by E.A. Poorman
Yeah, I guess I’m a survivor of the 80s. I grew up and out of the decade of neon lights, pegged pants, and Punky Brewster. I was in awe of a talking Trans Am, Vietnam-era mercenaries that couldn’t hit an elephant with an AK-47 if it was five feet in front of them, and cubes made by a Hungarian named Rubik.
But despite all that pop culture trash I devoured, when it came to music I veered towards heavier realms. By the time I was in high school I was listening to bands like Fates Warning, Helloween, Death Angel, and Voivod. Then came Shrapnel Records and Cacophony, Racer X, Jason Becker, Marty Friedman, and Greg Howe. Dudes that could shred a guitar and man a double kick drum like a boss. They made music that was aggressive and intricate. Precision metal, with the finesse of trained musicians.
Thematic, a band comprised of “musician’s musicians” that hail from both Fort Wayne and Chicago, are keeping that precision metal alive and well. Their music is heavy, intricate, and progressive without feeling overly stuffed with ideas. They have just released their debut album called The Endless Light and are celebrating its release with a show at Four D’s Bar and Grill on December 6th in Fort Wayne. I sat down with lead shredder Kevin Samuel and talked to him about the band, the album, and what makes Thematic tick.
EA Poorman: So tell me a little about Thematic. How’d you guys get started?
Kevin Samuel: Thematic began in early 2011. Nate Buesching and I were former members of the local rock band Pheen which had reached it’s end that year. We were ready to move into a direction musically that was more fulfilling to us rather than chase the dreams of becoming a radio rock band and signed to a major label. There were a lot of lessons learned from the experiences of playing in that band for 6 years. We met John Walther our drummer before Thematic was ever conceived. I was auditioning drummers for another band years ago while he was in high school still. I found a video of him playing a drum solo and was blown away with his raw talent. Obviously, with him being in high school it would have been difficult to tour. We met up again in 2011 when he was 20 and looking for a new group to play drums for. Haven’t looked back since. The three of us began working on music together and collaborating on our ideas. We went through various singers along the way but nothing ever matched up. We were looking for a vocalist who was unique and also understood the vision of Thematic. It was our decision in the Summer of 2013 to begin recording our music without having a vocalist. We wanted to have material that a vocalist could hear and understand what we were without any preconceived notions of what our music should be. That’s the mindset we used to approach searching for our singer. We made an audition video for one of the songs in progress and uploaded it to Youtube. We put the word out there all over the internet that we were searching for a vocalist. We had many submit from all over the U.S. but it was Max Monzon, a vocalist from Chicago, who completely blew us away. His former group was Veritae, which was an industrial rock band that played all around Chicago several years earlier. Distance was no issue for us with the understanding that we were all working toward our goals collectively. We have also made a recent addition to the group adding Jeff Smith as permanent bassist for Thematic. Jeff is also from Chicago and is a very close friend of Max which is what brought us all together.
EAP: I hear a lot of different influences in Thematic’s music. From speed metal to progressive to even some art rock. Who are some bands you guys call influences?
Kevin Samuel: We all bring many influences to the musical pot. Nothing is set in stone when it comes to our sound and the music we write. It’s ever changing and will always progress. We have a lot of classic prog influences from Genesis, Yes, Rush, King Crimson, Frank Zappa, Mahavishnu Orchestra, Pink Floyd, etc. There are obvious metal and rock vibes in our music too. Bands like Pantera, Tool, Faith no More, Deftones, Opeth, Soundgarden, and Dream Theater all come to mind when it comes to sculpting our heavy end. Along with that there’s influence from every end of the musical spectrum, classical, jazz fusion, electronic, acoustic, blues, etc.
EAP: You guys have just released your debut opus called The Endless Light. Tell me about the writing process and how the album came together.
Kevin Samuel: We began writing the album in the Summer of 2013 with no vocalist. It wasn’t intended to be instrumental by any means but we knew eventually that we would need to search for the missing element that would make these song come to life. We decided that it would be in our favor to build our own studio for this purpose. This was extremely helpful having our own setup to record our ideas and sculpt our musical vision. By the time we found our singer, Max, we had already recorded the vast majority of the songs for the album. There was concept when we started this. Everything was a culmination of musical ideas I came up with that needed to be put into songs. Max was crucial in conceptualizing the themes for most of the songs on this album. We collaborated via Skype to construct lyrics for the songs and work out melodies. When we had a clear vision for the songs we would have Max come down on the weekend and spend all day laying down vocal tracks in the studio. This process spanned across months. After a full year since we began recording this album we had finally finished at the end of August this year.
The concept for this album at it’s basic level is the battle between light and dark. There are many themes at play from the start of this album and until the end. Overall, it’s an album that should be listened to from beginning to end for the listener to gain true perspective.
EAP: I hear a lot of the 80s metal in the guitar sound with this album. The whole Mike Varney/Shrapnel Records roster was what I came up on and would spend my hard-earned lunch money on every weekend. Do any of those guitar shred albums from the Reagan-era seep into the guitar playing on The Endless Light?
Kevin Samuel: Coming from me, yes, absolutely. I grew up on the electric guitar being my sole source of musical inspiration. I didn’t care about lyrics or singing melodies when I was young. I wanted to hear something that wasn’t inherently human. I remember when I heard EVH for the first time and that pretty much made up my mind on where I wanted to be as a guitarist. Not that I wanted to sound like him, but I wanted to advance to where I could play effortlessly like him. He was a gateway in the many discoveries that came later in the guitar virtuoso world for me. Guys like Steve Vai, Satriani, Greg Howe, Paul Gilbert, Petrucci, Jason Becker and Marty Friedman were a huge part in my early guitar playing days. Fast forward to now. I like to say I’ve expanded my horizons as a guitarist over the years and players from all walks have helped shape me into the player I am today. Guitarists like Shawn Lane, Allan Holdsworth, Guthrie Govan, John Mclaughlin, and far too many to name have all been major influences for me.
EAP: You’re all very prolific musicians, and you all work really well together. How do practice sessions play out for you guys? Is it extended jams and improvisations that turn into structured songs? Or are practices more structured than that?
Kevin Samuel: Thank you for the compliment. We are all players and enjoy music to it’s fullest. As far as rehearsing is considered it has to be structured to some extent. That being because half of the band is here in Fort Wayne while the other half is in Chicago. We are easily able to practice our music on our own and come together prepared to rehearse. The main focus is preparing for our upcoming shows and that we have everything dialed in the way we want it since we don’t have the luxury of being able to practice every night of the week together.
EAP: Do you guys have any shows lined up to support the new album?
Kevin Samuel: Yes. We are currently booking shows for 2015 and looking to hop on some major festival slots and possibly on some major shows in the Midwest region. Our first show out since the album dropped will be December 6th here in Fort Wayne at Four D’s Bar and Grill with a notable shred titan, Michael Angelo Batio. There will also be other great locals on this bill like Zephaniah, Demonwolf, and Scott Burkhart.
EAP: Speaking of live shows, what can people expect at a Thematic show?
Kevin Samuel: We enjoy performing and playing live in any capacity. We always like to add to the live aspect of our shows by engaging the crowd rather than just playing our songs and expecting them give us their full attention. We are the type of band that might, at any time, pull out an improvisation on a whim.
EAP: So does Thematic already have any new material in the works?
Kevin Samuel: Actually, yes! It never really ends honestly. The next project is in the works already but it’s not album #2. We are doing an EP of cover songs from select artists that each of us feel has impacted us in someway or another. Instead of covering popular songs we are reworking lesser known songs in our musical style.
EAP: So what’s next for Thematic? What does 2015 hold for Thematic?
Kevin Samuel: We plan to continue the momentum going into 2015 by booking shows in support of our album The Endless Light. We plan to have a music video released sometime soon from one of the songs off the album. Expect to see another side of us when we release the cover EP in early 2015. We will also begin working on new music for album #2!
Make sure you check out Thematic at Four D’s Bar and Grill on December 6th and snag a copy of their excellent new album The Endless Light. You can also grab a copy at http://thematicmusic.com/, as well as keeping up with the band and all things Thematic.