Colin Marston is a productivity maniac: He runs a studio active enough to make him a full-time producer, and he makes music, too—a lot of it.
Apart from his pivotal roles in the long-running Behold... The Arctopus and black metal marathon men Krallice, he's also part of the reconstituted lineup of death metal titans Gorguts. We spoke with him about Behold... The Arctopus, now on a rare tour to support last year's relentless math-metal quake, Horrorscension.
INDY WEEK: All of your bands make rather complicated music. You also don't tour much. So when you hit the road with Behold... The Arctopus, is it a challenge to remember the material?
COLIN MARSTON: It's remembering it to some degree, but at this point we've played the songs enough that we generally can remember them. It's just connecting that memory to the actual performance and playing the right thing at the right time at the right place. It's difficult to play in practice, but especially live, because you have a completely different sound every night. You're in a different mood.
You've said that your favorite element of making music might be writing, to which touring doesn't lend itself. How do you justify touring?
Playing live lets the music grow in a different way than it would if it was never performed. Each performance is almost its own piece in a sense. Even if it's not accurate, it's still valuable to have it performed many times in many different places. It's nice to not have the music just locked into one representation.
A big difference is watching the music being played as opposed to just listening to it. Take the band Portal: When I would listen to their records, the production on a lot of their records is hard to make out. But it really doesn't have as much to do with that as you'd think. When you see them live, they sound exactly like they do on record, but it's more overwhelming. Seeing how the actual guitar parts look gives you more clues as to what's happening beneath this wall of noise. That's true for a lot of metal bands—there's a lot of detail happening and then a lot to obscure it at the same time. It's easier to focus on one particular instrument at a time when you see a band play. It gives you super-microscopic hearing of the music by being able to see it.
Speaking of those layers, you write entire pieces for Behold... The Arctopus and then take them to the band. How much do you consider the other players as you write?
I try to consider everybody's ability all the time, but when you write in the abstract instead of in front of the instrument, you tend to overestimate the ability of what can be performed. That is part of the "fun" of this band, though it's not that fun—figuring out how to play stuff that doesn't come naturally to you and is super awkward. It's us considering what's feasible for everybody to play but also not being confined by writing on an instrument, where you're only limited to stuff you can do.
Your Warr guitar has 12 strings. Does that enable more choices as a composer or performer?
My relationship with that instrument is that I have a hard time writing music with it. I've only written a few parts of early Arctopus material and some bass lines on a solo album on that instrument. When I sit down and just fuck around with it, nothing ever comes out. Because of the way it's set up, it's a really good instrument for interpreting music that's been written down. You have so many strings. You have a guitar side and a bass side to chose where to play ideas. You have a lot of options of the fingerings.
You've said that composing alone as opposed to jamming allows you to consider what you're playing and bowdlerize the clichés. When did you realize that difference in results?
Composing lets you think about the music in more of an abstract way. You're removed one step from the music by not having to write and play it at the same time. You can get a more global, zoomed-out sense of the music, and that makes it a little easier to deal with structure at the same time as ideas. A lot of bands write a bunch of ideas and then structure them. But with this band, at least for my writing, it's not written as a bunch of pieces that are then put together. It's written more linearly, with the vertical element at the same time.
Do you compose on paper or by demoing solo?
I do everything in a computer notation program because I'm a stupid music-school musician. I can't look at music and play it on an instrument even a little bit. I basically use the notation as a different type of recording program. The way somebody would plug their guitar into a computer, write a bunch of riffs and move them around, I am doing that without a guitar and straight into notation. I am still always judging my ideas based on listening back to them—doing everything by ear, even though they're written down.
This article appeared in print with the headline "Webbed metrics."