How would you describe your music to someone who hasn’t heard or seen you before?
That a tough one as I always say, “instrumental rock,” but that’s so broad that it really doesn’t give the potential listener any clue as to what we sound like. “Adventure Metal” is another one as our music is always pushing forward and forever changing with very few parts that repeat until the most-recent release “V” where I tried to incorporate more repeating themes, at least what I considered the best part of each song.
You started playing from the age of eight, according to your Wikipedia page. Can you tell us more about why you started and your influences growing up as a musician?
I was playing the saxophone at around 5 years old, bass at 11/12, and then around the age of 13 my dad brought home my first guitar, as a complete surprise. I hadn’t even asked for a guitar. He just took it upon himself to bring it home one day. Needless to say I’m glad he did, as who knows what I would have wound up doing in the future. I was also into visual art, like welding and print making. So I grew up in a household that really loved music and a lot of it was guitar music. I remember YES, Stevie Ray Vaughan, Buddy Guy, and Sting to name a few. Around the same time that my dad brought home the guitar, they put me in lessons and from there I just started getting addicted to practicing and improving my chops. The rest is history!
Scale the Summit, on the surface, seems to be a lead guitar oriented band with yours and Travis Levrier’s layered, polyrhythmic kind of interplay, but after sitting through The Collective, one can’t help but notice that the bass plays more than just a supporting role and often takes on a more melodic role, most noticeably in Colossal. How much of the writing is done by them? Can you tell us more about your songwriting process?
We all definitely share the spotlight, there are drum leads, guitar leads and bass leads throughout all of our albums. I write all the song structure and all the guitar parts. Then I will send them to our bassist and drummer, and they’ll write all their own parts, for the most part. Every now and then, I’m asked for help on what I was thinking for their instrument, but we’re all on the same page and it goes pretty smoothly. We’ll of course go back and forth and make changes to the structure or how many times to repeat a part, etc.. but the songs usually stay 98% how they were when I finished all the guitars. So it’s a little different than most bands. I don’t have any interest sitting in a room with the guys for eight hours and maybe writing like two riffs haha.. It seems so time consuming, with everyone making a noise, that I feel nothing would get done and there is nothing more valuable than time!
Your musical style, while having all the technical complexities of progressive metal, is generally well received even by people who aren’t particularly fond of the genre. Do you make a conscious effort to ensure that your music caters to a wider audience?
It’s not conscious at all. I like catchy songs, so I figured I would just write what I thought sounded catchy and then breaking through to listeners that wouldn’t normally listen to instrumental music was just a bonus. I don’t like to make something guitar shred heavy just for the sake of it. The song structure always comes first for me.
Many of your listeners have wondered about the lack of vocals in your music. In one of your interviews you said that ‘it was totally dumb’ and that it made you ‘sound like a screamo band’. Do you have any plans to integrate vocals in some form, in the future? Why do you think it might or might not work?
Haha, not sure how old that interview is as I don’t remember it at all but that all still holds true. Depending on the singer we would either be scream or cheese ball prog, which I’m not a fan of either. I love a lot of bands with singers of course. I don’t really listen to a lot of instrumental… I just don’t see one working for our band without completely changing our song writing and having to “settle” on someone whom I would consider only a decent singer. So definitely no STS albums in the future with vocals but I do have a solo project called “Islnds” coming out in a couple of months that will feature some guest singers.
You’ve five albums since inception, how do you keep the ideas flowing for each release?
I have *knock on wood* never had writers blog so when it comes time to write a new album, I just sit down and do it. It usually comes pretty naturally to me. Every now and then, I will have bad days, like we all do, but for the most part its pretty quick and smooth sailing. I tend to spend a lot of time learning new techniques, licks, chords, theory, etc.. between albums, which helps me incorporate new ideas into that next record. I always learn new things and keep pushing the boundaries of my playing, just as a personal accomplishment, if it comes out in the future record, then that’s awesome!
There have been mentions of you making your own guitars, but no real information about it. Why did you first undertake luthierie, and what caused you to do so?
With all my art background and then of course the love for guitar, I decided to do luthier school first, before my playing college, just to learn and see if it was something I would enjoy doing as a career. It turned out to not be simply because when I would spend all day building, the last thing I wanted to do when I got home was play the guitar. I loved playing more, so I had to make a choice, so I left the tools behind. I definitely miss building, it was really fun. I didn’t lose it all though. I gained the skills and knowledge to be able to fix and setup all my guitars whenever I need to. Its saved me countless times on tour.
There seem to be two fundamental tendencies in music today: On the one hand, a move towards complete virtualisation, where tracks and albums are merely released as digital files. And, on the other, an even closer union between music, artwork, packaging and physical presentation. Where do you stand between these poles?
I have always preferred the tangible goods. I had a collection of nearly 1,500 Cd’s at one point early in my career before things went so digital. I discovered bands in the past simply by picking out what I considered to be the coolest artwork on the CD rack in stores. That time has come and gone now, but I still find bands from time to time online that post cool artwork. Vinyl is currently making a comeback, so there will always be guys who really love collecting and supporting the tangible goods. It bums me out when I see bands give little to no effort on their $100 photoshop covers. We have spent $1K on each cover for the last two records, as its all hand drawn and painted water color. Its good to support visual artists, I feel like its a dying field as people don’t think they should have to pay for visual media anymore.
Listening is also an active, rather than just a passive process. How do you see the role of the listener in the musical communication process?
Listeners are the lifeline for all musicians, without them we wouldn’t be able to do it as a career. I would still write, record and play guitar even if I had zero fans though. I love playing and writing.
Do you have a musical vision that you haven’t been able to realise for technical or financial reasons – or an idea of what music itself could be beyond its current form?
Like all bands, we have a shitty record label that blocked the release of my Islnds project I mentioned earlier. So it will be out sooner or later. I would like to collaborate with more musicians as well, but I’m a firm believer in paying musicians for their skill and time, but sadly with small return on record sales it will be a while before I can hire the big guns I would like to play on one of my future records.
Music for music’s sake or music for life’s sake?
Music for Music, but to fuel the soul!
Any message for your fans in India?
Just to keep spreading the word about myself and Scale The Summit over there as we would love to come play live for you guys!
You can find more information about Chris Letchford at the following links: