Veil of Maya has been charting high at radio with their latest single “Viscera”, and the band is on the way to releasing a new album. Metal Contraband’s Chelsea had the chance to speak with guitarist Marc Okubo about the new Veil of Maya tracks and upcoming record, his lockdown experience, his work with other bands including Dance Gavin Dance, the partnership with Kiesel Guitars, and more. Check it out below.
First of all, how have things been for you handling everything that’s been going on for the past year?
Well, I’m up and down. I’m in Los Angeles right now writing and recording a new album for the band, so that’s been very fun and happy. But when I was by myself in Chicago, it got kind of dark for a while. It was kind of hard to see what the future state of music was going to be like when it was first going down. But all the time away from it kind of made me realize what I enjoy about it. It kind of took the job aspect away from it, and now I feel like a little kid again, music’s gotten a little bit more magic to me.
Yeah, it was definitely weird in the beginning for everyone, because with things shutting down, we didn’t know when the hell we were getting back to a show again. Some bands kept on pushing through and releasing music, others came to a halt, it was definitely a weird time, but I’m glad to hear it was kind of a good transition for you in a way and you were able to rediscover some of your roots with music. At the end of the day, it was probably productive for you in a way.
Yeah, mentally, I needed it overall. It had just been so long since…I mean, there’s no way to get a break that long from anything. We’d just be on tour all year, and by the end of it — I guess it’s weird because going to shows and seeing how others bands are doing and interacting with everyone was how I would get inspired to create before, and not having that suddenly hit. Now creating music is just purely fun, it’s just more for me now than it is thinking about what our fans are going to think.
That aspect of it is awesome, that you got to reconnect with your love of music in that way. Of course, the single “Viscera” is the latest we’ve heard from Veil of Maya, and honestly, one new single alone has people going crazy to hear new Veil of Maya. It’s charting high, it’s doing great, so maybe start off talking about what went into that track.
The track was mostly written in 2019, I was at a different studio on the East Coast and things kind of stopped and didn’t really work out in that studio, so I actually was mailed a hard drive with all of our sessions for our songs on it, and that is one of the ones where I took what we had and finished it, rewrote a few parts. Our drummer recorded the drums during the pandemic in his little practice studio, he did that himself. Then we just sent off the tracks to our friend to mix it, and it worked out really well, actually. To be honest, I would rather not have an animated video, I’d rather have a real one, but at least we’ve got something out for it.
Yeah, absolutely. And you did have a music video last year, for “Outsider”, the other new single, and I noticed when I was looking at the music video on YouTube, it makes a very specific point of noting that it was filmed March 10th, 2020, so you guys just made it with that, getting in a new video before lockdown.
Oh yeah, we intentionally put the date on there and everything because the official pandemic starting date was the 11th, which is actually my birthday, but then we had the first show of our tour with Dance Gavin Dance and Animals As Leaders was the 12th, so we’re all at the venue, it’s a sold out show, and then their manager comes in like, “Yep, tour’s cancelled. Everyone go home…indefinitely”. It was just a really weird experience.
So you were actually at the venue to play the show that night, did you get to play that one show and then the rest of the show got cancelled, or…?
No, all the bands just showed up and then, I guess we had kind of a little…we ate together, and we had kind of like a little party I guess, but it started raining outside and then everyone just went home.
We’ve all been kind of hearing that there’s another Veil of Maya album in the works to follow “Viscera”, and then of course, you just mentioned you’re in LA doing that now, so what’s the status of the album right now?
Okay, the “Outsider” and “Viscera” were part of the sessions I was doing on the East Coast, so we have essentially an album’s worth of material that we recorded then. And I honestly wanted to ditch the rest of that material, and come to Los Angeles and start fresh again. So either way, we’ll probably have like two albums’ worth of songs to pick from, but I’ll just take the best of the best and then that will end up being the new album. I just kind of had a bad taste in my mouth from the whole last experience, and this time I’m much more into what we’re doing. So if people like those songs, I can always say, just expect the next batch to be, like, prime. Because I’m stoked on what we’re doing now.
Nice. That’s cool, I mean, there’s always the option of a double album or something, throw all the tracks you’re not so hot about on the second one, like B-sides.
Yeah, yeah, exactly. It couldn’t hurt just to have more material, and since I think the progress of those two songs alone have paid off all the debt that was owed for recording in 2019, so we’re all good now to keep moving forward.
Now, being that there was a few years between the last record, False Idol, and this one that you guys are working on now, what made you feel like it was the right time to start working on something new?
Well, we’ve been a band for a long time, and I’m the main music writer in the band, and it just became a lot of pressure on me mentally to have material ready, and then also tour all year, and also helping write with other bands, and helping tour with other bands, and just managing life and relationships and all that just started becoming overwhelming. So, obviously I was trying my best, but I kind of lost that magic thing you have as an angsty teenager, I kind of lost that vibe for a little bit. And then this last year has kind of gotten it back in my system. Now, this is all for fun again, there’s no real work to it. It’s definitely hard to just keep on rushing things and having to meet expectations of being better than the last thing you put out, because you have less time to do it. But now I’ve had time to recollect, and I feel great.
That’s good. Of course, it’s definitely easy to get burned out doing too much of anything, but especially something so creative as writing music, you’re always trying to be original, trying to top what you did before with something new, I’m sure it can get exhausting, mentally and creatively.
Yeah, a lot of people don’t realize, when you release your first album and it’s super epic, and everyone wants new stuff coming out, a lot of times the band will have maybe 3-4 weeks to make a follow-up record, and that’s supposed to surpass their original one, which they had like their whole life to that point to make. It’s hard to explain to people that don’t have to do that, but that’s what happens, and then everyone gets mad at the second album, because it’s not as crazy as the first or whatever. There’s like a time limit now, for everything.
And that’s the thing, sometimes with songs, something epic can strike you like lightning and you’ll have it done in a day, and other times it just takes time and work, and I think a lot of bands, especially when you’re signed to a label, you have deadlines and everything, you don’t have all the time that you necessarily want. But I think that’s why the lockdown was, in a weird kind of way, good for a lot of musicians, because you had time to kind of recharge, like you said.
Yeah, it’s weird because, I also feel like as touring musician, we’re a little bit more well-equipped for situations like that, because we’re used to being gone for so long, and when you come back from touring, the world just keeps on going without you, so it’s everything all at once, and then nothing at all. So that nothing at all thing, pretty much everyone in the world had to feel together. But I’ve been doing it for years, and I knew how to handle it and kind of distract myself. Yeah, it’s rough watching the whole world deal with it, or watching celebrities have to make, like, crazy TikTok videos to get their normal focus of attention, or whatever.
Outside of that, a lot of bands have been trying to keep up with the fans just giving some kind of content, the livestream shows, Instagram playthroughs, whatever people need to do just to keep the fans interested, I guess.
And being honest, that’s just not really who I am. I do post online occasionally, but for most of last year, I deleted all the apps off my phone, because it got pretty hectic, and there’s a lot of drama about certain subjects, and I just didn’t want to be a part of that *laughs*. I had to focus on the things that were important to me. I don’t know, social media is a weird place right now.
It definitely is. So, back to band stuff, you mentioned that you do some things with other bands outside of Veil of Maya, and I saw that you recently did something with Dance Gavin Dance, right? So can you talk about that collaboration?
Yeah, that was amazing for me, honestly, because it made me feel…well, I’m really close with that band, so I was honored that they asked me to do that in the first place. But then having the song turn out well, it did a lot for my self-esteem where it’s just like, I’m not just limited to my band, and I’m a musician and producer, and there’s other things I could do and be helpful with. So it was good for me, and I hope I get more opportunities like that, where I can create music with other artists that sounds like them, and doesn’t sound like specifically what my band is.
Absolutely, kind of break out of the mold of your genre, there.
It’s funny, there’s a few other bands that I’ve written for but, it’s just funny watching people review and react to stuff on YouTube or wherever, where they’ll like, hate my band but then they’ll love another band’s song that I wrote. They just don’t realize that it’s all the same person doing specific things for other bands intentionally. Like, my band sounds like my band on purpose. If you hate it, that’s fine, but it’s not like that’s all we’re capable of doing.
Right, they didn’t do their research or look up who played guitar on the track.
No, I’m cool with that, that’s the way it should be, right?
Speaking of guitars, you mainly work with Kiesel guitars, so you had some signature models, so how did that partnership first come about?
I was introduced to Jeff Kiesel by Lee McKinney of Born of Osiris, and I think he was introduced to them by Rod from Volumes, it’s kind of like a little family tree. And then I actually introduced Jeff and Will from Dance Gavin Dance, so it’s like a big chain of homies who just all introduced each other.
That’s cool, and you also used to work with Jackson – so you’re mainly on Kiesel now, or do you balance out your gear with a little bit of everything?
I’m exclusively on Kiesel, and trying to sell my signature model guitar, but all that happened right before the lockdown thing, so it made it really hard for me to mentally be there to promote. I’m waiting for us to do this new album, so that I can make all these playthroughs, maybe release some solo material, more guitar-oriented music.
And since you have a signature guitar, and I think you’ve had a few in the past, I’m sure you probably frequent NAMM when that time comes around, did you make it to NAMM last year?
Yes, I did. That was my last performance as a musician actually.
Wow, you probably never expected that going in.
No, it was actually terrifying, because usually I have the support of my band behind me, at least, but there was a few booths full of people that were all probably like world-class musicians watching me, essentially naked *laughs*. I don’t know, it was just scary.
Yeah, NAMM is quite the experience, because it’s so weird, you’re surrounded by all of this music and all of this creativity, but at the end of the day, it’s literally a convention center with some booths. So it’s formal yet not at the same time.
Yeah, I would say it’s an essential party to experience if you’re in the music industry, it’s a lot of fun. And you end up knowing more people than you think.
So what’s some other go-to gear for you?
Well, I mean, essentially when I’m writing now, it’s all into the computer. So I use a program called Ableton Live, that’s how I write and record music. And then, I use programs like, there’s one called Superior Drummer, which is made by ToonTrack and they have cool-sounding drums so I can write drums. I use this program called Bias for guitars, other than that, pretty much my life is watching YouTube and watching tutorials, learning how to do new things.
So lots of digital then, DAWs and plugins is where your focus is.
You were talking about how during the lockdown, you returned to your roots and why you love music, feeling a little more connected with it, doing for the fun of it, which is awesome. So what about your pre-Veil of Maya life as a musician, what was the first thing that inspired you to get into music in general?
Oh, wow. That started from kind of being an angsty teenager, I guess. I grew up during, probably when I was like 10 or 11, Korn and Limp Bizkit kind of took over the world, and I wanted to go further than that, like “what’s harder than this?” and I got into Death Metal, and then I got into trying to see who the best musicians were, so I got into Fusion Jazz and Progressive Rock and all that. And I don’t know, I got sent away to a high school away from all my friends, so I ended up joining jazz band as something to do, and so I ended up just playing guitar all day for about a year. Yeah, then I just decided by about 14 or 15 that this is what I was going to do, no matter what happens, I’m going to figure it out.
I love how you felt like your taste needed to get progressively harder as you went along, you were like, “Korn? Not heavy enough, let’s go harder”. *laughs*
I mean, respect to them. They changed the world around me for sure, but I just kept on going, I kept on looking. I actually had a science teacher in 8th grade that saw me wearing a Soulfly shirt, and he was like “dude, you got to check out this other band, Sepultura”, and then he made me a mixtape that had Sepultura and Slayer on it, that was like a big eye-opening experience for me.
Oh, that’s awesome! You wouldn’t expect that from an 8th grade science teacher. That’s funny, I was once wearing an 80’s “Hair Metal” band t-shirt, a Europe t-shirt in one of my classes one time…
…and the teacher actually made fun of me, he was like “Europe?! Oh my god, THOSE guys?” I’m like, “Yeah, they’re freakin cool, dude, what’s your problem!”
That rocks, actually. I threw up the metal horns.
Thanks! I guess you’re into the 80’s stuff too?
Well, my Dad raised me on a lot of 80’s stuff, but it would be more like Queen and Don Henley, Phil Collins, that kind of stuff.
Hell yeah, the classic rock stuff. So back to the present day, whenever anyone can get back to touring, and you get back on the road, what are some places you’re looking forward to playing?
Wow, I haven’t even thought like this in so long. It’s going to be so weird to transition from seeing maybe 2 people a day, to over a thousand, that’s going to be terrifying.
So let’s get back into the mentality now, let’s think about it, make it happen, you know?
*laughs* I mean, right before all this was starting to happen, I really wanted to be in Europe like twice a year. Because we were going one a year to once every other year, and I feel like the more you go there, the better it will do for your career, whereas America, people were starting to get spoiled from too many tours happening. And now, I don’t even know what the first tour’s going to be like, what the attendance and vibe are going to be like, but when it comes to places that I enjoy playing, I really want to go back to Japan. I’ve never been to South Africa, never been to South America before, so I’d like to finish my list and cross everything off, I guess.
Yeah, it’s good to have at least in the back of your mind, because it’s been such a long time, so let’s all start thinking about it now, get ourselves all back out there going to shows, you guys playing shows, spread the music scene again. It took a hit last year, so we’ve got to get it back up and strong again.
I definitely think it’s going to come back, it’s going to be weird — like, masks, I don’t know if masks are going to go away, that might be a thing for the rest of our lives.
I don’t know, man, it’s really hard to call anything right now. But one thing that we can call pretty easily is that Veil of Maya WILL have a new album sometime in the next year.
*laughs* Oh, yeah!
You are working on it right now, so that’s something we can be pretty certain of since the rest of life is so uncertain right now.
That is true, I can promise that.
Cool. It’s been a lot of fun talking with you today, Marc.
Likewise! Thanks for having me.
Absolutely, so maybe just give a quick summary of what’s next musically for Marc Okubo right now?
Well, I’m definitely working on new Veil so expect that. We have a tour coming up with Dance Gavin Dance, Animals As Leaders, Eidola, and Wolf & Bear, starting September 6th, I believe. So please come to that if the shows are not sold out already, and then yeah, back to business as usual. We’ll be writing and releasing and touring and doing that for as long as we can.
Awesome, good stuff to look forward to. Thanks so much for your time today, Marc!