Interview: Guitarist Mike Tyranski of Janus Discusses New Album, ‘Nox Aeris’
Alongside Chevelle and Middle Class Rut, the electronic-rock pioneers in Chicago's Janus have just embarked on an extensive tour in support of their new album, Nox Aeris, which is scheduled for release on March 27.
The album's title, which is Latin for “night air,” is rooted in the 14th century, when a third of Europe's population died of the plague. People believed going outdoors at night would cause them to succumb to the Black Death.
When writing Nox Aeris, Janus thought this was an apt metaphor for their own journey, preconceived notions of their own being flipped around as they became a bigger, more established band since the release of 2009's Red Right Return.
Janus guitarist Mike Tyranski offers Guitar World some insight on the recording process, his childhood influences and the story behind Nox Aeris.
GUITAR WORLD: You guys recently hit the road with Chevelle and Middle Class Rut. How have the fans taken to your new material so far?
Pretty good! It’s only been a few days since we’ve been out, but the reaction has been really good so far. People have been coming up to us after the show; they’re really excited about the record. So far, so good!
Based on the story behind the album title, Nox Aeris, one can assume it is a concept album. What are some techniques you used to illustrate the metaphor of the title?
There are a lot of different things we did on this record versus Red Right Return. Everything’s a bit darker. We used some different tunings, too — a bit lower and heavier. Some of the beats — rhythmically and tempo-wise — are not as fast. They’re a little slower and very “groovy.” Overall, it’s just a very heavy record with a lot of electronic stuff.
What are some of the tunings you used on the album?
We use Drop C, and the newer tuning we use is Drop A#. It’s got a cool tone to it, and it’s something we’ve never done before. About half of the record is in Drop A#.
In what specific ways would you say Janus has evolved since Red Right Return?
I think everyone’s gotten a lot better at making songs. Everyone’s input is really valued, and that’s awesome. We are just starting to pay more attention to how songs are structured — a lot of collaboration and arranging as well as putting all the pieces together and getting some different ears.
When you go back and listen to former recordings, do you find yourself critiquing the songs you’ve written and thinking of things you’d want to change if given the opportunity?
I do. I’ve actually been thinking about that with this new record already [laughs]. For the first record, we weren’t really under any pressure to get it done. It was kind of just something we were doing that got picked up later. For this new record we had deadlines, and certain things could have been thought out a little bit more, but we were kind of under the pressure to get it done. I’m not sure it would have come out any better though. That’s just the thing — it’s kind of the question of “Would it have been better?” Sometimes you just have to let it go. I listen to it, and I think it’s really strong, but yeah — there are still things I’d like to change or experiment with.
Was Nox Aeris written in or outside the studio?
What we usually do is write everything in our rehearsal space, and we usually make some really — what I consider to be really high-end quality — demos of the songs so we know kind of exactly what we’re doing, or at least have like 99 percent of it there before we go into the studio to start tracking for the final album. We have a really good road map of where we’re going to be for the final songs. Studio time is really expensive [laughs], and we kind of just get in there and bang it out. We try not to mess around too much. We usually do all of our own production with a few other guys that help out. We do a lot of the tracking and mixing ourselves, so we kind of have our hands in every stage of the process.
Do you listen to music while you’re writing and recording, or do you try to avoid it to refrain from accidentally plagiarized another artist’s work?
That’s kind of the problem — you’re always going to be influenced by something, and you’re always going to pull what you’re listening to into what you’re doing whether you realize it or not. I completely went away from the genre that we’re in and listened to mostly electronic music for several months — nothing with an actual guitar or instrument in it that wasn’t a keyboard or drum loop. It was great. It was very refreshing, and I got a lot of good ideas from that — different tempos, rhythms, and even literal sounds that we were able to wrap up in the rock music that we do.
Being from Chicago, what influence, if any, has the city and its surroundings had on your music?
I’m not sure! Chicago’s a weird place. Musically, it’s very diverse. Most of Chicago is very indie rock. That’s super popular in Chicago. I’d say the city itself has probably had zero impact on anything we did.
Do you guys still wear the 1920s Russian-style uniforms, or has your aesthetic changed since recording the new album?
You know, that uniform thing was a part of the Red Right Return record, and after that cycle [laughs], it pretty much wore itself out. For this concept, doing something quite like that didn’t really apply. It kind of felt like doing that would just be round two, and it wouldn’t have any real connection. It would just be doing it for the sake of doing it. So we kind of stepped away from that. It would start to feel a little gimmicky if there wasn’t a really good reason to do it. We’ve kind of shifted gears, and we’re bearing a little bit more of our own selves on stage.
Do you guys have any official music videos planned for the near future?
Not currently. We did shoot some video for all of the songs on the new record — like 30- to 40-second clips — so next month, when we’re gearing up for the release, we’re going to be unleashing some promo videos. They are just shots of us in our rehearsal space, just playing. It’s just to kind of give everyone a feel for the new songs.
What gear are you currently playing out of?
I’m playing out of an effects unit that I picked up a while back. We ended up tracking the record with it and are touring with it right now. It’s really neat. I don’t even need a cab for it. It’s pretty straightforward and direct. All of my guitars are PRS — variations of models set up differently with different tunings and such.
With the aforementioned song revisions in mind, is Janus the kind of band that will begin writing new material as soon as an album is finished?
It’s funny, because we have done that in the past. Actually, on the last record, we started writing some songs that just kind of got shelved, and then we went on tour. We kind of revisited them on this album, and a couple of them actually made the cut [laughs]. Right now, we’re not really working on anything, but we’ll see what happens! It’s really hard to do while you’re traveling, for sure.
If you were given the opportunity to collaborate with anyone -- still living, of course -- who would it be?
I’d be really interested in doing something with Deftones, or if there was ever a reunited Quicksand, I’d definitely do that. Or Page Hamilton from Helmet. I’ve actually met him, and he’s a really cool guy—one of my childhood heroes, so that would be really cool to do something with him.
What else did you grow up listening to?
A lot of New York hardcore stuff, actually. Gorilla Biscuits, Snapcase — stuff like that. Very aggressive. I was also very much into The Misfits and the whole skating scene. That was my whole passion before music. Once I picked up the guitar, the skateboard fell by the wayside.
I want to say I was 13 when I started playing guitar, but I started playing bass a lot. When I was asked to join this band, I was actually still playing bass, so I switched back over to guitar. I didn’t even have any guitar equipment at the time. I was using our singer’s stuff, because he was playing and singing at the same time but doesn’t really do that anymore. Eventually, I found my own stuff and my own sound and the rest is history! I took about five guitar lessons, but I really just wanted to play what I was hearing, so I taught myself how to play and just developed my ear for the stuff I liked. It took some time to work that out.
What can we expect from Janus after this spring tour with Chevelle? What’s going on this summer?
We’re doing a few headlining dates in the Midwest — Chicago, St. Louis, Peoria — I can’t remember all of them. We’ve got some various radio and festival shows over the next two months, and in April we’re heading out on tour with Cavo.