The Universe Divide interview – new album, new drummer search

Photo: Kevin Griggs
After releasing their debut EP, Dust Settles on the Odontophobes, Atlanta’s instrumental prog metal trio The Universe Divide have since been reduced to a duo with the departure of drummer Jason Parker. Guitarist Chris Rushing and Gael Pirlot talk about what the band have been up to since I last spoke with them and how work is going on their first full-length album, Nihil Ultra as well as the search for a new drummer.
Since I was last speaking with you, you began work on your first full-length album, Nihil Ultra, and Jason has left the band. Why did he leave?
Gael:  Jason had other focuses. His schedule did not allow much time for this project.

Chris:  This group is a labour of love. As you can imagine, there isn’t much to be gained playing eight minute instrumental progressive metal songs. We all work full time jobs, have personal lives and indulge in other hobbies/interest. It takes quite a bit of focus to really stay on top of our music. Unfortunately Jason’s other interest and obligations were rendering him unable or unwilling to contribute to the group in a timely manner. We felt it would be best for us to move forward without him.

How much of the new album is completed?
Gael: We have two more completed songs and about two or three songs in varying stages of completion. I’m very excited about the new direction we are taking. There is a stronger focus on the song writing element.

You released a new song, ‘Death of the Sun (Day 1)’ recently (streaming HERE), which features Jason playing. How much of the album features his playing?
Gael: This will be the only song with Jason. We may revamp ‘Death of the Sun’ with the new drummer for the album or not put it in the album. The song fits the album concept but has been so long in the making that it may be a standalone piece. Perhaps a reboot on the song will revive it!

Chris: We tracked drums for two songs in December, at Doppler Studios. There was a problem with the second song’s Session file, so we ended up only having drums for ‘Death of the Sun’. We had planned to use those for the full-length as well as a new video we were working on but since Jason’s departure it seems fitting to take a step back and shed some of the negative energy surrounding that entire piece. As Gael suggested, a slight revamp may breathe new life into it but at the moment, a standalone piece doesn’t seem like too bad of an option. It’s really too soon to tell.

How is the search for a new drummer going so far?
Gael: Things are going well.  We are fortunate to have some very talented drummer friends. We are currently talking to a good friend of ours in filling this role.  He’s played drums on one of my favourite albums. If things work out, I would expect The Universe Divide to take an interesting and exciting turn!

Chris: Losing an original member is never easy. I think Gael is always a little more optimistic than me but we definitely have some options with the skill level to get the job done. At this stage, it is more about finding out whose style will suit the new album’s direction best.

Other than Jason leaving, how has the writing and recording for Nihil Ultra been?
Gael: The writing process has been going great.  Chris and I are trying to make a concerted effort in creating an album which focuses on interesting song writing.  This equates to a longer song writing process though.

Chris: Gael and I wrote the EP before we had initially found a drummer. We started experimenting with Jason writing with us for the full-length. You can hear some of this influence in two of the more “rhythmic” or as some would say “djenty” sections of ‘Death of the Sun’. It definitely brought another influence to the table but there was not enough involvement overall for it to become an integral part of our sound. So overall the process really hasn’t changed much from the way we were doing things pre and post EP.

You’re working with Jamie King again, who worked on Dust Settles on the Odontophobes (and has produced others bands such as Between the Buried and Me and Canvas Solaris). How has that been so far?
Gael: Jamie has yet to disappoint. I am thrilled with the tones he got on ‘Death of the Sun’.  There is very rarely a bad idea with Jamie.  We’ve pitched some fairly wacky ideas to him over the years, particularly with Canvas Solaris [Gael and Chris’ former band] and he’s made them seem same and sound great!

Chris: These days we do almost all of the recording/editing ourselves with the exception of tracking the drums, which sucks because Jamie is an awesome guy to hang out with.  He can listen to what we send him and give us a no bullshit response. If he thinks something needs to be re-tracked or if a particular tone isn’t working he has no problem telling us that. I don’t know that he always understands where we are coming from artistically but sound-wise he is always on top of the game and straight up with us. He is one of the only people I know in the industry who is genuine and gives you 100x what you pay for. I can’t say enough positive things about him. It’s almost like he is an un-official band member at this point.

When do you hope to finish and get the album out?
Gael: I would [hope] to have the recording done some time at the end of this year.  I am still uncertain as to the amount of content we would like to include on the next album.  While I liked the conciseness of the previous album, we may opt for a slightly longer album.  That said, most of the albums I have worked on have an organic beginning and end. That will be the determining factor in the album’s length.

Chris: Obviously our scheduling has been completely thrown out of whack with the recent drummer plight but we are hoping to be back up and running in the next month or so. As Gael stated, releasing something at the end of the year or early next year would be ideal.

How will you be releasing the album? Independently like the EP or will you get some label involved?
We will continue to record and release albums with or without label support. The last album did well without us being signed to a label and I imagine that I will be satisfied with the state of The Universe Divide even if we are never signed.

Chris: Label support would be nice but I don’t really know that we are a group that fits that bill. We like to do things at our own pace and take our own path. Hopefully outside listeners will continue to enjoy our work but playing to an empty room has yet to discourage any of us. 

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