Proof of concept in Sight and Sound-Ampevene
Written by Ralph Renna on October 24, 2019
Proof of concept in Sight and Sound – Ampevene by Ralph Renna
In the early days of Rock-N-Roll, music had a formula. Hit makers, the right producers and all the key players and musicians, backed up singers like Elvis Presley and Aretha Franklin. Now let us fast forward a few decades into the future, when bands started to experiment, not worrying about writing hits or time restraints, and focused on concept albums. Example; bands like Pink Floyd, King Crimson, Rush, later Tool and The Mars Volta. In a current world of music dominated by Americal Idol or the internet overnight viral success story of songs like “Chocolate Rain”. Some think this is the answer to making it in the music business today. But guitarist and vocalist Gabe Stallman had a different plan when creating Ampevene, a very intricate, detailed time machine of sound and this experiment has just begun.
RRX: Let’s go to the early years pre-Ampevene? How did you begin? Did you write and record weird or cool music?
GABE: Originally I played in a band called Sympathy for Achilles in high school, I really loved the music that we were making, a lot. But I felt like I wanted to add an experimental edge to the music and there were other members of the band that weren’t having it. I wanted to try fitting in some odd time signatures, add some jams in between songs to shake up the shows with more night to night originality. But this was a high school band and the ultimate focus was, unfortunately for me, to write songs that were more radio friendly and easy for the listener. That band happened to break up the same weekend I got in a pretty bad snowboard accident that I needed surgery for, and I ended up being on bed rest for around a month. During that time I had an acoustic guitar with me and my iPod attached to some speakers and I decided I would use the time to re-invent myself musically, I thought about all of the influences I wanted to take to my next project and even though I wasn’t able to just jump into the “Ampevene” sound right then, I knew what I felt like I needed to take my time to work towards.
RRX:The band has had its ups and downs, but a successful road for the most part(larkfest etc) let’s talk about the beginning (what year?)and the solid lineup of the band now?
GABE: So the snowboard accident happened at the beginning of 2012, I think I wrote one song part that ended up being a riff for an Ampevene song that we debuted in 2014, the very last part of the song Tracalysis. Anyway, the story of our lineups is a long one… I spent that year, and the summer following it experimenting with different riffs, playing with how they fit together and messing around with my loop pedal trying to visualize how these riffs would sound with a band and a singer, and I spent my freshman year of college looking around for bandmates. Our first show was in March of 2014. We’ve had so many lineup changes, it’s such a long story, but thankfully we’ve been playing with the same four people now for over two years. Finding bandmates can really be a nightmare, both from a technical standpoint, and also just finding people who take the project seriously like you do. Ava is our second keyboardist, but as far as I’m concerned, she’s been with us from the beginning. I played keys on our first EP, but we got someone to play live with us for our first three shows and after that he just ghosted us. We got an offer for a show and knew Ava was great from listening to her practice at school so we asked her to fill in for a show. She’s become such an important part of our sound since then. I taught her the songs and she never even met our drummer at the time until her first show with us. Mack is our third bassist, he’s been a very close friend of mine since we were freshman in high school and I’ve always known him to be an unbelievable musician. When the previous bassist left in early 2015, Mack said he’d fill in until we found someone else to stay full time, but he really enjoyed playing with us and eventually he said he wanted to join for good. Brian is a pretty funny story, our drummer situation has felt like spinal tap, Brian is our 5th drummer. After our last drummer (Darryl, who played on our album Ephemagoria) moved to California, we were doing auditions and nothing was really working for us, until I saw someone put on Facebook “Who are the best local math rock bands” and a comment from Brian saying “I don’t know but I wish I played for one” I clicked on his profile picture and it was him playing drums so I messaged him and said “Hey, potential wish granted, come audition” and it just clicked. When I recorded our first two EPs, I imagined we’d be able to put the music out instrumentally and find a singer and even though we had a few auditions it just wasn’t working. I never wanted us to be an instrumental band so eventually I gave up on looking for a singer and decided to work on singing for myself. It took a while to feel comfortable with it, because I never felt like I was naturally a singer, but I really like that I can put vocals to everything we write from here on out. We’ve also been getting Jeff Nania on saxophone for some shows this year, I’ve always been a huge fan of his playing and he was on the Rometheu EP, he doesn’t play every show with us, but I still consider him part of the band.
RRX: You don’t ever put a time limit on song writing or length, is this intentional?
GABE: It’s kind of intentional, but also not really… I’m a huge fan of music that takes you on a journey, any band that puts out concept albums like Pink Floyd or something, making music that gives you the same emotional changes as a movie, you know? There’s a set up, a story line, a sub plot, reoccurring characters, a climax. I love when music has all of those things, even just musically not lyrically. So I’m definitely intentionally making music that I feel like takes at least myself on a journey, and hoping that it does that for others too. The other side of that, the not intentional part, is that I definitely think you can go on a journey with a three minute song, you don’t need something 10 or 20 minutes long, but usually I’ll spend my time coming up with riff after riff, and I’ll have, maybe 15 different unrelated song parts, but eventually I come up with one more part, something that is suddenly the perfect chorus to tie things together or the verse that I’ve been waiting for, and suddenly I can see how every piece fits together perfectly, and by the time I organize it, it’s 15 minutes long. I think a lot of people might think, “Ok here’s 4 riffs, I’ll make a verse, a chorus, and a bridge… maybe and intro and an outtro, and the song will be done” I don’t like to limit myself, if I write 20 riffs and I can picture how they fit together, why wouldn’t I keep them all in a same song? As long as I’m not bored by it then I tie it together, if I am board by it, it might not make any song, or maybe I’ll play it once as a connecting line because I like being jolted by another riff before I go back from the chorus into the verse or something. I just really like the journey, I really like there to constantly be parts coming at you for the listener wondering what could come next. Sometimes we’ll play a riff for almost too long, purposely having the listener start to zone out, just to switch it up when they zone back in and wonder what’s going on. Like if you zone out at work and a boss slams their fist on your desk to wake you up, it’s fun to synthesize that.
RRX: What influences you musically?
GABE: Everything I listen to influences me, everything from Dillinger Escape Plan to Radiohead. There’s so much music out there, I love hearing a song and thinking “What if I played that riff, but changed the down beat, or played it closer to how this guitarist from this other band would play it…” It’s just experimenting, taking everything I soak up and throwing it into a blender. I have a sleep playlist of calming music I listen to every night, I think that goes into my subconscious. But I also listen to a lot of crazy math rock and free jazz. I try to fit it all together.
RRX:What inspires you lyrically?
GABE: I like concept albums a lot, but I feel like I don’t have the attention span to keep a story going through several songs, I barely have the attention span to create a story for one song. Most of the lyrics I have, I’ll just think up a line when I’m driving or something, just something that sounds cool to me, either words that roll off the tongue well, or that create a really strange imagery in my head, and I’ll add it to a notebook, when it’s time for me to put lyrics to a song, I’ll go through them all, and see if I can create a theme from what I’d been writing down, maybe reorganize some of the words so they fit together better with the music and then the lyrics are done. I find a lot of the time I’ll put the words together and read through it and go “awesome, that creates a story about…” but I don’t think of that until it’s all together at the end.
RRX: Tell is about each member of Ampevene and what they bring sonically and live to the bands s stage?
GABE: I’m so happy with our current lineup, as I said before, Ava’s been with us basically since the beginning, I think she’s the glue that ties everything together sonically, for most songs I write the guitar, bass, and vocals, and usually tell Brian things like “this type of beat” or “accent this part not that one” until we can get what I had in my head, and he does a great job both at listening to what I’m going for, and also giving ideas and putting together things I might not have thought of, but Ava, I can probably
90% of the time just say “we’re in this key, do what you do” and she kills it. I still write some keyboard parts, and sometimes I’ll tell her I’m looking for an organ or a rhodes sound or something, but a lot of the time she can improvise around the rest of the band and it just sounds perfect to me, I like to use keyboards as a color, sometimes an extra melody on top of everything, but a lot of the time another sonic texture, she’s so great at that. Brian really has this John Bonham style to him that I don’t think we’ve had in other drummers, rather than just playing a beat, he’ll improvise along with the rest of the music and I feel like he really creates stories with his rhythms, he also loves Danny Carrey who’s one of my favorite drummers too, and that pushes him to be interested in playing different parts for each instrument rather than one drum beat under everything, I think it really creates a cool effect. On top off all of that, Brian is someone who really seems like a true artist to me, he plays several instruments and listens to a lot of really interesting music, so when I come at him with a difficult part he has a lot of drive and excitement to experiment with the types of rhythms to put to it. Mack, on top of being a very close friend of mine for over a decade at this point, is one of the fastest learners I’ve ever met in my life. I think most people think of us as playing
complex music, but even back in high school Mack was learning songs that most professionals wouldn’t even be able to play, I can come up with the most complicated part and once Mack hears me play it to him he’s got it down. He’s been so reliable and really had my back throughout his time in the band, I trust him a lot as someone I can bounce ideas off of for a business perspective too, and he trusts me as a writer. He also can shred like no other, which isn’t a skill most bassists have, I’m always excited when he takes a solo during a song, it’s just mind-blowing every time. I don’t know anyone that can play the bass like he does. Lastly, Jeff, when we can add him to the live lineup I think it really adds a whole new dimension to the sound. His extra harmonies and his musical voice during jams really take the music to a whole new level. I usually picture our music with more sound than the four of us can make when I write it, I can add layers in the studio, but live the saxophone really brings everything to fruition.
RRX: Ampevene writes music the draws you in, makes our minds wander and is very addictive. But live you have visually captivated audiences in the past few years? Was this the plan in the beginning.
GABE: First, thank you for that, I really appreciate that a ton, that’s really what we’re going for. I don’t think I ever thought that our music had to be a multi media show or anything and I like to think that the music speaks for itself for the most part, but I also think that music and visuals are very complementary to each other, and if there’s another element besides the music that can make someone in the audience have their head spin and take them out of reality for the length of our set, I love to put the audience into that zone. We’ve been working with this guy, Joe Winograd who’s an incredible video artist, you can see a video of his work with us on youtube if you look up any of the videos with us at Putnam Place from earlier in the year. I think it really enhances the experience of a “show” for an audience while those are going on in the background.
RRX: what do you have lined up for 2020 as far as new material will be longer songs?
GABE: Hah, actually the new songs aren’t too crazy in length, we have about an EP’s worth of music right now but we’re going to stay quite until we can put out a full album I think. Two of the songs that are being recorded are being played live now, Valencia, which was on our last release but is being redone with more production, and Teratomic Enhancement which we’ve been playing live, that’s probably one of our longest songs, but the other two definitely don’t exceed more than 6 or 8 minutes, we’ll be playing those songs soon hopefully… and one of those is probably the closest to a “pop” song that we’ve written actually. As for after that, I’m not sure what we’ll be working on next, whatever sounds come out is what it’ll be.
RRX: What made you decide to cover “smells like teen spirit” by Nirvana? It is a great rendition although odd still a compliment to the legendary song that changed the generation of rock music!
First of all, thank you, I appreciate that, I was kind of worried of people thinking I ruined it when I decided to do that but I thought it’d be fun. I came up with that vamp that we play for it and my first thought was that it seemed like kind of a filler thing, like something we could jam on live in between other songs, but wasn’t really a song part, but when I was jamming to it in my house I just realized that the melody for Smells Like Teen Spirit fit over it. It’s in a really awkward time signature, it comes out to something like 37/8… Really just 4 bars of 4/4 and a turn around in 5/8… But that turn around really flips things and makes it interesting to me even though the vamp stays the same the whole time. I first had the idea for it a few years ago and it drove the drummer we had at the time crazy, but once we got the next one they were up for the challenge and people seemed to think it was cool. I like when covers sound nothing like the original, it’s just another head game, people know what Smells Like Teen Spirit sounds like, but when we start the song it sounds like we’re about to play Shine On You Crazy Diamond or something, when the singing comes in its, like “Woah, what is this?”
RRX: The road? Is there a worldwide or USA tour planned? Will Ampevene hit the road?
GABE: We’re always trying to play as many shows as possible around the North East, going everywhere from NY, MA, CT, VT, RI, and hopefully we’ll spread out to NJ, NH, PA soon. Just doing the weekend warrior thing, hopefully we’ll do a proper tour in the future. We just submitted to South By South West for the spring, so we’ll see if anything comes from that.
Saturday November 23 2019 The Hollow Albany NY Rose Room [feat.Thom and Dmitriy from Dirty Paris]w/Ampevene and Belle-Skinner