It's hard to believe that a veteran metal band like San Diego's As I Lay Dying
could be just hitting their stride now, some ten years and five full-lengths into an already stellar career. Still, even after just one listen to the quintet's latest, The Powerless Rise
, you can't ignore the obvious: One of modern metal's best just got better.
It is no surprise too that As I Lay Dying
have attained an entirely new level of artistry and urgency with The Powerless Rise
. By taking the trademark As I Lay Dying
sound and adding a band-wide effort to the mix and underscoring it with singer Tim Lambesis
' novel approach to writing lyrics, the group has truly outdone themselves on The Powerless Rise
As I Lay Dying
have toured extensively throughout the world during their illustrious career thus far, including headlining runs on Warped Tour, Ozzfest and Taste of Chaos. And they've shared stages with the likes of Iron Maiden
, Heaven And Hell
and Lamb Of God
to name but a few. These accomplishments have undoubtedly earned the band a prominent place among metal's elite, and have garnered the group more than one million album sales during their ten year career, and that's in the US alone.
On the eve of the album's release Joe Matera
spoke to one half of As I Lay Dying
's dual axe attack, Nick Hipa
to discuss the new album, touring and the group's Christian faith.
UG: The Powerless Rise is the group's fifth studio album to date and three years since its last studio album, 2007's An Ocean Between Us. With the longer time frame between releases this time, did it make the band approach the songwriting differently than it did with previous efforts?
The reason why it took longer than usual is that we toured a lot more extensively behind our last record. We went to some smaller places in Asia, and we went to further places than usual like East European countries. We just expanded the parts of the world that we normally toured previously and in doing that, there was a lot more touring involved. So we toured for about three years off that record and we got to a stage where we weren't burnt out, we really needed a bit of a rest as we were at a point where it could have hurt us to keep on touring as we wouldn't have anything new to offer. So we needed to take a break and that in turn gave us a lot of time to relax and deal a lot more in being thorough with our songwriting and recording.
Did the time factor also prove to be prolific when it came to writing material for the album?
We wrote something like 30 songs between us for this record. But it was the stronger songs, which we felt were the best, were the ones we actually recorded for album. There is one song though that we kept off the album that we are going to use as either a B-side or possibly put it out in a movie. And that is the first time where we've ever had an extra song for an album as usually we tend to spend all our time on working on the actual songs that are going to make it onto the album.
Did it also allow you to get more experimental in the studio than previously?
"We'd tried to make it as well rounded and dynamic as we could."
Yeah I would say this is the most experimental we've ever been on any album. And I don't mean like we're turning into some arty band or anything. But we did spend a lot more time working on different textures and layers, such as different harmonies and what we could add to a song that wouldn't distract from listening to an actual chord or structure. We'd tried to make it as well rounded and dynamic as we could.
Though The Powerless Rise was again produced by Adam Dutkiewicz, prior to him coming onboard again, you actually had approached ten other producers first?
Yeah, it was something we did out of a suggestion from our management and label as they believed there are a lot of people out that that have something else to offer and who have a pretty good track record. They just wanted us to talk to them and hear their perspective as to what they could do with the band. But from the get go, most of us knew we wanted to have Adam again but we didn't think it would hurt at all to hear someone else out first.
Let's discuss the gear you used on the new album starting with guitars.
For the rhythm tracking I used a Gibson Les Paul Studio which was also used on an overwhelming majority of the other albums as well. For all the lead overdubs I used an Ibanez Destroyer and Ibanez Artist both of which were custom made for me.
And what about, amps?
Amp wise, we got our rhythm tones with a Peavey 6505+ and that head actually beat out almost every other head you can think of. We tried all sorts of different heads for the rhythms such as a Randall head, a Diezel, a Engl, some Kranks, Mesa-Boogies, we tried them all, but the Peavey won out. It was the biggest shootout ever. And for the leads and stuff, we used a Soldano SLO-100.
When it comes to guitar solos do you normally pre-plan them in advance or prefer to go with spontaneity in the studio?
For the most part we try to be as prepared as we can be before we go into the studio. By the time we have recorded the songs professionally, we have already recorded it once in pre-production and we have already jammed it for weeks on end. So we know exactly what it is that we want to play as far as the foundation of the songs go.
With all the members of As I Lay Dying being Christian, do you find it an obstacle when it comes to touring with other bands, particularly those with a heavy anti-Christian sentiment such as Behemoth and Cannibal Corpse?
We've never had a problem with any of that and I think it because we have respect for other people's difference of opinions. If we show them a courtesy to let them do what they want, and don't get me wrong we do all have our set of morals and values, but with bands such as Behemoth and Cannibal Corpse we always got along great. And that was because what we both did was talk about things we did have in common and focused on those and not really bring up our differences of opinion. We felt could just respect that we feel differently about different things and not try to change anybody else. It is important understand that not everybody is going to feel exactly as you do and so you need to respect that. And if can recognize that underneath all of that, we are all the same then we can all get along better at the end of the day.
What about when someone does attempt to attack you verbally for what you believe in?
If someone was criticizing us or me, I won't really go out of my way to change their opinion. If someone wants to accuse me of not being an awesome Christian, then they've already got their minds made up so I don't have any care to change that. It is unfortunate if anybody does have a bias, but if they do, then that's on them. It is something I won't concern myself with. You just have to be positive so I will focus on that instead.
Aside from As I Lay Dying, have you got any other projects you're keen to work on?
I am writing songs on my own right now. And a while ago I was working on some other stuff but its nothing I want to talk too much about at this moment because I haven't got anything to show for it as yet. I would rather be about it than talk about it. I also know Phil has a couple bands in the works as well.
If I was to ask you what is one thing fans would not know about you or the band what would your answer be?
"It is important understand that not everybody is going to feel exactly as you do and so you need to respect that."
That is a really interesting question. My interest aside from this band includes being a big surfing fan. It is all I do when I am at home. I follow professional surfing and check out all the surf sites. So that is my favorite hobby. Collectively, amongst the band, we are all huge Lost [television series] enthusiasts. We will find an internet somewhere wherever we are on the road and will download episodes because we are so obsessed in watching it. We will watch the episodes and then spend the next day talking about it and theorizing about it all.
When the group is on the road what recreational activities do you do to pass away the endless hours on the tour bus?
It depends on what kind of tour it is. If we're in the States and on a bus, it is usually productive as Phil and I will always have a guitar with us on the bus and we will riff out and will also write songs for other things that we may have going on at the same time. I also enjoy reading. The other 50 percent of the time is time that is lost and I have no idea where it goes. It is like being in a room with your friends with nothing to in those moments.
How important do you think is touring these days for a band like As I Lay Dying with the way the whole internet and downloading issue has affected the industry in general?
Selective touring is the name of the game now so it is not about how much touring but about when you do tours, to do more thorough tours. Do every country and every big city and do them as well as you can so you don't have to keep on going through them as often. The cost of touring has gone up immensely because of fuel costs and because everyone has increased their fees for everything from airlines to backline companies. So it is much more expensive to tour today. And for us, because Tim has a family now and Phil is married, we don't want to go out longer than we need to. On the flipside though, touring has been how we've been able to do this band since the early days, by touring as hard as we have in the past. It is what we have to do to make our living from this.
Interview by Joe Matera