Even Armor For Sleep guitarist PJ Decicco is a bit undecided about how to describe the band's influences. There is a bit of emo (a genre hideously attached to any band that breathes hard on record), rock, classic, and hardcore - nay, post hardcore. In truth, none of this matters. What does matter is the integrity and passion of the songwriting and the quality of the playing. Here, PJ speaks about the What To Do When You Are Dead album, the band's second, their upcoming CD, and the stringed things he puts his hands around for a living.
Ultimate-Guitar: About a week ago I did an interview with Alexisonfire and they were describing to me about emo and the summer of screamo. Is Armor For Sleep a reflection of those types of music or are those bands influences on you?
You are the sum of your own influences. I guess in a way like in your background you're not really influenced about what's going on today as much as kind of what you were when you were growing up. I guess we kind of come from more of like a punk rock background, more like NoFx and really small hall shows in New Jersey - kind of New Jersey stuff like Saves the Day, Thursday and Bouncing Souls, all that kind of stuff. I think that's a big part of who we are. And there's also, you know, classic rock. Beatles, Led Zeppelin, Jimi Hendrix, Pink Floyd and everything, that kind of play a part in our experimental aspect of our music I think a little bit. We're pretty much like rock and we're definitely in the whole emo thing. I mean, we're not screamo at all. In fact, we visibly stay away from that. But I mean we're kind of still associated with a lot of those bands. And we sort of like a lot of those bands, too.
You mention about listening to some of the classic stuff - Hendrix and those kind of bands. Was he and those era bands an influence on you as a guitar player?
Definitely, yeah. I mean, when I was younger I just remember being obsessed with Jimi Hendrix for, you know, a few years basically. I bought a T-shirt that was like a rare T-shirt, and didn't ever want to stop wearing it. You know, that kind of thing. So it was definitely like a huge influence on me personally. And I know that classic rock has just been a common influence on us in general.
Were you like a Stratocaster guy?
You know, I never really was a Stratocaster guy. I never really liked dug the tones too, too much. But I really did like the people that used them. Like, I'd say David Gilmour is one of my favorite guitar players ever and he's pretty much the Strat man.
So you were on the other side? You were like a Les Paul guy?
I'm kind of a Les Paul guy, but I'm slowly becoming a Telecaster guy. I kind of like the Telecasters and the Humbuckers in them because it kind of gives me both worlds that I like. But I've kind of gotten into those '72 reissues, the Thinline. I like those a lot. I kind of use that primarily right now and I have a few Les Pauls, too.
On the site, it describes you as post-hardcore/emo/rock. Is that accurate?
I mean, I guess however ridiculous it is, it is somewhat accurate. Even though you have to use four semi-vague terms to get a ballpark figure. I mean, what was Jimi Hendrix? It's whatever people want to write, that's fine.
Was this the style on Dream to Make Believe? What were you trying to say with that first record, and looking back on it now, how does it hold up for you?
I think Dream to Make Believe was pretty interesting because it was obviously our first record and it was kind of like songs that we had been building for a long time. So they were very crafted. I think we were trying to go for more different, almost like space-y rock. There was nothing in our immediate scene that was like that. We just kind of wanted to almost bring like Thursday meets Radiohead and put it somewhere in between, and just kind of give it a little more.
On the new record then, What To Do When You Are Dead, would you sort of describe it as sort of a segmented concept record?
Yeah, that's kind of what it is actually. It's a concept record in the fact that you know there's no song randomly about like someone's car breaking down on the highway. It's all about a particular surrounding theme. But it's like, if you listen to the song you wouldn't necessarily think that that would go along with the whole record. If you didn't have the whole record and you just downloaded a song or two off iTunes, I don't think you would be missing aspects of it. I think you would get the whole song in general. But if you have the album and you listen to it front to back, I think you'll kind of be able to get more from it definitely.
We touched on guitars earlier but can an you talk specifically what you used on the record?
On the record, I think we actually bought for the record a Gibson Custom. I think it was like an '81 Custom. It was that - what was that burst? They only made this burst for like two years like in '80 and '81. Oh, a Silverburst. Yeah, I think we used one of those for a lot of it. That was kind of like main rhythm tracking. For a lot of the stuff, I actually use a '72 Thinline Reissue and then for a lot of other stuff we used a Deluxe, a Fender Deluxe - the Deluxe Telly.
If we jump to the first track, "Car Underwater," can you kind of describe what's going on there guitar-wise and amp-wise?
Yeah, it's actually interesting because the palming part is kind of like the intro to the song. It was like a three-string, like palming where you never really hear the higher string. We had to dub that in its own track actually because the low notes were overpowering it. The high one almost seemed like an undertone. So we felt it was important because it's actually the note that changes instead of like the other ones, which are just chords that are just there. So we had to give that a little more breathing room and just kind of put that in itself. From there, it's pretty explanatory. It's just some major and minor bar chords, and drop D, and some nice effects that come in. Like a tremolo effect comes in on the bridge. Pretty straightforward actually.
What kind of guitar or guitars is that?
That was pretty much the Les Paul. And for the lead-y stuff, I think it was the Telecaster. I think the Telecaster did most of the leads because it just cut through more than anything else.
So on those eighth notes, that pumping thing, you said it was like a three-note thing figure? Are those fifths?
It's actually fifths. The main part is fifths and then it drops down to an open D and it's actually hitting an E on top of that. The roots are basically B and D. It drops to a lower D, because of like the open D from the B and that's kind of like the main part and then it kind of like varies. The underneath part kind of varies when it gets to the end of the riffs, and then when it comes in it's just like a really fat like G barre chord basically.
Do you use a lot of drop tunings and open tunings?
We pretty much use drop D for every song actually.
|"We wanted to almost bring like Thursday meets Radiohead and put it somewhere in between, and just give it a little more."|
It kind of does. We add a ninth a lot of the times, which kind of makes it super rich. If you're playing a regular barre chord D, you just add your pinky. You know, just basically one full step up and you have this super-finished tone. It's kind of like a finishing chord. It makes the riff kind of finish. It kind of makes you feel like you've kind of gone to heaven or something.
So the ninth on a D chord would be an E?
Yeah, we use it a lot. We use it on B a lot, so you get a B root note, but then you get a higher note. Instead of it being a B, which is obviously the octave, it goes to like C# for the higher note.
So that creates kind of that airy atmosphere?
It's kind of like the really nice version of a power chord.
On "The Truth About Heaven" there's that little single-note line that's going along with the chords. Is that an overdub and a separate guitar doing that?
Yeah, it is. We actually didn't even have that for a while. We had the main part and then we didn't know how to really go into the first verse that well. So that was actually in the verse so we decided to solo track it there. It was one of the things that kind of came last minute. It just kind of like worked really well.
Do parts like that actually get composed in the studio?
That one, we were actually like in pre-production, which was we were actually with the producer Machine. I think just one day the singer just kind of wrote it and he was like, "I think this would be really cool over the verses." I played it and I was like, "That actually is really cool." It's one of those riffs that I never expected to hear over it, but I really liked it.
Is Machine a pretty musical guy in terms of pushing you guys into different places as players and trying to come up with different voicings?
Oh yeah. Machine was the best. There were times where say I'd play a part like five times in a row, and there was this one note he was looking for. He wanted me to hit it just right coming from the other note. I kind of didn't get what he was talking about, but then I got it. I hear it now and I'm just like, I couldn't image if I'd just it played it like dee-doo, or however it was. It was just so sweet, you know, at the end. I was like, "Thank God you made me do that because it really makes it."
"Remember To Feel Real" again has kind of like that single line and then there's some big chords. It kind of goes from distortion to clean. Can you explain how you assembled that track?
We pretty much just wanted it to just have it start and just kind of kick your ass. And it just comes in and there's this E and, "Boom!" You know what I mean? And the verses we obviously couldn't continue through the whole song because we're not like a metal band, we're like a hardcore band. So the verses kind of get softer and there's kind of like a little wilt thing guitar part with some bendies or whatever you call it. We kind of like to do that a lot. And then just a really nice riff for the pre-chorus that the singer, Ben, and I wrote actually in the bus when we were touring. We just had this one riff and it just ended up being put in there as pre-chorus. The lead part keeps sliding up and it's a lot of like half-step drops in the chord changes that Ben's playing in the rhythm. It just kind of led into the chorus really well.
What kind of amps are you using that is allowing you to get these big, distorted sounds and these clean sounds.
We pretty much used a Bogner Ecstasy for like a lot of it. I think for some of the octaves that needed a punch through we used an Orange because those just kind of sound the best octave-wise of anything. I think that's a really big studio thing. The beginning of "Truth About Heaven," the octave line is like almost a melody basically. I think we used an Orange for that. And we used an 800 (Marshall) a lot, too, for a lot of rhythm stuff with the Bogner. Like if we were doubling a rhythm track it was usually a Bogner and an 800.
What about effects and things? Do you tend to be the effect guy while Ben is playing straight rhythm?
Yeah, it's pretty much more like that. We actually brought our pedal boards into the studio, not really thinking we'd use them because most producers, I thought, don't really like to use pedals because you're kind of stuck into that pedal if you use it when you record it. But Machine was really cool. Sometimes parts are written around effects in general. If we didn't have that effect and didn't really want to spend an hour or two trying to recreate it, I was like, "Why don't I just play it the way I thought it should be?" That's actually kind of an important part of the song, "Basement Ghost Singing." It was kind of built around Ben playing with the Line 6 green pedal, the Delay Modeler. That's basically the heart of the song, that whole part.
What kind of effects do you use?
I have the green Delay Modeler Line 6. I have the blue one, which is like a modulation modeler. And then I have a Big Muff that I use a lot; the green one is better than the silver one. I have the (Boss) DD3 for some delay extra. I use the Boss RX Loop Station, the RX 20. That's pretty good for phrasing different parts. If you want to kind of have another part over it, you can record it and then play another thing over it. Or if you want to record some sort of sample for song - there's a song that we have, like a hurricane sound almost?
What song is that?
That's in "The More You?"
"The More You Talk The Less I Hear"?
Yeah. We have that in that so I kind of recreate it actually. Like on the internet I kind of made my own thing with ProTools and whatever, and I put it on that. It actually sounds pretty good live, so we use that.
So that's how that riff is created?
Yeah. I mean, we kind of have the idea of having something with a real-life feel of a storm in it. The song in the beginning was called "Storm" because we didn't know what to call it. That's kind of why I don't know the name of the title. But we called it "Storm" for a long time and then Machine had the idea of making it seem like it got all lo-fi. He wanted it to sound like you were listening to it from the inside of a car. So that's where all the rains comes in and there's like thunder claps and everything. That's probably one of my favorite parts of the album just because it strays from just normal rock stuff. It kind of puts you out in the real world.
Was a part like that difficult to record in the studio? Did you have to take multiple runs at it before you got it right?
Yeah, kind of. Just because it wasn't there when we recorded it. So you kind of have to know where it's going to be and kind of trust Machine and what it's going to sound like. He's like, "No, it's going to sound really good. It's going to be super lo-fi. It's going to sound like nothing else on this record." And I was like, "That sounds amazing." He worked with some stuff he had from some storm things and it sounded really, really true when it came out on the record.
On "Basement Ghost Singing," are those drum loops in there?
Yeah. There's our real drums and drum loops. Yeah.
Is that something that intrigues you guys?
Yeah, it definitely does. I think it all depends on the feel of the song. I think that song is probably the biggest stretch on the album as far as belonging. But I think that's why it's kind of good why it got the drum machine in it. I don't really like when bands put a drum machine in for like one verse or something because it's just like it doesn't really belong in the song. It's just because you want to put a drum machine in the song. Whereas we like them, but you know, we're not going to try to throw one in if it doesn't really fit the song. And that song was just so tripped out as it was, that I think that if you had real drums on it, I think you actually would make it lose something.
|"It's one of those things where people almost like to hear depressing songs."|
Yeah. There's effects throughout the bridge. There's like a light flange. There's some flange on that one-note-y part, like the heavy one-note part. And then in the bridge, there's a high part in triplets that kind of comes in. And that's actually this effect that I had had for like in the beginning when I wrote the part, and then it was actually recorded through the Line 6 pedal when we did the album.
So you guys like the Line 6 stuff and all that modeling stuff?
Yeah. I mean, I don't think it sounds the greatest. I think it sounds very good for what it is. Like live, it's super sturdy. You know, you get three pedals in one and it's not that expensive.
"A Quick Little Flight" is based on keyboards?
Yeah. Pretty much a keyboard and drum loops.
Who plays the keyboards?
That was Ben. Ben wrote a keyboard line and just kind of wrote a little song around it. We all thought it was a great idea to put it on the record.
"Walking At Night Alone" is the acoustic guitar?
Yeah, there's an acoustic blended with the electric in the beginning.
I love that intro. It has the acoustic and the repeating, echo guitar. How do you build a part like that?
That part was actually pretty interesting because that was a song that kind of came across later. Because it wasn't a rock song we kind of weren't really focusing on it. But Machine liked that song a lot and he had the idea of putting the acoustic in the beginning. It was going to be an acoustic intro totally, but then he wanted me to play it on electric guitar, too. So he could have it there as kind of like a bass. The acoustic was kind of like the bread and butter of the sound. He wanted to sound like an acoustic guitar especially, so he didn't want the electric guitar to kill it. Then he put that kind of super-slow flange on it. It's super-slow, like you can almost barely tell it's there. Then there's that little wah thing that comes in with the overdub on that. That song is pretty, pretty interesting.
You're playing the acoustic guitar?
Yeah. You know what? It was actually Machine's. I think it was a Taylor.
Do you play much acoustic? Do you compose on an acoustic at home?
Yeah, I actually have an acoustic at home that I use just when I kind of have an idea or something. I think a lot of songs are composed on an acoustic actually. Ben writes a lot of his stuff on acoustic guitar. I think it's just kind of easier to write rock songs when you're playing with an actual electric guitar and real amp because then you can throw in some harmonics that you think sounds cool. Like we have a song that's like a tapping song. And that obviously couldn't be composed on an acoustic guitar.
Is it on this record?
The record that actually we're doing right now.
Because this record is actually over a year old, isn't it?
Yeah, it came out last February.
Have you progressed far enough with the next record to talk about it?
Yeah. It's definitely a next step. I think it's going to be a little less concept-y. I think it's going to be a little more real world. We kind of have more like real world problems. Like there's a song about terrorism for instance, kind of how someone our age would deal with it. That's kind of something that I never thought we'd really have, but it's really interesting to have a voice in something that's not like metaphysical.
A lot of the songs off the What To Do When You Are Dead record tend to be lyrically dark. They talk about death in all its various forms. Is that an intrigue for the band?
It's definitely true. Everyone can associate with some sort of hard time, so I think that in songs, it's one of those things where people almost like to hear depressing songs. Not really depressing necessarily, but songs that are kind of thought provoking and not necessarily happy. I think nowadays, happy songs are more delegated to people like Kelly Clarksen. Even people who are in bands that don't write necessarily depressing or sad songs, like Incubus. They don't really write happy songs, but they're not like suicidal songs. I think that's kind of what we went for. The songs are super-poppy sometimes. Like "The Truth About Heaven" is to me bordering on a pop song. It just happens to be singing about being in heaven and like a dead person, which I think is kind of interesting. It's almost like a bi-polar version.
I was watching the video that came on the DVD. Ben was describing that the songwriting process has changed. Before he came in with more of a completed idea and now it's sort of everybody kind of sitting around and bring something to the song.
Oh yeah. Ben is obviously the main songwriter and he writes all the lyrics. It's pretty much a lot of his material. Not that he's giving us more room to help him, but in a way, he kind of trusts our opinions. If we think something is a little too much or maybe isn't good enough, if he wrote a melody for a chorus, for instance, that we really didn't think was good enough, we'd tell him, "That's not that good." And he has no problem being like, "I definitely believe that, but I just kind of didn't want to tell myself that." It's kind of like we're all in it for the same goal. So if we're all happy with the song at the end of the day, that's really all that matters nowadays.
How do you and Ben split guitar duties? Basically you're the lead guitar player?
Yeah, that's pretty much it. I mean, I don't like solo or anything. We don't do much of that. I pretty much play like the melodic parts underneath the rhythm.
Would Ben put his part down first in the studio?
Yeah, it was pretty much all rhythm first. He would do his rhythm track and he would most likely double it before I even touched the song. So usually I would play to guitar and drums, and then I would do my leads and maybe some extra rhythm stuff. And then we'd do bass and everything else.
Yeah, I heard Machine describing that. The bass actually goes on after guitars?
You know, I'm trying to think now. Yeah, I think we did it after guitars just because he feels that bass sometimes goes out of tune more so he has more of a reference to kind of hear things if he has them with the guitars already. So that the guitars stay in tune more than the bass because it's just how thick the strings are and you know depending on how hard you hit them, you're kind of going to fluctuate. So he wanted to know that everything was in tune and so he could listen to the guitars first.
So you guys are in the studio now working on the record?
We're actually demo-ing at a studio in New Jersey right now, We're just pretty much making a rough draft. We're actually recording like a full record, but it's just like not the one that we'll be releasing.
Is that how you guys work? You sit down and craft the record as a pre-production tool?
We're very into, you know, going over a lot of ideas, scrapping a whole chorus, putting something else in. We go through a lot before the song is done. It's a very thought-out process.
Will these songs be played live before they go on the record?
Yeah. We actually played one. We did a headlining tour about three months ago and we played a song that we had first written for the record on that. I like it quite a bit. It's a pretty hard-rocking song, I guess.
What's that called?
It's called "The Way Out Is Broken." It's on our Pure Volume page. We played that and I think we played another one here and there.
Was this part of the Warped Tour?
We recorded a lot of stuff during the Warped Tour. Ben and I would kind of be in the bus and just kind of be playing some stuff. He would be playing something that I liked, and then I'd try and record something over it that I thought would sound good to it. And that's actually how most of the record was done through that. Some of the riffs that we're doing now were done then.
You guys actually have some recording gear on the bus?
We had like a ProTools set up that we had on our last tour that we were just trying to get some ideas down.
Is Machine a ProTools guy?
Machine actually used Logic, I think.
|"We're demo-ing at a studio in New Jersey right now, we're just pretty much making a rough draft."|
On that record, I don't think there was any analog.
So when do you see the new record being completed?
Well, I think our schedule right now is that we're going to hopefully start recording it September 1st. And do it all of September and all of October. And we're hopefully going to have it out maybe like March of next year hopefully.
Then you guys will go on the road again?
Yeah, we're doing the whole Warped Tour again. And then as soon as we're done with the Warped Tour, we're going to go do the record September 1st.
Who are some of the acts on the Warped Tour?
Some of the big bands are like Thursday is going to be on it. Saves the Day is going to be on it. AFI is going to be on it. NoFx is going to be on it.
The tour's roots are pretty much like a punk rock tour. That's why NoFx is kind of like the headliner this year because they've kind of been out for a while. So them coming back is like a pretty big deal.
I'm curious that you would have the Paul Young song, "Every Time You Go Away" on your answering machine. I figured you for something else.
It's a good song. We can appreciate good songs for what they are, you know what I mean? I mean we're not really stuck into like a genre, which is good.
Do you think a lot of modern bands really know what came before?
I don't know, maybe not. I think we grew up with like musical parents. Like my parents were always listening to Steely Dan in the car. So I like Steely Dan now. And my dad, you know, listens to all sorts of crazy stuff from the seventies like Strawberry Alarm Clock.
And Machine has worked with King Crimson.
Exactly. Machine has a very mixed background. He lived in London for a long time and he was kind of a big part of that whole trip-hop type thing with DJ Shadow. Machine is a genius programmer and that's where he gets it from.
Steven Rosen 2006