Ron Jarzombek interview with Evtim Stankov from Pro-Rock magazine

1. Hi, Ron. Wonderful album! There is already quite good response about it. Are you surprised about the reaction?

Well, we were going for something that might appeal to fans of different types of metal genres. A little bit of the tech side of things, some extreme stuff, and some deathy things thrown in. Response has been great, and it seems that the CD is doing what we had hoped, not appealling strictly to just one type of fan, whether it would be the prog metal fans, the death metal fans, extreme metal fans, etc…

2. Lets start with the all-star team. How did you make the choice?

I had always known about Cannibal Corpse, but I never realized the musicianship that they have. Their music is so in-your-face that I couldn’t absorb it all until I saw their video for ‘Frantic Disembowelment’ from their ‘Wretched Spawn’ CD/DVD. I saw their unbelievable musicianship, their brutal, relentless aggression, but what really caught my eye was Alex (Webster - bassist). Holy Jesus! Fingers flying all over the place. Then I saw a bit of goofing-off footage of him playing some wacky scale patterns and I just knew I had to get a hold of him. I put out a message on the Spastic Ink forum and within a week, I got a response, and we starting emailing and decided to make a go of a project.

The first time I saw or heard Charlie (Zeleny - drummer) play was when Behold The Arctopus was touring with Dysrhythmia. Both bands totally knocked my socks off and it only seemed like a perfect choice for Charlie to hop on board the project. Behold The Arctopus’ technicality is so off-the-wall that they sometimes make Spastic Ink sound as straight-forward as George Strait. We needed somebody who had a great groove, chops galore, read music and communicate very well and Charlie did all of that 10 times over. He had already been doing musical collaborating/recording via the internet, and so working parts out and getting things done long distance was never a problem.

3. There were rumors that the drummer for Blotted Science was going to be Derek Roddy. But he eventually is not the one. Is it true he’s got a difficult character? After that the news was that Chris Adler (Lamb Of God) is the drummer. Why didn’t things go well with him as well? How did you finally choose Charlie Zeleny?

Chris was the original drummer for this project. We were trying to get things going for nearly a year. Alex and I were sending audio files to Chris (Adler) to work on, and we just ran into a wall because we couldn’t really communicate musically long distance. Chris is such a great “feel” player, but he doesn’t read music. I am still baffled by how unbelievably he plays, yet doesn’t know how things are written out. After trying several different ways to relay musical ideas back and forth, we figured that it couldn’t be done unless we were in the same room, and that wasn’t possible. What really sucked was I wrote just about all of the material with drum patterns based on Chris’ style, yet it turned out that we couldn’t make it work.

Derek came in after that, and we tried to make it work for about 6 months. The main roadblock with Derek was that he wanted to contribute too much to the writing when everything was already written. If Derek would have been with us from the very started, in the writing stages, I believe it would have worked out great. Charlie came in and was open to interpreting the programmed drum parts that I wrote for the songs, yet put his stamp on everything, and not much too changed as far as grooves, accents, song direction, etc… Charlie is also a session drummer and is used to playing what the composer wants. He also communicates VERY well musically personally and musically, and his execution using the internet was perfect for getting this job done.

4. You seem to play the leading role in the band. How did the others contribute with the music?

I caught Alex at a great time. He was just completing the last leg the Wretched Spawn tour, and Cannibal Corpse was taking several months off after that. That’s when we started writing material for what became ‘Blotted Science – The Machinations Of Dementia’. Chris Adler (Lamb Of God drummer) was on board first, and so during this time, I was listening to a LOT of Cannibal Corpse and Lamb Of God CDs, going for some sort of technical, extreme, and possibly death metal type of cross with what we were writing. Chris was on tour for weeks at a time, and wasn’t doing any writing, but I was paying close attention to his “style” and tried to write the grooves for the songs to match it. Alex and I would send music file sheets and mp3s to each other in emails. This is when I came up with the Circle Of 12 Tones composing system that we used for the majority of the songs. Months later, Cannibal Corpse starting writing for the next album ‘Kill’ so then I was pretty much writing on my own since Alex plays a HUGE part in the writing of their material.

5. A complex band name, a complex album name, complex song names. Do all these hint something to the listeners? The cover is pretty much like the ones of the death-metal bands. Will this confuse some people?

Alex and I were looking for a concept, something to base the song titles on, and the brain inactivity / disorders topic seemed to be something cool and interesting to work with. Some of the songs work directly with the titles/descriptions (Narcolepsy, Adenosine Buildup, Adenosine Breakdown, Oscillation Cycles, Amnesia, and REM). Those all are somewhat filmscores for their titles. Others (Laser Lobotomy, Synaptic Plasticity, Brain Fingerprinting, Night Terror, Bleeding In the Brain) and are just cool titles that fit the music. The cover totally fits what the songs are about, so if anything, it helps the listener understand the concept of the CD.

6. Was any of the playing during the recordings improvised parts, or was everything calculated strictly before that?

We wrote everything via the internet, and so we never have played together as a band, never did any “jamming” or trying to “get a vibe” from each other while playing the songs. Actually, Alex and Charlie have never been in the same room with our instruments. To top that off, Alex and Charlie have never even met! Since most of the songs were written with The Circle Of 12 Tones, there isn’t much room for improvising. It’s a system to where certain notes have to be used to achieve a certain tonality. When Alex and I wrote tunes, we had specific notes to use, and so parts needed to be figured in for it to work. It’s all calculated formulas and patterns that work together. Of the 16 songs that are on the CD, there are only 4 or 5 that don’t use the system. The only solos that are improvised are the whammy bar solos in Invisible Quicksand and Amnesia. Charlie did some improvising, and he and I went through LOTS of different ideas for grooves, accents, and got the parts that worked best for the tunes, then nailed them down.

7. The album is released through your label Eclectic Electric. Did you have any offers from other labels, or are most of them afraid to mess with an instrumental band?

We shopped a few songs to labels, but it made more sense to release it ourselves. With the internet, you have access to just about anything that anybody that you want, and can put your product out there on your own terms. It’s just a lot, and I mean A LOT more work.

8. Will you have the time to do some gigs given the fact that Alex is quite engaged with Cannibal Corpse?

Cannibal Corpse is Alex’s baby, and it has been for pretty much his whole musical life. If he can squeeze more Blotted Science into his schedule, we may do some shows or take it a bit further. But I knew from the very start that this was a total side project for Alex. Our main goal was to write some killer brutal technical material, get it recorded, and have it released. We did that. If shows or another Blotted CD happens, that would be awesome. With everything working out as well as it did for ‘The Machinations Of Dementia’, it would be a huge letdown if we didn’t take it further with another CD or gigs.

9. Have you thought of putting vocals in your music?

I originally wanted vocals on this project, but I think everything worked out best with it being instrumental. There are WAY too many fans that dig heavy, technical music, but don’t care to hear cookie monster or low growly vocals. Extreme high vocals also turn some people off, as was the case with WatchTower. When Alex and Chris (Adler) said they didn’t want vocals on this material, I didn’t put up much of an argument because then that would mean that the listener would be focusing on the music. And that’s not a bad thing. And so we wrote the music to be instrumental. Spastic Ink’s 2nd CD ‘Ink Compatible’ has vocals (which I think perfectly fit the music), but it was the same crap that I’ve heard before where listeners claim that the music is great, but the vocals ruin the album for them.

10. Will Blotted Science become a full-time band if the album achieves success?

I don’t think Blotted Science would become a full-time band regardless of the CD’s success. Cannibal Corpse is too much of a well-oiled machine for that to happen. They only have a few months off here and there, and that wouldn’t be enough time to be “full-time” and get things done. I lucked out when I first got in touch with Alex because they had several months off, and that’s rare for that to happen.

11. According to you, what music style does Blotted Science play?

I don’t know exactly how to label the music, but it’s got elements of progressive, technical, extreme, and death metal. Some of it may sound a bit jazzy, but if it does, that was by accident. LOL.

12. Do you follow the things happening musically with your brother? What do you think about the fact he took the place of one of the best drummers Mark Zonder in Fates Warning?

I talk to Bobby once or twice a week, keeping up with what he’s up to. He lives in California and I’m in Texas, so we don’t get to see each other but maybe once a year. And yeah, I was glad to hear that he got the Fates Warning gig, because now he gets to possibly write with them for their next album, and if those guys are smart they’ll take in his input. With Iced Earth and Sebastian Bach, those are high profile gigs, but he doesn’t get to show what he’s capable of in his playing or his writing. Of course Halford on the other hand, was a GREAT gig for Bobby. Same thing for me touring with Marty Friedman (ex-Megadeth guitarist). It’s a higher profile gig (also in the band is Jeremy Colson, Steve Vai’s drummer), but do I really get to show what I’m capable of in that situation? Not really.

13. Is there a band you think would be better without a vocalist?

Well, Blotted Science is instrumental because both Alex and Chris hating having bands labeled by what the type of singer they have. If we would have had cookie monster vocals, of course it would have been labeled death metal. With high pitched vocals, it would be progressive/technical metal. For some reason, it seems as if most of the people that listen to my music want it to be instrumental. I hear and appreciate the brutality and aggression in cookie monster vocals, but honestly I’d rather hear some note pitches weaving in and out being layered over the music. With Blotted Science, we don’t have a label being put on us because we don’t have a vocalist, so the listener is forced to just listen to the music on it’s own.

14. Do you look upon Watchtower as some cult? What would be different if Watchtower appeared 10 years later?

I think it’s really cool that WatchTower influenced so many current bands. That’s something that we realized when we did the overseas reunion gigs in 2000 at the Bang Your Head festival and in 2004 and at the Headway festival in Holland. Regardless of when ‘Energetic Disassembly’ and ‘Control And Resistance’ were released, I think they would have had the same amount of impact. ‘Control and Resistance came out around the same time as Dream Theater’s Images And Words’, Cynic’s Focus, the first Fates Warning CDs, and these albums are what a lot of people consider the beginning of the ‘progressive metal’ movement. Now so many bands are abusing the “prog metal” label, and it’s turned into what I call ‘keyboard metal’. There’s nothing really ‘progressive’ about it.

15. Anything new happening with WatchTower?

There is nothing at all happening with any new WatchTower material. We have a full album worth of material (a bit over an hour), but none of us seem to care enough to do anything about it. I’ve moved onto other things, and don’t even think about it anymore.

16. In Spastic Ink you sound a bit different. Do you feel that you limit yourself somehow?

Not really. Spastic Ink is VERY technical, but if we want to put something simple on a CD, we can. The first CD ‘Ink Complete’ was instrumental, the 2nd ‘Ink Compatible’ had vocals, so we can do whatever we think works. I think if there is another Ink CD, it will be instrumental because that’s what our fans want. And I don’t mind with or without vocals.

17. What is the future for Spastic Ink?

There probably won’t be another Spastic Ink CD. Bobby (brother, Spastic Ink drummer) has moved on to bigger, better things. Also, he now lives in a different state (California) and I don’t know how we’d get anything done. Back when we wrote and recorded ‘Ink Complete’ and ‘Ink Compatible’, we lived in the same city and saw each other nearly every day. Bobby isn’t much into writing and recording using the internet, and to do these long distance recording projects, that’s a necessity. I don’t think either of us will be moving any time soon. However, the possibility of something happening with Spastic Ink is not out of the question at all. I always have a great time working with my brother, and I think we write VERY well together.

18. You’ve appeared in many albums and projects. Which of them is the closest to your heart?

The CD that really does it for me is my last solo CD “Solitarily Speaking Of Theoretical Confinement’ that was released a few years ago. I know artists are supposed to say that whatever their last release was is “the best thing I’ve ever done!”, but while the Blotted Science CD turned out totally killer, as did both Spastic Ink CDs, I always think back to the great time I had putting SSoTC together. Mostly there were no hassles trying to find players, and the CD turned out almost EXACTLY as I had originally envisioned it. I wrote EVERYTHING, played all the instruments, did all the programming myself, all the graphics, everything. That’s why I’m really looking forward to the upcoming instructional gtr DVD that I’m currently working on. It’s going to be in two parts (close to 4 hours), have material from both Spastic Ink CDs, both solo CDs, and of course the Blotted CD. The Circle Of 12 Tones writing system will be explained thoroughly, as will some of the other writing tools that I use including 12 tone sets, multiple 12 tone sets, the A/B switch, Syncopated Starts/Stops, Floating Parallels, and I’ll also show a bit of common, simple scale use and abuse, changing keys/modulating, and I’ll be playing LOTS of material and have theoretic explanations of how things were put together. Should be VERY cool. I’m hoping to have it completed by mid next year.

19. Is it true that back in time Slayer stole your name and you had to rename to SA Slayer?

LOL. No, not at all. I think both Slayers released albums around the same time and weren’t aware that the other even existed. We did get some notices or something from their lawyers letting us know that we had to change our band name or they would sue us. I was just a kid when that all happened and don’t really remember what all was involved. We did end up playing a ‘Slayer Vs. Slayer’ gig with them and it was pretty cool. And it was all too obvious what band should have the name, so we just changed it to ‘S.A. Slayer’ and left it at that. It didn’t matter anyway because within a year after that gig, Don and Dave left to form a band with Mark Reale from Riot.

20. Who is your favorite guitar player?

I don’t even know. I don’t listen to guitar players much anymore. I am aware that there are quite a few good ones out there including the metal Ammott brothers in Arch Enemy and Alex Laiho in Children Of Bodom, the proggy John Petruccis and Michael Romeos, the techy guys in Mattias IA Eklundh and Fredrik Thordendal. I’d have to think about it a bit more. And there are the guys from way back like Steve Vai, Alan Holdsworth, Alex Lifeson, the Priest and Maiden guys, Trevor Rabin from Yes, I’m still thinking…