Chaos Divine – these 2 words pretty much sums up what this band is all about…and they just keep continuing to progress and raise the bar. If they had released a movie…it probably could have been called 50 shades of colour…
but they didnt…
Thankfully, their latest effort Colliding Skies was recently released on 6 March 2015 and fans of progressive rock/metal are in for a treat.
We chat to Simon Mitchell, who not only handles one half of the guitar duties, but also recorded and engineered the sounds behind Colliding Skies
So, it’s been a few years between albums and no doubt a lot of time,dedication and hard work has been put into creating Colliding Skies
What does this new release mean to you?
That’s a tough question to answer in a non-generic way. All I can really say is that it’s the final result of the last four years of the creative operation of the band but also, in a way it’s the beginning of the life of these songs. Throughout the four year writing process all we could really do was write the core elements of each song and so up until the recording process we could only judge these songs at an embryonic stage. Even with pre-production all you can do is get a rough idea of whether the song works at a fundamental level and maybe what direction you plan to take it. It’s not until you approach the end of the recording process and then start getting mixes that the songs finally come alive.
Chaos Divine is known for dynamic and interesting song arrangements, with a nice blend of melodies, riffs, odd time signatures and grooves. Can you describe your approach to song-writing and the process of how songs structures and arrangements come to be.
It varies from song to song. Sometimes a song starts from just a verse and chorus idea at home, gets taken to the jam room and built upon by the band as a whole. Sometimes a song is written in the jam room from the ground up, perhaps starting with a drum and guitar groove. Sometimes it’s a bit of a collaboration between Ryan and myself coming up with guitar parts together in front of a computer. The one thing all of our songs have in common is that they all get tweaked to a degree by the band as a whole. No matter how good a song one of us is presenting to the rest of the band may be, it invariably goes through many changes until it gets to the point where it feels like it’s a Chaos Divine song rather than a song written by one of the guys in Chaos Divine.
Do you and Ryan ever get into any arguments over guitar parts? Is there a point where you both reach a standstill and say…get a saxophone to play it.
Hah! We’re generally on the same page with most things. We have our disagreements from time to time but the good thing about our relationship is that we really trust each other, so if for example I feel particularly strongly about something, Ryan will generally trust my judgement even if he doesn’t entirely agree with it. The same goes when I’m unsure about his ideas. If he’s certain about something I trust that he’s making the right call.
But when all else fails…sax.
Any favourite tracks of Colliding Skies ?
Favourite tracks? The opener – Landmines comes to mind. It definitely sets a pretty good tone for the rest of the album. I also think Symbiotic turned out really well. I was so worried about that song. It’s quite experimental and I was never confident that it even worked as a song but when it came back all polished up with a great mix and in context with the rest of the album it actually became one of my favourite songs.
The track “Soldiers” has a very uplifting and positive vibe…Can you share some insight on the concept of the video clip, produced and directed by David Vincent Smith?
Funny you say that because the lyrical theme of the song is anything but uplifting. If anything it’s enraging. Long story short – it’s about a group of environmental activists in the U.S. who took things to the extreme. They would sabotage timber processing facilities, logging equipment and various other things, often by burning them down or doing the ol’ sugar in the petrol tank trick. So these guys did some pretty gnarly shit to cause problems for industries that weren’t environmentally friendly. What they never did though was physically injure or kill anybody. Despite this, members of the group were charged under anti-terrorism laws with one of the guys facing life + 335 years. Thankfully, he got out after something like 7 years.
So that’s basically the story behind the song. The clip is kind of a generalised version of the story – the pig nosed kid represents consumerism and total ignorance to the fact that we are failing as custodians of our planet. Then the activists come along and open his eyes to the real world and as a result he becomes a soldier like them in the fight to save the environment from total destruction.
Unfortunately Jackman wasn’t down with the pig nose gig but I reckon young Ben Taylor did a pretty alright job.
How and why did you first pick up the guitar?
I still remember – I was in year six. We had an assembly (small school so we could all fit on the library floor for assemblies) and as a special treat the school had arranged for some chap to play electric guitar for us. At the end the principal called hands up who would like to stay back after assembly to get a closer look at the guitar and speak to the nice guitar man. One of those hands was mine. As a result my parents enrolled me in the classical guitar course for the next two years and bought me a little Yammy nylon string. I actually sucked at it so bad. I was that kid who just pretended to play during performances, allowing the other kids and the teacher to carry my arse.
My folks (bless ‘em) were totally ignorant to my sucking and bought me an Abilene strat copy and 15W Samick amp for Christmas a couple of years later. I thought it was the most rock and roll thing ever. It rejuvenated my interested briefly but after some lessons with a really shit guitar teacher who was uninterested in going any further than getting me to learn Green Day songs while she made herself cups of tea, I ended up putting the thing away.
That sounds like something a lot of guitar players can really relate too. Was there anything in particular that re-sparked your interest?
A couple of years later at around age 15 some of my friends started to learn guitar and I got the bug again and never looked back. Ben Lockhart (Forstora) gave me a few lessons and I bought the Metallica Black Album tab book and was on my way. I’ll never forget one moment in one of those lessons where he tried to teach me about melody by saying “I know this one guy who can’t write melodies, he just goes up and down a scale”. It wasn’t until years later that I realised the cheeky bastard was probably talking about me!
Towards the end of high school I began jamming with a few guys and we formed a band. Over the years we went from playing covers to writing our own songs and began playing pub gigs. In fact it was when our previous guitarist Mike couldn’t play a band competition we were in that we got Ryan to fill in. Our drummer at the time used to work with Ryan and knew he could play. He introduced us and so when we needed a fill-in we gave him the call he was interested. He played the gig for us and then a year or two later when Mike decided to leave the band it was a no-brainer that Ryan would be the guy to replace him. It all sort of came about from there.
First album you purchased ?
RATM – The Battle Of Los Angeles. Not a bad way to get started I reckon.
The first albums I ever listened to as a young kid were also pretty sweet. My parents gave me three tapes to shut me up while we travelled and they were Def Leppard’s Adrenalize, AC/DC’s The Razor’s Edge, and John Farnham’s Greatest Hits.
That’s a solid foundation, right there.
From a production point of view, what are some albums that have changed the way you view and record, either for your own band, or others.
My approach to recording has been more of a gradual evolution so I don’t know if I could cite many particular records that have totally changed things for me. Perhaps one of the more important times for me regarding music production was when I was assisting Forrester Savell for The Siren Tower’s album A History Of Houses (unreal album). It was also around the same time I got heavily into the band Dredg. Something that their album The Pariah, The Parrot, The Delusion has in common with AHOH is the changing drum sounds from song to song. It’s not something that is explored a whole lot in metal. Generally a good drum sound is achieved and kept for the duration of recording, perhaps changing the snare from time to time. The two albums I mentioned however (along with loads of other rock albums) go to the point of getting sounds on a song-by-song basis. Once the song is recorded, the setup is pulled down and then completely rearranged for the next song. It’s obviously very time consuming but when you think about it, why not treat each song individually and tailor each sound to what is appropriate? I think that’s how you really capture the dynamic nature of an album. It’s much more creative and a lot more fun.
We did this to a degree with Colliding Skies. We didn’t have the time to completely pull down setups between songs but we got in there and changed things around to suit the songs. Most songs have different snares and different tunings, different kick drums, toms, cymbals. Symbiotic has the most absurdly downtuned snare and toms. Ben says it was like hitting empty cardboard boxes.
In a similar way for guitars I think Mastodon’s Crack The Skye had much the same effect on me. Largely due to that album, my approach is never to simply use a guitar tone because it sounds good by itself. Sometimes the grossest sounds are the best sounds for the part. I think character tones in certain places are what really give songs and albums an identity that is unique.
You recorded the bulk of the instruments at Underground Studios in Booragoon right? for us gear nerds, run us through some of the equipment and setups behind the guitar tones of the album.
Yup, we recorded the drums, bass, rhythm guitars and additional percussion at Underground Studios. Great little studio.
For guitars we used multiple setups. We’re very fortunate to have mates with vast gear collections who are willing to help us out when we record. Troy Nababan, Dan Mazzarol and Grant Burns all lent us gear which became integral to the guitar tones we pulled.
We used four different setups, two for 6-string songs and two for 7-string songs.
For the 6-string songs the first core setup consisted of Troy’s insanely good sounding Gibbo LP standard going into Grant’s Bad Cat Lynx and then into a Framus 2×12. That was mic’d up with an sm57 and an AKG414.
The other 6-string setup was Troy’s LP again, into another one of Troy’s little gems which was an old modded Marshall JMP, running into my Marshall AX 4×12 with the 25W greenbacks. This JMP sounds INSANE. You can gain it right the fuck up but it keeps that classic Marshall tone. So you end up with this modern high gain modification while still retaining the clarity and bite you get from an old Marshall. I haven’t stopped dreaming of that amp in the months since we finished using it. I shouldn’t have given it back to him actually. Mics on that setup were an sm57, a Royer121 and an AKG414.
For the 7-string songs we used Ryan’s Mayones guitar into the Bad Cat switched over to my Marshall AX cab for one setup. The other was the same Mayones guitar into my Blackstar HT-100 head then into the Framus 2×12.
So we tracked each of these setups twice which meant four main guitar tracks per song. Two passes panned hard left/right for one, two passes panned hard left/right for the other.
These were just the core setups though. We used a wide variety of guitars and amps for all the various cleans, low gains, overdubs, leads and FX. Some of the amps included a Vox AC-30, a Laney GH-100 and Laney GL-100, Marshall DSL100 and I’m sure a few others I’m forgetting. As for guitars we used my PRS a fair bit along with Ryan’s Ibanez RGA 321F. We also used the studio owned Cole Clark hollow body strat with P90’s for a few parts, along with Troy’s overtly pretty Suhr guitar. We actually got probably the nicest clean tone ever achieved by using the Suhr and Marshall DSL100. I’ve never heard such a nice clean tone…and that’s coming from a guy who fucking hates clean tone!
One interesting thing we did was use an old Ibanez semi-hollow body guitar with crusty old strings mic’d up acoustically in the kitchen for the intro to the last song on the album – With Nothing We Depart. That was kinda fun. I like quirky things like that.
As for pedals – again, we used a variety for the ridiculous number of odd bits and pieces we put into this album. They were mostly fuzzes and overdrives and octave pedals though, as we prefer to lend flexibility to the mix engineer so we put modulations/reverbs/delays on afterwards during the mix stage. We used a bit of Rat, some Fuzz Factory, Boss SD-1, OC-3 octave pedal. We managed to sneak a bit of my AA Human Centipede in there along with a bit of AA Esquilax. There is one riff at the end of one of the songs where the Esquilax really comes into its element. See if you can guess which song ; )
That’s really easy… I can hear it from a mile away…
It’s funny, while tracking I just couldn’t get the sound I wanted. I was trying hm2 and all these other things and thinking ‘why can’t I get the kind of sound I get we play it live?’ then it dawned on me that maybe I should just use the pedal that I actually use live. Plugged in the Esquilax and bam, there it was.
So, how are you guys going to be able to recreate these songs live?
With such varying and complex setups used during the recording process there is only so much we can do. Ryan does use an AxeFx though so that gives him quite a few options. In fact he recently bought a Fuzz Factory.
I use a Blackstar HT-100 live. The three channels on this amp, combined with my two floorboards worth of pedals gives me enough options to recreate the album as faithfully as one might expect. The pedals include a Pigtronix Keymaster (because Blackstars stupidly don’t have FX loop on/off switches), a Holy Grail reverb, Boss DD-20 multi delay pedal, AA Human Centipede tubescreamer and volume boost, Vox Trike octofuzz, Boss compressor/sustainer, EHX Micropog, AA Esquilax and finally a Boss tuner.
I reckon I could use a few more pedals. The tap dancing though…UGH!
With the Album being only recently released, with a hometown launch show in Perth (Amplifier Bar March 20 w/ support from Carthasy, Opia and Forstora) what are your tour plans for Colliding Skies ?
We’re off to Melbourne the following morning to play Rock The Bay festival at The Espy that night. Those double-stager Espy festivals are amazing gigs. The turnouts are often huge and the vibe is always fun. Then we play Woy Woy Leagues Club on March 26, followed by a gig at The Bald Faced Stag in Sydney on Friday March 27 and finally we play at New Globe in Brisbane on the 28th.
We can’t wait to get out there and show everybody what we’ve been working on for the past four years!
Give us your best “wtf” live show experience…
Yep, there have been a few. One that comes to mind is when playing the Australian Heavy Metal Awards a few years ago. Backstory – at a Perth gig we spontaneously broke into an AxCx song, a song that goes for about ten seconds. Everybody thought it was hilarious. So we decided to do the same at this awards show in Sydney. We finished all ten seconds or so worth of song and at the end of it – silence. It was pretty awkward.
Thanks for taking the time to give us your insights
You can check out Chaos Divine on –
Additional info –
Simon’s”Human Centipedal”,built in 2011, perfectly suited to the previous album release,”The Human Connection” was recently reshared on social media and stirred up quite a bit of interest. Its inception was a result of an online forum thread, where I was attempting to help a fellow guitar gear person in need,with some diagrams for diagnosing a broken pedal for repair. Simon cheekily posted up the picture of the human centipede and the thread just went down south. No online assistance has been offered since then, so you can thank Simon for that…
Simon also gets additional credit for why the AA EQ pedal ended up with the name Esquilax (released 2012, now discontinued)
You just can’t argue with chief wiggum…