Blame Canada. I mean, you might as well, everyone else is doing it. Even Javier Reyes, the longstanding guitarist for instrumental metal titans Animals As Leaders, is taking some time out of his busy tour schedule to complain about the country.
“I’m starting my day in Canada somewhere,” he says, the background hustle and clatter of plates implying he’s in a restaurant. “I’m currently on tour, but we have the day off. We’re somewhere in the middle of the Canadian Rockies. There’s not really much to explore in this town.
“It can get really tiring when [we’re touring],” he continues. “There’s just a lot to do. Whenever we have a day off it’s always nice to just unwind and not really do anything. I mean, when we’re somewhere like Niagra Falls or Paris then we like to get out and explore, but not when we’re in Canada.”
Reyes speaks in clipped soundbites, rounding off his answers quickly, and often asking for clarification when he feels he doesn’t understand a question. Perhaps it’s understandable that the musician uses words so sparingly, and mulls over his responses for so long before dropping them. After all, it is difficult to use language to describe an art form that actively bypasses it. The Animals As Leaders discography represents a complete rejection of over-analysis and the endless word wank that muck-rackers tend to spend their time slinging about the place. It has nothing to do with language and everything to do with sound.
An album like their most recent offering, The Madness Of Many, isn’t really about anything to speak of. It bypasses the head altogether and goes straight for the gut, providing a one-two punch that makes up for what it lacks in subtlety, with ferocity. Given that level of technical mania and might, it’s perhaps understandable that the three-piece constantly seek to hone their talents, and that they are forever looking for chances to rehearse.
“We practice a lot just backstage,” says Reyes. “We’re constantly practicing and warming up. Sometimes as soon as we finish a show we’ll start practicing for the next one. We have to play a lot.”
Given that the band is always working, do the members ever get strung out, or succumb to the performance anxiety that affects so many other artists? “From time to time, depending on the show we’ll get nerves, or just randomly they’ll decide to appear,” Reyes says, before mulling over his next four words for what seems like a lifetime. “But it’s not often.”
However, the artist does admit that due to the sheer technical wizardry a song like 'Arithmophobia' requires, he doesn’t usually have time to concentrate on the audience. Perhaps that’s why he’s so genuinely unafraid of them – why he can step out in front of a stadium sized crowd without feeling his heart flutter even once.
“I try to get in my own space as much as possible when playing,” he says. “I actually don’t like looking at the crowd often. People make eye contact with you and try to have a moment, and meanwhile I’m just trying to play the most difficult thing I know how to play on guitar. I’m not trying to have a moment with an audience member. So usually I just close my eyes a lot. I just block it out. I may be headbanging but I’m definitely thinking about my form or my pedal or the next part. There’s definitely high levels of concentration happening, that’s for sure.”
But even though he might actively go out of his way to block out the crowd, there are a number of bodies that he keeps at the forefront of his thoughts - his fellow performers, Tosin Abasi and Matt Garstka, with whom he has been working with for years. “We’re definitely trying to make sure everyone is okay at all times,” he explains. “We’re always trying to see that nobody’s having technical troubles. If anything comes up, we need to handle it. There’s only three of us so if one person is having problems we can all hear it. So, if one of us isn’t having a good show it makes it harder for all of us to have a good show.”
Animals As Leaders will be touring Australia in February and March, ticketing and info is available through Live Nation. The Madness Of Many is out now through Sumerian Records.