA: And you'll be kicking around here with Circles...it's been a little while now since TesseracT has been out here. Is there anything you can reveal yet about what we can expect? Or is it still early days and we just have to be patient?
DAN: (laughs) It is very early days, unfortunately. We're hoping to improve on our live show, not in terms of the sound...I mean, the sound of our live show is very important to us, but we understand that we translate well live. Not necessarily better than the CD, but we like to replicate what we put on record in a live scenario, and we're quite proud of the fact that we do that well. We'd like to keep improving on that, but also the live show as well in terms of the light show, you know, we want to make it bigger and better, more interesting. In the past, as you'd know when you get international bands touring, it's a long way to come and you don't always get the luxury of hiring an amazing lighting package. We may have a bit more opportunity this time round to make it look a bit more special so - we'll see!
TIANA: Is there anything in particular that you're especially excited about heading back to Australia? Is there anything you missed out on doing last time? Got a wish list?
DAN: We've got so many amazing things (laughs). The one thing we've never had time to do, which is one of the most obvious things, is just go to the beach! And have a day in the sea.
TIANA: Oh...I kind of hate to tell you that right now I'm actually sitting on my balcony looking at the ocean...I should probably keep my mouth shut.
DAN: (laughs) Yesterday I was speaking to another person who was interviewing me from Australia and I could hear the crickets in the background, and I was looking out my window and it was all cold, misty and snow...and I was thinking "oh, that sounds amazing!" (laughs)
TIANA: Well you've picked a pretty nice time of year to come out here actually, well done! Now, TesseracT have already toured alongside some pretty epic Aussie bands in the past, you've shared the stage with the likes of Caligula's Horse...and obviously being such a huge band in the "prog metal" world...are there any other Aussie groups on your radar in that particular genre? We actually just recently had 'Progfest' here earlier in the year with some pretty amazing proggy bands kicking around...there's seemingly no shortage of talent!
DAN: We don't necessarily have a radar per se because unfortunately when we tour with artists it's very much down to the business end to ultimately decide what is best for the band, which is the brutal truth of it unfortunately! That being said, we always do have an opportunity to make suggestions and personally, I would obviously love to do some shows with Karnivool. I haven't played a show with Dead Letter Circus yet, I would love to share the stage with those guys. We've played with Twelve Foot Ninja, we've played Circles and Caligula's Horse. Actually, we haven't shared the stage with Voyager yet, they're good friends of mine so it would be great to share the stage with those guys as well. But apart from that, not too aware of any other Aussie bands to be honest with you. Oh, we've played with sleepmakeswaves as well!
TIANA: You've ticked off a fair few of my favourites right there, so that's perfectly acceptable! And on a personal level, you are quite revered for your input into a pretty specific style of music that does seem to be constantly evolving...but what type of music did you actually grow up listening to? Was there a band that kind of made you realise that you wanted to get into music? Was it always this kind of style?
DAN: I actually grew up listening to things like (laughs) reggae, believe it or not. And punk and hard rock. But one of the first records that really made me enjoy music and singing was actually 'Bad' by Michael Jackson (laughs). And I think that's the same for a lot of people my age, and our age. But Michael Jackson's music was just next level for me - the pop sensibilities, the creativity...there was just something really magic about the whole way that they campaigned him as an artist. And the music was fantastic. So yeah - Michael Jackson was the very first thing that really got me music. As I became older and started to be more interested in playing music from the age of 15 and onwards, I would say artists such as....I mean, I was around when the nu metal boom began to happen - bands like Korn and Limp Bizkit, Marilyn Manson...oh my goodness! That's bringing back some memories (laughs). System of a Down, Linkin Park....
TIANA: Some those bands have actually just recently toured here, which is hilarious. Everyone is coming back, I don't know what year it is anymore?!
DAN: (laughs) Yeah! I dunno, I tell you it was such an amazing time for music, to witness that kind of boom. It was incredible, and I don't think we've really had a movement like that since, in all honestly. I think it was huge.
TIANA: A very unique snapshot in time!
DAN: Definitely, yeah! I mean, prog metal music is very niche, experimental...that kind of old alternative metal. From our perspective we don't try to conform to any genre - we just write music that makes us feel creative and inspired. We listen to everything, from cinematic soundtracks to orchestras to world music and loads of different artists! We've all got a very particular taste, but at the end of the day I think any music that makes us feel (laughs)...or have "feels" is what it's all about!
TIANA: Agreed, there's something to be said for having an open mind, I think it's a very good way to be. So, final question: I know you guys obviously have the new album and a heap of tours in the near future...but is there anything else that you want to tick off your list for 2018? Or have you already overachieved enough already by April?
DAN: (laughs) We're about to head off on a worldwide campaign, we're gonna be travelling quite far and wide...a few places that we haven't visited yet as a band are Japan and China. We would like to visit more of Asia, basically, and South America, that's somewhere we haven't really explored and we do know we have quite a big fan-base there. Whether we'll get there, who knows, we'll see...but obviously it's amazing to be coming to Australia!
TIANA: Well I am personally insanely excited you guys are headed out here...and can't wait for 'Sonder' to get out into the world too. Thanks so much for chatting, I hope the rest of your day is quick and painless!
DAN: (laughs) I have a zest for life so it's never painful!
TIANA: Yet again, a great way to be. Thanks Dan!
DAN: Brilliant, really nice talking to you, look forward to seeing you later in the year.
TESSERACT'S FOURTH ALBUM 'SONDER' IS DUE OUT ON THE 20TH OF APRIL.
AND YOU'LL BE ABLE TO CATCH THE BOYS IN ACTION WHEN THEY BRING THEIR HUGE LIVE SHOW TO AUS IN SEPTEMBER, MORE INFO BELOW.
Tickets on sale 10.00am Tuesday, April 10. www.livenation.com.au/artist/tesseract-tickets
FOR MORE TESSERACT INFO, HEAD TO:
BY TIANA SPETER