If roof top jacuzzis, champagne and hoards of stripper girls are your idea of success in Metal, look away now. I raced from my day job at a school for an interview with a web developer and games tester. This being the reality in the rock fraternity; talented people working exceptionally hard for every small piece of success.
Sylosis have received a deserved amount of praise for their second album 'Edge of the Earth' and following a brilliant performance at this year's Sonisphere festival have put together an exceptionally strong line up for their own headline tour. I caught up with (Alex) Bailey and Carl Parnell on the penultimate leg of the tour at The Rescue Rooms in Nottingham. Far from the jacuzzi or even a cosy back room at the venue, we found a quiet spot in the smoking area. On a day that saw chilly autumn temperatures resume, and all the technology I own go the same way as Steve Jobs and Bert Jansch, I hoped Bailey and Carl were in a chatty mood.
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After a very brief conversation where I discovered the band had arrived at 3.00 in the afternoon and not ventured out into Nottingham, I pried into the turbulent history of the band and their relationship with their record company Nuclear Blast.
The current lineup has been stable for a couple of years and both Bailey and Carl were equally emphatic about the strength of their relationships. Bailey was quick to point out that there had actually been over twenty different people involved rather than just the ten listed on the accurate-as-ever Wikipedia. Despite Josh being the mastermind behind the music they have become a close knit team happily sharing duties.
On Nuclear Blast, Bailey explained the basic balance of income between album sales and merchandise. Naturally all deals will vary but the band are very happy with arrangements making the most of merchandise and touring.
We didn't talk specifics but if you're a Grooveshark or Spotify user, the revenue probably goes mostly to the label. Buy a non album art T-shirt and the majority will probably go to the band. It's a fair relationship and worth bearing in mind when choosing a free option; without your cash the bands and record labels can't exist.
When it comes to song writing Josh is king, harvesting ideas from the other members and shaping them into the distinctive Sylosis sound. One massive change from the first to second album was Josh taking on vocal duties. It appears that Josh has been and still is a ferociously precocious talent: his song writing is reported to be swift, and he picked up the challenge of playing guitar while singing in fairly short measure. While that feat may normally be a challenge, its worth having a listen to some Sylosis to remember how challenging to play some of those guitar riffs are.
The song writing process mostly takes place at Josh's home with Bailey at hand to bounce off ideas. Josh's insomnia leads to some late night sessions and Bailey enthuses that they are well matched as he is most creative in the small hours.
"It helps that I'm a vampire... I'm definitely most creative at night", Bailey.
Carl is more of a day man enjoying slipping into bed before the witching hour. Not that it stops him putting in his own contributions.
Working into the night at a typical house excludes the use of any real amps. Bailey and Josh rely on Peavey's Revalver to create the sounds they record using PC software.
"The great thing about Revalver is having all the sounds right there so we can just record whatever we like straight onto the computer", says Bailey.
I think song development is a much over looked part of the writing process. I'd hope the realisation that Sylosis spend long hours fine tuning songs by recording in to software, like Reaper or Garage Band, should serve as a model and inspiration to all those fans out there in bands of their own.
The Sylosis sound and riffs are heavily influenced by Bay Area thrash. Something I thought really predated the ever youthful band. But despite not being born when Metallica released 'Kill 'Em All', it seems the influence of the band was ever present.
"I grew up listening to Metallica, it all came from there." Carl.
Their wider influences include Death Metal and even prog, with Carl listing Cannibal Corpse and (with a chuckle of probable sarcasm) Hate Eternal. Of the current crop of Metal bands Bailey and Josh named Opeth as a major influence, confessing to owning an extensive back catalogue of their work. Carl had picked up a copy of the latest album 'Heritage' and was enjoying the 70s sounding trippy musical adventure.
The change in sound between the two albums was attributed to listening to old thrash albums with Bailey sharing Josh's reported enthusiasm for a slightly looser feel in the playing. Clearly they had forgotten, or were unaware of Dave Mustaine's autistic-like search for the ultimate in recording perfection.
But I know what they mean, there was a more open feel to much of those early thrash numbers. For me, "going for a looser feel", sounded like the words of a guitarist rather a song writer. Fortunately the freedom of feel in the playing lead to what I believe are better songs.
When I put this to Carl and Bailey they seemed genuinely flattered. One of the key elements that makes the sound of the second album so different is the increased reliance of melody and twin lead guitar work - something that attests to the close working relationship and ability of Bailey and Josh. I also think the pairs technical ability took a massive leap forward between the albums, enabling them to play tight with feel.
Testament to the skill of Josh and Bailey is their deal with Kramer guitars, part of the Gibson group. Bailey and Josh were due to host their first Kramer masterclass. At £5 per head I'm sure it will be a very popular event.
Having looked for details of the groups guitar rigs without success I took the opportunity to ask. One thing the band haven't done is emulate the quality of the guitar tone on much of those old thrash classics. I wondered how they picked their gear as testing different amps can be a nigh on impossible task.
As a band they all have relatively simple set ups with Josh's pedal collection being the only major digression from a guitar + valve amp rig. The major decision making process has been largely down to copying what other bands use. The essential element you can't buy however is the skill of the guitarist in extracting the best from their equipment.
Bailey has recently picked up the beautiful Alex Lifesen signature edition Gibson Les Paul complete with Floyd Rose trem'. His amp is the Marshall JVM410 boosted by a Maxon 808 (the original Ibanez Tubescreamer. The only other things in the signal chain being the obligatory tuner and noise suppressor. The thing Bailey loves is a clean bottom end to his distortion that articulates his tight rhythm work.
"I've even used the clean channel turned right up... The red channel (most distorted) on the Marshall is just too much, I don't even know why anyone would want that."
On a recent trip to Finland, unable to transport his trusty Marshall, Bailey was forced to plug into an Orange and was so impressed he's considering incorporating one into his rig.
Carl plugs his Fender Jazz bass straight into an Orange Amp. Pure valve tone is all he needs. As for the sound he's getting out of it, Bailey was surprised to learn he runs it red hot, pushing those precious valves into a nice warm distortion - ALL of the time. Having listened to some classic thrash recently I think this is one of the big steps forward that delivers the modern thrash sound.
As for Josh, he's got a collection of classic stomp box reverbs, phasers, and delays all mounted up on a pedal board. There are of course the obligatory tubescreamer, tuner and noise suppressor. But the real key to his sound is a modded Marshall. Marshall modding has been present throughout the company's history and in fact led to things like channel switching and the increased gain we now take for granted. It's also the secret behind how those classic guitarists got a tone out of their amp that just wasn't available when you bought one for yourself.
The boys, in line with their Bay area thrash heroes have so far stuck to standard tuning. And have generally shied away from colouring the guitar tone with effects. It's clear the guys have carefully picked out the best of the bay area sound and learned the lessons of current studio techniques to extract the perfect sound for their songs.
I wondered why Josh had such an expansive pedal collection given the band's lack of effects? Bailey explained that they had worked on a new song specifically for America and that they had started to dabble with using a phaser to add a little extra depth to the rhythm guitar.
On the subject of new material I asked how they were getting on. Bailey happily reported more on his late night collaborations with Josh.
"The next album is mostly written, we're just tidying a few bits, then we're aiming to be in the studio in January (2012)."
As yet they don't have any studio time or people booked. Recording is going to be worked around touring so keep your eyes open for more opportunities to see them perform and hopefully catch something new.
The last word from Sylosis is on their exclusive material for their upcoming American tour.
"Go to our Facebook pages and click on pledge music." Carl. Click here to do just that...
These guys deserve it. If you like what they've done so far, imagine how great they could be if they didn't have the distraction of a day job. I for one can't wait for the next album.