(TRR) Guitarist/vocalist/composer/producer Ryan Duke is the mastermind behind the progressive metal project Fortis Amor. He recently released the self-titled debut album to rave reviews and has certainly left us hungry for more.
We could hardly believe that this album was basically put together by one man! Fortis Amor is comprised of Ryan Duke’s earlier musical musings, stretching back nearly two decades. More recently, Duke has released two EP’s (also available via Bandcamp) of more modern takes on the genre (2009’s Passage and 2012’s Seismic). With one listen, it’s clear that the different styles and influences on Fortis Amor quite literally transcend any recent metal trend defined by a period of time. After spending so much time honing a signature sound, incorporating years of inspiration becomes inevitable.
We recently caught up with Ryan Duke to discuss the creation process behind such a genius album, as well as topics such as changes in the music industry, genre and his plans for the future.
Q: You recently released your album “Fortis Amor” on 5/19. Can you talk a bit about the recording process and let us know the mindset in the studio for one or two songs in particular that stand out?
Ryan Duke: The recording process was definitely what you’d call “a process”. I did it in stages. Writing and programming drums and synths, then recording guitars. Bass came a bit later and then vocals. Then, I went back through and adjusted the drums and synths to fit better. “Upon Yourself” was quite a challenge as the vocal melodies needed totally revamped after it was recorded. I wasn’t happy with it and rewrote the verse melodies many times to get it to work. In addition the end was a mixing challenge due to the many layers of guitars, vocals, and an organ. Same goes for the beginning of “Particles” which has all this orchestration and five guitars happening at once during the heavy part. Lots of mixing tricks to get it all to fit.
Q: We know that this album has been a passion project of yours for quite some time now. Can you talk about your variety of influences over that time that helped shape the overall direction of the album?
Ryan Duke: Influences came from everywhere. I really wasn’t thinking about them at the time of writing or recording. I just get an idea and go for it. Then I refine it and refine it until I hear something that I find to be truly unique to me and a song that I can stand behind.
Q: We personally look at music as a universal language that we can all speak and understand. When did music first begin speaking to you?
Ryan Duke: Probably when I was around 10. I went to live with my father and he got me listening to lots of different stuff like Pink Floyd and Al DiMiola. My brother got me into stuff like Tori Amos and other female singers. When I was 11, I heard Metallica for the first time and that changed everything.
Q: There is a strong message of love and hope that appears to be the main thread running throughout the course of the album. How important was it to you that this message come across?
Ryan Duke: It was of the utmost importance. As you said music is a language. It evokes emotions and it carries a message if there are lyrics. No one listens to music only for analytical purposes. Everyone has some (or a large) level of pure enjoyment of music and the message. People want to connect with a message or use music as a way to reduce stress or feel empowered, etc. I knew that if I was going to put music out then it had to say a lot and I couldn’t hold back anything.
Q: Over the course of making this album was there anything you found you were surprised to learn about yourself as an artist?
Ryan Duke: I learned I could improve my singing. I knew this was possible, but I hadn’t ever given it the attention it needed in the past. My main instrument is guitar – I am not a naturally talented singer and my vocals were nowhere near the level of the music. It took a lot of time to get them up to par for me to be satisfied with what would be on the album. To reach the high notes, for the screaming to convey the conviction of the words. I also got much better at not caring about what people think. The more time you put into something the more you can start to care about that stuff. I had to shut it off and just enjoy the process and be true to my vision for the album. It was great.
Q: There have been a ton of changes within the music industry over the years. Which one has had the biggest effect on you and the way you approach recording?
Ryan Duke: These challenges are opportunities to utilize. It’s much easier now to get our music out to more people. The biggest challenge is probably cutting through the clutter. There is so much out there that people are very overwhelmed with business and a plethora of bands to listen to. But there are people who will love whatever music a band puts out if it’s good, it’s just finding those people.
Q: When listening to the album we were amazed that this was all pretty much just you. Can you talk about the challenges that go along with putting together such an amazing collection of music by yourself?
Ryan Duke: Thanks, I appreciate that. There are plenty of challenges, but it is worth it if you want it bad enough. I’m pretty used to it at this point, so it seems normal. Everything in life is a challenge and challenges are good. They challenge us. If something is too easy then I lose interest because there is no real reward in the process of conquering it.
Q: It is hard to classify Fortis Amor into any particular genre, which we think is great. Do you think that genres even matter anymore, as now people can be free to fans of pretty much any style of music they choose?
Ryan Duke: Of course people have always been free to like any style, but I guess what you mean is that it’s much easier to find a large variety of stuff that one might like. I do think genre matters, especially in metal. Metal fans are loyal, dedicated, and often picky. But as things in the metal genre grow, people grow, their tastes change and adapt over time. Bands change and adapt over time as well. Genres or a label like progressive metal or whatever are like the isles in the grocery store, they help people know where to look for what they know they want. I just don’t think about that when writing. I just write what I want and it is what it is. But this all depends on what the bands goal is. If they want to make money or build a large following, then sticking to a genre is important because you will alienate fans if you bounce all over the place and are unpredictable. I’m saying that is bad. I love Faith No More and always have because they write great music, but they pretty much change every album and even have a large variety of styles within an album. And I remember an interview with Mike Patton when “Angel Dust” came out and they asked him if the new album would alienate fans. He didn’t seem to give a crap. Mike has always done a great job of doing the avant-garde and there are plenty of people who love it.
Q: Do you have any plans to take this album out on the road for some touring?
Ryan Duke: Not right now.
Q: What are your plans for the rest of year? Any work on more material?
Ryan Duke: Definitely. I am writing ideas all the time. So, much that I think I need to stop coming up with new things. I am crafting the concept for the next album, not saying it will be a concept album, and will begin piecing it all together and constructing the outline and general feel of the next album. It’s going to be great to start working on new songs. It’s been way too long since I’ve been in this stage of the process. I think it is my favorite stage since it’s a clean slate and I can do whatever I want. After learning quite a lot in making the last album I feel much more prepared and organized which should make for something totally different.
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