Genre: Progressive Death Jazz
Location: Oakland, CA
Phillip Krasnick - Guitars/Synth
Robert Carroll - Guitars
Jason Osincup - Drums
Noah Whitfield - Bass
Phillip Krasnick - Guitars/Synth
Robert Carroll - Guitars
Jason Osincup - Drums
Noah Whitfield - Bass
Portals Ep (2013) "Bandcamp"
1. Can I get a short backstory on the band (Biography)?
Phil - The first incarnation of A Thousand Dead began in 2009 when Jason (our drummer) pulled together musicians to create a forward thinking project combining the technicality of modern metal with the dynamism and melodic sensibility of genres like progressive rock, and jazz fusion. Fast forward to 2013 and you’ll find several new faces making up the most dedicated and diverse group of musicians that I’ve ever had the pleasure of working with. We just released our debut E.P. “Portals” and are set to play a number of shows around the San Francisco Bay Area while we finish composing the 2nd half of our first full-length album.
2. What equipment does the band use?
Phil – My own tastes have gotten pretty eclectic, so as our sound evolves into more experimental territory, I find myself focusing on a really flexible setup that allows me to easily build, edit, and access an array of traditional and textural tones. Hands down the Fractal Audio Axe-Fx II was the obvious solution and has easily become my favorite piece of gear; paired with a Behringer FCB1010 midi foot controller and my rare Digitech XP300 Space Station pedal, I couldn’t be any happier. My backup rig contains a Peavey 6505+ head and Mesa 4x12 angled cabinet. My main axe is a white Caparison Angelus HGSM with a Bare Knuckle Aftermath in the bridge position and a DiMarzio Bluesbucker in the neck position; that guitar is an absolute beast and with the contrasting pickups, I can switch between metal and jazz with ease. My backup guitars include an ESP LTD Eclipse 1000 with EMG 81/60 pickups and a recently acquired black Ibanez RG 4720 7-string. Most of our songs are in Drop C tuning with a couple new songs using 7-strings in A standard tuning.
Bobby - I’m personally a fan of simplicity and changing the way I attack the instrument to create a different sound as opposed to involving a great deal of equipment to make those sounds. To that extent, I am a longtime Ibanez/DiMarzio fanboy with respect to getting an articulate and punchy guitar sound, and I play through a Mesa Dual Rectifier half stack with a Keeley Modded Ibanez TS808 going directly into the input. As cliché as it may sound, I’m a firm believer in the tone being in your fingers, so I do pretty much everything I can to keep my guitar sound balanced on the EQ spectrum and as un-distorted as possible.
Jason - My main drum kit is a 9 piece (vintage black) Yamaha Birch Absolute Series, with a total of 15 cymbals and a midi rack for triggering my kicks and Axis Longboards with E-Kit. I’m currently using Vic Firth Signature Danny Carey sticks.
Noah – I have a 6-string Ibanez bass and use an Ampeg bass amp.
3. What bands have influenced your band and its sound?
Jason - I draw a lot from progressive rock from my youth, death/black/thrash metal and a mixed genre bag from high school. In my mid 20's, I re-opened my search for prog/jazz/fusion bands, and that’s what ultimately led me to form A Thousand Dead.
Phil - That’s actually a funny question because I’ve had so many people come up to me and ask if I listen to (list of progressive bands) and it’s always interesting to hear who they mention because that’s never been a true source of musical influence for me. A lot of the melodic content in our music is inspired by a host of talented groups from other genres that I have the utmost respect and admiration for… Massive Attack, Jaga Jazzist, The Cinematic Orchestra, Dredg, Ulrich Schnauss, Unkle, and God is an Astronaut to name a few. Songwriters from those groups, and many more, have learned to masterfully express a lot of the same emotions that can make modern metal sound so progressive… the real exciting part is attaining a deep understanding of their methods and finding a way to convey those same emotions to our audience by challenging conventional song writing techniques.
Bobby - Despite being in a technical metal band, the music that shrinks my shorts tends to be on the catchier and more melody-driven side of things. I grew up on bands like Iron Maiden and Ozzy Ozbourne before getting fully into music nerd-dom and instrumental technicality, so bands like Between The Buried and Me and the Faceless are particularly appealing given their penchant for infusing a pop sensibility into their melodic and structural sound.
Noah - BTBAM, The Human Abstract, Black Dahlia Murder
4. What has been your best concert experience?
Bobby - Our first show, we played to a packed house where there were clearly more women than men, and GET THIS... the majority were not in relationships with the band members. How many Death Jazz bands can say this???
Jason - Definitely our first show; it was a great turn out and we had such a blast finally sharing our music with everyone.
5. How would you describe A Thousand Dead's live performance to someone that hasn't witnessed the band live before?
Phil – I think we’re always trying to find that sweet spot that allows us to capture the intensity of a modern metal performance while experimenting with some non-traditional visual/cinematic ideas. Our sound is increasingly more dynamic so you can expect to see more performances showcasing contrasting technical rhythms, tasty grooves, and pulsating atmospheric melodies/textures. I also tend to spend a lot of time before shows recording new ideas or constructing funny samples from pop culture that serve as transitions from one song to the next; so there’s always something fresh for the fans.
6. What made you guys decide to form a band?
Jason - I wanted a band that was open minded about new ways of song writing, and not sticking to the norm. It was important to build a group that would push the limits and grow as talented musicians.
7. What is your opinion on the current state of metal, and also how do you feel about the different classifications in metal and how some get a negative rep?
Jason - There's always going to be people that don't like certain things in music, people change, and so does music. Metal has grown quite a bit and I think the reason is people have a more diverse pallet nowadays. I feel the same on all types of music, if something moves you in an emotional way, then that's all that should matter.
Bobby - In my mind there are two very divergent trends - in the neutral sense of the word - cresting as we speak in the metal community. One is an overall appreciation for high quality performance and production. Everyone sounds way tighter on record than might have been the case ten years ago, and the music dorks are coming out to play with more adventurous compositions that you probably wouldn’t have heard ten years ago. (Or at the very least, you’ll actually hear the nuance nowadays because the aforementioned production value is so good.) Obviously, some bands abuse this ability to produce high quality material and can’t pull it off live, and even others (*cough Rise Records cough*) put out turd compositions and merely polish them with expertly mixed production. A second seems to be a return to a more “retro” image based and even personal association with metal music. Supporting artists with band shirts is no longer enough to be metal, today’s ethos requires a full aesthetic transformation to 1983 Overkill roadie. Nowadays, variance from this increasingly cookie-cutter look and lifestyle will earn you a stern sneer as a concert goer, and a deaf ear as a musician. I think this gets to the question of stylistic classifications. Metalheads love claiming personal responsibility or association with a band or sub-genre’s success (and even lack thereof). “Dude did you listen to Diztortid Anul Wurt’s first EP? They’ve totally fallen off...” When music falls outside a pre-established category of like - or hate - it engenders great dysphoria for the plebe. And they don’t like that. In other words, haters are not only gonna hate, they are likely going to miss out on certain things they’d probably enjoy!
8. What is your opinion on Piracy, and how it has affected the metal scene?
Bobby - In my mind, opposing music piracy on a moral level has the same level of efficacy as establishing a strong negative opinion of continental drift. Also, issuing a Bill O’-esque moral decree against piracy completely ignores the positive aspects of piracy: namely, the fact that more people are listening to, creating and sharing more music. While it’s indisputable that the margins for musicians to live off (LOL) are slimmer than they were in the heyday of Helloween, Hair Spray and Herpes, the question for musicians needs to be threefold: (1) how do we minimize the damage of piracy, (2) how do we maximize the benefits of a free information sharing scheme, and (3) how do we operate outside the scheme of “music as product” to enhance our experience as musicians. A lot of the answers, in my opinion, stem from seizing control of the potential for personal relationships with listeners, grabbing opportunities in parallel revenue streams like merchandising, marketing, advertising and multimedia, and just generally being realistic about what opportunities and pitfalls might arise in the course of making music.
Noah - Our music is available online to stream for free, so anyone savvy enough could easily rip those tracks off for nothing using their laptop or whatever, but we do the download-for-a-fee thing because we know there are still people out there who are willing to pay for good music. Personally, I support piracy as I wouldn’t have been exposed to an iota of the music I now know and love if I never got into it.
9. What would you say separates A Thousand Dead from the rest of new and up and coming bands?
Bobby - Most bands in the metal scene appeal to the lowest common denominator with brutish and oftentimes patently offensive lyrical content. We’ve done our best to stray from that path.
Phil – Above all else, we continue to push ourselves to become great songwriters and transcend existing archetypes. We’ve all been through a lot in life and we collectively understand and appreciate how other genres can tap into the complexity of these universal life experiences in ways that traditional metal cannot. So in the context of our genre, it becomes an exercise in not only paying respect to the decades of incredible bands that paved the way for us, but also in establishing new creative territory by embracing rather than rejecting outside influences. In many ways we’re all reaching for the same thing creatively, we’re just taking different paths to get there… it’s all about working together to create the best possible chance to capture that something unique and everlasting out of the ether.
10. When not doing things with the band, what can you be seen doing in your free time?
Phil – Aside from the occasional travels, I’ve been looking wide and far for a new career path that’ll have me living happily at the intersection of creativity and technology. Our project has pretty much been a 2nd job… anyone who plays in a band knows the extraordinary amount of research, education, creativity, and effort required outside of just writing songs. That being said, I’m constantly immersing myself in photography, web development, and emerging technologies. Otherwise I love exercising and all things food.
Jason - I enjoy listening to and learning about music, reading, practicing my rudiments, starting crafty projects, and photography.
Noah - I manage about 60 properties around the Bay Area, you can see me doing inspections, arguing with tenants and posting notices.
11. What made you guys decide A Thousand Dead as your band name?
Jason - Funny story, I was reading some info on the band Neurosis… I saw that they were really into the author Jack London, so I decided to look up some of his stories. There was one that really caught my eye called "A Thousand Deaths." The funny part was that I totally forgot it was “Deaths,” and said to the guys, "Hey what about A Thousand Dead?" Everyone loved the name.
12. Can you guys explain the writing/recording process for A Thousand Dead "Portals"?
Phil – While we’re so excited to finally release this record, a majority of it was actually written in 2010 so as many musicians can [frustratingly] understand, these things take a lot longer than you’d ever like them to and by the time they’re released, they’re not necessarily indicative of the band’s current viewpoint/style. That being said, we tried to spend as much time writing as a collective unit in our rehearsal space as possible; the idea was to quickly learn how we each operate so that we could not only collaborate more effectively, but also make sure that the final product ultimately reflected a shared vision. From the very beginning, I took on a leadership role, guiding the overall creative direction of the group and taking time to figure out everyone’s abilities, likes, and dislikes… everything I’d need to know to push them to write the best possible parts for these songs. I think we made a conscious effort to stay away from traditional song structures and strive for a more narrative approach that felt like we were taking the listener on a journey; of course this resulted in longer execution times for each song and an obscene amount of unrepeated parts (roughly 10-15) to commit to memory. At the end of the writing process we had 9 songs and were pretty happy with the balance between death metal and progressive metal; it just came down to picking 4 songs that would capture the dynamism and technicality of the music.
The recording process was far from ideal and far longer than most people would care to endure. You’ll have to catch another interview with us that’s entirely about the recording process, but for the sake of keeping this story concise, I’d be happy to share some key details with you. Drums were recorded using something like 27 mics at an amazing room at Ex’pression College for Digital Arts. Due to several limitations, for the final mix we ended up using Wavemachine Labs Drumagog to blend a combination of Jason’s kit samples with high-quality samples we found online to help add precision and dynamics to his performance. The guitars were DI’d at home and were reamped using a Fractal Audio Axe-Fx II running through a Peavey 6505+ head (power tube section only) and 2 4x12 Mesa and Vader cabinets. All clean parts actually ran just through the Axe-Fx processor, which shows you just how incredible the cleans and effects are on that thing. Clarinet for “Calculating Existence” was recorded by this talented instrumentalist named John Patrick Douglas; great guy that came in one afternoon and laid down all the clarinet parts in a few hours, we were so thrilled to collaborate with him. That leaves the bass which was recorded in standard fashion and all the synths which I composed and recorded at home using a combination of Propellerhead Reason and Native Instruments Absynth. Once that was all said and done, our secret weapons Sammy Fielding (mixing engineer) and Brett Caldas-Lima (mastering engineer) took over and absolutely took our songs to the next level. How do we feel about the end product? Proud! Also, extremely relieved.
13. What has been the bands biggest moment?
Jason – Hands down, finishing this E.P.
Phil – Absolutely finishing the E.P.; in hindsight it would have made an amazing documentary considering the almost constant stream of unforeseen drama that started with our ex-singer and ex-guitarist leaving the band unexpectedly mid-recording and climaxing with me spending what seemed like all winter hunting down our original engineer and our files… I won’t get into the specifics because we’re all about looking to the future, but if you’ve had a similar experience, we’d love to commiserate over a few drinks.
14. Can you tell the fans more about the new EP "Portals" and how would you describe the music on the EP?
Jason - Massive, balanced, technical, groovy, with a touch of Atmosphere.
Phil – I coined the term “Progressive Death Jazz” when we formed this band and “Portals” is the realization of that creative vision. Freeform song structures fuse fast-paced modern metal technicality with dynamic jazz-inspired cleans and soaring electro-cinematic textures. Crushing, complex rhythms contrast pulsating atmospheric melodies navigating the listener through viscerally thrilling passages reflecting a sense of immediacy and wonder.
15. What can the fans expect to see from A Thousand Dead in the future?
Phil - As we move past the formative years of the group, we see nothing but exciting opportunities in the future! We’ve had such an overwhelming positive response to the record so we want to make sure everyone understands just how appreciative we are and the best way to do that is to continue working hard every single day to find new ways of engaging with everyone in a fun and collaborative way. Stay tuned for lots of cool developments including summer/fall concert dates, new merch from some pretty talented artists, and a steady stream of YouTube updates showcasing all new materials from our first full length album due out next year.