Interview: Anciients Guitarists Discuss Debut Album, Live Musicianship and Gear

Based out of Vancouver, Canada, Anciients play a blend of soothing acoustic rock melodies and crushing heavy metal.

The band released their debut album, Heart Of Oak, April 16 via Season Of Mist Records and hit the road on the Death To All tour.

I recently caught up with Anciients guitarists Kenneth Cook and Chris Dyck to discuss the making of the debut album, their live shows, future plans, the Death To All tour, gear setup and more. Read the conversation below and check out the band online at their official website and Facebook page.

GUITAR WORLD: Judging from the songs on your debut album, your music seems to be an eclectic mix of musical styles. Do you let your creativity flow naturally on these songs, or is it more of a thought-out and planned thing?

KENNETH: I rarely plan stuff out when writing. It’s mostly all written on the couch at home or in my dungeon downstairs. Songs come from playing guitar or hearing a riff in my head and trying to recreate on the guitar. Listening to lots of different kinds of music plays a big part in writing for this band. I listen to everything from classical and jazz to death metal and everything in between. It’s basically just a matter of, if a part gets me stoked or if I can still remember it the next time I pick up the guitar.

Most songs aren't all written at once, and certain parts aren't written with intention of mixing it with another, they just somehow manage to fit or get forced to fit with another. With that being said, arrangements are another story. Once all of the parts are written, the band goes over them with a fine tooth comb and decides how to piece it all together and turn it in to a song, which is probably the hardest process of it all. It definitely takes longer than writing and is definitely a thought out process.

CHRIS: We listen to a lot of different music. This record was the sound of our collective mind at the time. There was no set idea for this band's sound. The only thought out thing was that there is essentially no limitation. I say essentially because we have some boundaries, of course, and we really wanted to create something heavy as all fuck, but something with melodic clarity and decent songwriting as well, without ripping anyone off or rehashing the same old metal cliches, etc.

Mind you, any Craft, Neurosis, Tool, Pink Floyd sections are fully intentional [laughs]. But, yeah all kidding aside, we have pretty trippy influences from all over the map, from Steely Dan to Gorgoroth. A lot of bands say this and a lot of bands want to say this, but we do what we want musically and could give a flying dump if it’s not hip or evil enough or whatever. We love creating, and with Kenny as the main riff lord, we have no shortage of material. We’re already working on the next one.

With this mix of styles, does it become hard to build a fan-base?

CHRIS: Doesn’t seem to have been an issue for us so far, locally, anyways. Perhaps once we get our stuff out to a wider audience. I think with us, either you will get it or you won’t. I don’t think there will be a ton of middle ground. I hope people can deal with some clean vocals with the black metal vocals and it’s not like metalcore clean singing or power metal vocals or anything really out of left field. Kenny’s clean vocals and even my own sound retro, if anything, in my opinion.

KENNETH: I could see that being a possibility, but I also think having lots of different styles within the music could attract a lot wider of an audience. I like to think we have a little something in there for everyone, and it could be a good way to broaden the musical spectrum of the average listener, hearing different styles being blended in with music they are already familiar with. At least we hope that’s what happens [laughs].

You’ve toured with bands like High On Fire, Goatwhore, Boris and 3 Inches Of Blood. How did people react when they saw your performance and heard your music for the first time?

CHRIS: To be 100 percent honest, we haven’t had a negative reaction at any shows, and all fan feedback has been amazing, really. We have had a ton of live reviews and music reviews, and not a bad one yet. I’m sure it’s coming, though [laughs]. At the shows we haven’t had it like where people walk away or don’t look interested. No one has come up to us after a show and told us we suck ... yet! [laughs]

KENNETH: The response we have received in the last two years has been great and better than we could have ever expected. We haven't been booed off of the stage or hit in the face with beer bottles or flying objects as of now so that’s a bonus, but all in all I think that people are digging the material and enjoying the experience of seeing us play.

Do you think the positive side to being so eclectic is that you can fit on pretty much any touring lineup and play with all kinds of bands?

CHRIS: Yes, that’s the game plan. It’s been like that since we started playing shows, and we dig it.

KENNETH: It is definitely a positive to some degree. I could see us playing with a lot of different bands, but I am very curious to see how well we will sit with the strictly death metal crowds because of our clean singing and clean guitar parts, and lots of melody. Only time will tell, I guess.

You released a two-song EP called Snakebeard in 2011. How does that EP compare with the material on this album?

CHRIS: Those two songs are as good as anything on the record. We had less time to record them and were still figuring out our sound, but both are tough and fun to play. I think they were killer considering how early they came into play in the band’s development. Plus we have built everything so far on those two songs, the live shows and the hype around the upcoming record. It seem like people dig them, because the EP sold out, I think, so that’s pretty sweet.

KENNETH: It is very similar in a lot of ways with Heart of Oak, the way the songs were written and arranged was the exact same process of just playing what sounds good to us, and playing what gets us stoked. How it differs is mainly in the recording process. With the new record, we had a lot more time to experiment with different sounds. With the Snakebeard EP, we kind of just set up our gear and had at her. But with the new record, we took a good amount of time setting up and getting the best possible sounds with what we had or could borrow. The material is pretty much the same, but maybe a bit more of a rock vibe going on in the new record.

When you play live, how much do you focus on accuracy and how much of it is spontaneous?

CHRIS: For me, it’s a bit of both. There is no improvising, if that’s what you’re asking. In terms of being onstage, I tend to rock out a tad more than Kenny, but my parts are way easier. Down picks all day long, simple rhythm playing, so I can spazz out a bit. But in terms of playing, I’m pretty spot on, say more than 90 percent of the time. Accuracy and focus is crucial for me. But like I said, easier parts equals more stage spazzing. I have no pedals, either, so I’m free to fuck around.

KENNETH: We try to play the tunes live as close as possible to the record. We aren't much of a jam band, although that would be awesome to incorporate. The only part of the set that would be spontaneous would be the guitar solos in some of the songs. I like to play them a little different from time to time. I find that soloing is a lot more fun when you’re not trying to precisely nail exact notes and just going with the flow.

There are acoustic guitar segments in your songs, as well as the regular heavy electric guitar parts. How much of a challenge is it to fit the two elements together so that they make sense?

CHRIS: We try to be able to replicate as best as possible the record in a live setting. Obviously, none of my parts are acoustic, and any of my clean parts on the record are neck pickup tone rolled back a bit on the SG, same as live. I just use the guitar knobs/pickups to create my three sounds that I need in all the songs. Kenny has cool pedals and an amp with several channels so he’s golden, he can replicate the acoustic parts quite well live, and most of the acoustic sections have electric cleans over or with them so we just drop the acoustic sound live. It sounds fine.

KENNETH: It’s never really been a challenge combining the two elements. It’s just a matter of if it works or not. We will sometimes have parts that get rewritten or used in other places, but it’s really just about the flow of the song and whether it sounds smooth on the transitions. I believe you can put different styles of any kinds of music together, as long as you setup the transitions properly and not just bluntly changing from one to the other. But that could also be my love of prog rock speaking [laughs].

Do you compose the acoustic parts on acoustic guitar, or do you just play your electric guitar unplugged?

KENNETH: I usually always write the cleaner stuff at home on a acoustic. I just love the sound and resonance it has, and it puts me in the mood to write nicer sounding tunes.

What’s your current gear setup?

CHRIS: I have two Gibson SGs, a Soldano Avenger head (the best guitar head ever, period), and we use Olde Crow cabinets. I have a 4x12 and a 2x12 on top. For this coming tour, though, I’m using my Olde Crow 4x2 and a straight front 4x12. Just for a bit bigger of a sound, I like the Olde Crow Marshall blend. I use a Boss tuner. That’s it, no effects, nothing.

KENNETH: I use a Les Paul Standard (lefty). It’s a 2008, I believe, and an SG for backup. I run it through a Marshall JVM 410H and Olde Crow cabinets, which rule, by the way, loaded with Vintage 30s. For pedals I just use a Boss tuner, Boss chorus and a space echo pedal, fairly straightforward. My acoustic I used for the record is a $500 Simon & Patrick, and I just rented a cheap nylon string guitar for "One Foot In The Light."

Where did you record this album, and were you using any of the studio’s additional equipment during the recording process?

CHRIS: At the studio in Vancouver, we used this crazy space echo a lot, Hammond organ, and I used a trippy old Telecaster for a clean section somewhere on there. We also used a couple of different guitar heads, but we brought those in.

KENNETH: We recorded at a studio in Burnaby, British Columbia, called The Hive Creative Lab. We recorded with our now dear friend Jesse Gander, who is a wizard behind the boards, to say the least, and has recorded numerous amounts of kickass records. The Hive has a great room for tracking drums and the all around vibe of the place is awesome! Unfortunately, it will no longer be an option because it’s shutting down soon, which is a huge bummer.

We mainly used our own gear on the recording of this record, except I think I used a Madison guitar head [I'm not sure what model it was] but I know it used to be owned by my buddy Shane Clark from 3 Inches Of Blood. We did get to use some cool old effects, though, that Jesse had hanging around. We used an Echoplex that was super old and rad, and also we used his Space Echo on a lot of parts.

Some of these songs are pretty long, which reduces the number of songs in your set list if you play the longer ones live. Do you consider this at all while composing such songs, or are you comfortable with playing that kind of a set?

CHRIS: Nope, don’t care. The song is over when it’s over. We can do a lot with 30 to 35 minutes, so it’s cool.

KENNETH: It’s not really something we think about when writing. The songs kind of just write themselves and they are as long as they need to be. We don't mind playing fewer songs. I think the tunes have enough going on in them to keep people interested, and we aren't just hitting an E chord for 10 minutes [not that there is anything wrong with that], but I like to think of the tunes as songs within songs. We just pick the ones we think people will like the best and the tunes we have the most fun playing.

You’ve been confirmed for this year’s Death To All tour. How does it feel to be on that tour?

CHRIS: It’s fucking insane. I’m a 35-year-old classic death metal nutcase. The Human album is my favorite, easily, and I get to see them play it every night. To even be associated with Death is mental. To be represented by Eric Greif is mental. Everything that is happening right now is blowing my little metal fanboy brain.

KENNETH: It feels amazing to get this opportunity! We could not be more stoked as a band right now. Death is a super-influential and amazing band, and it’s an honor to be invited along for the ride with them. The tour coincides with the release of our new record, so it's just perfect timing for us. We owe Eric Grief the world for this. Eric, if you’re reading this, thank you!

What other shows do you have planned?

CHRIS: Scion Rock Fest! Check it out, so many rad bands, like the fucking Melvins! Plus we have another huge tour to announce soon, but we can’t spill the beans. After we finish the death tour we are home for 10 days then out again for three weeks on this next one. Stoked! Our record release show is May 11 in Vancouver.

KENNETH: We are doing an official record release show for Heart of Oak May 11 at The Astoria in Vancouver. Then we are heading back out for a cross-Canada tour with a very awesome band who we can't announce yet. But here are some shows we are doing on the way to that:

  • 5/15 Billings, MT @ Railyard
  • 5/17 Des Moines, IA @ House Of Bricks
  • 5/18 Indianapolis, IN @ Indy's Jukebox w/ Glorior Belli, Wolvhammer
  • 5/20 Pittsburgh, PA @ Belvedere's w/ Glorior Belli, Wolvhammer

Vancouver seems to produce some great talent in heavy music, including 3 Inches Of Blood, Bison BC, Strapping Young Lad and others. How good are the local shows up there?

CHRIS: I book a ton of shows, and actually that’s my day job in Vancouver. So the scene fucking wails. Everyone is killer. So many amazing bands from all genres. I can’t say enough good things about Vancouver right now. People should fucking pay attention! [laughs].

KENNETH: The scene around Vancouver is unbelievably amazing right now. With so many good shows happening pretty much every weekend, I definitely feel privileged to be from these parts at this moment in time. Aside from the names you already mentioned, here's a list of bands you need to check out from Vancouver: Baptists, Tobeatic, Haggatha, Galgamex, Tempest, Rotting Hills, Burning Ghats, Cooked and Eaten, Wiser Fool, Weirding and lots more.

Andrew Bansal is a 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, news, reviews and pictures on his website — with the help of a small group of people. Up till February 2012 he was based in Los Angeles. After that, he had to move to India, but is still carrying on his heavy metal endeavors with the same intensity.

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