Chuck Schuldiner Project

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Interview with Ray Riendeau of Star Monarchy

Star MonarchySo, I just had the honor of interviewing Ray Riendeau of James Labrie, Halford, and most recently Star Monarchy. In the interview we talk about his latest project, the modern prog scene, and music in general. Enjoy

Be Sure to like the Star Monarchy Facebook HERE

Download the interview audio HERE

Ray can you introduce yourself to those who don't know your work?

Yeah. My name is Ray Riendeau and I play bass. Some of the bands' I've played with are, early on, Machine's of Loving Grace. After that I toured a little bit with a guitarist named Gary Hoey. I did some work with Rob Halford from Judas Priest. I actually did that gig for a number of years 4-5 years with Rob Halford. More recently I've played with James Labrie on his solo stuff. My most recent project is Star Monarchy.

So can you tell us some more about that?

Star Monarchy came from just me.... Throughout my past i've done a lot of solo records. Instrumental on the bass. I actually just did something, with the advent of the internet it's a lot easier to reach out to people and get musicians from all over the world. With the instrumental stuff I did that and demoed everything. And I basically did that, I reached out over the internet, to some people I know, some people I didn't know. And basically treated that whole record with people from all over. So I kind of liked that idea. It worked really well for the instrumental stuff. I figured it was about time to do a vocal record. I'd been wanting to do that for a long time. So I started writing, and that was for about two and a half years. I play a little guitar, and did drum programming I obviously played the bass. And demoed this group of songs. Then I systematically got people to replace the parts. Again, some people I knew from the past but most of the people though were just people I reached out too. Who I didn't know but I just wanted to work with, from newer bands.

Can you name somebody who you were particularly excited to work with?

Oh boy, (Laughs) I don't want to single anybody out! I was pretty lucky. I'll put it this way, everybody thats on there is intentional. Everyone was someone I really wanted to work with because I liked their respective bands. A couple people, I don't want to mention who they are because we could have a volume 2 or whatever. They could not participate because of the scheduling of the whole thing. But I was really lucky that everybody was into it and into the music and I just think everybody did a great job and it came together great! One surprise out of it, at one point about 3/4ths of the way through the record I decided to reach out for singers. I decided that there was maybe somebody out there who was kind of an unknown that hasn't even really been in a band or does this genre or whatnot. I did that and I had a lot of submissions and whatnot. But one of them really stood out, and that was Ben Dixon. He hadn't really done anything in this genre specifically. Especially in this genre. He's done mostly studio and session stuff. He did a Periphery cover and it was great! It was cool to have somebody like that, with people checking out and digging this guy when they'd never heard of him.

That's really cool. So you talked about Periphery, but what where the other big influences on the record?

Periphery was definitely one of them. Francesco (Artusato of All Shall Perish) I kind of found him more via his solo record. His instrumental stuff. It was after that that I checked out his band and dug that. He had actually come through town, and I met him and we really hit it off. The funny thing about him is, he's a great guitar player and one of the first guys that I've asked. And the initial idea was to get a lot of different guitar players and I've worked with a lot of great guitar players and it was probably going to be easiest thing, getting great guitar players. He was one of the first guys, from the beginning he asked to play on the whole thing. I couldn't say no! And as I thought about it... when you use a lot of different people... I wanted it to sound cohesive as a whole. And I think the fact that I play bass on the whole thing and Francesco did most of the guitars that made it a lot more cohesive in terms of using all the different singers and stuff like that. All of them i'm just fans of the bands. Protest the Hero, I love Rody, I was psyched to have him. I've always been a fan of Soilwork, they did some shows with Halford when I was in Europe. I was a really big fan of theirs. Alex Rudinger I found him more via his drum videos of him doing covers. Through that I found his band, Threat Signal. And he just blew me away just by his talent. He was kind of a newer guy who I didn't know that much about and his background. He in turn recommended Mike Semesky that he's worked with and they're friends so that turned me on to the Ordinance stuff. There was a lot of times when people just recommended people, that was kind of cool.

Now I know it's kind of your brainchild. Did you right all the songs and the lyrics? How did that work out?

No, I'm glad you asked that because thats one of the really cool things about this. This is the first kind of vocal record I've done. I kind of dabbled with trying to write some lyrics for the record. And it probably could have worked, I can certainly write melodies with all the instrumental work that I've done. I decided with the vocals to do the same as I do with solos. Even with my demos I have the songs written instrumentally I like to treat those as sketches. The ideas there, the motions there, the grooves. But from there, I like to not be real stiff about what people do. I just want people to do what they do best. And with the vocals I decided to just hand those over musically. And if they dug the music... With each singer I gave them what I thought would be a good track for them. They could kind of listen to it for a while and see if it inspired them and it worked out really well. So all the vocalists wrote all their vocal melodies and lyrics individually. It was exciting for me too. I had this music that was instrumental and I get to hear what these people did when they sang over. And everybody just blew me away. There was very, very little, if any direction. They did their thing. I thought it was so great. We just went with it.

So, how exactly did you match the singer to the song?

I kind of wrote the songs, not specifically for singers. But the same way with instrumental music. I don't really have a plan set out as far as putting WHO would sing on it. But after the fact, checking out different singers that might be interested.. doing the record, from there I thought about matchign it up that way. That's an interesting question. It was mostly just gut instinct of what I thought they would dig. And some of it I like because its a little bit outside of the box. Like Bjorn, that song has a lot of a Soilwork influence. So that seemed like a natural one. But some of the other ones it was like “I know what they do, and it would be interesting to hear what they could do on something a little different”

So can we go through the album track by track now?


The first track is Biosfear, can you tell us a little bit about that?

Biosfear, that was Rody. He actually record 2 songs. Biosfear and Lord of the Flies. He actually recorded those up in Canada with the same producer who does the Protest (The hero). That song was one of the first earlier tunes. Then we have Francesco of course playing guitar. He replace all the guitar on their. Some of the places where it's listed as me playing the guitar it's some of the demo stuff I had done that Francesco didn't. Just because it was for textures. Or the effect of the guitars. Alex, I thought he would fit in well on that, he's a big Protest fan.

The next one is Monarchy.

That was the first track that I did actually. That track, actually Dan (Tompkins), one of the first singers I wanted to work with from the Tesseract stuff. In fact he was still in Tesseract when I approached him about doing this project. He ended up doing two. He did this one then I asked him a couple months later if he wanted to do another. And he did Ashes. Monarchy is a good one, where theres some of the guitar that I originally played on the demo. I did the keyboards and the bass of course. Francesco was on it of course. Danny Handler is a drummer from a band out of Texas called The Better Death. He's a friend of a couple friends that I have in Texas. We do some work together like studio work. We do preproduction demos for a pretty big songwriter guy out of Nashville. He works with all kinds of people. He had a number one hit with American Idol with Carrie Underwood. He's written songs with Shinedown Theory of a Deadman, Three Doors Down, a lot of guys. So Danny and I we do a lot of sessions together with him. Just a great drummer. So he was my go to guy for a lot of this stuff. Monarchy is one of my favorite tracks on there.

The next track is 11 Years

Thats the one with Bjorn Strid, it's probably the heaviest track from head to toe. I didn't set out to do it that way but it just came out like that. Especially with him singing over it had a Soilwork feel to it. With the big chorus, I thought that was cool. Alex was just the guy to play on this song, with the double bass. Alex is one of the cleanest fastest double bass guys out there. He just plays amazingly on that track. That was a really cool track.

Then we have Romanov Throne

That was the introduction fo Mike Semesky. He did two tracks. The both have to do with the Romanov Family. Which is kind of ironic. The initial logo has the Russian crest, it's a play on that. Mike just told me he had an idea and ended up doing it for both these songs. The lyrics are based upon the Romanov Family which was a dynasty in Russia and they just have crazy stories. They ended up killed. A crazy story. One of the songs was from the perspective of the son who was the heir to the throne before they where all killed. And the other is from the perspective of his mother's perspective. She was accused of having an affair with Rasputin. It's kind of neat, if you ever look up the Romanov family it's pretty sweet. The contents is really cool. Mike did a great job. I thought he did a really cool job. He sang some really great stuff, very interesting melodies. I like what he did on the Star Monarchy stuff because it's very different than anything that's recorded with other bands that he's been with. This track also has Peter Wilder who I play with in the James Labrie band. That's how I met Peter. The funny thing about peter is that when we did the James Labrie record we really hit it off musically. And he was the first one I asked when I had the idea to do this record. And he was slated to record first and get him on the record. He developed tennis elbow, and couldn't play for a long time. He was having problems with his arm. He was the first one I asked to play on the record and the last to record on the record. Finally, at the very end, at the tenth hour! (Laughs)

After that we have Artilect.

Artilect, this is the first one that Ben did. And again,that was when I put out the call for a vocalist. And it was funny because Ben did a cover of the Periphery song Jetpack is Yes! My favorite Periphery song. He doesn't really have a heavy gnarly voice its really clean. I didn't know if he could be heavy enough or have the right attitude. But his singing is really good his range is really good so I gave him Artilect to see what he could do and I was just blown away! As a matter of the fact that at the end it becomes kind of growly but he also has some notes in the stratosphere. It's just crazy. I really like the sound of the heaviness with this kind of clean vocals. It's another one of my favorites on the CD. Again Francesco on the common thread there. Did a great job. Killer guitar parts killer solos. Travis Orbin (Periphery) Another guy that I just had come across through Youtube. He had done many videos of sessions that he's played and different things like that. I just think he's a great drummer. He was kind enough to play on the track. He's a really busy go so I'm glad he found the time to fit it in there.

Then Ashes with Dan Tompkins

Right Ashes is the other one (that Dan Tompkins did). Again I had already done Monarchy with Dan and a couple of months later I asked him if he wanted to do another one and he said yes. So I sent it over and he dug it so he did this one too. And this one has Danny Handler the guy that I did sessions with. This one and Monarchy are good because they have an even more commercial feel than some of the other ones. They could be radio friendly. And Danny, doing session with him in a lot of pop, pop-rock kind of stuff I knew he would great on these tracks. Derek Taylor (Stara Zagora) he's on their. Derek is a friend of mine, great guitar player. He's had a past with Shrapnel Records back in the day. He's kind of an infamous guitar player. He kind of quite guitar for a while and went into mixing in and mastering. He's kind of my go to guy. I go to him with all of my instrumental stuff. He's produced Star Monarchy and my fusion record. and because I trust him so much I said “If there's anywhere you feel you need/want to add any guitar work feel free to do so”. And on Ashes he put a couple layered guitars on the bridge. That's where Derek came into play on the bridge.

After that we have Transhuman

Transhuman is myself, Francesco, Danny played on that as well, really heavy track for him but he just knocked it out of the park. Thomas Pulda (Anomaly) was actually a really great find, he is a guy that lives herein Arizona with me he plays in the band Anomaly. He's one of the first guys I contacted locally to see if he would be interested in this project. I sent him this demo early on. I didn't end up using most of what he did, but some of the screams and textures that he did I thought where awesome so I kept those. But most of them where replaced by Sean Dailey who plays in Danny Handler's band The Better Death. He did the main vocals on this track. I don't know Sean but I know Danny. I really dig their band it has a crazy vibe. Sean Dailey has a Mike Patton influence. Lots of interesting melodies and all that. So gave it to Sean, he did a geat job. I ended up mixing Seans main vocals with some of Thomas's screams.

It's definitely a really interesting track

Yeah, it is. Thee was a time too where I didn't know if that one was going to make it because its kind of a...Bu sometimes things like that happen... It's kind of a crazy track. But somehow it came together in a cool way. It endeded up being very interesting for sure.

Then we have, Suicide By Star

Suicide By Star is the other one that Ben did. I thought he would be good on that because I wanted a really big clean chorus. I knew Ben could really do a good job on that which he did. Ben sang on that. Again Francesco on guitar. That's the other one that Peter played drums on. That was the last song recorded actually. It was another song where we didn't know if it was going to get recorded but when we added Ben and Peter on their it came across very well. Definitely a cool track.

Now we have The Royal Isolate

That's the other one that Mike did with the Romanov theme. It almost turned into an instrumental track, as you can tell at the end it definitely goes into an instrumental section. I don't have it listed here (On Ray's computer) But Derek Taylor did a lot of the guitars at the end of that. The Ragga and Drone guitars. Of course Francesco is on their as well he does the main solos as it's kind of drifting into the electronica part. Derek Taylor played a part too. Danny Handler was on drums. That one was kind of an epic piece (Laughter). Again, this was one where it could have been an instrumental but Mike somehow made sense of it vocally. I gave it to him and I was like “I'm not sure what you can do with this man” but when he handed it back to me it really impressed me vocally and it really turned out really cool.

So the final one is Lord of the Flies

That was the other Rody track, with Francesco on guitar and Danny Handler on drums. this song is cool I like the intro. It's kind of in your face. I wanted to end the record with a heavy song. I start with Rody too.

It makes it complete

Exactly it ties it up real nice. I thought so too. I can't say enough about that guy. He is in my opinion he's one of the best vocalists out there. And that he can sing with the range that he does. The attitude too. He just has a lot of cool melodies. The lyrics too are just incredible. Just a great writer. Very sick to have him on their. All in all just a very interesting project and the whole idea of it being, for me, to write some music and write some ideas and bring in a lot of different guys that I respect and having them transform this music into something more.

You seem to be equally enthusiastic about every song. But do you have a favorite?

Man, its tough. It's one of the things when it depends when you ask me. (Laughter) Like when I was recording it, each new song would be my new favorite. Monarchy really holds up for me man. I really like that song I guess because it's a good marriage of something that I think a lot of people would like. It could be a radio cut but it still has what I like about music. It's unpredictable it has a lot of cool different tones and sounds. It's a track that you can listen to a bunch of different times and here a bunch of different things when you listen to it.

So let's talk a little bit about the near future for Star Monarchy. Will there be a one off Star Monarchy show?

It's something I've gotten asked about before. IT would be really hard to pull off as cool as that would be. I;m not even sure who could cover what. With all the people and how to pull it off logistically. It would be cool to do something like that though.

Now this is Star Monarchy Volume I can we expect a Volume II?

I don't know yet. But that's the plan. IF this turns out to do well enough to at least pay for itself I would definitely like to keep it up. That's specifically why I called I volume one. Worst case scenario I would keep doing this thing under the name of Star Monarchy and just doing one song at a time. Just releasing singles. But hopefully I can do another volume. There's certainly people interested in doing that, people are already asking me about being part of it. Which is very cool. So it'll continue for sure.

You be kind of a studio guy. From what I've noticed studio people tend to be more jazz oriented. What inspired you to make a prog record?

Well, its just because that's part of... You're right about the instrumental stuff. Especially as a bass player. It would be pretty interesting to do more of a progressive metal CD that emphasizes the bass a lot more. Even with my instrumental stuff the songs that tend to be more bassier tend to be more like what you're talking about in the jazz and the fusion. That kind of thing. But I love this type of music. It was a wanting of wanting to work with these different players and bands that I dig. It's something i've never done before. In the past with the live work that I've done, with Halford and James Labrie heavy music has always been what i've done. I was just inspired by the instrumental stuff to do something in this genre. To do heavy to do progressive. It was cool though from the bass perspective. Their where no limitations. So, put a bunch of bass solos on their? No. (Laughs) But their was some interesting bass playing on their. Different tones and stuff on their which isn't typical at all in this genre. That appealed to me for sure.

Some of the fills on their just blew me away!

Thanks man. I appreciate it.

How do you feel about the modern prog scene?

I think there's some cool stuff. The biggest thing I like is the blending of all kinds of styles. I'm real surprised by death metal. The musicianship and some of what is going on is just incredible. And that style statistically has put out some crazy stuff. To be honest with you, I'm not a big death metal fan as far as vocals and having that the whole time in a song. Obviously Star Monarchy shows that. It's more melodic. It's still there, but it's more for texture. But there's a ton of stuff out there that minus the vocals, I don't even mind them that much, but it's hard for me to listen to a whole CD of that kind of vocals. But man, a lot of the bands with what's going on behind that it's very very cool and inspiring. And when I look at James and Dream Theater and the longevity is awesome. And the fact that they where up for a Grammy. I think it's really cool. They're really carrying that torch. Of what can be done and the success that you can have with that progressive sound. Hopefully there will be more of that type of stuff. I think the playing in general, you could argue that a lot of the bands...we talk about the 90s with Nirvana where musicianship wasn't cool and it wasn't cool to be the guitar guy and to have solos and stuff like that. But I think there's been a real resurgence of great player and musicianship. A lot of it is the internet. You can get on their and see some of these guys, like Travis Orbin and Alex Undinger. These young guys that are just amazing. Their playing it's like... where are they gunna be in 10-20 years. It's very cool to see!

Do you ever feel that bands like Origin or Agoraphobic Nosebleed might be taking the super technical aspect too far?

I think theres a place for everything. It's all subjective it really is. That's what I like about it. I wouldn't want to say.. I'm ok with talking about my personal likes and dislikes. But I like to see whether I personally like it or not just as much variation of music and types and styles as possible. It's only a good thing. It leads to other things and takes stuff further. I like blurring it as much as possible. To me it's more about what I consider good or bad and again it's subjective as far as what I want to listen too and why.

We talked about Periphery earlier. Do you like djent as a whole?

I do. I like it as a whole. Like any genre that starts to get popular I think you have somebody like Periphery that are doing some really innovative and cool stuff with it. Then you're going to have 10 other bands that follow suit and copy all of that. I think there's a place for all those bands. I think that the success comes from people, even subconsciously recognize the innovators of that type of stuff. Look at a band like Meshuggah. Their last record was as good as their early stuff to me. Its so innovative and always pushing new ground. I really dig that. As a whole that sound and that idea the whole genre, if you will, I dig it! At the same time there is a lot of bands that are all in that category of not being very innovative with it and just copying whats successful at the moment.

What do you think is the future of Prog?

Well, I don't know what it will be. But iwould like to see it more mainstream. In the sense of a band like Dream Theater being up for a grammy and maybe more airplay for some of these bands thats not just your typical cookie cutter pop song writing mentality.

At the same time Dream Theater is arguably the most successful prog metal band ever, and they've had one top ten hit. Sure this stuff is brilliant but can it break through.

(Laughs) I know I know, When I say mainstream I mean... The cool thing now is that when I look at it music has changed as we know it. I don't even listen to the radio. And they're doing it. They are mainstream in terms of sales. Progressive used to be a subgenre that only these technical guys dug. I think Dream Theater has done a great job, maybe they haven;t had a radio success, but in terms of sales... They've written songs where they incorporate the progressive nature of stuff that they've done a good job of blending that with stuff that hits the masses. People that normally wouldn't say they're into progressive bands have started getting into their songs checking out the rest of their stuff. Slowly it's seeping in. Getting a lot of fans that way that are into that progressive genre.

You, kind of having 'made it' what is your advice to a young musician trying to break through.

I would say just what I was talking about. You have to do what you love. That goes a long way towards showing how sincere you are about your music. It's easy to tell with a lot of bands if they're just trying to copy. Especially if it's something new. Its hard to reinvent the wheel, so to speak, with music. But at the same time, I think a band now is in a way better position to not have to worry about fitting into a box. As a matter of fact I could name a ton of bands where I feel that's why they're successful. Instrumentation, tunings, sounds, use of electronics, whatever the case may be. It's an exciting time that you can market yourself however you want to be and not have to worry about getting somewhere. Or to make it to sell records. You can make anything you want. You can make an artistic statement. I think it's a shame when the music is based upon anything other than that.

What do you love so much about music?

These days, probably more the overall creative process. When I started playing the bass it was pretty much the band stuff. I was really into the bass more as a... studying it and learning was more of my thing versus an overall contribution to the whole of music. Now it's gotten to a point where the bass is still there for me, being a bassist. But it's more head to toe. The writing of the song. That's more important than a specific part. I had a funny thing, I won't name who. All the drummers on here are great in their own right. And one of them said to me “I'm worried about playing and keeping up with what the other guys have played”. And I said to him “you have nothing to prove” Just play for the song thats all I want.

So any final comments?

Well, I guess I would just like to thank you for doing this. This is something i've done on my own. So things like this and your review are cool for spreading the word of mouth. I think it's awesome that you're doing this. It really does go a long way. Getting it heard, that's all I can ask.

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