Power Trio Charisma: Stereo Embers Interviews Sierra

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The first release on Kylesa’s Retro Futurist label, Sierra’s PSlip is one of the best debut releases by a heavy band in recent history. A wicked blend of infectious guitar riffs, surprising basslines, strong vocals, and, above all, inspired songwriting, PSlip fits right in with the best of Rush, Nirvana, Black Sabbath, and Mastodon.

Sierra’s members include Jason Taylor on guitar and vocals, Robbie Carvalho on bass, and Ky Anto on drums. The three are as formidable and charismatic a power trio as you’ll come across, with Taylor’s rock-steady guitar riffs and gripping solos working in sweet tandem with Carvalho’s at-times melodic and always groovy basslines. When you add Anto’s drums and Taylor’s monumental voice to the mix, you have a terrific and exciting band with a bright future.

Taylor was kind enough to talk to Stereo Embers about the formation of Sierra, the making of PSlip, and working in the studio with producer Phillip Cope of Kylesa.

SE: First off, congratulations to you and the rest of Sierra on your recent success. Let’s go back to the beginning. When did you first pick up a guitar?

JT: Thanks, man. I first started playing when I was in grade four. An older kid in the neighborhood had [a guitar], and I remember him playing some Tool riffs. I really wanted one after that, so my parents got me a red Strat rip off for Christmas.

SE: What bands and/or guitarists inspired you to start playing?

JT: I was in the car, driving back from my grandparents’ house one night with my dad, and it was a real eerie evening. The song “Black Sabbath” came on the radio, and my dad could tell it was creeping me out. There is a graveyard in the middle of this forest there, and when Ozzy screamed, “Oh, please help me!,” he cranked the volume and drove into the graveyard. He scared the hell out of me, and I got hooked! Black Sabbath was the first band and song I got into.

SE: Do you remember the first song you learned?

JT: I do, but I’ll never tell…

SE: How did you meet Robbie?

JT: I got heavily into prog rock eventually and put up an add at a local music store looking for musicians. The influences I had listed on it were bands like Pink Floyd, Dream Theater, Tool, Porcupine Tree, King Crimson, Gentle Giant, and Genesis. I knew the chances of finding someone around my age into most of that were slim, but Robbie called me up. We both got into stoner and doom music, too.

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SE: Is Sierra your first band – or were you in others before you started Sierra?

JT: Robbie and I have been jamming together since he was 12 and I was 15. We were in a few metal and punk things throughout high school. When I was 18, I had nothing going on, and I got offered to join a band that were playing across North America and overseas. I did that for about two years and then left to start Sierra.

SE: What does Robbie’s playing add to the band stylistically?

JT: We’re both equally involved in the writing process, so it’s a hard question to answer. We write the music then add the drums later. He writes guitar parts sometimes also, and he helps with melodies from time to time. The most noticeable thing stylistically would be that he doesn’t follow the music like a standard bass player. The bass is more of a lead instrument in Sierra.

SE: The leader of Kylesa and producer of PSlip, Phillip Cope, told me that he had to encourage you to sing on the record and not scream. How did this happen? You have a powerful and melodic voice!

JT: Thanks. I started singing in Sierra out of necessity. I wasn’t like screaming death metal or anything when we went in to do our first EP, just pushing to hard because of lack of experience. Phil encouraged me to ease up and use my actual voice. By the time we recorded PSlip, I had way more experience with it.

SE:  Did Phil do anything in particular to “enhance” Sierra’s sound?

JT: Phil spends a lot of time making sure the tones sound right. He’s real professional when it comes to that sort of thing. His ears are super human.

The main thing with PSlip was that it was recorded to tape. Since we only had eight days to record the entire thing, the bass and drums had to be recorded in one take. From start to finish. We would finish a take and think it was great, but Phil would push us to do better. When it was the one we all knew it, and we could feel what he meant. He was waiting for the right vibe, and he was able to capture it.

SE: Let’s talk about some specific songs on PSlip. “Little Smoke” is a catchy and heavy song. I’m interested in the songwriting process for this one. Who came up with the main guitar riff?

JT: I wish I could take credit for that, but Robbie actually came up with that one.

SE: “Control Folly” is another incredible song. It begins with some tremendous guitar riffing, the vocal enters in lockstep with the rhythm section, and the song features a heavy instrumental barrage before returning to the main vocal line and riff. How did you guys come up with this amazing and powerful arrangement?

JT: I was working two jobs between the EP and PSlip. I’d drive to Robbie’s early in the morning, and we’d work on stuff for an hour or two. We arranged “Control Folly” during one of these jams. I think fatigue and caffeine would be the main influence on this one.

SE: “PSquigalogz” is a cool instrumental. Why did you decide to include an instrumental on PSlip?

JT: We enjoy doing them, and I imagine we will continue to put them on future albums. There is one on the EP too, called “Analogzia.”

SE: I’d like to ask you about your guitar solos. My personal favorite on PSlip is on “100.” I notice hints of the blues and psychedelic and noise rock. How did you create this solo?

JT: All the solos on the album, except “Little Smoke,” were improvised in the studio. I played a few takes, and Phil and Jay Matheson did their thing in the studio.

SE: What was it like singing with Phil on “Into Nothing”? What made you guys decide that his voice would work well on the track?

JT: If you have one of your favorite metal vocalists in the studio with you, you have to at least ask. That part had to be screamed, you know? I asked him if he would do it and said it’s either me screaming or you, and he agreed. It’s still a trip for me every time I hear it.

SE: Robbie’s a very melodic bass player, and his playing on “Into Nothing” really stands out. How do the two of you make sure that the bass and guitar sound so great together?

JT: That just comes naturally after playing together for so long. “Into Nothing” was another case of just going for it in the studio.

SE: At 9:00, “PSeptember” is the epic track on PSlip. What gear did you use to create the monumental distorted riff that opens and carries the song?

JT: The Fulltone OCD Pedal can take credit for that. It’s been my “go-to” pedal for a while. I’ve used it at almost very show so far.

SE: How was the European tour with Kylesa and Jagged Vision?

JT: That was an incredible time. We got the chance to play to the most people we have ever played for every night and got to see so much of Europe. European audiences are killer! They really get into it.

That was our second tour with Kylesa, and our first with Jagged Vision. The Jagged Vision dudes are awesome. They have super high energy on stage and are hilarious to party with. The overall Retro Futurist family vibe on that tour was great.

SE: What’s next for Sierra?

JT: We want to keep things moving with as much touring and recording as possible.