Tosin Abasi cuts a dapper figure in his wardrobe of boutique high-fashion pieces and thrifted vintage finds. You’d never guess that this chic and modern man is the brainchild behind the ruthless instrumental shred project Animals as Leaders. Even many of Abasi’s friends are unaware of his latest undertaking—this D.C. guitar virtuoso told City Paper he keeps his music and his social life separate. But it’s gonna be hard to be demure when Abasi unleashes his towering guitar leads and brutal metal vamps tonight at DC9, along with Warship and Goblin Cock.
Washington City Paper: So tell me a little about this project.
Abasi: It’s an instrumental guitar-driven project that was born out of the ashes of my old band, Reflux. Prosthetic Records saw my guitar work live and asked me to cut a solo album. Initially I said no. I didn’t think I had room to do another project, and I thought it seemed egotistical and unnecessary. But there was a lot about Reflux that was far from my musical ideal. So when Reflux disbanded and I went to school for music, I saw a solo thing as a way to express my voice.
WCP: What does the name come from?
Abasi: It’s loosely derived from this book Ishmael. The author used this telepathic gorilla to kind of critique human culture. It’s like looking at the world from an animal’s perspective. The name is kind of like, a lot of what we do is completely removed from the fact that we’re all essentially animals. We have a niche on the planet and we have a role in sustainable sort of ecology. But we’ve gone against our natural calling. The name is acknowledging that we do have more of a natural role on the planet. It’s also like, who would follow an animal to do anything? I think of the name as being both nonsensical and really literal.
WCP: How did you record it? Do you play all the instruments?
Abasi: I recorded the album almost a year ago. I played all the bass and guitar tracks and I had an engineer, Misha Mansoor, program drums, synth drums, and all the glitchy sounds in the recording. There were actually no amps or mics involved in the recording. It was all plugged in.
WCP: Is your live drummer gonna be following the ridiculously fast fills and drum patterns you recorded?
Abasi: It’s funny because Misha had this dude, Matt Halpern, in mind when he was programming the drum tracks. He put it in kind of like the way Matt would play it. He learned all the stuff before we auditioned him, and he tackled it all really well. Our goal is to sound like the album cuts live, but with a bit more energy – and a little heavier, too.
WCP: What your favorite metal album right now?
Abasi: The Faceless just put an album called Planetary Duality. In my opinion, it’s the next step in metal evolution. It’s the kind of stuff that makes your hair stand up. It’s so rich and harmonically complex. It’s really interesting stuff and so aggressive.
WCP: How do you feel about Dream Theater?
Abasi: I mean, they’re like a multi-generational band. They were an influence for my prog taste. I’ve kind of passed what they’re doing, but John Petrucci still shreds. You gotta give it up to them for putting prog on a whole new level. And they never had a single approach. Some of their songs sound like Pink Floyd or the Beatles. But they’re in their 40s now, and they kinda dropped their bomb some time ago. I’d say they’re now standing on the shoulders of giants.
WCP: Tell me about your day job.
Abasi: Right now, nothing. I was teaching guitar lessons at a few local studios and working in a coffee shop. But I got tired of teaching and the coffee shop – Mayorga – closed down. The band is eating up a good amount of my time. Right now I’m just trying to plan a tour and start doing the music thing seriously.
WCP: What do your friends think about Animals as Leaders?
Abasi: Well, nobody really knows about it. I mean, music doesn’t have much relevance in my social life. It was never important. Nobody I’m friends with is really into my kind of thing, so I never told them I used to tour for a living and have professional endorsements. It was kind of fun to never mention that part of myself. But now I’m playing music again. It’s back to the grind.