Protean Collective – Colorful in Collapse Part I

Wednesday, 2nd August 2017

Meeting in college through mutual love and admiration for various styles of progressive rock and metal, Boston’s Protean Collective have been sharpening their skills in the studio and on the road for over a decade. Making an indelible impression on the live front through an opening slot of a western Mass. Ghost Ship Octavius show, this scribe couldn’t wait to hear the full-length album the quartet recently released with Collapse.

Dynamics and shifts are a constant in Protean Collective – while still being aware of the need for strong melodies, hooks, and harmonies on both fronts musically and vocally. These musicians appreciate everything from jazz to classical, 90’s rock to tried and true progressive rock/metal influences, but meld things into their own – not as easy of a task as one can imagine. What’s also noticeable immediately when seeking out the band for an interview is the fact that they are massive fans and consumers of music beyond their playing and teaching capabilities – which should pay dividends in the long run for the mark they are making in the world.

We were able to speak to all four members of the band – vocalist/guitarist Graham Bacher, guitarist Steph Boyer, bassist Dan Ehramijan and drummer Matt Zappa – and engage in everything from the history of the band, how they define progressive metal today, their work as music coaches with the youth in the Plugged In Band program, as well as their live performances and future plans.

Dead Rhetoric: Protean Collective started in 2006 – how did the four of you come together, and did you know right away where you wanted to go in terms of style, or was it a natural feeling out process jamming and rehearsing to get an idea of what you wanted to do?

Graham Bacher: Matt, Steph, and I all met in Berklee dorms, when we were studying there. We were all friends for a year, and we decided that we should jam together. I feel like we started doing this without anything particular in mind- we just wanted to play together.

Matt Zappa: We were all buddies, and we ended up seeing a Pain of Salvation DVD in the common area of our dorm. We decided to jam that night- and we ended up writing “New Machine”- or at least part of that song, that night. After hearing Steph and seeing her warm up for 30 seconds, I knew I was going to be in a band with this chick. And Graham I heard you playing a King Crimson song in Steph’s dorm room- that’s how I knew you were really cool! (laughs)

Steph Goyer: I think stylistically, I don’t think we had anything very specific. We just wanted to write good songs and pull from our various influences. Stemming everywhere from metal, death metal, progressive metal, progressive rock to like jazz, pop, 90’s rock. We just wanted to write music together and feed off of each other.

Dead Rhetoric: How would you describe your recording output in terms of songwriting, performances, and final products to date prior to this latest release? What would you consider the standout moments or learning curves that you’ve taken?

Bacher: We spent a long time playing together trying to find ourselves. There was a long time where we played together and wrote a ton of songs, but I feel like the last album The Red and The Grey is where we really started to sync up and feel more of a unified unit starting there- and that’s progressed even further on Collapse.

Goyer: As far as our biggest challenge, it’s taking all of these different styles of music and influences that we have and putting those together into good songs. When you love different kinds of music and start writing songs, it’s really easy to fall into this trap where you have a lot of cool parts- but maybe as a song feels disjointed. I feel on The Red and the Grey and even more so on Collapse, we learned how to make our sound a little more concise, our songwriting especially.

Zappa: Even the record before The Red and the Grey, Divided was where we all realized our strengths and our weaknesses and we pushed our strengths. It was the first time we felt like a true, viable touring act that could connect to a lot of people. When it came to The Red and the Grey, that pushed us way further into what we were trying to go for. And Collapse is a continuation – this is way more concise and much more put together than anything we’ve ever done before.

Dan Ehramijan: We’ve all mentioned how we’ve developed in our songwriting and finding our sound. For us especially when we demo we find a lot more behind the music that we already have that gets added in later. So sometimes we aren’t even done writing when we go in to record the finished tracks. Some of those parts are the coolest thing about how our sound has developed. It’s more than just the bare bones, it’s all the colorful stuff in the background.

Dead Rhetoric: Collapse is the latest record – encompassing a wide array of influences that also include djent and progressive rock/jazz beyond the obvious metal affinities. Describe this set of material – as it seems much more focused while still being musically adventurous?

Bacher: I guess to me it felt with this group of songs, I don’t know if there was anything that we set out specifically to achieve, outside of writing a set of good songs. This is the most comfortable that we’ve been with writing together. We really focused on creating a concise set of good songs, where everything works together. We aren’t going out to try to compare ourselves to anybody else. I feel we’ve gotten comfortable with our sound and how we can explore (within) it.

Zappa: As a reaction to The Red and The Grey– that album was our progressive record, we pushed ourselves so hard. I felt like Collapse was a reaction to that- for me personally, I was very stripped down, I didn’t think how my parts were going to reflect things overall. I was thinking about the focus of the song. While we were writing, I had a snare, bass drum, and two cymbals. For a prog band, that’s very light. We are all big fans of pop music and 90’s rock, where those acts focused on the melodies and the overall scope of things- such as Soundgarden and Cake. This band has always been a reflection of what we listen to at the time and how we can make it ourselves and have it make sense to us.

Goyer: If I had to describe this music to a listener, it’s for a listener who really enjoys contrast. I think that’s something for me that’s very important to listen to – especially in terms of a whole album. The album starts out very in your face, it gives you a lot- it gets softer, it gets jazzy, you hear some seventh chords- and it builds back up. I don’t necessarily enjoy listening to something that’s all 100% in your face or something that’s very quiet the whole time. I like the dips and valleys, the highs and the lows.

Zappa: I always love what Metallica did with “Fade to Black” and “Ride the Lightning”. They were able to drop the mood down to make the other parts of the song become even heavier. Like Steph was saying- contrast- I like that.

Ehramijan: One specific goal that kept coming back up for this songwriting process was getting to the point and not saying too much. It was really focusing on trying to be concise and saying a lot without having to use too much to express that emotion or thought. We went back to this aspect often.

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