Interview: Tesseract's James Monteith

TESSERACT; even saying the name shoots polyrhythmic shivers down the spine. Not since TOOL has there been a band that sends your mind into an infinite loop of contemplation, which explores uncertain territories of geometrically-sonic landscapes. Coming up to 2 years since the release of their masterpiece Polaris, we caught up with guitarist James Monteith at the ArcTanGent festival and got some insight into the life and future of British tech-metal.

Noizze: Hey James! It’s looking to be quite an exciting time for TESSERACT at the moment, especially with the release of your latest single Smile. What can you tell us about what the band are working on at the moment?

James Monteith: Well, at the moment we’re working on album number four, which we’re hoping will be out early next year. That’s been the main focus at the moment.

N: Your sound has become more digestible, has it been a case of getting your music out there to as many people as possible?

JM: I suppose there’s no real set plan. I think in terms of the accessibility, I guess we all like songs, we all like things you can hum along to or are catchy. Dan [Tompkins, vocals] especially is brilliant at writing poppy hooks, not necessarily trying to sound poppy, but they are interesting and accessible and nice to listen to. I think it’s just important to write music that’s exciting and interesting to us. I think what’s so special is, as far as how Acle [Kahney, guitars] writes, often the riffs are different and quite interesting and if anything, it doesn’t sound like anything else or the same really. This direction is quite exciting and interesting. I think that’s the main thing, to evolve and do something new and fresh. If we’re really excited about it then we’re happy about it.

N: What has the reaction been like from your fans to the new single?

JM: Yeah, it’s been really good. You do need to think about your fans because if it wasn’t for them, we wouldn’t exist. But quite often the model has been to make sure that we really like what we’re doing and if we’re into it. It seems that when we like it, other people do too. It shows that they’ve definitely got good taste ha, ha, ha!

N: How do these massively complicated songs come together, because you guys work separately?

JM: Well, I guess the internet helps. In fact, the internet is absolutely vital and that’s where most of everything we’ve done collaboratively has been done, because Acle, the principle songwriter, he quite often comes up with these ideas and then they get sent around. Then Dan puts his vocal ideas on them and then other bits and pieces gets thrown around via email. It all goes back to Acles for mixing. With some of the newer stuff, Amos [Williams, bass] has been downloading some new bass ideas and Aidan O’Brien our house engineer, who’s the real sixth member of the band, he’s developing lots of those ideas. Jay [Postones, drums] has been putting down some new ideas and riffs. But a lot of ideas come from bouncing emails.

N: How have you seen the metal scene evolve since you started out?

JM: I have to think back 10 years ago now! Everyone was really into crabbing back then, and I’m glad that doesn’t really exist anymore ha, ha. Metalcore was massive and metalcore is still massive now. I guess there are a lot more technical metal bands now that are inspired by SIKTH and Meshuggah. That whole scene didn’t really exist back then, whereas now there’s a whole festival for it, which is unbelievable.

N: How important are these smaller festivals compared to the Download or Readings of the world?

JM: I think they’re very important and I think they’re a lot more niche, but in that way, it’s a good thing because you get a lot of like-minded people in one place. Like Tech-Fest has a wonderful community of people and everyone knows each other. The vibe here kind of feels the same, it’s very community based.

N: Have you been able to catch anyone at the festival so far?

JM: No, not yet. We’ve only just arrived a few hours ago, but is true that BORIS are playing out there?

N: Yes, it is!

JM: Very big doom pioneers!

N: As you said, being in a niche genre, it’s harder than ever for bands to make a career from this challenging music. From your experience, how is technically minded metal going to survive in this age?

JM: I think that we just have to keep things interesting and as long as there are some bands doing creative things and coming up with new ideas to keep it fresh, I think it will keep going to some capacity. Of course, things become popular and they come out of fashion, but I think there will always be a core audience if the music is interesting. Also, you have the other end of metal which is very entry level and aimed towards teenagers who are just discovering it, which is really important - it’d even say vitally important. For example, I would never knock a band like Bring Me The Horizon. Because of them they bring people in to the scene and then some of those people would want to discover deeper and more challenging stuff. It’s all because of those gateway bands they end up discovering stuff like what’s at this festival. I think as long as everybody is doing their bit at their end of the spectrum, I think stuff will be alright.

N: Speaking of challenging, what is the most challenging thing about being in TesseracT?

JM: My recent problem is making sure I’m picking up the right guitar ha, ha! But I guess a lot of it is quite challenging. A lot of it is waiting around and sitting in vans for a long time; that’s probably the hardest. We’ve just driven to Germany and back, that was a silly amount of time each way and I think a lot of the time is just waiting around in uncomfortable conditions. Flying and airports when you have so much gear, that’s horrendous. Checking in and doing your best to not get charged for excess baggage; the fight trying to find trollies and then having to pay $5 for it, that stuff sucks!

N: Going back when you first got into metal, what was it that attracted you to play heavy music to begin with?

JM: How was I attracted to metal in the first place? Hmm, I don’t really know. I guess when I was a teenager I just liked the sound of it. The sound of a heavy guitar is very exciting to me and that’s what got me started.

N: Who was the metal band that changed your life? JM: I’m not too sure, I suppose it was more of a progression. When I was a kid my dad would play me Status Quo and I liked the sound of that guitar. I’d listen to things like Chuck Berry and George Thorogood And The Destroyrs and loads of old heavy blues stuff. Then for me, I think Guns N Roses really got me excited because their guitar sound was huge and again, really great songs. Then I discovered Metallica and I was like, ‘Wow, these guitars can sound really heavy,’ it’s that palm muting, that’s what introduced me to that. This list could go on forever ha ha! N: On the subject of guitars, your 7-strings are as iconic sonically and visually as the band. When did you first pick up a 7-string? JM: For me personally, it was when I joined TesseracT. All the stuff that already been written was on a 7-string and it was very low tuned. I hadn’t really played that low before. I had mucked around on a 7-string beforehand, around the time KORN started to come out and I had a little play on them then. A friend of mine had one and I used to muck around on that and figure out how to play various Korn riffs but I had never really bought a 7-string until I joined TesseracT. N: What is the most rewarding thing about being in TesseracT? JM: I mean, there are a load of rewarding things. I think it’s about being able to travel around the world with all you’re really good friends and play music to people who want to hear it, it’s pretty great.