Interview with Montreal/Toronto rockers, Astral Gates

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Astral Gates

Close your eyes and open your ears: Astral Gates’ sound will shake you so much that in the end, it will be hard for you to find your centre of gravity. Here is the narration of my encounter with Dan D’Urbano and Evan (Esteban) Falcone, Astral Gates’ masterminds (formerly known as Bano): a duo able to deliver gripping pieces made of raw, sensual and soulful music (as per their bio, and I couldn’t agree more!).

I met with this Montréal/Toronto band at the dawn of their new release, a single titled Cold Sweat: an intense, captivating track with a sort of vintage 70s touch… a solo guitar, enchanting drums, increasing excitement… and a moment of suspension, right before the grand finale. “A song that was recorded a while ago”, Dan recollected to me. “I think I recorded this one back in 2015… and that was actually the song that Evan first heard, and he said to me: we gotta make an album like this.”

Indeed, Cold Sweat was the proper gateway into their sophomore EP, which will merge with their previous one into a brand new LP. Dan explained when we met with him (with the due distance) and Evan (virtually, as he resides in Toronto), “So what we are gonna do with this new EP is take it, bunch it up with EP 1 of Bano, and put it all together as an album under Astral Gates”.

“What we have right now is four songs,” Evan told me, “plus the five from the first [EP] that will make nine altogether”.

We then proceeded with Dan to discuss the character of the new tracks, as well as the inspirations behind them and the evolution within. “I would say, [the new EP] sounds similar to EP 1 in a sense. It is very guitar-heavy and riff-based, but this time we dialled back on the guitar instrumentation and made it more like fast-paced… almost groove music, not so heavy-hitting riffs. When you listen to the album, you have songs like My Time, The Day You Die, which are very heavy songs; then you have newer songs like Where Did You Stay Last Night, which we’re gonna be releasing, and Devil in a Silk Dress, which are more like someone dancing and more provocative type of vibes… still within the realm of rock, but our inspirations for all these songs have been part of the bands that we listen to a lot, like Arctic Monkeys, Royal Blood, Queens of The Stone Age… All these bands have been a huge part of our musical development. I’d say that album one is really going to include all of those influences together.”

Those influences left a clear mark on their peculiar abrasive sound – somewhat classic, somewhat contemporary, that in my opinion shapes today’s best rock music. Classic in the way of its beat, strength, melody and riffs, and at the same time in-vogue for its indie-soul, sexy and biting. Nowadays a lot of music circulates in the ether, but pieces like The Day You Die or Get Right (from EP 1) cannot go unnoticed. There’s in them a sort of sophistication that lies between their quest for rock n’ roll and their soulful spirit. We went on chatting about this first production, which includes another three tracks and a very special guest on the drums, Dave Traina from The Damn Truth.

Evan (Esteban) Falcone

“What happened is we had these demo” Evan further explained, “that we had recorded fully by ourselves, like everything, at home, and Dan was already friends with Dave from The Damn Truth, and he showed him those and Dave really liked them. […] At that time we were still in demo phase, so we ended up getting Dave to re-track the drums that we had written or programmed in to give it like that organic feel, and he ended up mixing all the wire stamps together with the ones that we had done in the demo and… it just kind of became this mix of organic and programmed, and we couldn’t be happier with the outcome. So having his employ on the project was a huge help”.

“Dave was really a game-changer for us, you know”, Dan added. “He came in and not only developed a liking to the music but developed a belief in us as musicians. It was a humbling experience. We’re just two guys who worked at a tech company, who love rock music and our parents told us we had talent, but we never really got the validation from people in the industry, you know what I mean?! (laughs)”.

Dan D’Urbano

“It’s not an easy industry,” Dan admits. “You know, we released EP1 and we got a publishing deal with that EP, so I mean…it was great! Now you’re dealing with publishers out in LA and they have all their own expectations and stuff like that. We got a placement in the UK, for a brand, called FIX clothing, which is a very well-known rock clothing brand, so we got a couple of placements with them… So reality hit that things don’t happen overnight and I think you can’t expect them to either, but if you’re doing something you love and are passionate about, it doesn’t really matter whether you make it in the eyes of society because you are making IT, and IT is the music. It’s all about the songs at the end of the day”.

And indeed, this artists’ talent is undeniable, as is their will to persevere in such a bitter/sweet path as it is the long road that leads to rock n’ roll. Nevertheless, while talking with them, what shined through was a captivating balance between humility and ambition, enthusiasm and dedication, probably as a result of a great kinship and an established double-sided creative process.

“Evan and I, we both have brothers,” Dan continued, “but at the same time, we feel like we are brothers in music. We’ve got a brotherly connection. We were raised with the same type of upbringing, the same type of music influences… Our moms have the same name! (laughs) As personalities we are pretty much similar, we are pretty much all about the music, kind of laidback characters. Evan does do a great job sometimes keeping me grounded, I would say he is the more grounded one in this duo. If there’s one thing that is unique about our relationship, it is that we see eye-to-eye, we are aligned. We can also help each other out in different ways: where or when one is lacking, the other person comes in to support. Whatever we bring in, it’s an idea, we bring it to the table: it’s our song, it’s our project. This is the way we see it. It’s about equity and it’s about being fair to each other”.

Also because of this special partnership, it was intriguing to dig deeper into their cultural background, their childhood idols, and the strong connection to the Italian culture (they are both Italian-Canadian), a tight bond that undeniably shaped their musical taste. “We both grew up with an Italian upbringing,” Dan told me while chatting about family and roots, “so you know, Lucio Battisti, La Canzone del Sole, Il Tempo di Morire… this one is my favourite song of all time. So Italian music… I know, you Evan too [turning to Evan], you grew up into classic rock, the Beatles, the Rolling Stones, blues guitars, like SRV, Jimi Hendrix, Clapton, you name it, right? These are all big influences for us. I think in the 90s we got into like Oasis, stuff like that, The Strokes, so we kind of connected our entire life … we’ve been following the same type of music. As we continue writing music together, we continuously discover that our musical palette is pretty diverse, but we were brought up on a lot of classic rock, a lot of Italian music. My grandfather was an opera singer, so we listened to him and we listened to opera growing up.”

“It’s funny because my grandfather was also an opera singer,” Evan added, “so I didn’t necessarily grow up playing music with my family, but I definitely was inspired by the songs they were listening to, as Dan said, like 70s Italian artists. So we wanted to come up with a project that embodies that, sonically but then also that visually and aesthetically has some Italian elements interspersed in there. So that’s why Bano as a name made sense for us. We wanted something that had some Italian origins in the name”.

But Astral Gates is also a duo who, since their very start, has had a unique way of collaborating: in a way, they kind of anticipated the methods mandated by the current times. Dan and Evan began working together remotely way before all the restrictions due to the pandemic, and thus were not halted by it. “We have been a duo writing virtually pretty much since day one,” Dan recalled, “so when COVID hit, people were like, oh my God, we can’t be in jamming, we can’t write as a band, how are we gonna do this? We were sitting back saying: Really?! We have been doing that for the last two years!”

“Now, I mean, I had lost the work that I had,” Dan continued, “I was basically served money to be a full-time writer, and I was doing it virtually anyway so I kind of saw the light at the end of the tunnel. I think that with everything there’s always a silver lining. There’s bad but there’s also an opportunity. COVID got people really reflecting on themselves… Being alone and being in isolation as a musician is difficult too because you are so used to connecting with an audience, so used to connecting with other people. But the musicians who want to reflect on themselves, who want to take care of their own psyches, this is an opportunity for them. So I don’t think anything really changed for us to be honest”.

“We are definitely on a more fortunate side of some of the musicians that have been affected by COVID”, admitted Evan while also addressing the sensitive topic of the closure of independent music venues, a tragic plague that is striking the music world dramatically. “I do feel for the venues… I think of the musicians too obviously have been impacted, but they can find other ways to be making their music or playing or jamming online or virtually… but, yeah, I think that for the venues’ owners… I mean, just the other day I was walking around in Toronto and I noticed Revival closed down. It just sucks, because I think that people who are involved in music, all the emotions and great stuff that go along with the venues… for us, it is like the end of an era. It is definitely sad. But I am confident that the ones who are passionate about music will find ways to make those things come back… I heard some are considering doing concerts at drive-ins. So I just think that people in music, they are creative and they will come up with creative solutions for dealing with COVID”.

“There is always hope,” Dan concluded. “You are looking at two guys who are constantly reminding themselves that there is always hope. Because being in a band, it is not easy. Being in a band where we are two guys who write music, we are not even in the same province, it is not easy if you don’t align… If you can connect and align yourselves on what your intent is when you have an intention things are going to come out of it. So, you know, a lot of venues are closing down but, because of that, a lot of different types of venue opportunities are going to open up: outdoor festivals where there’s a distance policy, there’s ways in which online concerts are happening as well… It will probably not be the same, I’m not going to lie. But for the time being, you know, better than no music”.

Evan and Dan are the kind of people, the kind of artists, that win you over you from the beginning. You can see through their words that sort of sacred love for music, but also the complexity and knowledge which delivers very well-crafted material… and above all, that kind of sound which tastes of the unexpected: it doesn’t just rock, it also rolls you… brilliantly!

To be always updated on Astral Gates news and releases, check out the links below:

Bandcamp: astralgates.bandcamp.com

Facebook and Instagram: @astralgatesmusic


Interview: Francesca Sacerdoti

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