Magic Artist Sam Guay One Half of Doom Metal Duo
A Giant with 100 Eyes
Next week, the album Honey'd Dreams from doom metal duo Eyes of Argus is set to make its debut.
Fans of Magic: the Gathering may recognize one of the names behind the project as Sam Guay, the New England-based artist responsible for the illustrations of nine cards released to date, with the most recent a special Store Championships promo version of Annex Sentry.
Guay's partner in Eyes of Argus is Ryan Lesser, another name notable among a certain sect of fans: in Lesser's case, fans of Guitar Hero. Lesser's credited as one of the core developers of Guitar Hero as well as Rock Band, Dance Central, and the Kickstarter-backed reboot of Amplitude, serving as the Art Director for Harmonix. All the while, he was the guitarist for the bands Laurels and Megasus.
So while Eyes of Argus is new, with two singles released and debut album Honey'd Dreams on the way slated for Feb. 23, the band has an established creative pedigree. Lesser performs all the instruments and handles recording on the album, while Guay's in charge of vocals. "High level, I started the project looking for a very particular sonic print," said Lesser. "I like fantastic themes of all sorts -- one reason I love Magic -- and wanted to try to craft sounds that feel fantastic as well." Lesser said he built his own guitar fuzz pedals in order to "nail a particular ugliness," and he wanted something "lovely and fair" to lay on top of all that grit. "That is where Sam comes in," he said.
Guay said the album will feature four original tracks, plus one cover the duo is keeping a secret for release. "My goal for the lyrics was to have fun, tell folkloric stories, and experiment with vocals since both lyric writing and singing was (and still is) very new to me," they said. "Inspiration came from a lot of places both personal and silly, from recurring nightmares to my undying love for scary faeries."
The pair state they've got plenty of influences, and both maintain Spotify playlists featuring several bands. "A million bands inspire me," Lesser said, "but some big inspiration for this particular type of sound comes from Melvins, Om, Purson, SubRosa, Alunah, and of course, Black Sabbath."
Guay, a native New Englander, grew up in rural New Hampshire and attended college in Maine. Currently, they reside in Massachusetts. Outside of their illustration work with Magic and other client work, Guay spends time on personal projects, like the Blood Moon Tarot, a complete 78-card deck that weaves personal mythologies with the tarot. Guay said there's more personal work on the horizon for the year, as well as some time to be put aside for writing, and of course, music.
Lesser is a fellow denizen of the East Coast, originally from Brooklyn before relocating to New Jersey and attending art school in Providence, Rhode Island. There, he started a game studio with friends, eventually leading to work on SHODAN for System Shock 2. He transitioned that experience to his role as Art Director for Harmonix and has just started a new gig as Art Director for a yet-unannounced new game. Lesser said that while touring and recording with his band Laurels, he had the pleasure of recording with Steve Albini, who ignited in Lesser a passion for recording and mixing -- something he's done for fun ever since.
The pair met, as many creative individuals do, at a convention "many years ago," said Guay, "so we were friends long before working together on the band." Lesser had several music projects going and was looking for someone to handle vocal duties, a responsibility with which Guay at the time was unfamiliar. "But at a party someone showed him some old video of me playing guitar and singing, (and) he liked it, and despite being horrendously nervous I agreed I'd give it a try," said Guay.
Lesser said it was his wife, Jennifer, that clued him into Guay's vocal talent. "I really liked what I heard and asked Sam to play with the band," he said. "As far as COVID-19 goes, it broke up the old band, but rising like a phoenix from the ashes came Eyes Of Argus -- sorry, (I'm) mixing my mythologies."
Mythology plays a key role in the concept and aesthetic of Eyes of Argus. The myth of Argus is Greek in origin and was a servant of the goddess Hera. Argus, a giant with 100 eyes, was tasked with guarding the nymph Io, a job for which he was well-suited because when some eyes slept, others remained awake. "I came up with the name many years ago -- like, MySpace years ago," said Lesser. "I am a huge fan of mythology and loved the visuals and concept of the sentinel with 100 eyes that never sleeps, only to be slain by the trickster god Hermes by being lulled to sleep by charms and song. Eyes Of Argus' music is slow and heavy, and it seemed like a perfect match."
Guay said mythology plays a part in the band's lyrics as well, with one song, the soon-to-be-released Honey'd Dreams title track, inspired by Irish folklore.
"It's kind of bonkers"
Working together to create music was a tumultuous process due to the distance between them, made more difficult to overcome thanks to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Guay, Lesser, and some friends had established a band in 2018 before the pandemic hit, but due to quarantine and other associated safeguards, that project, while not officially dead, "sort of unraveled," said Guay. "Ryan had his own solo project he was doing and he asked me if I wanted to work on that too, long distance," said Guay. "At that point I had really started to enjoy writing and singing and wanted to continue, especially since I was stuck inside and looking for creative projects other than painting."
The quarantine prevented that first endeavor from playing, and Lesser said he retreated to his studio and started recording a solo record. "I played drums, guitar, and bass," he said. "(But) when I got to the singing part, I did not love the sound."
He was hoping for something better, so he called Sam, who was already "doing great stuff with us" in the pre-pandemic band. "I researched 'remote recording,' and we each set up some gear to enable that workflow," said Lesser. "It's kind of bonkers. I would control Sam's computer remotely while they sang in their space." The technique would write to a shared cloud drive, giving Lesser instant access to the tracks. "We recorded, like, 90 percent of the vocals remotely," he said. "We live in different cities, so recording this way was a real boon."
That collaboration extended beyond just the music. Both Guay and Lesser are accomplished illustrators, and the album art is the product of another team-up. Lesser created a drawing, and Guay painted it and added some original details for the back of the album. Lesser polished up the linework to finish it off. The band posted some videos of the artwork's creation on Instagram and YouTube. "Our work is not exactly alike, but our styles are compatible, so it was a fun and easy way to collaborate, even beyond just the music," said Lesser. "How many bands get to not only make the music together but also work on the album art?!"
While their debut album hasn't even released yet, Guay and Lesser said they're already working on the second one. "I'm pretty excited to try new things and explore new themes," said Guay. Currently, touring is a hurdle that Lesser said he'd love to overcome, but it would necessitate expanding beyond a duo, at least for the road. "I would love to play out, but since I play all the instruments on the record, we would need to enlist a few other people to play live," he said. "That would rule."
Honey'd Dreams will be released on Feb. 23 and will be available on Bandcamp. The singles "From the Dark" and "Honey'd Dreams" are available now on Spotify and Apple Music.