Interview: Robert Edens and Myles Yang of Native Construct (Unedited)

Here’s my unedited transcript of my interview with Robert Edens and Myles Yang.

How’s life in Boston? I believe I remember one of you guys saying you’re from North Carolina?

Robert Edens: Yeah, actually both of us are. We grew up together in Southern Pines. It’s a really small town. Boston’s very different, and awesome really. We really like it here.

You guys are currently attending Berklee College of Music. Did you guys have different musical backgrounds coming in, or did you two play roughly the same thing?

RE: Yeah, we’ve had very similar musical upbringings. Actually, we both just graduated from Berklee. We finished last December. It’s been very interesting growing up together both as people and as musicians, then coming to Berklee together. We’ve been playing music together for most of our lives, so it’s cool we get to do this on a professional level.

Since you guys are graduated, this question is for when you were still at Berklee. How did you juggle school with writing, producing, touring? I imagine there’s been some scheduling conflicts from time to time.

RE: It was really hard. We actually didn’t play any live shows while we were in school. We played like one with the band. We were really focusing on trying to get the album done for that whole time. That’s why it took us four years to get it out. We were working on it for two and a half, pretty much since we got there. It was tough. Writing stuff for school all the time, and working on school assignments, then turning around and working on a record for fun is very taxing. School’s very creatively taxing. When you use material to write for assignments, it takes a lot out of you, for what you want to write for yourself. It was pretty tough to turn around and work on this record. It took us a really long time. But we wanted to spend as much time as we could on it and get it exactly how we wanted it. We wanted to take our time because we thought we could get a good product out of it.

What are you currently listening to? Have you discovered any albums or bands recently?

RE: Geez. You go first.

Myles Yang: Well, I’ve been on a retro kick recently. I listen to a lot of classic rock and prog bands like the Beatles, Pink Floyd, a little bit of Zappa. And also a bunch of classical music. Not really discovering new bands at the moment, but just rediscovering the past.

RE: Yeah, same. Myles is way into that stuff. I’m actually… through my major at school, I’m really interested in electronic music and experimental electronic. So I started listening to a lot of things like Aphex Twin, Squarepusher, Moderat. Jon Hopkins is one of my favorite composers and producers. Yeah, I’m way into electronic music, so that’s actually mostly what I’ve been listening to. It’s kind of all over. Our tastes are all over the place. That’s definitely something that’s influenced our music. We take from all over, so we’re not really intending to stay in one place genre-wise. We’re kind of exploring boundaries, moving around, and doing what we want, listening to all these things and putting it into our music.

I imagine it makes the creative process a little easier having a wider range of influences.

RE: It’s certainly more interesting if you can make it work. I’d say it can be easier and harder, because making a cohesive composition that explores all these different realms can be quite challenging without sounding anti-sporatic and all over the place. And it’s something we struggled a lot with “Quiet World.” I think we’re going to nail down more of a unified sound in later compositions.

When you’re not writing or playing music, what do you guys do in your free time?

RE: Lots of video games (laughs). We’re all pretty much gamers, and nerds in a lot of different senses of the word. Myles and I play a lot of competitive games. Like we’re really into Starcraft for a while. This is Max included, the bassist. He’s pretty much into all this stuff with us. He plays a lot of (Hearthstone) as well. Lots of the Blizzard games. We just tried out (Rocket League) for the first time, which a lot of people are saying will get more competitive, which is awesome. Myles also plays a hell of a lot of Smash Bros.

Oh I love that game.

MY: Yeah, that’s pretty much all I play.

RE: Melee is his game, and he sticks to it. And he’s getting pretty good. We used to play in tournaments a lot.

Have you guys won any?

MY: Oh, no. I won a Berklee tournament, but it was really small scale. It doesn’t really count.

I have some band questions. I was going to ask how did Native Construct start, but obviously you two have known each other for a while. How did you know Max?

MY: We met Max because… so Max is actually a few years younger than us. His older brother also went to Berklee. When we lived in the Berklee dorms, his brother was living next door to my dorm. So I was friends with his brother. Then through that, we met Max. Robert and I are from the same hometown and went to Berklee together. Coming into school, we knew we wanted to assemble a band to write the music we were interested in writing. It took us some time to find the right members, but there’s a wealth of great, young excited musicians and Berklee, so we eventually found the right guys. We worked on it on the side as we pursued our studies, and now that we’re done we’re able to focus on it more, like a full time thing.

RE: Yeah, when you come to Berklee, everyone just wants to jam. That’s the thing. It’s like you meet a new guy and he’s like “yeah, you want to jam sometime?” “Yeah.” So you meet a bassist, a drummer, a keyboard player. Then everyone gets together and jams. That happened a lot in freshman year. That’s how the music started coming about, and from there we started composing rather than jamming. That’s where the record came from.

How does the creative process work for Native Construct songs? Is there a primary songwriter, or is it a collaborative effort?

MY: For the first record, there were two main composers: myself and our old guitar player Gabe. Most of the tracks were written by one person in terms of sitting down and composing through, then we would send the notation file over to the other guy. Then they would take a pass at it, and ping pong back and forth. So it wasn’t a very organic band. We weren’t jamming out ideas. It was more isolated thing. In the future, we’re going to try to incorporate more than just the one or two songwriters, to try to get input from everyone. I think the plan is to try all sorts of different processes as we go on and make more albums, to see what works and see what we get from different ways of doing it. The process to create the composition is going to yield a very specific result. So I think it’s cool to play around with all sorts of different things and get different results.

Is there a main drummer in the band? I was looking up your band and I couldn’t find a specific name for a drummer? If there’s not, how do you find different drummers for your band?

RE: Well, right now the three permanent members are myself (Rob), Myles, and Max. So I do lead vocals, Myles is guitar, and Max is bass. We’ve been for a live performances, since we’ve been playing live, which was pretty recently. We did our first tour in August. We just got hired guns for the second guitarist and drums. So far it’s all been Berklee dudes, people we knew from school who are really great players. We’ve been really happy with their performance. We actually just had Jake Dick play drums for us at ProgPower. Because of a scheduling conflict with the guy we originally had, we had to call Jake up and have him learn the whole album in less than two weeks.

Oh wow!

RE: It was incredible. I can’t believe anyone could do that, but he pulled it off amazingly well. We were really impressed. So I think we’re going to keep working with Jake in the near future. He seems really promising. The plan right now is to keep working with the hired guys and see how it goes, and hopefully bring them on if they work out full time. The core members are still the three of us. I think we’re going to be doing the majority of the writing.

How’s the music scene in Boston? I have a friend who is in a progressive band from that area, and from what I hear a lot of venues are closing down?

RE: I’ve been hearing about that. There’s a few places around here that I used to go to that I’ve heard recently are closing down or switching ownership. Yeah, it hasn’t been too problematic though. It doesn’t seem so bad. The scene has been pretty good here. Honestly we don’t go to live shows nearly as much as the other guys. It just feels like work sometimes when you go to the venue and think “ugh, this is where I do my job.” (laughs) There’s still a few places that are around that are pretty awesome.

So your band’s been around for four years or so. What would you say are some of the challenges you’ve faced individually or as a band, and how did you overcome them?

MY: Like we said, the biggest challenge so far, and I say this because we haven’t had a very extensive career yet (we’ve only done the one album and just recently started touring), that’s because we have the challenge of juggling school at the same time. It’s really been a time management issue. Trying to survive, trying to finish school, and trying to create music all at the same time. It can be a lot sometimes. But, now we’re out of school, so we’ll have more time and we’ll be ready to tackle new challenges.

RE: The band’s been feeling a lot more active lately. Now that we have time, we’re getting going with everything. We’re playing live a lot now since we’ve started. We got this big tour coming up in November, so we’re going to be really busy.

On a different note, you played ProgPower USA last week. Congratulations on that; that’s a pretty big deal. How’s it like playing on a card that had Riverside, Anathema, and several other great prog rock bands?

RE: It was surreal. Getting to… going backstage and having a dressing room next to Anathema, and walking past them in the hallways is crazy! I’ve been listening to that band since 10th grade, and been obsessed with them. It was awesome. It was definitely the biggest show we’ve played in our short live careers now. We were treated so well; the crew was amazing, the venue was amazing, everyone’s really into it. And the fans were amazing too. That was the first time we played to a crowd that was really that big, but was there to see our kind of music specifically. So many people there to see us, and so many people that’d never heard us before that went out and bought the album after listening to us. People buying multiple copies to give to their friends at home was awesome.

I have a few album specific questions. I know “Quiet World” is based on a concept and has a backstory and narrative that would take too long to discuss in detail. I was wondering instead what inspired that concept? It seems very personal and actually strangely relatable, being secluded from reality.

MY: Yeah, most of us in the band are really introverted people. Those are all feelings we’ve had in some way or another. So, it’s a personal experience in a general sense, that it seeps into the music and lyrics when you’re working on something that’s intimate. But the specifics of the story itself are not direct representations of any of our lives specifically. It’s the mood that’s in relation to our lives. The actual story, it’s a very fantastical world that we’ve set it in. It’s probably inspired largely by our love for fiction. As Robert said, we’re all kind of nerds in the music sense, the video game sense, and also the Star Wars/Lord of the Rings sense. (laughs) So we enjoy those fantasy worlds.

RE: We really just wanted to write something to go along with the music, to drive the music. The music kind of drives the story, but we wanted to make this kind of fantasy world that works with the music, but that’s also rooted in themes that people can relate to. That was really the goal, and that’s very much… it’s all ridiculous fantasy, but it’s all based on things that everyone has felt at some point in their lives. That was really the goal there.

And that’s how I felt. I was recommended your album actually when I was just asking people on Reddit for bands I’d be into, and someone recommended you. I looked it up and I was looking at the lyrics, and that’s the first thing I felt. Although it’s a fictional story, I can relate to this in a sense. You know, I was awkward in high school, and there’s a lot of people who’ve felt that way in general. So when I was reading through the lyrics, I just found it very fascinating.

RE: Thank you. It was definitely influenced by personal experiences like that in some way.

What are your feelings towards concept albums in general? Do you find it easier writing having a concept in mind, or is it harder?

MY: I think it’s easier personally. If you’re not writing a concept album, it can be hard to know where to go from track to track. Because you still have to be unified, but you want it to be diverse. You want it to cover a lot of ground, but which ground do you want to cover? When you have a story laid out first, it give you a clear sense of where your music should go. So in that sense it’s easier, I think.

RE: And I personally just really love storytelling in music. It’s just another facet to draw you in. There’s one band in particular, Trophy Scars, that I’ve always loved for that. Their writing is pretty much always story driven, whether it’s a concept album or just a story being told in a song. I’ve always loved that. The music doesn’t have to be good if the story is good enough honestly. It helps, but it’s such a cool extra thing. So that’s what’s always had me interested in them.

I’ll have to check out that band. I actually haven’t heard of them.

RE: Yeah, they’re weird. They’re pretty unknown but I’ve been in love with them since the 9th grade.

Alright, there’s one lyric in particular, “ka ra zu ni mu pa tu.” That section of that song is always the lyric that’s stuck in my head. What is the meaning of that? Is it just jargon?

MY: So there’s no specific meaning for each syllable. There’s no translation. But we use it in the story to represent the language and the culture of the quiet world that the protagonist, or antagonist…

RE: He’s an antagonist.

MY: Yeah, he sort of is both. Well, the world of the main character has created. So, when those syllables come up it just means the people of the world are saying something, or being represented in some way. But there’s no direct translation. They’re just musical syllables we made up.

It’s just so catchy. There’s so many instruments featured in the album that are used so skillfully, I applaud how you’re able to incorporate all the sounds and styles together and make it work. That’s what’s so strangely chaotic about it: it all works. Do the three of you play all the instruments, or do you have guest musicians come in and help out on those sections?

MY: We brought in a guest musician for one part, which is the saxophone solo in “Passage.” That was played by a friend of ours from Berklee. He’s just a wizard; if you haven’t heard his work, you should check him out. He does all kinds of really interesting things with signal processing on his saxophone. He uses guitar pedals and all this crazy stuff. It’s really cool. Then the cello in “Come Hell Or High Water” was played by Robert. We actually growing up played in the school orchestra. I played violin, he plays cello. Then everything else, all the guitars and bass and everything we played ourselves. Then all the keyboards are programmed for the most part, which I did. That’s been interesting, because we’re able to use all sorts of crazy instrumentation that we normally wouldn’t have access to. So it’s very exciting to live in a time where that’s possible, all from the comfort of our bedroom or our computer (laughs). With that said, we’re excited to bring in more live musicians in the future.

RE: Yeah, Myles just did an incredible amount of the programming on this album. It was a lot of hard work to make it sound “real.” With that being said, Midi is amazing. It let us have all this orchestration… and the drums were all programmed. It’s awesome, but we really hope to have a lot less Midi in the future. It’s awesome, but nothing beats a live performance.

How do you approach utilizing the instruments on the album? In other words, did you have an idea for each instrument? Like “the saxophone will go here, the cello will go here,” or did it just happen naturally?

MY: For the most part, all the instrumentation decisions have been during the composition process. So we would write out the full scores in notation software on the computer, then we would play around with different instruments while composing. For the most part, we had it all nailed down to exactly the instrumentation we wanted before we started recording. There were a few things we experimented with during the recording process, but not much.

RE: Yeah, it was all written out before we got started recording. Honestly it didn’t change that much over the course of recording. There were a few things here and there we experimented with and thought was cooler. But it was mostly as the compositions were written.

What was it like recording the album? I know you’ve described it as a self produced album.

RE: Yeah, for the most part, it was definitely a long arduous process. We took from lots of awesome people here and there, and we had it mixed by Rich Mouser in LA, who’s done Transatlantic, Oxbeard, bands like that. We did the lead vocals with Jamie King in North Carolina, who does Between the Buried and Me. We had to master it as well. But we tracked all the guitars, all the backup vocals, some of the lead vocals, and programmed all the instruments ourselves at home. It was working on a budget for the most part, and working with our time constraints. So that was tough, but we’re really happy with what we could get out of it. I mean, I think that we ended up with a solid sounding project having done all that stuff ourselves. I think it worked out, so I was happy with that. But it was definitely time consuming. It took us a really long time to get through that, and it was tough because of school. So hopefully in the future, we’ll really be able to sit down and focus on this one thing when we’re recording the album, and really get it done in a more efficient, timely manner. Because I think it’s easier to stay focused on the sound you want when you can do more at once.

Have you written any other songs besides what’s on “Quiet World?”

MY: Well, we’ve written a lot of music for school and for fun, or for other projects. But as a band specifically, there’s not much in the way of complete songs outside of “Quiet World” yet. I have a gigantic stack of ideas sitting on my computer and my manuscript notebook, or jotted down on my phone, things like that. Because I try to capture them as soon as they arise as not to lose them. But not much that I’ve really worked through and completed yet. So we’re going to have to sift through those when it’s time to compose the next album, and use what we want to use, and go from there.

How long ago did you sign with Metal Blade Records, and how has signing with them changed your direction of your music?

RE: Let’s see. We signed with them back in July of 2014. Yeah, it was a while ago, geez. It took us a while to be able to get the album out on there. There was a lot of work to do, and a lot to set up. They wanted us to wait until the proper season for releasing records, so it ended up coming out on April 21st in the US. Since we’ve signed with them, everything changed really. Especially since the album came out, we’ve been really busy and they’ve been awesome helping us… I mean, the promotion you get from a label like that is just incredible. It’s more than we could have ever gotten on our own. A lot of people are saying that signing with labels is not necessary… I agree that it’s not necessary, but I’m really glad we did because even as a starting band, you don’t really get a great deal on any contract you’re going to get. But it’s really a great way to get your foot in the door, and I think we have the means with them to really get our name out there and really get the band going. We have been really active with them, and they’ve been getting us a lot of great opportunities. Like this tour with BTBAM in November. That’s one of the greatest things we’ve got coming out of that. So it’s been really awesome, and we have a lot of great connections with them.

That actually leads into my next question. I was going to mention you were touring with Between the Buried and Me soon. That band is a perfect complement to your music, and it’s a bummer because you’re touring in LA, and I’m down in San Diego. I want to make the trek up to LA to see you guys. So I may just have to do that.

RE: How long is that drive?

It really depends on how bad the traffic is. I would say at least two hours. It’s about a two to three hour drive depending on when in the day. I just wanted to hear your thoughts about touring with them.

RE: Oh god, yeah we’re floored with that. I mean, it’s pretty clear from our music that they’ve been a huge influence on us. They’re honestly the first prog metal band I ever got into. I remember Myles showing me “Colors…” I guess it was in 2007, right around when it came out. That album just changed our lives musically. We were into metal at the time, but we’d never heard anyone do what they were doing with it. At first, I had no idea what the hell I was listening to. I was like “I hate this. What is this?” I kind of forced it for a while, then I started to get it. I was like “Wow, this is really incredible.” It was life-changing. Since then, we’ve really been into that kind of direction. I still love that album. If you told me back in 9th grade or in high school that I’d be touring with BTBAM, I would’ve cried. It’s incredible; it’s a dream come true. It’s really going to be amazing. I’m very excited. And I think it’s going to be an awesome way to get new fans interested because BTBAM fans are likely to be Native Construct fans if they’re into that.

What do you think of their newest album? Because… it’s not a drastic change, but it’s enough of a change where a lot of people are either loving it or hating it. What do you guys think?

RE: I love the direction honestly. It’s really cool. Like it’s kind of the direction Opeth has been going in the last few years, like really rebelling against metal in a way. Because they’re just like, I don’t know, “we’ll do whatever the f*ck we want. F*ck you.” It’s awesome, and it’s new and it’s different. If they still sounded like “Colors” I wouldn’t care about that, because it’s an amazing album but I don’t want the same thing every time they put out an album. I love the direction and change honestly. Being unique is so much more important to me than some kind of old, reliable thing. I think you’ve got to take risks.

I actually only have one more question for you guys. To close things off, is there any information you’d like to share? Is there a new album in the works? You’ve been alluding to a possible new album in the future, or is there any plans in the near future besides the tour with BTBAM?

MY: Yeah, I’ll give you the quick rundown of our near future plans. So we’ll be in Brooklyn on October 16th playing the CMJ Metal Sucks/Metal Injection showcase. And then we’ll be touring with BTBAM across the US in November and December. Then we’ll be in NAM in January, so if anyone is going out to NAM, come say what’s up? Then after that we have a couple more tours that are tentative right now, nothing I can mention specifically yet, but we hope we can get back on the road a little bit.

For summer 2016.

MY: Right. But again, that’s very much not set in stone yet. Then if not, we’ll be starting on the next record. If we do end up touring, we’ll be starting on the next record after we finish the touring.

RE: So probably, if we don’t have anything going in early 2016, we’re probably going to sit down and start seriously writing right then. We’re definitely going to have a new record in the works next year regardless. I’m excited to get started on writing honestly. It’s been so long.

Do you think it’s going to be another concept album?

RE: We’re not really sure yet, but we’re kind of leaning towards no. We’re thinking about doing more of a collection of songs that’s really more in song-form and more related to an overarching theme that ties them together, but not necessarily a story like the way “Quiet World” was told.

MY: We’re at a point in our musical lives, a sort of intersection where there’s any number of paths we can go down. We want to explore each of them a little bit. So to do one unified concept album would be to choose just one road, and we want to explore a more diverse strand of ideas. I think there’s a good chance we’ll end up doing a collection.

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