TesseracT Cracks Billboard Charts With 'Polaris'

Tom Barnes


When British progressive band TesseracT released new album Polaris on Sept. 18, many fans had reason to celebrate before it even hit the shelves. That’s because Polaris marks the band’s studio reunion with Daniel Tompkins, its former singer who departed in 2011. While his successor, Ashe O’Hara, had gained his own following due to such laudable performances as his vocals on 2013’s Altered State, Tompkins’ remarkable presence, which he had established on One, the band’s official 2011 debut, remained noticeably absent.

Watch The Lyric Video For TesseracT's 'Messenger' From Upcoming Album 'Polaris': Exclusive

Tompkins’ return to the fold likely helped TesseracT crack Billboard’s charts for the first time: Polaris debuted at No. 4 on the Hard Rock Albums list (dated oct. 10), No. 27 on Top Rock Albums and No. 94 on the Billboard 200 with 4,000 copies sold.

However, for some, the lineup change is bittersweet, as there were also TesseracT fans who were disappointed that O’Hara had left due to creative differences. Bassist Amos Williams understands the connection that people develop with a frontman—“they’re basically the key that allows you into the music and allows you to have emotional investment in that music,” he notes.

Williams says the band’s self-confidence is what enabled it to reunite with Tompkins, who has “made a great name for himself as a vocalist, and [we hoped] people would be quite excited” to see them perform together again. The homecoming was so effortless that after just two rehearsals, the re-formed lineup didn’t miss a beat when it played the 2014 Sonisphere festival.

“We were pleasantly surprised by it, but it felt comfortable, it felt easy,” recalls Williams. “There was no concern about his performance or how he would fit in TesseracT, simply because he kind of was part of what TesseracT always has been. Even when he was gone, there was this constant ghost overhanging poor Ashe of people judging Ashe against Dan, or judging [former vocalist] Elliot [Coleman] against Dan, so even when he wasn’t there, he was an eternal specter looming over TesseracT.”

This latter comment speaks to the challenges TesseracT has surmounted as its career has progressed. Williams explains that, when a band starts out, it tries to adhere to the qualities attributed to whatever genre it’s classified in, “so you’re trying to do the things that are expected of you, which was very much the case of [our] first album, which included heavier vocals, because that’s exactly what we needed to do, when it fact it wasn’t necessarily what we wanted to do.” With Altered State, “we had the second-album syndrome, which is tough for most bands. But we had a new singer [O’Hara], so we kind of felt that we had to prove ourselves over again.”

Now that the band has logged some mileage in its career, “a lot of people in the rock scene have heard of the name and had a preconception of what it should be, so with that in mind, we can be quite free with what we do now,” says Williams. “We feel able to take charge and experiment where we need to and tow the line where we need to tow the line, basically depending upon what the song determines, so with [Polaris], that’s exactly what we’ve done.”

On Polaris, TesseracT breaks from its tradition of recording one continuous album track by opting for more distinct songs, but they nonetheless retain a continuity throughout the project. Williams says that that previous setup had been inspired by the similar “presentation” that’s heard in Pink Floyd’s The Dark Side of the Moon. The band changed things up on Polaris to keep things from becoming stagnant.

“We’re trying to create songs, individual chapters, which can be presented as an associated novel rather than create a 51-minute epic where it’s just progression, progression, progression,” says Williams. “We’re quite happy to do some traditional songs where there’s choruses and things and challenge ourselves in that respect, and hopefully succeed in that genre so we can in the future continue to explore music and continue to just create music rather than TesseracT-sounding music.”

As Williams explained in a previous Billboard interview, Polaris’ title is concerned with “the transient nature of universal truth,” and the word itself is a metaphor for this theory. “The stars that we see change over time, and that’s where the idea of Polaris came from, because in a few thousand years’ time, the star that we look up [to] in the sky and see as the North Star won’t be the same star,” observes Williams. “We found that a really cool analogy for the fact that there is [no] universal truth in life, and that we consider to be right and wrong changes very quickly.”

For instance, first focus track “Messenger” is about losing perspective and thinking “there are terrorists on every corner, and getting wound up and worried because everything is so sensationalized in terms of the media that is presented to us. It’s all very much to keeping you hooked. In reality, there’s an awful lot of good things that happen, because there’s an awful lot of people in the world and I like to think the majority of them are nice.”

Elsewhere, “Survival”— Polaris’ first official video — examines how to stay grounded when “in the bizarre situation that is being a musician,” says Williams. That issue particularly resonates with Tompkins since he’s a married father who worries about maintaining contact with his family. (In fact, wanting to spend more time with them was why he initially left TesseracT.) “When you leave a community and the family, that community and family doesn’t stop and stay still until you return in eight weeks’ time. It carries on, especially with a small child,” says Williams. “They grow, and perhaps they’ll be a stranger to you when you come back. So all these worries and concerns are very much in his mind.”

Watch the video for "Survival" below:

Williams says of Polaris’ overall sound, “The previous albums have a very big core sound and different layers, whereas this album we’re doing different instrumentation. We stripped the guitars right back because we realized it was becoming muddied … the sonic elements and the spaces that we created are the things that create the density and depth of the music, and hopefully the people will come back and they’ll no longer be hit by a wall of guitars. They’ll be hit by a wall of various sounds and possibilities within the music.”