It takes skillful songwriting to evoke images and emotions without the use of words or lyrical narrative. Modern instrumental genres such as post-rock and post-metal have been key players in delivering emotionally-charged, aural storytelling. But just like any genre of music, over-saturation within the scene breeds the same kinds of bands who fall for the same stylistic cliches. Thankfully, there are bands like Set and Setting who traverse “post-whatever” waters in their own, exciting ways and craft interesting stories with their stylistically-challenging compositions. Their third full-length album, Reflectionless, is the latest example of what good instrumental rock and metal needs to be. Svbterranean recently caught up with guitarist Shane Handal to discuss instrumental music, the new record and existential philosophy.
Could you please introduce yourself and your role in Set and Setting?
Hey! This is Shane Handal, the guitarist.
How did Set and Setting come together?
It began as a studio project with a friend right after High School. We recruited high school friend Mark Etherington to play drums and started to play as a full band. Shortly after my brother Stephen Handal joined as additional percussionist and synth. Eventually that turned into him with a full drum kit that you see and hear today.
Did the band begin with being an entirely instrumental act in mind, or did you gradually drift in that direction as time went by?
Our original idea was to start a band that sounded like Animals-era Pink Floyd. Long songs, vocals not up front but still there. We had a couple of singers try out and practice but it never worked out. We were told by friends that we should just play shows without a singer. We quickly realized we liked not having one and started writing songs that were structured to be completely instrumental.
What was your first exposure to instrumental rock/metal, post-rock or otherwise? What is it about this style of music that drew you to it?
Godspeed You! Black Emperor was the first instrumental band of that nature that I heard. I quickly fell in love with it. I think it was because I played in band in High School and enjoyed classical music, and this was a rock band playing experimental modern versions of it. This was also when I started smoking weed so that helped draw me to it too haha.
Were there any particular bands/albums that made a lasting impact on the music of Set and Setting?
I feel like I say this all the time but if Pink Floyd and Godspeed didn’t exist, we would probably sound way different. Or just not be a band in general.
Do you feel the Florida music scene influenced Set and Setting in any way?
Not particularly. When we first started it was pretty hard for us to get shows because no one knew who to book us with. It was pretty different from anything going on at the time. We’ve always written the music that we wanted to. Of course though, our friends’ bands and promoters who are also friends have influenced us in a more personal way which in turn probably affects the band in some way.
How do you feel writing and performing in Set and Setting has pushed you as a musician/songwriter?
Set and Setting is all I am as a musician and songwriter haha. I’ve tried to write other styles of music and it’s pretty difficult or impossible. I’ve put so much into writing our songs that I’m not sure if I am even capable to write other kinds of songs anymore. That being said, I’ve been pushed very hard to try and write the best songs that I can in this world. My guitar playing and song writing has greatly improved since we began long ago.
The music of Set and Setting is often times a balancing act between soft, melodic and dream-like passages, and sections that are more on the metal end of the spectrum. Do you find any challenges with writing music this multifaceted?
It’s definitely a challenge to write any song, but not because it’s multifaceted. We have a pretty organic approach to writing songs. I’m never thinking that okay now that the dream like passage is over, we have to have a metal part. It’s more about trying to balance the songs as a whole and completing the song. There’s always a point I hit when writing the song where I think “okay this is done”. It just starts to feel like the puzzle is complete or something.
How do you approach writing a Set and Setting track in general?
We approach the song pretty similarly every time we write one. I’ll come up with a handful of riffs and ideas for structures and surrounding parts at home. Then when I have enough material to at least start a big chunk of a song I will bring it to the band and we will work on it together. Sometimes a lot changes, sometimes none at all. Depends how it feels whenever it’s being actually played as a whole band. I’ll record whatever we end up with on my phone and then take it home and work on it over the next week. Either adding to it, or adjusting it, etc. Then the next week it starts the whole process again until the rhythm and core of the song is done. Then I usually will write the leads and harmonies at home while playing along to the videos and completely finish the song.
Still speaking on the instrumental aspect of the band, it has been said on record that each of the band’s albums has a particular theme or concept. Since the music is devoid of vocals and any lyrical narrative, how does Set and Setting present these concepts with sound alone?
Yes that is correct. I remember watching a documentary or something on Pink Floyd and Gilmour and/or Waters was talking about the importance to have a record to be a coherent piece of art. You can obviously see that in all of their albums. That was always one of my favorite things about them, so ever since then that has been my goal with every album. Obviously with lyrics it would be a lot easier to get the point across, but I try to match artwork and song titles with the album’s theme. I name the songs with what the track makes me thing of or how it makes me feel within that concept, etc.
What can you tell me about the writing and recording process of the new record, Reflectionless?
It was a long process because we had to do it over a few different weeks rather than straight through. The studio that Ryan Haft works at in Gainesville was super booked up when we were recording and we had to roll with whatever was available. We recorded all of the drums and mixed the record at his studio “Black Bear Studios” in Gainesville. We recored the guitar and bass at Rock Garden Recording in St. Pete over 3 or 4 days because his studio was booked up. It was a lot of fun, and kind of nice to have a few weeks off in between with a break.
How would you compare it to your previous efforts, A Vivid Memory and Equanimity?
Ryan Haft seriously killed it this time. His first time recording us was on our previous album A Vivid Memory, which sounds great too. With two drummers, having experience with another album already definitely helped though. I think this is the best production to date.
On Reflectionless, the concept touches upon the philosophical idea that external reality is only a reflection of the inner self. How does Set and Setting present this idea on the record?
I feel like our music (maybe because it’s instrumental) can evoke thought and introspection with some people, so I think musically it can present itself with philosophical concepts. I’ll never forget one time someone referred to us as “Thinking Man’s Metal”, hah. But mainly we presented this concept through our artwork and song titles.
What exactly drew you to this particular concept? Do you subscribe to this view of ultimate reality or do you have your own thoughts regarding existence?
I wanted this concept to be a little less straight forward and more meta physical than our previous albums. I was reading something on Metaphysics and this concept was touched upon. I thought it was super interesting and very relatable. Metaphysics has always been something that has interested me and I thought this particular theory would be fun to conceptualize on a record.
I don’t really subscribe to anything as an ultimate reality, maybe that’s because I’m a skeptic though. Also, It’s more exciting exploring options and not knowing exactly what all of this is.
What is next for Set and Setting for the near/immediate future?
We are touring Europe for the first time May 15-30 with an appearance at Dunk!Fest in Belgium. Another tour in the US is being talked about but too early to say.
Any final words of wisdom?
Not sure if this is wisdom, but we appreciate all of your support. Hope you check out the record and enjoy it! This is my favorite work we have ever done.
Purchase Reflectionless here.
Read our review here.