TesseracT Brings ‘Altered State’ To India
The British progressive metal band play in Bengaluru as part of their packed world tour for their second album
Some bands tend to fall apart due to lineup changes, but others tend to strengthen their resolve to carry on. When TesseracT turned into one of the most successful djent bands with their debut EP, Concealing Fate, in 2010 and followed up with their full-length album, One, in 2011, they were riding high on performances all across the world, including two India gigs in the span of two months. The band played an opening set for Swedish technical progressive metal band Meshuggah at Great Indian Rock 2010 in three cities in December and performed at IIT Kharagpur’s Spring Fest in 2011 in January. But later that year in August, vocalist Dan Tompkins left the band citing creative differences, and teamed up with Delhi guitarist Keshav Dhar to form prog metal band Skyharbor. Meanwhile, TesseracT had a replacement ready in Washington-based vocalist Elliot Coleman, but bassist Amos Williams says Coleman left the band in June 2012 owing to “distance and location” problems. Williams adds, “It’s a shame because we had such a good time with Elliot.”
Throughout the lineup imbalance, TesseracT continued working on new material, knowing they would release it when they had a new vocalist. Enter 22-year-old Ashe O’Hara, though missing Tompkins’s metal vocals, surpassed previous TesseracT vocalists with his angelic croon. With their fifth vocalist since they formed in 2007, many fans had lost interest in the fluctuating state of TesseracT, but when their second full-length album, Altered State, released in May this year, it was evident that the band never left the scene. Says Williams, “The release of Altered State was proof in itself that we couldn’t necessarily be ignored, that we’re still a band that’s relevant. There have been some promoters in the UK who looked at us and said, ‘Oh well, this band isn’t what it used to be.’ And they made that decision without listening to the music.” Global promoters, too, are now welcoming TesseracT back on stage, and they’ve readily come to play at the Bacardi NH7 Weekender in Bengaluru, at the Bacardi Arena on November 23rd. Excerpts from an interview with the band’s bassist Williams:
You had a couple of vocalists before Dan as well. Is it just a matter of bad luck or are the pre-requisites to be a Tesseract vocalist to blame?
We’ve just been unsuccessful. We were quite prominent online. We were trying to behave like a signed band that was getting paid a lot when in fact, we were an amateur band that was able to do this [TesseracT] in our spare time. Now, living in London, Abi [Abisola Obasanya, the band’s second vocalist], had a full time job. We were trying to do tours as well, full time. It got to a point where Abi had to choose between living in a lifestyle he wanted to continue living in or being in a band and that was the unfortunate choice he had to make. He wanted to continue to live in London and pay his rent and his mortgage.
Six or seven years ago, the music industry wasn’t in a good place. It still isn’t, but back then, the money wasn’t there. We weren’t being offered a lot of money for shows or record deals. We’re lucky because everyone in the band is flexible in their work around the band. Or they’re like Ashe, who’s still in university. He doesn’t need a job just now. Hopefully, the next year or two of touring will enable us to establish ourselves as a band and break into the mainstream more and not be subject to the big force of the underground scene, where there’s just not enough money to be a proper fulltime band.
Altered State has been out for a while now. But it seems like so much happened in the band between the two albums, One and Altered State in just two years.
In many respects, it feels like we were able to finish the album in such a quick amount of time because we almost felt like a new band again. The energy of being a new band again had returned since Ashe [‘O Hara, vocalist] joined the band. One was in 2011. It’s a strange thing to have this flux and this change proved to be a great muse for TesseracT, a great source of inspiration. We found ourselves fighting against public opinion and that made us think a lot about what we wanted out of music. It’s not easy to fight against things and often you shouldn’t. That’s quite a philosophical way of looking at it. We felt that change is something people don’t deal with very well and it’s something they need to go with the flow, so to say. It’s about changing with life and not being a rock. So that’s what the idea of Altered State came from; the different types of change you have to deal with. All the changes have been a blessing rather than a hindrance.
I felt that a lot of people had stopped paying attention to the band because of the lineup changes. How did you get people to pay attention to you again?
We just did the best we could in the studio, really. Fortunately, the release of Altered State was proof in itself that we couldn’t necessarily be ignored, that we’re still a band that’s relevant. There have been some promoters in the UK who looked at us and said, ‘Oh well, this band isn’t what it used to be.’ And they made that decision without listening to the music. It’s quite funny. Surely, the band should be judged by its music and not all the rubbish that surrounds it. Everybody [else] realized that we were still TesseracT. It was very tough to deal with the lineup change. Dan is a very strong vocalist, and remains a strong vocalist with his other groups like Skyharbor and In Colour but we were fortunate to find someone like Ashe.
You played with Skyharbor and Monuments in Russia in September. Were people expecting Dan to join you guys on stage?
[laughs] Unfortunately, we’ve moved on. We just had to disappoint people in that respect. It was good fun, because members of Monuments used to be in a group, Fellsilent, with Acle [Kahney, guitarist] before. We all know each other incredibly well. Even though it was just two dates, it was good for friends being on the road together. We all still love each other, there’s no bad blood. I hope we have the opportunity again to tour with Skyharbor and Monuments in more territories
You and Acle work as producers outside of TesseracT as well.
Yes, Acle does quite a lot of mastering now. He may have been working with various bands all over the world. I tend to work on bigger projects like studio recording, that’s where my background is. Acle is more on the mastering and mixing side of things. From the bands we’re working with right now, I really love this band from Taiwan, called Chthonic, who use a lot of Asian and Taiwanese instruments in death metal and it’s fantastic.
Although we haven’t done it yet, we would like to add Indian instruments like sitar into our music, because I studied sitar for a few years with a teacher called Sajad Khan. I just love the instrument, but it’s difficult to make the sitar work in modern production. I’d be interested to know if there are any Indian bands that have managed to successfully implement sitar or tabla, ‘cause there are such incredible sounds.
Also, speaking of Monuments, there have been quite a few British progressive rock and metal bands like Anathema, Amplifier and Monuments themselves who have played in India. Why do you think prog is in such a huge demand all over the world right now?
I’m not too sure, really. It’s a very strange phenomenon because prog was successful in the late Sixties and Seventies. It seems the resurgence of the older bands in the end of their career has possibly helped the younger bands in the same genre. It’s these guys like Rick Wakeman, Yes, Rush, Pink Floyd and Genesis [who] are some of the most successful bands in history. They’ve sold more records than any other recent genre. Perhaps that has helped newer bands come through with a little bit of press. In terms of why we’re able to continue their success, I’m not quite sure.
Five or six years ago, music had become somewhat stale, especially heavy music. Perhaps the diversity of progressive music is the key to its success. One band doesn’t sound like another. Periphery, for example, don’t sound like TesseracT. And we don’t sound like Monuments. And Monuments doesn’t sound like Anathema, for example. And yet we don’t all sound like the same people. The desire to push boundaries has helped generate a buzz around.
I remember your Pune gig at GIR where your band completely won over the audience. Tell us about your shows.
Yes, we’re trying to push the boundaries [of our music] on stage as well by really trying to make it sound as close to the album production values as possible. It’s difficult when you’re touring, because there’s different equipment. We’re really looking forward to seeing the reaction to these songs because we’ll be playing a few songs that we haven’t played in a long time – half old and half new; roughly 50 percent from One and 50 percent from Altered State. The songs off One are almost heavier and more mosh-friendly, so to say, whereas the ones on Altered State are more hypnotic and mesmerizing. Hopefully we can make them both work. We’re also playing to a big crowd in Bangalore, at least about 4,000 people so it’ll be fantastic to see how these songs translate at the arena.
Have you got into any Indian bands at all?
It’s mainly Acle who works with the Indian stuff [Acle is mastering Kolkata post-hardcore band Tint’s debut EP], so I haven’t been able to get into it. We love it when we get music from the bands we tour with or if a promoter gives us a CD of a local band; that’s the best thing to suddenly discover. That’s how we met Skyharbor, who were at the time called Hydrodjent. It was fantastic to meet Keshav [Dhar, guitarist of Skyharbor] in Delhi when we played at GIR [in 2010]. That’s the best way for us to meet people.
You’re coming back after a gap of two years. What were your earlier shows here like?
Yes, we’ve been toured India twice before. We were able to support Meshuggah and Enslaved, so it holds very special memories for us. And now we’re able to come back to Bangalore and this time to headline. It’s incredible. The first time we were in Bangalore, people were so attentive towards us, so we’re looking forward to return and see how the scene has developed. It seems that the rock and metal scene is getting bigger and bigger each year in India. It’ll be fantastic for us to see how it’s developed over the last two years.
What is your itinerary like this time?
Sadly, because of the nature of the festival – I think it’s over three or four weekends – this [Bengaluru] was the only one we were available to do. We’re on tour from the beginning of September until the beginning of November. We’re actually finishing a show with Karnivool in London and then we’re getting on a plane and flying to India. Our schedule is really busy until next year. We’d love to be back at the places we’ve been before, though, like Calcutta and Mumbai and Delhi and Pune. We’ll have to do that again in the future. Hopefully we’ll get invited again.
TesseracT perform at the Bacardi NH7 Weekender in Bengaluru on November 23rd at Embassy Riding School.
This article appeared in the November 2013 issue of ROLLING STONE India.