Etherius – Unifying Hooks and Instrumental Metal

Thursday, 16th August 2018

Having worked alongside guitar hero Angel Vivaldi for nearly a decade, guitarist Jay Tarantino has certainly been exposed to all aspects of the instrumental metal (and larger metal) industry. Taking this experience, he decided to start his own band to fill a certain void that he saw. The result is Etherius, and their debut EP is set to release at the end of this month.

Thread of Life is an instrumental release that moves into more power/thrash territory than that of djent. It’s catchy, hook-filled, and still contains the technical musicianship that traditional fans of the genre crave. A thrilling debut (having caught the band live a few months back, it sounds just as strong in person), we gave Tarantino a call to discuss the upcoming EP, the band’s approach to metal and songwriting, and some of the knowledge he has gained from working with Angel Vivaldi.

Dead Rhetoric: Could you start by discussing the formation/early set-up of the band?

Jay Tarantino: I started working on it, it was originally going to be a solo album and I was going to put my name on it and do it that way. I’ve known Zak [Ali], our drummer, for years but we never really hooked up. We would play shows together and would talk about doing something together, and as I was writing the songs, I had him in mind. So I asked if we wanted to be involved, and we took it from there. Then I decided to make it a band, instead of me putting my name on it. Everybody had a lot of ideas, even for the next EP. If it has my name on it, they wouldn’t want to contribute, which I understand. So I decided that we would make it a band thing and go from there.

Dead Rhetoric: So how long was this in the works from you the time you started thinking about it as more of a solo thing?

Tarantino: I’ve had the idea for maybe 2 or 2.5 years. I’ve been playing with Angel Vivaldi and have been his touring guitarist for like 9 years now. In the fall of 2016 we did a tour with Gus G – the Operation Domination tour, and at the time Gus was still playing with Ozzy and he was doing his first solo album and was touring for it. When we came off of that tour, it was September/October 2016 and I had all of these riffs and parts of songs. That’s what kind of inspired me to get it in gear and get going. That was when it got more serious. That was when I started really putting the songs together for this.

Dead Rhetoric: What do you feel you took away from your time with Angel Vivaldi?

Tarantino: I’ve learned that you have to work really hard. He is one of the hardest working guys I’ve ever known. I’ve seen his day-to-day work ethic and so that’s one thing I’ve learned. The other thing is that besides the music, you have to know the business. You have to know how to deal with press, manage money, how to talk to people, how to conduct yourself professionally – especially when you are on tour. You meet certain people and you never know who you are going to talk to. I would say the most important thing I’ve learned from him is to treat everyone with the same respect. You have no idea who you are talking to – they could have a brother/uncle/etc that is a CEO of a big record label. Because you were nice to them and they like your music, it can lead to other things. Be professional at all times, even if you are not feeling it, you have to act it.

Dead Rhetoric: Are you still touring with him?

Tarantino: Yeah, I’m still actively in his band. He is touring right now, and I couldn’t do this one since I was working on this [release]. Doing press and getting things together for the band. I sat out this tour, but I’ll still be doing future tours. I’m very much a part of his live band.

Dead Rhetoric: I know he was at least somewhat involved with the EP, correct?

Tarantino: He was actually co-producer. The songs were done when we started recording, and a lot of the leads ended up changing. He would make suggestions about different melodies and we would go through the demos and suggest trying things differently. He made a lot of suggestions, not so much with arrangements but more lead guitars. I’m the type of person – I have good ideas but I need someone to push me in a certain direction. He’s really good at that. He can see the potential in what I’m trying to do, and push me in a direction that will get me going…that’s when the ideas start coming out. He had a lot to do with helping me out with the lead guitars and melodies. He also helped us track bass and lead guitars. He had quite a bit of input and was a big help.

Dead Rhetoric: What do you feel separates Etherius from much of the instrumental acts of today?

Tarantino: I look at the bands that are popular in this genre, bands like Animals as Leaders, Plini, Intervals – a lot of bands are still doing the djent thing, and throwing electronic music and hip hop, maybe a little jazz and such. I wanted to do something that was more old school thrash metal, with a mix of prog and neoclassical. Yngwie Malsteem kind of stuff. I love power metal – Symphony X, Blind Guardian, and Iced Earth. I feel like there’s not an instrumental band out there that’s doing thrash/power metal and mixing it with a bit of neo-classical/prog. That’s what I’ve been trying to do with Etherius, and what I think sets us apart. We aren’t doing the djent thing, we are more old school.

Dead Rhetoric: I would agree to that as well. The best word I can use is restraint, as opposed to being super-flashy. The album feels focused, in a way.

Tarantino: For me, writing instrumental guitar music, it’s very easy to narrow your audience to just guitar players. You try to impress other guitar players. A few years ago, I kind of stopped thinking that way. I feel like it’s freed me up as a musician a little more. For me, I want people who don’t play music at all to find something in Etherius that they can latch on to – be it a riff, hook, or melody. So I try to write songs in a traditional sense, like if there was a singer. I don’t want to play fast all the time. I want the songs to have a hook or chorus, like a pop song would have. Something that anybody who doesn’t know anything about guitar or play music, something that they can hear and think it’s really catchy. They start listening to it and pick out things that they like, even if they don’t know the technical side of the music.

Dead Rhetoric: It expands your audience that way. There is a level of immediacy that you get with Thread of Life that you don’t always get with those instrumental acts. Like you said, a lot of instrumental metal is played to impress a certain group but they end up missing out on a chunk of the audience.

Tarantino: Yeah, I don’t want to limit the audience. I want people who don’t play music to be able to like our stuff.

Dead Rhetoric: So, that being said, how does that impact the way you sit down and write a song?

Tarantino: It doesn’t really influence me so much in writing riffs and arranging songs, but when it comes to lead guitar – writing the leads and melodies, I think of it as if I’m writing a pop song or something. I want it to have a hook. I try to establish that first. I establish a hook and build it from there. I try to combine that with the flashy stuff. I think there’s definitely some flashy stuff on this EP, and when it’s there, I hope it’s done tastefully. It’s not over the top, I don’t think. The way I see it, there’s a million guitar players that can play faster than me, and more technical stuff, but I don’t care about that. For me, it’s really about songwriting.

Dead Rhetoric: Definitely. I feel like I’m repeating myself from before, but it’s something that instrumental bands sometimes don’t think about. I don’t know if it’s because instrumental music does veer towards a certain quadrant, but there’s something in your sound that people that aren’t instrumental fans can really latch onto.

Tarantino: I look at it like Joe Satriani – Surfing with the Alien. That album actually charted on Billboard. It did really well in the mainstream. It shows that there can be an audience for this if it’s done right. He’s not one of my biggest influences, but I definitely take the idea of writing songs from a traditional pop stance – verse/chorus/verse and throw in a bridge in spots, but he always wrote songs in more of a pop format. He had a verse and a chorus and a bridge. That was something that I always kept in mind, because he had great success with it.

Dead Rhetoric: What speaks to you most about instrumental music?

Tarantino: The fact that you can hear a melody and hear notes played a distinct way, and it moves you in a certain way. The same way that a lyric or someone’s vocals would. That’s a beautiful thing. Steve Vai “For the Love of God,” that’s probably one of the greatest instrumental songs ever created. The melody he plays is beautiful, it’s catchy, and it grabs you. He goes crazy when he needs to, but brings it back when he needs to. To me, this music has just as much impact as any vocalist or lyrics would. You feel a certain way when you hear a melody that catches your ear, whether it’s being sung or on a guitar.

Dead Rhetoric: Yeah, and it’s a bit more open without having lyrics to guide things a certain way.

Tarantino: I think in a way, it’s a little more challenging to create emotion in a certain way with just a guitar than it would be if you had vocals and lyrics.

Dead Rhetoric: What are your short and long-term goals for the band?

Tarantino: Short term, we are just going to play live. We are planning shows for the fall, we just want to get out and play consistently. The EP comes out August 24th. For the long term, I want to tour. I want to build up a fanbase that’s big enough for us to tour. That’s my eventual goal, to take this out on the road for a long time. Of course, writing a new EP, which we are doing now, but I’d love to tour with this band. That’s been a long term goal since I started two years ago.

Dead Rhetoric: You said you’ve started writing new material. Is it safe to assume it’s kind of moving along in that same direction?

Tarantino: I would say it’s a little more proggy. We are experimenting more with odd time. Some of the riffs are a little more technical. That’s because the writing is more of a band collaboration now. With this EP, Thread of Life, I pretty much wrote all the songs. We did work on the arrangements as a band, but I wrote all the music. The new music we are writing is a collaboration between us as a band. I wouldn’t want to say it’s heavier/not heavier, but it’s a little more proggy. But it still has hooks!

Dead Rhetoric: What plans do you have into the fall and winter, outside of the EP release?

Tarantino: For Etherius, we are going to keep booking shows and doing press. Things like that. For myself, Angel is talking about doing a tour in the fall. It’s tentative, but it’ll probably happen. It’s still in the early planning stages. So hopefully I’ll be doing a fall tour with Angel. Then Etherius will be playing live shows in NY/NJ/CT and wherever else we can get a gig.

Etherius on Facebook