Earlier this month, the Bostonian ethereal rock quartet Astronoid released their self-titled sophomore LP. A healthy progression from the very-well received debut Air, this new piece is as much a conceptual journey as it is a sonic experiment. In the short weeks before the release, the bandmates are enjoying the calm before the storm. Although he is still recovering from the holiday season, guitarist Casey Aylward was glad to discuss the album and what lies ahead for him and the band. With humble reflection, Aylward explained how this next phase is a product of Astronoid’s growth as a team, as well as the members as individuals. For him, we discussed the unusually cool mentors that introduced him to experimental sounds and who he credits with his unique creative approach. And, in a happy coincidence, we happen to share a mutual appreciation for the ever-evolving world of esports, so we covered the grounds of professional gaming and how it may play a role in the future of music. All this in mind, it’s easy to appreciate why Astronoid and those who contribute to its existence are anything but ordinary – and perhaps that’s exactly what they aim for.
HM: I was hoping we could keep in the vein of influence for your new album, but I do have one question first. You guys are gamers?
Casey Aylward: Yes, all of us to different degrees. Even this crew we hired for this upcoming tour, we made a rule (obviously fake) that if you don’t have a Nintendo Switch, you can’t come with us – but they all have them.
I think it started as kids. Some of us were indoor kids and some of us were outdoor kids, but we definitely all played video games. It’s a cool time to be a gamer because people can be professional gamers now, which is crazy. Some college courses are teaching gaming, which is also crazy because it’s not dissimilar from being a musician. About two years ago, I got a Twitch channel; I don’t stream anything, but that’s something we actually all want to do. I started watching all these things, and now I’m having conversations with people, like, not only do I play video games, I watch people play video games.
My husband and I always watch it and people who are not familiar with gaming look at us like, why would you do that? But it’s because it’s a sport like anything else. It’s very competitive.
Yeah. Also, watching (Twitch streamer) The Happy Hob do the Dark Souls Trilogy live after watching him for so long… It sounds so corny, but I felt like I was a part of something. I didn’t watch a restream; I watched it live you know? It drove my girlfriend so crazy for a month. It’s like watching TV.
It is like watching TV. I agree; it’s an exciting time to be a gamer, so it’s cool you guys are all part of that. It would be neat if you all started an Astronoid Twitch channel and took turns streaming or something. The possibilities are endless.
I know! I talked with our manager the other day about how I would like to get more involved in something that’s a little outside the box. Obviously, as a guitarist, I’m always trying to figure out ways to incorporate that.
I don’t want to be an “Instagram guitarist” – and that’s not meant to be an insult to anyone that does Instagram guitar stuff – but the format is not really what I like. You know, I like a podcast. I like to watch streaming. I like things that are a little more long form. The other day, we were talking about streaming video games but keeping the conversation very much about the band or something that’s tangentially related to that. I don’t think a lot of people are doing that right now and would be a really cool thing to break into.
If you could use this album to be the score for a game, where do you think it would fit?
Oh boy, well, it would definitely have to be an adventure RPG (role-playing game), you know? Something with a story, because the record is very dynamic and it’s deeper than anything we’ve ever done previously. We’re all From Soft (From Software, a video game developer) fanboys and Bloodborne 2 is around the corner, so that would be a cool one. Or, like, Dark Souls or whatever the next Souls game is.
Like you said, the album definitely has that adventure feel to it, and it reminded me of Perelandra from the C.S. Lewis space trilogy. Do you guys have any kind of sci-fi influence in your creative process?
Uh, that’s a definite yes. All of us are huge sci-fi fans. Brett (Boland, vocalist) and I specifically, we’re more toward Stanley Kubrick/Ridley Scott kind of sci-fi. Matt (St. Jean, drummer) literally has a Star Wars tattoo on his chest, so that’s more his wheelhouse. And I think Dan’s very much of a Lovecraftian sci-fi (which I also like). For instance, on Air, there’s a song called “Obsolete,” and Brett can correct me on this but I would say it’s loosely based on the Twilight Zone episode “The Obsolete Man.” The cerebral sci-fi is the stuff that really is up our alleys.
I was reading a little bit about the influence of the album and its artistic approach and how it was written more through the eyes of someone who is an artist, and I really saw that in the “I Dream in Lines” video.
The song is about wanting to have more artistic ability than you do. I know Brett and his fiancee at the time were painting a lot. Me and him never lived together, but we were watching Bob Ross painting at that same time. I know that sounds corny, but there’s something so serene about his technique; he’s such a pure human, and I think it’s undercut by how good he actually is. So they started doing Bob Ross paintings together. They’d get canvases, and they’d be painting together. The song was just about Brett wishing he could be better at that.
We had a couple of people reach out to us in terms of music video concepts and this gentleman came along and he wrote a treatment. We were getting our oil changed in the middle of nowhere one day when we all read the treatment. It’s hard for all of us to be on the same page about things because we have very specific not only personalities but tastes when it comes to that. We all looked at each other like, I think we nailed it.
I really like it; I think it’s probably the coolest video we’ve put out to date. I like how the black and white are flashbacks and the color is in real time and how it ends where it began. It’s a good aesthetic vibe for what we do. The feedback we get that I really appreciate is that it’s uncomfortable to watch for some people, and I dig that a lot because it adds a layer to the song. We were discussing what our lead single would be, and, for a while, we were pretty sure it was going to be “I Dream in Lines.” As it got closer, I’d have a conversation with Brett, like, Man, I don’t know. Then we saw the music video and it re-bolstered our decision; I couldn’t ask for a better representation of a piece of music.
When you have a fantastic first album, it can be really hard to figure out what your next direction is. It sounds like this album is going in a good direction for you guys. Was it strange having one less guitarist? How did that change the dynamic of the band, as well as the sound?
When the record was being written and recorded, it was with three guitars, so it didn’t change the writing so much as how it would translate live. But I think one thing that we did on Air was that it was written in pieces in a way that it was supposed to be driving, melodic, but also have this big ethereal backdrop of a canvas. So the third guitar was actually something we brought in before because that’s where the songs were headed. There’s definitely so much of that on the new record, but, I think as we evolve as a live band in playing and rehearsing – and maybe it’s just because we were so mired in that record for so many years – now that we are playing those songs with two guitars, it seems to be cutting. … Now, it’s like everything is up front and it feels succinct but it feels really powerful. So I’m really excited to see the record translates live. As for writing, it’s the same process. A record’s forever. I know a lot of people either share that opinion or say, well, you should sound live like you do on your record. That’s boring to me. You execute 100% in a live show, but no one wants to come just to see the record. At least I don’t.
Exactly. You want a show. If you want to hear the record, you can listen to that at any time.
That’s why things don’t change when you’re writing because it encapsulates where you are at that time and how the band’s going to sound. It’s very much a time capsule in that way, and that will always be available to you unchanged.
Speaking of time capsules, do you remember the one album that you listened to that made you go, I want to pick up a guitar and try to do that?
I think I was 12 years old. I went to a sleepaway guitar camp in Connecticut, and there were a couple of hip (before hip was happening) guitar teachers there. At the end, I asked them to write a list of things for me to check out – and this is, like, wild stuff for a 12-year-old – and they wrote things like Hot Snakes and Rocket from the Crypt. One of them was The Mars Volta’s De-Loused in the Comatorium. My dad came and picked me up after the week, and I asked if we could go to a record store. I got The Mars Volta record and it really blew the doors back for what I thought guitar could be. Omar (Rodriguez-Lopez) himself is a very creative guitarist, and I think he’s a technical guitarist. But that’s definitely opened up the way for me for more experimental music and more guitar oriented stuff and definitely made me think differently as a guitarist. So I’m gonna give it up to The Mars Volta.
You said you and the guys grew up around each other. Is this band something that has always existed in one form or another since you’ve known each other?
Brett and I grew up together; I’ve known him since I was in third grade. We have always been in bands together. Then, when we got to college, we met Dan, who only grew up two towns away from us. We were in another band altogether and, as a college project, Brett and Dan were doing this thing and Brett had a couple of songs that we decided to record which became Astronoid. Then we decided that we could stop our old band and do this band so it was kind of a quick transition.
Is there one particular thing on this album you’re more proud of than the rest? When you hear it, you’re like, Yes! Nailed that.
That’s a really hard question. I really like how “Breathe” came out, because it’s the shortest song we’ve ever done; it gets in and it gets out. It makes a point. I think to encapsulate what Astronoid is, it’s a very technical time, specifically for guitars and instrumental. It’s an odd time, but it doesn’t feel like it because it’s very melodic and it’s floaty. I think to execute that and not have all the technical stuff out front and still feel like a short, succinct, lovely song is really hard to do, and I’m very proud of that.
Also, you could say “A New Color,” which is a mid-tempo song that’s very ethereal but has this scorching guitar solo through it. We’re always taking things and flipping them on their head. We always try to not break the rules but subvert tropes and what people would consider a genre.
For anybody that hasn’t heard of you, how would you want them to identify you?
It depends on who asks us. Usually what I say is we’re a metal band – but no screaming. That’s usually the entrance to let someone know, and then I say to someone who knows a little bit more about the genre that we’re a cross between Smashing Pumpkins and Metallica. That’s high and far-reaching, but you always have to gauge where you think someone’s understanding of whatever you’re talking about is. If we’re talking amongst peers, I think we’re like an ethereal rock band.
It was fun to listen to the album because I didn’t know what was going to happen next. I knew it was going to have that thread of ethereal softness to an extent, and I knew it also was going to build with heavy riffs here and there, but it was really cool to listen to the whole thing and see that you dabbled in a little bit of everything.
We definitely like a little bit of everything. I can promise you that no matter what we do there will always be an element of heaviness to it. I think that being a metal band that incorporates other elements, you also get to be a dynamic progressively-leaning band that uses the heavy moments to punctuate what a song’s trying to get to. It doesn’t have to be the fastest song of all time or it doesn’t have to be the lushest poppy sound of all time; we can always introduce something into the mix that will be a counterpoint to whatever the main vibe of the song is.
I’m excited to see what the future holds for you guys.
Thank you very much. It’s exciting. We don’t know what’s going to happen, but we’ve been around for a while now. It’s funny to see what audiences have taken to us. I hesitate to say we’re carving our own path (because that would be a little arrogant), but, in all the bands we’ve been out with, we don’t necessarily fit 100% with any of them. But there is a common thread.
I get a feeling, with this record, there are people that are anticipating it, which is different than with Air, obviously. I think even with all the “changes” we’ve made to the record – I would call them progressions – that if people were along for the ride for our old stuf – like, really down for it – I don’t see how they could not be in for this one, as well.
Astronoid was posted on February 6, 2019 for HM Magazine and authored by Danielle McCallister.