Sequester is the solo progressive metal project of Ryan Boc, a multi-talented Canadian with a great ear for music and lyrics. Ryan was kind enough to answer some of my questions about Sequester and other important issues like video games and fantasy novels. Sequester's Nameless One EP was recently released and writing is well under way for the next album.
Hey Ryan, first off, thanks for agreeing to this interview for Ice Vajal!
Hi Mike! It is no problem at all.
Sequester is a one-man band so how long did it take you to record Nameless One, from start to finish? Does studying for a degree seriously affect the amount of time you can spend on Sequester material?
On my computer it says the first drafts were recorded in September 2008, so from conception to delivery we're looking at a little over a year (I'm including the time it took to write and arrange the material as well).
Being a university student definitely puts time restrictions on my work with Sequester. Once I start recording something, I find it real hard to stop. I'm very picky and try to get the best takes possible, which can take hours upon hours for even just a few seconds of audio. Because I'm in school, I simply can't afford to be spending that much time recording and writing when I should be studying! Fortunately this is my last semester, so soon I can at least start having my nights and weekends free.
How much of an influence were Týr on the arrangement of Three Ravens? Also, how did you find out about this old English folk song?
Týr is an amazing band—certainly in my top favorites. Their music in general influences me, especially the guitar playing and singing style of Heri. There are only a handful of vocalists I truly like, and he is one of them! I'm not really into the extreme singing styles, or the wide vibrato / classically trained typical prog stuff... so when a band like Týr comes into the scene, with a regular guy singing the way that comes most natural to him, it is inspiring.
Anyway, Týr is known for doing traditional Nordic folk songs, many of which are Faroese. Folk has always interested me to some degree, so I thought it would be fun to do some research into traditional songs for potential Sequester arrangements. Of course, I don't speak any of those Scandinavian languages, so decided it would be better to check out songs from my own roots (being English and Scottish.) There is a lot of good Celtic material to work with, and what interested me the most when I was researching all of this was the works that Francis James Child collected. You can check out his article on Wikipedia or something, but the gist of it is that this scholar gathered a number of traditional English ballads, often known now as the Child Ballads. Reading the various lyrics, Three Ravens' story interested me, so then it was just a matter of finding the music itself. A number of versions I heard used a similar melody for the vocal line, so I went with that as the foundation and then worked my own material around it.
You have quite a diverse taste in metal and rock but which band would you say has had the biggest influence on you as a musician?
Metallica's Orion was what got me into metal, and to this day remains my favorite piece of music. Our Lady Peace was the first band I really got behind, while Nirvana was important throughout my teenage years. In general though, Blind Guardian has probably been the biggest influence on the music I actually write. There are of course many more influences to list out, but BG has got to be the most significant.
The cover art for Nameless One by Jonathan Elliot is a very stark black and white image. How did you come to be in touch with him and what made you choose this rather unusual image?
Jon sent me an email in early 2009 saying he stumbled across my music (I think it was The Erlking in particular) and became a fan as a result. We've kept in touch off and on, and when I announced the Nameless One EP, he offered to do some cover art just for fun as he liked the lyrical themes I was dealing with. He put together this sketch, I made some further suggestions, and that was that! I think it turned out well, and it is definitely an attention grabber. I also liked how he incorporated those ravens in the background.
Your lyrics are mostly based in fantasy and yet you have, to my knowledge, managed to avoid the usual pitfall of 'cheesy' lyrics. Do these kind of deep lyrics just jump out at you or do you spend a lot of time working on them?
My lyric writing process is a bit unusual. It starts with me mostly singing gibberish to match syllables with the written vocal melodies. Once I get the rhythm correct, then it is a matter of actually filling in meaningful words. Sometimes, but not often, those initial ramblings warp into rather weird and poetic passages, and through some strange twist of fate they end up working for the song; that, or they'll end up sticking because I'll grow so use to hearing them!
I think that the 'cheesy' factor from many bands' lyrics comes from being too straight forward, and an overall lacking of a strong vocabulary to work from. Reading a lot helps there. You can't really blame many of those bands though since English isn't always their native tongue. Essentially what I do is I'll have an idea of what I want to say, so I just need to find a way of saying it without outright saying it... if that makes sense? You have to be a bit cryptic and vague in the message, which can take a lot of time to do effectively. What I mean by that is you have to play around with the words and experiment with different ideas—don't just always take the first thing that comes to mind. Though admittedly, sometimes those initial ideas prove to be the best! I think some of the first lyrics I wrote were a bit bland and nothing special, but I eventually started putting more attention into word choice, how things should be phrased, and leaving more of the lyrical meaning up to the listener's imagination.
Do you ever feel the urge to write some more simple 'fist-pumping' metal lyrics, a-la Manowar?
It would certainly speed up the song writing process! I'd probably regret doing it once the song was released though. Sorry, Manowar fans.
The subject matter is pretty well covered but would you ever consider doing a Lord Of The Rings inspired song?
I did two Lord Of The Rings song on the first album, which is probably enough! I mean, as you said, this is a really popular topic that has been done to death. I think there are a lot of other stories that need to be told, so I'm moving past Tolkien — at least for now, anyway. I still think Gollum deserves a song at some point since he has such an interesting story.
Can you pick a favorite Sequester song?
That's a tough one, as I have favorite qualities from various songs. Overall, Paths Of The Dead is my favorite from the first album. The Erlking contains my favorite solo. Nameless One certainly took the longest time to do, so I'm most proud of that one. Casually, I probably listen to Witcher the most lately. The Seer probably has my favorite chorus, while Winter Shadows has my favorite lyrics. Yeah, I suck at this question.
I read that you're looking for extra members so that you can play live. Any success with finding suitable members yet?
No not really. There are not a lot of drummers around here, let alone drummers that are into what I'm doing. The metal scene in Victoria is leaning more in the extreme direction: black, death, hardcore, whatever. That's not to say some of those genres aren't good—I'm a huge Opeth and Amon Amarth fan (though those two aren't typical death metal per say), and a lot of the folk metal I enjoy has black metal qualities. But anyway...there are a lot of guitarists here at least, and I've had a number of offers from them, not to mention offers to join other bands too. All in all I just haven't had the time or luck in getting a band together. Next year I'm going to really start searching and trying to get some live shows going. Finding a drummer is the first order of business.
If and when you put together a full band would you still keep Sequester as a personal recording project with other members only appearing live or would you consider handing over some creative control to your band mates?
This is something I'm not entirely sure about yet. I like having control over how everything will turn out, and that artistic freedom is what makes this project so much fun for me. Who's to say that it couldn't sound even better with others' input though? I mean... I'm not a drummer, so I probably wouldn't mind giving up creative control there. I think the music could really benefit from that. The same can be said regarding a bass player. Guitars and vocals though... I love doing those, and they are my main tools for getting ideas across. I'm not big on blazing guitar solos, so could probably have someone else do those should I want to include more shredding in the songs. Or maybe it is best to start a new band for such collaborations, while keeping Sequester to myself? I don't know at this point.
You mention on your website that you've started working on new songs. Would you tell us a bit more about them? For example you said you might include some lyrics inspired by George RR Martin or another old folk tune. How is this going?
I've just finished arranging all the songs actually. There are eight originals, and two old folk tracks—those being the traditional Scottish songs Bonnie Dundee and The Skye Boat Song. I haven't posted this news yet on any of my sites, so there you have it!
The originals are untitled right now, and the lyric writing process won't happen for quite some time yet. Martin's books are favorites of mine though, so I do want to include one or two songs based on the characters or certain parts of A Song Of Ice And Fire. There are a lot of stories worth telling and subject matters worth discussing, so that's where I am right now in the writing process—figuring out what to sing about.
Who are your favorite fantasy authors?
George R.R. Martin, Steven Erikson, and R.A. Salvatore. There are a number of others I like as well, but those are my current favorites. I think J.K. Rowling is awesome too. Even though those books became popular as hell, I was there pretty much from the start around 1998 or whenever it was. I would have only been 11 at the time, so it was as if I was growing up with Harry Potter, being the same age and all. I also think we have her to thank for today's renewed interest in the fantasy genre. The LOTR movies helped too, of course.
How about favorite video games? Do you prefer PC or console gaming?
I've been mostly a PC gamer for a while now, though I'm not into those MMO games. I don't actually have one of the current generation consoles yet (last console I own being the PS2). I was going to buy a PS3 when the MGS4 bundle came out, but it was sold out everywhere so instead I bought a new computer. My favorite games mostly come from Bioware. I just bought Mass Effect 2, and beat Dragon Age a couple weeks ago after approximately 70 hours of game play. I'm a fan of all the late 90s CRPGs, like Baldur's Gate, Icewind Dale, Fallout, Planescape, etc. I've been addicted to League Of Legends lately, despite the trash talking that occurs on a gamely basis (some of those kids are clearly instruments of Satan). Ubisoft puts out some of my favorite games too, like the Tom Clancy titles (Rainbow Six, Splinter Cell, Ghost Recon). I'm a big Castlevania fan, and have played and own most of those. The same can be said for the Final Fantasy, Devil May Cry, Metal Gear Solid, and God Of War series. Starcraft is a classic that is still fun (still patiently waiting for SC2), and I sometimes check out those pro Korean matches. I could go on for a while about games, so I'll stop now. I'll definitely need to be getting a PS3 though if I want to play the next instalments of some of those series that I like.
Outside of Sequester what are your dreams and hopes for the future?
I'm really not too sure. In general, I just don't want to be stuck doing something I hate. I don't really care much about money, just so long as I can live comfortably and be happy with life. If I can make a living off of Sequester, that would be awesome; otherwise, I'll have a fancy degree soon that can be put to use. I wouldn't mind working on sound for film or video games, so that career path is probably 'plan A' right now. I'm qualified for a number of computer science related jobs, so we'll see how things turn out.
Thanks so much for taking the time to answer these questions, Ryan! Anything else you'd like to add?
There are an overwhelming number of musicians and bands popping up on the internet these days, and it is actually becoming harder to discover new music due to the sheer volume of acts to shuffle through. Not only this, but there is always the issue of trying to find the right fan base when your music doesn't necessarily belong to any one genre. Everyone says they appreciate originality, but they're not always willing to stray from what is familiar! The fact that you, or anyone for that matter, have been able to find Sequester out of the masses is truly amazing. So thank you and thanks to all my listeners for their continued support and interest. Take care for now, and check back periodically for updates on the next Sequester release!
Thanks again, we at Ice Vajal wish you all the best for the future and look forward to the next Sequester release!