Musicians, by and large, can tend towards being fairly egotistical types. It’s only natural, after all – when they’re riding high, magazines and websites praise them to the high heavens for their recorded output, while in the live arena, they get to tower about the hordes of devoted fans below them, dramatically backlit by the piercing stage-lights. So, one might reasonably expect the almost unreasonably talented multi-instrumentalist Paul Antonio Ortiz – the man behind instrumental progressive/technical/sci-fi-soundtrack metal act Chimp Spanner to… Well, to kind of love himself a little.
Thankfully, when Phil Whitehouse caught up with him just before the third date of the Lowering The Tone tour at Birmingham’s O2 Academy (reviewed here), it turned out that he had the pleasure of speaking with a man both humble about his not-inconsiderable accomplishments, disarmingly polite, and so gracious that when he was given the opportunity to close out the interview with any message he may want to impart, he spent most of it bigging up his touring mates. Here, then, is OneMetal’s chat with Chimp Spanner himself.
OneMetal Thanks for taking the time to talk to us!
Paul Thanks for interviewing me!
OneMetal How’s the tour going for you so far?
Paul Really good! The London show was pretty much the best start we could have hoped for. There was a huge crowd, and the audience really helped us get over our first-show jitters.
OneMetal That was just the first show of the tour, right? You have played live as Chimp Spanner before?
Paul Yeah, we did a tour with Aliases and Cyclamen last time, but that was definitely on a smaller scale. And the crowd was completely different – we were sandwiched between Aliases and Cyclamen, so people were not really sure what to make of us. On this tour, it’s more sort of niche and specialised, so people know what they’re getting.
OneMetal Did you always have aspirations to take Chimp Spanner to the live arena?
Paul Never. It was originally just kind of recording as an excuse to learn how to use the software. Never imagined that it would end up on the stage. Which is I why I think some of the songs turned out the way they did, because I wasn’t thinking “How am I going to make this work on a stage with four or five guys?”. It was more, just “Do whatever, figure the rest out later.” But it’s worked out well!
OneMetal So even though you were only recording to teach yourself the tools, did you even think that you’d ever have an album out?
Paul No! Not at all. Mainly, it was just for my own listening enjoyment as well – ’cause when you’ve got something in your head that you want to hear, and no-one else is doing it, then it’s like, you’re learning, and you’re giving yourself something cool to listen to!
OneMetal Chimp Spanner‘s music does stand out quite a bit from the bands that you’re generally compared to – I mean, you’re generally put alongside the Tesseracts and Peripherys of the world, but At The Dream’s Edge has a very cinematic vibe – a sort of 80s, Vangelis/Blade Runner feel to it.
Paul Yeah, when it all started coming together as an album, the sort of back-up plan was that it would end up being like a showcase for, you know – music to games, or for films. So I threw in as much stuff as possible that would kind of lend weight to that as well. So hopefully, someone would listen to it and think to themselves -
OneMetal – “That would work as the score to a scene,” or “That would work as menu music for a game”.
Paul Yeah, exactly. And every song on the album has kind of a story behind it as well, so it’s always cool when people pick up on that, and say “Yeah, it sounds like ‘this’ is happening”.
OneMetal After composing, performing, and recording everything on At The Dream’s Edge by yourself, how easy did you find it to actually collaborate with other people to bring that music to the stage?
Paul Ummm… It was challenging, at first – because, obviously, I’ve never been in a position where I’ve been steering any kind of project – sort of telling people “You do this”, “You do that”. So it’s been hard to find a balance between being easy-going to where I’m not telling people what to do all the time – I don’t like doing that – but also keeping sight of, “Look – this is what I want it to sound like”. But the guys are really receptive to that, and there’s not really, like, any ego problems or anything. I’ve been very lucky to find a bunch of guys who are very flexible and accomodating, and who know what it should sound like as well.
OneMetal So they’re free to throw ideas into the mix, to a certain extent?
Paul Yeah, certainly as far as the drums go, obviously – because on the album they’re all programmed, or played on a keyboard. When it comes to doing that on an actual drumkit, there are some parts where I just didn’t think “How is an actual drummer going to do this?” So, obviously, with things like that, if Boris wants to change something, I’m like “Go for it, man. That’s fine.”
OneMetal So there have been no “I told you to play it like THIS” moments then?
Paul No! I mean, Boris is definitely into his sort of, err, fusion and funk drumming and stuff, so there have been parts where I have to find the balance between giving him space to do what he enjoys doing, and saying “Keep it kind of faithful to the album, but put something of yourself in there so that people hearing it live get to hear it in a new way” – so it’s not just, like, playing it straight off the CD.
OneMetal Have you ever been tempted to include a vocalist of any sort into the live incarnation of Chimp Spanner?
Paul *shakes heads definitively*
OneMetal *laughs* So, “No”, then?
Paul Nah. *laughs* Not because I’ve got anything against vocalists, but I think that it’s a good challenge to write music that’s interesting on its own merits.
OneMetal As you said earlier, each song has a story and a background in its own right.
OneMetal With that in mind, is each song’s story separate, or is the album as a whole a sort of unified concept, with protagonists moving through a defined narrative?
Paul The album is kind of like a start-to-finish… thing. *laughs* And I was going to put it all in the album sleeve and spell it out, but, I think it’s more fun to let people draw their own interpretations. I think that’s kind of what’s fun about keeping it instrumental live, as well – you’ve not got somebody standing there kind of saying “THIS is what this is about”.
OneMetal It allows people to build their own picture of what’s happening within the music.
Paul Yeah. And, of course, there are always going to be one or two people who are just bored because there are no vocals. But you can’t please everyone, so… That’s fine. *laughs*
OneMetal How have you been finding the crowds’ responses? I mean, instrumental live performances within metal are still a pretty rare occurance.
Paul Yeah – I mean, you’ve got bands like Animals As Leaders, who I think have kind of made it more acceptable. And even if you look at Tesseract, they’ve got these big expanses within songs where there aren’t many vocals. Meshuggah do that as well. So people are already sort of half-used to appreciating the music for the music’s sake. But no, people have been fine with it. When the album first came out, when the reviews started appearing, there wasn’t a single one that said…
OneMetal “This would be great if only it had vocals on it.”
Paul Exactly. They didn’t even mention it. And that was really refreshing, to see that people were really open to that. And I was really happy that, on the Aliases tour, people that had come there for that sort of vocal aggression and stuff were still enjoying what we were doing.
OneMetal Have you ever had anyone making up their own lyrics to your compositions?
Paul *laughs* Maybe only in a joking capacity! There are parts that I do think would sound cool with something over them – and I wouldn’t rule out collaborations in the future. Studio collaborations.
OneMetal I had read that you’d been talking to people who had expressed an interest in providing guest vocal parts for the next album.
Paul Yeah. I think what I’d probably do is keep the core project as what it is, but in the interests of keeping busy, maybe have some things on the side where I could kind of go off in a different direction. Sort of get vocalists involved, and – did you ever hear the This Is Menace album?
OneMetal I never picked it up – I kept seeing the CD in the shops and seeing the singers they’d assembled, and thinking “I should get that!” – but I never did. *laughs*
Paul Yeah, it was kind of an all-star cast they assembled. But yeah, that could be something cool to do.
OneMetal You actually had a side-project going for a little while just before Chimp Spanner started playing live, right?
Paul Yeah, Blessed Inertia. That was me and Jim Hughes, who’s now our second guitarist. And we were going to take that live just to get some experience, really. That was very techy. We even considered putting vocals over that, because it was a lot more sort of straightforward and aggressive. So when we’ve got time, it’d be cool to pick that up again, dust it off.
OneMetal How much time are you likely to have in the near future? What are the touring plans and such like after this tour’s done?
Paul It’s kind of hard to say. We’ve got a couple of good ‘maybes’ lined up for next year, and obviously we’ve got the European leg of Lowering The Tone, which culminates with Euroblast. But I’m looking at keeping the beginning part of next year free so I can get back to doing some writing. I mean, because we’re such a niche thing anyway, it’s not like we’d be touring for two hundred days out of the year anyway, because there just isn’t the market. And I’d rather be at the level where we’re going to be enjoyed and appreciated at this sort of level, rather than traipsing with a band whose fans are just going to be standing there in disgust thinking “What is this?”.
OneMetal How far along are you with the writing of the next album? Seeing as you do it yourself, does that mean you get to do it in snippets – a riff here, a riff there, then assemble it later?
Paul Yeah – it does take a long time though. I was telling someone the other day that my old workflow was that I’d just do a snippet of music, then upload it, and people would listen to it – it was kind of like just bouncing it back and forth off the fans. But now, obviously, because everything’s being released through Basick, they kind of want me to keep a tighter lid on it. Which is understandable! I mean, they got to my album after it had pretty much already been released and everyone had been listening to it for, like, three or four years! It makes it a little more solitary, working on it that way – but I think it’s going to be great. There was supposed to be an EP out in May, actually – that didn’t happen. That’s scheduled now for November. Then I can spent the rest of the next year finishing off the next album.
OneMetal Have you found any ideas seeping into the writing sessions that you can trace back to having now taken Chimp Spanner on the road?
Paul I’m definitely getting a sense of what works better live – the sort of bits that people enjoy more.
OneMetal So you’re finding the material’s being written a little bit more with a definite eye towards being played live?
Paul Yeah, but without trying to limit it too much. There was a period early on where I think my writing was tainted by thinking “Well, we’ve got to do this with just two guitars and a bass”, whereas before I was thinking a lot bigger than that. I think that if I can find a balance between the two, then I should be okay!
OneMetal Finally, is there any particular message that you’d like to share with the OneMetal.com readership?
Paul Just that if you can catch us on this tour, it’s a really, really cool tour to come out and see – Uneven Structure are awesome, for anyone that doesn’t know them yet! And obviously, so are Tesseract. Thanks to everyone that’s come out so far, and hope to see you on the road soon!
Chimp Spanner’s Facebook: http://www.facebook.com/chimpspanner