Sci-Fi Death Metal Exploration: In Conversation with Artificial Brain vocalist Will Smith

Interview by Jason Williams

Long Island NY technical death metal group released a highly impressive sophomore full-length ‘Infrared Horizon’ earlier in 2017 via Profound Lore Records, and are currently on a North American tour supporting Cattle Decapitation, Revocation and Full Of Hell. As part of this tour, they played a show at The Regent in downtown Los Angeles, and our writer Jason Williams sat down with vocalist Will Smith for an interview. Check out the conversation below.

The last time I believe Artificial Brain was here on a full tour, was with Black Dahlia tour, right?

Yeah, if I’m not mistaken, it was 2015, and it was Black Dahlia Murder, Goatwhore, Entheos, Iron Reagan, and us.

That was probably the biggest tour the band has ever been on, considering Black Dahlia’s popularity. Throughout the tour, how was the band received, in terms of their crowd, and sales, popularity for Artificial Brain? Did the tour “pay off?”

Absolutely it did! I mean, we knew going into that tour, it was a great opportunity for us. And in my opinion, may be we were a little too small or too underground, but they gave us the opportunity, and believed in us. So we were thankful for that, yeah! Every show we went into, Black Dahlia Murder fans were lined up around the corner, to see them and Goatwhore. And we were able to open up, and expose our music to them. And yeah, we sold merchandise, and more importantly too, every time we go out of state now, for smaller shows or for whatever we’re doing, people are saying, “Oh, I saw you guys at the Black Dahlia Murder show!” You know what I mean? So that exposed us to a WHOLE big segment of the metal audience, that didn’t know about us yet. That was one of the best things we could have done.

And now this would be “Round 2”, in terms of supporting a big metal tour, Cattle Decapitation and Revocation, also big names. Same game plan this time around, continue to hype the momentum of the band before the end of the year?

Yes, it would be great to get another one of these tour packages, but we’re kind of focusing on this at the moment. Because, it’s not realistic for us to be like one of those bands on tour, like 8 or 9 months out of the year, some with our jobs, school and other things we have going on. So it’d be great if we could do that, but it might end up being another year before we could commit to something like that, you know what I mean? But yeah, of course, it’s always great playing these big package tours. You get to expose yourself to a whole different audience, and play some really great clubs, like here (at The Regent). We’d love to do that, but I think the thing next year in 2018 is probably writing and we’re going to focus getting on some festivals, and do some weekenders. Just going out of state with some other bands and stuff. So if another big tour package like this comes along, and we can do with all of our schedules, that’d be great! But it’s just difficult to work out with our real lives, so to speak.

Speaking of local touring, I noticed on social media that Artificial Brain do a lot of local New York shows, which is great, because you’re already there, and can play a good show, supporting someone like Suffocation, or do a special headlining show. Does it make it easier for the band to play, get the name some notoriety in the meantime, while you’re making these tour plans?

Yeah, we’re fortunate enough to be from New York, because there’s a big scene out there. We’re from Long Island, which is a little bit outside of New York City, but in Brooklyn, Manhattan, and Queens there’s always shows going on. That helps us, man. Every few months we’ll go to one of those areas, or play a Long Island show. We can sell a lot of merch, and can be comfortable knowing we’ll have some local support out there, so it is great, man! And we could try out new material, and get tight live before we come out here as well. We played a few local shows and a few out of state shows, warming up for this tour, you know? Just to get ready. So yeah, in certain regions you might not have as many opportunities to play out live, so coming from New York, we definitely take advantage of the fact that we do. And we did open for Suffocation a few years ago, which was a great opportunity. It was one of those bucket list things for us.

‘Infrared Horizon’ was just released a few months ago, and supporting the album on this tour and the rest of the year, I noticed there were some positive and drastic changes from the first record, production wise. In terms of vocals, on the first record ‘Labyrinth Constellation’, the vocals weren’t exactly lower in the mix, but not on the same level as the rest of the instruments, and on this album I noticed your vocals were much more present and your volume is much better this time around. Talk about the production changes and any other small changes from the first record to this one.

Well, we went back to Colin Marston to produce it, as he produced the first one. But I think we told him, if we wanted anything kind of tweaked from the first one, we did want the vocals to kind of… in the first one, the vocals melted a little bit into the mix, and this one we wanted them to punch through. I think we also wanted some of the guitars to have a little bit more crunch. The first one was a little bit more atmospheric, and things melted in with one another, but we wanted this one to have more punch, and a little bit more of that death metal crunch to it, may be some of the vocals stand out a little more, instead of like, sweeping into the whole mix of everything. So yeah, we definitely wanted to bring some things into focus and clarity here, but we didn’t want to stray too far from the sound, you know?

From the first album to this one, I would also say the writing itself is something I’m really interested in, and fascinated with the band creating something like this. Because this is something that will most likely never be played in mainstream American radio, and that’s okay. But the thing is, it’s quite different within the structures, the chords, and the dissonance itself. The riffs are not just there to be played, they’re also there for a story, not just in the lyrics, the music and riffs create a story within itself. As a vocalist, talk about what you’re surrounded by in terms of musicianship, the complex songwriting, and the natural, unusual aspect of the riffs itself?

It makes me feel lucky. I’m surrounded by really talented musicians, really hard working guys, and I just try to keep the pace with what I do, and make sure that what I contribute to the band is as fresh and as heartfelt as what they’re doing, man. Dan Gargiulo (guitarist) writes the majority of the songs, and the other guys contribute their parts as it all comes together, and I just try to stay as inspired, fresh, and stay in practice, you know? Like I said, making sure I can keep up with those guys, because I’m aware, I don’t know how to play drums, I don’t know how to play a 7-string guitar, but I’m aware of what’s going on in the music, and I don’t take it lightly. So I try to make sure that what I contribute matches up to those guys, as difficult as that can be sometimes. When you say that this type of music will never be played on mainstream radio, that’s the other Will Smith, that does it for you (laughs). This is what I do, man. I just feel lucky to be surrounded by really talented musicians, and it’s inspiring to me. When they come to me, usually they’ll have an instrumental figured out, bring it to me, and I gotta lay out the vocals over it, and as you said, there’s almost a story there within the riffs, the way this guys writes. So I just kind of picture whatever theme I had for the lyrics, and it almost writes itself sometimes. Not to sound cliche, but yeah, there’s a story there in the melodies, and everything that they use, and it’s up to me to connect the dots.

I would guess that you’re responsible for all the lyrics and vocal arrangements?

Yes.

In terms of writing those vocals, since they write the instrumentals for the songs first, what is the story you want to tell, within what they do? For example, a lot of bands will write just to be “groovy”, or write something that’s just “technical.” But I feel that this is something a little more demented, and deeper. What is the goal that the band has, with the lyrics going into the music?

Well, I mean, that’s a loaded one. At the risk of sounding cliche or whatever, we want to express ourselves. We’re from New York, I’m from Long Island, that’s the home of groove oriented death metal –
Suffocation, Internal Bleeding, Pyrexia – and I love those bands. We might incorporate some inspiration we take from them, but there’s a lot of us that goes into it. What we really want to do, we want to all come together and bring different inspirations from different pockets of death metal and black metal together, in a way may be that hasn’t been done before, or in a way that expresses ourselves. We want to be Artificial Brain. We don’t hear a band that we really look up to, and we really admire a record and say, “Let’s do exactly what that is.” We go what’s going on behind that thought process, what could we be inspired from, what we could learn from these people. Again, it’s not the most original thing to say, but we just want to be our own band with our own sound. It’s not so much about a catchy riff, or a hook or something like that for us, there is a narrative within the stories. I like to present that within the album itself, there’s a greater narrative throughout all the songs, but within each song there’s a story too! So yeah, there’s a story there, and as you said, not mainstream pop music. Nothing about your girlfriend, going to the club, or something. And I like to think too, that I write the lyrics, but you really can’t understand what I’m saying, the way I’m present them. So people can access the songs and kind of identify them to whatever part of their life, the music brings up, you know?

I don’t believe ‘Infrared Horizon’ is an actual concept album, but I noticed around the 4th track, ‘Estranged from Orbit’, to around the 8th song, ‘Vacant Explorer’, that those 5 songs together, almost feels like is a concept piece together, the core of the record, with ‘Mist Like Mercury’ complementing with its horror-like melody around the end. Would you say that the middle core of the album is something intentional from the band?

We planned this to be kind of a concept album. It wasn’t supposed to be like a very obvious blatant beginning, middle, end, storyline, like your ‘Operation: Mindcrime’ or other concept albums. We wanted it to have themes that related to one another. And if you’re reading the lyrics, there’s certain things where you say, “Oh, they mentioned that in the other song, and talked about this in the other song, or that’s a term that they used on Labyrinth Constellation’s lyrics”, etc. So if you read the lyrics from both albums, you can get a little bit more out of it, I feel. There’s a lot of cross-referencing between the songs themselves, and the whole ‘Infrared Horizon’ album is supposed to take place in this kind of dystopian, artificial intelligence future. If you noticed in the news and everything, there’s stuff kind of fueling that every day, and we’re getting closer and closer to a future that’s more dominated by artificial intelligence, if we’re not there already. So we want all of these songs to kind of play off of that, like the song ‘Vacant Explorer’. That’s about an artificially intelligent space ship, things that occur, if you read the lyrics. And there’s other songs that are more of the perspective of a computer-based intellect that’s becoming self aware, that’s developing its own form of consciousness or awareness. So each song, it’s not necessarily like one character that you follow on the entire album, but it’s more like an anthology of stories, that all deal with the central theme of artificial intelligence, and a dystopian future. The last song, ‘Ash Eclipse’, we won’t let on too much, but that’s actually about volcanoes, and in my eyes, that’s the big conclusion to the whole thing: everybody dies (laughs). Not necessarily, it’s how you interpret it. But yeah, there’s stories there, that all relate to one another, and you can kind of make your own bigger impression out of it.

For the lyrical inspiration, is this something that may be you discovered in school, hobbies with astronomy, stars, and maybe science fiction creatures? Where did the inspiration for those lyrics come from, in terms of your personal life?

Well, reading Issac Asimov, for one. The artificial intelligent runs through a lot in our pop culture, you know? Growing up, obviously there was the Terminator movies, but Issac Asimov’s Foundation Trilogy was a big thing for this album. Futurama, believe it or not, the television Matt Groening show, Futurama deals with a lot of artificial intelligence, and it’s kind of like these abstract emotions and awareness that you wouldn’t really think of. But I mean, just in terms of the greater context of the band, I joined Artificial Brain around 2009, and they told me they formed a band a few months prior, and they said this is a science fiction death metal band. A sci-Fi space death metal band. There’s a broad range of things you can cover with the lyrics within that context, but that’s the main thing. It’s not a gore band, it’s not a demonic band, or a political band, and those bands have their place, I’m not knocking any of that, but this is what we do, we do science fiction. So that’s always been an interest of mine, reading, movies, the movie Metropolis. I can go on and on, but a lot of classic science fiction novels and books that we all share in common with the band. We just feel like that’s what we want to represent with the music, and I used a lot of that stuff as metaphors. Like more real street level problems and situations, within the context of these future dystopian worlds.

In terms of the songwriting, getting together and writing the material, I wouldn’t exactly say a rule, but because of where the music is going, there’s not a lot of triplets, or basic aspects you’d find in your average death metal band. Are there any “rules” that the band is aware of when writing for Artificial Brain, in order to keep that sound going and strong? Luc Lemay of Gorguts said while writing for the album Obscura, there was no scat blasting, or traditional triplets with the guitars, for example.

It’s a tough question for me to answer, but I think with us it’s more a matter of how Dan writes. He’s into Gorguts, he’s into Deathspell Omega, Abigor. They’re into a lot of these bands that use very interesting song structures, and don’t do traditionally, where they’ll go left and a lot of metal bands will go right. We love a lot of the traditional death metal bands, we’re all death metal fans. Growing up on Morbid Angel, Suffocation, Cannibal Corpse, all these bands, Cryptopsy too. But I think in terms of what we’re doing, Dan and the guitar guys try to intricate a little bit more of that black metal and that European kind of experimental sense of writing, and if you listen to the drums, we kind of have a little joke within us. But there’s some truth to it, with me and Keith (Abrami) the drummer, the drums and the vocals are the death metal/grindcore quality of the music, where the guitars are more of the melodic, black metal and dissonant metal parts to it. So we all come together. I’d say it’s more in the mix of individuals and our own certain styles that we bring to it, that it is consciously in the writing, that we end up how we sound. If you looked at all of our CD collections, or all of our iPods, we all have a lot of different shit. Like I’m more of a goregrind/death metal guy, our bass player Samuel (Smith), is into a lot of different jazz and experimental music, and I can go on and on. We all come together at the end of the day, to play death metal, and this is how it comes out.

Speaking of Dan, he plays in Revocation, and coincidentally enough, you’re on tour with them. Does it make it easier for both bands in terms of equipment setup, or just in general?

Yeah, he’s doing double duty each night. Tonight, I don’t think he gets a break in between even, because Full of Hell isn’t on the tour yet, Thanotology’s opening tonight, so he’s playing back to back, but most nights he’ll have a break in between. Full of Hell’s going to be playing between Artificial Brain and Revocation, but he’s an ace guitarist. He knows what he’s doing, and very well practiced. He wouldn’t have signed on to do something like this unless he was really psyched to do it, and knew he could pull it off. I think it’s that Revocation and Artificial Brain are two different extensions of his passion in life, he’s probably psyched to be doing all of this. And for us yeah, we share a little equipment with Revocation. We’re all good buddies with them through the years, playing a few shows before in the past, so it’s great. It’s great to be on the road with your friends, big package tours like this where you meet up with the same big group of people every night, it’s great when you can get along with everyone. We’ve played with Full of Hell before, many times, we’ve met the guys from Cattle Decapitation last time we were out here in Cali, so things are looking up. This should be a real nice tour where everybody gets along, and the gear sharing with Revocation is great, and I’m sure Dan wouldn’t look at it as a burden at all, I think he’s excited to be doing two sets a night.

Since Revocation tours more than Artificial Brain, does it actually work within the schedule for both bands, and Dan himself?

Oh yeah! We have a session guitarist, and I hesitate to even call him a session guitarist, he’s more like a regular member of the band like anyone else. Oleg Zalman from Brooklyn, he fills in for Dan a lot, that’s why we’re able to play a lot of shows when Revocation’s on the road for 9 months at a stretch, or whatever they do. Oleg will step in and we can play shows. So that’s been that way for the last few years, and it hasn’t really been too much of a crutch for Artificial Brain, not having Danny around. But obviously we’d prefer Dan, the guy that writes the songs and everything to be there for this, so this is great. We get to hang out with him, get to see our buddy, we get to play shows with him and the band, everybody wins, you know? It’s a good deal.

After this 6, almost 7 week tour, ending around late November, what will have Artificial Brain wanted accomplished?

Converting a lot of music lovers to Artificial Brain, and hopefully people dig what we’re doing on here, hopefully the people who are coming to see Cattle Decapitation, Revocation, and Full of Hell, who don’t know Artificial Brain, are receptive to what we’re doing. Also hoping we sell enough merchandise so that we don’t go broke, and make it back in one piece, man. This is what we love to do. Obviously with Cattle Decapitation, these are going to be great, well attended shows, with diehard fans. Sometimes you go out on the road, and you’re not part of these big package tours, there’s maybe 5-10 people there, but that’s still great, we love that. We’re just overjoyed to be here on this tour, and be on a big deal like this. If we weren’t doing this, we’d probably just be playing some smaller shows, and still enjoying ourselves. But this is one of those bucket list type of things, man. So it’s great to be here, and when we go home, I think we have one fest already booked in February, in Long Island, the Obnoxious Noise Fest, and we’re just probably going to go back into writing mode. Some stuff is already being written, and we’re just going to perfect that, and take shows as they come for next year. As I said earlier, hopefully 2018 will be able to get into these Death Fests that are popping up all over the country, get in like that, so when we can’t tour because of our work schedule, we can go out for at least a few weekends and get out like that.

Even with ‘Infrared Horizon’ being released this year, there’s a chance that the band could release another album next year?

No, no, no (laughs). If we dropped an album out in 2018, that’d be a miracle. We’re definitely going to be writing. My ballpark, unofficial, off the record guess for when our next album would come out (pauses), maybe 2019, maybe Summer 2019. That’s Will Smith’s off the record, ballpark, don’t hold me to it, I guess. Because the writing process for us goes on, and especially now that we’ve been very fortunate that Labyrinth and Infrared were well received, we got things like these tours, and we just want to make sure that the people who have been supporting us, and stand behind us, are delivered a quality product for the third album. So we’re going to take our time, we’re going to refine it, and make sure that everything is how we want to be, and it’s something we can stand behind 100 percent, for the people that are standing behind us.

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Remaining Tour Dates:
10/31/2017 – Toronto, ON @ Opera House
11/01/2017 – Montreal, QC @ Les Foufounes Electriques
11/02/2017 – Syracuse, NY @ Lost Horizon
11/03/2017 – Boston, MA @ Once Ballroom
11/04/2017 – Philadelphia, PA @ Voltage
11/05/2017 – Baltimore, MD @ Soundstage
11/06/2017 – New York, NY @ Highline Ballroom
11/08/2017 – Virginia Beach, VA @ Shaka’s
11/09/2017 – Atlanta, GA @ Masquerade
11/10/2017 – Orlando, FL @ The Haven
11/11/2017 – Tampa, FL @ Orpheum
11/13/2017 – New Orleans, LA @ Southport Music Hall
11/14/2017 – Houston, TX @ White Oak Music Hall
11/15/2017 – Austin, TX @ Come and Take It Live
11/16/2017 – Oklahoma City, OK @ 89th St Collective
11/17/2017 – San Antonio, TX @ Rock Box
11/18/2017 – El Paso, TX @ Tricky Falls
11/19/2017 – Phoenix, AZ @ Club Red
11/20/2017 – Las Vegas, NV @ Beauty Bar

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