UG editorial team. A group of people who are passionate about guitar and music in general.
Posted on Jul 01, 2014 03:40 pm
This conversation with Black Veil Brides guitarist Jake Pitts almost didn't happen - twice. I was scheduled to call him at 9:00 AM. One Thursday morning - he is an early riser - but just minutes before making the call Jake sent an email saying he needed to reschedule. No problem. The guitarist was in the middle of writing for the band's new album and he was understandably busy. We worked out another suitable time and several days later another call was made. This time there was a message about his voicemail being filled up or some strange thing. After the third attempt all hope was lost. By this time, I was admittedly pretty perturbed. I wrote an email voicing my displeasure - nothing nasty but certainly swimming in a tone of annoyance - and within minutes he wrote back. His email caught me totally off guard and made me feel like an idiot.
"I apologize for missing the interview on Saturday," he said. "That was my fault. As for the struggle scheduling it, we are in the middle of writing our next record and have a schedule with people we are working with and things pop up from day to day and it's a hectic time when we have deadlines for things so please understand this. I am not blowing off the interview in any way but have a million things going on. If you still want to do the interview let me know. Perhaps we can knock it out tomorrow at noon?"
It was a gracious, honest and heartfelt response from a musician in the thick of working on a new album [which I didn't know at the time of originally setting up the interview]. Of course he was going to be more focused on writing songs for his own band than he would be in taking time to do an interview. It would be strange if he wasn't.
Finally, the third call was made and Jake picked up on the first ring. I apologized and he apologized and we launched into an animated conversation that lasted for over an hour.
UG: Did your mom buy you your first guitar?
JP: When I was 10 years old, my dad got me an acoustic guitar. My mom played guitar and piano was her main thing. She was incredible at piano and with music theory. She was just like a music genius. My dad kind of more like play acoustic guitar and sing kind of thing. When I was 10, he got me a junior-sized acoustic guitar. A cheapie little one.
What was it like playing that?
I wasn't really too into it at the time. I didn't know it was my calling yet. I kinda messed around on it for a little bit and chucked it in the closet for three years. When I was 13, I started discovering Metallica and awesome music. That's when I decided to pull it back out. My dad would just come home from work and see me playing on it every day. At first he kinda didn't think I was really serious about it but every day he would come home and I had it out. So he thought, "Oh, maybe you're actually serious about it." That's how it all started.
What was it about Metallica that spoke to you?
For me it was the "Black Album" ["Metallica"]. When that came out, I was six years old and so I obviously didn't know who Metallica was at that time. But when I first started playing guitar, that was the record that changed everything for me.
You wanted to play guitar like that?
The guitar playing was heavy riffs and the solos but it was the tone and everything too. It was the way the record was mixed and how heavy the guitar sound was. Me being 13 years old, I ended up saving up some money and got a cheap electric guitar just had crap pickups in it and I knew nothing about any of the technical side of things. I wanted to learn how to play guitar. I heard the guitar tone on the "Black Album" and I was like, "Oh, I want to sound like that."
So you were going after the sound as much as the actual playing?
I was trying to figure out how I could make myself sound like that. Just like any kid, I get asked all the time, "What settings do you use on your amp? What pedals do you use?" They're at that stage where they don't have any idea of what it takes to get that sound and especially being in the studio and whatnot. Yeah, so I guess that was a big part of it too was the sound of it sonically.
Which makes sense because you'd eventually become a trained recording engineer.
Right. I took guitar lessons for about four months and I actually went into one of my guitar lessons and had the Black album with me and I was like, "I want my guitar to sound like. How do I make it sound like this?" They're like, "Oh, well you need a new pickup."
Did you get another pickup?
I actually ended up buying a George Lynch Screamin' Demon Seymour Duncan humbucker and I put that in my crappy little guitar. It was a $130 pickup and that was a lot of money for me back then being a 13-year old kid. I took it to the music shop and they wired it up for me and put it in my guitar. I plugged into my little 15-watt Fender practice amp and I expected to have this crushing, monster, Metallica tone.
When I hit my first chord and it didn't sound any different to me I was like, "What the hell? It doesn't sound any different." The only difference was I wasn't getting feedback because I had a better pickup. I went into this lesson and my instructor had - I don't know what it was - like a little Korg effects unit that had a bunch of different guitar tones and amp simulators on it and all kinds of effects. He had one and he's like, "Here, I'll make you sound like Metallica." He plugged it into the amp there and let me play it and I was like, "Yeah, this is awesome. OK, so I need something like that."
That little effects unit turned the lights on?
At a very young age, I started learning about gear. There's so much stuff out there that I spend a lot of time just reading about gear and studying different pieces and reading reviews. I'm always looking for new studio and what's better than what I currently have and always wanting to find new things. I'm definitely a gearhead.
One of your early bands was 80 Proof Riot and a track called "Vanity the Liar" had kind of a punk thrash band?
Yeah. That "Vanity the Liar" song is actually "Love Isn't Always Fair," I believe. It was either "The Legacy" or "Love Isn't Always Fair" [both tracks appear on the 'Set the World on Fire' album]. I was in bands before that and I was always trying to put together a band before I met Andy[Biersack, singer] and joined up with Black Veil Brides.
Who was in 80 Proof Riot?
Jinxx[guitarist], me and CC[Christian Coma, drummer] were playing in that and we couldn't get the right singer. We had bass players on and off and had people that would come in and jam with us or whatever. So it was really me, CC and Jinxx and we had this thing going and even for a while CC kinda left and he wasn't sure about it because the singer just wasn't up to par. The music was cool and a lot of the music was stuff I had written ended up being used on "Set the World on Fire." I had all this music and I wrote all of it but we just couldn't find a singer that could really nail it down.
There was something missing?
We had one of our mutual friends [vocalist Jack Sin] and it didn't really pan out the way we expected it to and when we met Andy it just kind of clicked. It took about six months or so until we got CC in the band and whatnot but everything fell into place. Andy had his band but he didn't really quite have the right people in it and he was struggling with that. Then I had my half of the band that couldn't find the right member so it just all kinda came together and glued into the right thing.
"Six Six Six" was another 80 Proof Riot song with you playing a crazy solo.
Yeah, that song is "New Religion." That song barely got changed at all in the studio. I had all the stuff and it was recorded and everything and Set the World on Fire is mostly music compositions were all there and I already had that. So it was building the vocal melodies and lyrics to it.
Where did that solo come from?
I don't know. Obviously I'm influenced by a lot of things but I didn't want to - I guess it's pretty stupid to say - sound like anybody else. I didn't want to listen to anything and accidentally copy somebody's guitar riff or tone. I honestly just didn't listen to any other bands or anything and I would just write and listen to my own music.
Were there any other early bands pre-Black Veil Brides?
I was in a band before that was kind of like a hard rock pop/punk band. I don't really know what you'd call it. It was called the Perfect Victim. That just wasn't really what I wanted to be doing. That band had all our hopes and dreams and everybody telling us, "These people are gonna you" but it was just a lot of talk. I got fed up with it so that band kind of fell apart. I got bored with it and just wanted to do my own thing. There was about a year that I left that band and just started recording my own music. I stopped listening to all music. I didn't listen to anybody. I just wanted to get out of me what I wanted to listen to I thought was cool.
It was during that period when you were really honing your recording chops?
I would record anything. I had stuff I recorded that sucked and I didn't like it but I just recorded everything that came out. A lot of that stuff was those songs and thinking back, I don't know how I came up with a lot of it. A lot of was, "I had a piece here and I had a piece there." It was over a long period of time of all these riffs and ideas and some of them ended up being pieces from one song and pieces from another that went into certain songs. Like "Rebel Love Song," I had some of those parts written like the pre-chorus back in 2005. I had a demo and just ended up redoing the whole thing and it became "Rebel Love Song."
You must have been aware of the hair metal thing that had happened back in the '80s with bands like Mötley Crüe and Ratt. There are people who say that the band is like a modern-day version of Motley Crue.
Honestly, I think people are so quick to judge a book by its cover. People are like, "Oh, you're just like a modern Motley Crue." It's like, "Well why do you say that?" We don't even dress up as crazy as we used to. We still look like a band obviously but people will see us all covered in makeup and whatnot. Even if you look at a picture of Motley Crue from the '80s and then look at us, it still doesn't look the same. We're not wearing crazy bright colors and whatever they were wearing like purple eye shadow and whatnot. I guess as far as makeup-wise, people got that whole, "Oh, KISS and Motley Crue." Anybody that had that intense image, they'd automatically stuck us with that.
Comparisons were made more because of the image than the band's sound?
Instead of listening to Motley Crue, listening to KISS and you listen to us, I don't think any of us sound alike. There's definitely elements of, "Yeah, we got guitar solos and got cool riffs and there's singing" but we don't sound like them. They're an '80s band and sing super, super high and Andy's got a deep voice. There's clearly a difference but I guess the image and the aesthetic is probably where people get it from most.
Talk a bit more about your guitar influences.
As far as me as a guitar player, I was and am a bit more into the heavier stuff. I'll listen to death metal and really some pretty brutal stuff. But I was influenced by the duel guitars like the Scorpions and Eddie Van Halen. I grew up listening to a lot of stuff my dad listened to. If I happened to go to work with him one day - he was a carpenter and did construction - he'd have the radio on and I'd hear GN'R and these songs on the radio. I think I remember the first time I heard "Paradise City" and I was like, "Wow, that's really cool. That's a good song" and I was automatically drawn into it. But his favorite band is Led Zeppelin so I got to hear a lot of that as a kid. He listened to Nitty Gritty Dirt Band and I used to listen to that as a kid before I even picked up a guitar just because my dad listened to it. That's what I knew. I guess guitar-wise it's those duel soloing bands and Metallica was definitely a major one for me.
You knew Black Veil Brides was going to be a two-guitar band?
Oh yes. Absolutely. I already had Jinxx playing with me before it so I knew. I had played with a bunch of different guitar players before and the funny thing is the guy who actually introduced me to Jinxx said, "Man, I gotta introduce you to this guy, Jinxx. 'Cause you guys would be really scary together." I was like, "OK, introduce me to him." So literally that night I went out and met him. I sent him a couple of my demos and he's like, "That's exactly what I want to do." He came over the next day and I started showing him the parts and we started playing together and have been since.
You felt an immediate connection with Jinxx?
I knew right away when we got in a room together and started playing and I started showing him the parts and he could pick it up right away. I was like, "OK, this guy can actually play the stuff I'm playing. He's not a guy just saying, 'Oh yeah, I can play this stuff' and then he can't." 'Cause so many people will say, "Oh, I've played for 15 years" and then they just can't play.
Everybody is a great guitar player until you ask them to play something.
Yeah, he could actually play. Not to gloat or anything but he could actually keep up with me. So I was really, really impressed by that. When we started working together as far as writing, the way we worked together and still to this day somebody will come up with a part and the other one will finish it. Or vice versa. I'll be stuck on a bridge part and he'll have it or vice versa. Or it's finishing each other's riffs. The other one has the idea when one of us can't figure it out.
From the very beginning it was a real collaboration between you and Jinxx.
Yeah, I just knew right away. I was like, "This is the guitar match right here."
How did you actually join the band?
Basically what had happened was, I got asked to help write the first album so I was, "OK, cool." I had no idea I was gonna be in the band. I was gonna help these dudes write their first album - the "We Stitch These Wounds" record. I demoed out one song and that turned into, "Can you go on tour in two weeks?" and I was like, "Where? Well, yeah. Sure." I'd been offered to be in a bunch of different bands before that and everything. Even bands I wanted to be in, I was getting offered the position finally and I was like, "Nah." I was turning it down.
Being asked to join Black Veil Brides felt right?
This was just a thing and my gut instinct was, "This is the one. Take it. Go for it." I just never looked back after that point.
Initially you were just brought on to produce the first album?
Yeah, I had to demo off a bunch more songs so we could play on this tour and do it in two weeks. I think we rehea-sed maybe like four times and we did our very first tour. It was only 11 shows but it was from Ohio all the way back to the West Coast and it was a great success. It was just mindlbowing.
You got in front of A&R guy Jason Flom (Skid Row, Stone Temple Pilots) who signed the band. What do you think Jason saw in the Black Veil Brides?
I think whether people love it or hate it, I think it's what everybody sees when they see us - they see a band. They don't just see some dudes that work at a grocery store or, "Oh, that could be a mechanic." I'm not saying you have to look crazy or whatever. We play these festivals and obviously I'll recognize people and bands I'm a fan of and my friends and whatnot. But so many bands I'll have no idea if, "Is this the crew or the band?" They all look the same. I think it's just the whole fact we have a persona of, "We are a band and this is what we came here to do. We do what we do." So many bands are so safe now and they're afraid to try anything crazy. It's like, "Oh, I don't know [if people will like this]." I guess you just have to have some balls nowadays and take some risk and run with it 'cause what's the point if you're not gonna.
In the early days, Black Veil Brides also distinguished itself by doing your own merchandise?
At that time when it was, "Can you go on tour in two weeks?" and I said, "I do want to be in the band and everything," I asked them and just kinda wanted a rundown of how it was going. The only thing the band had going at the time was a little online webstore. They were selling four or five shirts a day and I was like, "Wow. That's really good. That's awesome." It's just funny to think about now and where all our stuff is now. But at that time I was thinking, "Wow. Selling four or five shirts a day. That's pretty good." So that was like a big selling to me. I'm like, "I need to jump on this."
After you joined the band, you ended up co-writing every song on the "We Stitch These Wounds" album.
Yep. They brought me in and wanted me to help 'em write stuff so I just demoed out and did all the music. I would have Jinxx come over and we'd work on the stuff and it only took one song. The first one I demoed out was "Beautiful Remains" and played it for 'em and they were just flippin out.
You worked with producer Blasko [Rob Zombie, Ozzy] on that album.
He was just kind of freshly onboard and he was like, "That sounds awesome. Keep doing whatever you're doing." I was like, "Cool" so Jinxx and I spent about a month and I demoed out all the stuff at the place I was living at at the time.
What kind of a home studio did you have?
I didn't have much of a studio at all then. I think I actually was still running - and I still have it somewhere 'cause it's kind of like an antique - the original Mbox for Pro Tools. That thing's not even compatible with anything now. That was Pro Tools 6 still. I've still got it in the closet just 'cause it's kinda got sentimental value I guess. Yeah, just demoed it all out on that and had a [Line 6]Pod Xt or something that I used for guitars. Crappy sounding stuff but I was still able to make it sound good.
You finished all the demos and then began on the album?
I did all that and then we started recording about a month later. Kind of wrote the vocals in the studio and out but all the music was ready to go pretty much. There might have been one or two songs that were kind of written during the recording process for that first record. But yeah, I pretty much demoed everything out to start with for that.
"The Mortician's Daughter" was a different kind of song with nylon guitar and strings.
The synths was just all programmed stuff that the engineer did. Well, I'm trying to think. Yeah, it was just all programming and MIDI stuff in Pro Tools and whatnot. We had a session player come in and do the piano stuff. But Jinxx did all the orchestration stuff - he played all the cellos and violins.
Jinxx really played those instruments?
Yeah, he does all that stuff on all our records.
Live cello and violin?
Yep. On "Wretched and Divine..." he did all of that stuff. None of it's programmed. It's all live cello and live violin. He's just a one-man orchestra. He did all of that stuff.
Where did a song like "The Mortician's Daughter" come from?
Honestly that was Andy's song. I'm not sure if he wrote that completely himself but it was just a real simple idea he had that turned into that. So that was kinda his song.
Whose song was "Heaven's Calling"?
That was me and Jinxx. That song took a second because Jinxx and I had that first riff that opens up the song and I think we tried visiting that idea four or five times during us writing that first record. We just couldn't figure out what to do with it and we didn't know where it could go. So we kept just pushing it aside and then finally one day I was like, "We gotta pull that riff out. We gotta use that riff and turn that into something."
The riff was calling to you?
It just clicked. We started playing that riff and I just knew where it should go. I was, "OK, we gotta bust into a duel lead thing and gallop drumbeat and the riff will follow the gallop." It all came out super quick. Sometimes it takes a second for the ideas to develop but in that case it took a couple weeks before I figured out what the song needs to do. But then once I figured it out the demo was done in two hours.
"Heaven's Calling" is a really fast song. What does it require from you and the band to come up with a performance like that?
Yeah, it's not the easiest song to play. There's some complicated stuff going on in there. It's basically riffing going on the entire time. I guess for me it's just kind of writing and recording the stuff. When you're writing it and tracking it and doing that at the same time, you have to learn how to play it so you can track it properly. Obviously I'll punch in because I'm not gonna play through the whole song perfectly. People don't do that in the studio all the time. Paul Gilbert or something but he punches too. So it's part by part or play until you screw up and then you have to punch in.
Very few bands record without punches.
After playing it so many times over and over and all the layers and then you're like, "OK, now I've finally got it down. Let's redo it all." Then you go rerecord it again anyway because you're finally feeling it. It just kind of locks it in your brain and you know the parts. It's all about repetition and playing it over and over until you don't have to think about it anymore and it's muscle memory.
Muscle memory is a term a lot of guitar players use.
'Cause I find when we're playing new songs live, we'll find for a little while you have to think about it. Like you've got to think about the next part coming up but six months down the road after being on tour you don't think about it anymore. You just remember it and it's like riding a bike.
Something you've been doing for a while is playing Schecter, right?
Yep. Technically I was with B.C. Rich for a while but I've played Schecter since 2001. My main studio guitar is a 2001 model Schecter C-1 Elite that was discontinued back in 2008 maybe. I've got EMG pickups I've wired in myself. I mean the guitar is awesome and it's just been the best guitar I've ever had. I don't know if I just got lucky and got a really good one or what. I've recorded every album with it. It's a hardtail so obviously if I'm doing dive bombs [whammy bar stuff], I use different guitars. But for the most part, I use that guitar on almost everything.
What is it about the Schecter C-1 Elite that works so perfectly with the music?
I don't know what it is. I don't know if it's because I've been used to it because I've had it for so long but the action is like butter - it just cuts like butter. It's super smooth and it sounds awesome. I don't have any dead frets on it. The action is so low - my action is super, super low, which I like - but I don't get any fret buzz or anything weird. That guitar always sounds better [than other guitars].
You have compared the sound of the Schecter to other guitars?
I'll go and write with somebody else and they'll be like, "Try this Les Paul or try this guitar. Oh, we're doing a song in dropped-B." I don't have strings on my guitar for dropped-B so I'll tune it down and it will be like rubber bands on the guitar. But somebody will give me their guitar like and I'll play it and it's like, "This just sounds like crap." I'll plug my guitar back in and I'm like, "I'm just gonna use mine 'cause it just sounds so good." It's just everything: the pickups I have in it; and the way the guitar's set up. I never had any guitar work done on it and they cleaned up the entire thing and basically did like an overhaul on it and replaced some parts on in that were getting old. I've had the thing since 2001 so it definitely needed a tune up. But it's just been my go-to guitar ever since I got it and it sounds better than every guitar I've ever been handed. The producers can't deny it either and that's why it's been used on all the records.
This is a difficult question for guitarists to answer - how would you describe your sound?
Umm, well. The sound? I mean it's a whole combination of things. It's got to be the right amps, the right settings, the right microphones, the right mic placement, the right cabs, the right speakers and preamp. The chain of things you need and the list is so long. It's a lot of different things done right up to and including good cables. Something as simple as having new strings.
All of that makes sense so how would you characterize your guitar tone?
I would say a good way to explain the sound I like to try and achieve is something with a tight, low end. Punchy with some bite to it and kinda has that mid-crunch as well. It's something well-rounded.
In 2012, you and Jinxx were voted Best Guitarists at the Revolver Golden Gods Awards. That must have felt pretty gratifying.
Yep. Oh man, we were up against the people that definitely should have won it over us. Like the guys from Megadeth, Trivium, Lamb of God[and Machine Head]. Those were all really great players in those bands so it was definitely an honor to win it. And it just goes to show as much as people maybe used to or still do or whatever make fun of Black Veil Brides, you can't mess with our fans. They're there and they're not going anywhere
How did you approach "Set the World on Fire?"
It was kinda the same [as the first album]. I had all the music basically written. Not all of that but I'd say about 85 percent was already ready to go minus the vocal melodies and lyrics. But the music compositions were all there and if anything was changed by the producers in the music, it was literally the tiniest changes. The songs weren't very far off from my demos at all so that helped me solidify and knowing the fact I was doing things right.
What were the sessions like?
That record went really, really smoothly. We did that at Pulse Recording in Silverlake and it was cool. It was our second record and our first major label record so we went from doing our first one to kind of like, "OK, this is the first time we're actually making a real record." So kind of going from being in an OK studio to, "OK, we're in a full-blown studio." We tracked all the drums on Neve preamps through an SSL console. It was a full on legit studio.
What was that like?
I was in heaven. I was like, "This is awesome." I was just staring at everything and nerding out or whatever. It was just the quality difference blew my mind. We were trying out some songs with some different people and we went in with Josh Abraham[30 Seconds to Mars, Velvet Revolver] to do a song and that first song we recorded was "Set the World on Fire." Again, I had a bunch of music demos and the music was already there.
You were totally prepared musically?
That song I had the music there and the music didn't change a bit but we weren't sure what to do vocally. We literally started tracking the music that day. Josh had his team of people and they played some of my demos and then we're like, "Cool. Let's do this one." While we were tracking, they started working on vocals and lyrics. CC got on the drum kit and it was like being in the control room hearing the kick drum and toms and everything naturally, it sounded that good. All the drums on that record, there's no sound replacements or samples blended in. That's the drum kit - that's real.
Do you like using samples and electronic kits mixed with real drums?
I'm a fan of blending samples and making stuff sound over-produced and the production to sound ridiculous but on that record the drums do sound really awesome I think and they're natural. The only time there's any samples used is when all your drums are in tune and you take a sample of each hit. If you have a light kick somewhere, you can fly over a solid kick that was hit earlier to make it even and whatnot. It was just the quality and it was really cool to hear the difference in the production and just how much better it sounded with pro gear and being in a legit studio. I had an awesome time during that record. I think we all did. It was exciting for us and new and it was an all around good experience on my end.
"Set the World on Fire" was Christian "CC" Coma's first album as the drummer. He'd replaced Sandra Alvarenga who played on "We Stitch These Wounds."
The thing with that was on the first two records - I'm not gonna take 100 percent credit that I wrote all the drums - when I do my demos I program the drums and I would program them basically how I wanted them to sound. So a lot of the stuff was played to the beat of how I programmed them.
So both Sandra and CC used your drum programs as maps?
But the difference was I didn't have to hold back at all. It wasn't like, "Oh well, CC can't play this so I've got to tone it down a little bit." I could literally put the craziest stuff in there and he would somehow make it crazier. He definitely added his flair and his things to the parts that I was like, "I don't really know what this should be. Do your thing here," and he would definitely do it.
Where did that happen?
For instance the intro to "Love Isn't Always Fair" with all his tom work there. I didn't have that. I just had kick and cymbal hits because I didn't know what to do. So he goes in there and it's a bit easier for him when he can sit down on a kit and just play. He's kind of the opposite - I'll program the drums but he likes to be on a kit to play along to it and figure out what to do. Again that's another combination of the inner workings of the band and how it works really well. I'll be writing the demo and, "OK, I can program some drums. What would you do here?" I call it drum talk or studio talk. We just make drum sounds and guitar sounds and it's pretty hilarious. If somebody from the outside was to hear how we talk in the studio, it probably would sound like a lot of gibberish. But it makes sense to us - we have our own language.
Andy Biersack's vocals on this record were much stronger than what he did on the first album. There are more melodies and less growling.
Yes. I think it's something we all wanted. We like the fact of having the heavy, fast music but it's hard to listen to if it's just constant screaming. I listen to stuff that's like that but I like to listen to stuff that's not like that as well. I think it's a little more appealing to the ear and obviously the average music listener is gonna be able to have that. I think a huge part in songwriting is to have a big, catchy melody you can sing along to that gets stuck in your head.
Many bands forget that.
You've got to have a hook so you've got to have a melody, which you have to sing. I think it's key and really important. That was really our first time having big choruses that actually seemed like they had a hook and were catchy and you couldn't get it out of your head. The first record and nothing against that but vocally it definitely sets it up on "Set the World on Fire."
"New Religion" had so much energy happening in it. How did you achieve that?
Man, I don't know. It just takes hours of sitting there and figuring it out. I remember when I was writing that song, it all started with the harmonic minor descending little run in that intro riff. I had that and I was like, "This would be really cool to put it in and have somewhere in some kind of riff." Then I started riffing around on guitar and came up with that whole intro riff and started recording it. I was like, "Cool. I'm going somewhere with this. This sounds pretty cool and heavy and awesome."
The song was speaking to you in a way?
Yeah, then I got into the verse section and that took me three times to rewrite that. I came up with an idea and I'm going around this idea and I wasn't really sure where I was going with it. I was like, "No, I need to make it better." I went back and revisited it and made it better and started moving on. I was like, "OK, I have a little transition into a chorus" and I actually stopped myself and just went, "No, it's not there yet." I don't know - I come up with a part and then I'll try to go back and go, "What can I do to make this the best it can be?" So the verse riff in that song took me three times going back to it and analyzing it and going, "OK, what can I do to make this even better?" and the third time I got it and that's what it was.
You can refine and rework a song for a long time.
That was a song that just kind of flowed together pretty easily. Sometimes it just comes out and sometimes it takes a while. For example, "New Religion" I had the idea of the song and it took a little while to write out that verse riff but the song flowed pretty quickly and it all came together. Songs like "Bulletproof" on our last record we did, that one just came out of nowhere. I just threw that song [together]. It came out and within an hour I had the demo done for that. But then there's songs like "Youth & Whisky" on "Set the World on Fire." The bridge/breakdown section in that song, I had the idea of that riff for years and years. But it was different and I changed it to sound more evil but I had that riff idea for such a long time. I'm like, "Man, I really gotta use this" and then I kind of changed it. So that entire song started out with the bridge. I'll write songs in weird order and start with weird parts and figure 'em out. I used the chorus from some other demo that I had of this song but it just sounded too happy to me but the chorus worked and I changed the lead part. So it's taking bits and pieces from other things I had. Sometimes they take a long time and it takes other songs I had written to make a whole song.
Last year you recorded the concept album "Wretched and Divine: The Story of the Wild Ones."
Before we even started, we didn't even know we were gonna do the album with John Feldman[the Used, Panic! At the Disco] yet. We had been writing some songs. Andy came and I think I was the first one he told the idea to and he said he had this story. He wanted this next record to be a story. It wasn't a full-blown concept at this point but he's like, "I have this story of these Wild Ones characters and we each have our character." He had this story and thought it could be this movie idea so he had the idea early on in the early stages of writing that he wanted it to be a concept record and it just kind of grew. Once we got in the studio with John Feldman, that's when it started taking place and started really taking shape.
You really put the concept idea together in the studio?
It was, "OK, what are these songs gonna be about? What are they gonna say? It's gonna follow the story." There were so many song ideas for that record and a lot of them got tossed because they were either way too farfetched like, "This is not anything close" or we just had better songs. I can't count the number of song ideas that were getting tossed out. It was like, "Here's a chorus and here's a melody? Nope" or "Yep, this is cool. Let's go on that." We would kind of throw together 10 ideas at a time and go back and go like, "OK, what's worth working on?" Then we'd take three or four and then create new songs. So that's kind of how that process went.
You touched earlier on Jinxx playing cello and violin on "In the End." Your solo on that song was really good.
There's definitely some people I'll try to - I'm not gonna say steal - borrow techniques from. When it comes to a guitar solo or leads and stuff like that, I kind of think of it like being on a rollercoaster or telling a story. I want my solos to tell a story and take you on this rollercoaster ride. It's not super blazing fast all the way through at 100 miles an hour and then it's over. I like to take you there and then pull you out of it. I don't know - I guess that's the best way I can explain it.
Bert McCracken from the Used did a guest vocal on "Days Are Numbered."
Yep. I'm not sure how the initial idea came up. I was there when he recorded the vocals. I think John [Feldman had produced the Used] just kind of tossed the idea out as like, "Oh, we can throw him on this track" and we were all cool with it. He just came over one day and did his thing. He was over for about an hour and did his parts and we thought it was cool. It worked, yeah.
The Used is a good band.
Oh yeah, definitely.
You also brought Roberta Freeman [backup vocalist with Pink Floyd] in on "Lost it All."
Honestly I'm not really sure how that happened. I was busy in my studio tracking guitars when that was all going down and at the time I didn't know that was going down. But yeah, it came out really cool. It's definitely shocking and different from anything we ever had. So it's kind of like, "Wow, that song definitely takes you somewhere."
A few words on the "Legion of the Black" film?
It was a documentary that followed us in the studio but basically it's supposed to kind of follow the whole concept of the whole. Not every song is in it. I think there's six or seven songs in the movie. It's only about 45 minutes long. I think it starts out with "Wretched and Divine" and it's got "I Am Bulletproof" and "Shadows Die." It follows the whole record all the way through to "In the End." I find it easier to say it's a 45-minute long music video instead of saying it's a movie. But it's our movie - it's the movie of our album. That's the best way I can explain it.
Where are you with the new album?
Bob Rock is producing it so that's pretty exciting. We're still in the writing stages right now. We're doing another pre-production week with Bob Rock in May and then we'll start tracking. We're kind of in the last month of writing for the record for the most part anyway.
You're a trained recording engineer - will you be working on the album?
I will be engineering all the guitars and bass.
Is it the same approach as "Set the World on Fire?"
We're kind of shaking this one up. We're doing a different approach to this record where we're basically starting from scratch and we're writing this entire album before we go track it. So we're not gonna be in the studio [and writing]. With Feldman he's got his whole in-house shop where he's got his studio and everything and we go in there and write and record the record when we go in there for a couple months or whatnot. But we're doing more actual pre-production for this record where we're spending our time writing the album before we record it. So we can really be sure it's what we want.
What will the album sound like?
I think we're going in a darker, heavier direction. The best way I can explain it musically is I don't want to copy what Avenged Sevenfold said and say "It's more going back to the basics of groove metal" and whatnot. We're definitely not gonna cut anything down. If anything we definitely want to have more but less at the same time. And the guitar riffs are not so speed metal in this one I guess you could say compared to "Set the World on Fire" and those types of riffs. It's more chunky riffs. So I would say it's just an all around heavier sound.
Now you can get back to your writing. Play all the good notes.
Will do. Bye.
Interview by Steven Rosen Ultimate-Guitar.Com 2014