Good day to you Jeff, welcome to Sentinel Daily and thanks for getting involved in our end of year wrap up! Let’s dive straight into the questions – What was the best new album you heard in 2016? “I’m a big fan of Russian Circles’ Guidance. I’ll say this now as a disclaimer: I am the only member of Illyrian that’s into instrumental prog type stuff, so my views should not be applied to us as whole! I saw Russian Circles open for High on Fire once upon a time and I was completely enthralled with their performance. Such talented and creative usage of loop pedals, stellar movements from soft, trippy ambience to brutal and massive heavy sections – I find their music tells such a story without ever saying a single word. It helps that Dave Turncrantz is arguably my favorite drummer on the planet (not to overshadow Mike Sullivan and Brian Cook though!).
And what about old stuff – did any reissues grab your attention this year? “Honestly nothing really comes to mind… not to say that there likely weren’t some good ones out there, I just haven’t listened to any reissues at all recently!”
Fair enough! What was your non-musical highlight of the last twelve months? “I had the opportunity to visit Ireland with my girlfriend this year and that was really cool. It was somewhat of a last minute decision, everything was really impromptu. A lot of good memories from those couple of weeks – a lot of blurry ones too (laughs). June also marked 5 years in remission from my Hodgkin’s Lymphoma which was a very big deal! That’s about as close to cured as you can come in the cancer world. My wonderful friends threw me a huge surprise party and it was just such an awesome way to celebrate such a momentous milestone”.
Wow! congratulations. That kind of puts our questions into perspective I think! Anyway, we’ll soldier on with them… What have you found particularly disappointing about the wider world in 2016? “It’s no secret that 2016 has been pretty rough on the creative world – we’ve lost some absolute legends. Also, I’m not an overly political individual, but watching this election gain momentum down in the United States has me in equal parts stitches and tears. On a more local front, the city of Calgary in Alberta, Canada, which Illyrian calls its home, has been suffering in a recession for a while now and there’s no end in sight. Some of us in the band have been out of work for a while now, and there are many others in our shoes too. It’s a tense atmosphere here, no one has any money and people are on edge. It’s not a very fun place to be right now”.
That’s where music plays such an important life in people’s lives, giving them a little respite and relief from the grind of real life. Do you think the music scene – and our sort of music in particular – is in good shape at the minute? “I think metal has always had a strong scene; we are all just so passionate about it! There’s a sense of belonging in being a part of something bigger, something that resonates with us all as a collective deep down. Bands are still touring, albums are still getting made, people are still discovering new soniscapes to breathe new life into… I’d say that’s about as healthy a scene can get really”.
I have to say I agree wholeheartedly with those opinions! So we’re in a good place collectively, but did anything disappoint you musically in 2016? “Unfortunately, yes. As a big fan of After The Burial, I was pretty let down by their new album, Dig Deep. The obvious elephant in the room here that was on the back of everyone’s minds when it came out was: will they still sound the same after the departure, and incredibly tragic passing of founding guitarist Justin Lowe? Now I’ll be the first to admit that I don’t know how much of Dig Deep Lowe had creative input on, and I’m certainly not slighting the writing of the rest of the band, I just felt it lacked a lot of the dynamics and drive found on their previous entries like Rareform and Wolves Within. But it’s hard to judge the album with such scrutiny knowing what the band must have gone through with Lowe’s passing, and I hope as a band that this album was able to help them cope with the loss of their brother and pave a road for them to move forward on”.
Kind words, and again I’d like to reiterate what you say in support! Which practitioners of your own musical role impressed you most this year? “That’s a hard one… I had the absolute privilege of catching Baroness on their tour for Purple this year and Nick Jost totally blew me away. I’ve been a fan of Baroness since Red, I have got to watch (listen) to them grow from record to record, through that horrible bus accident in 2012 where they all but went dark for a few years, all the way to their triumphant return with a new rhythm section. Both Jost and Sebastian Thomson (drums) had such big shoes to fill, and I feel they bring a refreshing element to the unit. Watching Jost on stage jump from his hunched and bouncing bass stance to looming over synthesizers while utterly controlling the energy on his corner of the stage was a really cool thing to behold. I dare say Purple is my favorite album in their portfolio now”.
Best live act you’ve seen this year? “This one might surprise a few readers, but seeing Frank Turner live was actually phenomenal. My girlfriend has always been a huge fan of him so I’ve listened to basically all of his albums via road trips several times over, but I was always a little lukewarm on him on record. He was one of the most captivating entertainers I’ve ever seen live, that man knows how to put on one hell of a show! I’ve never seen someone captivate an audience so entirely, perform each note with such energy, and have the charm to engage the room with such hilarious but thoughtful stage banter. I will make an effort to see him every time he comes through, he was THAT good”.
Blimey. But he’s a big fan of Iron Maiden, so we’re always happy to give props to Frank! What does the next twelve months hold in prospect for you? “Right now we are just really riding the coat tails of releasing our album, Round 2: Fight!, as it’s been a long road for all of us, especially Scott (Onofrychuk) and Brandon (McNeil) (the remaining founding members). We’ve worked hard to create something we are all proud of, and we want to get it out there. Regrettably we had to cancel a western Canadian tour we had lined up due to some circumstances, but we’re hoping to get back on the road in the Spring and get our work out there!”
Which band, if any, do you think is primed to break out into the wider consciousness in 2017? “Shokran is a recent discovery for me and I love what they are up to. I actually stumbled across them on Instagram of all places, saw they released an album (Exodus, which is all sorts of fantastic awesome), and decided to check them out. I’ve mentioned the name to many of my metal friends to be greeted with blank looks, despite having just under 30,000 “likes” on their Facebook profile which is certainly not a small number. Consider me converted, dudes: I will spread your name in the Great White North”.
I’m looking blank too. But I will endeavour to check them out! We’re fast approaching the festive season – best night for a party – Christmas Eve or New Year’s Eve? “Why not both!”
Why not indeed, although I must say the older I get the more attractive the lounge room and a nice bottle of bourbon appears! We’re not going to ask for a New Year’s Resolution – we haven’t got past halloween yet… but what musical feat do you hope to attain next year? “I’m actually a relatively new bass player, despite being a performer for almost a decade now. I’ve been a guitar player for the majority of those years, but decided to move to bass because I felt the market is just super oversaturated in the guitarist department and very much undersaturated on the bass side of things, at least as far as my local scene goes. What I ultimately discovered is that I should have been a bassist since the beginning. It’s so much more in line with who I am as a creative force and as a performer. I love discovering counter-melodies, or completely changing the feel of a riff by simply changing the way I emphasize something. I also find it immensely less stressful on stage because I’m not laser focused on hitting 5-million notes per minute, and that allows me to be more cognizant of my stage presence. I can find that pocket and just groove in it, and that is the happy place I didn’t know I was missing until I found it. I’ve got some catching up to do when it comes to technique, so that will be my focus on a musical level for a while yet I’m sure”.
Practice makes perfect! Anything else you’d like to say to the readers of Sentinel Daily “I’m touched if you actually read this whole thing, I know you’re a busy person! I hope you’ll check out Illyrian and Canadian metal in general, because there are some great bands being forged here! Support local music, every little bit helps and helps us performers press on – together, we are the scene. Stay heavy”.
Nice – and wise – words to end on. Thanks for getting involved!