Instrumental progressive metal guitarist Sithu Aye sure has shaken up the DIY scene lately. With three releases created over the last year, the artist is redefining the capabilities of writing music alone. October brought us a space-themed blast of an album, Invent the Universe (which we covered here.) I was blessed to be able to catch an interview with the innovative musician, and to be able to ask some questions I've personally been wondering for awhile now. We catch a glimpse of the man behind the albums, what's inspired him to create his music as well as how he goes about making it.
What originally brought you to the guitar, and how old were you? It seems the two of you have a very powerful relationship!
Well, I was first exposed to it when I was really young. My dad could play a few chords on an acoustic and I would strum away at the open strings wondering how you got other sounds from it. Fast forward to my first year of high school at the age of 12 where I finally learn how to play some of those chords and I really took to it. I remember wanting to play all the time, which resulted in my first acoustic guitar at the end of that year and my first electric guitar shortly afterwards. For the first 2 years or so after starting, I tried to play guitar whenever possible!
Who were your biggest influences growing up, and how do they compare to your most recent ones?
I would have to say John Frusciante of Red Hot Chili Peppers fame and Jimi Hendrix were my first big influences on guitar. I guess they are similar in a way since Frusch was hugely influenced by Hendrix himself but I gained different things from them. Frusciante helped me rhythmically with the focus on the groove as well as some interesting use of chords. Hendrix got me going in terms of lead playing, especially from a blues standpoint. Then, typical for any teenage guitarist, I discovered guys like Joe Satriani, Steve Vai, Yngwie Malmsteen and so on when I was about 15 or 16. It made me wonder exactly what was possible on guitar and whether I was ever going to be capable of emulating them, something I still wonder to this day!
I would have to say my, biggest 'shredder' influences are Paul Gilbert, John Petrucci and Guthrie Govan. Paul because I just loved his guitar technique and his personality in general. He always had a 'feel-good' nature to his music juxtaposed against his ferocious shredding, something that hadn't occurred to me until I listened to his stuff. John Petrucci, and Dream Theater in general, are huge influences to me because they got me into progressive music and the freedom it allows. Obviously, Petrucci is a phenomenal player who I still try to emulate but it was the idea that you weren't limited in what you could write. It made me more comfortable with experimentation, something I did a lot of when I was writing music in my late teens. Finally, Guthrie Govan because of the way he seems to be able to do anything, shreddy or otherwise, and give it huge amounts of expression and feel.
My most recent influences are 'djent' ones, the biggest being Periphery, Animals as Leaders and Corelia. (Although I would probably argue that they are progressive metal more than anything. Still, the word 'djent' is useful but seems to attract attention, both negative and positive wherever and whenever it is mentioned!) They just seemed to top off the melting pot of influences that make up my music, especially in terms of technically challenging rhythm guitar parts. I don't really know if I can compare my influences; they each contributed to my playing in different ways at various points in my teenage years and I value each one as much as the last, even if some are more apparent in my music than others.
Tell me about your first guitar.
It was a £70 Encore acoustic guitar which has been seen it's fair share of nicks and dents. I still have it though and while it doesn't sound all too great, I still play it occasionally! It's about 10 years old now which isn't a great age to be for a cheap guitar! My first electric was a Yamaha, I can't remember the model name. It's tucked away in a wardrobe back home after I knocked the volume knob against a wall, rendering it into a very temperamental on/off switch. I don't think I've played that guitar in years.
You're a physics major, an unusual course of study for such an accomplished musician. How do your studies inspire your music?
You have to remember that I was studying physics at university before I even considered releasing music online. I would have never imagined it taking off the way it has this past year! To be honest, I've always been a bit of a physics/space nerd so you probably would have seen that in my song and album titles. It's just that I had some idea about how the things in my song titles work! I say some because I'm a lousy physics student to be honest!
What are your three favorite songs you've made? Tough question, I know, but you must have some preference at the end of the day.
That is a tough question. To be totally diplomatic, I'll pick three songs from each of my three releases. My favourite from 'Cassini' is 'Double Helix', mainly because I actually wrote it about a year before I released the album. There are three recorded versions of it, and it's nice to be able to hear the progress I've made with the song (in terms of mixing and recording quality; the arrangement was pretty much set after writing it) over that time. From 'Isles EP', I think 'Skye' is my favourite because I feel that it's one of my strongest arrangement-wise. The writing for it was also very spontaneous, as was Isles EP in general, so it felt like the ideas were pretty much falling out of my head. It's toughest to pick a favourite from 'Invent the Universe', given how recent it was but at the moment I think 'Expansion', again because of the arrangement but also because the first solo section has a different vibe to what I had done previously and the layering of guitar and synth parts was a bit of an experiment!
"Tell us some albums we have to check out, recent albums that you haven't been able to put down."
The one song I've had on repeat is 'Moonflower' by Plini, who you may know as the man who played the guest solo on my song 'Particles Collide' and the guitarist of the band Halcyon. It's just such a happy wee tune that's also technically amazing as well! In terms of my recent listening, I quite enjoyed Muse's new album 'The 2nd Law', although nothing tops 'Absolution' which delighted and depressed me in equal measure. I've also been listening to 'Periphery II' quite a lot as well. The other things that come to mind that I've really enjoyed recently are 'Vows' by Kimbra, 'Humorous to Bees' by Little Tybee, 'Alopecia' by Why? and 'Ys' by Joanna Newsom.
How did the recording process go for your latest full-length, Invent the Universe? What was different this time around for you?
I went about it the same way as I did Cassini and Isles EP, which basically involves me writing as I record, fleshing out ideas as they come. I had the concept and song tracks drafted, so I had a framework to work to, as I did with Isles. The only difference was that it was more laboured than Isles. My writing was a lot less spontaneous and I had the odd bit of writer's block, meaning I would leave work on the album for a day or two before coming back to it. I think the end result is still the record I would have recorded if everything had been spontaneous, it just took a lot longer and I had to work a lot harder to get there.
What are your plans for the future? You're wrapping up your studies, I understand. Any idea of where you'll be after that?
I have no idea actually. I finish next year in May, so I would probably apply for graduate schemes and the like. It's just that I'm not sure what to go for. Also, if there's any sliver of a hope of making a living doing music, that would definitely have to be an option as well!