He may be happy to be the sideman in Animals As Leaders, but Javier Reyes is creating his own sound with side-project, Mestis.
Anyone that has read about Animals As Leaders will be familiar with the name Tosin Abasi. Less is known, however, of his partner-in-crime, Javier Reyes - the other half of the band's ferocious eight-string assault.
Together they've been among those responsible for championing the progressive soundscapes of tech-metal to glorious heights. But even though much of his own fretwork is equally as challenging as that of his fellow guitarist, Reyes has long shied from the limelight.
Even now, returning with Polysemy - the debut full-length from his other project, Mestis - recognition is not something the 34-year-old LA resident particularly craves.
The point of this band is to not be the focus. I just want to play sick music with sick musicians who I get along with!
"I'm not a big fan of being the centre of attention," he laughs. "That's not really my goal. And also another reason I've teamed up with Joe Lester and Dave Timnick from Intronaut for the live version of Mestis. The point of this band is to not be the focus. I just want to play sick music with sick musicians who I get along with!
"It's essentially my music - some of the material I wrote back in 2013 for a bedroom project just shooting the shit in my home studio - but eventually I want to work with these guys to add more to it. It's just my own little fun thing."
As for his place in AAL, taking the back seat was not only something that suited him, but also part of the job description all along.
"In that band I play more of a supporting role," he says. "But it's what I was hired for and I'm good at it. So that's what I do. With Mestis, I don't feel like I'm playing anything harder, but the context of the material allows for my own style to be more present."
The context he speaks of can be heard all over Polysemy - a synthesis of the gutpunching metal we've grown to expect from him with the more percussive plains of Latin American-style shuffles and syncopated grooves.
There's more than enough subterranean riffing across the board, though in truth, it's songs such as Pura Vida and Mt Pleasant that showcase a different side of the guitarist, with melodic jazz-fusion at the very core of his essence. In fact, this latest body of work even delves back to a time when the musician gave up guitar to focus on… his rap career?!
"For a long time I actually stopped writing guitar-based music and only wrote hip-hop," he laughs. "I was really influenced by guys like Mos Def, Nas, older stuff like Notorious B.I.G. As much of a diva Kanye West is, I think the guy is very talented and forward-thinking. It's innovative, timeless music. To me, hip-hop is more focused on that, rather than trying to make the fastest blastbeat or craziest time signature… Which is cool!
I wanted metal, hip-hop, prog, Latin America all in this one thing which is ultimately who I am
"And actually I learned a lot from it. Then I went back to AAL and became this guitar personality... it felt like I had left that hip-hop world and I wanted to bring it back. I'm also Latin American, so I wanted to include my upbringing in the music too.
"I wanted metal, hip-hop, prog, Latin America all in this one thing which is ultimately who I am. It's an expression of my personality. Some of this music sounds more like me than me speaking! That was my ultimate goal and it felt very different to AAL."
One other remarkable aspect of Polysemy is just how fluid Reyes' playing sounds from beginning to end. The soft melodies seem to roll and tumble back and forth with the ebb and flow of shifting time signatures. It's quite the antithesis to the modern age of burst-picking shred wizards queued up on YouTube - which only adds to the charm of its dream-like atmospheres…
"I used a lot of fingerpicking on the album," admits Reyes. "It's essentially my forte. It's something I studied a lot and eventually became one of my strongest points, so I wanted to incorporate that. I wanted to highlight these fingerpicking skills through material that felt unique.
"I actually tried not to go too crazy on this album as far as technique, the majority of it is all fingerpicking. I can play every song without a pick, just my hands! There's only one song with the thump technique we use in AAL. I put that in there for the severe techy fans, otherwise I would have been criticised! [laughs]"
Reyes has ploughed a great deal of time and effort into creating something distinct from his main band here, but he's at least got a sense of humour if some listeners focus more on its similarities to AAL.
"It's inherently different. But obviously there will be some shared influences: I'm in both frickin' bands! [laughs]"
Montage of tech
Javier Reyes talks about the gear he used to capture the impressive guitar sounds of 'Polysemy'...
"On the record I used my signature eight-string ESP, which has an ash body with a five-piece walnut, maple and paduak neck, plus an ebony fretboard. It also features my signature DiMarzio pickups, which I think play a huge role in my tone.
It's my bedroom project, I didn't wanna go crazy with studio and all the exorbitant costs
"I spent a lot of time with them designing these pickups, they let you really hear the sound of the guitar itself. There's only so many steps beyond buying my guitar to sound like me!
"After that my Axe-Fx is my next go-to piece of gear. I did all my tracking on the Axe-Fx, there was nothing mic'd up on the album. I went straight into the monitors! It's my bedroom project, I didn't wanna go crazy with studio and all the exorbitant costs. I wanted to do this using the bare minimum.
"Even the plugins, there weren't really any third party ones - I just used the stock Logic ones. I only needed this to sound good enough for me, and for that, Logic does a great job. If you were to see my mix sessions, they're not that extensive at all!"
Polysemy is out now on Sumerian Records.