With early alternative influences that harken back to Blue-Era Weezer and a layered atmospheric sound that occasionally pays homage to Phil Spector’s ‘Wall Of Sound’ ideals, Anakin is a band on the rise that defies categorization. Featuring a mesmerizing and truly creative sound worthy of your undivided attention, the San Diego-based quartet is a band that is truly worthy of filling arenas as large as their tone suggests.
Recently, we here at AltWire had the opportunity to speak with Anakin’s vocalist and guitarist, Jonathan Wessel, concerning the band’s upcoming new record, his early musical history and influences and more. Read what he had to say below.
AltWire [Ed Oswald]: Your new record Celestial Frequency Shifter is due out in less than 10 days. With the album nearly upon us, what would you say is your favorite track on the record?
Jonathan Wessel [Anakin]: Oh goodness, that is a totally loaded question! [laughs] To be really honest, with Anakin, I wasn’t the founder of the band or the original guy. I’m not usually one to get really excited about newer bands, because, for me, a lot of my musical background comes from older stuff like from the 60’s and 70’s through the 80’s and 90’s. So when I first heard Anakin, it just about made my head explode. I was like who is this band? I loved everything about what they were doing. Eventually, I got into communication with Brad[Chancellor (Drums)] and it just turned out that we were like-minded people and we started having correspondence. The next thing I know, he was asking me to check out some ideas that he was working on, and then one day he was just like “Do you want to be in the band?” I said absolutely. So for me, to ask me about my favorite song is just tough because I love this album, not only as a person who helped write it and perform it, but also being a fan of the band. So its tough to pick just one.
AW: That’s a great answer! You mentioned being a fan of old school music. Back in the day I saw bands such as King Crimson, ELO, and Emerson Lake and Palmer. Despite the alternative sound, Anakin seems to have classic rock elements as well, but with more of a high-tech futuristic touch. Have any of those bands played a role?
JW: Oh yes definitely, and I think this is where it really works for us and it’s what we build our sound around. Brad is firmly rooted in the 90’s, and I mean he eats drinks and sleeps 90’s alternative. I love that about him. It’s really sort of his vision, and then I come along. I look at it like he bakes the cake and I am the one that ices and decorates it, and that’s where I pull in all the other old-school influences. You mention ELO, they are huge to me in terms of influence. Growing up, my first real musical love was the Beach Boys. Basically, anything that Brian Wilson wrote and produced, that big huge Phil Spector influenced “Wall Of Sound” was huge to me. When I was like 4 or 5 years old, I obsessively listened to ‘Pet Sounds’ like multiple times a day. I constantly wore out my parents’ old vinyl collection. I tore through the Beatles and the Beach Boys especially, then into the 70s. ELO was huge, so was Queen, and you mentioned King Crimson? I love what they did.
AW: This record is also significant for the reason that this will be your first release through No Sleep Records. What made you choose to go with No Sleep, and how do you feel signing to a label will impact the band?
JW: I don’t see it having any real change. Obviously we wanted to sign and we’re all really excited to have this opportunity because it’s a chance to get out to a broader audience and be exposed more. But, for us, we knew before there was even a label, that we weren’t going to sign with anyone ever unless we found a label who were OK with our philosophy and how we wanted to do things. No Sleep has been incredibly gracious, and they more or less came in and said “we want to let you guys do what you want to do because clearly it works”. So it hasn’t been one of those things where they’ve dictated anything to us really. It pretty much boils down to the fact that at the end of the day, if we (Anakin) are not happy with it, then they are not going to do it. So that’s been really great.
In terms of any pressure I gotta say with Brad and I, the level of OCD that we put into the album with both writing and recording these songs was just obscene, and I mean that in a very good way. We spent predominately a year writing and demoing these songs out, and I think most of the songs went through at least 3 or 4 full completely done up demos. There was a cycle where we would write it out, then deconstruct it, then reconstruct it over and over. We weren’t going to call it done until we were both 100 percent positive that we had it exactly the way it could be and as good as it could be. So if anything, I think if a label were to try to come in and tell us anything, it would be to step it down a bit. Because Brad and I are both just really honed in on making it as perfect as possible. We try not to waste anything as we have a very simplified sound, and that’s a very deliberate, intentional thing. Our view is “don’t waste notes.” Everything needs has to have a real reason to be there. If there’s an unnecessary filler, then we really try to avoid that both on the individual song level and on the whole album as we do not want to put a song on the album that we are not 100 percent on.
AW: You’re now hard at work on a video for “Satellite”. Could you tell us a little more about the video, and the visual design that goes into both your videos and the band’s artwork?
JW: The production company that is doing that is working pretty closely with Brad. I know they are making pretty good progress, but I do not have an ETA for it. As far as the visual design that goes into the band, that is done all in-house. That’s all Brad. He is a graphic designer by trade and he is just amazing. That’s actually how I got in touch with him in the first place. I was in a different band and I was seeking to hire him out after seeing some of his work with various tour posters, and album covers that he had done for other groups. I was like ‘wow this guy is really good.’ So that is his thing and he is working with the same guys that did the “Send To Receive” video a while back. I expect nothing but the best from it and from what I have seen its very exciting.
AW: One of the things I love about your music is that it has a bit of a space-age feel. Your titles and lyrics all seem to circle around that general theme. Is everyone in the band really into Sci-Fi?
JW: Brad is a huge Sci-Fi guy and he loves outer space, which is something we both had in common before meeting or even talking with each other. That is one of the reasons why, when I first heard Anakin, that, I really got excited about the music. It was one of those things that you were craving for but did not know existed yet. So when I found Anakin, my head exploded. Musically, the overall themes concerning Sci-Fi, space, and the unknown really resonated with me as a person. Not only that, but the feedback we have gotten from the fans shows that we’re not alone in feeling this way. A lot of people out there want to know the answers to whats outside our little world and our solar system. There are more stars in the universe than grains of sand on the beaches, so what are the odds of nobody else being out there?
AW: Have you been following the asteroid that is supposed to be making a close pass to the earth this week?
JW: No, I did not hear about that… Wow. Recently, however, I got to see the Aurora Borealis. I was in Anchorage, Alaska and we saw it in person. I had never seen that before, so we pulled over and watched it from a car.
AW: Speaking of traveling, let’s talk about your upcoming plans for the new record. Any plans for playing it live, or touring in the near future?
JW: Yes. We are trying to work it out logistically as we really want to get out there and hit the road. We brought on Landon [Cobarrubias (bassist)] and Beki [Andreasenn (keyboards)] during the mixing phase of the album, when we realized we are going to have really to get out there and push this. Especially after getting together with No Sleep. So we’re still sort of working that out. There are logistics to deal with here, as the rest of Anakin is on the West Coast already practicing and I am here in Prairie View, KS practicing solo. Once we get something cemented down, I’ll hop on a plane and meet up with them. We want to get out and see the people who have supported us.
AW: From what I understand from your Facebook you are working on another album already? You guys are insane! You don’t stop!
JW: [Big Laugh] Brad and I don’t stop, we truly don’t. We started working on Celestial Frequency Shifter around Christmas 2013… a little over a year ago. We worked on it and by the time it was all done, after we worked on multiple demos, there was a three-week detour when we did the split EP with Sidewave over the summer. I don’t think we finished mixing Celestial Frequency Shifter until early December 2014. So basically, we spent the entire year, minus that little detour, to do the summer EP. As soon as we sent off the songs over to Eric Graves, who is our overall editing engineer, Brad says to me “I have some new songs I have worked on but I did not want to distract you.” He had like 10 songs and I laughed saying I had another 10 or so here too. So instead of taking time with the family and relaxing, we decided we might as well strike while the iron is hot. So we are writing now, and in fact, I was writing when you called me.
AW: One thing I love is how gracious you are constantly mentioning everyone else involved the band and their contributions. It’s a real pleasure to hold a conversation with someone who spreads the wealth around.
JW: Yes, actually its funny that you should mention that. When Brad first asked me to join, I had some apprehension about it since I was basically doing solo work. Being in bands when I was younger, I got burnt out with dealing with egos and all the drama that comes with being in a band. When Brad first asked me if I wanted to do it, I really wanted to but I also was a little leery. He said “look there’s no egos here, you come on board and you become a sum of this.” It’s one of those deals where I think Anakin, as the overall package, is greater than the sum of it’s individual parts. Brad and I really rely on each other. It’s a perfect matchup. Where my strengths are is where he is weak, and where his strengths are is where i am weak. Then, with the people we work with [on] our production team, as well as Beki and Landon, I’m just really excited about working with everyone in the future. We tried to strive to find people who enhance what we are doing, and this has never been about ‘this is my thing, etc.’ If anything, it’s Brad’s vision, but he is the humblest guy in the world and he is very quick to say that he couldn’t do this on his own without the right people to support him. So I think that sort of transfers around and we are all very like-minded.
I don’t know where the “rockstar” attitude a lot of musicians seem to suffer from comes from, because everyone in the Anakin camp is completely aware that our fans will make or break us and that we’ve only come as far as we have now with their support. Not to mention, we all realize that we rely heavily on eachother’s talents and abilities as a collective effort to produce our sound. It’s hard to have an ego about things when you’re in the privileged position of being surrounded by incredibly talented and humble artists.
AW: The name ‘Anakin’ could you shed light on how that came about and what does it mean? Is it literally from Star Wars or is there another meaning?
JW: There’s a bit to it and I can try to be simple about it. With Brad and I, no matter who writes the song, we both work together to some degree. However; no matter who writes the song, Brad is our lyricist and he had the band named prior to me joining. So when I first asked him about it, Brad said, “Well I liked it because one, it was an A name.” And he always wanted a band with a name that started with the letter A because then you win the alphabetical war [with CD sorting] which is funny and a smart move. He also liked the way the name sounded and the way it looked visually and he likes to leave a lot open to interpretation. My interpretation on the name is this: We are very deliberate in trying to convey a sound that overall is full of hope and joy. There is a lot of bands out there that have a very angry or aggressive sound, and while I would say that I don’t think we’re lacking in the power department in terms of sonic brutality, we also layer on these pretty little vocals, in our melodies we strive to make things very uplifting. So when it comes to Anakin, for me its a really good analogy for the band… When you think of Anakin and Darth Vader, who is this being of evil, he ultimately finds redemption in the end, and we’re trying to be this positive force ourselves. I think that ties in nicely with it. I told that to Brad once and he said “Oh, that’s a better summary than I could have come up with.” So i think that’s a safe thing to say.
AW: Lets talk some tech on your sound and what you use in the studio. I love the fuzz on your guitars and the effects you guys use. Without giving up trade secrets could you give us some details?
JW: It’s pretty elaborate, I could give you the basic ingredients but as for the recipe, well there’s no trade secrets and we basically keep it very simple. One of the things I really like about us is that we’ve figured out these the sounds we use so we don’t waste a lot of time having to experiment and be like oh let’s ‘try this’ or ‘try that.’ Our primary amp and guitar sound is a straight up Orange Rocker 30 guitar amp, and there’s no pedals needed, as the onboard gain is just plenty. But we also layer that up very thickly with a Mesa Boogie Dual Rectifier.
However, another thing too that I don’t think many people realize, and I feel it’s going to be probably more clear on Celestial Frequency Shifter than our earlier releases, is how much of that tone, and that nasty fuzz, actually comes from the bass itself. I spent a lot of time on this album working that out and the bass is just about as distorted as the guitar. We record it about 70% of the way, but what really makes it is that Joel Wanasek in our production team just knows how to EQ that stuff and run them in a way that it makes this huge fuzzy wall of sound.
AW: So you use both the layered guitar and distorted bass lines together to get that big open sound?
JW: Yeah. I think anybody who really sits down and analyzes the way we string things together musically will see that the bass line is usually as simple as possible, but that’s a very deliberate thing because we want the bass and the guitar to be working in tandem and doing the same thing to make it as big and powerful as possible from the rhythm section. That leaves plenty of room for the synthesizers and the vocals to really handle all the melody work.
Anakin’s upcoming release Celestial Frequency Shifter is due for release on February 3rd via No Sleep Records. To order the CD, please go here.
Listen to “Satellite” by Anakin below:
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