The name Niko Albanese may be familiar to fans of the Indy music scene because of his work behind the drum kit for Lawbringer and Ice Howl. Others might be familiar with him for his production work for Archarus and Whiskey Supercharger. With his forthcoming solo record, though, Albanese is stepping away from working with a band and doing everything on his own - in addition to handling all of the songwriting and production duties, he also plays all of the instruments on the album. It’s a pretty big risk, but if lead single “Sea of Trees” is any indication, it’s one that more than pays off. “Sea of Trees” is a stunning, mostly instrumental song that brings to mind Russian Circles and Cloudkicker, which is some damn good company to be in. The accompanying video-which is comprised of footage taken in Japan’s Aokigahara forest, the legendary ‘suicide forest’ from which the track takes its name-provides the perfect visual companion for the track.
Check out the video for “Sea of Trees” below, and then read our interview with Niko Albanese about the project.
Indy Metal Vault: So you’ve been active in the Indy (or Indy adjacent) scene for a few years now. What made you decide that this was the right time for a solo record?
Niko Albanese: I was pretty let down that LAWBRINGER called it quits, despite understanding the reason. After about 8 months without a band, I started taking drum lessons from one of the pro drummers I looked up to, Dave Dwinell of Jake Dodds, which opened my mind to the creative side of life outside of metal music, the only thing i’d known since beginning my musical career. Through that, I felt inspired enough to start writing whatever came out which happened to be this. Besides that, I was tired of being a follower in bands. I wanted to do it how I wanted for once.
IMV: You’re mostly known as a drummer from your work with Lawbringer and Ice Howl, but you play all of the instruments on this solo track. Do you primarily consider yourself a drummer? What was your first instrument?
NA: Yes, it’s definitely my primary and first instrument. When I play and write guitar parts I always think of it like a drummer. Lots of transitions built into riffs considering all the years i’ve spent thinking about fills and such. It helps me feel the flow better in the new role of playing guitar in a band. I also think my slight lack of ability in playing guitar helped keep it all as simple as I wanted. I do consider myself a guitarist at this point in my life, having played seriously for 3-4 years now.
IMV: For the most part, “Sea of Trees” is an instrumental track with just a few vocal accents. Is the rest of the album going to be in a similar vein? What in particular drew you to an instrumental style?
NA: Yes, The album was originally written as an instrumental due to lack of confidence in my singing ability as well as simply not having anything to say. I ended up being persuaded into adding vocal parts by Luke Narey, drummer of Blue Rising, a friend I both look up to and trust. Considering how the album was written from the start, I still wanted the vocals to embellish the music and not take the spotlight. Amusingly enough, there are no lyrics. Just strings of random words I liked the cadence of.
IMV: I know you do some production and engineering work as well as being a musician - in fact, Bob Fouts gave you a shoutout in a recent interview I did with him. What’s the biggest difference between producing your own music and recording someone else? Would you have attempted a solo project without having the studio knowledge to also be able to produce it yourself?
NA: Yes, I do record others from time to time. I used to live off it, which I think helped me gain more of a bond with the people in the scene. Bob is a great guy and I had a blast tracking the drums for Chrome Waves. I’d say recording myself is a million times easier, not because of my skill level or anything but because there are specific ways to play instruments when recording that i’ve picked up over the years which makes it easier to mix. I don’t know that I would have attempted the album if I wasn’t recording it only because of the nature of the process I took. I wrote, recorded, and released the single “Sea of Trees” in 2 days. Funny story, I remember tuning my guitar twice through the whole process (Thanks to Colonel at Melody Music Shop for the terrific setup) and recorded the vocals in my car using the voice memos app on my iPhone. It’s safe to say it was a quick process that I wasn’t ready for, despite it turning out so well.
IMV: The video for “Sea of Trees” is beautiful. How did it come together? Did you shoot it yourself?
NA: Thank you, I can’t take credit for anything besides the editing. The footage was shot by a bunch of people in Aokigahara (The Suicide Forest/Sea of Trees) in Japan. I thought it a fitting parallel based on how the song progressed emotionally. I do plan on having a professional video shot by Bone of Threshold Productions. It will also be centered around dark forest imagery. The video will be released a week before the album release (5/1/17).
IMV: Will there be a physical release of the record, or are you sticking to digital for now? Are you planning to put together a band to gig at all behind the album?
NA: There will be a physical release of the record. I am planning on bringing it to the stage with the help of VOID KING bassist, Chris Carroll, and will be looking for a drummer I can trust to sit back and play as simply as I did on the album. I’m particularly excited about the live gear setup:
Guitar: 1979 Marshall JMP pushing two Marshall 1960b cabs and two Black Orange PPC cabs.
Bass: Ampeg SVT Classic stack
The show will be artistic in many ways often overlooked. I was very much looking forward to playing at my home venue, The 5th Quarter, but unfortunately due to the recent news that dream will never happen.
Sea of Trees will be released on May 1. Keep up to date on preorder information via Albanese’s Bandcamp page.