Sevenstring.org Interview - Nathaniel Johnstone of Abney Park

Discussion in 'Artist Reviews & Interviews' started by DDDorian, Jan 22, 2010.

  1. DDDorian

    DDDorian Mantis Toboggan, M.D Super Moderator

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    <strong>Sevenstring.org Interview - Nathaniel Johnstone of Abney Park</strong>
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    <div id="post_message_89657" align="justify"><!-- google_ad_section_start --><div align="right"><img src="http://img716.imageshack.us/img716/9242/abneyheader.jpg" alt="Fellsilent" /><br />
    <b>Interview: Nathaniel Johnstone</b><br />

    <font size="1"><i>Interviewed by:Metal Ken</i></font><br />
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    "Abney Park comes from an era that never was, but one that we wish had been. An era where airships waged war in the skies, and corsets and cummerbunds were proper adventuring attire. They’ve picked up their bad musical habits, scoundrelous musicians, and anachronistically hybridized instruments from dozens of locations and eras that they have visited in their travels and thrown them into one riotous dervish of a performance. Expect clockwork guitars, belly dancers, flintlock bassists, middleastern percussion, violent violin, and Tesla powered keyboards blazing in a post- apocalyptic, swashbuckling, Steampunk musical mayhem. " -official biography

    <img style="padding:20px;" align="left" src="http://img696.imageshack.us/img696/8668/nathanieljohnstoneabney.jpg" alt="Tymon (left) and Paul (right)" /><br /><span style="color:red;font-weight:bold;">Sevenstring.org:</span> First off, what's your favorite drink?



    <span style="color:eek:range;font-weight:bold;">Nathaniel Johnstone:</span>: Anything that doesn't require an umbrella in the glass. An umbrella in a drink is an abomination. Oh, and before I hit the stage? Water. In a bottle preferably.



    <span style="color:red;font-weight:bold;">SS:</span> So, how'd you come about to join Abney Park?



    <span style="color:eek:range;font-weight:bold;">NJ:</span> It started out innocently in the summer of 2004 with my helping out with a video shoot. I was camera #3. It was one off thing but I was very impressed with the set they chose. I made sure to let slip that I was a musician and that if they needed anything just to give me a call.

    About a year later (early 2005) I got a call from Robert: "Hey, you said you played violin, right?" He asked if I was interested in contributing some violin to a track on The Death of Tragedy album. I threw a few things together at my studio and sent them off to him and that was that.

    About a year after that, I got a call from Robert: "Hey, you play guitar, right?" He invited me to a practice to see how I would mesh with the band as the new guitar player for the shows in support of the Death of Tragedy. It must have gone well because, well, here I am...



    <span style="color:red;font-weight:bold;">SS:</span> And your new CD, Lost Horizons is the first album featuring you, correct? Tell us about that.


    <span style="color:eek:range;font-weight:bold;">NJ:</span> It's the first album that had me as a full-time member of the band, certainly. We wanted to find a sound that would build on the previous works but show a new musical direction. With added violin, acoustic guitar, and a few stylistic departures, I feel that it's a more adventurous album than it's predecessors. It's still nice and heavy in places but overall, it has a more intimate feel.



    <span style="color:red;font-weight:bold;">SS:</span> On the new album, a lot of parts were done by the previous guitarist ("The Other Robert"). Were they recorded before you joined or do you guys still share recording duties?

    <img style="padding:20px;" align="right" src="http://img686.imageshack.us/img686/3950/l5a90569063e322991a5cb9.jpg" alt="Tymon (left) and Paul (right)" /><br />

    <span style="color:eek:range;font-weight:bold;">NJ:</span>They were recorded after I joined. Since I was splitting my time between guitar and violin, it actually worked out better for everyone to have him around to lay down a few parts of his own. That way I could spend more time concentrating on getting the violin parts down. He and I have different enough approaches to our guitar lines and given the breadth of stylings on the album it made things much easier in the end.



    <span style="color:red;font-weight:bold;">SS:</span> What does the steampunk tag mean to you guys musically? You guys are really the first band I can think of that really 'into it', with the available merchandise on the site. (Will we see bakelite goggles soon?)



    <span style="color:eek:range;font-weight:bold;">NJ:</span> Musically, Steampunk has been largely an undiscovered country. Since the genre originally developed as a visual and narrative aesthetic, we can pretty much do whatever we want with it. That's really the beauty of it. I can rattle off a list of different bands that have elements of what I consider to be steampunk and they all are cool and they all sound different: Vernian Process, Dr. Steel, Stolen Babies, The League of Unextraordinary Gentlemen, Sleeytime Gorilla Museum, Rasputina. We all embrace the aesthetic while going in our own unique musical direction.

    Over the past year, I've seen more and more fans at our shows in steampunk gear. At first, it was the occasional pair of goggles and tophat. It's just been getting bigger and better as folks have been getting more and more into it. Nowadays, it's to the point where our shows aren't so much 'concerts' as they are 'steampunk events'. In a way, our fans are becoming a part of the show itself. Personally, I love seeing some of the amazing gadgets and gear that our fans have been creating.



    <span style="color:red;font-weight:bold;">SS:</span> What is the writing process for Abney Park? What goes into an Abney Park song? And how do you fit violin playing in there(Especially live)?



    <span style="color:eek:range;font-weight:bold;">NJ:</span> Robert is the songwriter. He starts with a lyric and a basic musical idea for us to bounce ideas off of. We each then spend a while working out something that fits with it and then he takes the resulting sludge and streamlines it into something fiercely musical. We blend a lot of different stylistic elements when making our music: industrial rhythms, heavy guitar, old world instruments, exotic melodies. Really, the best way to describe it is to say, "Just listen."

    The violin presents a bit of a challenge at times. Normally, I just swap from instrument to instrument between songs - they are both running through my POD via an A/B switch. On those songs that feature both instruments I have to make a choice about which is most important to the live experience. For our song Airship Pirate, I really didn't have a strong inclination to write a guitar solo so I grabbed my violin and played that instead. Live, I'll play the guitar riffage and then swap to violin for the solo and then swap back to guitar for the rest of the song. For our song Sleep Isabella, our bass player covers the guitar part with a distorted bass patch while I just stick with violin the whole way through.



    <span style="color:red;font-weight:bold;">SS:</span> And You don't have a drummer, do you? What's that like?



    <span style="color:eek:range;font-weight:bold;">NJ:</span> I'd never played in a band that used prerecorded backing tracks before and to be honest, it took quite a bit of getting used to. There is certainly a lot of convenience to having it all contained in a laptop. You just push go and start playing along with it. It also allows for a huge range of percussion sounds, never misses a cue, and it's a lot easier to travel with a laptop than a full kit of drums.

    Of course, with backing tracks, you don't have room for any kind of give and take with the song. If you miss a cue, there is no second chance - so you have to be spot perfect with your counting. With a live drummer you can have those little 'oops' moments and still pull the song together without having to stop the sequence and start over.



    <span style="color:red;font-weight:bold;">SS:</span> Now, for some guitarist oriented questions: Can you tell us what you play through, ampwise?

    <img style="padding:20px;" align="left" src="http://img697.imageshack.us/img697/1174/1007124byporkshanks.jpg" alt="Tymon (left) and Paul (right)" /><br />

    <span style="color:eek:range;font-weight:bold;">NJ:</span> I use a POD XTLive almost exclusively. It's really the first of the 'effect/amp all in one' pieces that sounds good enough to persuade me to leave my amp at home. It doesn't have the same punch that I can get with my Mesa Boogie Mark IV, but it's far easier to travel with and since our shows are usually a plane flight away, there's really no choice in the matter. I split the signal and send one line into the house and a second line into whatever backline amp the venues provide.



    <span style="color:red;font-weight:bold;">SS:</span> And, especially, could you tell us about your custom RG7?



    <span style="color:eek:range;font-weight:bold;">NJ:</span> It all started with a pair of goggles. Magdalene Veen came to rehearsal one day with a set of goggles she'd modified. I'm not going to give away her technique or anything (for fear you might try it yourself ... very dangerous) but suffice to say that when Robert saw them he decided that the rest of the band's equipment had to go through the same process. It started with the keyboard, his mic, my guitar, the bass. Each one is it's own unique variation on the theme. Any new equipment that is incorporated into the stage set will certainly get a similar treatment.

    In December of '07, I decided that I wanted to expand on the functionality of the guitar and commissioned Seattle steampunk-artist Molly "Porkshanks" Friedrich to install the piece that wraps around the bridge and volume/tone knobs. I'm really happy with how it's all come out - as Molly put it, it's a collaboration through space and time.



    <span style="color:red;font-weight:bold;">SS:</span> What's your major influences on guitar? What led you to pick up a seven-string guitar?



    <span style="color:eek:range;font-weight:bold;">NJ:</span> When I was starting out on the guitar, I was into a lot of old school metal bands: Early Blue Oyster Cult, Black Sabbath, Judas Priest, Iron Maiden, Motorhead. I learned to play by copping licks from the records and so a lot of my playing shows that. Most of these early bands were very blues based and so my own playing tends to favor that over the stylings of the later metal bands. Since then, I've delved into progressive rock/metal, and some of the heavier industrial bands: Dream Theater, Rammstein, KMFDM, Chemlab, etc...

    I bought my first 7-string in late 2006 as a response to Robert's propensity for writing songs in E-flat. When I brought that first Ibanez home it was a revelation. The sheer brutal low end that I found at my fingertips brought me tremendous joy. I'm a total convert now. I hardly ever play any of my 6-strings anymore.

    I've got two Rg-7620's now. My custom one has EMGs (81-7 and 707) and my other one has DiMarzios (Evo 7 and PAF 7). I play them pretty much exclusively nowadays. I find that when I play a regular 6 string, I have a hard time with stopping at the low E.



    <span style="color:red;font-weight:bold;">SS:</span> Lastly, could you tell us when we can come out to see you guys live?


    <span style="color:eek:range;font-weight:bold;">NJ:</span> Just check out our website for show details. We update it constantly as new gigs appear on our calendar.




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    <span style="color:eek:range;font-weight:bold;">For more information on Abney Park:</span><br />

    <span style="color:white;font-weight:bold;"><a href="http://www.abneypark.com target="_BLANK">Official Abney Park website</a></span><br />

    <span style="color:white;font-weight:bold;"><a href="http://www.myspace.com/abneypark" target="_BLANK">Abney Park on Myspace</a></span><br />
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  2. DDDorian

    DDDorian Mantis Toboggan, M.D Super Moderator

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    This one's been in the vault since the site changeover so it's a little out of date, but it's still a cool read so check it out. Kudos, Ken:yesway:
     
  3. Groff

    Groff Medicine Chief/RHLC© Contributor

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    That guitar is SICK!!!
     
  4. Randy

    Randy Ooh, Degrasse Tyson-son Super Moderator

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    Sweet. :cool:

    It's kinda ironic, too, because I just messaged him on myspace in an attempt to get him to come back. :lol:
     
  5. TonalArchitect

    TonalArchitect Augmented Chords!

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    I wish I would've seen this sooner! Awesome, though; we need another interview.
     
  6. george galatis

    george galatis SS.org Regular

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    That guitar is SICK!!!

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