Hydraform Will Make an Album With Legendary Producer Sylvia Massy

Progressive groove metal band Hydraform.
Progressive groove metal band Hydraform. Stephanie Barber
In Denver, a city with a thriving doom scene, the progressive metal band Hydraform makes its mark with a cleaner, more melodic sound. The group delivers off-kilter beats and rhythms and rock-solid guitar and bass along with frontman Carter Pashto's vocals, which vacillate between screaming and traditional singing.

Ahead of an October 27 show at Your Mom's House, Pashko spoke to Westword about the group's opportunity to work with Johnny Cash, Tool and Red Hot Chili Peppers producer Sylvia Massy on an upcoming record, how his band fits in with the rest of Denver, and what's next for the act.

Westword: What made you want to work with Sylvia Massy specifically?

Carter Pashko: She’s worked on so many of my favorite albums! And also, she has a really interesting approach to recording that you don’t see very often. Like, she doesn't use the control room; everything’s in one big room.

She likes to experiment a lot, almost like sound design styles and techniques. You get something really unique out of it, plus her pedigree is just insane.

How do you anticipate her style meshing with your music?

I don’t really exactly know. I think it’s going to be more like a primordial version of our music. I’m thinking it’s not going to be so traditionally polished, if that makes sense.

When you think of how things go, everyone has their own way of doing things, where they’re like, "This is what’s acceptable for Spotify and radios, these are the values you need," yada yada yada.

We’re kind of looking for something more…funky [laughs]. We want something different than that, and we want someone who's willing to go beyond the borders of that. I have no expectations of what it’s going to sound like, but I have tons of expectations that it will be fun and something cool.

How do you think the new EP is going to fit alongside the other music in your catalogue?

It’s going to be like the first real collaborative effort, with all us of as writing elements. The first album, when the band got together originally — it was our guitarist and drummer, and they had written a lot of the songs already. When me and the bassist came to the band, I mean, things changed, but the core writing of the songs had already been established.

There’s one song off our EP, called "Ground Zero," that was a collaborative effort; we all love it. It’s like our favorite song off the album. So, this one is all of that, it’s the whole EP, just a self-titled EP called Hydraform, because it’s like our first real showing of Hydraform as a whole.

Why do you think collaborative songwriting is so important for Hydraform?

Well, I like to think about it like math. Think about it this way: If one person writes a song, it’s one song, and they like it. You’d say, that’s a base number of 100 percent, right? So, 100 percent of the people in that realm like it.

Now, with two people, you’ve just doubled how cool it is to a larger audience. Because if you think it’s cool and I think it’s cool, and people like you and people like me think it’s cool, then you’ve broadened your audience and reach. When you get three and four people, you’re making something that is cool to an even larger cut of people.

It’s not like we write songs for that reason, but when all four of us chime in on something and begin head-banging and saying, "That’s an awesome part! That’s an awesome part! You think of this part, and I’ll work on this part" — that’s when you know.

I think I see what you’re saying.

And it’s also just nice to work with other people, too, you know? It helps move through those band issues like egos and stuff like that. We put a lot of that aside — really, all of it aside — to make the music happen.

Sometimes it’s not an easy process. I’m the worst about it. When we’re sitting there during the writing process, I’m the singer, and I don’t have an instrument to play, and I’m also an engineer and producer, so my producer brain begins to get going, and it drives the rest of the band crazy. They’re like, "Just let the jam go!" And I’m like, "No, no, no! Let’s add one more note to this!"

Sometimes the producer brain can get out ahead of things, but it all works out, and we write songs that kick ass.

What will your October 27 show at Your Mom’s House be like?

We’re going to have a group and individual costume contest for the night. It’s definitely a Halloween metal show, for sure.

I heard reaching out to Sylvia was just a shot in the dark. Is that true?

What happened was, our guitarist Jay and I always like to have a goal for the band. When we first wanted to record the album, we set a goal to record the album and go on our first tour. We Kickstarted it, got the money and recorded the album, went on our first tour.

For out next goal, we said, let’s up our stage production. Build our new light box, get our LED wall working, stuff like that.

We like to have goals that push us. And we finally hit a point where we knew we needed to put out new music. We needed something bigger. We started looking up albums that we loved and noticing who produced this, who recorded this, and so on.

We kept landing on Sylvia. She did Undertow, she did three Chili Peppers albums, and we wondered if we could find her somehow. We started jumping around on the Internet, and we ended up getting an email address to her manager, and pow!

We took a shot. Her manager listened to it, passed it along to her, and I guess she was like, "Cool, yeah, I’m in."

It’s strange how open people can be to things if you just ask. People you’d think would say "No way" to whatever you’re asking end up saying yes.

It’s like the Wayne Gretzky quote: "You miss 100 percent of the shots you don’t take." Fuck it, you know? [Laughs].

Are you guys pretty chill during the writing and recording process? Does it get tense?

It can get frustrating. I tend to be the one to get frustrated more than anyone else. Again: A lot of the time, especially when a song is in the early stages, that producer brain bothers people sometimes.

Another thing is, I’m forward when pushing my guys — like, “I’ve heard that drum line before, I’ve heard that bass line before, I want something different.” I’m always trying to push my guys so we can all be better.

When you refer to producer brain, you mean you want to tinker with sounds while people are just trying to figure out what they want to play?

Yeah. It’s like tinkering with the composition. For instance, we’ll have a riff in 5/4 or something that’s a weird time signature, and I like weird time signatures, but sometimes when we play, I’ll hear it and think, "All right, before we get locked in, let’s hear it this way. What if we took away that extra note and made it a 4/4? Or made it a 6/4?" That type of stuff. It’s all part of it. We all have stuff.

I love being critiqued. Like I said before, I’m only one dude. I can only think of so many different melodies and concepts. Tell me what you’re thinking, please. Give me more ideas!

It’s pretty difficult learning to trust someone with your creative things. Speaking of which: What happens if Sylvia wants to change big things about the new music?

We’re down. I’ve actually had that conversation with our band a lot. There’s not going to be any of that prima donna bullshit. Whatever she wants to try, we’re going to try it. Why? Because she’s Sylvia Massy!

Why work with her if that isn’t the attitude?

Right? If we wanted to be in full control, we would just record it in the CU recording studio or something. We’re going there with opens minds for a reason. Obviously, she’s put in the work, what she’s done has been successful, and we want our new record to be successful, too.

click to enlarge Drummer Tyler Toth bringing the heat during a live performance. - HIDDEN VISION PHOTOGRAPHY
Drummer Tyler Toth bringing the heat during a live performance.
Hidden Vision Photography
How do you think your music fits into Denver’s metal scene?

Weirdly, in a sense. I think we have an original sound to us. Our songwriting — how we move in and out of our dynamics within a song — is somewhat original in the genre. In Denver, there’s a lot of metal here, which is a good thing and bad thing for us.

We’ve found that a lot of doom-metal bands are here, a huge doom metal culture, which I think pushes us away a little bit. We play shows with everybody. We’re the lightest band at the heaviest shows and the heaviest band at a hard-rock show. We’re right there.

We play with a lot of people. We’re eclectic in that sense. But we don’t exactly…it’s weird with us in the Denver metal scene. A couple other bands that I like a lot are in the same realm as us. They’re playing new and weird shit, which is nice.

The bands that we’re playing with at Your Mom's House are actually all bands that we really like and respect, and they’re all doing something that’s different.

We think there’s a new niche growing out of something like groove metal and math rock. And that’s the genre we put ourselves in. We’ve tried to figure it out for years: What kind of metal are we? We just didn’t know, but someone told us we were like a progressive groove metal band, and we thought, hmm…that works [laughs]. Progressive groove metal is what we are.

There’s definitely a polished quality to your music that stands out. It’s clean.

And I move between aggressive vocals and traditional vocals really quickly. I like to wield my voice like someone would wield a guitar, in a sense. Almost like having a pedal switch.

What’s your music background like?

I've always been a singer and am doing singing lessons now — mostly self-taught guitar. I did some musical theater. But singing has been my thing for a long time.

I played a ton of instruments. When I was fifteen, I started recording music. I had guitar and vocals, but I wanted a bass, so I kind of learned how to play bass. Then I needed drums, so I learned to play drums.

That’s actually connected to one thing I like to bother my drummer about, who is a phenomenal drummer. I did a little studio work for a musician once and got like $50, and now I like to keep rubbing it in his face, like, "Hey man, technically, I’m the only one that has ever gotten paid to play drums here [laughs]!

click to enlarge Singer Carter Pashko. - HIDDEN VISION PHOTOGRAPHY
Singer Carter Pashko.
Hidden Vision Photography
Like a modern-day version of John Lennon saying that Ringo wasn’t even the best drummer in the Beatles! Tell me about the pre-sale items you’re pushing.

We’re doing a limited-run t-shirt and will open it up for orders at the show at YMH. It will start on the 27th and will run through November. It’s just going to be a way to support the EP. It will be a onetime shirt, never make it again, done deal — limited EP pre-order shirt right in time for the holidays.

Which artist did you decide to work with on the shirts?

The guy’s name is Eric, and he did the posters for the show. He’s a really fantastic artist, and we have him working on the shirts right now. I love the work he does.

There are quite a few things you’re going to do in the future: first going to play the show and going to do these shirts, then going to work with Sylvia. Lots of moving parts. Is the show a sort of jumping-off point in this next phase for the band?

We love Halloween, and it’s a perfect setup for a good metal show. We’re kind of using it as a launch pad for our fundraising to get out to record the album. No matter what, we’re going, but it’s going to cost us some money.

End of October will definitely be the start of our big push to raise funds. On our site will be a donation link as well.

We don’t want to do another Kickstarter again or anything like that, because they take a big percentage of what you get and they have all these “rewards” and all that stuff. Instead of doing that, we’re doing the pre-release shirt. People will get the shirt and directly support the EP, and if they don’t really want anything, they can just go to our website and donate whatever they want to the cause.

Every dollar will come in handy.

Metal Mayhem on 13th, with Hydraform, Saturday, October 27, Your Mom's House, 608 East 13th Avenue.
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Ben Wiese is a writer in Denver. He covers music for Westword.
Contact: Ben Wiese