Young Guns: Tosin Abasi and Javier Reyes Teach Prog-Metal to Dance - Rolling Stone
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Tosin Abasi and Javier Reyes Teach Prog-Metal to Dance

Animals as Leaders guitarists expand their already wide instrumental horizons

Welcome to Young Guns, our series exploring the most notable guitarists from the next generation of legends. For more interviews with the guitarists inspiring us right now, click here.

WHO: Tosin Abasi, 31, and Javier Reyes, 33, form the driving partnership behind Animals as Leaders, a D.C.-born/L.A.-based trio that’s doggedly pushing the progressive metal envelope. The Joy of Motion, their third and latest album, incorporates elements of jazz, electronic and even dance pop into their all-instrumental music, offering up tracks that are as satisfying in their visceral kick as they are dazzling in their displays of dexterity. (Above, watch an exclusive, in-depth video in which Abasi explains his influences and technique up close.)

EXTRA-STRING THEORY: Both Abasi and Reyes chiefly utilize eight-string guitars, taking advantage of the expanded sonic palette offered by the instruments to create an unusual array of interlocking riffs, rhythmic thumps and thoroughly shredular solos. Their penchant for extra strings dates back nearly two decades. “I bought my first seven-string in 1994, and began writing the majority of my music on it,” Reyes explains. “When Tosin joined my old band PSI, I told him, ‘You have to play a seven-string.'” “I picked up the seven-string, and it was like a creative burst for me,” Abasi recalls. “I stayed on that for like five or six years, and then Meshuggah started playing the eight-string, and I heard Charlie Hunter doing all this really hip jazz-chord melody stuff on it. So in 2007, when I was putting Animals together, I told Javier, ‘You want to be in the band, you’ve gotta play eight-string!'”

BIG BROTHER IS ROCKING YOU: Both Abasi and Reyes owe much of their early musical education to older brothers. “My older brother took me to see Slayer, Megadeth, Anthrax and Alice In Chains on Clash of the Titans tour in 1991,” Reyes recalls. “I was nine years old, and I’d already been playing guitar for three years, but after that concert I was like, ‘Guitar is cool!’ I started seeing these guys as superheroes!” “I was really into Nirvana when I first started playing,” offers Abasi, “but I had an older brother who played drums, and he got really into those Modern Drummer instructional videos — and most of those drummers played in bands with really awesome guitar players, like John Petrucci of Dream Theater. And that’s kind of how I started to change my playing style.”

GRUNGE VERSUS METAL: While Abasi credits Kurt Cobain for getting him obsessed with the guitar, Reyes admits that he hated everything about the early Nineties grunge movement. “When Nirvana and Soundgarden came out, I was probably the only kid I knew that was bummed out,” he laughs. “That music killedguitar playing. I remember watching music videos with Rudolf Schenker from the Scorpions or Angus Young from AC/DC just going nuts, and thinking that was the coolest stuff in the world. But then Kurt Cobain came out, and all that stuff was over. The only bands that were still doing solos were Pantera and Dream Theater, so that’s what I gravitated to.”

BEYOND THE REALMS OF PROG: The Joy of Motion finds Abasi and Reyes putting an increased emphasis on groove and melody, two things not commonly associated with progressive metal. “We’re fans of all sorts of music, particularly pop and dance music,” says Reyes. “When you’re going out to the clubs, you don’t really go out to listen to metal!” “Neo-soul music has definitely worked its way into my lead playing and the way I approach my phrasing,” Abasi reveals. “We’ve done two albums where I really felt I needed to make a statement, that I had to prove something with my guitar playing. With The Joy of Motion, I think that statement just shifted to, ‘I want this to make people feel good!'”


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