The members of As I Lay Dying felt more than just the pressure of giving their best performance while recording their latest album An Ocean Between Us. Guitarist Phil Sgrosso had an assortment of guitars at his disposal, but something extremely annoying was happening to a good number of them: They wouldn’t stay in tune. Sgrosso and his guitar tech eventually discovered the nuisance behind the unreliable intonation, but the guitarist still called a good portion of the recording process “cursed.”
All of those troubling issues in the studio must have paid off, however. An Ocean Between Us
ended up debuting at #8 on the Billboard 200 and would eventually go on to earn a Grammy nomination. Although the album was released almost a year ago, Sgrosso
isn’t ready to go into writing mode full-force with As I Lay Dying
quite yet. When Ultimate-Guitar writer Amy Kelly
caught up with Sgrosso
at one of the band’s Warped Tour stops, he admitted that he’ll soon be throwing his energy into Sabertooth
, a side project in the vain of Motorhead
and Thin Lizzy
. In the meantime, vocalist Tim Lambesis
is concentrating his efforts on a very different project inspired by none other than Arnold Schwarzenegger
UG: When you were recording the album An Ocean Between Us, did you try out any new studio techniques?
Phil: On our previous 2 records we never had a producer, so we brought in Adam D for this record, which definitely made things different. It was obviously a good choice for us. We had toured with Killswitch probably 4 tours and we also have the same management, so it worked out perfectly. Adam actually hurt his back. Killswitch was on tour when we were recording, but he hurt his back and had to get surgery and take time off to recover. In that time he came in to produce our record.
Did Adam let you take the reins in the studio or did he have a heavy hand in the creative process?
We planned everything out in advance. Pretty much we had all the songs recorded for preproduction on our own with some friends who were engineers. So everything was planned out perfectly. Then he got there and he would make little tweaks here and there. He would add different dynamics to the sounds, to certain guitar parts. I guess having preproduction done in advance was also another thing we had never done before.
Do you write riffs and bring them to the band? I know some bands prefer jam sessions to work out the foundation of songs.
It’s usually the guitar riffs that come first. Sometimes while jamming out those riffs it will be like, “Oh, I’m not feeling this part. How about something like this?” Either something happens on the spot or we’ll come back tomorrow and whoever has an idea for the part, we’ll do it then. A lot of stuff on this album just happened naturally. It would just work out. There was a lot of jamming on this record - a lot!
Did you end up jamming more for this record than you had in the past?
Yeah, everything on Shadows, the drums and programs, those were written by Tim and I. Then we would have the structure all done and just kind of be like, “Here’s the song.” We would jam it out. Some songs we barely even jammed out before going into the studio. At the end, that’s why that album kind of lacks dynamics drum-wise. With this album, it was like piecing it together, jamming it out. It takes a lot more time, a lot more effort. In the end, I think it shows.
Did you personally try out new guitars, effects, or amps on the new record?
|"A lot of stuff on this album just happened naturally."|
There are some delay parts on the record, just messing around with ProTools’ general delay for this one song called “Forsaken.” We also used the Memory Man for a lot of stuff. Adam used a lot of ProTools, delay, and then a lot of the Memory Man and DL4. There was a Line 6 delay pedal and DD-6. It was just kind of whatever. We used like 9 guitars on the album, not because we preferred to use 9 guitars. We had guitars breaking constantly! Intonation was the stupidest thing ever! We got a batch of bad strings. We had no idea what was happening. So this record was kind of cursed in a way.
It sounds like you did experience more technical issues than most of the bands I speak with about the recording studio.
Yeah. It was just like, “This guitar is not in tune.” We really had to tune by each note we were playing. So there was a whole lot of stop-and-start punching in to get the right notes. If you’re playing something here, then the intonation would be totally screwed up from there to there. It was kind of a mess. You have to figure that we were doubling all of the guitars for certain parts. On certain parts we were doing 4 guitars and then overdubs. So it was matching those guitars perfectly in tune. It was a mess.
How long did the recording process take?
About 6 weeks. We were supposed to be in there a month, and we went pretty much 2 weeks over. That kind of affected the mixing process. We were emailing Colin Richardson, who was in the UK. We were just working back and forth. We would still be recording songs and he would be on to doing a mix for a song. So we’re not just worrying about the studio and getting the songs perfect, but we were worrying about the mix now. There was so much going on and it was pretty hectic, but we got through it.
Are you open to talking about the specific strings or guitars that ended up being your nightmares at the studio?
Yeah, that gauge of string was from our string company, but I’m not going to say who it is. I mean, they make good strings…We use DR Strings and they’re awesome strings, but we had these custom sizes. I have no idea why, they just always got ordered. I told my guitar tech, “Get the actual in-the-pack strings.” So now I use the Jeff Healey DR string set. There were 4 strings where something was weird with them. It was going out of tune. The way it resonated, it would just hug the fretboard, which is really weird. I don’t know if it was something magnetic or what was going on. My guitar guy came in and he was like, “These are bad string.” It took us 2 days to realize that.
Were you blaming the guitar for a while?
I was blaming everything! I was blaming Adam, our producer! But he had no idea and he knows how to set up guitars really well.
Which guitar did you use for most on the record?
I was talking with Dean for a little bit around that time and then using some Les Pauls that we had. I got new Washburns toward about halfway through, so I started using some of those. Nick got an Ibanez, so we started using some Ibanez. It was just a bunch of different guitars.
Did you try out Nick’s Ibanez at all?
Yeah, Nick has a single cutaway Les Paul-looking model, and it’s a block of wood. It’s a seriously heavy guitar. It’s heavier than a Les Paul, I think. His guitar, which was like an early stage of production for it, is really heavy. So it gets a lot of low end out of it. I don’t know if it’s chambered or not. All the guitars had EMGs in them. If you throw an EMG in, every guitar is going to sound pretty similar. The Les Paul might sound a little better, a little grittier. One song we just used Gibson pickups in it, and it had more of an organic feel to the song. It was not as mechanical, I guess.
Congratulations on your Grammy nomination this year. There were a few legends of the rock world that you had as your competition, namely Slayer and King Diamond. What does it mean to the band to be against artists like those?
|"I’m just not in writing mode for As I Lay Dying."|
It’s pretty cool. We’re a very active band. We’ve been touring the past 5 years like nonstop. So we’ve been touring a lot more than all of those other bands. It’s an honor to be up there, but in a way I’m like, “Well, we’ve been putting in the time.” Slayer is Slayer, and they won because they’re Slayer. I don’t personally think that they had an amazing song. I love Slayer and I’m not bashing on them, but this was a B-side song. I think they were surprised. It just seemed like he was surprised they got it. We were all hoping for it, but at the end of the day we were just stoked to be there. We were stoked to be recognized for our hard work. We were up against Shadows Fall, who are our friends. They’re an awesome band, too. Honestly I was kind of confused why King Diamond was on it, but it’s Kind Diamond. He’s old school. He’s kind of a legend. It was a good experience.
Have you written any material while you’ve been on the Warped Tour?
I’m just kind of not thinking about the writing. Here and there I’ll be like, “Oh, what do I want to do for the next album?” But overall, I’m just not in writing mode for As I Lay Dying. I’ve got my side band that I’m trying to focus on a little bit more. Then probably after our next European tour we’ll start doing some writing, but we’ll keep on touring.
How would you describe your side project?
It’s kind of like classic metal-rock sounding, like Motorhead. There’s a Maiden influence kind of. It’s called Sabertooth. Thin Lizzy-ish. I’m trying to focus on that, but it’s hard when we’re gone all the time and my other band members are back at home. It’s really hard getting ideas. It’s definitely not a program-the-drums and here-it-is thing. I’ve tried doing that, and that’s not how it goes for rock music.
I understand that Tim Lambesis is doing his own project as well. Is it true that it’s based on Arnold Schwarzenegger’s one-liners?
Yeah. That’s pretty much it! Our friend had a really good Arnold impression and Tim had a bunch of riffs or whatever. Our friend just went in and did all these skits. So, yeah!
Interview by Amy Kelly
Ultimate-Guitar.Com © 2008
As I Lay Dying Music