FEATURE > ANIMALS AS LEADERS
AAL is guitarists Javier Reyes (left), Tosin Abasi (right), and rummer Navene Koperweis. Photo by Jonathan Weiner
Do you guys still woodshed for hours
Reyes: Tosin is definitely more of a speed
shredder, doing all this crazy technique
stuff. I’m kind of just playing the parts that
need to be played.
Abasi: On tour, there’s a lot of song maintenance, and then I do general things that
keep me limber. I’ve got a hybrid-picking
book [that I study], which is basically
chicken-pickin’, but it’s not about country
music. The book has lots of permutations
of left-hand fingerings. It’s all chromatic,
four-frets-in-a-row stuff, but they’re dispersed in these sort of mathematical
Is the book you’re referring to Hybrid
Picking for Guitar by Gustavo
Abasi: Yeah, it’s a good book. I got his first
hybrid-picking book when I was in music
school, and two Animals as Leaders songs are
inspired from those exercises. That stuff is useful, even if you’re just writing lines. The first
half of it is just these atonal permutations,
which is nice because you can turn them into
whatever scales or modes you want to use.
In songs like “Somnarium,” among others, it sounds like you’re drawing from
the modes of the melodic minor scale.
Abasi: Yeah, that’s exactly right.
In metal, you sometimes hear harmonic-minor and diatonic modes, but not
too many people in the genre explore
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melodic-minor modes—which are more
common in jazz-fusion—to the extent
you guys do.
Abasi: When I was in music school, we
covered all the modes—major and minor
scales—but then we went into harmonic
minor and melodic minor. That’s where
my ear started to peak, because you get
the intersection of a major seventh and a
minor third in the same arpeggio, which is
pretty cool. We have all these colors available. Most tonalities are pretty directly
uplifting or diminishing, but with some of
the modes of these obscure scales it’s definitely like a sweet-and-sour situation. I’m
kind of obsessed with these tonalities that
kind of blur the lines.
Javier, when Tosin uses an unexpected
scale or plays sort of atonal, does that feel
natural to you or do you have to acclimate your ear to it?
Reyes: A little bit of both. If the rhythm
and the progression aren’t too crazy, I can
find a melody somewhere in there. I like
to look for melodies that lead you somewhere else—shifting around in modes and
things—but I’m not actually paying attention to that sort of stuff. After the fact I can
say, “I guess I’m in Lydian” or whatever.
“David” has a great ethereal vibe and
some really nice interplay between the gui-
tar parts. Did you write that one together?
Abasi: No. I just used my ear and little bit
of theory to come up with the second part.
“David” is actually inspired by Gustavo’s
book as well. I was working on an exercise
and thought, “Wow this is really cool.” I
just changed some intervals, changed the
rhythm a bit, looped the main theme into
my Boomerang [Phrase Sampler pedal], and
then messed around with another part—I
think it was an inversion of the same chord.
Let’s talk about gear now. You guys are
Axe-Fx users, right?
Abasi: Yeah, we’re using the Fractal Audio
Systems Axe-Fx II, and that houses all the
effects, as well as our amp tones. It’s a simulator, so we just go directly back into the PA.
Reyes: We have absolutely no amps onstage.
What about guitars?
Reyes: I use Ibanez RGA8s. One is stock,
and the other is a custom with a bubinga
top and an ash body, but with pretty much
the same specs as the stock one.
Abasi: I have quite a few custom Ibanez guitars—all are 8-strings. I have a hollowbody
8-string that was made just for me, and it’s
unique because it’s actually a neck-through
design with hollow wings. It’s an [Ibanez] RG
shape with a slight arch to the top, but I cut
an f-hole in it so it looks like a semi-acoustic
instrument. I also have a handmade guitar
from a luthier named Ola Strandberg. It’s
very unique—the neck profile is actually an
asymmetrical trapezoid, so it’s thinner on the
treble side, and it expands on the bass. It’s a
fanned-fret guitar, too, so it’s multi-scalar.
What are the advantages of the fanned frets?
Abasi: Basically, there are certain pitches
that should exist within a certain scale
length. Once you start to go into bass territory, you benefit from a longer neck just for
temperament or tension. So the multi-scale
[neck] combines a longer scale for your bass
notes and a shorter scale for your treble
notes, and what you get is a progressively
slanted sort of fretboard. That way, you
don’t have a neck that’s super long for your
treble strings—which makes the timbres
sound unnatural or the tension too high—
and you get enough tension for the lower
strings. You get the best of both worlds.
In addition to having fanned frets,
your Strandberg is also headless. Do you
think headless guitars will ever make
a comeback, or will they always be
a niche thing?
Abasi: It’s hard to tell, because I don’t
really think like a normal guitarist. There