Friday 3 August 2012

Interview with - VYGR

Today on Sludgelord I am interviewing PJ - Guitar and Vocalist from one of the best upcoming Sludge/Post-Metal bands has to offer. VYGR

VYGR play a sublime mixture of Sludge, Doom. Stoner, Post-Metal mixed with a healthy cosmic dose of Space Rock to stand out from the Sludge/Post-Metal crowd.

They released their debut full length record – HYPERSLEEP- in March 2011. This was my 2nd fave album of 2011. Second only to Mastodon's The Hunter.

The album got a whole truckload of praise from the Stoner/Sludge community. This is an album I listen to at least 3 times a week. It's a highly powerful slab of Sludge/Post-Metal. If you haven't heard it then you’re totally missing out on one of the best releases of recent years.

Anyway the guys were kind enough to grant me an interview.

Q1 – First of all. Thanks for doing this. As you can tell, I’m a massive fan of your band. Have been since the split EP with Monolith. Can you give our readers a brief history of VYGR, How it came about etc...

Sometime around the end of 2007, Devin (Toye, vocals) and I were spending a lot of time hanging out up in Beverly, Massachusetts, where he lived at the time, and one night we got drunk and decided to start a studio project- the idea being to write and record some stuff when we had time, since neither of us had anything going on musically at that point in time. Since random drunken ideas are legally binding contracts, we had no choice but to follow through on it. We had been in a band together while we were both living in Boston for school, but that had fallen apart about a year earlier, and I had moved back to New York. Due to that, the idea was for it to be a very laid-back, “when we have time” type of project.

We wanted a drummer to write with, and contacted our friend Keith, who had been the first drummer in our old band; the three of us took what little material I had already written at that point and worked it into two full songs that more or less defined what type of sound we were interested in- a backbone of dense, big-sounding guitars and drums utilizing synth and samples to add atmosphere. It quickly became obvious that it made more sense for us to accomplish the layered sound we wanted by adding a bassist and a second guitarist. By the time we had brought two more friends on board to continue writing, 

I had moved back to Boston for school, and all of us wanted to give it a shot playing shows and treating it more like a band vs. a studio project. After playing a few shows around Boston and New York City, we booked a few days with Jay Maas (of Defeater) and recorded our self-titled EP. That was released in the summer of 2008, and we were playing shows more regularly at that point, but with conflicting work and school schedules it was difficult for us to ever really do much touring.

We’ve had a few rounds of lineup changes with the bass & second guitar spots since then, but the current lineup has been working out well for over two years now.

Q2 – Which bands influenced you, as you have a wide mix of genres in your music?

It would be tough to really give a list that would be anywhere near complete, even if I could speak for any of the other guys on this... which I really shouldn’t. In general, all of us are into real riff-heavy stuff, along the lines of Yob, Crowbar, Goatsnake, etc. For me personally, some of the influences that may come through in what I write for VYGR would be Katatonia, Mare, Burst… maybe a little bit of Helmet, or Dredg. Some older metallic hardcore stuff like Undying, Taken, 90s Zao. Oh, and Insane Clown Posse. We’re all pretty down with the clown, obviously.

Q3 – You changed your name from Voyager (Due to another band with that name) to VYGR. Was that a hard adjustment? Did you have any hurdles to change your name. Personally I love the new name. It suits your cosmic blend of Sludge/Stoner/Post-Metal. 

When we started playing and originally decided to go with Voyager as the name, we weren’t aware of an Australian prog-metal band that was using the same name. It was about a year before we really started seeing references to their stuff online anywhere, and by that point we had already released our first EP through a US independent label called Forgotten Empire and started to generate a little buzz locally… since they seemed to have little US following at that point and hadn’t ever played over here, it initially seemed like it wouldn’t be an issue. I’m pretty sure that they had been using the name before us, so fair enough- though there were also at least 2-3 other bands in the late 70s/80s that used the name also.

Two things really drove our decision to make the name change in the winter of 2010: First, it was becoming an annoyance with certain news websites and things such as mixing together news and content for both bands, and it had become apparent that the Aussie Voyager had begun touring more frequently in Europe, etc. and would likely make it over to the States eventually. Second, we had just finished the recording sessions for “Hypersleep” and were firming up all of the release details with the label (Creator-Destructor), which included finalizing the artwork and getting press releases ready to go out- which basically made it seem like if we were going to do it, this was the time it needed to be done. 

We spent some time kicking around ideas for different names, but ended up deciding that we liked what we had done so far as Voyager and didn’t want to separate ourselves completely from it. By removing the vowels and capitalizing it to give a sort of abbreviated look, but keeping the pronunciation the same, it didn’t feel like a complete change. I’m sure there are plenty of people out there who don’t know how to pronounce it out loud… no big deal, the music itself is more important than the name.

Personally, I was slightly unsure about making the change at first, but it helped clear up potential confusion and any problems that might have come up in the future regarding rights to the name. I don’t feel like it set us back in any way, especially now that our first record was re-released last year under the VYGR name.

Q4 – Is VYGR a full time job or do you have “regular” jobs to support VYGR's activities?

Unfortunately, right now the band is nowhere close to being a full-time job; that was never really the plan back when we started. We all have different full-time jobs- as diverse as designer, geologist, retail manager... it definitely can make scheduling tough (and touring), but I think that being able to avoid things like spending huge amounts of time away from home and some of the financial burdens that seem to cause tension in some full-time bands is an upside it. That being said, writing and playing music is definitely more than a typical hobby to me, and I can’t see myself staying in any job situation that wouldn’t allow me to do so.

Q5 – I am a massive fan of Hypersleep (and a lot of our blog readers are) but found it a highly rewarding structured concept album. Was that the plan, to have your first album with a deep and philosophical message attached? How did you go about writing an album like Hypersleep. The amount of ideas you have and matching it with the great music on show, it must have been a struggle at times. (it was easier for me to address both of these questions at once)

A handful of the songs- “Solar”, “Flares”, “The Hidden”, and “Galactic Garbage” were written over the course of the year after our debut EP came out. It wasn’t consciously planned while we were putting those songs together at various times, but Devin’s lyrics had common themes. Guitar-wise, I had started to incorporate some hints of what I saw as space rock influence (Hum, Failure, Cave In, maybe a touch of Pink Floyd), and when we finally regrouped with the intent of finishing enough material for a proper LP, an overall cosmic/science fiction theme just seemed appropriate.

Writing for the remainder of the Hypersleep (a process which now included Brian & Sean, who had both joined a few months before) was more deliberate, with thought given to the arrangement of new songs with the four we already had written, and how to best connect everything to give the sense of an overall flow when listening to the record. Lyrically, there are vague connecting threads throughout the different songs, but I like that they’re fairly open to interpretation... but I’m sure that most people pick up on the references to science replacing reliance on religious faith, which you can also see hints of in our older material. 

Since it was written sort of piecemeal at first, before we fully developed our concept of what we wanted thematically for the album, there were definitely some riffs and ideas that got thrown out in order to keep things sounding as cohesive as possible. One or two of those things might end up finding their way into something else, but after another long break from writing we’re onto something new now, so the next material we release won’t be a continuation of any specific theme or concept.

Q6 – Are you pleased with how Hypersleep has been received by fans and critics? I have seen a few negative reviews but also a lot of overwhelmingly positive reviews. / Do reviews bother you as a band, or do you just care what the fans think?

We appreciate any and all legitimate feedback related to the record, both positive and negative. Almost everything that I’ve seen online or in the few reviews or features in print magazines has generally been a positive affirmation of our approach to a first full-length, with many write-ups giving the impression that people were unfamiliar with our releases prior to Hypersleep. 

There were a handful of people that expressed a preference for the material from our 2008 self-titled record, which is fine, but I wonder if that may be as much due to the less polished production as anything else. The biggest takeaway overall was that the reviews seem to either be exceptionally positive (“no idea where this band came from, but this record is one of my top ten for 2011”) or overtly critical of the band as a whole (“this is much too slow and repetitive” or “the vocals don’t work for me”). 

Personally, I’d rather see those type of polarized reactions vs. a lot of middle-of-the-road “pretty good, but nothing that will stick with me” sentiment… it kind of validates the idea that we aren’t just re-hashing something that’s already been done before in exactly the same way, if nothing else. Negative reviews don’t bother me, it comes with the territory… especially now that anyone can hear a few songs from any band after 10 seconds of searching the internet, I really don’t think that people will see one opinion and make an immediate judgment about a record when they could just as easily check it out for themselves.

Q7 – Do you have any plans to tour abroad or is too expensive to do at the moment?

We’re working on getting something booked later this year that will hopefully take us up into Eastern Canada for a handful of dates. We’ve discussed the possibility of a European tour, and all of us certainly want to make it happen - the question of whether some of us could leave our jobs for an extended period of time in order to do it properly is the biggest obstacle. Financial considerations are a factor, too, but I would be fine with breaking even (or even just coming close) money-wise on a solid Euro tour. At this point, it’ll have to wait until we have a proper new record finished up to support, or if we were presented with an opportunity that was too good to pass up.

There are a lot of people from overseas that have been in touch with us, and their support is greatly appreciated. It’s awesome to know that they would travel to see us if we ever make it within a reasonable distance of where they live... I definitely want to play outside of the US. That being said, we also owe an appearance to some parts of the states that we still haven’t made it to yet.

Q8 – I have to ask this question as it's quite a popular one for me to ask. (Blame Blog Readers). How do you feel about blogs and websites giving music away for free? Some bands are for it and some aren't. 

I won’t take a hard stance for or against bands operating within the various “underground” music scenes in regards to how they choose to deal with their material in digital form. I can see fair arguments on both sides, especially in cases where people are trying to make enough to simply live the lifestyle of touring six months out of the year, but that isn’t the case for VYGR.

We’ve never asked any of the blogs or other sites that link to free downloads of our releases to remove anything; a few times I’ve maybe emailed a page owner about correcting some information or to provide links to the page of the Creator-Destructor online store where it’s possible to order a physical copy of the record, for example, and they’ve always been happy to do so. Other than that, it doesn’t bother us. We don’t make any money from playing the music that we do, and I’d honestly be surprised if we ever got to that point. I’ve actually got a little debt related to the band, but I took it on willingly. 

What I get out of it is the chance to write what I want to write, and occasionally play guitar much too loudly in front of some people that may or may not be happy about it. It’s a labor of love. Also, I’m pretty sure that websites talking about our records and pointing people to some mediafire download or whatever really do more to help than harm a band in our position - the more people that download our record and actually take the time to listen to it all the way through, the more chances that they’ll show it to a friend or decide to buy a physical copy.

Q9 – What are the future plans for VYGR? Any new releases in the pipeline?

I actually was in the studio with Keith & Sean just last night, tracking guitars for three new songs that we’ll be releasing on a three-way split 12” with two California bands: Our friends in Griever (San Diego) and At Our Heels (San Francisco). We did a short west coast tour last summer with At Our Heels, great band and great dudes. We played with Griever in their hometown of San Diego on the last night of that tour, and we’re excited to be releasing something together with both bands now as well.

We’re shooting for a release in late October through Creator-Destructor ( Look for the artwork + a new song from each band to be streaming online in sometime in September. I’m passing along a short videoclip of what we’ve been working on in the studio so far, everyone should scope that out for a little taste of what to expect.

Thanks for the interview, and the continued support. Riff hard.


Well Thanks To PJ for granting me this interview. These guys are personal faves of mine and I have sang their praises for far too long on this blog. So this was a real honour for me.

Well the guys being top dudes that they are they posted the following details of their future releases.

Here is a brilliant YouTube Video outlining details of their forthcoming 3 way split.

"Short preview clip showcasing VYGR in the process of recording new material for an upcoming 3-way split record with Griever (San Diego) and At Our Heels (San Francisco), due out in late October 2012 through Creator-Destructor."

This is one split I cannot wait for. Be cool to hear some brilliant material from one of the best Sludge/Post-Metal Bands on the scene at the moment.

What is even better the guys have posted a live video of a new song going on this forthcoming split on Metal Injection. Brilliant as ever. Thanks again to PJ for the heads up. This release is definitely on my radar for October 2012.

Check This Brilliant Band Below.

The brilliant track Event Horizon from the classic album - Hypersleep.