Philip Sneed: 'I Truly Believe It Comes Down To Songwriting'

artist: story of the year date: 03/16/2010 category: interviews
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Philip Sneed: 'I Truly Believe It Comes Down To Songwriting'
Philip Sneed will be the first one to admit that his band is one of the lucky ones in an industry that is both fickle and ever-changing. During the eight years he has spent as Story Of The Year's rhythm guitarist, Sneed has witnessed everything from the rise of social networking (and key marketing) outlets like MySpace to his former label Maverick being bought out by the seemingly indestructible Warner Bros. group. Plenty of up-and-coming bands have been lost in the shuffle over the past decade, but Sneed credits a dedicated fan base and consistent songwriting to SOTY's longevity. The quintet's latest record The Constant (released February 16), which marks its second offering on Epitaph Records, was produced by Michael "Elvis" Baskette and developed under a more intense working schedule. At the heart of the process was lead guitarist Ryan Phillips' riff-driven approach and Sneed's melodic/rhythmic work, contrasting styles that have shaped the past four records' signature sound. And as far as the rigorous writing/recording schedule was concerned, there was very little stress involved. After all, Sneed revealed to Ultimate-Guitar that the majority of his day would be spent either writing or thinking about music anyway. UG: I read an interview with Ryan Phillips recently that mentioned the band had been working overtime on the new album. Did you take a new approach to the process this time around? Philip: It was pretty similar to the past. We worked more hours per day on this record. We had a similar mindset as far as writing. As far as songs coming together, it was really, really natural. We were able to focus a lot more just because other times we had started writing at the end of the other record cycle, so it was a longer process. This was a really direct, sort of go type of thing. It was really nice and actually easy as far records go. We were in a really good place. The writing was more effective. Rather than writing a song in four or five days, on this one we would have five or six songs a week. It worked out really well. We were working overtime, but this time it was actually a lot easier. Because so many songs revolve around specific riffs, is it safe to assume that it's either you or Ryan who creates the initial foundation of the song? Does it ever develop over a jam session? I think it depends on the song. The last couple records, nearly every song started out with a riff from Ryan. Then everybody would add things or tweak it or do whatever we needed. On this one, there were a few jam sessions. Like the beginning of a riff was done by someone, and then the rest of us would just jam it. Some of us were playing different instruments, and we would just jam something out. Then it would just kind of happen to be a song by the end of the day. I would say 70 percent of them were riffs if not formed parts that Ryan brought to the table. Then the band would tweak and get into it more. There are usually five or six songs that don't make the cut at the end, so it would total out to be 17 or 18 complete songs.

"We had a similar mindset as far as writing. As far as songs coming together, it was really, really natural."

Many bands that include two guitarists are driven by the fact that each player brings very different styles to the table. How would you compare your style to Ryan's? He's a 100 percent guitar fan. He's the kind of guy who will listen to a band 150 times and never hear the vocals. He only hears guitar. He's an absolute master at his instrument. He has guitar running through his blood. Whereas I picked up a guitar because of singer-songwriters that influenced me when I was younger, like bass player-singers or guitar player-singers. It really, really helps us complement each other. There's a different dynamic with the guitar. Sometimes I'm more with the aspect on how it relates to the vocals or the melody in my head. We cover the full spectrum. Ryan is the best guitar player that I've ever met and have ever had the pleasure of playing with. He is truly a master of the instrument. I'm more of the singer-songwriter sort of guy with a guitar in my hand. The band probably wouldn't be what it is unless we had both of those grounds covered. Ryan sounds like the type of guy would be extremely interested in the equipment aspect, which some might call a gearhead. Do you tend to be particular with your gear? I would say that he's at the end of the spectrum where he likes everything to be the most original and have the most distinct tone there is. I'm in that world as well, only on a different side of it. I'm using effects for melody and that kind of stuff. There are a lot of rhythm and delays and that kind of stuff. He's studying Eddie Van Halen while I'm studying The Edge. Effects and tones play a part for both of us, but he's definitely more into that because he has such a specific style to his playing. I'm covering a lot of ground as far as rhythms go and delays go. He's really out there doing the leads that have to have a little more specific sound. We're both definitely into gear and into getting what is exactly right for that moment, that song. What kind of guitars and effects were your go-to items for The Constant? We used the same producer that we did for the last one. So we kind of had a good sense of what sounded good. Ryan has a PRS. I use a 90's SG and an old 70's SG, which I really hadn't used in the studio before. I ended up using that for a lot of the doubles. I really have kind of fallen in love with the P-90. For delay stuff and clean stuff, I just really love the sound of it. We spent a lot of time messing with different amps. We have a couple modded Marshalls, and we have a Mesa Stiletto for a lot of the doubles and the clean stuff. Then we had a beautiful, beautiful Les Paul. I think it was a '79 Les Paul. We definitely tried every single amp there is out there, but we ended up using a modded Marshal, an Orange, and a Mesa Stiletto for the majority of it. You're currently signed with Epitaph, but previously had a contract with Maverick. Do those particular labels have fairly unique ways of interacting with bands? We've been around for eight years. It doesn't sound like much to people are age, but it's almost like 50 years as far as the change that has gone on in the music industry. We've been extremely fortunate to get through the gauntlet of all those different changes and all those labels folding. We had a great time with Maverick, and they treated us very, very well. They're a part of the Warner Bros. thing and they're technically a major label, but we had complete freedom. You hear nightmare stories about major labels trying to control everything, but Maverick was wonderful to us. Maverick sold the rest of themselves to Warner Bros. and folded, so there was no Maverick anymore. That all went down during our second record. After our second record was released, Maverick disappeared. We were essentially a Warner Bros band, but kind of wasn't. We didn't feel their passion. They weren't into us like Maverick was, and Maverick wasn't around anymore. Epitaph came to the table and really wanted to be a part of the vision. Obviously we've been around for a few years and had a few records out. Epitaph is great as well. We are extremely lucky to have been signed with two labels that we've had great experiences with. They definitely approach things differently because it's a different age in the industry. It is a different time, one in which viral campaigns and MySpace are still heavy forces in the marketing of bands. At this point in your career, do you ever have to worry about being creative with your promotions? Yeah, very much so. On the other hand, no one got into playing music so that we could think about campaigns, marketing, and all that kind of stuff. We play music because when we were younger, we wanted to be creative with our lives. Fortunately for us, we've been around for awhile and do have a name for ourselves. There is a certain brand and a certain standard out there for us. So we're not starting from ground zero. I think no matter how good your campaign is or how well-prepared you are, I truly believe it comes down to songwriting. If you write a great song, that song will last. The other stuff, you might be able to buy a number one spot for a week or two, but it's going to disappear really fast. It's sad to say, but most bands don't make it to their fourth record. We're very fortunate to be in the situation that we're in and be able to play for all these years and make our fourth record. Hopefully they will get great songwriting from us.

"It really, really helps us complement each other."

You're also working on your side project Greek Fire, which is set to release an album. Talk about how that musical direction differs from Story of the Year. Over the course of history, there are a million different examples of artists that are doing something that is what it is, but they have more to give. They have more artistry inside them waiting to get out. Like I said, I'm more into the singer-songwriter stuff, and that's why I started playing guitar. That's what I'm a fan of. There were a lot of riffs from Ryan and a lot of music that was coming out of us and stuff we recorded on our last album that just doesn't fit. It just so happened that he had written a lot of different riffs and things that didn't belong to Story, but did belong to something I can bring. It all came together. It's definitely a very different thing. It's a different monster as far as where it's coming from and what the goals of it are. I just want to write really, really great lyrics and stories. It needed to come out somewhere, and because it didn't have a proper forum in Story, it just so happened that it worked out really well in Greek Fire. It's a passion of mine. You have the new Story of the Year album to think about right now, but are you going to be able to juggle the projects simultaneously? Story has an established fan base and we tour a certain amount of the year. It will allow for time to tour and really do something with these guys, just like Jack White does with Dead Weather and Raconteurs and how Dave Grohl does with 15 bands at once! There is definitely room for it. As far as artistry, Ryan and I needed to get it out there. We just didn't want to put it out just to put 12 songs on the shelf. This is something that we really wanted to do and we're hoping to release a record very soon. We've actually tracked the majority of the record already. Things are definitely working together. It's something we can do at the same time because it's our passion. It's not just a hobby of ours to release a record. If I'm sitting at home for eight hours, I want seven of those hours to be doing music. That other hour, I want to be thinking about music. It allows me to play a completely different role than I do in Story, and it's the same for Ryan. He's playing guitar in both bands, but it's a completely different personality. It looks like you've got a hefty touring schedule in the coming months. Is there anything else that you'd like the fans to know about for the year ahead? We're doing U.S. and internationally touring over this year. We're doing a bunch of festivals in Europe. We just confirmed a bunch of Japanese dates. We'll be touring in Australia, Indonesia, and then going back to South America this year. It's going to be a very busy year for touring. We've got a couple more songs coming out and a lot of things going on. In the meantime, Ryan and I will be finishing the Greek Fire record and hopefully we'll have that come out as soon as this touring cycle winds down for Story. Interview by Amy Kelly Ultimate-Guitar.Com 2010
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