Usually, when there are problems at a recording studio, it means that a hard drive crashed or a band member keeps flubbing a passage. For The Human Abstract – currently recording their third album at The Machine Shop in Weehawken NJ – it recently meant calling an ambulance because their producer, Will Putney, was bleeding profusely from his head after wiping out on a metal staircase during a rainstorm. 57 staples (a hospital record) and one day later, Putney was back on the job (scroll to the end of the interview for a look if you’re not squeamish). Metal Insider, conveniently located next to the Machine Shop, recently got a chance to talk to guitarist A.J. Minette and new vocalist Travis Richter about the band’s lineup changes, their new direction, and working with Will as opposed to self-producing.
I’ve got to start by asking about the obvious. Will Putney hitting his head and almost dying. What happened?
Travis: We were in the tracking room and Will went out for a little smoke break or something. Dean got a phone call and he just dropped everything he was doing and walked out the door and I followed him.
A.J.: Yeah I heard something like “I’m at the stairs” and so we opened one door. I figured somebody was just trying to get in. I didn’t really know what was going on. And then I just heard the small detail about someone bleeding at the stairs and I just ran out, pulled my sweatshirt off.
Travis: We ran around the stairs. At first we looked around and I didn’t see anything. I stayed at the top and you ran down at the bottom and said “yeah, he’s down here.” I ran into The Syndicate and said ‘hey, you guys know Will right? He needs to go to the hospital.’ He came back today and he said he fell on the bottom of the stairs. He said he hit his head on the side of the rail. He has 57 staples.
It looked like a shark bit his head.
Travis: It was crazy. There was a lot of blood on the ground. When we went outside, I instantly took it really serious because I noticed so much blood. I was like ‘yeah, this guy’s really hurt.”
And he’s perfectly fine now right?
A.J.: Yeah, he’s back today recording. He only took one day.
Let me ask about the lineup changes. You’ve had a shit load of them. I guess I can ask both of you separately, Travis, what made you join the band? A.J., what made you leave the band and rejoin them?
A.J.: You know, I left the band when we finished touring the Nocturne album. Before we even signed onto another record, I had done one semester of studying music at school. I felt it really built my strengths as a musician. It helped me to grow. While we were on tour I had always missed that part of it. I knew there was something incomplete in my musical education so I wanted to go back to school. At the time I was also dealing with the issue of not wanting to be pigeonholed as a metal guitarist. Going back to school really satisfied that side of me that really wanted to learn and grow as a musician. It also gave me a different artistic outlook, studying classical guitar helps me to feel artistically satisfied and lets me be happy letting the metal be metal and doing that. When the guys came back to write the third album, the drummer, Brett, called me up and asked me if I would be interested in helping to produce it at first. So I jumped on that idea and we started working together. I started listening to some of the stuff they had written. Along the way I had more and more input. I started writing really big parts and big chunks on songs and eventually it just became an album.
At any point in time when you left were you like “yeah I could come back to this”? Or were you done with the band? Were you done with metal?
A.J.: I wasn’t sure. I wasn’t done with rock music, metal music. I just knew that there was part of me that had some work to do elsewhere at the moment. But I knew that there was a future in that.
What led you (Travis) to joining the band? Had you thought about singing in another band?
Travis: When I was a kid I was the lead singer and guitar player of all my punk bands and then I got into hardcore and metalcore and metal through that whole theme. But my bread and butter throughout the years was being in From First to Last. I was the original member of that band and we saw some good times and did a lot of cool stuff. But our original singer left and when he left the band just started slowly losing its steam. I did a side project with the drummer of From First to Last. It’s called The Color of Violence. It came out on Epitaph Records. All I do is vocals on it. It’s kind of like a grindcore, surf record, I guess, is the best way to put it. It got some decent reviews and I had a lot of fun doing the vocals. I’ve always loved doing vocals. And in From First to Last I wasn’t able to really sing and as the guys in the band grew up, being a poppy based band, they wanted less screaming. My role, as the band kept going, was diminishing, but I kept getting busier. I produced I Set My Friends on Fire for Epitaph. I did The Color of Violence. I started producing dub stuff for a group called Modified Noise so I was getting busy on all these fronts. I kept feeling like there was almost a subconscious side of me gearing myself up for something I wasn’t used to doing in From First to Last. Some stuff went down with the band and we were in the middle of producing a record. I was kind of butting heads with the guys stylistically on just a few things. They ended up, out of nowhere, asking me to leave. I was like well, I have all this stuff going on. I kind of would like to see what else is out there and what would happen. Tapley, the Canadian guitar player from The Human Abstract, the tall guy with the blonde hair, called me. From First to Last and The Human Abstract have done Warped Tour together and Take Action Tour so we kind of knew each other and we had met. I always thought the band was sick. So he called me and said, “Dude, you wanna try out? I’m gonna tell you what I told everyone else, here’s the link, here’s a song, just give it your best shot”. I was like “yeah, that would be sick”. You know, being 28 years old, I was really trying to change what my core was. From First to Last was my core for a long time and it kind of turned into that thing where it was old dudes playing young dudes’ music. And that gets really awkward. I didn’t wanna do that. I look at people like Fiona Apple and Radiohead and stuff that’s more musical based and has this more mature, respectable seat at the table of music. Mars Volta, even. I was always hoping, even with The Color of Violence, I really wanted that to evolve into that more bigger sound that people could latch onto but still artsy and kind of wild, a little. It just seemed that The Human Abstract was perfect for that. So I tried out and they liked it. They sent me the first demo and I demo’d over that and they were like “ok, do you want to come out here and do some more of this”? I just worked hard and I didn’t know I was going to be singing as much as I am on the record. That’s been huge. I’ve been working really hard for the past six months.
How long have you technically been in the band?
Travis: About four or five months.
Have you played any shows yet?
Travis: No, we’ve been really particular on how we’re doing things. We’re really trying to focus on the music and put it out there. Almost like a totally different type of preparation has been going on. It’s kind of like if you were to make a movie. You don’t make a movie from the start, the beginning. You’ll go an hour into the movie and shoot from there. You’ll do the first scene a month later. It’s almost been like that. Everyone’s been running around, doing different things, but it’s going to come together and hopefully we’ll create something we’re really proud of. After this, when the record comes out, that’s when we’ll start talking about touring.
So I guess I gotta ask. Is there a new direction in the band? Obviously with a new singer there is, but how is this different than the first two albums?
A.J.: Going back to music school and studying classical composition really influenced me. I tried to take some of those compositions and see how I can manipulate them into metal. So there’s that classical influence and it still has the technique and that sort of element to it that the first album had. It sounds like it’s a pretty heavy record in comparison to the first one too, but at the same time I’ve been so focused on melody, with the writing this time around. Just melody everywhere, sometimes three or four melodies playing simultaneously. I love that dense counterpoint that I picked up from school and found a way to make it work with the band.
Do you think it’s—I don’t necessarily want to compare it to other bands—do you think it’s comparable to anything that’s going on right now in terms of style?
A.J.: I don’t know. It’s hard for me to say because, personally, most of my influence comes from classical composers. I’ll look at Chopin’s Nocturnes for inspiration and I’ll see the harmonic turns he makes, what his melodic voice is like, and I’ll use that and put it into a metal context. So it’s just kind of hard for me to say because I wasn’t directly influenced by metal bands.
Other than trips to the hospital, what has Will brought to the table?
Travis: That dude is crazy. When we sent in the songs we were talking to a lot of producers and we were trying to fill in our options, because, like I said, we were trying to focus on the music and the record first before thinking about anything else. The producer was a huge deal, the studio was a huge deal. Will sent in a 100k text email, like a scroll of an email (laughing). It was just his notes on the songs and we were like “wow, this guy sat down and listened to music, understands the territory, gets the layout of what we’re doing”. He was just super confident with what we had all ready. Listening to some of his recent works was the nail in the coffin. It was the two things we were looking for: the tone and someone musically that could step up and roll with some of the technicalities. On the opposite end, melodic stuff. It’s important that he’s worked on Four Year Strong, Chiodos and stuff that has singing in it. We wanted the singing to definitely hit the mark as much as the screaming does. So he’s been bringing a lot to the table on those fronts.
Do you think it’s going to be more commercial on this record than the previous two?
A.J.: I don’t know. There’s a strong element of melody and, for me, it’s more of the Romantic period type of melody with the long phrasing. It’s stuff you hear on Radiohead and Muse with the long phrase of melody. In that regard, I think people will be able to catch on to that side of the record but it’s definitely not watered down or reduced within a pop song form.
Are you enjoying the support the label’s giving you? With no disrespect to them, do you want bigger things?
Travis: They’ve been really awesome for the band. They really facilitated in the band to step away from the scene for a minute and then be able to come back right now and do another record. Since they were pushed from this different label I feel they were able to give a little more attention in other ways than if you put a metal band on a metal label. So that’s been really good. And they also really understand the band. I know this time around we’re obviously having tons of phone calls about marketing and all of that junk that goes into rolling out a record. They’re really into the fact that we’re really into the music. They’re really down with it, actually. Tobin helps facilitate getting us here. Now that we’re here doing it, that’s a huge thing that we’ve done, bringing that option to the table. They’ve been awesome and definitely no complaints. They’re a stand up label and they look out for their bands, stick by them and see to it through the end.
Very cool. Yeah you’re getting the attention you might not get on a major label where it’s like ‘Ok cool do your thing. Throw it against the wall and see if it sticks.’
Travis: Exactly. “If not, whatever, we wasted a little bit of money in the grand scheme of things” (laughing).
Tax write off (laughing). So when do you hope to have the record out?
Travis: We’re looking for a late fall release. Around the end of October, beginning of November. We were trying to stay away from the end of the year, very beginning. It’s cool, we definitely want to hurry and put it out. We’re not looking to just tour, tour, tour. I would like to get it out there and let it just sit for a minute and let people just latch on. It has its replay value for the technical sides of it, the tech and the melody coming together creates for a multiple listening experience.
I’m psyched to hear it. What would your perfect tour be now that the band’s sound is more mature? Who would you really want to tour with?
Travis: Dethklok! (laughing). The band is really into Opeth. There’s a lot of cool, up and coming bands. Sumerian Records has a pretty strong roster of bands who are trying to push themselves in the grand scheme of things. This band, we sit on a fence with our style a little bit but I feel like we’re going to go out there and tour with both ends of the spectrum. We’re just stoked to put this out and see what the feedback is. We’ve just been like ostriches with our heads in the hole.
A.J.: I personally haven’t released anything since 2006 so I’m excited to get something out.