Interview with Michael Ball of Tegmentum

Interview with Michael Ball of Tegmentum

- in Written interviews

Hi! The members of Tegmentum come from diverse musical backgrounds. How has this fusion of different influences contributed to shaping the distinctive sound of the band?
Hello, I (Michael) think you touch upon a big challenge I had when producing “Evolvement.” My goal with this project since day one has been to capture the attitudes of separate musicians, even when this was still my solo project. In the beginning, it was meant to simulate the band I never had.

Now that Tegmentum IS a band, “Evolvement” represents this unique stage of us figuring out how to mesh. Making room for every member was a big challenge, and it required a lot of revisions.

One thing is for certain: everyone in this band gave everything they had with their performances. Some moments have more cohesion than others, but the effort we put into making this album is significant toward realizing our group identity.

Could you delve deeper into the concept behind “Evolvement” and how it translates into your music?
The best way that I can summarize Evolvement succinctly is by discussing the personal angle from which it was written.

Evolvement represents a time when I had all this momentum in my life (newly acquired independence, finding love with my now wife, my college degree, my artistic endeavors going well), and I wanted to believe that my past traumas weren’t relevant to my circumstances anymore. Whenever intrusive thoughts or cognitive distortions occurred, I would get frustrated and dismiss those thoughts as invalid. I would emotionally suppress them instead. It was hard to see the deeper implications of my behavior while experiencing it, and it was only until I was in a bad place emotionally did I come to understand how destructive this behavior is. As much as I tried to ignore my underlying issues, they would only get stronger and take up more mental real estate the longer I did. Before I knew it, I was plunged back into isolation, feeling trapped in this endless cycle of starting over.

In short, Evolvement represents what it feels like to experience a manic episode. It is a very misleading symptom of depression because of how encouraged I feel to indulge in the euphoria of mania, only for that bliss to dissipate and reveal dark depression underneath. That is what I sought to capture in the album experience. It’s a vicious cycle, and you could listen to this album on a loop for that reason.

With Chelsea Murphy’s captivating vocals, Tegmentum’s sound becomes even more unique. How do you approach the balance between the more extreme elements and the progressive aspects of your music to create a coherent sonic experience?
Chelsea and I went over the emotional element of the record extensively. I didn’t know it in the beginning, but she has such a great capacity for emotional awareness. She tapped into the frantic energy I was going for when writing the lyrics. I think her background in post-black metal really helped with this, as that genre is almost entirely rooted in expressing vulnerability.

Really the sound that is being captured is that of despair, and I find that the way we think of that emotion isn’t really what it truly is. It’s often thought of synonymously with doom. While that’s fairly accurate, it’s only half of the equation. Despair is really about a desperate grip on hope. A moment where you convince yourself that everything is going to be ok. Evolvement means to betray the listener in this way because the reality is that the positivity/negativity in the record is one and the same. From the jump, you experience the perspective of a mental collapse, and that’s what makes the concept so scary. I can’t think of a scarier reality than one where you can’t trust or rely on your perception.

Could you shed light on the creative process that went into crafting “Accolades” and its accompanying music video?
Accolades is actually an old cut from 2017. I originally released it as a single to keep momentum going after I released my solo album “Passage” in 2015. This track represents my first real attempt to combine light/dark elements into one song. I wanted it to be something fun, something low stakes, and I did have a ton of fun writing this track. I wanted it to be pure ear candy.

As far as the visual element goes, that was all Kenji. It’s a long song with a pretty lengthy build-up at the beginning. He took a lot of inspiration from True Detective Season 1’s opening when creating the assets that were used in the video. We also took a lot of inspiration from Crystal Lake’s music videos. We all saw a few of those and were like, “Ok, so I guess THAT’S where the bar is.” We did the best we could with what we had to emulate that same energy, hoping the constantly changing elements would keep a viewer’s attention.

How important is the visual aspect in conveying the themes and emotions of your music?
That’s a tough one. The visual component I have in mind is rooted in a cosmic horror plot that’s a big part of the story we’re telling, and that’s a TOUGH one to try and capture given the stage we’re at. As of right now, there aren’t many resources we have to dedicate to the visuals, but hopefully, that will change in time! I certainly have a lot of fun ideas to try out.

How did the inclusion of Yvette Young on violin for “Accolades” enhance the song’s atmosphere and expand your sonic palette?
Her involvement added a very organic element to the track. I don’t think there was much processing done to her takes apart from my arranging them. She makes an appearance on two other tracks of Evolvement as well. She handles the violin for the first track Innocuous and the last track Gospel of Sand. That’s one way in which I attempt to make the album experience cohesive by having her violin appear at the beginning and end. Same instrument, but representing a different end of the emotional spectrum. It’s another way the album means to betray you; this same instrument that ushered in such a positive tone closes the album with such discordancy. One and the same.

How do you feel M-Theory Audio’s recognition and support will impact Tegmentum’s journey and exposure within the music industry?
I feel great about being with M-Theory. I submitted our album to over 80 labels, and I really was hoping that I would hear from them specifically. Knowing that they have such a dynamic band like Vintersea signed to them, it gave me hope that they’d consider us a good fit. The relationship has been great. My hope is that we could be offered some cool opportunities. I believe that’s the reality of getting on good shows. You’re more likely to be considered for something like say a festival if you have some kind of label backing. It’s not necessary, but it helps a lot. Regardless, we’re just enjoying the relationship we have with them at this time.

“Evolvement” is described as a concept album exploring a range of emotions. How do you approach translating these emotional nuances into your music, both instrumentally and vocally?
Instrumentally I attempt to cover a lot of ground. I try to make it so that the transition from light to dark is natural, so as you go from one side of the spectrum to the other it makes sense. That’s the whole idea of teasing the dark elements more and more with each song as a kind of conditioning. Like the album is pushing you to accept more and more of the negativity with each song until it becomes your world.

I really depended on Chelsea’s sensibilities as a vocalist to translate the concepts in their performance. I just wrote as raw as I thought was appropriate, with screaming in mind for all of it pretty much. She took it and made it her own. It’s kind of nice that with most every genre of metal, screaming is a perfectly acceptable form of expression. That definitely works in our favor when employing as much cross over as I do in the music.

The album is available in both CD and limited-edition vinyl formats. How do you feel different formats contribute to the overall experience of “Evolvement”?
Admittedly I haven’t thought too much about this. When I was writing this record I thought that it would be a digital release. As the band’s goals changed and we sought label support, vinyl came into the equation which does ultimately affect how well certain ideas translate. I believe going forward I’ll write with this in mind; I’ll write with a priority to pick my spots with certain ambitious ideas and make sure that the core ideas get through effectively so that it translates well in vinyl format.

Incorporating extreme elements within progressive metal can be challenging. How do you strike a balance between pushing genre boundaries and maintaining a cohesive musical identity?
I think creating a cohesive musical identity is still something we’re figuring out. What we are doing is ambitious and can go wrong in a lot of ways. I just don’t want it to be corny. That’s my biggest gripe with other bands that maybe have tried something similar. I’ve heard this kind of thing played off as a joke, and I don’t really know of many people who have really tried to play it seriously except for maybe Extol and Anomalous. I’ve embraced the chaos of this process because it’s how I’ve experienced forging my own identity. The music has been closely tied to my own lived experience, so I try to honor that when I write my music.

The way that I try to do it with “Evolvement” is to gradually expose the listener to more dark elements with each track. Right from the jump with the first song, “Innocuous,” there’s just a hint of dissonance towards the end of it. My hope is that it’s significant enough to inform the listener of how integral this discordance is for the listening experience. With each track, the dissonance/aggression takes up more real estate, the idea being that with each song the listener is conditioned to accept more and more of the discordance. I like to think that I’m tricking prog enthusiasts into listening to a Death Metal record.

We’ll see how we handle it going forward. An album I take inspiration from is Anomalous’ record, “OHMnivalent” which I think handles a similar emotional spectrum very well.

The album cover and visuals are often the first introduction to an album’s concept. Could you share the creative process behind the artwork and how it reflects the themes of “Evolvement”?
Yes absolutely, I really love how the artwork turned out. I worked closely with an artist named Nathan Lee (Instagram: @artofnathanlee) to accomplish the artwork. He’s a great artist I’ve worked with a number of times. I’m not sure if he’s doing commissions anymore, so I’m glad I got a chance to get these done with him when I did.

I think the artwork speaks to this thing with my creative process where I don’t know what something is really about until it’s finished. All those things that are knocking around in the subconscious influencing my creative decisions aren’t really known to me until it’s done, recorded, and in a place where I can inspect it. I had this rough idea of what I wanted because of the high-concept cosmic horror story I’m telling with Evolvement, knowing that it’s essentially about the end of a world brought on by an unwitting mad-scientist kind of character. So I took that and brought it to Nathan and we went back and forth, went through some drafts like you do. The finishing touch was the purple aura around the tendrils which really made me realize how much I love that color.

Anyway, without going on a tangent, we got the piece done and we’re both very happy with it. I show it to a friend some time later and they ask me what it means. I wasn’t really in the weeds with the personal concept yet, and I had to find some way to succinctly explain what this was without going full-nerd on him, so I just blurt out, “It’s… my brain.”

This did not satisfy him, and he just gave me a weird look like I was crazy or full of it. Now that I’ve sat with it for so long, I’m tapped into what it’s really about. It’s funny how it works like that. When you’re in the moment drafting ideas, it just feels like work. The personal element is always running concurrently with my work, though, and in the thick of the creative process I’m responding to what my heart is telling me. After it’s said and done, the piece reveals itself for what it is, giving me a better idea of what’s happening with me emotionally.

Progressive metal is known for its intricate compositions. How do you manage to maintain complexity while ensuring that the emotional core of your music remains accessible to listeners?
Well, the complex aspect I don’t seem to have too much trouble tapping into. I get so many ideas when writing a song that I want to explore all of them somehow, and that is a contributing factor to the chaos of our sound. If anything, I may want to tone it down going forward because it can be hard for the rest of the band to latch on and, “find the groove,” as I’ve been told. It’s completely valid criticism, and reigning in some of the chaos will likely aid our efforts to create a cohesive musical identity.

I do my best to write in moments of vulnerability, or at least I try to communicate that as best as I can. The message of the music is rooted in something that’s hard for me to say in real life. I often struggle to know how I belong in any given place. I hope that if I’m able to communicate what I’m feeling in my music, it might make it easier for people to understand who I am. I think it’s also important to stay consistent with my message and continue to advocate for mental health & represent that in the music.

As a project that aims to push the boundaries of progressive metal, what impact do you hope Tegmentum will have on the genre, and how do you envision your music evolving in the future? Thank you for your time!
I just hope it can expand the kinds of risks similar artists may take with their prog metal music. I think music has gotten a little stale these days, and it’s pretty easy for me to predict where a song is going while listening to it, or at least as far as most popular metal goes. Maybe our band is mislabeled, but I’ve said lots of times that we call ourselves prog because we just don’t know what else to call it. Seems like the most flexible sub-genre to contextualize what we do. I hope this record at least reaches one person who may want to try something similar but is missing an example of it being done. I dunno, we’ll see. I want this to be in service to the genre at large somehow. It’s all just an offering to, “God” as Rick Ruben would say.

Thank you so much for the excellent questions, Stanley 🙂

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