Interrogation by Matt Hinch
Back in June Toronto’s Titan released the stunning Burn album to much critical praise. (Exhibit A and Exhibit B) Now Burn has been voted #6 on Hellbound’s Top Canadian releases of 2012. In the intervening time between those two events Hellbound writer Matt Hinch spoke with Titan vocalist James M. and guitarist Chris W. about the process of creating Burn, touring and the power of the internet.
You toured in Europe this past summer. How did that go?
Chris: It was great! Europe is a lot of fun. Everyone is really nice and supportive. We played some really awesome shows and saw some interesting venues. We also ventured into some new territory: Spain, Italy, Austria, Czech Republic.
The European festival scene is pretty intense compared to North America. Do you find the European fans different than North Americans in the smaller clubs?
Chris: I think, if anything, the only difference might be that the Europeans are more receptive to what we’re doing.
A few years ago Titan “caused” a blackout. First, how cool what that?! And, does that follow you around much? Do people ask you about it?
James: YouTube is a funny thing. We like to let the myth of that night speak for itself.
I’ve met you guys before. You all seem pretty laid back. Not so much on stage. Just how in control are you up there?
James: I can’t really speak about myself when I’m performing. It goes between extreme self-consciousness and total loss of control. One thing I am completely not in control of is stage banter. I feel like such a nerd having to ramble on while the other guys are tuning. Though secretly I kind of relish the power I have making everyone listen to my stupid ramblings.
The Colossus EP was released 3 years prior to Burn. Had you been working on Burn since then?
James: Absolutely. We really took our time on every part of this record. Some songs on Burn had been in progress since before Colossus, or even before the Colossus line-up, no less the Burn line-up. Big riffs sometimes take a long time to gestate.
The lyrics are pretty abstract and shall we say, unconventional. Where do you find such inspiration?
James: Inspiration comes from all sides – from literature (especially Renaissance and early-modern poetry, drama and philosophy), history, visual art and science. However, a primary influence was what metal, as a genre, affords. There’s few avenues where I could express the scale of a lyrical project like Burn. It’s only really in metal, and maybe progressive rock and late-romantic classical music, where the grandiose nature of an album like BURN is not only acceptable, but appropriate.
Titan songs tend to be so “epic” in feel and length. How does that creative process work? All planned out or a lot of jamming?
Chris: It’s a little bit of both. I do a lot of planning on my own, working on riffs, harmonies, and songs structures. Then when we get together, we jam it out and re-work parts, move things around, add stuff on top. James is really good at pushing me to keep trying to write something better. If he says it sounds boring, we scrap it. Once we have the song mostly sketched out, we’ll start to focus more on the drum fills and how parts transition.
A number of guests appeared on Burn. Was that planned in advance or was it more of a piecemeal, circumstance type thing?
James: Some things were planned in advance – Chris Colohan’s part in “Myopic” was written with him in mind for example. “Telepaths” was written with having guests in mind – we wanted a song so dense with vocals and instrumentation that it would be almost impossible to orchestrate live, which is very different than our usual stripped down approach to songwriting (we don’t even use any pedals). Everyone we had in mind, from Bryan Bray’s noise soundscapes, to Tyler Semrick-Palmateer’s imitable vocal range and intensity, to fit the song in the way it deserved.
Is there a theme or a message you are trying to get across with Burn?
Burn is about the intrinsic duality in human existence that struggles between the beautiful, creative forces of evolution & civilization and its more primal urges, and the destructive forces of those same two natures. We destroy as we create, and in an age where we seem to be doing more of the latter than the former, it seemed like good fodder for a band like Titan, which in itself is a creative project that harnesses its own destructive forces.
I’m sure you like all the tracks on Burn, but is there one that you’re stoked to play live?
Chris: I’m really stoked to play “Little Seeds” live. We originally recorded a demo version of the song on the Scraps of a Feast teaser, but I ended up being really unhappy with how the song played out. We took it back to the drawing board and really struggled to pull it together. It was one of the last songs completed for Burn. I love the version that’s on Burn. It went from being my least favorite song to being one of my most favorite.
Is there one you’re particularly proud of, or that stands out for you?
The really stand out track for me is “Telepaths”. Recording it was an interesting experience for us. I didn’t really write out the song in full before we went in to the studio. I just sort of just showed everyone a rough skeleton of ideas. We basically wrote the entire song in the studio; changing parts and re-recording them on the fly. I totally stoked on how it all came together.
I gotta ask, that drum sound, it’s like Holyfield punching a slab of raw meat. How did you achieve that?
James: Huge drums, huge hits, and room tones! Boxcar, the studio we engineered the drums in, is an old Hamilton warehouse building. We littered the room with room mics, John Bonham-style and let the old bricks and wood floors create as much drum tone as the shells of the kit itself. From there, we left the engineer sounds virtually un-mixed. Obviously we mixed out the phase and the more technical stuff, but as far as sampling, or EQ, or any of that pro-tools shit, we left them pretty clean. Maybe a little reverb at points. The perfection of the drum tone was extremely important to me, and I was adamant about this method of production.
Your music is very visceral and physical. Is there a need for catharsis that fuels that energy or does it just come naturally?
Chris: Writing music, to me, is a very cathartic process. I’m not a very open person, so music has always been my main emotional release.
Chris W. and Brandon started Hypaethral Records. Is that something you always wanted to do, or was it borne of necessity?
Chris: It was some what borne of necessity. In order to be successful as an independent band, you have to start taking things like money management more seriously. By creating the label, we were able to release our own music and be in full control of its distribution and stuff. We’re also the ones who ultimately benefit if it does well. It also forced up to take the release more seriously than we otherwise might have.
The metal/hardcore scene in Toronto is pretty vibrant. Any “brothers in arms” we should know about?
Chris: Burning Love, Vilipend, Gates, Fires of Mammon, Column of Heaven
If you could put together a dream show, with Titan headlining, who would you want to play with?
Chris: I don’t see how we could be the headliners at our own dream show! I’d say that Neurosis would headline, but they could only play songs from Souls at Zero to Times of Grace. Buried Inside would play second, and we would open. That would be one hell of a show.
What’s next for Titan? More touring on the horizon?
Chris: right now our goal is to write a follow up EP to Burn. I want to pick up where the second half of Burn takes off… We’re also been talking with some people about doing some remixes of “Telepaths”, which could be very interesting. It’s all just in the talking and jamming phase right now.