Recharging the Shred: An Interview with VEKTOR’s Dave DiSanto

One of my favorite albums so far this year is Vektor’s Terminal Redux. I could blabber on about how sick it is, and actually I did over at MetalSucks, so you should check that out. But I wanted to learn more about the band’s compositional process, since they have such a unique way of orchestrating and writing heavy metal music. So I reached out to guitarist/vocalist David DiSanto to get the scoop.

How did you guys discover extreme music, and what was the pathway from that to playing in a band?

We all got into music in different ways. For me, it was my dad who started my music journey. He was way into Led Zeppelin, Jimi Hendrix, Pink Floyd, and Bruce Springsteen. He got me into all that when I was really young and the way he talked about music made me feel like it was a really deep and important thing in the world. He had a great way of making music seem larger than life.

When I was a teen, I started getting into punk and that’s what started my own musical pathway. I was always searching for faster and faster bands, and eventually that led me to thrash and black metal. From there, it was all over for me. My music catalogue grew, but there was still this void that I couldn’t fill. I wanted to find a band that was a culmination of all the types of music I was into.

That’s what brought me to form Vektor. I wanted to write the music I wanted to hear. It took a long time to find the right guys for Vektor, or even convince musicians that I had some cool ideas, because it was so different from all the popular shit people wanted to play. I wasn’t writing straight up Thrash, Death, Black, or Progressive metal. It was something in between. It was a challenge and I tried out a lot of different musicians. Luckily, my persistence paid off. Erik joined in 2004, Blake joined in 2007, and Frank joined in 2008. It wasn’t until all of them were in the band that I felt like Vektor was born, even though I started this whole thing in the early 2000’s.

Listening to your music, it’s apparent to me that you really value certain musical tools other bands completely avoid: voice-leading, harmonic progression, and playing with the various kinds of choral motion. I also love the band’s use of dissonance as just another sonic device, one whose power is respected as much as that of a clear chord. Did either of you study counterpoint, and what are Vektor’s non-metal compositional influences?

I don’t know what counterpoint is, haha. I haven’t really studied anything music related. I took a basic guitar class in high school, but it didn’t teach me much. Most of what I learned were small fragments of songs from my friends or my dad while I was growing up. I learned the A Minor scale at one point and that kind of taught me everything I needed to know. I started adding or deleting notes from that, just playing around and moving that scale to different keys.

Learning guitar for me was a lot of trial and error. I’d probably be a lot better by now if I had proper lessons, but then again, it may have stifled my creativity. I’m not sure. My non-metal influences were Subhumans: “Worlds Apart” and “From the Cradle to the Grave”, NOFX: “The Decline”, Rush: “2112” and “Hemispheres”, Pink Floyd: “Dark Side of the Moon”, Led Zeppelin, “Houses of the Holy”, and Yes: “Fragile” to name a few. Other non-metal influences include astronomy, biology, documentaries, sci-fi flicks, philosophy… anything that influences my subconscious becomes an influence in some way.

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How does the writing process usually work for the band?

I typically write the skeletal structure for all the songs with just guitars. From there I tab everything out and send it to the other dudes to look over and they write out their own parts: drums, bass, and any extra guitar harmonies or solos. I usually start out with one riff and build the song out from that riff. I don’t write in a linear fashion. Most of the time, the riffs will inspire a lyrical idea, but I usually procrastinate pretty hard on putting pen to paper when it comes to lyrics.

How long does it take until you guys are satisfied with each member’s parts? I’m curious because for such intricate music, all of your albums sound so spontaneous and fresh, as though you’d just come up with the riffs in the moment.

It definitely takes a while. It might take several months for me to write one song, if not longer sometimes. After I’m happy with what I’ve written and send it to the rest of the band, it’s definitely a back and forth process until the song has the right feel. I think “Recharging the Void” must have had at least 100 different versions before we were all happy. I put a lot of thought into every small part and this album required a lot of forethought, especially when I was writing each song in regards to the larger concept. “Recharging the Void” at one point was almost 20 minutes long! Haha. So sometimes, it’s more important to delete or subtract parts from a song to make it more powerful. I have too many ideas in my head, and it’s hard to let go of some ideas for the benefit of the song.

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What’s so interesting to me in listening to you guys play is that it sounds as though the riffs themselves were written with each instrumental part in mind, as opposed to more of a rhythm section-backing-up-a-guitar-riff type thing. For example, it’s rare that Erik and Dave are playing the same thing – even if it’s the difference between one guitar accenting the end of a riff with a high pitch chord and the other with a single low note. Meanwhile, the bass might be doing something totally different. Could you talk about that?

I guess that’s just part of our style. Straight forward rhythm chords are boring to me if they’re done too much. I like to hear the interplay of different melodies laid over each other. The point of overlaying melodies or chord inversions isn’t to make each part more complex, it’s to add depth. It makes for a much richer experience. I try to keep the big picture in mind when I write out the guitar parts and that makes it easier to explain the type of things I’d like to hear the other guys play. We all try to play together and emphasize each other’s parts instead of overshadowing each other.

Does the inspiration for that kind of arrangement come from metal, or from elsewhere? My sense just from listening and knowing a bit about your background is that it happened pretty naturally, since you’ve been playing together for years.

I’d say it comes naturally to all of us. It’s a result of all the bands that influenced us over the years, as well as our natural tendencies to keep making better and more interesting music together. We all have an ear for our sound and know what’s going to work for us. Each of our playing styles meshes really well with each other and it’s the combination of our unique styles that makes Vektor what it is. It’s just us having fun and playing the music we love.

How did the choral arrangements for the opening and closing songs come about?

That all started in my head. It was probably a byproduct of moving to Philadelphia and being surrounded by more diverse people and music. As I was jamming that blast section in “Charging the Void” a few years ago, the vocal part just popped in my head. I started mapping together the “Oh-ay-oh’s” and it all came together. It happened kind of randomly. I knew I wanted some nice, soulful vocals in that part to make the epic-ness of the story really come through.

I first heard Naeemah at a local music fest in West Philly. I was blown away by her voice and I knew it was the exact sound I needed for “Terminal Redux”. I met her after she got off stage and got her contact info. It was about two years later when we were ready to lay down those vocals, so luckily she remembered me and was excited to try it out! She brought her friend RoseMary and we took it from there.

The first day of their vocal tracking took place at the Barbary in Philly, a local bar, during the off hours before they opened. It was weird for me to be put in a producer role, but it was so easy working with them. They’re true professional talents. The second day of tracking vocals was done in the vocal booth at Panther Pro Audio. We spent all day playing around with different vocal ideas for “Recharging the Void”. I’d guide them to do certain things like the “oh-ay-oh’s”, but they freestyled most of the middle section. It might have been the only time I smiled during the whole recording process, haha.

Photo by Greg Cristman | www.gregCphotography.com

Photo by Greg Cristman | www.gregCphotography.com

When it comes to the lyrical concepts, what role do they play in the actual songwriting process? Do you find that you start with a theme, or with actual music first?

Honestly, it was a little of both for this album. In the early stages, the music came first. In 2011 I was writing riffs for the new album. That’s how “Charging the Void” came about. Over the next several months, though, I started thinking up the grand scheme of the album. Once I got a better grasp on what I wanted to achieve with the concept, I started writing songs that fit with different stages in the story, as opposed to writing the riffs first. I wrote the album all out of order, but I knew where each song was going to sit once everything was done. Writing in a linear fashion tends to block me up, and I find it easier to jump around to different ideas if I get stuck. It was kind of like how they film movies out of order and piece it together later.

Vektor’s Terminal Redux is out now via Earache. Order the album here.

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Max is managing editor of Gear Gods.