In the spotlight for this week’s Meet The Band is Alpha Boötis. The Montreal band’s latest effort is Jump To Alpha Boötis. Vocalist/guitarist/producer Ozymandias (who also writes for this site) introduces us to his band.
Chad Bowar: Give us a brief history of Alpha Boötis.
Ozymandias: Alpha Boötis started as an instrumental synthwave duo in 2016. It was just me and Frak; he handled most of the writing and I took care of the arrangements, sound design and production. It was supposed to be a studio project, but that changed quickly after the release of our first EP in 2017. Three days after Episode 1 came out, a band from San Francisco called Shark Jackson asked us to open for their Montreal gig that was three months away. We immediately said yes, despite having no idea how we would perform our music live. We recruited two longtime musical colleagues of mine, Harakoa (keyboards and voice) and Jotunbot (drums), who have been with us ever since.
We then set out to write our debut album Space Vikings & Other Stories (released in 2019), which added vocals, guitars and more overt metal elements to our sound. Later that year we welcomed saxophonist Krögorlon and bassist Votson to the crew, which is the lineup you hear on Jump to Alpha Boötis.
Describe the songwriting process for Jump to Alpha Boötis.
Jump to Alpha Boötis is a revisiting of our 2017 releases Episode 1 and Serpens Nebula. Given these songs were already published, and that we had been performing them at most shows, this was an exercise in rewriting. The songs had already been adapted a first time when we arranged them for our live band, turning them from pure synthwave to a metal/synthwave hybrid, and then once more with the addition of saxophone.
The original songwriting process was simple; Frak would send me a guitar pro file with most of the song already written, and I would add my own ideas to it, send it back, and so on, until we were both happy with the results. In parallel to that I would craft the synth sounds and slowly assemble the production in Ableton Live.
On Jump to Alpha Boötis I wanted to translate the live version of the songs in the studio, but also to double-down on what made each song unique. Some ended really close to the original vision (“Ecumenopolis”), while others are almost unrecognizable (“Circling the Belt of Orion”). It was really stimulating to see how far I could push these songs after living with them for 5 years. It’s given me lots of insights into my own creativity, and it felt good to not feel limited by my skill-level like I did five years ago, when I had just started producing.
What will be your strongest memory of the recording of the album?
I recorded my vocals for the “Another World” cover while hunched over from a lumbar sprain. I had hurt myself while moving gear into the studio, but I couldn’t afford to spend a week or two resting, so I went with it… and it sounds surprisingly good. Don’t try this at home, but it worked for me!
What are the pros and cons of producing the album yourself?
Pros: I can think of the composition, the arrangement, the performance, and the production as a unified whole, and make sure they all complement each other for maximum effect. It’s also much cheaper and convenient. I can easily reschedule sessions and adapt to meet challenges or take advantage of whatever opportunities arise.
Cons: I don’t get an outside perspective, I can only rely on my own skills, and as such, my weaknesses are not balanced out by someone else’s strengths, and it can be harder to push through creative ruts. It’s also a lot of work!
On this record I think I had the best of both world by working with David Fuller and Brandon Allhouse for mixing and mastering respectively. They gave me perspective and they made the whole thing sound way better than I could’ve achieved on my own, while still staying true to my vision as producer. Well worth the higher cost.
How would you characterize its style/sound?
We call our sound space disco synth metal, which might sound silly at first, but encompasses everything we do in an evocative fashion. The album depicts a classic space opera story, with faster-than-light spaceships, time travel, and alien worlds full of mystery and wonders. There are plenty of disco beats and guitar lines throughout the record (especially on “Wormhole Gas Bar” and the title track). I also don’t think there’s a single second without a synthesizer sound on the whole album and the riffs and drums are unabashedly metal. This is what you get when metalheads listen to Daft Punk’s Random Access Memories too much.
Did the pandemic affect the process?
Immensely. In fact, the whole album exists only because of the pandemic. We have another album written that we wanted to record in 2020, but without knowing when we’d be able to meet for rehearsals and vocal/saxophone recording sessions, we shelved it and brainstormed ideas to keep moving despite the hurdles. Recording material we already knew, and that didn’t have vocals (aside from the cover) meant that we could deliver the quality we wanted while following the public health guidelines. I had to move my studio out of my home and into a rental space, Votson and Krogorlon recorded from home, and we managed to sneak a drum recording session when the restrictions relaxed a bit. We made the best out of a bad situation, and we learned a lot from it.
What led you to cover the Gojira song “Another World,” and how did you approach the arrangement?
As soon as I listened to the song and its video in April 2020, I knew I had to cover it somehow. I kept the main riff intact, but played by synths, and I kept the core of the drum part the same. I don’t think I could’ve written a better groove than Mario Duplantier! For the verses, I played around with the vocal melody, trying to follow the intonations of Joseph’s screams, and I added the rising chord stabs to add a touch of science-fiction to that section. The bridge and solo are the most different sections. I kept the psychedelic vibe, but with our electronic production it sounds closer to trance music than psych rock. This was actually the first song I demoed, before the album was even a coherent idea, so I had a lot of time to think it through.
What led you to go the independent route for the album release?
Mostly because it’s how we always did it in the past. There’s also the fact that I didn’t know many underground labels, and none that would be a good fit for us. Partnering with a label is definitely something we are considering in the future, but I’m also curious to see how far we can go as independents.
What are you goals and expectations for the album?
I expect it to do better than our previous album, Space Vikings & Other Stories. I’ve been working a lot more on promoting, networking and being present on socials, and I’m eager to see it pay off. I also hope we manage to sell the entire short run of CDs that will be released a bit later this year. Another goal of mine is to get our first bad review. I feel like a bad review means that we’re making a big enough splash for someone who doesn’t like what we do to take notice and write about it instead of ignoring it. Of course, I hope most reviews aren’t negative!
Do you have any live shows planned?
Yes! After 13 months off stage, we finally booked a show in Montreal on October 23rd. Unfortunately, it’s uncertain whether it will happen or not because of the current fourth wave of COVID-19. We’re hoping we can go through with it or find an alternative venue. We’re also looking into recording a live performance from our studio and organizing a livestream event on Bandcamp sometime this winter.
How did you get started in music?
Music has always been fascinating to me. My mother told me I started babbling along with the music before I even tried talking! I took private piano lessons early on, but it never caught on, and it’s only when I picked up guitar at 12 that my passion for music turned into a more concrete thing. My father also bought me a copy of Guitar Pro 5, and I started writing my own riffs and songs. I took private lessons for a few years, but the bulk of my musical education has come from YouTube, books and talking with my peers.
Who were your early influences and inspirations?
I was absolutely in awe of Pink Floyd and Alan Parson’s Project as a young teen. Later on, I discovered Alice in Chains, Soundgarden, Coheed & Cambria and a ton of other bands that shaped my taste through the games Rock Band and Guitar Hero. In my later teens I became enamored with Dream Theater, Protest The Hero, Architects and Opeth, as my taste for progressive rock lead me to the more progressive side of metal. I’d be also remiss not to mention Carpenter Brut, Dynatron and Perturbator, who ignited my passion for synthwave/synthpop music.
What was the first rock/metal concert you ever attended?
Joe Satriani and the Wormhole Wizards on the Wormhole Wizards tour in 2010. Funny enough, that specific show was released as a live album.
How do you balance music and a day job?
Poorly. It’s a constant struggle. I’m lucky that I only have to work part-time and that my hours are flexible, but I tend to do overextend and burn myself out by trying to take on too many projects at once.
Tell us about some of the other bands/projects you’re involved with.
Aside from Alpha Boötis, I’m involved in a handful of other projects. I play bass and produce the indie rock/grunge band Diplomates, which just released an EP and is working on an album right now. I also sometimes release electronic music and remixes of other underground artists under my moniker Ozymandias.
Last year, I started working with Frak on another project, called Alattia, which sounds like a combination of Wardruna, Dead Can Dance, Loreena Mckenitt and Gaulish mythology. One of the songs on Jump to Alpha Boötis is a collaboration between Alattia and Alpha Boötis that was created right after I joined. I also have dozens of songs sitting in my drawers that I haven’t gotten to finish and release yet, including a few post/black/doom metal songs that I’m going to try and produce this winter. As you can see, I have trouble focusing on just one genre or one project…
As both a musician and writer, how do you approach reviewing other artist’ albums?
I try to be kind in my critiques because I know intimately how much work and though decisions can go into creating an album. Music critique is all about taste, so although I say what I think works well and what doesn’t, I also describe as precisely as I can how the album sounds, so that readers can know if they want to check it out. I also often write about musicians at the start of their career, and I try to be as helpful I can be to both artist and listener.
What are some of your non-musical interests and hobbies?
My only consistent hobbies have been roleplaying games (D&D, Numenéra, Vampire the Requiem, Call of Cthulhu, and many others), board games and hiking, although I don’t get to hike as often as I’d like lately. One of my goals for the next few years is to incorporate my love of tabletop games into some of my musical projects, by creating games that tie in with our music. It’s only a matter of finding the time to do so.
What’s currently in your heavy music rotation?
Leprous, The Ocean, Turnstile, Propagandhi, Phinehas, Erra, Anathema, Katatonia, Carbon Killer are the artists I’ve got on repeat lately. Aside from that, I try to stay up to date with my Album-a-day group, Dorkscography. We are currently going through Modest Mouse’s discography, after running through Killswitch Engage and Boston. If you enjoy discussing music of all sorts, you should come and join that great community.
Anything else you’d like to mention or promote?
Thank you for staying with me up to the end! After talking about myself and my art for so long, I want to end by shouting out Sail and their amazing new single “Tide.” It’s been on repeat in my head for a couple of weeks and, even though we don’t sound alike on the surface, I think we share a focus on melody and a taste for colorful combinations of genres. Check that song out, and listen to Jump to Alpha Boötis.
(interview published September 25, 2021)