Cape Town, South Africa: at metal4africa we often struggle at being kept notified of new releases – our modus operandi to generally pursue news rather than having it come to us – although not so the case with Pyjama Planet. Released today, Pyjama Planet has offered up a debut full length album with the brashly titled Max Chops, the development of which we’ve been following closely for thirteen months.
This musical endeavor is the sole brainchild of guitarist/producer Mark Allnutt, previously best known for his participation as co-guitarist alongside Greig Cameron for the thrashy melodic metal band All Guns Full Ammo. Mark contacted us last year in the earliest days of starting work on his solo album under the guise of Pyjama Planet – which, interestingly enough, was never intended to be thought of as a metal project – where he has been building something of a portfolio to exhibit his abilities as a composer/producer. We’ve been kept joyfully updated ever since, culminating with an invitation to attend a merry shindig of a listening party last week where we could quiz him to our hearts content. To assist in today’s release celebration, we share some of what we learned, starting with the ‘pyjama’ theme.
Chatting to us in the cozy setting of his own home, lazing back in a giant bean bag intended for seating and swaddled in dressing gown and slippers, Mark explained that the key behind the name of this project is “ultimate comfort”.
“I don’t like dressing. Life is far more comfortable in pyjamas. A lot of my creative time is spent in my pyjamas, so I’ve invited listeners of my solo material to join me on ‘Pyjama Planet‘.” ~ Mark Allnutt
And so it was that myself, guest musicians, plus other friends and media folk who arrived all in sleeping garb found ourselves milling about sociably around a table sprawled with pizza, beers and softdrinks for the evening – waiting in eager anticipation for a preview listening of the entire Max Chops album. The title suggests something along the lines of ‘maximum’ and ‘chops’ – a term often referred in musical context as being highly skilled – should be pretty spectacular. In this regard, Mark spared no modesty in choosing top guest guitarists to feature on the album, including guitarists Neil Bezuidenhout (Moment Of Clarity), Charles Knighton-Pullin (Sabretooth), Conrad Lottering (Subject To Slaughter), Nathan Dickson (Atlantic South) and, of course, his own All Guns Full Ammo band mate with Greig Cameron. Extending his reach even further, two drummers also feature on the album with Damian Rijkers (Sabretooth) and Gareth Lloyd (All Guns Full Ammo)
We asked Mark if there was any semblance of “the one which got away” in his choice of guitarists, to which he immediately replied “yes, two in fact”. Owing to clashing schedules and issues of time, it just never materialized that other invitees Adriano Rodrigues of Zombies Ate My Girlfriend and Justin Ross of Wargrave could grace the album with their touch. Though, Mark says, this gave him an opportunity to stretch his own fingers a little beyond their usual limits – the results of which he found quite pleasing in the end.
We discussed musicality at length, of course, losing the trail from the album down many other paths often as two music enthusiasts tend to do. What we did glean from Marks ambition behind Max Chops, however, was his musical approach towards being quite a mixture of metallic styles, yet maintaining a certain central theme throughout.
“I think of it as symphonic metal, but wanted it to maintain that underlying thrash element; a strong focus on right-hand technique. Tight. Controlled. Fast. Also, to display more my production and composer’s side, there is a lot of inclusion of orchestration.” ~ Mark Allnutt
At this point, our chat also began to marry the significance of musical approach to the general conceptual theme. Whilst Mark’s solo project remains largely a showcase, he wanted to have some fun with this larger work of an album format. This is where recruiting began, and includes more than the guest musicians, but also the creative input of Brett Bruton (vocalist/lyricist, All Guns Full Ammo) as author for a story line, Remi Abrahams for an adventure-inspiring artwork, plus Matthew Keeson for photography and Artur Pereira delivering a logo to complete the package.
The theme of the album is rooted in the delightfully science-fictional/fantasy realm of an actual Pyjama Planet (described in detail here) and revolves around a central character named ‘Max Chops’, who dwells there. The approach is a playful one, where the music ambiguously describes a journey undertaken by the character to overcome many dangers in order to attain his creator’s desired goal of “ultimate comfort”. Mark describes the character’s story as being one of adventure and intrigue, experiencing trials and triumphs throughout. The tie-in with the music being that ‘Max Chops’ has dexterous feet – the result of being allergic to sheep skin and thus robbed of the comfort of slippers, and awarding him his name as being swift-footed. But this irony results in his strength beyond other residents on the otherwise slumber-prone planet, allowing him to play the role of a hero. Mark has promised us a more detailed unveiling of this character and his tale in the days to follow this immediate release, and encourages a following at the project’s facebook page for a daily dose of fictional and musical entertainment over the following two weeks.
With the music being almost 100% instrumental, and the theme quite complex, Mark explained that the theme would be played out musically to inspire the imagination.
“I treated the album more like an extended musical experience. It’s a journey. There are only two songs in which riffs repeat, and those repetitions are very small anyway.” ~ Mark Allnutt
Of course, this, plus adding the touch of guest guitarists has done more to increase the diversity of the overall soundscape too, breathing more musical life into the adventure and resulting in something with quite a deep progressive currents. But the effort has included more than guest guitarists, also featuring the aforementioned drummers with Damian Rijkers and Gareth Lloyd helping out.
“I really like to write guitars and drums together – creatively, I just do better that way with the guitars – but getting Gareth and Damian on board really took this to new places. The idea was that they come and play over what I had written so as achieve a more organic feel to the drums, but in places they said ‘I can do something better here’, and that brought a lot out in the music.” ~ Mark Allnutt
The result is a deliciously metallic instrumental album, adding to the ranks of other local instrumental gems such as OhGod, Poverty Of Ideals, Instrumetal and more. In terms of live performance, Mark remains skeptical of that materializing owing to the magnitude of such a task for a solo project, but it was hard to deny a gleam in his eye at the prospect. Who can say what the future might hold?
What is for certain, however, is that Mark has every intention of further pursuing his musical exploration with Pyjama Planet. With one full length album now already wrapped up, he intends to begin work on another soon. However, with Pyjama Planet, he never signed the proverbial “Contract with The Devil”, binding him exclusively to the metal genre. Mark tells us that the next album will likely explore another off-shoot passion with something more bluesy, and his ambition is to work with another host of guests and personal heroes. He voices one of his dreams as having the legendary Dan Patlansky to also guest a part on his next project. With the quality of his efforts, we don’t think this is reaching too far, but only time – and effort expended – will tell if this is to be.
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