Interview with Scale the Summit

Instrumental metal has always been an extremely small niche, but lately bands like Animals as Leaders and Scale the Summit have been giving this specialized genre more exposure. I recently had the option to send some questions over to Chris Letchford, lead guitarist of Scale the Summit. He talks with me about their self-described “adventure metal”, bridging genre gaps, and touring with progressive metal legends Dream Theater.

First of all, thanks so much for your time and answering these questions, and we’re really stoked to have you guys. How do you feel about how the new album came out?

Yeah definitely. Glad to be here to answer these questions. I’m loving the way the new album came out. I finally recorded a record that I’m 100% happy with. We spent a lot more time on arrangements of this album as well as working with a more established and experienced producer/engineer so we got exactly what we were hoping for. Definitely going to be working with him again.

In many interviews I’ve seen you guys describe your music as “adventure metal”. Would you say that’s still the case?

Its definitely still the case except on the new one, the adventure is to a much darker and moodier place than the one before. It’s intentional of course, as we are not going to continually write the same record.

As a band, you’ve come an incredibly long way from just playing shows on a school campus and self-releasing an album, to releasing your third studio album with Prosthetic Records and touring all over with Dream Theater, and even playing Prog Nation. It seems you guys are living the dream! What sorts of things have you learned as musicians and as a band in that time?

Yes, its truly been amazing all the things we have accomplished in the past 4-5 years of being together as Scale The Summit. Touring with Dream Theater was absolutely an amazing dream come true. That entire band is packed full of the best players in the Progressive genre and all very humble and nice guys. Had nothing but great things to say about us during that tour. It was an honor and meant the world to us to be able to share the stage with them for an entire month! It was also the most professional and well organized tour we have ever done and probably will ever do.

The biggest thing I have learned about being a professionally musician is that everything you receive in this industry comes from all of the hard you put in. I have always been a go getter and a hard worker when it came to anything that I would do, so it definitely paid off!

What inspires you to write the music that you do? I must say, you guys speak more eloquently with your instruments than many bands with multiple vocalists!

Thanks a lot! That’s awesome you think so and I really appreciate it! I handle most of the song writing myself as it just happened that way. I have always been a very fast and proficient song writer so I guess the guys are cool with it. I write so fast that they end up having to spend most of the time learning the material instead of playing a role in the song writing process. They aren’t scared to tell me if they don’t like something or want to try some different things, etc… We just don’t write as a group anymore. I feel like we are all on the same page now for this band and what we all want to play and hear so it makes it much smoother than it used to be. For inspiration, I usually just sit down and write and what comes out, comes out. Usually when the skies are clear blue outside that inspires me to write as it puts me in a great mood. I also do a lot of my writing super late at night when I’u feel about how the new album came out?

Yeah definitely. Glad to be here to answer these questions. I’m loving the way the new album came out. I finally recorded a record that I’m 100% happy with. We spent a lot more time on arrangements of this album as well as working with a more established and experienced producer/engineer so we got exactly what we were hoping for. Definitely going to be working with him again.

In many interviews I’ve seen you guys describe your music as “adventure metal”. Would you say that’s still the case?

Its definitely still the case except on the new one, the adventure is to a much darker and moodier place than the one before. It’s intentional of course, as we are not going to continually write the same record.

As a band, you’ve come an incredibly long way from just playing shows on a school campus and self-releasing an album, to releasing your third studio album with Prosthetic Records and touring all over with Dream Theater, and even playing Prog Nation. It seems you guys are living the dream! What sorts of things have you learned as musicians and as a band in that time?

Yes, its truly been amazing all the things we have accomplished in the past 4-5 years of being together as Scale The Summit. Touring with Dream Theater was absolutely an amazing dream come true. That entire band is packed full of the best players in the Progressive genre and all very humble and nice guys. Had nothing but great things to say about us during that tour. It was an honor and meant the world to us to be able to share the stage with them for an entire month! It was also the most professional and well organized tour we have ever done and probably will ever do.

The biggest thing I have learned about being a professionally musician is that everything you receive in this industry comes from all of the hard you put in. I have always been a go getter and a hard worker when it came to anything that I would do, so it definitely paid off!

What inspires you to write the music that you do? I must say, you guys speak more eloquently with your instruments than many bands with multiple vocalists!

Thanks a lot! That’s awesome you think so and I really appreciate it! I handle most of the song writing myself as it just happened that way. I have always been a very fast and proficient song writer so I guess the guys are cool with it. I write so fast that they end up having to spend most of the time learning the material instead of playing a role in the song writing process. They aren’t scared to tell me if they don’t like something or want to try some different things, etc… We just don’t write as a group anymore. I feel like we are all on the same page now for this band and what we all want to play and hear so it makes it much smoother than it used to be. For inspiration, I usually just sit down and write and what comes out, comes out. Usually when the skies are clear blue outside that inspires me to write as it puts me in a great mood. I also do a lot of my writing super late at night when I’m entering a stage of being delirious, haha.

When you were first starting out, did you meet with a lot of skepticism at not having a vocalist?

Of course, we had countless people telling us that we wouldn’t accomplish anything as an instrumental group, but like I mentioned before the only thing that matters is how hard you work at what you want to do. After the first album came out, everyone shut up about the “get a singer” comment. It’s nice to be an all instrumental band and out draw bands with a singer. It shows that the whole “you have to have a singer to make it” statement is clearly untrue. Just work hard, put in the time and you can make anything happen.

Does this album have any overarching themes or concepts behind it?

Yes, but nothing too exciting or deep. We wanted to basically make sure that we had more dynamics, moods, feeling, etc… on this one. Plus our title “The Collective” is tied in nicely with the cover art. The artwork being a Phylotaxis spiral, which in nature is a bunch of small pieces that make up a whole in the plant world and our title meaning the same thing, but relating to the music. We were able to continue out nature themes, but in a more indirect way.

What’s your opinion on the state of the music industry nowadays, especially from the viewpoint of a band that’s up-and-coming and really trying to grow a bigger fanbase and expose the fans to a unique type of music?

As long as people keep coming out to see shows when bands tour I think things will be fine. As for people not really buying music anymore, people still definitely do, just not as many. I don’t see that every turning around to the way it was barely 10 years ago. It’s not really that the music industry is failing, which by the news and online everyone makes it seem like they are, but it’s really just they aren’t selling as many CDs. The music industry is moreso making a change and evolving. It’s not faim entering a stage of being delirious, haha.

When you were first starting out, did you meet with a lot of skepticism at not having a vocalist?

Of course, we had countless people telling us that we wouldn’t accomplish anything as an instrumental group, but like I mentioned before the only thing that matters is how hard you work at what you want to do. After the first album came out, everyone shut up about the “get a singer” comment. It’s nice to be an all instrumental band and out draw bands with a singer. It shows that the whole “you have to have a singer to make it” statement is clearly untrue. Just work hard, put in the time and you can make anything happen.

Does this album have any overarching themes or concepts behind it?

Yes, but nothing too exciting or deep. We wanted to basically make sure that we had more dynamics, moods, feeling, etc… on this one. Plus our title “The Collective” is tied in nicely with the cover art. The artwork being a Phylotaxis spiral, which in nature is a bunch of small pieces that make up a whole in the plant world and our title meaning the same thing, but relating to the music. We were able to continue out nature themes, but in a more indirect way.

What’s your opinion on the state of the music industry nowadays, especially from the viewpoint of a band that’s up-and-coming and really trying to grow a bigger fanbase and expose the fans to a unique type of music?

As long as people keep coming out to see shows when bands tour I think things will be fine. As for people not really buying music anymore, people still definitely do, just not as many. I don’t see that every turning around to the way it was barely 10 years ago. It’s not really that the music industry is failing, which by the news and online everyone makes it seem like they are, but it’s really just they aren’t selling as many CDs. The music industry is moreso making a change and evolving. It’s not failing, it’s having to change over to find new ways to make money, be it video games, more publishing, touring percentages, etc… Music will always be around. I still wish people would buy more CDs though, haha, it would definitely make it easier for bands to tour.

Your first two albums were phenomenal as well, but all three definitely show a progression of you guys growing as a band and putting out better and better material. Do you feel pressure regarding topping your previous releases and performances, or living up to expectations given your history?

Yes, all the time. It’s weird though, when we finished “Carving Desert Canyons”. We all sat back and said, “damn, what do we do next”, but as you can see the natural evolution of this band tools it’s own route and we somehow made it work I guess, haha. I think if you spend to much time thinking about how to “top” something, it wont happen. Better to let things happen on their own, that way we all go into writing mode like we normally do, and do our thing.

Many fans and musicians perceive you guys as a band that has “made it” in a lot of ways and is basically living the dream. What advice do you have for aspiring bands and musicians who are looking to achieve a similar goal of getting their music out there?

For starters, never let anyone, be it parents, other bands, labels, venues, promoters, tell you that you can’t do something. Thats what really drove me to prove them wrong. Prosthetic Records told us when we released our first demo, before “Monument” that they would never sign an instrumental band. Now they have 2 all instrumental bands, haha. So you never know, we just proved to them that we work our butts off every single day. I wish I had more tricks and tips, but it’s really just work hard and promote your band, play shows and hopefully write music that a good size audience will enjoy!

With a band name like “Scale the Summit” and lots of animals and nature imagery, etc. on your merch, what influence would you say that nature has on your music?

Its a huge part in the inspiration in our playing, writing and artwork. We are all fans of nature and all of our instruments technically come from nature. So its definitely a big part in our band. All of nature has such an epic look to it, that why not combine it with the music we are writing to write as epic as possible.

Your music seems to bridge many genres together (jazz, rock, metal, progressive music of all types) and crosses many gaps. Do you see a really varied crowd at your shows (metalheads, jazz fans, adults, kids, etc.) and was this an aim of yours from the beginning?

Very wide variety of kids, adults, jazz guys, metal heads etc… I’m sure for the most part we have an older audience as they are less narrow minded or follow trends than the younger crowds, but it does light up my face when I have a 12 year old kid come up to me after a show and say that he has never heard of us but that we blew his mind and that he now loves it. It reminds me of myself. I don’t know how people can go through their younger years only listening to what the radio or their friends tell them to listen to. We use to be told that by not having a singer would result in us having a smaller market for touring, radio, promotion, etc… but in fact it’s the exact opposite. We have more genres of tours we can play, a larger market of people to push our music out to. If we had a singer, especially a screamer, then we would cut our changes in half as not everyone likes someone screaming in their face, haha. Its fun seeing such a mix of people at our shows and writing us online.

Any final words to leave us with?

Thanks a lot for the interview and to anyone who hasn’t heard of us, start with our newest full length “The Collective” and I recommend the songs “Whales”, “The Levitated” and “Black Hills”.

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Welcome , today is Tuesday, July 19, 2011