In September 2017, Night Verses announced the departure of singer Douglas Robinson and their plans to continue as an instrumental trio, culminating in this year’s full-length From The Gallery Of Sleep.
It was a bold move, but also one that paid off when you hear the 13 tracks that form their latest opus – twisting tech-metal, post-rock and progressive wizardry into a mind-melting theatre of noise.
Here, guitarist Nick DePirro explains the reasons behind the decision and the challenges that came along with it…
What made you realise it would be best to continue as an instrumental project?
“It was early last year, around January or February. We were finishing off the last album cycle and getting ready for the new one… that’s when we realised it would be best for this band to continue instrumentally.
“We’d been playing together as a four-piece for about five years or so. And eventually we all came to the realisation that going this way would make more sense. It was a mutual decision; it wasn’t like we wanted to kick Douglas out or he wanted to quit or anything. It was just the natural way our lives were going.
“I’ve been playing with Aric [Improta, drums] and Reilly [Herrera, bass] for about 15 years or so… for us, it felt natural because we’ve always written songs instrumentally first. We’re very much used to writing and practising as the three of us, then adding vocals afterwards. So in a weird way, that aspect has been the same as it’s always been. The transition has been a very easy one.”
How much did having no vocals affect your approach to guitar?
“It gave me the ability to fill all the space myself. With vocals, I often found myself competing with the registers… if I wanted to play a lead, I had to consider what Douglas was doing. I didn’t want to battle that or make his vocal parts less important, so without that, it’s kinda cool to be able to bounce between any of the ranges I want to be in. I can go up high, stay in the middle or do something more rhythmic a bit lower.
“That allows us to fill up a lot of space as a three-piece, plus our drummer has pads, so that’s almost like an extra instrument that can add in more melodies. That makes it even more fun for me on guitar - I can go from lead to rhythm and anything in between without worrying about clashing with anyone. That was probably my favourite part about writing this record.”
Instead of making a shred-heavy guitar virtuoso album, it’s notable how musical and song-based the material feels…
“I’ve always grown up on bands that are more songwriting-focussed as a collective. Tool will always be my favourite band, as well as Deftones and Rage Against The Machine. Those are all bands that are more song and music-led than one person trying to do everything alone. So naturally I ended up being more like that.
“I do like playing the technical parts and solos when it makes sense to do it, but that’s not what is driving my playing. I like filling space - that’s why I use two-handed techniques for tapping; it allows me to play rhythm with my left hand and leads with my right. That, with the right effects, makes us sound a little bigger, which helps as I’m the only guitarist.”
What is the secret behind the songwriting – is there a certain method that works best for you?
“It’s weird; I know there’s a lot of importance in knowing your scales and practising with a metronome, but I’ve always been more into playing guitar mindlessly. Just picking the guitar up and going, seeing what happens.
“Maybe I might set up a drum track just to loop round and round, trying out different riffs while recording it – because when something clicks you don’t want to forget it! If you record yourself, you can go back and find cool things to relearn and build on.
“Guitar playing has always been fun for me. Okay, sometimes it’s work but I always try to treat it more as a way to be free and make noises that sound cool! I never grew up with scales or anything like that. I took lessons briefly to develop my technique, which is important because when you hear something in your head you need to be able to physically do it. Not being able to is a very frustrating thing, so practising your technique is way more important than scales for songwriting.
“Even if you’re not trying to be the ultimate shredder, it’s good to practise technique before freestyle writing. Don’t get as caught up on music theory and what you’re supposed to do… let your ear lead the way. There is a good chance you will write something more creative by going at it mindlessly with your own gut feelings than staring at books. For some people, the book way can work work pretty cool, too, but that’s not how I come up with ideas.”
So you wouldn’t class yourself as a schooled player in that sense?
“I know what the modes are, but I never really think in that way. Everything I’ve written has been in minor. I just do not write in major, it’s just something I’ve never done. I’d say 99% of our music is all in minor - there might be one song on the new album that strays a little towards major.
“I make up my own arpeggios, not knowing exactly what I’m doing, but nowadays I’m pretty familiar with my own arpeggios. I use drop D as a regular tuning, as well as drop C with the two highest strings dropped another step into an open tuning. That makes certain frets the same; I can do certain riffs low and high at the same time if I want.
“I try to think differently than most people playing standard guitars. I use a lot of notes ringing out over each other to almost make chords that have leads on top. I can use my index to hold a bottom note down while my pinky and ring finger fill out leads on top, or just tap something above it.
“The main thing is don’t take it too seriously and stress yourself out. You will get better doing it more and more. You will always end up somewhere cool eventually - sometimes it takes me a couple of hours to find something I like… it’s frustrating but always worth it in the end.
“If you want to be a shredder, it’s even easier - everything is there for you to figure out: learn the scales and increase the metronome speed. It’s not hard to figure out what you need to do, though the physicality might be hard.”
As for the faster sweep playing, what advice can you offer players hoping to play arpeggios in one rake motion?
“The secret to sweeping fast is actually the very opposite of it… you have to start super-slow. You need to think of it as one motion going through each string in a singles strike.
“I learned specifically from AJ [Minette] of The Human Abstract about 10 years ago - he’s probably the best sweep picker I know and a great all-round guitarist. He taught me all about the importance of finger placement and playing in classical position rather than your right knee. It’s different when your left leg is propped up and that’s where you guitar rests - it’s like an upward angle that offers more flexibility in your playing. There’s more room for your fingers and a lot more freedom because it’s less stressful… which is very important for sweeping.
“I’m sure there are a lot of videos on how to sweep - they’re all probably good - so just start out slowly and remember it will take months until it actually sounds like sweep picking. But it’s worth it! I think it’s the easiest technique to learn that makes you look like a good player, but once you’ve got it down, the novelty goes quite quick! Think about how you can apply it rather than just raking arpeggios over and over again.
“There are points on our record where I sweep through harmonics up one fret and down another… it might not sound like normal sweeping, but it’s the same technique being applied differently. You can even use sweeps in your riffs to play things that little bit faster.”
You’ve mainly used PRS guitars and Blackstar amps for live shows and recording. Is that what we’re hearing on From The Gallery Of Sleep?
“The Blackstar Series One is my general go-to for all my tones. I use the 6L6 version as I’ve always been more into Mesa/Boogie-style high-gain metal tones.
“I absolutely love the Series One because there are so many different tones available over four channels. I can go from a straight clean to a crunchy one, with a big distortion as my main sound plus one more that I keep a little more quiet and almost shitty-sounding… that way when it breaks down to one riff by myself before it all goes heavy, I can do it without needing an extra pedal.
“I was using PRS, and still have that guitar - it’s the one I’ve used for a long time. But I just switched to Ernie Ball Music Man, which I’ll be using moving forwards. On the record, it’s mainly the PRS and then a Strandberg eight-string.”
How alien did the eight-string world feel to you?
“It was my first time incorporating that, which made for an interesting dynamic, because when I used it, Reilly our bassist would stay on a four-string. There would be times I would be potentially going lower than him or hitting the exact same note! He’d stay in drop C while I’m in drop F open tuning, so if you watch our hands it’s a bit of a trip to look at. But it works!
“I think writing in lower registers can affect your creativity a lot. There is so much mood in that lower register, it can feel like another instrument. The eight-string gets me in a certain headspace whenever I pick it up. I treat the extra strings more like having more octaves and harmonics available than a normal eight-string style. It’s almost like I expand on the regular strings I use… it doesn’t so much take me away from my normal approach, but rather enhances certain elements within it. I feel like I can add extra layers to the riffs I’d normally write. You can do a lot more with an eight-string than most people would think!”
What kind of pedals did you use this time round?
“I ran a couple of reverbs and delay, plus a Whammy. I have two Boss pedals: the DD-20 is for straight quarter-note delay. It’s one of the few I’ve seen that has a tempo meter, so you can actually punch in the exact tempo which it shows on the screen. That helps our band sound tight - along with our drummer playing to a click, the spot-on delay repeats makes us sound even more focussed.
“I also have a DD-6 which I use for dotted delays, along with the EarthQuaker Devices Transmisser reverb… which is probably the coolest pedal I own. It creates this wall of dark ambience that I’ve never heard from other pedals. Even the most simple one or two notes can sound amazing and create a huge layer of sound.
“EarthQuaker are great for weird stuff; I also got their Arpanoid pedal, which is an arpeggiator… you can hit one note and it will scale up an entire octave. I like modulation over distortions and overdrives.
“The Whammy has always been a go-to for me as well, especially for getting trippy in conjunction with the delay and reverb. I also got the DigiTech Ricochet, too, which is the same kinda idea as the Whammy and does similar things, but you can also use it like a drop-tune at the click of a switch instead of needing another guitar. It’s a very unique and weird pedal that can do a lot of cool stuff in addition to the Whammy.”
Did it ever feel like as an instrumental band you will appeal to fewer people overall, but ultimately a more dedicated niche group?
“We’re aware of that. We have some friends that have been doing instrumental music for a while and have seen success, so they’ve been giving us advice on that situation. It wasn’t a driving factor in our decision, but knowing we’ll appeal more to fewer people is a plus side to doing it. Vocals open doors to broader audiences, but can also limit who will listen to you.
“Some people don’t like aggressive vocals - which was generally the style we had before. We never really intended to be that kind of band, but it’s how everything panned out, and it felt like people wouldn’t give us a chance with vocals like that.
“Now, having done this for so long and always been led by the instrumental side, it feels like there is a good audience for it now. I guess instrumental is more trendy at the moment, though that’s not why we did it… and we’re ready. It doesn’t really feel like a new thing for us, to be honest.”
From The Gallery Of Sleep is out now via Equal Vision Records.