Imperial Triumphant is one of the few bands able to capture the spirit of our age. Rising like the Temple of Gozor above the New York City skyline, they channel the sounds and sights of a city and a time that was never meant to sleep. Where power knows no limits and the fate of millions may hinge on a marginal gain of a 10th of a percent. While the world has changed since their last release, 2018’s Vile Luxury, the essence of their cold examination of the engineering of society’s mechanisms and devices of control remains ever illuminating and prescient. As the band prepares to release their forthcoming album, Alphaville on July 31 through Century Media, bassist Steve Blanco did Scene Point Blank the honor of sitting down for a phone interview to discuss his band’s inspirations, artistic processes, and the themes of their new album.
Interview was conducted July 17, 2020 via phone. The conversation below has been edited from the original transcript for the purposes of brevity and clarity.
Scene Point Blank: I appreciate your taking the time to chat with me and Scene Point Blank. You guys are such serious musicians and it's a total honor. I'm really just geeking out over here.
Steve Blanco: Haha cool. It's my pleasure.
Scene Point Blank: How have things been going since the pandemic hit? How much has it derailed Imperial Triumphant's 2020 plans?
Steve Blanco: It's like a fork in the road so to speak. We did lose some tours, which obviously sucks. We had a US tour and a European tour that were both canceled or postponed, whichever way you want to look at it. But on the other side of the coin, we've been doing all this other work behind the scenes to keep it creative and keep getting our singles out on target. So we're still working and trying to stay optimistic, I guess.
Scene Point Blank: What tours ended up getting scratched because of COVID?
Steve Blanco: We were slated to do the Devastation on the Nation Tour which was going to be a cool package and that was going to be the entire USA so it would have been great to pick up some new fans and get out there and connect with people some more. And then we had our European tour which was going to be cool, it was scheduled through Dead Pig Management and we were really looking forward to that. We were going to play the UK, go back to London. We had a great time playing in London last time we were there. That was going to be another month-long tour. They were two pretty good-sized tours that we were looking forward to.
Scene Point Blank: That really sucks. Who was going to come out with you on the Devastation on the Nation Tour?
Steve Blanco: We were one of the supporting bands for Rotting Christ.
Scene Point Blank: Ouch. Yeah, that would have been cool.
Steve Blanco: I think the entire bill has been moved to February of 2021. It's still supposedly happening. But given circumstances, we have to see how to navigate that one when the time comes.
Scene Point Blank: Right, because at this point it's not even clear that it will be safe to resume touring by next winter.
Steve Blanco: Definitely not. Things are so fucked up.
Scene Point Blank: What has been the general mood of the metal community regarding touring and playing out?
Steve Blanco: People have been handling it pretty well. But if you step back and take a look at things it's pretty bleak. The entire music industry came to a complete standstill with nothing going on. Even Metallica is just doing streams. So that's a good gauge in my world where things are at. If they are doing their business via streaming then the rest of us are not doing shit. I don't want to paint a completely black picture but the reality is not good.
Scene Point Blank: Right. And there are only so many times you can stream before the novelty wears off. Vile Creature has sort of a fun idea where they are trying to create a virtual club atmosphere and calling it a "choose your own adventure." Have you heard about that?
Steve Blanco: Yeah, it's cool. If it works out for them great. But you have to think about what kind of band you are, how you like to connect with fans, what your material is like. We're very much a live band. You could call us old school in that way. We like connecting people, you know, out there in the world, actually doing it. Streaming is a possibility for us, we have a couple things in the works, but I would say that we would not do any of the bands-playing-over-Zoom kind of thing. It's not a good way for us to present what we do.
"We're very much a live band. You could call us old school in that way. We like connecting people, you know, out there in the world, actually doing it."
Scene Point Blank: So you guys don't have plans to join Gal Gadot's next sing-along?
Steve Blanco: I would say that's probably not going to be something we're going to jump on. [Laughs.] We all do all sorts of stuff besides Imperial Triumphant. I tried to get into the streaming thing where you play with a bunch of other musicians where you just try to play with your friends and I don't know man, it's just not working for me, you know?
Scene Point Blank: Right, you're the kind of musicians who thrive in a live setting.
Steve Blanco: Yeah, we're pretty proud of the way we sound live. We've worked really hard at it and we try to make a huge sound with just the three of us. Not to say we don't put a shit ton into our records. We love both, but they're different. It's funny, Tray Spruance of Mr. Bungle produced this album [Alphaville] with us, and he said something that I keep quoting because it's just so perfect. He said that all of the stuff we do in the studio, not just us, but all artists throughout the industry, all of the different colors or layers we put in are attempts to add in what's missing on a record because it's not a live performance. I never really thought about it that way before he said it. I had always approached live performances as an attempt to recreate what you had done in the studio and he was looking at it in the reverse and I thought that was kind of interesting.
Scene Point Blank: That is the opposite of how most people envision the relationship between recordings and live performances working. Something that I'm sure people who haven't' seen you play yet are probably wondering is how do you recreate some of the complex songs on your records in a live setting? Specifically, when it comes to the extra flourishes, interludes, and things that you have on your records, how do you recreate those during your live show?
Steve Blanco: It's definitely one of the challenges that we deal with when we decide to go out on the road. We are careful how we do it when we consider the audience and a live setting. We'll put somethings on playback, and I'll trigger things like the piano. We're not going to have a Steinway grand piano on stage, so that will go in the playback. But a lot of those parts we'll just play as a trio. They won't have all the same parts that appear on the record, but it will be a different experience. It's evolved in some cool ways, where we'll have stuff playing from a playback pedal and then we'll play along with it. Even though we're not playing to a click, we're not playing on a grid, we still manage to pull it off live.
Scene Point Blank: How many instruments do you play?
Steve Blanco: Me personally? I play the piano, all keyboards basically, bass obviously, and I was a drummer in my early days. I started that way. Piano was my main thing for the longest period of time, though. I spent the most amount of time playing piano and came to bass a bit later and I'm in love with bass now.
Scene Point Blank: I'm guessing that your piano work wasn't all for metal bands.
Steve Blanco: No, it was jazz mostly. Jazz standards.
Scene Point Blank: When did you develop an interest in jazz?
Steve Blanco: The jazz thing has been there forever. I grew up on classical music like Igor Stravinsky and of course rock as well. But I got bit by the jazz bug in my teens and just went down that rabbit hole. That's how I got super deep into that shit. All three of us are into jazz actually. Kenny [Grohowski] has also played jazz pretty much his whole life. So there is a jazz element in our music, but not by design, it's just the music we hear in our heads.
"There is a jazz element in our music, but not by design, it's just the music we hear in our heads."
Scene Point Blank: It emerges organically.
Steve Blanco: Which has been why we've been able to pull it off in a way. You don't want to over think art too much.
Scene Point Blank: Do any of you have any formal training?
Steve Blanco: Yeah, all of us. We're all formally trained in conservatories. Zachary [Ilya Ezrin] has his degree is in composition. Kenny and I both have degrees in jazz performance degrees. I went to Suny Purchase, Kenny went to New School, and Zach went to Cal Arts.
Scene Point Blank: That makes sense for how I experience your music in terms of how tightly constructed it is.
Steve Blanco: We're all very similar in the way that we write music, and how we construct our albums. We think in terms of what the sum total of what the experience is going to be like. Talking about it is different than doing it, though. Who knows what's channeling through you in the moment.