Chris Kelly from Alustrium: An Interview

Alustrium is a band from Philadelphia, PA.

Had the chance to chat with Alustrium’s guitarist and vocalist Chris Kelly about complex collaborative songwriting, the origins of Alustrium, and road food that might kill you.

Weirding: I loved the Insurmountable EP you put out last year. It really showed off an ability to blend highly technical and progressive brutality with a real knack for memorable melodies. I'm interested from the perspective of songwriting how you approach your work. Is everything planned out in advance? Or are you constructing songs in the studio?

Chris: Stoked to hear you enjoyed it. In terms of songwriting, most of that is Mike and I just sitting at my computer, together. Inevitably there will always be ideas that are brought in from time we spend alone, but I think our best work tends to come from those collaborative sessions. 

Oftentimes, Mike will come to me with a riff idea, which will send me down a rabbit hole and we’ll both feed off that creative energy. That being said, all the songs are written, arranged, and finalized before we go back to record the final product. 

Weirding: And given that there are so many harmonically complex parts — like the guitar fills and twin sections over abrupt changes — I'm fascinated by how you keep it all together in your heads.

Chris: Honestly I think that’s just a product of growing up on technical music. Parts or structures that may seem odd to some people come pretty naturally to us. That being said, it’s almost always a bitch to play live, so we definitely reap what we sow.

Weirding: The upcoming album has been described as a concept record. When you think of that term, what are some of the key albums that stand out for you?

Chris: A concept record has always been something I wanted to try doing, at some point. The very first album I started learning songs from was Pink Floyd’s The Wall. 

When we finally decided to give it a shot, I believe Between the Buried And Me had just recently released Future Sequence — which was a big deal to all of us. I hadn’t really seen anyone dabble in the concept realm since Dream Theater did Scenes From A Memory. It kind of seemed like a lost art to me, so I was stoked to see it come back into the zeitgeist.

Weirding: And as you were working on it, did you find yourself thinking about hitting the common notes of a concept record... like did you have a mental checklist of repeated motifs... narrative... sound effects... thematic melodies tied to characters or did it develop more organically and in the end you’d realized you'd written a concept album?

Chris: Musically, we knew we wanted to have recurring motifs and themes, but it can be difficult to go into a writing process with a specific goal in mind — because it can end up stifling whatever might have come naturally. One day, Mike sent me a video on his phone — of him playing that very first piano line that the album opens on and it immediately gave me that “this is it” feeling.

After ‘This Hollow Ache’ was written, the rest of the album all just kind of magically fell into place. That’s not to say it happened quickly. It didn’t. But it helped give us the direction we needed and gave us a sort of melodic anchor that always seemed to pop back up at convenient points. We never had to force those motifs back into other songs, they just sort of wove themselves in there.

As far as lyrical themes are concerned, we leave those matters entirely to Jerry. He’ll pop in for feedback now and then, but it’s very rare that we end up disliking something he’s brought in. He’s an incredibly intelligent dude, which has proven to be quite the advantage as a storyteller. I couldn’t be happier with the narrative he brought to this record.

Weirding: Tell me a bit about the band. How did you all come together? What are your musical backgrounds? 

Chris: The earliest iteration of Alustrium was a band called Altered Image, which Mike and I started back in high school. I had been coming up, playing cover shows in a School of Rock program (no, Jack Black was neither present, nor involved) and, as far as I’m aware, Mike’s origin story is pretty much just “Metallica”. He was definitely the one to bring a heavier element to the band and was also responsible for bringing Jerry in. 

After that, we went through our fair share of lineup changes, but the three of us always remained a constant — which was really important to us. I’m not sure this band would work otherwise.

Weirding: So, when all is said and done, who's the most annoying member?

Chris: Kevin.

Weirding: Last question. Now that we’re seeing gigs and tours start up again: What's the worst thing you've had to eat on the road?

Chris: Mike and I have a bit more experience with weird tour food than the other guys, but honestly I think the worst thing I’ve seen any of us have to gulp down is the KFC Double Down. I don’t even know if they still make that sandwich anymore. 

I also wouldn’t be surprised if it were illegal outside of the United States.

But for those of you who are unaware… Many years ago, KFC had the bold idea to improve upon an existing sandwich by eliminating the buns and replacing them with enormous pieces of fried chicken. 

Try eating that, without looking like you’ve hit rock bottom. 

Spoiler alert: It’s fucking impossible. 

Needless to say, there was a time where none of us cared what we put into our bodies and I believe that sandwich was at the epicenter of it all.


Alustrium online: 

Twitter: @alustrium


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