Interview with Paul Ortiz prior to Chimp Spanner’s UK Tech-Metal Fest set!
Having played the inaugural UK Tech-Metal Fest, Chimp Spanner are no strangers to the festival, but they obviously made quite an impression after headlining last year, and so were invited back to this year’s bigger event.
Primarily the bedroom project of mastermind multi-instrumentalist Paul Ortiz, Chimp Spanner also boasts a live line-up including Adam Swan of Monuments, the hugely entertaining Boris Le Gal on drums, and riffmaster Jim Hughes on guitar. Despite being dormant for much of the year, Chimp Spanner’s rhythmic compositions and sci-fi themes have captured the progressive metal scene, and Paul is truly a testament to the scene – especially when he draws one of the bigger crowds of the weekend later the same afternoon we spoke to him, sitting cross-legged on the grass of the beer garden that served as press area for the event.
So how are you? How’s it been so far?
Yeah, it’s been really good. I’ve been here since Thursday, so just literally been chilling out with everyone. Pretty much everyone I know is here, or everyone I know within the scene is here and it’s nice as well because everyone gets to hang out with everyone else, and there’s not really any sort of segregation going on.
The VIP area seems rowdier than the normal area.
Yeah, and I mean everyone’s in there.
Who’s your favourite you have seen so far?
Oh Man! Disperse, easy. Yeah Jakub is just like…it makes me sick – but in a good way. He such an expressive player, really soulful; tight band. I got to see them at the last Euroblast and I think they just put their new line up together, so they have obviously had some time to work on stage presence and just being comfortable.
How is compared to last year, because you headlined last year didn’t you?
Yeah, it’s a nice progression, you know; it’s good to see the spirit for getting involved is staying strong and it’s a really nice step forward for it.
We heard it was a little rocky last year, we weren’t here but…
Oh, no it was just a different, completely different kind of venue. I think there were more concerns about things around the venue, and licensing issues and stuff like that. It was a little more chilled out, but I still enjoyed it; I think everyone that was there enjoyed it, but I think for the number of people and for the kind of people, sticking them in a field in the middle of nowhere is probably the best place for them.
[laughter] in general! So you’ve been performing a lot more recently than you have over the past couple of years
Yeah; it’s been busier at some times and quieter at others, and certainly the last year, maybe year and a half it’s definitely been a lot quieter than before that. For a while things were kind of building up, one tour into another and obviously we had the Cynic tour, the tour of America with The Contortionist and Jeff Loomis - but you know, life kind of gets in the way as it does for everyone, so I’ve basically just been putting aside a bit of time to write obviously because there is another album to be done. It was supposed to be done for first quarter of this year but…sorry Barley!
but yeah, and just trying to get back on my feet a bit because you can throw yourself both feet into the touring thing, but ultimately you still need some stability to come back to and I think there’s more that we could do if I take the time to build a stable base for it; invest in some good stuff, for the show, like new equipment and everything because we are still just playing on a shoestring really. We’ve got our instruments, we play the backing track off an iPod and that’s it; there’s nothing else. I’m sure anyone listening knows what it costs to put on a good production and the thing is, your profile can build up as much as you want it to, but then peoples’ expectations of the live shows start to get that much higher and when you see bands that are running wireless rigs and in-ears so that they can deliver a better a performance, to be able to compete with that you need to be able to put some serious cash to it. I’m hoping there will be a chance, focus on getting the album done, decide which way it’s going to go and then if it’s the kind of thing that would suit touring, then to really go for it properly.
So what has that progression been like, going from bedroom musician status to a live band; how has your perception of your own music changed?
It’s been an interesting one. When I was first approached to play the Basick birthday party, which was back in 2010, it was very much a thing of “yeah I will try it and see how it goes” and that has really been the same with everything. Obviously I understand the importance of the touring but I’ve never been looking at the touring as a means to an end, too much. It’s kind of this thing where I am really trying out, obviously I am enjoying pushing the limits and it has definitely made me a better musician for it. But I am always trying to keep sight of what it was originally, in terms of the writing, and I found out that what happened with the EP was that I was thinking more about the live side of things and it did end up being more like a riffy EP as oppose to a concept album like At The Dream’s Edge was. So I’m trying to get some of that back into the new stuff and think more along the lines of ”I am just going to write what’s in my head” and it either works live or it doesn’t. This stuff that works, we can play it, this stuff that doesn’t, we don’t.
Is it going to be more collaborative with Boris and Jim?
It’s still just a solo writing thing. I’ve just got myself kitted out with a new studio – well, I say new studio; it’s basically a laptop – and again it’s that quest for inspiration; just trying to create an environment for myself where I can just get some alone time and delve into my head.
Have you got a concept in the framework?
Yeah; I mean again, for a while I was thinking about the live element, but the more I let that taint the writing, the less happy I was with it, you know? So I’m trying to get in the mindset of soundtrack, game, film, that sort of thing, because that’s how At The Dream’s Edge started life and then everything will just naturally build on top of that. So as far as a concept I don’t have anything definite but I have definitely got a vibe. If I said Blood Dragon, some people might know what that means.
So you mentioned video games and movies; do you actually write stuff for any that?
It is kind of a common misconception that, thats is what I do, but it is actually what I would love to do. Again, over the last few months I have been trying to sort of get a pathway into music licensing and publishing stuff; just going with companies that represent artists, to farm them out to advertise to clients and stuff like that. From what I can tell it is really hard to get into. I am going to keep cracking at it, but I feel that if anything good happens it is going to be through a connection; it’s going to be someone that knows a guy that knows a guy. I know plenty of people that do it but when I ask them “How did you do break into it?,” they’re just like “oh, well, you know my dad’s mate owns this media company,” and I’m like “aah…hook me up then!”
[laughter] So can you think of a film you love, that you wish you could re-write the soundtrack for? Or a video game?
Oh um… actually no I can give you one. The new Star Trek movies. I mean I am not going to smack talk someone else’s work, but on the other hand I didn’t like it.
Star Trek is quite important to a lot of people.
Yeah man, I mean just traditionally, like all the series and all the movies have very powerful amazing themes and motifs everything and I just, I felt that was missing from these films. It was brash, it was just bam, bam, bam there was no subtlety.
My favorite score recently has been the Man Of Steel one
Yeah, that had a good soundtrack. A friend of mine describes it as ‘bram’. You know the trailer is like “blih blih blih blih blih blih blih blih BRAAAAAAAAAAM”
Yeah, basically every film has had the Batman score.
Are there any movies or games recently that you have thought wow that’s scored really well.
Blood Dragon. It’s fantastic; I was trying to explain it to someone earlier; it’s like someone tried to make a video game of the inside of my head. Actually come to think of it, Far Cry 3 had a really good score as well.
How is the musical side of the new record – album or EP – coming?
I’ve actually been steering away from overly complicating things, because there are so many bands that are doing it and doing it well and you could easily get into a tech war. I am thinking more just, memorable melodies, focusing on chord progression. I feel like that’s my strength. I’m just not a shred head I try, but it just doesn’t happen – so I think it’s a case of you can try and force yourself to do what you think people would like to hear and end up getting frustrated – because maybe it’s just not what my hands are meant to do – or I could just go with my instincts. So musically, there is going to be some cool techy stuff in there. There’s a few displaced grooves and all that stuff, but I am trying not to approach the song from the stand point of “how messed up can I make this?” It might be that there’s just a four on the floor beat with some guitars behind it.
I have never got that impression from your stuff
I think with the EP I might have forced a couple of sections, that, listening back to them I have thought “I didn’t need to do that” – not to say I wasn’t happy with it.
One of our guys wanted to know if you were planning on doing a live EP? He feels your sound is really augmented in the live setting.
I have had this discussion with a few people and I think because of the way I write, and the fact that I am quite indecisive, and because it would be very expensive as well, I think I’m always going to like that freedom to change things way down the line just to quickly re-work bits. It would be cool to try, maybe with a different project; something that doesn’t need to be as meticulously planned as a solo project. It would be great to try it some time, but…
I with it being your own thing, if it was a little more collaborative you could let it go a little bit. It’s your baby!
Yeah, I mean I never wanted to come across wrong when I state that I hold onto the creative element of it, but I think when you’ve been working on something for that long and you have got your methods and your ways and everything, it’s very difficult to open that process up to lots of people.
I think any artist, regardless of what medium, goes through exactly the same thing
I mean, if I was to start something else now with other people it would be fine to come at it from a collaborative element, because nothing is set in stone; it would be a completely new thing. But I think, certainly for the Chimp stuff, it’s…it is what it is.
So in terms of money-making/career, you hope to get into film and game soundtracks?
Oh man, absolutely – or even just advertising, you know? The budgets that some of these companies have set aside for music, is more than I could hope to earn on something else. What would be great is if I could have that going in the back as a sort of foundation then build everything else on top, then if there’s a tour that we would just love to do but it costs to get on, we don’t have to worry about it. But yeah, certainly in terms of my career, it’s always going to be about writing – for something, somehow!
It’s good to have a variety as well I think
Yeah, definitely; it’s easy to get trapped into doing one thing – one style of music – and a lot of work I’ve been doing the last year has been way more electronic-influenced, and I’m just having great fun with it. The nice thing is that some of that stuff naturally spills back into the Chimp stuff; you try out different techniques – different approaches and stuff – that you wouldn’t really have reason to explore otherwise if you just stuck to doing the one thing.
I do have one final one; do you have any live shows booked for the rest of the year?
Oh, man, I should really know the answer to this!
I guess the obvious one would be Euroblast?
Not doing Euroblast this year; I would rather do that when I have a new album, because as it is I think I have played there, what, three times now? And I don’t want to go and play the same set.
Are you going to go?
Oh I’m going to go, I am there. It is a great experience, John, that puts it on you know, they are such a nice bunch of guys, very friendly, very welcoming. But hopefully the plan would be to have a brand new set ready for next year. There’s a couple of things that I have tentative said ‘yes’ to for earlier of next year but I won’t say them just yet.
Don’t want to give us an exclusive?!
I would if I had anything to give you!
Ah, no worries. Thanks a lot man!