Imminent Sonic Destruction – Watching the Sun SetSunday, 22nd May 2022
Rare is the day that a five-piece progressive metal lineup start together in 2007 and maintain that same membership fifteen years later – but that’s the case for Michigan progressive metal act Imminent Sonic Destruction. They’ve released three albums to date with the recently released The Sun Will Always Set hitting the streets – gaining the opportunity to perform on national tours with prominent acts like Pain of Salvation and Fates Warning among others. If you love bands that intertwine a mix of styles, set up proper hooks, throw down some solid musicianship parts, but also develop interesting and strong multi-part vocal harmonies, this could be your group to delve deep into.
We reached out to guitarist/vocalist Tony Piccoli who brought us up to speed on the group – including the work on the new album, thoughts on what progressive metal is, insight into the active Michigan metal scene, plus takeaways from touring with bands like Pain of Salvation and Fates Warning, as well as putting out more material sooner rather than later to make more of a footprint in the scene.
Dead Rhetoric: What are some of your earliest memories regarding music growing up in childhood? At what point did you start listening to heavier and more progressive music, and then eventually pick up an instrument to perform in your own bands?
Tony Piccoli: The first music memories I have, when I was a really little kid, elementary school, MTV. I wasn’t really like a picky guy as far as the genre goes – if it was cool music, it was cool music. I don’t know what some of the names of the groups are, but some of that early 90’s r+b, pop stuff – and then I do remember the video for “Jeremy” by Pearl Jam, those are some of my earliest music memories. Growing up, my parents listened to Bob Seger – obviously being a Michigan boy, you will hear that. I would say when I got into heavier music, I was a teenager. And that also at the same time I decided to play guitar. One of my best friends used to live across the street from me, we got into music together. Stuff like Green Day, Metallica with the black album, Offspring, White Zombie. He got a guitar, so of course we had to form a band, and I wanted to be a drummer. My dad said no, we will not have drums in this house. (laughs). He said (he approved) by getting a guitar for me for Christmas instead. That’s when it happened, I was 12 years old.
Dead Rhetoric: From there, when did you learn other instruments, as you can play more than just guitar?
Piccoli: I played the guitar pretty well. I play everything else… well enough. (laughs). I just started playing other instruments kind of out of necessity. I had the ability to multi-track record on a computer. I’m playing guitar and record it, I laid down vocals on it, I knew how to program drums, I would figure out keyboards by buying a Korg and copy sounds from Tony Banks with his Mellotron sound. That was it. I wanted to add stuff, so I bought a keyboard and a bass, and I started playing. I can’t play keyboards very well at all – if I was forced to do it live, it would be a disaster (laughs).
Dead Rhetoric: But you can get the fundamentals down well enough for your other band members to execute and expand upon them…
Piccoli: Absolutely. I’ll write a demo at home, and I can play the idea well enough to get it down, give it to the boys and they expand and improve on it – or both. That’s kind of how I roll, anyway.
Dead Rhetoric: Imminent Sonic Destruction began in 2007 as Mellotrön before changing names in 2011. What can you tell us regarding the formation of the group – as well as the original development of the band’s style, did you know straight away what qualities you wanted to have or was it a feeling out process to arrive at the sound you have?
Piccoli: Well, I wrote all the demos originally. And I gave them to my buddy John Kotzen, he ran Ytse Jam.com. Because he ran that site, he knew a lot of musicians, especially locally. He thought these songs had to be played live, but I didn’t know who to get. He contacted Pat (DeLeon), who at the time was just out of Tiles. He contacted Pete (Hopersberger) who was in Space Nelson. I knew Bryan (Paxton) our bass player, we had jammed prior to Mellotron. John said check out my buddy Scott Thompson, he was a multi-instrumentalist and really good. We all got together to perform at a local music festival called Toxic Bash. We played it, had an awesome time together. And that’s how it all got started.
I think because I for the most part write a majority of the material – with the exception of the song “Breaking Through” that was written as a whole band, and the guys all pitch in with lyrics, melodies, and those sort of ideas. The ending of “Source” was Pete. I’m bringing the ideas to the table. Because that is the case, that defined our sound. We’ve been the same group for almost fifteen years now. It was decided then. We all have our own influences, and those influences do sneak in. We want to be on the King’s X heavy groovy side, Gojira/Meshuggah type heavy stuff, but we also want to show off the fact that we can do three- and four-part vocal harmonies to write a hell of a melody.
Dead Rhetoric: The Sun Will Always Set is the group’s third studio album. Where do you see the major differences in this set of material in comparison to the previous two albums Recurring Themes from 2012 and Triumphia in 2016?
Piccoli: Maturity. I think, yeah, I’m not really sure how to say it. Refining the direction even that much better is the big difference. More focus on vocals, to be a little more concise as far as ideas. That’s pretty much it.
Dead Rhetoric: Does the challenge become writing and executing more concise, focused material versus the longer material?
Piccoli: If you were to ask each of the guys in the band, they would come to the conclusion that the song is going to write itself. We don’t sit there and say we have to write a four-minute song, or let’s write a twenty-minute song, although I will say when I wrote “Arborous Calm”, I wanted it to be over twenty minutes, just because I wanted to be able to say I did it. It does help that this song could recall three or four other songs, and tie things all back together. It’s not really a challenge, one way or the other.
Dead Rhetoric: Beyond the obvious mixture of influences from groove/djent accents to normal progressive rock/metal, the multiple voices that fill out the vocal harmony elements are a key ingredient to memorable hooks and earworms throughout the record. How does the band develop these sequences, balancing out the advanced musicianship and maintaining focus on sequences that can be digestible for the average listener to latch onto?
Piccoli: I’d like to say we put a big focus on vocal harmonies and melodies in general. As far as the way those sit within the music to make things accessible or a memorable hook, it’s ingrained in what we do. I know that is something I am going to want to do with the vocals, make sure there is a hook. If I’m struggling to find it, then Pete or Scott will find something. Scott wrote the lyrics and vocal melodies for “Nightshade”, we all got together one night and recorded a demo version of it and refined it all. Pete wrote the chorus and sang it for “Fledgling”. It’s a group effort to make sure our vocal harmonies are just rich and everywhere. We have good hooks; we all focus on this.
Dead Rhetoric: Where did you want to come across for the lyrical themes on this record?
Piccoli: I knew that I wanted it to be a record of light and dark. Life is good, and life can be hard. It doesn’t mean just because you are going through a hard patch doesn’t mean things are bad. Just because things are over, doesn’t mean it’s the end of the world. “Arise” is a beginning, birth, life, and light. “The Sun Will Always Set” is just a reminder that the sun will set, and that’s okay – it’s supposed to.
Dead Rhetoric: What can you tell us regarding some of the special guest choices for the record that include members of Battlecross, Leprous, Lady Luna and the Devil, and Dragged Beneath?
Piccoli: Well, with the exception of Raphael (Weinroth-Browne) to play cello, they are all friends of mine and of the band. Raphael is a world class musician, tours with Leprous, and I’m lucky enough to be Facebook friends with him and I was listening to a near final mix of “Arise” and I said this needs a fucking cello! (laughs). I wrote him and he was down to do it. As far as choosing Tony, I’m friends with all the guys in Battlecross, especially Tony and Hiran. Tony and I, we hang out, we jam, we have a side project called Tritone. We love music, we get together, have some beers and laughs. To have him play a guitar solo on “The Core”, which is about how awesome my friends and family are, it made perfect sense to have him play guitar on there. Kevin is the singer in my death metal band Dragged Beneath. He also is a good friend, and Lady Luna is his girlfriend and bandmate. So, they were all about it. Good friends and great performances.
Dead Rhetoric: You’ve had the opportunity to tour across North America with bands like Pain of Salvation, Kingcrow, Fates Warning, and Circus Maximus among others. How do you believe these tours have seasoned Imminent Sonic Destruction as a band – and what takeaways did you have from specific bands and how they carry themselves that applied to the outlook of ISD?
Piccoli: As far as touring and experiences. We did regional stuff, even as Mellotron we did some touring. The big one, the first one was with Pain of Salvation and Kingcrow. The takeaway from that is, yeah, we are out there having fun, doing something we always have wanted to do. For Pain of Salvation, it was old hat. They are happy to tour in America, it may have been their first-time touring in America. They’ve toured, played festivals, and it was cool to see them as professionals, still find a way to have fun. We learned a lot from that. When you tour, you get tighter, performance-wise. That was what we took into our tour with Fates Warning. Those guys were pros. They were deadly tight, every single night. We wanted to match that. Now we are watching the adults, so now it’s time to become the adults. Not to say that the other bands weren’t giving us good examples, but Fates Warning is like a machine. We ended up cracking the nutshell a bit, hung out with them and it really set the bar for us as far as how we want to carry ourselves on the stage. Circus Maximus was a short four show tour run leading to ProgPower, we had so many problems with our RV on that tour. We had a flat tire before Chicago, we were super late to New York because of an accident. Other than that, it was fine.
Dead Rhetoric: What does progressive metal as a genre mean to you? Do you believe the definition and parameters of progressive metal (or progressive music in general) have changed and evolved over the decades?
Piccoli: You are going to get a different answer from anyone you ask. When I say that, I don’t think there’s a right answer to that question. I don’t really like to define it myself. You look at a band like Bent Knee. They are out there a little bit, whacky and extremely fun and catchy. But not heavy. A Dream Theater fan may not be a fan of them, but a Yes fan might be. It’s hard for me to try to define it. If you like it and generally like progressive music, one half of the other – I don’t know (laughs).
Are the songs long? Yep. Do they do instrumental breaks? Yep. There you go! (laughs).
Dead Rhetoric: You’ve been able to keep the same lineup for fifteen plus years – what are some of the keys to maintaining proper chemistry and focus as people naturally grow and change? Do you believe that friendships matter beyond the duties and workload of being in the band?
Piccoli: Friendships absolutely matter. We wouldn’t be the same lineup if we weren’t friends. That’s not to say like anyone’s performance is off, but like you said people change and may not want to do the same thing. They may not want to be in the same band with one guy who writes all the songs and could be kind of a dick (laughs). It’s because of the friendship when we have to have those tough discussions, we handle things well. Because we get along really well, any time that we change our view on music or what we want to accomplish, it’s okay and we talk about it.
Dead Rhetoric: How would you assess where Imminent Sonic Destruction is at currently for a following – and what steps are necessary do you believe to move up the ladder so to speak in terms of a stronger footprint locally, nationally, and internationally?
Piccoli: We are definitely a small, lower-level band just because not a lot of people know who we are yet. I used to think that you had to grow to become more known, meet the right people, get your foot in some doors. I still believe that a little bit, but I think the biggest thing is… I screwed up, I quit my job a few years ago, a career job, to work on music full-time. Instead of working on music full-time, I spent time on networking, going to shows, which I enjoy, doing everything but writing a lot of music. That’s what I think we need to continue to do, continue to release stuff.
Right now, our plan is we are working on music to release the next album, starting Wednesday. We are getting together to start on the next (album). We will write more as a band, and record at Pat’s house where we play. We will listen, work, and get something else released within a year or so. I don’t want us to keep waiting. In order for us to grow and be more successful, yeah, maybe email some people and get our foot in some doors, but we have to keep releasing material. We released this ourselves on our own label. I know it’s important to get on the right label, obviously – but I think getting the right manager would get that door open a lot quicker. Eventually, the right people are going to hear it.
Dead Rhetoric: What do you think of the metal scene within your local Michigan area – there seems to be a lot of buzz going on in the Midwest with different styles and bands?
Piccoli: We have outstanding support in our local area. We just did our album release show here, and well over 200 people were there. It doesn’t sound like a lot, but we’ve never played to thousands of people here locally. It’s always been whoever shows up. We have a very strong metal scene. A lot of really cool people within that scene. Recorruptor, Entransient, Hate Unbound, Portal of Pazuzu, Finality. I could keep going. For any of my friends that I know in bands, and I didn’t name them, I’m sorry I couldn’t remember when I was under the gun. The indie rock scene is pretty strong too. The promoters we work with talk about this all the time. Theandric as well, they are great – Paul is the man.
Dead Rhetoric: What hobbies, interests, and passions do you like to pursue away from music when you have the free time and energy to do so?
Piccoli: Right now, what I do for work is I’m an electrician. I enjoy it, it’s cool. It’s good work, it’s fun to do. Working on houses in general – we are in a remodel right now – I do like doing that. The last couple of years I’ve really gotten into golf. I’m horrible, but I’ll get out there and swing the clubs with our drummer Pat every once in a while. Good times. Golf is hard, I like the challenge but when you do hit one cleanly, it’s one of the best feelings in the world.
Dead Rhetoric: What do you think about the state of the world coming out of this pandemic – and what do you think people need to work on to set themselves straight?
Piccoli: I’m glad we are coming out of it. Things seem to be going back to normal now. I was gung-ho for the return to normalcy. I will be the guinea pig for vaccination. I am not saying you should or shouldn’t, I don’t care. Mental health issues – we all got locked in and locked up. Everyone got extremely opinionated, one way or another, and they would start tearing at the old threads. If I could make a suggestion – get back out there and start doing. If you feel like shit, get out, and if you want to accomplish something, go do something. Go see your friends and families – remember they all love you and are there for you. We have to have fun, we only have so many years on the planet, so let’s make the best of it. Don’t let the bad times pull you down.
Dead Rhetoric: What’s on the agenda for the band over the next year or so now that the record is out?
Piccoli: Get to work like I was saying earlier. We want to release something within a year. I don’t know what it’s going to be yet. Get busy, not screw around anymore. Scott is constantly… he is putting out music, he has written music for movies and soundtracks. He went to Hollywood as a part of a movie premiere that he did music for. He’s always doing that kind of thing. Other than that – I’ll be doing something, maybe another ambient album, or Tritone with Tony and Nick. Hopefully just more ISD.