Ok, it’s been a while since I last interview a progressive rock. No bells and whistles, no bullshit, just rock. These guys contacted me right after my interview with their friends from OLA MADRID. They are called SIOS, hail from Newark, New Jersey and claim they “are breaking the musical barriers that have been set in the past decade.” Big talk, you’d say. Well… let’s see if they can defend their allegation. One way or another, they turned out to be amazing, very open guys. We discussed lots of cool things including NJ’s music scene, progressive rock bands’ fascination with science-fiction and much more. Pause your harsh tunes, switch for a good melody for a while and meet SIOS!
SIOS recently released their debut album “Halcyon Failure” to great reviews within the progressive rock press. This album was produced by Kevin Antreassian who also worked with THE DILLINGER ESCAPE PLAN, Mike Portnoy, and FOXY SHAZAM.
How’s it going, guys? Thanks for taking some time with IDIOTEQ. To start off, tell me who’s SIOS? [smiles]
Hey, Thanks for having us! Well, SIOS is an art rock/progressive rock band from Newark, NJ who have a fictional concept that serves as the backdrop to our music. So SIOS is actually the main character of the fictional concept we have created.
Ok, now you’ve got my curiosity up [smiles]. I had the concept question left for later, but let’s discuss it now. Was it created for the story behind your “Halcyon Failure” album? Tell us more about the outing and the idea behind it.
[laughs] Sorry for spoiling it so soon. Well I’ve always really been into storytelling and the epic ideas behind movies, music, and books. At the time I started to write this story, I was going through many personal situations where I just needed to convert the negative into a positive and so this music and story was born.
In short, the story is about an incredible being or God named “SIOS” who is born out of a colliding blast between two warring nations. The war kills everything and everyone off but the blast gives birth to SIOS in full form with incredible powers, one of them being the ability to create life. Several decades pass and during this time, SIOS creates a brand new world with new creatures, secrets, and his most prized creation: the elements of 8. Fast forward a bit and we find ourselves at the beginning of “Halcyon Failure”
This album starts off kind of in the middle of the story with alot of turmoil happening behind the scenes. At the end of the day, this particular album highlights the question: “What happens when your own creation betrays you?”
What inspired you to write such an opera?
Well again, I was going through many hardships a couple of years back and I just needed to turn that negative energy into something different. I started to kind of look at the world and all of its many beliefs, triumphs failures, morals, diversities, and really understand that they were all a part of this one big division that affects us all. So this story in a way is all of our stories. You can find many of the things you grow up thinking about and discovering for yourself right in this story. I know for me personally, music is an incredibly powerful entity and I know with anything there comes a balance that must be met. So with the power music has to inspire, it also has the ability to bring you down to places you do not want to be. But it’s all part of being in love with music. Sorry for rambling [laughs].
Oh no, not at all. Moving fluently from the concept, I really need to admit that I like the artwork very much. Forgive my ignorance, but actually the funny thing is that I’m not sure if it belongs to the albums [laughs]. I mean the one made by Elizabeth Visco. Is it a teaser for a new release?
It’s actually great that you mentioned that because Elizabeth Visco is someone who we recently met and started to work with. She approached us first as a fan and offered her services to us. We started talking and she just really understood the concept visually and what we were trying to represent. We are currently working together to make some aspects of the concept come to life artistically and she’s been doing a wonderful job at it. That piece you saw was actually just a promotional piece for our album and the band. You can see more of her work at www.elizabethvisco.com.
Great. So, following the thought, do you have some b-sides left? Any chances to put out a new release sometime soon?
We have been working on some incredible new material as of late, but in terms of how soon the public gets to hear it, that’s a bit of a mystery to us as well. We really want to keep promoting Halcyon Failure and make sure we give it the attention it deserves you know?
Trying to “break the musical barriers that have been set in the past decade”, huh? [smiles] How would you do that?
[laughs] Trying to bring that card out on me hu? Well everything nowadays is about fitting into a genre and labeling this and labeling that. And if you don’t scream in a song you aren’t cool, or if you don’t have a catchy song that dumbs down the listener then you can’t be played on the radio… We break those barriers by simply embracing our individual strengths and weaknesses and not being afraid to showcase both through our music. No filter, No cookie-cutter mess, no restrictions on what we can play or do just because someone says so. We may not know it, but many of us are responsible for these barriers. So we block ourselves from what we really need or deserve.
So what’s the shittiest thing about the current state of music in general?
Is there a particular genre that you’d like to evaporate from this world? [smiles]
[laughs] Oh man, I think I’m going to avoid this landmine before the comment section explodes with hatred.
Damn, and I was really hoping to goad you into this [laughs]. No public hate for modern melodic hair metalcore? Naah, boring [smiles].
Ok, let’s go back to “Halcyon Failure”. It has received a lot of great reviews. How are you satisfied with the record and the feedback you’ve got? What are your thoughts looking back on it?
The response to this album has been great and very satisfying. Our fans have been so receptive to our sound and we have received acceptance from many music lovers around the world. We set out to make a debut album that felt and sounded like a mature record with well thought-out ideas and great vibes. These songs had the space and time to grow and be nurtured and I think people can feel all of the hard work we put into it. Looking back on recording the album in the studio, it was a stressful but exciting 2 weeks in the studio with Kevin Antreassian. He certainly had the patience and the ears to guide this project to where it needed to go. So at the end of it all, I am very pleased with how the first impression of SIOS to the world has been received.
What kind of help does a purity-thirsty band need? Would you ask your producer to stop modifying your tunes, because you want it to stay natural? [smiles]
[laughs] Well I mean, it’s more of a no restriction or rules kind of scenario. We were very open to the ideas that Kevin had and if we thought something didn’t work sonically, then we would move on to another idea. I think if we were too constrictive or close-minded to others opinions or each other’s for that matter, then it would defeat the purpose of a natural process. But yea, if something didn’t feel right then we would try something else and work through it to find the best possible outcome.
What’s something that you would never add to your music? What’s your approach for using electronics by rock bands?
I’m not sure if there is anything I would NEVER add to our music. If it’s something that serves the song and doesn’t sound overproduced, then I’m 100% ok with it. Some bands can go overboard with using effects and electronic instruments and then end up overproducing their sound. But I haven’t heard too much of this problem in the rock scene. I hear it more in hip-hop and pop music using the same sounds and formula over and over again.
Besides progressive rock, what genres and styles are you into?
Oh we all love so many different styles of music. Personally, I enjoy classical, blues, jazz, old school hip-hop, 80s dance, Reggae, Classic rock, grunge…there’s just so many to name. Im sure some of these people would call guilty pleasures [laughs] but i have no trouble admitting to them. Alot of my lyric abilities come from listening to EMINEM and Claudio Sanchez from COHEED AND CAMBRIA.
Ok, let’s go back to the album. As mentioned, it was produced by Kevin Antreassian who also worked with THE DILLINGER ESCAPE PLAN, Mike Portnoy, and FOXY SHAZAM. How on Earth did you tap this guy to produce your stuff?
Well Kevin is the owner of Backroom Studios in Rockaway, NJ and when we were looking for a place to record the album, Backroom was probably the first that caught our attention. We gave Kevin a call, spoke a bit about the project, exchanged a couple of emails back and forth, and he really dug the demos we sent him. I think we were all really excited to work with each other at that point. I know Kevin and SIOS are really excited to do some future work as well.
Great to hear that! Wasn’t he scared of all this sci-fi rim around you? [laughs]
[laughs] Shhhh it’s a secret…he still doesn’t know.
Why didn’t you show him a sample of your cover art? [laughs]
No, but seriously, what’s up with all the progressive rock bands being so stoked about space? Why do you refer to science-fiction so much? [smiles]
[Laughs] I think the progressive mentality naturally means that you are constantly looking for something new, something beyond what you know and have seen. A common thread in creating any piece of fiction is that you have to create a new world, with new possibilities and again the common denominator of the universe. I personally am a UFO believer so maybe some of that curiosity seeps in to what I do creatively [laughs].
Ok, so let’s go back to the birth of the universe and tell me how did you guys form SIOS.
Me, Phill, and our former rhythm guitarist April, all played together in a previous band called Illusion Hill. At the end of that band, things were looking pretty uncertain as to if any of us would continue to play music. We each kind of went our separate ways for a bit and I grew depressed. One day I started to write this song that was turning out to be unlike any of the previous material I had ever written (Track 10 “The Evil In Us). I was so excited at this new song that I decided to start something new and adopt the name I had given a fictional world in another story I was writing at the time: SIOS. Originally, I was going to keep this project as a one person kind of thing but I decided Phill would be a great partner in writing and playing to these songs so I asked him to join. We started auditioning rhythm guitarists but we couldn’t find the right sound and decided April would also be a good fit. After a couple of months of auditioning various drummers and finding dead ends, I finally came across Gabe on Craigslist and we auditioned him. We all immediately felt something special and we took it from there. In terms of the singer situation, Phil was never meant to be the singer [laughs]. We’ve had a million-and-one singers with a million-and-one problems [laughs]. We finally got tired of all of that and said, screw it: “Phill you sing now.”
Did he cry? [smiles]
[laughs] No he took it like a big boy. I’m sure deep down inside he’s always wanted to sing. So in reality, we are making dreams come true one Phill at a time [laughs].
Is he taking some lessons now?
Not at the moment. I know he is interested in taking lessons but he hasn’t found the right teacher for him yet. He does practice and do vocal exercises on his own to stretch his vocal chords as well as strengthen his diaphragm and breath control. We are all very much into sounding the best we possibly can so we work hard at our craft.
How often do you, as a band, practice?
We usually practice 3-5 times a week for about 3-5 hours each time. The music we play is a bit demanding so we have to make sure everything sounds tight and sonically pleasing. I know for Phill as well, he practices probably more than all of us because he has to play these complicated bass lines and sing syncopated rhythms at the same time. Ask anyone who plays music, it is not easy at all! [laughs]. I have to do backup vocals as well so I have to practice playing my leads and singing backups at the same time.
What about live shows? Have you played a lot of gigs so far?
Yea we definitely like to play as much as possible. We’ve played in Atlantic City, NY, locally, and have even done some private events. We are currently working on a big show behind the scenes that I can’t say too much about but we are incredibly excited to see it come to fruition.
Any plans for a proper trek? Aren’t you tempted to simply hit the road?
Oh we definitely would love to hit the road and do a proper tour for this album. There’s just two major things getting in the way at the moment and that would be money and finding our 2nd guitarist. It’s not easy to go on a proper tour if you don’t at least have the bare minimum plus transportation. We would be on the road right now if it wasn’t primarily for that. But soon enough, we will be able to do a proper run of shows. It is something we are very excited to accomplish in the near future.
Ok, guys. There’s about 7 years between your youngest and oldest member, right? Does it create any problematic situations between you? [laughs]
[laughs] To my surprise not really no. Either they are almost as mature as I am or I am almost as immature as they are [laughs]. All in all we get along really well and make decisions together the best way we know how. If we have a disagreement we just try to bring it to the table and come to a solution we can all be ok with.
Despite your very young age, it is quite clear that you sound really mature. How do you guys do it?
Thanks for the kind words! I think we’ve had a good amount of time to study our craft and figure out what we want to say through our instruments. We also listen to a wide variety of music which definitely helps us write differently. Personally, I’ve been playing music since grade school so I did the whole choir, jazz band, concert band, and marching band thing. Phil started playing guitar after seeing the video for Welcome Home by COHEED AND CAMBRIA. I actually met Phil through the music school where I was teaching at the time. I taught him guitar for about 2 years and then I asked him join my band as a bass player. In terms of Gabe, he grew up with music in his household. His father is a musician and an incredible artist so it was only natural that he picked up an instrument.
With Halcyon Failure, those songs had a lot of time to kind of mature because in a sense, your first album is everything you have to say from inception until that point you know? So we had plenty of time to re-work some of those songs and make sure they represented who we were at that particular moment in time.
Do you any personal goals as musicians in general, not only members of this band?
Personally, I’m striving to improve my bass playing and understanding of all things music every step of the way. I’m always looking to progress in some way, shape, or form when it comes to music in general, whether it be how I play my instruments, how I understand the feel side of music, how I understand the theory and brain-y part of music, etc. To summarize, I just want to take my passion to the highest level I can take it, because it’s what I do, I love to do it, and I want to surprise both myself and anyone else that listens to what I do. (Also, I aim to pick up a Chapman Stick one day, it is a fine instrument!)
A personal goal of mine is to be able to collaborate with artists that I’ve admired my entire life like EMINEM or COHEED AND CAMBRIA. I also want to pick up new instruments like the hang drum and just be able to understand music on another level. I want to be able to express my musical ideas and voice without limitation to what my physical body can do.
As a musician I want to become the best player that I possibly can. Not only with literal drumming but with stage presence, dynamics, creativity, and overall chops. I’d also like to explore other aspects of drumming whether it be different genres, playing styles, or instruments. I’m always willing to learn more about music and I’d love to really throw myself into deeper waters when it comes to the massive amount of techniques and different musical processes that are out there.
Cool. I wish you well with your goals, guys.
Before we end this little chat of ours, tell me about your local scene in Newark. What are the leading genres and how is it connected to the rest of the state?
[laughs] I don’t think Newark really has a scene. If it does, its more centered around rap and hip-hop. In terms of Jersey, everyone wants to either be in a hardcore metal band or a pop-punk band. Almost every show we’ve played in so far consisted of 5 or 6 hardcore bands and us [laughs]. Don’t get me wrong, I’m sure there are other bands in Jersey who don’t follow these genres, but in terms of the scene, that’s pretty much it. We personally aren’t fans of this music and don’t sound anywhere near like that genre so we tend to stick out like a sore thumb. Maybe that’s a good thing? [laughs] I don’t know.
[laughs] Well yea like I said, I’m not saying there aren’t bands here that aren’t the exception, but in terms of a “scene”, it seems that the hardcore, pop punk thing is dominant around here. If it was up to the heritage to stay alive, we would still have amazing music coming out of Jersey. Newark was a big blues and jazz epicenter for a while. But I guess things change, especially when it comes to music.
Do you regret it? What would be your ideal local environment when it comes to music infra-structure and capabilities available for artists?
I’m not sure it’s a regret really because this is where I grew up. I didn’t necessarily choose to be here [laughs]. Ideally if I could live and play in California, that would be awesome. The mentality there is different and more open to what we are doing. But everything in my life has been a struggle and a fight against the grain so I guess I’m pretty used to fighting and earning what I want. Being here certainly makes us play better sub-consciously. But if we were somewhere like California or maybe even another country altogether, people might be more open to us and the opportunities might be greater and legit.
So why wouldn’t you simply move?
[laughs] Simple question, complicated answer. Right now Gabe is still in school, we are currently working with a possible fourth member and to ask them to move just like that is a bit hard, finding a job in Cali to sustain yourself is not as easy…there’s many reasons why it’s not as easy as picking up and going. Right now we will continue to work hard and see what time dictates. If it’s meant to be, then we will make it happen. But if we are meant to fight our way through Jersey and win everyone over, then so be it. We are up for the challenge.
Ok, guys. A few random questions before we finish off [smiles].
Do you go to hardcore punk gigs?
[Laughs] Not my cup of tea.
What would have to happen to you to change your name? What would have to happen to call it quits?
Someone would have to sue us or something so we can change the name. Even then we will fight for it. It just defines us.
In terms of calling it quits, if we can’t work together anymore for whatever reasons and we are not making music for the love of it, then I think it would be time to leave. But there are very few circumstances where this would be possible. We will try to stay together for as long as we can and remain authentic for as long as we can.
Would you support Justin Bieber if he asked you?
No way. No chance.
Too bad, he’s so cute [laughs]. I’ve heard he’s transforming to become a proper rock star [laughs].
Alright, fellows. It was a really nice chat, I hope you are not devastated with my stupid questions [smiles]. Would you like to add anything else and make it A Complete Compendium Of SIOS?
[Laughs] Thank you so much for having us and we love all of the questions that were asked. You certainly dug deeper than anyone has thus far.
We just want to say thank you to those who are supporting us and we hope to see many more people in the near future. We promise to bring you the best music we possibly can. SIOS is working very hard to make this entire world we have created come together cohesively and we hope to see many become a part of it. Thank you.
Great. Thanks so much and “see” you next time! Cheers from Warsaw!