Sylar is a celebration of self-expression against a backdrop of down-tuned bounce, stadium-ready choruses, and streetwise hip-hop flavor. The Queens, New York sonic stomp squad are positioned as a new voice for the voiceless, unapologetically championing the underdog, reigniting the rap/rock genre, and doing it all with style. Recently, I sat down with the guitar player Miguel Cardona to discuss writing songs in the moment, making Instagram pages about revealing body parts, working with Caleb Shomo of Beartooth, and more!
So, how’s this tour going for you so far?
It’s going awesome! It’s day 6, I believe, and we are at the Canal Club in Virginia. We had a hometown show in NYC last night at the Knitting Factory and it was just a special night. So, I’m a very happy boy but a tired boy at the same time!
Aww, must have been nice!
Yeah, so many like, family members and friends. It was a hectic day in NYC too but everyone came out for it, so it was really, really hectic but fun!
How would you describe your current tour?
As a family because every single band on this tour is family. We’ve all been great friends from day one. We took out the band Virials on tour with us that are from our area. They played on our last album release show and they are just amazing people. They are young, up-and-coming, heavy, aggressive, mean, they mean what they say and they’re in-your-face and they don’t care; I back that and they back us the same way. Cane Hill is actually one of my favorite bands out right now and just having them here is an honor and incredible. We’ve known the guys from Bloodlines from doing Warped Tour with them and we just connected. There is not a bad connection from anyone on this entire tour. And, that’s why it feels like a family because we can just walk up to anyone, crack a joke, and walk away knowing everything is good.
Do you feel that being from NYC has influenced your music?
Yeah, NYC has definitely influenced us, especially on the last record and we added a lot of influences. We try to just vibe it out and NYC has so much culture so we try to use that. Jayden and I are full of culture because he’s Columbian and I’m Puerto Rican so we really just love our culture and embrace that still by putting it into our music.
That’s awesome that you have so much pride in where you are from and are willing to portray that part of yourself into your music.
Jayden was actually the one who grew up in NYC. I lived in Puerto Rico for a lot of my life so I’ve kinda been jumping around but New York was a big part of my jumping around.
Seeing as you guys have a pretty good sense of humor and are very comfortable with each other, are there any prank wars going on?
Oh, there is a couple! Somebody made an Instagram actually a couple days ago about our drummer, Cody Ash, because he wears ripped jeans and you can find it on Instagram at @codyashknees; it’s just a whole entire Instagram page of like his knees through jeans [hysterical laughing]. So yeah, there are a couple pranksters out there.
Do you have a plan for revenge?
No, not yet! This literally happened last night, so we are in the planning phase right now. But we are gonna GET THEM!
What inspired you to become a musician?
I’m not sure. I wasn’t really good in school so I kinda focused on music a lot. Music kinda runs in my family; my grandfather played the timbales and the drums back in Puerto Rico and was in so many church bands. It was just always flowing through me. I guess, it was just meant to be.
Did your grandfather ever try to teach you any of these instruments?
No, we actually never got together to play music which is kinda weird. But I don’t know, he didn’t have to teach me. It was already in me, you know?
Musicians always have this flow to them. I’m assuming you have that vibe as well?
Yeah, yeah [laughter] I just feel it you know? I’m not really taught by anyone. I just felt the music and picked up a guitar one day and I don’t think I’ve stopped playing the guitar since.
What was the first guitar you picked up and do you still have it?
No, I don’t have it and it wasn’t mine. It was my friends from back home. He had a guitar laying around and I borrowed it and didn’t give it back for 2 years. It was a Takamine, not sure what the model was, but it was an acoustic guitar. After acoustic I went on to electric but that was like 4 years later.
So, you basically stole your first guitar?
Yeah, yeah, I mean he asked for it back two years later; he didn’t ask for it until then and once I gave it back, I decided to buy my own. I haven’t actually hit him up for a while.
You should totally call him!
Nah. He’ll probably think I’m taking a guitar or something. [Laughter]
What is your current go-to for guitars? Do you have a specific brand you use?
PRS has been my dream guitar. They’ve helped me out so much. They had a custom 24 in my hands and I don’t really need any other guitar. I’ll be satisfied for a very long time. I love all guitars. It’s not that I’m against anything else, it’s just PRS has been my dream and it came true. It’s awesome that they’ve been a part of my journey.
What do your home and touring rig look like?
My home rig, practice rig and like my studio rig: It’s the same thing. I play an Axe-FX so I just kinda take it off the case and take it home. What I have on the road, I have in the studio and it’s all the same thing.
Does keeping everything consistent help you practice?
Yeah, yeah if everything feels the same then I won’t have to adjust to learning the way a guitar plays. I just kinda keep it as simple as possible. I make tones on my own but other than that, I keep it pretty consistent. It’s been the same thing for the past 5 years almost.
What’s your practice regimen? Is it an all-day thing for you?
I don’t practice all day. If I wanna play guitar I’m not gonna spend 8 hours on it: I’m gonna give it a break, let it breathe, and come back to it. I like playing songs that I want to learn. Maybe I have a favorite artist whose song I’m enjoying and I wanna learn it. Maybe there is a solo in a song that I want to learn. I like practicing that way.
When you’re sitting there making your tones do you have a certain process? What runs through your mind while making these?
It’s based on the vibe. If I’m playing a riff, I might start with the preset and just catch a vibe. If I like what I’m doing then I’ll make my own tone to make the riff sound how I really hear it in my head. It’s not really me sitting down and trying a bunch of amps. I go off what I’m feeling at that moment and then I’ll try to make the sound that I hear or how I hear it on the Axe-FX or computer.
Does this vary from song to song or stay consistent through the album?
For the album, I didn’t use my Axe-FX; I used a Kemper. We kinda just made the vibe of the song and then if we wanted to make something sound a little dirtier, we started with a dirty tone and then adjusted it at the end of the song while we are mixing and producing the record. I don’t really think about tones while I’m writing cause I’m just gonna stay focused on the tone and then lose track of what I’m writing.
Do you just write guitar parts and melodies or do you also write lyrics?[Vocalist] Jayden and I do it all and our friends, Eric Ron and Andrew Baylis, help us out. Other than that, we vibe out and whoever comes up with a melody or whoever comes up with something like a synth part or a drum part, anything, we go off whatever we start off with rather than sitting there and trying to come up with something; we just naturally let it happen.
Are you as involved in the production element of this process as well or are you portraying what you want to an engineer?
It’s back and forth. Sometimes, we’ll sit on it and try to do it ourselves. Sometimes, I’ll sit back and say, “Yeah, that’s good,” or, “Try it this way,” to whomever is controlling it. Sometimes we’re the ones controlling it.
Do you prefer to have full control over your mixes?
I like it better when I don’t have to think about that. When it’s just flowing in the room and there is this energy where everyone is on the same page, that’s my favorite way to make a song. It feels right by the end of the song when everybody is happy and that’s what you get out of the song. To me, if everyone is not connecting then the song will probably have something off about it.
Well going off of that a little bit, do you make music that is intended to tug at people’s emotions the same way you are feeling when you’re making a song?
No. It’s so personal to us. I mean, I guess we have that intention of how people will react to the song but we start off with our own personal feelings. Our songs are so personal that it’s hard to say that the song is directed at trying to get a reaction out of someone like that.
Correct me if I’m wrong but it seems like your music is somewhat therapeutic for the band.
We put a lot of our emotions into our songs. We go off the feeling that’s happening; if it’s anger, you’re gonna hear that because we write it right there in the moment. Sometimes we don’t finish it and sometimes we finish it and if it’s right; if the feeling is right, then we keep it but we are all about energy in the moment.
Do you feel that keeping things real and honest in your music is what draws fans to you?
I feel like if we put that energy into our music, that’s the same people that we’ll get back that love our music. We don’t wanna go out there and sing about things that we don’t believe in or preach about something that we might not agree with or we’re not really about. We’re not really about the whole fake vibe.
What was one of your most meaningful fan interactions?
There’s a bunch. We have so many kids and adults come up to us and tell us that they are going through something and that our music has helped them. It’s hard to pinpoint one because there is more than just one person that comes to us and tells us that our music has saved their lives. I’ve been there, too. So many songs have saved my life so it’s hard to really think of one moment with a fan.
Speaking of moments, did you ever have a moment where you felt like you’ve made it as an artist?
Sh*t, yeah! A bunch! One that stands out is we played Rock on the Range in 2017 and there was a rain delay and we were told that that we might not play. So, we were opening one of the stages and we started hanging out with friends and then we finally played and the crowd was just… AMAZING! It was raining, mud everywhere, so many hands in the sky; it felt really good. It felt like that’s what I wanted to do.
What’s the worst gig—?
FOO BAR SAINT LOUIS 2014. We played in front of 2 people and they were from 3 hours away.
Aww, but that’s nice that they came all that way to see you guys!
Yeah, [laughter] that was the worst gig I have ever played though. We did hang out with them of course. We even asked if they wanted to hear a song and of course they did; they drove 3 hours just to see us!
Do you feel there is major distinction between festival tours and your own headlining tours? Which do you prefer?
Oh yeah, absolutely. The vibe is completely different when you go to a festival. It’s “flex time” which means there are so many artists and so many people around that you know. You show up, be the best that you can be, go and play the show and hope to have the best crowd so you show up knowing you have to have a great moment. Some bands succeed and some bands don’t. When you play a club, you’re doing it every day, at least when you’re on tour, and you’re in more of a routine, whereas a festival is just a special moment and a special, massive day. There are just so many people, from the crowd to the people behind the scenes. I’m a huge fest fan. I also love sports so I’m really competitive in general which might have something to do with it too.
I noticed that you guys recently went on tour in Japan. Do you feel that there is a difference in the atmosphere of the show depending on the country you are in?
Japan is much different than any other place in the world. People there are completely silent in between songs and they just listen to you and have so much respect. Tokyo, Japan is probably my favorite place to play.
Do you plan on going back?
Oh yeah, we are definitely going back! We plan on going at least once a year!
What has been Beartooth’s role in your careers as musicians? Are they just good friend of yours?
Actually, [vocalist] Caleb Shomo recorded our first EP called Deadbeat. He was the first person we actually started working with that had a way into the touring world and treated us like a real band. That’s how our relationship started and he’s become one of our best friends; he’s amazing. We wouldn’t be anywhere without that man!
Was it just his business help or his support as well?
Everything, he did everything. He did everything in his power to make sure that people knew who we were and he just blessed us. That’s the only way I can put it.
It’s really cool to hear how other artist interact and boost up one another.
Yeah, I wish younger bands did more in rock. In rock, it’s like everybody tries to keep to themselves. I feel like collaborating is the best way to create a moment in art. What’s better than being in a room filled with people that do the same thing you do and create something together as a team with all of you being extremely satisfied and happy to keep contributing to the art? There is no better feeling than that to me. At least that’s my personal opinion.
How was it for you guys when you first started out?
We got lucky and worked with Caleb while Jayden was on tour with a different band. Jayden met Caleb and said he was starting a band and Caleb helped record us soon after. That helped us out so much just to have people pay attention to us. I wouldn’t say that this band in particular struggled to get on the road but we did struggle on the road.
Do you have any stories, anecdotes, or memories from shopping with Sam Ash?
I shopped at Sam Ash for a keyboard that was for my friend’s studio, however I can’t remember the model. On the way to take it to his studio, I was riding a bike and a taxi went in front of me and I fell and broke the keyboard. The bike didn’t break but I fell on top of the keyboard, so shout out to my friend Amanee on that one! That’s my Sam Ash story!
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