INTERVIEW: Zac Greensill (OPUS OF A MACHINE)
In the space of one day late last week, four Brisbane musos achieved two dramatic milestones: the release of their sophomore album and their first legit interstate run. And while for some bands this would seem a destination after an uninterrupted journey, for Brissie alt prog masters Opus of a Machine this day marked the culmination of a significant journey coloured with hiatus and unwavering creativity since forming in 2013. Now with four years in between new material, not only have Opus of a Machine maintained and exceeded the form seen on their debut release 'Simulacra', they have reminded speakers all over the country why they are significant players in the ever-burgeoning progressive world with their brand new baby 'Stray Fire' that unveiled last Friday.
Boasting technical voodoo and passionate fervour, Opus of a Machine enter their new phase powerfully with this latest album; and what better way to announce their return to the fold than by jumping onstage alongside fellow innovaters Caligula's Horse and James Norbert Ivanyi for the 'Love Conquers All' Tour continuing in Brisbane tonight, and Melbourne next week. But before the tours wrap up, The Soundcheck grabbed Opus (and ex-Caligula's Horse) axe-man Zac Greensill to chat live shows, creative focus and the whacky world of prog. Interview up now.
TIANA SPETER: Hey Zac! Thanks so much for chatting! So you were just last week in my neck of the woods in Sydney actually, how did you find the Sydney crowds, they can sometimes notoriously be a bit....difficult...
ZAC GREENSILL: Yeah, I know! I've always had a bit of trouble with Sydney, and I remember when I was with Caligula's Horse when we first started touring down in Sydney it was always a little bit difficult, and I never really understood why? Given the fact it is the biggest city in Australia! But this was awesome, we had a decent amount of people when we started playing, but towards the end of our set the whole room was pretty much packed. So, yeah - it was great!
TIANA: On the note of last week, it was a pretty huge one for Opus of a Machine, you guys obviously had the show in Sydney reuniting with Caligula's Horse, and you had your brand new release drop as well...what's it like to finally have 'Stray Fire' out and kicking in the world?
ZAC: Fantastic. This was... (laughs) this was an album that I've been working on for a couple of years. Before that it was a hiatus for Opus of a Machine, and during that time the hunger never left me to write more music with that band, and to try to pursue that. So to see something like 'Stray Fire' finally get out after all these years is such a great feeling, I'm so glad it's out!
'STRENGTH IN STONE' (OPUS OF A MACHINE) - FROM 'STRAY FIRE'
TIANA: Speaking of the whole hiatus thing, obviously you were a founding member of Caligula's Horse but Opus of a Machine has been kicking around since 2013. What was it like to finally be able to focus solely on this one project rather than, not necessarily "dividing" your time between it, but was it kind of invigorating to have that sole focus for a change?
ZAC: Yeah, in a real sense this is the first time where I really get to devote most of my time to this band! When I formed, I was already in Caligula's Horse and putting in a huge amount of hours for that with touring and things like that. So, it's always kind of been semi on the periphery of my musical career. And now things are getting done quicker (laughs). There's a lot more presence and a lot more action now I think. It's a foreign experience for me, but I'm sort of building all of my knowledge that I gained with Caligula's Horse throughout the years, and it's an awesome process. It's one of those things where it's like...I feel as though if I were to start this band without the knowledge that I have now it would be far more of an uphill struggle than what it is now.
TIANA: It's interesting hey, it might seem to the casual observer you did it the hard way splitting your creative direction, but you've actually almost fast-tracked the process doubling up. Now - 'Stray Fire'. It's a very snazzy listen and has all the hallmarks that everyone has come to know and love about you guys, and I have to say I personally fell in love with 'Beacon'...and I didn't actually realise it was over 10 minutes long until it finished and I'd stopped drooling a bit.
ZAC: Oh, nice! That's the kind of thing you wanna hear about a ten and a half minute song (laughs). And it's funny, a lot of people say that, the whole "you know a long song is good because you don't realise how long it is", and I haven't really tapped in to what makes a long song not feel long. With 'Beacon' specifically, I had an idea that I wanted to make some big song, I wanted to make this big epic that ended the album. Where I would go with that, I had no idea! So, it was sort of like I had various little ideas for that for a couple of years, and when I revisited those ideas a lot of that stuff came out really, really quickly. Especially the second half, I think I had the first half kind of mapped out a little bit, and sort of had an idea of where I wanted to take it. But once I started writing that second half, it all kind of got a bit crazy (laughs).
TIANA: As we touched on earlier, it was been a bit of time between songs, obviously it was 2014 since we heard new music from you guys. In terms of a creative inspiration, you've mentioned in the past and in press releases that some of the the themes on 'Stray Fire' were centered around growth and struggle. Was this something that you organically tapped into, as much as I hate the word "organic"....was it a cathartic experience, or did it just kind of happen?
ZAC: I think more specifically for this album it was far more of a cathartic experience. When we sat down to write 'Simulacra' for example, we had an idea and wanted to make it a bit of a weirder, concept album and explore a lot of this weird and psychological stuff that a lot of people deal with, but it was never really specifically personal. With 'Stray Fire', when we sat down to start writing things...the main thing was, we didn't want to do a concept album, we didn't want to flesh out a story or have a huge amount of conceptual ideas going into it. And as a result, I think naturally we started writing from the heart. You know, when you have nothing to go off, you can only really be honest in your writing and honest with yourself.
TIANA: And that does clearly resonate, exhibit A that a 10 minute song doesn't feel laboured. And for Opus of a Machine, the prog label is frequently thrown at you. And I feel like that label used to embrace a really niche and extremely specific genre, but it seems to have branched out quite considerably over the years. Do you guys ever feel limited or perhaps even liberated by the unique expectations that come with that label?
ZAC: You know what, I've always thought there's a bit of a contradiction when it comes to progressive rock and progressive metal. Overall and I suppose worldwide, the genre "progressive metal" is now a very sign-posted genre. It's a genre that really, really exists with specific elements, it's gotta have these odd time signatures or heavy, syncopated guitar rhythms, and it's gotta have long songs and be about big concepts. For me, when I think of "progressiveness" in music, I don't really think of progressive rock bands nowadays. Not to say that they're not progressive, but the idea of progressive music is something that takes the listener or takes the writer to a totally unique place, something that's never actually been done before, or something that people have never heard before. So I think my way of getting away from those limitations is: I listen to a lot of music that wouldn't really fit in to progressive rock or progressive metal. A lot of music that would be progressive by nature, but wouldn't be considered under that genre, if you know what I mean? I think it's more just about trying to take what we already do and trying to create something with it.
TIANA: That's the most succinct answer anyone has ever given me about that topic, and way more succinct than anything written online when I've tried to explain the genre to other people without rambling like an idiot. I love it!!
ZAC: (laughs) Oh thank you! I've thought about that quite a bit actually (laughs).
TIANA: It is such a splintered topic, and interestingly most bands seem to have the similar viewpoint of just ultimately making music you'd actually want to listen to - but people will always insist on stamping a label on you.
ZAC: Exactly. I mean, people will always impose labels because it's an easy way to categorise music, and I suppose from a sales perspective, and from a marketing perspective it's a lot easier. But for me, I never really consider genre when I go to write something. I think when I make something heavy or I make something soft, I always try and make it for the reason that: it needs to be that.
TIANA: You mentioned earlier you sometimes listen to stuff that falls outside the progressive rock and metal...are there any surprises when it comes to bands or artists you listen to in your downtime?
ZAC: Possibly! I used to have what I would consider guilty pleasures...and then I started to think that the term "guilty pleasures" is a bit demeaning, you know? If it's music that I love, I kind of just listen to it! I'll kind of wear my heart on my sleeve in that respect. For example, Bon Iver's most recent album '22, A Million'...I think that might be the greatest album I've ever heard, or one of the greatest albums I've ever heard. His whole artistry, I absolutely adore, that's probably something a lot of people wouldn't expect. But, it's absolutely fantastic!
TIANA: As we briefly mentioned earlier, you're in the middle of some awesome shows alongside Caligula's Horse and James Norbert Ivanyi for the 'Love Conquers All' Tour...and it does seem that love certainly does conquer all with you back alongside the C-Horse boys, how good is it to be back sharing a stage with them?
ZAC: Oh, amazing! It's a very, very familiar experience. I remember when we first walked into the venue in Sydney the guys were already there and we exchanged a bunch of hugs and caught up and it was really fantastic! I mean, there was never really any kind of negative feelings around my departure, the guys kind of understood what I needed to do, and it's just fantastic to hang out with those guys again. One of the biggest things I miss about being in that band is just being able to hang out with them and spend time with them. And especially for Opus of a Machine's first interstate run, it's great to be with familiar faces there to centre my experience.
TIANA: It's fantastic to hear the bromance is still alive and well! And while this may be, as you mentioned, one of your first interstate runs, you guys have played some pretty huge shows already, obviously along Caligula's Horse, but also Twelve Foot Ninja, Voyager and so on...have you got a personal standout for a live show so far for Opus of a Machine?
ZAC: Honestly, it wouldn't be the biggest show we've ever played, but I remember there was a show that we played with Twelve Foot Ninja and Caligula's Horse and it was unbelievable, just mainly because it was a one-off show down on the Gold Coast, it was actually for Griffith Uni. So they got Twelve Foot Ninja onboard, they flew them up and the whole time we were like "I don't know how this is gonna go, it's like this internal uni thing?!". And it was like this 500 or 600 person room that was just packed out!! And it was unbelievable, it was one of the funnest shows I've ever played, they went all out with the lighting rig and the PA and everything, and the guys from Twelve Foot Ninja were fantastic! It was just a really, really good night!
TIANA: That is legitimately a dream line-up. So. New album - tick! Kick ass tour - tick! What on earth is going to be next for Opus of a Machine?
ZAC: We will probably do a bit more touring hopefully at the end of the year, and try and push this album as much as possible. We wanna get back out to Australia, we want to get to some of the often forgotten about cities like Adelaide and Perth, so we wanna try and get out to as many cities as possible. On top of that, basically as soon as I finished recording this album, I started writing again (laughs). The writing never really stops for me, so I wanna write a bit more, I want to jump back into the studio soon....definitely sooner than last time (laughs). And see what starts coming out!
TIANA: Well, here's hoping there are many more opuses to come...or opi? Whatever the plural of opus is?!
ZAC: (laughs) I....no. I have no idea (laughs).
TIANA: Either way, let's just say one of those. But good times ahead, and thank you so much for the chat!
ZAC: Thank you so much!
THE BRAND NEW OPUS 'STRAY FIRE' FROM OPUS OF THE MACHINE IS OUT IN THE WORLD NOW, YOU CAN GET YOUR HANDS AND EARS ON IT HERE.
PLUS YOU CAN CATCH THE GUYS HORSING AROUND WITH CALIGULA'S HORSE AND JAMES NORBERT IVANYI FOR THE LOVE CONQUERS ALL TOUR WHICH CONTINUES TONIGHT IN BRISBANE, AND NEXT WEEK IN MELBOURNE. FOR MORE INFO, HEAD TO: www.wildthingpresents.com
FOR MORE OPUS OF A MACHINE INFO, CHECK OUT:
BY TIANA SPETER