Arcane Atlas is a young band from Tennessee (US). However, despite their young age, they have already released two top class albums. Their most recent album, Metris, was released in February. Inspiring and like a breath of fresh air, they seem to have already established a strong identity. Might they be the future of Prog; have the gods of musical style endowed them with power and inspiration? I had the opportunity to have a long interview with bass player, Drew Brow, one of the band’s founding members. He’s just 20 years old! Here we go.
Sébastien : Can you introduce the band?
Drew Brown : We are Arcane Atlas: Drew Brown (bass/vocals, 2013-present), Destin Frost (drums/percussion, 2013-present) Eric Bezner (guitar, 2013-2014), Si Deane (guitar, 2015-present) and Will Braun (keys, 2016-present).
Sébastien : What are your musical backgrounds? How did you learn to play so well? You are so young and talented!
Drew Brown : My first real inspiration to the realm of music was during the summer of 2010 when I heard The Dark Side of the Moon by Pink Floyd with my sister, Rachel, on a turntable. From that moment onward, I started searching for more Pink Floyd, and I gradually learned about more progressive rock bands, and I found that music was a great passion of mine. I started to study and appreciate bands like Rush, ELP, Genesis, King Crimson… I had actually started learning how to play bass a couple years before that around the age of 13, but at that point I was not as inspired to pursue music as a career as I am now. In all honesty, I took it up as a gesture of good will to my father. He bought me a bass as a gift, and he thought I would enjoy it. At first, it was more of a burden than anything. I had to take lessons and practice, and I did not enjoy it at the time. But after I studied great bands and started to swim in the pool of music, I quickly realized how happy I was that I knew how to play an instrument because I wanted to start playing in a band. So even though I did not appreciate it at the time, I am very grateful to my dad for purchasing that bass for me. As far as « how I learned to play so well », I still have a lack of confidence in my musical abilities. I feel I have not improved as much as I should have. I took basic lessons when I first started for about a year or two. Then I was self-taught for about a year. Then I took lessons again with an amazingly talented bass player, Amanda McCoy. She was a very positive influence in my life: encouraging, talented, helpful, and supportive. I learned a lot from her, but I stopped taking lessons after about a year or two because I was consumed with school work. So for about three years now, I have again been self-taught. I guess one other factor that has influenced my abilities has been being inspired by such great progressive rock bands that have challenging, sophisticated bass lines that are difficult to learn. Learning challenging pieces of music forces me to take time and improve my technique, although I still need improvement.
Sébastien : What’s the origin of this love for music and arts? What are your musical influences?
Before progressive rock, I was still heavily involved with music and art. When I was a young boy, I wanted to be an actor. And I still dabble with acting today. I used to immerse myself in musical theater. I did several musical productions a years. Also, I am in college right now trying to obtain a degree in film, another form of art. So I have always been invested in some kind of art. I can attribute this love of art to my upbringing and my family. My family shaped who I am today. I have two sisters, and two loving parents. My dad plays guitar, and we always loved watching films as a family when I was growing up. My musical influences are obviously centered primarily around progressive rock. My favorite bands are The Beatles, Rush, Pink Floyd, Genesis, ELP, King Crimson, Led Zeppelin, and Yes. My four favorite albums in order are as follows:
- The Dark Side of the Moon (Pink Floyd)
- Close to the Edge (Yes)
- Selling England by the Pound (Genesis)
- Days of Future Passed (The Moody Blues)
You may have noticed that I enjoy older progressive rock bands. I appreciate modern progressive rock bands, but I am truly inspired by the pioneers. There is something about that era that screams of pure innovation and creativity. I cannot explain why, but I find myself liking the older stuff more.
But I also enjoy other genres of music. I enjoy jazz fusion, like Pat Metheny, Snarky Puppy, Brand X, Bill Bruford’s One of a Kind (phenomenal album), and others. I am very inspired by their ability and creativity. I also enjoy some modern electronic music, like Lemaitre, Royksopp, RJD2, and others. As far as modern bands or artists I am influenced by, I really enjoy Tame Impala, Syd Arthur, and Dave Matthews Band. I have a wide range of musical influences. The only music I don’t enjoy is country and over-produced, phony, uncreative pop. But I do like some pop songs. It depends on the song, I guess.
Sébastien : Peux-tu nous parler de Constellation plus ?
Drew Brown : Constellation Plus was our first full length album. A year earlier, in 2013, Destin, Eric (affectionately called Bez), and I wrote an EP about 30 minutes long called Specter’s Attainment. This was our first collection of work. It contained 5 songs (Ataraxia, Canvas, Tessellate, Fellowship/Thought of Reason, Sample). We recorded this on a very limited budget. Our producer and mixer was a friend of mine, Will Lamb, who had been in a band with me about a year or two earlier called Vision King. He was the guitarist. After we released that in July of 2013, we continued writing. We wrote 7 more songs by the summer of 2014, and we decided we wanted to record a full length album, which would become Constellation Plus. It contained re-recorded versions of the Specter’s Attainment songs (except Fellowship/Thought of Reason, Bez’s solo piece).
We recorded the album with another member from Vision King, the front man and guitarist. His name is Marcus Wanner. He was incredible. I cannot stress enough how crucial he was and still is to our sound. He is unbelievably talented, both as a musician (he has a band called Slider) and an engineer. He is a first year in college right now, so he is about a year or two younger than the members of the band. He had a lot of equipment. Both of his parents are members of the Nashville Symphony Orchestra (his mother plays flute, and his father plays upright bass). So music runs in Marcus’s blood. He also helped arrange small parts of the record. He made it sound so much fuller than it otherwise would have. Again, I cannot praise him enough for all that he did for that album. He was incredible. He also played most of the guitar solos on the album (some were composed by him, and others were composed by Bez). He provided keys and synthesized pads to enhance the atmosphere and soundscape. I had a friend of mine come in and record the background harmonies on Constellation Plus. Her name is Erin Oquindo. She is a few years younger than me, and she is incredibly talented. She has such a smooth, airy, and silky voice that was perfect for the spacious atmosphere we were constructing.
The entire process took most of the summer, and we were able to release it on August 11, 2014. Let me also say that we did not know if we would make another album. This was our senior year of high school, and we thought we might not have the time to write another album because I was going to go off to college far away to get an aerospace engineering degree (I would later switch to film as my choice of study). So Constellation Plus was a way for us to stamp our names on our own creation and say, « Hey, we did it. Whether we continue or not, we made our own album ! We can be proud of that. » After that album, Bez left the band because he wanted to concentrate on getting a college degree in geology. All three of us are still good friends, and we are able to talk to Bez from time to time.
« One member would never write an entire song and tell the other members what to play on their instruments… »
Sébastien : Was it a good start? I realize, listening to it, how good it is with all the good ingredients that make Arcane Atlas. Do you agree?
Drew Brown : I think it was a great start. I am still very pleased with that album. In fact, my favorite song that we have written is still probably Estuary. It so much emotion packed into it. I am very proud of my bass solo on there, and Destin’s drumming along with the bongos added in there beneath Bez’s beautiful arpeggios makes it sublime. The album as a whole has some terrific tracks. I am very proud of it, especially considering it was our first album. It highlights our strengths and shows our influences. I see it as a mix of Rush and Pink Floyd. Bez wrote a lot of Pink Floyd-like riffs and melodies while Destin showed his talented Neil Peart-like drumming skills, and I tried to emulate Geddy Lee’s quick bass riffs. It also shows a large scope. One of the reasons I like it so much is because it has a wide range of influences. There are moments in there that are very intense and aggresive, like the ending to Canvas, but there are also softer pieces that can put you to sleep or coax you into a reflective state of mind, like Esturay or Bez’s Fellowship/Thought of Reason. So yes, I think it was a great start to the band.
Sébastien : You just released Metris and it is supposed to be an evolution. Is it really in your opinion?
Drew Brown : Whenever I hear evolution, I think of something getting better or stronger. Maybe that is my own misconception of the word, but I wouldn’t say Metris is “ better “ or “ stronger “ than Constellation Plus. However, there is a pretty stark contrast in the sounds between the two records. Metris is a bit darker in my opinion. I don’t really know why. Some of it has to do with the fact that we have a new guitarist, Si Deane, and he helped compose the music on the album. But I guess the writing just came out that way. Again, I don’t know if I would say that it is better than Constellation Plus. The two are just very different.
Sébastien : Can you tell us about the process of writing, composing, recording? I read a new guitar player joined you
Drew Brown : It is hard to talk about how we write because personally, I have very limited knowledge of music theory. It is embarrassing to admit, but it is true. None of our music has been written down while we have written it. I can say this, though: No one person writes a song (unless it’s a solo piece). In general, we stick to our respective instruments. I mean, every now and then, Destin would write something on the piano that would end up being played on guitar, or I would write a bass piece that became a guitar part, but one member would never write an entire song and tell the other members what to play on their instruments. And I am proud of that because I enjoy hearing every member’s personality in the music. It’s more creative in my opinion. I love hearing the blend of musical voices in the music. I usually like to write riffs. So sometimes I would come in and show them some riff I had written, and then Si would put guitar to it and Destin would put drums to it. Other times, Si would come in with something, or Destin would show something on the piano that we would use. If someone didn’t like something, then we would work on it for hours until everyone enjoyed the overall sound. So it was a long process, but we would rather take time getting something we’re all happy with than rush the job. With regards to our new guitar player, Si joined in January of 2015. Bez left the band after Constellation Plus.
I decided to stay in the band because I realized how much I wanted to keep playing music and how much I valued our music. Destin and I found him through a mutual friend, Cate Cavin. She went to church with Si. It took some adjusting at first because he never really listened to progressive rock, and we told him that progressive rock was our main influence. But we finally found a balanced that combined his jazz and blues background with our progressive rock. He was excited to be a member, and that enthusiasm goes a long way. We were happy to have a member who appreciated our music and what we were trying to do.
Sébastien : What is your source of inspiration?
Drew Brown : That is a difficult question to answer, but I will do my best. My inspiration comes from the great music I listen to. I hear all this creativity and brilliant writing, and I want to bring our fresh perspective to the world of music. My main goal is to have someone connect with our music. Even if we don’t get much money or fame (although that is one of my goals), I simply want to communicate on a deep level with our music. And I have achieved this goal through you, Sebastien. And it means so much to me.
Sébastien : I discovered the band through Metris and was very impressed. Is it your masterpiece?
Drew Brown : I don’t know if I would call it a masterpiece, but I am very proud of it. I know Destin and I had been wanting to make a sidelong epic for years, and I am so happy that we were finally able to do it. Many of the bands that we were influenced by wrote concept albums and very long songs that told these incredible stories and conveyed deep messages through their theatrics. We wanted to do the same. We were inspired. I was very happy that I had the opportunity to create a world. I had fun creating different names with hidden meanings. Fun Facts: “ Metris Tsemär “ is “ Mister Master “ with the letters rearranged, and “ Lestur Radlee “ (the protagonist, the boy skipping rocks) is “ Luster Leader “ with the letters rearranged.
Sébastien : The lyrics are very important in this work. However, for young people, it seems so dark. Who is Metris Tsemär ? Do you think that in our world, leaders are controlling our minds? Have we become « soulless herds » to quote you?
Drew Brown : Metris Tsemär is simply a metaphor for any force that suppresses a creative spirit. It could be society, a government, a bully, etc. All too often I see people embracing convenience over control of their own lives. People would rather be spoon-fed and told what to do rather than think for themselves and unlock their potential and discover truth. That is what I was trying to say with “he butter our bread, and keeps us all fed…” I was trying to explain how easily people can be bought. People take the easier way out, and sometimes they should not.
In a way, yes, I think we have become herds. The main point of the epic is to celebrate individualism and unlock the full potential of humanity. Expression should not be punished, and people should explore who they really are and find a true identity outside of what society tells them to be.
This was not really supposed to be very political. I do not think the governments of the world are actually brainwashing us. However, there is a lot of corruption in politics.
« But, in my opinion, everyone should think for themselves and set goals… »
Sébastien : How can we resist? « Skipping rocks » and practicing all forms of art?
Drew Brown : For some people, art, in the conventional sense, is not their “thing.” They don’t enjoy it as much as other activities, like hiking or solving math problems. And I think that is great. Not everyone is a painter or musician or filmmaker, and some do not appreciate it as much as others. But, in my opinion, everyone should think for themselves and set goals. I think everyone should appreciate what art stands for (expression, thought, identity, etc.), even if they do not enjoy the medium it is presented through.
Sébastien : In small things, you talk of « mundane consistency » of « lack of sincerity around », of mediocrity, of boring patterns that surround us? Can you explain us and describe this particular state of mind? Is it the way young people should think?
Drew Brown : Maybe it’s just where I am rather than a shared universal feeling, but I have noticed so much apathy and complacency. It seems that people do what they do without much meaning. It kind of ties back to searching for an identity. Discover who you are. That is not an easy thing to do. This is how young people should think. They should learn what their passions are, who their real friends are, and what fuels them. Many people never figure that out. They are filled with superficial values, false friends, and meaningless experiences.
Sébastien : What are you small joices in life supposed to save us?
Drew Brown : The “brief joys” part of the song is a way of me saying that not everyone climbs Mount Everest, so to say, but that’s okay! You don’t have to achieve every goal in order to have a great life. A great life can be fulfilled by appreciating the small things in life that are often taken for granted, like the sound of rain, or a conversation with a friend, or petting a beloved animal. These brief joys amount to a great life if one can appreciate and remember them. But often, people ignore these gifts from God. But they can have so much meaning and influence on a person. Save these experiences. Savor them.
Sébastien : Aubrey is a love song. I guess she’s one of this joices. Are you in love?
Drew Brown : I am very much in love. Her name is Jessica Aubrey Jordan. This is why I named the song Aubrey (but I call her Jessica, and some people call her Bree). This was my love song to her. The idea for a love song on the album was Si’s. He said there should be a track that could appeal to a larger group of people, so I wrote the lyrics based off of my love for my girlfriend, Jessica.
Sébastien : As a band, what is your situation? Have you reached an audience in the US, how things are working for you?
Drew Brown : Most of the positive feedback we have received from the album has been from European nations, like France, The Netherlands, Germany, Italy, and others. We have positive feedback from the U.S. as well, but not as much as from Europe. We hope to achieve more success over the next few months. We are currently trying to play more shows to increase our exposure in the U.S. But it is difficult for any starting band to achieve financial success. We are hoping and working. That is all we can do right now.
Sébastien : What are your plans for the future? I have an idea for you: “The person born with a talent they are meant to use will find their greatest happiness in using it. ” Johann Wolfgang von Goethe
Drew Brown : Our plans for the future are to have the band become a career. We want to be able to make enough money playing and selling music to support ourselves. My dream is to play large arenas to an audience who appreciates our music. I would love to play shows all around Europe and meet different people and learn about their culture and expand my horizons. I would also love to open for the band Syd Arthur because I really enjoy their music. They are a modern band with so much talent.
Sébastien : One last word dear Drew?
Drew Brown : Sometimes we fight who we are, struggling against ourselves and our natures. But we must learn to accept who we are and appreciate who we become. We must love ourselves for what and who we are, and believe in our talents.