Before they drop their scorching new EP Rites this Friday, Perth prog-metallers Make Way For Man have celebrated its absolutely mental title track with an up-close look at how guitarist Drew Shepherd makes his magic happen.
Like the four-minute anthem itself, Shepherd's playing is all kinds of enigmatic, equally coarse and colourful as he tears along the fretboard with frenetic aplomb. It's also batshit f***ing crazy – how he manages to soar through such explosive riffs without hitting a single bung note has all of us at AGHQ with our jaws on the floor and jealousy levels immeasurable.
In addition to his playthrough video (which you can catch at the bottom of this post), Shepherd was kind enough to sit down for a quick yarn about "Rites" and his unique techniques.
If there’s one thing that really stands out with this track, it’s how stunningly you’ve mastered the balance between the melodic and the heavy – it’s an absolute ripper, but there’s a lot of colour there as well. How do you approach a song like that as a guitarist, using the instrument to ebb and flow between two very contrasting feels without veering too far in either direction?
You know, I have never really thought about it too much! If I could say anything about that aspect, it would be that I would start with an idea like some riffs or a progression – it might be heavy or it might be melodic – and from there it’s about filling the song out with what it might be missing, so maybe more melody or a breakdown, etcetera. Once the vocalists have added their voice to it, I’ll have all these other ideas for added layering that I’d like to put over the top. It’s kind of like you have these rough ideas that may not even sit that well together, then with the overdubs and added layers they tie them in and make it flow better.
It seems like with every new Make Way For Man track that comes out, your playing gets a little more technical, a little more insane, and a whole lot more impressive. Are you constantly trying to one-up yourself? How do you strive to push your skills forward with each release?
Short answer: yes. Long answer: I kind of see guitar as something similar to, say, an athlete pushing themselves to break the 100 metre record, or something like that. What’s the point in playing if you aren't going to challenge yourself and push past what you might be personally capable of? Theres some insane guitarists out there, and I don’t claim to be anywhere near as good as them, but I take inspiration from other great players and it makes me strive to get better. The main goal, though, is to have enough ‘tech’ in there without it getting too cluttered and messy – I’d like it to be accessible to even the non-muso guitarists that just want to hear a catchy tune.
That guitar is absolutely beautiful. We’ve seen that you’ve been repping it for a few years now – what’s kept it such an essential part of your getup?
Cheers! Yeah, I now enjoy playing this guitar so much so that I basically got rid of all the other ones I had – I was a guitar hoarder like a lot of us are. Initially being an eight-string, I had some troubles playing it and actually didn’t really enjoy the feel of it and its playability; although the tone is better than most guitars I’ve ever owned, it just felt harder to play than other guitars. That kind of went away after six months or so – it was kind of like I had to get used to the action and the frets being wider. Now I can really use it to its full potential, and it feels nice to play.
What are you inspired by as a guitarist, and what’s your ultimate goal as a player?
I’m one of the older guys in this band, so I was all in for the classic guitarists like Steve Vai, Satriani, John Petrucci… They influenced me initially as a younger player, but nowadays there’s so many good players that are relatively unknown. I mainly get inspiration from hearing an idea, like a riff or a section of song, and then thinking, “That’s really cool and different – I would never have thought to do that!” Then I want to try do it. Bands like Polyphia, Animals As Leaders, Intervals, Helix Nebula – they’re all pushing those guitar boundaries, and that inspires me to keep writing! The ultimate goal is to write the best music I possibly can, which compliments the other guys in the band so that it is accessible not just to musicians, but to all music-lovers alike, and so they can find some enjoyment in it no matter what they are into.
What advice would you give to a budding shredder who wants to explore some of the batshit crazy styles of metal and djent that you’ve mastered with tracks like “Rites”?
Be batshit crazy like we are! I’d say the best thing I did to improve was learn those hard cover songs from your favourite players – more than just one, too, so you’re getting all their little quirks and ideas that you would never think of yourself. Doing that just gives you a bigger ‘trick bag’, so when you start writing your own songs, you have plenty of ideas to pull from.
Where do you see Make Way For Man going from here? Is there a record or project we should keep our ears close to the ground for?
Well, we really want to start touring again! Unfortunately that doesn’t look like it’s happening anytime soon with the current virus situation, though. Other than that, I have been writing a lot of new material since there has literally been nothing else to do! Things have worked out well in that regard, so there are a lot of new songs on the way even after the release of the Rites EP on Friday.