Interview with Animals As Leaders guitarist Tosin Abasi | By Brandon Ringo
Throughout their career, prog metal overlords Animals As Leaders have been constantly moving forward in the name of progress. Led by guitar virtuosoextraordinaire Tosin Abasi, the band’s trajectory has gone through an accelerated evolution from a virtual anomaly to the Michael Jordan of progressive metal. Some even call them the genre’s gold standard. The band have been unveiling this rapid development with each successive album, and it has become even more obvious and fascinating on The Madness of Many, their mind-bending new offering, out Nov. 11 through Sumerian Records.
One of the main catalysts for Animals As Leaders’ continued musical transformation, especially on The Madness of Many, is the band’s ability and willingness to pivot their songwriting however necessary. “Normally, I’ll have guitar-based ideas, a collection of riffs that I think can make a song,” Abasi explains. “I present it to the guys, and then, we usually track the riff to a click [track] and to a recording program, program drums, and try to build a sequence and a song structure out of that. But, with this album, I brought less to the table and left more just for the potential of us working together.”
“There are entire sections where we wrote in the moment. There’s an entire song, ‘Arithmophobia,’ actually, our drummer Matt [Garstka] wrote this drum composition, and we plugged in guitar and harmony parts to the preexisting drums,” Abasi clarifies. “We’ve never done that before. I’ve never really composed to drums—it’s usually the other way around—so there were some differences compositionally on this album.”
While the band’s more collaborative nature on The Madness of Many reaped benefits musically, it has also been more rewarding personally. “It’s a really cool feeling, because usually, there’s a dominant hand in a lot of the songwriting, especially when it comes to drums,” Abasi concedes. “Usually, the drums will be—I don’t wanna say ‘obvious,’ but there are kind of things that are necessarily needed to be played, and so there’s less fluency with the drum parts. But, with this album, we’re writing from a rhythmic perspective instead of a melodic one. So yeah, I think at the end of the day, it feels really good that it was so balanced and collaborative and just has, like, a different result. We’re all really stoked on it.”’
Still, the biggest and most important perk the band reaped from their more open songwriting technique was its creative impact on their music. “We are really concerned with evolving as a band, and we don’t have any preconceived notions for our music other than wanting to be—we personally want to feel like it’s new for us, and we’re not interested in repeating successful approaches to music we’ve done in the past,” Abasi admits. “We don’t constantly say, like, ‘Oh, we should have a track like this, because that song was really popular.’ Really, it’s purely creative, and I think it really represents where we are when we’re writing it, which is, for me, what an album should be: a musical snapshot of where you are in the moment when you’re writing.”
Naturally, given Animals As Leaders’ penchant for continually upping the crazy on each new album, the most important factor is simply putting in the work. “So far, it’s been literally a snapshot of where we are musically,” Abasi says of The Madness of Many. “Like, I’m constantly playing guitar and finding new things to push my playing forward, and when we go to record, you’re hearing the concepts and the sort of place that I’m in.”
“Hopefully that continues, which will result in new information being encoded into every album we do,” he concludes. “But it’s not a conscious thing; it’s just that all of us as musicians are concerned about evolving individually. So, we take a year or two, and we’re still progressing in-between albums, and when we go to write, you’re hearing all of the development that’s transpired during that break.”