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Interview: Vadim Taver

2 May 2023

Photo by Veronika Reinert

Veteran hardcore metal guitarist Vadim Taver (A Life Once Lost, This Day Forward) took advantage of the downtime forced upon us by the pandemic to work on an album of new solo material. A far cry from the powerful and punishing riffs that his followers have come to know him for through his other endeavors, Taver’s self-titled album is a blissful journey through a mildly neo-psychedelia fantasy world where experimentation is revered and there are no boundaries. It’s a rather stunningly beautiful expression of melancholic joy meant to be listened to as a complete work, something that’s not hard to do considering the 10 tracks clock in at a just-under-40-minute run time.

Taver and I recently had a lengthy conversation via Zoom. Here are some of the highlights.

To my ears, your music shares similarities to artists like Sean Lennon, Tame Impala, and Temples but I don’t know what genre that might be considered. Do you have an idea of where you fit into the musical landscape?

VADIM: I don’t have a term for what I do. Sean Lennon, I’ve heard that before about my voice. I have a little bit of a higher timbre or register. I’ve gotten him and Elliott Smith before. I’m a fan of both of those artists. For me, the closest would be Radiohead, who are a huge influence, and artists like Air and Pink Floyd, if you want to go back further than that. The idea of the record was to not have limitations. Especially with rock, a lot of time the case is that people try to confine or restrict themselves to bass, drums, guitar, maybe keyboard.

I come from a very musical background. Before I was doing hardcore bands and involved in rock music, I was also playing in the school band. I played in the concert band and the orchestra and the jazz band. And then I grew up singing in the Philadelphia Boys Choir. I traveled the world singing in the choir in my youth. I studied music theory as well so I have this broad musical background.

When I decided I wanted to do a record, I didn’t want to put limitations on what kind of instrumentation I had or how many tracks are used. I wanted to arrange it under the rock umbrella but not being limited specifically to a rock sound. I wanted to use different instruments that normally maybe would not be used in a rock setting. With the vocals, I arranged them almost like a choir. In some cases, I have 10 or 12 vocal tracks. Sometimes they’re kind of buried in the mix because you can only hear so much when you have so many things going on. I guess I don’t have a genre that I would fall into.

Some of the best compliments I’ve received thus far about my record have been people telling me that they can’t really pinpoint another artist that my record sounds like. I appreciate that because I’m not specifically trying to sound like anybody. It’s just the encapsulation of everything I listen to. I listen to everything, I just love music, all styles, all genres. I’m generally just a music fan, not just a rock music fan.

It seems like old school punk rockers tend to make folk or Americana albums later on in life. Had you gone down any of those roads before settling on this sound?

VADIM: Not country but folkie if you include Elliott Smith under that umbrella. I wouldn’t really consider him a folk artist but he certainly has folk tendencies, especially on those early records. This is my second solo record, I just never really talk about my first one because I don’t really like it. It’s from a while ago and it’s very different from what I’m doing now. This one is more in line with what I listen to and captures more of myself as a musician coming into my own. My first record was probably closer to what you said in terms of it being much more stripped down. It was a lot of voice and acoustic guitar and maybe a few layers of piano.

Do you think this record would have been made had we not gone through a global pandemic?

VADIM: I’m not sure. I can tell you with certainty that I wouldn’t have had as much free time to work on it. During the pandemic is when I made the decision to improve and learn more about home recording. I’ve done some home recording in the past but I only really did semi-basic things, some demos and stuff like that. By having that time during Covid when I was at home, I really did want to learn to get better at it. That, in itself, was a huge step in being able to accomplish my record. I wouldn’t have known how to do a lot of things that I’ve done. Because of the pandemic, the process began with me putting a post out on social media and saying, “If anybody wants to collaborate, I would really just like to make music with whoever.” Some people responded, friends that I’ve known for 20 years. Some people responded that were just acquaintances. Some people I barely knew. I think I did 15 collaborations in 2020. Some of them didn’t get finished but it was about 15. They were all across different styles and different genres. I did stuff ranging from electronic music and bossa nova to hardcore to regular indie rock. I think that was a really great experience for me because I got to improve on my skills at home recording and also to be able to learn little tricks here and there and sharing files through the internet.

You recorded the whole album at home?

VADIM: Mostly. I programmed the drums, just MIDI, and I had a friend record live drums just basically mimicking what I did because I thought that the electronic drums sounded too fake. The drums are mostly real drums on the record although there are certain elements of electronic drums, there’s some hybrid things. I had some guests. My friend Chris played piano. My brother played bass guitar on one track. Ryan, who plays guitar with me in Poison the Well, he played a little guitar on one track. So, I had little bits of things but all of my tracks that I recorded were done here at home. It kind of goes to show where technology is at. People used to spend hundreds of thousands of dollars going into studios and having the best gear available and paying engineers and producers and all this kind of stuff. To a certain extent, you’re still going to have a better sounding recording when you used high-end audio equipment but, with digital technology, it’s very much possible to do a pretty presentable product.

When you’ve recorded in studios in the past, were you paying attention?

VADIM: I did study certain elements of how engineers and producers worked but not the technical aspect so much. I did a record in 2005 with J Robbins. I was at his studio for three weeks. He was supposed to be the producer of the record but, at the end of it, he was like, “I don’t feel comfortable taking the full production credit because you had a lot of input, so let’s do a co-producer credit.” When I was working with him, a lot of the things he did, I was really impressed by and it gave me personal ideas for the future. When I tried to sit down and watch him move little things here and there and add certain compressors and limiters, I didn’t know what the hell was going on. I also went to a mastering session where it was the same thing. Because I was interested, I wanted to know what that process was like. Honestly, I don’t really get it. I think that if you don’t go to school for that kind of thing, or if you don’t try to study it on your own, it’s really difficult to try to figure out what they’re doing. Those people have a finely tuned ear and they are looking for very specific things. They might even solo one track and have it loop on a section and they are tweaking something. To someone who is in the room, they are like, “What’s going on? What the hell is this?” I tried, but the technical stuff is just boring as hell. Most of the time I wound end up going into the other room and playing Super Nintendo.

Were all of the bands that you started out in East Coast based?

VADIM: I have a pretty extensive history. All of my own bands, either ones I started or I was in for an extended period of time, yes, they were all East Coast bands. There were two heavy, hardcore metal bands that were on the East Coast called A Life Once Lost and then one called This Day Forward. This Day Forward was on Equal Vision Records. I considered that my main band. We toured with Thursday and Coheed and Cambria and Every Time I Die. It was a wide range of bands because we were sort of in between. We weren’t really a full-on hardcore band, there were some indie elements as well at that time. Then I did a band called Marigold, which was closer to Sunny Day Real Estate. That’s the band that recorded with J Robbins.

When I moved to the West Coast, I wasn’t necessarily interested in pursuing a full-time musician thing because I did that for 6 years of my life basically non-stop. I needed to settle down and get a job and be able to pay bills. When I moved cross country and had my own place and had to pay bills, it becomes a lot more difficult to become a full-time musician.

Since then, what has ended up happening is every now and then a band will hit me up, someone that I’ve met over the years, and just be like, “We’re doing a tour, can you fill in?” Most of the time I say “Yeah” because it’s an ideal situation to be in. I don’t have to deal with logistics, I don’t have to worry about merch sales or guarantees. All I have to do is learn the songs and show up and play. And I don’t have to do it all the time. It’s just kind of here and there. It’s happened multiple times. I went to Japan with From Autumn to Ashes, playing guitar for them. That was with Anthrax and Killswitch Engage. I did a U.S. tour with them too. I played Japan with a band called Taken who are a southern California band. Then I did Japan again and Hawaii with a band called Mikoto. I did a tour with project called Psychic Babble, which is Colin who plays in Circa Survive. That’s his solo thing and he took it out on tour. It’s me and Colin and our friend Drew who plays in Dredg. Then, Poison the Well, they had broken up for a while and then reunited, their drummer Chris lives in California. We were trying to do music for a little bit and he just asked me if I would be interested in playing the Poison the Well shows in 2016. I was like “Of course, that would be great.” They already had a built-in fan base and they’re pretty popular. I just show up and play. If they’re happy with my performance, they ask me again. I’ve been playing with them since 2016.

So, what’s your day job?

VADIM: Jobs. A lot of people I know in Southern California, we have something we call the “California Hustle” because California is such an expensive place to live. A lot of people dabble in different things. Instead of having one full-time job, they might have a bunch of part-time jobs or seasonal work. A bunch of my friends are working Coachella because it’s two weekends and then there’s Stagecoach right after that. It’s a week or two of setting up and then breaking down. Some people do that, they have work for two months and then they go to some other job.

What I do is kind of like that. I have a bunch of different things that I do. My main job is I teach chess. I run an after-school chess program so I’m all over Orange County. Some days, I’ll have three schools in one day. I do private tutoring which I started doing when I was in college. I’ve continued to do that. I’ll just post online every now and then and pick up students and tutor them in math and physics. I also property manage the apartment complex where I live. It’s the California Hustle.

Since you’ve released an album, and you’ve toured in the past, will there be any shows to support the release?

VADIM: So far, it’s just one show. I want to see how it goes. It’s a little bit intimidating to perform as a solo artist. I’m not playing by myself, I have a four or five-piece band. I say four or five because my brother is flying from the East Coast and he’s playing on a couple of the songs but mostly a four-piece band. The idea is to have a reimagined version of the record where it’s stripped down for a band setting. When I was putting the record together, I didn’t want to have the limitations. I was never in the mindset of “How am I going to play this live?” That never once crossed my mind because I didn’t want it to be that type of record. I wanted it to be a studio album. It’s rare nowadays where people make an actual studio album. It’s supposed to run from start to finish. There was a lot of thought put into the sequencing of the album. It’s a studio album that’s sequenced in a specific way. For the show, I wanted to do it in a comfortable setting so it’s at the house of a family whose son I tutored in Calculus a couple years back. They have a really nice house, the living room is very spacious. Originally I had thought about doing it in my house and then Jordan from Revelation Records was like, “You can do it at Revelation.” I wasn’t sure if that was really the vibe for my record so then I thought of this family. I messaged them and said, “This is a weird question but would you be open to me having a stripped down, kind of quieter rock show at your house?” They thought about it for a week and got back to me and were like, “Yeah.” They are letting me use their house which is just incredibly amazing. That’s exactly how I wanted it to be. I’ll feel a lot more comfortable and it’s a much more intimate setting. From there, we’ll see what happens.

Check out Vadim Taver’s self-titled full-length album:

(Note: This conversation took place before Vadim’s house show. By the looks of it, it appears as if all went well.)