Prog metal act Protean Collective is one of those bands for me whose name I’ve been seeing around the web but never gave them a proper listen, until few weeks ago. I was contacted by the group’s publicist, who was very ambitious about the four-piece’s most recent, third studio album “Collapse,” and who insisted that I should check the Boston-based group out.
And so I listened… With four releases under their belt (one of them being an EP) since 2010, it’s quite easy to notice that these three guys and a girl know their craft. It can be said that each of the ten songs on “Collapse” is a gem per se; the album was released last year but the group is still promoting it, with the release of a playthrough video which was launched a few weeks ago.
I talked with guitarist and singer Graham Bacher about this new album — which, by the way, was mixed and mastered at Fascination Street Studios by André Alvinzi and Jens Bogren, respectively.
Let’s start from your early music beginnings. How did your musical career begin? When did you start playing? Which groups have been your favorites as a young man? Please tell us something more about your early life.
Well, I first started playing violin when I was about 6, and played acoustic and electric violin through my teens, but as time went on, I got much more into the sounds and textures of the guitar. It felt like an instrument that I was more free to experiment with and really be creative.
I’d say the first bands that really got me excited about playing music were the 90’s bands like Soundgarden, Alice in Chains, the Smashing Pumpkins — and then in high school I started discovering bands like Porcupine Tree, King Crimson, Rush, and Pain of Salvation who really turned music from a hobby to a kind of obsession. Those are all bands that have been huge influences on me as a musician. Of course, while we do have a lot of common musical interests, I think everyone in the band has a pretty wide array of influences.
How did you go about forming Protean Collective? Who was the most influential when the band started its musical journey?
Matt [Zappa, drums], Steph [Goyer, guitars], and I all became good friends in our first year of college but never really played together. Sometime late in our first year there, we all got in a room together to jam, and I think it was a kind of amazing moment, where we all realized that we had some really special musical chemistry together. I’m not really sure who was the most influential — I think it was just something we were all really excited about and we really worked together on it.
In the beginning, did you have some “fixed” tempo in composing songs or everything was a product of jamming, improvising?
We always have been this way, and probably always will be to some degree, but everything was very fluid in the beginning. Someone might come in with a riff or a beat or a melody and we’d just play off it until we were all excited about it. I think later on, on the last two albums, there are a few songs that we’ve gone into thinking that we were going to go for a particular feel or effect on the listener, but writing for us has always been a very collaborative process. In the beginning, I think the improvisational nature was very apparent, with more meandering song structures; over time, I think we’ve gotten more direct and concise with our writing, but the collaboration is always an integral part of what we do.
How would you describe Protean Collective’s music on your own?
First I would grimace because I’m absolutely terrible at answering that question. I don’t feel like I’m emotionally separated enough from the music to really have perspective on it, so I’d LOVE to hear how you’d describe it.
But ultimately, what we try to do is create powerful music that meshes the aggressive energy of metal with powerful melodies and a great deal of dynamic depth. When we use progressive elements in our music, it’s to create a certain effect on the listener. I hope that each song it’s it’s own journey.
Your most recent full-length album, “Collapse” (2017), is a follow-up to 2010’s debut full-length “Divided” and 2014’s “The Red and the Grey.” Have you felt any pressure while working on “Collapse” because of that in terms of coming up with something that’s sort of expected to be better than the first two efforts?
It absolutely was for me, because “The Red and the Grey” is an album I was very proud of. We put a lot of time, energy, and love into making that record be the best album we could put out, and I think it was the first musical project for me that, after the lengthy process of writing, tracking, mixing, and mastering, I was still excited to listen to. For me personally, it was written during a very challenging time mentally, so I think it felt especially meaningful.
At the same time, since we were self producing, that took some of the pressure off, just because we were free to make sure that we had something we were really proud of and happy with before releasing it into the world — and in the end, I have to say I absolutely couldn’t be happier with how “Collapse” turned out.
What has changed for Protean Collective when it comes to writing new music — “Collapse” in particular?
Well, as I alluded to earlier, the general process has really stayed the same, but I think with Collapse in particular, we were really leaning towards creating more focused, powerful songs than ever before. So I’m not sure the process itself has changed so much as I just think we’ve grown a lot as writers and maybe what we’re trying to accomplish with each song has changed. I think and hope that our writing will always continue to evolve as we continue to write.
What would you say is the most important segment for the structures of your songs?
To me, it’s got to be the choruses. There are a lot of structures and moving pieces that go through our songs, but the choruses are where I feel like it all comes together into a unified message that connects all the pieces together into a coherent construct.
How do you see the modern progressive metal scene?
I think this is an absolutely amazing time to be a musician. I think now, with the ability nearly anyone can have to record professional sounding music, there are an unprecedented number of people who are free to create music in a way that wouldn’t have been possible 15 years ago. There are so many amazing musicians out there creating so much amazing music that it’s absolutely inspiring to see. There’s so much variety of music out there that really, I’m not sure if there’s any one real sound I could even nail down as defining a modern progressive metal sound, but I think there’s a tremendous amount of people out there who are trying to do something new and make music that is their own, and I love it.
Do you guys consider yourselves a part of any specific cultural movement, however peripheral?
I don’t think so in particular. We’re about making music we feel strongly about, and that’s the focus.
Are you also involved in any other projects or bands beside Protean Collective?
I’m not, personally. Matt also plays in an amazing band called Walter Sickert & the Army of Broken Toys.
What comes next for Protean Collective?
More shows! We’re hoping to get out there and share what we have with as much of the world as possible. Right now we’re very much in the mode of getting “Collapse” out there to as many listeners as we can. This is an album that I’m really passionate about, and I really just want to get to share it with as many people as we possibly can.
Thank you for the time and for listening!
Protean Collective is:
Graham Bacher – vocals, guitars
Dan Ehramjian – bass
Steph Goyer – guitars
Matt Zappa – drums, percussion