Interview: Mitchell Colbert of DIAGORAS

Diagoras

Mitchell Colbert is a guitarist of Sweden-based technical death metal band Diagoras. The group residing in Gothenburg launched their debut EP “Enigma” in October 2018. The EP was produced by drummer Hannes Grossmann (Alkaloid, Obscura, Blotted Science, Necrophagist).

In a new interview for Guitar Sphere, Colbert answers our questions about the EP, playing guitar, his rig, and more.

Let’s kick off this interview with a talk about your recent EP “Enigma.” What can you tell me about the creative and recording phases for this release?

Well I was living in my home state of Iowa in the US, teaching guitar lessons for a living while I was waiting to move to Europe to kick off Diagoras with Simon when I was writing the songs you hear on the EP. I was always in melodic death metal and thrash projects before Diagoras, so with this band I really looked forward to bringing in all my odd influences and really go crazy with layering melodies and throwing in as many odd time signatures as I wanted.

As for recording, we were rather self sufficient. I recorded with my home recording setup (basically just DI guitars and having them reamped by a professional), our bassist Ljuba recorded in a friend’s home studio, but our drummer Simon recorded in the legendary Studio Fredman. I was a little jealous of him for that ;)

Diagoras - Enigma

How would you describe your initial exposure to music?

My earliest memory of enjoying music, I must have been like 4 or 5 years old. My dad would play his old records on his big stereo system before he would go out on a Saturday night. Of course he had a lot of songs, but I would always come out of my room when he turned on “Keep On Rockin’ in the Free World” by Neil Young. The electric version of course. I also have fond memories of the admittedly terrifying for a child intro to a song I still love, “Fire” by The Crazy World of Arthur Brown.

How did you get into playing guitar?

I discovered the song “One” by Metallica on Guitar Hero 3 when I was 13 years old actually. I was obsessed with it, and I checked out YouTube’s recommendations for other songs, next thing I know I was immersed in all things Metallica. My mom bought me a guitar for Christmas that year, a friend of my sister showed me a very basic version of For Whom The Bell Tolls, and after that I just went nuts, sitting trying to play faster and faster all the time.

Did you start to listen to music differently once you discovered guitar?

Not immediately, I was obsessed with shred and heaviness before I started playing. But eventually I grew to appreciate the more melodic styles of extreme music, bands like Dethklok and Children of Bodom were a big factor in that I think. That combined with private studies with various instructors made me think about music really differently, something I’m really happy I put the effort into doing!

Who were some of your early guitar influences? 

In the very beginning it was all about Marty Friedman, Joe Satriani, and Kirk Hammett. However, I was also deeply influenced by Brendon Small (Dethklok), Greg Burgess (Allegaeon), Jari Maenpaa (Wintersun) and Alexi Laiho (Children of Bodom), and definitely Al Di Meola too.

Tell me about your guitar technique.

I’ve always been a huge fan of guitar solos, as you can hear on the Enigma EP, and I wanted to try and forge somewhat of a unique style for myself starting with this band. I often try to incorporate outside tones and chord extensions to my arpeggios, even if it’s in a faster section where the details may not be noticed so much. I feel it adds a lot more color to the solo.

And in the era where there’s a thousand people who are way more technical than me, and they all can write extremely melodic and lyrical solos, I know the best way for me to be unique is to try and incorporate something strange into my melodic phrasing.

What guitars are in your collection?

Not much of a collector really, I just have an Ibanez Iron Label 7 string with a Floyd Rose, and a 7 string Schecter Omen Extreme… I think. I love that guitar, it’s my favorite, but I bought it used without the truss rod cover on it, and I can’t find any exact matches online of both the paint and the custom inlay. I also have my classical guitar for when I delve back into my classical studies and feel likes playings on a grandpas guitars.

With the advancement of the technology and amp/effect simulation, do you still use pedals? 

In a live setting I have a noise gate, and I’ll probably throw a tuner into the mix as well. That said, I’ve never been much for effects, even in a recording setting. Nothing wrong with using them, I just never really did. I prefer adding keyboards or orchestral elements for adding space over effects, but that’s just me. I haven’t done much experimenting with effects in the past.

In your opinion, what are the three skills that every guitarist must bring to perfection?

Great question! Most important skill a guitarist can have is being able to take a riff they’ve written, and expand it into a song. Every guitarist I’ve ever met has riffs lying around, but until you can expand it into a full piece of music they’re not worth much.

Second, counting rhythm. Especially in solos! Being able to slow down a section to under half the original speed is very important to get your playing tight, and if you can’t tell if you’re playing 16th notes or sextuplets, you’re going to lose yourself big time, and lose accuracy. Tab your songs, and your solos, on GuitarPro or TuxGuitar, this will help a lot!

Finally, this one applies to all musicians, being a good bandmate when you’re not playing your instrument. If you have a reputation for not replying to messages in a timely manner, turn on notifications. If someone disagrees with you, be mature and treat band discussion with respect. You can be the best guitarist on Earth, but without those people in your band, you’re nothing. Be a good person.

Back to music, what were the biggest challenges you faced as a guitarist when making “Enigma”?

For me the biggest hassle in recording was just getting the complex riffs nice and tight in the rhythm guitar recording sessions. However, writing the EP was a long process, a lot of writing a section, and listening to it a million times to see how the transitions flow. Hopefully the songs feel coherent and like they flow smoothly despite the erratic time signatures at times.

How do you go about channeling inspiration into writing?

Everything starts with either an idea in my head, a general concept or something like that, or I write a riff of some kind. Once I can take that riff, and add something that comes after it, that’s when inspiration takes over and things start getting fun. That said it takes a lot of time, and I have a mass grave of guitar riffs that will never see the light of day.

It’s kind of like I’m sitting in a storage unit full of TNT, and I’m trying to light a wet match. Sure I look like an idiot and I have no idea what I’m doing, but just you wait!

MC

Tell me about your guitar rig you use for recording Diagoras material.

All the gear heads are going to be very disappointed. I plugged my Ibanez Iron Label into a Radial DI box and my Presonus Audiobox interface, directly into my laptop. Then I sent it to Hannes Grossmann, one of my favorite songwriters of all time, who was the mix engineer on the Enigma EP. I don’t trust myself with tone, because I never thought about it so much. So I told Hannes to reamp it, and trusted his ears to do the work better than mine would!

What are your five favorite pieces of gear in 2019, and why?

Audient iD14, small interface that works really well, has great converters in it despite the low price, and it looks really nice sitting on your desk to be honest.

Schecter Omen Extreme 7 I guess is what we’ll call it! Feels great, plays great, really reliable piece of gear that I love to play.

Nintendo Switch, it keeps me from having to talk to my drummer too much when I stay at his house. (kidding, love ya Simon)

Running out of ideas. I’m gonna say electricity, I mean if I couldn’t plug my amp in what’s the point right? Plus ya know, being able to read and see at night without lighting candles, really dope. I don’t know why more musicians don’t talk about electricity when they talk modern tech.

Last one has to be running water. Regardless of the fact that musicians rarely bathe, we are usually too poor to afford anything to drink other than tap water.

What other dragons are you looking forward to slaying?

If we mean figuratively, I’m writing skeletons of songs for the first Diagoras album now! Once we have those done, we’ll sit and work as a band on arranging and everyone will write their parts to go along with it and I’m really eager to see where it goes. Also I want to really expand my lead playing into new territory on the album, as always!

If we mean literal dragons, I’m sure Alduin will be back at some point, and I’m still no closer to learning the Dragonrend shout. So hopefully it’ll be a while before that happens. Thanks for reading everybody!

Buy Diagoras’ “Enigma” from Bandcamp, and follow the band on Facebook.