Within a couple of nights of being asked to contribute to ThisIsNotAScene, I saw a post on twitter from Metal Blade Records announcing that they had signed a band called Intensus, I clicked the link and found out about the very different way this album was being put together. As the release of the album approaches I got in touch with Philadelphian multi-instrumentalist and Intensus main man Eli Litwin to find out more about this unique project.

To start off, can you tell us more about yourself and your seemingly prolific musical career to date?

I started playing drums when I was 9 years old and picked up guitar 2 years later.  Ever since, music has been my greatest passion.  I’ve always been in at least one band ever since 6th grade, first playing 90’s rock, and then metal in high school.  I went to Temple University in Philadelphia to study jazz performance and began exploring many other styles of music as well, in and out of school, from classical to extreme metal, indie rock to electronic.  Some of the music that blew my mind the most was the traditional music of other countries such as Bulgaria, India, Indonesia and Ghana.

During college I began playing music with more and more people.  The band I’ve been in the longest is Knife the Glitter.  We started out as a mathy, grindy metal/hardcore band that some may have compared to Dillinger or Daughters.  That band has changed a lot though and we’re now an instrumental progressive metal band, more like a much heavier version of King Crimson or Cynic.

Next was Normal Love.  The idea for the band was to be a sort of classical chamber ensemble, in the respect that we read very complex sheet music and has a violinist, but the aesthetic was way more noise rock or metal.  Normal Love has put out a full length and a 7″ and actually just finished recording our second album, which is very different from the first.  There are female vocals now as well as keyboards, playing mostly noisy, industrial sounding samples.

Inzinzac is another band I joined a few years ago.  The line-up went through some initial changes but eventually settled as a guitar, drums and saxophone (tenor & soprano) trio.  The music is a really interesting mix of free jazz improvisation, prog rock grooves, eastern European harmonies and punk/metal energy.  The guitarist writes all the music and it’s really exciting for me to make his music come to life.  We just released our debut album and toured Europe this past March.

Burden is a progressive doom metal band that some friends and I formed a little under 2 years ago.  Last year we self released a full-length album of extremely crushing, death and black metal influenced doom with pretty progressive songwriting tendencies and some serious metal soloing.  It’s over an hour of music that we are really proud of creating.  Our lead guitarist is incredibly talented and our singer has such an amazing range and presence.  We’ve recently recorded some more music for a comp and a vinyl split and have just started writing for our second album.

Then of course there’s Intensus, which this interview is all about, so I’ll save all that for the next question!

I have a few other groups that are less active but still play occasionally.  I keep myself pretty busy and have a lot of musical interests so it just feels right to be in so many different bands.  It really is wonderful playing with so many different talented people.

Your latest project Intensus (which this year signed to Metal Blade Records) sounds quite an exciting prospect. Can you take us through the origins of this project?

Intensus came from 2 separate ideas meeting.  The first idea, one that I had for a long time, was the desire to somehow magically split into 4 different bodies while sharing the same brain and improvise intricate music that, to the listener, would sound diligently rehearsed.  I eventually realized that the next best thing would be for me to record myself improvising on the drums with specific ideas in mind and then write and record guitar parts to fit in with the drums.

The second idea came from my exposure to some very different kinds of music.  I had been listening to and playing metal for many years, but after I graduated from college I began playing with some new musicians in Philadelphia that were playing in ways very new to me.  “Free Improv” is what it’s often referred to as.  This musical language, which is on the more experimental side of things, has some elements of free jazz, some elements of modern classical music and other elements of whatever the performer wants.  When I play a free improv gig there is minimal discussion among the musicians about what’s going to happen.  With no chords to follow and no rhythm or tempo to adhere to, we just go for it, listening to each other and creating some very spontaneous music that is sometimes loud, sometimes quite, sometimes pretty and melodic, sometimes harsh and dissonant.

As a lover of extreme music, the moments of great tension and aggressive energy excite me the most.  I found that these moments of intensity gave me the same kind of, visceral, fist-clenching feeling that listening to death metal did.  After this realization I knew that I had to do something to bring these 2 very separate worlds together.  I would create a freely improvised extreme metal album with the single goal of creating the most intense music possible.  So I went for it.  I recorded the drums for the entire album, start to finish, in one take, as though it were a free improv metal performance.  Then over the course of a year, I recorded guitars and bass to go along with these drum tracks.  Some parts were completely improvised as well, with the first take being the final take, and other parts were carefully crafted to be very tight with the wild drumming.  I still kept everything as spontaneous as possible, moving on after a part was recorded to my liking and rarely going back to change something.  After I finished all the music I asked a bunch of friends to come in and scream their faces off on top of it all.

Intensus features many different musicians collaborating (including vocalists from Between The Buried And Me and A Life Once Lost). How did this affect the recording?

Having all these different people involved makes for a pretty diverse album as a whole.  After hearing the finished product, a friend commented how it all flows very smoothly from start to finish, and yet each song is very distinct from one another.  There are 8 different singers on the album and no one is on two consecutive songs so with every track you hear a new voice.  Another friend noted that with a different voice on every song, you never get comfortable or used to hearing a particular sound.  It’s always surprising and keeps the listener on their toes.  The only other collaborating musicians besides the vocalists are two guest guitarists who contributed really amazing solos that I never would have been able to pull off.  One is totally face-melting shred and the other is a beautiful collage of melodic arpeggios and Steve Vai-ish legato soloing.  Simply put, I provided all the music and mood, but the guests gave everything real character and depth.

Would having so many different people involved prohibit a tour, or was it intended as a studio project?

From the beginning I intended on this being a studio project.  I am open to the possibility of performing it live, but it would have to be really worth it for the amount of work I would have to put in to make it happen.  Not even considering all the different singers, if I wanted to play this as a full band I would have to go back to the recording sessions, listen to each individual part, re-learn what I played (I only played everything once, over a year ago, so I don’t remember any of it), transcribe it all, and then teach it to 3 other guys.  Adding the issue of singers, I think instead of doing a full tour I would only be able to do a small handful a special one-off performances (say, a few on the east coast, a few on the west coast and a few in Europe) where a few of the singers are there to handle the vocal duties, or any big festivals that are already bringing some of those guys’ bands to the same place.

You are involved in numerous different projects. Where does this fit in with your other work?

Musically, I would say it contains elements of everything else I do.  Not intentionally taking this from that band and this other thing from that other band, it just kind of came out that way.  To be more specific, it has the technicality of Knife the Glitter, the improvisational aspect of Inzinzac, the experimentalism of Normal Love and the unrelenting brutality of Burden.

Do you see a follow up album at any point in the future?

Yes!  I’ve already started working on INTENSUS II!  And, in fact, I have an ep completed too that’s a little different.  I was listening to a lot of black metal, in the winter, of course, and feeling inspired, wanted to make some new music so I did it as sort of a stylistic exercise.  It was all home recorded and sounds really raw and lo-fi, in true black metal style.  The writing process was still the same: improvise the drums, write and record guitar and bass as I go, and this time I did all the vocals myself as well.  I finished the whole thing (5 songs, 24 mins) in about a week.  Not sure yet what I’ll do with that.  Right now it’s just sitting on my computer.

As previously discussed and apparent from your website, you have been involved in many other bands. What other releases have you got lined up?

Knife the Glitter is slowly but surely recording a full-length album.  All the drums are done and by the time this interview is published all the basic guitar tracks will probably be done too.  We’re busy guys and the band is far from as active as it used to be, but the album will be finished, hopefully this year.  I live in Philadelphia where I teach and play with those other bands and the other 2 guys live an hr and 45 min away in New Jersey.  The guitarist is a full time recording engineer and recording/rehearsal studio owner, so we’re able to work at our own pace in his studio without burning a hole in our pockets.  Whenever we both have a weekend free I go up there and we get a little more done.  Besides that band, as I said earlier, Normal Love just finished recording a new album which is in the mixing/mastering stage now and we’re looking for an interested label so hopefully that will be out later this year or early next year.  I have a “doom/jazz/metal” sax & drums duo called Gun Muffs that might get around to recording an album this year too, though we haven’t been performing much lately.  And Burden will have some new music coming out soon too, as I mentioned earlier as well.  Busy busy busy!  You can learn more about all this stuff on my website: www.elilitwin.com.  Thanks so much!