Thrash Hits

April 4th, 2011

PROGTOLOGY with James Monteith of TesseracT: #2 – A Djentlemen’s Guide to SxSW

After the awesomeness of TesseracT guitarist, James Monteith‘s first column about Djent and self-indulgence, he checks in from on the road – the prog-metallers are currently on their second US tour – with his second column all about how to party hard at South By South West

Progtology with James Monetieth Thrash Hits

Sitting on the washing machine in a launderette is a great place to be when on tour. With no Wi-Fi and the mellowing rumble of the drums, it’s a serene place to reflect on times past, and what a crazy week I’ve just had. I’m at the start of the TesseracT tour with Protest The Hero and Maylene & The Sons of Disaster which is awesome, and I’ve just come from Austin, Texas and the South By South West festival.

SXSW, for those of you who don’t know, is an event where the centre of Austin transforms into (among other things) a huge music festival. The gigs are primarily industry showcases but are also open to the public. All the bars become venues, and and the place is mayhem for a week. I learned a few things in my time there, so I thought i’d share them in this month’s column.

This is my five-step guide to SXSW.

1. Research the bands you want to see.

I was lucky as I went with my A&R man, Steve and Barley, my boss at the Basick label (who I work for). So as far as finding out who was playing where, I was sorted. However without this luxury I would suggest doing some research, or if you’re feeling flush, splash out for the full SXSW pass, which gives you priority access and also tells you who’s playing where. There are so many gigs, so many bands and so much to do, but you need to know what you’re looking for.

Friday was my main band-watching day, and the first band of note that i saw with Barley was Gaza. Combining hardcore with tech metal they were impressive as well as full of attitude. Great stuff. Thrash Hits editor Raz showed up briefly, who casually told us about how he saw Foo Fighters and Queens of the Stone Age in tiny bars the nights before, then ran off to do more journalist stuff. We then slagged him off for a good ten minutes out of sheer jealousy [perfectly reasonable and expected – Raz]. A great example of the gems you’ll find here if you know where to look.

I’d hoped to catch iwrestledabearonce, but it wasn’t meant to me. Barley however did, and straight after he randomly caught a set by hardcore legends Bane. Although a little disappointed, I was glad that we’d managed to get into Headhunters to see Kvelertak. They are currently Sean from Basick’s favourite band, and as we’re up against them for a Metal Hammer Golden God (vote for us!), this was a show not to be missed. I was secretly hoping they would suck, but that little daydream was shattered from the off as they proceeded to perform some of the most raucous rock ‘n’ roll I’ve seen and heard in a long time. The room, with a capacity of no more than 50 people, went nuts. Looking forward to sitting on the adjacent table to them at the awards, when we both lose to letlive..

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The evening’s entertainment was supposed to kick off with Kylesa at Dirty Dog but we missed them by minutes, but any disappointment was quickly forgotten as the legendary Crowbar took to the stage. Brutal, crushing and every other cliched metal word describes this band perfectly, and their sheer gut-wrenching power is almost too much for me (see Point 4). The night was closed with disappointing set from one of the most influential bands of the ’90s, Helmet, but I didn’t care really, as the rest of the day was awesome.

The one band I was really gutted about missing was Animals As Leaders. They played at Emo’s on Saturday afternoon, but the venue was at capacity, so we stood no chance of getting in rocking up ten minutes before. I did however see 60 per cent of the bands I intended to, and I’m told that’s a good stat. Being prepared (well, being with prepared people rather!) paid off.

2. Networking

Everyone who’s anyone in music is at SXSW, so whether you’re in a band, work for a label, or do anything related to music, there’s a lot of business to be done here.

Just before the tour we’d luckily managed to score an endorsement with Taylor guitars and I hooked up with the rep, who is very kindly lending us acoustics for the US tour. I say lucky as we’re doing a few acoustic sessions which will include some reworked tracks and a cover, but as we had no space to take acoustics on the plane, we had no idea how we’d pull this off! We met in a dingy car park, behind the rep’s open boot, in what flet like a drug deal scene in a dodgy ’80s action movie. We talked a little about acoustic baritones, then he gave me two guitars and ran off to see a band. Job done.

Steve very kindly took us to an EMI dinner, where there were a bunch of big industry players, so Barley was in his element working the table. I was sitting next to a German guy who I was engaging in some random slightly drunken banter which was fun. Until I proceeded to embarrass myself after asking what he does, and he replied, in his thick German accent…

German guy: “I work for Wacken.”
James: “Never heard of it mate. What’s that all about then?”
German guy: [Look of amazement] “Really? Wackenfest?”
James: “No… You’ve lost me…”
German guy: “It’s like the biggest metal festival in the world?!?”
James: [Several seconds of cog grinding] “Ah! Wacken!”

I said it in the most English way as possible to accentuate the pronunciational differences and make clear that I’m not a total moron. I then did my best to convince him that Wacken needs TesseracT, although I’m not convinced that he believed I’d heard of Wacken. Oh well, hopefully I at least ingrained the band name in his head enough that if anyone else mentions us, it’ll ring a bell with him.

For a couple of nights I’d ended up crashing with a guy whose job is to find international bands to play in South Africa. TesseracT are quite into globe trotting for the cause of rock ‘n’ roll, so I couldn’t believe my luck at first. After a little probing I found out that even Meshuggah are unknowns out there so it wasnt looking good, however, Christian Metal’s apparently massive. I did for a moment consider faking that we were that way inclined to see if I could spark some interest (we’re a wholesome looking bunch aren’t we?), but I just couldn’t do it. The Slayer fan in me would have never forgiven something like that.

3. Eat the local delicacies

Upon arrival I went with Barley to Hoek’s Death Metal Pizza – a strong recommendation from Nasrin at Century Media. We ate spicy sausage and pepperoni pizza washed down with Death Metal Beer, Death Metal Water and all to the sounds of a live death metal band. What more could you want?

chicken fried steak breakfast austin texas america usa food thrash hits

On the first morning I ate a chicken-fried steak breakfast, and the reasons for America’s high obesity rate became totally apparent. This is a massive steak, battered, and then deep-fried. Move over Glaswegians and your battered Mars bars – this is a new level. As deadly as this is, it’s an absolute must try.

[He’s right. It is dangerously yummy – Raz]

On the Saturday morning, after a big night out, we hit the Ironworks Texas BBQ. Piles of meat, a little veg, lots of sugar and salt-filled dirty but tasty sauces. The perfect way to prepare for another day of rock ‘n’ roll.

4. Get hammered (but don’t puke on your boss)

Festivals, music and all that stuff goes hand-in-hand with drinking. It’s all good fun, and at a general price of $3 for a large can of beer, it’s hard to resist. On the Friday, I got on it in the afternoon watching Kvelertak, and we decided to got back to the Century Media house to have a couple more before heading out to dinner.

At the house, Steve presented me with three copies of One. This is the first time I’d seen it and was about as excited as anyone could be. I carefully unwrapped the packaging and flicked through the booklet – it was perfect. Our first album in my hands, how incredible! “Let’s put the DVD on,” says Steve excitably and promptly loads the player.

It’s all looking great – the menus are slick, the music works great, the package is perfect… until we click on the Gear Reviews section. The feeling of joy and celebration suddenly switches to horror and disbelief. For in the gear section, my name has a typo, which makes me sound like a brutal East End brawler… James TENTEITH! Steve is a little embarrassed, Barley can’t stop laughing and proceeds to post it on Facebook right away. The deluge of social network piss-taking commences.

tesseract one cd dvd gear review james monteith tenteith ten teeth thrash hits

After an awesome dinner of Mexican food and unlimited margaritas with a topping of tequila, we headed back to the main stretch and met up with Raz for Crowbar. Crowbar are heavy – too heavy in fact for my guts which spontaneously decided to eject its contents all over the floor, spraying both Raz and Barley with partially-digested enchiladas. Nice.

The night ended back at the hotel jamming the blues with Barley on my newly-acquired Taylors followed by an impromptu hip hop DJ set from Jason, the very kind dude who let us crash in his room.

The next day hurt, but it was worth it. I was then left wondering whether I’d lost my job and my column [Just your dignity, James – Raz]. Luckily i’m still here, but puking on your boss and editor is generally not a good idea.

5. Travel sensibly

Everyone was heading home on the Sunday, except me, who had to travel to boston to meet the rest of the band for tour. I had originally planned to take a three-hour flight, but when I heard there was a free lift going, I couldn’t believe my luck. Until I reaslised it was a 2000-mile drive. That’s London to Glasgow and back. Twice. We drove straight through, it was killer, and something l will never do again. I picked up the guys, who were fresh out of a night in a comfortable low budget hotel, and I looked (and probably smelt) like I’d just come out of a 40-hour squat party. But all my pain is soon forgotten, as we’re now on tour!

Tesseract’s debut album One is out now and it comes very, very highly recommended! Plus you really should editor@thrashhits.com with your questions or leave it in a comment below! Ask him whatever you’d like to know. It could be something about TesseracT, his guitar technique, the djent genre or more stuff about James getting drunk.


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