Robert Jepsen of Seris on making accessible heady metal
Seris is a mathy metal band with a footing in technical death metal that has found a way to blend all of that into something far more accessible than either would suggest. There is a groove and fluidity underlying the band's sound that gives the heaviness a paradoxical kind of grace not heard often enough in this style of music.
A few years back, the band released a promising EP, and the outfit is now making good on that promise with its first full-length, Rises. It's evident from this collection of songs that the group has put a lot of thought and hard work into producing technically challenging music that doesn't sound forbidding to the non-musician. We recently spoke with the band's amiable and talented drummer, Robert Jepsen, about the origins of the band and its roots in polymetric time signatures.
Westword: Seris began in January 2009, and Melati Olivia joined later that year. What had you been doing before that?
Robert Jepsen: I had a band called Downtide for about eight years. It was kind of my baby band. When I was going to school for music performance and music business, my band broke up in the last semester of school. It really bummed me out. Scott Beckman had played in a band called Saoshyant that Downtide had shared the stage with a couple of times.
He's a phenomenal guitarist, and he's the same age as me, and we got along. So he was the first person I contacted about trying ideas and seeing how it would go. Downtide was similar to Seris, but we didn't incorporate the math aspect of it, like the odd time signatures and the polymeters. It was dark metal in the vein of early Mudvayne. Saoshyant was supposed to be a kind of Asian Jesus because he shared all the details in terms of when he died and he was martyred.
What sorts of things did you and Scott want to do with Seris?
Scott and I both agreed that we didn't want to do things like the status quo. We wanted to explore areas of music that hadn't been explored a lot. By that I mean it mostly centered around time signatures. We understood 4/4 has been done to death. Even some polyrhythmic stuff has been done a lot. The last frontier that I noticed when I was finishing school was what's called polymetric music. Essentially what that is is playing two or more meters or time signatures at the same time. So a simple one would be that my guitarist plays in 4/4 and I play in 5/4.
So over several measures it meets up?
Yeah, it's the greatest common multiple. So on the following one it matches up again: It starts on the first note and then they pull apart and then they come back together. It's a really cool thing, but you have to do it simply or it sounds messy. We noticed not a lot of bands do that.
What got you interested in that kind of thing?
Tool. They do it. Tool is a huge influence on me and probably the biggest influence on the band -- though my [bandmates] seem to like Meshuggah and Periphery and more "djent"-type music.
It comes from the sound of a guitar. My bass player is into death metal, and he is really into Meshuggah, and he got my guitarist into Meshuggah. I told the guitarist, "Hey, it's slippery stuff. When you listen to that stuff and really get into it, a lot of music doesn't seem as extreme or as complicated or technical." I'm kind of old-school; I like Soundgarden and Pearl Jam. I love Tool. I love James Taylor, even. I love Romantic-era classical music.
The second part to what we agreed on was that we wanted to do it in a way that was still palatable to people. Most people, when they hear death metal, they're turned off, and rightfully so. We wanted to write music that still sounds good, not jarring. And it's hard to meld those two. The female vocals help.
Was Seris the first name you came up with for the band?
No, for a while we were using a couple of other names. But our singer took creative writing at CU Boulder, and she had to make up a word as one of her assignments. We have a joke in the band, because everybody asks us what the name means. When we get interviewed, we give a different answer every single time. Recently we were on the radio, and I said that Pluto was discounted as a planet because they found another planetary object around the same orbit around the same size, but I said that other object they named Seris. "That's unique, we're unique." That story is crap, but some people will believe that.
Your new album is called Rises?
It's an anagram of Seris. It's our first album that we're pushing, so it makes sense that we're rising.
Your earliest shows were at big venues.
Our first show was co-headlining the Gothic with Ransom. That's because I'm persistent, and when I book shows, I act like I'm the promoter. I get all the bands, I make the fliers, and I do all the heavy lifting. Our second show was co-headlining the Bluebird. Our third show was headlining the Summit Music Hall, and we were one of the first local bands to play there.
As the drummer you're pretty instrumental to the songwriting process.
The music always starts with the band. I would say Scott initiates songs the most, and then the lyrics come later. As a general rule, he works with me, and he's really good at it. He's good at criticism. He's a guitar machine. I'll throw rhythmic ideas at him. I'll listen to his riffs and say, "Hey that sounds chaotic; let's make it a little simpler. Let's work on this rhythm." He writes the initial parts, and I help him work on them and make them better. Then my big thing -- and it suits me as the drummer -- is the flow of the song, the arrangement of the song.
As a drummer, I transition into different parts. If it seems we're repeating something too much, I'll say something. If it seems we need to do something dynamically, that's kind of when I come in. Our bass player, Cody Goodman, is pretty hands-off, though there are two songs he wrote the main riffs for. I went to music school and I've been in bands, so I've written a lot. A lot of producers and composers are drummers.
Vocally, the album is a concept album based around the sins. We're familiar with the seven deadly sins. Our singer said it was originally eleven deadly sins, but over time, it got whittled down to seven deadly sins. So each song relates to one of those eleven sins. Also, we recorded at Arsenal Studios in Wheat Ridge. It's new, and we were one of the first bands to get in there. It's absolutely amazing. The guitarist of Codec owns the studio. If I were to pick one band that has commercial potential in Colorado, I would say Codec is that band.