AN INTERVIEW WITH SALLY GATES: An In-Depth Inside Look At The Art and Music Inspirations Behind Titan To Tachyons

AN INTERVIEW WITH SALLY GATES: An In-Depth Inside Look At The Art and Music Inspirations Behind Titan To Tachyons

Titan To Tachyons released their second album titled Vonals on September 16th through Tzadik Records, a label created by John Zorn. The album is only available in physical CD copies for purchase directly from the band here. Vonals comes nearly two years after their debut album, Cactides, which released in August of 2020. Their instrumental Music is melted together with experimental and improvisational particles of JazzClassicalBluesMetal, and Art.

Sally Gates, who played guitar in Orbweaver from 2011 to 2017, created Titan To Tachyons after deciding to break away from the band to focus on her own voice and to do her own thing. Sally composes the Music and plays guitar in Titan To Tachyons. The band features two bass players, Trevor Dunn, who also plays in Mr. BungleFantomas, and Tomahawk and bassist Matt Hollenberg, who plays with John Zorn and Cleric. On the drums is Kenny Grohowski, who is also a member of Secret Chiefs 3Imperial Triumphant, and John Zorn.

The name Titan To Tachyons comes from hearing a phrase from one of Sally’s favorite Science Fiction TV series that airs in the UK called Red Dwarf, it triggered the thought process to make the name come together. Sally further elaborated on the meaning, “Tachyons are basically like theoretic particles that travel faster than light and basically mean that they would travel backwards in time.”

Vonals was recorded and mixed by Colin Marston at Menegroth, The Thousand Caves studios in Queens, New York. Colin has mixed albums for Origin, Atilla CsiharDysrhythmia, KralliceImperial Triumphant, and many more. The album was mastered by Scott Hull of Masterdisk Studios out of Peekskill, New York, whose decades long discography lists hundreds upon hundreds of Artists of all genres from Natalie Cole, John MayerRakim, Arson Anthem, to Yngwie Malmsteen

 

Front cover of Vonals
Back cover of Vonals

Sally painted both of the album covers for Cactides and Vonals, and described how she feels the title of Vonals represents the album as a whole“I’m really visually influenced. There’s a lot of things with painting and drawing that I relate to with Music and there’s a lot of abstractions for realism happening both in the visuals and the Music. I feel that it encapsulates all of that.” …She continued to speak about how she feels the Artwork of Vonals translates into the Music, “It’s essentially the pictures I’m seeing in my head. It’s formed in a similar way. With the Art, I start off with a general kind of design, like sort of a sketched idea. And as I paint it kind of comes together intuitively. It’s similar to how I write Music. Like, I have some of the forms already composed and we have the structure in place. There’s a lot of solidity to it. There’s improv, there’s parts where maybe we’ll play them randomly, maybe it’s a set melody. But you can play it wherever you want on the neck, whatever key or notes. There’s similarities between the two.” 

The title of Vonals is inspired by a painting series by Victor Vasarely, and the word essentially means lines or to draw. She spoke upon the process of painting Vonals, “I really enjoyed kind of uncovering what’s there. I feel like with both Music and Art, the paintings are an existence and I have to figure out what it is and let your intuition guide you. I generally start off with a visual image and flash that out into painting, onto paper. There’s definitely times where it’s not working ….like the back cover for Vonals. I actually spent a few months on that because what I was picturing wasn’t working and I was trying different things and I kept re-doing it. So, the lower half of the painting, I actually redid three or four times before ending up how it is. It’s always interesting.” 

Sally‘s earliest painting inspiration began when she was in high school with a Salvador Dali Art project. The class had to pick different Artists to imitate their style, while producing their own work of it. She spoke upon how Dali’s Art influences her Music, “He sort of takes a big part in that because his whole thing with melting and disintegration, I feel is very prominent in the way I play. A lot of friends I play with, like my bandmembers say I have squishy timing,” Sally laughed and continued, “I sort of relate to that melting feeling, like going back to being visually inspired, I want to make it sound like things are pulling apart or getting warped, playing backwards. And then there’s a section in Blue Thought Particles, which is the last track on Vonals, where I basically directed everyone to play this melodic solo session and have it pull apart and disintegrate. And then just become chaotic and angular. Again, it’s very visually based for me.”

Check out the visualizer made by David Brenner of Gridfailure, for the song Blue Thought Particles below.

Vacuum Symmetry, which is the second track off of Vonals, is a song that resonates with Sally, “it is an interesting song because I was trying to go in a different direction. We kind of start out with this drum and bass sort of break beat thing. I guess trying to develop it, like doing more with less, you know what I mean? I feel like it only has three or four ideas. and I was really trying to expand upon them and turn them inside out. But at the same time, I struggled to finish that one. It probably took the longest, maybe because it was so different for me. It was also, not sure if anyone would catch this, but there’s like the tiniest nod to David Bowie in there, just a little motif that reminds me of one of his vocal lines. So, there’s like a little personal touch there.”

Another song that stands out is the third track of the album, Critical Paranoia, when she was playing a riff, “It’s maybe like the third section into the song, and it’s like this sort of stretchy pattern, like I’m playing across a few different frets. That just kind of like came out of nowhere and I had this, it was almost like a guitar exercise, you know what I mean? I had this pattern going. It was kind of reminding me of the band Battles [Experimental Rock band from NYC] or something, which I told that to my bandmates, and they were just like, “what? Not at all!” [laughs] but yeah, that one just came together, and it made a lot of other things in that song click and I was able to develop several other parts that were really different and contrasting from it, which listening through it you probably wouldn’t pick up on that, but it was kind of interesting.

I was watching The John Coltrane Documentary actually. I think I just had it on play maybe while I was painting or something and so I was kind of half listening in the background, and then it just occurred to me that ‘wait, I need to change the feel of this like I should add some kind of swing like he’s doing.” Like how Giant Steps flows. That just completely changed the whole riff, like I had this kind of angular boxy thing and then we took some sections and changed the feel of it and it just made it all come together and just kind of sculpted it.

When asked if there was any song in particular she was creating or recording where a visual image came over her mind, Sally replied, “That’s a big way of how I form the overall song structure. In particular, Wax Hypnotic, that one I just kind of had an image of a post-apocalyptic world that’s gone through nuclear fallout or whatever, but I was imagining this dilapidated old house in the middle of the desert with a record player that was just kind of melting. And that’s basically it, that one image basically pulled that song together.

While some would think Sally paints her album covers to the Music she creates, she detailed that she likes to watch films or series while painting. When she was painting the album cover to Cactides, she was watching the new season of Twin Peaks, as she’s a massive fan of David Lynch, who wrote, directed, and produced the original series that ran from 1990-1991 and also in 2017. She also shared how she’s found amazing Artists through Instagram, like Jeff Sheridan, who was a big inspiration for the Cactides Artwork.

When asked about if there were any songs on the Cactides album that she had a similar visual experience like she did with Vonals for the song Wax Hypnotic, she elaborated, “Yeah, like Everybody’s Dead, Dave is based around a Science Fiction storyline, I mean it’s a typical story of like if you had a space colony and you had the one guy who wakes up and nobody else is around, and he’s like, ‘what is going on here!’ and he’s wandering around and then starts getting attacked and the shield cracks and he kind of floats out into Space, and drifting off and hallucinating going to his Death or whatever. [laughs] So that was what that whole piece was based around was like four parts of that story and the different emotions and textures that were happening.”

It’s generally coming from the same place in similar sort of inspiration. I mean, Cactides was more sort of based on Science Fiction narratives and with Vonals, I was kind of reading more about like, more inner journeys, like the nature of your consciousness and reality and deception…So it’s kind of like drawing inwards than looking out Space, like the first one. And I think the similarities, Musically, like there’s harmonically similar and some motifs that might sort of vaguely relate to the first album, but they’re developed. So there’s definitely like some conceptual crossover, for sure.

Cactides front cover

On Sally’s piano tapping technique, “I’m definitely not the first person to do that, I learned it from Regi Wooten, who is …if you know Victor Wooten, the bass player, it’s his brother. He’s the oldest of five and he taught all of them how to play. I was going up to him to have lessons for a bit in Nashville, and he taught me that and a bunch of other techniques. He was also the one that really connect the dots for me with Music Theory…I began playing piano as my first instrument, so it made sense in that form and I had all of this Music Theory that I knew, but then when I started playing guitar, I was a teenager, I didn’t want to learn all of that, I just wanted to learn how to play Metal,” she laughed and continued, “It wasn’t until I went to Regi later on that he kind of like helped me connect those dots and start translating what I knew on piano to the guitar. And then I just took it a step further and I was like, “Oh I remember this Bach piece I used to play. Let me see if I can work it out”…I still have the sheet Music so I figured out how to play it like that.”

Sally also teaches Music classes when she’s not touring, recording, or composing Music. One of the most important pieces of advice to all of her students is to work on ear training, developing your ear, and your sense of timing, “That’s one of the most important things you can do. I found as a kid growing up, it was never something that got mentioned to me with my own lessons. And actually, it probably wasn’t until I was like maybe in my 20’s or something, where the teachers started being like, “oh hey, you should try this listening exercise and then I realized that was something I definitely needed to work on. It’s an incredibly valuable tool as a Musician to develop that skill. And then just generally developing a practice routine. Even if you’re only doing ten minutes a day, like if you stick to that and it’s a focus concentrated time, you’re going to get a lot further. A lot of times, it’s kind of like this trick to make yourself practice. It’s like, “ok, I really want to practice today, but I’m just going to do ten minutes, I can get through ten minutes.” And all of the time you’ll just end up playing longer. Like you’ll get into it and you keep going. I think also making sure you’re enjoying it and having fun is absolutely important.

One of the last questions that was asked, what would be some of the most philosophical parts of your Music you’ve created throughout your entire Life that and also what have you also learned throughout your entire Musical career that really has impacted the way that you perform and play? was followed by Sally’s answer, “Yeah, there’s so much I’ve learned from playing Music, even just like…It’s a team experience playing Music with other people, so you learn all kinds of communication skills, both socially and Musically. And you really learn a lot about yourself too, you really have to have a level of confidence to put yourself out there and take whatever kind of feedback you get, whether it’s positive or negative. And I feel like with improvising too, there’s a lot of philosophical approaches to that, like a lot of parallels with social situations, you know it’s like listening and responding to other people. And even just the nature of how the Music can travel with it. 

There’s actually a great book on it, called the Jazz of Physics by Stephon Alexander, is the author. He was a Jazz Saxaphone player from Queens, but he talks a lot about relating Quantum Physics principals to improvising, like saying how, for instance if a particle is traveling somewhere, if it knows where it’s going, then there’s only so many routes you can take to get there, but if the destination is completely open, it can go anywhere, and that absolutely relates to improvising, if you’re completely free and open, it can go anywhere, it can be chaotic and messy, or it can be Ambient, or emotional. 

Going deeper into that, there was a Ted Talk by Anil Seth, he’s a Neuroscientist, and he was talking about the way we perceive things, and saying how we have limits on our perception, like there’s only so many frequencies of colors we can see, or the audio spectrum of whatever we have, for instance, like how some animals maybe they only see in black and white, or they have higher hearing ranges than we do. He was saying basically like, if you take all of these perception filters off, what we would see would essentially look like we were hallucinating. 

So, it’s really like a biological survival to have our perception contained so we can actually function and not just sit there looking at the pretty lights all day. [laughs] I started thinking about that and again, relating to improvising, it’s sort of the same way. If you put limitations on it…I was making a record with Trevor Dunn and Greg Fox last year, and we did a little bit of rehearsing beforehand, and we were kind of playing around with concepts of having a time limit or you could only play certain notes, or you could only play certain forms, and I sort of found that that was a lot more productive to have these limits, than to have it just be completely open because things, again just get like meandering or chaotic, but not necessarily in a good way, but I do Love chaotic Music. So, I was just thinking…Yeah, it’s a similar thing, like you need…Like, if you have these Musical limitations for your compositional survival, if you will. [laughs]”

Vonals Tracklist:

1. Neutron Wrangler
2. Vacuum Symmetry
3. Critical Paranoia
4. Wax Hypnotic
5. Close The Valve & Wait
6. Blue Thought Particles

September 29th — ETC — Greensboror, NC with Cloutchaser and Voidward
September 30th — Sabbath Brewing — Atlanta, GA with Dead Register and Shane Parish
October 1st — Jam Room Festival — Columbia, SC
October 2nd — Gallery5 — Richmond, VA with Dumb Waiter and Bermuda Triangles
October 11th — Saint Vitus — Brooklyn, NY with Editrix and Dumb Waiter

All Band Photography Captured by Naeemah Z. Maddox
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