In Session: Gabe Stallman of Ampevene


ALBANY – Releasing their single, “The Chemistress,” on March 3rd, local prog-rock band, Ampevene has put out a face-melting doozy of a tune. Combining peculiar time signatures with relentless guitar and keyboard riffs, as well as various production oddities that serve as a seemingly endless supply of musical “easter eggs,” there’s a ton of information being delivered in one song. After five listens, this particular author is greatly intrigued, not only by the song but by the fact he still can’t figure out what the heck is going on within it.

I had the chance to sit down with Gabe Stallman of Ampevene recently. What follows is our conversation.

Lucas Garrett: Thanks, Gabe, for sitting down tonight to talk about your latest single!

Gabe Stallman: Yeah! Thanks for having me.

LG: It’s been years since we’ve even talked.

GB: Yeah!

LG: I think it was back in high school.

GB: Did we meet at one of the Pirate Cove’s Battle of the Bands?

LG: Hahaha, yes! Seems like a whole lifetime ago.

GB: Absolutely.

LG: There’s a lot going on in this new song. Why don’t you tell us about it?

GB: Basically, the concept of it is a preview for an eventual concept album that, hopefully, I’ll start recording in the fall; all the music is already written. I need a mental break after working in the studio for “The Chemistress.” The concept album is narrated by the character, Chemistress. This is the background of that character and is four different dialogues – lyrically – explaining everything else that happens in the album.

LG: Hmm.

GB: The Chemistress is this all-seeing eye, alchemist, witch that I had as a cross between Darth Vader and Baba Yaga. She’s a biological android because she’s doing all this weird, dark alchemy that’s giving her cancer – ripping her body apart.

People go to her, pay a price of whatever it may be for her weird witchcraft, and she can look into the past, present, and future – alternate dimensions. The rest of the album is various stories that she tells of “Oh, I’ve seen this in the past, I’ll see this in the future. This is what’s happening now.”

Lyrically, that’s the story that sets the base of what’s to come.

LG: Let’s talk about the musical aspect. I’ve listened five times now, and every time I hear something new. I’m curious, did you write that out before you got in the studio or in the studio? How’d that all happen?

GB: First of all, that’s awesome. That’s definitely the goal. I love the idea of somebody listening and having to hear it again, then not hearing the thing that grabbed their ear and hearing something new. That is totally the goal. It’s a little of both – there’s a lot of stuff where I mapped out the song. I ended up mapping out various ideas on top of the regular instrumentation, “What if there were a couple more guitars or counter-harmonies?”

I got my keyboardist in the studio and said, “OK, I want a counter-harmony going up to this,” and she used her own melody that we were able to mix in. because of scheduling and finance, I couldn’t get into the studio as often as I wanted. It was every three or four weeks.

It was three or four weeks of listening to the song over and over. Those ideas came during then, but there was definitely a lot mapped out. I don’t know if you caught it, but there’s one part in the choruses and then again in the bridge, where there’s like a “snake hiss.” It comes in in the background.

LG: Yeah, what was that?

GB: Just synths. I heard the part and thought it’d sound cool if the vocals were followed by a hiss. I was thinking of the way Tool does sound design. A lot of the time they’d have a scratch on the bass, or something, add an effect to it and throw it in the song as an alternate sound.

LG: How many people are in Ampevene?

GB: Officially, there’s a core four of us. There are three of us that’s been constant members for years: me, bass player Mac Hogan, and keyboardist Ava Smith. We’ve been going through a million drummers. Right now, we’re gigging with Alex Cohen, who’s amazing. On the recording was Darryl Kniffen.

LG: He’s a nice guy.

GB: Yeah, he’s really cool.

LG: I guess the reason I asked is: how the hell are you going to play this song live?

GB: It sounds more like a rock band when we play live – it still has a journey to it. There are sounds we can get out of our pedals, and Ava has a bunch of keyboards around her. She has different sounds for different things.

In the recording, I did several versions of the guitar parts in several different time signatures. I had them fade out in different ways, and there are a couple of different keyboards and synths. I can bring that barebones to one riff that plays back and forth: the riff in the main part and then its answer. Ava gets a lot out of the keys.

LG: Ava’s incredible!

GB: She’s our secret weapon. It’s ridiculous how much sound she can get in. She’s so good. I have ideas that I don’t know how to pull off, and I’ll tell Ava. For that hiss part, I told her I was looking for a snake to meet Darth Vader. She just made a patch for that sound.

LG: She’s a brilliant clavinet player, too.

GB: Do you know Dustin DeLuke?

LG: Yeah. I talked to him a few times.

GB: He also plays clavinet on this song. When I wrote it, I knew I wanted clavinet, and the main part is in 9/8 – it’s hard to play funk in that time.

LG: I don’t think I’d be able to do that.

GB: This was years ago. We started tracking the demo version before the pandemic. Ava was saying she was going to figure out something for it but didn’t have anything at the moment. I thought for the demo, I’d get Dustin DeLuke, and I spent the day designing it with him. Then, after Ava heard it, she said, “OK, I got the part.” I left them both in so Dustin’s on the left ear and Ava’s on the right the whole song. They’re playing counter-rhythms to each other, and it adds a really cool vibe.

LG: I know you played recently at No Fun, but where else are you going to be?

GB: We did the single release party on March 11th at No Fun, but we don’t have too much else planned right now. Over the summer, we’re taking whatever gigs we can get. We’ve got pretty much a whole album; I’ve got a couple of songs that I want to finish over the next couple of months and then hit the studio really hard in the fall. Hopefully, have a full album out that’ll be our first real album.

LG: What do you mean by that?

GB: The album we have on Spotify right now is from when we played with Darryl. Right before he left, we were like, “Let’s go in the studio and record a live set.” That’d help teach our next drummer, Brian, who played with us for a few years after that. Really, the one album that’s out is this live album of stuff we were performing at the time. There were no overdubs or conceptual aspects to it. There are a couple of covers on it, too.

For me, I’m a huge album guy. My goal is to make something that runs through like Dark Side of The Moon or OK Computer. I know I’ll never touch that, but I really like the idea of a story unfolding from beginning to end like a movie. That’s the plan for whatever the next album will be when I go into the studio in the fall.

LG: One of my favorite concept albums of all time is Thick as a Brick by Jethro Tull.

GB: Oh yeah! I haven’t listened to that in years.

LG: Is there anything else you’d like to talk about that I may have missed?

GB: I’m really excited because this was my first song playing with tuplets and nested tuplets. It’s kind of losing the grid that most music is played on. Where usually, if you have quarter, eighth, or sixteenth notes, it’s still on this grid that’s getting finer and finer. Nested tuplets, you forget the grid and play notes that aren’t on the beat. I was doing that with the saxophone part.

The saxophone is floating around, and if you try to count it, you can’t really do that. Same with the guitar. The main part is on 9/8. Then, I speed it up, so it’s playing 9 beats in the rhythm of 7 beats that the drums are playing. While it’s off and in this intermediate grid, it’s chaotic…

LG: But it feels really nice when it resolves.

GB: Yeah.

LG: This may irritate people, but I’m not a big fan of Led Zeppelin.

GB: Haha.

LG: One of my favorite songs of theirs is “Kashmir.” The drums are in 4, and the drums are in 3. I love when that resolves, as well.

GB: Yeah, it’s really cool. As the listener, you can concentrate and bang your head to the guitar part or the drum part, but when you zoom out, it’s like you’re in this kaleidoscopic thing.

LG: Well, congratulations on your new song!

GB: Thanks so much. This has been great; you’re asking me great questions.

LG: Thanks again for your time, and I’ll be in touch!

GB: Thanks! Have a goodnight.

LG: Bye.

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