TESSERACT – Dream Brothers
On August 23rd, 2011, United Kingdom progressive metallers TesseracT publicly revealed the addition of vocalist Elliot Coleman, the man’s curriculum vitae boasting the names Zelliack, Omnon, Sky Eats Plane, Of Legends, and Haunted Shores. Previous vocalist Dan Tompkins parted ways with the outfit in July of that year, citing life priorities. From late March until mid May TesseracT had toured North America alongside Maylene And The Sons Of Disaster and Protest The Hero, culminating in a July 9th, 2011 performance at the Sonisphere Festival in Knebworth, England.
“We had a really long, hard graft at it as well, but ultimately Dan decided that he wasn’t quite happy doing what we were doing,” laments James Monteith, guitarist for TesseracT. “That was partly because the tours were really long, and musically he was starting to go some place else. He was basically not as into the heavy stuff as he was before, and decided he wanted to go in a different direction. He then said he was moving on, so he left and we went on the hunt for a new vocalist.
“We basically looked around, and obviously looked at all the people we knew first. Obviously the internet is a great resource, so we checked out vocalists on there. It was quite difficult to find anybody at first. Actually, I was out for a beer with a friend of mine called Dez (Derya Nagle) who plays in The Safety Fire, and he basically suggested Elliot. He said ‘Have you heard this guy Elliot Coleman that does a project called Zelliack and Omnom?’ I hadn’t heard of him. He said ‘You should check him out. He’s got a really interesting voice, and he might be what you’re looking for.’
“I checked him out online, and I really liked his voice. It’s soulful, it’s jazzy, and it’s quite unpredictable. I think it’s what we quite like, because it’s refreshing and quite different. He’s also got a brutal, guttural growl, which we hope to utilise a little bit. Just the odd moments where it needs to be super heavy. It’s soulful and huge, I guess. Amos (Williams) our bassist just sent him an email, and asked him if he was looking to join a band. We sent him a couple of instrumental tracks. He did some demos on them, sent them back, and we really liked it. We said ‘Yeah, why don’t you join?’ The fact that he lives in America… We didn’t consider how difficult that might be (laughs).
“Touring wise, it doesn’t really matter. If we’re touring the UK or Europe, then we’ll fly him out a little bit earlier so we can just get some practice in and then go off tour. I guess we’ll go out a few days earlier to the States when we’re touring there, and practice with him. As far as writing and recording goes, we all live quite far apart in the UK anyway and do everything online. That was also how it worked with Dan, actually. He was up in Nottingham, and Acle (Alec Kahney, guitars) who’s the main writer and producer lives in Milton Keynes. Basically ideas were recorded, emailed around, and everyone would put in their input. Elliot is basically writing from Washington DC, putting his ideas on demos, and sending them back. That’s the process. When we actually come to record everything properly we’re gonna have to get him over here to the studio, but most of it’s done virtually. Elliot’s voice really worked well though and we’re really excited about it, so we jumped on it.”
Debut full-length One arrived in March 2011. “It seems like a hell of a long time ago now, because the album came out in March 2011 but it was actually finished a year before that,” the axeman notes. “Most of the recording happened at the back end of 2009, so it definitely seems like a long time in the past. It was a really fun time because it was all coming together. I specifically remember the sessions where ‘Concealing Fate’ was recorded; I remember when we first listened back to it, we were like ‘We’re quite pleased with this.’ This is how we wanted it to sound. I had been in TesseracT since 2006 and Acle had been doing TesseracT since 2003 I think, so it was a real milestone. Everything we had worked towards was in one complete package, in an album. It was an amazing feeling, and then we just basically got frustrated for a year because we weren’t doing anything until it finally came out.”
In May 2011, TesseracT cut three acoustic tracks in New York at the request of digital outlet Metal Injection. “At first we were like ‘Well, that’s a bit odd. How are we gonna do this?,’ but we just got out some acoustic guitars, and reworked some tracks,” James remembers. “It just seemed to work. Basically we listened to all the tracks, and decided which ones would work and which ones wouldn’t. The more atonal, heavy tracks obviously won’t work because you need to have a lot of melody really for it to actually sound decent. For example, something like ‘Concealing Fate, Part Two – Deception’ would be rubbish on acoustic guitar because it’s one note the entire way through until you get to the ending. We chose the tracks that basically had lots of chord progressions and interesting guitar melodies, tracks where the parts translated well to acoustic guitar. I think we had a few attempts at ‘Sunrise’, but that was at the jamming stage. Once we actually went to the studio to record and started properly practising, we were pretty much settled on the tracks that would work.
“We basically stripped everything down, kept the main rhythmic parts, and chose some of the melodic lines that worked. It turned out quite well. We did ‘April’ and ‘Concealing Fate, Part Six – Origin’ for the session, and also we did a cover of the Jeff Buckley song ‘Dream Brother’. On the EP we do those three tracks plus ‘Concealing Fate, Part Four – Perfection’. That was actually something we worked on more recently, and I think it really works well because of the addition of some piano which our good friend Aidan O’ Brien (Shadowboxer) helped us out with. The EP is basically the same, but with ‘Concealing Fate, Part Four – Perfection’ and also the new version of ‘Eden’ as well.
“We were talking about recording acoustic tracks properly anyway, but when Elliot joined – because he had such a soulful voice – we thought it would be the ideal way to showcase his voice, and how interesting and different it can be. Therefore, we decided to do the EP.”
May 2012 EP Perspective is a five-track affair, an acoustic rendition of ‘Concealing Fate, Part Four – Perfection’ opening proceedings. “I’m trying to remember back to where the original idea came from,” the musician confesses. “I think we were in the studio ages ago. Aidan was there who did the piano, and he started playing it on a big grand piano. I think we were in Sphere Studios when we did the drums for Eden. He started playing it on the piano, and we thought it was really, really good. When we were recording an acoustic version, we thought ‘Aidan did this really cool version. Let’s get him along.’ Basically we used his piano lines, and then built the track around that. Again, the approach to that track was very different to the others.”
An acoustic interpretation of ‘April’ occupies position two on Perspective’s track listing. “‘April’ is actually a song that has been through loads and loads of changes,” James divulges. “It’s actually one of the older tracks from the band. When I joined the band, I think it was something that Acle had already had the basic bones of. We’ve been through a few vocalists now and every vocalist has done something entirely different, so we’re used to things changing massively. I guess the difference this time was it was the music that was changing, and the key thing was to keep in the important rhythm and make sure that that groove was constantly rolling with everything else. We just basically picked little bits and pieces that worked. I think vocally it stayed pretty much the same, apart from the fact it transposed key. It transposed from B flat to D I think, so I guess that’s the main melodic change and also the main challenge for the vocalist.”
‘Concealing Fate, Part Six – Origin’ concludes the trio of numbers lifted from One, and acoustically reworked. “In fact, that’s the one that probably changed the least because it was already a quite melodic song,” the guitarist judges. “The tuning was changed from a B flat to a standard drop B tuning, which was an obvious transposition. As far as the guitar parts go though everything’s virtually the same on there, which is quite interesting. That was an easy one to do.”
An acoustic interpretation of the late Jeff Buckley’s ‘Dream Brother’ (the original featuring on Buckley’s August 1994 debut Grace) is Perspective’s lone cover. “That was actually Amos’ suggestion,” James reveals. “We’re all Jeff Buckley fans, and I suppose it was a really obvious thing which was staring us in the face. When he said ‘Let’s do a Jeff Buckley cover as one of the acoustic tracks,’ we were like ‘Oh yeah, that makes sense.’ ‘Dream Brother’ is an excellent song, and also the melodic guitar lines have a similar feel to some of the guitar lines that we play in TesseracT songs. We took the Jeff Buckley song, and the only change we really made was with the clean lines we ended up doubling up octaves over them – a little bit like what we do in TesseracT stuff – to try to make it a bit more like us. I think our version of ‘Dream Brother’ sounds hell of a lot like the original, which we’re quite proud of (laughs). It’s just a really, really good song. We obviously did that with Dan, but Elliot’s got lots of characteristics that are similar to Jeff Buckley’s. Again, it was a perfect song for him to record.”
TesseracT flirted with the notion of covering other tunes. “We were looking at doing the Massive Attack track ‘Teardrop’ (from April 1998’s Mezzanine),” the axe-slinger confirms. “We talked about it a lot and we mucked around, but didn’t actually put anything to tape. Maybe one day we’ll go back to it. I think it could work really well, and it’s an amazing song. We didn’t really get past the initial drawing board with that one.”
Concluding Perspective is a re-recorded (albeit not acoustic) version of the composition ‘Eden’, dubbed ‘Eden 2.0’. “I think we always intended that track to be a lead track, and have a music video for it,” James submits. “When Dan left, obviously we were like ‘We need to put out a track with our new vocalist.’ I think we may have had the music recorded for it already before Elliot joined, so when Elliot joined he basically recorded his vocals for ‘Eden’. It’s obviously shorter than the album version. Part of the reason for that was because to get it played anywhere, you have to have a song that’s only a certain length. Although we really like the album version of ‘Eden’, we thought it might be a bit too long for a live set as well. That was the reason for doing a new version of ‘Eden’, so that we can play it live.
“The main difference is the arrangement is a lot shorter, because we cut lots of bits out. A lot of the long, extended melodic sections have gone. There’s a new verse in the middle as well. In the original version we pulled it back and made it a bit more filled out, whereas now it has a lot of staccato riffs. Then there’s obviously Elliot’s vocals, which are different. We haven’t even played it live yet though, which is a shame. We’re hoping to play it live when we go out on tour next in the autumn. Again, we just really wanted to put the track out and it was another opportunity for people to hear Elliot’s voice.”
Elliot Coleman is the fourth individual to stand behind the microphone for TesseracT, his tenure preceded by Daniel Tompkins (2009-2011), Abisola Obasanya (2006-2009), and Julien Perier (2004-2006). “There were earlier versions of ‘Concealing Fate’ with our previous singer Abi, and also an earlier version of ‘April’,” the musician imparts. “On this little demo that we were selling there was also actually a version of ‘Sunrise’ with Julien our first singer, so it’s been a real mish mash. I think musically everything had matured a little by the time we got to the album, and vocally everything had changed pretty much. Dan had reworked all the vocals, and made them his own. Momentum wise, losing Dan was a killer. We lost our vocalist four months after the album came out, which was a terribly time for that to happen.
“Our UK tour was Elliot’s first ever tour with us and it was his first time touring as a vocalist, so it was definitely a challenge. We had to go back to the drawing board with a few things. In the industry we’re in the process of proving ourselves again, because things are fickle. If a band doesn’t seem to be riding a really successful wave, people aren’t as helpful as they maybe were before. There have been setbacks, but we’re basically trying to take it easy. We’re trying to make sure that we write the best album possible, and record the best album we possibly can for the next release. Hopefully we won’t have too many more setbacks.”
TesseracT are in the process of composing a sophomore full-length, though ‘Eden 2.0’’s abridged structure isn’t a signal of things to come. “That was just what we were thinking at the time I guess,” James surmises. “Musically it’s about 75% there. Vocally it’s hard to say because we’re still chucking around loads of ideas, but I think ideally we would like to get it finished by the summer. It’s kind of hard to say. We actually have a July deadline, but if we’re not happy with it by then then we’ll just have to miss our deadline. It’s pencilled in for the autumn if we finish it, but I don’t know. I have a hunch that we won’t make the deadline, and it’ll probably come out in spring 2013. Our record company won’t be pleased about that, but ultimately it’s very important we make this next record the best record we possibly can.
“The new material has gone off on another tangent, actually. It’s definitely evolved. Things have matured. I think it’s grown up a little bit. It’s a bit more refined. That’s what I’d like to think, anyway. I’m probably completely wrong, and talking rubbish. It’s not radically different, but it’s evolved into something slightly more mature I think. It’s quite interesting because when we first started getting tracks together, it was going off in a more proggy, atmospheric and melodic direction. The latest stuff we’ve been doing – especially the riffs Acle has been writing – are quite a lot more techy and heavy. There’s more of a focus on melody and big sounds, yet some of the riffs are really techy and off the wall. It’s still progressive music. We’re not going to be doing the standard verse-chorus-verse-chorus type song.
“It’s kind of hard to say what the direction is though, because it’s all going off on its own little journey. I think maybe lots of longer sections of music divided up into different sections and different parts, a little bit like ‘Concealing Fate’. Also, we will do some short, heavy tracks. Acle has definitely not been influenced by those re-interpretations, but we’re definitely going somewhere else.
“Elliot’s voice and his writing style is obviously very different to Dan’s, so that will obviously be reflected in how things turn out as well. Dan has a very powerful and hook-driven voice, whereas Elliot is a bit more jazzy and slightly more off the wall. That’ll definitely affect the overall sound of the songs and also how the music is written as well. It’s hard to say specifically, but yeah, he’ll bring something different so the sound will definitely be different.”
Perspective EP was released in Germany on May 18th, 2012, in the rest of Europe on the 21st and in North America on the 22nd, all via Century Media Records.
Interview published in May 2012. All promotional photographs by Kristell Gathoye.
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