Instrumental and Experimental are usually terms used closer to a jam session than a band here in the UK and far too often involves a ukulele. So you’ll imagine my surprise when I first heard Guns Of The Seneca, an American experimental instrumental trio, and absolutely, bloody loved it. Any two dime musicians can get together and jam out a tune but only the best can make it music and that is exactly what these guys do.
The trio recently put out their first full length album “Citizens Of The Universe”. Each song is a driving force, you only need to listen to the first few bars of opening track ‘Tell them about the frequencies (we’ve found)” to understand. The way the guitar rains down on you and drums thunder in is so brilliantly crafted and starts you off on a journey you won’t want to end.
They have a subtle side to their music as well, as proven in the far more melancholic “All kinds Of Exhaustion” that would fit easily in to the Indie charts over here. It has simple, progressive lyrics that will get stuck in your head and are something of a treat on this album. Above all, there’s a psychedelic feel and flow to everything and I think this is what draws you in most. The thought that something unexpected will happen, something you’ve not heard before. It’s gripping.
You can find the album at https://gunsoftheseneca.bandcamp.com and I strongly recommend you hurry there to pick up a copy. Guns Of The Seneca are:
Grant Olivier – Bass
Britton Frost – Drums
David Plair – Guitar
Recently, I was fortunate enough to get some time with Guns Of The Seneca over email and they were gracious enough to answer a few questions.
How did you guys meet and who’s idea was it to start a band?
Grant Olivier: David and I played briefly together in my last band. I recruited him after one of our guitarist suddenly quit. He joined “Walk through Walls” for the last year or so of that band’s existence. I knew after WTW disbanded, I wanted to continue playing with David. He and I started playing as a two piece and were considering more looping pedals and possibly a drum machine. After a few months of writing as a 2 pc experiment, we started entertaining the idea of a drummer. We went through a couple of guys that didn’t quite mesh with our long term musical goals or vision. Luckily, we found out about Britton and invited him to our jam space. It was an instantaneous mutual chemistry that clicked when we played together for the first time in late 2007. Britton was younger than us, but was wise beyond his years, both musically and intellectually. In hindsight, it’s safe to say David and I are satisfied with his drumming abilities and our evolution as a band due to discovering him.
Britton Frost: At the time I met David and Grant, I was playing in a band called Painting the Seconds. We were a pop-punk alternative screamo thing. It was fun, but I knew it wouldn’t last. One day I got a phone call from David who said he had heard about me through my cousin who had jammed with them once or twice. I almost told him to fuck off (I was 17 at the time), but I didn’t, and I followed my gut. We all clicked brilliantly in our first jam together, and I knew I’d be playing with them for the foreseeable future.
Have any of you had experiences of success with other bands?
GO:As mentioned, David and I were in a band called “Walk Through Walls”, which achieved great local success. That was pre social media craze and Myspace was just starting when we called it quits. It would have been interesting to see how we could have connected with potential fans if Social media would have been around during that time span. WTW consistently packed local venues throughout the early to mid 2000’s, and we were able tour the east and west coasts of the USA. We opened up for some really great bands during our run as WTW. Sparta, Ash, Denali, Mock Orange, Bleeding Through, Elliot, Universal Recovered, are just a couple of the bands we played with at that time. Since Walk Through Walls disbanded 10+ yrs ago, many good bands have evolved from that original group. Secret Society in Smaller Lies, Bill Mountain, Valley of Ashes, Livebearers and Guns of the Seneca were all formed by members of that original band. Of course Britton, David and I played in multiple bands throughout our youth while learning how to play our respective instruments.
BF: I played with a few local groups as a teenager, Painting the Seconds being the most notable (hey, you can still find us on MySpace!), but I’ve never toured or cut any other official records. Since my first jam with Guns, regardless of how seldom we play, the quality has been such that I have felt very little need to play with anyone else. In fact, I think it has been ideal because it has allowed me to do many other things I enjoy to provide a relatively stable, satisfactory, and well-balanced life for myself without sacrificing the quality of our music.
Most of your album is instrumental, was this a conscious decision? Or did you feel that the music was strong enough to be left alone?
BF: If there is one thing we consciously do (as far as I can tell), it is to make the music as good as it can be for the sake of itself. That’s art, and that’s it. If we feel that we’ve done that, and we still have space to squeeze in some vocal tracks, then we’ll go for it. However, that never really happens. The lyrical songs on our album were written a long time ago, and they were written with lyrics in mind. Our creative process has changed since then. We’re all better musicians, and our new stuff is musically more dense and more complex than ever. If we want a lyrical song or two for the next album, it will have to be a conscious decision, because we’re naturally heading in the opposite direction.
David Plair:The album is mostly instrumental just because that’s how it naturally came to be. We all really like various instrumental artists, but we also like vocals too. I don’t really consider myself a singer, but I can fill in when appropriate. We really just like to jam.
As you’ve said, you’re multi-genre, do you think this comes across because of the diverse influences you have or do you class yourself as one genre over another?
GO: Individually we all have very diverse musical influences and taste. As a band we don’t particularly try to aim for one sound or energy. We typically just write what comes to mind through improvisation, record those thoughts, and then piece together parts that make sense. A lot of our songs from our first album were manifested this way. We foresee ourselves getting even more experimental with different sounds through pedals or synths, but we’ll always be a guitar driven band.
BF: It is hard to pin us down in that way, especially since each song is a little different, and our style continues to evolve.We do all have different tastes, but there is plenty enough overlap that we can work together to create music we all enjoy. Personally, there are key elements, in music that I listen to, that I emulate in my playing. Those elements are purely qualitative and therefore transcend the genre discussion. On that basis, and without going into more detail about that, I must respectfully reject the question. Just know that we hold ourselves to an extraordinarily high standard, and I think we’re all satisfied with what we produce.
DP: I think we are multi genre because of our vast musical influences and also because when we make music we have no particular outcome or specific sound we are trying to achieve if it feels right it’s right regardless of if it is different than any of our other songs we don’t really bother too much with classifying ourselves that’s for listeners to attempt
I find a lot of your songs very shoot from the hip, powerful driving tunes, which is a great thing in my book! What do you think is key to being able to create this sound?
DP:Our songs are mainly high energy because we like to have fun when we play and those are the most fun for us to play as of now we also get bored if things get repetitive so there are lots of transitions to keep us awake
BF: Ok, now I have to go into more detail about my last answer because that is a complicated, qualitative question! I’ve noticed at least three factors that can be attributed to our (as well as anyone’s) ability to make good music that’s big, powerful, orchestral, etc. First, each member must be very technically skilled, which I believe we all are. This has partlycome naturally with years of playing with different bands in the developmental stages of learning our craft. Thatimprovement process never ends. However, this also requires some forced individual work (scales, metronome work, drum rudiments, etc.). More is better. It’s actually ideal for a musician to obsess over individual development. Speaking for myself, I admit that I don’t obsess over it nearly enough. I don’t practice on my own as much as I should despite the fact that I have a practice kit in my living room, but I know it is every bit as important as it is redundant and boring. Keeping that in mind serves as a reminder that I am a shit drummer compared to how I could be, and that is just enough to keep me motivated to work… sometimes. Fundamentals, fundamentals, fundamentals. That’s the first part. Second, everyone in the band must have more-or-less equal (and a high level of) creative input. This is precisely where most bands go wrong – theyhave only one member who is the creative force, everyone else takes direction from him, and the music turns out very one-dimensional, lacking in substance, and therefore, shit. We all come up with ideas all the time. Tied to that, for us, is the ability to create interesting and natural-sounding transitions between complex parts. I have always thought, and I believe we have somewhat proven, that you can tie any two parts together if you have the right transition. That is actually what we spend most of our time doing – creeating transitions – organizing the chaos. Whatever its nature, creativity is an innate, intuitive personality trait that simply cannot be taught. Creativity coupled with technical skill allows one to come up with ideas and play them relatively fluidly on the spot. That’s invaluable, and allows you to make the most of your time when you get together. Any band is lucky to have more than one member who possesses these traits in balance and to a large degree. We have three, so how do we manage that? That leads me to the third factor, cliché though it may sound: “chemistry” (as it’s commonly called, so we’ll go with that). Most bands, that have multiple members who are both technically skilled and creatively gifted, butt heads. They don’t get along because they have the first two factors down, so they rightly or wrongly take themselves as geniuses, but they lack chemistry and the ability to compromise. Spending time together – drinking beer and bullshitting, talking about life between jams at practice as well as outside of the bandroom – is important. You get to know your bandmates – how they think, feel, perceive, and organize themselves. You learn where there limits are. Making good music requires pushing the limits of each other and of what makes sense compositionally. It is an intuitive, all-encompassing, transformative process. That chemistry can connect you with your bandmates in a profoundly intimate way, but it can also tear you apart in ways that the worst romantic relationships can. It’s a game of tug-of-war between order and chaos, much like the music itself… just like life itself. To have chemistry is to understand your bandmates – to really know, for example, what is going on in a jam, what their next move is, to let your ideas flow through your instruments while you dance with those ideas together. Sync up, lock in, and go. Chemistry is highly mystical in nature, but when you have it, you know, and we have had it from day one.
TL;DR: Individual technical skill and creativity; collective chemistry, all in abundance, and to maintain a balance between order and chaos in music and in life.
Can you give us an insight into your live show?
DP: Our live shows are very energetic, and we play as hard and as fast as we can. We try not to have much of a gap between songs so the audience usually responds well to this. Our fans typically dance, and we’ve even had a friend do back-flips while we perform.When we are done we get off the stage, it’s like we have a job to do and we are trying to bang it out till it’s done.
BF: It’s fucking awesome.
GO: We have our most fun and feeling of accomplishment performing live. Unfortunately, we don’t play a lot of shows, but at the same time it’s good that we’re not burning out our fan base.
Many bands have an idea of who they want to be like or as successful as, do you have anyone you would love to be like or you have taken advice from?
DP:Many bands want to be huge who wouldn’t? Getting paid to do the funnest thing on earth, I think everyone would like to be as big as the Beatles however with the climate of the music industry these days and the general distractions of people mega influential superstars like that will probably not come around anymore.
GO: Not particularly. We don’t try to emulate any artists, past or present. We just try to focus on our craft. As far as advice, I’m open-minded enough to accept advice or constructive criticism from anyone.
BF: No, I don’t idolize anyone if that’s what you’re asking. I think we just focus on our music. At least, that’s what I do. I don’t even listen to very much music, oddly enough (Grant and David can vouch for that). In response to the advice part:Pretty much all advice I have gotten directly has come from non-musician friends and relatives here in conservative southern Louisiana. Each has started with “You know, you could probably make a lot of money if…” Nope. Wrong. The idea that money is the ultimate goal for what we do is an entirely superficial assumption, and it’s absurdly wrong on the grounds that good music is the least superficial thing that exists, and money is the most. I can usually forgive these people because this obsession with money is so deeply embedded in western capitalistic culture that most people, especially in our country, are simply too weak to resist being brainwashed. People are also ridiculously narcissistic, so they will extend their advice, based solely on their own experiences, to others while totally ignoring the fact that they’re a totally different person with different experiences, different goals, different modes of perception and judgment of reality, etc. I could go on. The point is that most direct advice I have gotten from people has been incredible shit, but I am very open to good advice, and I sometimes seek it out via interviews on YouTube (Omar Rodriguez-Lopez/Cedric Bixler-Zavala and Maynard James Keenan, to name a few, have high musical intelligences and bits of advice that I have drawn from).
All Kinds of Exhaustion is a storm in a teacup kind of rock song, what was the inspiration for this track?
DP: All kinds of exhaustion has had many iterations. Since this song has vocals, I mainly tried to write it myself and I brought a mostly finished product to practice. We had a second guitarist at the time and this also probably made us do things differently. The song is about trying to clear your head and about how sometimes the best way to do this is through becoming physically exhausted, to where you no longer have to be conscious with yourself, if that makes sense.
BF: Thank you. That was a long time ago, and most of the parts existed in some form before I was even in the band, but I can tell you why I think that song works. The first half of it is very catchy, poppy, optimistic, and accessible. It’s easy for anyone to follow instrumentally and to take meaning from the lyrics. But, without something bigger, more complex, and energetic to balance that out, it wouldn’t work for us or in comparison to the other songs on the album. The instrumental section in the second half of the song counters the first half in order to provide that balance. Magnum Morte and Largo Parenchyma are somewhat like that as well as they also have instrumental outros.
Do you have any plans to get over to the UK and play?
GO: Absolutely! That is a huge goal of ours that we’ll try to achieve in coming years. Hopefully through blogs like yours we’ll establish a nice following in the UK.
BF: My bags are packed and ready, but I haven’t gotten anyone pregnant yet. The pressure is on the other guys to answer this one.
DP: We would love to play in the UK. We don’t live there so I can’t say for sure but I feel like people there are more into good music than some Americans and the UK consistently puts out some of the best music, so it would be an honor to play in the UK. but that will probably be awhile before our life situations would allow us to do so unfortunately.
I think the biggest take away from this exchange is that each member is passionate about the music they create and prioritise putting out something that they are proud of, that they would listen to and in my opinion, that is all that should matter. If success should follow, let it but first and foremost enjoy the ride. That’s exactly what Guns Of The Seneca are doing and I am seriously excited for what the future holds for them.
Go find them online. Listen to them. Reach out to them. Sit back and wait for them to fire.