Jonny Santos - Silent Civilian & Emil Werstler - Levi/Werstler and Daath
Jonny Santos - Silent Civilian
Is blistering metal missing from your playlist or do you need something massively heavy to get you through your current existence? Silent Civilian’s new sickening release Ghost Stories is just what you need. Jonny Santos, Silent Civilian’s damning vocalist/guitarist, gave Metal Exiles an indepth account on the stability of his life and the new record and how he got to it. Lend your metallic ear to Ghost Stories as it does not come heavier than this.
An Interview With Jonny Santos of Silent Civilian
by Jeffrey Easton
Metal Exiles: In the beginning, how hard was it to leave Spineshank and start over from nothing?
Jonny Santos: It was very hard, humbling to say the least, but determination and will power will get you results. I just had to really believe in myself and what i was doing. I did it once, I can do it again attitude, ya know?
Metal Exiles: The debut album, Rebirth of the Temple, was a ballistic missile but so many problems surrounded the band ie label issues, band members leaving etc. How did you hold your vision of Silent Civilian together during that period?
Jonny: I didn’t really think about it so much. I just kept my focus on what was important, and that was bringing the vision to life at whatever cost. When you believe in something, nothing will stand in your way of achieving your goal.
Metal Exiles: What is the daily life of Jonny Santos like? How do you stay in a daily mental state to carry a band like Silent Civilian?
Jonny: My daily life is normal when I’m home. Outside of the stress that comes with being in a band sometimes, I do pretty normal things. Spend time with my family, help my daughter with her homework, hang out at local dive bars with my close friends etc.. It’s things like that that keep you sane. Keeps your feet on the ground and helps you deal with the stress of being in a whirlwind environment. Without those things in my life, I would be a nutcase!! When I’m on tour, we work hard, but we play hard too!!
Metal Exiles: As said, between the debut album and now was a tumultuous time. How were you able to focus on Ghost Stories and what did you take from the situation?
Jonny: I am a firm believer that misery and anger breed creativity. With that said, once I actually sat down to write, it all kinda just came flowing out of me without having to force it out. It seems like a catch 22, but it works. As far as focusing, once I lock in on a goal, I pretty much develop tunnel vision and nothing can distract me.
Metal Exiles: Who is in the band now as of this writing and what do they bring to the table as far as pushing the band further?
Jonny: Dave De La Cruz, Robbie Young, and Ryan Halpert. I would have to say that collectively, this is the most solid lineup that the band has ever seen. They all have really brought a new energy to the band and are very in tune with each other. When we are on stage, it actually feels like a band now. Whereas before, it didn’t at times.
Metal Exiles: Ghost Stories a definite step up from Rebirth. How did you kick start the writing process and how much was Dave Delacruz involved as far as composing?
Jonny: Dave was very involved and it was as simple as this. I called him up and said, "fly up here to my house in Portland, and lets write this record dammit!!" He did, and he and I hammered it out day in and day out until we had the skeleton for a record. We then went back to LA and hooked up with the other guys to fine tune the songs.
Metal Exiles: Where did you go mentally to write this record lyrically? What did you want to get out of your system that a record of this caliber is able to extract?
Jonny: I was very angry and pissed off during the making of this record. I had alot of personal issues I was dealing with, and I involved those feelings in writing this record.
Metal Exiles: The songs are heavy but the melody in the guitar lines are still there. How were you able to balance the overwhelming heaviness and the melody that keeps it from being stagnant?
Jonny: I think having another guitar player with a different style of writing had a lot to do with it. It really made the difference riff wise on this record.
Metal Exiles: You mentioned that you do not listen to newer bands in fear of sounding like them. Why do you think so many bands do that instead of going further back and looking for longevity instead of a hit record?
Jonny: Honestly, I’m not sure. I think many bands are so influenced by newer bands that they try to imitate them. While that may be a form of flattery, it’s also a recipe for failure. I want a career, not 15 minutes of fame, so I choose not to listen to a lot of current music.
Metal Exiles: What did you record this album with as far as guitars/amps and how does a particular guitar or amp affect the way you play?
Jonny: I used my 5150 head, a Hywatt high gain cabinet, and My signature model Revolver from Fernandes to track with. The same guitar/amp combo I use live. I obviously have mods done to my stuff, but that is a combo that I firmly believe in. I have yet to find a tone that I think beats that combo. If my tone isn’t right, I’m not right. It just sucks the soul out of you because it does indeed affect the way I play.
Metal Exiles: You are part of the Los Angeles music scene and as you and I know clubs are closing, its getting harder to see great bands in the underground live etc. What do you think should happen to change the course of where we are heading?
Jonny I think as long as bands are willing to play and tour, the people will find a way and a place to see those bands.
Metal Exiles: You are doing an opening slot with Fear Factory for the months of May and June. How do you think SC will go over and what do you as a front man do to get different bands fans into what you are doing?
Jonny: I think we will be fine on that tour. It is going to be a very metal crowd and I think they will perceive us well. As far as what I do as a front man, I don’t know. I don’t really have certain gimmick or anything. I just get up there and try to kick as much ass as I can, and get the crowd moving.
Metal Exiles: Considering the musical climate how long will you stay out the album and what do you have planned to support the record outside of touring?
Jonny: We plan on staying out all year, with a Europe tour and an Australia tour as well. We are going to shoot several videos in support of the record well as releasing singles to Metal and Satellite radio.
Metal Exiles: What does the future hold for Jonny Santos and Silent Civilian?
Jonny: Hopefully a long and thriving career, as well as a very solid loyal fan base that will stick with us over the years.... AND a lot of beer drinking and pot smoking!!!!
Ghost Stories will be a massive record for Silent Civilian and will be long remembered as the album that made them The name in Metal.
If you love Jonny’s sound then you must check out his guitar, the Fernandes “Revolver Elite JS”, an amazing piece of work with six strings that will take your sound to a new level.
BUY GHOST STORIES!!
Emil Werstler - Levi/Werstler and Daath
The guitar instrumental album in some ways has been done and done again but leave it to the innovators behind Daath to raise the bar one more notch. Emil Werstler and Eyal Levi have banded together as Levi/Werstler to release Avalanche of Worms on Magna Carta. If you think you have heard it all you are dead wrong and this phenomenal record proves it. Emil Werstler, the inspiring and innovative co guitarist in this project, took time for a Q&A to get inside his mind and motivations.
An interview with Emil Werstler of Levi/Werstler and Daath.
By Jeffrey Easton
Metal Exiles: First of all, this guitar record breaks barriers like no other. The shredfest is left behind for the illustrated painting if you will. When were the first inklings of wanting to play guitar first sprout?
Emil Werstler: I played the piano at an early age, and was never really into it. I was always into music, but the piano never had an appeal that captured my attention. I started playing guitar because my childhood friend had one, and it looked fun. For 15 years now, everything in my life has become secondary.
Metal Exiles: Daath is considered a death metal outfit but it breaks the typical “one trick pony riff” with your innovative playing. How do you make what you do work within the confines of a genre specific outfit?
Werstler: Having a working relationship and a team with a common goal is first on the list. Being concerned about actually acquiring and developing a sound over time is also key. You would be shocked at how many bands would rather sound like someone else instead of themselves. I'd say that we just try to be a more accurate depiction of who and what we are as every record goes by. I feel that we have never "worked" in a specific genre. Every record we have put out is not on the menu for a 16 year old elitist. If we didn't write albums for ourselves and do things our own way, we would be just like most bands - not around anymore. Deathcore, Nu-metal, Hairmetal - everything eventually comes to an end.
Metal Exiles: Making a guitar record these days must be hard, as supposedly everything has been done. I mean, between Zappa and Vai at least, the roads are taken. Where did you mentally go for inspiration to begin the proceedings?
Werstler: There are a lot of guitar instrumental records that I hold in high regard. I grew up listening to Becker and Friedman of course, but I always enjoyed the mystique of the more trivial icons like Shawn Lane in his later years, or Shakti with John Mclaughlan. I was always fond of "side kick" guitar slingers like Dimebag, Zakk Wylde, Angus Young, or Van Halen. For everyone of those guitarists you think of their riffs and songs, not just a bunch of noodling. Even in the most self-indulgent moments, their solos are still very memorable and innovative. I always felt this sense of cheesiness with guitar instrumental records, which is why I'm glad we put something out that fits the bill while still showing our teeth.
Metal Exiles: The heads of the table are Daath but you went outside the family for the Rhythm section. Why did you decide to incorporate Kevin Scott and Sean Reinert into this record? Did Sean’s stint with the genre bending Death have anything to do with it?
Werstler: Magna Carta wanted something different with no ties to Daath other than Eyal and Myself. So, when it was time to make a list of musicians we wanted to play with, the first thing that came to our mind was "Sean Reinert", needless to say when it worked out, things got really serious for he is one of our favorite drummers. With Kevin Scott, it was a no-brainer. The guy isn't a typical metal bassist (a guitar player playing bass). As a matter of fact, he happens to be the most hired session and live bassist in Atlanta. I think we were both excited to get such an out of the box cast of characters. I think it made the music much more full of life.
Metal Exiles: Avalanche Of Worms, as said, seems to be more of a painting with many colors throughout. Would you be as so kind to give the readers of Metal Exiles the thought process from song to song to create different textures?
Werstler: You know, I'd say that they just kind of became what they are. We are very particular about knowing when to let a song tell the musician what to do or add. This way, the song has the ability to have it's own identity. I believe the creation of different textures should be a natural process.
Metal Exiles: The cut, Hollow Thorax of the Gilded Eyes, seems to take a page from the Captain Beyond era. What did you use to get the sounds throughout this amazing track?
Werstler: This track was created with the same tools we used for every song on the record - one thing that is obviously a key player in AOW's sound would be Eyal's octave pedal. It was used in an unconventional way and definitely assisted us tonally. Also, this is the first record where I've reintroduced the wah pedal into my playing. I've always loved a good wah, but for a couple of years I believe I was a little turned off by it. Needless to say its back and sounds sassier than ever.
Metal Exiles: What do you feel was the hardest cut on Avalanche of Worms to concoct and why?
Werstler: To be honest, nothing really sticks out in my mind as being harder to concoct than the other. I think the only scenario where a song was not moving forward was if it did not have an appropriate part, or some gut feeling told us the song needed to improve somehow in a certain area. Due to time, we just seemed to be all over the task. It was like a furious swarm of productivity all the way up until it was sent off to be mastered. Some of the solo parts were harder to play than others, that's for sure.
Metal Exiles: Both being accomplished guitarists how did you not trip on each other’s talents while recording the album. How were the solos and rhythms divided to be exact?
Werstler: We don't really approach things that way. With Avalanche, we had very little time. So we were more concerned about awesome ideas and keeping the ball rolling more so than "oh damn I wanted to play that part." Fortunately for Eyal and myself, we are very different players. So it's usually obvious who should play what part or whatever. If something doesn't "pop" then we pass the guitar off until it does.
Metal Exiles: How much did you depend on the drums and bass on exactly where to take each track?
Werstler: That is the most interesting part about the record. For the first time, we had no input in the early writing stages other than a metronome. It was Eyal and myself spitting out riffs just having a good time. The short and skinny of it is that we had no idea what to expect when we sent it to Sean. It was just 41 or so minutes of music recorded to a metronome. What we got back was just incredible. So, in this case there was no time to really depend on anything except for the vision of what we were creating which was very different then the way we've create most of our records in the past.
Metal Exiles: The closing song, Chrysalis Wound, sounds like a cross between a classical experiment and Brian May and an interesting way to close the record. Why was this chosen to close an innovative piece like Avalanche Of Worms??
Werstler: I think we were just both so stoked on how awesome it came out, we figured it would be unbalanced to have it anywhere else in the record, and also, the final song is your closing statement. It just felt appropriate. Too many musicians front load their records because I think they are afraid of losing the listener midway. An explosive entrance and a poetic exit is the closest I get to religious. If I remember correctly, as soon as the track was done, we knew it would be at the beginning or end of the record.
Metal Exiles: Considering this is an instrumental record, how much did the titles mean to the song or were the titles just left to imagination?
Werstler: I've always felt the idea of a guitar soloist giving a song without words a name was a little silly. I think over time, there have been too many "shred in drop d minor" song titles, and that is the last thing I'm interested in. Since we have such a close relationship with our artist Jorden, it was decided before the records completion that we wanted him to listen to the songs, and name them based on what he heard or thought. We figured this approach would be more appropriate for it would keep us away from trying to name a song by what guitar it was played on or some bullshit that doesn't matter. Needless to say, we are very fond of the outcome. Jorden's art visually summarizes and compliments our music.
Metal Exiles: What did you use guitar wise as well as affects for the sound and why. Does the brand really mean something to the sound?
Werstler: I used my traditional PRS Hollowbody/Modern Eagle Duo. These two guitars are a sonic thumbprint for me. As far as effects go, we usually are surrounded by tons of different effects pedals and rack gear. Each of them serve some sort of purpose eventually. We usually just let the music dictate that.
Metal Exiles: Explain is amazing cover art. Who did it and where did it come from?
Werstler: Jorden Haley, who we have had a close relationship for quite some time. He has been with us since The Concealers, and makes our lives easier with his fantastic artwork. We can't say enough about Jorden.
Metal Exiles: Daath is signed to Century Media but Magna Carta is releasing Avalance of Worms. How did this come about and how has MC treated the record?
Werstler: Every label should understand the importance of their artists actually having a "body of work." It is ridiculous to me how cheaply a record can be made, yet bands are only putting out an album every two years to stay on tour. Individually and Collectively, Daath is too full of music to take this path. The other end of it is that Magna Carta came forward and wanted to invest in this project, so staying visible while gaining new fans is only going to strengthen Daath. We are in a position that works for us.
Metal Exiles: Now that the record is out what are the plans for the duo of Levi/Werstler? Will there be more live promotion of Avalanche or is Daath on tap?
Werstler: There will be more promotion for Avalanche of Worms for sure. When you commit yourself to doing this as a career, you only have one true job security: being busy. We are writing new Daath right now and have about 7-10 songs with more on the way. As soon as this Daath record is done, I would like to write the next Levi/Werstler immediately. We have a lot to say and having multiple platforms to scream it at people is key.
Your CD and or MP3 player needs something different and Avalanche of Worms is just that. A guitar record dominated by ideas and not how many notes you can fit in 3 minutes.
BUY AVALANCHE OF WORMS!