LIVING MACHINES Gets Dorky With Us About Their New Concept Album And Comic Book Universe!

Living Machines Band
Photo credit: Brett Cullen Photo
Canadian progressive metal group LIVING MACHINES are a young outfit who have been described as “gifted beyond their years”. Their new single & video “Harvest” has cemented them as a rising star of the metal world and drawn comparisons to genre luminaries like BEYOND THE BURIED & ME, ARCHITECTS and ISSUES. Not content to simply rely on technical wizardry and a keen sense of heavy songwriting to carry each album, the group has created an entire fictional universe for their music to take place in called Gemini; which is brought alive by an accompanying comic book! We talk about all of that (and much more) in our exclusive interview below.

What is the Gemini universe? Did the members of Living Machines create it and what is its significance to the music?

“Gemini all takes place on a flooded future Earth where the world is ruled by a global conglomerate called The Valkyrie. In this story-verse, humanity and a shamanic alien race called the Aluna coexist on drifting ocean colonies, kept in order by the ever-watching eyes of The Valkyrie from their citadel on the Inlands.Thematically, Gemini it is a series of stories that reflect on the power of forgiveness.Gemini is an original universe created for the sole purpose of being a multi-platform story told through music, comics, short stories, and other mediums. It exists in parallel with Living Machines’ music, and every chapter/arc will have an accompanying album so that readers (and listeners) can really immerse themselves in the world we’ve created.There are 3 core story arcs that will span the entirety of the tale: After Onyx (prologue), A Tale of Future Earth (core story), and a third that is presently nameless. After Onyx has an album of the same name currently released, A Tale of Future Earth will take 5-6 albums to tell, and the third arc may be 2-3 albums long. We’re in it for the long haul haha.The idea behind approaching our music this way was largely inspired by Claudio Sanchez of Coheed and Cambria. I’ve always found it hard to write songs about everyday life, so turning everything we do into a story gave me the angle I needed to stay inspired and stretch my nerd muscles.”

Graphic novels and comic books have a large influence on Living Machines’ music. Were you comic fans before this or did you get into it as a way to expand the music? 

“Truth be told, I’ve never really been a big comic book guy until a few years ago, roughly around when this all started coming together. I’ve always been a huge fan of science fiction, but comics we an afterthought. The Amory Wars was one of the first series I bought, and from there I really got into writers like Jonathan Hickman (East of West, Black Monday Murders), James Tynion IV (The Woods, Congetic), and Rick Remender (Black Science, LOW). I’ve always learned new things by immersing myself in them first hand, so figuring out how to write a series came from basically buying any comic I could get my hands on and analyzing them. Creating worlds and building universes in my head is something I’ve always loved doing, but Living Machines is perfect for allowing me to write a story that can be told on the page (and with original music).”

The writing process for [upcoming album] ‘II: Inferius’ was different than for your first album, right? How did having more songwriters and a new vocalist affect the direction of your new music?

“You’re exactly right. I was living with our former vocalist Rob Gardner when the original idea for Gemini (and Living Machines) came to life. Rob and I worked together on the first EP, with Rob taking the story and putting it into lyrics while I wrote and recorded the instrumentals. I: After Onyx was somewhat of a prototype, and having never truly written many of my own songs in this style before, I can definitely hear some of the undeveloped musicality across the record now that we’re writing new material. After we had enough songs to bring a set to the table, we brought in Robin Fussell (guitars), Mason Dry (guitars), and Adam Alfano (drums).

“Fast forward to the writing session for II: Inferius, it was pretty well all hands on deck. I’d moved over to drums after we parted ways with Adam, and our new bassist Ryan Card ended up taking over on vocals. Considering we had never really written music as a band before, it took us a while to get into a groove and to figure out what worked (and didn’t work). The four of us came together surprisingly well in the studio. Ryan and I would focus on the lyrics and vocals while Robin and Mason wrote instrumentals. The only rules we had while writing were that we would try anything once, and that everyone was was allowed a say in whether or not they were into the lyrics, melodies, riffs, drum beats, you name it. Having a transparent, collaborative creative space really opened up our ability to take these songs farther than we would have thought possible.

“Having Ryan on vocals has been great. He has a variety of different scream styles and can also sing, which brought out a really dynamic performance for him on II: Inferius. I also found my voice as we were writing these songs, which is why a lot of the singing on the new record is much more powerful than I: After Onyx. I’d also add that one of the biggest contributors to making this record what it is today was working with a producer. After we felt the songs were as fleshed out as they could be, we approached Jordan Chase (Shreddy Krueger, Secret & Whisper, Stutterfly) to help us produce the record. Long story short, Jordan brought out the best in all of us. We are all super grateful we were able to work with him on this record. There’s something about trusting an objective opinion on your music that we’ve come to learn as invaluable.

What exactly is the story that runs throughout ‘Inferius’?

“This story arc (A Tale of Future Earth) takes place roughly 40 years after our first prologue album/story I: After Onyx.

“A Tale of Future Earth  is broken into five chapters: Sacramentum, Birth of the Weaver, Bloodline, Harbinger, and The Citadel. The first chapter Sacramentum  is split into two distinct narratives: Inferius and Superus.Inferius is told through the eyes of Gemini’s  antagonist Victor Vance, while Superus will follow the story through the eyes of its protagonist Mekk. In Inferius we learn about Victor Vance collaborating with a secret organization called The Shadow Council in the underbelly of Gemini. They ambitiously seek to find a link between the Aluna and immortality, while also trying to orchestrate a war between The Valkyrie and the free people of Gemini. In Victor’s mind, Gemini will never be as prosperous of an empire as Earth was until mass genocide is committed. All Victor truly desires is to see the Aluna eradicated, along with those who believe both of their species should coexist peacefully. I can’t say much more without dropping any spoilers, but it’s more or less the uprising of a tyrant in the face of social chaos.

What are the challenges that arise in producing a graphic novel and album as an independent artist? 

“Comics are very expensive to produce. Having capital to invest in both the band and the story-side of this project has proven challenging. The first issue of After Onyx (a 20 page, single-issue comic) has cost well over a few thousand dollars, and there are still 3 single-issues to produce that will complete the first story arc. To keep things moving at a reasonable pace, we’ve decided for now that Sacramentum (Inferius and Superus) will be an illustrated novella. This medium may be how we move forward with the series until we have the money to adapt the entire series as graphic novels. For now we’re just working with what we have in order to produce the books in a timely fashion. It’s a bit of a moving target, but we’re just taking our time with it and doing our best to maintain a marketable standard for everything we make.

“We tried to land publisher support for After Onyx, but so far there have been only a nibble or two without a bite. Robin and I have created an indie creation house called Splice Comics that will house the series until we are brought on by a larger publisher. Sometimes you just have to go full DIY until it becomes worthy of an established outlet backing your work. If the series remained independent for the entirety of our careers, I wouldn’t be upset with that either.

Living Machines pulls musically from various parts of the heavy and not-so-heavy music universe. Which artists do you see as primary influences at this point? 

“We all draw inspirations from different artists. Living Machines is quite the melding pot haha.I listen mostly to ambient, but bands that have largely inspired me musically are Periphery, Coheed and Cambria, and Being As an Ocean. Mason is a pretty big metalcore guy. His riffs are more on the melodic side and are inspired by artists like Architects, Novelists and Misery Signals. Robin is more of a prog nerd than any of us, and loves to incorporate time signature changes and dissonance into his songwriting. He’s big on The Ocean, Entropia and Deftones. Ryan loves a lot of power metal but he tends to draw from Linkin Park, The Devil Wears Prada and Architects for us vocally.

When you think about truly great prog albums that tell a story throughout, what are the band’s favorites?

“For me, anything across the Coheed and Cambria discography, for sure. Ascension and Descension (The Afterman) are my top pick.

“Robin is super into The Parallax series by Between The Buried and Me. Their discography is one big narrative, and he’s about it.

“Ryan’s pick would be Mercy Falls by Seventh Wonder based on how powerful the songwriting and melodies are. Big power metal energy.

“Mason isn’t much of a concept album guy, has never watched Star Wars, but somehow he is into what we do haha.”

Watch the official video for “Harvest” by Living Machines below.