Home / Interview / Interview: Alex Sepassi of Silver Relics discusses new single and upcoming album, ‘Tails’
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Interview: Alex Sepassi of Silver Relics discusses new single and upcoming album, ‘Tails’

New York City’s Silver Relics has endured drastic change, and was able to expand both their lineup and sound after releasing their debut album, generic, back in 2019. Following widespread critical acclaim and a successful summer tour of the United States and Europe, the world would be unexpectedly devastated by the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic in March of 2020. Amidst this newfound circumstance, the band experienced its first substantial shift in personnel – the addition of English-born bassist Mark Crozer, the departure of founding drummer Justin Alvis, and the subsequent welcoming of two successors, Hitomi, and Brian Young, the latter of whom assumes conjunctive role as producer.

Last week, the band released “Tails,” the first single from their upcoming album of the same name, which is currently in the works and will be released later this year. The song features a stripped-down approach emphasizing stark sonic crunch, barebones vocal grit, and spaciousness – a notable departure from the densely synth-layered, harmony-driven foundation that characterized generic. I caught up with frontman Alex Sepassi, who I last spoke with in 2019 after the band’s album release party. We discuss their transition from touring the globe to braving through a pandemic, how the integration of new talent factors into their current material and the creative process in general, as well as what Alex has gathered from the transpiration of these past few years altogether.

When we last talked, you were excited about going to tour in Europe. How was that experience for you, particularly with meeting the bands you’d gotten to tour with?

I’ve always wanted to do that, and I can’t wait to do it again. It was beautiful. We had a great team, and it went really well! As far as getting to know the bands on the bill, a lot of that was because of our friend Dermot, who works in booking, and being able to watch these other bands play was one of the highlights, honestly.

It’s been tough nowadays, especially with Covid affecting the world. When did the realization of that impact sink in for you, and how have you coped with it along the way?

Well, when Covid first reached us, I was back in New York at the time, and once it started affecting the city, I knew I had to make a lot of adjustments. It was a big learning curve – almost like learning how to walk again. I’m relieved to have stayed here, and I think there are a lot of lessons learned in having done that. It was nice to have a bit of a break. I wrote a ton, and did other things that weren’t music, like painting. The short answer is, I’ve tried to make the best out of a very intense, insane situation, like everyone else. In the process, all of that has sculpted the second record, that we’ll complete at some point this year. A lot has happened, but I try to see the positives in the experience.

You mentioned that it’s a bit like learning how to walk again, and even as someone who can’t walk, I understand what you mean.

I guess what I mean to say is, it’s a bit like re-familiarizing yourself with how to get from point A to point B, and while doing so, trying not to get locked into a corner.

Exactly!

Yeah, so I never thought in my life that I had to plan for something like this. I don’t know if anyone else did, but that’s how I thought of that analogy.

In other words, even though this is affecting people worldwide, beyond the cliché of “We’re in this together,” we also learn to continue establishing our worth as individuals.

Yes, absolutely – every one of us!

In general, have you been able to stay creative during the pandemic?

Yeah! Even with what’s happening, I take comfort in the fact that I have recording equipment, so I’m able to turn my song ideas into demos and record them from top to bottom. Living in a place like New York City, there’s very little in the way of proximity issues, so being able to also work with other people has made a big difference, especially with getting a good rhythm section. Our drummer Hitomi is excellent, and I’m also working with another drummer named Brian Young who I’m going to meet with in LA. I can’t tell you enough how good it feels in general to be able to work with a drummer, you know? We’ve gone in so many different directions, and I think I’m starting to understand the importance of teamwork more than ever at this point. At the same time, I’ve done enough rhythm work on my own, with the consideration that finding the right people to work with might not have been possible for quite some time. But I’m glad to still be here, to be able to work with these amazing people, and find opportunities I wouldn’t otherwise have thought possible.

I can understand that. Let’s get into the essence of your lineup. You now have Mark, Hitomi, and Brian working with you. What’s it like having them in the band?

It’s been refreshing to have their input, and to listen to their ideas. I’d say that it’s been running pretty seamlessly, but there’s still the matter of getting back into the groove of things. With Hitomi, she’s easy to work with, and we like a lot of the same kinds of music as does Mark. Hitomi, Mark, and Brian are three rhythmic people who are all extremely good at what they do.

Expanding on that, your previous drummer, Justin, who you founded Silver Relics with, left the band. Are you guys still good with each other?

Yeah, we’re still on good terms. Justin is an awesome drummer. To be honest, I haven’t spoken with him in a while, but from what I understand, his leaving was a matter of simply taking another direction in life, you know? I mean, he’s one of my best friends, and I’ve known and worked with him for over a decade, but now, the best thing I can do now is support him and accept that this is what he wanted to do. I think it was just time for a change. While he was going through that transition, Covid happened, but also, a bunch of other stuff in his life. My time with him was fun and eventful, but also, intense and challenging. It’s a hard job, and he needed a break. So, once we were on our own, I managed to find Hitomi and Brian and work with them on this new song, “Tails,” and we’re really happy with it.

The way I see it, it isn’t a matter of, “Screw this guy, his life is more important than this band,” it’s a revolving cast of family members that moves forward regardless.

Exactly. Justin is easily one of the top drummers I’ve known in working with him for 10 years, and because I’ve worked with many different musicians in my time doing music, I realize that people change directions all the time. It’s important to be transparent in saying how you feel, which is just what he did, and it’s not easy. We all miss Justin, and even though it seems like a completely different band, we’re doing what we can with this new production and cast.

In getting to your new song, “Tails,” I notice that it has a lot more space around it, and it really breathes. Was that just a matter of being inclined to get the sound right on the nose?

Well, first off, thank you for noticing that quality about it. The factors in that change were two big ones – one, it’s an exclusively guitar-based song; there are no synths, whereas in the last album, there were tons. The second thing is that there’s no harmony in the song, so it gives it that extra air. That’s what we were going for, but also, Brian and Mark have 15 years of musicianship behind them, so it also sounds really tight, and with that pre-existing rapport, it’s easy for them to get this kind of sound. We also built this song from thee ground up and would listen actively to each instrument as it was being laid down, whereas with the last album, the guitars and synths were integrated pre-production style.

When it comes to playing with these people, especially those you admire, do you feel star-struck, even though you’ve gotten to work with them for some time?

Yeah, it was like that for a while. When I met Mark, he was with Nine Inch Nails at Radio City Music Hall, and I was just like, “Wow, this rhythm section is tremendous.” At first, the star-struck feeling hit me quite a bit, but as we were working together, I got more comfortable, and he also knew Brian from working with him in the band. Mark has been in Silver Relics for two years now, and Brian about a year, so at this point, we just want to make the best tracks that we can, and get to know each other in the process. It’s been really fun man.

What is it about that distinct “crunch” that you seem to nail, even with two distinct stylistic permutations?

Well, I do enjoy that crunch, and even though it’s not really an intention of mine, it always seems to find its way in. My thoughts are, regardless how this new album is produced, there’s going to be a consistent factor that connects it with the previous album. It’s not just because of the change in personnel, but now, I think we’ve incorporated even more crunch. Even with this change, that doesn’t mean I’ll stop using synths entirely, but that’s just how it turned out.

Everything simply came together in a cohesive way.

From my perspective, yes, but, there’s also the tracking process to worry about, and anything could happen then. I’m really proud of the arrangements we came up with on paper, and with what we’ve been able to do in general, but there’s still so much work to be done in laying the tracks down and ensuring that every component has personality. The last guy we worked with, who produced generic, told us, “The cement doesn’t settle until its mastered.” The process is ongoing until the mastering is finished, and I think he nailed it!

It’s like we’ve talked about before, there can be a whole bunch of other bullshit that goes wrong at any moment, but on the flipside, there’s those spontaneous moments of beauty that you can apply in that same context.

Yeah, absolutely! It’s like, “Oh, I made a mistake on this part,” but who’s to say that was really a mistake? The bottom line is that when you play together with an open mind, and trust in your team, it extends the capacity of what you’re able to do.

Eventually, you have to be confident that what you’ve worked on is good enough to release, and not obsess over factors that don’t ultimately affect the sound.

Yeah, I definitely agree. Perfectionism is a part of that.

In some way, you have your perfectionist and impostor syndrome mindsets always clashing with one another.

Yeah, I think impostor syndrome exists within the art community in general, and it compels you to take a really strong look at yourself and your situation. Life kind of forces you into that place at some point, where you’d think, “Am I full of shit? What’s going on here?” And it’s okay to ask those questions, you know? I don’t think there’s anything wrong with that; you just have to figure things out all over again.

It’s a normal occurrence everyone goes through.

Right. The funny thing is, I’ve completed tracks at different times and different velocities. When you spend so much time on that process, you could, in theory, knock out a song in 24 hours and have it ready to go, but then, at the last minute, you’re like, “Hmmm…well…maybe I could change this.” It’s cyclical, but it’s worth taking the time to make the song the way you want it to sound, because you want to present it to your band, and to your audience – “This is how I feel, and this is what I want to say.”

Having gotten to the current point in the making of your album, how do you feel?

Honestly, we’re still not quite there yet, but thus far, I’m excited. I’m not comparing it to generic, because it’s unattached, but at the same time, there’s something linear that connects the two. I believe you asked whether the last album had a concept.

Yeah, “Are each of the songs connected in some way?”

Right, and with this new album, they still are, to an extent. Again, that wasn’t intentional, but when you’ve worked closely with your team on a collection of songs, it’s really easy to head in that direction. We’re still in the developmental stages of the album, but “Tails” does represent the direction we want to take it in, in terms of movement and energy, and I love that song, and we’re really proud of it. It feels like the right direction.

Do you feel that “Tails” is a good representation of the dominant sound for the whole album, or does it have a sound that happens to encapsulate one of the songs?

That’s a really good question. I think it actually has the potential to be both. I really do. It can be those things in tandem.

In other words, it gives listeners a good sample of what to look out for.

Yeah. The excitement of it all really fuels the experience, you know?

When I listen to modern rock music, one of the issues that stands out to me, other than the sanitized guitars, is an unequal emphasis on elements, or an instance where they all seem to blandly sound the same. But somehow, with your music, I don’t feel that kind of cynicism. You guys take the time to not only explore different sounds, but also improve upon how to implement your own unique personality into your approach. Considering the transition from generic to what will become this new album, I wouldn’t even call “Tails” a new sound, but an extension of the original sound.

Exactly! It’s only new in a chronological sense.

With that, I can safely say that I’m a fan of your music.

Oh man, I can’t wait to send you more tracks once this album takes shape. What I appreciate about you is that you always seem to nail what I’m going for, and the way you’ve interpreted my music has given me a completely different perspective about it, so thanks man.

Going further into the creative process, have there been times when you’ve been engrossed in what you’re doing that you’re unable to listen to any outside music at all?

For a time, yeah. I think I had to take a break, and it wasn’t an intentional break, like, “I plan to not listen to other music for XYZ amount of time.” I just didn’t have the desire to listen to anything other than what I was working on. It didn’t matter if it was old or new music. There were times when I just didn’t have my headphones on. For a while, in some way, it was good to give my ears and my brain a break, but as I reflect on it, of course it seems kind of bizarre. This album is not the first time it’s happened; I have gone through periods of my life when I didn’t listen to things, and the desire did dissipate a bit. Nowadays, though, I can’t get enough of other people’s music. Brian and I had been sending music to each other from other artists we’ve worked with, in anticipation for our meeting up, and we’ve been recommending bands to each other in general. I just love sharing music, whether it’s someone else’s or my own. It’s kind of intimidating to consider the sheer quantity of music out now, but it’s exciting!

After noticing the extent of the pandemic, that anything could happen, what have you taken away from it?

First, I’m just grateful to be able to book shows again. I think the uncertainty that it may not have been able to happen for a long time affected all of us, especially the guys. Mark and Brian were supposed to be in Glastonbury last year, which was going to be big, but when it didn’t happen, we made the best of the situation by focusing on Tails.

The second thing I’ve learned is that now, we have a deeper appreciation for each other’s creative capacities, as well as the expansiveness of what that pertains to outside of music. I like to paint a picture to the point where it’s a complete work. I don’t think I’ve completely taken that process for granted, but I’m aware of it much more so than I was before. I’m grateful that I’m able to do this, but also have the desire to, and I’m still hungry for it. There are moments when I get discouraged, and that’s okay. It’s not anyone’s fault; this is something we all go through. The overarching goal is to work closely with my team, to get them excited, and for us to immerse ourselves in the energy of it all. There’s honestly nothing like it.

Lastly, anything you’d like to say to your fans?

As always, thank you! This is why I make music – for myself, yes, but when others can identify with something in the music and apply it to their own experiences. I’ll always be grateful for that, and that goes for you, too. I appreciate you, Jake! Right now, our priority is to continue recording. There will be more tracks released soon. We’ll have shows lined up here and there, and doing a full tour sounds appealing, so we’re looking forward to that, too.

Silver Relics Socials:

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About Jake Kussmaul

I come from a family who is passionate about all things music. I learned to sing at an early age, and by 13, had my very own Fender Strat guitar. I tried my hardest at learning all that I could. Because I was born with cerebral palsy, I had to teach myself an adaptive playing style. I learned to write and record my own music, despite these difficulties. In college, I started making great use of my writing abilities by reviewing music, as well as copy editing. I guess it's best to stick with what you know, while welcoming a fair challenge at the same time.

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