Even a year ago, Tosin Abasi’s name was largely known only to connoisseurs of the cutting-edge. Now his impressive skills – notably on eight string guitar – have propelled him to something approaching stardom. Tom Quayle meets Tosin for a GI interview, while Levi Clay profiles one of the key players helping make an ‘extended guitar’ today’s hottest property. And if you really want to get to grips with the Abasi magic, check out our exclusive eight string Tech Session with GI newcomer, Sam Bell in this issue!
Just when it looked like all we had to look forward to was an endless succession of re-hashed Blues, Punk or ‘80s ‘big hair’ stadium Rock, along comes something really quite different. Not necessarily just ‘extended guitar’ (seven or eight string), as even with the rise of these instruments in recent years, for the most part it seemed like they were being used to play the guitar parts we’ve heard for years – just in lower keys. Then along came Tosin Abasi.
Born in Washington DC in 1983, Abasi was first given a guitar at around the age of 12 and very quickly leaned towards seven and eventually eight string instruments. It seemed that his goal was always to create, “The extended range guitar can offer a lot of possibilities for composition,” he says and because of his largely self taught path (aside from a short stint at the Atlanta Institute of Music), his playing was always unconventional.
Abasi did a few stints in some small bands such as Reflux but it wasn’t long before he was offered a deal of his own, which after some soul-searching he took up, creating the project Animals As Leaders. The self titled début album, released in 2009, features him playing all the guitar and bass parts while the drum programming and most of the production were handled by Misha Mansoor of Periphery.
It could be said that a lot of his style comes down to the music that he’s listened to. For example, anyone who has Allan Holdsworth on steady rotation will undoubtedly pick up some alien harmonies and soundscapes but when you mix that influence with the extreme experimental progressive metal rhythms of Swedish band Meshuggah, you’re bound to come out sounding a little different! Aside from being able to “exist on a metal diet solely of Meshuggah” Abasi is also really fond of other wacky players like Tim Miller and more well known Jazz players like Kurt Rosenwinkel, Adam Rogers and John Scofield. Mix that cocktail with it progressive metal and you are certainly going to end up with something quite unique!
It’s hard to talk about Tosin Abasi and his sound without mentioning the term “Djent” but as fans will know, it’s probably the smallest part of his sound so we’ll leave the history of that term to our feature on Misha Mansoor, elsewhere in this issue. Analytically, his style feels like it’s more rooted in the extreme tech metal side of things with his extremely complicated sheets of sound approach to sweep picking, along with the more atmospheric music you might expect to hear in ambient electronic music. Of course, when this combined with Jazz harmony and percussive techniques such as multi finger tapping and slap technique, the possibilities are endless. Add to this the sheer range that an eight string instrument provides and suddenly there’s a whole world of rich spacious chord voicings or just some low grinding distorted rhythms, which you could easily juxtapose with a well placed upper register arpeggiated chord.
Animals As Leaders’ first album was a surprise hit on the metal scene, receiving rave reviews and with a video for CAFO in rotation, it was time for the band to hit the road and see how well received they’d be. The line-up of Tosin Abasi along with Javier Reyes on eight string and Navene Koperweis behind the kit took to venues alongside top metal names like Between The Buried And Me and Veil of Maya, building an even stronger fanbase in preparation for the release of 2011’s Weightless.
Weightless had a more electronic edge to it, and differed from the first release by featuring the three band members all playing their parts. As with the first album, the creative direction resulted in great critical response and the band were soon out on the road with Meshuggah. This album is a great introduction to what the band are all about as this is the perfect album to put on, close your eyes and just be taken in by the rich soundscapes created.
When it comes to gear, Abasi has a huge array of guitars at his disposal (though that should really be ‘had’ as a huge portion of his collection was stolen while he was on tour), including examples from Mayones, Ibanez, Carvin and Strandberg, though at the 2013 NAMM show he nailed his colours firmly to the Ibanez mast as the company showcased the TAM100 Signature eight string, which we are eagerly waiting a sample of for review at GI.
For amplification, yes, you guessed it – Abasi is yet another devotee of the Fractal Audio Axe FX II (I think this might be a first – all three artists interviewed in this issue – Neal Schon, Misha Mansoor and Tosin Abasi are all Axe FX fans – Ed). Abasi apparently runs his either through a Port City Pearl or straight into the desk.
To keep things rolling along, Tosin Abasi is also part of the supergroup T.R.A.M. alongside Javier Reyes, Suicidal Tendencies drummer Eric Moore and Mars Volta wind instrumentalist, Adrian Terrazas. The group released their first album on Sumerian Records in 2012. Playing on the atmospheric elements of Abasi’s style, the group are able to blend in a little more of a Jazz Fusion edge, with the use of reed instruments. While the album was well received Abasi did say in a recent interview that a follow-up album isn’t currently on the agenda, as efforts are being put back into Animals As Leaders.
Now signed to Sumerian Records, a third Animals As Leaders album is expected in 2013.
Check out our exclusive Sam Bell GI Tech Session on Tosin Abasi in this issue!