Got a chance to chat with Menno and Jeremy of Silas Fury recently to talk about their album “Frontier” and the video-concept experience that accompanies it. We get into some stand-out moments from collaborating on the record, their must-haves in the studio for their songwriting process, and then we get a little weird talking about alien lifeforms and other spacey-stuff in this in depth interview.
Listen and watch the full album on YouTube and read on for the interview below.
The first video for the lead-off track “The Arrival” begins by showing a satellite and what we first hear accompanying some ominous synthesizers are radio communications, all of which serves to brace the listener for an upcoming grand adventure. It really pulls you in but leaves you feeling like you’re not quite sure where it’s heading. The following track, “Murmurs,” really sets the tone, though, and you really feel as though you’re lifting off and heading somewhere positive as you watch the video unfold into the ever-expanding universe.
What came first, the video concept or the music?
M: The music definitely came first. Once the album was mostly finished, we turned our attention to promotion and conceptual design. We contacted Leossenas (whom I’ve been a fan of for some time) and got him on board to have us feature one of his art pieces for each song and one for the cover. We always wanted it to seem like you’re listening to a story, but not beat over the head with one, so we chose a picture that we felt spoke to each song in some way. The videos eventually helped with that too, as I built each one around his featured image for the song.
Tell us a bit about the process you took in putting the videos together. It was all sourced for free or otherwise you were given permission from artists. Did you already have some artists in mind when you developed the idea?
M: All of the videos were taken from Royalty Free websites like Pond5 and the like. I mostly used free videos, and then we paid for specific ones as the videos took shape. It was a lot of fun creating it.
The dialogue we hear featured in “Murmurs” and later throughout the album, were those already created as part of the songs or were those later additions to push the concept of the video album?
J: The samples were part of the audio concept before Menno began work on the videos; we chose them in order to hint at a loose narrative structure for the album. Originally we had samples from old Sci-Fi movies and TV shows from 50s through 70s (i.e. Lost In Space) but when we investigated licensing them we were looking at $300-$500 for each 3-5 second sample which was beyond our budget so we hired voice actors from a gig site to do them instead; we lost some of that old cheesy 50s dialogue sound, but saved some dollars.
I really like how you’ve used a combination of motion video and still images in the album, it really makes for a captivating experience. In some of the tracks, like “Shores” and “Sylvan Streak”, you include the spoken-word lyrics within the video. Why was this an important addition to these videos?
J: I’ve always liked subtle spoken-word parts in songs; there’s a band called Slint from the 90s which specialized is this which we both admire. However, it’s usually better to mix these parts low or they tend to stand out awkwardly so the text over the video was to help people struggling to understand what I’m saying.
I have trouble putting any particular place to the video and images. Can you tell us what some of the locations?
J: We didn’t actually film anything ourselves so none of the locations are local or known to us.
Is it safe to say you’re Sci-Fi fans? Can you tell us some of your favourite sci-fi films?
M: Oh yes. Haha. I’ll try to keep it short. Alien is probably my favorite, followed by the rest of the alien franchise, Dark Star, Moon, Interstellar, Event Horizon, Serenity and the Firefly series. I’ve been devouring the Expanse series too, which is excellent.
J: Ditto on Alien and that franchise (well, at least the sequel, Aliens, the rest… no so much). I’ve always loved sci-fi, but I find myself super picky these days so I can’t think of any recent movies that make my list. I have enjoyed The Expanse, both in novel and TV form, mostly because I think it accurately shows that living in space is going fundamentally change humanity (both psychologically and physical, i.e. Belters being unable to return to Earth).
Have you guys caught that movie “Life” yet with Ryan Reynolds? I just watched it last night and it was a bit of a trip. “The Arrival” immediately put me back in it so I couldn’t help but think if we were going to encounter some alien lifeforms along the frontier.
What do you think you’d do if you came across a, for lack of a better way of describing it, other-wordly creature and how quickly would you be pulling out your phone to document the evidence?
M: Yeah, I liked it. “Life” pointed out the fact that if we DO encounter alien life, that we may not be too happy that we did, which I think is the more probable result. Frontier is really an album about escapism, and for me it feels like as the album progresses that the protagonists become the alien lifeforms at the frontier. Which is the risk I suppose with escapism. Ok, that got heavy.
If I saw an OWC, I would definitely attempt to document it, but only after asking to be abducted, of course.
J: I spent my childhood watching Fox specials on alien abductions and lost quite a bit of sleep hiding under my bed sure I was going to be next. As such, I have a built in bias now regarding the intentions of alien life so I can’t imagine I would react in a calm and coherent manner if I encountered a legit OWC. I would definitely be wary if I saw anything that looked “probe” like in its tool belt.
As a kid I always loved looking up at the stars to find the constellations I’d read about and the stories they tell. Do you have a favourite that you find yourselves looking for at night?
M: Well, there are the classics like the Big Dipper and Orion’s Belt, but I’ve always been fascinated by the Pleiades Star Cluster. It was very important in the mythology of ancient civilizations involving the afterlife, especially to the Egyptians. Ok, I just outed myself as a big nerd.
What’s your favourite places in Toronto/Hamilton to catch live music that other people might not have heard of?
M: Being a Toronto boy, my favorite venues would be the Horseshoe Tavern and the Danforth Music Hall. But as for lesser known spots, The Boat in Kensington market is great. It was a seafood restaurant back in the day, and they’ve kept all the décor. A great venue for Metal is the Rockpile in Etobicoke. It feels a bit like the bar in From Dusk Till Dawn, and it’s sitting out there with nothing around but gas stations and highway interchanges.
J: I’ve been out of the loop for awhile (even prior to covid) but I remember good times both performing and watching shows at Hamilton staples like The Casbah, The Pepper Jack Cafe, and a place called The Doors Pub. The Horseshoe in Toronto always deserves a mention on that front as well.
In “Ceres Lane” you say, “you fled this Earth to drift in time and we are wondering who you are,” and I think, throughout the pandemic many of us have felt this way, like we have just been floating along. Can you tell us a bit more about what this track is about?
M: It’s been an interesting time, for sure. Working on this project during a pandemic has been pretty cathartic for me. If I learned one thing about myself during this, it would have to be not to take relationships for granted. Sure it sucks not going to shows or seeing movies, but it was not seeing my family and friends nearly as often that really made things rough. Covid was a bit like being trapped in a space ship without an end in sight, at least it felt that way to me at times.
J: I essentially learned how lucky I had been to have grown up in a golden age devoid of any real existential crises. I grew up in the 80s with the Cold War threat still lingering but that was distant and abstract; covid seems to have seems to have brought many societal problems that once seemed periphery or academic to the forefront.
What would you say is the underlying theme behind the record?
J: It’s essentially and album about escapism and it can be enjoyed on that level alone if one is so inclined, but it also hints at the fact that escapism is only temporary and is a substitute for a real solution to problems, either personal or societal. The later songs on the album began to explore those doubts and in the final song, the reunion, its clear that not everything went as well as was hoped. The final scene in which the “signal” is sent back to Earth is essentially an admission that it would have been better to try save Earth than to flee it.
You guys produced, recorded and engineered the record yourself in your own studio. Can you tell us a bit about your recording rigs, what you’re using and how long the project took to put together from start to finish?
J: We use Cubase 10.5 fed by an external soundcard (Edirol UA-101) along with an assortment of plugins and other periphery gear (pedals, mixers, mics, etc). Everything, including mastering, was done on my computer which would be comparable in terms of performance to your average gaming computer (plus a really good soundcard).
As for the length of this project, that really depends on how you look it at. You could say decades if you included the initial conception of the album back in the late 90s when Menno and I shared a university house together, but more realistically it took 6-7 years, as we started laying down tracks in 2014. From there it proceeded in 2 phases, with most of the recording being completed circa 2014-2015 and most of the production being done 2019-2021.
As for the “lost years” in the middle there, I personally was suffering from home studio burn out as we started this project just after the end of my previous band which had involved 2 self-recorded records as well. Essentially I kept hitting a wall production-wise as I just couldn’t get the songs to sound like I knew they needed to sound and I was done compromising.
Around 2019, after taking a few years away from the process (and saving up some money), I decided to get back into it and bought the newest version of Cubase and really went to school mixing-wise, taking some online courses and joining some forums, asking advice, etc. It was really only around Jan-Feb 2021 that I felt like I had finally arrived where I needed to be in terms of being a producer – most of the sound actually came together in the last 6 months of the project.
What’s one piece of gear (outboard, plug-in, instrument or otherwise) that you’d say is critical to your songwriting and recording process?
M: I have an old Sabian Crash/Ride from high school that I “customized” with four rivets. I love the dynamic it brings, though I use it sparingly. You can hear it at the end of Ceres Lane, and it takes forever to stop sizzling.
J: For myself, my acoustic guitar (Martin D-18 vintage edition) is essential to getting a good guitar sound – cheap acoustics just don’t come through in the recording process. As for production I consider my collection of Waves plugins to be critical, especially the JJP series of vocal and guitar plugins for getting tracks to sit in the mix in a natural sounding way. For mastering it’s also a collection of Waves processors (LinMB, L3 Limiter) that I’ve come to rely on.
How long have you been producing/recording your own work and can you tell us a bit about how you got started with it?
J: I started around 2003 with a free edition of a recording app called Audacity and proceeded painstakingly through many years of trial and error – I cringe when I listen to some of my old demos from back in those early days. But I stuck with it, as to me the recording process has always seemed just as much a part of creating art as the songwriting is; I’ve never been able to separate the idea of writing and recording. I remember reading an interview with Jimmy Page about how he produced the first Led Zeppelin records and how he didn’t trust anyone else with his music; I’ve always felt the same.
Much of the record seems to find its foundation on an acoustic guitar with relaxed, steady vocals accompanying, which also really lends itself to that “drifting in space” feel you get as you view the videos. What do you think would be the ideal listening environment for someone who otherwise didn’t have the videos at their disposal?
M: Headphones. And Loud. Haha. I love classic albums that are packed with nuances and subtle details that you don’t notice until several deep dives into the album. Jeremy did a fantastic job on the mixing, and there are a lot of layers. For example, some of the atmospheric background tracks are from the voyager probe recording specific planets in our solar system.
J: Definitely good quality headphones meant specifically for music. Many other types of headphones (i.e. gamer headphones) have unnatural EQ balances built into them, especially things like “bass boost” and such which colour the sound.
In “The Resolution” we hear dialogue between a man and woman, where, presumably the man has left her and they’re both feeling some loneliness from this decision, but ultimately he seems happy because of what he’s able to experience. When faced with similar life choices, what do you tell yourselves to keep pushing towards your goals?
M: Great question. I’m glad this song stood out for you emotionally, as it sprouted from a difficult part of my life. I find most of my solace in music to be honest, but when things really get tough I try my best to stay grounded and tell myself that this too shall pass.
Since this project was developed first by you two before bringing in additional players, can you tell us what was your favourite part in collaborating on this album and some stand out-moments from producing it?
M: My favourite part of working on this project was writing the bass parts. I’ve always thought in terms of the rhythm section before, but haven’t had the chance to write both the rhythm and melody before. Having Ian come on board added a great dynamic. He’s always been a phenomenal guitarist, but his creative approach to the solos on “the resolution” and “in the Realm of Giants” created so much atmosphere.
J: I’ve enjoyed working with someone is dedicated but doesn’t put any pressure on you. Menno’s infinite patience has been greatly appreciated as I indicated previously that good results were not forthcoming during the middle years of this project. Giving me the time necessary to make this album sound right was what appreciated most about this collaboration.
What artists would you say this album would sit most comfortably beside, or perhaps a better way of phrasing, which artists would you be thrilled to see on either side of it at your local record store?
M: I’d be thrilled to see our album with artists such as Mogwai, Explosions in the Sky, Russian Circles, Hum, Pinback, Coheed and Cambria. I’m restraining myself from running on and on.
You’re hurled into space for 365 days and you can only bring 3 things from Earth with you. You’ll otherwise have plenty of food and water to sustain you, but phones are out of the question. What do you bring?
M: Two drumsticks and a practice pad. Whoever is with me will probably go insane.
J: I suppose a guitar would be in order, perhaps a gun to ward of those pesky aliens with their various probes, and I think a cat would be cool to hang out with in zero G, though I think flailing claws might be an issue.
Will you be performing the record live in the coming months, and if so, where can we see you?
J: We’re hoping to be ready to perform shows by next Spring sometime. We’re still in the process of recruiting the members necessary to make this happen. Frontier is a multi-layered album and to do it justice live would likely require 5-6 musicians (we’re currently at 4).
Anything else you’d like us to be aware of that you’ve got coming up?
J: We’re going to be recording our second album next Spring at Earth Analog Studios with Matt Talbott from Hum. We’ll still be mixing/mastering it ourselves but we’re hoping to get most of the tracking done in his studio with its vastly superior equipment and menagerie of guitars and amps. The weakest link with Frontier was the questionable quality of some of the original takes (bass, drum overheads) which required a lot of “finessing” in the mix to compensate for their, ahem, rougher sound.
Thanks very much Menno & Jeremy for taking the time to chat today!