One Hundred Thousand – A Journey Around the ZodiacThursday, 13th May 2021
Coming in with a conceptual release centered around the zodiac signs for their second album, New Jersey’s One Hundred Thousand have a veritable bounty of fresh ideas. Their proggy sound manages to grab the listener with its musicianship, but never bogs them down with intricacy, and also brings in some more melodic elements to ease said burden. It provides a unique vibe that can appeal to both prog fans as well as the more casual listener with equal appeal. We sat down with Alex Gold to discuss the album’s finer points and concept, accessibility, what’s after COVID, and more.
Dead Rhetoric: How do you feel that you stepped up with Zodiac compared to your debut, The Forms in Which They Appear?
Alex Gold: It’s a total step up in everything, from songwriting to our performance on the record to the production to the artwork. I feel like we leveled up as a band in a lot of ways. When we did Forms, we were super proud of that and wanted to top it. One of the things that allowed us to do that was bringing in Gregg [Sgar] as a songwriter and guitarist. It was huge for the songwriting. When he joined, it felt like we found our sound in some ways. We felt complete as a band. He brought such an interesting element, in some ways, some pop elements but not so on the nose with it – adding something to what Kurt [Wubbenhorst], Andrew [Magnolta], Rich [Matos], and I were developing. That was such a breath of fresh air, and we really felt like we finally nailed in our sound as a band. so I feel like we really stepped it up to a whole new level.
Dead Rhetoric: What else can you say about Zodiac at this point, given that the tracks have all been released and you are now wrapping up the release with an official album? Was there anything else in the process that you felt was important?
Gold: I think the whole concept of it, being fans of prog we have always loved the concept records. When we first started writing, we weren’t planning on doing a concept record. We had the beginning of “Ares” done, and “Cancer” was starting to be written a little bit – it wasn’t zodiac themed yet. We were in a very particular place in time. We were in this awesome home that Kurt was staying in at the time, which overlooked a lake. We felt very inspired writing and Kurt came up with the idea of maybe doing a zodiac theme. Even if you don’t pay attention to it very much, it was just such a cool theme and I love that concept.
So we started writing a little more intently after establishing that. It kind of felt like some of the songs we had been doing felt like this or that sign, and having that intention really spurned the writing process. When we wrote Forms, it was like, “Hey this is a cool riff or this is a cool song. Or I have this.” This time it was like “What is Sagittarius supposed to be? What is Virgo?” So that brought a whole new element to us. I don’t think we are going to be a concept record band, but I think even behind the scenes, having more intention internally about what we are trying to write about was huge for us.
Dead Rhetoric: What do you feel was important in writing an double album that is over 70 minutes in length? It doesn’t happen so much in the prog sphere, but you tend to lose some people if you go on for too long.
Gold: We want to make music that excites us, and we love. We want other people to love that too, but we were very careful that we didn’t compromise any of our artistic vision to reach a certain song length. When we did “Taurus” and it was a straight-forward banger of a tune, we didn’t feel the need to bring in a crazy bridge where we complicate it and get all proggy. It was just feeling what was right for each song. That felt right for “Taurus,” and when we wrote for “Capricorn,” it kind of kept snowballing and feeling right – getting bigger and longer, and that song, despite being 10-minutes long, when we play it feels like it goes by quickly. So I think just being true to ourselves and trying not to do too much was important.
Dead Rhetoric: Could you discuss the concept – what went into the thought process for utilizing the zodiac signs?
Gold: It ended up becoming this journey. When I reflect back on the writing process, it was almost like I was there and present and writing, but looking back, it feels like it fell into place better than we could have imagined. When we were writing, being a heavier band, we focused a little more on the negative aspects of the signs. For instance, Virgo is self-reflective to the point of a fault. When we came up with the first chord progression for that song and we were playing that and it kept going over and over, we decided that the song was that chord progression. It never relieves that. It’s like staring into a mirror for so long that everything breaks down into chaos, and that song kind of does that. It’s super self-reflective, with the same thing repeating over and over, but the melodies and the rest of the song works its way around that chord progression until it finally just descends into chaos. That’s where we were really intentional.
Something like “Leo” we wanted the riff to be fun and bouncy but have a little bit of pompousness and arrogance to it in a way. So we focused more on the negative part of the signs and sometimes it came across more in the music and sometimes it was the lyrics, but also the artwork that we did as well.
Dead Rhetoric: You put out one song per month. Was the real-time Zodiac journey planned from the start or did you do it as a way to deal with COVID?
Gold: Our original dream was to do the once a month release, starting with March. We had been tracking it for a while, starting back in 2018. That was what we wanted to do. So we tossed around the month to month, we talked about doing seasons, or doing a full release. After we had the masters back, we were waiting for the right time to release it and we were probably waiting a bit too long and being a little precious with it, and then COVID hit and we were like, “Oh no! Now we really can’t release it! Or can we?” It was March, so we decided to do it exactly how we planned with the first song coming out in March, not knowing that COVID would last over a year. It really fell into place in a cool way. Having that year, it felt like the songs had their due time to shine, and kind of eerily paralleled what was going on in the world as well. Not intentionally in that, but it worked in some ways.
Dead Rhetoric: Do you feel that releasing one track a month in that way allowed you to reach a greater audience, and giving each song it’s due?
Gold: Absolutely. I think we were really able to draw attention to them, and we did specific artwork for each song. We were really able to showcase that. We had playthroughs for each song. We really got to display everything, even on Spotify, getting to show the art. Chris Flannery did an awesome job with the photos and making it a nice companion piece, visually, to the record. It really worked out well.
Dead Rhetoric: So with the artwork, how much of a push is there to have the listener consider the art while they listen?
Gold: I would love for people to have that. We are getting ready to print vinyls for these and we are going to do some nice, high-gloss booklets with the photos in there so I’d love for it to be something that people look at and have in mind when they listen to the music. I think Chris did a really cool job in a variety of ways. I would love for people to take something away as a side piece with the art.
Dead Rhetoric: What do you hope Zodiac accomplishes in terms of leaving an impression on the listener?
Gold: I hope it takes them to a place. One of the things that I have realized in doing this is that even though these signs are for specific people in specific months, I think everyone has a little bit of all of them inside them, in a way. Seeing the year and the way that the world has been going in 2020, I think these songs really resonate with a lot of those feelings. Sometimes feelings of happiness and other times feelings of loneliness, destruction, anger, or fear. I hope that we made people connect with those emotions. Whether it’s feeling angry and fiery through “Ares” or light and melodic like something in “Gemini” or “Cancer” – something super emotional. I hope people feel like they went on a journey by the time they finish the record. At the end of the record, it comes right back in…very Dream Theater-esque, but the idea that it’s a circle and you go right back into it. It feels like a life experience in some ways.
Dead Rhetoric: You mentioned that when you became a five piece, you felt you found your sound. What do you feel are the core elements of your sound as a band?
Gold: I think big riffs with choruses that are different for our genre. I think there is a lot of screaming in our world, and we did incorporate some of that on this record – to bring in that energy in there because we love it. But I think we blend a lot of different genres. We have more melodic and pop-esque vocals. Gregg is a huge David Bowie fan. Some of the harmonies and things he’s hitting in there are so different and wild for our genre. I think that’s a really cool wrinkle that we have. So big riffs and stuff that feels good – fun to play and hopefully inspiring as well.
Dead Rhetoric: I think within the genre there is definitely space for that. A lot of times some of the proggier bands lose people because it is too abstract. You have a relatable concept and a sound that even with longer tracks still has a certain accessibility to it.
Gold: I think that’s what we want to do. We want to be accessible, but I think that’s just our nature. We listen to so much stuff. None of us are exactly ‘metalheads,’ we aren’t so attached to one or two genres. We are able to blend things really well. Our biggest goal is to make stuff that is fun and has really interesting melodies and melodic qualities while still being heavy and ripping. We always want it to be fun for us and the listener as well. We are definitely not to focused on satisfying any one particular genre, which in some ways has led us to this point. What do we want to do? Hopefully we are just creating our own thing and people are taking notice as something to follow.
Dead Rhetoric: We are hopefully getting towards the end of COVID. With a band your size, what are your thoughts for how music is going to recover after COVID?
Gold: I think we have already seen some of the local venues by us close down and not be able to operate in the same way. We’d love to be able to play and do this, but I’m not sure how much of a reality that really is yet. I don’t want to really be playing shows to seated audiences. That’s not really what I want to do. We are kind of looking at being busy creating, and when the time comes to start playing we will be ready. We are going to be doing a live playthrough of the record to supplement that a bit. But we are planning to get back into creative mode. We wrote this record almost four years ago at this point. Even though it’s fresh for everyone and it’s exciting to be out, we have a lot of new stuff to say and try to figure out what’s next. We actually have a song we are going to be recording, which is the 13th sign of the zodiac. It will be a segway thing. With the roll out of the record and songs coming out one at a time, we just want to start creating and releasing stuff. I think that strategy has been good for us this year. So when shows open up and feel good, we will be back on that.
Dead Rhetoric: What’s next for One Hundred Thousand?
Gold: We are getting record to record this new song, “Ophiuchus” which is really cool. It’s actually somewhat based off of an idea that didn’t make the record initially, so we got to reshape it. But we have been doing a lot of writing and trying to figure out what the next phase or step is for us. We are definitely going to ride the wave of Zodiac, but we do not want to repeat Zodiac. We don’t want another astrological record, or something like that. But very much still us. So it’ll be hopefully an evolution or a step up. We are super proud of what we have put out, but we aren’t quite satisfied. We can always do better and make more great music. That’s the plan.