Interview: Veil of Maya

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Right around three-years ago, I discovered a wave of bands that somehow merged the progressive tendencies of Dream Theater with the melodic brutality of As I Lay Dying and groove-laden rhythms of Korn. In what’s commonly referred to nowadays as “Djent,” it felt reinvigorating to hear young musicians challenge the status-quo of guitar playing by demonstrating virtuosic songwriting through downtuned seven and eight-string guitars. Even in my wildest dreams, I wish my musical creativity could reach this level of brilliance fronted by modern titans including Tosin Abasi and Misha Mansoor.

Rising among this echelon of world-class guitarists, I stumbled upon Marc Okubo from Veil Of Maya during a YouTube interview with Misha Mansoor after I spent a few months blasting Periphery’s self-titled debut. In what started as a quick YouTube search led to me discover Veil Of Maya’s catalog after I watched a video tutorial of Marc performing “We Bow In Its Aura.” Straight up, I recognized Veil Of Maya’s name from a few different tours they participated in but witnessing Marc’s unorthodox approach to composing rhythm’s and lead’s immediately made a huge impression.

Within a few days, I frequently searched for Veil Of Maya’s The Common Man’s Collapse and [Id] on YouTube in a moment representing the modern way younger listeners discover new music. Personally speaking, this band managed to raise my adrenaline through moments of bone chilling heaviness, yet separated themselves from the prior decade’s exploitation of metalcore and deathcore acts. Once this Chicago four-piece released 2012’s Eclipse, they made a quantum leap forward in expanding their sound by perfectly balancing musical precision and frantic time changes without deviating attention away from the songs. While some of their contemporaries sacrifice songwriting for the sake of being progressive, Veil Of Maya refuses to rest on laurels and once again looks to revamp the scene by pursuing new territory on their forthcoming LP set for release this fall.

When the seventh annual Mayhem Festival revealed its lineup earlier this year, my excitement immediately rose up a few notches after Veil Of Maya graced the billboard. In my opinion, large-scale audiences deserved the chance to hear one of the hardest working and most consistently innovative bands in recent memory. In an exclusive interview with Pop-Break, I sat down with guitarist Marc Okubo and vocalist Brandon Butler for an in-depth conversation regarding Veil Of Maya’s upcoming album.

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Talk about the experience of performing on a tour package like Mayhem and introducing your progressive musicality onto listeners more accustomed to mainstream styles?

Marc Okubo: Touring at Mayhem was great because we played to an open-minded crowd every night. We’re also the only band that sounds anything like what we’re doing and that helps us stand out for what we’re playing. We were able to play our unique style of music in front of these people used to Avenged Sevenfold and Korn and that’s really awesome.

Brandon Butler: It’s the metal tour to be on because there is literally thousands of metal heads out there waiting for music.

The recording of your new LP has sort of been under the wraps, how’s the songwriting coming along? Should fans expect a release this fall?

MO: Exactly, we’re working on finishing that right now and once this tour is over, I’m going back into the studio to finish recording music and we’re going to finish recording vocals immediately after that.

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BB: We’ll actually be in New Jersey with Will Putney working on some things. We did a lot of stuff with Diego Farias from Volumes before that and we’re trying to get everything wrapped up and finished. It should be out by late October/early November.

In terms of overall sound, I heard (Marc) mention how this album will be more accessible and polished. What were your expectations going into the recording process? 

MO: I don’t want to lose any of our hardcore fans because they are the one’s that brought us here. I want to make all of them happy but I also want to gain new fans that are 14-years old. It’s finding a balance in between that and finding a balance that communicates to everyone.

BB: I mean, I think it’s a slightly more digestible Veil Of Maya. Like he said, we ultimately want to keep our loyal fans over the years happy. We don’t want to drastically change anything but we want to be a little more digestible and be able to get out there a little more.

Are you possibly collaborating with Misha Mansoor once again? 

MO: I was just talking to our manager a few minutes ago. I might fly out to Maryland and hang out with Taylor Larson and I’m sure Misha will be around. Maybe for a few days, I’ll do that just to finish some odds and ends on the music side of things before we finish the vocals. Misha and me still talk about working together and I’d still like to work with him again. He’s one of my best friends and he’s an amazing musician. It’s great to work with him.

Whether it’s expanding your guitar repertoire or being open to new vocal ideas, what new elements are you adding this time around? What surprises should fans expect?

MO: We had a theme when we were writing this. I like to work with themes because it’s easier to get inspired that way. This time around, it’s been female characters in artwork that we enjoy so it’s like female heroines in movies, TV shows, or books. It’s a feminine sounding album but still very aggressive. It’s kind of like Deftones where it’s a little bit feminine but everyone knows they’re still dude’s. Everyone knows Deftones are amazing and I think that’s important to have that feminine vibe.

BB: It all started with Marc and this was his idea and I kind of grasped onto it too. “Subject Zero” is about Jack from the video game Mass Effect and we have another one about Leeloo from Fifth Element. There are just a lot of cool female characters that we saw and took inspiration from.

Your band could really draw inspiration from any style of artwork.

BB: Sometimes it’s personal disasters and sometimes it’s something cool from a video game.

MO: Absolutely, we’re older than most of the bands coming out with new material these days so I’m not necessarily always listening to what’s new in metal. I’m just trying to check out what gets me excited and that’s all that matters to me.

Your last album touched on an incredible story regarding how a solar eclipse helped a blind woman from Italy regain her eyesight, are you still in contact with her?

MO: That’s a true story man! And yeah, I still talk to her! She moved to Berlin and she’s been killing it! She’s actually a sickass DJ now, which is really cool! She’s doing very well and I couldn’t be happier for her. Unfortunately, we haven’t been back to Europe within the last year so hopefully that changes.

BB: We’re coming back for you Europe! We’re still coming but it’s just taking a while (Laughs).

Talking about finding inspiration from different female characters, is there a possibility that her story will play a role in the new material once again? 

MO: I didn’t even think about that (Laughs). I don’t know but we’ll have to find out!

BB: Our stuff is still being written so it could be a possibility. That’s a cool idea.

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Over the years, artists have replicated what you originated and jumped on this so-called ‘Djent Trend.’ Being on that side of the fence, does it feel fulfilling to know that you inspired a new wave of metal artists? Are you disappointed by the lack of originality demonstrated by some of the copycats?

MO: Well, it’s funny because the kids that are fans of this music are total dicks about it (Laughs). They’ll see a picture of me playing something and say, ‘0-0-0-1-1-1,’ and try to make fun of me. It’s like ‘dude, who are you?’ You’re trying to hate on me for learning how to play my songs. It’s hit or miss. I guess I’m stoked that my name gets mentioned when it comes to a big movement in music but we never set out to start a djent band or impress any djent kids. We always were just trying to do our band and sound like our band and that’s the way it will always be.

BB: I don’t really acknowledge it much. To be honest, we’ve been a band for 10-years and djent didn’t exist till two or three years ago. It’s the same kind of thing where we were pinned as metalcore and deathcore before that. It’s changed but it doesn’t really matter to me. It’s going to keep evolving and people eventually won’t even know what djent is two or three years down the line.

MO: That’s true! When we first started touring, everyone that opened the shows tried to rip off whitechapel. Two-years later, everyone is trying to rip off Periphery. Everyone sounds exactly the same and nobody is bringing anything new to the table. If you really want your band to get noticed, you have to change what’s going on. You can’t be a piece of the puzzle; you have to be adding a new element to it.

I don’t think it’s coincidental how you’re the band from that ‘so-called scene’ getting the notoriety and taking it to new places…

MO: Well, thank you! That’s awesome. Some people are ignorant to everything that’s happened and just think it’s all the new bands that created that sound. It’s just frustrating because we get seen as the rip off band sometimes when we really been here all along.

In terms of developing songs, do you bring most of your riffs to the band or do you mostly create ideas in the jam room?

MO: No, we used it to write in the jam room when we first started but nowadays it’s me working with my computer in the beginning stages and then we jam it out afterwards. We figure out how to piece everything together and make sense of it all. I like to keep everyone as involved as I can. It just happens as it happens and it’s an ever-morphing thing.

Do you frequently use protools just to track and record your ideas?

MO: Yes, I have hundreds of tracked ideas that don’t always make it to our releases but I try to incorporate as much of them as I can, as long as they make sense together.

How many songs do you have in the works for the new LP?

MO: I’m going for 11 or 12, that’s my goal. Right now, I have a lot of work to do in the next week and a half.

Do you enjoy the process of keeping fans up-to-date with your new material through snippets or pictures on Instagram?

BB: Mark is pretty awesome with Instagram.

MO: Brandon just joined Instagram and he was totally against it for the last two-years. He just started one now (Laughs).

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BB: Yeah, I have one now so check me out at BrandonRButler (Laughs). Yeah, Marc’s pretty active with that and he is always posting funny pictures and stuff like that. He’s probably the best in the band with keeping up at that.

MO: Not for long, we’ll see. I think everyone in the band will start stepping up their game up real soon. That’s what I’m hoping for (Laughs).

You guys genuinely love using Instagram…

MO: Oh yeah, I love Instagram. What’s the point of having a photo album these days? It’s all digital and that’s the future of having a photo album realistically. I guess mine’s just public (Laughs).

BB: He convinced me to finally get one and he was right because I enjoy it.

Do you like using the filters and being able to edit the photos?

BB: I actually don’t like the filters as much; they actually kind of annoy me (Laughs).

MO: I just like being able to post how what I’m doing is awesome. It’s like, ‘Oh, I’m doing something awesome! Here’s a picture! (Laughs)’

Once the album is released, are you going to spend 2015 on the road?

MO: Yeah, I’ll keep writing then too. This next album is a big one for us considering how a lot of things have happened to us.

Were there unfortunate scenarios that happened along the way?

BB: There were some bumps in the road. This last year has definitely been a rough one for Veil of Maya in every aspect.

MO: But it’s all been going into this album at the same time so I think it will be worth it because all of those experiences will be portrayed in the songs.

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