Astronoid’s Brett Boland on the Band’s Intoxicating New Album, ‘Air’

The Astronoid frontman describes the band's self-discovery process in a new interview

Astronoid interview

Photo by MeiLing Loo (Astronoid L to R: Aylward, Schwartz, Boland, St. Jean, DeMellia)

Astronoid’s new LP, Air, is one of 2016’s most innovative rock records. The album is a pummeling, riff-heavy juggernaut illuminated by brilliant rays of sunshine. It’s a mix of heaviness and warmth that’s unusual in the metal universe. Astronoid frontman Brett Boland mused, “You can only have so many black metal bands, and so many thrash bands making the same album. Who wants to keep making the same music?”

The five-piece band is currently split between New York City and Groveland, Massachussetts. Astronoid consists of Brett Boland (guitar, vocals), Daniel Schwartz (bass), Casey Aylward (guitar), Matt St. Jean (drums), and Mike DeMellia (guitar). Prior to Astronoid, Brett played drums in Hetfield & Hetfield (“sort of a weird Coheed & Cambria bastardization”), a band which also included Casey and Dan. Brett also plays drums in Fat Wreck Chords punk band Morning Glory.

Astronoid began as Brett and Dan’s college project; the band released its November EP in 2012 and Stargazer the following year. Its first LP, Air, released earlier this month, is a heady blend of post-black metal and ethereal dream rock that’s been garnering lots of press. Read my full interview with Astronoid leader Brett Boland below.

Dan Redding: Astronoid’s first EP, November, was written for Dan Schwartz’s school project. Can you tell me what that project was?

Brett Boland: Dan and I went through the Sound Recording Technology program at UMass Lowell. We were taking this class called Advanced Multitrack Production. Basically, we needed to get a band together – I had to do this project as well – and then we had to do a standard multitrack production. Drums and bass, rhythm section, guitars – we had to have a whole band. I was working on a song, and I went up to Dan, and I was like, ‘I’d love to do this with you, and it would just be the two of us. I can play all the things.’ We couldn’t play on our own projects, that was the rule. But I could play on his. So I was like, why don’t I play everything, and we can figure it out… I had that one song, ‘November.’ We needed two, so I wrote the song ‘Astronoid’ for it. It needed screaming so I got Nick Thornbury, formerly of Vattnet Viskar, to scream on it. I just wrote a couple songs that were the opposite of Hetfield & Hetfield. It was a lot of fun.

My perception of the two EPs that precede Air is that they sound like Astronoid is finding itself, and figuring out what the band is – and then Air sounds like a breakthrough in the sound and maybe the band’s identity. How do you characterize those two EPs leading up to Air?

I would agree with you. On November, I wrote those songs to counteract what I was writing in the other band. And also, to kind of dive into the stuff that I was listening to and try to emulate that. I had just discovered Isis and Cult of Luna and stuff like that… I started listening to that stuff. I just wished they had singing more, so I did it myself. I wanted to kinda see if I could do it. I put that online – it got a little bit of steam, it got a MetalSucks article… It just kinda took off from there, and then Stargazer just took the stuff from November and experimented with it a little more. I decided that I didn’t wanna do any screaming any more. I just felt like that’s what really set the November EP apart. What I really liked about that was that melodic aspect of the singing. When I was working on Stargazer, I was trying to expand on that idea more. After that, when we started working on Air, it was just a continuation of that. I picked up the epicness, and the happy part of it just kind of happened…

I was looking the other day – I wrote the first demo for ‘Tin Foil Hats’ [from Air] on February 6, 2013. That was before Stargazer was even out, I think. So this has been a long process of figuring out what the hell we wanted to sound like… There was a lot of trial and error in the process for Air.

Astronoid Brett Boland

Brett Boland. Photo by Dan Dupuis

The album feels inventive and fresh and it does things that you’re quote-unquote not supposed to do in heavy music – and it’s refreshing. A big part of that is the happy part – the euphoric, major-key brightness of Air. Where did that happy part come from? Do you think that it was your personality as a songwriter coming through, or was there something specific going on in your life at the time? 

Hm. I never really though about it – but I think it’s more of my personality coming through in the songwriting. What was going on in my life was just normal stuff – working and a lot of touring. It’s mostly probably a reflection of who I am. I love heavy music. I feel like I’m a pretty happy dude and outgoing guy. I like joking around and having fun – and I love metal, and I love pop, and I love everything. I think what it really came from was, I just thought it was epic.

The lyrical themes of the album aren’t very happy. They’re very delusional, and kind of 1984-ish. But it’s more of the aspect of, instead of going deeper into it, trying to get out of it. Like in the song ‘Obselete’ – it’s basically ‘The Obselete Man’ from ‘The Twilight Zone.’ That’s kind of where the inspiration of where that lyrical theme came from, you know? A lot of that stuff isn’t too happy, but it’s kind of the ‘ignorance is bliss’ type thing. The ‘I’m good because I have no clue what’s going on’ kind of smile. That’s kind of what I was talking about in the album’s concepts. I love politics, I love science fiction, I like when people try and get their own stuff out of the lyrics…

What can you tell me about the transition of playing drums to being the frontman?

It’s a big change. When you’re back there behind the kit, everything’s cool. No one really bugs you or notices you. But at the same time, you kinda wish that you had a little more attention, but it’s fine… I like that [being a drummer] came first, because now I can be a little more relaxed about this. I think it’s really cool and I’m having a lot of fun and it’s challenging for me. It brought a lot out of me. Even stuff like this [interview] – I used to be a little more hesitant on responding to people. It’s made me more aggressive with the band, and it has given me more confidence, which is really great.

Being in front of the stage – whether I’m behind the kit, or in front of everybody singing and playing guitar – it really doesn’t faze me. Being up there and performing, I just love doing it. It doesn’t matter what I’m doing up there, if they’re looking at me or not, drums or guitar or whatever, I’m just lucky to be up there. I’m gonna have fun, and I’m probably gonna screw up a couple times, and no one will notice, but I will…

The guys playing with me now – I want them to be included as much as possible. It was a rough transition from that studio project to having other guys’ input too. Everyone that’s in the band is an unbelievable musician. I couldn’t be happier with who I get to play with. They’re my best friends, and unbelievable musicians, so I lucked out on both ends… Everyone had their input all over the record. That’s been the hardest part for me: letting go of my small Astronoid child and accepting help. That’s been the toughest part for me, and I couldn’t be luckier with the dudes that are helping me out with it.

Astronoid interview

Photo by Dan Dupuis

The album Air seems like this rare instance where the music has taken on a life of its own, seemingly with very little promotion. Are you surprised by the way it has kinda taken off?

Yeah – there’s that thought in the back of mind that it was gonna come out and everyone was gonna be like, ‘What the hell is this?’ And some people have said that, like, ‘It finally happened – they took Deafheaven and made it even worse.’ All the haters. It’s still out there. But I thought maybe there would be some other people like me, that wanted to hear it. It’s not for everybody, that’s for sure. It’s really nice and refreshing that people are really digging it because we put a lot of hard work into it – and we felt like we were onto something once we started to get our flow. We weren’t setting out to change anything, we were just setting out to do something different. You can only have so many black metal bands, and so many thrash bands making the same album. Who wants to keep making the same music? We were really trying to just be our own thing.

We’re not claiming to be anything. The ‘dream thrash’ thing – it’s gotta be called something, I guess. I don’t know what else to call it! I don’t think we’re close enough to black metal to be called post-gaze, or any of that stuff. I would say the last elements of that were sort of on Stargazer… We’re not black metal. We’re too happy to be black metal…

I’m just happy that people are really enjoying it. I’ve had some people email me and message me and say that they’re having really tough times and [our music is] really helping them. Honestly, out of all the reviews and all that stuff – that’s the best review. That it’s helping somebody. Because it certainly helped me, writing it. The song ‘Incandescent,’ in particular. I had just gotten back from a funeral. My mom’s father passed away. It was a pretty gloomy time. I just basically got back from the airport and picked up my guitar and [‘Incandescent’] came out. It’s not a doom-and-gloom song, it’s more of an uplifting type of song. At least to me. That really helped calm me down and made me feel better, so it’s really nice to hear that Air is helping people.

astronoid interview

Photo by Dan Dupuis

What are your touring plans for the rest of the year?

We’re working on all that right now. We’ve never played any of these songs live, and we wanna make sure it’s perfect… I feel like that’s where we’ll really hit home. It’s meant to be heard live. Music is always better live. There’s nothing better than going to see a band, you get an album you like, and they just crush it.

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