Abnormal Thought Patterns – Interview – ‘This was probably the most challenging album I’ve had to do’
The Tipton brothers are big names within progressive metal circles. The hugely talented twins were responsible for the technical progressive metal behemoth that was Zero Hour and, since then, have created Cynthesis and Abnormal Thought Patterns, both quite different from Zero Hour and from each other but both delivering music of the very highest calibre. I was lucky enough to get an advance copy of the sophomore Abnormal Thought Patterns album, ‘Altered States Of Consciousness’, which comes out at the end of June 2015 via Lifeforce Records.
Suffice to say that the content has blown me away. Ostensibly an instrumental technical progressive metal band, this new record has seen the introduction of guest vocals as well as a number of guest musicians of real note. But it’s the overall final product that is so impressive, treading that fine line between technicality and atmosphere, melody and overt aggression. So impressed have I been that I just had to find out more about the band. I made contact with Jasun Tipton via social media and the rest, as they say, is history.
The interview did not get off to the best of starts thanks to a two-year-old who refused to sleep, leading me to be around 30 minutes late for my Skype rendez-vous with Jasun. I needn’t have worried though because Jasun is just about the friendliest, happiest and enthusiastic guy on the planet. Within seconds we’re chatting as if we were long-term friends and in fact, it takes a fair while before I can even think about turning to the subject of Abnormal Thought Patterns (‘ATP’)
I begin things by asking Jasun to give me his own personal assessment as to the differences between ATP and the other bands with which he is, or has been, involved.
“I would say that the new album for Abnormal Thought Patterns is definitely more groove-oriented”, he begins with his thick west-coast US accent that’s almost musical in its delivery. “It’s very technical at the same time but compared to Zero Hour, they both have their own intricacies, so they’re different in that way. Cynthesis is definitely about letting the singer do his thing, building a landscape or something like that. People say to me that it’s technical, but I don’t hear that personally. I’m a huge fan of Pink Floyd, Porcupine Tree and things like that and Cynthesis is doing my interpretation of that. There’s no way that I could do what those guys are doing because they’re the best at what they do. So it’s just my atmospheric way of letting the vocals breathe.”
“The last Abnormal Thought Patterns album in the studio and during the writing process was probably the most challenging album that I’ve had to do”, Jasun then admits just as I was about to go in a different direction of questioning. It is clear that the material on ‘Altered States Of Consciousness’ is extremely ambitious but based on some of these guys’ previous output, I’m still a little surprised by this admission and immediately ask Jasun to expand on the statement.
“The reason”, he replies with laughter, “was because I tried to get a little outside the box of what I do, y’know? Maybe to someone else, they might not hear it so much but I ended up getting an 8-string and there were plenty of parts that I ended up changing. I can play some of the material that I originally had but then when I compare it to the final result, it’s a completely different monster. I wanted to stay focused on keeping things more groove-oriented; of course using the different elements of styles that we like using but still keeping it focussed as a metal thing. We were totally re-working the drums over and over with Mikey (Mike Guy – drummer). We’d go down the studio, change things like crazy, think things were ok for two weeks and then we’d change it again. So the whole approach to the song would change and then also I was trying to change the way that I would solo a little bit in certain ways. I’d be like ‘I’ve done this before’. And of course there are things that I’ve done before because that’s the player I am. I’m not going to say that I can’t be who I am any longer, it was more about branching out and focusing on bettering things by being different.”
Speaking of the 8-string guitar, I can definitely hear a djent influence within the heavier riffs and the more extreme elements of this record. Jasun agrees and explains why this is the case.
“I’m a big Meshuggah fan; they’re one of my absolute favourite bands and I see them live every time. So yeah, I did add a little bit of that in there and I did bust out the eight-string for those parts. What’s cool with that low note, it does give you that little bit of groove that you can push. Plus it is good for extending your chordal formats, because live jazz players in the past were playing eight strings. I did fight buying an eight for a long time but it was the right time to do so.”
I have to admit though that it’s not the heavy riffing or the all-out technicality which catches my ear the most. As good as those aspects are, when the music on the album quietens down and the slower, more soulful and emotive guitar solos hit, they send shivers down my spine. This is one of those albums that confirms my belief that when a guitar is allowed to sing, it is one of the most beautiful sounds on Earth. Jasun unsurprisingly tends to agree, although he responds to my comments very humbly, almost bashfully.
“I love ‘feel’ guitar and when those parts come out, I want them to really breathe. I want them to stand out because after you do the crazy stuff to start with, those aspects will stand out a lot more. I’m a huge fan of Gary Moore, David Gilmour, Neal Schon, John Sykes; those were my guys and I’d get goosebumps listening to their solos. I’m therefore glad you point this out because it means a lot to me because I was loving the sound of the guitars and the way that the notes were ringing with the sounds behind and for anyone to say they got goosebumps, that’s an awesome compliment, man.”
Whatever the band, it seems that the Tipton brothers love to open up their music with crazy, lightning fast and massively complex solos. ATP is no different in this respect.
“It really is a thing that Troy and I do”, Jasun states when I ask whether this approach has become something of a ‘Tipton Trade Mark’. “What has helped develop my sound is playing off what Troy does and watching what he does. The cat is so clean with every run that he does, so I have to be the same way. It was really the balance of question and answer on our solos; when he says something, I have to say something to compliment it. And that’s what’s developed our sound. And with a name like Abnormal Though Patterns, we’re going all over the place. So yeah, it has become our trademark and people come up to us and recognise that Troy and I have our own thing.”
“Yeah absolutely, I can easily say yes to that”, Jasun continues when I enquire about whether that famous ‘twins telepathy’ phenomenon plays a part in their musical endeavours. “I remember that we did a show and someone kept asking us to do a solo sequence. Troy and I didn’t know what the hell we were doing and the crowd kept going ‘solo, solo’. So I was like ‘I guess I’m doing this’ and went in. At the very same time, Troy came in with me and then we both ended on the same note right at the end. We had no idea how we did that but it looked genius at the time. It’s crazy”, he laughs heartily.
In light of the sheer variety, ambition and technical prowess on display on this record, I’m keen to find out a little more about the song writing process. In the course of his interesting and full answer, I also get to understand more about the health problems that have plagued Troy in recent years. And, whilst he never overtly admits it, I get the distinct impression that this is, in part, what has led to the cessation of Zero Hour in favour of both Cynthesis and ATP.
“These days, I’ve pretty much become the main songwriter”, Jasun admits with a very slight and rare tone of sadness in his voice. “With Zero Hour, it was a real equal task with my brother and I. I’m sure you know that my brother had ulnar nerve entrapment surgery. It’s a sub-muscular surgery so what they did was insert his funny-bone nerve into his bicep muscle. In doing so, he has lost a lot of strength in the bicep muscle and it’s something he’ll have to live with for the rest of his life. He’s doing really well now but anyways, now I’m the guy who does the writing and I play everything for my brother. But he’s got a great way of telling me something to give me structure. I take everything to heart that he tells me. Sometimes I disagree and I’ll keep rolling with what I’m doing but most of the time I listen”, he laughs again and not for the last time.
“For ‘Nocturnal Haven’, Troy was instrumental because after three and a half minutes of me playing it for him, he was the one to say ‘couldn’t you hear Tommy Rogers (Between The Buried And Me) all over this thing, someone like him’. I was like ‘yeah right dude, that’s not going to happen’. But when he put that in my head, I started thinking throughout the song with his vocals on top of it. Then Troy went behind my back and contacted the label and asked for a contact for Tommy. Luckily, everything just lined up and Tommy said he was interested which floored us. Tommy helped us a little bit because he said he wanted to rearrange things just a little. As you can hear, the instrumental format is a little longer. So we made a couple of edits, which Troy was very helpful with.”
In responding in such a fashion, Jasun has helpfully pre-empted my next line of questioning, namely the array of mouth-watering guest artists on ‘Altered States Of Consciousness’.
“I have to admit though”, Jasun offers, “that with the Michael Manring (Into Eternity) and John Onder (Artension, MSG) track, ‘Synesthesia’, my brother did already have parts written for that. I think that’s one of our absolutely strongest tracks; I love the bass on it and I call it the bass track. I love how that came out and Troy was the biggest writer on that track.”
“Jeff (Loomis – Arch Enemy, ex-Nevermore) is a really cool cat”, Jasun continues apace, “and I spoke to him a couple of times at the NAMM show. I expressed to him how I was a fan and he knew who I was. We got into conversation and he’s a really nice guy – he’s definitely the guy that kept the shred flag flying. I contacted him and asked him to do a solo; he took a listen and said ‘yeah, let’s do it’. We’re really lucky because we were able to make it happen with all the guys that we went after.”
And does Jasun think that having all these guests on the album will help to create more interest in ATP?
“It would be awesome to get new listeners, of course”, he considers, “so having these guys on the record is fantastic. We’ve never done this in the past, so when we got one person involved, it spiralled. Jeff Loomis was the first guy, Onder came second and Manring was next. Once Troy heard I had talked to Loomis, Troy was like ‘well, hell, if you’re going to do that, I’m going to talk to some people’. All of a sudden, we got Tommy and my buddy Tim Roth (Into Eternity) who’s an amazing guitar player. What they brought to the music took things to a new level. What all those cats did was great and we’re stoked.”
Speaking to Jasun, I get the feeling that as positive and up-beat as he clearly naturally is, there’s a real sense of pride about ‘Altered States Of Consciousness’. Rightly so, but I nevertheless ask Jasun to explain what exactly he’s most proud of with this release.
“All musicians will go back to albums and think ‘maybe that song didn’t catch what I was looking for’. But I can honestly say that when I listen to this album, start to finish, it’s all there. There’s nowhere where I could say ‘I wish I’d done that or this’. I can honestly feel very pleased about it. Everything was very focused and I love the songs and the soloing. That’s not the same with some of our previous albums.”
I also suggest that the album benefits from a really nice flow that means it’s very difficult to dip in and out. Instead, I find myself listening from the album from start to finish without really realising it sometimes.
“You just perfectly helped me out there”, Jasun exclaims excitedly, eliciting a small puff of the chest from yours truly in the process. “That’s exactly how I feel. I can listen to the whole thing and when it gets to the end I’m like ‘wow, I listened to the whole CD and everything is cool’. That’s instead of doing a fast-forward on a track or two, which I may have done in the past.”
“We love instrumental metal material”, Jasun states vehemently without any prompting on my part, “and we’re going to continue as an instrumental metal band. People have asked us whether the next album will have vocals and the answer is no, it was a one-time thing. I mean, I’d love to work with Tommy again on another song because it came out amazing but this band is instrumental. Our vocal thing is Cynthesis and it’s good to have both of those outlets because they feel very different to me.”
Having raised the subject of Cynthesis, as a fan of that band also, I feel compelled to enquire about the current status of that band. The answer I get is somewhat surprising but very pleasing indeed.
“Erik (Rosvold) is almost finished with the vocals to the third one, so we’re working on it, man. I went writing crazy and at the time my brother was having his surgery. I kept writing and it was my escape. I finished writing the material for the third Cynthesis album over three-and-a-half years ago. So when ‘De-Evolution’ came out, I already had the music for the other two written. Erik was like ‘what the hell are you doing?’ So it has been a long time since I wrote anything for Cynthesis. Of late it has been all about ATP. Nevertheless, sometime next year, Cynthesis will come out.”
As intriguing as the Cynthesis news is, this is an interview about Abnormal Thought Patterns. As such, I ask Jasun to close up on a very enjoyable conversation by enlightening us about any potential live, touring plans.
“On the last album, we went out with Into Eternity but right now, we’re going to see how it will all come together. My brother is starting up with us and we’re getting things moving. We are going to play ProgPower Europe but hopefully we’ll get a few things come our way and we can put something together; we really want to go out and do things – that’d be cool.”
If you’ve enjoyed this interview, please check out some others that I have conducted:
Earthside – Part 1
Kingcrow – ‘Eidos’ Track-by-Track Part 2
Kingcrow – ‘Eidos’ Track-by-Track Part 1
Wisdom Of Crowds – Bruce Soord & Jonas Renkse