This week’s featured band is the progressive groove metal outfit Astraeus. Hailing from West Virginia, USA, the band has made splashes online with the releases of their two EPs Solipsis and Mirrors, making a name for themselves in the world of technical and melodic metal. With future releases on the horizon and their first ever live show under their belts, Astraeus is becoming a force to be reckoned with. I reached out to the band to learn more about their history and their plans for the future.
Astraeus, as it stands now, is composed of five members: vocalist Logan Dotson, drummer Tyler Bunting, bassist Nick Dawson, and guitarists Justin Lesher and Eric Hayne. “We’re five guys from central West Virginia that like to play groovy, technical, and melodic music,” says Hayne, who also does most of the audio production for the band. “Being from West Virginia, there isn’t very much to do around here. Music has always been our outlet.” Hayne cites the band member’s aversion to regional pastimes such as camping and hunting, as well as their love of music as a binding force for the band.
The band hasn’t always been made up of this current line-up. The project originally consisted of Lesher, Hayne, Dawson, and a drummer named Braden Stevens, who played with Lesher in an earlier band named Tower of Veritas. Hayne met both Lesher and Stevens while doing production work for that band, and the four began working on music together. This incarnation of Astraeus was very different from what it is today. “We were on six strings and were going for a more I, the Breather style at the time,” says Hayne. “We ended up writing six songs together but only released one, ‘Eos.’ You can still hear it on our YouTube page, but it’s definitely different from what Astraeus eventually ended up sounding like.” Their sound was completely instrumental in nature, and their groovy, ambient instrumental style followed the guitarists as they made the jump to seven stringed guitars for the songs on their 2013 EP release Solipsis.
Eric Hayne (left) and Justin Lesher (right) performing a play-through of “Delusion” off of Solipsis.
For their next EP, the boys in Astraeus decided to do something different. It was a change that had been done by some instrumental bands in the past, most notably and recently Intervals: They added vocals to their songs. Their 2014 release Mirrors featured Matt Turkington (Animus Complex).
I’ll never forget the day that Justin pulled up YouTube and was like “Dude, you have to check out this guy’s Polyphia audition…he kills it!” So, he pulls it up and I’m immediately blown away. I knew that was the voice we had to have for Mirrors. He has incredible range, but he doesn’t sing in a super high register like a lot of other bands in this genre. It’s almost an 80s hair metal style, which we thought was really unique and would help us stand out if we had his vocals on our music.
They brought in Turkington about halfway through the writing phase for Mirrors. The original writing process for Astraeus as an instrumental band was focused on more technical and complicated parts as they were new to the genre. Hayne and Lesher would work out grooves and riffs together in the home studio set up in Hayne’s basement. When the decision to include vocals on Mirrors was made, Hayne and Lesher made a concerted effort to write “more vocal friendly songs.”
“Pt. II: Disclosure” from 2014’s Mirrors.
It eventually became tough for everyone to keep a steady commitment to band, and soon Astraeus was just Hayne and Lesher. The band drifted apart, but a tragic event earlier this year brought them back together.
On Easter of this year, our original drummer and long-time friend Braden passed away unexpectedly. We had all been in previous bands with him so it hit us pretty hard; I personally had known him since the fourth grade. We had a reunion show in his honor and it got everyone back together, playing again. I played with my old high school band that I was in with Braden and Towers played with Justin, Nick and Logan together again and Tyler filling in on drums for Braden.We all realized then that music is something we should all be doing together. We floated the idea to Nick and Logan about joining and they both were immediately on board and then Tyler asked if he could rejoin as well. It all just kind of came together because of that show. It’s really bittersweet that it took something tragic like Braden passing to bring everyone together, but we’re all closer and tighter as friends now than we ever were before.
In spite of such tragic circumstances, Astraeus is together again and stronger than ever. They just recently performed their first live show at The Cartref in Cross Lanes, West Virginia and they are incredibly excited to perform at the Battle of Knotfest in Long Island, New York in September. They have plans to work on new material, but with a focused effort on full-band writing. “We want to get Tyler’s flair and style on drums,” says Hayne, “and Nick is an amazing bass player that’s going to bring a creative element to the band, especially on drum and bass grooves.” Lesher adds that they will be “hunkering down over the winter to start working on a new album, more than likely a full length.”
It’s clear that the band has an itch to start touring, and hopefully it’s one that will be scratched soon. I asked them which bands would make up a dream tour for them. Bunting mentioned Monuments and TesseracT, and Hayne picked Periphery and Animals as Leaders, just so that he could “watch five of [his] favorite guitar players play every single night.” As for musical influences, they guys all share some common bands, but each member takes inspiration from various bands and musicians.
Tyler Bunting: I would say as a band, TesseracT, Monuments, and Periphery are some huge influences. Individually, for me, Anup Sastry, Matt Gartska, and Travis Orbin.
Nick Dawson: My individual influences are Evan Brewer and Les Claypool.
Justin Lesher: For this genre, John Browne has been a huge inspiration to me. I pretty much only down pick when I’m playing guitar and Browne is a master at that. Overall though, The Black Dahlia Murder is my favorite band of all time, so even though it doesn’t show much in our music, they’ve been a massive influence on me as a guitar player.
Eric Hayne: Tyler definitely nailed the band influences, but I would also add Uneven Structure to that list. The ambience they’re able to inject into their music is awesome and we definitely try to do the same with our music. Individually though, Misery Signals has been my biggest influence as a musician. I started playing guitar in the golden age of metalcore so I’ve always loved a blend of heavy and melodic in my music and Misery Signals is the best at that, in my opinion. I also got my love of clean guitars from them.
I also asked the band members what they were currently listening to, and their diverse taste in music should create an interesting dynamic when it comes to writing future music.
Tyler: I’m listening to G-Eazy, Meek Mill, Shy Glizzy, a ton of different hip hop artists daily. Periphery, Monuments, Intervals, Anup Sastry, After the Burial, Fit for a King, In Hearts Wake…I could go on for days.
Nick: After the Burial – Rareform.
Justin: Pretty much Veil of Maya’s new album Matriarch on repeat with a little of Breaking Benjamin’s new album sprinkled in. They’re a guilty pleasure band for me haha. Also, Monuments – The Amanuensis is good for a few listens a week for me.
Eric: I’ve been blowing up the new TesseracT song, “Messenger.” Soooo stoked that Dan is back in the band and I cannot wait for Polaris. It won’t be leaving my CD player for months.
This isn’t the first time that It Djents has featured Astraeus: they did a cover of Iggy Azaelea’s “Black Widow” for our compilation album Djent Rolls Deep 2. They worked with Turkington again for vocals, but the rapping parts were actually done by Lesher.
I’ll never forget the day Justin told me that he wanted to do the rapping parts on “Black Widow.” We originally had planned on getting one of our friends that raps to do it but he fell through at the last-minute so we were stuck in a bind. I woke up one morning and Justin told me “So, I’ve been practicing the first verse of Black Widow and I think I got this for us…let me try to do it…” I was pretty skeptical at first, but I figured “What could it hurt?” So I set up a mic for him in the studio and we’re getting ready to start and all I can think is “Man, this is going to be a disaster, I need to make sure I don’t laugh too hard or anything.” I hit record and told him to do his thing and sure enough…he killed it. I got on the talk back mic to him and said “Dude…holy shit, I was not expecting that. Let’s run it again” About an hour later he had it all tracked. I was really surprised that he was able to do it as well as he did. He’s dying for us to put “Black Widow” in our set so he can do the rap parts live.
Astraeus is a band with drive and passion, and their excitement for what lies in the future is practically infectious.They’re now fully formed with aspirations for a full length album and an insatiable hunger for touring. They’ve come a long way since their 2012 formation and have dealt with a fair share of tragedy, but they sky is the limit for this West Virginian progressive metal band. Expect big things from Astraeus in the future – they’re definitely a band to keep an eye on.
- The guys are huge gamers! “When we’re not playing music, we all like to game,” says Hayne. “Justin, Tyler and I are big Xbox players, while Nick and Logan like to play PC games. Lots of NBA 2k15 is played during band practice days! There are a lot of new games are coming out soon though, Madden 16 will be a big one for us, and the new Call of Duty. We’ll be playing zombies non-stop!”
- Hayne and Lesher are roommates and have a full studio set-up in their basement, which makes writing and recording music super easy.
- Hayne’s favourite part of writing and recording is adding clean guitar parts to a mix.
- If the band members were a flavour of ice cream, Tyler Bunting would be vanilla because “it’s plain, and perfect,” Nick Dawson would be “mint chocolate, baby” because his bass lines are “funky fresh with some dark chocolate crunch,” and Eric Lesher would be vanilla as well. If Astraeus was an ice cream flavour, it would be Neopolitan because they “try to bring a little bit of everything to [their] music whether it be singing, screaming, grooves, heavy parts, or clean parts.”
- Their working relationship with Matt Turkington goes both ways as they helped with some of the instrumentation for Turkington’s cover of David Hasselhoff’s “True Survivor.”