Today, Indianapolis progressive metallers The Contortionist release Intrinsic, the much talked about and anticipated follow-up to 2010’s surprise debut Exoplanet. James Whelan got to chat with guitarist Robby Baca about the new album, touring with Jeff Loomis, and the work the band puts in to nail down their sound.
James Whelan: So you guys released Exoplanet in 2012 and that caught a lot of people by surprise. It just got really good reviews and put you guys on the map. With Intrinsic, there’s been a lot of hype. How’s it been different releasing the two albums, where with the first one you just put it out and didn’t have the same pressure as with this?
Robby Baca: Yeah, that’s one thing right there. When we released Exoplanet there weren’t so many people with their eyes on us, expecting and anticipating certain things from us. With this record, all the hype before the release has been really cool because that wasn’t really there last time. We were hardly anybody, not that we’re somebody now. All the hype beforehand has been very cool to see and now that the album has leaked and people are hearing it it’s really cool to see the positive feedback.
JW: One of the first things I noticed when I got “Holomovement” in as a single was that there’s a drastic stylistic difference. With Exoplanet it seemed like it was very heavy and counterbalanced with lighter parts, and it seems it’s reversed here where everything is very atmospheric and the heavy stuff seems like the counterbalance. How did the writing and recording process change that sent you in that direction?
RB: “Holomovement” is one of the extremes of the record. It’s one of the more laid back, structured, and chilled out songs on the record. The rest of the album goes into some other stuff. As far as the writing process goes, this time around, it was kind of a time crunch, like it was with Exoplanet. However, this time around we had to write an entire record, where last time we only had to write half a record because we already had some songs. So we had to figure out exactly what we were trying to do and we ended up with what you hear on Intrinsic. With Exoplanet, we just jammed everything out and wrote it all together in a room with our instruments at full volume; that kind of environment. With Intrinsic, some of it was done like that but a lot of it was us just sitting down with guitars, no amps, and just talking about what we were trying to do.
JW: (Vocals/Keyboards) Jonathan Carpenter wasn’t a huge part of the writing process on Exoplanet, correct?
RB: He wasn’t involved at all with the writing for the first record. He came into the band after the album was recorded.
JW: How does Jon coming into the band affect your overall identity and change things?
RB: This time around, having him more involved, he was able to get his ideas in as opposed to last time, where he just had to go with what was already there. So this time around he was definitely able to stretch his voice more and focus more on keyboard parts, and it’s cool having one more dude involved with the writing process.
JW: Is there a concept or a theme to the story behind the album? It seems like it’s very introspective.
RB: There is an overall theme, although I’m not quite as familiar with the whole idea as Jon would be. He’d be able to explain it to you in very small sentences and it’d be very simple and I’d go on babbling. There’s one overall concept for the record, and some of the songs carry more of a storyline but it’s not really a full record storyline; it’s contained within a couple tracks.
JW: I’m excited for your upcoming tour with Jeff Loomis, 7 Horns 7 Eyes, and Chimp Spanner. Have you played with any of them before?
RB: No, but I’m very excited to for sure. Jeff Loomis was kind of an idol to me when I was younger. I was into Nevermore, and he’s an insane guitar player, so it’s really cool to go on tour with him. Chimp Spanner as well; we’ve been into his music for a couple years so it’s cool to have him involved.
JW: Did you all grow up in Indianapolis?
RB: Jon and Chris were both born in Indiana. My brother (drummer Joey Baca) and (guitarist Cameron Maynard) and I are from California. Cam moved here when he was very young and my brother and I moved here when I was 11. My brother and I started playing music around the same time, and we all met in high school. Through playing shows we met Jon.
JW: How is the Indianapolis music scene? I don’t hear a lot about metal coming out of Indianapolis.
RB: We’ve kind of fallen off of the scene around here. When we do play Indianapolis it’s always sick and it’s always a really good turnout and great show. As far as the music that’s typical around here, it’s hard to say because we’ve fallen out of that loop for a while. When we were involved, there were a lot of hardcore bands. That was the main thing that we were surrounded by when we were playing shows locally.
JW: How much practice goes into getting a lot of these songs with huge time changes, dynamic changes and tempo changes down perfect for when you’re playing it live?
RB: (Laughs) A lot. There’s actually a couple new tracks we’re playing on the tour that we’re starting Saturday, and some of the stuff I still need to work on. There are a lot of parts where somebody else writes it and I have to learn it and play it. Lots of practice goes into it and there’s still stuff I’ll be playing on Saturday that I still need to practice.
JW: What kind of future do you see for where metal is moving right now?
RB: As far as progressive metal goes, I can only see it going more to the extreme. More bands are coming out, focusing on intricate rhythms and very complex melodies and harmonies. As far as other styles of metal, I see the more simple deathcore and stuff like that phasing out. There’s always stuff like that that comes and goes. But as far as progressive metal, goes, I can only see it getting even more progressive.
JW: Who are some of your influences outside of metal?
RB: I could go on for days about that. Guys like Pat Metheny, Allan Holdsworth, classic stuff like Rush, Yes, Genesis. Lots of jazz.
JW: I’m really psyched for people to hear this album. There are different things to pick out from each listen, and it really ought to take off for you guys. I really appreciate you taking the time out to talk to me, and best of luck on the tour.
RB: Awesome, thank you very much. Take care.
Check out “Holomovement”, get the new album and see The Contortionist on tour now with Jeff Loomis, 7 Horns 7 Eyes, and Chimp Spanner:
– Submitted by James Whelan, Music Design