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From A Second Story Window: Acknowledging the Past: Delenda 10 years later

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Posted May 26, 2016 by George Archibald in Interviews

Acknowledging the Past: Delenda 10 years later

An interview with: Derek Vasconi formerly of From A Second Story Window

Written By: George Archibald

FASSW_DelendaAllow me to paint a picture of a musical landscape for you. It’s 2006, Djent didn’t exist, deathcore was in its infancy, mathcore wasn’t even defined as a genre yet. Most music stuck to the overall progression of verse, verse, chorus, bridge, verse or any variation of those. Along comes a band from Ohiovania (the area of where western Pennsylvania and eastern Ohio meet) that will help change the way metal music is written and performed.

I remember being in my own local band and getting a call, “Hey man, get your shit together and come to Cleveland. We want your band to be on our CD release show.” Accepting, my band had no idea that we would be rubbing shoulders with Misery Index, Job For A Cowboy, and Animosity that night while waiting to hear something new from my friends.

From A Second Story Window released Delenda on July 11th, 2006 through Black Market Activities a subsidiary of Metal Blade Records. The music was quite difficult to define or place in just one genre at that time, it still is. Infusing bits of melody, with death metal, a little bit of the spastic, and the fundamentals of math metal, Delenda was a bit of a masterpiece at the time of its release.

From A Second Story Window

From A Second Story Window was a band that had no set form to their writing. They would create up to and over 40 different parts per song and here’s the kicker, nothing repeated. Once you heard a riff it was gone, to be replaced by another riff. They were once quoted as, “We make music for people with Attention Deficit Disorder,” as there was always something in there to catch your ear.

This style of writing had to have been a massive undertaking. To help me reveal the story behind the album I asked a dear friend of mine, Derek Vasconi to tell his side of things. Derek is said to be one of the creative masterminds behind Delenda, and one of the main writers on the album.

From-A-Second-Story-Window---LogoGeorge Archibald: Let’s start with the process of writing Delenda, I know the band was touring for several years before going into the studio to record the album. How did the idea of Delenda start off? Was it a riff, a drum beat, lyrical idea?

Derek: The writing process was… interesting, to say the least. Right after we finished writing for the EP, we started working on new songs. We were touring at the time so we only had “Soft Green Fields” written, which ended up being the first track on the album. What’s weird is that whenever I wrote guitar tracks for both the EP and Delenda, the way you see them arranged on the album is the order in which they were actually written. I know some bands don’t write like that, but for me, I had to do it that way, especially with Delenda, because of how the songs flow from one track to the next. I mean, there were exceptions to this, but not too many.

I also had a rule that I kept to as much as humanly possible with writing. That was to always start a song with something different than the song before it, end the song with something different than the song before it, and have something in the middle of the song that was different than all the songs before it. So the writing process got more and more difficult, as more and more songs got written. If you listen to every song from Delenda, this rule is followed religiously by us. That was kind of the beginning of the writing process. It was more of a self-imposed rule than anything else, but I did this because I really hated listening to albums that had five or six songs on them that sounded exactly the same. It just got tiring to me after a while with so many bands doing their writing like that. It felt lazy and not creative at all.

149334_10150753805492117_1604656795_nAnyway, after we had a break in touring and we had played “Soft Green Fields” for a while, we all wanted to follow up the EP with new material that would actually be part of a concept album. I forget what tour we were on, but I do remember there was one point we were all in the van and sitting outside a venue somewhere. We all kind of went through the ideas we wanted Delenda to be born from and from that conversation, I remember piecing together the entire album all at once.

For me, writing an album was comprehensive. I had to know, first of all, the outline for every song. Then I would write down how I wanted each song to feel, or sound like, and what would each song needed in order to follow the self-imposed rule I mentioned earlier. So that outline came first, that was painstaking, to say the least. Once the album outline was fleshed out, I got to work on the next song after “Soft Green Fields,” which was “Dark Waters of Thought”. This song was one of the only exceptions to song placement on the album that was out of order, song-wise, when putting a song on an album up to that point for us. I think everyone vetoed me on putting it after “A Piece of History Written in English.” I think everybody really wanted “A Piece of History Written in English” to follow up “Soft Green Fields” because of the tapping riff at the beginning of it was something we had never really done before, and wanted to show everybody we actually were growing with our guitar skills.

So in terms of writing, I started arranging how the songs would go, and then began the really fun (note: sarcasm) process of writing close to 100+ guitar riffs for Delenda. That took about a solid year of writing to get it all completed on my end, and that’s not counting all the drum work that Nick did, Joe’s bass parts, and Rob’s guitar additions.

 

e5d3a7b3072f44fc92c3910339ae1af8GA: What were some of your influences at the time that affected the writing process of this album?

DV: Well, for me, everything could be an influence and often was. I also tried very much to NOT have any metal songs as influences, simply because I believed that it would water down our songs and not make them original. I mean, there were SOME metal things I enjoyed while writing Delenda and they kind of made their way into my guitar parts. For instance, I was hooked on A Life Once Lost for a while, probably for a solid month. I kept trying to come up with one of their crazy riffs that I think gave birth kind of to the whole Djent trend that is sadly now a saturated mess in the underground metal scene these days. Meshuggah is probably who I think everyone would agree officially started all the copycats of them from giving birth to the off-time guitar riffing and Djent madness of today. But ALOL was also doing it their own way, at least for a few albums in the middle of their catalogue. So, I did my best to come up with something too that was similar what they were doing with their syncopated off time riffs, and the part I came up with made its way onto “These Lights Above Us.” You can hear it near the end around the 2:50 mark, right before the big stoner riff that ends the song. It’s the part where Will is screaming “THEY ARE THE ANGELS SENT TO KILL US” over and over again. I’m sure you can guess the part if you listen to it closely enough and hear my attempt at being ALOL in there.

In terms of other influences, mostly it was stuff I really was deeply into at the time, for example, Bjork. If you listen to her album, Vespertine, the very first track’s weird beginning melody, which was kind of like a bassline, became the first major breakdown in the song, “The Crusher”. Of course, I added a bunch of breaks and our typical ADD stuff we put into our songs to make it interesting, but that riff formed that entire breakdown part. Thinking about that part now… I think I can say that I still love that breakdown probably the most off the entire Delenda album.

fromasecondstoAnother major influence was Circle Takes the Square, who was my favorite band to tour with and also to listen to. Their music wasn’t exactly metal, but more hyper-melodic parts infused together, one after the other, and just weirdness in so many indescribable ways that it was baffling to the mind to listen to them. Consequently, I think they were closest to us in many ways, in terms of how they structured a lot of their songs. Mostly I loved the fact that they could be so intricate with folksy guitar riffs, which was the key component to their weirdness and creativity. Well, my writing style came out of the fact that I could only play acoustic guitar when writing songs because I often lived with people who wouldn’t appreciate me playing on a half-stack or even a small amp. I would end up writing a lot of folky acoustic riffs but in a drop tuned format. They became these sad sounding, but kind of off sounding riffs, which is 90% of everything on Delenda. Circle Takes the Square kind of had that same sound. So it was easy to listen to their albums and borrow from them, and not feel like I was watering down anything in what we wrote. It was more a tribute to them, if anything else, because they were and still are one of the greatest bands to ever play music in the history of underground music. It was one of the greatest honors in my life to have toured with them, and they are all pretty nice individuals too!

Other influences were so varied it would be impossible to name them all, as I literally had a stack of a few hundred CDs next to me when writing Delenda. Some of the more unusual CDs that provided me with riff ideas that actually made it onto Delenda was 50 Cent’s Get Rich or Die Tryin’ album, OK Computer by Radio Head, Sigur Ros’s  albums, One True Thing’s Finally, and The Rocking Horse Winner’s albums. All material by them was reincarnated in some form, or another on guitar riffs I wrote for Delenda.

GA: One of the cooler things about the album is that Delenda is a concept album, would you like to add onto this? (What’s the story of the album?)

DV:  The album is about loss. Every song deals with loss in some form. The name “Delenda”, means the process of destroying everything. But we weren’t trying to be hard asses by naming the album this or anything silly like that. I suggested the name and everybody fell in love with it pretty fast. We had always wanted to write an album that dealt with a lot of the loss we each had in our lives up to that point. As the songs progress to the end of the album, it goes from destroying ourselves, to destroying the world, and finally destroying the universe.

 

1e4ebe99327747bc90d2c2ed8a2d89dcGA: Where did you record the album at, who with, and how long were you there for?

DV: We recorded in Syracuse at More Sound Studios with a very talented guy named Jocko. I don’t remember how long we were there for… maybe a week? Maybe two weeks? I unfortunately don’t remember, I’m sorry!

 

GA: During the recording process what was a typical daily routine for you and the band since you stayed in New York during the process?

DV: Well, once we got there and setup, Nick and I did a run through of every song to get his drums recorded. That was the very first thing we banged out. After that, I recorded all my guitar parts, then Rob did his guitar tracks, and Joe did his bass parts, and then Will did vocals.

The routine was really easygoing. We tried to keep a schedule most days, but it never ended up the way we planned, like, ever. I remember being really sick too. We got drunk and high a lot as well, which was pretty much what we did a lot at that time anyway. So I guess you could call that our routine while we were there. We all stayed in the very tiny apartment at the top of the studio, and did a lot of TV watching, eating good food. I remember there was an awesome place nearby the studio that had really good smoked BBQ wings… that was something I ate rather often while we were there recording. We listened to music while hanging out with people who stopped by to say hi to us and Jocko. I remember the guys in Ed Gein and Keith from Found Dead Hanging hung out with us a few times, and that was great to have them there since they were label mates.

In all honesty, every day was kind of different. As we got into more and more of the recording process, I found myself tied to the mixing board going over everything with a fine tooth comb rather than doing anything extracurricular. I think all of us did, pretty much, because we all wanted this album to be perfect. I’m not sure if we accomplished that or not, but I feel like there isn’t a single misstep on the album. Everything on there is what we worked very hard to have on there, without exception.

 

fassw-bandGA:  This album has many different elements included in it, for instance there are wind chimes on the opening track and on Ghosts in Japan it has piano accompanied with drums? Whose idea was it to have these different elements on the album? To me this makes this album stand out and more dynamic for breaking the mold of what could be considered normal on a metal album at the time.

DV: The wind chimes were something we all wanted to have on the album, but weren’t quite sure how to go about having them on there. We practiced at Nick’s parents place, and they had a great set of wind chimes I believe right outside their front door. We decided to try those and see how that would turn out when recorded inside the studio being swayed back and forth. Fortunately, Jocko was able to do some cool stuff with the recording to get them to sound just right. If I remember correctly, we recorded those chimes for a while but only a certain portion of that recording was put at the beginning of Delenda.

The drum track with the piano that comes right after the wind chimes was a last minute addition to Delenda. It’s one of those happy accidents of recording. Jocko took us to this all women’s college where they had this brand new baby grand piano, and I was given permission to play it for “Ghosts Over Japan”. I think Jocko’s girlfriend at the time was either going there or teaching there. Anyway, in the music hall where the piano was setup, there was a gigantic timpani drum set up on the stage, right alongside the baby grand piano. When I was doing finger warm ups on the baby grand, I came up with the piano riff that you hear on that first track after the wind chimes. I just played that over and over again, and Jocko just hit “record.” When I heard it, I got the idea to then go over to the  timpani drum, and play the beat you hear that comes in before the piano riff. I don’t how to explain it, but I just heard that drum beat over and over in my head while warming up to play “Ghosts Over Japan”, and it worked with that piano riff.

The guitar part you hear in the background of this piano and drum part, and which comes in towards the end was my attempt at being Sigur Ros. I had bought a cello bow, and we got some weird resin gunk and smeared it on the bowstring, then Rob played the bow on his guitar. So that sound you hear is all distorted and screwed up is Rob playing the cello bow randomly on his guitar strings. I believe we had the guitar running through a heavy reverb and delay pedal too.

As for “Ghosts Over Japan”, I had always wanted to kind of do something with piano. At that time, I was heavily into Tori Amos. Tori’s music also influenced a few guitar riffs here and there on Delenda. Her music often was written as though it was made for the guitar, I swear. Anyway, Will and I one-night kind of worked out the lyrics and how the song would go. Then I brought that to practice, Nick of course just nailed the drums behind it in one sitting. The song kind of took shape from there.

Musically speaking, this song was also written to convey just a different side of what we wanted to do musically. This was probably where we would’ve kept going had I remained in the band. I’m not saying we would’ve gone completely emo or not have metal or grind stuff in our songs. I remember right before I left the band, I wanted to do a possible double album concept, where one album would be mellow and the other super hard, and see how that dichotomy worked together for us. We were very lucky to have Will who could actually sing really, really well. We wanted to do more of that kind of song-writing eventually. Since everyone in the band enjoyed songs where it wasn’t just straight up head-banging or going nuts but also melodic parts you could really sink your soul into and get lost in. “Ghosts Over Japan” was sort of the first stab in that direction, so to speak. I think the band did very well after I left, with Will and his voice being really showcased on the songs they wrote for Conversations too. I was happy about that.

 

300x300GA: On “Oracles and Doorsteps” there is a bit of a call and response element to the song, was this intended or was it just part of the concept of album and it caught on to live performances?

DV: Yes, I always wanted a call and response on that middle part. If you read the lyrics, you’ll notice it deals with the loss of life from a female perspective. So when we were in Syracuse, we called a bunch of our friends in the area who were female, including one of the girls who I believe was dating the singer for Donnybrook at the time. We got her and a bunch of other girls to come to the studio for us. So, one day in the studio, maybe ten or twelve, and they all did the call and response for the WE ARE THE MEANS response to the  I AM THE ANSWER call that Will did. I remember it being a ton of fun, standing in the recording booth with them and kind of guiding them like a conductor.

The first recording didn’t come out great at all, however, and actually didn’t have the kind of effect I had hoped for. Thanks to Jocko burying it just right in the mix, I felt the end result turned out great. I am not sure if it ever caught on live because we didn’t play it out as much when I was in the band. I mean, we did initially when we wrote it, but it was still too new for anyone to know that part well enough to know it was a live call and response part that could be very fun to participate in. However, for the purpose of the song-writing element of “Oracles and Doorsteps”, I had wanted a call and response forever on a song. It seemed to fit that song perfectly on that part. I wanted to have just a part where our guitars kind of just sustained and Nick’s drums played with Will’s voice. Then the girls shouting and it breaks back into that tight, strange guitar part that was weirdly strummed. A one or two chord progression that was syncopated with Nick’s drums. Also, I wanted that call and response to be our “hardcore” moment on Delenda. I got the idea from listening to so many old school hardcore bands back in the day. I felt that was something so incredible on old hardcore albums. I loved whenever a part like that would come up in a song, so much so that I wanted to pay tribute to those old hardcore bands with a call and response part like theirs. The irony is that I did it with girls and not dudes.  I hope people realize that was also intentional, since those tough guy chants on old hardcore songs were all about the testosterone, I thought it would be progressive, or just counterpoint to make them all estrogen, so to speak. Kind of an inside joke that only I think me and my band got at the time.

 

2GA:  What are some of your fondest memories in developing this album?

DV: Aside from all that I’ve shared? I think just being together with my band was really special. When we would go home from tours, I never got to hang out with any of them. I was either too busy chasing after girls, or writing guitar tracks. There were so many times that I couldn’t go and hang out, because I was confined to my bedroom while writing for Delenda, and before that the EP (or I was too distracted by girls to see that I had four other guys in my band who wanted to be my friend). I felt bad because it hurt my relationship with the others a lot. So much so that I left FASSW because of it. However when we were together recording, we all were pretty unified and had fun together. I remember we also had got confirmation during that time recording, that we would be headlining a tour that summer with Job For A Cowboy, Misery Index, Animosity, and Cattle Decapitation. Talk about motivation to write something that could even begin to hold its weight with all those talented bands!

I think working with somebody as talented as Jocko was a real privilege too, and also the spontaneity that kind of came out of nowhere on some of the stuff that was written. For instance, that drum part at the beginning of the album, or the guitar solo that Rob came up with on “For Those Lost”. That kind of stuff was so exciting to watch unfold right in front of us.

Maybe the best memory for me was the day that Will nailed all his vocals, and we had finally completed recording. All of us sat in front of the mixing board, with the lights low, and listening to what we had done together. It brought tears to my eyes, and to this day, it’s something that I’ll always have with me as one of the best memories of my entire life. I’ll take that to my grave, that moment where we all were just friends together, and did something that we knew we would appreciate, and enjoy playing for years to come.

 

GA: What were some of the difficulties that were encountered in making the album?

DV: Honestly, there weren’t too many. I mean, we went to the recording studio well practiced and everything very much thought out. The difficulties, I remember were staying on track each day, since all of our ADD kind of kicked into high gear being in that tiny apartment with so little to do each day when we weren’t being called upon to do something for the recording. Plus, for me, I was sick at the beginning, and that didn’t help things at all. I think nailing the guitar parts in some of the songs was SUPER frustrating, because they are so technical and I’m not a technical player in the least.  I spent quite a few hours trying to play parts, and get them just right, it was hard for me. But nothing out of the ordinary I would say. It was actually a lot of fun. It was hard work, sure, but fun too.

 

61951_587919622692_6388540_nGA:  Anything you want to add to the interview or about the album?

DV: I just want to say thanks for even caring enough about Delenda, to talk about it ten years after it was written. I can’t even believe it’s been that long since it came out! Some days it seems like it was just yesterday we finished recording that album, and other days, I still can’t believe my fingers played so many technical things on that album. I came up with so many guitar parts for that album, that I couldn’t even begin to play today, it’s been so long! However, the best thing I took from writing Delenda was playing with four other guys who I was lucky enough to share the stage with and be part of with in FASSW. Along with this, I felt very humbled by the response we had by people who came to watch us play. All of whom I am very grateful to have met and talked to and got to know personally in many instances. There are a lot of days now when I wish I could have kept playing in FASSW, or that FASSW would reunite to do like a full tour where we played Delenda in its entirety. Maybe I could join on that tour to play those songs (If my fingers can somehow remember what they played on those songs!) It’s really special when you are lucky enough to be part of something people still talk about and remember a decade after you’ve been a part of it. For that, I am really honored and humbled. I can’t speak for any of the other guys, but if I had to guess, I would bet they all would say the same exact thing. I still listen to Delenda on occasion and remember these old times like they were new times. It always makes me smile, much like this interview has. Huge, huge thanks to you and everyone else!

 

Thank you as well Derek for sharing in the making of this special album. Delenda turns ten July 11th, I think everyone should give this album another listen. The amount of effort put into the album can be heard on every second of every track. The writing style was very influential with its free form guitar riffs and lyrics.  A blueprint  that many bands today tend to copy. Again, thank you Derek Vasconi for talking about the history behind such a solid album.

*Edited to include edits requested by Derek Vasconi 5/26/2016 5:04 PM


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George Archibald
George Archibald


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