The Emmure guitarist taps into his creative palette for one fruitful EP rooted in brotherhood.
Words by Luis (@heaviestofart):
Just before the weekend, we were given a stacked release day with eclectic offerings across the musical spectrum. Among them was No Rest, the new EP from multi-faceted guitarist Joshua Travis. Known for his trailblazing work with Emmure, Joshua has built a solid foundation across the last couple of decades as one of metalcore's leading axemen, and rightfully so. He now strays from collective development and treads a solo path marked by a boundless, free-spirited expression that welcomes contributions from the genre's leading frontmen for one downright punishing effort. The likes of Ryo Kinoshita (Crystal Lake), Stephen Taranto, Andy Cizek (Monuments, Makari), Chad Kapper (Frontierer), Ryan Kirby (Fit For A King), Daniella Bolin, Jake Wolf (Reflections), Jamie Hails (Polaris), and Jamie Hails (Polaris) are found here, also operating under no parameters. Assembling a powerhouse of this caliber is not a forced feat, but one that occurs from genuineness and honest friendships built over the years, all of which yields exquisite musical results. Joshua has a gem on his hands and with over 60 tracks put on the back burner from the recording sessions, it's safe to say we're only at the cusp of what is capable from Joshua's truest form.
We welcome Joshua Travis to an insightful conversation on the EP's commanding cover artwork by Arnau Gates, operating under complete creative freedom, camaraderie amongst contributors, and more:
Prior to listener engagement, viewers are met by a mysterious figure on the striking cover that haunts and even sparks some conversation. Visually, what were you looking for when approaching this aspect of ‘No Rest’?
Joshua: Coming from an artist side, anytime I get to go into a project or work on a collaborative effort, I would like to see an artist be able to do what they do. I want them to do what they feel and try to collaborate on what it is that they were feeling. My artist, Arnau Gates, asked me, “What do you wanna do?” I responded, “I’m not going to tell you anything. You make what you want to make.” He came up with all of these ideas and the collaborative part came in with the colors. That was it, that was the only thing I really put into this artwork.
There’s some other things you probably have seen yet that we shared after the announcement, so we got to collaborate beyond the cover. We both learned new things doing this together. That was my big thing, I didn’t want to give directions. I want to let people do what they’re feeling. The collaborative part was really me giving a few suggestions on the color palette. This was all Gates.
It's interesting that he built this entirely without any sort of lyrical themes or concepts as inspiration, which isn’t typically the norm.
Joshua: I purposely didn’t give him anything because he’s an artist. I don’t want to tell him to do what he does. Be an artist, do whatever you want to do. Tell me what you’re feeling. It just so happened that his internal vibe for this was that. When he sent me his first mockup of this, it was like, “Yo, I see where you’re going, so let’s roll with this.” That was it, zero direction.
Even though the art itself was created independently from the record itself, there’s some synchronicity with the EP’s overarching themes and tone. Call it coincidence, but it works. Where do you feel that it aligns? Where’s that commonality?
Joshua: I honestly don’t know man, my team and I just laugh about it because it’s so crazy. The way that it worked out is what you wish and dream for. I can’t stress this enough. I purposely gave him nothing to work with, nothing. He didn’t even hear the material. He didn’t hear anything, I didn’t give him any lyrics, nothing. That’s just where he went at it and it’s just insane.
No arguing with that. One could even argue that the puppet master is symbolic of many of the confining structures that we’re subjected to on a daily basis, sensationalist media being one of them. ‘No Rest’ however harnesses from these occurrences and encourages listeners to control their own narrative, which you do as an all-encompassing musical force now. As you embark on this new journey, are you more insular as a composer or is there a real intention behind your composition?
Joshua: That’s a heavy one. When I look at the artwork, I feel like that’s me at the top. Every other being that you see running away is all of the other mes. It’s all of these different tasks, thoughts, ideas, or whatever you want to call them running away, but I have to grab them and bring them right back. I was looking at this from a fear-based perspective where I have all of these ideas trying to run away. I’ve looked at this thing in so many different ways.
From the inception of the whole process, there was really no rest. There’s only five tracks on the EP, but there are like 60 tracks sitting in the tank. There really was no rest throughout the whole thing. Everything has a different feel about it. I didn’t want to have this be like, “It has to run just like this. It has to be heavy or melodic like this.” Rather than writing in parameters and trying to push a particular sound, I just did whatever I was feeling, and that’s it. There’s nothing else involved. Even with the lyricists, I just said, “Do what you’re feeling. Do what you gotta do.”
Quite a fitting EP title then. Would you say that kind of approach is freeing in a sense? Obviously when you work with Emmure, you’re operating as a collective whereas now, you have a new level of creative freedom that extends to different contributors. Is it overwhelming perhaps?
Joshua: It’s definitely the most freeing. You can do anything you want. It doesn’t matter what style or what genre you want, it doesn’t matter. It’s about not giving yourself expectations. To me, it really can’t be more freeing than this. When we first had the EP idea, we had 5 tracks, 5 features. It turned out to be way more than that because now, multiple tracks have multiple features instead of just one. I don’t believe that I ever felt overwhelmed because it was too much fun. Had we had a deadline that we couldn’t meet, it could’ve turned around into something else. That’s when it becomes worrisome. At this point, I'm at the happy side of overwhelming right now. It’s overwhelming to even be having this conversation with you right now. When you run into a wall on a deadline, that’s not the good kind of overwhelming. In short, I guess I could say that I am overwhelmed, but it’s the good kind. Everything about this has just been so sick.
You flourish on this. You find comfort in what others might find discomforting, like being overwhelmed with material. Sonically. ‘No Rest’ follows that sort of punk and grind nature of straying from a well-polished, over-produced sound. Let’s talk about that.
Joshua: To me, it’s very old school. It’s not about being overproduced and super polished. When you hit play, the first thing you hear is seventy something channels, all of the preamps are in the red. Everything is on fire basically, and that’s what I wanted. I wanted to feel like everything was overboard. I wanted things to be very unedited. Whatever happens, happens. As long as I stayed true to the design I had for it, which was not using elements and components that are super common, I was happy. It can be easy for bands to stay within a box. A lot of things are highly edited. This EP is all analog. This is old school, noisy, and gross. That’s what I wanted. I didn’t want it to sound like everything out there. I wanted it to sound like there were seven people in the room that didn’t totally know what they were doing, but it was really just me and my engineer. Everything is in the red, all of it. I wanted the speakers to sweat. I feel like we got into that element well.
It’s as organic as it gets. Was that something you sought out to achieve from the moment you began the development process or was it something that developed as you sat down and put the ideas down?
Joshua: For me, that’s how I want to do everything. I want everything to be organic. If I always had my pick, I would always have amps in the room, cabs in the room, mics on the cab, and mics running into a hot, badass preamp. That’s how I would do it because that’s the sound that’s in my head. It’s not to take anything away from the digital units, plug-ins, or whatever the case may be because they’re all super cool, but none of them sound like an amp with a cab with a microphone in a room running into preamps. None of them sound like that and that’s not the sound that’s inside of me. When I hear tones in my head, they don’t sound super gated and perfect and compressed. No, no, no. When I palm mute, I want it to spill over and have the speakers start to shake. If you were to do that through a cab, that’s what’s going to happen. In any of my projects, I try to get my parts or my portion of it to be as organic as possible. When I say organic, I really mean tube amps, cabs, and mics. That’s what I shoot for, but it doesn’t always happen. Nine times out of ten, if I do a record and I don't get to use stuff like that, it doesn’t really feel like home to me. It’s not always about what I want, but this time, I got to do exactly what I wanted to do.
To be able to operate in this way is what I’d consider a high point in your trajectory for this very reason. It’s an achievement because you don’t always get to do it. The music industry has of course undergone extreme changes and though things have gotten troublesome along the way, you’ve remained true to your integrity, which bands can often struggle with when trying to make a living out of this passion. Commercial success isn’t always guaranteed.
Joshua: It’s such an interesting thing. I came from a time in music where we never set out to be signed or tour. Those things never came out of our mouths. We were just stoked on music. We were just angry kids, so we made crazy metal. As time went on and we went further and further into it, we started finding out about touring bands coming into our town and you realize, “What the hell is this?” You start finding out that you can travel the world and make money doing this, but that was really not our thought process for a really long time.
People in the music world now are starting off in a completely different zone than we did. They’re coming out of the gate with more tools at their hands. We didn’t have anything. I stuck it to amps and cabs because that’s all we had. We didn’t have Axe FXs, Kempers, or whatever else. If you wanted a good tone, you spent money on an amp. Now, seeing how everything has changed, you can make a living doing this stuff. It of course depends what types of areas or avenues you want to pursue in music. It was a grind for us. It took until now to get to where we are here. Anybody can get out there and just kill it. Just do it. All the tools are there for you!
Metal's future is well taken care of, I'll say that much. Again, you’re in a solid position to be able to do things like this and you’ve built a solid fan base that has followed your work over the years, especially now as a solo artist. Though this is of course your own endeavor, the comparisons to your work in Emmure are expected. This tends to happen for a lot of other artists who explore their own avenues as well. Do you feel as though that’s dismissive of the purpose here? Or is that just the inherent nature of a listener, especially a long time fan of Emmure?
Joshua: I think it’s just common. Say one of the guitarists from Meshuggah is going to put out a solo album. The seed is already there. It’s probably going to be reminiscent of Meshuggah, it’s just kind of natural, even for me. That’s where the project comes from, so it’s probably going to have a bit from that origin band.
For me, I enjoy a lot of different types of music. Emmure is a metal band to me, but they’re a specific type of metal band. The stuff that I do for me is still metal, but nothing like that. There’s a different feel, a different cadence, a different flow. They’re both still in the same realm, but unique in their own way. When people first saw I was putting out a solo EP, I wouldn’t be surprised if they thought it would sound something like Emmure. I think that they might be upset if that’s what they were looking for because it definitely doesn’t sound like Emmure. To me personally, whatever you feel about the EP, feel it. There’s nothing wrong with that. If it didn’t hit the mark for you, maybe the next one will. I’m excited to see what people think.
It’s definitely an interesting dynamic between musicians and their fans. The breadth embodied within the release is truly representative of the freedom you allowed for your guests, which include members of Crystal Lake, Polaris, Fit For A King, and Makari. More than ‘No Rest’ being your solo project, it’s a community effort that pulls from all ends of the spectrum in a heavy fashion. How significant a role did camaraderie and the relationship you built with these members play in the development of the record?
Joshua: Everyone that has a part in this thing, I’m friends with and have toured with, except for Andy Cizek. He’s the only one I haven’t actually toured with, but he’s the one I have the most material with. Andy and I just super clicked and we’ve just been doing tracks for a while now.
We all know each other. If you hit it off in the touring aspect, those become your people from now on. Anytime you see them, those are the homies. You really get to know them. Going to them with my ideas of doing this went back to the creative freedoms we spoke of earlier. I didn’t tell them anything, just gave them the track. Whatever they sent back, I took and twisted it. Some of the stuff remained untouched. There’s another feature with my boy Chad Kapper, who is on one of these tracks. I grew up with him. He was the vocalist for my first band, so we go super far back. There’s a definite connection with everyone involved. These are all people I felt comfortable telling, “I want you to do what you feel.” I can’t stress it enough, but they killed every single feature on this EP. I don’t know if this is just me being crazily lucky, but they just killed it. All of the stars aligned.
All of these free-flowing endeavors coalesced into a cohesive being. There’s much to be learned from this entire endeavor, and I like the quote in the press release that notes that “exemplary art exists in the narrow space between unwavering regulation and complete independence.”Jumping into a separate point, do you feel that with streaming and the hyper commercialized state of the music industry, exemplary art is at risk? Independent labels, like SharpTone, are of course an exception.
Joshua: That’s another heavy one. I don’t know. There are things that I’d say are awesome about it and there are things that take away from the good things. It’s a double edged sword. What is great about it is the accessibility; anybody can find your stuff anywhere. You’re a click away from being able to hear whoever it is you want to hear. That rules.
On the artist's side, that may not be so great because so many people have their hands in different pots. This one artist that maybe you just super believe in is really not getting anything from you listening to their song 73 times a day. It’s a little weird and disheartening. If you’re a super huge artist, then it doesn’t matter because you're going to be good. In our world, metal is probably still one of the smallest genres out there, but we have some of the most loyal and supportive fanbases ever. In the grand scheme of the music industry, we’re still a small thing, but we have a crazy world of support. Fans will go to bat for you. You could see it in message boards all over the world, they don’t play around. It’s all awesome, but it’s weird at the same time. I just love giving people something that they enjoy.
You’re doing just that, I assure you. The fandom is such a tight-knit community that puts their money where their mouth is and it truly helps keep the scene as strong as it is now, which is all so great. Now that ‘No Rest’ has seen the light and showcases what a fully realized Joshua Travis can do, is there a newfound sense of excitement in this work that drives you to continue expanding as an artist?
Joshua: Saying that there's excitement is an understatement. I don’t have the words to tell you how excited I am about this EP. It’s going to sound a little selfish, but it’s true. I’ve spent the majority of my musical career writing and doing things for other projects. I don’t want to call it a disconnect, but there’s been parameters around a certain sound in all of the other projects that I needed to operate in. This being the first time that I’ve ever really had a team behind me individually and really supporting me like this, I don’t even know what to do with myself. I’m already trying to get in the studio again because there’s so much excitement. Being able to do whatever I want to do has moved the excitement levels off the rails. I could see how this could sound selfish and I don’t mean it to be because I love all of my other projects, but I’ve just never been able to do me like this before.
Seeing that there are still over 60 tracks in the backlog, it’s evident that there’s a lot of Joshua Travis still to come.
Joshua: We’re going to have a couple of releases, sure. We’ll do that.
No Rest is available now via SharpTone Records (Order).