The Rift is an apt name for a Los Angeles-based band for several reasons. First, L.A. was the birthplace of Screamer back in 1987. Second, Los Angeles is a hot zone of earthquake activity. Last—and most important—the band’s sound hits as hard as a six-point Richter scale shaker.
The Rift is Aris Anagnos (vocals/guitar), John Anagnos (bass) and Ovais Malik (drums). Their full-length album Inventions is due to be released March 4. It’s a masterful blend of various hard rock elements (see the separate album review in this issue).
In speaking with Aris Anagnos, it is mentioned that due to recording cost and the sheer difficulty of getting music heard with hundreds of bands vying for attention, many groups are choosing to record a series of singles, or an EP. Full albums are becoming a rare breed for new bands. “Yeah, I mean, this project kind of became an animal of its own in a way. Personally for me, I know that that’s what a lot of people are doing now [EP’s or singles]. I think it’s smart to do it that way but for me, I’ve always loved an album. Whenever I was discovering a band, I wanted to see if they have a good album. I think a true test of a band is, ‘Can you make a consistent 12 song piece of work that every song, there’s something to listen to?’ So I’ve always loved albums.”
“But this project, it was funny because we went into it kind of as…we were originally a five piece band with three other guitar players. So we went into it thinking it was going to be kind of like that, like our previous stuff had been. But then all those guys left; it was kind of a creative difference thing. And so then I really just took the reins and guided things from there. It just kind of took on a mind of its own and became what you see now. I think I wouldn’t have done it any other way though, to be honest.”
There’s a lot going on in the songs in terms of production, with many layers of both instrumental and vocal overdubs. For a three-piece band, the obvious question is: With the sometimes intricate, complex arrangements, how can they possible duplicate that sound live? There’s nothing more disappointing than really getting into an album, looking forward to the concert, and then standing there thinking “Wow…this doesn’t sound nearly as good as the record.” Anagnos can definitely relate to that sentiment. “Well, that’s interesting. On some of the tracks that are really produced, like the first Worst of Me and stuff like that, we kind of just play it with a backing track of the synth and stuff in the background. So we’re able to pull off some of those things live. Most of it. We really pride ourselves on being a great live band. So you know, I hate that, too, when you go and see a band and the record’s great and you go and see them and you’re like, ‘What? Is this the same song that I was listening to?’ We’re able to I think really pull it off and most of the time when people come see us, they’re like, ‘I can’t even believe you guys sound that huge, just the three of you.’ It’s really kind of funny. It happens a lot.”
When Anagnos speaks of the “first” Worst of Me, he’s speaking of the first of two versions of the song. While it’s not unprecedented for a band to put two versions of the same song on the same album, it’s definitely not common. Bands will frequently experiment in the studio with multiple versions of a song, and then huddle with themselves, the producer and management to decide which one is the keeper. I tell Anagnos that my theory is that both versions were so good they couldn’t decide which one to choose, so they included both, something he confirms. “Yeah, pretty much. I kind of wanted to…and one of the ideas behind the album was to experiment. We wanted to kind of get out of our comfort zone and do something that was out of the ordinary. So the first one that’s got the keyboard in it and the little music box thing in it, the pop beat…I think it’s more of a popier version but…that’s not what we’re used to doing. But we still thought it came out really great and we were definitely excited about it. So we wanted it on the record, but at the same time, we wanted to try and make a version of that song that was a bit more rocking. Because the song is kind of grungy in itself. So we wanted to make another version that kind of lends itself to a grungier kind of style. So we thought both versions came out pretty good. Yeah, like you said, we couldn’t really decide between the two. So we were just like, ‘Screw it. Put them both on there.’”
The lead song, and also the first single from the album is Deliverance. It starts out deceptively with a chorus-effect laden simple blues riff before exploding into a big wall of sound. “Yeah, we’re really happy that people seem to really be responding to that one,” says Anagnos. “I think it’s kind of like a combination of a lot of bands that we really look up to and it just came out that way. It’s bluesy, but it’s got that kind of modern rock take on it. It combines elements of Foo Fighters and Thirty Seconds To Mars. You hear that in there. The inspiration behind the song itself was kind of also again a combination of our own personal struggles that we wanted to throw in there and then…I was actually out in Hollywood one night and saw a bunch of people protesting and riot police. And it was during the whole Ferguson situation. That just kind of got me thinking… it kind of inspired some of the lyrics. Just about kind of breaking free from whatever is actually holding you back and that kind of thing.“
The song Annabel Lee features a guest female vocalist (fitting, given the title of the song) by the name of Yanna Fabian. She is from the Czech Republic, and she and Anagnos met while they were both attending Musicians Institute in Hollywood. “I was going to the Musicians Institute at the time. I kind of met her through different events that MI was having. And she just said after she heard our music, she really wanted to do something with me. That song had already been recorded with male vocals in the parts where she was singing. But once I heard her sing, I was like, ‘My God. She has to sing on this song.’ It worked perfectly. She has, like, this kind of Evanescence kind of thing with her voice that I really loved. And it was Gothic and the song is a Gothic, kind of deep song that was based off an Edgar Allen Poe poem. So it totally fit with what we were doing.”
Recording an album is only the first step. As mentioned previously, with the explosion of social media there is a tsunami of bands competing for attention, and it’s so very difficult to get heard. “Yeah, we’re working really hard to get the music out there and like you said, it’s really hard to get attention. But we seem to be doing that. I have yet to hear from one person that’s really down on the band and the record. Everybody that’s heard it has nothing but awesome things to say and I couldn’t be more excited and grateful for that. So we’re just trying to keep grinding away. And we seem to be getting results from our hard work. So it’s really a good feeling.”
There’s a famous expression in the music business: “It all starts with the song.” If the music is great, the rest will follow. “That’s totally what I believe,” says Anagnos. “I mean, if we don’t think it’s good music, nobody else will. And obviously we love the record and it seems like other people do, too. So that’s kind of where it all starts. We’ve just got to keep moving.”
Anagnos is gracious and humble as the interview comes to a close. “I really appreciate you taking the time. I know you get hit up with tons of bands and it really means a lot to us that you support us on this record. I really appreciate it, man.”