Recently, I had the good fortune of talking with Jaime Gomez Arellano, drummer and producer for the UK prog band Messenger. The band’s second album (first for Inside Out), Threnodies, is due out on April 22nd. Among the topics Gomez (as he likes to be called) and I discussed were the history of Messenger, their influences, and the many (metaphorical) hats he wears as the band’s drummer and producer as well as his role in producing for other bands.
Progarchy: You guys are still relatively new on the scene. Can you provide us with an introduction to your band and a short history?
JGA: Messenger started when our lead singer Kahled, he had some ideas for songs that he wanted to record. Since I’m a record producer and we knew each other through friends he came to my studio record some songs. The songs kind of developed as well as we worked together. Then we got Barnaby, the 2nd guitarist/singer involved and we came up with an album. By the time we mixed it I realized that we should do something with this, so I started sending it out to labels. Svart in Finland really liked it so they release our first album. And soon after that we realized we needed some other players, so we asked our friends James and Dan to join us on bass, guitar, and keyboards. So that’s how it began, really.
Progarchy: How would you describe your music to those unfamiliar with your band?
JGA: I would say Messenger is a kind of a combination of rock and psychedelic rock. Kind of heavily influenced by bands such as Pink Floyd, Led Zeppelin, Deep Purple, and Black Sabbath, as well as more modern bands like Radiohead and Jeff Buckley. It’s always a really hard question to describe yourself.
Progarchy: This is your second album, you did another one previously. Can you briefly describe the first album and then how the music has progressed and changed on the second album?
JGA: Sure. The first album was just us kind of getting together and working on some songs Kahled had and then writing some songs together in the studio. So the first album I would say is a little bit more funky than the new one, kind of a bit more gentle. I guess the difference with the second album is that we wrote the entire album together as a five piece band instead of as a three piece band. There were no songs before that [i.e. prior to the second album] we just literally locked ourselves up in my studio in London for three months and wrote, recorded, mixed, and mastered the album in that time. So that’s literally the result of all five of us working together. I think it’s a lot more varied, it’s a bit like an evolution of the first album, it’s a bit more rocking, and it’s quite different from the first album in places but still sounds like Messenger.
Progarchy: So how did that affect you then, bringing in two new guys to the writing process?
JGA: It was great actually, because they are both very talented guys who happen to be great friends. So Dan is an amazing bass player with lots of experience and good at putting songs together. Dan, the keyboard/guitar player is good at coming up with riffs. I’m the drummer in the band but I’m also the producer and I do most of the arrangements, and Dan is really easy to work with, because I can’t play guitar but I can sort of “soft play” something and he’ll just make it sound like a riff. So for me having Dan in the band it’s great for me to convey ideas. So that’s the main difference, it was literally the five of us in my studio every day, just writing and recording. We actually wrote the album in about 3 weeks. There was one demo that was kind of knocking around, but outside of that, we wrote everything at the studio.
Progarchy: Is there an unifying concept underlying the music of the new album?
I’d say there is a concept as well, more in terms of the lyrics. The lyrics which Khaled mainly wrote, I personally think he’s very good with words. We were all a little influenced by what happened in Paris at the Bataclan venue, and kind of the climate of the world at the moment, and therefore the album title Threnodies. I think lyrically there was a main subject Khaled took on board, religion and spirituality and all these things. Obviously were very saddened to hear about that. Luckily we didn’t have any close friends that lost people at that show, but we have friends of friends that lost people, and it was pretty shocking to see something like that could happen in a city like Paris.
Progarchy: Reading about Messenger, it appears that the musical influences and backgrounds of the various musicians covers an extremely wide swath, from heavy metal, punk, progressive rock, and ambient music. Is that an advantage/disadvantage or both to the creative process in Messenger, and how so?
JGA: I really genuinely think it’s a positive thing, and I think that’s one of those things that makes a band have more of a sound. The one thing we all do like in the band, we all love our prog basically, our 70’s prog. I don’t like and super technical stuff, I really do not like that, and not many of us in the band like that kind of stuff. I’ve been hugely into death and black metal in my entire life. I also play in a kind of classic rock/heavy metal band called Mirror that is signed to metal blade. And, I listen to a lot of death and black metal, but also listen to a lot of contemporary classical music, and I really love the 70’s stuff, the 70’s psychedelia. Khaled, the lead singer, he’s really into 70’s psychedelia. Bands that we all really love are bands like Magma, we love Pink Floyd, Led Zeppelin, the classics, Uriah Heep, Deep Purple. I really like Krautrock bands like Can, I’m a massive fan of Can. Dan he’s really into hip-hop and 70’s R&B, kind of fusion stuff. Barnaby is really into Americana and singer-songwriter kind of stuff. So it’s a real mix of a lot of things really and I think that makes it special because we are not afraid of mixing things up. If it feels right, we just go with it. It’s a bit of a mess in a cool way. I like to tell people, you know, like the saying “you are what you eat” so, we are obviously influenced by all these different things. These days it’s hard to be 100% original because so much of the good music has already been done. I guess what makes Messenger sound a little bit different is the mix of things. We also use a lot of different guitar tunings, and that contributes to our sound as well. I think we have about six or seven different guitar tunings on the songs that we have.
Progarchy: You are not only the drummer for the band, but the producer as well. What do you bring to the creative process from that role (and can you describe the role of a producer in more general terms)?
JGA: I think the role of the record producer has changed a little bit with time. The classic kind of record producer is the guy who is there with the band, going through the songs, suggesting arrangements, suggesting different parts for the songs, melodies, and also recording and deciding how things should sound. That’s kind of what I do, as well as obviously the first part. I sit with the guys, I listen to any riffs or ideas they have, [e.g.] “I like that chord, but could you make it a little more minor?” or “I like this, but could be maybe change the time signature, instead of playing it in 4/4 could be play it in 6/8 and maybe play it a bit faster?” I just kind of gel the songs together. I also write a couple of the bits, actual riffs. My other really big part of the job is the overall sound of the album, [e.g.] “which drum kit am I going to use for this song”? and “which guitar tone is going to work better for this part, should we use a Fender Strat or shall we use a Gibson Les Paul, should we use a Hiwatt amp or a Marshall amp?”, all these things, just kind of finding the right sound basically. My day job is to do that with all the bands [that record in his studio].
Progarchy: You also have the role as the band’s general manager – can you describe for our readers what that entails?
JGA: I have to spend a lot of time on my email every day. Obviously I negotiate the deals with the record labels. Everyday kind of general maintenance of the band, talking to the label and see what’s going on with the PR department, organizing the artwork for the album and sending it to the label, the videos which actually Khaled the singer in our band does. It’s just coordinating everything, getting tours for the band, shows, it’s a little bit everything?
Progarchy: So what’s next for the band after this album?
JGA: Well, our new album will be out on April 22. We are actually going on tour with the Von Hetzen Brothers. Then I’m looking to book other dates in Europe for the summer. WE’ve got a few festivals already lined up. We signed a three album deal with Inside Out, so onward and upwards, just keep going! This is our first album with Inside Out, so we’ll just keep going anyway.
Progarchy: So maybe I’ll get to interview you when the next album comes out?
JGA: That’d be cool!
Progarchy: Well, thank you for your time and best of luck with your new album and tour.
JGA: Thank you very much.