“Selective picking, to me, is drumming on guitar. Tosin Abasi brought this technique to the world and it made me excited”: Prog-metal visionary Pomegranate Tiger was ahead of his time. Now he’s tackling cutting-edge technique and AI head-on

Pomegranate Tiger poses with guitars
(Image credit: Press)

A hammock hangs in Pomegranate Tiger mastermind Martin Andres’ L.A. living room when Guitar World reaches him over Zoom, but there hasn’t been much time for the virtuoso to relax this particular evening. It’s been just a few hours since the guitarist/drummer let loose the bombastically progressive juggernaut that is Pomegranate Tiger’s new All Input Is Error album – the project’s first in eight years – but instead of breathing a sigh of relief over a job well done, he’s generally been obsessing over streaming numbers and Instagram traction.

“I know progressive metal music – especially my music – is less viral. It seems like it takes time for people to get their teeth into it and chew it,” he says, adding that the pressure of yielding likes sometimes skews his perception of Pomegranate Tiger’s appeal.

“It’s easy to be like, ‘Oh, the album came out today, how many views did I get?’ But then you’re judging your worth based on one day. You know, there are a lot of days for people to hear the album! I need to find a way to relax, let it go, and enjoy the process.”

Despite this, Andres’ excitement around the project is nevertheless palpable – and fully warranted. After delivering sophomore collection Boundless in 2015, Andres tamed Pomegranate Tiger to focus on touring the globe as part of Ontario, Canada metal force Oni. Along the way, he also managed to collaborate with the likes of Lamb of God’s Mark Morton and Animals as Leaders’ Javier Reyes.

“It was awesome,” he sums up matter-of-factly of the hiatus, but eventually he had to get back to his “baby”.

In practice, that’s meant releasing jaw-droppers like The Cryptographer, a madcap instrumental of “frantic sonic motion” that’s racked up more than 75k views between an A.I.-bolstered visualizer, a drum playthrough from Andres, and his tandem guitar run-through with eight-stringed collaborator Matt Shaheen – not to mention brain-busting side posts with titles like “Selective picking 32nds in groups of 5 repeating as a polyrhythm within 7/16”.

Speaking with Guitar World, Andres further details his teeth-baring return, how selective picking theory is a drummer’s best friend, and where the rise of A.I. technology could take Pomegranate Tiger next.

Considering the name of the album is All Input is Error, were you faced with any technological snafus along the way?

“No, I would characterize [the title] in a different way. I’ve always been excited about technology. If I was to bring it back to [2013’s] Entities, the first record, me and my bandmates at the time [recognized] that there were more angles to help a musician gain recognition than just the quality of the music itself.

“It was the beginning of YouTube and guitar playthroughs. Not many people were filming themselves playing their instruments with a nice camera. We put all of our blood, sweat and tears into the album, but on top of that we were like, ‘We need some kind of technological edge [to] hopefully help take our music even further.” 

I have a friend that I’m working with right now who has two Masters degrees in artificial intelligence. He really wants to build a Pomegranate Tiger AI system

“I think the combination of us being one of the first on YouTube, and also being one of the first to utilize technology for digital advertising – [like] Instagram or Facebook – helped propel Pomegranate Tiger to wherever it’s at today. So, kind of keeping that tradition alive, what’s the technology of today that’s got everybody’s attention? That has everything to do with AI.

“You’ve got AI answering kids’ homework, making artwork for us, and it’s writing contracts for people. It’s doing all this stuff, and a lot of experts within Artificial Intelligence are saying that this is a technology that’s going to exponentially increase what [it can] do. And it’s going to change humanity. 

“They say we’ll come to a point where all human input will be rendered as error, because the computers and the robots will essentially have all the answers. They will predict things better than we can. So, that’s essentially where the title came from. It’s actually a [phrase] coined by Elon Musk.”

Would you feed this record into some kind of AI to study what makes Pomegranate Tiger tick? 

“I think the whole idea is really weird, but I am attracted to it. In fact, I have a friend that I’m working with right now who has two Masters degrees in artificial intelligence. He really wants to build a Pomegranate Tiger AI system, and essentially what that does is you have to program every single parameter of what Pomegranate Tiger is – what are the sounds, chord progressions, [or] kinds of rhythms used.

“It’s a project that would probably take years and years of adding to it, so that one day you have a data set that’s a pretty accurate representation of what Pomegranate Tiger could be. Grimes is actually building her own AI system as well. This isn’t a new novel thing; there’s already a few people on top of it. Yeah, the future is going to be nuts!”

A different application of knowledge, here, but since the last Pomegranate Tiger release, you’ve worked with Mark Morton and Javier Reyes; you toured the world as part of Oni. What did you learn from those outside experiences, and what drove you back towards Pomegranate Tiger?

“A lot! Just the process of writing with other people is so different than what I do on my own. My process tends to be all over the place. I like things to marinate for a long time; I’m not spontaneous or erratic in my decision making.

“Something I learned from Mark Morton was that when he writes, if he doesn’t love it in the first 30 seconds of trying to create the idea, he will abandon it and go onto the next one. I saw him shuffling through ideas. 

Mario DuPlantier was saying all these bands are out there trying to feed vegetables to babies – as a metaphor, he called crowds ‘babies’ – but then he was like, ‘Wouldn’t you want to be the guy onstage that’s feeding them candy?’

“I remember him telling me he had a two-week writing retreat and wrote, like, 15 to 20 songs. It made me laugh, because for this record there are certain songs that I started four years ago that I didn’t finish until a few months ago. When you listen to the music, I think it’s self-explanatory – Pomegranate Tiger is extremely dense. Theres a lot of melodic and harmonic progressions, and a lot of rhythms. To get all that to flow together is not easy.

“The long and the short of it is that Pomegranate Tiger has always been my baby. When I joined Oni, it was under different pretenses. It wasn’t my project, [but] that was a lot of fun. It was cool to be with other people and write music with them. 

“Touring changes you, also, [in terms of] what kind of music you want to write. Actually, this was one of the things that Mario [DuPlantier] from Gojira told me when [Oni] were on tour with them. He was saying all these bands are out there trying to feed vegetables to babies – as a metaphor, he called crowds ‘babies’ – but then he was like, ‘Wouldn’t you want to be the guy onstage that’s feeding them candy?’

“When you get to watch Gojira every night from side-stage, it becomes obvious. You look at the way they write their music – how they structure different sounds, or the use of technical ability – and you look at the crowd’s response to all of it. Like, there’s a reason why Gojira is as popular as they are. It’s because they’ve figured out [how] to stop feeding vegetables to these babies. Whether that’s a good analogy or not, it stuck in my head.”

Thinking about a Pomegranate Tiger song like The Cryptographer, what’s the candy in there?

“That’s a hilarious question, because I would say if there was a song that was all vegetables, it’s probably The Cryptographer [laughs]. I would say there’s a middle section in there, though, where the song changes tempo and goes to this straight kick idea. It has a really technical guitar rhythm pattern overtop, but there’s nothing more candy than having a four-on-the-floor. If you can nod your head to the beat, you know what’s going on.”

You posted a playthrough of the new record’s Metasphere on Instagram with a hashtag of “#selectivepicking.” That’s more of a contemporary vernacular that hadn’t existed when you’d made the last Pomegranate Tiger album. How much of an impact did this theory have on All Input Is Error?

“I gotta say, it’s a bit of a life hack that I play drums and guitar. Selective picking, to me, is drumming on guitar. Straight up, that’s the best way that I can explain it. If you put selective picking under a microscope, it’s essentially hammer-ons [with your fretting hand] and then sometimes a pick with your right hand. You’re alternating hands; you’re either picking here or throwing a hammer-on there. That is exactly what drumming is. It was a very natural kind of thing for me to start doing. 

“Tosin Abasi has brought this technique to the world, and of course when he started doing it, it made me excited. It’s a cool sound; he’s inspiring guitarists all over the world… he’s inspiring me! But one of the coolest things is that on the very first Pomegranate Tiger single, New Breed, there’s actually a selective picking section in there, right after the intro. At the time, I didn’t know that I was doing a selective picking technique, nor did I know that it was going to be something that Tosin would coin one day.”

Pomegranate Tiger poses with guitars

(Image credit: Press)

Obviously, the worlds of drumming and guitars entwine for you, but focusing on the latter, what guitars were you turning to the most during these sessions?

“My Rick Turner Custom Renaissance. I would say it’s like a hybrid electric/acoustic. It’s amazing. It has a piezo under the bridge, and it has this electric pickup – there’s a selector; you can choose how much of each pickup you’re using. The entire thing is made of rosewood, from head to toe. 

“My newest baby is an Ibanez Prestige RG. This thing just kicks ass. I don’t know what else to say. The fretboard is insanely smooth. The bridge is amazing. My favorite thing about this guitar is just holding it. I can tell there’s some serious craftsmanship put into this thing – maybe it’s the weight of the guitar that does it for me, because it is quite heavy. It’s like a Ferrari and a tank put together. I love it. 

“And then I’ve got this American-made Telecaster. I really love the single coils on this thing. I did most of my clean electric guitar tones using this guy through an AC30. When you’re using a high-end Telecaster and a famous amp like an AC30, it’s just going to be awesome. There’s no way around it. 

“But something a little more unique about how I play is that I learned how to play classical guitar before I even touched an electric. It was 10 years of my life, just six-string classical technique. I regularly use sixes and sevens, and Matt has his eight-string Ibanez Prestige if I need any extra low-end.”

Are there any nylon-string guitars on this collection, maybe for something softer like Keyways?

“An Alhambra guitar. It’s really old. The whole thing is made of Brazilian rosewood, which is really cool.”

You mentioned using an AC30 on the record, but since you also mentioned touring with Gojira, are there any plugins on there, like the Neural DSP Archetype: Gojira?

“I was really lucky to work with producer Josh Wilbur in the past – not for Pomegranate Tiger, but for Oni projects. [He’s] done Trivium, Megadeth, Lamb of God…P!NK. Clearly there’s something to whatever he’s doing that is making large artists come to him and ask for his expertise.

“He also recorded and mixed Gojira records [2012’s L’Enfant Sauvage], so of course, me being a big Gojira fan, I was like ‘Josh, you have to tell me, how was recording with Gojira? What kind of amps did you use?’

“With those kinds of conversations, you learn that the secret weapon is an EVH 5150. [With] the Neural DSP, they’re literally just modeling a 5150. So, I got myself my own 5150, and that ended up doing all rhythm distortion on the album. We actually used a Mesa Mark V for all the lead guitar tones, and some of the clean tones with that and the AC30. For cabinets, we just mixed and matched whatever we thought sounded good.”

Pomegranate Tiger poses with guitars

(Image credit: Press)

Can we touch on a few more songs from the album? The Great Filter, for instance, mixes rhythmically funky patterns with some extreme chord voicings….

“One of the reasons Pomegranate Tiger sounds the way it does is because as much as I had those experiences writing with some of the world’s best metal musicians, over the last four years I’ve listened to almost zero metal music. Whatever gets exported out of me comes out in this instrumental fashion [and] this genre of music.

“But as far as the import of music – what’s coming in and inspiring me – it has nothing to do with electric guitar music, sometimes. It’s way more fun to try and take a crazy piano piece, and take the right hand and put it on one guitar, and put the left on a different guitar. Or try to take what happens in a cello piece and mimic it on the guitar.

“For example, there’s a song on All Input Is Error called False Dawn. That song was inspired by Indian tabla drumming. If you listen to it, it’s quite difficult to nod your head because nothing in the song happens using general 16th notes; nothing is split into fours. With general 16ths, you’re basically cutting up beats in equal numbers of four, whereas Indian drumming can have micro-grids of five or seven. So, how can you write a song that’s in a structure where there’s no quarters, sixteenths, or eighths?

“Essentially, False Dawn was a study in prog metal, inspired by tabla drumming and using grids of five. In general, every song has its quirky idea of what I was trying to accomplish.”

False Dawn has an unnatural choppiness to it, like you’re pressing a mute button on and off super-fast. 

“That’s exactly what I’m describing, with everything being in fives. Basically, if you had fives that were not broken, it would be ‘1-2-3-4-5’, which sounds normal because you’re filling in all the beats. But what happens when you mute two and four, and then you mute one, three, and five the next time around? You’re still operating within a grid of five, but now instead of playing every single beat, you’re taking a few of them out. That’s why it’s so hard to nod your head. It feels like it’s muting. It sounds like something is skipping, but all I’m doing is using fives, and improvising on hitting certain rhythms within five. 

“It's funny… once the whole thing was finished, we almost redid the whole thing in fours [laughs]. The whole thing sounds so ludicrous. We were like, ‘Is it bordering on insanity? Is it bordering on sounding bad?’”

We started off this conversation talking about Pomegranate Tiger’s early social media presence. More recently, you made a contest announcement on Instagram through a video where you’re lounging in a hammock while playing guitar with a little dog in your lap. How practical is that setup in real life? Like, do you often riff while swinging in the hammock with the dog? 

“Those are all my favorite things. I spend a lot of time in this hammock reflecting, writing, thinking, and hanging out with my fiancé’s sister’s dog.”

Does Pomegranate Tiger’s music soothe that savage beast?

“I mean…you saw her biting me all over in the video, so maybe it doesn’t [laughs]. Maybe it’s doing the opposite. I feel like Pomegranate Tiger’s music, if anything, is going to raise more questions, cause for concern, and panic.”

Thank you for reading 5 articles this month**

Join now for unlimited access

US pricing $3.99 per month or $39.00 per year

UK pricing £2.99 per month or £29.00 per year 

Europe pricing €3.49 per month or €34.00 per year

*Read 5 free articles per month without a subscription

Join now for unlimited access

Prices from £2.99/$3.99/€3.49

Gregory Adams

Gregory Adams is a Vancouver-based arts reporter. From metal legends to emerging pop icons to the best of the basement circuit, he’s interviewed musicians across countless genres for nearly two decades, most recently with Guitar World, Bass Player, Revolver, and more – as well as through his independent newsletter, Gut Feeling. This all still blows his mind. He’s a guitar player, generally bouncing hardcore riffs off his ’52 Tele reissue and a dinged-up SG.