Interview with Marc Okubo of Veil of Maya

I like the idea of musicians having fun when creating music. Yes, it’s a little cheesy to say, but sometimes it’s just about rocking out and kicking some dirt around. When Veil of Maya got into the studio to work on their fourth album, ‘Eclipse,’ they weren’t at all diffident. As guitarist Marc Okubo admits in our interview below, the whole recording process was actually really laid-back. One of the big reasons for the relaxing atmosphere: the band trusted that Periphery guitarist Misha Mansoor, who produced the album, would guide them toward the sound they wanted. And it appears that he did. The Chicago-based technical metallers have delivered a tighter and more focused record than expected. Overall, ‘Eclipse’ is menacing, ominous, and grave, but in the best of ways. And what’s appealing is the fact that there are some very engaging moments, both melodically and rhythmically. Recommended tracks include “Numerical Scheme” for the tasteful harmonized guitar and synth lines and “Punisher” for the hilarious (and catchy) section following the two-minute mark. If you’ve made it this far through their discography, it’s hard to imagine ‘Eclipse’ turning you off.

Hey, Marc! How are you today?

I’m alright. I’m just getting over being sick.

From touring?

Nah, I was fine on tour. As soon as I got home, I got sick.

Sorry, man. That sucks. You’re okay to chat, though?

Yeah, sure.

Cool. First off, the new record is out, so I’m wondering, what kind of reaction were you expecting to get from fans and what kind of reaction are you getting?

The reaction that we’re getting is a little bit better than what I was expecting. I was expecting people to be bummed out about the album length, which is pretty much the main complaint of the record. But, yeah, everything’s really good so far, so I’m excited.

Nice. I don’t think too many people would disagree that ‘Eclipse’ shows some progress for the band. Was that a result of you guys wanting to dive into something a little different on this record, or was it just a natural next step?

I think it’s a little bit of both. While we were putting it together, we could definitely tell that we needed to sound a certain way to get to the next level. At the same time, every time we write a song, it’s gonna come out more mature and naturally be an improvement on what we were working on before.

Especially in the past, when writing an album, bands would focus on creating a collective set of tracks. Do you feel like your music has to be written a certain way so that it’ll fit together? Or, once again, does that occur naturally because that’s just your sound, and the songs easily come out working well together from the start?

Well, when we were writing the CD, if I got to a point where I thought a song sounded too similar to another song we just did, then we changed it. I like to make every song its own little experience. The CD should be like a book, and each song is a chapter. I want every song to take you to a different place. That way, when people hear one song, they can’t really judge the entire album off of it.

They’re going to anyway, but I know what you mean.

[chuckles] Yeah. It was really hard for us to pick a first song to go online. Us, our label, and our management had different opinions about what the best song to put online first would be. All the songs sound different, so if you’re someone hearing just one song off the album, I wanted them to have the right judgement about the band.

Do you think some fans might write off the whole record based on their impression of the first single?

Yeah! They’ll straight up say that in their comment. It’s really harsh.

That can be tough. You’ll be like, “Wait, no, listen to this one!” They’re already gone, though.

Yeah, exactly. Our fanbase is seriously that picky and opinionated sometimes.

Obviously, you and the rest of the guys are fans of other bands that have a similar sound. Do you make sure to steer clear of anything that sounds too much like a Born of Osiris riff or a Periphery riff, for example?

That didn’t used to be a problem. When all of our bands first started out, we didn’t know each other, and we all sounded the way we sounded. Now, since we all know each other, and since I’ve heard all of their CDs, I do purposely try to not sound too much like them. If we have a riff that sounds extremely similar, we’ll try to alter it a little bit. That kind of stuff just happens by accident at this point.

And yet, you brought in Misha [Mansoor of Periphery] to help out this time.

[chuckles] Yeah, yeah. Me and him are good friends, and we’ve always talked about working together, so this was our first chance to actually do that. We both had a lot of fun with it. We’ll probably be doing it again.

Awesome. I heard you discussing in other interviews how the whole process was very easygoing, mostly because you guys are already friends. You also mentioned in past interviews that you watched a lot of movies and played a lot of video games while working on the album. Are you influenced by those mediums at all? I know that Misha is influenced by [composer Nobuo Uematsu] and the music of Final Fantasy, for example. What about you?

Yeah, it gives your mind a break, and possibly some inspiration. We would play video games and watch movies together just to take a break. We didn’t want to get too stressed out about deadlines and stuff like that. We had a really relaxed attitude about the whole thing. The album almost wrote itself, because Misha naturally enjoys working on music. It wasn’t like actual work to him. The way he works is really unique. He honestly does have a passion for it. He’s one of those people who have to create music.

No doubt about it. For a while, you were writing some riffs on tour each day so that you would have a lot of material to work with when in the studio. Is that a system that’s worked well for you?

It’s a little bit harder to write on tour — well, it depends on the tour. If we’re in a van and there are a lot of long drives, my main concern is going to be sleeping. If we’re on a bus, it’ll make it a little easier to brainstorm stuff. At home, like now, I’m still getting over being sick, but as soon as that’s over, I’ll be back to normal and start writing again. Forcing a little bit of music out is extremely productive. Even if you only get five seconds, it’s still something. And it’s cool to always be working and to set goals for yourself. Being a musician, I don’t really have a boss that’s watching over me or telling me what to do, so I need to keep on myself and make sure I’m working and improving.

That’s great. Did a lot of the songs branch off from those riffs you created?

Yeah, that’s exactly how it worked. Me and Misha purposely wrote the album like that. We planned it out so that I wouldn’t have any completed songs so that we could write the album together. I just created a massive riff bank and kept on adding to it. Certain parts went together that I planned would be in the same song beforehand, but a lot of parts we wrote on the spot in the studio. That’s pretty much the writing process.

Nice. I always like discussing the album artwork a little bit. Who designed the cover?

Daniel McBride is his name. He works for our label, and he did the artwork for our last album, too.

Did you give him a specific idea of what you wanted, or did he come up with the concept?

For this album and the last one, it’s been a really collaborative thing. It’s usually a string of emails between me, Daniel, and our record label. He’s extremely fast and hardworking. We just keep on going back and forth until we’re happy. We actually had a completely different layout for this album originally, but it didn’t really pertain to the story behind the album title, so he did a complete 180 and made a different concept, which turned out to be what it is right now.

Interesting. Do you think the color scheme plays a big part in the listener’s experience? What if the album artwork was pink and black? Would that make a difference?

Oddly enough, I think so. As soon as the first song is up, when you see the picture of the album artwork, that’s gonna set the whole mood of everything. Actually, the original color scheme I had was pink and blue and green. It was like Avatar colors with a little bit of pink in there.

It still has that vibe.

Yeah, that’s why, because we had this whole Avatar scheme worked out, but we got rid of the pinks and purples and made it more serious.

That was probably a good idea.

Yeah. That color scheme’s cool, though. I like pink. [chuckles]

I don’t know why I thought of pink originally, too. It popped into my head.

Have you seen the Devin Townsend CD ‘Ghost,’ with the pink in there?

Yeah, absolutely.

I think that looks awesome.

I like it as well. And what a guy! He doesn’t stop writing. He puts out two albums, which you’d think would slow him down, but he’s already started work on more.

Yeah, I can’t do that. [chuckles]

Well, he’s just a machine. Before we get to Veil of Maya’s upcoming gigs, let’s talk about the In Flames and Trivium tour you guys were a part of. How did that go?

It was awesome. It was kind of weird at first because it was a world of touring that we hadn’t stepped into yet. We didn’t know what to expect. Both bands had a super professional crew with them, and we’ve never toured with a band like that. After we got to know everybody, everything went very smoothly. It was a six-week-long tour, but it felt like one of the shortest tours we’ve ever done. It was really cool. I enjoyed it. It was an honor touring with In Flames, and all the dudes in Trivium were really cool, and Kyng was cool. We had a lot of fun. Each show was packed with a bunch of people who had never heard us before. They were actually pretty open-minded, so we were just trying to make new fans every night.

Oh, nice. I was going to ask something along those lines. The audience was pretty receptive?

I would say that they were for the most part. There are definitely a few cities where, judging by how the crowd looks, I can’t really tell what they’re thinking. Some people just wanted to see In Flames and Trivium, which I completely understand. But, for the most part, we made new fans every night. We even got the crowd going. Everyone would go crazy for Trivium and In Flames, but we would have an actual mosh pit, which was cool. I would say that every night of the tour there was a mosh pit except for the one night where the entire venue was seated.

[chuckles] Well, that’s not fair. Don’t count that one.

[chuckles] Yeah, it also wasn’t fair because the security guards let the crowd stand for Trivium.

Ah, yeah, I’ve seen that happen before. Not cool.

Yeah, exactly.

In the next few months, you’ll be hitting Japan, Australia, and correct me if I’m wrong, but I believe you have your first European headlining tour coming up.

Yeah, it is.

Awesome. Just based on fan response online, what are you expecting from the European headlining tour?

Well, I’m excited to go to Japan, Australia, and Hawaii. Those are three places I’ve never been before, and I’ve only heard good things about them from my friends who have been there. We’ve been to Europe before, so I kind of know what to expect, but we’ve never headlined there. I don’t know how much our band has grown at this point. We’ll have to see. We’re touring a lot around the world this year. It feels like we’re making progress because we’re playing markets that we’re not used to. And I think that’s what it’s all about, you know? We’re just trying to spread the word and play different areas.

Right. I’m not sure if it’s because there’s a lot more marketing power and push behind pop acts or even mainstream rock acts, but they’ll commonly and quite suddenly be popular in Europe and have no problem getting over there. On the other side of things, you guys have to actually go over there, play in front of people, and prove that you’re worthy of their time. Otherwise, they might not ever hear about you.

Yeah, and they’re super skeptical, too. They’re relentless. “I see you guys have a purple shirt. What’s up with that?” They take things really seriously. You have to be on your game when you’re over there. You can’t be goofing off.

[laughs] Anything else you want to add before we call it a day? Have you established any new goals for yourself or the band in 2012?

Well, yeah, now that the album’s officially out, I’m gonna start trying to write some new material and get back in the game as soon as possible. Hopefully, you don’t have to wait another two years before our next release.

Sounds good, man.

Pick up Veil of Maya’s new album, Eclipse.

For the band’s upcoming tour dates, check out their Facebook page.