The drummer with the progressive metal band Tesseract will happily turn to technology to help him realize the ambitious ideas in his head. Then he jumps on the drums, and the real fun begins.
by Ben Meyer
Tesseract was formed in 2007, when the British group emerged out of guitarist and principal songwriter Acle Kahney’s solo studio project. A rapturous response to Tesseract’s recordings and opening sets with Devin Townsend, Protest the Hero, and Between the Buried and Me have resulted in the band’s unassailable place at the forefront of the buzzing European tech-metal scene. Last year was a banner one for Jay Postones and the group, who toured practically nonstop in support of their lauded sophomore album, 2013’s Altered State.
As Tesseract completes work on Altered State’s follow-up, fans have been keeping busy absorbing every note of the new live audio/video package Odyssey/Scala. The video portion of the release was filmed at an epic show at London’s popular Scala club—one of Postones’ favorite performances from the band’s many months on the road.
Postones is an active educator and owns and operates a set of successful rehearsal studios in the U.K. Having recently moved back to England’s Midlands, the thirty-one-year-old drummer continues to grow and find fresh challenges in Tesseract’s complex new work and that of his progressive instrumental rock project, Heights.
Postones grew up in Wolverhampton, outside Birmingham, and began his musical life as a keyboardist before being urged to take up drumming at age thirteen. He remembers the exact moment when the change came: “My buddy Steve, who I was in a band with, said to me, ‘We haven’t got the technology to make this keyboard any louder, and we don’t need a keyboard player.’” What the group did need was a drummer. There was already a vintage Premier kit in the room, so “I just got on it,” Postones says. “I’ve drummed ever since.”
The music Postones grew up with was largely what his dad listened to, including Steely Dan, Neil Young, and Pink Floyd. “To be honest, I kind of missed the whole metal thing,” Jay says. “Even though Tesseract is kind of a metal band—we’re accepted in that world as well as the prog world—I was never into Metallica or Iron Maiden or anything like that. I just went straight from what my dad was playing to Dillinger Escape Plan and Meshuggah. I found that stuff really interesting, mainly because the musicianship was so incredible and the ideas were unique. And that’s when I started to fall in love with weird time signatures and that kind of thing. Now I listen to electronic music like Jon Hopkins and Trentemøller, though I still love the stuff I grew up listening to. But what I listen to most is the music that I’m learning.”
Due in part to the ease of digital collaboration for writing, the members of Tesseract have not found the need to live near one another. “The band is from all over,” Postones says. “We have a base in Reading, though, where I have some rehearsal rooms. We keep all of our gear there and we come together to rehearse. But because of the nature of the music and because we’re all in the future now, we can rehearse in the places where we live. And then we get together two days or so before a tour. We really only rehearse together three or four days a year. It’s a weird thing. Our bassist lives in Shanghai, for God’s sake. He flies over when we have work to do.”
Tesseract’s recording process is equally impervious to geography. “Acle will write a riff and put a drum part to it with Superior Drummer,” Postones explains. “Then he sends that around to us. Sometimes it’s perfect and nothing needs to change. Sometimes I’ll hear it and think, Yup, that’s something I can’t play—I’ve got to learn how. [laughs] Other times I can hear that I will be able to play it. Occasionally we’ll get together and play through a couple of ideas, and sometimes ideas spawn from that. But for the most part I like trying to re-create the ideas he’s had. I don’t try to overstep the mark, because Acle has got a very clear vision of what he wants it to sound like. It’s just us interpreting his music. It’s a fun thing to do.”
Writing both on and off the kit, Postones employs Superior Drummer in Cubase 7 to preserve patterns that come to him and to help work out complex material created by Kahney. Professional endorsements with Toontrack and Steinberg, the creators of Postones’ preferred software, have helped to make the technology available when he needs it.
“I’m not one of the recording guys,” the drummer says. “I don’t know a lot about it—but I know enough to get by with what I do. Obviously I prefer to sit behind the kit and jam it out. But if I get an idea for a pattern, like putting fives and fours together, or sevens and nines and elevens, I might end up having to put it into a computer first to really hear it. I’m quite comfortable with putting odd numbers to even numbers; I can generally hear where it’s going to come around. Occasionally, though, something will be quite tricky, and if I want to turn it into a triplet feel or whatever, I’ll need to put it into a computer so that I can hear it played back perfectly first. That’s the benefit of the technology these days. You can slow it down to a tempo that makes sense, digest that, and then try to get it to a stage that you’re not counting things—you’re just kind of feeling it. When you’re not having to think about anything, you can probably play it.”
As if an unrelenting performance schedule weren’t enough—Tesseract had thirty-five back-to-back dates on its most recent European trek—Postones occupies his “spare” time on tour by teaching lessons at each venue the band plays throughout Europe and the U.S., arranged entirely through advertisements and messaging on social media platforms. Postones uses grooves from Tesseract’s most popular songs and provides students with pad kits on which to work out ideas. “When I’m on the road,” Jay explains, “I just put out an advert on Facebook, and people respond to it. I tend to get three or four people coming down to each of the shows.
“I’ve got a load of stuff that I prepare for the lessons. I probably spend more time preparing that than I do with the drum parts for the tour, because I know the music like the back of my hand. The last tour we did, I focused on our song ‘Nocturne.’ I broke it down into as many of the grooves as I could isolate. Then I broke down those grooves to a rudimental level and worked out what everything was. Because I don’t read or write music, I put it down as my own notes. To someone that can read music, it’s probably like hieroglyphs or something. [laughs] But I explain how I read it and I try to turn it into a little drum circle. It’s really beneficial for me, but hopefully it’s beneficial for the students as well, because they start to realize what you can do with these silly numbers when you stop thinking about them.”
When the lights go down and the curtain comes up, though, Postones and crew are happy to keep a bit of mystery to the proceedings. “There’s a whole behind-the-scenes thing with Tesseract,” Jay says. “We have a computer that’s running Cubase and sending synth sounds to front of house, and there’s a couple of [backing vocals] that we put low in the mix as well, because none of us apart from Dan [Tompkins, vocalist] can sing, and people expect to hear those harmonies. The computer also controls the switching of our Axe effects units. It does everything. If we’re told, ‘You’ve got a seventy-minute set,’ we make a seventy-minute set so we know that we can’t overrun it. We hit play and that’s the whole thing. Everything is automated. It means we’ve got a clear stage as well, with no amps—the guitarists have just got a tuner on stage.”
Postones is proud of all the gear he uses, and he’s quick to sing its praises. “Crush drums sound and look fantastic,” he says. “I had one of their very early kits. Because it’s a relatively new company, I can send them an email and say ‘Hey, I’ve spotted something with this drum,’ and the feedback is helpful for them. They also look after all of our stuff in the States, so at the end of a tour we stick it on a pallet and it goes back to them. They’re a great bunch of guys who make some really great kits.
“Sabian makes fantastic cymbals,” Postones continues. “Their reps are brilliant, and to have their level of support is something that I’m very grateful for. I’m working with Vic Firth sticks as well—another great team—and I’m with Evans, which makes fantastic heads. I’ve used them forever. They’re just consistent. They take very little tuning, actually. I’ve got this combination of the Crush bubinga shells and this head combination really dialed in now. I know how I want the drums to sound.
“I also use Porter and Davies, who make the seats with transducers in them. That thing makes every show incredible. I don’t have a monitor now, because this thing gives me the feedback I need in the seat. It uses your body to create this sound in your head. It’s way too scientific for me to try to explain, because I’ll get it wrong [laughs]. But it really does make a show feel incredible.”
Tools Of The Trade
Postones plays a Crush Sublime Bubinga kit with 7×10, 8×12, and 9×13 toms, a 14×16 floor tom, and an 18×22 bass drum, plus a 7×14 Hybrid Hand Hammered snare (as well as various other snare models). His Sabian cymbals include 14″ Rock hi-hats, a 16″ O-Zone crash, a 17″ Legacy crash, an 8″ AAX splash, a 10″ AA Metal splash, a 19″ AAX X-Plosion crash, a 21″ HH Raw Bell Dry ride, a 21″ AA Holy China, and a 14″ HH Thin crash/10″ O-Zone splash stack. He uses Crush M1 series hardware, including a chain-drive double pedal, plus a Porter and Davies BC Gigster with a motorcycle throne. He plays Vic Firth HD9 sticks, and his Evans heads include a Power Center Reverse snare batter and Hazy snare-side, EC2 tom batters and G1 bottoms, and an EQ3 bass drum batter.