The last couple years have seen a lot of change for Las Vegas’ sonically eclectic Amarionette. After undergoing a significant sound change, parting ways with their original vocalist, and recently seeing the departure of their longtime drummer, the band has continued to persevere with the release of their new “Evolution” EP, out on Friday, August 23. I spoke in-depth with guitarist Nick Raya about the band’s creative process, some of the new songs, and where they hope to go next.
This is now the band’s second full release since Issy Berry joined as lead vocalist. Has the band’s songwriting process changed at all since the release of the AMVRI EP?
Nick Raya: The first thing that really changed for us was on the songs “Modern Disco II”, “Nostalgic Love” and “No Control”… myself, Ron, and AJ got together with Tai Wright, who used to be the drummer of Slaves and Four Letter Lie (and also played bass in D.R.U.G.S). Initially we were talking about doing a pop project, something totally different, and we weren’t really sure what we were going to do with the songs. We ended up using them for Amarionette, but I think the way we wrote them was a little different.
What changed was… I brought some riffs to the table as per usual, but… we hadn’t sat down and written songs together in a really long time. So the fact that the four of us were in a room together, and we literally just wrote them on the spot in the same day was pretty crazy for us, because we hadn’t done that in a while. I had a general riff and idea of what I wanted, but… basically what you hear in those songs, the “meat and potatoes” of the structure, was written in like 3 to 4 hours.
So would you say writing for the last EP was more of a slow, meticulous process?
It’s not that it was necessarily a slow and meticulous process… I just demoed out like 20-something songs. And even some of those songs got used later on… “Diamond Dust” was one of those demos that ended up on this EP instead of the AMVRI EP. “B-Nasty”, the one we did with Andrés… that had been sitting in the vault for about 2 years, and we decided to finally finish it now because we liked where the vocal direction was going.
We also ended up re-recording “So Much Better” for this EP as “So Much Better II”. We just felt like that EP from 2012 with [the band’s original singer] Quin, [Dangerous Times and My Dangerous Ways]… we really loved those songs a lot, but the recordings at the time didn’t do those songs justice. At the time it was fine, they were just meant to be demos. But re-recording that song… we loved it.
I wanted to touch on that, because for me, “So Much Better II” and “Modern Disco II” seemed like a full-circle moment. Those songs have callbacks to your past, but still have elements of where you guys are now stylistically.
“Modern Disco II” though… the other guys in the band don’t all agree that it’s a sequel song. But the way it’s written… it’s basically the original “Modern Disco”, but in E minor as opposed to D major, you know?
I definitely hear it in the bridge… that feels structurally like a major callback.
Yeah, both songs have that major key change in the bridge, they’re right around the same tempo… I think “Modern Disco II” is just darker as opposed to the first one.
The original “Modern Disco”… the vocal hook is basically “Genie in a Bottle” by Christina Aguilera. [laughs] Honestly… that whole vocal hook is like “Genie in a Bottle”, it’s crazy.
I think that’s what was cool about that song, though! It was so “pop” in a way that felt different than what other bands you guys get compared to were doing. I remember when you sent me the original demo of the first “Modern Disco”, and my initial reaction was just how well-executed it was, considering you guys really hadn’t sounded like that before.
Yeah, that song was a huge change for us.
Going off of that, how have you guys balanced the old and new material in your live setlists, since there is that sonic shift that’s taken place?
We’ve been trying to do a mixture of both. Recently we’ve been playing like 5 new songs and 3 old, or 5 old and 3 new… it kind of just depends. We have a bunch of setlists worked out, depending on the venue that we’re playing at. Out here in Vegas we played at this place in the Rio casino, and we played a 60-to-90 minute set. I think we played 17 songs our last set that we were there, and we got to play whatever we wanted. So we played a huge mixture… the whole AMVRI EP, “Modern Disco”, and then all the new singles, stuff off of Repeating History… and then some songs we hadn’t played in years. So it really depends on how long our set is.
Tell me what’s been going on the band’s drummer situation. Your drummer Justin Brooklyn left late last year, right?
Yeah, Justin officially announced his… non-membership in the band late last year or early this year, I wanna say. He told us after our tour in October of last year that he was done at the first of the year. He was down to do small shows, but he didn’t wanna do any more extensive touring. And then Carlo [Marquez, formerly of Stolas] was like “Yeah, when I’m available, I’ll do it”. And Carlo was actually supposed to come out on tour with us in June, but he had to go out with Hail the Sun because Allen Casillas [from VIS] couldn’t do that tour… and he also got another tour offer, where he was the drum tech for a band that was on tour with Willie Nelson. So that was a dope gig, and way more important than us… those are some big-time tours.
So Justin ended up doing that for us, because it was like five or six days. Anything small, Justin is pretty much down to do… but he also enjoys being at home. He’s just not a big touring guy, he just doesn’t enjoy hanging out at venues and stuff like that, it’s just not his thing. He would rather make money and be at home, and the rest of us are kind of… You know, touring is weird man. You love playing in front of people, you love traveling, but it’s really difficult. Especially since we’re such a small group… we’re not doing any lavish touring, that’s for sure. It’s rough man… sleeping on people’s floors and stuff like that to save money. Like we come home and make money, but we have to rough it in order to make money.
So for the new EP, was it Tai Wright drumming on the whole thing?
What’s funny is, we’re still all over the place. Carlo recorded drums for “So Much Better II”; for “No Control”, “Nostalgic Love”, and “Modern Disco II”, Allen Casillas recorded drums for those three; and then “B. Nasty”, “Diamond Dust” and “Accidental Obsession” were Justin.
I think that’s cool, because you get the opportunity to incorporate different musicians’ styles into your work.
Yeah, you can hear the differences too, if you really sit down and listen for them.
So was Tai writing some of the drum tracks? What was his role in the process?
Yeah, for the most part what you hear… Tai wrote the “meat and potatoes” with the band. And then I sent it to Allen, and Allen basically kept it very similar and just put his own flair on it. So for the three that Allen recorded, Tai had a very big impact on… because Allen didn’t really change a whole lot, he just went in there and put his own spin on it. But Allen’s a monster too dude… that dude can play.
Speaking of collaboration… you guys worked with Andrés again on “B. Nasty”. Was that song always going to feature him, or how did that collaboration come to be?
What happened was, we did that song “Charm” with him over a year ago. A lot of people really liked that song, and it still gets consistent plays on Spotify and Apple Music and all that. So I was like, “Man, maybe we should do this again”… and we decided to do it. This time we just wanted to put Issy on it… the first time around, Issy wasn’t even an official member of the band yet. The two of them sounded really cool together though, so we were really happy with it.
You also put out a song featuring Kurt Travis recently… do you want to do collaborations with more vocalists in the future?
We actually still have another song with Kurt that we haven’t released yet. He didn’t want to release anything at first… until we had stuff solidified. And I saw him recently and he’s like, “Dude, why haven’t you released the other song yet? It’s even better!”… and I said, “You didn’t want to release it, what are you talking about, man!” [laughs] So I guess the plan is to two more songs with Kurt after that one’s released and we’ll have an EP with him… and hopefully we can get Issy on a couple of the songs too, since the first two were recorded before he was in the band.
So since this is now the second EP with Issy, and you guys have steadily been releasing stuff, are you planning anything bigger in the future, like a full-length album?
Yeah, that’s what we’re working on right now. We have about 7 songs recorded… Issy just sent a vocal demo over a couple days ago, it turned out really dope. So yeah, we’re just steadily working, man. I’ve been chatting with Joe Arrington, the drummer of A Lot Like Birds and Royal Coda, on possibly recording some drums for some of these newer tracks. We just want to change it up, trying to work with as many musicians as we can and seeing what we come up with.
We’ve been really going for this The 1975 sound, but still having some “rock” elements… and Joe’s just a really technical, sound drummer that can spice anything up and make it sound cool, you know?
So when you guys do release a full-length, would you rather keep going the independent route, or sign with a label?
We’d absolutely consider it… it just depends on what they would offer us. We’ve gotten offers, but nothing that has been extensive enough for us to decide to do that. It just depends.
I think it’s good nowadays for artists to hold out for the right offer instead of just taking any label deal. There’s been so many times where that’s led to artists not getting their fair share.
Yeah, as long as it’s the right deal we’re 100% down. But we’re completely able to fund ourselves at the moment, so we don’t have to give up the cut. But… with a bigger label I’m sure we’d get a lot more exposure too, which is the flip side of it.
We basically hit the restart button with Issy, and totally changed our sound. We were in the process of changing it already, but we really changed it. It’s just difficult whenever you change a focal member like that, man. It changes everything… which we’re totally happy with. We’re way happier with the current lineup, and this is the most fun we’ve had. And I really like where our sound has gone.
We want to appeal to more than one audience… I can’t even say we’re really a post-hardcore group anymore. The most post-hardcore song on the EP is “B. Nasty” in my opinion… the rest of it is a big fusion of everything.
When can people next catch you live?
We’ve got some tour dates coming up for the release of the EP… trying to get back on the East Coast, because it’s been a while since we’ve been out there. And we also have some California dates coming up… and we’re playing in Vegas like once a month. Just trying to have steady dates… every month playing somewhere.
Cazale’s Flower Shop, Stockton, CA
The Boardwalk, Orangevale, CA
172, Rio, Las Vegas, NV
Golden Light Cafe & Cantina, Amarillo, TX
Resonator, Norman, OK
Revival Event Center, Joplin, MO
Firebird, St Louis, MO
New Dodge Lounge, Hamtramck, MI
Creep Records Store, Philadelphia, PA
Chameleon Club, Lancaster, PA
Amityville Music Hall, Amityville, NY