We checked in with Scott Acquavella (Cryptodira), Luke Barber (Yashira), and Reece Scruggs (Havok) on how they spent 2020, what they learned, and their thoughts and hopes for what 2021 will hold, as part of our New Year’s Evolutions Series!
Scott Acquavella – Cryptodira
When COVID took the excitement of touring on a brand new record and threw it out the window, Scott Acquavella, guitarist and vocalist of Cryptodira took the time to learn recording and how to connect with audiences in new ways.
Before COVID became a stark reality in America, we recorded our sophomore record, The Angel of History, in January, so we hit the ground running with tons of excitement. That all went out the window pretty shortly after, so we spent the majority of the year prepping everything that goes into an album release, but remotely instead of in person, which was pretty new to us.
Luckily it wasn’t all bad as we closed the year releasing both an EP (Better Left Unsaid) and the LP (The Angel of History) which at least gave us something exciting to focus our energy on, even if it was odd releasing a record without touring. Besides the band stuff, I personally just took my time to educate myself on recording demos and getting better at guitar. Believe it or not, after all these years of playing music in the modern world, I had no equipment or know how to record music, but that all changed thanks to lockdown!
What new avenues did you find to express yourself and get your work out into the world?
We’ve always been a pretty old- fashioned band: write songs, record them, then hit the pavement and play shows. This year with things being so different, we finally joined the modern world and launched a Twitch channel which has proved to be a super fun endeavor.
It’s a lot of work; but being able to interact with people who care about the band while we are all physically isolated has provided a sense of solace aside from just being a great way to get our work out there.
Besides that, we’ve hit YouTube pretty hard with instrumental play-through videos of our new songs because we are giant nerds who enjoy that type of stuff and so are our fans. It was hard for me to wrap my mind around being a digital band because we thrive in a live show environment, but there is a lot of merit in the online side of things and while it’s certainly not the same, we’ve really loved being more active and interacting with people on new platforms.
How did you make ends meet to simply survive?
It was tough. Three out of the four of us lost our jobs in the midst of this. I am actually the only one who didn’t, but my job situation has come with all kinds of pay-related nightmares because of COVID.
The unemployment safety net kept the other guys afloat for a bit and now Jeremy started a freelance photography/videography business while Mike started teaching guitar lessons.
It was a brutal year full of change, but if we learned anything it’s that we can adapt and do whatever we have to do to make it work. Honestly the hardest part was the mental aspect of not knowing what would happen next (and that’s still the case), but we are fortunate enough to have Cryptodira to keep our heads on straight.
What new things did you learn?
I dove into the world of recording demos and also some entry level graphic design. It was basically just fueled by my desire to handle more Cryptodira related things in-house. Why pay somebody to make silly Instagram announcement graphics when I can just jump on Photoshop and learn to do it myself?
Our bass player Jeremy knows much more about recording than I do, so I’ve done nothing but incessantly pick his brain to get good at it myself and just add one more thing to my tool belt. Jeremy also dove into his photo and video production capabilities because we were hellbent on using the lockdown time toward being productive and making Cryptodira a more self-sustaining entity that doesn’t rely on outside forces.
Aside from all of that, Mike and Matthew wrote an absurd amount of music, so they’ve been able to hone those abilities and explore new methodologies of writing which has opened a lot of doors for us.
All of these new additions should make for quite an interesting 2021!
How do you feel about the coming year in terms of ‘getting back to normal’? Is there going to be a normal?
I’m not sure what “normal” even is at this point or if we will ever get back to things being exactly the way that we are used to, but I’m still fairly confident that we will one day. I’m not sure it will be in 2021, but I sure hope so.
Tours are being booked for the end of the year, so there’s a degree of industry confidence that gives me hope, but of course that hope is very cautious at best right now.
It’s hard not to think about when we’ll be able to play shows again, but we’re doing our best not to harp on it and instead just adapt and find new ways to express ourselves, get the music out there, and reach as many like-minded people as possible.
I think it’s best to stop looking at it like “we just need to come up with things until shows are back” and instead focus our energy on creating compelling and interesting output that would be exciting for ourselves and our listeners whether there was a pandemic or not. We want to make sure that nothing we do is ever cheapened or watered down and treated as just a placeholder in the meantime.
Any sort of predictions for how this year is going to be?
The New York Islanders will win the Stanley Cup, Cryptodira is going to go on tour by the end of the year, and Donald Trump and Mitch McConnell will be in jail.
Nah, I don’t know. Who can possibly predict this stuff anymore after the year we just had? Let’s just hope for the best and take care of each other.
Luke Barber – Yashira
Luke Barber handles bass and vocal duties for Florida’s experimental death/doom crew, Yashira. They dropped a new record, Fail To Be, on Good Fight Records in 2020, and with all touring options off the table, re-calibrated their plans and focused on other aspects of their life.
Thankfully we were able to spend January and February up in Connecticut tracking Fail To Be. Once the world continued to fall apart from COVID, our attentions began to shift away from performing the songs or planning tours/shows and toward making the release of the record as seamless and effective as possible. We did a music video, and photos and all that typical stuff that bands do. Other than that, we stayed really busy in our personal lives. We built our careers, Dylan got engaged, Ryan’s other band, Autolith, dropped their record as well.
Not going to lie, it has been a struggle to do more than what we’ve been able to, which is release the record and promote it as much as possible. Ryan lives in Tennessee and we’re in Florida, so it has been a challenge to be able to meet up to practice our songs for a livestream or what have you. We’ve also never liked to compromise on our live sound and sometimes ideas don’t translate properly via livestream. Plus, the songs are pretty challenging to play, so rehearsals are essential before we play them for people. I’m sure we will do one before things return to semi-normal, but things are moving very slowly due to things clearly out of everyone’s control.
At this point, the record is out, and we’ve taken a deep breath and are absorbing all the input we receive. Now we’re starting to do what we’ve always done – continue writing and building this band. We have a stockpile of riffs that we need to mold into songs, which will be for a small release we are planning. Ideally, we can get it out in 2021, but these times are less than ideal so we will see how that goes.
Every day is an opportunity to learn something new about yourself and the world around you. We learn countless things every day, but I’d say the number one lesson we’ve learned has been in patience. Our understandings develop rapidly, and it feels like reality has to play catch up sometimes. But accepting things the way they are doesn’t have to be a defeat. You can roll with the punches in style, it just requires planning and patience.
Reece Scruggs – Havok
Reece Scruggs, lead guitarist for Havok had to buckle down and get to work to provide for his family, but has still found time to hone his skills and even pick up a few endorsements.
I’m married and I have a house. Anyone in that position already knows there’s a lot to take care of and do. You’ve got your hands full, but compounded with COVID shutting down, not only my job but also threatening my wife’s career, I had to buckle down and get a full time job. I started working full time March 23rd, and the world was on lockdown pretty much after that. Needless to say, every minute I get to play or create music these days is cherished. I’ve been just putting my nose to the grindstone and working my ass off to provide for my household.
However, I’ve worked a lot on sharpening my guitar skills, as well as doing a lot more at-home recording. In this time, I’ve landed two high profile instrument endorsements, Dean Guitars and Seymour Duncan Pickups. I’ve also been featured in Guitar World Magazine for the first time.
I’ve not only been working on new Havok riffs, but I’ve been writing blues and country tunes for fun, as well as starting to write with my old band from my hometown in Virginia. I also bumped up doing more guitar lessons online.
I fell in love with the aspects of my music career I took for granted. I lost sight like many do when their passions become their job. I got to dive deep into podcasts hosted by our peers talking about life in a metal band or being on the road or in the studio.
Mentally, I’ve been trying to cool my jets and see things with the perspective of another. I’ve been cutting back on all alcohol as well, which has been super beneficial. I would like to return to being able to tour or at least do strings of dates. I’d also love to see the United States reflect on how terrible the past four years has divided us.