I caught up with Act of Defiance on the Axes & Anchors Cruise last week. Before my interview, I sat in with their public Q&A, and the very first question asked about their previous careers, as well as the future of the band, and they had some strong opinions to say the least. I talked with them about that, combining their influences, and their creative process. Then I had a chat with just Chris about his approach to writing and his signature Jackson guitars!

Kyle Karich: “You guys all come from very diverse backgrounds and influences but the final product is really cohesive. Was there a conscious effort to go in a certain direction or was it more natural?”

Chris Broderick: “I was much more into progressive and heavier Scandinavian metal and stuff like that. Meshuggah, Scar Symmetry, and of course all of the shredders. So that stuff influences me that way. Shawn and I really had a common influence with King Diamond.”

Shawn Drover: “We all love King Diamond, all four of us. So that’s a great reference point.”

Henry Derek: “It is especially important when you say you want to be metal. That could mean two different things to two different people. But we all know King Diamond is as metal as it gets. There is that camaraderie there.”

Kyle: “That’s cool, because thrash means so many different things to different people. There are a lot of modern bands that are considered thrash revival these days that are pretty far removed from the original genre, everything from Trivium to Cannabis Corpse, but it does sort of come across in Act of Defiance as a modern take on original thrash.”

Matt Bachand: “Well I listen to everything. From Yanni to Hate Eternal. There are only two genres of music: good and bad. There shouldn’t be any walls in the creative process. Just write something that makes sense to us, and hope everyone else gets it.”

Henry: “Look at metal as an entity and why it’s thrived. It’s a melting pot.It’s really good when you get to see different personalities come across in the music and everyone contributes. That’s something really special comes out. I remember being a kid and going to the mall, buying a cassette, looking at all these guys, and having my favorite guy.”

Shawn: “Like in KISS!”

Kyle: “And all of your personalities do come across. Like that guy in the Q&A asking you that tacky ‘So as a supergroup’ question… I don’t think I’ve ever seen any of you guys promote this as ‘Ex-Megadeth Members’”

Chris: “I think we’re actually trying to get away from some of our past bands, in a way. We wanted to come across as something different. Obviously we love all of the fans that have followed us, but we want them to know that we’re offering them something different.”

Kyle: “Back to you Matt, you’re playing bass now, you play rhythm in Shadows Fall. How was the transition? Do you prefer bass, have you been playing bass a long time, is it just different? Tell us about that.”

Matt: “It’s funny, Chris didn’t even think about me as a bass player when Shawn mentioned it to him putting the band together. Shawn had seen me play bass in my cover band Cobra Kai.”

Kyle: “What kind of stuff do you play in that?”

Matt: “That’s Poison, Skid Row, the hair metal thing, but done how it was back in the ’80s. It’s not like getting your spandex and hair spray out, it’s legit. If you saw Guns N Roses in 1986, they were fucked up. We do the real show.”

Chris: “The first thing they do to warm up is chug about 6 beers.”

Matt: “I also played bass in Times of Grace, I filled in on Hatebreed for a tour on bass. 5 strings were new, though. I simply couldn’t keep a 4 string in tune that low with the 7s. I avoided switching to 5s as long as possible because I have tiny little hands, but I got used to it.”

Kyle: “It’s cool to hear that you’re doing the hair metal thing. The ones you name dropped are some of the better examples too. So many bands are trying to bring back that mantra now. I don’t know if you’ve all seen Steel Panther, but they are legit as Hell.”

At this moment everyone in the room erupted into praise for Steel Panther and told short anecdotes about seeing them live. We could’ve continued on that tangent for the rest of the interview.

Matt: “If they had come out in the ’80s they would’ve been the biggest band on the planet.”

Shawn: “All of us having these influences is part of what makes this record unique. To me, I don’t think we sound like anybody.”

Kyle: “So Henry, obviously you’re sort of the wildcard here. Some people know you from your project with Joey, but you’re fresh to a lot of fans. One thing that I think is really cool about your style, even though you adapted to Act of Defiance, you have a really identifiable voice.”

Henry: “I just try to be myself. The one thing we did, Chris and I, was consciously try to make it sound raw and rough around the edges. Sometimes I tend to sing a little too clean, because I love pop music. But changing it up really worked to our advantage. It’s cool to play in different types of projects because you find things in your voice that you didn’t know were there.”

At this point the manager interjects with neon-blue tropical drinks for everyone, and a third Foster’s oil can that Matt smuggles into his hoodie. Chris didn’t actually want his so he took a sip and gave it to me. We proceed to attempt to get back on track.

Shawn: “My favorite thing about Henry’s voice is he has about 8 of them.”

Chris: “One per personality.”

Matt: “It helps us with touring too. We can play with Cannibal Corpse and be OK and play with Shinedown and be OK. Because there’s a little bit of everything. Our shows with Killswitch were great.”

Henry: “I was never into rough vocals. But now Shawn and Chris got me into that. I listen to Lamb of God now. It opened up a whole new world for me.”

Kyle: “It’s cool to see someone else coming from that direction. Personally I was raised on classic rock, then classic metal like Maiden, it took me a while to get into harsh vocals!”

Henry: “That’s the thing about heavy metal though. There are almost no bands these days that don’t have some clean vocals, even after rough vocals took over for a while. I listened to the new Cattle Decapitation and was like ‘are those clean vocals? Oh my God.’ There’s a common thread in almost all metal now.”

Chris: “One thing we really worked on was not having the heavy verse, clean chorus thing. We wanted it to be a rollercoaster. More dynamic.”

Henry: “Yeah and we worked on all kinds of screaming too. Total screams, melodic screams. Most of what I do, there’s a note there. To keep it varied and have it fit the music. We avoided defined heavy parts and defined clean parts.”

Shawn: “And we did everything really naturally to fit that vibe. There is no copy/paste on this record, you’re listening to actual takes.”

Kyle: “Bouncing off of that: what were some ideas you guys had or directions you went in that didn’t fit the first album that wound up getting tabled?”

Chris: “I think at first I was trying to push certain ideas of how a part should be sung on Henry, and it was obvious that a non-vocalist was in control there. It didn’t fit. It was one of those things where we did have the luxury of testing those waters and trying things out, recording over an extended period of time in multiple locations and just bouncing ideas off of each other.”

Kyle: “Adjacent to that too, in the studio: what particular pieces of gear were you guys using? What did you guys enjoy playing in the studio?”

Chris: “For me I use the Fractal exclusively, but I spent a ton of time getting the cabinet IRs to sound the way I wanted to. Mixing and blending different ones together. I got a baseline tone and modified it along the way to fit the mix. I use the ENGL Savage 120 model for rhythm, and the HBE Friedman for leads.”

Shawn: “Yahama Absolute Maple drums, Sabian cymbals. In the studio I kind of scale down the kit because I don’t use a lot. One bass drum, 2 racks, 2 floors.”

Kyle: “And to go off of that really quick: I’m sure you get this a lot, but what would you say is the distinct advantage of open handed playing?”

Shawn: “Well the clear advantage is that playing cross handed to velocity of playing the snare is limited. I can whack it as hard as I want to.”

Chris: “And he does, believe me.”

The entire room bursts into laughter, visibly upset at the auditory punishment Shawn has been dealing them over the years. I add “If a snare doesn’t sound like a door slamming shut you’re playing wrong.” Shawn just smiles and nods while all the other members shake their heads.

Shawn: “There are obviously advantages and disadvantages but I just didn’t know any better. I was 13, left-handed, jumped on my buddy’s kit and started playing like that. Simphon Phillips plays that way. If it’s ok for him it’s ok for me.”

Henry: “Back to the studio question, I actually don’t do any of that stuff at all. I just sing my parts and then put it in the hands of the engineer. Anything that happens effects-wise is out of my hands.”

Chris: “The main thing I tried to capture with him is the clarity in his voice. If you don’t get that going in, you can’t get it back in mixing. Then the producer Zeuss, has the open palette to manipulate.”

Matt: “Zeuss did all the Shadows Fall records. He’s amazing. I have no problem just handing things off to him. And on that note, I just used the SansAmp direct. D.I. and SansAmp blended.”

Kyle: “I love that, everyone tells me that these days.”

Matt: “It’s so useful. That’s actually what Zeuss prefers too. It sounds great. Besides that: just Legator basses and DR strings. I actually had 3 quarters of the record recorded on a 4 string, listened back, and was hearing all this little shit out of tune, the intonation issues. I actually had to get a 5, go back and record the entire thing. I had most of it done. The other major change was hearing all these little pops and zips that were difficult to get out in the mix, and switching to flatwound strings.”

Kyle: “Really?! I never would have guessed. You almost never hear about those being used for more aggressive music.”

Matt: “I use them almost exclusively now. Just happened to really like them. They work great for me.”

Kyle: “What Legator model were you using and when did you get onboard with them?”

Matt: “The Helio, one of the newer ones. And several years ago. I have a signature guitar with them for the Shadows Fall stuff so it’s been…. 5 years now, yeah. They really make some impressive stuff, and the way they approached me was great, really friendly. Just fell in love with them.”

Kyle: “Yeah they show a lot of support for the more experimental side of things. Obviously they do fanned instruments and Josh Travis has a 9.”

Shawn: “Where the fuck do you even start with that?”

Henry: “How low does that go? Or is it a higher string?

Chris: “I would assume with the F#, it’d be a low C# below that. I have an 8 but even 8s to me-

Shawn: “8s are fucking brutal man, they’re too much.”

Chris: “It’s not even for me playing it that’s too much, the range of the instrument is so great that to get a good tone out of the lower strings and out of the higher strings is almost impossible.”

Other reporters are ushered into the press room, with managers flying about. Many of their drinks are empty and my timeslot with them is over.

Kyle: “I really appreciate all of your time! I know you all have events the rest of the night, so I’m just going to knock out the interview I had with Chris afterwards, you guys can feel free to go.”

Matt: “Yeah we’re used to being ignored.”

Shawn: “We didn’t want to answer your questions anyway!”

The rest of the guys file out to get more drinks and do their next interviews, talking about how excited they were to see Yngwie later. Shawn was very adamant about seeing Seven Witches.

At this point I interviewed Chris Broderick, the full interview is viewable here.

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