RON JARZOMBEK - The Metal Injection Interview
I remember the first time I ever heard Spastic Ink's debut LP Ink Complete I immediately stopped what I was doing as if I had the worse brain freeze of my life. I remember thinking "How can anyone possibly sit down and write this!?" Mind you, this was in the late 90's when technical metal was still very new and sounded nothing like the complexity of Spastic Ink's original sound. Many years later Ron Jarzombek's latest and heaviest project Blotted Science, a favorite here at Metal Injection HQ, has released yet another brain freezing masterpiece entitled The Animation of Entomology. I had the chance to speak with Ron concerning his music, his method, the future, and more.
Frank: With what seems like millions of recorded notes under your belt at this point, do you find it hard to keep yourself challenged or interested in what you're doing?
Ron: Sometimes after I release an album I think to myself, “Crap, now how am I supposed to top myself after releasing this?” That happened after my solo CD Solitarily Speaking…, then with Machinations, now especially with the new Animation EP. And yeah, seriously, with all of the concepts involved in the EP (the scoring of bug films and the 12-tone system used), it just gets more difficult to take things further, but that’s what being a composer and musician is about for me. Sometimes it seems that some writers/players just want to fit in with what’s going on, and I’m just the opposite. I don’t see a point in doing what everybody else is doing or has already done. If I can’t do something really creative and challenging, I’m going to have a hard time getting motivated to do it. I got very motivated to do the first Blotted CD because it was my first venture into the death metal world, and I had to do a lot of listening, and thought it would be interesting to incorporate these new things into what I was already doing. But yeah, I remember being so pumped up when writing my solo CD Solitarily Speaking… just because no one had ever created an entire CD out of common word phrases translated into music. And with these bug movies on the new Blotted EP, I just think what does it for me is the whole creative process and coming up with something different, then executing it.
Frank: That's awesome, it keeps the fans on their toes looking forward to what you'll do next. I consider your work to have always been way ahead of it's time, while the popularity of instrumental tech-metal has finally gained a fair amount of attention in the past couple years, this has been something you perfected for 20 years now. How do you personally feel about instrumentation taking an important role in metal today? Do you feel more people finally "get" your music today than ever before?
Ron: Well, first off, we are getting some really great reviews on the EP, and I am so thankful for that. Fans do seem to really “get it”. I wasn’t sure if we’d get shot down because of all of the bugs and all, and people would think, “What the hell is all this bug crap about?!” But when the CD was released, fans took to the music, and once the movies that we synced to were revealed, the whole thing just explained itself, and it’s so obvious why it was all done. It’s a concept, it’s a different way for music to be expressed. Sure it’s got some “shred” elements here and there, but that’s not at all what it’s all about. And I think the fact that it’s instrumental enhances everything, nothing gets in the way. But I’ve always been a huge fan of instrumental work, I think starting with Edgar Winter’s ‘Frankenstein’ when I was a kid, then of course ‘2112’, ‘YYZ’ and ‘La Villa Strangiato’ by Rush. And film scores by Danny Elfman, Richard Band, Elliot Goldenthal, and, of course, Carl Stalling. Now in the tech metal world, bands like Animals As Leaders are taking things to an extremely high level instrumentally.
Frank: If you had to make an educated guess as to what will be the next "it" thing in metal music, what would it be?
Ron: Not sure, but I really dig how some of the tech bands are taking things up quite a few notches. Hopefully tech and just more musical knowledge will be more common in more metal bands. I can hear this “musical knowledge” immediately when I listen to a band, the timing especially, but also theoretically. If it’s the same typical regurgitated shit that has been done so many times, I don’t even bother listening. That’s one thing that bugs me about any genre, mostly metal, is there are always so many copycats. Smaller bands discover another bigger band, and they base what they write/record/perform on that band rather than doing their own thing. Meshuggah should be so proud of the genre that they have created. Of course Dream Theater, too. Seriously, how many bands have modeled themselves after them? Back in my early years, it was the whole neo-classical guitar hero trip. It got so freaking old. But honestly, I don’t listen to a lot of bands, so maybe I’m the wrong person to answer this. I understand influences and all, but mix it up with something else, and don’t make it so blatantly obvious.
Frank: The recent Blotted Science release, The Animation of Entomology, is pure musical madness. I heard about a technique you used in the writing of this EP called a Twelve Tone System. Can you give us a basic run down of what that means?
Sure, basically, when any diatonic scale is used in music, unless it’s chromatic, some notes are left out. All of the steps in between notes is what sets up the tonality of a scale. On my last few releases I’ve used some form of using all 12 tones so that there is no true key/scale. It is NOT the system used by Schoenberg, Berg, etc. although it is based on the concept of using all 12 tones to achieve no tonal center. The way I write with all 12 tones is more of a grouping of notes, rather than a “row” being played in retrograde, inversion, retrograde inversion, etc. with a matrix and all. That stuff is WAY beyond what I’m doing. All I do is group notes together, and come up with various crazy chords and clusters, then from there I have a field day with what I can do with them. It all leads to very unconventional sets of notes working against/with each other. It worked out GREAT for this Blotted Science EP because we had to write to what was on-screen and we could assign specific note groups to capture characters that were on the screen at specific times. But the ‘Animation’ material is 100% 12-tone, and is based on a system of ‘Fragmented Rows”. I’ll be explaining all of this in serious depth on my upcoming DVDs.
Frank: Without any previous knowledge, the first thing I immediately noticed when turning on the EP was that you had changed drummers. I was pleasantly surprised to learn Hannes Grossmann joined the group, but this does bring up the whole Spinal Tap drummer situation going on in Blotted Science. Do you think Hannes be working on future music with the group?
Ron: Well, we got rid of Charlie because he wasn’t into the Stonehenge thing. ;-) But really, Charlie did a fantastic job on the first Blotted CD. Hannes came in for the EP basically because Alex and I felt Hannes was a better fit for what we were doing. On the ‘Machinations’ CD, Charlie worked with drum parts that were based on Chris Adler’s style, took some direction, and got us what we wanted. With Blotted Science having death metal roots, Hannes knew better than I did what the songs needed. I just gave him rough sketches of programmed drum parts and he did his thing with it. Since we were scoring to film there were LOTS of spots where drums and cymbal hits needed to be on specific counts, and fills to highlight some action sequences, and Hannes made all of it work into his drum parts. And sure, depending on what is happening with the rest of us after I get a DVD or two released, and Alex goes on another Cannibal Corpse tour, and Hannes works with Obscura, I can almost definitely say that Hannes will be with us. There really is no reason to make a change.
Frank: Was there ever a thought about calling your brother to drum with Blotted Science?
Ron: None whatsoever. Zero. A huge reason why I started Blotted Science was because Spastic Ink was over. If Bobby and I were to ever write/record again, it would likely be Spastic Ink. But Bobby is so busy playing with high profile acts like Halford, Fates Warning, and Sebastian Bach, he doesn’t really have time to do any of this self-release techy stuff (although the new Arch/Matheos is killer!) that takes forever to put together. Musically, Blotted Science is grounded partly in death metal. I don’t think Bobby has ever played a blastbeat in his life. Not that he can’t but we didn’t grow up with listening to death metal. I just happened to get into death metal after Spastic Ink because I was frustrated with the whole prog metal scene and wanted to get involved with something new that still had tech elements. Bobby took a different route with his music. He has nothing at all to do with Blotted Science, has never been considered for it, nor would he probably even want to. It’s not his thing. It would be cool to write/record with big bro again, but there are no plans at all to do that. He’s doing his thing and I’m doing mine. It would be cool though if we one day could do a few songs for NAMM or something, or even release some new material, but I don’t see any of that happening anytime soon.
Frank: I'm sure Spastic fans would love that too, but understandably timing is always an issue. So I been following the film clip releases The Animation of Entomology EP was scored to, and I know you've been a fan of film/music collaboration in the past. How do you go about choosing specific scenes from film to work with?
Ron: Once we figured out that we wanted to go with this scoring bug movies concept, we rounded up about 20 movies that had bugs/insects/creatures and narrowed it down to the few/several that we wanted to score. We just found some creepy scenes in flicks that were dramatic, and lasted between 2 to7 minutes. I ‘synced’ up maybe 10 flicks, and found the best ones that would work best within a ‘song’ structure, then figured out tempos, and mapped out counts for scenes, made notes of specific actions, and sectioned music off to match the characters onscreen. It was very difficult because you’re never going to find scenes and actions that perfectly fall into place to where it fits into a ‘song’. We wanted the music to be still be listenable as ‘songs’, and make musical sense, and it was a bitch getting there, but I truly believe we got it.
Frank: Have you ever thought about the idea of directing a video to your music, rather than scoring music to a film scene?
Ron: Hell yeah, of course. That would be killer. I’ve written a few things in the past like ‘A Morning With Squeakie’, ‘Oh No, Mr. Kitty’, ‘Sex With Squeakie’, ‘Ants On My Windshield’ and even some songs on ‘Machinations’ like ‘Activation Synthesis Theory’, ‘Narcolepsy’, ‘REM’, and ‘Vegetation’ have specific visuals or “scenes” in mind that could totally be taken to film. But yeah, that may be the next step. If anyone is interested, please let me know (wink, wink). But working with anything visual would be great…. movies, animations, apps, video games, etc..
Frank: You briefly mentioned this before, but I understand you're next big project will be a series of Instructional DVD's. Can you give us some insight as to what we can expect from them? Will they be catered to advanced guitar players or general music enthusiasts? Can a drummer like myself find them entertaining as well?
For the past several years, I’ve had these 3 DVDs in the works, the first based on common scale use and abuse, the second on timing, and the third on 12-tone uses (simple 12-tone sets, multiple 12-tone sets, and ‘The Circle of 12 Tones’). Whenever I’m working on a band/project, I tend to put these DVDs on the shelf because I think more people are interested in what a band has to say vs. a guitarist. But now that the second Blotted Science CD is done, the DVDs are now my priority. And with the EP material still fresh in mind, I decided to do a DVD for everything involved with the writing and playing of the ‘Animation’ material, including all of the 12-tone keys, grouping, and configurations, all animated. It should be really cool. I started working on it during the writing of the EP, so I got a pretty good head start.
The other 3 DVDs will follow, in what order I don’t really know. I guess whichever gets completed first will be released first. They are independent of each other as far as the content involved, so any of them could surface first.
The DVDs are aimed at guitarists, but I’m including some things that I think would appeal to all musicians, not just guitarists – writing tools such as the the ‘A/B switch’, the ‘chromatic alphabet’, ‘floating parallels’, writing with Morse code, phone numbers, etc.. Lots of solos, rhythms, with examples and insight for material from both Spastic Ink CDs, my solo CDs and the first Blotted Science CD.
I will not be covering any typical or cliche ‘guitar instructional DVD’ drills like how to play 3, 4 and 5 string arpeggios, or how to play pentatonic scales in several neck positions. Patterns like that may appear in songs and solos somewhere, but they will be in the context of something else much more important, with substance. Plus, I'm not going to run over what has been done to death in other guitar videos.
Frank: Awesome, looking forward to checking that out. Thanks Ron!