"We're out for blood!" - An Interview with Pterogylph on Solaire, The Creative Process and Streaming
“The next time we hit the stage it is going to be chaos; it will have been long overdue, and we are out for blood!” - There's a steadfast conviction behind every word spoken from these roadworn show veterans lyrically or otherwise, and it's clear from the offset that the latest release from the northern tech metal gang Pterogylph has only reinvigorated their belief.
In the days that have followed the release of ‘Solaire’, Jimmy MacGregor and his band of like minded metalheads in Pterogylph kicked back in anticipation and eagerly awaited for the first opinions on their latest creation to come rolling in. There's no doubt that their latest record is a distinct sonic shift for the band, less frantic and a lot more expansive than their previous material. This more aggressive tirade from the Leeds trio, rejuvenated from a short touring hiatus, contains exactly the kind of stamina needed to keep their old fans engaged, whilst carving an unrelenting path for new ones.
We sat down with frontman & founder Jimmy MacGregor to talk all things Solaire, from the records earlier influences, the future of live streaming and touring plans for the future.
So let's get straight into it, how do you guys feel about the album’s reception? Has the majority of the feedback following its release met your expectations?
Jimmy: "It’s surpassed every expectation I ever had! The response has been insane from old fans, new fans and press. We recorded the album late last year and I started writing earlier than that, so to me the songs are sort of ingrained in me to the point where it was hard to tell how it would be received. We just gave it everything we could and
hoped for the best! I had no idea whether people were going to like it or just dismiss it as noodlings of a crazy person, but together as a band we believed in it and we love playing the music, so that was kind of all that mattered! We are super proud of it and it turns out people really like it too so I’m completely made up, it’s been the best response we could have hoped for"
So when Solaire was being conceived in its infancy, what was your ambition for the end result? Was your main goal simply just to release some new music, or was there a different aim in sight as well?
Jimmy: "This whole album and release process has just been one kind of giant snowball effect. About a year after I released the previous album there was a bit of a lull in Pteroglyph, where I felt like I needed to reassess the situation of what it was I was trying to do. The previous album process didn’t work out quite how I wanted it to, due to various cliched tortured artist reasons!"
"Once I got the “new” band together we kind of gave up on the mindset of trying to “make it”. We were just playing the songs because we were friends and wanted to have fun doing what we all do best, playing fat riffs and making a lot of noise!"
"The initial plan was to put the album out for free and just move on, write more and keep enjoying ourselves. We just wanted to make something we were proud of. If people were into it that would be awesome, but we didn’t expect anything. We went to a friend’s studio who recorded the live drums for it and we soon realised we were onto something special. We were having such a good time with everything we decided to just go all in with it and throw everything
we could at it."
'We started working with a management company (Enso) who steered us in the right direction and helped us plan a full proper release for it, because we all felt it was too good to be wasted! We pulled together music videos and artwork which all turned out to be great and then approached the guys at Blood Blast, who were also into it, and wanted to work together…Before long, that weird album we were going to put out for free with crappy photoshop artwork was soon a distant memory, and we were then sat on this angry behemoth of a release!"
Take us for a glimpse inside the recording process when creating the record. Did your time in the studio flow together organically, or at times did you find getting the album down a bit of a struggle?
Jimmy - "It was unusually straightforward...ish! Before we started any recording, I had already written the entirety of the songs and recorded demos for them. Once we had that down we actually toured and played around the UK quite a bit, so we could get all the tracks stupidly tight. By the time it came to recording everything properly it was pretty painless, because we were all fully locked in and committed to what we were doing."
"We recorded the drums and got the album mixed by Lee Smith at Greenmount Studios in Leeds and he was amazing to work with, he’s a longtime friend and incredible producer. Bradie is an unreal drummer too and we recorded all his parts in two days, I’m fairly certain he’s part machine."
"Lee was a huge influence on how this album turned out, because he was super encouraging for the whole project and really helped pull together what I could hear in my head. I recorded everything else myself at home (guitars, bass, vocals, all other noises) and I remember when I started recording all my parts at home I was struggling initially. I was over thinking and asking him how I should be recording my parts or if there was any particular way I should be recording etc... He totally put me at ease with one sentence “Just do what you do, do what you think sounds good and I’ll make it sound amazing.” Sounds kind of stupid but it was incredibly liberating and a total breeze after that! Get it done and have belief in my own capabilities."
A lot of your previous material has been an impressive one man operation when looking at the recording side of things. You’ve built the band from what started off as just a one man multi instrumentalist and have often composed, recorded and produced your releases yourself. Was this the case with Solaire or did you take a different approach?
Jimmy: "Yeah there were elements of a different approach, but I’m also still a bit of a control freak! This album is still almost entirely written by myself, but I decided to have a more open process for dealing with it and the final recordings. With the previous album I realised I had gotten way too precious with the production and mixing of it, to the point where it wasn’t actually enjoyable for me anymore and it just became obsessive!"
"For this album I decided to loosen the reigns as much as I could. I wanted the guys in the band to be more involved, because they helped bring it to life in a way that I realised I couldn’t do on my own. Bradie (drums) and I sat down together and worked through the demos I’d written and changed all the drum parts to the way that he would play them. It really changed the dynamic of the songs into something I didn’t think possible and created something we were both really happy with."
I also decided I didn’t want to mix the album myself pretty early on, I was frustrated with my own technical knowledge and limitations but knew what I wanted it to sound like. I just took all that away by taking it to Lee at Greenmount where he recorded the drums and mixed it. I went in for a couple of days and mixed it with him, I was sort of directing and explaining how the songs should end up sounding. He was really responsive to what I wanted to hear and helped guide my vision, it was an amazing experience. Realising that other people could help me achieve what I wanted to was an invaluable learning experience and is definitely the way forward for me and Pteroglyph."
You guys have previously mentioned that the artwork for the LP really conveys the themes it encompasses - can you expand on that?
Jimmy: "So the themes of the album are loosely based on a concept of a post-apocalyptic event, where the earth is slowly dying and society has collapsed due to the planet passing the point of no return. That has caused the sun to become overbearing, disease is spreading rampant and the world is drying up. Feels kind of apt these days!
The concept draws influence and is a bit of a mashup of the movies Akira and Mad Max. The previous album was lyrically a really personal affair. I decided to distance myself from that approach because it was too demanding emotionally. So I decided to create something whereby I could channel my own feelings and anxieties, but project them through a concept that feels less intrusive to myself. Again, it made the whole process a lot more enjoyable to write about, whilst still having a whole lot of personal meaning behind it. So what the album cover represents
to me, is basically one part awesome apocalyptic exploding Akira man and one part visual representation of me struggling with my own anxiety!"
Are there any touring plans in the works to take Solaire out on the road? Covid permitting of course.
Jimmy: "Oh man it is so difficult to know what to do about playing live right now, you see a lot of bigger bands scheduling tours and then getting them pushed back every 6 months. I remember seeing bands rescheduling tours in March for October, which have then been inevitably pushed back until late 2021. We were on fire before the first lockdown and a couple of weeks before had just played a killer sold out show with Evil Scarecrow at the Brudenell Social Club in Leeds! God damn Covid!! We are planning, we will tour this album, we’re just waiting for the right time to strike!"
In the 8 years since the project's initial inception you’ve developed a reputation for some heavy performances. Could the more aggressive angle on the new album lead to your most raucous live show yet?
Jimmy: "It certainly will! As previously stated right before lockdown hit, we had streamlined our live set with these songs into 30 minutes of pure violent musical energy. The next time we hit the stage it is going to be chaos; it will have been long overdue, and we are out for blood!"
Who would you say were the main influences behind your change in direction with your sound?
Jimmy: "I’ve always had a strong appreciation for a lot of tech and progressive metal, and I’ve grown a lot closer to the heavier side in recent times. Bands like Gojira and Sylosis have been a huge influence on my approach to vocals, blending melody with harsh vocals seems to have bridged the gap I was searching for previously. Bradie had introduced me to a relatable side of tech/death core bands, such as Thy Art is Murder, and Ansley and I have had a long standing infatuation with Meshuggah. The idea for this album was to just work on what felt like our strong
points when we played live. Keep it heavy, keep it tight, keep it powerful!"
With the industry being the way it has this year, & ‘live streaming culture’ has lept to the forefront of a lot of bands social media to supplement a lack of live shows. It looked like you had a lotta fun in the live streamed release party you guys hosted, but do you think that live streams could be a viable substitute for physical events in the long term?
Jimmy: "I’d say yes and no. It’s a really useful tool for bands right now and shouldn’t be overlooked. It’s incredibly valuable for keeping you in touch with your audience and fan base whilst being able to continually grow, and it’s also a lot of fun. The difficulty lies in actually making it happen. It can be quite challenging to set up and get going, if you want to do a stream that’s not just a camera and a microphone! All the really professional looking live streams are quite expensive to set up with little to no returns, but it’s kind of all we’ve got right now! I think people are generally warming to it and onboard with it, but it’ll never replace actual live shows because you want to feel all that air getting pummeled into your face."
"I would recommend all bands look into doing it, it can be tricky to get going but once you have then you’re set and can revisit it any time you like!"
We know it’s still early days following the release of your latest album, but is it too early to tell if this turbulent new direction with your sound is one that's here to stay?
Jimmy: "Yeah it definitely is, it’s just so much easier and enjoyable playing this new style of material. The songs flow naturally and writing them is so much more rewarding. We just need to go bigger and heavier next time, that’s the plan! The next album is already well underway with the majority of tracks already written, I just need to finish vocals and then we can get this madness underway all over again!"
Lastly, you’ve played some brilliant shows across your career so far including performances at Bloodstock & Tech Fest - are there any stages that you’ve yet to play that you’re hoping the release of Solaire might take you?
Jimmy: "I’ve had my eyes set on the big stages at Bloodstock for a while now, it’s my favourite festival I’ve played and favourite to go to as a punter. They have such an awesome variety of heavy music and they give a lot of support to up-and-coming bands, which I have a lot of respect for. Last year, a friend and I actually ran the Leeds edition of the Metal to the Masses band competition they have too, so if we could get on there again soon that would be the icing on this big weird ‘Solaire’ cake! I’ve also always wanted to play Damnation festival in Leeds because it’s just down the road from me and it’s just one big metal party! Again, an amazing metal festival, although they seem to be quite particular in the types of band they book; but hopefully this album will give them the nudge we need to give us a chance!"