Interview: Guitarist Alex Re Discusses Past, Present and Future of Counterparts
By Alison Richter
Prior to joining Counterparts — vocalist Brendan Murphy, guitarist Jesse Doreen, bassist Eric Bazinet, drummer Ryan Juntilla — guitarist Alex Re gigged on the local circuit in Ontario, Canada, but felt musically unfulfilled.
“I wanted something I could do more than every weekend,” he says. “I got the opportunity to join these guys around the same time that they were ready to make the next step as well.”
Re was playing in a hardcore band when he became familiar with his future bandmates. At that time, he says, Counterparts was a different musical entity and very much a metal band.
“Once we met up, we all had the same idea of how we wanted it to sound and how we wanted people to interpret our music,” he says. “We were very likeminded. I saw it as a sign of what I needed to do and that I should be with these guys right now.”
On the road touring The Current Will Carry Us, Alex Re called to talk about Counterparts then and now.
REVOLVER: The band got together in 2007. Can you trace those steps and how you became involved?
They played shows around Hamilton and the southern Ontario area for a year and a half or two years, and I joined in February or March of 2009. They were looking to get a little more serious, trying to record and make a profession out of what we’re doing, and they were looking for a new guitar player who was as committed as they were. Luckily, I was available. In the summer of 2009 we recorded our first full-length record, Prophets.
That process led to people hearing us and getting onboard with us. Paul Koehler, the drummer for Silverstein, started managing us, and their vocalist, Shane Told, put out our album on Verona Records. We toured that record for a year or so and recorded our split EP around October 2010. We put that out with a band from Ontario called Exalt. We had a few songs written at the time and we weren’t looking to make another full-length. We decided to record and release those songs, and Exalt were down to do it, so we decided to release it together and put it on the Internet as just a digital release. We’re trying to work something out where we put physical copies together, but who knows.
When did you begin playing guitar?
I got an acoustic guitar for Christmas around fifth grade. I wanted to be a rock star, but once I started learning tabs and playing songs, I got into the aspects of playing guitar, like chords, hammer-ons and pull-offs. It was really interesting to me, learning all this stuff. I gave up a couple of times, but I kept going. You grow up and look for that one thing you’re good at, and that was guitar for me. I would practice in my basement, trying to shred as hard as I possibly could. But being a good guitar player doesn’t entail shredding for ten hours a day.
If you can play technically, to me, you're a great guitar player. Matt Fox from Shai Hulud — his technique is out there. I’ve never seen anyone play guitar like him. His writing ability is out of this world, he creates brutal, beautiful music that I can’t comprehend half the time, he’s like an ideal guitar player in terms of what I think is impressive. There are plenty of bands that impress me. I listen to Veil of Maya and think that guy can shred, that’s insane. There’s also more straightforward music that I think is cool.
How did you and Jesse create the Counterparts guitar team?
I had written for my other band, but it was nothing as serious or complex as a Counterparts song. The process when I joined the band was Jesse wrote a song, everyone learned it and Brendan wrote lyrics on top of it. I didn’t want to fuck with that because Jesse is an amazing songwriter. Eventually, I missed that creative output of being in a band. Part of the reason I wanted to be in a band was to creatively mesh with other musicians, and Jesse is my favorite person to do that with because we bounce ideas off of each other.
I feel that the nucleus of this band is us meshing together. The first record was all Jesse, with scattered ideas from me, but with the split EP I had a bunch of riffs, and with the new record I came up with ideas and there’s a couple of my babies on there too. A lot of what you’ll hear on the next records will be me jamming with Jesse and Ryan. It took a while to get comfortable with each other, but now we know each other so well that we know what we’re capable of. I feel that we keep topping ourselves, and that's the kind of band I want to be in.
Are you thinking about the next album?
It’s constant. We were finishing up this record and Jesse was already writing a new track, a new idea that he had. We have a handful of songs ready. When you put a timeline on writing, the integrity is definitely compromised. If you put boundaries on musical creativity, that’s when you start lacking. Once we have more than a handful of songs, we’ll start thinking about what’s next, but it’s all about quality over quantity. We’re trying to make sure that this next record is well thought out and organized, so we’re going to take our time and make the best record we possibly can.
Where do you see growth and changes from one recording to the next?
With each release, Brendan has gotten more and more amazing and pissed off and awesome as the frontman of this band. I remember him tracking the first record and it was awesome, and now, by comparison, he’s just unbelievable. My favorite part about recording, once all the instruments are done, is just listening to Brendan record vocals and hearing the songs with vocals for the first time. He’s the man. Ryan has always been a huge part of this band because his writing abilities and his output are always a different way to approach things. One little detail can make a song better, and every member of this band has a say in what happens when a song is created. Every member of this band plays a huge part in the output of Counterparts and we’re at our strongest right now.
What do the guitar parts and solos need to do within this band?
What I like to hear most out of a band in our style is something that puzzles me, whereupon first listen you’re like, “What just happened?” That strikes a chord in me. Technicality is a big part of this band, but we also have more straightforward stuff. It’s about balancing the heavy and the melodic and everything that makes Counterparts what it is. There have to be elements of each of those in each song, meshing all the genres and styles that we listen to. Counterparts is a collective of every single piece of music that reaches our ears. It’s thrown into a big pot and stirred around a little bit. The Current Will Carry Us is way different from our first record. It’s more of our collective influences rather than being metalcore.
For the first album, it was about making the perfect-sounding record, but as we started listening to other stuff we realized that it doesn’t necessarily constitute making a great record. So with this one we tried to make it as human as possible and make it so that people hear the new record, come see us live and get the same feeling. The first record was super-polished and perfect note for note. The new one is “what you hear is what you get.” We didn’t double things up or add background effects that we can’t pull off live. We want people to be impressed with us live, and in order to do that you have to give them something they can believe. It’s so easy in the studio to use all kinds of pedals and effects, so this record is all about being believable.
What is your definition of tone and does that definition change?
It’s hard to say, because I’m not a technical guy. When people ask me, I say, “Man, you’ve got to slow down and give it to me in dummy terms!” I hear something, and if I like it, I like it. I’ll tweak a couple of knobs, and if it sounds good to my ears, that’s how you’re going to hear it. I’m not a technical person, but once I hear it and like it, I stick with it.
Alex Re Gear Rundown:
Ibanez RG – stock
Schecter Tempest with Seymour Duncan pickups
Amps and Cabs:
Mesa Boogie Dual Rectifier into an Orange 4x12. “To me, nothing sounds better than an Orange cab. I’m the most satisfied with them and I stick with those at all times. I love the way they sound and I will never, ever get another cab in my life.”
GHS Boomers 10-52
Dunlop – “Anything above a .80mm, the thicker the better, because you’ve got to be able to hit every single note, and with a thicker pick I find that you can achieve that easier.”
Boss TU tuner
Boss noise suppressor
— Alison Richter
Alison Richter interviews artists, producers, engineers and other music industry professionals for print and online publications. Read more of her interviews right here.