Women in Music 2016

Hanging Backstage With: TesseracT

Tom Barnes
Tesseract

Wardrobe malfunctions, hangovers, confusing American cuisine: The lively touring life of the U.K. metal prog masters

During a quiet Sunday afternoon in New York, save for the blustering fall wind, three members of TesseracT are lounging inside a cramped dressing room at Terminal 5. They’ve just finished a pre-show meet-and-greet where about 100 fans had lined up outside to get some face time with the band at the last show (Oct. 23) of their North American tour supporting French metal act Gojira.

Touring the U.S. is old hat for the progressive U.K. rock band, which first performed stateside in 2010 to support Devin Townsend. Monteith says that tour played “a very key role” in TesseracT’s development, as it created the perception in Europe that “we were suddenly doing something massive in the States, and it really helped our momentum back home.” 

With TesseracT's return to America, the band took the opportunity to release a double-disc edition of its 2015 album, Polaris, on Sept. 16. The new set includes Errai, a four-song EP of stripped-down Polaris tracks. Adian O’Brien, TesseracT’s longtime producer and sound engineer, had a major hand in reimagining the songs: He got the ball rolling after he tinkered with "Seven Names" and then guitarist Acle Kahney began collaborating with him on other cuts.

Guitarist James Monteith says of the revamped EP: "It just worked, so we were like, 'We should do something with this.' Then when we were coming back here to tour, we were like, 'It’s a perfect opportunity to release something new, something a bit different.'" 

It's fitting that Polaris' material would experience a metamorphosis, given its prevalent theme relating to the transient nature of the truth. (The title Errai references this phenomenon, taken from the name of the star that will eventually replace Polaris as the North Star.) The album’s contemplative lyrics reflect "a deep, locked-away inner sanctum within my mind," jokes Tompkins, adding, "I think we like to address real issues."

This is apparent in Polaris' first single, "Messenger," which examines the agenda that Tompkins feels the media delivers to the public, be it on the left or the right. “We’re being fed and directed and channeled into a particular way of thinking subconsciously,” he says. “The people in power know that they’re lying, and they know that we know that they’re lying, but they just get on with it, and we accept it because we’re so involved in our own little cocoons.”

Citing the current U.S. presidential election and June’s shocking Brexit vote as examples, Tompkins observes, “Everyone is losing trust in the government and in governments around the world. At the same time, because of that, we’re becoming detached from our own selves a little bit more -- very apathetic.”

Such weighty observations are common for TesseracT. So rather than wax philosophic, Billboard decided to learn a bit about the band personalities that help shape its complex, dramatic sound. Monteith gamely submitted to a round of slightly off-kilter questions, with Postones and Tompkins chiming in along the way. Turns out TesseracT has topped Janet Jackson’s wardrobe malfunction, American biscuits can be terribly perplexing and high-protein diets have a very, err... fragrant side effects.

Who do you prefer: Donald Trump or Hillary Clinton?

James Monteith (guitar): I’m genuinely scared that if Donald Trump wins we’re going to be in WWIII, but maybe we shouldn’t put our political opinions in an interview … Clinton is the lesser of two evils; she is the embodiment of corporate America. She has lots of self-interest in lots of things she does; I don’t really trust her that much, either. It’s either an untrustworthy politician or an absolute lunatic.

What crime would you commit if you knew you could totally get away with it?

Daniel Tompkins (vocals): Probably just simple theft.

Monteith: I think rob a bank is definitely the answer. Rob a bank or move freely across borders with contraband, not that I would, really.

What is your worst habit?

Monteith I think we all collectively are terrible at farting. Our bandwagon is the most smelliest…

You mean you don’t do it right, or too often?

Jay Postones (drums): Very right. [Collective laughter]

Monteith: We’re all very talented at it. But yeah, our bus at the moment is basically a cocktail of shit particles to the point where when you wake up in the morning you just have to get out because it’s so vile.

Tompkins: Speak for yourself.

Monteith: Ah, mate. You’ve got it down to a fine art. He can do it on demand. Want to give us a demonstration?

Tompkins: Our problem is we’re all on a high-protein diet because one of our [crew] is really into bodybuilding and eats lots of protein. The byproduct of that is farting. It’s unavoidable.

When was your last hangover, and what did you drink?

Monteith: This morning.

Postones: Lots of IPA.

Monteith: Tonight’s a very rushed day. As soon as we pack down and load out we’re off to the airport, we’re going home. We need to kind of behave today, so last night was our last opportunity to have some beers with the Gojira guys. So we drank lots of beer with them, and if you check their Instagram, we made a short film with them as well.

What is your most embarrassing moment onstage?

Monteith: [Thinks a moment] Few weeks ago, we walked offstage and Amos pointed out my fly had been open the whole time. That was slightly embarrassing, but it was dumb I didn’t realize it at the time. That’s kind of lame. There must be a better one than that.

Postones: There was that Metal Hammer boat that we played ages ago where I came into the first song like eight bars too early; that was kind of embarrassing because it was on Metal Hammer’s boat, this prestigious show that we were offered to do, and I messed it up.

Monteith: It was particularly difficult for us because we brought a backing track that also controls all our pedal changes. Jay started like a whole eight beats too early, so everything could have potentially changed at all the wrong time from a clean sound to a heavy sound. We were very embarrassed about that, but nobody seemed to notice … That’s not funny-embarrassing, though. Our old singer [Abisola Obasanya], this guy back in the day on the early demos, once his penis flopped out onstage.

Postones: There was this girl that was in the front that was horrified that this penis was, like, there.

What makes you cry?

Postones: Seeing penises. [Laughter]

Monteith: Celine Dion.

Postones: Celine Dion and dogs in distress.

Why does Celine Dion make you cry?

Monteith: Well, [grimaces] painful.

What is your most valuable physical possession?

Monteith: My phone, simply because without that I wouldn’t be able to work or do anything. My entire life is on it. Maybe my house. I need to be housed. I think the house is probably it, but if I lose my phone I’d probably lose the house because I wouldn’t be able to work to pay for it.

What American term do you find weird or fascinating?

Monteith and Postones: [In unison] Biscuits.

Monteith: Chicken and biscuits. Chicken-fried chicken. You don’t need to say, “Chicken-fried chicken”; it’s just fried chicken. What’s that all about? But biscuits, biscuits means something totally different back home. Biscuits are cookies. And our scones are like your biscuits. On the first tour, I actually nearly felt sick inside when I saw a sign for Popeye’s Chicken and Biscuits. I was like [groans], “ ‘Chicken…and cookies? Vile.’”