Beautiful, intelligent, emotional. The brand new album of Gates To The Morning is here. The dichotomy of Return To Earth is impressive, and the quality of the record is among the very first things which strikes instantly. We sat with the mastermind behind band – Sean Meyers, to discuss all that moved him while recording the record, how important is to study music for creating such music, as well as what’s ahead for the band. So let’s open widely the Gates to the Morning and let all the new moods, feelings and experiences to grasps us. It is the hope and the rebirth. However you must pass through The Door of Night first and the destruction part of Yin and Yan.
– Hello and welcome to Blessed Altar Zine, Sean! How are you feeling just on the threshold of releasing to your brand new record for Gates To The Morning?
– Thanks for having us! I’m feeling good, things feel really “auspicious” to be exact. Not only are we finally releasing the album in about a month but we are also doing a mini east coast tour with dates in Brooklyn, Philadelphia and New Jersey. We are playing alongside some really great bands such as Eneferens, Ghostbound, Windfaerer, and Frost Giant, just to name a few. Everything just came together in a synchronistic way, so it feels like everything is meant to be.
– Great! Let’s talk more about Gates To The Morning first. Tell us when and how everything started, what did inspire you to create the band and push it forward?
– This project really started back in 2008 or so when it was pure a one man studio project for me. I was writing a lot of second wave kind of black metal on the symphonic side in the vein of Emperor, Enslaved, Dimmu Borgir, Arcturus, etc. I was halfway through the recording process and all the files got corrupted and lost. I didn’t have the time to start all over again so I just gave up on it, I felt defeated. Fast Forward to late 2016, I started writing riffs again and resolved that I had to finally make an album. It grew in concept from a solo project to a more collaborative effort. I wrote all the music but I knew I wanted contributions from some of my friends and favorite musicians to play with, and they rounded out the sound of the record so beautifully. I never intended for it to turn into a live band but the enthusiasm was there, so now we are getting ready for the stage.
– You are attending the Monclair State University for Jazz Performance? How does you accademic experience help you in creating music? And of course how do the jazz and the post-black metal collaborate?
– I graduated from Montclair State University with a degree in Jazz Performance on drumset in 2014. That experience was necessary for me to grow as a musician. For a long time my goal was to be able to play any style of music on the drums, and Jazz was the biggest mountain to climb. I knew that guys who could play Jazz could play just about anything, and I already had a rock and metal background to back that up, so Jazz was the next frontier. I went in hoping that Jazz would simply make me a better drummer and instead I came out having a genuine and passionate love for Jazz music. There is a certain mindset I developed from playing jazz that does influence our music, particularly our live sound. Even though our music is very composed, there is an improvisatory element to our live performances that I can accredit to jazz.
– Is this how the very progressive part of Gates to the Morning was born? ☺
– I think it is how the progressive part of the band developed, but I think the progressive roots were always there. I absolutely loved progressive music in my youth, especially Fragile and Close to the Edge by Yes. I loved Jazz Fusion groups such as Mahavishnu Orchestra and Chick Corea’s Return to Forever. I also loved the more progressive side of metal with bands like Opeth, Spiral Architect and Extol. The progressive side has always been present, however I don’t think I would have been able to compose and execute those more progressive passages without having gone to study jazz.
– Is it necessary to study music in order to create good music?
– No I don’t think so. For me, however, yes it was. I really just didn’t understand how music worked. The first song I learned to play on the drums was Deep Purple’s “Smoke on the Water” and you should have seen my rendition of it. Very simplistic and primitive to put it nicely. I just didn’t understand how the drums worked, I needed a teacher. However, I have seen so many people who are self taught who are so impressive. I admire and marvel at them, because I had to study with teachers in order to fully grasp music to the level I desired. Everyone works differently. I do, however, think it is necessary for musicians to “study” other musicians. Not even from a technical standpoint, but more from a music appreciation standpoint. Imagine trying to make a heavy metal album without ever had listened to heavy metal. Or trying to make a jazz record and you never really listened to jazz. I think listening and emulating is key.
– What are your main influences and which bands/artists do you like?
– For me it is hard to say because I listen to so much different music, and when I write its hard to tell who I am subconsciously channeling sometimes. At times I would sit down and listen to “Panzerfaust” by Dark Throne and get inspired, and then the ensuing riff I wrote would sound nothing like Dark Throne at all! I grew up on Led Zeppelin, Black Sabbath, Jethro Tull, etc. Then as time passed I got into all sorts of extreme metal and also Jazz. I have always loved black metal and the foundation of our album is definitely rooted in black metal, but we add a lot of progressive elements. Funny enough a lot of the bands we are being compared to in reviews I had never listened to before. People were throwing out Alcest a lot, so after I heard that I went into got into their whole discography. Somebody compared us to Akercocke who I had never heard of, and now they are one of my favorite bands, haha! So I am enjoying other people telling us what we sound like, it is opening me up to new music!
– What to expect behind the gates to the morning? Light; darkness; new life?
– Well, the term”Gates of Morning” is a J.R.R. Tolkien reference. He never goes into great detail, but according to Tolkien the sun re-enters the world through the Gates of Morning and exits through the Door of Night. This is symbolic to me. The Gates of Morning are a promise of hope, and though it is necessary to pass through the Door Of Night, the Gates of Morning always await us. It represents a necessary beacon of hope for me. It also symbolizes rebirth. I can recall one particularly difficult ayahuasca ceremony I had participated in, and the “Shaman” or facilitator of the ceremony said something along the lines of “I know it’s dark, and feels like it may never end, but the sun will come up in the morning.” I think that sums it up pretty well. I changed the name slightly to Gates “To The” Morning because it represented a more ongoing process and a journey. I actually came up with the name back in 2008, but events that have elapsed since then reassured me it was the right name and that I should keep it.
– You are the mastermind of the project and you are playing everything in the band. However were there anyone else to help you in the recording process and setting up the record?
– Well originally my plan was to do everything all by myself, but I am glad I abandoned that idea early on. I knew I wanted to have some of my friends play on the record, I just wasn’t sure who would have the time or the interest. I put together my own dream team of musicians to help me out on the record. Mark Glaser plays the majority of the lead guitars and his work really stands out. Dylan Jacobus takes care of all the bass tracks and he did a beautiful, and seemingly effortless job. Anthony Gobeille did more than half of the keyboards on the record. He did them remotely from Los Angeles, which is amazing but I trusted him so much because he just knew exactly what I wanted to hear. I grew up listening and playing music with all those guys so we just have that unspoken kind of musical telepathy. Jon Lopez is another very old friend of mine who I’ve played with for a long time who handle acoustic and classical guitars as well as the fretless bass on the opening track. I was able to get Ædan McEvoy to play lever harp on “Chapel Perilous” which was VERY cool. We both attended Montclair State and knew each other from being in the music department together and she is now our live keyboardist! Finally, Kevin Antreassian (formerly of the Dillinger Escape Plan), who engineered and mixed the record recommended Meg Moyer to me to do the female vocals that I had wanted. He recommended her before he ever even heard my music, so somehow he was able to pick Meg, who was the absolute best fit to be on the record. She sounded exactly how I had imagined it in my head. I am very grateful to have her on the record.
– By the way which is your favourite instrument to play on of them all and why?
– It would have to be the drums because that is my primary instrument. I still really only consider myself a drummer even though I dabble with the other instruments. However it was very fun to finally track guitars, vocals and keyboards in the studio. In some ways, singing was the most daunting and scary new aspect of the recording process, but it was the most fun. I am looking forward to unlocking more of my voice and expanding my singing capabilities with time. I had never really sang before in my life before this record, aside from choir in college which was required and I faked my way though it. Even going into the studio I had originally planned it to just be an instrumental record.
– Return to the Earth is a concept album. Tell us more about that and the fourteen tracks in the record? When I listened to the album, I felt it was emotionally charged…
– It is emotionally charged and is an account of the last 11 or 12 years of my life. Things got flipped upside down for me at age 17. Call it a “spiritual awakening” or whatever cliche you want to throw out there, but it is an account of all that. I spent a lot of time trying to leave this body and leave this planet, and subjected myself to as many “ego deaths” as a I possibly could.
Throughout this process I found that what I was trying to escape, was what I needed to sit and be with. The overall concept of “Return To Earth” is grounding. I, like many of people, felt like I didn’t have a place on this earth, so I was doing my best to leave it. The realization of this album is that I have to carve out my own place on this planet, and create a home for myself. Nobody else is going to do that for me. One of the most difficult places for me to be can be in my own body and my own mind. Return To Earth deals with the idea that that’s where I need to be right now, that is my task. My home in the stars awaits me, but not quite yet. I have work to do here and now, while I am human for this short and beautifully agonizing time.
– The production is impressive as well – clear, crisp, I could hear every tune. This is usually not typical for the extreme music. It is mostly part of the progressive end. Is that what you have been looking for?
– Clarity has always been a pet peeve of mine, and something I wished for more of in the metal community. Particularly in live settings I find it so disappointing to see a band playing their asses off and everything sounds like pea soup. The same goes for the studio, I want things to blend when necessary, but I also desired clarity in the mix. Kevin Antreassian and Mikhail Marinas at Backroom Studios in Rockaway, NJ were the main engineers on the album and Kevin mixed the record. They both have great resumes and are amazing to work with. Kevin was the guitar tech for the Deftones and Dillinger Escape Plan for a while, and then he eventually went on to join Dillinger as one of their guitarists. Mikhail plays in a bunch of bands and one of them, Circuit of Suns is about to go on tour with Dying Fetus. Both Kevin and Mikhail have a ton of experience recording bands and Backroom Studios is like my home anyway, so it was never a question as to where I was going to go to make this record. They did a fantastic job and gracefully worked around some of my inexperience and rookie mistakes.
– Would you expand more on the lyrics and the artwork of the record? They shape well an overall journey of enlightenment which the album carries.
– I might have answered this in one of the previous questions, but I can expand on the concept a little bit. All the tracks do fit into an overarching theme and it is a concept album. Some tracks and flow directly into each other so that if you were not looking you wouldn’t realize the song changed. It starts out with the ass-kicking reality that everything you believed and thought to have been may not be so true at all. It is the first death of the self. The goal of meditation ultimately is to “die before death.” We have to learn to die in other ways before we actually physically die. The more we learn to die or surrender ourselves, the more we actually live. Part of the album deals with me trying to destroy myself because I thought that was what I needed to do. I leaned so heavily to the destruction side of the yin/yang spectrum that it became very dangerous. There is a quote from Carl Jung that I love, “The first half of life is devoted to forming a healthy ego, the second half is going inward and letting go of it.” Return To Earth is the realization that you can’t skip the first step, and the finale of the album is warm embrace of this realization.
– Why Return to the Earth? Now everyone’s seems willing to leave the Earth to explore new planets and move the life to Mars…
– It is so easy to want to escape, I totally get it. But the mess we are dealing with is an internal one, and the mess we see manifest on the outside and in the world is just a projection of our inner being. It doesn’t matter what planet we go to, we will bring our bullshit where ever we go until we do the internal work. I’m not as interested in space as I used to be. It still fascinates me for sure, but it almost feels like “what is the point?” because where ever we go on the outside doesn’t change the inner landscape. Earth is most certainly the place to be, and it can be so much more beautiful if we really want it to be. I guess this album is a pledge of allegiance to Mother Earth, she needs us and we need her. She can provide us with everything we need and if we choose to nurture her instead constantly taking from her.
– How would you describe Return to the Earth – as a positive light album, or more into the dark, sad spectrum?
– Hopefully both. There is a big yin/yang theme going on and I love that. It is the rise and fall, ebb and flow of the current human condition. It is the fear and horror of dying and the beautiful illumination of being reborn. The album embraces its own schizophrenic nature because that allows us to experience the full spectrum of the human existence.
– What’s ahead of Gates To The Morning? What to expect from you in 2019?
– Well, we are doing a little mini tour this July as I have mentioned along the Northeast Coast, and then we will probably resume playing live again in the fall and Winter of 2019. I have been writing the follow-up album pretty much ever since I recorded Return To Earth. I had a decent amount of overflow from Return To Earth and I haven’t been able to stop writing ever since then. It is a very creatively abundant time so the second album is already pretty far along in the process considering we haven’t even released the first one yet. I would say that you can expect the follow up album sometime in 2020 and in the meantime we will be making a name for ourselves along the east coast by playing out live as much as possible in the meantime.
– Name the three artists you want to be on one stage with. Could be past or present…
– Great question, hard to narrow it down to 3 but I’ll try. I am assuming you mean I would be playing music with them, and not just sharing the bill……in no particular order:
- Opeth – Their style just speaks to me naturally, would love to play the drums for them.
- Sonny Rollins – he had a very yogic and zen approach to music, I saw him play live in Central Park once and I felt that even though I was new to Jazz at the time, I could still vibe with him.
- Black Sabbath – Would love to just let it rip playing stuff from all the old albums. I love Bill Ward’s style of drumming and feel like I could step in for him really well.
– Would you create another parallel project? And if yes, what would it sound like? Any ideas into this direction?
– Most definitely. I am a working musician so a lot of my income comes from teaching music and also playing a lot of gigs. I play a lot of music in various different settings, whether it be Jazz, Funk, Rock, Metal, Latin, etc. I think a lot of my creativity will be channeled through Gates To The Morning, and what I love about the kind of schizophrenic nature of the band is that we have a huge sonic palette to choose from. I feel like there is not much that is off limits, so Gates To The Morning will be a creative vehicle for me for a very long time. I am always involved in other projects and it is always possible I may start up some other side projects that allow for different sounds and ideas to flow through. However, like I said, Gates To The Morning allows me so much freedom that this will be my main focus for the time being.
– What do we need to know about the person Sean Meyers? Or your music tells it all?
– Well, music always tell so much about a person, it is amazing. That is why artists are artists, they express themselves through their work. It sounds cliche but it is so true, and essential for artists to create. I can’t tell you how many times people have come up to me after performances and said something like “Wow, I didn’t know you had that in you.” It’s easy to get one perception of a person, we all judge each other, I catch myself doing it sometimes. But then through music your entire perception of a person can totally blow up and rearrange. It’s easy to feel misunderstood and I really feel like people won’t completely get me until they see me play music or at least hear my music. I think most artists might feel that way.
– If you have to describe yourself with three songs by any artist, which will be these three?
– This is an interesting one… I would say in no particular order:
Opeth – When
Led Zeppelin – Bron-Y-Aur
Alice In Chains – Got Me Wrong
– What’s your favourite book and author?
– I love to read a lot of different things but this one is easy. Most definitely Tolkien and Lord of the Rings. The Fellowship of The Ring is probably my favorite of all of them, although the whole Lord of the Rings is divided up into six books technically. The Silmarillion also fascinates me. Anything that has to do with Tolkien I am obsessed with.
– What else you would like to tell and share with our readers about yourself or Gates To The Morning?
– Keep an eye out for us. We are active on all major social media platforms and we have a website at www.gatestothemorning.com . There will be a lot of creative output from this band both in the studio and on the stage. We have a lot to offer and we are excited to bring it to the world and share it with like-minded individuals.
– Thank you very much for being our guess and for your time for this interview! Good luck with Return to the Earth! Looking forward to more music from your side.
– Thanks for having us, we appreciate it! Thank you for being such a great outlet for underground music and artists.
Interview by Count Vlad
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