Protean Collective is a progressive metal quartet from Boston who have been releasing albums since 2010. Their latest release is 2017’s album “Collapse” from which the Bostonians recently launched a playthrough for the song “Under Siege.” Drummer Matt Zappa spoke for Rocking Charts about the band’s beginnings, albums, gear, and more.
Hey guys. How are you doing?
I’m doing well. Thanks for having us. It’s Matt here.
Describe the origins of Protean Collective.
We started after Graham, Steph and I met in college. Steph was roommates with a friend of mine and we bonded over groups like Rush, Dream Theater, and Symphony X.
A few days later I met Graham when he was in Steph‘s room playing guitar and messing around on some King Crimson and Soundgarden.
Over that semester we all always hung out together, but we didn’t jam till after the night we all watched Pain of Salvation’s “Be” in our dorm with a few friends. I’ll never forget being floored by Steph’s and Graham’s playing while just warming up. After that rehearsal (and during) I was already figuring venues for us to in Massachusetts to play. We’ve been touring around since ’09.
Steph was the one who heard the word “Protean” which means constantly changing, and it seemed to fit our sound at the time which was Prog Metal form of Mr. Bungle like with long songs and a lot of genre changes.
You recently launched a playthrough video for the song “Under Siege” taken from your latest album “Collapse.” How do you feel about the release now after a year of its release?
It’s been great. The album has been received well by our fans and we’ve gained a lot more as a result. Some of them have reached out and said that they never listened to metal till they heard us which is super flattering.
Now we just need to do some more touring.
How much of a challenge was to work on the album comparing with your previous efforts?
Well in the writing process nothing has really changed since the beginning of the band. We all get together in the room and someone will throw out an idea to start a jam. We record everything in the practice space, and find the best ideas then bring them into full songs.
Personally I found it very hard to get out lyrics for this record through my own form of writer’s block. When I say writer’s block, I mean that I’ll write a bunch of stuff that i’m proud of but has nothing for the task at hand. I think that I have an album’s worth of lyrics but nothing seemed to fit for “Collapse.”
Luckily, Graham stepped up fully in the lyrical department.
This is also the first record that we crowdsourced which was amazing to know that we have that kind of support in our fanbase.
“Collapse,” as well as your previous album “The Red and the Grey,” were both mixed and mastered at the Fascination Street Studios. How did the collaboration with them come about? Would you say that their touch on the albums made a difference?
When we were looking for people to mix and master “Red and the Grey” we looked into albums that we personally loved from the contemporary metal scene that would fit our sound. Steph and Graham threw out the idea of reaching out to Fascination Street, and they accepted.
The moment we got the first test tracks back from the them I was floored to the point where I had to stop the music 15 seconds into listening because it sounded so good. They took us to a level sonically that I’ve wanted the band to be at for years.
And when it came to finding someone to mix and master “Collapse” everyone in the group had the consensus of “yes we’re going back.” One day, I hope we get a chance to record there, but mainly so I get to go fishing with Jens Bogren.
So it’s been a year since “Collapse” was launched. Are you already working on new material?
We’re always writing and recording little ideas separately to bring together for writing sessions. I’m always sending random ideas to them at 3am, hehe.
Personally like I said I got an albums worth of lyrics ready to go, and I’ve been toying with two ideas for separate concept albums. One is sci fi while the other has to do with a Caribbean story my uncle told me as kid while I was in Bahamas.
What is your opinion about the current progressive metal scene?
I’m happy with it. When we started playing out and touring we’d usually be the only proggy band on the bill. Now, we have a solid network of bands domestically and internationally to reach out to.
I do wish to hear a prog or djent band break into the mainstream in a way the Queensryche did in the ’80s, Dream Theater in the ’90s, and The Mars Volta in the ’00s. It would help out the scene a lot.
What other artists similar to what you do that are coming from Boston are you friends with? Recommend us some lesser known acts to check out.
The Boston scene (and the region of New England) is filled with strong bands to check out so I’ll name a few. I Was Awake, Schooltree, Jurno, Seven Spries, MMZ, Necronomichrist, Replacire, Gozu, Myth of I, Lattermath, Pathogenic and Hemlok. But I could go all day.
Can you tell me something about your influences?
I grew up on a lot pop, hip hop, jazz, and Caribbean music. The first song that made me want to play drums was Duke Ellington’s “Caravan” at 3 years old, but I didn’t play an instrument really till I was 14.
Then in my teens my musical tastes began to get heavier with metal and hardcore (Slayer, Metallica, Danzig, Korn, Helmet, Mr. Bungle, etc) with a scene of friends that would put on DIY shows in VFW halls, building stages in backyards, etc. It was great time and very supportive of experimental music as well.
But the one album that changed me to decide to go down the rabbit hole of music I’m in today was because my neighbor’s dad gave me Billy Cobham’s “Spectrum,” and Billy’s playing blew my mind cause it was heavy but was very rooted in jazz that I grew up with, but he also wrote all the music. It challenged me to not just be a drummer but a songwriter.
What are you listening to these days?
I’ll throw out some newish albums:
Zeal & Ardor – Stranger Fruit ( black metal and Negro spirituals )
Ling Tosite Sigure – I’mperfect (Japanese prog rock)
Snarky Puppy – We Like it Here (Jazz Fusion)
Vola – Inmazes (Djent)
I always have a Dear Hunter album queued up to go.
Your 5 favorite records of all the time?
Opeth – Deliverance
Queens of the Stone Aage – Rated R
Rush – Permanent Waves
Billy Cobham – Spectrum
Dave Brubeck – Time Out
Can you tell me a little bit more about the gear you used to record “Collapse”? I know that Steph plays Kiesel Aries A7, Graham plays a custom Equilibrium Masai 7, and you are endorsed by Soultone Cymbals and Rich Sticks drumsticks.
Let’s get nerdy. As far as the drums go this was the first time I recorded after I joined with Soultone Cymbals, and they fit in directly with our sound. I use the extreme series for rhythmic passages cause they are dark and punchy to not over power the riffs. The custom brilliant series for choruses because washy and bright.
It’s also the first time recording with coated drumheads. They have less attack with a warmer tone so it changed my approach on the album.
I still use my Yamaha Beech Custom kit that I’ve had since high school. I’ve used it in rock, death metal and jazz bands over the years, and they work in all contexts. You just have to change up the tunings.
Any words for the potential new fans?
We’re a group of weird and nerdy people that want to give you music that makes your day better.
We hope to see you at a show.