DM: Thanks for talking to us. We definitely appreciate it. I’m going to mostly talk about Neverafter today. I think it’s genuinely a masterpiece, it is truly next level stuff.
Andy Gillion: Thank you.
DM: I want to know just how you’re feeling now that you’ve gotten it all out of your head, into the world and you’re seeing responses to the record?
Andy Gillion: Obviously just a massive relief, because it’s been like three years of just trying to get this out, and it’s a huge relief to finally see a reaction for it. And to feel that it’s real, after just being in my head for so long. Now it feels like it’s a real thing. So it is a big relief.
DM: Yeah, that makes sense, I can imagine after that long. Especially because the video diaries you released show what a tremendous amount of work you put into this. I’m just curious, while you were going through this whole process, were there times where you second-guessed whether you’re going to be able to get your vision across or even finish it?
Andy Gillion: I always knew I would finish it, it was just a matter of when. And I actually had this album pretty much written two years ago. I had all the demos done, which had programmed drums at the time. I was playing it for my close friends already. I knew that it’s a different thing to finish writing an album and to actually bring it out. I knew that if I wanted this album to actually be heard, I would need some kind of campaign planned out, not just sticking it on Bandcamp with no buildup. So for me it was all about just having to take my time. I was so stressed about it, because I wanted to bring this out like two years ago, but the stars and the planets hadn’t aligned, and it wasn’t ready. It’s a good thing actually, I waited, because I wouldn’t have had a real drummer on it if I hadn’t met Sam 66Samus, who is an unbelievable drummer who ended up playing on the album. That was just by chance that we met. I was just like, “Well, how would you feel about drumming on my solo record?” Then we worked it out and the album just became so much better for it. It wasn’t a case of just putting a Facebook status up saying, “Hey, my album’s out,” it was six weeks of presale campaign. All that stuff’s so important. It doesn’t matter how good the product is, if you don’t have a good way to sell it.
DM: That’s actually a good point that I wasn’t thinking of, is not only was the album musically done well, but the planning and release of it really is impressive, considering it’s an independent release. Then getting 66Samus and Jeff Loomis, which in your video, to reference that again, I would say that your reaction to getting Loomis is pretty appropriate. That’s exaclty how a person should react when Jeff Loomis agrees to be on your album. Were there any other guitarists on your list to work with?
Andy Gillion: Yeah, absolutely. There was a big list of people that I thought would be great. Initially the single that I just released, Hiraeth, that song, I originally wanted it to be like 10 guitar players back to back shredding. I wanted it to be one massive long shred fest of everyone just putting in their emotion, their take on that kind of vibe. But in the end it just didn’t work out. And a lot of that comes down to the scheduling. Everyone’s so busy, it’s kind of very difficult to schedule it. So in the end it was just Paul Wardingham taking the reins on that one. I did have Angel Vivaldi in mind, who I’ve met a couple of times now, a few times, and I consider him a friend, but he just couldn’t fit into his schedule this time around, which I guess we were both kind of sad about. I don’t think I’ve said this to anyone, who did I speak to on that list? Gus G, I spoke to him about it. But it just fizzled out. And it’s fine. Because I’m so proud of what ended up happening, and it would’ve just been kind of even more ridiculous to have Gus G on there, I think.
DM: Yeah, it would have pushed it over the top for sure. But like you said, it’s kind of how the stars aligned. It’s just how it played out. And it’s cool that you kind of let it organically fall into place.
Andy Gillion: I think it could have been a lot worse. You think about what could have been, but then you never think about what you actually achieved. And when I think about it, all the steps along the way, this is a really difficult thing to put together. Maybe because it was pretty much just me doing it, and it was so difficult. There were so many problems, so many drawbacks. And I’m quite energetic. When I want something done, I want it done now. And I’m very driven in that way and with this album it was very frustrating to have to wait. I guess it’s like an actor in a big film. He isn’t allowed to talk about the role until it comes out. Maybe they filmed it two years ago. It’s exactly the same for this. Well okay, it’s not exactly the same as this, let’s face it but it’s that feeling that I want to share this with the world and I can’t yet, that frustration. But no, I’ve got no regrets, because you think about, Jeff Loomis is on there, the drums are fucking phenomenal. Paul Wardingham, and my friend Plec, a long time producer friend, who was able to fit it in his schedule. Everything, it couldn’t have gone better. I’m so happy about it now.
DM: Now I didn’t follow all the promotional videos as you released them so I didn’t know it was a concept album right away. However, when I was listening to it I literally thought , “This sounds like it’s telling a story,” which is impressive, considering it’s instrumental. It’s an album that’s different than a lot of other instrumental albums out right now in, in that it’s very colorful, and it guides the listener through this story, even without lyrics to follow. Would you say track by track, this concept moves forward with specific plot points or is it more of an abstract story where you allow the listener absorb it as a whole?
Andy Gillion: I guess it’s both. It’s definitely not, “and now the girl falls over and now she climbs a tree.” It doesn’t follow the narrative to that extent. It’s vague, and I think I want it to be vague. I think there should be an element of mystery. Some people have even told me, they wished I wouldn’t have said so much about the concept already, which I think I’ve kept it pretty vague anyway. But the main thing for me was, the story was just broad enough to allow emotion and allow exploration musically. So peaks and troughs, and varying styles and different emotions. I know the story in my mind when I hear it, but I like the idea that other people can create their own story as well. Actually some people have messaged me with paragraphs, pages and pages of their take on the story. Which is incredible. They’re really specific. So it’s obviously captured the imagination of some people and that’s what it’s all about for me. I think I write music in a storytelling way anyway. I don’t like to just do riff after riff, and there be no purpose or meaning. So I felt like doing a story would give the music more direction and a purpose and that. I’m just really proud that it came out that way. And that you felt that it was telling some kind of story.
DM: Yeah. And it’s interesting to hear people are actually piecing however they see it in their head. It’s like a choose your own adventure album. Which is awesome.
Andy Gillion: Yeah, I like that.
DM: I saw in certain interviews you mentioned how you experience music, in terms of other senses, seeing music, or feeling the texture of a certain riff or melody. Is that always been how you experienced music or did that develop as you became a musician?
Andy Gillion: I think I’ve always had that. I guess what you’re referring to is this thing synesthesia, where some people hear colors, and in listening to music you can see shapes and things like that. I’ve always had that. I think as far back as being a five year old kid, I think one of the reasons I became so obsessed with music is because I would listen to music to go to sleep. So I would listen to all kinds of music and have those kind of visions when I heard the notes. Definitely now I really picture music. It’s like being at the cinema for me. So I feel like it’s almost like I have a big screen in front of me and it’s not just music, there’s and sort of sound style here, everyday life, or the sound of someone’s voice could have a certain tone, and the audiophile in me just falls in love with certain frequencies of sound. But when it comes to music, there’s so much more detail going on, and I end up seeing colors and shapes. Do you remember like the old Windows Media kind of display when you played a song and it would generate some really horrible CGI representation of the music?
DM: Yeah, I know exactly what you’re talking about.
Andy Gillion: It’s actually quite similar to that. How I see things. Yeah, it’s really weird.
DM: That’s very interesting. Especially to hear about that through a songwriter’s lens too. That you experience it but then you can actually work within it to kind of create the colors or whatever that you want. Which is kind of how I see this album playing out, you manipulating these sounds that you saw, and making them into a story. It’s kind of like you took these colors as your pallet and just painted them into actual music, which is very cool.
Andy Gillion: Yeah, I think it’s interesting that I also, from the very start, I knew that the album cover should be colorful. I wanted the music to be colorful. To me that makes sense. Maybe not to everyone, but my interpretation of the music is, I wanted it to be as colorful as possible. I didn’t want this to be a one dimensional album in any way. Genre or the pacing of the album. I guess it’s like showing off how many different types of things you can do in a way. I used to love the way Metallica for example, would have the clean sections and then the distorted sections. It seems cliche now to look back on that and think but that obviously, growing up impressed me and it was like, how much more progressive can we make this music? And it’s just so much more fun to have those boundaries gone. Just to have absolutely nothing stopping you. The only focus is good music, not the genre of style.
DM: It’s interesting to hear that perspective, because I know you’ve mentioned that you can get struck with a melody or a riff idea or a song idea out of nowhere, which I think a lot of musicians do. I think a lot of musicians have their phones filled up with them mouthing riffs and whatnot. But your ideas are complex, pretty grandiose and unrestrictive, do you ever get inspiration, or you hear a piece in your head and get intimidated as a guitarist? Maybe think, “Oh man, now I have to figure out how to actually play that”.
Andy Gillion: Absolutely.
DM: I imagine you could actually get yourself better as a guitarist because you have to learn the things in your head.
Andy Gillion: Yeah, absolutely. It is a limitation ultimately. Having to actually be a human who performs the songs. This is almost like an ethical dilemma as well, because you’ve probably seen, everything’s just blown up recently about guitars who have faking, miming to tracks and speeding up stuff, and also even just putting in midi notes and then passing it off as something that they can’t actually play as accurately is that. Then for me as a composer, my mind is way open. I want to just imagine the most complex and crazy thing. Then I want that to be part of the song but then it comes to the point where sometimes I do have to rein it in a bit. I’m not the best guitar player in the world, and even the best guitar player in the world would struggle with some of the crazy ideas I have in my head. I’ll give you a great example. And that’s the start of the title track, Neverafter. It’s the last song on the album. That Chopin kind of piano thing, the arpeggios. I really wanted to do that with guitar. So in my head I was like, “Great. So we’ll do this crazy piano thing that you’d need eight hands to be able to play, and then the guitar is going to play that.” And that was it. That was the songwriting done for that section. And I was like, “Yeah, the guitar will follow that and play the lead for that.” but then I got to it, and I was like, “There’s no way I can play that.” I have a decision to make. Should I try and almost fake that? Because I know it would sound incredible in the end, but I didn’t because I want to be able to play this stuff live. I don’t want to cheat people. Sometimes it is a limitation, and that starts to throw up almost philosophical questions for songwriting.
DM: Yeah, because you still are the composer and creator and you’d be justified putting the music out as you hear it in your head, but as a musician you kind of want to be able to actually play it. So I can see that being an ethical dilema. Are you planning on doing this live in any capacity?
Andy Gillion: I don’t have any plans as such, but I want to keep my options open to do that. I would be interested in doing some kind of master class-y type things, or I would happily sit down with the backing track on an iPod and play in some venues if people wanted me to. But it is a big undertaking to learn these songs. These songs are right at the height of what I can play and that is how I improve as a guitarist I think. Sometimes I’ll write something that in the studio I can play it it, I can get it and when I’m sat down and I can get that take, but then it comes to going on the road with Mors Principium Est for example. I’ll try to learn the songs in preparation for tour, and I’ll realize, “Oh my God, what was I thinking? Why did I write such a ridiculous thing?” But eventually I’ll learn it, and I’ll be able to do it. I’m always pushing myself by writing things I regret writing later because they’re so hard to play.
DM: That’s really cool, I like to know as a listener that this is everything you have as a musician. I don’t think every song necessarily has to be the musician doing everything they can, technically speaking. But I think on this type of album, the fact that you are playing to the best of your ability, which is phenomenal, but also being able to write songs with purpose is even more enjoyable.
Andy Gillion: That’s the thing. It’s not just like an EDM, electronic dance, it’s not like I’ve done this all with a computer. Obviously a lot of it’s programmed because there’s orchestration. I don’t have an orchestra, unfortunately, to my disposal. But there’s an expectation from the listener. It’s not just putting on an electronic album where you just go into that world and enjoy the sounds. I want it to be that, but I have to be mindful of the fact that I’m selling this product and when I say sell, I’m not talking about necessarily the money. I’m putting it out there to people as a product, in a similar sense to this is a band’s album, this is my solo project. Andy Gillion is effectively in this way, presented as a band. People are expecting a human to be behind the guitar. And that’s why it’s even better that the drums are not programmed, we’ve got a real drummer who really is that good. And there’s an organic sense to it, I think because of that. And I don’t want that musicianship to kind of be lost. So that’s important to me.
DM: Yeah and I’m assuming that somewhere down the line you expect to do more solo albums or released stuff within this realm, or maybe I’m just hoping that?
Andy Gillion: Yeah. That’s my kind of goal going forward, would be to just try and streamline the way to get music out. So this took way too long really to put out, but I think a lot of that comes down to figuring out all the little things that a record label would usually take care of, and stuff like, “Where do I get the CDs printed? Who’s the artist? How do I get merch made? How do I sell merch? How do I ship it? There’s all these things, and how do I actually promote my music properly and distribute it myself? That’s all background stuff that took a long time, and now I know how to do all that. I’m really kind of hoping I can put out music a lot more often. At the moment I’m working on a new album for the band, so that’s taking up a lot of my time. Once that comes out, I’ll hopefully look to bring on another solo album, and keep going.
DM: Speaking of that, I do want to ask you the status of the next Mors Principium Est album, and did this experience in terms of both the songwriting and the overall experience change any of your outlook on writing or recording for Mors?
Andy Gillion: Yeah, it’s tough I think the way Mors is going, I don’t think that’s going to change much in terms of the way we write and produce albums, and putting them out and do the tours and stuff. But the state of the new album is, I’m probably just over halfway through writing the new album. And I think we’re looking to get in a studio somewhere mid-next year. Then get out to people by the end of the year next year, which is great because it’s been a little while since the last one. It’s kind of weird after doing it all myself, it’s kind of like going back to business as usual, and it’s almost a relief to just write the music and then send it off and let the label do all the hard stuff of getting it out there.
DM: Yeah, that makes sense.
Andy Gillion: Yeah. I guess my perspective is slightly shifted in that as I’m pretty much the sole writer for Mors, for the the last four albums, including the new one, it felt very much from the start like that was my solo project, actually. Not from the start, but as it was going, it became clear I was the songwriter. So I was putting in everything, all my influences as well, as trying to retain the sound and make it sound like a Mors album. It felt very personal to me because that music is also coming from me, so it’s kind of my soul on the record. Then we put it out there as Mors Principium Est. But those songs feel very personal to me. And now that I’ve gone and released something as just Andy Gillion, going back to the Mors albums is quite strange.
DM: Yeah, I can imagine.
Andy Gillion: What’s the difference? Who is Mors, and who is Andy Gillion in a weird way. It’s almost like an identity crisis. I have to remember how to write as Mors. Almost to rein in the craziness a little bit, I think is the way to put it.
DM: Yeah, you’ve got to be a little bit more direct in your songwriting approach for a melodic death record. I can see the dilemma especially after releasing a solo record to be saying “this is me” and then “oh, this is also me.”
Andy Gillion: I think it’s easier to be more, as you said, direct in terms of genre and style, it’s a bit more specific with Mors. So it’s not going to be as progressive sounding, and we never wanted to change the Mors sound, so the band hopefully is continuing to retain that sound on the next album as well. I think I probably pushed the boundaries a little on Embers of a Dying World and this new one, I think I’ve upped the orchestration, and just trying to adapt it without changing it too much. I think Ville always reins me in when he hears something that sounds a little bit too much. “Why are there 20 guitars doing this crazy harmony here? It doesn’t sound like a death metal album.” Okay, I’ll keep that one for myself.
DM: Yeah, that’s understandable. Now this is just a general thing, but seeing as though you’re definitely a very hardworking artist and creative person, Do you have any general advice for people that are trying to get their creative visions going? Or even just general life advice for people that are just trying to get something done, motivate themselves and whatnot?
Andy Gillion: Yeah, that’s an interesting question. I don’t feel like I’m the authority on giving advice on anything motivation and stuff. One thing that I think has allowed me to do what I’m doing is I’ve just been so driven to do this, the music thing. So I have a very one track mind with it all. I don’t kind of wake up and go, “Oh, I don’t want to write music today.” I wake up with anxiety, and I jump out of bed to start working, and I work myself to death. So it’s not necessarily a good thing. I think I suffer from the opposite of laziness or lack of motivation, I should say. I suffer from almost punishing myself with work, which isn’t always the best. So I guess the advice I would say is one, I would say make sure it’s fun and it’s your passion. If it’s your passion and you’re enjoying it, then do that as much as you can. Find a way in life to do that as much as you can. And try and finish a project. Because so many people have this problem that they can’t finish a project. They start a song, they can’t finish it. And there’s something weird mentally I think that us humans struggle with. Sometimes I struggle with that too. It seems to be a really common thing that you can write, almost finish an album, and then just so many people are like, “How do I finish it?” It’s just lying around. You just have to. You just have to get it done and get it out of it. So another technique I would say as advice would be to make a spreadsheet. I didn’t do this until recently. I started to do this for my solo album, and now the new Mors album, and that is to make a spreadsheet of song ideas. Because for any Mors Principium Est album, I’ll have maybe a hundred song ideas. It’s very hard to keep track of that. So if you keep a spreadsheet with the name of the project, the BPM of each song, there might be one song that has a part you love, and then nothing else is good about it, at 160 BPM. There might be another song that happens to accidentally be the same, 160 BPM that had this killer intro, and you can combine them. Stuff like that. It really helps you to visualize and keep track of things. People just need to believe in themselves more, because unfortunately I think it comes down to confidence when you’re talking about pursuing a dream and finishing a project, I think it’s the lack of confidence in yourself that often prevents you from finishing. You just have to believe in your passion and your vision and just do it.
DM: Yeah. I think that’s great advice actually because it touches on that you’ve got to actually have faith that you can finish it, but also be organized and be able to have things planned out.
Andy Gillion: Yeah but also I would add to that and say don’t just imitate other people. If you’re talking about music. Don’t just go, “Okay, so we need this kind of riff here because this band did that,” or, “This is the thing that you do, and now we need to do it this way. And we need to have a music video of us playing in some forest,” or, “Because it’s black metal we have to wear this corpse paint” I really just think it’s so much more fulfilling if you do it the way you individually want something done. It’s so pointless to try and copy the trends. Once you’ve made this product, don’t you want it to reflect you and your passion and your beliefs? I think you’ll have so much more drive for it if you just do it the way you want to do it, and be selfish about it. Write music for yourself first and other people later as well. I would say.
DM: Yeah, I think that’s true, and I think a lot of people do get bogged down with what they’re supposed to do. I think that applies to creative endevours or just life in general. So I actually do think that’s a very good piece of advice, just do your version of things, and then hopefully the stars will align, and eventually you’ll have Jeff Loomis playing on your album. Or whatever.
Andy Gillion: Yeah, exactly.
DM: Do you have anything else you want to share with our readers?
Andy Gillion: I guess what I would say is that I would like to say, if anyone is a struggling musician, I like to say that every musician is struggling. I think there’s a problem out there that people believe that everyone is rich and famous in the music industry. And it’s far from it, not many people are actually making that much money. I think we have to go out there and brag about our album and push our goods and have this kind of veneer of looking more successful than we are in order for people to buy into our products and stuff but at the end of the day, everyone is just trying to write music and make a living from it. So if part of the reason you’re not able to finish a project is because you feel you’re not as successful as other people, it’s kind of all bullshit. It’s kind of more just a popularity contest on social media. Yeah. I don’t think it matters that you don’t have 10 million subscribers. Just do what you’re passionate about, and be proud of that at the end of the day. Also check out my album if you haven’t already.
DM: Hopefully we’ll turn on a few more people to the album because it’s worth hearing for any metal or progressive music fan.
Andy Gillion: Thank you very much.
DM: Thank you again for sitting down and talking to us, and I really appreciate your perspectives on everything, and getting to peek behind the curtain of the album.
Thank you so much, dude. Appreciate chatting to you.
Interview conducted by: Sean Cantor