INTERVIEW: Greg Burgess – Allegaeon

ALLEGAEON are a hidden gem in the modern death metal landscape. Known for their dazzling leads and hilarious social media presence, the band has steadily become more prominent as technical death metal soars in popularity. 2016 sees ALLEGAEON return with their fourth full-length record, Proponent For Sentience. With a new vocalist at the helm and the band expanding their techniques, you get the feeling that 2016 is the year where ALLEGAEON hit their stride and reach the next level. We caught up with lead guitarist and original member Greg Burgess to talk about the new album, it’s themes, concepts and style, alongside talking about how Riley McShane has fitted into the band, why ALLEGAEON covered RUSH and progress towards ALLEGAEON finally touring Europe and the UK.

So you new album, Proponent For Sentience, is coming out in September, how has ALLEGAEON progressed in the two years since your last album?

Greg: We have definitely gelled more, the longer you play with guys obviously you get to know each other musically a little bit better than before so with Michael [Stancel, guitars] and Brandon [Park, drums], this is their second record with us. Instead of being the new guys it has come together. They did an amazing job on Elements of the Infinite and they’ve done an even better job on this one. Just their contributions were way more prominent on this album than the last one for sure.

I read in the press release for the album you don’t like to go back to what you’ve done before in terms of your technique and your influences. What new elements have you brought in for this album?

Greg: I felt like we overdid some of the sweep-picking kind of stuff on the last couple of records so I tried to get away from that on this one and we concentrated more on tapping techniques and stuff like that. On Formshifter there was a little too much pedal-point so we strayed away from that, it is just that constant inspection of what you are doing and trying not to repeat yourself which gets hard the longer you go about it!

And this is the first album with the new vocalist, Riley McShane, who came in when Ezra Haynes left. How did Riley come into fronting the band?

Greg: Well Riley and me have been friends for a long long time and I’m a huge fan of SON OF AURELIUS. They put that album, Under A Western Sun, like maybe a few weeks before we put out Elements of the Infinite and I had known those guys since like 2010 and they came through on a tour with WRETCHED and they just stayed at my house and we’ve been really good friends since. When I heard Under A Western Sun, I was completely blown away, it is one of my favourite records to this day! Hearing Riley on that, I was like “man that is amazing.” Hearing him, I was like that is the stuff I want to do. It was kind of a shot in the gut because we did Elements of the Infinite and I was like “I like their album way more” [laughs]. When Ezra had some stuff to do and he couldn’t do a tour, Riley was my first choice and he came in and the moment he opened his mouth, it was wide eyes all around going “this guy is amazing!” So it was just easy. He really wanted the gig, SON OF AURELIUS, they are kind of living life, taking a little hiatus so this keeps him busy.

So it was very much a natural fit for Riley?

Greg: Absolutely!

Since he has been in ALLEGAEON how much contribution has he given towards the new album?

Greg: Quite a bit! I mean we had all the music done, and then lyric writing was part of the audition process. I auditioned five guys but really, I knew that Riley was the guy I wanted and it just took a little bit of massaging, to say “everything you have done is awesome but it’s just not right for us.” He wrote lyrics to Grey Matter, and they were really good and it fitted great but I think I had my own idea of how I wanted the song in my head already. So I was like “if you don’t mind, I’d like to take a shot at it and let you see how I hear it and then you can maybe understand how we do our stuff.” Riley is the easiest dude to work with, he was like “yeah dude, go for it” so I wrote a lot of the lyrics for Grey Matter and I sent it to him like “so this is kind of what I’m thinking, change it, this is your area. You’re the wordsmith.” I just play guitar! He was then like “yeah, this is great” and just finished off what I did and that’s how we worked a lot, all three Proponents on the record, that’s how we did it. I was like “dude, I have ideas” and he was like “okay cool”, I’m one of those guys, I hate writing lyrics but I ended up having loads of ideas for this record so I wrote way more lyrics on this album than any of the previous ones but I can never finish a stupid song! [laughs]. It’s basically like “here you go Riley, finish it off!” and he’d look at it and then just finish it. So, as far as our working relationship goes, it’s super easy, it is like the perfect match. Our personalities and our music interests are so similar that we can communicate a lot by just going “what about something like that” and mention a band and it just goes. You let him off the chain a little bit and do his stuff and it came back and it was like “yeah, he’s amazing.” I have nothing but amazing things to say about Riley!

In terms of the themes and concepts for the record, it very much continues along the lines of science fiction and scientific areas. What sort of concept is Proponent For Sentience trying to say?

Greg: Well the whole thing is actually based of a Stephen Hawking interview that he did, I guess it is actually two interviews, one he did with the BBC and then one he did with John Oliver here in the States. The John Oliver one, that guy is a riot so that’s more comedic, but Stephen had to say was very poignant and it tied in with the one he did with the BBC. It was just his theories on artificial intelligence and if technology ever gained sentience, they aren’t a biological entity. So the fact that they can just take note of their flaws and fix them immediately and replicate. Their evolution would be so much faster than humanity, humanity couldn’t keep up and maybe they would come to the realisation that humanity kind of sucks! [laughs] There are so many negative attributes to humanity that they might very well say that we are a detriment to this planet and they’d say for the betterment of the world, it is time for you go. That’s the storyline. It is a time lapse of us needing it to help with exploration and medicine to it being the second movement where it gains a little bit of sentience and it’s getting co-opted into military use, basically humanity putting its negative attributes onto it. And then the third movement, the extermination, where it decides to overwrite the three laws of robotics and goes “it is time for you guys to go.”

The last song on the record is the RUSH cover and I did see on your Facebook that you were a bit nervous about putting it out! Why did you decide to cover RUSH?

Greg: Yeah, I was extremely nervous for so many reasons! Part of those reasons have come true, we recorded two RUSH songs and when you cover a band like RUSH, it is extremely nerve-racking just because they are so highly respected. It’s not one of those bands that are just popular because they got lucky with their time. RUSH are popular but they are also insanely gifted musicians and talented people. So when you cover a band like that you really need to tread lightly and with the utmost respect. Us being a, generalisation here, a death metal originated band, to do something that vastly different. I know we can play it instrumentally but the trick is to take something that is so highly respected and make it your own without disrespecting it. So that was really nerve-racking, the two RUSH tracks, only one made it on the record, the other one will be seen a little bit later down the road, they were supposed to be just bonus tracks. One was supposed to be for Europe and one was supposed to be for Japan because Europe always wants extra tracks and Japan always needs extra tracks if they are going to put out your record. It was just kind of like “I don’t want to give them originals” because I feel that if we give originals, we’d want everyone to have them, and not just one part of the world. So it was just like, let’s just do a cover, so we just decided on RUSH. When Japan just didn’t want the record, it was like okay we have a track, and then Metal Blade really loved the track and they wanted to have it on the album, they were pushing really hard for it. Part of the reason why I had apprehension is because I don’t want to be that band that gets famous for a cover if that makes sense? I love RUSH and I think we did a good job and I like it, but we’re getting a lot of the backlash, it’s like “oh well you need to just do this” and I’m like “but that’s not what we do” and it’s great but it is a lot of back-handed compliments. Not that they are meant to be but it’s very much like “Oh I’ve heard everything, you guys should just do a full RUSH cover record” and I have no interest in doing that. As much as I love RUSH, to make my mark on the music world by playing someone else’s music has no interest to me whatsoever. So there’s a little bit of that and the other part is that you are going to scare off your fanbase for people who don’t like clean vocals. I love clean vocals, the rest of the guys love clean vocals, but not everybody does! We’ve seen people say “go fuck yourselves” already from it and it’s like that’s really sad. Considering that most of the album is right up their alley, it’s a mix, and you are never going to please everybody and I get that but you have to stay true to yourself and that is the crux of my worry, I definitely don’t want to be something I’m not.

Throughout your career with ALLEGAEON, the band has gained a bit of a reputation with your social media presence for being very humorous and light-hearted. Where did that originate from? Did it start with you guys having a bit of fun and then it just spiralled out of control?

Greg: I think it is just our personalities, when we first started it was you have that metal stereotype that you have to be these big bad asses and angry and all that stuff and ultimately I don’t think it worked for us because it is just not who we are. It got to the point where we were like this is stupid, it wasn’t doing anything for us. If you look at our earlier music videos, even from our EP, Cower Before Me and Nex of Terra, we did the Biomech video and then The Path Disclosed video and all these things and no one gave a shit! Like no one cared and bands like BATTLECROSS that got signed way before us, they put out a video and it got like one million views! It’s like I don’t know why we’re missing the mark on this stuff but we need to do something different. So it was like why don’t we just be ourselves and be jackasses because that is who we are! You can’t put the five of us in a room and not have us be laughing at each other, I mean that’s really where it came from. It was like you know what, this shit isn’t working, let’s just be who we are and if it doesn’t work, at least we are entertaining ourselves.

And really my last question for you is that with the album coming out in September, in the vein of touring plans, is there any plans in the works to finally get ALLEGAEON over to Europe and the UK?

Greg: [laughs] we’ve done an interview before haven’t we!

[laughs] Yes, yes we have!

Greg: Yeah, so you know that we have been trying! We’ve cleaned house recently, we fired our management and we fired our agent and we’ve got a whole new crew and things have been vastly better since we’ve done that. It’s been very eye-opening, when you get signed it is a learning curve, you can sit there and look at all your lack of success and you think “maybe we just suck, maybe we are just not that good.” The fan reaction is one way and your success on a tangible level for yourself is completely another story so you think like maybe we should try some different things and see what sticks. We were told that no one wants to tour with us and that’s why we can’t get tours, it was a whole bunch of lies, stuff like “you’re not metal enough, you’re not death metal enough, you’re too death metal.” It was a whole bunch of excuses being fanned to us by the people who were paying and it got really old. It got to the point where we thought “maybe we just suck and that’s why we can’t get anything.” Getting new blood in the band is always good because when Riley came in he was like “you need to fire everybody, none of this is working, none of this is professional.” I’m not a business guy at all, Corey [Archuleta, bass] is always the business guy, I’m just like the music guy, I don’t know if steering the ship in a creative aspect is appropriate but I kind of feel that way a little bit even though I’m one small piece in a giant puzzle. I’m not a business man for sure, but Riley and Corey are so invaluable in that respect because they will tell me straight up when we’re being played. It is really interesting because I really liked our management and I really liked our agent on a personal level but maybe they didn’t have our best interests at heart? Maybe they were just saying what I needed to hear to keep us funnelling them money, whether that is true or not is up for debate. So now we’ve cleaned house and I just with our new management, I just started discussions for a Europe run this week for next year. Sorry that was a very long explanation! So we had a European agent and it was turning out to be the same thing it was here in the US with our previous team. It was like “I think you are just going to go and headline” and for a band of our size to go to a new market where virtually no-one knows who we are, especially when it is going to cost us thousands upon thousands of dollars to fly there and rent the gear. It was like “if we go to Europe and we have to headline, it will end our career.” We would be so broke and so in debt we would not be able to do anything and it may just end the band. So it felt like we just can’t go, but now they are searching for a new agent, and our management have plenty of bands that go so she can go “hey, you are going to with these guys and go off and do it, even if you don’t have an agent.” We will still come back on a loss of money, but not career-ending! Hopefully we are looking at 2017 and I will know by the time the record comes out, I think everybody is more focused on the record and getting it out worldwide and all the promotion. But it is in the works and I will be very surprised if it doesn’t happen on this record cycle based on the track record of our team at this point.

Well brilliant, thank you for taking the time to talk to me and good luck with the release of the record!

Greg: Thank you so much man!

Proponent For Sentience is set for release on September 23 via Metal Blade Records.

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