Interview with guitarist Toby Knapp
Interview conducted by MetalMike
Date online: October 28, 2017
The name Toby Knapp is known to many as the guitarist from legendary US Metal band Onward. He has been active in a number of projects since Onward and the band Necrytis is his current effort. Along with Shane Wacaster (vocals, drums) and Mark Sobus (bass) the group recently released their debut album COUNTERSIGhNS via Pure Steel Records. It is a solid record and should put Knapp and crew back in the Metal spotlight but The Metal Crypt wanted to know more about how the band came together, their influences, plans for possible touring, etc. and Toby was kind enough to answer a few questions for us.
MetalMike: Hi Toby, how are things where you are? Hope you didn't melt with the heat this summer.
Toby: Hello Mike! Everything is okay here, it's nearing winter and is actually too warm! The damn wasps are still out! Summer was okay thanks to the air conditioners.
MetalMike: You've got lots of bands and projects on your resume and Necrytis is your current band. Are you still involved with any other bands/projects at this time or is Necrytis your sole focus?
Toby: Necrytis is a big focus right now. I also have plans for a second Where Evil Follows album with a whole new line-up. I'm also going to do a solo instrumental album and talked with my main label, Moribund Records, and they are up for releasing both albums. I have a Black/Thrash Metal project on Transcending Obscurity Records called Affliktor and the s/t debut should be out by now. I want to assemble the musicians I know in Billings, Montana and do some shows in support of that. I am pretty ambitious about the coming year and we will see if I can realize my goals!
MetalMike: Necrytis is a new entity so could you give us a history of how the band came together and what you, Shane and Mark are trying to create?
Toby: I have nothing to do with the formation of Necrytis at all! I was called in at the last minute as a hired gun. Many people think this is my band and I had a secret agenda of continuing Onward with this band name. Drummer/vocalist Shane Wacaster is the prime mover behind Necrytis and for once, that is fine with me. Shane started the writing process by creating lyrics and then matching drum beats to those lyrics and then got together with Mark and they fleshed out the tunes and made final recordings of all vocals, drums and bass. Initially, they had another guitarist, but he didn't work out so Shane reached out and hired me to create guitar riffs and solos from scratch over the bass lines, drums and vocals. When Shane started mixing everything together and I heard the sound, I was like "Uh oh! Sounds like Onward!" That is because if I play guitar in a traditional metal context, it will always sound similar to Onward because Onward is me. Shane's drumming is very bombastic in a way similar to old Onward drummer Jon Pereau and Shane sings right on the line of the key - sometimes he is off a hair - and that reminds people of Michael Grant. As with Michael, many fans overlook the vocal shortcomings and concentrate on the catchiness and profound lyrics. Lots of great vocalists sang off key a bit, that was the pre-thrash Metal Blade and Combat record sound. The difference is when Shane recorded his vocals, he recorded them with no point of reference or instrument to direct him to a specific key. Mark pinpointed the keys and created bass lines around that. The album was recorded backwards!
MetalMike: Necrytis is you on guitar, Shane Wacaster on vocals and drums and Mark Sobus on bass. Is that the band's permanent lineup or is membership in flux?
Toby: I would say permanent. The only thing that might change is if we performed live; Shane wants to sing and get a drummer.
MetalMike: Where does the name "Necrytis" come from? It is an odd word, one that requires a little concentration to get right. Was that part of the reason for choosing the name?
Toby: It's Shane's word (haha) I believe the mystery of death and afterlife. Many people don't realize I grew up with Shane and played in a band with him from 1987-1990. We were in high school. I had little contact with him for nearly thirty years and then all of a sudden, we are picking up where we left off as kids. This whole thing is a mystery because it came together so easily and unexpectedly. That is how Onward happened, things just fell into place. Originally, we were going to disband after our first album Evermoving. It was a project.
MetalMike: Necrytis' debut album COUNTERSIGhNS was released in September 2017 via Pure Steel Records. I have to start by asking about the title; the font was chosen to emphasize the lower-case "h" added to the word "countersigns." Is there a special reason for the added letter and/or does that change the meaning of the title?
Toby: It's an anagram for a record company Shane helped create called "Crushing Notes". The lower case has specific meaning to him as it is more than just an anagram, Shane is very creative and intense. He dreams his lyrics and band ideas and wakes up and tries to capture as much as he can.
MetalMike: How has the response been for COUNTERSIGhNS so far? I know one webzine that gave it a pretty good review. :) How has fan response been?
Toby: We are really happy, and the response has inspired us. This seems to have a fast-growing fan base. We don't get on social media and have to "whore" the band out all day, people have been coming to us and that is great! With everything there is going to be a negative reaction though. I have a thick skin as Onward and the music I did for Shrapnel Records took a beating years ago. We believe in what we are doing though.
MetalMike: How did the relationship with Pure Steel come about? They are a label known more for their work with European artists but obviously knew a good thing when they heard it...
Toby: I knew that Pure Steel were Onward fans; they reissued our Century Media albums on vinyl. This was a no brainer on both parts. They heard the music and it was pretty much "okay, let's do something". Shane wanted a specific type of deal for this first record and they were fine with that. It is a winning situation for all.
MetalMike: How did the songs come together? Did you write together with Shane and/or Mark or did you have songs that had been kicking around in need of a band? Or did Shane and Mark bring their own contributions to the table?
Toby: Shane and Mark created the master template I was to work with. I felt very comfortable with what they had and it was easy to fill in the blanks with guitar parts. Even though I was hired after I completed a few tracks I was very excited about the potential and wanted to be a permanent member.
MetalMike: The process of recording an album today is significantly different than when you started with Onward at the turn of the millennium. Did you create COUNTERSIGhNS the "traditional" way with all the musicians in the studio at the same time or was it easier to share files via the Internet?
Toby: It was total file via Internet on my end. Shane and Mark did get some live jamming in while working on the album. There was no other way to do it unless I flew to England where Shane and Mark were based out of at that time. Shane probably would have done that actually! I wouldn't have been surprised if he flew me out to England, but I would say "hey, you'll save a few grand if we just send files" if that were the case.
MetalMike: Some of the lyrics on COUNTERSIGhNS seem to come from very personal places. Are there actual stories being told in tracks like "My Asylum" or "Palace of Agony" or are they based on ideas that can be interpreted a number of ways, depending on the listener's perspective?
Toby: Yes, there is a concept running throughout the album. However, I'm sure this can be open to the listener's interpretation as well. When I was first hearing the songs, I got certain meanings out of them which in actuality weren't the intention of the lyrics. It's okay though, music is for the listener to decide. Once the listener owns the album, it belongs to them as far as what they are getting from it or want to see and hear it as.
MetalMike: My personal favorite song is "Sentry's Scream." I love the way Shane handles the chorus. Do you have a favorite track on COUNTERSIGhNS?
Toby: I like "Sentry's Scream" quite a bit, but I like the title track the best. "COUNTERSIGhNS" is just unadulterated Heavy Metal and I love that about the song.
MetalMike" You recently posted on the band's Facebook page (www.facebook.com/Necrytis) an unmixed version of a new song set for inclusion on Necrytis' next album (Dread En Ruin) which is nearing completion as of this interview. Why so quick to get a new album out? (not that I'm complaining!) Are you at a point in your career where the ideas are coming fast and furious and you don't want to waste time getting them recorded?
Toby: The theme, lyrics, vocals, album art, drum beats and a total template of the album came to Shane really fast. This time, I am composing around his drums and vocals. I am pinpointing the keys he is singing out of and building riffs around that so it's coming along for me pretty quickly too. It's exciting because this is such an odd way to record and we don't know what is going to happen, but so far, we really like our results. Both of us have a lot of music in us we need to get out together and separately, we are pretty much musical workhorses at this point.
MetalMike: The new song ("Blood in the Well") sounds great to me, even in the unmixed state. Can we expect a continuation of the sounds of COUNTERSIGhNS or do you have some twists and turns planned for the listeners?
Toby: Definitely a continuation but the songs are longer and more adventurous. I think there are six tunes on this album and the album is damn near an hour. There are many more twists and turns this time around that's for sure, it's like a novel put to music.... well, that's basically what it is.
MetalMike: You've been in the music business many years now. Who or what inspired you to be a musician and specifically to play Heavy Metal? Has that influence stayed with you throughout your career or was it just a jumping off point?
Toby: It was absolutely Jimmy Page and that influence has always been there. The other really significant influence was Yngwie Malmsteen. I worked very hard on both those guys' guitar techniques so there are things they do very imbedded in my playing. The hybrid produced was a sloppy neoclassical player. I am playing technical stuff with Page's "technique has nothing to do with it" attitude. I can't forget Marty Friedman either, the way he bends a flat note into the proper key to trick the listener, I love that. All those influences are still a constant for me.
MetalMike: What are you listening to these days? Are you a musician that likes to hear what other Metal bands are doing or are you content with your own music and don't bother with what anyone else is doing?
Toby: I like some of the obscure Black Metal bands on the fringe of the genre. For the most part however, I don't listen to the music of today. I definitely don't want any modern influence on what I do. I like my old Cacophony, Racer X, Bathory, Venom, King Crimson, Voivod and Led Zeppelin albums, etc. There are a million albums from the 60s through early 90s that I have yet to hear. I would rather discover what I missed.
MetalMike: Big question – will Necrytis be a touring entity? If yes, where would you like to play and do you have any touring commitments? If not, which challenges are the main reasons for keeping Necrytis a studio band?
Toby: If we toured it would probably be like a punk band in a van and we are not interested in that. We would be open to playing select shows. If we were invited to a decent festival and our expenses were paid by the promoter, we would probably find a way. Shane actually prefers Necrytis the way it is; work within the comforts of home and screw touring. I am more open to touring for one of my other projects.
MetalMike: What has been your biggest challenge over your career as a musician? What advice do you have for aspiring Metal musicians reading this?
Toby: When you go against the grain and play strictly the music you want to play you may have to earn a living doing something else and music is going to be a labor of love. However, if you stay true to yourself, others will notice and join you on your journey. "Sell out" and what you do could be fleeting, better to be true to yourself and you will find listeners that follow you the rest of your life. I'm underground and obscure as fuck but still have a dedicated following.
MetalMike: Is there anything that we didn't cover that you'd like fans and readers to know about Necrytis or COUNTERSIGhNS?
Toby: We are happy with COUNTERSIGhNS but learned a lot during the process of making that one. Right now, we are making changes to our whole recording process and doing some troubleshooting to make the follow-up much better. Stay with us, it's going to get better!! (haha)!
MetalMike: Thank you for taking some time to let readers of The Metal Crypt know more about Necrytis and COUNTERSIGhNS, Toby! All the best to you, the band and your other projects in the future. Last words are yours and let us know the best place to keep up on Necrytis news.
Toby: Thank you Metal Mike! This was a great interview and I appreciate you conducting it! We are really pleased that people like this album! You can pick it up directly from Pure Steel Records, Moribund Records are stocking it, Seasons of Mist, Amazon, etc. Find Necrytis on Facebook and I always keep my website updated on what I'm doing – www.tobyknappmusic.com
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