Black Orchestral Genius
For those who are fortunate enough to have heard the debut full-length album from Lake Forest, California’s Xanthochroid, you already know how diverse and majestic the music is. A young band with an insane amount of talent and maturity, Xanthochroid is undoubtedly a band with a brighter future than most of their peers. A perfect blend of sweeping atmospheres, melodies, symphonic/orchestral elements and chilling black metal, Xanthochroid’s latest release Blessed He with Boils is nearly flawless.
Founding member/mastermind Sam Meador was gracious enough to carve out some time from his busy schedule to chat with us. We spoke about the magnificence of the album, the origins of the band’s name, and how he doesn’t seem to possess to ability to play simple music, among other things. A young man with a tremendous musical pedigree, it’s no wonder that the music found within Blessed He with Boils (and their first EP Incultus) is what is it. Along with a sturdy collection of musical prodigies, there’s no telling how far this band can go or what they can create in the future.
Your debut album Blessed He with Boils is sensational. It flew under the radar late last year but hopefully now you’re getting more exposure. I’ll assume you and the rest of Xanthochroid are satisfied with how it turned out.
Sam Meador: Oh yeah, definitely. This is the happiest we have been with any of our recordings, that’s for sure. The reviews we’ve been getting are awesome, too; more than we expected.
When you guys were creating the album, did you all know at the time that it was going to turn out that powerful? Or did it kind of hit you all towards the end of the recording process?
I think it was a little bit of both. I wrote most of the music and all of the lyrics, so I had this vision in my head. So I knew it would turn out good, but it’s definitely thanks to the rest of the band – and especially Matt (Earl) our drummer for doing all the sound engineering – that it did. But when it was all actually realized (at the end), we were all blown away. I think our guitarists (David Bodenhoefer and Brent Vallefuoco), who were also helping us all along during the whole process, but when the whole thing was done, that’s what they experienced. They were blown away. They were like, what the hell did we just make?! [laughs]
Considering you are the mastermind of the band where you write the music and lyrics, is it a policy of your way or the highway? Or are you receptive to the other members’ ideas?
There’s definitely some give and take within the band, but I think our producer, Matt, is more the one who is like, No! I want it this way! Or No! I want it that way! I’ve got the actual music, the composition of the songs, figured out. But when it comes time to entering the studio, we’re talking about the production. We’ll talk about certain instruments we want to use, like a certain type of percussion in certain points, stuff like that. But as far as the actual music itself, no, that’s not going to change much. With that being said, our guitarists and our bassist (Bryan Huizenga) – who only joined the band a few months ago – we haven’t had them in the band for very much time. Hopefully we will start incorporating everybody’s ideas.
Do you all tend to work easily together?
Yeah. We definitely hit our stride, especially with this album. There’s not much conflict in that everybody knows what we want it to sound like.
Xanthochroid is a new band and you’re all young, yet you sound like a band that has been around for a long time. Your sound is smooth and focused, like a mature, veteran band. With that said, how long have each of you been playing instruments and creating music?
Well I have suddenly become the oldest member of the band [laughs] at 23. No, wait, our bassist Bryan is 25 so he’s the oldest. Our drummer Matt is 20; and our guitarists David and Brent are still only 17.
[laughs] Yeah. They’ll both be turning 18 (this month) so we’re looking forward to that. So yeah, it’s pretty amazing. Especially Brent; the kid’s a genius. He’s got his own side projects and he’s been doing this about as long as any of us have. I’ve been playing since I was nine; I started playing piano then. I really got into guitar when I was 14. Matt’s been playing drums since he was 12 or so. I can’t speak for the other guys because I honestly don’t know how long they’ve been playing. It’s all been since we were children, though.
I’m much older than you guys and when I was a kid, most of the new bands that were just starting out just didn’t sound refined at all. They couldn’t really play their instruments so well and it usually took most bands a few albums before they hit their stride in terms of ability. But with you and a many new, young bands coming up these days, there is a lot of talented “kids” who really know how to play extremely well. Do you think it’s a matter of the technological world we live in where every tool needed to learn at everybody’s fingertips, or is it something else?
That’s a good question and I do think about that from time to time. I experienced the same thing when I was going to go to college. My piano teacher had told me that he had gotten into Chapman, a prestigious school with a great music program. He played this Bach piece that I had been playing since I was 14 (and gotten in). By the time I got to college, if I would have played that same Bach piece to get in, I would have been laughed at. So, things have definitely changed not only in the popular world and in metal, but also in the classical world, too. I think it’s because the standard has been set so high with all these amazing players. I think it goes back to the 1980’s with guys like Yngwie Malmsteen and Jason Becker and Steve Vai… these guys who came around and just blew people away and it created a higher standard. And then with technology now, kids can get it all on YouTube and that’s just as good as any music teacher or college education can give you.
One thing a lot of these young talents lack, though, is the ability to harness their talents and create actual songs, the kind that stick in your head. With Xanthochroid, you guys have that ability. Why do you think it’s so hard for a lot of these technical, skilled players to write actual songs, and does that ability come natural for you?
I’ve studied musical compositions my entire musical life and I’ve been writing music since I was 15. Everybody always told me they liked listening to me play so I think I’ve always had a natural ability to write. I think that’s why everybody who writes music does that; they have a natural ability. Well, at least I hope they do. But for me, I like to dissect why something sticks in my head and why I like this progression over the other progression and things like that. Those are things I apply to the music I compose and I hope I always do.
So far all of Xanthochroid’s songs are very complex compositions like a classic symphony. Do you have it in your blood to ever sit down and write an extremely simple, catchy pop-driven song, or do your compositions have to be complex because that’s the only way you’re comfortable playing?
That’s a very good question. I have to do the complex stuff when I’m writing my own music. If you’ve seen any of the guitar stuff I do, the percussive guitar, I’ll take pop songs and make them much more complicated. [laughs] It’s really hard for me to do the opposite. But that’s a good question!
Why do you think that is? Do the basic arrangements bore you to tears and you need a challenge or do you just not have the ability to keep things simple?
It’s just, I don’t know… [thinks for a while] It has to be satisfying to me. If something’s too simple for me, I’m going to want more. It’s just got to be satisfying for me to listen to. It’s hard to explain, I guess.
The overall sound of Xanthochroid is diverse. I can pick up a wide variety of different bands’ sound within your sound. I’ll assume each member has an eclectic taste in music. What do you guys listen?
Sam Meador: The only thing we listen to, the entire band, the only thing we listen to is Alien Ant Farm.
[laughs loudly] Yeah I bet. I’m sure you all sit around listening to their version of “Smooth Criminal” all day, every day.
Yeah, exactly! On a serious note, my biggest influences in terms of metal are Opeth, Emperor, Wintersun and Moonsorrow. Those are my biggest influences because there are lots of progressive and symphonic elements. Really, all of my musical compositions and composition ideas have been inspired by Moonsorrow. Have you heard of them?
Of course. Moonsorrow is great. V: Hävitetty is one of my all-time favorite albums.
Yeah. They are obviously one of my favorite bands ever. So awesome. Matt is also huge into Wintersun but he started out with more brutal death metal stuff and you can really hear that in his drumming. We are all into a lot of the same bands but he showed me bands like Fleshgod Apocalypse and he’s really into Nile. But, really, we’re all kind of into the same stuff. We all really like The Faceless, too; they’re really huge for us. Bryan’s into a lot of metalcore stuff, but also a lot of real brutal stuff as well like Textures and bands like that.
What about non-metal?
Oh, we all do. I listen to folk music and acoustic stuff. I listen to this band Sun Kil Moon and I get a lot of acoustic inspiration from them. There’s this great folk band called In Gowan Ring and there’s this band from England that I like a lot called I Like Trains, they’re kind of like a post-rock, depressive stuff.
You also mentioned Emperor as a huge influence. When you do your harsh vocals, they sound quite a bit like Isahn. Is that a deliberate move on your part or is that a subconscious move because he and Emperor are such big influences?
I’m definitely not trying to sound like him but I am complimented when I hear people say I do sound like him. That was the style of vocals that I was able to produce. I feel as though I can annunciate very well when I do that and it’s very expressive. I like Shagrath, I like Isahn, but my favorite metal vocalist is definitely Mikael Åkerfeldt. He’s awesome; you just can’t beat that. But, really, I feel that I draw more inspiration from Dissection from their last album Reinkaos. I don’t know, the vocals were really clear and so well articulated and I just find it more expressive, that style of vocals. It’s just what I’m able to do. If I sound like Ihsahn, I sound like Ihsahn [laughs].
Speaking of Dissection and Jon Nödtveidt, he’s got to be the biggest waste of talent in the history of metal. What are your thoughts on him and his suicide?
I definitely have an opinion on Jon Nödtveidt. I listened to The Somberlain and that really turned me onto Dissection. They’re brilliant. Melodic black metal is stuff that I really like. But yeah, he’s an interesting subject [chuckles]. He was so extreme into his ideologies that he ended up killing himself [laughs]. But I’m really into Reinkaos. I know everybody hated it but it’s a really well thought-out concept album from start to finish. The songs are simple and everything but they’re so catchy. He thought it was his crowing achievement and I have to respect that, I guess.
How well does Xanthochroid’s sound translate into the live setting?
We’ve been working on that a lot, especially with Blessed He with Boils. We had to incorporate to symphonic and orchestral elements on backing tracks mostly because there’s just too much going on for me to play. On keyboards, it’s physically impossible because the bass parts are too low and the violin parts are too high, so we had to incorporate the backing tracks for the live setting. But I do play all the keyboards and the acoustic guitar (in the studio). But we have been working on our live sound a lot and we’re just trying to make it sound like the record and play it as well as we can.
What are your plans for touring for the immediate future?
We’re trying to get a West Coast tour together for the summer. We’re planning on going up the California coast and into Oregon and Washington and I don’t know, maybe go a little east to Las Vegas and Phoenix.
According to my research, a Xanthochroid is someone with light complexion and light hair. Is there some sort of light complexion/light hair thing to go along with the ideologies of the music? What’s the basis behind the selection of that word for the band’s name?
I saw that word when I was 15 and it was a word that stuck out to me. I thought it sounded pretty cool and looked cool. We have our own little back story and world that I’ve created and we’ve developed. In our story, Xanthochroid is a person. He’s sort of the king of the northern realm. Maybe he would have light complexion and light hair, but it’s nothing concerning the ideology or races or anything like that.
How long have you been creating this lore, these stories and worlds and characters to coincide with the music? Is this all from you or does the entire band contribute to the story?
The whole band is on board now. I sort of came up with the idea about three years ago when we were recording our first EP, the Iced, in Extremis EP. That was done with a drum machine and the recording was not very good… But anyway, that was an idea that I hashed back then and I’ve been working it out in my head ever since. We plan on releasing some sort of comic book-type of things to fill in all the gaps of the back story. But everybody in the band is into it. It’s something as a band we want to promote and explain that this is part of what we are.
Aside from the band, what do you all do?
I’m a music teacher. I teach piano and guitar and whatever else I can, even ukulele lessons. Matt is also a music teacher and we work together in a small store in Dana Point. I also do private lessons and I try to pick up music gigs as I go, like playing piano for dinner parties and stuff. So Matt and I make a living doing music. It’s a meager living, but it’s a living. Brent is a videographer and musician as well and he’s interning at a studio. David is in high school [laughs] so that’s his occupation right now. Bryan just moved down from Northern California and he’s actually Brent’s cousin and they’re living together right now while he figures his situation out.
Considering how diverse your lives and schedules are right now, do you foresee any conflicts regarding touring?
This point right now would be the time to do it because in the future, you never know. Yes we do have diverse interests and schedules but right now would be the perfect time to do it. We’d love to be able to get onto a big tour package and tour all around the country.
Realistically, what are your expectations and goals that you’d like to achieve with Xanthochroid within the next five to ten years?
Definitely we want to get out there and tour as much as possible. A lot of our aspirations are with those gigantic European festivals. We all are dying to play those huge shows like Wacken and the others. I’ve got some ideas for the next couple of albums so I think we’re going to keep doing what we’re doing. Hopefully it catches on and we get on some big tours and get our name out there as a prominent band in metal.
I know it’s way too soon since Blessed He with Boils just came out a few months ago, but do you have material already written for the follow-up?
We’ve already got quite a bit of material written for that but we won’t be recording that anytime soon. We’ve got other stuff going on. We want to promote this album as much as we can. When we decided to release this one, I found out that the worst time to release an album was in December and I was like …shit. Oh well, I thought it was the right time at the time, but at least it’s out there and people are starting to find it.