Veil of Maya’s Marc Okubo: New Album ‘False Idol’ Was All ‘Risk and Vibe’ [Interview]
Veil of Maya continue to evolve with each successive album, and their sixth studio album, False Idol, finds the band dipping their toes into delivering a more conceptual release, with the disc exploring the corrupting nature power can have over man, ultimately leading to their demise.
We recently had a chance to speak with Veil of Maya guitarist Marc Okubo about the new album and concept, their unique way of approaching the disc with both a vocal and instrumental producer, his desire to get back on the road playing the new material and what fans can look for in 2018. Check out our chat with Veil of Maya's Marc Okubo below and pick up the False Idol album, out now:
The concept for this new album, is that something that you kind of had planned out in advance, or was it something that developed as the music started coming together?
Actually, it was an idea that Lukas [Magyar] had very early into him recording with the band. The concept is mainly lyrical, so it didn't really affect my part in songwriting too much. But yeah, it was definitely something he had planned like years ... for like at least a year in advance.
Can we talk a little bit about the concept? What was the idea that you wanted to convey, and what inspired the story coming from the band?
Well, I guess the concept tells a story in the first person of a man that comes into political power and starts an army and starts killing people and then realizes that he's bad and then kind of offs himself, I guess. It's not based off of anything in particular, it has nothing to do with the current political situation. Lukas is real into movies and books as are the rest of us, and we kind of wanted tell a story with this album.
It's kind of cool when bands branch out and do that a little bit. Had you enjoyed other concept albums or stories before going into this? Do you enjoy it a little bit more when bands give you something more to dig into?
I've always been a fan of concept albums. I'm a huge fan of "The Wall" by Pink Floyd or like "Scenes from a Memory" by Dream Theater and stuff like that. Yeah, I've always thought it was cool. I thought it's like ... it's a lot like the concept of Coheed and Cambria, like be a comic book, and all that kind of stuff. I'm always into it. Either way, musically, for me, every album's kind of like, you know ... kind of like my way of keeping a journal, how I kind of channel my feelings into something, so all of our albums are kind of concept albums to me because I don't have to use my words. I get to just do it all through music and feel and stuff. I don't know. It works out. It works out for me, either way.
This was kind of a different way of recording. I haven't necessarily noticed too often of bands using a vocal producer [Brandon Paddock] as well as using an instrumental producer [Max Schad]. Can you talk a little bit about how this arrangement kind of benefited you guys in terms of putting this record together?
It was really interesting. I guess it was kind of weird. I mean, the person that we just went to for vocals was initially supposed to record the whole album, but I started writing with this guy named Max Schad, and the songs just started turning out really well and I guess the mix came out really well, so we kind of just ended up just keeping it that way.
They would just take the demos that we would make and put vocals to them, and we would just kind of piece it together in the order that we liked. In the end it worked out very well because Max is just like a very quick-working person. He has to make music for television commercials and make jingles and stuff like that, and he usually has a few hours' notice to get a job done. He's very reliable when it comes to getting a mix for a song out or changing a part. He was also really inspired and motivated, so he would be like adding stuff when I wasn't there, and I'd come back and have the songs be a little different and be like, "Oh, wow. Pretty cool." Having Max be a part of this album was super beneficial. It was like having another member in the band.
This sounds like a very cool way to do things. I'm curious your take on this as a musician, after putting together the demos, what was it like to witness Lukas and the spontaneous nature of putting together lyrics on the spot?
It was real cool. Honestly, I didn't pay as much attention to what was going on with the vocals until the very end, because I really didn't want to get distracted from making the songs as good as I could first. If I was working on a song and then I heard a vocal part that I wasn't resonating with, I didn't want that to distract me from finishing the song first. I would pretty much just try and trust ... I trusted Lukas and Brandon Paddock that they would do a good job, and then when it came to maybe the last week of vocal recording or whatever, we would send our notes in then so that we could get as much work done on the music without distracting ourselves.
This album feels more chaotic, more violent in parts, there's some experimental stuff to this as well. Was there kind of any jumping off point going into this record, or did the story kind of inform what you wanted to do musically?
In some ways, yeah, because we were always aware of the theme and what the concept was, so we kind of kept that in the back of our minds while we were creating music. But I've worked with a different guitarist, pretty much, as a producer, for almost every album. I feel like I kind of accept them as a member of the band while I'm doing things. This time, however, I came with the least prepared materials that I've ever had. Usually, I have, I would say like 85 to 90 percent of the material written before I get into the studio, and this time I think I bought maybe two songs with me and the rest we just kind of wrote on the spot. I feel like that kind of helped inspire the spontaneous aspect of it.
But I guess me and Max having a lot of similar influences was also pretty cool, because that way, we were like, "Yo, let's put a piano part here. Let's have a choir singing here." Something like that. There was never any like, "Oh, I don't know about that. That's weird." It was always like, "Yeah, let's do it. Let's get weird. Let's try and get risky here." That was the word that we used a lot when we were writing, was risk. It was all like risk and vibe, pretty much.
The "Overthrow" and "Doublespeak" videos kind of tie together. I'll start off with "Overthrow," if you want to talk a little bit about that song, how it came together, and your thoughts on the visual and how it portrays what you wanted to get across.
That video was the director's ideas and they kind of wanted to make the guy that's screaming like the character in the album. I feel like they had a lot more ideas that we didn't actually get to put in there. You can kind of see it happening, but I think they wanted him to get attacked by some sort of octopus, and then I think he was supposed to be turned into the bad tyrant, the bad man, or whatever. Then him at the podium was supposed to represent him leading the army or whatever. I think it kind of came out a little confusing, if you didn't know the concept behind the lyrics. But yeah, that was the point of using the same guy for both of the videos and kind of trying to show his transformation into ... from being a regular dude into starting to be a bad guy, I guess.
"Doublespeak," if you want to talk a little bit about "Doublespeak" ... Anything that stands out on that song from the sessions or how it came together?
Okay. Well, that one's cool because that was actually the first time me and Max had met. It was just like ... our manager, Derek Brewer, just was like, "Yo, I know this one guy. He's pretty cool. You should just hang out with him one day and see how it goes." I went out to Venice Beach and checked out his studio, and then within, I guess, two hours of us shaking hands for the first time, we had all of the music for that song completely written. He sent me a WAV of that, and then I took it back to where I was staying and just kind of chopped up all the parts and kind of placed them into an order that I liked and made some transitions. That pretty much just stayed, and we liked it. We were just like, "Dang, dude, we should probably write some more songs together." That's pretty much how the album started coming together. That song, in particular, is special to me.
I wanted to ask about "Whistleblower" as well. I know you guys have been playing some shows on the road. That, to me, feels like an instant pit-stirrer. I can just see pits going at the shows. Is that something that's already in the sets?
When I was originally planning our set, I did have the intro of "Whistleblower" as our intro, but because our album wasn't going to be released until like past halfway through the tour, we just kind of decided to not play songs that weren't released so that all these crappy Youtube videos didn't start surfacing and people start ... I didn't want people to start forming opinions based off of cell phone recordings, I guess. I guess our label didn't want that either.
Totally understandable. With the album out now, are there certain songs that you can't wait to see how they go across live? Anything that's kind of standing out to you that you can't wait to get out there for the crowd?
Yeah. It seems like our fans are gravitating towards the songs "Fracture" and "Follow Me," which are like probably my two favorite songs on the album. I'm still really terrified of the "Fracture" song because of how hectic the intro and outro riffs are, but I think I'll figure it out. I always figure it out in the end. It's just hectic learning all these new songs. When we write them, it's like we write them on the spot. We only have to play each part like once or whatever, and I guess I don't really worry about playing the song altogether until we're practicing for a tour. That's probably what I'm going to do as soon as the tour's over, actually, is just to like master the whole album and figure out all the little details on how I'm going to play it live.
"Fracture," beyond what has already been put out there for people to listen to, "Fracture," one of my favorite songs. I also love "Citadel" a lot. I think that's a very cool song off this record...
Yeah, yeah. Been hearing that a lot too. Well, "Whistleblower," I've already got down. I learned that song the other day, so I'm confident in playing that one for sure.
Very good. I know you're finishing up a tour at this point, I think there's just a couple days left, but is that the end of your 2017? Do you get a little break here, or might there be more dates coming up?
Unfortunately, it seems like it is. As far as I know, we don't have anything else coming up, which is hard for me because we've ... this is like the least touring that we've done in a year as a band. I mean, it's because the year was pretty much dedicated to getting the album finished, but yeah, it feels like a part of me is kind of missing, honestly. Everyone that I got to see on this tour, it didn't feel like enough time, and ... That's one of the hard things about touring for so long, is you start developing all these close relationships with people that are like all over the world, and then everyone's lives keep going while I'm gone or whatever and I guess I just have a hard time missing out on everything.
As a band that's usually out there touring a lot, what does it mean to kind of get a chance to have a little taste of home, I guess, at this time of year with Thanksgiving, Christmas, Hanukkah?
It's the same ... It's almost like the same day every time. It's like watching Groundhog Day or something. You go to like a family dinner and then everyone's like, "So how's the band? How's touring?" Then everyone pretends like they're super interested, and then you don't see each other until next year.
What are your plans for 2018? Might we see more songs coming off the album, touring? What's on the horizon for you guys?
We're definitely going to have to tour on this album as much as possible. I know that we've already confirmed an Indian tour. We've never been to India, so that's exciting for us. Hopefully, we get to return to a lot of places that we haven't been in a while and see old friends, and hopefully we get to see some new places as well. I don't know, I'm really into touring, so I guess maybe I should use this time to maybe write some more music for maybe some other projects, or get a new video out the way preemptively. We'll see. It just depends on how motivated I am at home, you know? It's weird being on tour, because you're surrounded by talented people that are like really excited all the time, and gets you kind of motivated to do stuff. As soon as you get home, it's like such a different vibe. It's almost like it was like a dream. Sometimes I'll be in bed, and I'll be like, "This is weird, did the last like two months really even happen?" Sometimes I still feel like I'm on Warped Tour from last year, you know?
You mentioned going to India for the first time. When it's a new territory, when it's a new place you haven't been before, do you try to make some time out to go see the area, get a taste of the country, and what are you looking forward to in terms of going to India?
Yeah, definitely. I try and experience as much as I can. It's hard with certain tours. Say, in Australia ... you don't really get to sleep very much. Just like play a show, and then you fly somewhere and you get like three hours of sleep, and you have to do that for like a week or something. In the end, I feel like it takes a piece of my soul away. But if you're traveling with the right people, then you kind of just develop a squad that like goes exploring every day before they have to be at the show. I find that to be much more enjoyable than sitting at the venue and looking at my phone all day, which is kind of like what I used to do back in the day. I've had much more fun exploring, especially in like Europe. I used to really not like it there, and now I think it's awesome.
Our thanks to Veil of Maya's Marc Okubo for the chat. The band's 'False Idol' album is out now and available to purchase via Amazon, iTunes and GooglePlay. And while their tour schedule is blank at the moment, expect things to pick up again in 2018. Stay tuned here to see where they're playing.
Veil of Maya, "Overthrow"
Veil of Maya, "Doublespeak"