The musical alchemy of Toronto guitarist Dylan Hennessy is perfectly reflected in a scene from a now-unknown movie in which an interviewer asks a piano player how he “makes up” such incredible songs. The piano player explains that he simply listens to the universe, and his only job as a musician is to act as a conduit and transmute (or, play) the notes he hears. And this same feeling of sublime alchemy echoes in Dylan’s latest self-produced EP, Luminil (release date – December 20th, 2019).
As an instrumental prog-metal masterwork drawing from progressive influences like Animals As Leaders, INTERVALS, Polypia and Plini, as well as bands like Dream Theater and Periphery, Luminil is far more than a five-song testament to the sheer technical brilliance of Dylan as a guitarist, songwriter and audio engineering wizard. As clear evidence of why Canadian radio icon Jeff Woods (Records & Rock Stars Radio Show) called Dylan’s shredding prowess “awe-inspiring” and why promoter/musician Anthony Dell’Orso (Of the Bear Bookings) called Dylan “a maestro at his craft,” Luminil effectively represents the richness and scope of an Otherland called music, wrought into form by a man who knows how to stand between two worlds and play his guitar like an incantation.
The Road to Luminil
“I’ve been a fan of progressive metal since I was in high school,” says Dylan. “I stumbled upon Dream Theater and was infatuated with their approach to writing these long-format pieces that stretch from virtuoso shred-fests to ballad sections and jams, and all over the course of a 10- or 15-minute song. I’d never heard anything like it and thought it was cool, especially as an aspiring guitarist.”
Following his aspirations to Seneca College, where he graduated from the Independent Music Production program in 2013, Dylan soon began winning fans across Toronto with his versatile and eclectic playing style (ranging from rock to intricate acoustic ballads) and original looping arrangements both as a club performer and busker. From there, Dylan continued to evolve and perform, and since 2017, his live abilities have led him to open for bands like Finger Eleven, I Mother Earth, and MONOWHALES. He’s appeared on some of Toronto’s most recognizable stages (Yonge-Dundas Square, MOD Club, The Phoenix, Lee’s Palace, Hugh’s Room, the Horseshoe Tavern) and countless independently organized showcases and festival performances. Landing a five-show run in Manchester, England, for Indie Week Europe, Dylan also won a flight to perform in Israel, and took third place at the Indie Week Canada 2018 Finals.
The Germination of Luminil
Dylan’s focus on prog-metal (and the germination of Luminil) began to crystalize in 2018, partly due to a voice injury. “I’ve been dabbling in the [prog-metal] style for about a decade and have made some tracks in the past and thrown them up on YouTube, but upgrading my production suite in 2018 got me fired up to start producing again,” recalls Dylan. “And then what really tipped the scale was hurting my voice this past year. I realized that my recovery would be a good time to focus on finally getting an EP done. So, to hold myself accountable, I posted on Facebook that I would have an instrumental prog-metal EP done by the end of the year. That post got a lot of likes, and at that point I’d only written two songs with my new production set-up. It was one of those moments where I kind of had to put my money where my mouth was and get it done, and I’m really glad I did. I’m very happy with the way everything turned out.”
While most of Luminil was a solo effort (writing, performance, recording, editing and mixing), Dylan reached out to others to get involved:
Dexter Forbes and Daniel Sutarz (Bastila)
“Earlier this year, I reached out to some people that I thought would be cool to work with on this,” says Dylan. “The first was the band Bastila, who have become my favourite Toronto-based prog-metal band over the last couple years. They’re wild. Such skilled players. Their live shows are impeccable, and they’re really involved in their local scene. I was happy when both of their guitar players (Dexter Forbes and Daniel Sutarz) agreed to do guests solos on the song ‘Breath of Life.’ and they were even kind enough to film their performances so I could use them for a play-through video.”
“The other guest on the record is Dr. Draw, who is just a mad wizard of violin,” says Dylan.” I can’t understand how he does what he does. But his specialty is lead violin in place of vocals over top of electronic music. He’s one of a kind. The recording session with him was really an experience of seeing a pro at work. I had a one-minute section of a song in mind for him to play a solo over and we only had two hours together. In one hour, he’d given me so much material that he’s now featured all over the whole eight-and-a-half-minute track! And the song wouldn’t be the same without it. It’s really become a highlight on the EP, in my opinion, and a huge part of that is what he was able to create in just an hour.”
To create the album cover, CD label and interior artwork for Luminil, Hennessy chose Xristopher Bland (digital artist, copywriter and songwriter). Known by some followers of Royal City Studios as the designer of social and concert posters for RCS events like Classic Covers Cool Cars (as well as blog writer and occasional drummer at concerts and open jam nights), Xris worked with Dylan over the course of a month or so to render the essence of the songs into visual form. Beginning with the meaning of the word “Luminil” (the implication of both the presence and absence of light) and the concept of a celestial body that’s both moon and sun, Xris created a semi-photorealistic image of a sun-moon hovering beyond a floating island for an overall image that draws from the styles of Roger Dean (legendary artist behind the Yes album covers) and Alex Pryle, the artist behind Plini’s album covers. And the final artwork, says Dylan, “really brought [my music] to life in a way that totally blew my mind.”
“Luminil” CD cover and label art by Xristopher Bland.
Igor Rabinovich and Ryan Abramowitz
Dylan also acknowledges and appreciates the contributions and support of Igor Rabinovuch, Department Manager at Long & McQuade (North York), who mastered Luminil, as well as Ryan Abramowitz. “The earliest writing on this record,” recalls Dylan, “started with a session we had almost three years ago at his jam space, which would end up being the first minute and a half of ‘Escaping the Rabbit Hole,’ the EP’s closing track.”
“It’s been a long time since I’ve taken a crack at self-producing a body of work,” reflects Dylan. “The last time I did, I was still fresh out of Seneca’s Independent Music Production course in 2013 and the product admittedly sounded very amateur, hahaha. I started working at Long & McQuade about two-and-a-half years ago and that really gave me the chance to dive into some technical know-how as far as recording properly and getting outfitted with the right gear to do it. And so, after getting some new software—namely Cubase 10, Superior Drummer and Helix Native—I thought it was time to try again. It’s been so fun getting back into the producer’s chair. I used to do a lot of music production in GarageBand in college, but I had to stop for years because my Mac couldn’t take it and my PC didn’t have any recording software on it.”
Where many artists struggle or rush to meet an album deadline, or set expectations, Dylan explains that creating Luminil was a project motivated “just for the sake of doing it. I don’t necessarily plan on taking it live or have this grand end-game career plan with it. I just wanted to do it. And that made it special for me.”
Misconceptions of the Metal Community
Dylan also sheds some light onto a commonly held misconception of the metal community as being solely inhabited by dark individuals. His experiences within the Toronto metal scene were what “inspired the name Luminil. It’s supposed to be a halfway point between light and dark. That’s reflected in the music but more so even in the metal community. The majority of people who are into this style are not dark individuals at all, I find. More nerds if anything, if I’m being totally honest, hahaha. We all bond over this stuff and it’s really more joyous and uplifting than anything”—qualities that underpin all the songs on Luminil. While there are certainly sections that seem to stare into the grandeur of darkness, such excursions reflect balance, which is the nature of existence, and Luminil ultimately lifts the listener from the shadows of the street to the crescent edge of an uplifting light that we call joy and inspiration.
Anxiety and Self-Attacking Thoughts: The Personal Story of “Anxious Amen”
While all the songs on Luminil are personally significant to Dylan, one track is especially meaningful as a reflection of his journey through anxiety and self-attacking thoughts.
“The fourth and longest song, ‘Anxious Amen,’ has a pretty personal story,” says Dylan. “Normally, instrumental music has a bit of a trope of having unrelated titles and music not tethered to meaning, but this one actually came from my first real battle with mental health since I was a teenager. This past summer, I was battling with a knee and back injury. I’d really damaged my singing voice, and I was working six days a week. I think the culmination of all this started producing these daily anxiety attacks that would stick around for a few days and then sort of subside for a month or two, then creep up again. And one of the things I found was that having free time made me anxious because of how many things I wanted to get done on my one day off a week.
One day in July in a frantic and anxious state, I determined that if I didn’t produce a full song that day, I’d have failed myself and my day, which is a ridiculous thought really. And so, I began writing what would become ‘Anxious Amen.’ I worked on it without pause for about five or six hours and actually wrote most of the parts that ended up on the final song. But at the end of it, I was so pissed off at myself that I didn’t complete it and my whole day ended in a downward spiral. Self-attacking thoughts, fast heart rate, heavy breathing I couldn’t really control… it was messed up. And that happened a bunch over the summer. What was crazy though was when I went back a few days later, I listened to what I’d made so far and thought. ‘Damn, this is a good start. Why was I so hard on myself before? I actually did pretty good here.’ I have a really hard time giving myself credit when I’ve done something right, but that was a step too far.
Ultimately as I kept working on the piece, I had the chance to get Dr. Draw involved on violin. The mix really came together toward the end and now it sits up there as one of my favourites on this release. So, I gave it the name ‘Anxious Amen’ because I need to work with what goes on in my head.
In the end, I was thankful for what came of my frantic state. And I wonder if I could have shown myself the final product on that day in July, would I have been so hard on myself? I don’t really know, but now it’s a reminder that my anxiety isn’t in vain.”
Where to Get Luminil
There are several ways to get your hands on a copy of Luminil:
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All images of Dylan copyright © Dylan Hennessy. Used with permission. All Luminil images copyright © Xristopher Bland and licensed to Dylan Hennessy Music for CD/streaming music sales and non-commercial use on social.