When I first heard his one-man debut album, Duality, I was as struck as during my initial listen of Opeth’s Blackwater Park. Who was this musical wonder and how was I just finding out about him? So I wrote to the man behind the Seattle progressive death metal band Rhine, frontman and guitarist Gabriel Tachell, and I decided to ask him a few questions. He graciously answered them in full and I’ve enjoyed what he’s had to say. Join me as we talk about how the band came to open for the legendary Sepultura, cabbages, and the group’s second album which is currently in the works!
I’m interested to hear about the origins of the band. What was the intention when you began Rhine, and where did the name come from?
Well, I guess my intentions have always been to make interesting music that draws from all of my musical influences and life experiences. To make good sounding albums that are unique, pushing some boundaries, and can hopefully reach people and inspire them the same way I’ve been inspired by my favorite artists. I’m also trying to create a place that I enjoy being in. That’s kind of how I think about music. I listen to an epic Devin Townsend or Opeth record with headphones and it really takes me somewhere emotionally and creates associations with places and imagery.
The name is taken from the river Rhine for a few reasons, one being that I just think it sounds cool. It’s a single word name that is easy to remember and it’s pretty ambiguous, it doesn’t scream out “death metal.” Personally, I’m very drawn to water and spent a lot of time in rivers growing up, and then there’s also the fact that I lived in Germany for all of my elementary school years, and have fond memories of that part of the world.
Rhine’s debut album, Duality, was really a one-man show. What are some of the moments of creating that album that stand out to you?
It was a pretty frustrating and tedious process, but I learned a lot. One of the cool things was this sound booth I built, mainly to feel comfortable singing without being heard. At that point in my life I had never performed metal music live or been a front man for a band, and I was living with friends who weren’t exactly into metal, so I was pretty shy about being heard. In the room I was renting, I built a 4ft x 6ft isolation booth with double walls. I could literally scream as loud as possible in there with my roommates right outside the room watching TV, and they couldn’t hear a thing. I covered it with black canvas inside and had it lit by a red light bulb. It was a quiet, dark little space for me to get crazy in.
Lyrically, what was the focus of your first release? What should people take away from the listening experience?
The theme of “duality” isn’t strictly adhered to throughout the record. But the idea of duality is something I think about a lot. The balance of good and evil in the world, happiness and sadness, dark and light. The last song explores that theme the most I’d say, moving through happy sounding parts and dark sounding, evil, sad etc. All the songs vary a lot lyrically, some are nonsense, some are politically driven, there’s some cheesy gore, apocalyptic fantasy, social anxiety, satire, whatever. Some people just like the sound of the music without being able to understand the words. I’m like that sometimes. With some songs the lyrics and music evolve together and really click, and sometimes I just write instrumentals first, then try to write words that describe the “environment” the music has already created. I generally prefer music with vocals because they add more emotion, and sometimes you can just make sounds with your mouth and that’s all it takes to get the point across, words are just sounds anyways. That’s something I’ve always thought Devin Townsend was good at, you listen to his albums and you hear all these ooohs and ahhs and stuff going on in the background, all this wordless vocalising. I’m more interested in people taking away the big picture, the vibe, not the specific meaning of each song.
The album cover for Duality looks like it could be a Rorschach ink blot test or a demonic Mickey Mouse. What is the real idea behind the image?
The idea came from me cutting a cabbage in half to make some sauerkraut and noticing how beautiful the inside was, so I stuck it on a scanner and had some fun in Photoshop. I manipulated it in a way that there’s a mirror image thing happening, trying to keep with the theme of duality, and now when you look at it you can see other images the patterns have created, the most obvious being a kind of “moth” shape, or for you a demonic Mickey Mouse, haha.
Rhine recently opened up for Sepultura at Studio Seven in Seattle. Can you tell us how that event came together and give us some memories of the evening?
It was really fun. Our bass player broke his low B string in the second song, and my volume pedal was half way off cutting my gain way down for the first two songs before I figured out what was up, but the energy was still great. A lot of venues add local bands to open for touring acts. We ask for gigs like this all the time, and this one came through.
Who are the current members of Rhine? How did the band’s present line-up come to fruition?
We’ve got Carlos on drums, Alex on guitar, James on bass, and I do guitar/vocals. James has been a friend of mine for almost 10 years, and he’s been on board to play with me since I started looking for band members. Alex and I hooked up through craigslist and turned out to know some of the same people in other bands. He helped me audition a handful of drummers before we found Carlos, also on craigslist. Once we met him we were playing our first show within 4 months. All great guys and good friends. James is from the northwest. Alex and Carlos are both East Coast transplants. Carlos is actually from Nicaragua originally and immigrated to Florida with his family when he was 11.
The band is currently working on its sophomore release. What can we expect from the new album? Can you fill us in on any details to sate our curiosities?
You can expect improved production quality, better singing (especially clean vocals), and just greater musicianship overall. I personally think the music is becoming more original sounding, also much more progressive on this record. There were originally going to be three tracks that are over 10 minutes long, but I cut one of them out because I want to save it and turn it into an epic 30-40 minute long song like Edge of Sanity’s “Crimson.” That song also happened to be the working title track for the album, so now I’m still working out a new album title. But yeah, I’m really happy with the new material; there’s some really sweet melodies and rhythmic play as well as really dissonant odd time stuff.
Since Duality was really something of a solo album, how does the new release differ in its writing dynamic?
A lot of the writing for this record actually happened the year after I released Duality, long before the band became a real thing. I got side tracked for a while, living in the UK with my girlfriend for a year, then coming back and joining an experimental/prog rock-ish band called Alex’s Hand that I worked on two albums with. I also released a short electronic record at some point there too. Rhine got put on hold for a while, but after I left Alex’s Hand I got serious about recording again. We had a hard time finding a drummer, so I actually hired a session drummer from Vancouver, BC, named Sean Lang to play on the new album. Carlos joined the band after all those tracks were already done, so it’s really just been me again working on it solo. But at least this time I didn’t try to play the drums myself! There is some collaborative writing in the works, you can expect more involvement from band members on future releases.
Listening to your playing, on a variety of instruments, it’s easy to hear how versatile you are. Can you tell us more about your music background?
Well first off, I will say that I’m not actually a good enough drummer to play all the material on that record all the way through. I did record real drums and played them myself, but they were heavily edited and almost all of the double bass was programmed. I didn’t want to make a solo record with straight up midi drums, so I did this as a way to make it sound as real as possible. I honestly don’t consider myself to be a really great guitar player either. I’m pretty unconventional; my rhythm is pretty solid and my leads are just a bunch of legato stuff I’ve figured out how to play fast without actually having to pick very much. I feel like composition is my strength, and my guitar skills just barely keep up with what I write. Coming up with grooves and playing bass comes pretty natural for me, I’ve always been very rhythmically oriented and felt like I should have been a drummer all along, just didn’t get an early enough start. My parents are both classical musicians, so I was playing piano and clarinet from a pretty young age, and singing in choirs. Picked up a guitar when I was 14 and that was that. I got a bachelor’s degree in audio engineering and composition from Evergreen State College, then did an internship at a big studio in Seattle shortly before I started working on Duality.
Who are some of your inspirations, musically and ideologically?
I’ve gone through phases of listening to tons of genres of music, in a truly geek out kind of way. The number of albums I’ve listened to more than 50 times each is huge, and it covers everything from free jazz to afro pop. Some of my biggest metal influences are Opeth, Devin Townsend/Strapping Young Lad, Enslaved, Hypocrisy, Dan Swano/Edge of Sanity, Steven Wilson/Porcupine Tree, Between the Buried and Me, Ulver, Bloodbath, Lamb of God, Gojira, Arcturus, Sleepytime Gorilla Museum… I also have to mention Prince and Depeche Mode because they are definitely my absolute favorite non-metal artists. Ideologies are a whole other conversation, not really sure where to begin, so I won’t go into it. I’m very liberal… I’ll just leave it at that.
Can you walk us through your gear setup?
I play a 7 string Schecter in drop B tuning. I’ve got a Peavey 5150 II with some mods I’ve done, running through a vertical 2×12 cab I built. I use a Boss Gt-8 for effects and a Morley Bad Horsie wah. The cool thing about my setup is that I’m able to switch my amp channels with the GT-8. Many people don’t realize this, but combined with the 4 cable method I really have endless versatility, and I’m not using any digital distortion or amp modeling. Alex has also got this setup running with his Marshall head now, it’s great. I also use in-ear monitors just for my vocals. I have a cheap little Behringer microMon on my pedal board that I can plug a mic into, then give the thru output to the sound guy. Works like a charm, I have a coiled headphone cable wrapped around my instrument cable, and my earbuds plugged in right by my guitar jack.
What’s the last thing you listened to?
Fever Ray, self-titled.
What is your hope for Rhine’s future?
I’d like to tour all over the world and work on records with producers I admire. I’d like to quit my day job so we can bust out a new record every 1-2 years, and then in 10+ years, we’ll be much better musicians and songwriters with a huge discography.
Why should people listen to Rhine?
To see if they like it.