I had a great opportunity to interview my Divinex homeboys and it’s quite the detailed interview! Everyone knows my obsession with them, and really hit home with me seeing another band’s perspective, writing style, process, and other areas of what makes them truly unique. I have been to at least 5 or more of their shows they have played around Buffalo (most likely going to the Persefone show they just hopped on at the end of August this year) and have continuously improved as musicians and their great stage presence as well. It with my upmost excitement and honor I present the public this piece for everyone to read! Here goes nothing! Enjoy!
Jay Wolff- Guitars, Programming
Jon Davis- Guitars
Pat Cerino- Drums
TMR: “Create. Affect. Repeat” has been consistent in my library since it’s release. What was it like putting that album together?
Oh man. It was something!
In terms of songwriting, Reinventions was written first, actually while Movement was being recorded. It was first track in the beginning of “re-inventing” our sound for the second album, so thus the title. Having each song flow together into a sort of non-stop musical piece has always been something we value, so Pathways I and II were written shortly after as a continuation of the vibe from Reinventions.
Construct the Prototype and Collide came later on as their own ideas, because for as much as we like having an album be one front-to-back musical piece, we also wanted some songs to be able to stand on their own, which was something Movement didn’t do well with its long songs and lack of a good “single.” At that point the album was starting to take shape and come together, so eventually Immortalize was written, knowing full well that after “Event Horizon,” we needed to make another damn good finale song, which by the way is one of my favorite parts of our music – writing a long “symphony-like” experience and havong everything move toward a final climactic finale song. And Immortalize was awesome because it also included a short singing chorus, which would give people a chance to sing a long at the hardest hitting point of the whole record before soloing like crazy until the end, haha. And eventually songs like Harmony, Highway, and Verbatim were added to bridge certain gaps in the album and add some more dynamic.
As far as recording, we knocked out drums in a weekend at one studio, and then worked with Adam George over the course of about a year after that, doing all the guitar tracking, mixing, and production. Adam did our last album as well, and he’s an absolute genius at what he does, so we wanted to work with him again. He didn’t have as much available time this time around, so we only got to work on it once or twice a week. It was slow but sure progress, but the nice part was we actually had a ton of time in between sessions to listen to the latest mix, and Adam would keep tweaking the mix between tracking and final mixing sessions, so we really had a lot of time to soak in the latest mix and keep improving it until we were all happy. Adam is just as much of a perfectionist as we are too, so we worked really well together, especially in times when we were all content to tweak one volume automation envelope for 20 minutes, haha.
Tracking and mixing really went pretty smooth, albeit slow, but the hardest part was definitely mastering the album. We decided to try a new (and fairly well-known) engineer for mastering, and I think he must have used some vintage tube gear or something, because we ended up getting something like 6 different attempts of masters out of him, and they just weren’t quite what we needed. What was crazy is that they would probably have worked fine, but I remember driving everyone nuts spending long hours A/B’ing them SUPER loud trying to figure out which one to use, but not feeling comfortable picking one to encapsulate the great mix we had made after almost a year of working on the record. I honestly drove myself to the brink of insanity comparing (Jay), and after a while I felt like I even lost my ability to listen to the album musically. I was so stressed out trying to figure out if I was imagining the issues I heard, or whether I was just being WAY over critical, that after a while it didn’t even sound like music anymore. Not to mention this was in the final month or two where we were running our own headliner show for the release, trying our best to take care of album PR, and organizing a bunch of shows after the album’s release. Anyway, I ended up having our old mastering engineer take a stab at mastering the record and my god it was spot on. I heard an instant improvement, and suddenly everything was more pristine, contained the bass the right way, had more punch, and didn’t squash the snare out of the mix. That was Steve Sopchak at Square studio. He’s amazing too, but honestly he’ll probably never know how much of a savior he was during that stage of mastering the record, haha!
Overall we couldn’t be happier with everything though. The album definitely feels like a wholesome way to spend 40 something minutes listening to music, while having lots of diverse ideas and textures to meander through and plenty of good individual songs to just jam to as well.
TMR: Any new music you guys are working on?
Definitely! We’re all a bit older now and frankly we don’t have as much time to write as we used to, so progress is slower than we’d like, but we do have some cool stuff in the works. We have one song DONE done, and a whole bag of other half songs we’ll likely flesh out into full songs soon too. We might actually experiment with releasing individual singles or a short EP this time around as well, so it hopefully won’t be years before another album comes out, like what happened in the three years between Movement and Create.
I think right now we’re taking a step back from orchestrating a whole mammoth full length and just writing some “fun” songs that maybe get a little heavier and less diverse. That being said, the one song that’s finished starts out heavy but migrates to a softer more ambient section, and we always try to follow the music wherever it leads, so the music we come up with can only be so much about what we want for it, because where the song naturally migrates to affects it so much. Going forward, we also want a bit more depth in our sound. A lot of our riffs tend to just be distorted guitars playing off of each other, which there will still be plenty of, but we’re also trying to work in some distant cleans, synths, and other “wetter” sounds to flesh out the mix, even when it is heavy. We’re also experimenting with 7 strings now too!
TMR: What memories do you have playing with Angel Vivaldi (not once but twice!)? Any good advice he gave you guys?
Haha we’ve actually played with him 5 times. I have to say that dude is definitely a nice, down-to-earth guy. Well-known people can get kind of arrogant sometimes, or at least indifferent to people, but Angel cares about his fans A LOT and is just a genuinely nice guy. He’s definitely full of all sorts of advice too, and shares it openly. He definitely gave us some good advice about making sure our bases are covered in registering to collect music royalties and reaching audiences which definitely helped, but it’s also just really inspiring to see him consistently own every crowd and present his music. He’s a great performer, and the amount of time he spends connecting with people online is mind blowing, and of course he’s crazy talented on the guitar too.
One funny memory was when we opened for him the very first time at home in Rochester. At the time we were playing Pod HD’s out of powered PA heads for our amps, and going D/I to the front-of-house board. We had just done a show a couple days ago and left a lot of gear at the practice space, and somehow both of our PA heads for guitars never made it to Rochester. So we were pumped about playing to Angel’s crowd, who definitely appreciates instrumental prog more than most, and of course didn’t want Angel to see anything but our best. We were actually planning to ask him about doing a guest solo, and we knew that pitch definitely depended in part on our performance that night. Literally right before we played we found out that we didn’t have PA heads. We’re like “Wait, what’s missing. WHERE ARE OUR PA HEADS??!” Plan B was to have the sound guy patch our guitar signals through the front wedge monitors, which totally works, but it was just a little bit of a curve ball to wrap our minds around right before we played. The sweet spots for hearing yourself play over the drums are much smaller, and it even sounds way different that way. I think we were a bit more stressed out that day, but honestly we still killed it that night, and the crowd didn’t disappoint – They LOVED technical guitar music and absolutely ate up the performance. Not to mention we ended up hearing that a lot of people actually knew us from Pandora, since we get played with Angel all the time, but they didn’t KNOW they knew us until we played some of the music they know. We made a ton of fans and also connected with ones we didn’t know we already had for the first time. It was a great show all around. …and then later on we asked Angel Vivaldi to do a guest solo when things settled down and he was totally into it fortunately!
TMR: As you know, it’s tough keeping a band together and the many stresses that go into it. Divinex has been around for a little while now…best and worst memories as a band? Any advice you can give to any new bands starting out?
Yeah it’s definitely tough sometimes. It’s a different ball game when you get older. The older you get, the more responsibility you have and the less time you have for music.
As far as best and worst memories, some of the best were probably opening for lots of awesome acts like Angel Vivaldi, Jason Richardson, Chon, and others, winning Headbang for the Highway and playing Summer Slaughter tour, organizing our own local headliner shows with awesome bands we like, both CD release shows were definitely amazing, and all the months after the albums came out getting to see people’s awesome response, shooting our first music video, camping out at metal festivals we played, Rage Fest 2013 way back. I could go on and on, really. There’s always something unique and super rewarding about every show experience we have, and even little things like waking up to an order for a CD that needs to be shipped to France, or seeing someone from Azerbaijan covered one of our songs on YouTube. It’s just great to see that people care in every corner of the world.
And with the worst memories, even the ones you would call the “worst” still become awesome memories and things you laugh about for years after. One of the funniest ones was when we played Summer Bash out in Bath one summer, and left the trailer open the whole way there. Somehow most of our gear stayed inside almost the entire trip until we hit a bumpy road out in the country. We stopped and asked for directions and realized the trailer was open and we had lost ALL of our tee shirts, which were just stocked up for the summer, and one of our powered PA heads we were using for guitar cabs at the time. Then later on when we were about to play, we had to delay the show by 15 minutes or so because none of us could find one of the PodHD’s that we were using for guitar modeling and processing. It wasn’t until the sound guy made an embarrassing announcement to everyone that we were looking for this dang thing and couldn’t start until we found it, that it randomly showed up back stage. We’re convinced someone definitely tried to steal it but then changed their mind when they realized the whole festival was looking for this Pod. Needless to say our mojo was completely thrown off and we didn’t play our tightest. That night was so frustrating and defeating, but the happy ending was that we decided to try to take the exact way back that we came, and kept an eye out for the stuff we lost, and we actually did find all three boxes of tee shirts. No PA head, but we were so ecstatic when we found the merch. We were out a lot of money until then.
Outside of that nightmare show no major complaints. One or two shows we traveled a ways for with a really sad turnout, but even then we still had fun and made some new friends and fans.
As far as advice to starting out in bands, we’re far from experts when it comes to music success, but here are some things we can suggest, based on the lessons we’ve learned.
– Make your songs amazing. Too often you see band after band that sound the same and drastically over estimate how good their songs are. You have to offer your listeners something of value if you want them to care. It’s not enough to “kind of sound like” your favorite band and hope that people can’t tell the difference. There are bands that blow people’s minds and all they do is play their (awesome) songs! Don’t worry about carrying your songs by inflating your image or stage presence. Just make really great songs, and it will be easier to perform and make great recordings. It will also give you a reason to justify sticking with it when there’s very little pay off for you, but you know your truly offering something and your fans care.
– Record as soon as possible. Make it sound good but do it cheap and do it early. Any effort you put into booking or social media will be infinitely easier when you have something to show people. You don’t want to find yourself giving the “come on we’re really good though!” pitch. It’s so useful to have even one song that’s recorded well and sounds great to show people when you’re trying to book a gig or get people to come out.
– You can’t expect anyone to do anything for you. The days of “being discovered” are nearly over. The only thing holding you back from having a record is you not having put aside the time and funds to record that record. The only thing holding you back from hitting 10 states on a 30 day tour is you not having booked each show on each of the 30 days in each state. Even with record deals – you can’t expect to get one with out shopping an album to multiple record labels, and proving to them you’re profitable enough to sign. Even the pros that are relatively famous and touring all the time are still planning their tour dates and putting a great deal of time and money into social media and promotions. There’s no point where you hit autopilot and you’ve “made it” and everything falls into place, so plan to do everything yourself, and plan for a TON of time on social media and marketing. That also means carving out space in your life for touring, because there probably won’t’ come a time when your music career says “You’re making plenty of money, you can miss weeks of work or quit your job.” You’ll have to commit to doing it anyway. If someone eventually comes along to help you out, that’s great, but should plan on doing everything yourself.
TMR: Movement is a great EP! Your full length is slightly different….to me, it feels a lot more focused on songs and transitions from track to track and from one section to another. I think your band’s songwriting matured and hit a songwriting sweetspot of melody and technicality. What are your thoughts on your two releases songwriting wise?
Thanks! Yeah we love how Movement came out, but we were just getting our feet wet with making a record back then. Most of the album was actually written for the precursor to Divinex, “I, Infinity” which was essentially the same lineup as we started with (Jay Wolff, James Millerd, Zach Sullivan), except we had a bassist and the songs actually had vocals. That project was really short-lived and broke up after only four shows for interpersonal reasons, before it was sort of reborn as instrumental when Divinex official began (after some differences were settled of course, haha).
But anyway Movement was kind of adapted from songs that had vocals as a main component, to songs that would be interesting enough as instrumental music. So we were definitely proud of what Movement was, but that was when we were just emerging and seeing the results of the experiment that was being an instrumental band. After that we were able to see what Divinex became, and were able to go into the next record with a better idea of what we wanted an instrumental DIVINEX record to sound like. We also wanted to make it a little longer and flow better from front to back, while also making room for certain songs to stand on their own as great 3 to 5 minute jammers, like Construct, Reinventions, and Collide. Of course, both albums really were structured to be a great front-to-back experience, that all leads to an epic finale song that really sums up and punctuates the whole record. I think immortalize really does a great job of creating a powerful ending for this record, too. At 12 minutes long, we rarely get to play that song, but when we do, ending that song just has an amazing powerful energy that hangs even once the song is over.
I think “Create.Affect.Repeat.” also finds a bit more of a balance between rhythmic experimentation and groove. The first record had all sorts of nerdy time signatures and confusing rhythms that are really fun to try to decode and follow along to, but the new record was a lot more straightforward and did a lot more with melody and grooves in a predictable rhythm, while still going off on extra- and missing-beat tangents that keep you guessing.
TMR: What’s the backstory on the band if you can expand on that? How was your name chosen?
Well Divinex has definitely seen some member changes and evolved quite a bit since its origin, but it originally started as just a group of friends that loved music and jammed together sometimes. We had all sorts of failed short-lived “bands” with terrible names and nearly no recordings or shows to show for them, but essentially after a while we realized each new band was just a slight variation of the same small group of people. Originally it was me (Jay), James Millerd, Zach Sullivan, and Nate Sniffen. At one point I think we realized that we were all music nerds active in the school music system, and one of our strengths was being able to tackle complex rhythms and technically challenging music, so we went with that. As I mentioned, I think the original vision for the music was a very BTBAM-esque prog band with vocals and long songs that connected together on an album, but after short breakup and some experimentation playing smaller shows without vocals, we realized being instrumental felt more natural. The lack of vocals seemed to put more attention back on the guitar and drum parts, which have always been the original foundation, and we appealed to a wider audience, since there’s definitely a segment of music listeners and concert goers that just dismiss bands with screaming vocalists. We also started to notice that people that had never listened to heavy music appreciated the more “metal” style guitars, that screaming vocals had prohibited them from enjoying prior. So instrumental just seemed like something that made sense to explore. Later, it became a huge marketing asset, since there’s WAY less competition out there in the instrumental world.
When we were starting again as an instrumental act, we had the idea of creating a unique name. Other bands prior had specific meanings attached to the titles that we always tended to grow out of and get tired of. When I was 15, “Reject the Masses” sounded like the coolest band name ever, but a couple years later we realized it was super lame, haha. So we wanted to create a unique name that referred to the band and ONLY the band, like Emarosa, Alysana, etc. We did need some sort of word to form the basis of the name though, so we came up with “Divinex” which was loosely based off of divining rods, which are some witchcraft lore that are supposed to help guide you in the direction of water under the ground. We were looking for something symbolic that had something to do with the way that we always try to go where the song wants to, and only keep riffs that felt like they were truly inspired from somewhere else – Riffs that NEEDED to come next in the song, rather than ones you put there out of formula, or because you think it’s what the market wants. I guess the metaphor is that we try to be receptive to inspiration and natural riffs that unfold organically, the way the divining rods guide you to water under the ground. “Divinex” was an adaptation that was unique and cryptic enough that no one would see it as anything except the name for our band.
In hindsight, it may have been a better idea to not have it be so close to the word “divine,” which has religious connotations that aren’t really what we intended at all, but hey – no band name is perfect. You just pick something and hope you don’t get tired of hearing it a million times, haha.
TMR: What is everyone’s favorite song to play live?
Jon – Reinventions because it’s shreddy, there are solos and it shows all aspects of our music in a short time
Pat – Reinventions because it was the first song I helped write when joining the band
Jay – Probably Construct the Prototype. All of our music has riffs that are super natural and fun to play, and others that can be really annoying, challenging, or just awkward to play on the guitar. But most of prototype is written more organically and just really fun to play live, and a bit easier to nail consistently when moving around and all. It’s just the most fun to play in my opinion, and it’s also just really heavy and straightforward, unlike other songs that tend to vary more dynamically.
TMR: What is everyone’s favorite show they have PLAYED?
Jon – My favorite show we played was either the first time we opened for Angel Vivaldi at the Harmony House in Webster, or possibly this really unique show we played in Rome, NY in a weekend tour with The Beast of Nod that was a “1920’s” themed metal night. It was in this huge concert hall with really great sound, and we had a all around solid performance in front of a decent crowd.
Pat – My favorite show was probably Summer Slaughter in Columbus Ohio. We were still riding the high from winning “Headbang for the Highway” which got us on the show, and we got to share the stage with a ton of awesome national acts and meet a lot of well known musicians.
Jay – It’s really tough to choose just one, but possibly our CD release show last year for “Create. Affect. Repeat.” It was clearly a bigger deal that any other show we played in Rochester, and tons of people came out to support. It also marked the finish line of something we put a TON of work into over the year prior, and it’s always epic when we get to headline and play one of our 10+ minute finale songs.
TMR: And your favorite show you ATTENDED?
Jay – Ozzfest ’06 – it was one of my first concerts ever, and had some legendary names I got to see for the first time – Ozzy, Zakk Wylde, BTBAM, All that Remains, System of a Down, Disturbed. Underoath on their farewell tour in NYC was also amazing.
Jon – Vildjarta with Veil of Maya in NYC
Pat – Coheed and Cambria with Saves the Day and Polyphia
TMR: Dream collaborations whether it’s an artist or producer?
Well, most of the modern guitar greats would be amazing. Plini, David Maxim Micic, Tosin Abasi. Aaron Marshal would also be an awesome fit because his style of instrumental music is probably closer to ours than the former 3. It would also be awesome to collaborate with a great singer too!
TMR: Who would you guys love to play a show with that you haven’t yet?
I mean Animals as Leaders is basically the leader in our genre, opening for them would really be an awesome opportunity. Ironically we actually were slotted to open for them in Buffalo a while back, but had to drop the show at the last minute because of a pretty serious case of pneumonia when we had our old lineup. It would be awesome to play a show with those guys, but really any other act in the top 20 or so modern instrumental acts would be amazing. We’ve already crossed Chon, Jason Richardson, Scale the Summit, and Angel Vivaldi off that list, but there is still Intervals, Plini, David Maxim Micic, Polyphia, Loomis, Meirow, etc. Plus of course other acts from the non-instrumental prog world, like Periphery, Tesseract, BTBAM, Protest the Hero, The Contortionist, etc.
TMR: How do you guys write? Spontaneous or in bits and pieces?
Well, songs usually start with me (Jay). As awesome players and writers as the other guys are, that’s just the system we’ve always had, especially since Movement was written before the band formed, and Create was written over the period when the old lineup changed to the new lineup as members joined. That being said, songs evolve a TON once they go from guitar tabs to real music in the practice space. Especially drums. Me and Pat have an awesome give and take where the songs usually have really specific drum parts in the written tab music, but Pat usually has strong feelings of his own of what the drums should be doing. We argue about it all the time and sometimes the drums end up close to what I had originally written and sometimes Pat’s new idea is just way better and totally takes the cake. There’s usually a fair amount of friendly bickering and then the final drum parts settle somewhere in the middle, which is when we know the drums are finally perfect. We’ve essentially harvested the best of both our ideas, and that’s what gets recorded. Jon joined a little later into the development of Create Affect Repeat, so some things were already set there, but he also adds his own touch and a few new riffs and solos, and the songs still evolved because of it.
TMR: Any shows coming up?
Yeah! We’ll be playing with Persefone and Manticora at Evening Star in Niagara Falls on August 31st!
Here’s a fun playthrough of “Event Horizon” with Jay and James recorded a few years ago which is always fun to watch.