Of Mice and Men's Phil Manansala: 'We Wanted to Give 'Em 11 Different Songs That Totally Sound Different Than Anything We've Done'

artist: of mice and men date: 03/07/2014 category: interviews
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Of Mice and Men's Phil Manansala: 'We Wanted to Give 'Em 11 Different Songs That Totally Sound Different Than Anything We've Done'
There is no mistaking Of Mice and Men's new album titled "Restoring Force" as anything but a savage metalcore record rocked by loud and relentless guitar riffs and ferocious rhythms. But what might throw you off track are the carefully crafted song structures and the melodic and musical elements. This third album from the Costa Mesa, CA five-piece is produced by veteran David Bendeth [Killswitch Engage, In Flames], an iconic figure who has been working in studios for decades. He pushed the band to challenge themselves as instrumentalists and composers and the result is a record that truly breaks the grip of traditional metalcore.

Guitarist Phil Manansala talks about working with Bendeth and what a pivotal piece he was in helping the band realize their potential. It hasn't been a leisurely stroll getting here. Along the way the group lost two key members - singer Austin Carlile who would ultimately return and co-singer Shayley Bourget who would not - but through sheer perseverance they weathered those storms to record their third and defining record. The fight was worth it.

UG: The first question that needs to be asked - are you a John Steinbeck fan?

PM: Yes, of course. Those were books we all read when we were in elementary school. Yes, I am a fan of "Of Mice and Men."

Who do you more identify with - Lenny or George?

Oh god, probably Lenny, hah hah hah.

Previously to putting together Of Mice and Men, you were a touring guitar player in A Static Lullaby?

Yeah, when I toured with that band, they were like the local band that was a touring band. It was a great experience for me to tour with them because I loved them and I loved their music. I was a fan before I was able to be in the band, which was awesome. It was looking up to these people of all time and then you get to tour with them. It was an awesome feeling; it was great.

You first heard about Austin Carlile when he was in Attack Attack!?

Yeah, actually it's a pretty funny story. Sometimes when I was on tour with A Static Lullaby, I met Tino [Valentino Arteaga, drums], Austin, and Aaron [Pauley, bass/vocals] on back-to-back-to-back tours.

You met all the future members in Of Mice and Men before forming the band?

Yeah, I met Tino and we had some drinks. I was like, "Oh, we should just quit our bands and start a band." Then I met Austin and eventually he got kicked out of Attack Attack! And started another band. I contacted Austin because I didn't want to be in Static so I was like, "You know what? Let's do something." So I contacted Tino and it was like, "OK, let's actually do this." It happened like that and then the band went on and we ended up having Aaron come in. I toured with all three of these people in back-to-back-to-back tours and then we all joined the band together.

Did you have any idea of what kind of music you wanted to play in Of Mice and Men?

We had no idea. We got thrown into the studio and they said, "Write an album." It's like, "OK, well I've never really wrote music with these guys. Let's see what happens." It was getting thrown in the studio, go, write a record and tour, tour, tour, tour, tour. Then go back in the studio and write another record. We were on tour for about three-and-a-half, four years and did two studio albums at the same time. It was a lot of throw-and-go style of recording.

Certainly the process was different on "Restoring Force."

With our new album, we had I think it was like six weeks of pre-pro going back to the studio. So we had a lot of time to sit and think about what we were writing.

"Restoring Force" is different from a lot of metalcore records. There's a lot of melody and musicality in the songs.

Yeah, especially with our album, this is obviously something different than we've ever done. But with everybody in the music genre right now, it's definitely something different than what everyone's used to. So it was a risk for us to do something that not too many people have done in a while. But yeah, I agree with that statement.

How would you describe the risk you took in making "Restoring Force?"

Well, musically people just call our band a generic metalcore type of band. With our previous albums obviously, they are pretty metalcore. But with our new album, it's just not all breakdowns. It has a certain flow to the album. There's different songs that captivate you at different times. So it was definitely risky because everyone thought we were gonna release an album just with breakdowns and heavy parts. But we had change it up because we already have those songs. We wanted to give the people something else than we've ever had before. So we wanted to give 'em 11 different songs on the album that totally sound different than anything we've ever done.

You're describing a main characteristic of metalcore music as having these big breakdowns?

Yeah, I describe it like riffs and breakdowns. You know what I mean? It's a song that just keeps going and doesn't have any backbone to it. It just keeps going.

Very early on you cut a version of Lady Gaga's "Poker Face."

Yeah, that was one of the very first songs we recorded. We just recorded in Austin's bedroom. I just listened to it seriously like a week ago and I just laughed in my head like, "Man, we've come so far from that."

It was gutsy to record a song by Lady Gaga.

Yeah, it was a risk to take.

Were you comfortable in the studio recording the first self-titled album?

Yeah, we were pretty comfortable in the studio. We had a lot of riffs ready to go that we kind of practiced before. We had an almost two-month session and we had a studio but it was just like riffs. We had puzzle pieces and the puzzle wasn't put together yet.

You brought in Joey Sturgis [The Devil Wears Prada] to help you put everything together?

With Joey, the very first time we were there was an experience. It definitely was. It was summer and super hot and humid. This was when he [Sturgis] was smokin' cigarettes so he smoked cigarettes inside while you were recording. Unnh, man, it was an experience. It was the first time all of us lived pretty much together as a band. Joey did great work and he definitely helped with this first album. It was something we did real quick but at the same time there are some quality gems on there.

On that first Of Mice and Men album, Jaxin Hall and Shayley Bourget were still in the band.

This was when Jax and Shayley were in the band. We butted heads and we wrote some songs. I swear to you, right after we left the studio we drove to Denver and started touring. It was a good experience though especially for Tino, Austin and myself - us three that are still in the band from the original days. It was a definite experience that we all did together. It's something we all hold onto. It was good though.

"Second and Sebring" was a cool track with clean vocals from Shayley Bourget and the screamed vocals from Austin Carlile. You knew from the beginning you wanted to combine these elements?

Yeah, definitely. Always having that melodic chorus and hooks. Bands I love like As I Lay Dying with the riffs and catchy choruses. That's something I love. So anything that has that. Even Slipknot and Corey Taylor f--kin' kills it. Stone Sour and all that kind of stuff. The riffs and the melody, it's like the modern rock and roll I feel like. The heavier metal with the guitar solos and everything is still there but it just sounds modernized.

How did you feel when Austin Carlile left the band after recording that first album?

The thing that always (stayed with me) was the show must go on. It doesn't matter. At that time of the band, it didn't matter who was playing the music as long as music was being played. You know what I mean? Nobody could stop us. We believed in what we did and we still believe in what we do. So that's just our thought process. We keep going and keep pushing further and keep wanting more because music is the one thing we want to do more than anything.

Jerry Roush (Sky Eats Airplane) came in to replace Austin?

Yeah, for like a year. We did that "Blame It (On the Alcohol)" cover [Jamie Foxx]. Tino's brother actually recorded that. That was an interesting little day we did.

Austin Carlile returned and Alan Ashby joined for the second album, "The Flood."

Oh, it was great, man. Alan is full of insane riff ideas. He's a phenomenal writer. I always say for every three quality songs I have, he has like 15. He's a writing machine so he does tons of writing. We all do but he just definitely bangs out riffs. So it was cool to see that with him and it inspired all of us to just want more. I think he was 19 when he came to the studio or maybe 20. He taught us a bunch about MIDI. It really opened our eyes like, "This is a nice way to keep the ball going." He kinda like like I said earlier, he inspired us to really try to not force writing but get as many ideas out as we possibly could.

What were the sessions like playing guitars with Alan Ashby on songs like "YDG'N'"?

They were good just going back and forth with ideas and especially that song. We wrote that song in the studio actually so we all of us came up with all these different riffs and a chorus idea and we molded it and mixed it together and it ended up working. Shayley had a hook for it so it sounded great. This record was good; we all took turns on all the songs. Like Alan and I would take turns on leads and sometimes play bass. We followed each other's leads and pushed each other further to try to make everything sound as good as possible or different ideas.

You were playing ESP guitars by this time?

Yeah, I believe so.

Were you playing the ESP Horizon 27 on "The Flood" album?

No, actually I think we used a Gibson Les Paul on that album. I have a Gibson Les Paul Traditional we used for most of that record.

So you didn't have the ESP yet?

No, we used one of Joey's in the studio. He has this really like gothic-styled body. It's just a weird ESP guitar with EMG 85s.

When did you start playing ESP?

I think after "The Flood," we got the initial offer from them after that album came out.

You knew about ESP guitars of course?

Yeah, we really didn't have anything at the time. So it was nice to finally get something. But ESPs are great. I love ESP.

In 2012, Shayley Bourget left the band. How did you deal with that?

Shayley leaves. Like I said earlier, the show must go on. Our guitar tech came in and played some shows. Our friend Joel Piper came in and did some shows. The show must go on and the ball can't be stopped. It just has to happen. When he left it was unfortunate but like I said the show must go on.

That's when Aaron Pauley joined on bass and clean vocals?

Uh huh. Yep. He did a couple tours with us before we started recording with him. We did the Warped Tour and A Day to Remember Tour. He did Europe/Australia with us.

You brought in David Bendeth [Killswitch Engage, In Flames] to work on the new record. How did he challenge you?

He was great, man. He's been in the business for like 40 or 50 years. He knows rock and roll like the back of his hand. It's a privilege to work with him. He's sold over 90 million records. He pushed us. This album wouldn't be the way it was without David. 'Cause if it was someone else they would have been like, "Oh, the songs are fine. Just record it." But he really pushed us to make us really like these songs and really write them to the best of our capabilities.

David Bendeth really pushed you as songwriters and arrangers?

Exactly, yeah. He definitely did. There's a certain way he likes to do things.

Because you had more time for pre-production, did you experiment with guitar sounds and things like?

Oh, yeah. Every song on the album has a different tone dialed on. Every tone is different on the album and every song was dialed in right before we recorded it. We kind of got the emotional vibe of each song. If it's an angry song, it sounds like it's punching you in the face. If it's a sad song, it's gonna make you cry. We definitely tried to use as much emotion in tone as we possibly could on this album.

What was happening guitar-wise with "You're Not Alone?"

I think we used a Naylor head and an ESP reverse headstock so it's a Baritone jumbo 7-string [LTD SC-607B]. And we also used the Baritone Les Paul because the Baritone sounds so tight and it just sounds bigger I feel like. That tone on that song sounds huge. That song just sounds massive. Four-on-the-floor the whole time too. That sounds like a rock and roll song.

There are great guitar parts on the verse of "Would You Still Be There" that play off each other. How were those developed?

Yeah, that's Allan and I. I play most of the leadier stuff in the verses and he plays like the second stuff. I don't know what it is panned left and right. We take turns though on leads and whatnot.

"Restoring Force" really bridges that gap between the more traditional and aggressive elements of metalcore with a sound that style that is far more melodic.

Yeah, I feel like that's our style. Especially in our live set, there's so much energy. We want to have the energy there and have the melody and I feel that's our style. We have that energy and we have everything. It's hard to explain.

You can look at every band from Led Zeppelin to Queen and they were as heavy as anything but it was always about the song.

Exactly.

In a way, what you've done on the "Restoring Force" album is like a 2014 version of a classic rock sound. Does that make any sense?

Yeah, I know exactly what you mean. I feel like rock and roll needed an album like this. It's been a while since anybody released an album like this. We're just as proud and we love this album. It's something we worked so hard on and it's something we really believe in.

Where did a song like "Space Enough to Grow" come from?

That song seriously it came from one day we were just having a real bad day.

A bad day?

Seriously though. We sat down and had this talk about having a bad day. I didn't see Aaron for like five, six hours and I was, "I wonder where he is?" I went to the back studio and it's super dark and incense is going Aaron is like, "Listen to this, man." And it was that song. He did that song entirely by himself. Unbelievable, right? When I heard it, I didn't know what to do. It made me wanna cry. I was like, "This sh-t is emotional, man. Where did this come from?" He's like, "This is how I feel right now." And I was like, "Wow, man. It's like a beautiful moment." It was f--kin' great.

"Another You" was also a moody track. Were there acoustic guitars in there?

No, that's just a cleaner sounding tone. I actually recorded the song's leads in one guitar take. That's one thing on the album I'm really happy about, hah hah hah.

What kind of guitar was that?

I think I was just playing probably a Fender Telecaster with Bare Knuckle pickups.

How would you describe what you and Alan Ashby do as a guitar tandem?

Man, I guess the thing we do best is I have really long hair and he's ginger. People know and you come to a Of Mice and Men show and Alan and I are gonna act like we're - because we are having the best time onstage - just two dudes that like to have fun and play guitar and be in the moment.

Stylistically how would you describe what the two of you do?

Stylistically? Umm, I would just say modern rock. Like Alan grew up blues and stuff like blues scales and ZZ Top and Eric Clapton. I grew up listening to Blink-182 and Metallica and things like that. But we both bring in completely different, unique styles I feel like.

Aaron plays a great bass line in "Identity Disorder."

That bass line in there reminds me of an Incubus style for some reason.

What's it like to play guitar when Aaron and Valentino Arteaga are grooving behind you?

It's awesome, dude. I feel like I have my own little jam band 'cause they're groovin'. I didn't even know Aaron could play bass. I always knew him as a frontman so the fact he can pick up a bass and just groove with it was good. I thought, "Alright, perfect." And see how it was with Tino and get some groove going and loved it. Yeah, it's kinda perfect because me, Alan, Tino and AP [Aaron Pauley] really musically get along very well. It's easy for us to just jam 'cause I don't know. We have good chemistry.

There are little keyboard parts on "Identity Disorder." You wanted synths to be part of the sound?

Mmm hmm. Yeah, that's one of the songs I worked on with my friend and it just came out. He was messing around with some sounds with me and it just happened like that and just worked. We liked it so it's great.

"Restoring Force" as the title implies, is the record you've been hoping to make?

Definitely. This is the record we wanted to make and this is the record we're extremely, extremely proud of. It shows that I feel as musicians that we're finally growing up. If you hear our first album, second album, third album, you can hear a very distinctive difference between them and the musical capabilities of each of 'em.

You're on the road now?

We're on tour with Bring Me the Horizon. We finish up this tour in March and then we fly to the UK and we have a sold-out tour out there already. All shows are already gone. So that's a good feeling to have before you go out there. It's pretty crazy. Then we have a bunch of Euro festivals over the summer.

Are you playing at Download?

No, we're playing at Reading and Leeds and Rock in the Park. We're playing a couple of festivals in America too like Carolina Rebellion and Rock on the Range. A couple of those cooler, bigger ones in America, which we're excited for.

Your fans have embraced the music on the Restoring Force album?

Yeah, definitely. I feel like our fans from our first two albums have definitely moved on with us. I even see a little bit of an older fanbase coming in. It's cooler to see a couple of older dudes banging their heads to us as well. We worked really hard on this one and we're super proud. We're just happy it's out and people can listen to it and enjoy it as well.

Thank you. Play all the good notes.

Hah hah hah, I'll try, man. Alright, later bro.

Interview by Steven Rosen
Ultimate-Guitar.Com 2014
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