Allegaeon: Greg Burgess Interview12th September 2016
With the release of Allegaeon’s hotly anticipated fourth album looming, I caught up with guitarist and creative driving force behind the band, Greg Burgess. We discussed the new album, the concept of Proponent for Sentience, the evils of writer’s block and the departure of previous vocalist Ezra Haynes. Have a read of our chat below!
All About The Rock: Hey Greg! Cheers for taking the time to chat with me, how’s things going today?
Greg Burgess: There was a bit of a panic this morning, but it all got worked out! It was for the first interview today, I think he forgot or something, though, so my panic was all for nought! But I got it sorted for everyone else today!
AATR: Well I’m glad it’s all sorted! Just for anyone reading this that may not be overly familiar with Allegaeon, could you just introduce the band?
Burgess: We are a five piece band that sing about science… and we’re all idiots.
AATR: Brilliant! So we’re getting close to the release of the new album [Proponent for Sentience]. Are you excited for everyone else to hear it?
Burgess: To be honest dude, I’m so close to it at this point that I can’t tell if the record is good or if it’s shit, y’know? The album was completed about six months before we went in to record it, and it’s been another six months since we finished it. We’ve had it for so long at this point… I guess so, yes, I am excited!
AATR: So if you’ve been sitting on the material for Proponent for almost a year now, have you started work on the fifth Allegaeon album already?
Burgess: We wrote so much for this album, man! I think we had 17 songs. Because we were touring so much for the last album, we were kind of panicked. Mike [Stancel, guitar] were super worried and desperate. We weren’t sure how we were going to write the album because normally we have two years to write a record between other stuff. But we spent so much time on the road [in support of 2014’s Elements of the Infinite] I wasn’t sure if we were going to have enough time so we went into panic mode and ended up writing so much music that cutting songs out was very hard. We have a lot of songs left over, so we already have a huge chunk of the next album done! So… yeah. This is a shit interview! We should start over again with nice, concise answers! [Laughs]
AATR: No no man, we much prefer getting long detailed answers! [Laughs]
Burgess: That doesn’t mean they’re good answers! [Laughs]
AATR: Haha! Okay, can you walk us through the actual creation process for Proponent?
Burgess: It’s actually an interesting story! So we were on tour… Well, first of all, the song on the album From Nothing was actually left over from the Elements record. Mike’s writing audition for the band was actually Genesis of Praise – I gave him all the classical stuff for it and basically said, “Hey man, finish this song!” And he killed it! So we knew for sure Genesis was going on the record, and he also contributed From Nothing as well, but we thought Genesis fit the album better. So that was the first song we had as it was left over from the last record. And then we were on tour with Chimera, and that was back to back with Arsis and Exmortus. The Aris and Exmortus tour did not go well for us – it was plagued with problems. Maybe we were just on the road too long, but we had so many internal issues. I came back from that tour and I wasn’t sure if I wanted to continue Allegaeon. When I got home from that tour I didn’t touch an electric guitar for quite a while, I just played classical guitar. I was thinking maybe that was what I should do, I should just start my classical career – which will happen at some point.
I started writing Grey Matter Mechanics, and that just kind of fell out of me, to be honest. And I didn’t know if it was for Allegaeon, but I came to the realisation that I have no other skills, I’m stuck with this! Suck it up, buttercup! So I finished writing Grey Matter and sent it to the other guys, and they were like “This is awesome!” So we had those two songs, and everything started building slowly after that. It was a really painstaking process, though, everything kind of fell together very late in the writing process. We were haveing a discussion with our management, and they said we should be in the studio in February. I was sitting there thinking there was no way we would be ready for then. And then two days later, I had the three parts to Proponent for Sentience done, they just all fell together. It was one of those things where I got the writing bug, and as soon as I got the writing bug I knew we’d be fine. There was a huge list of songs that came together in a few days, and then it was just a case of carving out what would be on the record and what wouldn’t.
AATR: I know what you mean, I love the writing bug! I’ll have writer’s block for months, and then as soon as the bug hits I’ll crank out an obscene amount!
Burgess: When you don’t have it, and you have writer’s block, it is just the worst feeling ever. I’ll just be sitting playing Xbox for weeks and weeks at a time wondering if I’ll ever pick up the guitar again or write another album. Then it happens, and you just wonder why it can’t be like this all the time! Life would be so much easier! So less stressful!
AATR: Definitely! I don’t write music, I’m totally musically inept – that’s why I write about music!
Burgess: [Laughs] I imagine it’s the same for any creative outlet, though!
AATR: Totally! I go through periods where reviews will just be stacking up on my desk, and as good as the albums are I have no idea what to say about them. Then the writing bug will hit, and I’ll crank out ten reviews in an afternoon!
Burgess: Oh wow! I definitely don’t envy people who review albums. Having to listen to all this music, and say something different, trying to describe the album without repeating yourself from the last review… I don’t like repeating myself in music, I imagine it’s the same in writing.
AATR: You closed Proponent with a Rush cover… why Rush?
Burgess: Right, so for Japan you need a bonus track. The way their economy is, is that it’s cheaper for them to import CDs than it is to make them in the country, which is why you always need a Japanese bonus track. So we needed a track for that. And with Elements, they wanted to include the EP as well when we released that. So going into releasing Proponent, we had all these extra songs, but I didn’t want to give one of our originals to just one part of the world. We thought, “Right, let’s just do a cover!” And the only cover we’ve ever done before was When Satan Rules This World by Deicide, and we only did that at two shows. Mike and I are huge Deicide fans, so we were on board to just do another Deicide cover. But with Riley [McShane, vocals] in the band, we wanted to do something different because he can sing and that opens up different options for us. I’m a huge prog rock fan, and Rilginormousianormus prog rock fan, so we decided to do some prog. Originally I wanted to cover a Yes song, I’m a huge fan of the band Yes. But while we were discussing it, someone mentioned Rush and Brandon [Park, drums] jumped on it saying, “You mean I get to play Neil Pert? Yeah, let’s do Rush!” I love the track Subdivisions, and I really love the track Animate, they are two of my favourite Rush songs, so I put them forward. We tracked them both, and when Metal Blade heard the demo for Subdivisions they said flat-out “This has to be on the record!”
We decided to put demos on the Japanese version, as Metal Blade wanted this to be for everyone. And in one way I was really happy because Metal Blade were getting really excited about something we were doing, and that has to be a good sign. You always want your label to be excited. But at the same time, I didn’t want to be the band that gets famous for a cover – I want to be true to myself, even if that means I won’t be as popular. I was terrified as well because Rush is a band you just cannot fuck with, y’know? I was worried about my arrangement being so different that the hardcore Rush fans are going to think we’re shit. And then what about our core fan-base? We’re doing a song that’s completely clean vocals, we were worried about how they were going to react. Those fears were definitely founded, there has been people telling us to go fucking kill ourselves from both sides. I remember being told, “How fucking dare you.” Okay buddy, well you let me know when your band does something and I’ll be sure to go out of my way to tell you how much of a shithead you are. And the hardcore death metal fans do not like it when you do something new! But they are all in the extreme minority. But it’s always hard to hear someone say “Go fuck yourself,” when you’ve worked really hard on something.
AATR: So will Riley’s clean vocals be featured a bit more in the future?
Burgess: Riley’s background is very vast. He did a band called Continuum, which was kind of a supergroup with some of the guys from Brain Drill and Decrepit Birth. Then he was in Inanimate Existence and did their last album. His tech-death side is well founded. About a week before we put out our last album his other band, Son of Aurelius put out their new album,Under a Western Sun. They were a tech-death band that made the change to just straight prog. I’ve been friends with the Son of Aurelius guys for years, we traded albums way before the albums were released. I knew he could sing, ’cause I’ve heard him sing on their podcast just being a jackass, but even when he was just being a jackass I knew he could probably sing his ass off! And on the album he was totally laying it down, I was blown away. When he had our vocalist trouble, I knew he was the guy I wanted. I would love to have more of his clean vocals.
I can tell you the next record will start with clean vocals. Riley actually plays guitar as well, and he sent me some acoustic stuff he had done – I loved it! So I fleshed it out a bit, made it a big more Allegaeon-y and added it to some very Behemoth inspired riffs. The new record will start off very Opeth-y and then go in very much the opposite direction. There is definitely going to be more cleans, though. He was very hesitant to include any clean vocals on this record. If you look at what happened with Son of Aurelius, they were a straight tech-death band and when he started singing people shit all over that record, which is very sad because it was amazing. When he came in and we mentioned doing cleans, he was very apprehensive because he didn’t want to fuck up Allegaeon. But I don’t give a shit, I know full well people will shit on us for it. But I have a classical guitar degree, we include a lot of orchestral stuff: if you don’t know we like other types of music you’re an idiot.
AATR: So speaking of Ezra, are you able to go into any details about the reasons for his departure?
Burgess: I don’t really want to, to be honest. It would be one thing if Ezra was off being successful and continuing to do what he was doing with Allegaeon, and for whatever reason he is not. I feel it is unfair to him for me to go into it. I would rather not cause drama. Ezra has some stuff going on that was incompatible with Allegaeon, and we asked him to resign with all the respect he is entitled to. We love the guy, it was not a personal thing. We wanted him to do his own thing, to be in a band, and to be successful – nothing would make us happier. It’s not like, “Dude, fuck that guy!” I spent almost eight years with him, and it was very sad. It’s incredibly heartbreaking when any relationship breaks down. I don’t hate Ezra at all, I love the guy to death, and I still consider him a great friend even though we don’t talk. As far as going into specifics… I don’t really want to.
AATR: I totally get that man, and thank you for opening up as much as you did. With your lyrics, there is always a broad theme of science involved, but can you give us a bit more details into the specific concept of Proponent for Sentience?
Burgess: So the science thing is just what interests us! It’s so much easier to write about something when it’s a topic that really interests you, or drives your creative process. When I was 14, all I wanted to listen to was Hell Awaits, over and over again. I couldn’t get enough of Satan and horror. But what interested me back then doesn’t really do it for me anymore. Learning does it for me now. I’m not interested in writing about politics, I fucking hate politics, I think it’s a whole bunch of bullshit. If you are in politics, and you want the power over other people, I think you’re an asshole. I don’t care what party you are in. It’s the people who don’t want the responsibility, the ones who are thrust into the position, that generally do a good job. They are there purely to serve the people. But that’s never the way it is, especially in America. Anyone who wants that position is usually a douchebag… Or a douche-woman! Douchebaggery is equal opportunities!
Science is fascinating, and it’s constantly evolving. We can write a song about something that is disproven two weeks later. When we did Secrets of the Sequence, that was about flatworms and scientists isolating what they thought was the aging gene. Two weeks after the record came out, a study was published saying it was all bullshit, and I couldn’t have been happier because we are learning things. It’s so important.
Back in 2207 when we first started, I wrote the beginning for Proponent for Sentience II and it was our intro song for many years. Originally it was me on a keyboard with some drums, and my extended family from my first marriage recorded the choir parts. It’s been quite a few years since then, and I thought about redoing it. I heard Steven Hawking did two interviews talking about his opinions on artificial intelligence. The whole album is based off Steven Hawking’s theories on AI and a possibly future that could come from it, which I thought was really cool. And then I realised after we finished that we have just made a musical of The Terminator… That’s pretty fucking stupid.
Hey man, my phone’s blowing up for my next interview so I’m afraid we’re gonna have to cut this short!
AATR: Tech-death and The Terminator, what can be better? No worries man, can I fire in one more quick question before you go?
Burgess: Absolutely man!
AATR: Do you have any plans to hit the UK on the album cycle for Proponent?
Burgess: I’m in talks at the moment to try and get something organised. No guarantees yet, but I’m more certain ever that we will be seeing you in 2017!
AATR: Brilliant! I’m looking forward to catching you if you do make it over! Have a good day man, take care!
Burgess: You too buddy, bye!