Feature Image Photo by Metal Blade
Robert Edens and Myles Yang are founding members of Massachusetts progressive metal band Native Construct. Their band is preparing their first major tour for their first album “Quiet World.” I had the chance to sit down with them via Skype and discuss their band, influences, and future plans.
Note: The interview is edited for time and length constraints. I have posted a link to the full transcript at the bottom of the page.
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. 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. But we wanted to spend as much time as we could on it and get it exactly how we wanted 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 interested in electronic music. So I started listening to a lot of things like Aphex Twin, Squarepusher, Moderat. Jon Hopkins is one of my favorite composers and producers. 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.
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. 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: So Max is actually a few years younger than us. 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. Coming into school, we knew we wanted to assemble a band to write the music we were interested in. 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.” 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.
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, and ping pong back and forth. So it wasn’t a very organic band. We weren’t jamming out ideas. 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.
Is there a main drummer in the band? 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 did our first tour in August, and 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.
RE: It was incredible. I can’t believe anyone could do that, but he pulled it off amazingly well. 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.
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. 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)
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, is that 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.
On a different note, you played ProgPower USA last week. Congratulations on that! How’s it like playing on a card that had Riverside, Anathema, and several other great prog rock bands?
RE: It was surreal. 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 definitely the biggest show we’ve played in our short careers now. We were treated so well; the crew was amazing, the venue was amazing, everyone was 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 back-story 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 intimate. But the specifics of the story itself are not direct representations of any of our lives. It’s the mood that’s in relation to our lives. The actual story, it’s 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.
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. When you have a story laid out first, it gives you a clear sense of where your music should go.
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. 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.
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. 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’s sort of is both. 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.
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. 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 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. 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, 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.
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, but it was definitely time consuming. 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.
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. 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. 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.
That actually leads into my next question. I was going to mention you were touring with Between the Buried and Me soon, which is a perfect complement to your music. 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 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. Since then, we’ve really been into that kind of direction. 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. 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.
RE: I love the direction honestly. It’s kind of the direction Opeth has been going in the last few years, like really rebelling against metal in a way. 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.
To close things off, is there any information you’d like to share? Is there a new album in the works?
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 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 NAMM in January, so if anyone is going out to NAMM, 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.
RE: 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 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.
A special thanks to Robert and Myles for taking the time to chat with me!
You can read the full transcript here.