CROSSING THE RUBICON: Interview with Alejandro Licano

Dayton, Ohio based progressive metal and jazz fusion influenced project Crossing the Rubicon, founded by guitarist and composer Alejandro Licano, released an EP titled “Bloom” back in August. The self-titled song off of the EP is a collaborative effort between Licano and guitarist and composers all around the world, featuring names such Dylan Furr, Alex Campbell, Kee Poh Hock, and more.

In an extensive interview for Rocking Charts, Alejandro tells us about the project, the mentioned collaboration, albums that influenced him, and more.

What made you go for the name Crossing The Rubicon?

Crossing the Rubicon is synonymous with the point of no return. When I was picking the name and deciding over the concept for the music I knew I wanted to things to take a form that felt more philosophical and had a bigger meaning. I certainly didn’t want to name the band after myself in any way because I knew there would be the prospect of taking the act to the live stage.

How do you usually describe your music?

Instrumental progressive metal is my first instinct. I know there are elements of jazz and some feelings of ambient and psychedelia in there. Most of the fans and followers of the music tend to gravitate toward the more colorful melodic elements of the music. There’s poly-rhythmic stuff in there and of course grooves that are undeniable so I’d place it safely in the Prog-metal box without argument.

Alejandro Licano

What is your writing process like?

Each album, or single has taken on a process of its own. The first record was a rescue mission to salvage any and all riffs that fell to the side after my run with some failed bands. The production for that particular album wasn’t my favorite or best offering but I’m proud that it was a well put together writing process where fun and adventure was the main path I stuck to. Ascension and beyond have been much more structurally developed. The nature of having guests on the albums is very interesting in that there is an expectation of having good music theory concepts and making sure that, in some form, your passages and voicings make sense. I spent a year writing for Ascension to achieve that next level of composition that I was after. Much like any other experience, there was a learning curve and of course I realized that I spent a lot of time on adjusting some of the basic things that should have been worked on in the initial stages. I grew so much from that experience. With that record and future pieces the process has typically been the same. I start with riffs, trade back and forth between developing those and the drums, and then move forward to getting it recorded toward some demo stage. After the demo stage I can help solidify things by taking out or adding to those things that need help.

For Bloom, I would take the demo and put it through a production analysis phase of restructuring. I would take this verse and move it here, or better develop a fill or passage. Whatever needed to be fixed so that form and flow were the most important elements in the process for the guests to be able to take hold of the song.

Who or what is your inspiration, if you have any?

I’m inspired hugely by the element of the muse. I’m always looking for the next things that have an emotional impact on me. I get bored with talent shows on recordings or shred fests to no end. So surprisingly you might find that in some instances if the emotional element isn’t present, I’m not attracted to it or paying too much attention. Some of my biggest musical influences are not metal. Dredg, Pink Floyd, The Mars Volta, Mogwai, Thievery Corporation, Aphex Twin, Nick Drake and so many more. I think what inspires me in metal music is the energy. After the Burial has massive energy. Fallujah has a different kind of energy that takes you on a voyage. You know what I mean? It’s always been the elements of reality and the truth in the art, not a shred extravaganza. That is something that is going to develop more in the future with Crossing the Rubicon releases.

Crossing the Rubicon - Bloom

Your most recent release is an E.P. titled “Bloom.” It features an epic self-titled track which is basically your collaboration with guitarists from all around the world. Tell me about the creative process of this piece.

With Bloom, form was the most important element in the song writing process. There are at least a dozen demo stages that the song went through. Parker Bracken of the upcoming progressive colossus Bryker, was extremely helpful and constructive in helping give the song the form it has today. He yielded some of the piano work that you hear in the clean segments and helped reshape some of the ideas within.

Working with guests was grueling for me. Aside from Ascension, Bloom was a beast all on it’s own. I had an original line up for this album. Most of the original guys were simply too busy. In some cases the music is what was lacking for them, or they weren’t feeling the riffage or had 4 projects of their own. So my process there was to kindly, politely and professionally approach my dream team of shredders and ask them individually if this sort of project would interest them. In many cases they were boldly in favor or against it, so it was never a drawn out process with Bloom. I had the pleasure of hearing some of the most amazing guitar licks and recordings I have ever worked with in my life. Some of the guest submissions were lightning fast too, such as the fiercely productive Dylan Furr. His work was done in nearly a week and we were happy with the results.

I listen to the album again in retrospect and it sounds like a dream team of some of the finest guitarists around right now. Alex Campbell‘s solo and Chris Gordon‘s are just fire. I can’t even pretend to understand the techniques in their grasp of the instrument. Take a listen for your self, the work in there is phenomenal as guitar licks alone, which incidentally I plan to dissect later in future walk-through videos of the record. What was critical for me was to only accept the work and help of the guitarists who actually found the piece to be beautiful and worth working on. Poh Hock of Native Construct was amazingly kind in that regard and he made working on things very easy.

The record was by no means a one-man project, because aside from being guests on the record, I took critique and constructive ideas from everyone involved in the album. I can only imagine what the next process will look like. Berklee has done so much to reinvigorate my knowledge of theory and production that it’s a tremendously significant step forward.

What should music lovers expect from “Bloom”?

Listeners should expect beauty. If I want my listeners to take anything away from the instrumental element is for them to envision a flower in full bloom, taking its steps to blossom into something undeniable, something that exists and is real. That is the opus of this particular record; ‘perseverance’ as a concept. Nature is beautiful and savage and ruthless and many times we are found in awe of the raw constant that is life. Life knows no bounds. This record is about the breath of life that we all need – to be, to exist and understand ourselves a little more.

What kind of emotions would you like your audience to feel when they listen to your music?

Well to pick up from your last question, I think that emotions are important in the first place. This isn’t a mechanically technical progressive record meant only to blow your mind with guitar skills. The emotions are about depth and honesty. I want the audience to find a bit of themselves in the music and see some transparency. For me the album represents a moment of yet more growth and more development and a reigniting quality. I’ve probably never felt more alive in my life and I want fans to know how that sounds. This is the sound of joy and belonging.

Alejando Licano

Which do you like most, life in the studio or on tour?

Touring was rough. Past bands seemed like more of a struggle to make ends meet and while it was a blast to spend time on the road and gig so many times each week it drives a nail in your creativity. Some touring bands forget that. I like studio life because you can shape the creation how you want it sound and that is a fun concept to me. I’m in school for production so why not – right? But I do love playing live and some time in the future Crossing the Rubicon may be touring also so, keep your eyes peeled for that. It’s very near.

Pick your three favourite albums that you would take on a desert island with you.

This is the worst task of all time.

Dark Side of the Moon (Pink Floyd), Periphery II (Periphery) and el cielo (dredg)

I think those albums collectively capture the essence of every genre and are works than can be explored indefinitely.

Bloom is available now; grab a copy from Bandcamp. Follow Crossing the Rubicon on Facebook.