Vespera Guitarist Cairn Tse-Lalonde: 5 Riffs That Made Me

Vespera’s Cairn Tse-Lalonde, photo by Jonathan Schwartz

Rising Seattle act Vespera have been steadily gaining momentum thanks to their mix of brooding sounds and technical virtuosity, as heard on singles like “Deafening, Dissonant,” from their forthcoming debut The Thoughts That Plague You. The four-piece — led by Jonathan Wolfe and rounded out by drummer Jonathan Schwartz, bassist Paul Anderson and guitarist Cairn Tse-Lalonde — expertly blur the lines between metalcore, rock and progressive alt metal with a sound that evokes OG heavy melodic acts like the Deftones. For his part, Tse-Lalonde draws from a wide range of classic and modern acts to create a six-string style all of his own. Below, the guitarist reveals the tracks that most inspired his creativity and playing style.

Linkin Park – “One Step Closer”

“One Step Closer” is the first song I ever learned to play by ear after picking up a guitar. Before I knew that drop-tuning was a thing, I just tuned the whole guitar down in half steps until I could play low enough. I performed “One Step Closer” with some of my childhood friends at a school talent show over 10 years ago. The opening riff is the perfect combination of simplicity and energy. To this day, I think riffs like this are the most memorable. For that reason, as I’ve written more and more, I’ve started to revert back to my roots with guitar parts like this. The simplicity and energy I picked up on as a kid while listening to Linkin Park are definitely influences when it comes to my writing for Vespera.

Veil of Maya – “The Higler”

Possibly more than any other song, learning Veil of Maya’s “The Higler” pushed my technical abilities far beyond what I ever thought I was capable of. Marc Okubo is known for his technical guitar playing in Veil of Maya, and this song really showcases that. When “The Higler” was first released, I spent a lot of time learning and practicing it, which made me a more accurate player as a result. It was really fun creating my own rendition of the song where I played harmonies over the original guitar part. Overall, this song is a great guitar study. Every single riff in it is a challenge for a different reason, and they all lead you to become a more agile and aware player.

Periphery – “All New Materials”

Periphery’s first record is full of unconventional harmonic movement. I’m a huge fan of chord progressions that break out of the norm while still fitting the context of the song. Periphery really exemplifies this in All New Materials. I remember how excited I felt when I first listened to this song, since chord progressions like this were so new to me. These kinds of riffs, like what you hear at 0:51, opened up a whole new world of creativity to me and began to develop my ear to more advanced harmonic concepts.

Issues – “Slow Me Down”

I love this part of the song (at 0:22) precisely because there is no riff. Issues instead chooses to pull the guitars back for a moment, elegantly layering a soft lead over the verse before the rhythm guitars come back in the pre-chorus. I really admire their use of dynamics here, and it’s songs like this that have pushed me to become a more dynamic songwriter. I used to want to play as many notes per second or write the heaviest guitar parts possible, but now I realize that less can be more when it comes to putting together a great song.

Kaskade – “Disarm You (feat. Ilsey) (Grey Remix)”

This is one of the coolest riffs that I’ve ever heard (at 1:08). It’s not complicated. It’s not fast. It’s fun to play, catchy, and is the focus of this remix. I admire when artists outside of the realm of rock experiment with guitars in unusual environments. Songs like this really demonstrate just how versatile the guitar is as an instrument. I couldn’t be more excited to see how songwriters continue to push the envelope and use the guitar in innovative ways. It’s things like this that keep me excited about playing and about the future of music.