Interview: David DiSanto (Vektor)
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The music that David DiSanto makes in Vektor is cinematic. His songs have clear beginnings, middles and ends. Tension rises and releases, sometimes multiple times, in his work. But even though his lyrical content is science fiction --indeed, he has “Sci Fi Or Die,” the unofficial Vektor motto, tattooed on his body--When I think about Vektor I think about "Revenge of the Nerds."
At its '80s heyday, thrash was smart. Metallica and Megadeth watched CNN. Even Slayer wrote a song about the HIV crisis and Anthrax cut their inherent goofiness with a little social seriousness. But it was never nerdy. Those bands looked tough, fixated on projecting fierceness.
Vektor does not, and neither does DiSanto. In concert, he looks a bit like Rick James. On the phone, he’s relaxed and nonchalant. His music is nerdy in the extreme, displaying the kind of technical wizardry that only frequent practice can create. The grand story arc behind his new record Terminal Redux owes more to the '70s prog rock boom, and at times Vektor sounds more like Weather Report than Coroner. OK, maybe Weather Report after taking a month’s worth of adderall in a day, but still.
The nerds have their revenge. Terminal Redux is already incredibly popular just a few days after its commercial release (judging by how many times y'all visited the full stream we hosted last week). Thrash is on a saline drip, but Di Santo’s immune to its disease. He recently toured with the original thrash nerds in Voivod and futuristic Portland doom trio Eight Bells, and he'll soon be bringing Terminal Redux to the markets that they missed.
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The Voivod tour is kind of interesting. If I was in Vektor I would imagine that I would have kind of a love-hate relationship with Voivod. On the one hand, they're a big influence, that’s visible in the logo. But on the other hand, I think people compare you guys to Voivod perhaps a bit too much.
Yeah. Honestly, the tour was a dream come true for us because we're all huge Voivod fans. But as far as our sound goes, we're completely different. The only element we kind of share is the sci-fi elements. Voivod is way more like punk sounding.
Did Voivod wanna bring you or did you guys angle to get on that tour?
They asked us. The official story was they were gonna do a tour in November of 2015, and we were like "Ah, fuck. No, we can't do it!" Because we had the European tour at that time. So they rescheduled their tour plans for us because they really want us on the road.
They asked us again to do the February run with them, and we're like, "Hell, yeah!" We couldn't believe that we had another chance to tour with them. They're doing a West Coast leg of the US. Literally, every day they would ask us if we can do the West Coast run with them as well, and we had to keep saying no. It was the hardest no in the world to say because we're huge fans, and we had a great time touring. But we can't do it because Eric [Nelson, guitarist]'s having a kid around that time. So it's serious family stuff that's holding us back from not wanting to go. They kind of understood. Snake [vocalist, Voivod] said, "Just bring the kid on the road!"
The tour was amazing, though. They're all such cool dudes. Like Away [drummer, Voivod] is one of the nicest people I've ever met in my life. Snake is the best storyteller ever. After like every show, it was like "Story Time with Snake." He's got the wackiest stories. He got caught in a cement mixer, and his legs were like smashed and battered. Just a bunch of crazy stories like that. Rocky [bassist, Voivod] is a super solid dude, super cool. He didn't speak a lot of English, so it was mostly just like, a bunch of cheers and funny gestures with him. But Dan [“Chewy” Mongrain, guitarist, Voivod] was truly was amazing. Super funny, hilarious dude. I actually got free guitar lessons from him backstage at the Michigan show. It was great.
So who got Eight Bells involved?
That was our booking agent. We didn't have any say. I guess Voivod cleared it. Our booking agent, he also works with Eight Bells. So Voivod wanted one more opener act, and our booking agent just submitted Eight Bells for it, and I guess Voivod dug them. So that's how they got on.
Vektor is said to be one of the only bands that's ever brought anything new to thrash metal, which is kind of a heavy crown, maybe. Is that something you guys think of yourselves as? Is it something that you strive for? Where does that come from?
For me, I've just never had any preconceptions of what any genre should be. I wouldn't say I'm open-minded when it comes to music, but I'm broad-minded. There's a lot of things that I hate musically, but the things that I like are pretty diverse. And when it comes to writing thrash metal, I'm not afraid to do something out of the ordinary. I first started this band because I felt that there was this void in my music catalog that I just wanted to fill, and I couldn't find any bands that fully satisfied my needs. I started Vektor just because it was the music that I wanted to hear. At the end of the day that's why we're all in it. We're just playing the music that we would like to hear, and I think it's cool that other people are latching on to it.
You said you're not open-minded, but you're broad-minded. I don't completely understand the difference there.
Well, I really can't get into hip-hop, country or a lot of modern pop, so I'm not completely open-minded, but broad-minded. I love, like, '70s art rock and prog rock. I love old school punk rock, old school hardcore--when it was actually real hardcore--black metal, thrash metal. I'm not into power metal unless it's traditional power metal. I like a lot of different stuff, and it doesn't necessarily all have to be metal.
There was kind of a long wait between the last record and this one. Around five years. Why is that?
Well, in all honesty, we've always taken a long time to write music, which is why Black Future and Outer Isolation were both a mix of half new and half old songs. Some of the songs on Outer Isolation were over 10 years old. Like “Venus Project,” for example. I think I wrote that in the year 2000. It was already on a couple demos that we did, and then we officially released it in 2011.
This album was completely new material. I basically started from scratch other than maybe a few riffs here or there that I've been playing around with since maybe 2010 or 2011. We just started from brand new, and I think the biggest setback for us as far as writing the album was we moved the whole band from Arizona to Philadelphia in, I think, it was 2011.
So getting our new jobs, new friends, settling into a new life, it definitely slowed things down a little bit as far as the writing. And also working a full-time job. Basically I do all the writing myself. I complete the songs structurally. The foundations are all there for the song, and then I hand it off to the other guys. And Blake [Anderson, drummer] will put in his drums, and Frank [Chin, bassist] will do his bass, and Eric will figure out his solos. Then we usually go back and forth because sometimes their ideas aren't always what I had in mind for the song, but at the end of the day we all understand the Vektor sound, and we work together really well.
Why did you move to Philadelphia?
We were sick of it. Phoenix is just a huge suburban sprawl in the middle of the desert, and it's so boring. It's so isolated and the city's so spread out. It's really common, if you live in Phoenix, to go visit friends a few times a week that live like an hour away from you. Driving far distances is just common over there. So I was sick of that aspect of it. There's really cool people, and there's some cool clubs and stuff. We did have to say goodbye to some good friends. But we toured a bunch in California at that point and covered the West Coast pretty well, to a point where we'd play California and it'd just be packed, sold out clubs in Hollywood and stuff.
So we were thinking, "We've only been out East like a couple times. Let's just go out there." It's just something completely different. We had some friends in Philadelphia, and we really liked it. It was just a good centralized location to do week long tours, or just shoot up to New York for one show because it's only a two-hour drive. So it was just like a good centralized location to start spreading out the word of Vektor on the East Coast.
Do you prefer the East Coast to the West Coast?
They both have pros and cons I guess. I don't really have a preference. I like them both, but I'd say one thing that I really do appreciate about the East Coast is the way people communicate with each other is much more direct and open. There's no bullshit, and people aren't trying to color what they say with . . . I don't know, sarcasm. It's just more just straightforward talking people. That's what I really like about the East Coast.
You're not the first person to say that. I moved to Seattle from Ohio. And I noticed that same sort of cultural difference.
Not everyone is like that. In the scene, there’s “the cool people.” There's always the good people everywhere. We have a shit ton of friends in California, Portland, Seattle, LA and San Francisco. They're fantastic people. But the general population is more what I'm talking about.
Terminal Redux is your first concept album. Why?
Yeah. The first official one. Everyone kept asking if the other ones were concepts, and I'd say, "No, no, they're just all sci-fi shit." Yeah, this one is officially a concept record.
Well, you do have that tattoo, "Sci-Fi or Die."
Yeah, man, something to live by.
So why make a concept album now? And why this concept?
Well, we had been discussing doing a concept album for a really long time. Even around when Black Future was coming out, we were just thinking, "It'd be really cool to do a concept album." The actual concept was a formulation of long-term processes. I'm 32 now, but when I was 16 listening to Rush, on Hemispheres, there's a line in the song that "We shall call you Cygnus. The god of balance you shall be." And that line has just been echoing in my head since a teenager.
So five or six years ago, when the idea started coming together for the record, I started doing a lot of research about the myths and legends behind Cygnus. And this big idea started growing in my head about the Cygnus regime. Cygnus not in an astrological sense, but Cygnus as a physical, real space regime that was all-controlling and tyrannical. The idea just started growing from there. I linked it up with the last song from Outer Isolation, the title track, and explained what the hell that astronaut was doing all alone in space, and built the story up from that.
Cygnus is an interesting figure because it does show up elsewhere in prog rock. Like you said in Rush's Hemispheres, Cygnus shows up. Did you ever listen to The Mars Volta?
Yes. Not a lot, but I really like the Tremulant EP they put out. “Concertina,” that's a good song.
Yes, that EP's really good. They have a song about a Cygnus character as well, “Cygnus...Vismund Cygnus.” They're another one of these groups that made labyrinthine, difficult to dissect concept albums.
Yeah, I think it's that Cygnus is just a cool character in general. Basically when you're looking up at the sky and really clear skies, you can see the band of the Milky Way, and at the very top of that band is Cygnus. So ancient people, they had a couple stories about Cyngus. The most popular versions of it were a bird was sitting at the top of this big tree, the tree of life. And there's another version where it's a different character and the galactic band is actually a river of souls and the very top is the ruler of all those souls. So it's just an interesting figure.
You know, it seemed for a while there that everyone was doing concept albums as I recall. This is before Outer Isolation came out I think. Mastodon, Gojira. What's the appeal behind a concept album?
Well, it's really two things. It allows you to explain a very big idea. For instance, this album, the big idea is where we stand in the universe. It's about our place in the universe, and it's about the ethics and morality of controlling all aspects about our lives and even death. So it's just a big idea, and for that reason, a concept album's great because you can fully examine this large idea.
And then secondly, musically you can do a little bit more experimentation for the sake of expressing all of those new ideas, you know? So I think in those two senses, that's why they're cool. But at the same time, this is just something we just wanted to do. It was just a big idea, and I knew that one song wasn't gonna do it.
Are you a fan of contemporary science fiction, or do you stick to the classics?
When it's contemporary I tend to like the lesser known ones. I'm definitely all about the classics for sure. Like that's my majority. I love Blade Runner, and all the old Mad Max movies, and like THX 1138, a bunch of stuff. As far as like new stuff, I don't exclude it. It just depends what it is. When Moon came out I was like blown away by that movie. It was just done so well with all the clones.The premise of the whole movie is brilliant. Also, Sunshine was another really good newer one. Shit, I really, really like the new Star Wars, too.
Sunshine, not enough people saw that film. Now that director, Danny Boyle, makes huge, big-budget, award winning films. I hadn't seen something like Sunshine be released during my lifetime. I remember thinking that when I saw that film.
Yeah, it was very different. Very somber and beautiful. It's just hard to describe what it is about that movie that's cool, but it's great.
You described a lot of . . . what you described were several very somber films. And that's something that's struck me as interesting about Vektor is that a lot of thrash metal's this sort of manic and energetic music. But there is something a little bit darker and more pensive in Vektor sometimes.
Yeah. I just like to write music that moves me and makes me feel something. I like music with soul and feeling. Humans are complex creatures, and I think music is more interesting when you can do a full array of emotions and feelings anywhere from rage and aggression to something soft and thought-provoking, you know? And then after you go to something soft and thought-provoking, once the aggressive stuff comes back in, it's even that much heavier.
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