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Interview: A Detailed Conversation With Intronaut's Sacha Dunable

Los Angeles' very own progressive metal outfit Intronaut has been making waves in the scene ever since they started out in 2004, through three full-length albums and numerous tours that saw them hit the road with huge acts like Mastodon, Cynic, Animals As Leaders and the like.

In essence, they garnered a new set of fans everytime they toured, and it was last year at the El Rey Theatre when I discovered them, as they opened up for Cynic and put on a hugely impressive show.

Despite playing progressive metal for the most part, these guys also bring in a variety of other influences, and that's primarily the reason they stand out among hundreds of bands that pursue a career in this kind of musical style. An influx of jazz along with additional percussion and samples certainly makes it a unique blend.

On September 2 at the Trouabdour in West Hollywood, they played a one-off support gig with another great band, Kylesa. I had the chance to talk to frontman Sacha Dunable before the show, to discuss a wide range of topics like the Troubadour, support tours of the past, the stoner metal term, the Indian metal scene, gear and lots more. Enjoy the amazing interview from him and check out the band's official Facebook page after you've done so.

Tonight you're doing a one-off show with Kylesa. It must be a good feeling because you've toured with them before, you know them well and your music fits well with theirs.

Yeah, totally. For the reasons that you just said, we are really comfortable playing with them, and actually the two other locals that are playing tonight, we know them well too. We haven't played here at the Troubadour ever before. That's exciting for us because I've been coming here since I was a kid, and always wanted to play here. So it's pretty cool.

That's interesting. I assumed that you would have played here a bunch of times.

I know! But this is the last place in LA that we haven't played, and always wanted to. The sound here is great, and it's a cool room and everything. A lot of legendary shows here.

What are some of the shows you've seen here that come to mind straightaway?

I saw Neurosis on the Through Silver In Blood tour here with Goatsnake and Rimple opening. That was unbelievable. I was still in high school then. And then, I saw Electric Wizard on the Dopethrone tour with Warhorse and Goatsnake. Not that I'm so stoked on Goatsnake (laughs). I mean, I like them but it's funny that I'm mentioning them repeatedly. I ate mushrooms at that show and it was really cool. Actually at that Neurosis show I ate mushrooms, got really drunk and smoked opium with some random guys backstage and I woke up in my friend's apartment. They wrote all over my face. Anyway, that makes a memorable night, you know.

I feel it's the perfect setting for Kylesa and Intronaut to play here. I was just interviewing them and they told me it's the first time here for them as well.

Yeah, it's perfect for this kind of music. Oh, check this out. Another band I saw here was in 2000 or 1999 or something, was Dillinger Escape Plan with Candiria and Isis. Anyway, just for heavy music. this is the perfect stage, perfect room and perfect sound, and just the vibe. It's not like I'm on the Sunset Strip in Hollywood with all these other places with other things going on. It's kind of like it's own little thing over here.

The last time I was talking to you, you told me that the reason you don't do too many local shows is because sometimes the venue is not quite right. I think this one's going to rectify that.

Exactly! Yeah.

You've toured with Mastodon and Kylesa before, and also with bands like Cynic and Animals As Leaders recently. Does that positively affect your mindset at all, touring with bands that are similar in musical style but bigger and more successful?

Yeah, it definitely inspires you to get better when you're opening up for a band like that. All the bands that you just mentioned we've toured with are all really awesome. I don't know if we're really taking influences from those bands in terms of the music but I really like what they do, and you know, I like the feeling when I'm on tour where we're the shittiest band (laughs). It makes you want to be better and keeps the fire burning.

One term that's thrown around this kind of music is stoner metal. That kind of turns me off, and for bands that I like, I prefer them to not be termed as stoner metal. What do you feel?

Yeah I prefer that too. I don't even smoke weed anymore. It's also kind of degrading and gives a bad impression, I think. When I think of stoner metal, I think of Fu Manchu. I mean, it's a great band but it's like sloppy shit (laughs). So, calling us stoner metal is not really doing us justice and most bands like us get that term thrown at them.

I've tried "stoner metal" bands in a stoned state of mind, and they still didn't do anything for me. After all, it's about the music. Other factors cannot make bad music sound good.

(Laughs) Exactly! Yeah. Weed is only going to enhance good music. It makes good music sounds better, and mediocre music, may be, sound good (laughs).

Specially for this show, Kylesa and Intronaut, the music is already so great that there is no need to smoke.

(Laughs) We appreciate that.

One thing I also noticed in your music is the heavy jazz influence. Do you think it's important for musicians to branch out and embrace that kind of stuff? It obviously makes you a better musician.

Well, I wouldn't say that every band needs to have an understanding of music theory and all that stuff, but with us it has certainly helped and it has influenced the way we write our music, because we have all that stuff in mind. I mean, if you the opportunity to learn more about music theory, I'd say absolutely go for it. I've heard people say stuff like they don't want to know the rules and play by the rules in music, but if you don't know what the rules are, you can't really break them and take it further if you don't really understand what's going on. You can just do it by ear and based on whatever that naturally comes out of you, and whatever happens by accident. But knowing what you're doing and being able to analyze it a little bit can help you just sort of push your own envelope a little bit more. You do run the risk of becoming a little too cerebral, and that's what we try not to do.

Did you actually learn music theory?

Joe, our bass player has a bachelor's degree in music. Dave studied percussion and tabla pretty intensely for many years. Danny has knowledge as well. I don't really have too much, although I did take some classes back when I was in college. But I never majored in anything and everything I know at this point, pretty much comes from playing with Joe and Dave. Joe is a good teacher and he knows his shit, so I feel like I've been able to sit in on a couple of advanced college music lessons, you know.

Last year, we talked about your India gig in 2009. Have you been able to visit some similar exotic countries in the last year?

Not as exotic as India, that's for sure. We were just in Europe and we went to Greece. That's pretty far away, and we also went to Slovakia. Those are places we had never been to before. In a couple of months we go to Norway and Scandinavia and we've never done that before either. As far as India and exotic countries, it's taking the cake as of now.

Do you plan to go back, may be next year?

We would love to go back. We're still in touch with those guys, and it's always funny because they hit us up and go, "Hey, you guys should come back to India and play!" And I'm like, "You guys brought us there the first time, why don't you bring us back?" We want to go back and we're trying to make it happen.

It would be great it you could go back there, because the scene has changed so much. I used to live there up till four years back, and people were just discovering metal. It was all about Maiden and Metallica. Now it's about Cynic, Meshuggah and Intronaut. It's gone djent!

Yeah (laughs). I saw the line-up for the Great Indian Rock festival last year, and it was pretty wild. They had Tesseract, Meshuggah, Enslaved and all of those bands. I haven't been there since our show but it really seems like the "rock street journal" guys are trying to bring that stuff to India and show everybody what's up. We went over there and there were 5,000 people there, with 3,000 of them wearing Iron Maiden shirts. They are hungry for it, and I think that's awesome. Every band should go there.

People on your Facebook and Twitter are always commenting and asking you to play in their cities. Do you check out the band's social networks at all?

I'm one of the admins for our facebook. It does get annoying at times, but I understand where they're coming from, We just don't have control over that most of the time. Specially when you're on a support tour, you have absolutely no say in that.

Coming to the gear part of the interview now. Over the years, how much of your gear has changed? Do you experiment with gear before you go out on a big tour or record a new album?

More in recording I think than before going out on a big tour. I have pretty much played the same basic set-up for our entire existence. I'm always trying to add more effects here and there into my board. It's starting to get a little bit more wild. I play a Laney head through two 4X12 cabs. Actually I just got these new fancy custom cabs from Mesa. This is the first show I get to play those. And then I have a loop station. That's really it, and it's pretty simple.

As you said, you've been on so many support tours on which you probably don't even get to soundcheck your gear. Are you used to dealing with that by now?

Yeah, that's probably why our setups have remained so simple over the years, because when you literally have just 15 minutes to get up there and get your shit ready and play, you don't want to have a bunch of extra stuff to be worrying about. I don't, at least. That's why I like to keep it as simple as possible.

Kylesa were just telling me that they couldn't even bring their whole gear for their tour. So I think it's better to just keep it simple so that you can always have everything you need.

Well, I feel like once we start doing headlining stuff, we'll probably go big and have a little more stuff up there. Because why not.

One thing I'm also curious about is, how much of the gear varies from the recording to the stage. Do you try to replicate the exact sound on the stage?

Yeah, pretty much. Sometimes we've used different distortion pedals for certain parts on different recordings, may be different amps. But pretty much our pedals are the same, and same guitars. One the last record honestly, I think we did the whole album using the rig I was using in the live setup at the time. So it's the same thing.

Andrew Bansal is a Los Angeles-based writer who has been running his own website, Metal Assault, since early 2010, and has been prolific in covering the hard rock and heavy metal scene by posting interviews, reviews and pictures on his website -- with the help of a small group of people. Besides being hugely passionate about heavy metal, he is an avid follower of jazz music and recently started a blog called Jazz Explorer to pursue that interest.

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