The Power of 5ive: In Conversation with San Diego prog metal group Symbolic

By Sebastian Vazquez

Based in the heart of San Diego, and needing no introduction to metalheads in San Diego, Symbolic is a progressive/power metal quintet that is just about to put out their fifth record titled ‘5ive’, on Saturday January 28th. They will be playing a hometown show at the Brick By Brick in celebration of their upcoming studio release and have been making serious waves in the metal scene for several years. They have shared the stage with national acts like Adrenaline Mob, Fates Warning, UFO, Brian Wheat of Tesla, Philm with Dave Lombardo, Resurrection Kings, Flotsam and Jetsam, Holy Grail, and many others.

Their 2011 release ‘Nevertime’ garnered a San Diego Music Awards nomination for “Best Hard Rock Album of the Year”, and has had radio airplay in Chicago, Las Vegas, and has even earned comments from Billy Sherwood of Yes and Circa stating, “Cool Stuff indeed… I really dig this band.”

With their primary influences being the more traditional bands such as Iron Maiden, Judas Priest, Black Sabbath, Rush, and even Dream Theater, their unique sound encompasses a wide variety of the metal echelon and casts a wide net to fans all over the world.

Without further ado, here is the interview with the entire band, i.e. Scott Bruce (vocals), Steve Potts (guitar), Bobby Fernandez (bass), Steve Elias (drums), and Louie Borja (guitar).

So, first of all, Symbolic did not become a five-piece until recently, with Louie joining as the second guitarist. When you guys first played a show as this core group of five guys, what was it like? There are a lot of people out there who know what it’s like to play on a stage, but for many they don’t know. But there is something special with really being in a group where everyone gels with each other and it just feels right.

Louie: We did it when I finally learned how to take the abuse. (Band laughs)

Scott: The first show that I played with you (points at Louie) was at Pop Vs. Metal.

Bobby: Yeah it is really funny, when we first started playing Ramona, and those shows being with past members… it really did not feel like a real cohesive group.

Scott: As far as the first show with Louie, I did not think there was any doubt that he was the right fit for the band. I mean, the personality was already there, you know? It was just like with Stevie (Elias); it just worked. The thing for me was that we really pushed to get him up to speed with the band. His first show was a full one-hour set and he had this long list of songs to learn. He ended up kicking ass.

Steve Potts: From my perspective, as a guitar player, it was something I was a little worried about. Especially about adding another guitarist into the group. It is really, really hard to get someone that you can be married with. Writing new stuff, especially since I am no longer writing the material myself, you really do not know what is going to happen since we had him coming into the band. As for playing live, especially since he had to learn a ton of new stuff and we had to arrange some of the songs to include a second solo section or tweak some things around for a second guitar sound; it really ended up just working well. I wanted to have that Thin Lizzy thing going on when they had an amazing way to create songs that didn’t only appeal to a heavy metal audience, but to a larger general audience without sounding like they were selling out. There are a lot of bands out there that can accomplish that, but not many.

Bobby: Yeah, it was like Steve Potts and Louie were awkwardly dating at first, but now they are like just two chicks. (band chuckles)

When I first heard of you guys, you really had this amazing sound going for you. Firstly, you guys stood out from a lot of what encompasses the San Diego metal scene which is primarily dominated by death metal, thrash, metalcore, and stoner grunge. When I saw you, almost two years ago, you had this sound that was incredibly unique and was probably the biggest band in SD with this type of genre. Now, you guys have a new record that you are about to release titled, “5ive.” Care to share more about it?

Steve Elias: There is a lot of fiveisms in this thing.

Scott: It is technically our fifth release if you count some of the earlier stuff we have put out. ‘5ive’ also worked since we finally found our fifth guy, Louie. We were throwing around ideas for titles and contemplating naming the record off a song in it, but after a rehearsal I threw the idea out there to call it 5ive. I did not really put the connection as it being our fifth release, but my initial feeling was that we have Louie in the band and we have a solid group now. It also really helped out our logo for the record since Steve (Potts) does all of our artwork and was able to come up with some cool stuff using the Roman numeral five.

Bobby: Actually my sister pointed that all of our names are five letters. (Band laughs).

Steve Potts: I didn’t even think about that! But on another note, there was a tendency, at least from my perspective, to write longer songs. Like, on our first album ‘Continuum’, we had some long songs pushing 11 minutes. Then ‘Nevertime’ of course with being a concept album, really only had like 6 tunes but totaled to over an hour and it was continuous all the way through. And with ‘Xenatopia’, it was a concept record that had several longer songs, but also some short ones. Like ‘Order of Balance’ was an 8 or 9 minute tune, so we were going through a really progressive stage in the band. This new record, however, it is much more fine-tuned, and there are only a couple of songs that total over five minutes.

Scott: Yeah, I think six minutes is the longest song we have.

Bobby: We actually even have a song less than four minutes long on this record, a song called ‘No Ordinary Life’.

Steve Potts: We wanted to take an element from our past, lyrically, and try to make shorter music since today’s music scene is really not catered to really long songs. You just can’t open the record with an 11-minute tune as an unknown band like groups such as Rush or Opeth anymore. That shit just doesn’t happen anymore. ‘5ive’ hits you with a lot of old school. It is very melodic and just kicks you in the ass. It is metal. We never shy away from that genre. We are really proud of it and do not care about any genre it is labeled because in the end, we are a metal band.

Scott: Yeah, we really challenged ourselves to approach it differently. We were always writing 11 minute long songs and the like. So we wanted to try to reduce a typical 8 minute song down to five. So we played with moving things around, cutting stuff or extending some stuff. But in the end it really served a purpose as being a streamlined, focused record. There really is not a lot of wasted energy in them. The last two albums we did were concept albums and we put a lot of effort behind the storytelling, and we wanted to do a new record, and just write some songs and record them.

So are there tunes that you have already played live?

Steve Elias: Yeah, we have played ‘Rescue Me’ twice, one being when we opened up for UFO, and we just played it in Vegas.

Steve Potts: There are two songs for sure that we haven’t played before.

Scott: It is an interesting conundrum that a lot of local and unsigned bands go through and find themselves in. As in, you are almost doing things backwards from how signed bands operate. For those bands, they get thrown in a record studio and record a new album and then go on tour for that CD. For a lot of bands, they do not have that luxury. You are constantly working and doing gigs. You simply just can’t go a length of time without doing a gig. So we find ourselves doing it backwards, playing shows as if you are on tour before the record comes out and it’s recorded. There are a lot of challenges for unsigned bands that a lot of people outside of the equation don’t think about.

Steve Potts: So consequently you just can’t wait to play something new and the record is not even out yet.

That is very true. Many people that are not playing in the local scene or aren’t avid followers would not really know about that limitation. For the type of fans that go to a handful of shows a year, they wouldn’t know if those songs have ever been played live. It is something that a lot of people should take into consideration and respect the unsigned band’s decision to put out music that has been played many times over live.

Scott: You know, and a lot of bands probably go through the same thing, a bunch of songs get written and for a lot of the songs that weren’t crowd pleasers or simply do not make the cut, you just pick the best and go on from there. There is shit that Metallica hasn’t ever released and probably for good reason.

Bobby: There were moments where we were writing stuff and it just didn’t stick, but there were also moments like, “Fuck, man. You GOTTA write that down!” (band chuckles) Writing music in this band is very flexible. There is always room for change and nothing is ever really constant. There is no dictator in this band that just says “No, I don’t like that”.

So, could you elaborate on your writing process? How did you guys go about making the album? Was it like jamming out to a couple of riff ideas or setting up a 4/4 phrase in E?

Steve Potts: Well truthfully, after I wrote ‘Devil Be Me’, the first single we brought out, I would take a stroll down the neighborhood with my dogs and start thinking of some ideas. I would hum what I would hear in my head into my phone, and go around the neighborhood beatboxing, singing guitar parts, and doing all sorts of things.

Scott: And the neighbors are looking out the window like look at this lunatic going insane.

Steve Potts: Yeah! So basically it is amazing because I walk a mile around the neighborhood with my dogs and I have like 30 minutes of meandering bullshit on this thing and then I play it back. I try to put myself in mindsets, where like for example, if I want something with an epic riff similar to a Sabbath feel, like a big chunky, thick riff. Nothing fast, nothing really pacy. And I will just go out with that in my mind and then when I playback the recording I made while walking the dogs, I just pick up my guitar and put a click on with some distortion and good tempo and just start to play. Something as simple as a song title can speak to me in a way and frame a whole song altogether. Truthfully, I just can’t sit down and say, “In the next two hours I am going to write a song.” It never happens and it never works.

That is very interesting and an organic way of approaching songwriting. So to change gears, what have been some of the wackier moments in the band?

Steve Elias: Louie cross dresses.

Louie: Well, you know! (band laughs). But to tell you, I will never forget the first time I played with the guys and I totally screwed up the song ‘Almost Human’. I blanked and went to another part and was lost. I could not hear the bass or guitars at all, and for some reason my guitar was blaring loud. It was pretty embarrassing. I think I cried in the shower for a month.

Scott: I think I turned around and glared at him, you know.

Bobby: The signature Scott Bruce glare (band laughs). If you screw up a part, and everybody knows you did it, then you can surely expect Scott to be giving you one of his signature glares from across the stage.

Scott: Yeah, those are like the Spinal Tap moments, you know? You just laugh it off and forget about it. But my glares sent Louie to the therapist. (band laughs). But just like in any band, there is a bunch of personalities. Without Bobby, we wouldn’t have any shows. He is like the social butterfly and just talks to everybody. Stevie is like the rock solid guy and nothing ever bothers him. He never gets too up or too down. Louie is… Louie… we are still trying to figure Louie out. (band laughs). In all seriousness though, Louie is always laughing, always trying to make someone laugh. Steve (Potts), up until Louie joined the band, has always been the primary creator of things and I have kind of been the jerk, I guess. They call me the realist.

Steve Potts: We have the balloons and Scott has the pins. (band laughs)

Scott: At the end of the day, there are five personality types that are a perfect mix of everything and no ones personality is overbearing than other. We always work as a unit.

You know, I think a lot of people can see that. Especially when you guys are on stage. People can definitely feel that. A lot of bands have a more dominant personality…

Bobby: Or someone with a massive ego…

But you guys have an excellent chemistry together. And finally, is there anybody out there that influenced or helped you in the production of the record?

Steve Elias: Dan Castleman (studio engineer).

Bobby: He is like our unofficial sixth member.

Steve Elias: Yeah, he is such an amazing engineer. He knows exactly how to get the best outta ya without pissing you off. You do not want a yes man behind the board; that is the worst thing in life. So you hear from him “AGAIN” and his famous “There were goods and bads. Lets do it AGAIN”.

Steve Potts: Dan has been really great for us. He has done our last couple of recordings.

Bobby: He does things differently but it works for us. He understands our sound. When we showed him ‘Ordinary Life’, he was like, “Where are the other four parts to this song?” (band laughs)

Steve Elias: Craig Goldy is another one who has really helped us in terms of producing quality music, since he has been around the professional scene extensively. He was handpicked by Ronnie James Dio to play for him, and he also played in Rough Cutt, and currently plays for the Resurrection Kings. He knows the business and the dos and don’t of the industry. He really is an awesome guy and we have known him since the days of one of our old bands, Violent Moodswing.

Bobby: He really likes us, which is cool. He spent 8 hours with us in the recording studio even when his wife was sick.

Steve Elias: It is definitely somebody special to have around.

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San Diego folks, catch Symbolic live at the ‘5ive’ album release show at Brick By Brick on Saturday January 28th 2017. Check out the official facebook event page for the show.

“5ive” track listing:
01. V
02. Alternate Breed
03. The King Has Fallen
04. Almost Human
05. Devil Be Me
06. Tower of Babel
07. Transcenders
08. Absolute
09. Rescue Me
10. Chameleon
11. No Ordinary Life

Symbolic links: facebook