Monday, 17 July 2017

Summoning The Riff - An Interview With AJ Peters from SUMMONER

The first incarnation of Boston-based Summoner was Riff Canyon, the guys played under this moniker till 2011 then they changed their mind and took a decision to rename the band. Drummer Scott Smith, two guitarists Joe Richner and AJ Peters along with singing bass-player Chris Johnson certainly have serious intention.

On May 2017 Magnetic Eye Records released Summoner’s the third full-length – “Beyond The Realm Of Light”. The band made another step further and added more elements of progressive and sludgy tunes to band’s stoner doom core. You’ll even find some hints of old school heavy metal there, and though this blend isn’t new, it sounds fresh.

The sound is absolutely intensive and tight in every moment on every song, the vocals performed by Chris Johnson are rich and violent, he creates constant sonic pressure shouting his words out as if it was the last time he climbed the scene.

Summoner recorded crushing material fitting six new songs in a half an hour. How did they gain this result? Let’s ask AJ Peters!

Man Summoner’s new album is excellent evidence of the band’s professional approach - well balanced, well produced, with bunch of really good songs. Was it easy to record this material?

Thanks! We are really happy with how it all turned out. The whole process had easy and hard parts. Writing the tunes went fairly quickly when we got down to it. We work pretty well together when writing and are usually on the same page when it comes to the musical direction of the band. The recording process did get a little drawn out at the end, but that was only due to our conflicting schedules. We tracked the meat and potatoes over the course of a weekend in the studio, but getting us all in the same place for leads/vocals/sweetening etc.. got a bit tough, overall it was a fairly stress free process.

The material of “Beyond the Realm of Light” is very intensive, I would say that you keep this sonic pressure through the entire album – it’s into constant attacks of twin guitars, it’s into Chris’s shouting. Was this direction chosen advisedly?

Thanks! Yes, the energy of the album was very purposeful. We set out to make our highest energy album yet. Even with a slower, doomy-er song like Beyond the Realm of Light we wanted a defined energy to be there. Basically we gauged the songs by how well they would translate in a live setting. If it felt like it would get things moving during a set it was good to go.

How would you sum up the general mood of the album?

Going back to the previous answer I’d say the mood is an energetic intensity. The lyrics and the story have dire quality, but the music is all energy.

Did you try something new technically wise on “Beyond the Realm of Light”? Is it important to work with new equipment over each new record?

Our rigs are always growing and evolving. Each one of us has an unhealthy obsession with gear, some of us worse than others. We are always in search of something sonically. Joe and I take time building our setups and go back a forth on amps, pedals and guitars. Although the one piece of equipment that has been consistent throughout the entire life of Summoner is Joe’s Les Paul. Scott is constantly building new kits and experimenting with his setup. Chris is the same as Joe and I. He has a very particular sound he wants to achieve and knows what he needs in order to achieve it. Same goes for his vocal effects when we play live. You can pretty much bet on the fact that every time we practice, one of us says “hey, check out this new thing I got”

Summoner’s debut “Phoenix” was released in 2012, then “Atlantian” had appeared in 2013. So it took almost 4 years to finish the third record. Where have you been all this time?

We’ve always been there, playing shows and writing. The spacing of the releases of Phoenix and Atlantian are a bit deceiving to people outside of the band. From a writing standpoint all 3 albums were pretty evenly spaced. Phoenix had been written for quite sometime before we went into the studio with it. We had playing the songs from Phoenix live for over a year before we even went into the studio. Atlantian was in the writing process when we recorded Phoenix so it was ready to go right after the release in 2012. While the space between Atlantian and BTROL is longer, the timeline for us was pretty similar. We’ve always been fairly active, with short bouts of downtime here and there.

How did you get that it is right time to go in the studio? Do you wait till you have enough worthy ideas or do you make it through jamming right there? How much of improvisation in these songs?

We have a pretty good idea of what we are going to do going into the studio but things do change once we get in there. We might play with the riffs and structure a bit if we feel something while tracking. All the guitar leads are improvised and created in the studio. Scott and Chris both improvise quite a bit of the rhythm section in the studio also. They are both great at what they do and some of their best stuff comes out when they just go for things they are feeling at the time.

Well, when you started the band… did you have some general idea how this music, these lyrics should sound? How this vision changed through years?

When we started the band all we wanted to do was play ignorant rock and roll. Didn’t have much a of a plan other than to do whatever was fun. As Riff Cannon, we started as a 3 piece and later added Joe on guitar. There was a point very early on when both Chris and I did dual unison vocals, but that didn’t last very long. I was quickly revoked of my microphone privileges and Chris officially became the voice of Riff Cannon (and then Summoner), which was definitely a good decision. We actually changed the name of the band because Riff Cannon pigeon-holed us a bit musically. We wanted to write some more serious music, so Summoner was born.

Сan you say that your musical influences changed through last few years as well? What are your main beacons on heavy scene?

I wouldn’t describe it as “changed”. I’d say our tastes have become more “focused” (I feel like I am using that work WAY too much in reference to this record). A perfect example is that I’ve always loved Judas Priest, but lately I’ve been more drawn to their early 80’s stuff rather than their 70’s or late 80’s stuff. I think the same goes for all of us. I feel like we were collectively listening to a lot of late 70’s/early 80’s heavy rock. Mostly from bands that have spanned decades, but really focusing in on that era of their work i.e. Scorpions, UFO, Accept, Judas Priest, Thin Lizzy etc… Of course our influences are not limited just to that sliver of the pie, but they did seem to resonate from there quite a bit. Sometimes our tastes jump around a for me, the past few days have been spent going back and forth between the new Mutoid Man album and Night Moves by Bob Seger…….it literally makes no sense….

What's the story with Summoner-branded beer? Did you take part in its creation?

That was as much of a surprise to us as it was to anyone else. As I understand it, Oliver Brewing reached out to Magnetic Eye to ask about doing the beer. The label asked us if we were interested and of course, we were. Oliver Brewing sent us a case a few weeks back and it is actually a very good beer! It’s a 9% Double IPA. Just an added bonus that our album cover is wrapped around the can.

Summoner coherently develops from album to album, how do you see this evolution from inside? Do you see some point which you'd like to reach with the next record?

I think we’ve found our sound now, but that doesn’t mean that we won’t still try to push it. We have a general direction with the music but we also are keeping the door open to try new things. Musically we all mesh really well. Everyone is into mostly the same stuff, but we all bring a different emphasis to the table. We are actually in the very beginning stages of writing the next album. Lyrical themes and ideas have been floated around, and I know that Joe and I have been sharing some riffs and discussing what we want to do with the next record. Hopefully we can get another album out soon!

How you are active consider tours and gigs? What are highlights of 2016?

We’ve been less active with playing lately mainly because all of our schedules are hard to line up. We do the occasional weekend warrior tour, but other than that we like to space out our local shows and jump on some good out of town stuff here and there. We’ve been fortunate enough to support some amazing bands. We all try to fit Summoner into our lives where we can, and we are all of the mindset that writing and recording is what we really love to do so as long as we can still do that, and a handful of people out there like it, then we are right where we want to be.

And let's resume - what are your plans for 2017? How far do you plan to bring your music?

2017 is looking pretty quiet as of now. We have Psychofest in Las Vegas coming up in mid-August, and then are playing Forgefest in RI in early September. We’ll probably do a few more shows on the east coast to round out the year, but other than that we are going to focus on writing another record and getting out there quickly.

Words by Aleks Evdokimov and AJ Peters